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[Page 75]

My village and the memories of my birthplace

by Sara Biribis

Prepared by Myrna Siegel

Edited by Jerrold Landau

Maytchet, my village and the memories of my birthplace – the Jewish population was eradicated from the face of the earth by the hands of the sick inhumane nation, may their names and memory be erased “Yemach Sheman” from history. After being separated from it for 35 years, memories of my distant childhood come to my mind, awaking in my heart strong emotions and yearnings for the near as well as distant past – the warm house, the extended family and all that goes with it.

Maytchet was a famous city in Poland. It had mountaintops blessed with scenery and was a vacation city. A forest stretched out in a huge area near the city. Fresh air, the smell of pines and the forest, and fruit of all kinds attracted many thousands of summer visitors who came for their health from many Polish cities. Some came for pleasure and enjoyment, and others on doctor's orders for recuperation. Near the forest was the large inn of the Margolin family, which was booming with business from many people day and night. Not far from there flowed a wide river for whose clear water came thousands of people, including the local residents, to recuperate and relieve their fatigue.

The river had a close connection with the largest flourmill in the area, which belonged to our family, Boretsky. My grandfather of blessed memory, Moshe Aaron Boretsky, came from a very large and respectable

Moshe-Aharon Boretsky the miller and his grandchildren

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family. The sons and daughters and their families lived together in close proximity in Maytchet. From there some immigrated to the States and many other branches were set up in cities and other small towns – most of them in Slonim. The closest ones were concentrated around the mill and frequently gathered. They even bought a large boat for the grandchildren to go boating together on the river.

On the right of the mill was a narrow street that ran between rows of high trees. This was wonderful expansive scenery that was enchanting to behold. On moon-filled nights the young people would gather and, accompanied by mandolins, would row on the water until the early hours of the morning. And they were in constant fear of the unexpected surprise from the gentile boys. Right next to the mill was a very large stone bench which, during the day, provided for a short rest and a breath of fresh air. And at night for undisturbed romance with the exception of a few cases when a Polish police officer on duty would approach them out of curiosity or more correctly jealousy to look and see who was there. But when you identified yourself by name, there was no unpleasantness.

I remember the train station from the days of the horse and buggy. And later, the bus line to Baronovichi that Yichael Shoptick managed. Afterwards it was renovated and turned into the famous train station which contributed greatly to the quality of life. At dusk despite the relatively far distance, many would walk out to accompany and to receive passengers and some just for an enjoyable walk.

On Shabbos, after resting from eating cholent [the Sabbath midday meal], when the weather was good the Jews went out en masse in the direction of the forest for a stroll. With the approach of shalosh sudos [the third Sabbath meal] the street emptied of its walkers with the exception of couples in love who found it difficult to part.

Our Tarbut school was one of the most important institutions in the city. It had in it most of the children in the town and it gave them knowledge and education. It produced many alumni groups, some of which continued on in Vilna. The respected memory of our teacher and principal, Abraham Shukhovitzsky, who was one of the school founders, was concerned about all of its needs, with whom he invested all of his energies. Among the graduates of the school were the best youth in town.

Maytchet was a Zionistic town. The blue box [Keren Kyemet collection boxes] was found in most homes. Achieving aliyah was one of the highest goals to the youth movements. A branch of HaShomer Hamtzair absorbed many of the youth and set up a teacher's club and had many activities. During summer vacations in the surrounding village areas they set up regional summer camps in which hundreds of Shomrim participated. This also contributed much to the enjoyment and way of life. The results were Hachshara and Aliyah. But only a few merited this and most died in the Holocaust. Discord, the Jewish disease, affected Maytchet where many political parties were set up. Independently they set up their own dramatic club that was worthy of praise, with a group of outstanding actors.

I lived a couple of kilometers away from the main part of town or more correctly to the entrance to it. All the Polish institutions were near our house and we lived house to house with our gentile neighbors. On the surface the relationship between the neighbors were good, but nevertheless you felt at times the anti-Semitism that oozed from them. From the days of my childhood I remember an unusual occurrence when one of the farmers married off his daughter and invited his Jewish neighbors to the party. He made available a large room, bought new dishes,

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brought in a Jewish cook and set up Kosher tables based on laws of Kashruth and Yiddishkite to the joy of the surrounding Jews and the host family.

In the center of town all the stores were centralized on both sides of the road. That was the local center of trade. Dvorzecky's Pharmacy, Karawczok's Barbershop, Idel's grocery store, Sirshka's accessory and notions store, (zawad) of the Balinsky family, Romanovsky family grocery store, etc. etc. I remember them all by name and by sight; they all remain in front of my eyes. The large and fancy synagogue whose ground floor was designated for the men and the upper one for women. On Shabbot and holidays especially, they streamed there from the oldest to the youngest. I loved to stand next to my Aunt Dvorah and to quickly repeat seven times the prayer “Lamenatzeach Livnei Korach[1]. It was a special experience to come and greet our parents after the fast and tell of the day's events on Yom Kippur. The “treifniks” were well known when, after following them into the forest, they were discovered with full plates of food.

A special memory was the Purim experience with Shaluch manos [Purim gifts]. We went from house to house with a frightened heart that someone would take an orange off the plate.

Pesach with all of its glories and its laws, remain indelibly etched in my memory. Turning the house inside out, the painting, making the dishes kosher for Passover, baking the matzo, the traditional beets in a wooden barrel. The wine, known as “Mead,” then washing of the Pesach dishes.

The Jews rented land from the non-Jews for the purpose of planting potatoes, which they filled their cellars with a full year's stock. They also stored in their cellars barrels fi–

–lled with pickles and sauerkraut. They made homemade wines (Vishniak) and different drugs that were prepared in case they would be needed in sickness and emergency. Every house had a cow, chickens for eggs and ducks for fat with gribines for Chanukah latkes, Pesach, etc. For the most part we existed on homegrown produce, baking of bread, meat, all milk and egg products, vegetables, fruits, etc. My mother, of blessed memory, with her own capable hands, planted the seeds for all the vegetables and took care of the house needs, and these were not small quantities for a family of eight people and also for the winter storage. In our garden the first tomato appeared, which many had never seen and did not know what to do with. The name of Maytchet also became famous for it's sour milk that you would cut with a knife, which acquired the nickname of “Maitchata Sour Milk.”

Every Wednesday was market day. Farmers from near and far would come in mass, some on foot, some in vehicles, with baskets overflowing with agricultural produce. They had sour cream and cheese, vegetables and fruits of all kinds, eggs, chickens, cows and horses for sale. For these items they would barter or purchase what they needed – mostly vodka, which was poured into their stomachs like water. Towards evening, as the last farmers left the town, and the echo of their singing reached out to a distance, we knew that the time had come to gather the children into the house, to close the windows and the doors, and to be prepared for the results of their wild drinking. They would knock on the Jewish doors and scream, “Open the door – we are going to slay and massacre the Jews.” When we didn't answer they would go back and fall drunk on the side of the road. The last night of the market was always a source of fear for us because we lived on the main road between the town and the villages.

Translator's footnote

  1. Psalm 49, recited seven times in succession on the days of Rosh Hashanah prior to the shofar blowing. Return

 


[Page 78]

Jewry, Virtuous and with Difficulties

by Chaim Kravetz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

About the former life in Maytchet and the region.

I myself was born in Navahrudak, but I spent my childhood years in Maytchet. I arrived in Maytchet in 1917, and I remember a great deal about life in Maytchet. I had family there: Zelig Leizerovich the tailor was my father's brother; Chana, the wife of Mordechai Alperstein the tailor was my father's sister; and Michael Shlomovitz's wife Sonia was his cousin. Thus, our family was well represented in Maytchet. I therefore come to take part in the Yizkor Book and write about my early childhood years, which form a part of Maytchet Jewish life.

In our house, we heard word that the need in Maytchet was not as great as in Navahrudak. I therefore spoke to two neighboring children and set out with them by foot to Maytchet to seek help from our relatives there. We were ten children in the family, so when I set out, they would certainly not take notice, and that is indeed what happened. One of the children had a pair of old shoes, the other was wearing one shoe and one boot, and I was s barefoot. Thus did we set out on our way in the bitter cold.

Along the way, we stopped in the village houses to beg for food from the farmers. Some of them would give, and others threw us out, until we came to a village in which a Jew lived. The woman of the house took pity on us, gave us a supper of dairy soup, and put us to sleep on the ground with a bit of straw. Early the next morning, they woke us up and told us to go to a nearby village, Svorotva, where there were Jews who would give us

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something to eat. We set out on our way. My bare feet stuck to the frozen ground. I was going along and crying from the cold and hunger, until we arrived in Svorotva. There, we went into the house of a Jew named Reb Shlomo, who told us to sit by the table and gave us bread and butter, and an egg for each of us - a food that I had never seen before at home. After we ate, Reb Shlomo hitched up a horse and drove us to Maytchet. He left me off near Uncle Zelig's house, and my two friends went to their relatives. Reb Shlomo took me into my uncle's house, introduced me as his brother's son, and left. They treated me well with food and drink. In the meantime, Aunt Chana came, and when Uncle Zelig told her who I was, she took me to herself, for she did not have any children and wanted to have me as a child.

Uncle Mordechai was very stingy, and demanded that my aunt send me back home, but my aunt treated me as a mother would and delayed sending me back day by day, until a change took place. Uncle would go to worship with a rabbi who was paralyzed. He would help him get dressed, and he held him in great esteem. When he went there on the Sabbath, my uncle took me along to the rabbi, and I carried his tallis and siddur. The rabbi asked who I was, and my uncle explained everything to him. The rabbi then blessed him and wished him that this merit should help him have children of his own. The rabbi's blessing worked very well with my uncle, and when we came home from the services, he told my aunt that I can remain there, and that they would enroll me in a cheder.

On Sunday morning, my aunt took me to the cheder of Hirshe-Yudel the teacher, who lived in the synagogue courtyard, and I became a student among the other students. They made me an outfit and a pair of shoes, but they only let me wear them on the Sabbath. With regard to eating, the entire family participated. On Sunday and Monday I ate with Uncle Zelig, on Tuesday and Wednesday with cousin Sonia, and the other days with

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Aunt Chana, who used to also concern herself with me on the other days. She would go to Shmaya in the restaurant and get me pieces of herring, hard pieces of bread, and other leftovers, thanks to which I was sated with the participation of three families in providing food for one young child. Then, when I began to get accustomed to life and would eat to satiety, my parents came to take me home, but I strongly refused and remained in Maytchet.

Maytchet youth enjoying a sleigh ride during the winter

 

I settled in well in Maytchet, and already had friends with whom I played kneplech [buttons]. And there was no shortage of buttons at my uncle the tailor, until he realized that I was carrying away all the buttons to play with. After that, when he threatened to send me home, I found another source for buttons. I would go to the Beis Midrash and when everyone was standing to recite Shmone Esrei, I took a small knife and cut the buttons off the coats - one day in the large Beis Midrash, the next day in the Hassidic Shtibel, etc. One Sabbath

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I won all the buttons from my friends. A big fight broke out during the time of joy, and I ripped my Sabbath pants. I was afraid to go home until my aunt got involved. The pants were fixed, but the era of playing kneplech was over. However, G-d does not let one down, and I found another game - taking loops of belts and running with them through Podkriszer Street to the hill, and going up the hill, or in the winter riding on the sleds that traveled in the town, as well as well as other pranks.

Mosheke the peddler was my uncle's brother-in-law. He had a weakness for serving as a cantor, and was always called to the prayer leader's podium. However, as usual, there was no shortage of pranksters. Someone would start rabblerousing, and another would stand by the podium. This caused great resentment, and after the services, there was a strong exchange of words. A celebration took place in the Beis Midrash on Sabbaths afternoons, where Yankel would be reciting Psalms. He would recite chapter after chapter by heart, and everyone would repeat after him with a sad but heavenly melody, that warmed the soul, especially in the winter. On the other hand, the youth would go to the “Zavad” to drink seltzer water and lemonade. I also went and saw that they drank, paid no money, but rather left some kind of little notes. I also wanted to take without money, but they did not give me, and my childish mind did not understand why.

There were also many other things that I did not understand at that time, and evoked great wonder. When my uncle would bring a hen from the village, he would not slaughter it during the day. Rather when everyone was already asleep they would wake me up and send me to David the Shochet to slaughter the hen. When my aunt went to the butcher shop to get meat for the Sabbath, she would purchase only half of what she needed, for she was afraid of an “evil eye.” She would send me for the other half at a different butcher shop. It was the style in Maytchet that every Jew had a pair of goats, and Henoch would go to the hill with all the goats to graze them. It was a wonder to me how he became obligated to go

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with the entire town's goats. I recall with wonder the miller's daughter who had two long, thick braids, and when she went on the street, it seemed that there was more braid than girl. I am no longer a child and I have traveled the world, but I have never seen such beautiful braids as I had seen on the miller's daughter in Maytchet.

Maytchet was a small town, but a true Jewish town which I will never forget. The Jews of Maytchet would go with their tallis bags to the synagogue to worship and study both on weekdays and on Sabbaths. Even in the evenings, there was never a shortage of a minyan [prayer quorum. Thanks to Maytchet, where I spent the years of my youth and was educated, I grew up as a Jew who could take the pen into the hand. Maytchet Jews did not live in wealth, but rather in great unity with each other both in joyous times and times of suffering. When there was a wedding in town, the joy could be felt everywhere. When they led the young couple to the chupa [wedding canopy], the musicians would go in front, and the entire town, young and old, would follow from behind. In my life, I have witnessed various weddings, but I only recall a true, joyous Jewish wedding from Maytchet.

The heart is full of sorrow and can find no comfort when one recalls that the virtuous and ideal Jews of Maytchet were so tragically murdered at the hands of the fake, murderous neighbors. They should be well recompensed for their worth, and the martyrs should be granted a true rectification.

 

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