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[Page 75]

My meetings with Dr. Yosef Chazanowitz

by Dr. Yakov Kostrinski

Translated by Sara Mages

I remember this name since the dawn of my youth because it's associated with the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. Dr. Chazanowitz conceived the idea of establishing the library when he was a doctor in Bialystok. He also placed the library's foundations - by collecting books from generous donors and by posting advertisements in newspapers throughout the Diaspora in which he called for the donation of books and money for the National Library. These books constituted the first layers of the National Library in Jerusalem. And thus, “Dr. Chazanowitz” became a synonym with the “National Library.”

I was released from the Russian Army after the October Revolution. When I returned to my family in Ekaterinoslav I learned that this wonderful man was in Ekaterinoslav and decided to meet him in person. Therefore, I was happy when my friend Moshe Risin z”l, who was the moving spirit of the branch of “Tzeirei Zion” in Ekaterinoslav, asked me to visit Dr. Chazanowitz who was in a difficult financial and spiritual distress. I was asked to thank him, on behalf of the Jewish public in general and “Tzeirei Zion” in particular, for his eternal project and give him a monetary donation that will ease his situation during the days of shortage and famine of the 1920th. To my great sorrow, this meeting caused me bitter disappointment which remains in my heart to this day. Since then, I, and many of my colleagues, went through years of great physical and spiritual sufferings. Those were years of feverish clandestine work for the party and studies at the High Institute for Agriculture in Kharkiv. Because of my “bourgeois origin,” I had to support myself and pay tuition. After many arrests in Kharkiv's prison and other prisons - I was expelled to the land of exile. It was a difficult period of great emotional stress. Between the arrests I became ill with severe typhus which sapped my strength and my memory, and thus, many events and very important facts have been forgotten from my heart. However, I will never forget the amazing impression that Dr. Chazanowitz had left on me when I visited him at the Jewish community nursing home in Ekaterinoslav. Before me stood a helpless old man, with fading eyes and a sad smile on his pale face, not the lofty energetic man that I've seen in my imagination. He lay in one of the beds in a large dim room. I introduced myself after I managed overcome my shock and confusion when I saw the visionary man in such a desperate condition. Suddenly, his face lit up, and with shaking hands and sparkling tears in his eyes he shook my outreached hand.

A few days later I “met” Dr. Yosef Chazanowitz again. I was asked by “Tzeirei Zion” to eulogize the great man in the public funeral as his coffin stood in the great square next to the Choral Synagogue. I gave a short tribute in Hebrew for the visionary man, who had built the National Library in Jerusalem, despite the fact that the people of Yevsektsii [the Jewish sections of the Communist Party] were among those present.

Many years have passed. I managed to immigrate to Israel from my place of exile in the Kostanay Province, Kyrgyzstan. There, I was able, despite the vigorous opposition of the local GPU, to grab a government job as the region's agronomist. One day, I was approached by my good friend, Baruch Shochtman z”l, who was one of the editors of the periodical “Kiryat Sefer.” He asked me, on behalf of the National Library in Jerusalem, to place a tombstone on the grave of Dr. Chazanowitz in the Jewish cemetery in Ekaterinoslav as sign of appreciation from the management of the library to its founder.

I agreed to do so without hesitation despite the difficulties and the dangers that were involved with the matter in the conditions of the Soviet Union. I immediately contacted my brother-in-law, Avraham-Leib Friedman z”l, the husband of my oldest sister Chaya-Leibe z”l. Both, along with the Hebrew teacher Brohodsky z”l, were members of the Zionist movement in Ekaterinoslav during the period of Ussishkin. After many difficulties and risks, my brother-in-law Friedman, who was one of the Zionists who were arrested on 2 September 1924 - the night of the general arrest of Zionists across Russia, managed not only to place a tombstone on the grave of Dr. Chazanowitz, but also to photograph it and send the picture to the management of the National Library in Jerusalem.


[Page 76]

The JOINT in Yekaterinoslav (1921-1924)

by Shlomo Tesslitzki

Translated by Sara Mages

At the end of 1921, after the city has suffered during the revolution years and change of regime, came the great famine which included Russia, the southern part of Ukraine and the Volga regions. The hunger grew stronger over the winter, and often the bodies of those who died of starvation were scattered in the city's streets.

Also the Jews, the residents of Yekaterinoslav, were victims of this great famine. At that time, a special committee was organized to help them. The few public activists who participated in it were: Yisrael Motzkin (brother of Leo Motzkin, chairman of the “Board of Deputies in Europe”), the former “community rabbi” M. E. Broshtein, Dr. S. Levin, the lawyer A. Brozowsky, and others. On behalf of the youth: Z. Yofit and S.Taslitsky. The committee has made every effort to enlist local resources and later worked, in full cooperation, with foreign institutions: the “JOINT” and the “Ukrainian Jewish Committee” in London.

At the end of 1921, the American organization “ARA” [American Relief Administration] started to operate in Russia. The organization distributed food parcels to those whose relatives paid for them abroad. “ARA” also distributed food to various social organizations. The food parcels included: white flour, sugar, yellow cheese, lard, olive oil, cocoa powder and more. The “JOINT” started to operate at the beginning of 1922, and its license was granted under the condition that it wouldn't discriminate between Jews and non-Jews. Dr. B. Chanis was appointed as the representative of the “JOINT” in the city and the environment.

Dr. B. Chanis opened a large warehouse in the city center. It contained various food items and also other necessities like undergarments, clothes, bedding and more. All these goods were brought from abroad by the “JOINT” which started to distribute them to various social institutions, Jewish and non-Jewish. Individuals received food and clothing by the recommendation of institutions or personalities. In addition, communal kitchens were opened in several locations and the needy received a free hot meal. The Jews received kosher food.

At the same time, the “JOINT” started to rehabilitate the Jewish community aid institutions. The first was the big Jewish Hospital on Philosophskaya Street which contained 140 beds. It was built on a large area and had 12 separate pavilions. There was also a two-story building which housed the administrative offices, a pharmacy, laboratories and more. Everything was abandoned and some of the buildings were destroyed. Windows, doors, and plumbing parts were missing, the tin roof was removed, and the wood floor was used for firewood.

The management of the “JOINT” assigned me the task to rehabilitate the hospital. We got the building materials from the local authorities for a fee, and the work was conducted without any interference on their part. After the rehabilitation work was completed, the “JOINT” brought all the necessary equipment for the hospital from America: beds, bedding, medication, laboratory equipment, and more. Doctors, nurses and the required staff were invited. The hospital, which was called at that time “The Municipal Hospital No. 2,” started to operate.

The community's “soup kitchen” was rehabilitated at the same time. It turned into a center which contained: a restaurant for the poor, the offices of “Chevrah Kadisha,” and part of the community council offices.

The orphanages and the Jewish kindergartens were also supported by the “JOINT.” The Jewish bathhouse was also rebuilt. In addition, the cooperative “Makolet” [grocery], whose duty was to supply food to its members, was established with the help of the “JOINT.” The “Makolet” store was located in the city center.

These institutions existed for a short period of time. In 1924 they were transferred to the hands of the local government and Dr. B. Chanis was removed from his activities. He was given permission to open a well-equipped private clinic for venereal diseases which were common in Russia at that time. Also this clinic wasn't in his hands for a long period. It was transferred to the authorities and Dr. B. Chanis was arrested and expelled to Siberia.

The end of all this public activity came on the night of September 2, 1924, with the mass arrests of the Zionists across Russia. About 40 people were arrested at that time in Yekaterinoslav - rabbis, communal workers, and members of the Zionist parties. After an interrogation at the GPU, some of them were released and others were required to denounce the Zionist movement in the press. Another group was sentenced to prison and deportation to Siberia, and for some, the deportation was replaced with immigration to Israel.


[Page 77]

At the beginning of the road[1]

by Avraham Millstein

Translated by Sara Mages

 

Tu B'Shevat

The virtues of loyalty, courage and devotion to Zionism that the adults excelled in, were also the attributes of the small children, the members of the young class.

At times, they were required to do more than the adults because not all the parents allowed their children to join the movement and participate in the activities - sometimes because of the cold weather, out of concern that it would interfere with their studies, and also out of fear of the authorities. There were cases when parents were harassed by the GPU because of their children. The children had to stand a double test - to fulfill the Scout's decree of honoring their parents and obey the movement's discipline.

The parents were wrong regarding the education. Most of the scouts were good students and stood the test. Along with maintaining caution, which was imposed on them by the conditions of the underground, they knew how to fill the tasks that were imposed on them, like: arrival at the precise time to the meetings, even to distant places, active participation in the unit's activities, and the recruitment of new members.

There was a large number of scouts in the troop who knew Hebrew, most of them students of “Tarbut” school. “Plugat Nesher,” which started its activities in Hebrew, was composed of them. The games, conversations and diary were conducted in Hebrew. Also the troop's newspaper was partially written in Hebrew.

The day of 15 Shevat 5683 (1924) got closer, and it was decided to celebrate it at the bosom of nature not within the walls of a closed room.

The “kesher” [contact] was given to the scouts by “Sharsheret” [chain] close to the day of the meeting (for conspiracy reasons). The location, which was known by the name Balki, was out of town. It was an area of deep and winding ravines which were created by floods and the erosion of the clay soil. These ravines have been known as hiding places for gangs of criminals and thieves. The police visited the area even during the days of the Czar. However; there were beautiful corners in the area which excited the children's imagination, and on a good summer day it was possible to set up a scout's camp which was hidden from the eyes of the curious.

The “Tu B'Shevat” meeting was held there for lack of another place. The winter was intense and heavy snow covered everything. The frost intensified close to the day of the meeting, and schools were closed for a few days. There was a justified fear that scouts, ages 12-14, will not come to the “Tu B'Shevat” celebration because of the intensity of the cold.

The schools were also closed on that day. At an early hour of the morning, scouts appeared from different directions with their meager equipment to the meeting place. They stuck a flag, cleared the snow from the area, and started a fire. And lo and behold, everyone came. Even the little boys and girls weren't missing. The struggle with their parents wasn't easy. Some came against their parents' wishes and a few even snuck out of the house. Their guide received them with affection and admiration. He knew that he would have to accompany several of them home and calm the fathers' anger.

The activity was conducted according to the program - roll-call, gymnastics, singing, eating, reading from a newspaper, and a conversation around the campfire.

The snow glistened around, everything was white and cold. About twenty boys and girls sat around the campfire and their faces were flushed from the cold and the warmth. With an expression of joy they listened to their guide's story about “Rosh HaShanah La'Ilanot” [“New Year for the Trees”], about the content of this nature holiday and how children celebrate this holiday in Israel. When their guide was at their age he heard this story from the teacher, S. S. Kantorowicz, the author of grammar books.

The children were like daydreamers when they heard about a land saturated with sun, about growth and flowering during the cold days, green meadows, blooming almond trees,

[Page 78]

and about school children who leave with their seedlings to enrich the homeland with greenery.

The children listened, as if they were gripped by a green dream, to the legend about “Tu B'Shevat” in a winter there, far far away.

The wind increased and raged, and swirled the snow around. A scout, who was on duty, forced himself to break away from the group. He moved away from them to explore the surroundings and replace the scout who was on the lookout.

Sleighs hurried on the road leading to the villages. Behold, what is it? The scout who stood on guard noticed something green moving fast inside the white background. A fast sleigh passed and moved away. Green spots stood out on the collars and sleeves of the passengers inside it - the insignia of rank of the special unit of the GPU…

The party didn't stop

 

Tarbut

The Zionist movement expanded its ranks despite the difficulties of working underground. The ties with the movement's centers in Kharkiv and Moscow tightened. From time to time we received news of what is happening in Israel. In those days there were still possibilities to immigrate illegally and even legally.

In its extensive underground work, “Tarbut” society fulfilled an important role for deepening the awareness to Zionism and maintaining the affinity to Judaism. It organized a network of classes for the study of the language and the Hebrew literature. Children, youth and adults, beginners and advanced, engaged in the study of the Hebrew language. About one hundred students studied Hebrew in classes apart from those who studied it in private lessons. In addition, a seminar was established to train young people to teach in Hebrew.

Many showed courage and dedication in their work for the Hebrew language. Seven teachers risked themselves every day. Like them, also the students and the apartment owners who gave a place to the students. A lot of efforts were invested in the teaching of the Hebrew language by the organizers and the principals. They recruited students for the classes, gave them teachers and obtained funds to support the project.

The students of the Hebrew classes served as a valuable source from which the Zionist youth movements drew most of their members.

From time to time, talks and lectures on various topics, celebrations and memorial days were held in addition to the study of the Hebrew language. The mobile “library” provided books to read.

The loyal activists of “Tarbut” society deserve a special and more comprehensive recognition. I remember with admiration those who lent a hand and carried the burden of the activities. In addition to the teachers we should also mention Hadassah-Rachel Birman who helped with all the activities, and the family of Avraham Kostovitzky who gave their apartment for lessons and meetings even though the communists lived in their yard. In days of intense cold, when the students arrived to the apartment half frozen and shivering from the cold, Kostovitzky removed the children's shoes and rubbed their little feet to warm them up.

The Hebrew activities and the preservation of the Jewish culture were mostly done by “Tzeirei Zion.” The association used all its sources for the Hebrew education of children and youth. In those years, the Komsomol expanded its conversion operation and stole masses of young Jews from Judaism. Therefore, it was very important to instill the Hebrew language to the Jewish children and save them from the Komsomol's teeth.

The blessed activity of “Tarbut” association in Ekaterinoslav came to an end with the mass arrests of the Zionists and the activists of “Tarbut” in 1920-1925.


Footnote

  1. From the book “Naftule Dor,” published by the association of “Tzeirei Zion.Return


[Page 79]

“Hatchiya” in Ekaterinoslav

by Aharon Becker

Translated by Sara Mages

The days were days of upheavals, revolutions and civil war in Russia. The Jews of Ukraine were bleeding and the pogroms against the Jews didn't skip a single community.

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, my family wandered from the city of its residence, Brisk–DeLita[1] , to Verkhnedneprovsk near Ekaterinoslav, today Dnepropetrovsk.

I was a boy of eight when the war broke out, and I remember two events from those days.

A tremendous explosion in Brisk fortress which covered, on a clear summer day, the entire city with smoke and darkness. All the residents of the city fled for their lives, some on foot and some by vehicles, and the vehicles – wagons and carriages. I, of course, didn't know the reason for that.

The second event: when the front got closer to Brisk all the residents were ordered to leave the city. The deportation order was directed primarily at the local Jews. Many moved to nearby towns and villages out of the consideration – “until the storm blows over.” Many took the wandering stick in their hands and turned in the direction of Ukraine which was far from the front.

The trains were occupied by the military and the roads were filled with convoys of soldiers and artillery. A huge camp was seen moving non–stop, day and night, from across Russia to the front which quickly encompassed all of Poland, Galicia and Polesia.

By a difficult route, in wagons, we arrived as refugees to the city of Mazyr and from there my family managed to board a ship in the Pripyat River which sailed along the Dnieper River.

I remember that I asked my father z”l – where are we going? He answered me: I haven't decided yet, we will look for a place that has Jews.

There were those who advised us to get off in the city of Kremenchuk, and there were those who told us that Ekaterinoslav was better. Father ruled: we will get off in the middle of the road, in a town between the two big cities, and it is Verkhnedneprovsk.

It was a place far from the front. The war, which already started, was barely felt there. Father, who was the commercial representative of the big and well known factory “Nevsky Zavod” for candles and soap in Petrograd – Poland, Bessarabia and Polesia, renewed his contact with the factory and continued his regular occupation.

My two older sisters entered the State Gymnasium for Girls without any difficulties, and I had to knock on the doors of the State Gymnasium for Boys.

At that time, only a certain percentage of Jewish boys were accepted to state schools, and only with the intervention of the management of the factory in Petrograd that my father was connected to, I was accepted to the gymnasium. I found myself in a department of forty local boys and two Jewish boys. Under a special agreement with the director of the gymnasium I was released from writing on the Sabbath.

Kerensky's revolution broke out on February 1917 and the city, with its residents, political parties and the youth of the gymnasium – was getting ready for the May Day demonstration.

When I studied at the gymnasium father made sure that I will continue my Hebrew studies. Every day was a double school day for me: until noon at the gymnasium and in the afternoon at “Talmud Torah.” It was a modern Hebrew school where we studied Hebrew in Hebrew, the Talmud and also the Bible. Good teachers, who devoted themselves to their work, taught there and they were the ones who planted the Jewish consciousness among the students.

With the outbreak of the revolution the Zionist feeling grasped a central place in “Talmud Torah” thanks to a few teachers who were Zionists in all their souls. A couple of days before the demonstration I had serious doubts about my participation in the May Day rally.

[Page 80]

At the gymnasium all the students were required to appear at the demonstration and walk in a procession, from the gymnasium to the location of the demonstration, after the Red Flag.

One evening I learned that the students of “Talmud Torah” will also leave for the demonstration in a procession and wave a blue and white flag. My Hebrew teacher at “Talmud Torah” knew that I had to go with my school and didn't ask me to do otherwise. At home, my parents also knew that I was going to the demonstration with the students of the gymnasium. However, suddenly, as I was on my way to the gymnasium on the day of the demonstration, I thought: how can it be that the students of “Talmud Torah” will appear with a blue and white flag and I will walk among the Gentiles with another flag…?

Without asking anyone, and with anyone knowing, I turned back and walked in the direction of “Talmud Torah” which was on the other side of the city. The teachers and the students welcomed me with joy and I marched in the uniform of the Russian Gymnasium at the head of the procession as I was carrying the blue and white flag in my hands.

I knew that at that moment I became a Zionist and in my imagination I already saw myself in Israel.

On the next day, when I came to the gymnasium, nobody said anything to me – not the teachers and not my friends. Furthermore, a few weeks later a Student Union was established “by the order” of the Student Council and my departmental chose me as its representative. It was surprised when I was invited to attend a joint meeting of the representatives of the students and all the teachers in the staff room – the room that in the student's eyes meant respect and also awe.

The participation of “Talmud Torah” students in the May Day demonstration led to an awakening among the Jewish youth – a Zionist awakening. Together with other boys and girls we initiated the establishment of a youth association. And indeed – two association were established, boys and girls separately – “Bnai Zion” [“Sons of Zion”] and “Bnot Zion” [“Daughters of Zion”].

The management of “Talmud Torah” gave us rooms and halls and beautiful clubs, which concentrated scores of teenagers, have been established. In a short time the gatherings on Friday evenings, the literary banquets, lectures about the history of Israel and conversations, became widely known. At the center of our activities was the preparation for immigration to Israel.

This was my first public activity – and I was a boy of 11–12.

The spring of Kerensky's revolution has passed and the autumn, which brought the October Revolution and, immediately after, the pogroms against the Jews by the White Army and the local gangs, arrived

I'll never forget the Chanukah eve in which we, our parents and the city's activists gathered at “Talmud Torah” for a wonderful party for the youth. I think that this was the first time that I spoke in an opening of a public party. The leader of the Jewish community and one of the teachers spoke after me. We scattered at a late hour and our heart didn't guess that by morning the city will be conquered by a local gang under the leadership of Zubanok. Fifteen people, among them the leader of the Jewish community who spoke at the Chanukah party about his longing to Israel, were killed.

This gang finished its work within a few hours. The Red Army returned to the city, and on the same day the city's Jews buried the victims in a mass funeral under its protection

The city's authorities changed often, day after day, and at times – twice a day.

We went to sleep with a certain confidence that the city was in the hands of the Red Army and woke up as soldiers from the White Army, or from the local gangs, were knocking on the door.

I remember an agreement that was signed between my father and our neighbor in the yard where we lived. He was the deputy director of the Sate Gymnasium and his son served as an officer in the White Army. The agreement said: If the Red Army governs the city – they would stay in our house and we'll protect them, and if the White Army enters the city, we would stay in their house and they'll protect us…

There was a case when we mistakenly thought that the Red Army entered the city and they moved immediately to our house. In the evening, there were knocks on the door and several soldiers from the White Army burst in… They placed my father against the wall and by miracle, and the addition of a ransom, he remained alive.

*

The pogroms continued and my family decided to move to a bigger city where the regime of the Red Army was more stable, and it is Ekaterinoslav.

[Page 81]

I remember being Bar–Mitzvah in those days – the days of pogroms. We arrived to the synagogue with difficulties and I read from the Haftarah – “And My people are in suspense about returning to Me” (Parashat Vayishlach) in the presence of a minyan of Jews.

Father gave me two presents: Tefillin in a silver embroidered bag and a silver watch with Hebrew letters on the dial and Moshe Rabbeinu and the Tablets of Stone on the cover. Both fell in the hands of rioters who robbed our house shortly after.

We were in Ekaterinoslav for two years. The days were the days of the great famine and the increasing civil war in Ukraine. The White Army, under the leadership of the generals Varangal and Kolchak, stood in the front against the Red Army and also scored victories and each victory meant: rivers of Jewish blood. Petliura raged in the vicinity of Kiev and Makhno's gang captured Ekaterinoslav and held the city for several days.

A piece of bread was considered a delicious cake and a few potatoes – kings' delicacy. When the day darkened we locked ourselves in the house and no one left on one entered.

I remember the Passover Seder of that time at our home. The table was covered with a white cloth, set with fine tableware, plates and glasses as it was customary.

Father sat at the head of the table and around him – my mother, my sister Tzila z”l, my sister Rivka and me. Father blessed the “wine” – a small bottle of sweet pink lemonade, the substitute for the four glasses. Before him – a few soot colored matzot and the main course – a few roasted potatoes.

Every day I left for the city's famous market to help my parents who sold notions in order to earn a living after the contact with the factory in Petrograd was severed. I sold notions for two to three hours and in the remaining hours of the day I was immersed in my studies at school. I also studied Hebrew in private lessons and Avraham Shlonsky was one of my teachers. The Zionist spark, which was ignited in me in Verkhnedneprovsk, didn't go out in those days.

As the Soviet regime became established and grew stronger the Zionist clubs were closed, one after the other, and all the public Zionist activities came to an end.

One club, which was run by the members of “Tzeirei Zion,” survived. Its name was “Eretz V'Avodah” [country and work] and it was located at the Pebzner's house on Opornaya Street.

I arrived to this club, which was close to where we lived, and found in it a glorious group of young men. Some became important personalities in Israel like: Yisrael Bar–Yhudah (Idelson) z”l, Dan Pins z”l, Dov Shlonsky z”l, and may they live a long life – his brother Avraham Shlonsky, Beba Idelson, Avraham Lev and many others.

In comparison to my age these young men looked big in my eyes – I was about 14–15.

With their help and guidance, together with a number of boys and girls that I knew from the club, we established a youth organization named “Hatchiya.”[2] Some of its members were awarded to immigrate to Israel and I met them here: the painter Aharon Avni (Kamenkovich) z”l, Shenkman z”l from the members of Kibbutz Afikim, and may they live a long life – the engineer M. Goldman who works in “Mekorot,” the engineer Avraham Arlich, Liza Yofit and more.

By the way, Aharon Kamenkovich (Avni) already painted at that time and was nicknamed “Eliusha Chodoznik.”

Our activities were held in closed groups, mostly in private homes. We heard lectures and each one of us had to give a lecture. I was asked to speak about Herzl on the first anniversary of his death.

I remember another Chanukah eve party – and this time it was cheerful and happy. It was held at the home of Avraham Shlonsky's parents.

It was cold outside and the night brought snow and curfew. A group of boys and girls, members of “Hatchiya,” were invited to the Shlonsky's house for latkes. We arrived early, before the beginning of the curfew, and spent time together until the early hours of the morning. We sang Hebrew songs and spoke quietly in Hebrew so that our voices wouldn't be heard outside.

We danced – and also the dance was quiet. Our host, his parents, sisters and brothers z”l – the whole home was a Hebrew home. It was saturated in Hebrew culture and the spirit of the homeland – Eretz Yisrael.

It was an evening full of light and warm atmosphere as opposed to the darkness of the night and the cold beyond the walls.

[Page 83]

In those days there was an ongoing discussion among the members of “Tzeirei Zion” prior to the general conference in Kharkiv. Two steams were formed – the stream of “Socialist Zionists” and the stream “Tzeirei Zion.” In “Hatchiya” we decided to remain independent after hearing the explanations and the lectures of the representatives of each stream. The time of the split came and two parties were formed: “Socialist Zionists” – under the leadership of Yisrael Idelson (Bar–Yehudah) z”l, and “Tzeirei Zion” – with Avraham Shlonsky and others.

Both parties still used the club “Eretz V'Avodah,” but only for a short time. I was a witness when on a Saturday afternoon 3 people, among them a young Jewish woman, came on behalf of the government. They closed the club, asked all of us to leave the building, and then they locked it with their own lock and a wax seal.

This was the end of the chapter of the club which served as the only warm corner for the loyalists of Zion. The older members started to go underground and some of us, the teenagers, found a place to meet at the club of the sports association “Maccabi” which continued to operate openly for a short time.

The civil war was over, the Soviet regime grew stronger, peace was achieved with Poland and the refugees were allowed to return to their homes.

We returned home – to Brisk–DeLita – by the same route – by ship along the Dnieper River, from Ekaterinoslav to Kiev.

We were forced to stay in Kiev for about half a year, until we managed to obtain the necessary permits that allowed us to return to Brisk. Finally, the day we've longed for came and we arrived by train to the border station in Rovna. A strict inspection was conducted by the representatives of the Polish government and two family members were arrested for a full day of interrogation – my eldest sister Tzila who was about 19 and me, I was about 15.

Our interrogators wanted us to admit that we were members of Komosmol [3] and tried to “prove” that they've seen us in action in Kiev. They weren't able to prove anything and let us go. We returned to Brisk at the end of 1921, I lived there for three years and at the end of December 1924 I immigrated to Israel.

*

I was 8 when we left the city and 15–16 when we returned. I was young in days but satiated with life experience, life of adversity, hardship and confidence in my heart that I'll arrive to Israel, and indeed, I immigrated.

The separation from my parents and from home was pretty tough.

Father z”l was a Hassid and a close associate of the Stolin Rabbi. He asked the Rabbi's advice on any matter. He was a religious man but not jealous, and so was also my mother z”l. Our home was a religious home. As the youngest son my parents always worried about my Jewish education. All the time, even in the most difficult times, I wasn't free of my Jewish studies and the best teachers were available to me.

When we returned to Brisk, which was part of Poland, the language of the country was Polish. The economic situation at home was difficult and I knew that I had to earn my own living in order to immigrate to Israel. I studied bookkeeping in a Polish school, excelled in my studies, and after I obtain my “diploma” as a certified bookkeeper I found a job in one of the largest stores. At the same time I continued with my general studies in pure Russian and saved the required amount for immigration to Israel. At home, my parents, who were far from the Zionist feeling, tried to oppose my immigration because they didn't want to part from me.

One day, my father told me that he's accepting the decree, the decree of my immigration and that he'll also bless me. I didn't know then the meaning of the matter. The reason for the turn in my father's attitude only became known to me in the 1930s when he was in Israel (he came to settle in the country, stayed in our house for several years, but, to our sorrow he wasn't able to adjust to life in Israel and returned to his “Shtiebel” and his environment. We didn't know that he was returning to the vale of the Holocaust. He was murdered in Brisk Ghetto by the Nazis. My mother z”l died in a traffic accident in the first year of my immigration to Israel).

Well, during my father's stay in Israel I learned that before I immigrated to Israel he went, by the request of my mother, to ask the advice of the Rabbi, and this was his answer:

“If your son wants to immigrate to the Holy Land, don't interrupt him.”

Hence, the meaning of his completion with the “decree” and the blessing for the road…


Translator's footnotes

  1. Brisk–DeLita – Brest Litovsk. Return
  2. Hatchiya – the Revival – a Zionist youth organization whose goal was to present nationalist and cultural activities to Jewish youth. Return
  3. Komosmol – a youth organization controlled by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Return


[Page 83]

My visit to Dniepropetrovsk in 1958

by Batya Riskind[1]

Translated by Sara Mages

In August 1958, on the way from Meisk to Moscow, I visited Dniepropetrovsk to learn the fate of my relatives that I haven't seen for over twenty years, since I was arrested and exiled to Siberia. From the train station I turned to the prospect [street] named after Karl Marx. In the past, the prospekt was named after Yekaterina (the second). The street was beautiful and there were many new multi–story buildings in it. Only here and there were buildings from previous years, which remained in their original form, such as the Khrennikov building. A small square emerged at the corner of Perevozva Novaskaya Street and an electric tram encircled it. In addition, I also found other innovations. I entered one of the buildings in the prospect, which looked familiar to me, and asked the neighbors if the Yodelson family lived there. I was told that I had to wait a bit and a short time later one of the sisters, Manya, came towards me (the three Yodelson sisters, daughters of the well known philanthropist, lived in the apartment). The sisters left Dniepropetrovsk with the arrival of the Germans and didn't have any information on the fate of my relatives.

After our emotional meeting I walked to Polyceiskaya Street, now Korolenko, where we once lived, but I wasn't allowed to enter the apartment. The women, who were in the yard, didn't know me and also knew nothing about my family because they also left the city with the arrival of the Germans. On Operavaskaya Street, now Espolkomskaya, close to our apartment stood the “Soldaskaya Synagogue.” I thought, maybe I'll be able to get information there on the fate of my family. Several families lived in the synagogue, which was modified for housing, but I didn't get any information there.

In Nagornaya Street, also in a synagogue that was modified for housing, a woman who lived there told me to go to the synagogue on Yordanskaya Street. I walked to this street and in a small house, next to the Dnieper River, was the synagogue (a prayer was held there during my visit). The beadle, who lived in a cellar next to the place, told to me how to get to the location of the 1941 Aktzya.

I got on the electric tram. The tram turned from the Mining Institute to a place which was once called – the city's summer camps. The entire area was well designed, the streets were wide and beautiful and the buildings were of several stories. At the last stop I was told that I had to walk a long distance to the location of the massacre.

Finally, I arrived to the place. It was a long and deep ravine and in front of it, in a small neglected lawn, stood a simple monument with an inscription in Russian: “Here, in 1941, Soviet citizens were murdered by Hitler's henchmen.” That was all, and nothing more. It's possible to imagine my mood. I shed many tears at that place, and afterwards I went back.

The next day I went to the Jewish cemetery. It turned out that it was moved to the other side of the road because the area of the old cemetery was needed for the expansion of the local airport… During my visit I witnessed the fencing around the new grave of HaRav Pinchas Gelman z”l whose bones were transferred from the old cemetery where he was buried after his death. I knew Rabbi Gelman in my childhood because my mother used to send me to him to ask “questions.” I wanted to know where my stepmother, who educated me in my childhood, was buried. After I leafed through the burial book I realized that the registration began in 1950. My stepmother died in 1941, a short time before the arrival of Hitler.

In one of the following days I went back to the apartment where we once lived. This time I was allowed to enter after I told them that

[Page 84]

I was only staying here temporarily and want to see the place where we once lived. Jews lived in the apartment and it was renovated and beautifully furnished. I learned from the neighbors that my family didn't want to leave the city. Eyewitnesses said that the Jews were collected, led to their homes, and after their valuables were stolen they were taken to the location of the killing. One of the Yodelson sisters told me that she met a woman who remained alive in the pit after the shooting. At night, she came out from under the bodies, walked to her acquaintances in the village, and in this way she remained alive.

From conversations with my acquaintances in the city I learned that anti–Semitism was very strong there. The Ukrainians, who especially excel at it, often say to the Jews: “It's a pity that the Germans didn't kill all of you.” I was also told that peasants “willingly” hid Jews who came to them to be saved, but later, after they took their belongings and valuables, they handed them to the Germans.

I spent four days, days of sorrow and mourning in Dniepropetrovsk, and from there I left for Moscow.


Translator's footnote

  1. Batya Riskind–Berkovskaya, a prisoner of Zion and an exile of Zion, was arrested in 1924. After her release continued her work in the Zionist underground and was arrested in Moscow in 1935. Then, she was exiled to Central Asia and two years later was imprisoned in a concentration camp at the edge of Northern Siberia (near Kamchatka). She was released from prison in 1946, but was only allowed to return to Moscow in 1955. She immigrated to Israel 1967 after twenty years of persecutions. Return


Avraham Shlonsky in a conversation with the editors
of “Sefer Yekaterinoslav–Dnepropetrovsk”

by HaRav Dr. Zvi Harkavi and Yaakov Goldburt

Translated by Sara Mages

Yekaterinoslav isn't a city that I was born in. It's a city where I lived with my parents who moved from my hometown, Kriyokov, a suburb of Kremenchuk, which sits, like Yekaterinoslav, on the banks of the Dnieper River. I was five years old then. We lived in Yekaterinoslav for about 16 years, until our immigration to Israel.

Kremenchuk was the Hassidic city of “Schpitz” Chabad, a stream in the Hassidut that our family was associated with. My father was a great expert in the theory of Chabad since his youth and also a great scholar of Modern Hebrew literature. He excelled in his musical talent (he composed, among others, the melody to Chernichovsky's song “Sachki Sachki”). A man of general and Hebrew culture who had religious feelings that “attacked” him from time to time. My mother had tendencies for socialism.

We moved to Yekaterinoslav after the pogroms of 5665 [1895] because of our economic hardship. After we settled there we received help from our relatives.

My father's house was a national–Zionist house and we didn't have an affiliation with any political party in our youth. .At home we honored the tradition, observed the holidays etc., but we didn't observe matters such as kashrut. For several years, my childhood years, we lived in the same house, opposite one another, with our relative, HaRav Levi–Yitzchak Schneersohn, the rabbi of Yekaterinoslav. I studied at the same Heder with his son Mendel (then, we called him “Maka,” and today he is the Lubavitch Rebbe). I spent many hours at the rabbi's house and enjoyed the world and the lifestyle of Hassidut Chabad. It was the knowledge that I acquired in my childhood, my childhood's world, and it's still within me to this day. I remember that one day in my childhood I stopped eating at my mother's house because “it wasn't quite kosher” and ate at aunt Chana, wife of HaRav Levi–Yitzchak Schneersohn.

Later, we moved to another part of the city and I immersed in my father's world. My father had a big library and in it, in addition to religious books, were many secular books in Hebrew, Russian and other languages that my father studied. I was influence by this atmosphere of books, books, books. I remember that the city's two rabbis attended the celebration of my Bar–Mitzvah – HaRav Gelman (opponent) and HaRav Schneersohn (Chabad). From the first I received the poems of Adam HaCohen as a gift and the Tanya from the second – the symbol of the tendencies in my soul which was perfumed by both worlds.

When I reached the age of Bar–Mitzvah my father wanted to enter me, for one year, to the Yeshiva in Lubawitsch so I could live in that special atmosphere and remember it in my soul. My mother opposed it. She wanted me to study in one of the gymnasiums in the city. My father didn't want me to assimilate in the atmosphere of a Gentile world, so, the compromise was, that I would travel to Israel to study at the Hebrew gymnasium in Tel–Aviv which was called at that time – “The Gymnasium of Yafo.” I traveled to Israel in 5673. I only studied at “Herzliya” for one year because we, the boys who came to Tel–Aviv from Russia, Ukraine etc., were sent home for the summer vacation. But, at the end of the summer vacation we weren't able to return to Tel–Aviv. The days were the days of 1914, the days of the outbreak of the First World War. A year later I continued my studies at the gymnasium of P. Cohen which moved from Vilna to Yekaterinoslav. This gymnasium was Jewish, meaning, the language of study was Russian but all the students, and most of the teacher, were Jewish. Only the teachers for “specific” subjects: history and Russian literature – were “on behalf” of the authorities and, of course, kosher Russians… Among the Hebrew teachers were the poets: Yakov Lerner and Y. L. Baruch; and the pedagogical writers: Pinchas Schiffman, Noach Pine and others. Officially, this gymnasium was in accordance with the law and custom of Tsarist Russia, but there was a Jewish–national tendency in it and under the influence of the students and their parents it also contained a Zionist spirit. The principal tried to adapt to the authorities to ensure its existence (there were also socialist teachers and one, Brown was his name, who, as we later discovered, was a communist).

A number of students, who knew Hebrew well, spoke the language among themselves. The February Revolution aroused a national awakening among the minorities and a Hebrew–speaking association was organized in our school. Since there were also teachers who knew Hebrew we answered their questions in Hebrew. We also established a Language Committee to prepare a list of terms in mathematics, geometry, physics and others… The Zionist activity among the youth gained power with the revolution of the beginning of 1917 (we were “Pirchai Zion”), and we immediately founded a very active Zionist club and developed many cultural activities. Over time we identified with “Tzeirei Zion” (“Tzeirei Zion” and “Socialist Zionists”). The activists in this club, together with me, were: the late Dan Pines who came with the refugees from Vilna and also Aharon Baker who, by the way, was one of my students. The days were days of anger and excitement and they were also expressed by heated debates. Young poets – Yitzchak Lamdan and Shmuel Helkin who wrote poems in Hebrew and also in Yiddish, arrived at that time to Yekaterinoslav. Peretz Markish[1] who, unlike my “attraction to Hebrew” was drawn to Yiddish, also lived in Yekaterinoslav. One day I told him: the Hebrew language has no future in this country, its future is in Israel, and you must choose: make a pioneering immigration to Israel like me and Lamdan, or settle in Yiddish that its future is also unclear... He chose Yiddish, followed Mawkish, and only by sheer luck survived the end of Markis and his friends. Later, when I was in Moscow, I met an important Yiddish poet who was Helkin's friend in exile in Vorkuta. He told me about his years in exile and his last days after rehabilitation. I have another dream – S. Helkin said – to meet Shlonsky again, to express my remorse and confess before him how right he was and how wrong I was …

In those days we started the mitzvah of training for immigration. The “Halutz” movement was in its first stages of inception and Dan Pines was one of the primary initiators. After he left Yekaterinoslav we continued our efforts to immigrate to Israel. We, a whole group, made an adventurous journey to Minsk to “study at the Faculty of Yiddish” which was allegedly founded at the university there. Of course, we didn't study in this “Faculty.” One night we crossed the border, arrived to the other side, and after many tribulations arrived to Warsaw. It was our first meeting with the ghetto, with Jews whose clothes were strange to us – the little hats, hasty movements and fast and loud speech. This meeting astonished us and it took us a long time to get close to them. Slowly slowly we were able to understand all the specific and valuable which were embodied in this Judaism of the ghetto. After all, we also didn't know the nature of the town. We were children of the city, a city in southern Russia where only a few spoke Yiddish. It was Odessa of Mendele [Mocher Sforim] and Bialik – and not only Odessa of Ahad Ha'am and Klausner – which infused our city with its warm Jewish light with all the results.

We arrived to Warsaw in 1921 during the days of “cessation of immigration” and the riot in which Brenner[2] was murdered. My first poem was published before I left the city. I immigrated to Israel after the immigration was resumed.

Yekaterinoslav was only mentioned once in one of my poems, there, I called it “The howling city” – after the wailing in which the Jews of Yekaterinoslav responded to the murder and robbery of Makhno and Denikin…

Tel–Aviv, Nisan 5730
Beit A. Shlonsky
Written by Yodan Harkavi


Translator's footnotes

  1. Peretz Davidovich Markish, a poet and playwright who wrote predominantly in Yiddish, was arrested and executed in 1952 in Moscow. Return
  2. Yosef Haim Brenner, a Hebrew author and Zionist pioneer, was murdered by Arab rioters in Jaffa in 1921. Return

 

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