I still remember very well the conversations that I overheard as a child (about sixty years ago), in our house by the gardens.
Old Gentiles, "Mieshtshanes", from the neighboring crooked street, and Keydarim from the nearby Tatar lanes, used to gather in the evenings and relate their memories about happenings and events that took place in the town some eighty or ninety years ago. In those years the Jews lived in friendship and as good neighbors with the "Mieshtshanes" and the Keydarim, who believed that the Jews were clever and capable, and who used to consult with them about everything. In my memory are etched the stories about the terrible poverty in which the Jews lived then. Jews with possessions were few in number, and almost everyone thanked God that they had a piece of dry bread and a couple of potatoes.
My father, Yoel Barkier (the family had lived for a time in the countryside in Barki, on the road to Urtsishok) told a story about when he was a boy. One time he was going home from kheder with his friends, during khanike. In those years there were no paved streets and the whole marketplace was one great frozen mud. Suddenly they saw carts pulled by two horses, carrying potatoes from the fields in Bagnerode to Utsharne. The wagons rattled over the frozen ruts, and potatoes fell out from the sides. The boys put the frozen, half-spoiled potatoes in their pockets and there was joy in the houses of the "masters of good fortune" since they could cook up fresh potatoes.
In the winter they froze in the cold, unheated houses because few could afford the "luxury" of buying a wagon-load of wood. Year 'round they wore the same "rags", patched from top to bottom. Lighting for the long winter nights was from pine splinters and light given off from beeswax. Rich people were already using oil lamps.
Deep faith provided strength to bear the difficult living conditions and they found comfort for all their troubles in it. They were poor but not unhappy.
The wave of revolution of 1904-1905, which reached far and wide over the tsar's huge empire, reached our little townlet. Jewish youth and inteligents from Ivye organized to fight against the "samoderzshavie" under the slogans "Daloy tsar nikolay", "Daloy dos romanov" [down with the tsar]. They demanded freedom, equality and social justice.
For the first time in Ivye, those who had worked more than eight hours took off from work. The Ivye "proletariat" at the time consisted of a couple of dozen seamstresses, shoemakers and bakery workers, who worked 11 or 12 hours a day.
The members of the secret revolutionary organization, which was close to the Bund, went around with pistols and whips woven of wires with the tips dipped in molten lead. They all wore black sashes with red fringed tassels and black hats with gleaming visors.
Their specific work was in spreading revolutionary proclamations, which called for the overthrow of Nicholas and for giving the Russian people a constitution. The proclamations and cold and hot weapons lay hidden in various places: starting from the icehouse, near the house of Avrom Blokh (Shmaies), in the women's shul, in the prayer house, behind a pile of wood in the yard of the synagogue, and even behind the graves in the cemetery. I remember very well how Jewish boys came and dragged out sacks of propaganda materials from behind the wood-pile near our house, that belonged to Hirsh Ores, who dealt in wood.
Many respectable young men and women, the entire Ivye inteligents had thrown themselves totally into revolutionary work, not considering the danger of being shipped off to a penal colony in Siberia. A couple of non-Jewish boys were drawn into the organization too, sons of Mieshtshanske. Particularly remarkable was Iganalke from Vilner Street. The police searched for him constantly and could never catch him. He used to dress like a yeshive-bokher, sit in the wooden shul and, ostensibly, study.
One way to demonstrate against the tsar was to sing the French "Marseilles". One of Barukh the mason's sons was a member of the organization, and while working for Mayer-Itshe the peddler who was then building his house, was up on the roof building the chimney. While working he sang the "Marseilles" and the entire street ran to see the spectacle. Mayer-Itshe's entreaties that he must stop singing, as he must not cause himself and him misfortune, did not help.
I remember very well how Meyshe Staski -- who was then a teacher in Devenishok--would stand up on a table at the mid-week market across from Dovid Goldberg's house and hold forth with flaming speeches against Nikolai's "self-rule". He told the peasants who came to listen to him, to chop wood freely in the Prince's forests. The peasants asked him for a permission to fell the trees, and he answered as though he were the proprietor of the forests: "You do not need any permission, it is at my responsibility".. One time a peasant called out, "Sir, and may we take branches?" and Statski answered with certainty, "You may, you may..." Then the police arrested him, and freed him in the morning. Statski was then one of the leaders of the Bund, and used to travel to the markets in the surrounding townlets with a guard from the organization, in particular with Shimen Sloves (The Redhead) of whom even the Russian police were afraid. He would go there to make revolutionary speeches. The word "svoboda" or "Freedom" was the most popular slogan.
I remember one Shabes when several dozen young men and women came out for a demonstration. At the front they carried a red flag, and the demonstrators called out revolutionary slogans and sang the "Marseilles". They were not even afraid to march through Novoredke Street, where the police commissioner and the guards lived. But it was quiet there, because, it seemed, they were hiding in their houses.
But the Russian "spring" did not last for long. The tsarist government that had promised to give the Russian people a constitution and democratic freedoms, broke its promise and began to drown the revolution in a sea of blood. All the Ivye boys and girls who had been mixed up in the organization knew what awaited them, and they leaped over the "green border" (that is illegally) out of the country, and then to free, golden America. There were a few agents in Ivye who were involved in border smuggling (Beyle Koshtsher, the "little agent", Yisroel-Meyshe Sheftl, and others). And they would disappear by way of them. The fleeing revolutionaries in the years 1905-1906 were followed by their families and friends, and formed the substance of the mass-emigration from Ivye to America, which lasted until America imposed immigration limits.
A Zionist organization existed then in Ivye too, which was connected to the "Odessa Committee". They were already collecting money for Erets Yisroel in charity boxes and through other activities. Some children of the well-to-do householders belonged to the group, which used to meet in the garden at Zishe the glazier's house. They disagreed with the Bund, which laughed at the Zionist idea of returning to Jerusalem. Here is one of the Bund's song to mock the Zionists:
"The Zionists say
we should go down to Jerusalem,
we workers don't long for that,
we want to free Russia..."
After the tsarist government went back on its promises to liberalize the regime in Russia, it began to drown the revolution in a river of blood and staged pogroms. The wrath of the oppressed and hungry masses was turned onto that eternal lightening-rod---the Jews. The "Black Hundred" organized huge pogroms in Kisheniev, Bialistok and in many other places.
Rumors also went around in Ivye that the peasants were preparing to make a big pogrom. People lived in fear and terror of what would come, but youths and some older Jews,too, decided to mount a resistance and to teach the hooligans that pogroms do not pay!
At that time a blacksmith lived in Ivye, by the name of Zelig. His shop was not far from the cemetery. Like all smiths he was a Jew, a strpng man who had never had any fear of peasant hooliganism. His wife Rashe, a thick, tall Jewess, used to help him with the heavy work of smithing. She picked up the heavy hammer and let it down on the anvil with ease, and she tended the fire with the bellows. In short: as we used to say in Ivye, a "tom-boy"...
One Leyzer worked for them, a brave, healthy boy, whose "touch" one should protect against in 1905. He and his friend Motke the "luze"--a hero of the strikers--were not frightened by the rumors that a pogrom was being readied. They drove into the market that summer day as they did every Wednesday, in a pair of wagons with forged wheels.
[Photo: The mosque in the Tatar quarter.]
Suddenly in the middle of the tumult of market day, two peasants came over to the pile of wheels and began provoking a fight, which was supposed to be the signal for the pogrom. They grabbed wheels without paying and ran. From all sides came complaints and cries, "They're robbing the stores!" Leyzer and Motke unscrewed the shafts from the peasants' wagons and started beating them over their heads. Dozens of Jewish youths who had already prepared themselves for such incidents came to help them. Soon you could see peasants lying in pools of blood. The peasants who had prepared themselves for an easy plunder, seeing blood, harnessed up their horses and fled from town in a great panic.
I recall that my father Yoel Barkier, too, had weeks earlier prepared a welcome for the pogromists. When he was in Vilne he had bought from a Russian soldier, a tsherkes, a dagger sharpened on both sides, with a silver handle. On that market day he put it in his bosom in a sheath and went out into the market. The house was locked and near the door lay ready a sharpened axe in the event that peasants would try to break into the house.
After that event the Ivye peasants did not attempt to make any other pogroms. The lesson that they had received that market day had put fear into them and they spoke about the Ivye Jews with reverence and honor. The following episode is the best witness to what kind of brave and heroic youth we had then in Ivye.
On a Shabes afternoon a group of young men and women were laying on the grass along the road that led to the orchard (by Vilner Street, the old "prisada", with trees along both sides). After a while Prince Volski, to whom the fields belonged, came riding along in his carriage. He began to shout that they were disturbing the grass and that they should get off. Then one of the youths came up quietly, drew a pistol from his pocket, stood opposite Volski and warned him, "If you don't drive away, I will aim this at your head". The brave prince, Volski, wiped off his moustaches and told his driver to take him away from the place. Those were the brave and heroic youth that we had in Ivye!
The street was one of the many unpaved muddy streets where the poor of Ivye lived: melamdim, artisans, and ordinary poor people that no one knew where they drew any living--quiet, honest, pious Jews who were satisfied with postponing and longing, and found their comfort in a chapter of psalms, a section of scriptures, and praying. They lived in low, small, falling-apart wooden cottages with tiny little windows. The houses were roofed with shingles or simply with straw. The lane began at Bernardina Street near Khone-Meyshe the shoe-maker's house, and ended by the pasture, which was near the kehile.
In a back room at Khone Meyshe the shoemaker's, there was a kheder where Hirshe Dovid the melamed taught small children. Directly across from him was a "competitor", R" Yashe the melamed who taught beginning boys. On the left side of the lane lived Khaym Yankl the wagon-driver. His wife helped him in his livelihood, by weaving rope on a primitive wheel.
Opposite the empty place which served Alter the miller as a place to throw refuse from his production, live a woman, Khayeke, in a building that was part of the surrounding "landscape". It was a brick building covered with stucco, where R" Avrum Mordkhe conducted a childrens' school. He was a teacher of older boys, with whom they already learned khumesh with Rashi, Tanakh, and an elementary knowledge of Talmud. Across from them, on the left, lived an old tailor who managed over the course of a week to turn out a pair of trousers, which was enough for him--as they used to say in Ivye--to eat broth with a fork and bread with a spoon...
Behind Khayeke's white house lived Yone Bere the water-carrier with his white horse, half dead, that could barely drag the round barrel. He tramped the streets of Ivye summer and winter selling river water for full price--a kopek for a pail. We boys used to take great pleasure from opening the spout whenever he had turned away.
On the right side of the lane, after Khayele's white house, lived the old cabinet maker, his wife, two daughters and an elderly mother. The lathe shop looked like the greatest machinery in the world to our youthful eyes. This was a type of "big industry" that we boys could just not get enough of. Besides that, when the lathe was stopped he was willing to give us the imperfectly turned vessels, and our joy knew no limits.
In the summer peasants would bring four- or five-meter logs of birch, fir and oak, which he and his wife would promptly saw into twenty-centimeter pieces. The "factory" consisted of a big wooden wheel behind which there was a smaller wooden wheel, and the two wheels were joined by a rope; in the middle was set a thick pole where they placed the cut logs. The lathe operator turned the small wheel by means of a foot-board, which set the large wheel in motion and turned it, which then turned the pole on which the log was. Using a steel chisel, he turned out ladles, pots and even plates. At the fairs in Ivye and in the neighboring villages, the peasants snatched up the merchandise, which had almost no competition. On a wooden bed with a straw-filled mattress sat the old lathe-operatress, a Jewess more than a hundred years old who was wrapped all year round in two shawls, wore three pairs of glasses tied to her ears with strings, and poured over a big korbn-minkhe sidur and chattered psalms and scripture without ceasing.
To go into Shaye the sawyer's house, where there was a small suke at the entrance, even a short person had to bend double. His wife, Khaye Rokhe, had two "trades": patching sacks on the floor and spinning thread into balls on a spindle which was hooked to the balcony. Khaye Tshipe's Dovid sat behind a wooden table and taught Hebrew to twenty boys. Suffice it to say that from all these trades one did not make enough for even a modest livelihood.
Directly across was Shleyme, a Jew with a big household who also had many trades with little income. The main trade was baking. The evening before a market day or a fair the would bake "karavanes" (big kahles), bagels with big holes, and black bread, and sell it out of big bins. Thursday and Friday the tall, thin Shleyme would transverse the whole town with a collection box for the biker-kholim [hospital]. His third position was as a khevre kadishe [burial society] man. On Purim he went with the Purim-shpilers, and his specialty was singing a mishebeyrekh for the contributors. In the "hierarchy" of the shpilers he was the "right-hand man" to the leader, Khone Rogov (Butlas).
Behind Shaye the sawyer's house lived Osher the cap-maker, who made peasant caps with shiny visors. The Vilne wagon-drivers brought him the "raw materials"--material from old soldiers' coats and trousers. Osher would clean it with benzene and then rework it into hats and sell them in the market.
Opposite him was Yisroel the tinsmith. He made grating irons, ladles and other tin vessels for household use. He was assisted by his wife Bashe and a journeyman. His work had a good name among the Ivye Jews as well as among the non-Jews.
A big vegetable garden was planted behind the tinsmith's house, stretching from the kehile to near the pasture by Hirshl the smith's smithy. The garden was supervised each year by Jewish gardeners, who presented Ivye with the first vegetables and competed with the Keydaris, who specialized in cultivating many types of vegetables for the whole region (even sending them to Lide and Vilne).
I have only given you one of the alleys of Ivye impoverishment. In Ivye there were many such lanes of artisans, lower-level teachers and small shopkeepers who worked hard to make a poor living for their families, making do with what G" provided and thanking Him day and night for their health and for a modest piece of bread.
After the Japanese War, the tsarist government began laying a railroad for the Minsk-Molodetshne-Gavie-Lide-Vilne line, which would connect with the Polieser railroad line, which was built then. The Ivye station was eight kilometers from the town in Gavie (from the name of the river which ran nearby). Jewish contractors, who had taken on the building of the line, had brought Russians from deep in Russia, specialists in that work, and they recruited laborers from the local population. A few dozen Ivye Jews did that work too, and they surpassed the specialist Russians in their efforts. During the years that the railroad line was being laid (1906-1907), Ivye profited from the hundreds of workers who came to Ivye to make their purchases. After they had finished building the rail line, the economic situation of the town had improved to some degree. Ivye was closer to the larger world. Manufactured goods dealers and haberdashers and other shop keepers would travel more often to the neighboring large city, Lide, and to the provincial capital Vilne and a few even traveled as far as Bialystok and Varshe [Warsaw]. In our town one began to see products and agents of merchandisers from the whole world. The standard of living began to improve gradually year by year. There were new jobs, the markets became bigger and also the selection of merchandise in the Ivye shops.
Market day in the town took place each Wednesday. In addition, there were 7 or 8 big fairs during the year. The biggest fairs were the "novigod" or New Year's fair in the month of December and the "gromnits" fair in March, around Purim time.
The gromnits fair was the biggest, attended by peasants from the farthest regions. Russian merchants, "specialists" in big fur coats and white Siberian felt boots, brought various merchandise from deep in Russia, and also came to purchase goods. They brought re-worked pelts from animals and prepared furs, hard white felt boots and other goods. They would take their big sleighs to a certain place in the market, and display their wares hung on poles. They paid Jewish boys 25 kopeks a day to protect against peasants who would steal in the tumult of the fair.
The tumult of the fairs was given color and liveliness by the picture exhibitions that were hung on poles in big flat wagons. The organ-grinders with their organs and parrots who would pull out the fortune slips of winnings with their beaks, always drew a large crowd of curious peasants.
Jewish artisans, shopkeepers and inn-keepers, the whole town, that made their living from the surrounding villages, waited and prepared for the fair day, a day of making many sales. Shoemakers came out with boots in various sizes, which they had been working on all winter, cap-makers with caps in different sizes which they displayed on wooden racks.
[Photo: A market day in the town.]
Yisroel the tinsmith worked all summer making grating boards, ladles and other vessels for kitchen and household use. He would set up with his wife Basia to sell in the market. The lathe-turner brought his turned ladles with the long handles and other wooden vessels and he and his large family talked the peasants into buying their products. The harness-makers hung out their harnesses, collars and reins, and the smiths laid out tubs of shafts, forged wheels for wagons and rails for sleighs. There were others who sold brightly colored head kerchiefs for the peasants and plain peasant fabric from their wagons. Poor Jewish women sold all kinds of sweets, candies and khalve from Mashe Fiselevski's candy factory, sweet cakes and lemonade from Alter the miller's little factory. Little Ayzikl would place himself next to a small sledge of frozen apples and deal in that merchandise. This was also the place for great vats of loaves of "shnitse" (white bread), large white breads, bagels, which the peasants would begin eating before they had even paid. In that same corner there were barrels of big cheap herring and nearby on racks, white, pointed cheeses and fat Dutch-style cheese with holes that Ivye manufacturers made from whey in the local farms.
And lehavdl the pork-eaters, the town burghers, used to grab a place in the market during the night through the "right of possession" by parking a sleigh there, and selling unmentionable things and bluing. Near them vendors were selling leather, pieces of hide and cloth shoes of primitive homemade manufacture, competitors of the Ivye leather shops and of Sheliber's products from his hide factory. And the clay pots brought to the market by the Morine farm-hands were competitors with the big cast iron pots that the Ivye shopkeepers brought in from deep Russia.
Horse-dealers and Gypsies from the whole world used to arrive in wagons and sleighs. The Gypsies--with dark-burned faces, and dressed in wide satin trousers and snug-fitting boots with colorful, wide fringed belts over dark coats--snapped long whips over the horses, which they tried to make run to tempt the peasants, "let's trade horses". The "grooms" slapped peasant palms with all their strength and argued about price, praising their horses to the high heavens, running them the length of the horse market (later--in the shul yard), or looked at the horse's teeth. Cattle dealers and butchers went around among the cattle that were tied to the fences and the peasant couples, touched the cows and argued loudly about the prices.
Country dealers and merchants went from wagon to wagon with small hand-wagons and bought packages of hog-hair, baskets of mushrooms, butter goods, bundles of flax and sacks of seeds. Housewives and dealers tapped on the wagons and looked for a piece of butter, potatoes, eggs, rye and everything that they would need at home until the next market day. Shopkeepers carried goods among the peasants and convinced them with fervor that their merchandise was the cheapest and the best. From the taverns where the peasants went to eat and to "wet their lips", came drunken voices and wild songs.
Kith and kin, young and old, were busy in the fairs and market-days. For a distinct part of the Ivye Jews this was their livelihood for the whole week. The bruhaha and tumult ended with a few drunks singing with wild voices, in a jolly mood; or sometimes with a fight or even with a victim of a knife stabbing. Then the town waited again until the next Wednesday--the market day and the big fair nearby--the day of livelihood for the Ivye Jews.
Until Leyzshinke, a men's tailor and an "enlightened" young man, brought a gramophone with a huge trumpet from Lide, no one in Ivye knew that there was such a wonderful device in the world. It was even bigger than the organ grinder's who came to the fairs. Kith and kin, young and old, used to gather in the summer evenings on Bernardina Street near Daniel Leybman's (Dantsig) house, where Leyzshinke the tailor lived as a lodger to see with their own eyes the great wonder of a box with a big trumpet from which one could hear devilishly happy songs and even prayers sung by famous cantors like Kvartin, Sirota and others. In the stillness of the summer evening the singing of the cantor and his choir-boys carried over the whole town, and even into neighboring Zakoshtseltse. Very soon shoemakers and tailors were singing all the folk songs and parts of the prayer book over their work, having learned them from Leyzshinke's gramophone.
Usually one seeks a trick in such a great wonder. How can it be that one could hear a cantor singing just as he would at the pulpit in the old study-house, from a box with a big trumpet? I myself heard old Jews explain to their wives, that the cantor and the choir were sitting in the big trumpet and singing...just like the Ivye cantor, Kalman, with his apprentices at the pulpit in the old study-house.
Because of the gramophone, Leyzshinke became an esteemed person in town and did not know how high to hold his head. Who was his equal? Any young man or woman who he invited to his room and who sat close to the gramophone was proud of the shared honor, and later told the whole town about the technical workings of the plate and the needle which traveled over it and made such music.
Leyzshinke did not rule over Ivye with his gramophone for long. One fine morning a band of thieves played mischief, watched for when he was out of the room and stole the gramophone with the trumpet. Later rumors went around town that it might be found broken in a well on Vilner Street.
A sadness fell over the town, but the songs and cantorial selections were carried on in the artisans' workshops and in the mouths of couples in love.
When the Ivye Jews woke up on Friday the 18th of July 1914 (the day before Shabes Khazen), announcements had already been hung on the walls, that Russia was in a state of war with Germany and Austria. By morning, Shabes, several regiments had been mobilized and everyone from the whole region was sent to Oshmene, which was then the district city (the provincial capital was Vilne). Among the mobilized were dozens of Jewish boys; and a little later, after the great defeats and losses of men, they also took older recruits. Many families in town were left without their providers and protectors.
After the first big defeats of the Russian Army, the first sad news arrived about Ivye boys who had fallen in the battles. A few boys were wounded and were allowed to come home, and were heard with great curiosity as they told stories about the unfortunate organization of the Russian military, about the great follies of Russian General Renekamf, about the great battles in Prussia; and after the big defeats and overturns, we will soon have the Germans here. Those with good luck who merited being sent home wounded: Ali Baran's two sons Leyzer and Khaym; Avrum Mordkhe's son, Meyshe the smith, Meylekh the psalm-sayer's son Rubke, Itshke the butcher's son Meysheke, were the war strategists and used to sit in the study-house outside Ivye and relate miracles and wonders about the bloody Boyers, and meanwhile did not forget to tell of their own courage and bravery. As is standard, there were "sides" in town who held by either the Germans or the Russians, and new-born "strategists" interpreted the reports in the newspapers, which could not withhold the great defeats of the Russians and the quick advance of the German army.
The panic in town grew from day to day. After peysakh there began to appear farm carts and wagons with "refugees" who were fleeing from the places where the front was coming near, on their way to deep Russia. Soon enough we saw refugees from nearby settlements and the civilian Russian powers from neighboring towns and cities which had evacuated. And a dozen rich Ivye householders (Dovid Goldberg, Shmaye Blokh, Shishke Blokh, Khaym Blokh and others), and the Ivye Rov [Rabbi] Kosovski of blessed memory evacuated with their families into Russia.
The front got ever closer to Ivye, and infantry, cavalry and artillery units passed through the town asking for the way to Mikolaieve and Molodetshne. Meanwhile soldiers who had lost their formations tried to rob the houses. Rosh-hoshone and Yonkiper were prayed in fear of the Cossacks, who rode over the streets with their bayonets and searched for whom to rob of valuable things. The concussions of the canon could already be clearly heard. Jews, in fear of a raid while the Germans marched in, packed their belongings in packs and hid in cellars. People especially took their packed up possessions to the cellar of the big building on Bernardina Street, that belonged to the Ivye yard, believing it to be the safest place. The night before the retreat of the Russian Army, Cossacks robbed the cellar. It was already clear that in the morning, the Germans would take Ivye.
Ivye was lucky. The Germans came into the town without a fight. At dawn the last retreating Russian soldiers had blown up the wooden bridge over the Ivye River, in order to delay the German advance.
The German command entered the town on the second day of Sukes (October 1915) during the day. The two riding commandos took different routes and met in the market. Soon armies of foot-soldiers began marching in from Novorodke Street, the part that had gone through Crooked Street on the way to Mikolaievo; and a part through Bernardina Street on the way to Yuratsheshok. We stood on the streets and marveled at their conduct, costume, order and discipline. The women who had seen fit to speak a few words with the Germans, shouted out, "They are Jews, they speak a poor Yiddish". Everyone learned to speak Yiddish with a long "a", and became interpreters between the Germans and the non-Jewish population.
In Tsalke Osherovski's house on the marketplace, there was quartered a local commandant headed by Lieutenant Hofman. In Motie Katezshinski's home--the German police with Underofficer Veys Kasper at the head. All three study houses (the Old, the New and the kloyz) were turned into field hospitals; and the wooden "cold shul", into an ammunition dump. Many large houses in town were occupied by soldiers from the garrison, and the householders were simply driven out. Thus, since the shul courtyard was under the Germans, the military administration, and to approach it was forbidden, people prayed in minyonim in private homes. Wilhelm's Germany was not Hitler's Germany. Moreover, the Germans depended on the loyalty on the Jewish population in the town and saw in the Jews--who were limited in their rights in tsarist Russia--a secure element. No small part of this good relationship with them was of course because of the Yiddish language. Still the inborn maliciousness of the Germans showed itself. Right after their invasion they drove the best householders, beating them without mercy, to bury the corpses that were scattered over the fields. At every opportunity they screamed, "Cursed Jew", "G" damned" and let their whips fly... Soon after Sukes they drove young and old with whips to the fields between the villages to dig up the potatoes that belonged to Ivye but, because of the war, remained in the ground. The local commandant, Hofman, soon nominated as Jewish mayor Shimen ("Shimanke") Kovenski, who wore a white band on his arm with the initials B.C., and carried a stick in his hand--his weapon. Wanting to win grace in the eyes of the commandant, he would shout, "One must work for the Fatherland"...
[Photo: The building of the kehile as a military hospital during WWI.]
Near the river Berezine, the Russians had halted the German advance and that was where the front was established, and where it stayed until the outbreak of the Russian revolution. From one side of the river, by Baksht, the Germans fortressed themselves in Tsementene Okopes and Blindazsh. On the other side of the river, in the village Yodnik, the Russians dug in.
Ivye was in fact the last town on the German side, and because of its proximity to the first line of fighting (28 kilometers) it had imposed upon it many decrees and Draconian restrictions, from which the towns further from the front did not suffer. In Ivye and in all the settlements around it, there were military men stationed who built the second front-line. A airfield was built near the Dailide forest, for the few airplanes that Germany had already begun to use in the fighting (from that time, the forest got its name "Fliers' Woods"). Because of this, all lights had to be put out at night. After "closing hour" it was strictly forbidden to be outdoors, movement beyond the town was severely restricted; without a special permission by the military powers one could not afford to be in a village. The markets and fairs from which the town made a living were closed, and in many homes, hunger was a frequent guest.
Eventually the commandant, Hoffman, demanded that the town elect a rabbi and a town council, whose assignment would be to divide the meager food allotments among the Jewish population. A few Ivye proprietors went to a neighboring townlet, Lipnishok, and brought back to Ivye the Lipnishker rov, Meyshe Shatskes. The slender, empathetic and presentable young man pleased Hofman very much and he loved to chat with him. The town council, headed by Rov Shatskes, had its center at Fishke Khaymotsh's big house (on Bernardina Street). There, they would give each family its ration, and there was also the biggest minyen where the rabbi also prayed.
Meanwhile it was reported to the commandant that Shimen was taking bribes--a log from each wagon that went through the commandant for the German institutions and for the houses occupied by the military. He was sentenced to two years in prison for swindling, and sent off the Germany to serve his term. His position was turned over to Khaym Vilenski.
A German doctor, Mige, modernized the Ivye bath-house: made showers and installed a delousing machine in the yard, where clothing was disinfected. The bath was open to the civilian population two days a week. There were Jews who neglected to go to the baths and hid. The Germans drove them with sticks and screamed, "Jews, to the bath!" The same doctor who had arranged the water for the bath in the big military washroom had tapped into an artisian spring, put in pipes and a distillation instillation and solved the water problem. The water flowed day and night without let-up and was marked by its good taste and coolness. Later the well carried the name of its discoverer, "Mige Well" and became an attraction in the town.
According to a decree from the Germans the market had to be paved. The finest householders of the town worked at this task. The master stone-layer was none other than Mr. Khaym Sore-Dobke's, the shames [beadle] of the Old Study House. Then the Germans had the opportunity to beat the "lazy Jews", the "Polish pigs" and the "Tatar block-heads"...
There was no lack of work places: agricultural work in the fields of Utsharne and Ivye. The wage was 80 pfenigs a day for youths up to 18 years old. For older workers, a mark and 20 pfenigs a day. A good workplace was the airfield. The fliers related to us well and trusted us completely, we cleaned the airplanes, worked in the nearby ammunition magazine, and so on. They even talked to us about politics and promised us much happiness after their victory.
One fine morning Commandant Hofman demanded twenty workers from the Jewish council, for work in a horse infirmary. It was the first time we heard the name "fonie-kompanie" or "Russian-battalion", which soon inspired fear in everyone. The Germans had brought thousands of Jews and Christians from Congress Poland and of course, from the nearest towns and villages to the front lines. They did various work for the German Army in the regions of the front lines--digging trenches, stopping canals, cleaning the snow from the roads, building highways, felling trees for logs, serving the German military units, and so on. Needless to say the working wage was negligible, the food barely enough to keep body and soul together, and that under a regimen of beating and jeering at the "lazy" and "dirty" ones. "Donnerwetter" and other curses and swear-words were accompanied with blows, without mercy! The Jewish committee made a list of the required twenty workers. The truth was, no one was protected from the call-up. Even sons of the most respected householders were not able to withdraw from the "Russian kompanie". So in our group there was: Yudl Kabak, Yankev Malakhovski; Shleyme Blokh (Shishkes), Shmuel Dvoretski, and others.
Our work-place was in a horse infirmary in the Zabeline farm (between the settlements of Lugmovitsh and Lazdun). Part of the infirmary was at the nearby Babinsker farm. The work consisted of feeding hundreds of wounded and sick horses that were brought from the front to be "cured". We had to clean them every day, just as we had to keep clean their stalls and the paddocks where they stood. Here is what happened to those who tried to pass off inadequate work: The watch-leader would make a sign with his finger over the horse's body, in order to check whether any dust was left. Each person was responsible for maintaining a certain number of horses. They slept in peasant houses with earthen floors covered in straw.
Breakfast and dinner consisted of "ersatz coffee" (mostly burned barley), marmalade and stinky cheese; lunch was black peas, macaroni, beans and other "German" war-dishes that were also "ersatz" and inventive. The sick horses had to be fed with mamalige [like corn grits]. We used to risk stealing a bit of it in our pockets, and in the settlements the peasants would bake delicious rolls, which would satisfy our hungry stomachs a little. From time to time we would be given big dried fish, or other half-spoiled foodstuffs, from which emanated rotten smells...bread was divided up stingily: a quarter of a kilo and that half mouldy. There was no other alternative, but to supplement it with a loaf of rye bread that we would bring from home after a Sunday leave.
One fine morning we were told that we were free and that we could return to our homes. We were not long in Ivye. On erev Peysakh 1916 we were "snatched", and together with another 36 young men, were driven to Batsheshnik, a place that had the worst name among the "Russian kompanie". We spoke with longing about the "paradise" of the horse infirmary.
We were about ten Ivye Jewish boys among a couple of hundred non-Jews, who were driven there from the surrounding regions. We were soon pressed into service: the workers, dressed in long smocks tied with rope, in wooden shoes and winter hats, had to go out every morning to work by the field train which ran to the front lines near Berezina. The work was to load and unload the train cars, clear the snow from the rails, "stuff" the sleepers, clean the canals, fell trees and load them for Germany, and so on. The provisions for the workers were very poor. We received 250 grams of bread a day, which we swallowed in one bite. In the morning and in the evening, ersatz coffee (made of burned barley) with marmalade on the tip of a spoon. Lunch was not eaten, but drunk. The German cook used to take the provisions and barter and sell them to the peasants, and all that was left for us was water. That was the food given to us by the Kaiser Wilhelm, such may be his reward in the world to come...
We, the Ivye Jewish boys, went around hungry and could barely stand up. The peasants, on the other hand, nourished themselves with great loaves of bread that their mothers brought them from home. A few boys we know from around Ivye used to give me a big slice and I would eat it with onions, a delicacy of the war years. In the evening the peasants would play harmonicas and Khone Nokhum Mayer's would dance Russian Cossack dances. Everyone listened with great interest to his stories about his term in the Russian army, and we, the Ivye Jews, were encouraged by him.
I was in the Danievietsher "Russian battalion" for three full months. Returning home, to Ivye, I did not get a chance to rest up as I should, when I was grabbed up for another group and was sent with much ado to Bogdaneve (a train station before the townlet of Nieve). The Bogdaneve station was not far from the front lines and the train movement there was many-branched. They chopped down the forests in the whole area and brought it on a small-gauge train to the Bogdaneve electric station, which was concerned with electric light and power for the German front lines. The greater part of the logs and boards however went to Germany. We, the Ivye boys, were the loaders for the cars of the small train that carried the wood from the forests. Some of the Ivyers also worked in a company whose task was to pick out the German soldiers from the fallen victims, to lay them in boxes and ship them to the "Homeland", to Germany. The sixteen year-old Itshke Yisroel Pasrednikes of blessed memory was killed then, crushed between the plates of two cars.
Before the yomim norim [Days of Awe] 1917, I suddenly got sick with influenza and instead of getting a leave of absence for Rosh-hoshone like the other Jews, I was put in a field infirmary near the townlet of Vishnieve. Only on Yonkiper was I given leave to travel home. Returning back to Bogdaneve after Sukes, we met, with amazement, an uproar and a tumult among the Germans. The German soldiers had torn the epaulets from their officers' shoulders and announced to us, "This is a revolution, the war is over, the power is in the hands of the soldiers, we are traveling back to the Homeland." The German soldiers began to sell everything. Another Ivye boy and I bought linens and clothes in an infirmary and soon sold them with a good profit in Ivye. Jews and Christians went there and bought barracks, iron and other metals from the Germans for cheap prices.
In Ivye there were rumors that revolutions had broken out in Russia and in Germany, and that the Germans would quickly flee. The Ivye rov, Shatskes of blessed memory, with a few proprietors, went to Gavie and bought the small-gauge train from the Germans, the train that went from the Gavie station to Ivye, and also a warehouse of provisions, clothes, linens, and other things. (The Poles later confiscated it all without compensation.) One day at dawn peasants and Tatars began to rob the German command. The first thing they did was grab the commandant's geese and chickens that he raised. Jews and peasants also robbed the German dairy at an Ivye farm, and the straw and hay that the Germans had stored in the barns at the Khovanshtshizner farm.
The Russian-German front at the Berezina had opened, and Ivye Jews went to the other, Russian side of the front, to Volozshin, Rakov, Nalibak and Minsk. They traded in saccharin, crystal, soap, chicory. The Russian "crack" ruble left over a profit that was used by the merchants to buy horses that the Russian soldiers had left behind. Ivye, which had been isolated from its hinterlands and from the world at large for almost three years, breathed freely. There was a lively trade in all directions and merchandise appeared that before one could not find at any price.
In the beginning of the winter of 1917, the Germans fled and Ivye and its surrounding region was left without a ruler. Licentious elements and bandits used this opportunity. Peasant men would attack towns and settlements, murdering and robbing. Rumors about the bands of thieves threw fear into the population and people began to think about self-protection groups and how to protect the town. At a meeting of householders chaired by Rov Meyshe Shatskes of blessed memory, it was decided to establish a militia of Jewish soldiers who had returned from Russia and from German imprisonment. Their assignment was to patrol the streets, especially in the long, dark winter nights. There was no lack of rifles and ammunition, since the Jews had bought the storehouse from the Germans before they had fled.
Under the influence of the Bolshevik Revolution and due to the initiative of local activists, "Revkoms" (Revolutionary Committees) began to develop in the neighborhood. A Revkom was established in Ivye too. The chairman was Motetski, a non-Jew from the settlement of Tshivnovitsh (near Ivye), who had studied theology at Vilnius University until the outbreak of the war. His representative and right hand man was Meyshe Statski, who had earned his name as a revolutionary in 1905. Yosef-Khaym Ingel, Bere-Mende Abelevitsh, the Tatar Ashman Stutshki (an artillery specialist from the Tsar's army), Slet from Lukashin, Anton Yekhnedovitsh from Zakoshtsheltse (chief of the militia), and others. The secretary of the Revkom was Eli-Avrum Baksht, of blessed memory.
Among the militiamen were Arn-Hirshl ("the Doll"), Shmuelinke ("Takhele"), Itshe Abes (the purimshpiler), Khemele Baksht, and others. Besides keeping the public peace, theirs was also the task of collecting the tax to support the Revkom from the rich Jews, taking the horses to the "convoy", and so on. Jews were a majority in the Revkom and in the militia, so it was no wonder that the Revkom collected the "wheat money" which the committee had assessed the proprietors in order to furnish Peysakh provisions for the poor.
The economic situation of the Ivye Jews got ever worse. In the settlements there were "peasant committees" of poor settlers, which would not permit the sale of foodstuffs. The peasants did not trust the Russian ruble and demanded gold. Smugglers paid high prices and took grain and supplies to Volozshin, Rakov and Minsk, where hunger and sparsity dominated. The Ivye militia guarded the entrance to the town and confiscated everything that people tried to smuggle out of other towns and regions. The Soviet power could not enforce a normal economy and anarchy ruled, a disorder in which one hand did not know what the other was doing. The local Bolshevik civilians were not instructed by Moscow but made politics by their own hand, however they understood it. Matetski and Statski appeared at the markets and near the kehile and gave fiery revolutionary speeches, but life did not get easier despite their assurances of a better tomorrow. The Bolshevik power did not last very long.
After the Germans had returned to their "Homeland" and the Bolshevik powers of the Revkom had established itself in our region, the Polish patriotic youth fled to Poland where they formed the Polish Legionaries. And the Tatars ran and joined a Tatar nation, which was created under the name "Yazda Konna". The Princely children were the first to envision the way to serve the newly-existent Polish republic. All three sons of the Krasovshtshizne Prince, Lietunke, later rose to high-ranking officers in Pilsudski's Legion. The same for the sons and sons-in-law of the Khovanshtshizne Prince, Selezshitske; of the Rembekovtshizne Prince, Shlantshevski; and others. Princes from the Ivye neighborhood hurried to join the Legions.
Soon after Peysakh 1918, Ivye was occupied by the Poles. Small Polish forces took the entire region with almost no resistance. A "troop" of 5 policemen and Commander Malet, who were quartered in Hinde Dobetshire's house, ruled over Ivye, Lipnishok and other settlements. But the economic situation did not improve under Polish power, either. Smuggling with Russia was stopped almost completely. The antisemitic Polish police robbed and took the last from the "Jewish Bolsheviks" because they could not forgive Jewish participation in the Bolshevik Revkom. It was due to this that, in order to buy a half a kilo of bread for a family one had to stand hours long in a line at Alter Lifshits' or Munye the Butcher's (who had become a baker) bakeries.
Then after the first cutting of the rye and digging up the potatoes, the situation with provisions was easier. Merchandise appeared in the empty shops, brought from Poland, and trade became more lively. The peasants brought their produce into town and there were once again markets and fairs, as before the war. Peasants and Jews alike threw themselves upon the shops with manufactured goods and footwear, to replace their clothes after the long years of the World War had left them in tatters. Life began to normalize and the hopes for peace and a stable ruler made it possible to breathe easier, despite the open, undisguised antisemitic politics of the Polish regime.
The Red Army began its attack on Poland in the summer of 1920. The Polish police made a quick escape. In the first days of the offensive, sections of the retreating Polish Army fled through Ivye. They robbed the houses and the shops, pulled boots off peoples' feet, emptied peoples' pockets and added slaps and blows. In the middle of this panic and screams of violation from the houses being robbed, we suddenly heard an exchange of rifle fire, and saw the Polish soldiers running in disarray in the direction of Novordeke Street.
The advance horsemen of the Red Army was already riding through the small river, because the Poles had blown up the bridge before their withdrawal. They took a few dozen Polish soldiers prisoner and herded them together in the market place behind the soldiers' stores. Women came running who knew the pogromists who had robbed their houses only an hour before, and scratched their faces without mercy. Day and night, without ceasing, cannon, convoys, and cavalry passed through the streets of Ivye on the way to Lide, and they asked, "Are we far from Warsaw?" On one of those days Ivye was favored to hear one of Trotski's flaming speeches about the war against the "lords of capitalism". He spoke to the gathered audience from the balcony of Bielavski's two-story house. He boasted that the highly victorious Red Army was chasing the Poles without let-up, not even seeing their faces; that soon the Red Army would be in Warsaw and then the way to Europe was open to Bolshevism. He spoke with a thundering voice which carried even out to the peasants working in the fields near the town, and they came running in to hear to world speaker and Bolshevist leader, Trotski.
The civilian powers in town had once again taken over the Revkom in the same composition as in 1918: Matetski, Statski, Bere-Mende Abelevitsh, and so on. But the Soviet domination in 1920 lasted much shorted than in 1918. The Red Army fled back to Russian very quickly under the pressure of the Polish Legions, with no smaller impetus that they had shown earlier.
Once again Ivye was taken by the Polish Army and was joined to the Polish Republic to which it belonged until the outbreak of the Second World War (September 1939). Before the retreat of the Red Army, an international meeting took place in Ivye (and probably in other places) in the market place, where speakers from all peoples (we joked that they were all Jewish commissioners from Homel and Bobruisk)--and assured us that the Red Army would return very soon. But the truth is that they did not rob us before their retreat from the town, and satisfied themselves with blowing up the bridge, in order to make the advance of the Polish Army more difficult. The Poles scoffed at the Jewish residents, arrested many under the suspicion of Bolshevism, tore off their beards, beat them mercilessly, and so on.
But life stabilized very quickly. The authorities installed order, open trade began, the shops filled up with merchandise, and help from America began streaming into the town. After many years of war, and civil war, a period of peace arrived. In fact the First World War ended at the beginning of 1920. Ivye Jews took a breath and began to rebuild their lives.
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