Malka Faloozshski Kfar Saba
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
|1. A small town Lithuanian, on the bank of the Rootke.
A little river small, turning like a ribbon.
Without ships, without barges, even without boats.
Jews lived there and were happy.
2. Just a little town, as usual as others,
3. What did the Jews live on in that small town?
4. A few Jews - were gardeners.
5. On a winter morning, the snow screeches,
6. Calmly, measured, life flows
7. The youth in the small town united in friendship,
8. They danced the fiery hora, all as one
9. Rabbi Moshe Avraham in his old age
10. They hold a bazaar for Zionist purposes.
11. The teachers of the Jewish schools take part
12. They hold seminars, give lectures.
13. Life would have gone on in this way
14. This horrible episode passed Korelitz by,
15. The pioneer then became the proletariat.
16. Life would have still gone on slowly,
17. The little houses stand silent, no more sounds are heard.
18. Everything has vanished, as though it had never been.
19. At the memorial ceremony, by the black candles,
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Korelitz had a lovely landscape. Surrounded by mountains and valleys, with smaller and larger forests and numerous villages and hamlets, the small town was home to a few hundred Jews who led a quiet, traditional life.
Regarding the founding of the small town, it is known that, hundreds of years ago, a nobleman by the name of Karelitz -a friend of the Jews - decided to develop his estate in the area. For that purpose, he brought a Jew from Minsk and he settled him there as a farmer with a lease. The Jew brought his relatives and they opened a tavern by the highway and Gentiles began to show up. Later, Jews began to settle in the small town. They leased fields and woods and they dealt in wheat and garden produce, and the Jewish population grew from year to year.
The most important ways of earning a livelihood were trading in produce from orchards and gardens, owning larger and smaller stores, and working as craftsmen, the common people. The grain merchants and wood traders were the most privileged in the small town. Jews also dealt in dairy products. The cheeses from Korelitz were renowned in the whole region.
Before its long history, the little town developed nicely and built up. Korelitz had very lovely panorama. The center- the market place- was located on a hill, and all the streets and lanes extended downhill from there. At the end of the small town, the huts of the better-off Gentiles spread out with their orchards and gardens.
A wide road cut through the Zalamanke Streets, the market place and the Post Office Street. The road to Novogrudek started from there, and in the other direction, to Turetz and Mir. The distance to Minsk, the capital city, was 110 km.
Korelitz had a very old cemetery with tombstones of Jews of noble lineage. The old synagogue was a great work of art, built of wood and decorated with lovely artistic carvings. The synagogue was high and spacious. The holy ark was a great, lovely work of art in the old style, adorned with various figures. This was the only Kalte synagogue in the area, and the Jews of Korelitz were very proud of it.
Opposite the Kalte synagogue was the large study hall. This was the synagogue for the common people. The small shopkeepers and craftsmen prayed there. Above the market place, across from the rabbi's house, was the second study hall. The wealthiest Jews of the town prayed there: the grain merchants, dry goods merchants and other privileged people. Opposite the cemetery and downwards was the little Koidinav prayer house for Chassidim. Only Chassidim prayed there. Most of them were butchers, cattle merchants and just plain Jews. Downwards from the Chassidic synagogue as far as the cemetery fence was the town bath house. Further downwards, past the cemetery, was the town slaughter house. At the corner of the lane, by the synagogue yard, stood the rabbi's house, and the Rabbi's Lane started from the rabbi's house and ended at the market place.
The market place was the town's center and was paved. In the middle of the market place stood rows of stores which belonged exclusively to Jews. One could buy whatever one needed in the stores. Gentiles from the villages would come on market day- Wednesday- and buy everything they needed: salt, herring in _____, ________, sugar, soap, kerosene and other things. The Gentiles, on the other hand, sold their wares: wheat, chicken, eggs, butter and cheese. Market day gave the Jews a livelihood for the entire week.
At the beginning of the rows of stores, as far as the church and between the houses at the beginning of the market place, was a big town well which had to be monitored all the time and people seldom drew fresh, pure water from it. The Jews of Korelitz, however, had their own big well filled with fresh water in the synagogue yard, and the water was clean. Down Zalamanke Street, which led to Novogrudek, there was no well, but only a spring. It was called a spring because one could draw spring water from it. The spring was located between the two taverns which Korelitz possessed. That was always the gathering point for people and horses. The horses could drink up the cold water and the Gentiles -brandy. The Korelitz police were always there. Both taverns were a source for the latest news especially when, at that time, it was not customary to read a newspaper. Jewish wagon drivers, who used to travel to distant places, would bring the latest news from the world. In those years, people talked about pogroms, persecutions and misfortunes and occasionally one would hear good tidings.
On Zalamanke Street, on the hill, next to the Korelitz nobleman's courtyard, stood the only Russian Orthodox church with its tall steeples. On Sundays and on Christian holidays, the area around the church was filled with Gentiles and wagon drivers in their national dress. After the prayer service, the Gentiles would go to the Jewish stores to buy various items.
Jewish life throbbed with intensity: there were many chederim (relgious elementary schools) where young boys studied Torah: Bible and Oral Law. From the chederim, the boys moved on to the yeshivot (schools of higher religious learning). Jews would also study in the study halls. There were several groups of learners: Psalms group, traditional laws group, Oral Law group. One would study a page of Gemara (Talmud) or a chapter of Mishna (compilation of traditional laws and their interpretations) between the afternoon and evening prayer service. Some of the leading rabbis of the time always occupied the position of town rabbi.
Prior to the first revolution in Russia, the Enlightenment movement had also reached Korelitz together with the first sprouts of socialism. Various political groupings were established which were laden with various ideas: socialism and Zionism. Working men and poor people dreamed of better times: liberty, equality, fraternity. A library was founded in the town. Young people started reading little books. Money collection and discussion evenings were organized. People attended lectures on various subjects: sociology, political economy, Jewish, Russian and Hebrew literature. A dramatics club which performed various plays was also set up.
At that time, illegal circles would gather to read illegal literature. Former yeshiva students would give fiery speeches about revolution. Every Sabbath, people would go into the forest and have meetings. The Roodishtch forest was the center of freethinkers and radical socialists who wanted to topple the Czar. Friday night, after welcoming the Sabbath, when their parents were already asleep, young people would tear off the lock to the study hall and would discuss various subjects, mainly about the Czarist regime.
On a summer Sabbath afternoon, after taking a nap induced by eating tcholent (Sabbath stew), the Jews would walk downhill to Mill Street to get some fresh air in the forest. The road was always crowded, especially with young people. This was how the Jews of Korelitz lived with their joy and sorrow, with their aspirations and worries and hopes for better times. This was the manner of the hundreds of Jews from Korelitz and of the Jews from the hundreds of little towns in the area.
Korelitz produced many great personalities, both scholars and fighters. They knew how to live but also knew how to fight for the existence of the people and their country.
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Prior to the First World War, Korelitz was a small, lively Jewish town. About 2,000 Jewish people lived there. As in all small Jewish towns, there was a rabbi, ritual slaughterer and just plain Jews -scholars who had received rabbinic ordination. In the center of the town was a synagogue quarter, with a synagogue, two study halls and a small synagogue house for Chassidim. Many Jews, yeshiva students, would always sit and learn in the study halls.
There were various societies and charity organizations in Korelitz such as a people's bank, a hostel for the poor, a burial society, a group of reciters of Psalms, a free loan society, a Zionist organization, thanks to which many Jews left to settle in Palestine, the Land of Israel.
Every year on the 15th day of Kislev, the burial society would hang up fruit on the walls of the study hall and after the fast, and when the penitential prayers were over, the burial society members prepared a lavish meal. Women were also in the burial society and would make their separate feast.
There was a fire brigade in Korelitz which was organized and run by Jews. The fire brigade musical band had a good reputation in all the surrounding villages and small towns of the area. Korelitz would hire out the band to play at weddings.
The town itself was situated in a lovely, rich area, surrounded by forests, orchards and fields. There were many villages around Korelitz and every week, on market day, hundreds of wagons would arrive at the market place and business was lively. Besides that, there were 15 fairs every year. The fair in Korelitz had a particularly good name in the area. Merchants from far and wide would travel to Korelitz together. The small town profited from these fairs.
Personalities and events in Korelitz
There was a shopkeeper in Korelitz whose name was Shaye Brankes. He was a good prayer leader. He organized a choir made up of many boys. His praying was renowned in the area. On the eve of the holidays, many Jewish farmers who lived in the villages would travel to Korelitz with their families to hear Shaye Brankes the Cantor with his choir. One could feel the holiday spirit in the small town.
There were sons-in-law in Korelitz who would sit on the boards. Prominent Jews would travel to yeshivot to choose yeshiva students for their daughters. Shaya Brankes had 7 daughters and he took yeshiva boys who were ordained as rabbis for each of them. He gave them the opportunity to sit and study until they became a rabbi and found a position.
There was a righteous woman in Korelitz - Devorah Farashisker. She helped the yeshiva students in whatever way she could.: she arranged eating days for them at the homes of wealthy Jews, washed their linen and saw to it that they had something nice to wear.
My father, may he rest in peace, as well as Aharon-Yankel the Teacher, would devote themselves to helping yeshiva boys, or monks, as they were called.
I remember a certain Pupko. He was a well-read, conscientious, cultured young man. He was nearly blind. Young men with revolutionary ideas (this was before the first revolution in Russia in 1905) used to come to him and hold meetings and also read prohibited books and pamphlets. When he died in 1907, many young men and women arrived from the surrounding small towns to attend his funeral. He was eulogized and his social activities were recalled.
There was a Zionist in Korelitz, R' Moshe-Avraham, the ritual slaughterer. He was very active before WWI. He used to collect money for the JNF (Jewish National Fund) and organized a Zionist organization in the town, which made the police very suspicious. One Sabbath afternoon in 1907, R' Moshe-Avraham noticed through the window the police chief with policemen coming to his house. He understood that they were going to conduct a search. In the house were books, material and blank forms for the JNF. Before they managed to open the door, he stood by the wall and pretended to be praying and didn't even call out a word to them. The police chief and policemen waited for him to finish praying.
Just then his wife went out of the house and called a few little boys. I was also one of those boys. We sneaked through the stable into the house and from a side room, unnoticed by the police, we carried out the bookcase with the books and material and brought it into the stable of a neighbor, R' Asher-Moshe, the glazier. We covered it with hay and dung and put the cow there.
R' Moshe-Avraham finished reciting the afternoon prayers, went over to the police chief and asked him what he wanted. The police chief replied that he came to conduct a search. They looked in every little corner and, of course, found nothing. They also looked in R' Asher-Moshe, the glazier's stable. It never occurred to them that the materials they were looking for were hidden in the place where the cow was standing! The police chief ordered R' Moshe-Avraham to appear before the inspector in the small town of Mir. In our small town there was a well-to- do man, R' Leib-Eliahu, who spoke a fine Russian. He convinced the police chief to let him stay home. R' Moshe-Avraham continued his work for Zionism. After the incident with the search, Zionism became even dearer to him. He asked the Jews of the town to help him collect money for the JNF.
After World War I, the Polish authorities allowed the Jews to carry on Zionist activities. It became legal. They rented a place, arranged meetings, listened to lectures and readings about Zionism and Palestine. Zionist thought had a great influence on the Jews in Korelitz.
There was a tradition in Korelitz that following the afternoon prayer service on Yom Kippur, they would sell the honor of opening the doors of the Holy Ark for the Ne'ilah (closing) service. A fellow Jew, Berl-Dovid, lived on Mill Street near the river. Year after year, he would buy the honor of opening the Holy Ark. Once, the congregation got together and would not let him buy the honor of opening the Holy Ark for the closing service. They purposely bid such a high amount of money that Berl-Dovid could not afford to pay. There was a commotion in the synagogue. Berl-Dovid got angry, but the congregation would not give in to him.
That Yom Kippur, a very wealthy man who had stopped in Korelitz on Yom Kippur was attending the service in the synagogue. Since there was a great tumult, he asked what was going on. They told him that every year R' Berl-Dovid had the claim on opening the Holy Ark for the Ne'ilah service, but this year he had become poor and couldn't afford to outbid the others. The rich man thereupon called out that he would pay the sum of money on Berl-Dovid's behalf so that Berl-Dovid could open the doors of the Holy Ark that year as well. And so the rich man would send Berl-Dovid the money every year so that he could carry on the tradition of buying the honor of opening the Holy Ark for the Ne'ilah Yom Kippur service. This went on until Berl-Dovid's death.
A rabbi came to Korelitz. This was Rabbi Kagan, who took over the position of town rabbi. R' Chaim-Nata, the teacher, came to see him one day. He stayed there a little while and left. After he left, Rabbi Kagan noticed that 100 rubles had vanished from the table. The rabbi gave orders to call R' Chaim-Nata back. As soon as R' Chaim-Nata came into the rabbi's house, the rabbi told him that he suspected him of taking the 100 rubles from the table. Thereupon, R' Chaim-Nata the teacher, took a Gemara (holy book) off the table and swore that he never saw any money on the rabbi's table. The rabbi gave R' Chaim-Nata a powerful slap and said that he was the only one who could have taken the money. R' Chaim-Nata became ill because of the great shame.
One Friday, Mrs. Farashisker, the lady who looked after the yeshiva students, came to see a yeshiva boy who was staying at the home of a resident for his period of lodging. She brought him clear underwear. The lady noticed that the yeshiva boy was ill. He asked the kind Jewish lady to take out 20 kopeks from his pants and buy castor oil. The lady took out 99 rubles, took the money and came to my father and said, R' Nachum-Kopel, I found 99 rubles in the ‘monk's’ pants. This must be the rabbi's money which disappeared. In former times, 100 rubles was a considerable amount of money and how is it that a monk should have so much money? My father took the money from her. He understood that the rabbi had wrongly suspected R' Chaim-Nata of theft. On Sunday, my father went to the rabbi and told him that the money which had vanished from his table was found in the possession of the monk and not with R' Chaim-Nata, the teacher. The rabbi remembered that on the same day that R' Chaim- Nata came to his house, the monk had also been there. The rabbi exclaimed, What should be done with R' Chaim-Nata? I wrongly suspected him of stealing. My father replied that the rabbi had to ask R' Chaim-Nata's forgiveness before all the people and the community. And so R' Chaim-Nata was called to the pulpit in the synagogue and the rabbi publicly apologized to him. The rabbi added that R' Chaim-Nata was a righteous man and that the righteous must suffer in this world - this was R' Chaim-Nata's suffering in this world.
A short time later, R' Chaim-Nachum passed away. The whole town gathered at his funeral. He was given many eulogies. After that incident, the rabbi himself became ill from a lot of aggravation and never had any pleasure from his life until his death. This happened in 1899. My father told me this story.
My father related another incident to me: in 1870, on the first day of Shavuoth ( Feast of Weeks), the sexton went to open the synagogue. Entering the synagogue, he saw that the window was open and near the window stood a small basket. The sexton was frightened and went to the rabbi, Rabbi Eliahu-Baruch (that was his name). The sexton told him that someone had thrown a small basket into the synagogue. The rabbi ordered the sexton to bring him the basket. The sexton took the basket and, wrapped in a prayer shawl, brought it to the rabbi. The rabbi opened the small basket and saw that there was a silver crown with golden bells and a silver pointer lying inside the basket. The rabbi ordered the sexton to put all these things on a Torah scroll in the synagogue. When the Jews came to the synagogue to pray and when the Torah scroll with the beautiful crown with bells with taken out of the Holy Ark, no one knew where such a treasure had come from.
Forty years passed. Many Jews of that old generation had already died and no one solved the riddle of the silver crown.
Merchants from the surrounding small towns would travel together to the fairs as well as horse traders from Ivenitz.
Once, after a fair, the horse traders from Ivenitz remained in Korelitz to spend the night and, as is customary among Jews, they went to the synagogue to pray. When the Torah scroll with the silver crown was removed from the Holy Ark during the morning service, the horse dealers from Ivenitz noticed that it was the crown which had been stolen from the synagogue in Ivenitz many years earlier. There was a great commotion in the synagogue.
The rabbi said that since 40 years had already gone by, the thing was already considered abandoned without any hope of being found and that this was a matter of Jewish law. The Ivenitz horse dealers related the incident to their own rabbi. The rabbi from Ivenitz immediately came to Korelitz and insisted on having a rabbinic court decide the matter. A few more rabbis were invited to the court of Jewish law, including the rabbis from Novogrudek and Mir. The rabbis decided that the matter of the stolen crown was a case where the missing item was considered hopelessly lost with no chance of being recovered and that the silver crown with the golden bells should, therefore, remain in the synagogue in Korelitz.
In 1908, a Gentile baker came into Korelitz. He would display his baked goods for sale in the market place and in other places. His baked goods had a good name and, besides that, he would give every buyer a free glass of tea. At that time, things were going badly for Jewish bakers and they couldn't make a decent living.
A Christian man, a big drunkard, then lived in Korelitz. His name was Mikolai Maritchevski. He lived near the bathhouse and all the Jews in Korelitz knew him. This drunkard would incite the Gentiles against the Jews, telling them to shop only in Christian stores and buy baked goods from Gentile bakers only. The Jewish bakers took a few other Jews with them and went to the rabbi in Slonim, who was renowned in the district as a great scholar and very righteous man.
The bakers from Korelitz poured out their embittered hearts before the rabbi from Slonim, and they asked him to bless them. The rabbi blessed them and told them they could go home calmly.
When the Jewish bakers returned to Korelitz, they found out that the drunkard, Mikolai Maritchevski, had hanged himself. The Gentile baker died a short time later. And thus Korelitz was rid of both anti-Semites - the Gentile baker and the Maritchevski, the drunkard. The Jewish bakers once again earned a suitable livelihood.
In 1915, the Germans seized Korelitz. The Russians built fortified positions near the Beroza River, and the war front remained there for three years. Nearly all the Jews from the small town had been evacuated to various towns because living there was very dangerous, due to the incessant shooting from both sides of the front.
After the 1917 revolution, the Jews from Korelitz began returning home, but there were no homes for them to live in. The Germans had taken apart the wooden houses and built trenches. Some houses were burned. The Jews took apart the trenches and used the wood again to build the houses.
Life returned to normal. Commerce flourished and the craftsmen also had something to do. However, as after every war, various epidemics broke out and spread and many people died.
Jewish relief committees were formed and people were helped with medicines, clothing and loans as well. The small town quickly built up and Korelitz became lovelier than ever. Korelitz also suffered from fires. After every fire, the small town would be built up and become prettier and better.
(Seated from right to left): Getzl Yellin, Pesach Kaplan, Yitzchak Aharonovski (ritual slaughterer and examiner), Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss, Tobolski (cantor), Tuvia Shimshelovitz
(Standing from right to left):________, Berl Basel, Leibel Farblotzki, _________, Hershel Jishin, Yitzchak Berkovitz, Avraham Chaim
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, life in Korelitz was similar to the life of Jews in many cities and small towns. The opportunities that people had to reach their goals were limited. For some Jews, small town life was too confining, and so they tore themselves away and ventured into the wider world. There were then no special difficulties involved in emigrating. Whoever had money to purchase a ship ticket could leave, as the borders were open. It didn't matter whether one was travelling with or without a visa. Jews found a way to leave and it was especially easy to emigrate if one had an invitation from a relative living abroad.
The situation was quite different after WWI. The world was closed and the doors of many countries were hermetically sealed. In order to emigrate, one needed a passport with a stamped visa as well as an invitation from a close relative in the country where the emigrant wanted to live. An exception was Brazil and Argentina, but few people were eager to go to these countries. Finally, even these countries began to impose certain restrictions with regard to immigration, so that in the last few years before the Second World War, the doors of both these countries were also tightly shut.
Korelitz had the privilege of being the place where the war front stopped in 1915, and the Jews were actually very happy about that. That was because the air was so poisonous in the last years before the outbreak of the First World War that the situation became unbearable. There was a new decree every day. It began with the uprooting of a long established Jewish family from the place, or a pogrom in the city or small town, a blood libel and the Beilis trial, which shook the whole world. The village hooligans would throw stones at every Jew going through the village and would sing anti-Semitic songs at the same time.
When the Germans came into Korelitz during the Intermediate Days of the Sukkot festival, the Jews breathed more freely. First of all, they were rid of the better-off Gentiles, drunks and Jew haters. The Jews thought they could get along with the Germans, but they were quickly disappointed.
The front stopped permanently in the town so that the positions of the combatants on both sides - Russian and German - were situated on both sides of Korelitz and, as a result, the shooting was heard incessantly every day.
About three weeks after the arrival of the Germans, the German commander ordered the evacuation of the entire population. Those who left the town in time and moved to Novogrudek were lucky. At first, one could still get an apartment, but later the evacuees had no place to rest their weary heads. It was still possible for those who had a horse and wagon to save the little they possessed, but most people left whatever they owned in their houses and went out of the small town with nothing. Three years went on in this way. The elderly and feeble died off little by little from want and hunger, and the survivors began returning to Korelitz little by little.
Korelitz was entirely destroyed. The wooden houses were taken away, the wood being used to build trenches. With the exception of Zalamanke Street, not one house remained in the small town. However, nothing but the walls and roofs remained even of the houses on Zalamanke Street. The Germans had dragged out everything from the houses. They even took apart the ceiling.
Little by little, the small town began to be rebuilt. The first to return were those who had suffered the most being away from Korelitz. Among these was my family: my brothers, sisters, my mother and grandmother and I myself. At first, life in Korelitz was very hard, but people accepted the hardships with love. We had tortured ourselves so much on foreign beds that our own little corner was now very dear to us. Korelitz built up year after year. Various institutions again began to function such as the people's bank and study halls with two rabbis instead of one as before. The sources of livelihood were very limited so that the young people, who were mostly attuned to Zionism, strove to go to Palestine, the Land of Israel. However, only a few had the privilege of obtaining a certificate enabling them to settle in Palestine. The doors were locked in other countries so young people went around the streets idly and had no way to expend their energy.
Many jokes circulated about Zalamanke Street. People joked that there was only one pair of shoes on Zalamanke Street. Therefore, a person who would go to the market would put on the shoes and, after returning, would put the shoes in a certain place, and each person would wear them in turn. This characterizes the extent of the poverty there was in our small town, but it also brought out the intimacy and spirit of togetherness of the Jews of Zalamanke Street.
In the winter, people had to heat their homes because of the cold weather, but in the summer, everyone wanted to save by burning as little wood as possible. For this reason, when one would see that the oven was burning in their neighbor's house, they would bring over a pot of food to cook. My wife, Chaya Bayla, of blessed memory, would welcome every person very courteously. She was the incarnation of politeness and kindness. She was also a good merchant as well. It was a great joy for her to have a guest for the Sabbath, and she considered it a mitzvah, performing a good deed. She seated the poor person in the best place and gave him or her the finest and best food.
My dear son Michel possessed the qualities of a diligent Jew. He knew the entire prayer service inside out. When he was eight years old, he would run to the earliest prayer service to be part of the quorum. My dear son Yudele would do likewise. He would always show everyone where Argentina was located on the map and where father was. My dear Temele was also an exceptional child. The years I was in Argentina, my brother Binyamin, of blessed memory, could not stop praising her. The German beasts exterminated everyone.
My brother Binyamin, who was a good teacher in Novogrudek, was also murdered with the martyrs. My sister Sarah-Nechama was murdered with her children in Ivye. My sister Bashke was murdered with her children and grandchildren in Baranovitch. I thus remained an orphan and in sorrow for the rest of my life. May God punish the criminals for shedding the innocent blood of my brothers and sisters.
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
After the cease-fire agreement was concluded between the Germans and Russians and after the Germans moved eastward from the positions they had occupied since the end of September 1915, some of the several hundred Jewish families who had been expelled to Novogrudek by the Germans from the front area (including the small towns of Korelitz, Lubtch, Deliatitch and Neishtot) began to return to their former places. A committee was established for that purpose, and on May 17, 1918, it was approved by the German authorities. The committee was made up of 18 members, 17 of whom were representatives of the four above-mentioned small towns and the 18th, the chairman, was Rabbi Menachem Krakovski. Later, one representative from Horodishtch was added. The committee's rights were 1) to organize the return of the homeless to their former places, 2) to give financial support for rebuilding and renovating houses, 3) to organize community life in the above-mentioned small towns and to build synagogues and other institutions, 4) to maintain contact with the Central Support Committee in Vilna (Chairman, Rabbi Rubinstein), and 5) to serve as a body representing the homeless before the German military authorities.
Being from Korelitz, I was naturally more interested in my small town. My first task was to find families capable of working and possessing a little produce as well as a horse and cow. The area around Korelitz was a wasteland with uncultivated fields and communities in ruins (including Korelitz). Those who returned had to be ready to cultivate neglected ground and build homes in the ruins which remained in the small town. Our selection included about a dozen families who were in the villages around Novogrudek. In order to encourage them to move and also in order for them to receive various relief measures and easy conditions from the committee, another committee member and I went out to the villages. The relief which we requested consisted of the following: 1) to provide them with grain for three months in advance, 2) to permit them to take out their horses, cows and calves to graze, 3) to permit them to come at harvest time to reap the grain that had been sown the previous year and to dig up the potatoes that had been planted the same year (we visited them in 1918) and 4) to give them wagons at no cost to transport their household goods to Korelitz. The commander, Miechov, had a reputation in the whole district as a wicked person and murderer. We arrived very early at his residence, a lovely nobleman's palace in the middle of an orchard. As soon as he saw us, he welcomed us into his consultation room, listened to us and took our written request. A month later, when a few of the families moved to Korelitz, it appeared that our mission had been successful.
In April 1918, I composed and sent a memorandum to the Central Support Committee in Vilna regarding the return of a number of homeless people to their former places and requested money for that purpose. The memorandum was forwarded to the 5th Ob-Ost Department (Director,Lieutenant Dr. Struk)
On May 30, 1918, the Central Committee sent us a communication from the head commander of the 10th Army ( dated May 27th) informing us that all the authoritative bodies had received instructions to supply building wood to the returning wanderers with which to build their houses. On May 11, 1918, we received DM 15,000 for those returning to Korelitz, Lubtch and Neishtot. Regarding the return of the homeless from Korelitz, there were obstacles on the part of the German commander. Rabbi Krakovski, myself and a representative from Korelitz received a certified order to come to an understanding with the commander. Already 12 km before one got to Korelitz, the devastation which the war years had caused was visible - a real wasteland. There was a sign hanging from a post on the side of the road 8km from Korelitz with writing in two languages German and Russian: Whoever crosses the line will be shot.
The fire zone started from that place. 3 km before we came to Korelitz, the first cement trenches began to appear, and the last 2 km, we went through a large number of wire fences. As we entered the small town, we were stopped by a soldier with a gun. He ordered us to go back to the quarter where the commander lived. Not finding the commander at home, we prevailed upon the writers in the service house to permit us, in the presence of a soldier, to look around the small town of Korelitz with its few remaining lonely ruins; with its market place overgrown with yard-high grass; with the ____ little woods on the squares and yards; with the cemetery, open on all sides, in the middle of the synagogue quarter through which wild cats were wandering, and when frightened, running away and hiding in the cemetery mausoleums. Even the sidewalk from the synagogue quarter to the bath house which the Germans had laid down with the tombstones broken off from the graves - I completely lost. Rabbi Krakovski consoled me and spoke about the rapid rebuilding of the small town - which has now, in about 6 years, become a reality. Only one ruin of a building remained on the long street leading to the front. The whole street and everything around it and further ahead created an impression of a wilderness, with trenches and holes and dug up bushes. The commander sent us to the district officer, who was stationed 6 km from Korelitz.
Before leaving the small town, I wanted to clarify another matter which concerned many residents of Korelitz. Before the war, our town had quite a number of students. They each had a lovely library of books (Talmud, responsa literature and books of sermons) which they didn't manage to take with them. Many other books (Hebrew and Russian) were also left behind in our small town.
On Yom Kippur 5677 (1917), there was a pastor among the German visitors in our synagogue. Several of the worshippers turned to the pastor concerning the fate of their books. On October 1, 1917, we received a letter from him which gave us hope that our books were preserved and protected from destruction. I showed the letter to the commander and he immediately handed over the keys to the oldest writer and ordered him to take me to the place where the books were kept. The writer took me to the Russian Orthodox church and we went inside. No trace of destruction . What a contrast to the ruins of the remaining Jewish study halls (synagogues) with the doors and windows taken away, chopped up interior walls, floors and ceiling and sawed away balconies! The study halls themselves now served as stalls for horses, and two heaps of manure made entering very difficult. The books, which were supposed to be in the cases behind the altar, were instead a few thick books on Slavic Churches. I still haven't found the Jewish books and surely they were used by the soldiers to heat the trenches or for worse purposes.
The district officer sent us to the district economy officer, Lange Bekmann. We visited him the following day, and he told us that we would receive an answer in a few days. The reply came, but I don't remember its precise content. All I remember is that it was very unclear. We understood the representatives of the German authorities better when they issued orders and not when they spoke unclearly and gave us vague answers in our negotiations with them. The Germans in the summer of 1918 were no longer the same as they were in the autumn of 1915. During those few years we were oppressed by the laws of occupation which were enforced without mercy. We now sensed a weakening in all directions. On Shavuoth (Feast of Weeks) 5678 (1918), the first 4 families from the villages returned to Korelitz and, by the autumn of 1918, there were already over 30 families. After May 31, 1918, however, we received a refusal from the German command to our request to allow more families to return. The introduction to the refusal was as follows: All of the small towns lie in the zone of closure (between the first and second positions). The return of the homeless is completely forbidden,
The orders, however, were not carried out in real life. The officials, soldiers and officers were happy that people were settling in the devastated area. They hoped that the renewal of life in the district would make life easier for them as well. The soldiers and officers began selling wood and boards from the trenches to the returning homeless. The work involved in taking apart the trenches was remunerative for the Germans and beneficial for the returnees. For just a little money they obtained boards, bricks, iron, doors, windows, etc. The Germans also hired out their horses to the homeless so that they could till their fields. Others were able to get materials from the near-by forests using the horses.
At the same time, we had difficulties with the higher command. The economics bureau made life hard for the homeless. If, for example, a resident of Korelitz needed to go to Novogrudek, he had to be accompanied by an officer stationed 6km from Korelitz and then by an officer stationed 10km from the Korelitz-Novogrudek road.
On June 11, 1918, we received DM 25,000 from the Vilna Central Committee. On October 26, 1918, we received DM 2,000 from Herman Struk with which to teach children of poor homeless families. On December 2, 1918 (3 weeks before the German withdrawal and the seizure of our area by the Bolsheviks), we received the last DM 2,000 from the Central Committee. In addition, we received money from several individuals from Minsk (collected by Rabbi A. Abavitch and N. Bakaltshuk) and from several smaller towns from the State of Minsk (collected by Z. Kliatshkin and M.Yoselevitch). We received smaller amounts from Radon, Stutshin and Varanova (State of Vilna) and from the small town of Luna (State of Grodno).
The process of determining who should receive financial support and how to divide the money began on May 22, 1918. The largest amount of assistance was set at DM 200 and later at DM 300 paid in two installments. To cultivate a field or sow a garden, DM 40. Later, support was also given for buying a horse or other farm animals, to purchase agricultural machinery or work tools, to pay a teacher for teaching children, for renovation of synagogues and baths and for other town needs as well as for help in buying medicine. We received the last DM 20,000 from the Central Committee at the beginning of the winter. Before the arrival of the Bolsheviks, this money was distributed for the last two kinds of assistance during the winter and spring of 1919 until we received support from the Yekopa from Vilna.
There was one house with windows and doors in Korelitz at that time. This house served as a gathering point for all the homeless. There were two baking ovens. There was not a living soul nearly 15km all about. There wasn't a place to get even a kernel of grain. Bread was scarce. The houses were in ruin. Wolves played havoc in the trenches around the town and they carried off not one goat from a poor Jew
A new front was in place in the summer of 1918. The bullets fired by the Bolsheviks reached right into our small town. The Bolshevik regime brought with it hunger and unemployment. The activity of "Yekopa" started at the beginning of the summer of 1918. When they became aware of our difficult situation, they sent us a sum of DM 10,000. At the beginning of the "Yekopa" work in our region, they focused their activity on the following: bread for the hungry and medicine for the sick. We are now beginning to receive - together with the money for renovation -sums of money for an elementary school, library, savings and loan fund and later for wood for construction.
* According to records of Yekopa, Province reports and reminiscences, p. 502-22.
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