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Chapter 2

Community Life



[Pages 31-42]


Memories of Kartuz Bereza that no Longer Exist

by Nechemia Shtuker


Education

Education in our small town occupies a central place from many generations ago. Educate young generation in Jewish spirit like our wise people said: "Study of Torah is equal to execution of all precepts." It was one of main tasks for community activists. There were several educational institutes chadarim [system of primary level community religious education, singular is cheder], Talmud Torah [teaching of Pentateuch and other sacred texts], and modern schools such as Tarbut and Tzisho.

In this way continued the golden chain of existence of the Jewish people. This issue occupies a distinguished place in our historical registers. It was like this from the beginning of my childhood. I was in almost all chadarim schools, night classes and later I was became a faculty member of the Yavneh cultural school, and therefore I feel obligated to write for posterity these pages in our symbolic stone.


Shmuel the Melamed [religious teacher]

He was my first rebe [religious teacher]. He was our neighbor, a Jew of black beard. When I studied with him, his father was still alive; his father was very old, and was a tailor by trade. He asked us boys to help him thread the needle. They said he was 110 years old. From that time I have engraving in my memory my father's Z"L [blessed his memory] first visit. He arrived at the cheder while the melamed was testing me. An angel throws from the sky a kopek [Russian coin] on the sidur [prayers book]. I ran then to the loft to see whom G-d had sent to brings gifts to good students.


Herchel, the teacher

This was the name of my second rebe, who knew Russian. The nickname "teacher" [rather than rebe] maybe was for his liberal behavior and his modern suits. He was tall, thin, and had a very short beard. Apart from Hebrew and sidur, he put special emphasis on writing. These two chadarim were under the same roof, and in the free time there were often many discussions and fights among the students. On occasion both teachers intervened and exchanged juicy curses.


Yudel the lame

The real last name of my third rebe was Berezovsky. He dragged a leg, and was called by everybody "the lame". His parents were peasants of Michalinka, a village about 15 kilometers from Bereza. His brother, Michele was a well-known speaker, with a degree from the famous Grodno Seminary. Previously he worked in a secondary school in Brest. Yudel was a great specialist in Hebrew grammar. My father was a great expert in the talmud, and he thoroughly knew tanach [Bible] and Hebrew grammar. I remember he came to school often and several times there were great discussions between him and Rebe Yudel. The topic of their discussion could be the correction of a grammatical detail, or the interpretation of tanach verses. Yudel was distinguished for his beautiful writing, especially in Russian. Women came to ask him to write addresses on envelopes. In the last years he lived on Church St., in his own house.


Polonsk Religious Teacher

My fourth rebe was Mordechai Fishman better known as the "Polonsk religious teacher". Taught chumush (Pentateuch) and talmud, and some Hebrew grammar. He was a quiet Jew of medium height and blond beard. He had his own house and a cow in the stable. He lived in a narrow street behind the school. Domestic issues were solved by his wife Velia who was tall and thin, and was a virtuous woman. He had two children; a beautiful daughter, and a son Leizer who studied in a yeshiva in another city; when he returned home in the evening, he taught some talmud pages in the synagogue.


Lipe the melamed [religious teacher]

This rebe devoted his life completely to teaching talmud. He had a whip and whipped the children in the cheder for any small transgression. This was his typical punishment. The rebe of Polonsk used to punish his students with fist blows. Yudel the lame did it with lashes and was helped by other students who enjoyed retaliating against students whom they disliked. Lipe was short of view, looked oblique; he was cross-eyed; was a great bible reader in the new synagogue and read it by heart since his vision was faulty. His wise son Simcha knew more talmud and knew it better than Leizer, son of the Polonsk rebe, and he also taught a talmud page in synagogue to the male youths. Then he received rabbinical authorization to carry out tasks in the Rabbinate.


The melamed from Malch

His name was Ysrael. I did not study with him. The system of his cheder was similar to that of Lipe. His wife was a virtuous woman, and she also helped him in maintaining his home. During the time between Purim and Pesach they were in charge of baking matzot. Their home was organized as a barrack. He was a Jew of wide backs. He walked around the house with head covered with a kipa [skull cap] and supervised the product so that it was kosher. From time to time he became furious with the women who did the work of flattening the mass, and also with the men who had the function of kneading and perforating the matzot, and putting them in the oven.


Moshe Yosel Pearl

In his cheder I studied for one or two periods. His specialty was talmud. He was very seriously devoted to his work. He was very knowledgeable in other studies. He was a great influence on his students, and they tried to study with great seriousness. He was proud of the respect that the whole community had for his high intellectual level. Particularly recorded in my memory was his yellowish fingers from so much smoking.


Aaron son of the shojet's [animal ritual butcher] wife

In second street called "The Road" was Aaron's cheder – Aaron was the son of the butcher's wife. He had a thick beard and was huffy by nature. Also his head was always moving. He had a long and white beard, and thick brows covered around his eyes, which gave him a patriarchal aspect of a Jew of the past. His cheder was located in a house, and a partition separated it from the other side of the house that belonged of his wife's two sisters and his brother-in-law Zelig. They had inherited the house. I remember Thursday afternoons, when we studied and interpreted some deep problems in talmud, or a complicated chapter of Chob's book. The rabbi's wife was an expert in this material because she had listened to it for several years, and she helped students, which angered the rebe.


Yosel Malinow

Yosel the religious teacher was short and had a long beard that ended in a tip. His cheder was similar to the previous one. These two chadarim were the oldest in town, and their level was very high. The learning cycle was completed there, and anyone who wanted to continue higher Jewish studies had to move to another place because there was nowhere else to receive higher education. This teacher would sometimes fight with students who didn't want to study but went to school because their parents forced them. The rebe's insistence on studying and the inadequate answers of not uneducated students caused the rebe a lot of pain, and therefore he was huffy and nervous. His knowledge of Russian was very scarce.

I remember a case in point: At one time a policeman with a book under his arm entered the cheder for a matter related to tax payment. The rebe talked to him in Russian mixed with Yiddish and said, "Mr. Police, sit down in the bank."


Aizik Molodovsky

Our citizens' father, the well-known writer Kadia Molodovsky, was already a modern teacher. It was said that he sometimes taught tanach with his head uncovered. He was very expert in general Jewish culture, and followed a little Yiddish-ism [as opposed to Hebrew-ism]. His school prospered and flourished in Bereza.


The teacher Girashov

He was a public school teacher. This Jew, slightly assimilated, came from some distant place of deep Russia, together with his wife who was yet more assimilated. During many years he educated the boys and girls of our town. Their students were the children of Jewish families that wanted to offer their children general culture in the Russian language. In their school they had three courses, especially for Jewish children. The boys studied during the morning and girls during the afternoon. Music classes were mixed. For Christian children there was another school of a lower level. The fee was twelve rubles annually that was paid to the municipality, and the teacher received his salary from the government authorities.

He also owned a printing [picture of the czar]. In spite of being slightly assimilated, the teacher Girashov went twice a year to synagogue – on Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur. He prayed for two hours wrapped in a silk talit. When he talked with his best students, he expressed his critical thoughts as for example: "Jews don't come to temple to pray, but to talk among them". Or he asked: them how they would interpret the paragraph "You must have conscience in front of whom you are." The cycle in his school lasted three years, and I made it in two. It is interesting to note that in spite of his Russian patriotic behavior, he was a Jew with deep national feelings.

The following event demonstrates his czarist Russian patriotism. One day, when we were in his classroom, policeman Krilchuk suddenly entered, who was a tall gentile of wide back. He was sent by police chief Timinsky for a routine issue. The policeman forgot to take his cap off. The teacher screamed with fury "Take off your cap" and pointed out the Czar's and Czarina's picture. The confused policeman asked to be forgiven, and stayed firm. Teacher Girashov showed him the door and the policeman left the classroom embarrassed. Did the teacher perhaps want in this way to retaliate on the gentile?

This teacher was a mathematician and wrote a mathematics study book. He published it. The book had great success in its time and was widely recognized all over Russia. Their two children, Nioma and Fima, both students, were also proud of their Judaism in front of gentile friends. After the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, and after the beginning of WWI, their destiny was tragic. They escaped toward deep Russia fearing the Germans, and left everything behind. After the revolution they returned to Kartuz Bereza, but the Polish regime did not give them citizenship and they were sent to the Soviet border. The Soviets, on the other hand, didn't receive them because of their having been faithful to the Czar and the opponents of the revolution.

Finally after many request and efforts by the Jewish Community to government authorities, they were granted temporary status until they had the opportunity to travel to the land of Israel. To get the certificate was a very difficult task. Meanwhile they lived in poverty and deprivation in a gentile's house. They stayed but with difficulty, thanks to the support of their admirers' from the past. When we left Bereza in 1925 and traveled to Argentina, they were still there. What was their destiny? I do not know.


Secondary School teacher Vainshtein

This teacher, with his wife Pola, directed a private high school that was located in the house of Berl Rybak, who was at that time the city mayor. After I concluded studies in chadarim, and then Girashov's state school, I wanted to follow higher studies. For this reason, I took private classes with teacher Vainshtein. For three weekly classes, we paid him seven and a half rubles per month. He taught me and my cousin Nisl, who in 1925 emigrated to Israel (he had the privilege of taking his parents, my uncle and my aunt, and died some years ago in Israel). I studied almost a year with Vainshtein, until the outbreak of WWI. The world turmoil put an end to my dreams of carrying out higher studies, and to thinking of a career.

Teacher Vainshtein was a young man, of delicate manners, and had a cowlick of gray hair, possibly for the pogroms that suffered in Russia and other difficult situations during czarist domain.


Reb Aizik, the judge

He was a talmid chacham [student of wise men] and very humble. Aizik the judge was short and worthy of respect. He was not a religious teacher, and due to my father's request he agreed to teach me talmud once a week, so that I would not forget what I had learned previously in chadarim. This specialist taught a class of talmud every day in synagogue, between the time of mincha [morning prayers] and maariv [evening prayers]. From Friday after dinner to Saturday evening, it was taught only to studious Jews.

Today I still remember my childhood, when my father took me on Saturday winter nights to the old Bet Medresh [academy of Jewish religious studies], which was well heated, to listen to judge Aizik's classes. The room was illuminated with a chandelier brought by his assistant Michl. In a dimly lit corner, dominated by shades, children brought blocks of ice that were taken out of Yanke ben Ytshe's basement. The ice melted from the heat, and the next day the Bet Medresh was filled with water – children's pranks. For me it was a mystery how the water came to the Bet Medresh.


Community schools

After an interruption that lasted four years – from the beginning of the first German conquest when the city was taken from hand in hand, until it finally came under the domain of an independent Poland – began a time in which educational institutions settled down in our city. First was the Yiddish-ism movement. They had influence on the Finances Commission and they received American help in establishing eating rooms to feed hungry children.

They repaired the public bathrooms building, which was made of stones in Cemetery St., and, transformed it into a modern school. In this school were gathered the group of idealistic fighters, and among them activists such as Shloimke Vainshtein, Meir Fodostroitza, and Director Yoine Reznik, educator, with a degree of Grodno famous courses. With them worked a team of seven to eight teachers. They occupied all the classrooms of the new building, and left only two for Tarbut .

Tarbut got two additional classrooms in the building in which the Talmud Torah was located. The ideological distance between the two groups hindered the school's development. Only after the Balfour Declaration, with the bloom of political Zionism, was the Yavney school enlarged and Hebrew dominated. It was directed by Zionist activists Yshaia Zaltsman, Leib Dantzig, Ythak Shtuker and others. They also formed a young Zionist group that attended night courses.

Two groups of youths, the Yiddish's and the Hebrew's, held meetings to discuss actions to carry out and to prepare cultural nights. Then a Hebrew Corner was founded in which classes in Hebrew were held, chats and discussions under the direction of Manievitz who was a fanatic of Hebrew language. He was from Lemberg and his instruction and culture was acquired as a student in Moscow. Teachers at the Yavneh school were Portnoy, Parpeliutshik and Puterman, who were from Baranovitch and had studied in Vilna Hebrew Teachers Seminary. The Polish teacher was Mrs. Shulgin from Warsaw. At various times teachers Vais, Rabinovitsh, Kogan, Rosenfeld, Himelfarb and others worked there. Thanks to competition among groups, there began cultural discussions. Each group brought its speakers, and each one wanted to overtake the other one.


Guemara [post biblical religious rules] and tanach [bible studies]

I should mention that besides chadarim and the schools previously mentioned, there were in our city – at different stages – youths' groups that taught guemara and tanach in the community. I remember teachers Leizer Veile's and Simcha Lipe's, both children of religious teachers. The first one was known by his father's name Lipe and the other one for his mother name called Veile. Both were yeshiva boys very well prepared. Among erudite it is also necessary to remember Yacov Rubinshtein and Solnitz. Yacov Rubinshtein was characterized by his deep and problematic questions in difficult chapters of religious texts.

As for teachers of tanach, there were the distinguished young Yosel Brainsky and in later years Moishe Cheshes (I believe he is now in US). This group called themselves tiferet bachurim [flowered youth], and was created by a maguid [preacher] who from time to time came to our city.

To conclude this chapter in which I told about educational and cultural institutions, and about individuals that were active in this field, I want to acknowledge other teachers and, in general, good Jews, responsible for offering their support in favor of education for the young generation of Kartuz Bereza. During my time, and although I personally didn't study with them, they were:

Shmuel Bam; teacher, brown young man, of black beard and mustaches, expert in tanach and grammar.

Faivel Baidatz (Tzekernik): religious teacher, emigrated to US before WWI.

Nima ha"Melamed": religious teacher, also a couples matchmaker, emigrated to the US before WWI.

Mordechai Gedalia y Nuska: both religious teachers in the Talmud Torah.

Henoch Rabinovitz: famous teacher of tanach and erudite in grammar. Was considered as one of the best adolescent teachers. Not all had the privilege of studying with him; only children of rich families could study with him. At the beginning he gave private classes, then he taught in the Talmud Torah.

Moishe Elie Meir: taught beginners.

Arke The Teacher: Teacher of previous times prototype. Taught letter writing in Yiddish to maids, cooks, poor children, and cart drivers' children. He was very accepted by women whose husbands were in America. Wrote letters to their husbands and read to them the answers they received.

Mendel Rishes; The judge, tall Jew, long and white as snow beard. His aspect was severe, huffy, and detailed. Was known as follower of Bet Shamai [orthodox very severe tendency]. Constantly tried to interpret, according to Moses' laws, all type of problems and social discussions. As Aizik the judge mentioned above, was serene, and contrary to previous comment, he was as pious as the followers of Bet Hillel [school of permissive moderate tendency].


Our Rabbis

We had two Rabbis. There have always been discords and discussions between them, and each one had his followers. One was Rabbi Klatzkin of urban group, and the other was Rabbi Osherovitz his opponent. To replace Rabbi Klatzkin, came Rabbi Trop who had been the Rabbi in a distant city in deep Russia. When Rabbi Osherovitz died, he was replaced by his son-in-law, Rabbi Vigodtzky, who occupied this position until the end.



Zionist Activist in “Keren Kayemet L'Israel” (KKL)
[Fund for Territorial Recovery in Israel]

As I recall, until the Balfour declaration, our KKL activity was driven by veterans of chovevei zion [lovers of Zion] group. Moshe Tabulitzky, activist and fanatic of Hebrew language, was dedicated fully to this objective. He came from a noble family known for several generations. He lived in a beautiful house, with a great balcony, on The Road in downtown. I remember from my childhood that people were proud of him, his wife, and their only son. They spoke only Hebrew in their house. His wife, also came from a noble family, and like her husband was also interwoven with Zionist ideal. This activist was a serene and humble individual, who worked in silence.

Another veteran activist in Bereza was Sheike Berkovitz who was a fervent Jew, full of life. Many times he appeared and read interesting speeches filled with Zionist content and mentioned words of our chazal [wise men of blessed memory]. In his youth he was a yeshiva boy, and later become a partner of Mr. Goldstein, proprietor of the steam engine flour mill, and the sawmill that was the most important in town, inherited from his father-in-law Shamai Berezovtzky.

Goldstein came from the city of Pruzhany. He was an affectionate man and great supporter of Jewish causes. He always was among the first for any purpose, and he was a model for other Jews. His contributions to KKL consisted of high amounts. His hand was also open for all town needs.

With the Balfour Declaration, the Zionist movement was reinforced in all fields. One of the personalities that occupied an important function in the diffusion of Zionist thought and Hebrew language among Bereza youth, was Guzalka (today Goraly in Israel). Among other things, he opened up night courses for youth, and was founded KKL group which maintained an intense activity.

Until the last day when I left my native city, I had the position of KKL Secretary. I want to remember fellow activists: Rabnitzky, Velvel Minkovitz (student of the Seminary Mizrahi in Vilna, today in US), Fodostroitza (in Israel), Tuchman, Grosman, Eidlsberg, Etl Schwartz (I believe he is now in Canada).

Fellow Plotdkovksy and I traveled as delegates to the Ushishkin Congress that was held in Warsaw in 1924. Zionist groups were very active in all fields. Already being in Argentina, we heard about settlement of collective farms (those that prepare pioneer immigrant to Israel) in Kartuz Bereza, and also in the nearby small village of Bluden.


Firemen Division

According to an old tradition during czarist régime, and also in new Poland, firemen organizations had an important function in preserving order in the city. During fair days, firemen were dressed with their uniforms, and stationed at all entrances of the city to collect tax of all peasants that arrived with their cars to the city.

During disorders and in occasions of attacks on Jews, these strong and skillful youths were in charge. The anti-Semitic bands that threatened to harm and damage Jews, received more than once strong punishments. One especially stood out one of them, and he was nicknamed Meilech Pap. His occupation was horse merchant. He was really "a teacher to give them back". It was said of him that when he hit someone, no hair ever again grew in the place that was hit. More than once it happened that he intervened before the police arrived when Jews were attacked in the market, since it is obvious that the police were slow to arrived when called upon to defend Jews from anti-Semitic bandits groups.

If some revolt broke out in any place, Meilech immediately appeared and in his hand he had his famous gnarled stick. Bandits were prisoners of terror, quickly mounted their horses and carts, and returned to their villages.

During national feasts and official ceremonies, as for example May 3rd, firemen were invited to participate in the parade, headed by Yankel Seletzky, the Jewish fire chief. They dressed in their elegant uniforms, and with strong and spread step he introduced his unit to the military commandant.

Many of the Jewish firemen fulfilled their function with respect and pride, as for example Itzl Karolitzky, the siblings Yablonovsky (two of them are living today in Rosario, Argentina), and from my memory I recall the valiant Chanoch Liskovsky who was the firemen's commandant for a time. During the czarist regime, the commandant was a gentile, Adam Posniak. I also remember the Jew Berel Katsher who, during a dispute, opened Posniak's head and he abandonded Bereza for many years.

Frequently the firemen held drills of simulated fire situations. For example they declared that a certain house was catching fire, climbed to the roof, and threw water on neighboring houses so that fire wouldn't spread. This was like a dress rehearsal, because fires occurred frequently, as most of houses were wooden. Our firemen demonstrated agility and efficiency in their work. In later times they founded a wind instruments orchestra. They also bought modern water bombs.

In honor of our trip to Argentina which involved seven families (an insignificant number considering the total population of the city), the firemen prepared a ceremony of festival farewell and accompanied us to the train station with their orchestra, because among the travelers were some firemen.


Cart Drivers

In all the towns of our District, the cart driver occupation was known. There were two classes of cart drivers: those who transported travelers and merchandises from one city to another or to a train station several kilometers away from the city, and others that were devoted only to vazke, that is to say cut trees or other heavy merchandises transport.

Our railroad station Bluden (during the czarist regime it was called Fagadina) was five kilometers from the city, and many families made their living transporting merchandise to and from the station. This work was often passed down from father to son. They also had carts that transported heavy items such as horses and cattle.

Cart drivers were right and simple Jews. They were distinguished for their courage and force when it was necessary to make use of it. I want to tell about two outstanding men among our cart drivers. The Mayor family – I was told that their last name had its origin in the following episode: during the first German conquest an official of the German army with the title of Mayor died in Bereza. The ceremony was impressive, they buried him with his elegant uniform, his gold watch, and with all rings that he wore in life. I was told that a family opened the coffin, and removed all elements of value from the dead body. In town it was rumored that this act was done by this family, and from then on they were known by that last name of Mayor.

The family head was Shloime Mayor, a fat, tall Jew with wide back, small white beard, a cowlick of gray hair, and two red-as-fire cheeks. He was our neighbor on Kantzelaria – Kostziol St.. The wooden passageway trembled when he stepped on it, loaded with packages to celebrate Saturday, full with fish and vegetables. The tchont [traditional meal of beans, potatoes, chicken and animal fat that was made on Friday evening and was cooked until Saturday lunch when it was eaten] of Mayor was very famous. The tchont was closed in an oven until Saturday noon, when the family returned from synagogue. But the boys opened it the on Saturday morning because they were impatient, and they sometimes eat the whole tchont before the family returned.

In bad times, when it was necessary to defend the Jews, Shloime demonstrated his force. If a gentile attacked a Jew, he gave him many blows so as to remember many times. All who were not circumcised spoke of him with respect because of his physical force.

It is convenient to refresh our memory with the stories of my grandfather Shaul Agoz Z"L.

In a certain village lived a Jew that leased land for milk production, in particular butter and cheese. One day some gentiles got drunk and vandalized the Jew's house. What could a small Jew do in front of a crowd of uncircumcised? At that moment a big cart stopped in front of the inn. It was Shloime Mayor (who during his youth used to wander through villages, buying clothes from peasants, and selling them tapes, bellboys, combs, etc.). He stood in front of the inn's entrance and screamed:

He then went over to the first two gentiles, lifted them in the air in such a way that they were given a kiss one to other, and then threw them outside as if they were two match sticks. In the same way he treated two others, and the remaining ones no longer waited their turn and they dispersed afraid. The inn got clean.

Many times gentiles trembled when they saw this brave man, and they respected him much.

The head of our cart drivers was "Yasha the cart driver". Before leaving Bereza he was already 60 years old. His beard was blond, and he constantly had a pipe in his mouth. Everyone respected him very much. When youths fought, it was enough if Yasha lifted his cane, and quickly order and silence returned.

During Simchat Tora he used to drink a toast. Then he ran out into the streets of the town surrounded by groups of children. He exclaimed "Sacred flock" and children answered him "Baa", and he joined them. Then he took off his boots, took off his clothes, and continued running nude until some neighbor pitied him and took him into his house.

About cart drivers behavior, the following story is a testimony: He worked in the steam engine flour mill of Berkovitz-Goldshtein company, and would stay until the group of cart drivers discharged wheat boxcars, and brought bags to the mill. Sholem, brother of the mill owner Seike Berkovitz inspected the empty carts, and found in Reb Yasha's cart a small wheat bag, maybe five or six kilograms. Sholem broke out angry and screamed "Thieves! Bandits! Does a Jew take these things? It is a shame!" Yasha the cart driver exclaimed "Don't scream this way, Reb Sholem. You are mistaken, it is not a robbery! It is a very old habit for many generations. Ask anybody". And he took the bag of wheat from Sholem's hands and added "This is the cart drivers tithe. It is for our kohen"

Certainly, nobody could oppose this habit of "cart drivers tithe".


Our Settlement in Argentina

I want to conclude my memories of my native city Kartuz – Bereza, describing how my fellow citizens settled in Argentina.

After a long letters exchange with JCA representatives in Warsaw and Paris, after navigating 32 days in the ship of the French flag "Ceylon", six families from Bereza arrived in Argentina in March of 1927. In Warsaw we were joined with other families from the Brest and Galitzia areas, and we were all called "Brisker families". From Kartuz Bereza these families traveled to Argentina: Yakov Sokottzky and his family, Aaron Gloz and his family, Eliahu Vorodovsky and family, Biniomin Shtuker and family, Ytzhak Goldfand and family, Yeshayahu Sokotzky and family. Later came Note Gloz and Moishe Gloz. Note Gloz is now in Buenos Aires.

We were taken to Montefiore colony. In the beginning, JCA gave us only 75 hectares of land, and later they increased up to 112 and by the end to 150 hectares and the livestock. Many of those who stayed in the colony bought land with their own money. Others abandoned the place for various reasons, such as climate and nature. For 30 years the colony passed thorough different setbacks. Some left to the cities, either for the children or for desire of looking for a better life.

I should point out that the colony had a brilliant past. There were times when the number of settlers was 250 families. When we arrived there, the colony already had 28 families, and during our stay, the number increased to 120. It was a growth time for the colony. Nowadays there are 60 to 70 families. Another dozen live in a near town, and are owners of their fields.

Today there are few adults. First generation diminishes and youths occupy their place. We should mention with pride that the group of settlers that arrived from Bereza still persists in Montefiore. The Litvaks [as opposed to the Galitzianers] are growing roots more than any other group, and watching that we second generationers do not betray our parents' ideals, as mine, my mother and others who were faithful earth workers in our old home, in our native city Bereza.

From generation to generation, we opposed ourselves to easy economic sustenance, we highlight Baron Hirsch's vision and we exalt his memory.


[Pages 43-44]

Social Events in Kartuz Bereza

by Nathan Shapira


In 1882 Mr. Berl Rybak was elected Kartuz Bereza city Mayor and then reelected nine times. Rybak performed this function for 33 years until the German entrance into Kartuz Bereza in 1915. The Germans wanted him to continue in this position, but after being advised by friends about the responsibilities – city address in war times, police, contact with German authorities among others – he reached the conclusion that for this position required a young and energetic person. The decision was made to elect Naftaly Levinson, young and intelligent man, for Vice Mayor position.

During the first 20 years in this role, Rybak didn't have any special problems. His work consisted of issuing passports and of inspecting shepherding fields and collecting special taxes to Jews, as for example meat tax and candles tax. Together with four people, of whom two were gentiles, he forced the population to pay official taxes. The rabbis of Kartuz Bereza didn't intervene in city matters. This was because of rivalry existing between the rabbis the difficulty they had talking with each other.

In 1905 new winds began to blow and, as in other towns, turbulent groups arose in Kartuz Bereza. The police used to come to the City Council to watch the behavior and places where suspects inhabited. It was evident that when they suspected somebody, nothing good was waiting for him. The Town Council was located in Rybak's house and every time a policeman came to receive details about a suspicious Jew from a gentile, they immediatley brought the gentile an appetizing meal and a bottle of alcohol. The genteil ate and drank, and meanwhile somebody of Rybak's family ran to warn the suspect, who already knew what he should do.

The chief of police in Kartuz Bereza received a fixed bribe as annual compensation, so that nothing bad would happen to the Jews of the town.

Of the 1905 events, I remember one related to a Jewish soldier by the name of Horwitz who was stationed in Kartuz Bereza. He was detained by mistake and he was going to be very severely punished. The case came to the attention of youth's that formed the town revolutionary movement, and they decided to free him. They knew the detainee would be transported by the main road. At a preset hour, they left in a sled, and came face-to-face with those that took the detainee. One of youths stopped the guards to ask them something. When they stopped to answer him, he threw tobacco in their eyes. In that moment Horwitz escaped by getting onto the revolutionaries' sled.

The military began to look for the detainee. The revolutionaries arrived at Rybak's house and asked him to help them hide the Jew. Rybak had a brilliant idea: his house abutted the chief of police's house and a door separated the attics of both houses. They hid Horwitz in the police chief's attic! He was hidden there for two weeks, and when the military inspected each car that left the town, they didn't find him. When the military action subsided, Horwitz escaped to a nearby town, and then he left in a train to the German border. After a while, a letter arrived from him in the US.

Shimshon Dovid Shapira, intelligent man, Rybak's son-in-law, helped his father-in-law in complicated cases. With the help of Shapira and with money from Israel Grinberg (one of richest Jews of town), a Jewish state mixed school was founded in 1905, where Russian was taught. About 120 Jewish students studied there. Until 1915 it was directed by teacher Girashov.

With the help of both Shapira and Grinberg, the first Savings and Loan Fund was founded in 1909.

The Library had books in Russian, German and Yiddish, and was directed by Shapira. Many youths gathered there to read.

In February 1919, the Poles conquered Kartuz Bereza. The above-mentioned Naftaly Levinson, was named Mayor. The son-in-law of Shapria, Yechiel Nisan Zakheim was named Vice Mayor. He served for about ten years was in this position until he resigned. He was a studious and arrogant Jew, who defended interests of Jews with great effort. He offer them great support for Jewish institutions.

In 1939 Zakheim returned to Kartuz Bereza. He participated in community life, and during the Nazi conquest he tried alleviating Jews suffering in ghettos. He predicted the tragic end of Jews, and together with his wife Libe Shapiro (a dentist) and other activists, he committed suicide the night before the ghetto's liquidation. Their two children survived; both are outstanding engineers who were active in the secret French Jewish movements, and they fought with courage from there.


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