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[Page 149]

Section 3

The Surrounding Villages of Wolma, Derevna and Gran

 

Derevna and Rubezhevichi

(Derevna – 53°42' 26°34')

By Shraga Ben-David (Davidowitz) / Petah-Tikva

Translated by Helene Altman

Translation coordinated by Jonah Kaplan

The destruction of the two towns where I spent my childhood days, I shall mourn. For the shattering of their sons and daughters, I shall lament. Only a few in numbers, who knew suffering in forests and swamps, were saved from the Nazis and their helpers. They were hearing and eye witnesses to everything that happened, the stories of the survivors in this book freeze the blood in our veins. The victims' blood cries out to us and to our sons - Remember! Do not forget what they have done to your fathers, brothers, sisters and daughters, the Germans – those who embodied the “Superior Culture” - the murder experts.

I shall still see you in the eyes of my spirit, my little native town – Rubezhevichi. Forever will I remember your inhabitants, leaders and cared children. An effervescent town, full of life from the break of dawn until the late night hours, from the putting of the cows out to pasture, from the walk to the morning prayers, from the walking out of the tradesmen, until sunset, your streets fill with noise.

Photograph with caption: A store in Derevna (1933). Standing from right: Zelig Davidowitz, Bracha and Moshe Lubczanski

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I shall see your Jews in prayer in the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays. I hear the echoes of the voices of the town's cantors during the Days of Awe [the ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur], who lift up their voices in sweet prayer and supplication. Their voice, full of the sadness of the leaders of prayer, who ask forgiveness for their congregation, remains with me forever.

We have been delinquent in our youth in not writing, from memory, the story of the towns in which we were born, grew up and were educated. I made aliyah [immigration to Israel], did not search nor write about the past of the towns and their founders. When we wish to build a memorial to their destruction, we perceive the treasures we lost. We are obligated to look in encyclopedias and excerpts from records for the few lines that their authors dedicated to them.

Excerpts to isolated and G-d-forsaken towns spread across the plains of White Russia, to the struggle of their inhabitants for survival and for a little sanctity in their lives full of suffering and poverty. We, the survivors and the remaining, the surviving remnant, can comprehend the immensity of the tragedy we endured. A bitter cry bursts from our hearts, our insides: Woe to us for we have failed – and we will bless the little that remains to be forever remembered. We will transmit to our sons and daughters, the few drops that we drew from the ocean in our childhood and they will know who their fathers were and what has been done to them.

I grew up and was educated in the two towns - Derevna and Rubezhevichi. In Derevna I was born and there, when I turned two, my father was murdered by the farmers of the region, and we were left two orphans – my brother Zelig HY”D [May the Lord Avenge his blood] and I. No sooner had I learned to stand on my feet, that I discovered a place of Torah learning.

The first yeshiva where I studied was the nearby town of Koidanov. It was a yeshiva for youth, which gathered many children from the nearby towns and was under the influence of Admor [“Adonainu, Morainu, VeRabbeinu” - Our Rebbe] of Koidanov. During vacations, I would return to Rubezhevichi for the holidays. I remember well the synagogue in Rubezhevichi in which laid a treasure of books of Jewish law and critical commentaries and research. There were also, books of medieval rabbinic authorities prior to the Shulkhan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] discussing Jewish Law – a faithful testimony that in past days it brought up many students who needed books for their studies. In many books I found slogans written with a pencil: “long live socialism” and the like. It is only a few years ago that I discovered the meaning of these slogans. In 1905 the danger of a pogrom came forth in Rubezhevichi, and to its rescue came young men from Minsk and Koidanov. They were housed in the synagogue and left these slogans behind them to memorialize them for eternity.

The synagogue served as the center of the cultural and spiritual life of the town. This is where the lively and wakeful pulse of the town was felt in its joys and worries. On Saturday afternoons, homeowners, paupers, craftsmen, and others meditated on the verses of Psalms to ameliorate their misfortunes. They would sit on the eastern wall, behind the stage and on its sides.

I see the small groups speaking in Polish, standing and telling news from the big world – they are the regular readers of the Haint and the Moment [Yiddish newspapers], knowledgeable in politics, interpreting the articles.

I see myself playing with children my age, spending time speaking in Polish between afternoon and evening prayer and in the summer bathing and learning to swim in the river.

I remember the wedding ceremonies under the canopy near the synagogue. The bride and groom were led through the streets of the town – and its inhabitants accompany them with joy and clamor.

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Care for the poor and the needy would also have importance for the community leaders and the town's inhabitants. Righteous women would provide food and clothing to those who were in need. A poor or orphan bride would be given assistance.

There were two synagogues in the town. In one of them which was called a Beit Midrash – there would be studying and praying all year long, whereas the other was used for prayer only during the summer days. In the alley that led to the synagogues, behind Mr. Yaacov Shapiro's house, there was a little cemetery. Innumerable legends were told about this cemetery. Many would avoid walking through it alone in evenings and nights. The path led to the river, and along the road there were several buildings and public institutions, among which: the guest house, the baths, as well as a house for the synagogue sexton and a house for the person responsible for the baths were situated. On the riverbank there were several streams which yielded cold clear water.

On Saturday mornings during the hot summer days we – the boys and young men – would go draw drinking water. In the afternoon, the synagogue would bustle with the prayers of the congregation. In every corner, homeowners sat around tables, to listen to a class on Ein Yaakov [A compilation of all the Aggadic material in the Talmud together with commentaries], Midrash [The whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible] or the weekly Torah portion. On the eastern wall, the Torah scholars of the town sat and preached, studied and memorized the Gemara. I remember this “east” wall for I too, as a young man, would sit among the adults in this row and study the Torah. Those who impressed me particularly were the older ones of the group: Mr. Yehuda Poliez, Mr. Chaim Leib Osherowitz, Mr. Meir Hadayan, Mr. Berel-Meir Shimonowitz, Mr. Noah Borisevich and others. And there were “Jews of the Psalms” who would sit in one of the corners and would repeat verses of Psalms.

The communal Rabbi was Rabbi Eliezer Edelman HY”D. He inherited the rabbinical chair from his father, Rabbi Shemaria ZT”L. His wife, the rebbetzin, was from a wealthy family in Lithuania. The Rabbi was a tall man, his face shined with the special nobleness of a Torah scholar from the famous yeshivas of Lithuania. He had great esteem for the Torah scholars of the town, the young and adult men, who migrated to a place of Torah. His income was supplemented by selling yeast and the like.

I shall place for eternal memory the soul of one of the inhabitants of the town, Mr. Eliyahu Eisenbod HY”D, a busy businessman who helped a lot of the general public and individuals. An eyewitness shall recount his last days...

Life died in the town. The lives of the Jews who fought silently for their bread without grouse or complaint ended. To you, my town arose the finale. You were thrown alive into a big grave of your brothers. Your fallen soldiers were not like fallen warriors. You were murdered in bright daylight by heartless men, a group of cruel murderers. They tortured you until your souls departed. There are no words to cry over the dimension and force of the catastrophe. We are shocked, suffering your pain and mourning forever.

May the Lord Avenge your Blood!

 


[Page 152]

My Town Derevna

By Miriam-Mary Aronovsky
Dedicated to my children in Jerusalem

Translated by Marcia Weiser

Translation coordinated by Jonah Kaplan

In 1910, when my mother and the children left for America, where my father already lived, I was a little girl, but the town and its inhabitants I never forgot – and I yearned for them. No longer able to endure the yearnings, I visited Derevna in 1926, walked on her streets, visited the residents and took those memories back with me.

My father Reuven Machtei, or as he was called in Derevna, Reuven the Melamed [teacher] who was born in Stolbtsy, was the brother of Elijah the Shokhet [ritual slaughterer], whom, Zalman Shazar, the President of the State of Israel, wrote about in his book Kokhvey Boker [ Morning Stars]. As a child the President studied with Elijah's son, Mordechai, who resides today in Petakh Tikvah, Israel. My father, mother (Feige, Simon the Melamed's daughter) remained in Derevna. He taught young boys – my mother taught the girls. In their spare time, my father was a bookbinder and my mother dyed the Christians' textiles. But with all this work, they could not make a living. So my father left for America seeking a way to support the family, afterwards his wife and children joined him.

Now 40 years have passed, Derevna does not exist. Her Jewish population does not exist; the whole community was annihilated by the Nazi evildoers. The whole town is permeated with Jewish tears and blood. All that is left are naïve and sweet memories, therefore here, for the last time, together with my compatriots; I walk the streets of Derevna and permanently enshrine those dear and near to me.

I close my eyes; once again I see my town. I am standing in the middle of the market place, from which the streets and the houses emanate: Post Street, Sloboda Street, here lived Bentzi the darling, and the Chazan [Cantor] and Shokhet Avalevich – a poor Jew but always happy and confident. Here is Bath Street where the Jewish Bathhouse stood and nearby was the Jewish cemetery.

On Church Street lived the elite of the town, such as Yossel's son Hirsch, Yaakov Neufeld, Mayer Kaufman and Fyveh the pharmacist. Actually, among them snuck in, Dovid Moishe Brody, who lived in a small house, similar to a stall. He was Yerucham Brody's brother, who had immigrated to America. He, Yerucham, had a golden heart and was very generous. Though he was far away from Derevna, he never forgot the town, and he found the money to support the Rabbi, the needy, widows and orphans. After the First World War, he, together with my father raised money to send to Derevna, in order to rebuild the burnt out synagogue. With the Soviets arrival in town in 1939, the support stopped, and shortly thereafter he died.

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On Mirer Street, where we lived, there also lived our Rabbi Golub. I am walking slowly and look in every corner; this is the street, where I spent my sweet youth. In the air is the aroma of cooked delicacies, fish and potatoes, somewhere a housewife is making potato pancakes. From afar I hear a bleat from a goat, a mother is angry with a child. Oh, how near to me is all of this!

Here by a low table sits Moshe-Ariah, the shoemaker, who delights in a hot pot of chicory. There is Hirschel the furrier traveling with his hats. A little later Chaim-Shlomo is arguing with his mother the baker. Who else is there? Oh, here is Zisel the tailor, he has aged and is a little bent over, and he is standing and blowing on the coals in the press-iron. Near him stand the tailors Yankel and Moshe, with sad faces, times are hard, and there is no livelihood.

I pass the yard of Reuven the horse-dealer. He is not at home. He left very early to go to the villages to look at, or exchange a horse. I am nearing Yaakov-Ariah Mordkowitz's house. A sweet fresh wood aroma wafts from the yard. Mr.Yaakov-Ariah stands among the wood shavings, planing wood. His daughter, Etel, a very pretty young woman, stands and smiles at me. Unfortunately, she did not know what fate awaited her. At that time she had not yet heard the words “ghetto”, “concentration camp” or “Nazi”…She married Aharon Brody. When the Germans arrived, they and their three children, Moishe-Baruch, Chaim and Eshka, were sent to the Rubezhevichi ghetto and from there to Dvoretz. Etel and her daughter were murdered. Aharon and his two sons fortuitously escaped from Dvoretz. In the forest they offended a Polish “partisan” who murdered Chaim. Aharon and his son Moishe-Baruch were lucky to have saved themselves, until they joined a Russian partisan group, where they fought heroically. After the liberation, Moshe was drafted into the Red Army and died fighting the Germans near Warsaw. Alone and forlorn Aharon remarried. In 1946 he landed in Israel and lives in Jerusalem with his wife Celia.

My reminiscences are interrupted by Bentzy the carpenter, who came to Yaakov-Aharon to borrow a file, his saw became blunt, and it needs to be sharpened…

From afar I hear children's voices, who are studying with the Rabbi. There lives Bentzi the melamed from Naliboki.

At the end of Mirer Street is a hill where we played as children. On the hill are tombstones, a little further – the forest where the youth would meet after the Sabbath lunch and read pamphlets, hear Zionist lectures and debate.

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On a certain Sabbath, a Derevna resident named Resnick gave a Zionist speech. Among the listeners were a few 13-14 year old Yeshiva male students; one of them –Rabbi Zev Brody--Aharon's older brother, who immigrated to Palestine with his family in 1935, and settled in Jerusalem. He was the Rabbi of the Shoemakers' Synagogue in Minsk. In the year 5724, approximately 1964 [Ed: possibly should be 1934] he published a book Pamay Geulah [Times of Redemption]. When our town heard of this, it was decided not to call them to the Torah for an honor, until they would repent.

In the forest in the year 1905-6 the Jewish Self Defense Organization was founded. The Chairman was my brother Shimon. Their armaments were sticks and shovels. Only Shimon had a revolver. On a given market day Christians started breaking the windows of the Jewish homes. The Jewish young men used the sticks and shovels, the Christian townspeople joined in and the hooligans left town.

I am already a little tired. I am returning, opening the door to our apartment and remain standing with eyes wide open. My whole family is sitting around the table. Father and mother are looking at me with smiling eyes. Next to my mother sits my sister Yehudis and in her hands – her baby Hashinka. Next to her sits her husband, the teacher Hirsch Kaplan from Yeremichi, who came to us from Rubezhevichi. He influenced my brother Yosef greatly, who at the age of 9 was already writing poetry in Hebrew and drawing. In America he graduated from the Rabbinical Seminary. He was an authority on the poetry of the middle ages and corresponded about this with H.N. Bialik. He permanently moved to Israel and now lives in Jerusalem.

Here sits my sister Devorah. Near her sits my brother Aharon, who returned from his temporary stay in America. On the other side of the table sits my brother Shimon, who has the soul of a fighter. His two sons followed in their father's footsteps. The older son, Shlomo, died in Normandy during the war with Hitler. My oldest brother, Berl, is looking and smiling at me. Upon arrival in America, he worked and studied hard. He is a well-known dentist and is called Ben Marcus. He writes poems in Hadaar [The Mail – a Hebrew newspaper] under the pseudonym Gilgul shel paytan atik [reincarnation of an ancient poet]. His only son he named Serenin [Israeli army rank equivalent to Captain]. The root of their love for Israel, to poetry and to good manners helped my brothers' move from the small and poor town of Derevna.

I look at them and in every corner of our poor apartment and my heart is at peace. I am carefree and lucky, because for a short while you and I were back in my birthplace…

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But, I must go further. I have not yet seen the marketplace after so many years… Here is the marketplace. In his dry goods store stands Soneh Epstein, the mayor, who kept the birth records, handed out the passports for the Jews, and compiled lists of military conscripts. He is talking to his sons Betche and Shaul Gilimovski. They are store keepers, on hard times; it is hard to earn a living. The latest preach was not to shop in Jewish establishments…Here is the entrance to Aharon-Dovid's pharmacy. There is an entrance to a tavern. Alesander is conversing with his neighbor Shmuel-Hirsch. A little further on is Shemaiah Shimonovitch's house, his son Fyveh, the baker lives near him. He is doing very well. Tomorrow is market day; we have to prepare the baked goods… At the corner of Church Street stood Rivka Goyfeld's house.

Here is the synagogue. Dovid the Shammas [synagogue's sexton] stands and rips off the Zionist proclamations from the wall. He rips angrily…The war between the Young Zionists and Reb Dovid was a long drawn out one. They would plaster it up – and he would immediately tear it down. Until the young men discovered –pasting exactly at candle lighting [Friday night twenty minutes before the Sabbath begins when tearing is prohibited]. The proclamation stayed up until the Sabbath ended…

I remember Simchat Torah [Festival rejoicing in the ending of the Torah reading cycle and the beginning again of the Torah reading cycle] revolution: The young men did not let Reb Dovid distribute the first Hakafah [one of seven honors involving circling the synagogue while holding the Torahs] to the wealthy. The Shammas stands at the lectern and yells to the congregation -- The young men say, all are equal –poor and rich. Screaming and yelling ensued, until Rabbi Meir Kaufman ruled: “By all means let the young men distribute the honors.”

The first honor went to the aged Dovid Moishe Brody, the tailor, and all the elderly Jews. The craftsmen smiled winningly in their beards. From that time the custom developed to distribute the honors according to age. After the Hakafot, the young people sang the Hatikvah [The Hope – now the national anthem of Israel]. Rabbi Golub asked for the significance of the song. My brother Yosef recited the words for him and translated them. After listening to him, the Rabbi ruled that one may sing this, even in the synagogue.

I want to go into the synagogue, but everything disappears in a wink. No more synagogues, no people, no houses, only mounds of earth which reminds us that once houses stood here. There is no sign of life. A deadly silence envelops me…

Only in my memory do you exist, my little town Derevna.

 


[Page 156]

My Village Derevna

By Rabbi Yitzhak Zvi Shimonowitz* Johannesburg

Translated by Helene Altman

Translation coordinated by Jonah Kaplan

The name of the village Derevna – derives from it being surrounded by forests. I could not find in official records where its first inhabitants came from, but ancient tombstones of rabbis and other famous names bore testimony of a village hundreds of years old. Most of the inhabitants shared family ties from their places of origin, or through marriage.

The villagers' income was strained and came mostly from petty trading with other villagers from the surroundings, so that many of them were merchants and store keepers and a few - craftsmen. On Sunday morning, they would go out to villages to trade their merchandise and buy from villagers their production surplus. The craftsmen - tailors, glaziers, carpenters and the like - would stay in the villages the whole week. In the village, there were also blacksmiths to which villagers would come to shoe their horses and make their carts and work tools ready.

Market day took place regularly every Thursday. Villagers from the surroundings would gather to trade their products. The Jews of the village got most of their income on that day. The merchants sold kerosene, sugar, salt, fabric and various haberdasheries to the villagers. The merchants would set up tables with various food products in the center of the market. It should be noted that there was no competition between the local merchants and outside merchants. After market day, the traders who came from the cities would buy various merchandise from the local merchants and sell the merchandise at their place of origin, such as Minsk (before World War I) and Baranowicze and Stolbtsy (after it).

During the Polish reign, petty trading greatly declined among the villages' Jews. Polish competitors rose and they preached not to buy from Jews but only from Christian cooperatives. In the village, only six Jewish stores survived, and they just held on. In the thirties, anti-Semitism increased as the civil government and the Catholic Church incited and taught to hate Jews and harass them. The word Yid [Polish: scornful word for Jew] as a suffix was widespread, and they would frighten children with this word: “The Yid will kill you”. In my lifetime, a few murders occurred, in which villagers cold-bloodedly murdered Jewish merchants. The authorities would allegedly attempt to find the murderers, but in fact they did not punish the loathsome acts.

About fifty years ago, a big part of the village burned down and the fire also destroyed the synagogues. Before the fire, there were two houses of prayer in the village. The first synagogue was open every day of the year and people studied there almost all year long. In the second synagogue, people only prayed in the Days of Awe and in the summer. The entire life of the village was concentrated in the synagogues – from praying and studying there, to public affairs, mutual assistance etc.

The local Rabbi was respected by all the villagers. He was the spiritual and physical leader of the tribe. He was consulted on every problem and served as a spokesperson in all matters. His income was constrained, although he obtained the right to sell yeast, candles and salt. In the last century, there were a few well-known rabbis in the village, among which Rabbi Shraga Feibush Golov Z”L [Hebrew acronym: Bless his Righteous Memory] from Lithuania. In the first year after his passing, all the newborns in the village were named Shraga Feivel. After him served his brother-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Levi Z”L. He was one of the region's geniuses. He was from Lithuania, a student of its yeshivas. About 15 years before the Holocaust, he returned to Lithuania to his family and was killed there with the village's Jews. His daughter is in Israel today. After him came Rabbi Avraham Pentolnikov HY”D, a great scholar and excellent orator, very much loved by the locals. He lived in meagerness like the rest of the local inhabitants who became impoverished during the last period, as the government put obstacles in their way and did not allow them to sustain themselves economically. Rabbi Pentolnikov HY”D died along with his congregation, as told by eye witnesses. The near-to-last hazan, who was also a butcher – Rabbi Ben-Zion Avalevich HY”D, was murdered by the Poles on the way to Stolpce where he was going to collect donations to finish the construction of the synagogue. His brother-in-law, Yehoshua Zettler, served after him.

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There were a few teachers for children, among which: Rabbi Ben-Zion Zarni who taught the boys, and his wife who taught the village's girls to read and write. In the village there were youth movements, like Beitar. In the last years, a lending fund bank was established to lend money to merchants in the market who - after selling their merchandise - would repay their loans to the fund.

During the periods in-between Zemanim in yeshivas, yeshiva students would return for vacation. During those times it was as if the village filled with life. The synagogue would be bustling with the boys and young men, and the sound of the Torah would be heard from far away. They would have contests about Torah issues and display their knowledge and sharpness. This was the education of every boy in the village, and after they attained knowledge of the Torah, they would go out to yeshivas.

About 10 km from Derevna lay the village Naliboki, where a few families who were relatives of the village's Jews were settled. In Naliboki, in the twenties, an old Rabbi named Rabbi Arieh Rogozinski Z”L, served. He was known as a tzadik [Hebrew: righteous] and people from all over the region would come to him to receive a blessing or advice. I will also lay a tombstone for the one who dealt with public needs – Rabbi Shlomo Shimonowitz HY”D, who took care of the village's spiritual and material needs. He was killed along with most of the village's Jews.

And from the general I would like to move to the particular, and end my recollections with my family. I was not in Poland during the extermination by the barbaric Nazis, I did not see in my own eyes Jews being thrown into fires. I travelled far, far from my home. I did escape death, but the testimonies I heard from eye witnesses give me no rest. Nightmares depress me. I see in my mind horrible, terrifying images – image after image.

And here the elders of our village are gathered and being led like cattle to the slaughter, to the death pit Rubezhevichi. My mother N”E [Hebrew initials: rest in peace] was among the lucky ones. She died a natural death after a long disease, but my father Z”L found death through terrible torture and agony. I see my brother-in-law, Rabbi Meir Perez and my sister Minka HY”D, escorting carts full of children, as the Nazis YM”S [Hebrew initials: May the name be blotted out] lead them to the killing place. The children cry bitterly. My brother-in-law and my sister beg to have their children returned to them, but the begging was useless. One bullet was shot at my brother-in-law and he was killed on the spot, about 3 km after Lovitz.

I see more horrifying sights. My sister Minka walking around the ghetto Dvoretz, asking everyone if they saw her husband and children. The poor one did not know that they were no longer alive. Her sorrow was too strong to be contained and she lost her mind. I was in spirit with my brother and sisters, my relatives and acquaintances. I suffered with them the torture and death perdition.

I am among the few who remained alive to cry over our destruction - the destruction of our village Derevna. All your sons were children of the Torah, rabbis and teachers, who spent days and nights on the altar of the Torah. Your young boys received their education in the big yeshivas and your girls were disciplined in a spirit of modesty and tenderness. For what and why did the executor fall upon you?! Your babies and toddlers more precious than gold were slaughtered like cattle. Where is the bewailer who will cry for you? The source of our tears has dried up.

In the year 1938 I left Poland. I felt an evil looming large; anti-Semitism grew stronger in the Polish government. Sources of income for Jews were blocked; the wind of Hitlerism intensified in Poland too, and found among the Poles like-minded supporters with regard to treating Jews.

We are guilty for believing in the supposedly enlightened human conscience, that there is kindness among the world's nations. For this belief of ours we paid a price heavy beyond estimation. May the memory of the saints be blessed!

* Son of Rabbi Shraga Feibush and Hanna Rivka of Derevna HY'D [Hebrew acronym: May G-d Avenge his Blood]

 


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My Village Derevna

By Meir Aronovsky, Esq. / Jerusalem

Translated by Helene Altman

Translation coordinated by Jonah Kaplan

Rabbi Shneier Feibush Golov son of Itzhak Golov (1815-1912), born in Veyalishki and in his youth studied in Talmud Torah in the town of Grobin, Galil Kurland, administered by the well-known owner of the institution – Rabbi Simcha Zisel Ziv (Brody) (1824-1916). In the book “The Musar Movement” (Rabbi Dov Cohen-Tzedek, 1950, volume two, page 61), it is said: “There, in a quiet atmosphere and in almost foreign surroundings, Rabbi Simcha Zisel succeeded in raising the institution to a high rank, with his special education technique, exemplary fashion of teaching, and sophisticated studies program. Following the demand of the government, the school also integrated language and general sciences studies and placed them under the government's supervision, following which the government recognized the school officially as a yeshiva institution, the only one of its kind in all of the land of Russia”.

After the mashgiach of the Talmud torah in Grobin - Rabbi Nathan Zvi Finkel (known as “the grandfather of Slobodka”) - founded the famous yeshiva in Slobodka, near Kovno, Rabbi Shneier Feibush moved to this city and in 1882 became the head of the yeshiva. During this period, Rabbi Simcha Zisel organized a secret association of his oldest students called the “D.T.” [Initials of “paste well”] whose rules and the identity of its members were kept secret.

In the above mentioned book “The Musar Movement” (page 69), it was mentioned that the members of the D.T., among who was Rabbi Shneier Feibush, remained united all their lives, and, wherever they were, they remained connected through letters with their rabbi and among themselves. The members of the association would gather once in a while in Rabbi Simcha Zisel's Talmud school in the town of Chelm, which served them as a center, renewing their friendship alliance and strengthening their activities.

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In 1886, Rabbi Shneier Feibush was designated as the Rabbi of Derevna and served in the town approximately 26 years until the day he died, on his way to a conference of rabbis in Minsk. Rabbi Feivo, as he was known in the town, arrived to Derevna with his wife the Rebbetzin Esther (sister of Mrs. Mirel Zuckerman, who was the second wife of Rabbi Leib Bloch (1859-1930), son-in-law of Rabbi Eliezer Gordon (1841-1910) (the Rabbi of Telaz), and three toddlers – one of whom was Feigel, who will later become the Rebbetzin of the town as the wife of Rabbi Avraham Hacohen Levin. After his arrival in the town, the Rabbi had three sons – Zelig, Yehoshua and Shlomo.

Yehoshua's friend, the town native Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf, son of Zisel Brody, may he live well, head of yeshiva and rabbi responsible for making halakhic [In accordance with Ritual law] decisions; (subordinate to the rabbi in Minsk until his alyiah [permanent relocation] to Israel in 1935), tells about the strong impression that Rabbi Feivo made on him: “having an appearance of splendor, a righteous man, good-mannered, knowledgeable in the Talmud and fluent in the Torah, as well as assiduous, who would dedicate all his time to study. On the one hand, enlightened and knowledgeable about worldly matters, loved and admired by all members of his congregation, and on the other hand, the image of the angel of G-d in front of whom many, including Rabbi Brody himself in his youth, would shiver before daring to greet him”. Rabbi Brody also recalls that while he was studying with his friend Yehoshua in the little yeshiva in Mir, he asked him innocently what he talks about with his father the tzadik [a righteous man] when the latter returns home on vacation. Like the great holders of high moral values of his time, Rabbi Feivo had perfect qualities and was shy. When he would visit Mir, he refrained from meeting the heads of the yeshiva for this could be interpreted as special intervention in favor of his son. Many of the town residents still remember the image of how the Rabbi prepared his congregation for Shabbat and holy days. Without speaking, he would walk around the market square, with a cigarette in his mouth, and all the Jewish business owners would immediately close their shops and follow him to the synagogue. And indeed his noble behavior would serve as an example to all the town residents and his memory has not left them until this day.

 

Rabbi Avraham Levin

In the year 1908, the daughter of Rabbi Feivo, Mrs. Feigel, married Rabbi Abraham, son of Rabbi Zvi Hacohen Levin of the town Varna, county of Telaz, who was known as Rabbi Abraham Warner. Rabbi Abraham was born in 1885 and studied at the yeshiva Knesset Israel in Slobodka. After the death of his father-in-law, Rabbi Abraham became the Rabbi of Derevna, which he remained until the end of 1921. He too was humble, considerate, a clever student, savant and virtuous. Rabbi Abraham greatly influenced the town's youth, and many of them traveled to study in the big yeshivas following his advice. Among the town's youth who were influenced by him were Rabbi Moshe Levin may he live well. He was called Rabbi Moshe Lovtzer), the Rabbi of Netagia, the son of Rabbi Israel Yehuda Halevi Kapushvoski, the teacher and tutor who founded a new school during World War I.

Photograph of Abraham Levin

[Page 160]

A proof of the harmonious mixing of Torah and education in this small town is the fact that in the Rabbi's house they used to read the Hebrew press and especially The Zfira [A newspaper]. The Rebbetzin Feigel herself studied in her youth at the Russian school, and was also knowledgeable in the Torah and exchanged letters in Hebrew with her fellow students and friends.

The period of World War I was a tough time for the town, especially for the Rabbi's family. With the outbreak of the war between Russia and Poland, the Rabbi's house suffered from poverty, hardship and trouble, to the extent that the Rabbi had to return to Lithuania at the end of 1921, along with the old Rebbetzin Esther, who died in 1925. First, the Rabbi returned to study in a community of rabbis in Slobodka, and later, in 1926, was appointed Rabbi in Papilian, county of Shevli, district of Kovno. Rabbi Abraham was greatly knowledgeable in the Torah and strongly tied to the Torah of Eretz Israel. Through time, he sent articles of his Torah study to religious periodicals in Jerusalem. The Rebbetzin Feigel and her daughter Sarah Beila were killed in the Holocaust, on Yom Kippur of the year 5701 [Oct 12, 1940], and the Rabbi was killed with his son Zvi Feivel – student of the yeshiva of Telaz on the 22nd of Tamuz 5701 [July 17, 1941]. May their souls be bound in the bonds of life.

The Rabbi's eldest daughter, Zipora, wife of Itzhak Yakovi, migrated to Israel in 1934 and lives today in Rehovot.

 

Rabbi Abraham Leib Halevi Pantolnikov

Following Rabbi Abraham Warner's move to Lithuania, Rabbi Abraham Leib Halevi Pantolnikov was appointed as the town's Rabbi. Unfortunately, we only know very little about this honorable person. A native of Minsk (and thus called Rabbi Abraham Minsker), he married in Mir, while studying in a yeshiva there. While he was still at yeshiva age, he became famous as an exhilarating speaker and an excellent preacher, and indeed even after he was appointed the Rabbi of Derevna, he would travel to different places to raise money for the yeshivas of Vilna. The Rabbi, his wife and his two daughters, one of whom got married and moved to another city before the Holocaust, lived in the house on Mirer Street. Nachman Berman, native of the village Gran wrote in the book “Nalibok”: “The Derevna Rabbi, with an appearance of splendor, Rabbi Abraham Pantolnikov, would give his sermons on Saturdays. With a permanent smile on his face and from deep wisdom, he found an allegory for the world, suitable for the daily life this year, from the rich sources of prophecy and history. The town's Christian community also showed him respect and admiration.”

From the archives of the Committee of the yeshivas in Vilna, we learn that during his tenure in the town, new winds started blowing through the community, which “attracted a big part of the members of the yeshivas who until then had been the excellence of our town”. Still in 1937 he planned to go to America, but apparently did not succeed in fulfilling his plan. And indeed when the Holocaust reached the town, the Rabbi, his wife and daughter were killed with the rest of the town residents. Blessed be their memory.

That was also the end of the Rabbinic tradition of Derevna. This town, close to Rubezhevichi, was included in the district of Vilna. In the population census conducted in 1897, there were 350 Jews in a total population of 851 (41.5%). As a result of immigration and circumstances caused by time, this number decreased in the new census conducted in 1921, to 288 Jews out of 892 inhabitants (32.3%). From these, those who remained alive - a young boy can count them.

It is a shame that which is lost and can no longer be found.

 


[Page 161]

Only Burnt Houses Found in Derevna

By Dodka Kossover

Translated by Tamar Levin

Translation coordinated by Jonah Kaplan

I was born in Rubezhevichi, on a joyous Simchas Torah, but the end of my shtetl and my fate –was not a happy one.

My father, Shayel the Shoemaker, an established businessman, had been to Africa in his youth, had experienced the wide world, and raised his children strictly and religiously. He had leased land as an eleven year old boy, so I plowed, sowed, and did all kinds of agricultural work. In general, I felt good and lived happily.

In 1912 I entered the Russian military, later in 1915 during World War I, I was captured by the Germans. I didn't get back home until 1920.

In place of my mother, I found a step-mother. I left home and went away to Derevna, where I married Gruna, Ruben the Butcher's daughter. I lived a quiet and happy life and had six children. My two oldest sons, Itzhak Jacob and Israel Fieve, studied in the Mir Yeshiva, the others studied with Yidel Kapushinski and Itzhak Avalevich.

I was also socially active. Along with Abraham Lubczanski, Benjamin Yankalovitch, and Eliyahu Krasilov, we founded a loan fund.

In 1941 the Germans moved in. In October we were ordered into the Rubezhevicher Ghetto. Before leaving Derevna we had to give our jewelry and possessions to the Germans.

In Rubezhevichi we were taken in by my cousins Leibeh and Yissakhar Rachelson. They helped us a great deal. They shared their last crumbs with us. Sadly, they did not survive.

We suffered greatly in the ghetto. My family and I were in the third transport from Rubezhevichi. In Ivenets they seized our two little children, Gittele and Herzl. They perished there along with 600 other Jewish children. We were forcibly torn away from them. My wife, Gruna and our other children were sent away to Dvoretz. I was left in the Novogrudok Ghetto. I worked in the bathhouse. The manager, a Latvian and I had a good relationship.

In the meantime it became known in Dvoretz that the Novogrudok Ghetto was going to be liquidated, so my son Fievel came running to Novogrudok to rescue me. This occurred precisely on the day that the liquidation began. I did not return to the ghetto. The Latvian hid us in the bathhouse. The next day he took a gun and led us out of town, ostensibly as prisoners, then released us, showed us the way to Dvoretz, and wished us luck.

[Page 162]

In Dvoretz, conditions were also very bad but, I was with my wife and children. My son Fievel, of blessed memory, worked on the airfield and broke a foot. There was no way for it to heal. My second son Itzhak, left to join the partisans.

Some time later he and five other partisans received an order to remove youngsters from the camp and take them into the woods. They entered the camp but did not manage to get out again. The next morning we were encircled by Germans who came to liquidate the camp. My daughter Shulieh (now in Israel) was already standing in line to go to the cars. Her friend, Chaim Shlomo, said: “Why are you standing here? Don't you see the Christians with the spades?” She left the line, and hid with us in a ditch behind the oven. Fievel didn't want to join us. The Germans caught him, dragged him outside and shot him. I heard how he struggled as they shot him, but I could not come to his aid.

We lay in the ditch till the next evening. Suddenly we felt that the house was burning. The smoke was suffocating, but we decided that we'd sooner sacrifice our lives there than go to the Nazis. Miraculously, the house was not consumed by fire.

After dark, we stole out of the ditch. We raced down the street of burned houses till we reached the wire fence. They spotted and shot at us. Luckily we escaped.

Running over a frozen lake, my Shulieh's boot filled up with water. There was no time to remove and empty it. The water quickly froze causing a terrible wound in her foot. She couldn't walk. Gruna fainted from fright, but I kept my wits, and dragged myself to a hamlet. A good Christian gave Shulieh a pair of shoes and dry rags. We rested a bit and went on our way. Peasants gave us food, and took care of Shulieh's foot. We traveled in the direction of Derevna. On route we met Moyshe Lubczanski, Yudel Davidowitz and other Jewish acquaintances. They too had become wanderers.

We arrived in Nalibocky Forest in the district of Kurbanovs Asriad. There I met Dovid Plotnik, a partisan, now in New York. He brought a doctor who healed Shulieh's foot. Two Jewish women partisans, Shura and Monia (now in Minsk) raised our spirits and helped us a great deal. I became a shoemaker, worked, lived through the German blockade of the forest – and lived to see our liberation.

I returned to Derevna and found only burnt houses. I worked in Solfa. Often I would meet with the few Jewish partisans who rescued themselves from death.

My wife Gruna became ill from fright and our troubles, and several months after our return to Derevna, she died. After a long period of wandering, I arrived in Israel in January of 1965.

 


[Page 163]

Decline of Jewish Wolma

(Wolma – 53°52' 26°57')

By Moshe Shimonowitz/ Tel Aviv

Translated by Marcia Weiser

Translation coordinated by Jonah Kaplan

The little town of Wolma can be found in the Minsk region (White Russia), near the former Polish-Russian border, 20 kilometers [north] of Rubezhevichi. Her little wooden houses were haphazardly built around a large piece of land, surrounded by forests and green hills.

From all the towns in the region, Wolma was the absolute smallest, far from railway tracks or a well-traveled road. It was very difficult to reach. The Jewish population of the town, a third of the inhabitants, was occupied, in principle, with small trade and handicrafts, from which we barely eked out a livelihood. With the closing of the Polish-Russian border after the First World War, the border town remained isolated, because it no longer was a transit point and crossroads for the two countries. This had a devastating effect on the economic development and salaries of the inhabitants. The richer Jews therefore looked to overseas immigration as a solution to the situation, but the poor were left to determine their own destiny.

By the beginning of World War Two, there were seventy Jewish families to be found. When the Germans entered Wolma, they began to ambush the Jews, they hit them, abused them and stole their belongings, like their lives, were abandoned.

The police commandant who was chosen by the Germans, not only did he not protect them from the pogroms, robbery and looting – but rather instigated the Christian population against the Jews. When they began to drive the Jews from the region into the ghettos, they also expelled Jews from Wolma to Rubezhevichi.

[Pages 164]

That dark day all the Jews from town – young and old, men and women, children even those who were still nursing—were collected in the center of the town. As the police commander saw how the Jews were carrying on their backs a chattel, a sack, or packages – his wrath increased and he told them to run around the town. Therefore the victims were not spared any punches, insults and curses. While in other places the banishment of the Jews allowed them to lay down their belongings and the sick, but in Wolma they made them run around the town seven towns and afterwards the unfortunate were driven on foot to Rubezhevichi. On the way the Germans and their assistants – the Poles, Ukrainians and the White Russians beat the Jews with whips or with nail embedded boots and shoes. Also the Christian inhabitants threw stones on the Jews and increased their suffering and pain. The road to Rubezhevichi was strewn with murdered Jews, with a lot of objects and packages. The unfortunate arrived in Rubezhevichi almost empty handed.

The banishment happened the 1st of December 1942: Outside – a crackling frost. When the Wolma Jews arrived in Rubezhevichi, after the arduous journey, they drove them into empty houses, without windows and doors. One woman suddenly let out a hysterical screaming lament. Her child had frozen in her hands on the journey…

From the few things that survived the robbing and banishment, one had to feed oneself. The last shirt was bartered for a piece of bread, or for a few potatoes. But the Wolma Jews, who had nothing, were sentenced to a death by starvation. The majority was organized in the synagogue; there they slept on the floor, benches and tables. All were hanging around like shadows, unable to expect help from anyone.

Although leaving the ghetto was dangerous to one's life, the Wolma Jews didn't concern themselves with this. During the nights they stole out to the villages in order to beg for something, or make a trade with a peasant. This was not always successful. More than one Jew in such an undertaking fell into the hands of local Christian murderers or Germans, all was taken from them. They were beaten and bloodied then sent back to the ghetto.

Once two boys stole themselves into a pig-sty in a Christian court, not far from the ghetto, in order to take a little food from the pigs. When the landlord took the food there he discovered the boys. In his house, a Jewish girl worked as a maid. He quickly went to the girl and with shortness of breath, said to her: --Go to the pig-sty, there you will find Jews. Give them whatever food you want to eat… I could not fathom, that people could look like this and fall so far, my only God, has the hunger in the ghetto fallen to such a level?

The two youngsters, see how a frightened girl is coming near to them, thought, they would be extradited to the Germans. The girl comforted them:--Don't be frightened, I am a Jewish daughter. Wait a bit, don't run away, I am bringing you food right away.

Soon she brought a whole bread with a basket of potatoes and showed them a place, where she would leave some food every day; they should take it when she is not there. Only in rare occasions, Jews received humanely treatment by their Christian neighbors – and any number was successful in avoiding the demise of the Jewish community of Wolma.

*

I fervently hope that some Wolma Jews still remain alive, although the probability isn't great. Until now I have not heard from any. Our language is too poor and my pen is too weak, in order to discover the horrors and atrocities that befell the Jewish population.

I consider my debt to be the telling of the disappearance of a group of Jews from a small out of the way little town Wolma, which lived in need and poverty – but was honest and just--.

Honor to their memory!

 


[Page 165]

Memoirs From Gran and Surrounding Areas

(Gran – 53°41' 26°40')

By Dr. Ariah Abramowitz / Tel Aviv

Translated by Helene Altman

Translation coordinated by Jonah Kaplan

… And here lies in front of me a dense forest, stretching over many miles – this is our forest. And here lies in front of me an exposed area with three wooden houses – this is where my crib stood. And here, in front of me, near these wooden houses, a crossroads: one road goes East – to Rubezhevichi and Koidanov; one goes West – to Derevna and Naliboki; one goes North – to Ivenitz and Kamin; one goes South – to Stolbtsy and Nigorloya.

Each of these roads leads to the town which is close to my heart, which has a deep and special meaning, and which is a part of me.

Rubezhevichi – the town in which my father's sisters and their families lived (Hadassah and Moshe Longin and Henna and Eliakom Porat). And for me it was a celebration to come to the town and meet my cousin Leibel, who was approximately my age and was an excellent swimmer, and with all the other children, who were quite numerous (Leibel, Haim, Barel, Freidel, Itke, Dina, and Sarah-Lea of the Longin family, as well as Shmuel, Leibel, Reuven, Hana and Barel of the Porat family).

[Page 166]

I loved to hear from uncle Moshe – a tall man with broad shoulders – about his service in the Russian army in the artillery battalion, and I loved listening to uncle Eliakom playing the violin.

And further away from Rubezhevichi was the town Koidanov. There lived my uncle – my mother's brother – Raphael Segalowitz who caused a dramatic change in my life when he took me away from home to the gymnasia [in Polish: college] in the Russian city Smolensk. And the town Derevna to which we would come for the Days of Awe and stay in the attic at Shaul's – the owner of the pub. He had a son, Elyahu, who was my age, very clever but with a malformation. He had a hunch on his back and always hoped that one day he'll be taken to a doctor who would straighten his back.

And the town Naliboki where “the swamps” [translated from Yiddish] were and to which we traveled to reap hay for our horses and cows. And the town Ivenitz, where my mother's father lived – Rabbi Moshe Yonah Segalowitz – the town's “favored” Rabbi. The grandfather would read gemara books all the time, interrupting his studies only to perform his duties such as registering births, deaths and weddings.

My father's mother also lived there - grandmother Fruma Abramowicz, the widow of Shalom Yaacov Abramowicz' young brother (Mendele Mocher Sefarim) [in Hebrew: “Mendele the book-seller” - his literary name]. The number of children in the grandmother's house (my aunts and uncles) was large – there were ten. Most of them immigrated to the United States.

Grandmother would give two names to all her children (Baruch-Elhanan, Nahum-David, Haim-Moshe, Avraham-Leizer, Sarah-Nesha, Hanna-Zisel, Hanna-Lea, Haya-Freidel, Feigel-Devora, Hadas-Reizel). And people would joke that if grandmother had had more children, there would not be enough names…

At the crossing of the roads that lead to these towns lay the place of my birth – Gran.

The name Gran comes from the Russian noun Granitza – border, for Gran was on the border of two counties – Vilna and Minsk.

The first inhabitants were Rabbi Haim Cantor, a native of Gran. He had a tavern there, and the farmers from the surrounding villages who in the summer traveled to reap hay, and the villagers who in the winter carried around wooden ledges and tree logs would stop near the tavern and drink Vodka and gobble down challehs, and this constituted the tavern owner's income. Rabbi Haim became a widower long before I was born, when he was already very old, and he gave the management of the tavern to his son, Rabbi Leizer, a native of the town as well. Rabbi Leizer managed the tavern, and by his side were his wife Tirtza and his children Shmuel, Yonah Feivel, Marisha, Itke, Abrahamtsche and Sarah.

Abrahamtsche was my age, and Sarah was my younger sister's age. We played in the field and in the forest together. To supplement the income from the tavern, Rabbi Leizer worked making roof tiles from wooden planks.

Old Rabbi Haim was not active after I was born and his only occupation was growing tobacco and drying tobacco leaves for personal use. He would lie down in his little room located between the large tavern hall and the stable for customers' horses, reading a book of tehilim and smoking his lyulka [pipe].

[Page 167]

Before I moved from Gran to Ivenitz where I studied in a heder, and later to Smolensk where I studied at the gymnasia, I would come to Rabbi Haim to get his travel blessing. He would rise from his bed, put his hands over my head and bless me with the blessing "May G-d make you as Efraim and Menashe".

On one occasion, while I was at the gymnasia, I received a letter from my parents telling me that one morning the tavern residents woke up and noticed Rabbi Haim lying unconscious. Because of his age (he was over 90), they decided that he had deceased.

Rabbi Leizer drove to Derevna to prepare the funeral, and members of the house rented a cart and lay down Rabbi Haim on the cart, and the farmer headed to Derevna.

On the way, Rabbi Haim awoke, apparently due to the cart's shaking. He sat up and started looking for the lyulka in his pockets. When the farmer saw that the dead had resurrected, he jumped off the cart and ran away as fast as he could….

Rabbi Haim took the reins, turned the cart and drove back to the tavern in Gran by himself, surprising and frightening everyone.

After this, for two years I had the privilege of receiving a travel blessing from Rabbi Haim when I parted from him.

Rabbi Leizer's sons immigrated to the United States and Feivel studied in one of the yeshivas. Once, Rabbi Leizer came in and happily announced that a letter from Feivel had arrived, where he wrote that he was made an emissary of the yeshiva. We were all happy with Feivel's good and honorable arrangement. But a few days later came the disappointment when Feivel appeared, announcing that he meant that he had been dismissed from the yeshiva because he had been caught dealing in secular matters: accounting and Russian.

Photograph with caption: Feivel ben Eleizer Cantor z”l

Near the Cantor family's tavern, my father built a company for the manufacture of turpentine, coal and tar, after his wedding. The facility was built on land that belonged to Graff Von Breza, who also owned the surrounding towns.

In the area where we lived stood ovens big like towers where the rotten roots of pine trees would burn and turn to coal, and through the pipe system discharge the turpentine and the tar. My father inherited this profession from his parents and grandmother the widow Fruma. Fruma too was known as “Fruma the Tar Woman”.

When I was a child, I befriended the workers from the villages who worked in our plant, and they would ask me what I will be when I grow up – Rabbi or cashier. Apparently, these pursuits seemed very important to them…

[Page 168]

Near the plant there were two buildings that belonged to us: a wooden cabin where the regular workers and their families stayed, and a larger wooden house with 5 rooms, where our family lived and where we - the children - were born: my two sisters and I.

The house was surrounded by a garden where my mother grew flowers: Dahlias, Chamomile (Romeshka), peas and beans. And behind the house there was a large stretch of land where we planted potatoes, carrots, radish and cabbage, which sustained us the whole winter.

Two kilometers away from our house was a small estate which belonged to a German from the Baltic countries, the agronomist Karlin. And near the estate there was a cow farm which was leased to Rabbi Sheya Matosevitz' family.

Rabbi Sheya himself was a forest officer, and while on duty was away from home, and would return to his family only on holidays. The farm was managed by his wife Kayla. Once a week she would go out to Derevna or Rubezhevichi, and in her cart was a barrel of butter, cheese and other milk products.

Photographs of Rabbi Haim Moshe son of Rabbi Yehuda Leiv Abramowitz z'l and Mrs. Hanna daughter of Moshe Yonah Segalowitz z'l

I loved visiting the house of Rabbi Sheya, whose oldest son “Yoske” (Yosef) was in the military service, and daughter Shulke (Shulamit) was my age. The oldest daughter Bluma married “Leizeshe” (Eliezer) Osherowitz. To our common grief, she died during the second birth. The boy was called Binyamin and his older sister - Masha. (Leizeshe was murdered in Ukraine.)

Teachers were brought to the forest to teach us Hebrew and Torah. One of the teachers was a young man from Derevna and I liked him very much. He wrote songs, and keeps writing to this day (and he is old by now). He is now in the United States, working as a dentist. We met during my visit in America and he also came to Israel for a visit. His name at home was Berel Machtei (son of the teacher Reuven). He is now known as Dr. B. Marcus. My parents were not rich, but considering what life in these forests was like, they were like lords because they drove a carriage harnessing a beautiful horse and we had cows of our own.

[Page 169]

The kids in the heder in Ivenitz decided that my father had ten thousand Rubles in the bank. I doubt that my father has ever seen such an amount in his life.

In 1915, during World War I, our life was destroyed. German troops came close to our area, and our family along with Uncle Rafael's family headed to remote places – to the Volga and the Ural mountains.

My father leased the plant to the Goldberg, Horovitz and Rubin families who arrived before the war to our area from South Africa and bought Karlin's estate. At the same time, they also built a house not far from our wooden houses. We had no use for that lease because the plant - with all its buildings and the farm - remained across the border and we lost contact with the families who leased the plant. Some of the families of the Goldberg, Horovitz and Rubin in-laws are now in Israel.

And the town Rubezhevichi and the beautiful scenery, and the river surrounding the town and the uncles' 2 flour mills – this town had the beauty of peaceful, traditional life. Now I recall the evening in the town. My ears hear the banging of a wooden hammer: knock-knock, knock-knock. With this banging the Wartovnik [night guard] would warn those who would touch others' property. I have never seen the face of the Wartovnik and in my mind he was a man who cast fear and horror on the whole area.

But why is he banging? – I asked my mother; the thieves will run away and he will not be able to catch them. And mother replied that the purpose is not to catch the thief but to stop him from executing his plan. And this was my first lesson in prevention treatment (“prophylactics”) whose rightness is still proving itself today.

In the town of Rubezhevichi, I got my first lesson in Zionism. On one of my visits to the town, I met a nice young man while I was an 8 or 9-year-old boy.

He gave me a few stamps of the Keren Kayemeth [short for “Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael” - the foundation which greatly contributed to the development of Israel] and warned me to keep them hidden because holding on to them was forbidden. I took the stamps and hid them in my pocket with a heart full of fear that they would be discovered. This young man's name was Haim Lieberman. I was very sorry when I found out a few years later that a disaster happened to this man. The river overflowed and threatened the nearby houses. It was necessary to immediately open the bridge blocks over the river near the flour mill. The young Lieberman ran to perform the task, but got carried away in the flow and his dead body was found a few days later far from the town, on the river bank.

I only remember very few of the town's people, but I remember the Starosta – Itshke (Itzhak) Kantorovitch, for I was very impressed that a young man, about 23 -25 years old was appointed Starosta [The elder of the tribe, crowned]. The explanation for this was that his father “Velvel” (Wolf ) Kantorovitch held the same role, and upon his death the role was passed to his son “Itshke”.

And I still remember the pub owned by Poliez, whose sons were my age. After the Russian revolution we met in Moscow, and we studied in the university with Leibel and Meir. I loved visiting them on Tuesdays – market day in the town. Their tavern would be hustling and bustling with the villagers sipping vodka and biting on pickled fish and cold meat.

[Page 170]

I must mention those who helped spread the Hebrew language and culture in the towns of the area. Rabbi Shlomo Milikovsky from Ivenitz, with whom I studied a few zemanim [periods of time] in his modern heder. I owe my knowledge of Hebrew to him and only him. He made alyiah to Israel in 1925, but to my heart's sorrow suffered a tragedy: he was injured by a motorcycle and died a few hours later.

In our hospital (1946) in Tel Aviv University, a scholarship was created in his name and is awarded every year to a student who excels in the study of the Hebrew language.

And I must mention the teacher Merelis from Koidanov, who built a generation of Hebrew learners and speakers in the whole region.

And among the teachers who were crazy about the Hebrew language and culture – the craziest one in Rubezhevichi was “Yechiel the Crazy One” - blind in one eye - who upon request would recite by heart the preludes of Shavuos in the traditional tune.

In Koidanov, there was “Yonah the Crazy” who walked around in a soldier hat and spoke only Russian. In Stolpce there was a crazy man – The Shvebale [The Match]. In Derevna there was “Hershel the Crazy One”, who sang songs in Yiddish, full of sadness and nostalgia.

And I also recall “Felya the Water Carrier” in Ivenitz – a goy woman who supplied houses with buckets of water and spoke Yiddish like a Jew. She had a son (unlawful) and she would look for him and ask everyone in Yiddish “Have you, by any chance, seen my bastard son?” She loved her son and wanted him to always be by her side.

And now my heart aches because the Jewish world in our surroundings – in which there was so much beauty – is destroyed, and the cemeteries expanded and the towns themselves became cemeteries

Relations between the Jews and the Christian residents in our locality were good, and I do not recall any violent incidents, even during the dark years of 1905 and 1906 – years of pogroms in different places around Russia.

And all the people among which I grew up and all my friends with whom I was educated disappeared in that desert among the wild beasts – some in the forests, some in the towns, some in the concentration camps and some in the crematoriums of Treblinka and Auschwitz.

May their memory be blessed and saved with us forever.

 


[Page 171]

Jewish Families in Gran

By Zina Horowitz Braun / Givatayim

Translated by Helene Altman

Translation coordinated by Jonah Kaplan

Gran was a small estate in a big forest, where oil of turpentine was manufactured. The estate was about 14 km from Derevna. Three Jewish families lived in Gran: the Horowitz family, Zvi Goldberg and Feivel Kantor with his sister Sara (at the census of 1931, 13 Jewish persons were counted).

My parents lived in Minsk, but after the new border between Poland and Russia was drawn in 1919, they moved to Gran which was to be on Polish territory. My father worked in selling forest wood and in the turpentine manufacture business. He was intelligent and a man of tradition. My mother, who was the daughter of the Rabbi Kopilovitz of Kresna, treated her children with understanding and softness. We were three daughters and a son at home, and when we grew up we moved with mother to Baranovichi.

My sister Fania and my brother Yaacov were members of the Hashomer Ha'tza'ir movement [a pioneering left-wing Zionist youth movement] and I was a member of the Hechalutz movement [a left-wing Zionist youth movement]. I arrived to Israel in 1935, whereas my brother Yaacov turned to help my father's business in Gran after he graduated from the gymnasia Tarbut [from the word “culture” in Hebrew] in Baranovichi. My brother loved staying outdoors and isolating himself surrounded by various animals. His big dream was to come to Israel and work in agriculture, but the Holocaust killed his idealistic dream and he had to fight for his life.

Mother died in the Rubezhevichi ghetto, and father was murdered there. My little sister Shulamit was murdered in the Nowogrodek ghetto and only my brother Yaacov managed to escape from Nowogrdek and return to Gran. In the forest he met my sister Fania as well as a few young men who managed to escape from Rubezhevichi to join the partisans. They were admitted to the partisan group named after Tcheklov.

Photographs of Schlomo Horowitz and Shulamit Horowitz

In the autumn of 1942, the bullet of a Polish collaborator killed my brother while the group was attacked in an ambush in the village of Noviki.

For a moment I close my eyes and before me stands father's house - a house full of children, joy and happiness. But everything disappears and only ruins and horrible memories remain. Nevertheless, I am taken over by strong longing for my father's house. To my beloved who were murdered without having done any wrong. For a moment I close my eyes and before me stands father's house - a house full of children, joy and happiness. But everything disappears and only ruins and horrible memories remain. Nevertheless, I am taken over by strong longing for my father's house. To my beloved who were murdered without having done any wrong.

This is the story of a lively Jewish estate that died, and of a Jewish family that was exterminated.

Photograph:The partisan Yaacov Gurevitch z'l of Gran, with his loyal friend – the dog, on the eve of the start of World War II.

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