By Akiva Ben-Ezra
Polesia is known for its swamps. It is between the Bug and Dnieper rivers. This region belongs to Russia. After the Riga peace agreement in 1921, Poland received the province of Grodno and parts of the province of Pinsk that belong to Polesia.
The swamps cover half the region. It is thanks to the swamps that the Swedes were halted before Pinsk (1706) led by King Carl the 12th. Napoleon also had a hard time with the swamps in Polesia (1012). The Germans were halted there in 1915.
Between the swamps and sand there were forests of pine and small streams. The fish in them of various kinds support a part of the population.
The forests of Polesia were once known for animals of prey, such as wolves, foxes, bears, and the like. Frequently, these animals attacked the surrounding settlements.
As the forests were cut back in the last hundreds of years, the number of animals of prey decreased which reduced the danger to the surrounding communities.
The population of Polesia is mainly composed of White Russians divided into two groups those assimilated to Polish culture and those assimilated to Russian culture.
Likewise, Poles, Jews, Russians, Germans, Hungarians and gypsies dwell in Polesia. The Poles numbered 10 percent of the population and Polish princes once ruled the entire region.
The Jewish settlements until their destruction by the Nazis also made up 10 percent. They lived mainly in cities and towns and earned their living from commerce and crafts. A small number were farmers. Their cultural level was higher than that of the other inhabitants.
One of the branches of commerce in the region was forestry. The forests of Polesia were famous. Jews controlled this commerce. Jews owned the forests and hired gentiles to cut them and bring them on rafts to Germany.
Poland and Lithuania were united in 1569. The principality of Lithuania opened its doors to Polish culture and institutions, especially to the Catholic Church. The Church tried to make its influence decisive in all spheres of life and was very successful at that. The region slowly assimilated to Polish culture. Understandably, this angered the Cossacks and was expressed in the Chmielnitzki revolt in 1648. Farmers joined the Cossacks and together they plundered and killed for two years. Much Jewish blood was spilled before Poland defeated the Cossacks.
In the spring of 1706, the Swedes under their king Carl the 12th made war against Poland. The swamps of Polesia stopped them and Poland remained untouched until 1772, the year of the first partition of the country. Then, White Russia was taken over by Russia. After the war of 1793-1795, Russia got more provinces, among them Grodno. As mentioned above Napoleon invaded and also had a hard time with the swamps. The Poles attempted to revolt twice against the Russians, in 1830 and 1863.
These revolts caused the Jews great suffering at the hands of both sides.
The region was quiet about 100 years. However, during that time the Jews suffered at the hands of the Czars.
WWI had the Germans rule for a short time and exert a certain influence on the life and culture. After the passage of the Ukrainians and the Bolsheviks the Poles returned in March 1919. Peace came to the region in general. However, the Jews suffered persecution and bloodshed.
In July 1920, there broke out battles between the Poles and the Bolsheviks.
White Russians also took part in these battles under the leadership of the General Belakhovitsh on behalf of the Poles. However, the Belakhovitses also spilled much Jewish blood and wrote a sad chapter in the Jewish history of the region.
The peace accord in Riga was signed in March 1921 between Poland and the Soviet Union. Poles ruled the region until 1939 the start of WWII. Then, the Red Army came and conquered the region and ruled it until June 1941 the outbreak of the German-Russian war. This is when the Germans conquered Poland and the Ukraine and even reached the gates of Leningrad and Moscow. What happened after the Nazi beasts of prey came and the bloody events is the topic of this memorial book.
By Prof. P. Chernyak
It is one of 30 similar towns in Polesia, which has the greatest swamps in Europe. The region is 150 meters above sea level. The latitude is 52 degrees 11' north and the longitude is 24 degrees 42' from Greenwich. The town lies between Kobrin, Drohitsin, Radostov, Zaprod, not far from the big swamps spreading south, east and northeast. These swamps take up nearly 56 percent of the area of Polesia. Antopol, like other settlements takes up a small area. However, at its edge, especially at its east, there are many swamps.
There is no river in Antopol. The Karolvski Canal, whose length is 79 kilometers and width 20-30 meters, and depth only 2-2 1/2 meters is about 10 kilometers distant from town. The Poles began to dig it before 1795. It was finished under the Russian Czars. In 1941/42, the Soviets deepened and widened it to make it more suitable for the many shipments by boat loaded with wheat to Nazi Germany in the direction of the Bug and Visla and to receive from it coal and metal ores in the direction of Zamokhvets, Pripets, and Dnieper. These were the times after the MolotovRibbentrop dealt under the sponsorship of Stalin-Hitler. In the winter of 1941/42 about 5000 prisoners from Asiatic Russia were brought to Antopol and under conditions dug to deepen the canal. They also built a military airfield nearby.
From the hydrological viewpoint the region in which Antopol is found belongs to the boundary of the area separating the Baltic Basin to which the Bug and Visla flow and also the Shatsrah-Nieman of the Black Sea Basin to which the Pripets Dnieper flow. There is a second canal called Oginski, which joins the Shatsrah with the Yesioldah and the Pripets. This canal is smaller than the Karolvski. Its length is 50 km., width 12 meters. It was dug in the 18th century. According to this description, we see that the region of Antopol is an important hydrological area. Besides these two big canals, there were dug in the Polesia area canals for drying out that had an area of 2000 km. In 1935, Queen Bonah began building canals when she received Kobrin and its region from King Zigmont and began to bring to this region Mazorian colonists, who apparently reached only Grusheeva, about 3 km. from Antopol.
The Kralovski canal passes through Horodets 8 km. from Antopol and there is found the sluice and high bridge through which also passes the highway joining Pinsk to Brest through Antopol.
Ground water level is very high in Antopol. One only has to dig some meters in order to have a good well for drinking water. Many wells were dug in the courtyards of the town, especially in the years 1930-40, when cement pipes for wells began to be produced by Fodorovski of Antopol. Farmers in the entire region bought these pipes. Many people dug wells.
Climate and Precipitation
The climate in Antopol and the region is influenced by the fact that the town lies in a closed area, low and swampy and wet, in a continent that stretches from the Ural to the Atlantic and between the Black Sea and the Baltic.
We don't have in our possession climatic measurements from Antopol itself. Rather, we have data from Pinsk and Brest and there is no essential difference. Summer stretches from the end of May until the middle of September. The temperature is 17 degrees C. The highest temperature is in July and the first half of August. Winds blow in the summer from the west and northwest. It happens that there are strong storms with rain. However, most of the summer is without clouds. After hot days there is dense fog at night, which comes from the surrounding swamps and covers a thin layer on the dry ground.
The winter is severe and mostly cloud covered. It is accompanied by snow, which lasts for three months and water freezes, especially in the swamps, which serve as good roads. The lowest temperature is in the second half of January. Because the winter and summer are long, the spring is brief and lasts about two months. This is the time when the swamps spread and their area is the greatest around Passover. The winter sometimes has strong rains and the skies are mostly cloudy. The amount of rain is significant coming to about 600 mm in a year.
From a geological point of view the ground is built of a layer of granite and above different layers of chalk and sand. In the diluvium period the region was all covered by immense glaciers, which came from the north. Because of the hills of granite above the banks of the Dnieper the glaciers could not advance and remained in place in the Polesian plate. After the glaciers melted, there remained swamps and rocks and soft ground. People think that there was a sea previously and that the glaciers partially filled it up. Much plant growth was in the swamps and wild regions were formed that take up about a third of the region. In other places there are layers of kaolin and there were even formed regions of black earth.
People began drying the swamps in the 15-16th centuries. Then, there began the orderly working of the land for agriculture. In the 17-18th centuries the Cossacks and Haidameks destroyed huge regions and killed the inhabitants, and especially the Jews.
After the efforts of assimilation to Polish culture, there began under Elizabeth II and Nikolai I the assimilation to Russian culture, especially after the revolt of 1863, and the bringing in of agricultural workers to colonize.
However, most of the good land belonged to different princes. After WWII when the Soviets ruled in Antopol, there were set up two collective settlements: Pruvmayski (near to Frishikhvost) and Guberniahsouth of Antopol.
The plant world included wild plants, especially in the region of the swamps around Antopol. There was a lot of grass for grazing. Much land was forested, 25 to 32 percent (1926). The majority was pine, 65 percent of all the trees. There were berries to be harvested in the forests and the people of Antopol enjoyed them.
Agricultural plants included: oats, rye, wheat, barley, flax, potatoes, cabbage, garlic and sunflowers. In Antopol itself many regions were cultivated by gentile farmers and also by Jews owning plots of land. The Jews raised mainly vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.). Farming methods were mainly primitive, especially in the villages. They used only natural manure. Agricultural cooperatives began to form in the years 1930/32, especially dairies. They began to bring in animal feed and better seeds.
The animal world was very rich. The forests had bear, wolves, wild boar, antelope with big horns, beaver, hares, etc. These were widely hunted. The number of birds was not less rich. They were in the forests and swamps. There were 16 types of ducks, storks, pelicans, etc. The rivers and swamps had more than forty types of fish. There were also a lot of frogs (who at different times broke the quiet
of the night with their croaking). There were snakes, ants, bees, mosquitoes, and small and bothersome flies, especially in the swamps.
The number of inhabitants of Antopol was different at various times of development. In good times, the number went up to 3,000. However, epidemics, immigration, and murders took their toll and did not let the number of people grow. The majority of inhabitants were Jews. The rest included Polishoks (that is locals), White Russians, Russians and Poles.
The inhabitants lived in primitive houses (huts). They dressed in homespun cloth, until manufactures were imported from factories. They had a pale colored skin. They had long oval faces, a wide forehead, straight nose, and chestnut hair. They were quiet, spoke little and thoughtful. They were patient, conservative, not diligent, and despite the wealth of water were not clean. The adults sometimes would rest on the ovens. The children were serious and worked. The majority religion was the Pravoslav and represented in Antopol by the Orthodox Church. However, the farmers believed in all sorts of myths and there were many Baptist sects among them. They typically wore a straw hat. The Poles began to come in to the region in the 16th century. During various periods, they had a big or small amount of new immigrants. After WWI, there was a large amount of immigration to the area. Among those who came was the mailman Krominski, the hangman of Antopol Jewry.
By Mosheh Falk
The researcher and teacher R. Yeshayah Aharan Ozranitski, of blessed memory, devoted a great deal of his time to genealogical research about the history of our town. He would work day and night at his shelf of ancient books at home. He would glean many facts about early Antopol from them. I loved to read his writings and researches at that time. They would have been an important source in writing this book. Unfortunately, all the writings of R. Yeshayah Aharon, of blessed memory, were burnt in the big fire in our town of 1915. What I write now is from my memory of what he wrote.
In the year 5160, there was already a dense Jewish settlement in the region around which was built in the course of time the town of Antopol. In the year 5210 (1450), there broke out a serious plague suddenly in the Jewish settlement.
The nearest princely palace sent out an urgent command to destroy with fire the community and its inhabitants. The command was executed immediately and not one person escaped from the Jewish community.
There were only about twenty Jews outside the community on business, who survived. When they returned, they found only a pile of ashes and burnt bones. They immediately covered the ashes and bones in a layer of earth. At the end of the seven days of mourning, they erected for themselves a tent for communal living about a thousand cubits east of the cemetery. Afterwards, they raised the area of the cemetery by about two cubits of earth with the help of friendly Christians of the area, who helped them with their wagons to bring the earth as a cover and comforted them. Likewise, they planted a growth of trees to the number of those killed.
In the year 5280 (1520) the King Zigmund I passed and saw the pretty stand of trees that had grown up in the meantime. He halted to look at this pretty sight. Then, the local princes, who accompanied him, told him the story behind the trees. The king asked to see the brave Jews and their new settlement.
He was led to the Jewish houses. He was received with great honor in the study hall that was erected in the common dwelling tent. The king praised them for their bravery, their honest lives and
friendly relations with their Christian neighbors and for their faith in God and man.
Afterward, the king went with the heads of the community to the direction of the cemetery. He stood about 50 cubits in front of it and declared: all the plain you see in front of you belongs to you. Right up to the settlements around you the place belongs to you. I suggest calling your city Antopol, because I see Antipoli-tikah in your pleasant lives. As a sign of recognition of your goodness and faith, I donate a sum of money sufficient to build a great synagogue in this place.
The king left the settlement with wishes for its growth. Then, the settlement began to grow and develop. Professionals were brought and the building went on for ten years. The majority of professionals decided to remain. They built themselves nice houses and got work for themselves building palaces and monasteries in the lands and villages of the region. When the building of the synagogue was completed, a delegation from the city went to invite King Zigmund to the opening of the synagogue.
In the year 5290 (1530) the king and his companions arrived at the gate of honor that was set up in the cemetery facing the entrance of the synagogue. The king appeared at the gate and at his sides I see in my imagination those accompanying him, R. Avigdor Sirotah, the mayor, R. Hayyim Kotlar, the ritual slaughterer, and R. Hershel Nitsburg. Facing them stand in honor and glory, R. Tsevi-Harsh Ralimovits and Rabbi Mosheh Berman, with the Torah scrolls in their hands. Among them, R. Laizer the sexton holds a silver tray with bread and salt and a gold key to the entrance of the synagogue.
However, when I wipe out the thoughts of my fantasy, I remember what happened after that the destruction of the Jewish community at the hand of evil people and hundreds of years of dear Jewry wiped out with cruelty. May the memory of all of it be blessed.
By Akiva ben Ezra
Antopol, or as the Jews called it Antopolye, lies at the side of the railway from Pinsk to Kovrin, a km. east of Horodets and 29 km west of Drohitshin, in the district of Kobryn, within the province of Grodno. The geographical location of Antopol is in Polesia, rich in swamps and forests. Antopol received its share of this wealth. Not without reason was the place called with the accompanying name swamps of Antopol.
Near to Antopol, on its west side, from the highway that goes to Kobrin, there extended some decades ago a thick forest until Horodets, on the south side. On the way to the village of Rusheve, there was also a thick forest. In this forest there were wolves, bears, and also a multitude of snakes.
It seems that ancient Antopol began on the highway to Kobrin, in the spot where the forest ends and continued until the old cemetery that was located by law outside the town.
When was Antopol founded? When did Jews begin to settle in it? There are few historical documents on which we can rely. We must make due with the guess that the Jewish community was founded in the year 1604.
According to Polish documents (from the period in which Antopol was under Polish rule), the town is mentioned in 1718 in connection with the building of a monastery. In that document it says that the generous Lady Antoninah Zamolskah built the monastery. It is for that reason that the town was called Antopol (that is, the city Polis in Greek of Antoninah).
Changes of Rule in Antopol
The region of Polesia belonged to different governments at different times due to revolutions and historical change. The Lithuanian Archduke Gdimin conquered Polesia in the years 1315-1341.
After the union of Poland and Lithuania in 1386, the Lithuanian Archduchy opened its doors to Polish culture, especially to the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church used all means at its disposal to increase its influence in all areas of life. Slowly and with success, the Church completed the assimilation to Polish culture of Polesia.
This situation roused the anger of the Cossacks and brought about the famous revolt of Chmielnitski in 1648. The Cossacks revolted and plundered over a period of two years. Much Jewish blood was spilled in 1648-1650 in Polesia, until the Polish army overcame the Cossacks. In the spring of 1706, the Swedes under the leadership of their King Carl the 12th declared war on Poland. However, the swamps of Polesia forced them to return home that year. History does not record the fate of the Jews of Antopol in those years. However, the Jewish community had a folk saying This is reminiscent of the Swedes to indicate something that happened a long time ago. Poland was saved and remained complete until 1772, the year of the First Partition. In 1793-1795, the provinces of Minsk, Vilna and Grodno passed to Russia.
The Province of Grodno had 8 districts: Grodno, Lida, Novogrodok, Slonim, Volkovisk, Pruzshani, Brisk, and Kobrin. Antopol was included in the district of Kobrin. Not a long time passed before Napoleon Bonaparte's war on Russia (1812). This did not pass by Antopol. Battles took place in the town, from which the inhabitants, including the Jews, suffered.
The Poles in the region were not happy with Russian rule and tried twice to revolt in 1830 and 1863. However, these two attempts to revolt were definite failures.
These rebellions had a bad effect on the Jews of Antopol and the surrounding region. They suffered from both combatants. Many residents of Antopol supported the Poles. They took care to give them food and asylum. They did all this even though the Pole in hiding shouted to his Jewish savior: Leprous Jew, remove your hat!
The Russians did not forgive the Jews and punished them severely for supporting the Poles. Punishing Jews was quite easy for the Czarist authorities and the Jews of Antopol had to suffer various Czarist decrees.
The land around Antopol belonged to squires and the Jews used to pay them a land tax. In 1904, the Jews paid taxes to the Lady Estate Holder, Sofia Di1itrivnah Voitash. She had 4,500 dessiatina of good land and 100 dessiatina of not good land (A dessiatina is a measure of land consisting of 2.7 acres). Thanks to her administrator Mordekhai Shainboim, she did many good things for the Jews of Antopol.
The region of Antopol was quiet of wars for about 100 years, until the Ninth of Av in the year 1914 when WWI broke out and lasted until November 1918. At the end of the summer of 1915, the Germans conquered Antopol and the surrounding region. Many Jewish homes burned down and the Jews settled in the abandoned homes of gentiles, who had fled to Russia. The remaining number of Jews in the town began to organize and arrange their daily lives. However, the Germans ruled harshly. Their rule was especially hard on the youth, who were caught and sent to work in different places or had to work hard in the town itself.
The German conquerors began to assimilate the town to German language and culture through the Folks-Shule and the Jews of Antopol young and old began to learn German and to accustom themselves to the Germanic way of doing things. This order lasted until November 1918 when the Germans began to return to Germany. The months until the end of 1918 were months of anarchy. Finally, Antopol was added to the jurisdiction of the new Polish State. Then, began the legal terror. The new Polish government took plunderers and murderers under its protection. The Poznantshiks continued to plunder, pull out Jewish beards and make pogroms. It did not take long and Antopol became an area in dispute between the Russians and
Poles. In 1919, the Bolsheviks came to Antopol and began to arrange their order. They dial not stay long and the Polish legionaries returned to Antopol. With their return begins a new period in the region. The Poles forced their authority on the region and much Jewish blood was spilled. Likewise, there was great damage to Jewish property.
The region began to quiet down and the inhabitants began to rebuild their lives. Then, the war broke out between Poland and the Bolsheviks (July 1920). At first, the Russians were victorious and they already reached the gates of Warsaw. However, the wheel of fortune reversed and the Polish army began to push back the Russians. Meanwhile, the soldiers of General Belkhovits, a leader of the White Russians, began to help the Poles. The help of the soldiers of General Belkhovits to the Poles is a topic in itself, which is written in history with the blood and tears of the Jews. In 1921, the peace treaty of Riga was signed between Poland and Russia. Antopol was included in Poland. The Polish government began to enforce severe rules in hygiene, which were mainly aimed at Jews. A law of compulsory education was also instituted for children.
Poland also instituted a draft to the army, which Jews did not like. Nevertheless, many young Jews served in the Polish army, with distinguished service. Thus, the years passed until the outbreak of WWII (August 1939). Then, the Bolsheviks came and conquered among the rest Antopol. A Soviet regime began in town. Contradictory news began to arrive. Some said that the Red Army brought salvation, not only spiritually but also materially. Others informed in a masked fashion that the Red paradise was indeed a hell. The Russians ruled the region until June 1941 when the Nazis passed the border with Russia and conquered all of Poland and Ukraine and continued on the road until right up to Moscow and Leningrad.
Antopol fell into Nazi claws. The Jews of Antopol did backbreaking work, were tortured and locked up in the ghetto. However, they did not submit. They fought in the underground, did acts of sabotage, and ran to join the partisans in the forests.
However, Hitler, may his name be blotted out, was stronger than them. He destroyed them and wiped out all the rest, the old, women, and children. The years of the murders by the Nazis were from June 1941 until July 1944. They will not be forgotten forever! With a curse on our lips, we will remember the disgrace of these human beasts, who destroyed hundreds of Jewish communities, among them, our dear town of Antopol.
In July 1944, the Red Army conquered Antopol, which is included up to the present in the Province of Kobrin in White Russia. However, its dear and holy Jews are no more. Thus ended 300 hundred years of the Jewish community in the town of Antopol.
The Economy of Antopol
We don't have much news about the economic life in Antopol in its first years. Likewise, we don't have details about the Jewish population during that period. However, from different sources, we concluded that the Jewish population continually grew.
In 1847, about 200 years after its founding, the Jewish population was 1,108. It didn't take long and in 1360 the Jewish population was 1,259 out of the general population of 1,563. If we take into account that during these 13 years, the town had fires, the net gain in Jewish population is very noticeable.
In 1897, the Jews were already the majority in town and numbered 3,137 out of 3,867. In 1904, the general population was 5,235 and the Jews clearly numbered over half. Antopol grew in this period. Pinsk St. grew in length, almost until Prushikhvost, and the surrounding side streets became full of Jewish families.
How did Jews earn a living in Antopol? What brought about their dispersion over the length and width of town? Most of the Jews in Antopol were farm workers. They grew potatoes, onions, beets, cucumbers, radishes, and more. The farm workers were called Morgovniks (from the word morag,
about half a hectare of land). They farmed the land behind their houses, especially in Pinsk and Kobrin streets. There were those who worked the land themselves, and there were those who hired gentile help. When they grew vegetables, they loaded them on wagons to bring them to markets in surrounding towns. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the industry of pickled cucumbers developed. These were sold throughout the country and even reached Warsaw. Barrels were filled with cucumbers and placed in cellars, so as not to spoil during the winter. Dealing in cucumbers gave many families in Antopol a good living. This branch of commerce flourished until WWI.
The second great industry in Antopol was fattening geese for sale. During the 1890s, the Jews of Antopol began to sell fattened geese. They would bring geese from distant regions of Russia and raise them in special coops. They would fatten the geese with oats and millet. Then, they would sell them in Vilna or Germany. This commerce lasted from the Feast of Tabernacles until the end of the month of Shevat. From here came the expression, It is forbidden for a goose to hear the reading of the Scroll of Esther on Purim. Purim falls in the Hebrew month of Adar, which follows the month of Shevat). The Russian geese were big and weighed a lot. Their neck was long and they had a raised beak. These characteristics brought the geese to the attention of great rabbi's, which discussed them in books of rabbinical response. The great rabbi Ben- Tsiyon Shternfeld devoted 18 pages to the topic of the geese of Antopol (See Shaare Tsiyon, vol. 1, p. 123-141, Piterkov, 1903).
Merchants and commercial agents from different cities used to come to Antopol, and geese merchants from Antopol would frequently travel to Vilna. As a result, they established their own prayer quorum, that of the geese merchants of Antopol in Vilna. Their prayer leader was Hershel (the blond) Shterman.
In Antopol, there were olive oil presses, mills powered by horses, windmills for flour, and brick factories for the needs of Antopol and the surrounding region. An important business in town was the factory to process flax. The first person to establish the branch in town was Efrayim Volyusher. Mr. Volyush got a name for himself in Antopol and the surrounding region, mainly because of his loud whistle heard in the surrounding region. There was a plaster factory in town supplying plaster for ovens. The marketplace with its concentration of stores was in the middle of town between Kobrin and Pinsk streets. In about 1890, there were 42 stores in town, in which the Jews sold different wares to the people in town and those living in the villages.
On Sunday, the gentile villagers of the region would come with their products to sell to the Jews and in exchange would buy cotton, salt, ornaments, clothes, and the like. The main income was from the gentiles, especially on the annual fairs, called by the names Desiatikha and Troltsa. The fair Desiatikha would take place on Friday, 10 weeks after Passover. Hence, its namethe tenth Desiat.
The reputation of the fairs had a wide audience. Merchants from different cities would come to Antopol to trade and Jews from the surrounding towns would come to place orders for their needs. During the fair days Antopol was like a noisy beehive. It was difficult to pass by all the people in the market place.
Development in the region did a lot to help the economic life in town. In 1840 when the royal canal from Pinsk to Horodets was built (known as the Dnipro-Bogaski Canal) Antopol also supplied workers for the project, through a local Jew named Yaakov Shmalevits.
In the 1880s when the railway was built between Zshabinke and Pinsk, the Lifshits family, Antopol merchants in forest products, supplied the railway ties. The railway gave work to many people from Antopol, Jews and gentiles together. Another big project was building the highway in 1908-1910, which was between Antopol and Horodets. This road made it easy for wagon drivers to get to and from the railway station in Horodets.
In Antopol at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a Bank for Loans and Savings, which made it possible for the merchants in town to receive interest-free loans. This bank was in the house of Avi-gdor Sirotah. Its accountant was Perets Gorvits (Hurvits), who afterwards became a dentist. The bank began to operate at the outbreak of WWI. It was reopened in 1921, when Antopol began to recover. In 1924, the bank had 194 members. In the period between the two world wars, a Free Loan Association was established, with the generous help of Mrs. Esther Kornblum, who came for a visit from the United States. The Free Loan Association did a lot to help the economic condition of the Jews of Antopol. Little by little the town recovered. A railway stop was built on the way to the village of Sveklits. There the train stopped for a short time. The mail was brought from there. Before that, it had been brought from the train station in Horodets.
In 1928, an autobus line was inaugurated between Kobrin and Antopol. It also aided the development of commerce. In 1935, a small electric power station was built, which supplied electricity for lighting and also powered a mill to grind flour. The United States was a big source of income for Antopol before WWI. Many men who had immigrated to the United States used to send financial support for their wives in the form of cash in dollars. In exchange, two rubles for each dollar were received. The parents of immigrants also used to get support. When WWI was over, there was increased support from the United States.
The government of Poland, and especially Minister Grabski, began to block Jews from earning a living. However, to where could one flee? The gate to the United States was closed, so there began two streams of immigration. One stream turned to the Land of Israel. The other turned to Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, and the like). Thanks to the two streams there has remained memory of the community of Antopol. Immigrants from Antopol helped to build their adopted countries and especially the Jewish State of Israel. Those Jews from Antopol, who do not live In Israel, also helped to build the Jewish State. Those who moved to the Jewish State took an active part in its life and development.
Culture in Antopol
Antopol, like other Jewish towns in Polesia, had a developed religious identity, Religion provided the general framework, to Jewish life. The rabbis set tone in all spheres of life. All life was conducted according to the Code of Jewish Law. Even though it was a hardship to live according to Jewish law, the Jews of Antopol carried out all its paragraphs. It is told that more than one hundred years ago, the Jews of Antopol made a partnership with the Jews of Drohitshin to buy citron in order to carry out the commandment (of making a blessing over It during holiday of Tabernacles). Thus, it happened that an the intermediate days of the festival of Tabernacles that a team of horses was hitched to a wagon to bring it or return It to and from Drohhitshin a distance of 32 km., just one way. However, here and there were Jews, who did not want to walk in the ploughed furrow of Jewish law and rebelled. One of them was the son of the Rabbi R. Mosheh-Hirsh, who became a follower of the enlightenment school of thought of Moses Mendelssohn. He was known for years as Dr. Yierael Mjkhaj Rabinovits, one of the first of the Lovers of Zion and translator of the Talmud into French.
The thirst for knowledge began to penetrate more and more. The community began to request to bring to the Jewish elementary school teachers for Hebrew, Russian and Mathematics. Thus, began the study of Hebrew, grammar, and Russian. We find announcements about this in the Hebrew newspaper ha-Melits from the years 1884 to 1889.
The Hebrew newspaper ha-Tsefirah began to reach a few subscribers in Antopol. In 1905, the town had a special agent for the Hebrew newspaper ha-Zeman. Newspapers and periodicals in Yiddish and Russian came in. The reader's thirst could not be satisfied. The different movements during the
Russian revolution had much influence in Antopol. People in Antopol were able to tell the story of Fradl Stavski, who carried out revolutionary activities and was exiled to Siberia. There were activists of the Jewish Bund, S.S. (Social Democrats) and Lovers of Zion. Afterwards, there came the Pioneer Jewish groups on behalf of Israel, which took hold in Antopol. The youths and young ladies of Antopol began to study Russian in the Russian government school. Afterwards, they continued their studies in the gymnasiums in Brisk and in other cities. From there, they went to universities. They went out as doctors and practitioners of other free professions.
The Jews of Antopol put a strong emphasis on Jewish studies. The youth of Antopol would go to learn in different rabbinical seminaries. Adults would study with the local rabbi, or learn by themselves in the study hall. Not a small number of students graduated the rabbinical seminaries as rabbis. Many were invited to assume rabbinical positions in bigger cities.
At the beginning of the twentieth century Antopol also had a rabbinical seminary. Its head was R. Binyamin (Shavlevits). Pupils from nearby communities came to study at this rabbinical seminary. New winds began to blow in the traditional Jewish elementary school. Then the reformed Jewish elementary school was founded. It was administered by a person from Antopol, R. Aharon Lifshits (Lif). The reformed Jewish elementary school lasted a few years. Then came the Jewish elementary school of R. Yisrael Volovelski- Vol, who had special chairs for students put in and also brought a Russian teacher.
Antopol had in those days a private school for girls directed by Mrs. Taybe Frumes (Shagan). Private teachers for Hebrew, Russian, German and sciences of different types were already accepted in town.
Antopol became famous for its thirst for knowledge. The library, which held books in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian, was a help in education. The thirst for education increased after WWI. Then, the Tarbut School was founded in which youths and young ladies studied Hebrew as the language of instruction. Likewise, there existed a library in the same of Y.L. Perets Library. Jewish elementary religious schools and rabbinical seminaries were also opened in Antopol. The voice of Torah was heard in the streets of town, until it was silenced by the Soviets, who closed down the Jewish cultural institutions and the Nazis, may their name be blotted out; who destroyed what their predecessors did not manage to destroy.
Settlements of Immigrants from Antopol
The Jews of Antopol were to be found in the big cities of Russian and Poland. Already in the 1890's, Jews from Antopol lived in Kishinev and kept up there a unified group and study hall of their own. They were also to be found in Warsaw, mainly in literary circles. Of fame there was the Hebrew- Yiddish writer Mosheh Stavski-Satui (1905-1911). There also came to Warsaw the duck and cucumber merchants from Antopol. The United States became an important center to absorb immigrants from Antopol. It certainly was a long way. A passport was necessary. Then, one had to pass through medical quarantine. Afterwards, the boat trip took 2-3 weeks. Upon arriving in the United States, the immigrants could not be as religiously observant as they were at home. However, the desire to expand horizons and develop overcame everything. They traveled to New York and Chicago. These were big cities in which they could live with dignity and build a home. However, they also went to Brownsville, which was called the Jerusalem of the United States. It became a type of Antopol community. There, they established together with immigrants from Kobrin and Horodets a synagogue called Mutual Benefit Society, United Brethoen of Kobrin, Horodets, and Antopol.
Each person brought a friend over to the United States. Each person helped another to make a new life for himself. However, some could not adjust and went back to Antopol to build a new life. Those, who
stayed in the United States became citizens, and began to participate in its development. They founded associations and gave much help to those people who remained back home in Antopol.
Many from Antopol integrated themselves into United States industries, such as the Farber family in the branch of metal cooking ware, and the family of Shelomoh Margalit, in the branch of gasoline stations. Many other people made a name for themselves in the United States. In the field of music: the cantor David Futerman was considered one of the greatest cantors in the United States. He was also president of the Cantor' Association In the United States. Roberta Peters, star of the Metropolitan Opera In New York was also a member of the Futerman family. These people made a name for themselves in the field of science: Dr. P. Berman, of blessed memory, who was the director of the hospital in Pasadena, the biggest in the world. Dr. M. Kletski, who was for many years the chief dentist of the Arbeyter Ring and author of many articles in his professional field. Professor Herbert L. Anderson (Aranovski) was a person who took an active part in the development of the atom bomb in its first years.
In Chicago, many people from Antopol had important positions. They founded associations there and different institutions. The Antopol synagogue in Chicago had a name for itself in all the city. Our townsperson, Yaakov Grinberg, of blessed memory, founded the Bet ha-Midrash la-Torah in Chicago. He was its main professor of Talmud until his death. Rabbi Yaakov Grinberg also did not just make due with teaching. He also maintained a correspondence and wrote on the Science of Judaism.
Jews from Antopol were also to be found in other cities. There they participated in public activities in general and in Jewish activities in particular. Jews from Antopol had an important place for themselves in Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires. It is possible to say that they were among the first Jewish immigrants to this country. The Jews from Antopol played a big part in the building of the State of Israel. The Land of Israel was of great concern to people from Antopol. They did not just make due with saying And a redeemer will come to Zion.
There were already people from Antopol known to be living in Israel two hundred years ago. In 1808 (Hebrew year 569), there began the immigration of the pupils of the great Rabbi Elijah of Vilna. Seventy people went to the Holy Land and settled in Tsefat. Tsefat was then the ideal place for the pupils of the great Rabbi Elijah of Vilna. This is because there were not many Hasidic Jews in Tsefat, while in Tiberias the Hasidic Jews outnumbered the non-Hasidic Jews. The trip to the Holy Land took months. However, no difficulty stopped them or their brethren from Pinsk and Frohitshin. We again find Jews from Antopol in Tsefat in the name R. Mosheh Akiva of Antipoli, who was saved from a pogrom in 1834. R. Mosheh fled to Jerusalem and he was known as R. Mosheh the trustee, who was active in community life in Jerusalem. Among the activists in Jerusalem in this period was also R. Mosheh Tsevi of Antopli. In the way of the history of these years we also find the tombstones of children, whose parents were from Antopol. We learned from this that the immigration from Antopol comprised whole families.
In the 1880s, there settled in Israel a Jew from Antopol named Yahalom. One of the members of that family, R. Binyamin was among the founders of En Ganim near to Petah Tikvah. He was also active in matters concerning the entire Land of Israel until the founding of Israeli Statehood.
Mosheh Yaakov Benjamin, or as he was called in Jerusalem, Alter of Antopol, was an important person. When Mosheh Yaakov immigrated together with his parents in 1863, he was still a child of seven years of age. After the passage of time, he was among the founders of the neighborhood in Jerusalem called, Meah Shearim. He was the first to bring salted fish to the market.
R. Netanel Hayyim Paper, of blessed memory, who in 1891, immigrated together with his wife and son Yitshak Mosheh, was well known in the rabbini-
cal world. In 1902, some important families left Antopol for the Land of Israel. Among them was R. Yehezkel Saharov, of blessed memory, together with his wife Hayah Etel and his son Yitshak Mordekhai.
Yitshak Mordekhai, of blessed memory, was very active in community life in the Land of Israel. His children had a big part in building the country. Thus, lived and worked Jews from Antopol in the Land of Israel still before Dr. Herzl's appeal.
After that appeal, the immigration increased more. And as we said above the Jews of Antopol had a big part in building the country.
In 1960, our townsperson the dear Dr. P. Berman, of blessed memory, wrote to the official in charge of Antopol. In his letter, he asked what remained of the town of his birth. The answer reached him finally two years later in the form of a report in the White Russian newspaper Galas Radzimi, which is published in Minsk, the capital of White Russia. It had a description of the town after the war. It appears that the official in charge of Antopol was afraid to answer the letter himself and sent to Minsk for an answer. From Minsk a special correspondent was sent by the newspaper to write about his visit accompanied with photos.
What did the correspondent see?
One person with the name Isak Berkovitsh Zaks told him that among the victims of the Nazis in Antopol were White Russians, Jews, and Poles. There was certainly a ghetto in the city. However, there is no mention that the people locked up were only the Jews. He says that the inhabitants fled to the woods. They were there with the partisans. He also stated that the mayor was a partisan.
The correspondent melts from the happiness of telling that the White Russians have again conquered Antopol. They have established a progressive regime. There is a lot of culture, lectures, and concerts. In general, really a paradise.
Antopol today has three schools. One with 11 grades of study, one with a dormitory (apparently for children of villagers) and an evening school for workers. The correspondent visited the municipal library. It has 26,000 books and about 30 newspapers and periodicals. There is a bookstore. It has books of different kinds in Russian and translations from English, Polish, French, and German. However, what is the situation with Yiddish or Hebrew? There is no book in either of these languages. This is because there is not a Jew remaining in Antopol.
The correspondent does not forget to mention that there is a church in town. However, what about the study halls? To where did they disappear?
There is a hospital with 14 doctors and 32 assistants. The hospital has three buildings. There is no charge for service. In the case of an emergency, the sick persons were evacuated by airplane to Brisk. Antopol has a total of 4,100 inhabitants. There are 19 buses giving the town transportation to Minsk, Pinsk, Bisk and Kobrin. This is all.
Thus has ended a Jewish community that lasted for about 300 years. And we the Jews of Antopol, wherever we are, bow our heads and with a voice full of tears say: May His great name be extolled and sanctified!
By Shemuel Turnianski
Antopol was about 90 km. east of Brisk on the Bug, on the Brisk-Moscow railway. When you came from Brisk to Antopol you would pass through these stations: Zabinkah about 30 km. from Brisk, Kobrin, about 60 km. and then the small station of Norodets, through which passed the Dnieper-Bug Canal. It was then about 7 km. to Antopol. The population of our town was about 3,000. Of this, three quarters was Jewish and the rest White Russians. It was characteristic of that region.
The houses were mainly built of thick, big wood. The roofs were tiled. The houses were lit with kerosene lamps and had inside plumbing. Water was drawn from primitive wells with a bucket raised by a pole. It was brought home in pails. This was not an easy job in the winter with temperatures of minus 30 degrees below freezing. Whoever could afford it, got a gentile to bring home water. A stove served for heating and cooking. Wood had to be bought in advance, so that it would dry and easy to burn. Those who could not buy it, had to use wet wood, which did not burn well. The kitchen was the place to wash. Each morning during the cold, the layer of ice had to be broken in the barrel, in order to wash. Many houses had roofs of tin or straw. Most homes were simply furnished. Only in the rooms of the youth was the wooden floor stained red. Young girls also had a sofa covered in yellow fabric and springs inside. The walls were decorated with embroidered colored threads describing views from the Holy Land and the Biblical environment.
Main Street was the only paved street. The other streets were unpaved and had no sidewalks. Everything was under mud in the spring and fall. Therefore, all the inhabitants needed boots or rubbers on their shoes.
The main street from Kobrin on the way to Drohitshin was divided as follows: Kobrin St. had a length of about 1 km. The market square was on the south side of the street. It was about 400 meters in length. Pinsk St. went out from the square about 1.5 km until it reached the village of Kopelnevkah in which one Jew lived. From there the way led to Valkah and to some other villages in which only gentiles lived. This street was paved with big stones.
Parallel to Kobrin and Pinsk Sts. on the north side, there began Rushever and Zanivier streets, whose length equaled almost that of Kobrin and Pinsk streets. On the other side was the gentile street, Kutelirskah St. At an angle to it was Shlos St., which began from Kobrin St. and continued until Gorin's garden. After it was the street of Lefer Fridman and Yaakov-Hayyim the ritual slaughterer, Shlos St. and then Yoel Alley, the narrow alley of Shimlikhah, the alley of Hayyim Lifshits, and the small alley of Aba the builder. These were the streets on the right side.
From Kobrin on the way to Drohitshin on the left side was the alley of the old cemetery and also of the synagogues and the Rabbi's house on the square called Synagogue Courtyard.
Onwards was the alley of Asmelinker and the Alley of Yosel the tailor, the alley of the study hall surrounded by a wall and the alley of the Mugilkes (the former Christian cemetery) and the alley of Mordekhai Tserniuk. The market square was built in the form of a square 400 by 400 meters. It was surrounded by houses, among them stone houses and also a building of two stories. Within the square was a smaller square, which included 48 stores 12 stores on each side of the square. Northeast of the houses and stores was the cabin of the firefighters with its tin roof. In the middle of the market there was Fravoslav Church. Its bells rang on every Christian holiday. Near to it were planted different beautiful trees. Young people came there in the spring to pluck lilacs. This was a sign of love. There were also Pistachio trees, from whose flowers a tea was made. Between the trees rose a big stone pillar with a nest for storks. On the south side, one came to the garden of Gorin. It had pools of water with reeds, beautiful trees and fruit trees. It served as a place to boat and stroll for the people in town.
For a while there was a field for soccer. There was also a castle in the garden. It was burnt by the Germans when they retreated in 1917. Near to it were some stables for horses. The boulevard of trees on the east side led to the railway station. On the south side it led to the thicket of trees of Gorin. On the north side, the length of Courtyard Street was a hill of sand, which served for some time as a soccer field and later as a market for cattle.
To the east side of the end of Zanivir St., there were hills of sand that also spread south, to the Christian cemetery (Frishikhvost) and north to the
Pohonyah, land belonging to Jews and used to pasture horses and cows. The length of Zanivir St. was an old Christian cemetery, the Mogilkes. The hill was a place for children to play and to pasture the sheep of the farmers. In the middle of the street was located the Study Hall of R. Meir Podot and after it the old Jewish cemetery, in which was buried R. Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory, the famous rabbi of Antopol.
North and west was the alley in which were the study halls, the Synagogue Courtyard, in which until 1914 was the big synagogue, called the Cold Synagogue. Its roof was in the form of a round cupola. Its ceiling had the paintings of the 12 constellations. Near to the big synagogue were the old study hall, the new study hall, the bathhouse and the old graveyard. More recently, there was there also an icehouse. Ice was brought there in the winter and kept there for medical needs and to make ice cream in the summer. As said above, the icehouse was brought to the Synagogue Courtyard during a later period. At that place, there was also a big tank to store kerosene that reached town in some wagons. The ground was watery almost all the days of the year. Passage was even hard with horses. Southeast to Pinsk St., the way continued about half a km. to the village of Frishikhvost, and finally Roshver St., on the southwest was the orphanage.
And today, all this does not exist in mapping our dear Jewry.
By Abraham Lifshits
Antopol is situated on the main highway between Pinsk and Brisk in Lithuania. The town of Drohitshin is to the east and the small town of Horodets to the west. The latter's railway station also served Antopol. As a typical Jewish town Antopol was able to raise up many generations of faithful and devoted Jews, scholars, known activist scholars and great rabbis learned in Torah, who left the town and whose fame went before them. The scope of Antopol Jewry's activities was very diverse. The inhabitants at the two ends of town were farmers and were called Morgovnikes. Most of them lived on Pinsk St, in the east part of town, and the rest lived in the west part of town on Kobrin St.
There were only a few industrial plants in town. Among them, we should list the two flourmills. Near to one, which was powered by steam, there was an accompanying serious enterprise to process the wool from the region's Christian farmers. This was on Roshvah St. A diesel motor powered the second mill of Mazurski. It was located on the market square. A number of Jewish families earned a good living also from the windmill. The majority of people in Antopol were merchants. All the stores in the city belonged to Jews. Among them were the stores for manufactures, building supplies, work tools, iron merchandise, stores for the sale of alcoholic drinks, stores for cigarettes, and more. Some of the Jews were butchers, a trade that passed in inheritance from father to son. Some entered into exchange with the gentiles. There were also merchants in forestry products, which traded with the nobles who had estates in the region. Every noble had his Jews in whom he trusted and did business. Some of them bought forests and some of them the grain and forest products. Some of them bought milk products, and others the industrial products of the noble.
Many of the people of Antopol were craftsmen, mainly copper engravers. Mainly estate owners, who had to set up copper pipes to purify alcohol, employed them. Making brandy was done on the estates. These craftsmen earned a good living up to WWI. This war brought a shock to many branches of industry in town. The government bought up all the copper for the war effort and even confiscated household items of copper. This brought an end to the copper industry in Antopol.
There were three factories for non-alcoholic drinks in town. They sold the product to the surrounding villages. Even this industry came to a halt during the war. This was because of a lack of the materials to keep it going. Even the Mazurski mill, which was in the marketplace, was burned down completely by the Russians during their retreat. It was not rebuilt.
The chief industrialists in town were Binyamin Mazurski, Betsalel Mosheh and Mosheh Lifshits. There were a lot of craftsmen. They dealt in building, carpentry, and painting. There were also shoemakers, tailors, seamstresses, masons, wood carvers, glaziers, and other craftsmen. Some of them did not find work in Antopol. They earned their living by working for the farmers and estate holders. They would leave town on Sunday and return Friday afternoon. It frequently happened that they would not be home for the Jewish Sabbath. Some people from Antopol earned their living from fruit trees of the many estates around town. They would buy the fruit while it was still on the trees. They would take their families to the fruit trees, set up tents, guard the fruit, and when it was ripe pick it and market it in town. In Antopol, there were many families of wagon drivers, who earned their living from the traffic with the train station. This occupation passed in inheritance from father to son. The family had a right to earn a living this way.
Some like Itsye Nyunes and Mordekhai Mantiles, earned their livelihood poorly by transporting sand and building materials with their horses to Jewish houses. They dug up this material in land belonging to no one, located behind Kotelyarski St. This business was not enough to support their families. Itsye Nyunes would also transport the dead in his wagon to the cemetery distant from town about 2 km. It is noteworthy to remark that despite the poverty of these two Jews they did not spare any effort to educate their children. Itsye's son studied in the Jewish religious elementary school and got excellent grades.
To end the picture, I will mention Chaim, the chimney sweep. He was nicknamed Chaim Chimney. He was also called Chaim Diesiatnik. This was because of the additional task he had to complete his living. His main Job was to clean each month the house chimneys to prevent fire. His second job was to watch out at Jewish weddings that no uninvited guests came and to set up the tables for the banquet after the wedding. As was mentioned, villages surrounded Antopol. Therefore, this town had a big and beautiful market. At its center was a row of stores. Those who were able sat near to the market and its edges. There was a market every Sunday. In it the peasants from the region would bring their wares for exchange and to buy their needs. Besides the weekly market, there were two big yearly fairs. One was called Distikha (ten weeks after Easter) and the other was called Troytse. Merchants from other cities would come to these fairs.
We should say that Antopol was not on a river. People had to get their water from wells. However, not all the wells had good drinking water. Only one or two of the wells had sweet water. Therefore, there were water carriers, who drew water from Shagan's well or another well and supplied customers. There were Jewish and gentile water carriers. However, the woodcutters were only gentiles.
There were a few bakers in Antopol. Most of them baked only barley bread or white bread. A few baked pastry for weddings and the like. The simple bakers would bake pancakes from wheat. Many people wanted to buy these warm pancakes, especially Jewish schoolboys in elementary school or the study hall. Every family, even the wealthy, would bake every Friday white bread in honor of the Sabbath and special white bread for the town's poor. Some people would gather these charity breads and secretly distribute them to the poor, so as not to embarrass them.
Being a sexton was another occupation that really did not support its workers. And who did not know Leizer the sexton in the new study hall? He was a Jew who moved quickly. He was also a bookbinder. He
acted only as a sexton without pay, in order to serve scholars. Besides these two, there were sextons in the old Synagogue, the study hall surrounded by a wall, the study halls on Kobrin and Pinsk Streets and in the Hasidic house of prayer. The income from all of this was small and the people engaged in it also did other kinds of work.
There was a special ritual slaughterer among those in town. He was R. Yaakov Hayyim the ritual slaughterer. R. Hayyim was a distinguished person, to whom every one turned. He was the living force behind communal life in Antopol and he was decisive in it. Besides being a ritual slaughterer, he was also a ritual circumciser, the best in town and in the towns and villages near to Antopol. He also had a sweet voice and honored G-d and the people in town by leading prayers on every holiday. The ritual slaughterers in town had a hold on this profession and when a slaughterer married off his daughter, he gave his son-in-law a part of the business in town. Thus, R. Binyamin Skidleski, the first son-in-law of R. Yaakov was appointed to being a ritual slaughterer. R. Taakov Hayyim at the end of his life inherited his profession to his youngest son-in-law R. Eliezer Bernshtein, who was the last ritual slaughterer in town, since he was killed by the Nazis.
May their memory be blessed forever.
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