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Sixth Chapter:

Wars, Revolutions, Citizen Battles

 

1. In the Years of the First World War

In the summer of 1914 the First World War launched itself upon mankind completely unexpectedly. Bobruisk calmly received the war. Among the intellectuals and prominent strata one noted a sort of appealing war patriotism, “they expected from hour to hour" relates A. Muzieh in his memoirs “an attack which would cancel all laws which discriminate against the Jews in relation to the other citizens of Russia," but among the “common" folk they joked about the fonies [Russians] , reckoning that he would, probably, not be able to defeat the “Uncle Velvl," meaning the mighty Kaiser Wilhelm.

But quite quickly the war was felt by calm Bobruisk: economic life was paralyzed, trade was halted and hundreds of families of the poor population, who didn't have any savings, went truly hungry. According to the intervention of the “Fair and [Ley] Fund," they got several merchandise orders for the Russian Army (new shirts and pants), which partially saved the situation.

In the coming months the economic situation improved thanks to the growth in military orders, especially developed the wood and [diktn] industries. “The [podriartshik] Hershl Lozinski," Yakov Or relates in his memoirs, “opened a cabinetmaking shop on the “Polygon" plaza and hired 400 cabinetmakers who made frames and walls of [dikt] and sent over the parts to the front, where they very quickly assembled them and put up barracks.” There also developed the clothing, shoemaking, and food supply industries, all for the hungry front.

Special hardships were encountered by the charitable institutions and the Jewish education establishment, which contributions and kehila subsidies maintained. This all decreased, the scarcity was advanced and originated - the limitatons of meat consumption on the part of the government and the institution of “days without meat" strongly decreased the income of the korobke rents and they were not able to hold their obligations in relation to the kehila.

In autumn 1915, the societal leaders in the city decided to lay upon the prominent citizens a kind of self-contribution “according to their own estimate, corresponding to the economic position of each one..” All existing charitable societies were forbidden from gathering money and the estimated monies were determined in the framework of the “Society to Help Poor Jews," which its conference participated with contributors from all institutions and took decisions concerning the distribution of the monies.

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This deed succeeded in more than was forseen. Earlier, all societies together collected around 800-900 rubles a month, the united collection action showed to raise the amount of the spending to 2,500-3,000 rubles a month, and they continued after to increase the amount. Besides, this was the first important step to organize the kehila upon a more democratic and modern method.

A quite important matter which occupied the kehila in the first months since the war broke out was the question of the refugees - the Jewish front refugees.

In the first months of the war scores of families already began to come from the Russian-German and Russian-Austrian border areas. The kehila hitched up the extreme aid-wagons. One of the first aid institutions was the day care for children, where the children got care and food while their parents had to go to work. In February 1915, in the centers there were 143 children. The stream of refugees went on without stopping, a part of the refugees went away from Bobruisk deep into Russia, the rest remained in the city.

But subsequently the refugee question became more severe. In the beginning of May 1915, after the fall of the Russian front, there was the expulsion of the Lithuanian Jews, and ten thousands of people were sent out on the railways into deep Russia.

The first wave of refugees reached Bobruisk on a Sabbath day. With the permisssion of Rabbis Shnieurson and Shapiro, young people went out in the city for a little food to cook and bake. They also gathered medical supplies. This all was brought to the train station. After an intervention by the authorities, in which participated the military priest Orlov, they got permission to halt the train and volunteers quickly distributed the food among the refugees, which were in locked cars.

This was one of the great days in the history of Bobruisk, when the Jewish heart reveals its entire splendor. In the aid work participated rabbis and intellectuals, poor and rich, old and young, wives and children. An aid committe for refugees was created, approved by the authorities, which was a division of the “Central Jewish Society to Aid the War Refugees" (Yekofo).

The stream of refugees was in the great majority passing through Bobruisk on the way to distant Russia, but a part of them stayed on in Bobruisk and remained there. Partly the refugees arranged themselves in enterprises which concerned with supplies for the military, the rest lived in great hardship and got support from the kehila.

In that year the front came closer to Bobruisk, the Germans penetrated to the southwestern end of the Minsk Gubernia. Vilna was taken the 19th of September, 1915, but the Germans' forward march was halted in Baranovitsh, 210 kilometers west of Bobruisk, and remained there until the beginning of 1918.

With the retreat of the Russian Army, the stream of refugees strengthened. “Through Bobruisk," relates an eyewitness, “there now pass through hundreds of thousands of refugees on foot and wagon from the Gubernias of Khelm, Lublin, and Grodno. When it was learned that in Bobruisk the distribution of free trip tickets was beginning, the refugees took to selling their sheep and horses and concentrating in the city and surroundings. The number of refugees which stopped in Bobruisk grows now to 70,000. This transporting they presently will stop on account of the lack of railways. The authorities prepared trucks to drive the refugees.” The union of the zemstvo established at the Bobruisk train station a food center with eight kettles. Making allowances for the large number of Jews among the refugees, four kettles stood in posession of the Jewish aid committee, which took upon itself a portion of the overhead expenses. Young people and girls were mobilized, who took on preparing the food and distributing it among the refugees.

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The approach of the front left a feeling in the city that it had become a sort of rear base for the front. The city was full of soldiers and all the houses of study, besides two, also all societal buildings were confiscated for the military. Rosh Hashone 1916 and the later holidays, all stores and bakeries were open, upon the demand of the military authorities and according to the kashros of the rabbis, in order to satisfy the needs of army, which was stationed in the city.

In the days of the retreat of the Russian Army in the summer of 1915, groups of soldiers and Cossacks went on a rampage over the Jews in the villages and hamlets of the Bobruisk region.

In Bobruisk itself there happened only one serious incident. During the retreat of the Russian Army, there was a lack of hard currency in the whole region . It was feared that with the invasion of the Germans, the Russian paper money would lose its value. The authorities threw the entire blame upon the Jewish population. One day, a soldier drank a glass of soda water in the market, paid with paper money and demanded change. When the shopkeeper told him that he didn't have any small change, the soldiers began to loot the stores, peasants stood with them, also a mob of Christians which were in the market. The pogrom transferred itself to the adjacent streets. There were beaten and wounded Jews. Quickly the army units came and order was restored.

This incident was a factor in the unrest of the Jewish population of the city, from time to time warnings were spread about a planned pogrom on the part of the peasants and soldiers. The Jews organized a self-defence force in which a unit took in stalwart Jews: wagon drivers, carriers, butchers - and this deterred the bandits and pogrom-mongers.

But gradually, as the front stabilized on the west side of Minsk and Slutsk, the stream of refugees stilled and in Bobruisk and surroundings became calm. The greater part of the refugees which remained in the city were absorbed into the newly developed war economy. At the convention of the aid committees, which came in December in Minsk, it was noted that “in the eastern areas of the Gubernia, a peacful work is conducted, the refugees order themselves utterly."

In general in the war years, political party/societal life was paralyzed in the city. One can assume that nearly 2,000 Bobruisk Jews, mostly youths, served in the Russian Army. Insofar as social work in the city was done, she herself concentrated especially on aid for the refugees and war victims.

In connection with the activity among the refugees, social vigilance strengthened, debates were conducted in the societal and youth circles concerning the future of Russian Jewry after the end of the war. There was also ongoing a passionate debate between the extreme Yiddishists and the Hebraicist bigots.

In the year 1916, the first nucleus of the Hekhaluts [Pioneers] was organized. It took upon itself instituting among the comrades the speaking of Hebrew and sought tools for them to be in farm work. One of the most active leaders in the group was Shabatay Lozinski.

 

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2. The Days of the February Revolution in Bobruisk

The democratic revolution which broke out in St. Petersburg at the end of February 1917 was, for the citizens of Bobruisk, Jews and Christians, a great surprise. The news about the revolution came late. On the 28th of February, announcements were seen in the streets of the city from the Military Commander for Minsk County, Baron Von Tiubenberg, that a rebellion had broken out in St. Petersburg and was suppressed by military divisions and police; the citizens of the city were thereby notified that every attempt to start a rebellion would be mercilessly suppressed. The first of March, the first news came to Minsk about the St. Petersburg upheaval, and only Saturday, March 4th the police, frightened and confused, were out in the streets, taking down the Tsar's communique that he had abdicated from the imperial throne and that also his brother Mikhail had given up his claim upon the throne.

The streets were overflowing with people talking about the great event, but no one attempted what he had to do. In the city there was almost no remaining remnant of the revolutionary parties - they disbanded themselves in the first years after the Revolution of 1905 and in the years of the First World War. The same evening, at five o'clock, the workers called a great mass meeting, which worked depending on the barracks of Zemski Soyuz, and Nokhke Yokhoved - the long-time leader of the Bund - held a speech about the Revolution. After the end of the meeting, the workers with red flags and singing revolutionary songs went out on Muravyov Street. From the fortress, soldiers came out, at the head of them a military orchestra, and included themselves in the demonstration. Cheers were carrried on the air and the singing of the Marseillese deafened the streets.

The next morning, Sunday, March 5, was also a day of mass meetings which from the morning on filled Muravyov Street, from Shoseyne to the corner of Prisutsvenaya. People waited for instructions, news, and didn't know what to do. At 10 o'clock AM, three trucks were seen with armed soldiers. Over the first truck fluttered a red flag. The trucks stopped at the corner of Semyonovskaya, and a seargent gave the crowd the announcement that 200 soldiers of the disciplinary battalion had been freed and in their place were imprisoned the policemen. The crowd took the news with cheers and a great multitude followed the trucks, which were travelling in the direction of Prisutsvenaya Street, to the police yard, where all 80 policemen with their officers were gathered. They gave up their arms without resistance to the revolutionary soldiers and went up on the trucks, which they drove into the fortress.

A fiery mood ruled in the city for an entire week, people strode in the streets, locked themselves in mass meetings, demonstrations. At the peak of the demonstrations they carried posters and appeals about the Revolution, the Republic, and the constituent assembly.

On the 12th of March, the soldiers of the garrison in Bobruisk gave an oath of loyalty to the provisional government in Petrograd. The Christian soldiers went away to a cloister headed by the City President; the Jewish soldiers - to the great synagogue, and Rabbi Mordekhay Robinson took an oath by them before an open Holy Ark, after giving the oath, a great demonstration was planned. Together with the usual slogans praising the Republic, there were also heard such slogans as: “War Against War" and “Freedom for the Poor Cottages, War with the Palaces."

On Passover Eve there came the news that all limitations upon the Jews were repealed. The Pale of Settlement existed no more, the schools were opened to them. The Jews had become fully entitled citizens in the new Russia.

 

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3. Awakening in Social Life

The first signpost of the change which the Revolution brought was the renewal of the societal and political party life in the city after ten years of standstill, which came after the revolution of 1905.

At the forefront of the Zionist organization stood Estrin, Dobkin, Levin. The principal leaders of the Bund were Nokhke Yokhoved, Rozental, B. Kletskin, Norkin, and Barbash.

Also in the Orthodox circles was felt a spiritual awakening. These circles were grouped around two rabbis - Khaim Tsvi Shapiro and Shemarieh Nokh Shnieurson. Especially active in the circles was the son of the Admu'r Menakhem Mendl Shnieurson. Two representatives of the Orthodox, Khaim Tsvi Shapiro and Yehuda Leib Barbash (a grandson of Admu'r Shemarieh Nokh Shnieurson), participated in the founding conference of the Orthodox in Russia Mesoyre V'khoros, which came together in Moscow July 4-11.

Also from this new situation organized the smaller parties: Tse'iri Zion with Karp, Ginzburg, and Shmerling at the head; The S. S., at the their forefront, Morison and Arlozorov; The Mensheviks with Yanshin and Katsenelbogen at the forefront; There were also the groups S. R. (Dr. Dushman) and P. P. S.

The Tse'iri Zion, which was an influential group in the city, was regarded at that time as an organic part of the local Zionist organization. The only party which did not publish was the Bolshevik party. who didn't have any members among the Jews in the Pale of Settlement. But quite quickly, the power of this party was quickly revealed, from one side - among the soldiers of the fortress, over 8,000 men, quite a lot of them taken over by the slogans of the Bolsheviks: to end the war now, and on the second side - among the peasants in the region, which the slogans of the Bolsheviks - immediate confiscation of the noble lands - quite strongly impressed them. One should remember that Belarus, where the social, national, and religious contrast was especially sharp between the Belarussian Fravoslavne peasants and the Polish-Catholic nobles, was one of the Bolsheviks' points of fervor in the country.

A month later, there arose in Bobruisk a “Workers and Soldiers Council," according to the example of the famous Petrograd Coucil. In the Council there was a predominating influence of the Bund, and their leader, Yokhoved, was selected as chairman. Representatives of the soldiers in the fortress also participated in it and among them two Bolsheviks: Bralnitski and Reykhnshteyn. The Council began to issue a Russian newspaper A, N. Golos Naroda (Voice of the People). The main work of the Council consisted of leading party debates. Those of the best-organized party were the Bund, whose tradition arose after the times of the First Revolution (1905). The Bundists opened a club which became the meeting place of the workers, artisans, and youth. From this new situation they organized and broadened the activity of the professional unions, which in the summer of 1917 numbered 2,000 comrades. In the summer, the Bund with its varioius institutions took in some 1,200 men.

One of the first deeds of the Workers and Soldiers Council was to proclaim an eight-hor work day in all factories of the city. Such a work day was first instituted in the sawmills of Kastelanski and Nathanson, Landsberg,, the Etkin brothers, Shustak, Getsov, etc. Saturday, the 27th of May, there came together for a meeting the oven-makers (fetshniks), stone-cutters, and fixture fitters. They organized themselves into a professional union, whose bureau was provisionally located on Skobelyev Street.

"The assembly unanimously decided," writes the Golos Naroda, “to declare the podriartshikes about the institution of the eight-hour workday. A decision was also taken to forbid giving work and taking work through middlemen, the entrepreneurs were obliged to turn directly to the professional union concerning obtaining workers.

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At the end of May, eight Jewish youths founded a division of the Communist Party in Bobruisk. The division sent out on the 2nd of June an envoy to Minsk to establish a contact with the Bolsheviks. They opened a Bolshevist club in a small room on Pushkinskaya, there went the local comrades with their Party comrades among the soldiers. A group of intellectuals, headed by Lipets, Shergaye, Volfson, and Getsov, who considered themselves as “internationalists,” attempted to join in the new organization, but they did not come to an agreement and quickly gave up the plan. The organization continually increased and upon the first Bolshevik Conference of the Northwestern Region, which was held in Minsk in February, there were two representatives selected from Bobruisk, one of them - Bralnitski. They represented 187 comrades - a quite modest number in comparison to the 1,200 comrades in Minsk and 820 in Homel.

 

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4. The Days of the October Revolution, 1917

When at the end of October the news came about the seizing of power in Petrograd by the Bolsheviks, the Bolshevist Party Committee issued an appeal under the title: “It's Happening!” The chairman of the military revolutionary committee in Bobruisk Fortress announced, in the name of the five divisions which were stationed in the city and surroundings, that the soldiers were ready upon the first call of the Party Committee to stand with arms in hand and defend the Soviets, and they demanded that the authority be handed over to them in order to broaden their influence. The Committee planned an evening with a lottery which carried a substantial pay-out. With the money they hired a larger apartment on the corner of Pushkinskaya and Skobelyeva Streets. They renovated the apartment and made it into a club. The club opened on the 12th of December A. N. “Workers and Soldiers Club."

The victory of the Bolshevik Revolution was quickly exerted in the Bund. The Bundist organization in Bobruisk was the first among all Bundist organizations in all of Russia which already in the first month of the Revolution created within itself a Bolshevist caucus. At the assembly of the 23rd of November - relays the Minsk newspaper Sovietskaya Pravda - 50 new comrades were signed up in the new organization. The new committee let out an appeal for votes (in the elections to the Constituent Assembly) for the list number 9 - for the Bolsheviks. The appeal was signed by the “Bund-Bolsheviks.” The new caucus participated in the demonstrations which the Bolsheviks organized; it carried only its own flag and upon it an in scription in Yiddish: “All Power to the Councils.” The local committee of the Bund protested in its press against them, which the well-worn gave permission to carry the name “Bund" and speak in its name. This was a beginning of the splitting which the Bund in all of Russia strongly encountered later and led to the merging of the Communist Bund ("Combund") with the general Communist Party.

The first political act which came in the city after the October upheaval - were the elections to the Constituent Assembly at the end of November. The elections were conducted especially in the fortress and in the city. In the city the victory of the Bolsheviks was complete: 5,517 voters out of 8,000 cast their ballots for Lenin's party. In the city, 11, 135 persons went to the polls, whose votes were divided among 13 party lists:

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  1. The United Jewish Socialist Party
  2. The Jewish Nationalist List
  3. Businessmen of Estates
  4. ?
  5. Bund (Mensheviks)
  6. Coachmen
  7. (?) perhaps the “United" S. S. and Y. S.
  8. Polish List
  9. Bolsheviks (2,301 votes, 20.7%)
  10. Lovers of Zion
  11. Russian Democrats
  12. S. R. (Socialist Revolutionaries)
  13. Belarussian Socialist Hromade

The Bolsheviks regarded the result as satisfactory, taking into consideration that their organization first existed entirely for six months. In truth, they were strong, also the influence of the soldiers in the fortress and of the peasants of the vicinity was great. They were all permeated by the Bolshevik spirit (in the Bobruisk region the Bolsheviks received 64,377 votes out of the general number of 101, 622). The Workers Council had, in truth, decided to sharply rebuke the October upheaval and demanded to call together the Constituent Assembly, but the mood was from day to day becoming more difficult for the adherents of the democratic regime. On the 18th of November the Socialists declared that were leaving the “Soviet.” The Bolshevik Bralnitski was selected as chairman of the council, and at the conference, which was at that time held in Minsk, the Bolshevist plenipotentaries could declare concerning handing over of the Soviet in their city to the Bolsheviks.

One of the most important deeds of the Bolshevist authorities in the city was the general assembly of the school youth, beginning January 1918, in which participated some 700 boys and girls and decided to “hand over the entire authority to the pedogogic councils which to them were co-opted representatives of the Workers,Soldiers and Peasant Councils, the parents and the students, the city management and the zemsto” They also decided to cancel the offices of Director, Inspector, and Overseer in the schools and institute the principle of appointing teachers through the pedogogic council. This decision was taken with a significant majority, and only four students voted against.

In such an atmosphere, elections were held to the Bobruisk kehila. 4,840 voters participated in them.

On the 9th of January, the Bolsheviks with glee received the news about the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly. Their joy was only temporary.

 

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5. The First Polish Regime in the City (End of January - End of February 1918)

In January/February 1918, the peace negotiations between the Bolshevist government and the Germans were conducted in Brisk. It was hard to know with what the negotiations would end. The demoralization amongst the soldiers was all the more and more growing; entire regiments were disintegrating. Those that remained loyal were held back in readiness status on the front lines; the situation was exploited by the Polish divisions (in the month of July many regiments in the Russian Army were organized according to the national extraction of their soldiers), which were stationed in the region of the Minsk Gubernia and with them stood the “First Polish Corps" under the command of General Dovbar Mushnitski, and competed to rule the region in order to ensure their concurence when peace would come to the Polish State. On the 13th (26th) of Jamuary 1918, the Poles captured the city of Rogatshov. The Polish regiments, which were camped in Bobruisk fortress, prepared to seize power in the city and the surrounding area.

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The Bobruisk “Soviet," which considered itself the representative and plenipotentary of the revolutionary government in Petrograd, decided to stand on alert. Many armaments were brought to the city and machine guns were deployed on the peak of the firehouse tower.

On the 19th of January, three o'clock in the afternoon, divisions of the Polish Army surrounded the house of the “Soviet" and arrested the people who were found there. In the morning they disarmed the divisions of the Russian Army that were camped in the city, and the soldiers were ordered to go home.

Two days later, the arrested members of the Soviet were freed, and an agreement with the Poles was proposed concerning dividing the military and civilian power; the command of civil matters would lie in the hands of the Soviet, on the condition that it would not meddle in military matters. And the military power would be handed over to the Poles. The Soviet members signed such an agreement, but directly after their release they went away from the city and left it for the Poles. The Polish Army, which was preoccupied with its battle against the Soviet armies, did not meddle in the affairs of the city.

On the 31st of January (13th of February), Rogatshov was taken back from the Poles, but on the 16th of February the Poles succeeded in defeating the Red Army, which came out against them from Osipovitsh to capture Bobruisk. The combat came close to the Yasin railway station, which lay on the western side of Bobruisk. Two days later, the Poles captured the city of Mohilev on the Dnieper, and the 20th - Minsk. On the 2nd of March, “Order No. 1" came out, signed by Dovbar Mushnitski, which annulled all Soviet laws in the region.

But the reign of the Poles was a short one. On the 21st of February, the German Army, which marched forward from the very end of Russia, forced the handing over of Bobriusk, and on the 3rd of March in Brisk, the peace agreement between Soviet Russia and Germany was signed, Bobruisk and the surroundings were included in the areas handed over to the German victors. The border between the German-occupied region and Soviet Russia , according to the agreement, ran adjacent to the Dnieper, from Orshe to Zhlobin, and from there running eastward including the Homel region and the whole of the Ukraine.

 

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6. Bobruisk Under the Rule of the Germans (March-November, 1918)

The nine-month German rule in Bobruisk, to the end of the First World War, were, relatively taken, calm days for the city. The region stood under the reign of a German military commander whose chief concern was keeping order and providing raw materials (hides, wood) for hungry Germany. The peasants in the hamlets carried upon themselves the hard year of the regime, the Jews - few, especially therefore, because they had a common language with the rulers...Yiddish. There was, understand, a great lack of food, and the Germns instituted a rationing system and food cards. The city dwellers were also engaged in organizing the food supply, among them Liakomovitsh, who behaved disgracefully in this period, when the Soviet authorities returned to the city (at the end of 1918).

Many Jews in that time were engaged in smuggling goods from the occupied German areas into Soviet Russia.

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The economic situation improved because of the tight alliance with Ukraine, which also was under German occupation.

In the era of the German rule, there existed in the city a democratic kehila in which took part all Jewish parties and circles, from the Orthodox to the Bundists.

The Zionist movement in the city, to which an impulse to its devolpment was given by the first days of the democratic revolution, strengthened with the oncoming of the news of the Balfour Declaration. Youths and adults began to join in the “Pioneers" and sought the tools to be in farm work through occupying themselves with horticulture and concerning themselves with the fruit trees in the vicinity.

The contact with Vilna/Warsaw renewed, and a portion of the refugees that settled in Bobruisk, began to restore themselves in their homes.

Also the Bolshevist movement renewed itself in Minsk, but underground. In May, 1918, there was organized in Bobruisk a division of the party, and at the forefront stood P. Rubinski, (Rayevski), the Secretary was B. Neyman. The cheif assignment of the division was: conduct a propaganda among the peasants, which especially victimized from the German occupation. The division stood in alliance with the surrounding hamlets and, it was understood, with the centers in Minsk and Homel. In October 1918 the division counted higher than 40 members, and the committee maintained alliances with 160 hamlets in the area.

 

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7. The Second Soviet Regime (11/29/1918-8/29/1919)

Directly after the ultimate defeat of Germany at the beginning of November, 1918, the Red Army began to prepare to take back the areas the Germans had captured from Russia. On the 29th of November, divisions of the Russian Army entered Bobruisk on their way to Minsk. Immidiately, a “Revolutionary Committe" ("Revcom") which ruled the entire region was created in the city. At the head of the “Revcom" stood Ribinski, and he was also the Commander of the city. Of the other “Revcom" members one has to mention Ludie, who was nominated as the curator over education and upbringing [vezn]; Vitkene- the supervisor of social aid, and the Secretary Kopeliovitsh. Shortly afterward Bobruisk was included in the areas of the Lithuania-Belarus Soviet Republic.

The Bolshevist reign was received with mixed feelings. The new regime had already existed in Russia for more than a year's time, and news about its character and methods had, it turns out, reached also to the Bobrisk citizens. “The Bobruisk balebotim," D. Shimoni relates in his memoirs, “i.e. the traders, shopowners, and Holy Vessels and all other “unproductive elements" dreaded and shook before the oncoming Day of Reckoning; as opposed to the workers, and especially the young among them, were full of hope and confidence. They were seized with courage and put their noses forward. The first days of the new regime truly intoxicated the left circles in the city."

There began an agitation among the members of the Bund, they wanted to join in the victorious Communist Party. In all of Russia they took to organizing a “Communist Alliance" ("Combund"). “The most imprtant organization of the Communist Bund," relates Sh. Agurski, “was then in Bobruisk."

In the middle of December the Bundist-Communists in Bobruisk issued a declaration that inasmuch as the Bundist leadership had not concluded its relation to the Revolution - aspiring to their [kashrim] among the Bund and treading into the Communist Party as an autonomous faction. On the 14th of January the members of this faction begn to issue a weekly periodical A. N. “Our Weekly" in which they conducted a bitter debate with the yevsektsye and the Communist Party. Wanting to uphold the tradition of the Bund, they opened participation of their faction in the villages around Bobruisk, but actually this faction was nothing more than an ongoing phase of the Bund to the Communist Party, - and really quite quickly were its members engulfed by the genreral Communist movement.

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Many of the Zionist youth joined the ranks of triumphant Communism, “believing with complete faith that the salvation of the world is coming, and that it will fulfill the prophecy of akheyres hayemim - and if so, is already not necessary to worry for the salvation of the Jewish people, because in the world's salvation is also that of the Jewish people.” This drunkenness also deafened individuals of the prominent circles. For example, the Egol family, about which Shimoni relates that a son, a soldier in the Red Army, trailed after his father, a prominent [podriartshik], and his two sisters. They all took important positions in the new city administration. “In the course of the short time approximately which the Bolsheviks maintained themselves in the city," writes Shimoni, “the Egols showed up doing all tangible things: the two daughters married Russian youths, but even more the father shows up - he who was a widower, twice was married with the agreement of the son and the daughters, only the new wife was really a gentile, a Russian Communist who worked in the ispolkom.

Directly after capturing the city through the Red Army, the entire reserve supply of goods held in storerooms and boats, which overwintered in Bobruisk's frozen port, was confiscated. A great quantity of this war booty, especially the large reserves of sugar and wood, were transferred to the hungry cities of central Russia. One of the first deeds of the “Revcom" was a one-time coerced tax of two million rubles upon the “local Bourgeoisie.” Later there began a systematic confiscation of the factories and warehouses. The shops were sealed and locks hung upon the doors in the name of the authorities.

In relation to the average Jewish person, the new regime embodied itself in the person of the manager of the food division Liakomovitsh, “an old bokher, a Jew with a drained soul, who lived with only one feeling - hatred without limit for the Jewish Bourgeoisie.” He was earlier an extreme Menshevik, but after the rule of the Bolsheviks he went over to the new rulers and presently worked under the direction and control of a Communist Commissar, in the food division, where he worked also during the German invasion. Liakomovitsh threw a dread upon the small shopkeepers and small businessmen. He ordered them to transfer the wares of their shops into two warehouses which he designated, and established guards upon the roads which led into the city, to confiscate all kinds of wares which went in or out of the city. His conception in relation to the Jews, who had to come to him, was a offensive and cynical one. On the other hand, he treated the peasants in a refined way, because Soviet authorities were interested in their sympathy.

After all useful articles were confiscated, there began in the city an illegal speculation business. “In a short time, the price of salt rose from 30 rubles to 600-700 rubles.” And later - to 2,000 rubles. With the coming of spring, the illegal small business which was known under the name of Myeshochnichyestvo - strongly strengthened itself. Jews would set out from the villages and hamlet around Bobruisk, mostly they used to travel upon steamers (steam-ships), which again began to course on the part of the river which ran from Paritsh to Borisov. Hundreds of people would travel on these ships, bribing the sailors who drove them. From time to time a ship would tie up by the bank of a village or hamlet, and the specualtors used to go up from the ship to buy a little merchandise, for the most part - salt or potatoes. The centers of this illegal business were then the village of Svislotsh and Jewish hamlet Yakshits Seliba.

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But the days of the Lithuanian-Belarussian Soviet Republic were already numbered. In April 1919 the Poles began an offensive. On the 11th of April, the Communists in Bobruisk decided to mobilize all members of the party from age 18-25 to the Russian Army. The older comrades were required to be ready in the event of claimed hardship. In the months of May-June, 94 men of the Bobruisk region went away to the front. Among the volunteers also were former comrades of the Zionist youth who were carried away in the revolutionary stream. One of them, Siomke Levin, a committee member of the local division of Tseiri Tsion, fell in the battle. He was brought to burial in Minsk with a mixed Jewish-Soviet ceremony: “wrapped in a tallis and in a red flag. Upon his grave, Kaddish was said and the Internationale was sung.” Among the Red Army soldiers fallen in the battle of Lide was Meyer Geysinovitsh (the younger brother of Abba Akhimeyer).

On the 19th of May, when Minsk was already wired to fall into the hands of the Poles, the government of the Lithuanian-Belarussian Soviet Republic transferred its offices over to Bobruisk, and the city temporarily became the center of the Soviet authority for the northwestern front. This concentrating of the central government institiutions in Bobruisk forced the government to use the help of “bourgeois specialists" (spetsn) - bookeepers, secretaries, economists etc., among them also Zionists. The kehila administration, which then conducted its work in a semi-legal manner, was also not disbanded.

In Bobruisk, in the now temporary capital city of Belarus, there concentrated tens of thousands of refugees from the western areas. A frightening unemployment and an advancing scarcity pressed upon the city. A refugee of Bobruisk who came to Minsk relates that a pound of bread cost there 20 rubles, a pound of meat - 35-40 rubles, at the same time a sawmill worker earned 300 rubles a month.

There then came from Moscow to Bobruisk the Communist leader Mikhail Kalinin, and on the 19th of June he spoke at a great assembly, and he assured his listeners that “our generation will already benefit from all the good things which Socialism will bring."

The Red Army did not have enough force to stop the forward march of the Poles. Polish soldiers began to fortify themselves on the other side of the Berezina. On the 29th of August, 1919, Polish army units entered Bobruisk. An end came to the Soviet rule in the city, which lasted for nine months,

 

[Page 200]

8. The Second Polish Regime (8/29/1919-7/10/1920

The ten months of the second Polish regime were months of terror for the Jewish population and destruction of the city. The front line established itself not far from Bobruisk, along the Berezina, which all factories over this river were blown up by the Red Army during the retreat. Then the Soviets bombarded the Polish positions encountered frequently in buildings of the city. In the summer of 1919, during the Soviet regime, They had not prepared any reserves and now true hunger ruled. The connections with the area were interrupted. In the ongoing days from one authority to another, when on the part of the military authority was proclaimed a three-day ban on movements, the Polish soldiers looted the shops and houses of many Jews and then set fire to them.

[Page 201]

These soldiers, known by the name of Poznantshikes, of the Polish military divisions in Poznan, - determined antisemites, under the guise of mobilizing among the burghers to various military services, siezed Jews in the streets - old and weak - and they beat them savagely. An especially mischeivious prank was ripping out the beards of Jews and shearing their hair.

On Yom Kipur 10/4/1919, the Poznantshikes broke into several Houses of Study, expelling the worshippers behind the city, and they forced them to dig the earth and gather grass and hay upon the fields, and were caught in the act of beating and bullying them.

"This bullying of the weak ones," D. Shimoni characterized the behavior of the Polish occupiers,"the polite smiling faces, the mirror-clean manicured nails, this coarse young audacity and deranged haughtiness, the delight in offending you, belittling you, while the mouth drips smooth, sweet speech; this insincerity, this malevolence, swaddled in sweet politeness, and savagery against the defenseless which rips your heart out.” After the Poznantshikes were banned by other soldiers who came from Warsaw, the wild deeds nearly stopped.

The Polish political secrect police especially kept track of the Communist underground movement, which was active in Bobruisk and surroundings under the leadership of F. Fiodorov, the dentist Falk Kaminski, Maksim Libokov, etc. and in connection with 22 hamlets in the area.

The Polish okhrane began its activity soon after the occupation of the city. “Pursuant to permits of enemies and conquerors,” relays the correspondent from the Jewish Journal, Jews were arrested who were suspected of sympathy to the Bolsheviks.” Among the victims was the old rabbi Nisan Rubin, who was, in truth, later freed. On the 19th of September, the Gekler (or Glekl) family was arrested pursuant to a permit - 9 people, among them small children. The entire family was shot to death and the defensive people took their property for themselves.

On the 25th of April, 1920, a regional conference of the Bolshevist Party came to the city. Shortly before concluding its work, the house was surrounded by gendarmes, most of the delegates appeared to flee, three cheif activists came out: F. Romanski, F. Fiodorov and Maria Bobrova, 23 years old (born in Slutsk). They were shot after severe torture.

The Jewish population felt as if it were between a hammer and an anvil. Directly after the Polish occupation, the head of the kehila Ayzik Estrin called together the administrative members; the most important question which stood upon the daily order of life was an immidiate contact with Minsk, to where there was coming a special envoy of Joint [Distribution Committe], Morgentoy. Heshl Frumkin, of the Tseiri-Tsion leadership in Bobruisk, was sent concerning the affairs in Minsk. He did not encounter Morgentoy there, but Dr. Khurgin, of the kehila leadership in Minsk, insisted to the Polish authorities, and they found that “if it came to a pogrom in the city or hooliganist actions on the part of the Polish soldiers, he would agitate the societal opinion in the United States."

Gradually, life in the city began to normalize. The democratic kehila again renewed its work, but this time the Bund and its sympathizers boycotted it, since many of them already looked askance at the Communist movement. Young circles, which were not allied with the Communists, joined the Pioneers. Prominent families began to abandon Bobruisk and left for Minsk and from there to Poland. The representatives of Bobruisk actively participated in the convention of the kehilos which was held at the beginning of January 1920 in Minsk, and in the “Jewish National Council," which was created according to the decision of the convention. The Zionists also took part in the Zionist Conference of the Belarus region, which was called together at that time.

[Page 202]

On the 2nd of May the kehila administration held a fiery meeting in connection with the good announcement concerning the estabishment of the mandate of the Land of Israel in San Remo. At the meeting a vote was taken for a resolution, formulated through the Zionist caucus, in which it expressed “the readiness to assist with everything in the building up of a free Jewish center in the Land of Israel."

In the morning, a great peoples' assembly was planned, at which Avrom Levinson of the "hisakhdoys" leaders in Poland spoke publicy.

In the pioneer movement in Bobruisk there strengthened the consciousness that one should hasten the tempo of the aliye, whether because of the news which came from the Land of Israel or because of the [hashesh] that the city could fall under the Soviet authorities and the aliye paths would become blocked. It is worth noting that among the organizers of the Pioneer aliye which were then leaving Russia for the Land of Israel, there were two Pioneer people from Bobruisk: Heshl Frumkin and Eliahu Dobkin.

In the spring of 1920, the war in the Bobruisk vicinity renewed itelf, and quite quickly took on the character of a citizen battle during which groups of Belarussian partisans began to attack Polish divisions and damage railroad lines. On the 4th of July there began the great offensive of the Red Army upon the Belarussian front - and on the 10th of July, Bobruisk was again in Soviet hands. In the peace agreement which was enjoined between Russia and Poland in October 1920, the border between both states was established westward from Minsk, and corresponding to them sealed the fate of the Bobruisk Jews, to remain under the Soviet regime with all the consequences thereby for their economic, societal, and national standing.

 

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9. The Era of Gangsterism

In the last step, the citizen battle in Belarus came afterward, Soviet power in the city was already strengthened: In the year 1921, the signs of peasant ganster organizing were present throughout Bobruisk and vicinity. This was the time when the era of military Communism ended. Upon the peasants was forced the establishment of quantities of cereal grains and other agricultural products as compulsory taxes, not giving them henceforth any equivalent for their work and property. The peasants concealed their produce and the authority organs sent army divisions and attack battalions to seek out the produce and confiscate it. The Belarussian hamlet which supported the Bolshvik Revolution when it was promised lands and estates of the nobles, was now rebellious. Thousands of youths who were mobilized to military service fled to the forests and swamps, which these areas were blessed with, and organized themselves into bands. The drought which that summer ruled in the country strengthened hardship even more. The bands provided themselves with arms and attacked government farms, government offices, and random people on the roads. “The whole of Belarus, all the forests were full of bandits," wrote the Minsk Veker. The bandits got money and arms from anit-Communist organizations which were active on the other side of the border. The peasants which remained in the hamlets helped the bandits, providing them with food and giving them news about here and there and movements of the military units which they battled. “In the hamlet there is already no Soviet authority," noted one of the heads of the yevsektsie M. Kifer, in August of 1921.

[Page 203]

It is clear that the peasants saw their enemy in the city people, from whom they demanded their due for the severe grain tax - and the concept city folk had about the Belarus peasants identified with the concept of the Jew - thus the Jew, in the peasants' eyes, became their main enemy. “The trust of the average Jew of the gentile and of the gentile of the Jew disappeared.” The gangster movement was especially strong in the circles of Ihumen, Borisov, and Bobruisk.

On the 11th of July, after a year of Soviet occupation in the region, there was created in Minsk a “Revolutionary War Coucil," whose main goal was to supress the bands. Military units were sent to the various regions, establishing plans there. Amnesty was declared for the bandits who came out from hiding and lay down their arms. They were drafted into the Red Army. On the other hand, they treated severly all those who refused to recognize the authority of the Soviet government. The bands began to retreat and in 1921 the greater part of them concentrated in Bobruisk County.

The bands that were not able to compete with the regular Soviet army discharged their wrath upon the Jews in the villages and hamlets. Great slaughters were committed in June, 1921 in Luban, Kazlovitsh, Seliba, Kureniets, Kvitshits. The number murdered reached hundreds. A dreadful horror befell the Jewish citizens.

"Bands of peasants and deserters from the Red Army then made savage pogroms upon Jews in the villages and hamlets of Belarus," writes the correspondent from the Daily Telegraph. The news comes to us about 15 pogroms, all accompanied by gruesome deeds: rapes, and murders. The number of victims in this case reached tens and hundreds and even yet more. The Soviet power organs were not able to put and end to the violence and their influence did not step over the boundaries of a few large cities where strong divisions of the Red Army were encamped. Refugees said that the bandits conducted themselves with the greatest savagery: afterwards the entire poor holdings of the Jews were looted or annihlated, they tortured the Jews and murdered them in the most savage way. Quite often the savages murdered their victims with axes, chopping off their hands and feet, and after the limbs the heads were chopped off; rabbis and elders from the kehila forced [ontsuton] their talesim, and dragged them out into the street covered with dirt and mud. They forced them to look as they burned the Torah scrolls, and after this they killed them with horrific savagery. This gruesome crimes were committed through the bandits with wild ironic outcries of “long live the Soviets, down with the Jews."

In the second week of July, in that week alone there were slaughters in Kozlovitsh, Rudabelke, Golobkovitsh, Budka, Tsalopitshi, Tsharnitsi, Molabkovitshi, Sokola, Lititsh. A number of Jews were killed on the roads between Bobruisk and Hlusk and Slutsk.

The bands were afraid to come into Bobruisk itself, but in the city, which was torn away from its surroundings, hunger ruled. The authorities had to give permission to open a “barter market," where the Jews could barter merchandise, original salt or colored linen (sits) for food. In June 1921 the price of 2.5 pounds of fats, 2 pounds shtshav, or 3 pounds of meal was for 1 arshin [28 inches] of sits. But their few wares were brought to the market.

[Page 204]

From time to time the bandits who fell into the hands of authorities would be brought before the courts, and many were sentenced to death.

In the list of 22 bandits sentenced to death, about which the Belarussian Tsheka announced on August 11, there were 13 from Bobruisk County, and among them the ruler of the Makonovski band, a former patron and an aristocrat from generation to generaton.

With the renewal of the Soviet regime, the Jewish kehila disintegrated. Now, after the great tragedy which the Jews encountered in Bobruisk County, the Communists had to found an aid institution A. N. "Idgezcom." This institution was burdened with 4,500 refugees which fled to Bobruisk from the villages and hamlets in the vicinity: 1,100 of them ate every day in a soup kitchen which was opened for them. They also opened two childrens' homes for the pogrom orphans. At a meeting which the Idgezcom arranged on the 24th of July, it was stated that the Jews were victims of the bands in 70 points of Belarus, the number murdered reached 500 and wounded - 200. The majority of victims were among the Jews in hamlets.

Afterwards, the Communist-military regime was anulled and after the purge and pacification which they conducted in the hamlets, the pogrom movement was completely surpressed, and the country lived calmly for twenty years, until the invasion of the Nazis in 1941.

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