By Yakov Ayzenberg
In the heart of each one of us, the town awakens wonderful memories, experiences, and longing for the life we had and that no longer exists.
A person's childhood is unique. It is a world of impression and dreams. It is a reality full of imagination and aspirations.
Some passing events are not recognized or activated by the child's soul. In comparison, some events, visions, and impressions are hidden in the depths of that soul. At first contact in a time of need, they float upward and draw the longed-for image from the past.
Before my eyes is the community of Vishnevets, with its homes, streets and synagogue, the town on which the cruel hand of fate fell. My cradle stood there, and I spent my childhood there. I remember the first page: my time in cheder. The town was blessed with various teachers who taught Torah to their students and instilled it in them-with their arms. Each teacher used his cruel strap on his students. A long table stood in the middle of the room, with the students sitting around it and the teacher at the head, leading the class with great authority.
Memories of evening lessons are carved especially deeply into my memory. The children study in the dark, looking forward to the cherished hour that marks the time to go home, each with a flashlight in his hand.
The time I spent studying at the Vishnevets yeshiva speaks clearly to my heart. When the yeshiva opened in our town, it was housed in the study hall of our town's rabbi, of blessed memory. The yeshiva head, teachers, and tutors all came from other towns. The headmaster was the rabbi's son-in-law, R' Aytsikel, of blessed memory, a wise, friendly scholar who represented the Enlightenment: Be a Jew in your home and a man when you leave. Many yeshiva members came from different locations.
And last, I remember our young people who stormed the different Zionist youth movements, from Pioneer, to Young Pioneer, to Youth Guard, to Betar. In a pioneering fervor, they dreamed about immigrating to Israel to build a new life; they wanted to be among the builders and farmers in her cities and villages. What a pity, what a tragedy for the Jews and young people of Vishnevets. As young people in Volin, they constituted the natural reserve of working manpower from which the revival movement was built.
The heart aches for this Jewish human source, which was destroyed and diminished.
Until the end of our lives, we will fight the human tendency toward amnesia so that we will not forget our parents, brothers, and sisters, who were our flesh and blood.
by Sonya (Shats) Levanon
I lived in Vishnevets until 1933. I left for pioneer training and returned in 1936. In 1939, when World War II broke out, I left my wretched birthplace and moved to Rovne after the Russian occupation. I was there until 1941.
Vishnevets was a small town of 5,000 people. Life there was happy, her people were lovely, and the teenagers were such good teenagers.
There were active Zionist youth movements in town; everyone hoped to immigrate to Israel.
There were no sidewalks in Vishnevets, and the roads weren't made of asphalt. In the center of the town were many shops and a big market. Every morning, the gentile women brought farm products to town-eggs, milk, cheese, vegetables, and chickens-and sat in the market to sell them.
There was a palace in the town, and a magnificent garden surrounded it. On the Sabbath, the Jews strolled there, but only next to the garden; only a few dared to enter it.
The Horyn River divided the town, and a long, wide bridge connected the two sections. A water-powered flourmill stood at the end of the bridge. This mill was owned by a Jew. There were little boats by the mill, and Jewish teenagers sailed in the water and picked beautiful water lilies. Under the bridge were a waterfall and the town's swimming beach. We used to take turns going into the water: first the men, and when they came out, the women. On the riverbank outside the town was a wide meadow where horses and cows grazed. Beautiful blue wildflowers grew there. In the center of the town stood the Great Synagogue, and around it stood seven more synagogues, one for each social class.
I attended a Polish elementary school and a secondary trade school. But there was also a Tarbut School in town, where my brother went. There was also a Talmud Torah, but only the sons of poor families, which the community supported, studied there. There was also an ORT school, and an agricultural school, but Jews didn't study there.
At the Polish school, 50 Christians and 10 Jews started in the first grade. Ten Jews and 5 Christians graduated. Some teachers treated the Jews fairly, and some hated Jews and harassed us. The Christian students treated us nicely, because they needed us-the good students. The school was far away, outside the town, and the road there was difficult. A Christian woman's property stood in the middle of the route, and we could have saved ourselves some distance if we could have walked through it. But the gentile woman was a Jew-hater, and if a Jewish child dared to approach her yard, she urged her dogs to attack him.
We had no contact with Christians outside school.
Today, it's difficult for me to talk about the relationships between the children in town. It was a strange relationship; children who liked each other at school weren't allowed to play together, by order of their parents and the inadequate societal standards. There were different social classes in town.
The Trade School and the Palace
[Translation Editor's Note: The Polish title on the photo reads, Grade 3 of the Coeducational Trade School in Vishnevets.]
Community leaders' and notables' children didn't make friends with workers' children. Each class lived on its own street. Once, a tailor's daughter befriended a merchant's daughter, and the merchant's family opposed it. Also, a marriage had to be made according to pedigree.
For some reason, I remember two prominent incidents from my childhood: when I was a girl, a fire broke out at the flourmill at midnight. All the town's residents, old and young, packed their belongings and got ready to escape. Then, suddenly, the wind changed direction, a heavy rain fell, and the fire went out.
The second incident is connected with the melting of snow .The water overflowed the riverbanks, and all the streets in the lower part of town flooded. Water entered homes and brought chickens, furniture, and other utensils with them. It was a few days until the flood stopped. For many years, natural disaster affected the lives of various families.
I escaped from Vishnevets with nothing.
The Poles left town when the war broke out, and for two weeks we lived without a government. We were afraid of the Ukrainians. Rumors circulated that they were planning pogroms against the Jews. Two weeks later, Russian tanks entered, and we were happy. But our happiness was short-lived. Certain Jewish communists grasped the ruling power in their hands and took revenge on the middle class. For the first time, the community of Vishnevets experienced cruel brotherly revenge. The town was like a cemetery. Work in the trades stopped, and the stores closed after all the merchandise was sold. Zionists were accused of being middle class and were exiled to Siberia. I stayed in town for a short time and later moved to Rovne.
I remained in Rovne until 1941, until the German occupation. I escaped to Russian territory when the first German bombs fell on Rovne. I wandered the roads for days, weeks, and months. Many stayed, and only a few continued to travel east. Once, when I was exhausted, I lay in a ditch; a heavy rain fell, and I slept. My parents had a hard time waking me up. Finally, we arrived at a kolkhoz. We were given a cold, empty room. In the meantime, I gave birth to a son. I didn't have any diapers. I didn't have any clothes for him or bedding to warm his tiny body, and I had no disinfectant or medicine to heal his wounds and the rash on his delicate body. To this day, it's difficult for me to understand how he survived.
Even with all the hardship that befell us on our way to Russia, many Jews survived. It's a pity that there were so few. Our brothers, the residents of Vishnevets, loathed the Russians and their restrictive regime, and during the short time they tasted this regime, they chose to stay in their homes. There were also personal and community reasons. Individuals were afraid of being separated from their places of residence, dining tables, and comfortable beds. In short, it was difficult to be a refugee. The Jews in Volin had seen the sufferings and personal crises of the refugees from Warsaw and didn't want to be like them. In addition, the Jews didn't believe that the cultured German nation would do what it has done.
Elementary School Principal, Binyamina
Honored chairman and respected guests,
With awe and compassion, I open the memorial ceremony for the community of Vishnevets, one of the thousands of Jewish communities in the European Diaspora that were destroyed and annihilated by the Nazi oppressors.
Magnificent Jewish communities, centers of Torah and wisdom, where Torah study never stopped within the walls of the synagogues and study halls-
Where your pride was-your geniuses, great souls and knights of the Torah-your ancestry-the rabbinical chair held by many generations of wise scholars, learned in Jewish law and Scripture-
Where your dignitaries-community elders and benefactors, and your community leaders-generously and with self-sacrifice cared for the public's needs-and your glory was-the homes of the Hasidic rabbis, leaders of their generation, the righteous who are the world's foundation -
How the reaper descended on you, the magnificent, holy communities of Israel.
Little communities of Israel, made up of poor, simple, modest, honest Jews in the remote regions of Volin and Polesia, people of Ein Yakov and Psalm readers, honorable, self-respecting Jews, who spun the web of their pure and honest life with humility, embroidered a dream of redemption in secret, and sweetened their painful existence with love and reverence.
[Translation Editor's Note: Ein Yakov is a compilation of stories from the Talmud.]
How the wick of your life was cut short at the hands of the profane.
Lovely children of Zion-
You, who were privileged to hear the steps of redemption, have come here today to witness the memorial ceremony for the community of Vishnevets, to be part of an alliance of heritage and Jewish fate-the fate of suffering and hardship, a heritage of courage and pride.
Please carry this double trust as a cherished gift and an order from above, in the spirit of from one generation to the next.
You walked-in your imagination-down the grieving alleyways of the community of Vishnevets, saw the Jewish homes, viewed their synagogues cloaked with bereavement and grief, peeked into a Jewish child's sad eyes-and his hot tears mixed with your blood, and his silent cry now beats in your heart-hide it in a secret place in your soul so you will deliver his last will to the next generation: to remember and not to forget!
May their souls be bound up in the bond of renewed life in Zion-the destination that their souls longed for but could not reach.
Binyamina's elementary school children adopted the community of Vishnevets, of blessed memory. They studied its way of life; they were impressed by its Jewish life, they were shocked by its destruction, and they enjoyed its legends. They collected details in order to reconstruct it in their imagination and their hearts, and they expressed their emotions in words and poems.
We present their works as they wrote them, without the need for explanation.
From the Children
We, the students of the seventh- and eighth-grade classes of the Binyamina elementary school, took on the campaign of commemorating the community of Vishnevets in the Volin region. With our teacher's help, we contacted a number of former residents. They accepted our request willingly, dedicated their time to us, and brought memories from their destroyed homes.
We were divided into small groups, eight students in each group. We set goals for ourselves, prepared questions, and sent a delegate from each group to Afula, Givatayim, Hadera, and Haifa. The delegates returned with experiences and notes that they shared with the group.
We learned a lot, we discovered a distant world that no longer exists, and we created a bridge that connected us to a culture that we nurture even today .
History of the Town
According to the dates on the graves in the old cemetery, Vishnevets was founded 600 years ago.
Until World War I, Vishnevets was under the rule of the Russian czar. Life was peaceful in those days, jobs were available, and bribes enabled you to live in peace. To be sure, every once in a while the town experienced some trouble, such as the blood libel of Rabbi Yosele and the abduction of children to work for the army. But those troublesome days were short, and ordinary Jews lived in sadness. After the Russian revolution, the government changed often. In two years, the government changed six times. Each ruler created his own currency and canceled the currency of his predecessor, legislating new laws while canceling the old ones. During that period, the Jews suffered greatly at the hands of the Ukrainians, who tried to grab control. Petliura and the rest of the Jew-haters rioted against the Jews and spilled their blood. It was only after the Polish occupation that the town experienced a period of serenity and prosperity, which lasted until World War II. In 1939, the Russians conquered the town, and the times of horror returned. The town's Jewish Communists took over and retaliated against community leaders and the town's notables. Trade stopped, the Zionists were exiled to Siberia, and sadness fell upon the town.
In 1941, the Nazis occupied Volin, and Vishnevets became the area's ghetto. Under the command of only three Germans, 6,000 Jews were destroyed by their Ukrainian neighbors.
Today only one Jewish family, which has taken on the duty of protecting the Jewish graves, lives there.
The Town's Appearance
It was a small, beautiful town with a spectacular, varied appearance-a mountain, a river, and a wide meadow. It was a town that was full of life and 3,000 simple, kindhearted Jews. Vishnevets was named after Prince Wisniowiecki, who built himself a magnificent summer palace in the area.
The palace was the pride of the town. It was said to have 365 rooms, one for each day of the year. A beautiful garden and forest surrounded the palace. Jews were not allowed to enter the garden or the forest, and those who dared to do so walked in groups out of fear of the guards. The Jews walked around the wall on the Sabbath, enjoyed the smell of the flowers, sat under the trees, and drank kvas, which they bought on credit until the Sabbath ended. The Horyn River split the town into the Old City and the New City. In the center of the New City stood a group of stores, and around them were a market and a small public garden. The main street running on both sides of the stores was where important people's homes stood. Workers lived on the side streets, and fishermen's families lived by the riverbank. There were no asphalt roads or sidewalks, but a bustling, peaceful life prevailed in the town.
[Translation Editor's Note: Kvas is a fermented beverage made from black rye or rye bread.]
Livelihood in Vishnevets
Economically, Vishnevets was connected to the 60 Christian-owned farms in the area. The Jews traded with the farmers, and they earned their living from each other.
Town Jews worked in six trades:
Some grocers succeeded and had plenty of income, and other small grocers had difficulty earning a living.
The stories about education differed by age group.
The oldest man in the group told us this: In my day, the children in Vishnevets studied in cheder, which was divided into four levels according to the students' achievement. A three-year-old child entered the young children's class and studied how to be Jewish. At the age of five, he advanced to the second level and studied the Pentateuch with Rashi. At the age of 10, he entered the third level and studied the Gemara.
A year or two later, he advanced to the older boys' cheder and studied in a study hall or yeshiva.
It was possible to learn the language of the educated, meaning Russian, at the two-year Russian school, but only children from rich families went there because the tuition was very expensive.
If a man wanted to give his son a general education, he had to send him to a school in the district seat.
A woman told us this: In my day, the Poles ruled the town. There were cheders where most of the Jewish children studied, but there was also a government elementary school. We studied Polish there and received a general education. Most of the teachers were anti-Semitic and discriminated against the Jewish children. Nevertheless, 60 of us, 10 Jews and 50 Christians, started in first grade. Fifteen students finished school: 10 Jews and 5 Christians.
And another told us: I studied at the Tarbut School. Sure, there was a Polish elementary school in town where you could study for almost nothing, but the town's intellectuals and important people preferred to pay and send their children to the Tarbut School. The language of instruction was Hebrew.
There was also a Talmud Torah in the town, which in a way inherited the role of the cheder, which began to disappear. There were also other educational institutions in town, such as a three-year trade school that only Jewish students attended, an agricultural school, and ORT, where Jewish student were not accepted.
A nursery school teacher's aide told us this: The Jewish nursery school was the pride of the educators and Zionists in town. A nursery school in a town was rare, and a Jewish nursery school all the more so. The Vishnevets Zionists searched for and found a nursery school teacher and gave her an aide, and the first Jewish nursery school in the whole area opened in Vishnevets.
Yearning for a Homeland
As spring rain along with a thunderstorm raged outside, seven-year-old students sat in their classroom, and in their imagination they traveled with Rabbi Akiva and his students to the small forests in Israel, holding a bow and arrow in their hands and aspirations of freedom in their hearts. I sat among the students and saw myself hiding between the thick oak trees. My bow is ready, and I am waiting for a Roman .
Two days later, Tarbut School students gathered in the courtyard of the Great Synagogue, ready to parade out of town to celebrate the holiday of Lag BaOmer.
I was asked to lead the procession. They dressed me in a big blue and white box, as big as my body, with an opening for money chiseled on it. They put a blue and white hat on my head inscribed with Tel Aviv, and we left.
For me, the ringing of the coins sounded like arrows sent into the hearts of the Romans. I felt that we would win and that our homeland would be free forever.
There were many different youth movements in town: Young Pioneer, Youth Guard, Zionist Youth, Betar, Pioneer, Zionist Worker, Freedom, Jewish Legion, Freiheit, and the Communists. As usual, peace didn't prevail between the movements. Each one fought to acquire members for their branch, and all methods were kosher but all the Zionist movements had one thing in common-they worked for the Jewish National Fund. The Jewish National Fund Central Committee was located in town, and representatives from all the different movements met there. The youth movement members delivered blue boxes to each home and emptied them each month. The teens visited all weddings, circumcisions, and other celebrations and collected donations for the Jewish National Fund from the guests. Also, on the Sabbath, they collected money for the Jewish National Fund from the men who were called to the Torah, and organized a Hanukkah bazaar, donating all proceeds to the Jewish National Fund. A competition took place between the movements, and the group that collected the most money won a citation.
The members of the movements met every evening, each movement in its own nest. They studied the history of Zionism, sang Hebrew songs, danced the hora, and prepared for their departure for the training that was a bridge to Israel. An additional target that stood before the movements was the spread of the Hebrew language. From the beginning of the 1930s, the sound of the Hebrew language rang in the streets of Vishnevets.
When a member of a Zionist youth movement reached the age of 18, he or she was eligible to go to a training kibbutz. The purpose of the training was to prepare pioneers for working life in Israel. For that purpose, the young people lived together, worked at manual labor, and waited for the moment when they would receive their certificate-their license to immigrate to Israel. The pioneers didn't receive financial help from their parents, and at times they were hungry for bread. They stuck to their goal: to strengthen their bodies and souls for the hard life in Israel. The pioneer groups' financial situation was different in each town.
A pioneer woman tells us: I trained for two and a half years, and during that time we suffered from hunger and cold. The young men in our group worked at the sawmill, and the young women tried to get domestic work. The people who provided the work, even if they were good Jews, did not trust the physical strength of Jewish children, and of 60 people, only 10 were able to find a job. We obtained government health insurance to help those who became sick. Yes, we were hungry for bread, but we were happy because we were looking forward to our future.
A pioneer man tells us: I was a member of the Youth Guard. At the age of 18, all the members of my level and I joined Pioneer, only because Pioneer received certificates. My training kibbutz happened to be in my town, and the community took care of its income. The rabbi's wife was our benefactor and provided for our needs. We worked in factories, had government health insurance, and our situation was good.
A pioneer woman from a training kibbutz in Vishnevets tells us: The training kibbutz in Vishnevets was a chapter of a kibbutz from another town. When I belonged to it, there were five members-three young men and two young women. The men worked as woodcutters and water drawers, and the young women worked as domestic help. Later on, I received a special task: I got a job as a helper to a nursery school teacher. There was only a sandbox in the nursery school, and the two of us built games with our own hands.
The town's residents were enthusiastic Zionists and cared a lot about the livelihood of the kibbutz, but the sources of income in town were limited. And here's an interesting episode: we were unemployed for many days, and we were waiting for even a day of work. One night, around midnight, we heard a loud knock on the door. We all jumped in fear. And then we heard someone calling: Friends, wake up, I've found work for you. We wondered, Work at midnight? And then we heard the answer: There's a dead man in town, and we need you to stay with him. Come and work.
Activities for Israel
The main activity for Israel was to collect money for the Jewish National Fund and United Israel Appeal. The town's Zionists recognized the value of learning the Hebrew language and introducing the aspiration to immigrate to Israel. To that end, they founded the Tarbut School, opened a nursery school, and organized parties whose income was dedicated to the Jewish National Fund. They collected large donations to United Israel Appeal from the town's residents. During Simchat Torah, when every Jew was called to the Torah, the Zionists collected a lot of money from the community. That day they had a special minyan, sold places, and gave the money to the Jewish National Fund.
The town organized a party for each Jew who was granted permission to immigrate to Israel and accompanied him or her with the singing of Hatikva, hoping to follow his or her footsteps to reach the homeland.
All the town's synagogues were concentrated in one courtyard. In the center stood the Great Synagogue, where the cantor and the poets sang. Around it stood seven other synagogues. Each social class had its own synagogue, and no tailor or merchant ever prayed in the Great Synagogue.
Homeowners used to place their sons' canopy in the Great Synagogue courtyard, and during the Sabbath the courtyard bustled with activity. But in the evening, in the dark, the Jews avoided walking near the synagogue. They believed in their hearts that ghosts lurked in the women's gallery at night.
During the Holocaust, the Germans rounded up all the town's Jews, put them in the Great Synagogue, and murdered them. Only a young woman and a small child escaped through a small window, and we learned about the murder from them.
By Avraham Rozenberg
Yakov, the rabbi's son, had disappeared. The news passed from mouth to ear very quickly and spread throughout the town. The rabbi's wife fainted, and Rabbi Yitschak had difficulty standing up. An extensive search began. We looked all over; there was no place that we did not inspect, and the child was nowhere to be found.
The rabbi and his wife didn't know what to do. They no longer had a child, but what has been taken cannot be returned: God has given, and God has taken away. May God's name be blessed.
Many years passed; we grew older and had children. Our parents passed away, as did rabbi and his wife. One day, I took my grandson for a walk. The child pressed me to tell him something. After many pleas, I agreed to do so. I said, let's sit under a tree at the entrance to the town, and I'll tell you a story.
We sat down, and I began to tell the story:
One day, when I was still a young boy sitting in cheder, a man suddenly came in and spoke to the rabbi who was teaching us at that hour. We saw that the rabbi's face was somber, and he quickly said to us, We're done for the day; you're free. We went home, and very soon we learned the reason. The rabbi's son had disappeared.
We looked everywhere, and we couldn't find him. Even today, no one knows why he disappeared.
I finished my story, and we were about to get up and return, when a bearded man walked toward the town and in our direction. We greeted him, and he asked, Where is the Tailors' Synagogue? We answered him, and I asked, Why are you looking for that particular synagogue? He turned and told me, My name is Hans. I work in a coalmine in Russia, but I don't know my identity. I know that I was born in a Christian woman's home. At the age of 20 I was taken into the czar's army, I served for 25 years, and later I was taken to work in the mines. I escaped from there and wandered around the world to search for my parents and my identity.
When I reached the home of the Christian woman who had raised me, she told me I wasn't her son. I remembered that I'd been taken from a synagogue with a hole behind the Holy Ark. After clarification, I found out that this was the place.
I was glad to hear his words, and I knew that the rabbi's son had returned to our town, thanks to the hole behind the Holy Ark.
By Chayim Elyovich
|A little town, quiet and beautiful
was ruined, destroyed without a trace.
But the name of that lovely corner
will remain in our memory forever.
Here! From there the street continues
from here-to the left is the big market,
and on this side is the synagogue, for the great and rich,
and here the poor and small will pray.
The tranquility of the town, its silence, is
all that will not be removed from the heart of the community.
Suddenly, as in a windstorm,
the small, beautiful town was destroyed.
The villains did it, the foreigners
who hoped to erase the memory of the Jews
therefore we vow not to forget
and to always remember.
By Nurit Sheyner
|Not long ago, it is not difficult to remember,
our beloved brothers were slain for nothing,
slain just like that.
By enemies, murderers, who destroyed and slaughtered without reason,
just like that.
A mother whispers to her son and pours out her heart,
where do the trains that never return travel to?
Your father and many others left and did not return.
It was not long ago, it is not difficult to remember,
our good brothers who were slain for nothing,
slain just like that.
By Nitse Biv
|A pretty girl cried, where did the town disappear to?
Where is my father, and what happened to my brother?
Why did they all disappear, why was life silenced here?
Vishnevets through Its Institutions
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