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Fragments of Memories

by Leah Tugman


My Parents’ House

I was born on an estate around Kobrin. My early childhood was in the village. My parents lived on the estate. My father leased the dairy. He was thought of as a fairly rich man who immediately when he had a daughter started saving money in the bank for her. I do not remember what year exactly, but it was in the middle or in the end of the First World War, my father was set upon by robbers and only by a miracle was saved from death. Then our family moved to a nearby village by the name of Strihi, with a larger population. There were two other Jewish families and most importantly there was a German gendarmerie.

In that village we lived a few years in an abandoned peasant hut that stood in the midst of a large vegetable garden and by it was a small patch of fruit trees. Even today I can smell the mint that grew under the trees.

The days of my childhood passed in that village. In the field and in the garden I grew with the flowers and the trees and there were always animals in the house, cats, dogs, goats and colts. Birds of various kinds filled the courtyard. I can still see the wooden hut with hay on its roof. I remember the windmill. It stood lonely alongside of the road across the village. There was a small sand hill there where I loved to go to be quiet and by myself. There was something scary and also attractive about that place. In that village I received my early Hebrew education and also perhaps Zionist education. My mother planted in me from an early age a deep love for Hebrew and for Zion. I still remember as if it were today several songs she used to sing to me with a lot of emotion. And among them there was a song, “On The Road There Rolls,” and she sang in an Ashkenazi pronunciation. Also the “Hatikvah” I learned from her. I still remember her voice singing:


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Oifen veg shtate a boim.   On the road stands a tree.
Shtate er angeboigen.   He stands there unbent.
Gate a yid kayn Eretz Yisrael   The Jew goes to the land of Israel
Mit farveynta oygen.   With tears in his eyes.
Got Got groiser Got,   God, God, great God,
Lomear davanin Mincha,   Let us pray Mincha,
Az di yidden velen komen kayn eretz Yisrael,   And ask that the Jews will come to the land of Israel,
Veat zein a groiser simcha.   And there will be great joy.


The times were very difficult but despite the difficulty and uncertain times, my parents engaged in a great project. They brought to the village from the city a “teacher“ so that children would not be kept from learning. Myself and my brother Issachar, who was a little younger than I, started learning Hebrew and Chumash. Although the Poles were already in the country, my parents wanted to teach us Russian, probably because they did not agree with the Polish occupation. The Jews of the village and the surroundings would send their children to us also to learn with us the Torah. And so that is how our house became a kind of cheder where boys and girls would learn together from morning till evening.

I grew up in an area of “Goyim.” The Byelorussian language I knew perfectly, but our parents were very, very strict and watched us so we would not, God forbid, forget the Jewish customs. In the home, they spoke Yiddish. My parents were very happy when they heard from the people of the town that judging by the children, one could not tell that they grew among the “Goyim.” Living in the village became harder and harder. My parents took care of mine and my brother's education (my two older sisters traveled with Grandfather to Russia when the war started and came back to us in the year 1922-1923) so my parents decided to leave the village and to move into the city or the town, which meant Kobrin. How many fantasies were woven by me in connection with that name? Kobrin was in my eyes a big metropolis. I was amazed at its paved streets at8its “tall” houses with two stories and tile roofs on them. At night streets were lit with lamps (because there was no electricity yet). During the day, there were crowds of people in the streets. Why were there so many people there? Are they homeless? My heart would go out to them with mercy.


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Our house stood in Ratner Street, Number 38. It was a low, shaky wooden house covered with tiles, but leaking rain, nevertheless. By the house was a cow shed with two or three cows, calves and a horse. Behind the cow shed was a large garden where they grew various kinds of fruit trees and vegetables. My parents were farmers and this is how they made their living. My father leased some fields outside of town. With his own hands he would plow and plant. And we would harvest by ourselves. Besides bread and potatoes, there was not much in the house – real poverty. As time passed, our family grew. My older sisters became adolescents. They came back from Russia with my Grandfather and other family relatives. We all lived in that small and dripping hut in the summer and in the winter.



School

With all the difficulty, my parents did not give up the education of their children. My brother studied in a school called “Tvuna” [Wisdom]. For me there were several possibilities, either to study in the Yiddish elementary school run by the central Yiddish school organization where mostly there were children of poor people and artisans or in a Polish elementary school (without tuition) or in a private school “Progymnasia” (pre-high school), whose first founder was Privolski, and during my time, the principals were Noach Alkon and Shmuel Garber (Samuel Borisovitz).

My mother opposed sending us to a school where they learn “jargon” and where the students were daughters of “tailors and shoemakers.” So they decided to make a special effort to send me to the progymnasia, where there studied the “balebatische kinder” (the children of the homeowners, more affluent kids). There they would also have Hebrew studies as language, the Bible, the history of Israel and Hebrew literature.

My parents worked very, very hard; they made an effort every month, month by month, to pay for the tuition. A piece of bread soaked in oil or dried fruit (from our garden) was my food at school. But no child ever saw my meal because I was ashamed to show it to the children, who mostly came from richer homes. This was no doubt the influence of my parents, who made a great effort to cover their poverty. There weren't too many days before this school, which was not supported by any public or government institution, closed. Students scattered to different places. My desire to learn was very, very strong. I still remember how I sat day by day and studied by myself. But my dreams for continuing studies smashed against the rock of hard reality.


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My Road to the Movement

I had a good friend. Although she was older than myself by several years, I became very attached to her. Gisha Edelman, she was a wise and inspirational adolescent. She influenced me very much out of her rich and dreamy soul. When we started at school we used to see groups of boys and girls with uniforms and ties and khaki hats with sticks in their hand as they marched in the streets of the town or outside town. These scouts called themselves “the organization of the Hashomer-Ha'tzair.” One time my friend Gisha, of blessed memory, came and told me that she had joined the “unit” of the group called “Yehudit” that was run by Sarah Hari. And with her special enthusiasm, she told about the conversations and what the group was doing about social connections and about the hora dances. Everybody there were “spiritual” brothers and sisters. Everybody would love one another – even someone older, between 16 and 17, they addressed one as “you” (familiar form) because they were all brothers to the same family, the family of the shomrim. She told me how they would go in the evening outside town singing (in Hebrew), telling stories about the land of Israel and all the shomrim thinking of going – when they grew up – to the land of Israel to work there. In the evenings, they studied Hebrew and other subjects.

Her stories made me very enthusiastic. I would become so emotional that I would have tears. I was so envious of those shomrim! This was always my dream, to be a “sister” in a large family, to help others, to love and be loved. To study and to go to the land of Israel. How wonderful! This is what I wanted. I found my way! The obstacles in the way of work were many. I knew that my family would object. -But I also knew that I could buy my mother with a promise that I would continue my studies.

And so with the general objection of the family and the secretive agreement of my mother I entered, at the beginning of 1925, to the unit of “Hashomer-Ha'tzair” where I was educated, and I kindled the days of my youth. Through it I emigrated and lived in a kibbutz and that group still serves as a model to me to this day. The “brother,” Chaim Goldberg, was the head of the unit during my time. The leadership of the unit were two friends, the head of the unit, the secretary, and the treasurer. There was also an elected council composed of several members. This was a development toward democracy because before that there was already objection to the rule of a single rule. The supreme authority was given to the head of the unit to decide everything. When I entered it, they already had 4 years of serious development. The movement already grew in a certain way and became a Zionist socialist movement with a distinct scout characteristic. The youth would come to us from various homes.


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It was partly students or youth who, because of various circumstances, stopped studies and dealt “in doing nothing.” There were very few youth who seriously worked.

In the leadership of the unit there were a few youth with initiative and stamina like Chaim Goldberg who were not deterred by any difficulties and really succeeded in creating huge projects. I did not know where they found the monetary help, but they built a sewing room in the unit. Also, a group of youth were put in a wood shop of “Ort.” They organized night classes to study Hebrew, general studies and social studies. Faithful helpers in these lessons were Noach Alkon and Avraham Levits and others. I do not remember the name of the street where we rented the house of Shmerl for a home. That house was teeming with life during evenings and on the days of Shabbat and days of holidays. The holidays to “Mochevitz” and swimming in it in the summer, games and ice skating in the winter, conversation, lessons, singing and dancing would be heard through the wooden walls.



The House on Tragota No. 33

From there we moved to Tragota No. 33 to the big barracks of the Margolit. This house over time became the nursery of all the youth movements that worked in Kobrin. In that house there were four schools: An elementary school; an elementary religious school, “Tvuna” (Wisdom); Hebrew school, “Tarbut” (Culture); and a vocational school by “Ort”. And there was also an orphanage there.

During the day people studied at the schools. And in the evenings there were hundreds of youth assembled there from several movements to create educational and organizational activities. I will try and count the movements that found a home in this house and in the big, large courtyard nearby. The house was divided into sections. Each section for those that lived there. In one section lived the members of the “Ha'shomer Ha'tzair”. On the other side of the wooden wall was the home of “Poalei Tzion” (Right) party and nearby its youth movement “Freiheit” (Freedom). In another section of the house there was established a party of “Hitachdut” (Unity) together with “Gordonia”. Even “Betar” had a place in that house, a house that mostly had lively activity of labor Eretz Israel. There was also a branch of the Ha'chalutz (Pioneer), which was composed mostly of graduates of the youth movement, especially the Ha'shomer-Ha'tzair, who came into this movement automatically. Almost all the financial institutions that were connected with all those movements were in that building, the Jewish National Fund and others. In that building was established a folk university whose founders were members of the “Tarbut” (Culture). The lecturers were teachers from the school and the lectures were given in Hebrew and Yiddish.


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The “Ha'shomer-Ha'tzair” unit had a nice library in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and maybe a little in Russian. There was a big library in “Poalei-Tzion,” mostly in Yiddish, but also in Hebrew, and the library in “Tarbut” was in Hebrew. There were also reading rooms that were arranged in the evenings in corners for recreation and games were abundant. I cannot enumerate all the activities and projects that were created in that house that was boring outwardly, but rich and colorful and teeming because of the intensity of the life of the youth movement internally in those days in our Kobrin. Lovers and enemies, as one, learned to appreciate what was happening there. That house turned with time to be somewhat of a castle or a fortress against Polish authorities who were hostile towards us.

I do not know what was the power of the unit of the “Ha'shomer-Ha'tzair, ” how it was so strong that it attracted with a magical power hundreds of children and youth who loved the place and were dedicated to it with all their heart and their love. What was the base of the internal discipline that existed there? Nobody was forced to come to us, but being expelled from the unit nest was a very, very harsh punishment. Very often the movement would give people duties and tasks that were very difficult to carry out, but that did not deter anybody.

There were many schools and parents who fought us because they could not stand the competition for influence. I will not exaggerate if I say that the influence of the movement abroad is still very, very clear today in its graduates, wherever they are today, whether in a kibbutz or outside of it. As to myself, I am very much helped by my educational experience that I acquired while I was an instructor in the movement (as a child and youth). I am much helped with that experience in my educational work today as an adult.



Realization and Immigration

For the “Hashomer-Ha'tzair” movement there was a very important principle and it was self-realization. Every graduate between 17 and 18 and above would have to go out for studies which were for preparation which was considered a stage for immigration to Palestine for work on a communal kibbutz. This principle also created a short crisis in the life of the “unit”. Most of the educators who were school students who intended to continue in their studies left the unit.. For a moment it would seem as if the unit would not survive, it would crumble, but this was not the case. New youthful and energetic forces were discovered and took the place of the previous ones. The unit renewed its youth and developed along the lines that the whole movement was following. There was also an excitement among the student youth to leave the schools and go prepare yourself.


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At the beginning there were only a few that did that, then they came in groups and the groups grew more and more. The entire group was organized in kibbutzim, which served as a kernel for later establishing a kibbutz in the land of Israel. The chapter about this preparation is a special chapter which could be discussed at length, but this is not the place to do this. The first organized group that went for preparation belonged to a kibbutz organization, (I forgot it's name) which established in the land of Israel a kibbutz called “Ein-Ha'kore” in Rishon-L'tzion, then “Shaar Ha'golan,” a settlement. And then there were two kibbutz centers that were established to make a connection for the graduates of our unit, for the “older” people. One was “Voholinia” and the second was “In The Path.” These two kibbutzim sent their first groups in 1933 (if I'm not mistaken) and created the foundation for two separate kibbutzim in Israel, one in Nachalat-Yehuda, and the second in Karkur. These two united at the end of 1934 to create one kibbutz by the name of Givat-Ganim in Nachalat-Yehuda. This kibbutz is now Negba, which was the pioneer of the settlement in the south.

Today, to my regret, there are only a few members of Kobrin in the kibbutz. Actually the number of those who prepared themselves for immigration grew and grew but this is where my knowledge about what was happening in the unit stopped because I immigrated to the land of Israel myself at the end of 1934.

I still remember that day and I will never forget it. It seemed like the greatest day in my life. A day when a member would immigrate was a big holiday in the unit and in the whole town. I remember the last day of Succoth of the year 1934, the day of my immigration. With me came A. Feller and a member of the Beitar movement. I think that I will not exaggerate if I say that there was not one house in Kobrin that did not send people to accompany us. By an accident the three émigrés were of three different movements, so all the members who belonged to those movements came, including relatives and acquaintances, to say goodbye. I can still see the crowd waving their hands and singing their “Hatikva” and “Techezakna” (a labor movement song). Who would dream that those in whose heart the hope burned and whose hope actually empowered all our brethren to do the same would not see that the hope would be fulfilled in the land of our forefathers for which they dreamed and longed? A tremble goes through my body when I realize the fact that our Kobrin did not see for years such sights and will not see them again because it does not exist anymore.


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The heart does not want and cannot agree and the pain gnaws without cease. Everything that was dear and close to you does not exist anymore. Floating in front of me comes the image of my quiet and pale mother and her tears when we parted. The train moves and on my lips there is a smile. In how many trains there came relatives and acquaintances with bouquets of flowers. In Brisk, there came to meet me relatives. I don't know what happened to me, but I could not stop myself and suddenly my tears started rolling without me being able to stop them. I remember the words of a relative of mine who said, “Leah, all the days you dreamt and you waited for this great day and now you're crying?” “I am really happy,” I said, “but something chokes my throat. Who knows if I will again see the faces of those close and dear to me.” I did not know. My heart did not know what it prophesied. It was not in vain that the tears choked me and not in vain that the heart shrunk.




A Passover Evening in the Alleys of “Mitzraim”

by Joseph Schwartz


At the end of the muddy streets in Kobrin, sinking and sinking, were the alleys of “Mitzraim” (Egypt). “Mitzraim” is the symbol of the Jewish ghetto wherein the lowest of places in the darkness and the dirtiest of places settles the prince of the bitter poverty.

As old people whose backs are now crooked under the oppressing yoke so look the shaky homes who seemed to be ready to fall from any light wind and are sinking in the mud. They are connected and close to one another like neglected orphans who are trying to find cover from the cold and rain. The spring sun spreads light and warmth. The laughter of people echoes and rings, people who are happy to welcome the spring. But here there is always a permanent swamp, a swamp whose stinking water spread its smell far away.

Pale kids with pale faces with tall boots belonging to their fathers dressed in rags dig in the heaps of garbage that were brought here from all over town. They are also looking into the swamps so perhaps they will find some treasure in the crates of garbage. They are hungry, they are lonely, they are exiled. They crawl on all fours and dream of a piece of bread thrown by some rich person into the garbage crate.

On crooked fences that were just about falling down there hung underwear, half of them clean and half of them dirty. Patched shirts, undershirts and underpants, black, big and small, are seen hanging here and there. Jewish mothers are drying the wet underwear in the sun to prepare for the holiday.


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You are peeking through a broken window in some places and it's covered with rags and in front of you walls that are rotten and crumbling covered with clay, mud and whitewash. A floor that is broken and rotten, a stove that looks like a memorial to the destruction, and the “furniture”… the mothers and the daughters stand as if in a battleground fighting this process of crumbling with the rooms and with hands trying to clean and sweep away the sand.

From time to time, the mother stands and stares at her daughters who are already grown up, and a boiling tear comes down and falls, drips and falls into the chamber pot nearby. This is a mute sorrow and the fear of parents who cannot do anything to help and are frightened at the destruction of their home. And then the mother dedicates herself even more with double stubbornness to clean the floor and at the same time in her head she cannot get rid of those bitter thoughts about her bad fate. An acquaintance and good friend told me, “Actually what is the Passover evening in the alleys of Mitzraim?” I know what Passover says: the happiness of spring, the delight in freedom, the rays of the sun that are warm, but here there is a fear – such poverty, such darkness, what will we eat? A few zlotys were accepted from a rich uncle who is in the land of gold, and even them, we expended for paying various taxes and we remained naked and barefoot. Go and scream before a poor king. You are looking at the apartments of poverty and in front of your eyes are passing various periods from the lives of the Jews. Each apartment symbolizes a link of lives of 3 or 4 generations. A memory for a ghetto that is continuing.

Here in this area Grandfather was imprisoned and carried the yoke of life and instead of putting down roots in the wide and deep, he rose and floated on the wings of imagination through religious fervor. You are angry to see those cursed lives and there is a mysterious secret in it, a riddle that is unfolding in front of you. It is the secret of Jewish heroism, the wonderful struggle of that Jewish generation in his fatherland. It finds here its solution. It is the power of the mighty will. To be the last generation in the ghetto and the first in the country of his forefathers.




A Monument of Simple Souls

by Arieh Novik


The two brothers were coachmen who worked in partnership. Their wives were sisters. Each one of them had one son and several daughters. I did not remember exactly if their houses were in the alley called “Kerliner Shtiebel,” both under one roof, or they were separated and only the horse stables united them.


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The two brothers were simple people, good-hearted, charitable and ready to do everything for charity. They were not alike in their external appearance. One was called Kikel (probably because of the way he walked and his size). He was very small with a very long beard and with big heavy eyelids. The other one, his name or nickname was Moma, was wide, of medium height and had a fairly large beard. The two brothers and the two sisters always lived peacefully in neighborliness and in partnership, so much so that you could not even describe them separately. The family lived as if they were one family.

The week began with them immediately after the Havdalah on Saturday night. They would harness the horses to the carriages and would carry, usually to Brisk, passengers and freight, letters and money. They were very faithful to those who used them and took care of everything with a lot of dedication. They served as buses and mail service and as a bank, as matchmaking offices and train and to everything to the complete satisfaction of their clients. On Friday, they would come back from their trip early, and after eating “tigechets” and lunch of Friday that had a special taste because the women cooked it in the oven before they made the bread for Sabbath, they would take their sons Hershel and Velvel and would go together to the bath house. From there they would come back with the spirit of the Sabbath hovering over them, and over their Sabbath clothes. Especially it showed itself in the white clean shirt with a button at the collar exactly at the middle of the beard. The faces shone as if saying Sabbath.

After tasting a little bit of hard liquor in honor of the Sabbath, they would go with their sons to the beit midrash of Rabbi Shimson, by the house of Chana Zaritzki. In the beit midrash, they were considered to be important homeowners and only because of their modesty they did not sit in the east but by the northern wall. With special celebration they would start singing the songs and would encourage their sons to repeat after them the verses although the sons would prefer to play at the same time with other children outside. They were forced to say all those things even before the prayer of Mincha because the Hebrew was difficult for them, so they couldn't say it together with the rest of the people, especially since the rest of the people were hurrying it and saying all those prayers and songs easily. After their prayer they would not hurry home. They would stand to hear news of the newspaper. What does Shlomo Oaks, the Sexton, say? And what do Zavil Boxer and the other politicians have to say?

They would only hurry if they happened to have a guest for Sabbath, the Sexton or some other poor Jew, because if they didn't hurry the guest might be hungry. If they had a guest they gave up the news. In the morning prayer, they would behave the same.


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They would always buy the maftirs for their sons for the whole year and after the prayer they would stay to listen to news or go away with other guests. On those Saturdays where they had a “Yahrzeit” for their parents or the parents of their wives, that would be a special holiday for the Sexton who would go before the ark as representing them. Not only did they pay him handsomely for it, but they would feed him for the whole week very nicely. They would finish the Sabbath with taking their horses in the evening to the small Kobrinki River to let the horses drink.

As Kobrin was conquered by the Poles, a disaster came on Kikel. His horses and his son were mobilized to serve in the army and on the way out of town they killed his son together with a few other youth from Kobrin. From that time on a cloud came and dwelled on Kikel's face. In the beit midrash, he went to sit by the door with all the people of less value, and even during the prayer he did not stop crying, lamenting his only beloved son.

In 1921, I left for the land of Israel and I do not know what happened to those families that I liked so much during my early years. I felt that they liked me too, me and my brother as orphans. And when I was in Brisk, for a long time before I left for the land of Israel, I received through them letters and I sent letters through them home without having to pay anything.




The Writings and Observations of a Foreigner and a Resident

by Ch. Z. Yoni

In “Davar” (a newspaper) of September 21st, 1930, there was the following story which would be very interesting in relation to describing our town.

“Each Town And Its Daughters.” But there are towns that are between two larger towns and cities and it is hard to describe where they belong. Maybe some time we'll achieve some kind of a serum that would help us recognize the “motherhood” of those towns the same as we already succeed in having a serum to recognize the paternity for kids who ask for food. Those towns also ask for food for spiritual influence because standing by themselves they lack spiritual material.

Kobrin is one of those towns. To whom does she belong? To Brisk or to Pinsk? Which one of those two has the obligation of “motherhood ” for Kobrin? In Kobrin there are influences of both. Brisk for commerce, Pinsk for industry. (Pinsk is, of course, because of its Russian past, a center for chemical industry.)


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This one in the area of economics and in the area of spirituality. Brisk is for the Torah, for thoughts of older Jews, and Pinsk is for “work” and for struggle and new challenges, for attempts at heroism among the young. From Czarist Pinsk there are memories left that seem now appropriate for those who fancy about themselves an extraordinarily revolutionary fervor. The liberation of political prisoners from the Cossacks through the mass assault and so on. Pinsk has until now places to be proud of. Veteran Bundists will bring you to the forest and will show you with reverence the “place of their temple” where they buried their first illegal printer. The rest of the citizens also have a “Wailing Wall” of their own. The same wailing wall where casualties fell from the Polish bullets. Those holy people of Pinsk. Those people in whose honor Givat is built in the land of Israel. Brisk – for the intellect, Pinsk – for the Jewish emotionalism – on which of those big trees can little Kobrin hang?

In Kobrin itself there was a division of opinions. There was the house of Brisk and the house of Pinsk and some who related to both, to this and to that. There was a little bit of the Brisk commerce and a little bit of the Pinsk industry, a little bit of the intellect of the opposition and a little bit of the Hassidic emotionalism. Such was Kobrin. There were three layers to the Jewish culture in Poland and all of them came together in Kobrin to one inn, literally. All over Poland one would push the other's feet, legs, and they could not co-exist in one place, but in Kobrin they could.

In the Culture of R' Michael the judge – Yeshiva, a little reformed, some religion, but with some secularism (a little Polish, a little arithmetic and so on). Culture of Beil, this energetic young man, gave energy to all the groups with their secular acronyms: O.R.T., T.A.Z., Y.A.A.S. and so on. And then there was, above all, the Yiddish school that had eight classes. It crumbled and started again from the beginning. And then there was a culture of the engineer Levits, who went from teaching in Kobrin to France to get a degree and then came back to the same teaching position and opened a Hebrew gymnasium. All of those cultural institutions were in one house.

At the beginning both sides tried to “conquer” the other. One would come and put a sign on the house, declaring that this building was all his. Then came the other one and added a sign that the house was his. Then came the first one and put a lock on the door saying I am the Landlord. Then came the second one and added a lock to the lock to announce I am here too. Until one time the people of Kobrin actually found three signs and three locks, one on top of the other on the door. Anyway, the end was that the locks were taken off and the signs remained and peace came to the house that held the institutions in Kobrin.


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Every side ruled a part of the day and made the place his own, and when their time was up they gave their place to the other side. The clowns in Kobrin counted the hours and decided that in the same building they could include a few other educational institutions because there were twenty-four hours in the day and even the institution of R' Michael the judge did not need for himself more than four to five hours.

When they finished “Said Rabbi Ashi,” they would start with “Said Ash,” and others. (These are from the sacred readings). And while the grammar rules of Zalman Reizen are floating in the air you can already hear the Hebrew grammar and the poems of Bialik are holding the souls of the rhymes of Markish and Yeshoash. And whoever believes that in the struggling cultures in Jewish Poland there was no place for pacifism will bring himself to Kobrin and find the opposite. And peace should come in all of Israel!

Brisk has a mother and Pinsk has a mother, one of them at any rate, so why shouldn't a daughter have as much as the mother?

And just as there was a local “press” in Brisk, so there was in Pinsk a “press” with all the details from political surveys to smaller pieces and parts for jokes. (By the way, Jewish Poland never had such an abundance of humor in print as it had now during the years of difficult economic turmoil.) Kobrin also had a weekly of its own, although usually it came, even in regular years, not more, than once every two or three weeks. But this was not important. We would not deal with it by its name, namely a “weekly.” So explained to me the editor of that “weekly,” immediately making a joke, saying, “If in Warsaw there was a street called “Tshista” (clean), is it really clean? And if in Vilna there was a street called “Vilka” (dig), and before in Russia “Bolshia,” and now in Yiddish “Breita,” and according to all those names the street had to be big and wide, but in truth is there more room there for two carriages?“ He says the same thing is true of our “weekly.”

The plethora of Jewish weeklies in Poland was altogether characteristic of the place. There wasn't a corner that did not have a “weekly” of its own, and no wonder. All those many newspapers did not have a dearth of either material or helpers and those offices of those papers did not know yet of the “secret” creativity which was accepted in other papers, namely the creativity with scissors, namely stealing from others. On the contrary, in these papers there was an abundance of original helpers. Some say that all those helpers by the hundreds (without any exaggeration) were the ones who made the publication of those newspapers an essential thing. You will say maybe there was plagiarism here. Maybe, but it was not only that.


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There was an urgent need for expression. People wanted to say something. And even the “weekly” from Kobrin said something. You found there a reaction to all that was happening in the Jewish world. I read there for instance the “bombastic” articles about the immigration to Palestine and I thought, I wish there were some other large newspapers and influential newspapers that reacted with such force! Be careful if you put down the local weeklies in Jewish Poland because from them will come the mass truths.

I came to Kobrin and I found a remarkable difference. All of the homes and the alleys became yellow, literally. Everything was painted in yellow. Why was the face of Kobrin yellow suddenly? Was there any symbolism in it? Was she embarrassed in front of somebody? But Kobrin wasn't always impudent and its “weekly” will prove it. It became clear to me immediately from my companion why this was. There was an order from the “Viveda,” (the controller), the county governor from Brisk, that the houses in Poland are pretty except for the color, and the color of the houses has to be changed. This governor had a weakness of all things to the yellow color. And that brought some very good days to the merchants of paints because on that very week you had to fulfill the order of that governor, so tells me my companion, and the yellow paint ran out and they had to bring it from the neighboring towns.

Would anybody else say anything bad about Poland, that it had economically depressing times? The youth in Kobrin was full of life and active in all various movements you'll find. They fought among one another, from the Mizrachi to the communists. There was a time when the communists had a good time among the youth. There were tons of people from among us that filled the Polish schools and made Kobrin famous in the world of the communist party, but that period had already passed. Only memories of past days had remained among the youth. It's not so much for the love of communism as local patriotism, we had heros too. The Kobriner pioneers excelled in their personal values and their dedication to friends. The right wing of the Labor Zionist got to the top among the parties and enjoyed great public influence. So did the general Zionist, more active here than in any other neighboring town.

Also there was a lot interest in literature. In Kobrin people read a lot. Every new book was swollen as new fruit before the summer. The great interest in literature is altogether an interesting chapter vis-à-vis the Jewish youth in Poland, but in Kobrin when they studied the literature they went deep into it and very seriously, every iota.


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There was a story in which some young man came to me with a book of Z. Segalovitch and asked me with the seriousness of a graduate academician, as if asking for secrets of my opinion, what did the author mean “Tzilka the wild” in his book Tzilka The Wild? What was he trying to teach us? And of course it was clear to that innocent young man that you learned from Segalovitch how to solve life's problems and from the wild Tzilka about things at the top of the world. It's coming down if over the course of tens of years we came from Achad Haam to Z. Segalovitch, but you have to give the youth credit. You have to say that it's not their fault that Segalovitch became so important for them. The fault is in the adults that were so burdened with “practical” worries that they were not paying attention to the spiritual guidance of the youth that stood just by itself, orphaned. Kobrin was a good lively example of that.




The Movement of the Workers of Zion

by L. Sirota


The party of the “Poalei Zion” (Workers of Zion) existed in Kobrin since before the First World War. It grew after the 1917 revolution and especially between the years 1918 and 1919. It had a large club with many members and followers. The whole upper floor in the Feinfeld house in the center of town was taken by that club and the most active people were Bertenboim, Rogozinski and others. The invasion of the Poles into Kobrin in the Russian Polish War, and especially the breakup in the movement of the Workers of Zion in 1920, destroyed the party. There were only a few followers to the leftist segment of the party of the Workers of Zion, but an organized branch did not exist anymore during that transition period.

The pioneer movement, “Hechalutz,” was the only movement there that continued to grow and it had different parts. There were the group for the young Zionist, and some that were for the leftist, and some that were just non-affiliated. The active people were Levin, Harry (in Palestine), and some others and from among the youth there were Bentzi and Itche.

At the time when the branch of the Workers of Zion, the right wing of the party, was established in 1925, there was in Kobrin a group of Workers of Zion – Bentzi, Itche and others – and there were some other groups. It mentions Vigodski (he is in Palestine in Geyat), Sh. Stavski and others. There were also youth groups they took care of. Among the more active were Joseph Klichovski (in Palestine), Moshe Weinstein; I remember also Z.S. Tzerkes.

One evening in July, 1925, a group assembled in the club in the house of Prager, about twenty or thirty members, men and women. Some of them who were not in Pioneer group read a platform of the party and it was suggested that people sign it like a declaration of entry into the party.


[Page 233]


A temporary committee was chosen to organize the establishment of the branch of the party. In that assembly there was a committee selected and among those on that committee were Bentzi, Itche, G. Dolinski (who is in Palestine), Yakov Novik (in Argentina), and Chernitski. The secretary of the party was Jacob Novik. They made close ties with the center of the party in Warsaw and they decided on activities. In a short time there rose a significantly large party, very active. The number of members grew from year to year until it reached two hundred, all disciplined and ready for every call of the movement. There was another group of those who followed, were not members but supporters, whose number was more than a thousand. The youth was organized in “Freiheit,” numbering about three hundred and over, male and female. With a continuous emigration of hundreds of the members to Palestine and to other countries, still the number of members grew.

A group of visits by the members of the “center” and members from Palestine was arranged. We distributed the newspaper “Arbeiterstimme” (The Voice of the Workers) and – after the unification with another party – the paper “Befreiung Arbeiterstimme” (The Freedom of the Voice of the Worker) and “Das Wort” (The Word). There was full cooperation in all the party assemblies and work in all the questions of the movement. There were deep discussions in the meetings and people had a lot of independence of thought. There was a special committee for professional groups and different units were there for leather workers, for tailors, for building tradesmen, for metal workers, for clerks and others.

There was friction between the groups and their professional parts under communist influence. At the end there were also arrests brought about by an oppression by the Polish government on the members of the communist movement and those who were active in the professional organizations, and they brought the destruction of the organization. Then the party took care to reorganize again among its members and supporters, especially the porters.

The party was the only one responsible for the education of the members of the Pioneer group for many years. When “Hashomer Hatzair” joined the Pioneer group, the party continued to be active in education. When the labor movement started developing alongside the Pioneer movement, another active branch was established which included many of the young artisans in town and made it possible for these people to immigrate to Palestine. There was always concern for the members who did not have the means to immigrate to Palestine. We gave our best efforts in education for the youth to the values of the Jewish National Fund in propaganda, in collecting monies, and in emptying the boxes and in contributing ourselves.


[Page 234]


We took part in propaganda meetings and in contributing to “Keren Hayesod.” Those among the friend who could afford it would contribute to “Keren Hayesod.” The party would have a fund for the working Palestine that would appear during elections. There were also among us some party members who were the main speakers in assemblies and various parties. From about fifteen-hundred in Kobrin the group for working Palestine would receive in elections about thirteen-hundred. The party also sent delegates to the Nineteenth Zionist Congress: members were B. Pantul and B. Schwartz. We contributed ourselves and we had other people contribute to various causes. In the league for working Palestine our numbers were over four hundred. The secretary of the league for a long time was member Lazer Goldberg (who is in Palestine) and as a treasurer was Tehila Feldman (who is in Palestine).

The party was also represented in the committee that would certify an immigration to Palestine. It would take care of preparing the people for kibbutz training that was in place and would accompany hundreds of men and women members when they immigrated to Palestine. The party was also represented in a committee for ORT. We demanded of ORT that together with giving a profession to the youth at home, they would also help to prepare members to go to Palestine. In Kobrin there were many workshops, woodworking for boys and a school for sewing for the girls.

During the election for World Congress of ORT in Berlin, we received a telegraphed demand to make it possible for a representative of the Center of the Pioneer group to participate in that congress. That day in the evening there was a meeting called of the members of ORT in Kobrin and as representatives the following were elected: Itche, Pinchuk and Berginski from the Center of the Pioneer group in Warsaw. The mandate was transferred there and was not utilized as it seemed because of technical reasons. This was the second mandate that the Pioneer movement in Poland then received.

The party was represented also in the branch and auditorium of the school I.S.A. that existed then in the city. There was a concern for teachers who were members of the movement and supporters, among them Grossfeld, the Principal of the School, D. Marin, Zak, Malka Rubin (who is in Palestine) and Lisa Gibgut. After that school was closed, the party opened a school that had ties with the “Shul-Cult” which existed for two years.


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In the first elections for the municipality the party appeared for the first time with its own platform. There were four secret underground meetings with representatives of the Communist party and the Ukrainians with an intention of creating a united labor front for the election. As the representatives of the party there were: Itche, Grossfeld, L. Sirota (in Palestine) and from the Ukrainians: Prichotik, Rifilovitch, Demanchuk, from the Communists: Masleivitch, Kaminitzki. Since the party did not give up its Zionist propaganda and appropriate representation, it appeared separately in the elections and received one mandate: Pinchas Lipschitz. The representative of the Russians and Poles left the municipality as a protest against the Jewish majority. There were additional elections for their eight mandates. In the next elections for the municipality we received three mandates: Bentzi, Yitzchak Tenenboim and L. Sirota. The communist received only one mandate: Kaplan. The Bund did not receive any mandate.

The activities of the representatives of the party in the municipality were successful and brought honors to the party, especially those activities of Bentzi. There was a section for workers erected near the slaughterhouse for the poor Jews in town and important social reforms were established for the workers as a whole and especially for the poor Jews.

In the last years before the Second World War, our parties appearances were forbidden by the Polish authorities. There was only one party, one list, known as B.B. and the Jewish representation in the town was altogether narrowed. Our political activities were completely forbidden. We called for special meetings and we asked the municipality for an explanation. We criticized its activities and for that purpose we used the weekly newspapers “Kobriner Wochenblatt” (Kobriner Weekly Newspaper).

For the Jewish community in the first elections in 1928 there was elected as a representative of a party D. Marin, a school teacher. In the next election there were grave falsifications of the results and we received only one mandate instead of four that we deserved according to the votes that were given to our list. These votes were changed before they were counted by a known “B.B.” method according to which representatives from other lists and other parties would not be present during the counting.

The only one that was elected from our side was Bentzion. After a consultation with the representatives of the merchants and the general Zionists whose lists received only one mandate each for the community committee we decided to boycott the falsified results and not to take part in the community committee.

We would answer every call of the organized Jewish Community that fought for its rights in Poland and we participated in all the activities of the workers in the celebrations of the month of May and in the assemblies of graduates and of youth.


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After the events in Brisk (the known Pogrom), the party in Kobrin stood guard and made preparations for the market day, where according to the information that we received there were to be riots. The porters and the coachmen were organized and the authorities were also warned and they also took some precautions to prevent such events.

The party took care of a very lively cultural activity, there were evening classes, a people's university, lectures and meetings that always attracted a large crowd. The library flourished. There was a sports club with a lot of equipment “Hapoel.” This club was helped a lot by the teacher Zak and later M. Zobetzki. There was also a youth choir under the direction of Yitzchak Vinograd (who is now in America).

From the little rooms of the Prager house that became too small for our work and from the meetings in private homes where the party work was taking place in every part of town we moved to the Steinberg house, to one large hall and around it smaller rooms. Then the party received the halls of the school in the big house at the end of Traguta, in the same building where all the other zionist youth movements were centered. There the party developed and reached its peak until the Polish authorities, under the advice of some Jews who did not like our activities, forced us in 1938 to leave that place. Then we moved to the house of Pilcov and from there to a flat in the house of Kahntzipor in the center of town.

Then in the committee in May, 1939 on the eve of the war were Bentzi Pantul, Itche Pinchuk, Leibel Sirota (in Palestine) Avrasha Herman, Itche Stavski, Avraham Friedman and Chana Podrovski.

The Polish authorities tortured us and really caused us all kinds of difficulties. They would visit the library and confiscate books. We were forced to give a monthly financial account of all our activities that had taken place in the name of the party: In the “Pioneer,” “Brener Group,” and “Hapoel” and “Dror” and others. They would ask some of the factories to fire the people who were active in the party who worked for those factories. They were especially after Bentzi who worked in the place of Gurevitch. They wanted to forbid the appearances of Avrasha Herman who worked as a lawyer in the court. They were putting pressure on his patrons and tried to stop him from practicing. But despite everything we continued to work in every way possible until the beginning of the outbreak of World War II in 1939.


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On the 17th of September, the Russians entered Kobrin, after the Nazis left, after three days of occupation. The Zionist work in Kobrin was completely forbidden. Bentzi, Itche, Avrasha and most of the members of the party were under constant supervision of the Soviet authorities, and the party went underground. There was fleeing to Vilna which was the only way to immigrate to Palestine and the Zionist spark did not die. There was still some hope in the hearts of the Jews of Kobrin until the occupation by the Nazis and the war of Germany and Russia on June 22, 1941. From then on started the torturous dying, slow death of our Jewish community in Kobrin until it died completely.

Kobrin, one of the hundreds of such towns in Lithuania and in Poland, was made up of mostly working Jews struggling hard to make a living. The town lived as a small scale model that represented the Jewish life as a whole and all its different movements and colors. From the extreme right to the extreme left, from religious and traditional life to secular and free ones, to the schools and the libraries. There was something special, “Kobrinee,” about the relations and the fairness between all the parties and all parts of the town, despite the fact that each one worked in his own way for a better and nicer future for the Jewish people and the labor movement.

We still remember Kobrin, the town where we were born and were educated and we grew up and where we left all that we held dear and loved, our parents, our brothers and our sisters and all our relatives. Relations that were both family relations and also spiritual relations and among them hundreds of the party members and the youth and many thousands of supporters who raised the idea of national and socialist survival and a part of whom fought a heroic and desperate fight against the Nazis.

Kobrin, your streets and your houses, if they are still standing, what do you mean for us now? A place of horror and murder, of desperation, of tears and hurt over our holy ones! Who is now walking around in your streets that at one time were filled with Jews? Why were you not completely destroyed together with the destruction of your Jews?


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