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History

 

Stolin
(of the History of the Town)

by A. Avatichi

Translated by Sara Mages

The town of Stolin was located in the Polesie Region, in the area of the Pripyat and the Horin rivers, near the border between the District of Minsk and District of Wolyn. A stream, a branch of the Horin River, flowed south of the town and the water from the marshes poured into it. The marshes, which were across the river, were the site of grazing for geese and cattle. Marsh grass also grew there. In later years, a bridge, that connected Poliska Street with the other side of the river, was built over the stream. The town was rectangular that expanded eastward, and its streets were mostly straight. The houses were built of wood. Brick houses were built only in the last century and their number was small. The town developed under the Polish rule (1920-1939), and its appearance was like the appearance of large beautiful city - with roads, sidewalks, grand buildings, trees in the streets, etc.

There are few historical reports on Stolin's distant past. According to assumption, it was established approximately 250 years ago. Apparently, the owner of the Stolini estate (it's difficult to determine if his name was Stahovsky or another name) had “slave” workers who lived near the estate and their houses stood in rows, in the form of a street. Over the years, with changes in life, this street with its inhabitants (White Russians) has been recognized as a village named Stolinka. In front it continued to Vihonia Street, and from the back to Poliska Street. A slope stretched from there to the west, the water ran from the fields and from the village to the valley behind the slope, and created a lake (called Burakan). The lake's water, which partially dried and evaporated during the summer months, turned moldy and stank. During the spring thaw the floodwater entered the houses around it.

It's unknown when the first Jews settled in Stolin. If we take into consideration that the Jews' old houses stood for over a hundred years, and if we can rely on the blurred inscriptions on the wooden tombstones from 140 years ago, we can speculate that the Jewish community existed for almost 200 years before it was destroyed. And we don't exaggerate when we say, that the Jews were the builders of Stolin in all respects, although they weren't the first to settle there.

A plane extended between the lake and the river and a sand hill rose at the river's edge. Many years ago, this hill was used as a Christian cemetery. It was called by the Jews the “carcass hill” because the skeletons and the bones of the people who were buried in it were scattered around. At the beginning of this century the remains of a cross stood in the middle of the hill.

When the Jews came to live in Stolin they extended the street of the village of Stolinka to the west,

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sto016.jpg
The Great Synagogue in Stolin

spread along the river on one side, and along the fields on the other side. They surrounded the lake and dug a canal on the border of the cemetery, between the lake and the river, in order to dry it and prevent floods. Indeed, the lake got smaller and smaller and almost dried out. Its neighbors seized its land and reduced it as much as possible. So, the cemetery hill was also surrounded by Jewish houses. The owners of the estate, Josef and Jadwiga Stahovsky, divided the land into plots and received from their holders an annual tax called ”Zinch”.

A long time ago a lot of Poles lived in the vicinity of Stolin, many of them were landowners and their attitude toward the Jews was good. Indeed, many Jews earned their living from these landowners. Stolin was famous until the Polish uprising, before the partition of Poland in 1795. Almost all the estates around Stolin remained in Polish hands to this day.

According to Brockhaus-Efron [Encyclopedic Dictionary] Stolin was a city in the17th century. The trade flourished there and it was considered to be one of the oldest settlements in the district. Indeed, there is a logical reason to it, till then there weren't any larger cities than Stolin anywhere near it. Probably, according to the terms of the days hundreds of years ago, and by the development of the social and economic life of that distant period, Stolin was a city and commercial center and dominated the area around it.

At the end of the last century, farmers (White Russians) settled at the edge of town behind the Jews' houses, and spread over an area from the river bank to the fields and along the Jewish cemetery (in the curved Dombroviczit Street and in several alleys). Here they built their homes and arranged their yards and barns, but their fields were located out of town. Thus, the town grew in size and in population. For years, the Jewish cemetery was used as the town's border (to the west), until a number of farmers built their farms behind the cemetery on the road leading from Stolin to the Horin train station.

Since the establishment of the Russian (Czarist) government in the Polesie Region Stolin was a town in the Pinsk Region. When the Poles returned to rule it from 1920 to 1939 it became county seat in the Voivodeship of Brisk [Brest], and started to prosper.

As for the town's Jewish community: at the beginning of our century there were 1634 residents in Stolin, most of them were Jews and their number increased despite the significant migration to

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to America and to other countries. Jews from the nearby villages were attracted to the town. Merchants and especially forest dealers settled there – and a new generation was established. In 1930, the estimated number of Jews in the town was 5000 persons. During this period many Poles, who came from the outside, settled in the town and around it.

Stolin became famous in the Jewish world because of the Karlin-Stolin [Hassidic] dynasty that resided there, its developed trade and the Zionist spirit that blew in it.


The Town 65 Years Ago

by R. Eisenberg

Translated by Sara Mages

Those, who remember Stolin from the 80th and the 90th of the past century, will be able to describe the town as an ancient shabby settlement nestled among fields and forests. The houses were low, all of them were built of wood and most of them were covered with straw roofs. The houses had small windows, they were densely built, and there was no trace of greenery in front. Like in other small towns in Polesie, the occupants of the houses, Jews and Gentiles alike, were poor and carried the burden of their miserable life.

If there were a few privileged families in the town, they left at the end of the 19th century. The old generation left for the next world and the sons moved to the cities. Almost all of the local Jews were “ordinary people” – who kept the traditions and observed the commandments without special demands. They made their living mainly in small trade, between themselves and the villagers who came to town on Sundays or on market days, or wandered around the nearby villages to sell their goods to the farmers and to receive their produce as payment. That's how the fathers lived and their sons followed them. The lifestyle of the town's Jews rarely changed.

Already in those days the Rabbi's “court” served as the center of town. A “spirit” blew from it and “substance” was obtained from it. The Hassidim who came to their
rabbi, Rabbi Yisraelik, brought little income to the local Jews, and several families earned their living around the “court”.

In those days, my father, R' Shlomo Eisenberg from Rubel, leased the Brazonia (old) estate from Constantine Olisha. He was among the followers of the Stolin Rabbi. When the Rabbi's family came to the estate to rest for a few weeks during the summer, our children spent time with them. After such a visit our children came to visit the rabbi's children in Stolin, but the rabbi's children didn't leave their yard apart from trips in a cart together with the Rabbi or the Rebbetzin. I can't describe how great was the impression of wealth that I found in the Rabbi's house when I visited his children…

The Gentiles lived at the edge of town, mostly in Dombrovitza, Pinsk and David- Horodok Streets, while the Jews concentrated in the town center and along the river.

The shops, which weren't few, stood in the market square. It was divided into two sections by rows of shops that were also built

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of wood in a very simple old style. At that time each shop sold different commodities (grocery, textiles, building needs, medicine, kerosene, etc.). Only at the beginning of the 20th century they started to distinguish between shops for food and other shops.

Fires broke often in Stolin and there was also a lot of theft. At that time, the insurance damage from the fires was paid by a government institution for insurance, and because they suspected that the Jews set their houses on fire in order to collect insurance, the institution ceased to insure Jewish assets in Stolin and also in other locations.

The shops' watchman was the elderly Itzale, who was called Itzale Basok (I don't know the source of his nickname), and his salary was very small. However, there was a stingy shop owner, A. P, who refused to pay the watchman. This Itzale went to someone, and one night there was a theft in the refuse's shop. Since then, A. P. was among those who paid old Itzale's salary. When a fire broke out and ate whole sections of the town, the town's leaders arose, especially the shopkeepers who were also the proprietors, and organized a watch group. They also lit kerosene lamps in the market and in the corners of the main streets, but not for many days.

Among the town's public activists were: R' Yisrael-Chaim Frenkel who was called “Kahal'sman”; R' Shmuel Leib, the old cantor from the Berezne Hassidic synagogue; the teachers: R' Yasha Turober Naidech a dear Jewish soul and a great scholar; the a great scholar Z'amtar (as he was called by his nickname); R' Libke who taught the Gemara to the older boys; R' Yeshaya and R' Meirl who taught the young boys.

Served among others in the Rabbi's “court”: R' Yisrael-Binyamin Globerman who was the rabbi's right hand, and Liba Zligs Levin who traveled to the towns and villages to collect donations for the rabbi.

The lessees of the mail, meaning, the lessees of mail transport from Pinsk to Stolin and the surrounding area by horses, and the suppliers of horses for the transport of government officials around town, were the members of the Turkenich family who were known by the name “Hirshes”. A story in itself is the period of the actions and antics of Yakov Levin (son of Liba Zligs Levin), with its pros and cons.

There was a controversy between the Hasidim and their opponents, which was quite severe at times and not for the sake of Heaven[1] … the source of this conflict was jealously that spread to various towns and didn't skip Stolin. There were cases when the Stolin Hassidim hurt the dignity of the rabbis from Berezne (there's no doubt that the rabbis weren't happy with these matters). Also the relationship between the Hassidim of two dynasties weren't in order, and the two sides also slandered each other.

The economic situation of Stolin's Jews worsened at the beginning of the 20th century, and the emigration to America, which increased from year to year, started. Those who left for America sent what was left from their salaries to their families so they could live on it and pay their debts. There were also those who saved their money for a number of years and brought their families to America, and those who returned to Stolin to restart their lives there.

The Haskalah [Enlightenment] Movement, the Zionist Movement and the rest of the political parties that appeared in the Jewish street, the construction of the railway line some distance from the town, and the development of the trade among the Jewish population despite the government persecution and restrictions - stimulated Stolin's Jews, advanced the town and the life within it.


  1. The Mishnah states that a controversy for the sake of Heaven will endure forever! It will never be concluded, because each side of the controversy presents a different viewpoint of the truth -- “both of them present the words of the Living G-d.” Return


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With the Russian Revolution

by A. Avi-Menachem

Translated by Sara Mages

In Stolin we used to get the mail every day in the morning. Only in times of war there were sometimes delays of hours, because the trains were late due to military movement and the transfer of ammunition to the front. And here, once in the winter, the mail didn't arrive for 3-4 days, and no one in Stolin knew the reason for that.

The reason became known only late Saturday afternoon (it was at the beginning of March 1917), when the newspapers arrived to the town by mail: Emperor Nicholas II was deposed and was forced to resign from the throne. There was a revolution in the country and the royal palace was under a revolutionary regime. A provisional government was assembled from delegates of the Russian Duma (parliament) and others. There was more than surprise in the matter. No one believed that such a thing took place in Russia. The elderly wanted to see fraud and deception in the news, because they were afraid of any change and revolution. They didn't know where the changes will lead and what the day will bring, and hoped that troubles won't come to the Jews. This matter was the topic of conversation in every home, in Beit HaMidrash, in the market and everywhere. It was told that the priest, who was known as an anti-Semite, said that it was a lie, just a fabrication of the Jews. He ordered to ring the Christian church bells on the next day, Sunday, and conducted the prayers as usual. M., the sole leader of Russia, Poland, Finland, etc. and two of the town's policemen walked through the streets on Saturday, shortly before sunset, and when they received the news they went to the office of the town's police inspector. They didn't ask him anything because how could they ask him a question about the ousting of the Emperor? They kept quiet and returned to their homes. On the way, they had a conversation with their Jewish acquaintances: What's written in the newspapers? (even though they already had a newspaper with all the latest news on the events in the country). Those who were asked chose not to talk openly and tried to avoid giving an answer.

That evening there was no one from the police in the streets, all of them sat mourning in their places. On the next day, Sunday, the policemen, and also the rest of the government officials, removed the regime's badges from their shoulder straps. The Pristav [Russian appointed officer] moved secretly out of town, and didn't know what to do. There was an atmosphere of exchange of regime and revolution in Stolin. Gentiles, and especially veterans, turned to the Jews with words of brotherhood and friendship: from now we are all equal, the tyrant emperor is gone and all of his edicts were canceled, they will not continue to enslave people who were created equal, from now on - freedom and liberty!

After two days they started to admit that there was a change in the country, and it was necessary to establish new institutions to maintain order, safety, and laws. At first, they started to talk about a civilian militia to protect the property and the order of the revolutionary regime, and also the establishment of a local government as it was being done in other cities. A news item arrived from Pinsk, the district city, that the head of the nobles, Sergi Pepe Ananosopolo? was elected as the leader of the regional government, and he was organizing the new regime in the city and the whole area.

The Jews were confused and didn't know what to do. They assumed that they would have to be careful in political matters. But the young people, especially those who had previously belonged to socialist parties, didn't accept this tentative view. They argued against the elderly and saw them as the continuation of the old ousted regime.

In those days the actions were done quickly and with revolutionary enthusiasm. I recall the first Tuesday

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after the revolution, when three young men, Tuvia Cohen, Leibel Garbuz together with a Christian, a crippled soldier, got together and organized a provisional militia to fill the roles of the police. Since there was no supreme power, they posted a notice about the establishment of the militia, and called for people age 20-40 to volunteer for a temporary service to maintain the security etc. On the same day about 25 volunteers showed up. They received white ribbons to tie on their sleeves and were given their tasks.

First in line was a night watch, and citizens from each street were called to take turn guarding at night. During the day the temporary militiamen patrolled the streets, and in the evenings kerosene lanterns were lit in the market square and in the main streets. People waited eagerly for the news that they obtained from the newspapers and from those who came from the outside.

On Thursday there was a rumor in town that a public meeting will be held in the evening. No one knew who called this meeting and what its purpose was. Many Jews and Gentiles came and waited for a while, and indeed, there was a meeting in the presence of more than one hundred people. The opener was the chairman of “Zemstvo[a form of a local government], who was considered to be a member of the “blacks”. When he appeared before the audience he spoke smoothly, as a man who cared for the common good and for the new regime that we have won. At the end he read from a circular that arrived from the district. It called the people to maintain peace and order, to accept the authority of the new regime in all areas according to the instructions that will be published by it. He announced that until the installation of the ruling authorities he considered it his duty to bear the burden and take care of all matters according to his abilities, and he hoped that the public will recognize him and help him.

Many of those present assumed that since the speaker received the circular from the district authorities, he was authorized to organize the town's government, and didn't undermine his offer. After this meeting the provisional militia activists saw that their service was completed. The town's Jews were worried, because so far they haven't seen a replacement for the temporary militia, but two days later a notice was posted in the streets that the district government appointed the commissioner Hawel Tomaševski, who was known as a liberal affable man, as the head of town's government, and it grew quiet.

Tomaševski, who was close to the Jews, opened an office and appointed officers. Among them were several members of the provisional militia. He consulted a few matters with Cohen and Garbuz, and according to their advice he made several advancements in town in favor of the residents and their security. Each case, which was brought before him by the Jews, met with sympathy and understanding, and the Gentiles understood that under the new regime they couldn't harm anyone because they would be severely punished. They were especially amazed that the Jews carried government positions, and they had to accept their authority. After several weeks, Tomaševski moved his office to Kastalantz's house, and the public began to adapt to a regime of freedom that they never tasted before.

At that time, an order was received from the high authorities to organize a large public procession in honor of the revolution. The new regime, and also the political parties, took care of the matter and the procession was festive and beautiful. The officials of the overthrown regime hid for reasons known to them, but a few of them came out with the townspeople, Jews and Gentiles, and took part in the procession which passed through the center of town with banners and slogans. There were many calls from the demonstrators for the occasion and against the tyrant regime of the past. The cheers of the crowds, who carried flags, and the shouts of joy and contempt mingled and continued for hours. The shops were closed and old and young filled the streets.

On that day the loyalists of the old system and also generation's elders started to believe that a revolution came to the country.


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From the Annals of Hardship
During the Years 1919-1920

by Z. Patchnik

Translated by Sara Mages

The wave of attacks on the Jews by the various armies, who roamed Russia and Ukraine after the First World War, also passed through Stolin. The exchange of authorities and the lack of a stable government led to looting, beating and even murder by various soldiers, and lawlessness celebrated. From 1919-1920, the armies of Russia and Germany, the Petluraim[1], the Blachowiczim[2] and many others, passed through the town until the Poles finally arrived and established their regime. The town didn't know rest for over a year and a half. Out of concern for life and property, a self-defense unit was organized in the town, and about 60-70 Jews participated in it. Yakov Kostyuk (from the nearby town of Dombrovitza) headed the group. He was a valiant man, bold and courageous, who knew how to defend the Jews' honor and how to discipline. This defense unit also had weapons and many relied on it, but when the Petluraim were in Stolin they feared this organization and disarmed it.

A company of Russian soldiers, who camped in Stolin for several weeks, abused the local Jews and robbed them. This company eyed the rabbi's house until he and his family were forced to leave and go into hiding in private homes (Rabbi Yisrael'ka hid in the attic of the house of Leib the butcher in Minsk Street). The members of the company questioned where the rabbi was but failed to find out, and a group of them seized a number of rooms in the rabbi's house. Asher Getzil the rabbi's servant, Michael-Aharon the baker, Leibel Yanovker and Tzvi Patchnik were placed to guard the house and the yard. The soldiers were told that they stayed to guard the house and work as hired laborers after the rabbi left town, and they didn't hurt them.

One day, it was on a Friday, the soldiers entered the rabbi's living rooms and robbed a lot of items, including all the musical instruments that belonged to the rabbi and his sons. They also stole the rabbi's famous violin and broke the big harp into pieces. The appearance of the rooms was like after a pogrom.

 

sto021.jpg
The “Rabbi's” rooms after the 1919 Blachowiczim pogrom

This typical incident happened one winter Saturday when a Red Army detachment camped in the town: the peasants came to the town's market to rob, and as usual they started from the shops. Passersby met a Christian woman who came out from a grocery store with a jar of honey, and hurried to take it out of her hand. Immediately, the members of the defense unite gathered there to stand on guard. The Christian woman started to shout that the Jews were beating her and took the jar of honey out of her hand. As if on a prearranged cue, the soldiers of the local detachment arrived, dispersed the crowd and chased after the escapees. Some of them turned in the direction of the rabbi's Shtiebel. The pursuers entered after them angrily with weapons in their hands, and shot the first person they saw, R' Asher'ke the rabbi's eldest son, and hit his shoulder. When they saw that he fell they believed that he was killed and continued to rage outside. After the soldiers left the wounded man was taken to the hospital.

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That day, the soldiers searched for the rabbi and got very angry when they couldn't find him. Once, when the Gentiles looted with the soldiers' help, they tried to harm Hania Hablan's beautiful daughters. The wounded father defended his daughters until they managed to escape.

Many incidents of beatings and injuries, rape and robbery, happened frequently at the time, and they remained in the memory of the townspeople for many years.


  1. Simon Petlura – also known as Symon Petliura was the head of the Ukrainian State in 1918-1920. Return
  2. Blachowiczim – the loyalists of General Bolek Blachowicz, a known murderer of Jews at the end of the First World War. Return


Between the Hammer and the Anvil

by Y. Globerman

Translated by Sara Mages

With the departure of the Blachowiczim[1] from Stolin in 1919, the 121st Wolyn Battalion entered the town. It was an assortment of military personnel according to their origin and status.

The officers and the commanders were, or pretended to be, Bolsheviks. The soldiers, or a good part of them, were anti-Semites, rioters and just bandits.

The days were the days of the changing of the guards, these left and those entered, and the Jewish settlements were crushed under the spiked sandals of the troops that fought each other and oppressed the Jews together wherever they were.

The Petluraim[2] attacked from the direction of Sarny-Wolyn. They arrived to the Dorin train station by an armored train, and stopped by the ruined bridge.

It was Friday before Purim. The Bolshevik regiment was forced to retreat in the direction of Horodok. On the day of retreat, the Gentiles, who lived in the suburbs, gathered - as if on a cue – and plundered the town.

These retreated and those not yet entered, and on Saturday the town of Stolin remained without a government. I saw the need to take the initiative in my hands, and without consultation with the members of the community I met with the honorable gentlemen, Leibel Schleipek and Yehusua Schkelier. We decided to convene a meeting with the “Staroste[3] (“Soltis”) in “Volost” square together with the “Best of the Gentiles”, and organize a civilian militia to guard the city from chaos during the days without a government.

But, as we climbed Dombrovicz Street near the cemetery on our way to the “Staroste”, a group of three soldiers, who were dressed in military uniform that were unfamiliar to us, suddenly appeared. They were Petluraim scouts who came to scout the city.

Their first question was: Are you Bolsheviks? We told them that the Wolyn Battalion withdrew, and that they robbed us on the day of withdrawal. As we were talking to them they took off their coats and fled for their lives. We looked around surprise and confused, and saw a small detachment of communist soldiers from the121st Battalion marching from the direction of the city.

We escaped for our lives (luckily they didn't notice us). They moved about 50 steps and returned to where they came from.

Brave young men, who sat in ambush in the city, opened fire on them to prevent looting. The company returned fire and their shots hit and killed Shalom the tailor.

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The meeting, of course, never took place. Instead, we placed guards throughout the city in case of trouble.

At midnight, a Jewish runner arrived from the nearby village of Belihush [Belogusha] to inform us, that they were planning to come to Stolin on the next day to avenge the shooting.

We summoned the townspeople in the middle of night, we consulted and decided to send a delegation to the Petluraim headquarters in Horyn and ask for their protection.

The members of the delegation - Shaul Zarchwitz, Efraim Globerman, and a teacher from “Tarbut” school who was proficient in the Ukrainian language - were graciously received. The delegation told them that the retreating 121st Bolshevik Battalion carried pogroms in the city, and asks the Ukrainians to enter the city and give the local residents their protection.

One of the officers told them that for now they couldn't enter Stolin, but they will send a small reconnaissance unit every day, to frighten the Bolsheviks so they won't return to the town, and asked that the town's residents will receive the soldiers with kindness. He asked if the Bolsheviks executed the three young Jewish men who met the first scout unit, and if the young men are still alive they should report to him when his battalion will enter the town.

And so it was, small reconnaissance units visited the town daily, and on Friday, Ukrainian soldiers entered the town and camped there. The commander established his residency in the city center at the home of Avraham-Moshe Pliasinuk.

On Saturday morning I reported before the commander, a young Ukrainian about 25 years old. I asked his permission to establish a Jewish civilian militia, which will communicate between the population and the military government, and keep the order in the town. He agreed and Yakov Koschiuk, a brave man, was placed as the militia leader. Life went on normally for 3-4 weeks, and there were no riots in the town.

But the peace didn't last long. The high officers and the soldiers started to grumble about the commander's friendship with the Jews. One day, the commander left A. M. Pliasinuk's house. It was a bad omen. The soldiers began to steal merchandise - a sure sign of approaching riots.

The head of the militia, Yakov Koschiuk, and his friend Sofer, who went to the new commander to ask him to send patrols to calm things down, were beaten and imprisoned. After they were found guilty they were sent to the supreme headquarters in Sarni.

They were lucky. In Sarny they met the officers who entered Stolin with the first unit. Those recommended them before the high commander and redeemed them from the danger of death.

Blachowiczim, Petluraim, Whites, Red and Brown - where is the anvil that we hadn't been thrown on, and where is the hammer that didn't hit us to destroy us?

We are blessed that we were rewarded to have our own hammer and anvil to oppose them and defend our freedom.


  1. Blachowiczim – the loyalists of General Bolek Blachowicz, a known murderer of Jews at the end of the First World War. Return
  2. Petluraim – soldiers of Simon Petlura, the head of the Ukrainian State in 1918-1920. Return
  3. Staroste – is a title for an official or unofficial position of leadership. Return


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A Change of Regimes

by M. Belohousky

Translated by Sara Mages

Stolin knew several changes of regimes after the First World War. However, the town's Jews didn't see a shift in this area from 1920, when the Poles established their regime in the Brisk-Pinsk region, until the outbreak of the Second World War

On Sunday afternoon, 17 September 1939, a rumor spread through the town that the Russian army crossed the Russian-Polish border, and it was marching forwarded through the State of Poland with almost no opposition from the retreating Polish army. The matter puzzled many and the news quickly spread. Rumors circulated, and there were those who predicted that the Red Army would occupy the entire area and will also enter Stolin. At that time, there were several hundred refugees in town who fled from the German occupier and found refuge in Stolin. When they learned about the approaching Russian army and the Germans entry to Drohiczyn, near Pinsk, they were getting ready to cross the border to the Russian side, because their fear of the Nazis chased them, and the rumors about the Russians' arrival to Stolin encouraged them.

Confusion arose among the Poles, and the authorities didn't know what to do. A number of Jewish residents offered to organize a civil guard (sort of a militia), and the Polish policed gave them weapons. We expected a change in the situation and exchange of power. The newspapers brought conflicting information, and the popular imagination added a personal touch to it.

A rumor spread after September 18th that a World War broke out, and America joined this war.

There were signs that the Polish regime started to leave because it wasn't sure of its position. And indeed, on Tuesday September 19th, the Polish garrison left town at first light. The regime was crumbling by the hour. Irresponsible people among the Russian population took the opportunity and started to take out goods from the government's warehouses (tobacco and others), and the looting widened. The Polish police tried to stand against the criminals, and several of them were arrested (Pichutin and Razinowitch).

All the signs justified the speculations. It was reported from P³otnica that on the same day, Tuesday, a Russian scout, an officer in the Red Army, arrived dressed simply and openly declared: The Red Army is approaching to liberate the district from the burden of the Poles. The Jews didn't know whether to rejoice or to regret the change, and chose not to respond. But there was a feeling of awakening among the youth towards the change of power, because of their fondness to the Russian regime.

On Wednesday, September 20th, a transitional local government, which was composed of Jews and Gentiles, was organized in the town. The “common folks” saw themselves as first in line in the composition of this civil institution, and from among the Bundistim [members of the Bund Movement] they put into it: Schanai Levin (who was known as a communist), Leibl Molochnik, Gedalia Milman, David Chaim Frenkel, and others. The Gentiles sent Shelest, Pichutin and others to this institution.

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were days of panic and expectation. There was confusion until the first Russian soldier arrived to town. Stolin went back to being a Russian city, but not for long.


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Refugee and Survivor

by Y. Avital

Translated by Sara Mages

September 1939. Poland was conquered in a swift war, and tens of thousands of Jews fled in all directions as if they felt the danger that awaited them. Enemy planes chased after those who fled, and furiously poured fire and destruction on them. In those days there were more casualties among those who fled than those who were killed in action. At home there was fear of the occupation and the Nazi regime, and on the roads there was horror, fear and death. Polish Jews found relief and salvation in the areas that were annexed to the U.S.S.R [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics]. The horrors skipped them thanks to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, but unfortunately not for long.

The confusion and surprise increased in the first days of the annexation, mainly because of the friendly agreement between the two bitter enemies. The adaptation came very slowly, and little by little there was even an adjustment to the new way of life. The Zionist and the “Bundaim[1] circles were pushed to the side and the N.K.V.D.[2] spread its reign in the town. According to Yevsektsiya's[3] guidelines, “Tarbut” [Hebrew] School was turned into a Yiddish School, initially under the direction of the veteran teachers, who were removed quickly and replaced by loyal teachers. The merchandise, which was in the stores and in the warehouses, was partly hidden and partly sold without the possibility of replenishment. The commerce was paralyzed and the standard of living began to fall. A reorganization of the system arrived, the wealthy and the nobles lost their high positions and others took their places.

To cleanse the camp from reactionary elements, or maybe just by informing and backbiting, they started to examine the activities of the men of the past and scrutinized them. As in all other localities, they search and found those were suppose to be dangerous to the public, maybe because of their position in the society, maybe because of their political views, or maybe just for the sake of being heard and seen, and condemned them for an administrative deportation. The first victims were the “Bundaim” who were suspected of Trotskyism[4]: Gedalia Milman, Yosel Perl Leah's, Nudelman and David Frenkel.

And so was the order of deportation: At two o'clock in the morning agents of the N.K.V.D. knocked on the door - open on behalf of the government.

Eventually, the residents knew the meaning of this knock at night, and anxiety gripped the family members when they heard the “footsteps of the messenger”. The order was brief and vigorous: in two hours, without any delay and without any questions, take a knapsack and a wanderer's staff, and leave the city before dawn. Where? Don't ask and it would be better if you don't investigate.

There were cases where only the head of the family was deported. Over time, the family members were permitted to join the deportee, who in the meantime arrived to a remote corner in Siberia and settled there. In most cases the entire family was deported in the middle of the night, like those who left Egypt, but without the possibility of taking gold and silver with them, and without a pillar of fire to guide them on their way. After the expulsion of the Trotskyism, came the turn of the Zionists, the middle class, and just Jews. In a short period of time these families were deported: Tuchman, Dorchin, Glinnski, Leyoba Blohoski and her children, the teacher Rosman, Beckerman, Kagan, Rubinstein and others. Each expulsion was a nightmare episode for the expelled family, and terror for the entire city. The long journey from Polesia to the remote corners of Siberia, the settling there, the pains of absorption and the hardships until they were redeemed with the repatriation of Poland - is a story in itself.

It was a period of trouble for the Jews, but they were saved from it. If not for the survivors, who were expelled and fled to Russia, almost no one would have remained from the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Fate has done justice to the Jews when it scattered them in the remote regions of Russia and commanded them to live.


  1. Bundaim or Bundistim – members of the Bund Movement. Return
  2. N.K.V.D - People's Ministry of Internal Affairs. Return
  3. Yevsektsiya - was the Jewish section of the Soviet Communist party. Return
  4. Trotskyism - is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Return

 

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