Kremenets Election Headquarters
(From The Vohlin Collection, Book 1, 4 Tevet 5706 (December 8, 1945)
Avraham Levinson (Tel Aviv)
English Translation by Thia Persoff
The following words are but a bundle of memories, my recollections of the elections for the first Polish Sejm in Vohlin.
It was 1922. The Jewish politics consists of a bloc of minorities organized by Yitschak Grinboym. I remember that under his leadership, the foundation for the minority political bloc was laid at endless meetings in Warsaw. Apparently, the government did not appreciate the quantitative and qualitative value of all its minorities and clung to a policy of wait-and-see-how-things-develop. In the Jewish camp, too, national-patriotic awareness was underdeveloped among the members of the Union and the merchants, and they supported the bloc. The one group that did not join was the Folksists (founded by Noach Prilutski), which united with the Craftsmen Folksists (founded by craftsmen's guild chairman Chayim Rasner), but the Zionists among them supported the bloc. With all the nation's forces joined, victory in the election was assured, though no one had envisioned its extent 55 Jewish representatives in the Sejm and the Senate.
I remember that one day, in Lodz, my home town, I received a telegram from the Central Election Bureau in Warsaw, ordering me to go to Vohlin for a month to manage propaganda for block 18, my election district, where I was put forward as a candidate. This district comprised the towns of Kremenets, Dubna, and Ostrog, including the small towns between them: Radzivilov, Berestechko, Horchov, and others. My chances to be elected were none, as there were five candidates for the Sejm; I was in last place after four Ukrainians. And besides ours, there was a government slate, too. In the midst of the election eve's warlike atmosphere, I did not dare defy the bureau's order, and I left for Vohlin.
The headquarters for the election was in Kremenets, a lovely city framed by trees and high mountains. The chairman of the Kremenets election board was the attorney Binyamin Landsberg, a staunch Zionist, son of the old physician Dr. Arye Landsberg, also a Zionist.
I can see the old man in my mind's eye as if he were alive: goodhearted, pleasant to his fellow men, and knowledgeable in ancient Hebrew literature, too. Even today I still have in my bookcase the gift that he gave me for a souvenir Living Soul, by Menashe ben Yisrael. During the short recesses between the propaganda speeches, he would tell me about an eminent and respected honored Jew of the town named R' Yitschak Ber Levinson, who secluded himself in an attic, dreaming of Hebrew Enlightenment and of popularizing agriculture and crafts in Israel. He wrote also his books there, on one hand Zrubavel and House of Judah and on the other, Bloodless. Until recently, the house where RYBL lived in Kremenets was still standing. Among other people of merit who came from Kremenets, Landsberg recalled his memories of an active Lovers of Zion member and one of the first Zionists in Poland, Dr. Tovye Hindes, whom I knew well from his years of participation in Warsaw's Lovers of the Hebrew Language movement. In contrast to Dr. Landsberg, who still practiced medicine in spite of his advanced years but lived mainly in the world of his memories, his son Binyamin was young, alert, and very active; although busy with his law practice, he was devoted heart and soul to the needs of the community and Zionism. His dainty wife, Sonye, was at his right hand during the difficult periods of his life. Besides Landsberg, Frishberg, Goldring, Dr. Litvak, and others, all devoted Zionists, participated in the activities at that time.
[Translator's Notes: In Hebrew, Living Soul is Nishmat Chayim, and Lovers of the Hebrew Language is Chovevey Sfat Ever.]
Working on the election in Kremenets and its vicinity was not easy. In spite of the large amount of publicity in those areas, the notion of the Minority Bloc had awakened in the Jewish population painful, sad memories of the pogroms the Ukrainians had inflicted on them during their civil wars. As a result, it was difficult for the Jews of eastern Poland to accept the political coupling of the Jews and the hated Ukrainians. My political rival, N. Prilutski, who remained sheltered under the wings of the Polish Starosta, took advantage of these feelings, saying that his job was to save his district from the Ukrainian Iridenta.
[Translator's Note: Iridenta was the political party working to recover local Ukrainian regions that were under foreign control.]
But by chance the Starosta was from my hometown, Lodz, and a friend of my brother-in-law, so he refrained from standing in the way of my activities. Another psychological difficulty that worried me greatly was this: my political foe, Prilutski, who was known for his literary scientific work and well known to the public, was my bad luck a Kremenets native, and his whole family lived there at the time of the election. Not long afterward, it became clear that I had worried for no reason; the Minority Bloc, which had been established as a result of the Jewish fight against the reactionary Polish government, was so popular that all of Prilutski's close family members supported us. It came to the point where Prilutski avoided visiting his family when was in Kremenets and stayed in a private hotel.
I recall one of the mass gatherings held in the Kremenets synagogue close to election day: it was organized by the members of the Folksist Party, featuring Prilutski. Before he began his speech, the people demanded that he give me a chance to reply after he finished. He refused their request, and they reacted by heckling and making so much noise throughout the synagogue that he could not be heard. Having no choice, he agreed to allow me a half hour to reply. Prilutski's speech was generally cautious and polite. His first words proclaimed his good deeds for the betterment of the Jewish population and his scientific activities. The beginning of his speech made an unpleasant impression on me, as each sentence began with the word I. A large part of his speech was devoted to comparing the Folksist candidate in my district, the folk writer Hirshhorn, who already had made a name for himself in the Jewish-Polish newspapers, to the almost unknown Minority Bloc candidate, who had returned to Poland from Ukraine just two years ago. This, obviously, was not pleasant for me to hear.
This demagogic maneuver, which was meant to degrade and belittle the minority candidate, forced me to use the same maneuver, which I had always detested. At the end of his speech, my friends raised me above the heads of the assembly and put me on the pulpit (it was not possible to reach it otherwise because of the huge crowds). I was insulted by the speech. I climbed above the ocean of heads on every side onto the pulpit, where the carved, handsome Holy Ark stood high, and on it, the two holy tablets. The I of the first commandment spurred my first words. I negated the personal, boastful, and arrogant I compared with the carved I on the tablets. I pointed to the contrast between the Folksists' subjective program, which lacked a foundation of ideas, to the bloc's national, objective one. All votes for Zionism, I said, are votes for the establishment of the nation's immortality, a contribution of conscience and soul to the validation of the national freedom movement. All votes for a temporary party of individuals contribute to keren hatsvi a doubtful enterprise, meaning to Hirshhorn . The rest of my words were lost in the loud cheers of the crowd. When Prilutski came up to reply, he was met with a tremendous, resounding rendition of Hatikva, deciding the outcome of the election.
[Translator's Note: Keren hatsvi means horn of the stag. Putting your money or wares on the horns of a stag may cause it to get lost when the stag runs. This is a play on words, as the name Hirshhorn means stag's horn.]
The election campaign took about a month. The results were splendid: in this district, the bloc came away with a complete victory. All five candidates were elected to the Polish Sejm. This was achieved thanks to the national solidarity of the Jewish population of Vohlin.
I must point out that an instinctive love of Zion, Hebrew, and national freedom nested in the hearts of all the simple Jews in the Vohlin townships, the awkward and often jobless horopashniks, who were burdened with large numbers of children to support. This period in the Diaspora was a period of passage for them. I saw masses of Jews at the rallies in Kovel, Lutsk, Rozishche, Rovne, Korits, Ludvipol, and other small towns, I visited their almost empty stores and poor workshops, and I was always amazed at their spiritual awareness of what was holy and their financial contributions. Once I visited Beristechko, an amazing town where all the Jews spoke Hebrew, and most of their children immigrated to Israel at various times. One of the propaganda meetings, under the chairmanship of Dr. Forman, was dedicated to the United Israel Appeal. After his lecture, the assembly requested a recess, and as soon as I agreed, they disappeared, but soon returned and immediately piled a large mound of gold and silver coins, jewelry, religious articles, etc., on a table. That evening, a special envoy came from Horokhov to Berestechko and brought me an anonymous donation a sack filled with jewelry for the fund. And there is much more to tell about Berestechko.
[Translation Editor's Note: Horopashnik has not yet been translated. In Hebrew, United Israel Appeal is Keren Hayesod (literally, the Foundation Fund).]
More than 20 years have passed since my visits to the towns of Vohlin, and they still stand as large as life in my mind's eye: the kindly Jews who invested in the rebuilding of Israel, the best of its strength and wealth, the choice of her children her builders. My heart aches with the knowledge that we will never see them again.
May these pages be accepted as a memorial to this glorious Jewish community, which knew how to love, fight, build, and create, and assure it an honored place in the national creation for all eternity.
(From My Travels in Poland's Cities and Towns in 1928)
Rachel Amari (Tel Aviv)
(In the Diaspora Rachel Faygenberg)
English Translation by Thia Persoff
This time I went to the country's eastern border district. I wanted to see Vohlin. I reached the border and longed to visit Kremenets.
This city that dwells among mountains is like an enchanted, faraway corner somewhere in Switzerland. Each neglected, dilapidated Jewish shack here is stamped with a romantic quality. Each Jew here has a long pedigree and is a neighbor and relative of all the illustrious personalities who were in Kremenets, the pride and glory of the natives.
The crowning glory of Kremenets is R' Yitschak Ber Levinson (RYBL). In this town, there was Mendilzon the Vohliner, a veteran resident and property owner. Still alive then was a woman in Kremenets who remembered how the RYBL himself had talked to her. One morning, when she was a little girl about ten years old, he asked her as he sat by his door if she was earning something from the tailor who was teaching her the craft of sewing.
This old woman, whose parents used to live on the same street as the RYBL, would often see him sitting on the stoop of his house, bent over an open book. She also remembered that on the Sabbath, the Jews of the city would lift their curious eyes to his roof, checking his chimney for smoke, because they suspected that he lit a fire in his stove. Once a prominent squire came to visit him in a carriage. People in town said that he was an important minister from Petersburg, the capital. She also knew that the RYBL lived in poverty, but that later the enlightened people of Kremenets who were rich got together and arranged a monthly allowance for him, thereby assuring him a decent living. As far as she remembers, he always had a Christian manservant in his house.
The RYBL's house, small and painted blue, stands in the center of town. The partially blocked windows and reddish, rust-eaten door, which face the noisy, main street, make it look like a kind, pretty old lady, puzzled and astonished at the sight of all the innovations that have come about in this new world. But as soon as you approach the house, you see that the crooked, old building is squeezed between roofs and wooden poles, as if it is getting ready to walk with crutches under its arms ...
You enter through a narrow path, from which you see that R' Yitschak Ber Levinson's old nest is completely destroyed inside and out. The ceiling is bent out of shape, doorways are broken, and the wooden floor is full of holes. The house is full of broken household items and junk that used to be furniture.
The widow who sits in this blue-painted ruin, with windows that are white inside and look like a blind person's eyes from the outside, is bent and bored. But this miserable tenant, too, has an honorable pedigree. Besides the importance of being the tenant of the RYBL's property for years without paying rent to the Kremenets Community Council, she has another great privilege on her husband's side. He was a porter by trade, carrying heavy loads on his back all his life. At the same time, he was an educated man and an avid reader of Hatsefira. Their sons were highly educated, too, and although their father lived in poverty and hardship, he took extra care of his Hatsefira. He saw to the children's education in the Torah and the sciences and sent them to high schools and universities. Their son stayed in Russia, and their daughters are looking for jobs in Polish towns, their proud mother tells me. Everything in her humble home shows her pride in her educated children; it is full of their intellectual spirit.
[Translator's Note: Hatsefira (The Siren) was one of the first Hebrew newspapers of the 19th century.]
Among the cobwebs on the walls hang photographs of Ch. N. Bialik and Maxim Gorky.
Here and there are lines of drawing and painting made by the skillful hands of an art lover. A great number of books the new creations of young Polish and Ukrainian authors are strewn among the junk and dusty rags.
These are the kinds of neighbors that R' Yitschak Levinzon had. Learning and knowledge have not ceased in his old corner. Nor is his memory forgotten in town. On the hill, in the center of the Jewish community's cemetery, the gravestone of RYBL stands out. A poem in Hebrew is etched on it, the one he wrote for that very purpose many years before his death. In it he tells future generations of his fight for the ideas and opinions that were precious to him during his life.
This town flows with the romantic glamour of generations past. Its market street lies in the shadow of a mountain, which is crowned by a royal legend inspired by the ruins of a palace on its peak. The Jews of Kremenets have legends of their own they are kept modestly, and their contents are paved with spirituality and suffering for the sanctification of God's name. Culture and history are like heirlooms for them, to be passed down from generation to generation. In the Great Synagogue, on the stand, the ancient community journals and prayer books rest, beautifully handwritten in the artistic calligraphy practiced by students and writers in Kremenets and Dubna since the 16th and 17th centuries. In the open, for all to see, are the town's antique documents and those of the Jews from the surrounding area. It has never occurred to the leaders of the community that such precious things need to be well guarded and locked up, safe from rough and irresponsible hands. The late Mr. Anski noticed this while researching Jewish folklore during his travels through Vohlin's towns and villages. While he stayed in Kremenets for many weeks, copying the handsomely written old notebooks, he advised the people to guard their old journals, but they did not listen to his advice and continued to leave them exposed on the lectern. Among the people of Kremenets, they said, antiques do not disappear, nor do people consider them very valuable. Take a look at the bookcase of any decent, learned Jew, and you are likely to see a book that has been in the family for 200 or 300 years, sometimes even longer.
Indeed, the Jews of Kremenets have honored their people's history and it held dear. During World War I and the Great Russian Revolution, a group of soldiers formed a Communist Council. They wanted to remove the decoration in the synagogue of a crown with two lions, which they considered to be like the symbols of the nation they had just conquered. The Jews explained to them that they were ancient symbols originating in King Solomon's time, and the soldiers backed down and decided not to touch them. In Kremenets, this story used to be told during a relaxed conversation among the town's Jews, and, while enjoying a glass of tea in a nice house, the host would entertain his guest with a page from local community history, such as the free-loan ledger of the Benevolent Fund, which the upstanding citizens formed about 200 years ago to lend money interest-free to the poor for mortgages.
In that ledger, some other very interesting information was recorded for posterity, including a detailed list of the menu for the Society's yearly dinner, which consisted of 13 different kinds of food, among them stuffed chicken necks and gizzards. In the charter, an important paragraph about the members' social class states that membership is closed to professional craftsmen and their descendants.
During World War I, the Society lost its monies and had to rely on American philanthropists. The old members planned to write to the townspeople and say that even though they were American now, they should still remember their enchanted nights on Mount Bona. But the young members were not enthusiastic about the suggestion. The bourgeois laws were ignored as if they had been abolished, even to the point where the children of the Society members who had rejected the working class filled the ORT school of professional crafts, seeking to learn smithing and carpentry.
(From My Travels in Poland's Cities and Towns in 1931)
Rachel Amari (Tel Aviv)
English Translation by Thia Persoff
Again my travels took me to Kremenets, and again I took walks among her green-covered mountains. In the valley, the town shines white inside the ancient splendor of her arching city walls, built by generations past God-fearing Orthodox Jews and Christians.
In the center of the town rises the castle on Catholic Lyceum grounds, one of my local companions explains to me. The church and its many adjacent seminary buildings, containing schools with classrooms for various courses, are like a gated city that is locked away from the noise of the streets around it.
And here, a bit down and to the right, are the outer walls of the old synagogue. This, too, is a grand building, built in the old style to last for coming generations. Among Kremenets Jews, there is an old man whose seat in the place of honor by the eastern wall of this ancient synagogue is as assured, as he had personally inherited it from his father, according to the tradition maintained by the townspeople for generations. According to this tradition, the old man's father, who was a carpenter and one of the builders of the synagogue, received his salary of 3 pennies a day for five days only. The sixth day he worked for free, and that granted him the privilege of the honored seat by the eastern wall, a right of ownership for him and his descendants forever.
The sanctuary in the synagogue had windows with iron bars, left over from the kidnapping days when young Jewish boys were grabbed and taken to serve in Czar Nikolas I's army. The parents of the wealthy Jewish boys, as you know, bought their freedom, so only the poor suffered from the severity of the decree. People hired from the community would abduct the sons of the poor from their parents' low-class homes and hand them over to government agents. In that dark period, the Kremenets community was forced to make a prison for poor children in the sanctuary so that their desperate family members could not rescue them. In that room, there is still some evidence of the way the confined children were chained to tables and benches to prevent them from escaping when the door was opened.
Indeed, there is much that the walls of the old synagogue of Kremenets can tell about the past.
Here, in an alley shaded by trees behind the fortified walls of the Catholic Lyceum, lived the parents of Yuliush Slovatski, the great Polish poet, and his mother was laid to rest in the local Christian cemetery. Many visitors of all ages from all over the country come to visit her grave, with its freshly painted stone and a long inscription describing the life of the woman who gave birth to the Polish nation's renowned lyrical poet.
I lay the two white roses that are in my hand at the head of her stone, and we continue on our way.
We walk up the mountain to the ruins of the castle, which is adorned with a legend about an ancient queen who built a castle from which to reign on the top of this enchanted mountain in Kremenets.
Even today, young people and lovers favor the mountain's slopes for hikes and secret rendez-vous. In summer, the air here is saturated with aromas of fresh hay and apple blossoms from the nearby orchards. Soft, aromatic grasses cover the mountaintop. According to the legend, the princess still guards the royal palace ruins on the mountaintop; at midnight, she appears in the palace ruins, mounted on a horse and wearing a royal crown, a golden key in her hand.
The legend goes on to say that whoever takes the golden key away from the princess will find the abundant treasure that was hidden in that spot thousands of years before. To take the key, the person must be there alone exactly at midnight. So far, in the whole town, not one brave person has been willing to dare to make the midnight visit to the ruins, when the princess appears with the golden key in her hand.
They also say that, indeed, once a Jew in Kremenets risked his life to get the golden key, climbing up to the ruins at midnight. The next morning, his body was discovered at the foot of the broken wall. His coattail had become entangled with his cane when he stuck it in the ground as a marker that he had arrived there.
My touring companions give me all this information as we walk. We descend among gardens, orchards, and the whitewashed houses of the farmers, which lean on the mountain slopes, and we reach the highway leading directly into town. From one of the tour participants, who is the current Jewish representative on the Kremenets City Council, I learn that Jews did most of the work of paving those excellent roads. He and his colleagues on the council have invested a great deal of energy in accomplishing the goal of repairing the roads to help the residents of this mountain-dwelling town in their commerce with the outside world.
He, the Jewish representative on the Kremenets City Council, worried about the health of all residents, Jews and non-Jews. His great hope was to bring about order and comfort in the narrow, neglected alleys in the neighborhood near the old synagogue. But his hands were tied by the City Council's financial difficulties and mainly by the local Jews' declining economic situation.
Maybe you should try to take the golden key from the palace princess again? I asked him.
But he replied in very seriously, The golden key in this town used to be in the hands of the Jewish carpenters their excellent products were a source of generous income for local Jews. Kremenets was the furniture supplier for all of Vohlin's cities and towns. People made jokes about the pride Kremenets Jews took in their carpenters, and we made fun of ourselves, too, saying: Happy is the mother who is blessed with a son who is a carpenter.
It turns out that all this is history from the past, and the reason is well known. The lauded Kremenets carpenters have no one to produce for, as the impoverished Jews cannot afford to buy furniture and decorate their homes, and the non-Jews are openly boycotting Jewish products.
On a humorous note, at the same time, the economic leader of the local Jews adds some interesting information about his people. Once the Kremenets Jews and their families went on vacation in the local mountains. They did so for two lifesaving reasons: first, to save money, as the food was extremely inexpensive in the mountain villages, and the other, to eat their fill during the summer and gather strength for the great scarcity in the winter.
Smiling, he concludes, When you return to the Land of Israel, tell them that the revisions in Zionism are in the hands of eight-year-old children here, in our town. And, another important thing: because of unemployment and scarcity, our young people, too, are seeking education in the Polish government high schools, so that they can get diplomas
Indeed, the Jews of Kremenets have a strong desire for government diplomas. They are desired by sons, fathers, and everyone else.
The children in the orphanage also dream of education in the Polish government high schools and of diplomas.
Besides the tragedy of being orphans, those children have nothing to complain about regarding their lot in the institution called the Kremenets Orphanage.
They are not deprived of food, clothing, housing, or Jewish and general education, and they have excellent workshops in which to learn professional trades. Many children in this town who are blessed to live with their parents do not enjoy all the privileges of the wards of the community.
Nor does the Kremenets community itself have any complaints about the children who grow up in the orphanage. Everyone knows that they are good children who study hard. The drama troupe they established has made a name for itself in the town through its success on the stage and is well known now among the area's small towns. From time to time, the troupe goes to the Jewish neighborhoods in the vicinity to perform plays about the people's lives, earn a little money, and acquire some fame.
But in spite of all that, the wards of the Kremenets orphanage are not satisfied. In their opinion, to achieve equality in the community, they need an education in the Polish government's high school and the resulting diploma.
And the young people, boys and girls, charming and capable in the general and professional studies in the institution, look with suspicion at anyone who tries to tell them that this country's official high school diploma is not very valuable. The poor children are afraid that this happiness is denied to them because they are orphans.
Only the comedian among them jests about the Matura illness of the middle-class children, all of them wanting to be doctors so that they can snatch the golden key from the mountain-dwelling princess's hand. But they will not snatch the desired key. They will go from house to house looking for patients so they can earn a living, and in every house they will be told that they already have their own physician, as all young Jews will be doctors .
[Translator's Note: Matura refers to the exam taken at the end of secondary school.]
The town's comedians will tell you that the key for the treasure in the Kremenets mountains is already in the hands of Reyze the Whiner, as every season she just like the management of the orphanage receives dollars from people who used to live in Kremenets.
English Translation by Thia Persoff
Only a few of our townspeople were called by their given and family names. Most had nicknames. Generally, a man was called by his own and his father's name.
For example, Shaye Shilem's (Yehoshue son of R' Meshulam); Chayim Leyb Volf's, Duvid Pesach-Yosi's, Chayim Leyzer's, or Eli Chaykel's. Sometime he was called by his mother's or mother-in-law's name, as in Moshe Velis, Motye Chaves, or Yosi Henales. At times his lineage would reach back to the third and fourth generation: Motel Moshe Velis (Mordekhay, son of Moshe son of Velye) or Berish Beyle Berkis (that is, Berish, son-in-law of Beyle, daughter of Berke). And even Avraham Berish Beyle Berkis. This Avraham's daughter was called Chayusi Avraham Berish Beyle Berkis, namely, Chaye, daughter of Avraham, son of Berish, son-in-law of Beyle, daughter of Berke. You see, five generations were commemorated in one mouthful and one breath, so the girl's usual nickname was Chaye'le.
Sometimes a man was called by his wife's name, usually if she was the boss in his home, as it was for Moshe Chaye-Temis (Moshe husband of Chaye-Teme), Gedalye Tsimels, and Fayvush Chaye-Rikel's.
Other people were called by their or their father's profession:
Leyb Shochet (ritual slaughterer), Nachman Chazan (cantor), Shimon Melamed (teacher), Ayzikel Shlisale (Ayzik the Middleman), Chayim Gershon Shnayder (tailor), Pesye di Milkhike (dairywoman), Barukh Katsav (butcher), Mordekhay Stolyer (carpenter), Shlome Beker (baker), Yoel fun der Leyveent (of the linen a cloth seller), Chaykel Bayder (bath attendant), Rachel fun di Gendz (goose seller), Bavtse fun der Puter (butter seller), Menashe Shuster (shoemaker), Freyde di Miltshnitshke (flour seller), Mordekhay der Damske Shnayder (ladies' tailor), Pesach Kadushke (barrelmaker, or transporter of water in barrels. This was a many-branched family called di Kadushkes, or the barrels), Moshe der Agent (the agent), Nachman Zeygermakher (watchmaker), and also Heynikh dem Shochet's (the ritual slaughterer's son) and Moshe dem Rav's (the rabbi's son-in-law).
Some people were called by the name of the area where they lived or worked, in town or in their birth town. For example, Mendil funem Mark (from the market), Yosl funem Plats (from the plaza), Chayim Duvid funem Patek), Leybish fun unter der Bad (from below the bathhouse), Leyzer funem Dielavay Davar (from Business Matter Courtyard), Moshe Lanevitser, Duvid Shumsker (from the town of Shumsk), Berl fun der Vishnivitser Ragatke (from the Vishnivits suburb), Chaye Kokerover (from Kokrov village), Shlome Katerburger (from the town of Katerburg), Ezra Podkaminer (from the town of Podkamen).
The two rival rabbis also were called by the names of the towns they came from: the Krilovitser Rabbi and the Petrikover Rabbi. Their family names were known to very few in town only to the people closest to them.
There were two sisters-in-law in town with the same name. To differentiate them, one was called Shprintse di Grabe, and the other was called Shprintse di Groyse (Shprintse the Fat and Shprintse the Tall).
A whole list of Jews were called by animal names, some in jest and some affectionately, like Ayzi di Kie (the cow), Fayvush Kelvales (heifer man), Shmuel Oks (the bull), Yisrael Telitse (the calf), Yankel di Shof (Yakov the sheep).
Some names also were funny, and some were insulting: Leyb Atiets (the priest), Avraham Shpring-in-Bet (who jumps in bed), Duvid Parkh (the ulcer), Hirsh Leyb Pipik (bellybutton), Yoel Kishke (intestine), Moshe Tate (Daddy), Kalman di Mame (Mommy), Moshe Hipsh, Hirsh Mendil Amalek, and Yoshke Ponimayesh (who always adding a word to his sentences: Ponimayesh?).
[Translation Editor's Note: Hipsh is Yiddish for pretty or fine; a possible English translation here may be the colloquial great, meaning good. Amalek refers to a descendant of Amalek, grandson of Esau and enemy of the Israelites. Ponimayesh is Russian for understand.]
Diminutives were also used for some people in our town, some affectionately, and some disrespectfully: R' Velvele (the Rabbi), R' Hertsele (the Judge), R' Moshke'le (grandson of the righteous). And to differentiate him from them, the famous robber whose name spelled horror to young and old was called Lep'ki
A person who did not have any particular nickname was called by his first name (which was usually a combination of two names), without adding his family name. When you said Hirsh Itsik, or Hirsh Mendil, or Duvid Leyb, or Moshe Chayim, it was perfectly clear whom you meant. If you mentioned the family name, you only caused confusion and doubt about his identity. Truly, who needed to know the family name of Duvid Leyb the rabbi's son-in-law, Moshe Chayim the cantor and matchmaker, Shimon Chayim the builder and whitewasher, or Hirsh Itsik the hymn singer (his famous Today You Strengthen Us is honey sweet!).
[Translator's Note: In Hebrew, this hymn is HaYom Te'amtsenu, sung on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.]
A special way of life was reflected in the townspeople nicknames, which added a personal touch. The nicknames are one example of the local color of the town that was and is no more.
Sore Bat (Yagur)
English Translation by Howard Freedman and Michael Hirschfeld
There once was a village named Folvarki halfway between the towns of Kremenets and Katerburg.
It was a village like all the other gentile villages in Vohlin, the only difference being that the families of 20 Jewish farmers lived there. They were not tenants or grain or cattle merchants, but true farmers owners of farms that they cultivated with their own hands. This was unusual in the entire area. I do not know when they settled there or by what right their ancestors had settled there in spite of the prohibition against Jews living in villages, but it was a fact that they had lived there for many generations. The families had many children children who associated with the gentiles of the village but kept the Jewish flame alive. Furthermore, the younger generation was infected with Zionism and attracted to the Pioneer movement, and many immigrated to Israel. When the Pioneer movement spread to Kremenets and its environs and searched for places to train its members, Folvarki was chosen as a training site for scores of pioneers. They arrived for three to four months in the summer and were well received by the local Jews, who felt honored to train pioneers for the Land of Israel. The parents also yearned for Zion, and many made plans to join their children. But they did not have the heart to abandon their farms and native villages. When the persecutions came, the axe also fell on the small, innocent community of Folvarki. Some of the Jews refused to go to the Kremenets Ghetto as ordered, but they were overpowered and murdered in their homes. The rest, with their women and children, were exiled to the Kremenets ghetto and were killed with the rest of the local Jews.
I wish to commemorate my father and his family, who were murdered in their home village. The older children my two sisters and I had joined Pioneer and spent some years in several training kibbutzim until they immigrated to Israel. I remember that when I was in the training kibbutz in Verba, my father (of blessed memory) came to visit me. After examining the functions of the kibbutz, he expressed his astonishment that I had wandered off to Verba to whitewash houses was not his farm in Folvarki a more suitable place to train for agricultural work in the Land of Israel? Indeed, Father was right. But we were attracted to the Pioneer community and the training atmosphere. We left our quiet village and went to work in sawmills and quarries. After three of his daughters had immigrated to Israel, Father decided to immigrate, too, along with my mother and the remaining three children. He began preparations but was too late.
The gentiles in the village were wary of Avraham Bat, because on past occasions he had shown them his strength. When the end came, he decided to defend himself. In spite of his advanced age of 60, with a rifle in his hand, he and my brother Aharon fought the Ukrainian policemen who came to deport them to the Kremenets ghetto. My father killed one of the policemen. Then he and my brother Aharon were killed on the spot their heads cut off. The rest of the family was deported to the ghetto and killed on the day of the great murder: my mother, Chane-Rachel née Akerman, my brother Efraim, and my sister Etye. May their memory be blessed.
If there is a consolation for their deaths, it is that they fought and died in battle, and died the death of heroes.
Zev Shumski (Tel Aviv)
English Translation by Thia Persoff
For generations, the power struggle for the rule of the city of Kremenets (as for all of Vohlin) continued between Russia and Poland. It was a political, religious, and cultural struggle. Throughout the generations, the city was shifted from one ruling government to another; each tried to make its own imprint on her while erasing the previous one. The area of architecture the style of the buildings, courtyards, and streets was not exempt from this struggle. There is no doubt that the basic motif in the city's houses was the antique Polish style, which was preserved even during Russian rule. With the renewal of Polish rule in 1920, the Poles tried to preserve the antique national construction style as much as possible.
Did the original antique style follow set architectural prescriptions? No, not at all. This style just happened. It was apparently anarchic, and even so, it showed signs of uniformity.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, dozens of courtyard houses (dwarik in Polish) were built in the vicinity of the Lyceum in town, with its Baroque style, for the Polish aristocracy. Those courtyards were mostly on Slovatski Street, Directorska Street, and others; the houses, which had one or two stories, were located in the center of a large courtyard and surrounded by a large garden. Each had a protruding balcony with an outdoor staircase, a solid fence made of stone or wooden planks, a handsome gate, and, sometimes, a horse stable in the corner.
Although these typical houses had a definite style, they were not the ones that gave the city its general character. The many hundreds of houses belonging to the common people that were scattered all over the city's streets were what molded its shape. There is no doubt that those houses, which belonged mostly to Jews, were influenced by the courtyard style.
The houses were mostly small to start with, but as the children grew and married, they enlarged the house by adding to it or building a second story. Sometime one of the children would leave and sell his section to a different person. By then, the house had had more than one owner. Each one repaired, added, and made changes that were not consistent with the rest of the house. The result was a mosaic of many protrusions, balconies, sectioned roofs, secondary roofs, and varied covers to the roofs: wooden shingles, burned clay shingles. With the different sections painted in assorted colors, the houses took on a polychromatic look. None of this was planned; it was a natural development. Nevertheless, the town maintained a uniform construction style, as everyone built the way his neighbor did, and everyone saw the design of the courtyards around the Lyceum. The balconies were supported by a couple of wooden pillars and had low wooden banisters. Most of the roofs protruded out to the street, and a few steps led from the street up to the entrance to the house. There was a complete lack of symmetry. Windows and doors under the same sharply slanting and sectioned roof were placed at different levels. These motifs and their artistic disorganization gave the town its uniqueness an original style that developed in a period that had no architectural ambitions as yet but had simple, intimate construction with good proportions and favorable relations to nearby houses, resulting in a healthy feel and a sense of natural beauty and comfort at the same time. When you stood on Mount Bona and looked down over the town, you immediately sensed its special character: its great beauty, its profusion of gardens, and the inner harmony of its diversities. The multiple soft colors brightened the eye but were not harsh or bothersome.
In addition, one could find uniformity in the town's elegant buildings, the large public ones. The Great Synagogue building was identical to the church by the Lyceum. This is easy to understand, as the same architect built both at about the same time.
True, the town's houses were not modern, and when the new time came, during Russian rule, people began building differently: large, square houses of straight lines with no protrusions that were comfortable to live in but tasteless on the outside, reminiscent of barracks. The roofs were made of green-painted tin, and the fences were iron. In time, wealthy Jews purchased most of the courtyards, and when they added to them, they built according to the modern Russian style. Sometimes a person built an addition to his old house in a different style two styles remote from and foreign to each other in the same house.
After that, houses with different styles would meet in the same courtyard, and the Polish-Russian War would appear within the boundaries of one courtyard. At that time, large, multifamily buildings were being built as rentals, for which no one was concerned about style. It is noteworthy that in the poor section of town, the antique style was preserved, since people there did not make many basic changes. If they did change or add, they did not wander far from the original style.
When Poland redominated the town in 1920, the government immediately appointed a special conservator to ensure the preservation of the antique construction style. Polish architects were gnashing their teeth about the modern houses built in the last ten years, which were spoiling the city's tastefulness and beauty and the original style of its buildings. Zealously, the conservator tried to bring the old glory back to the town. If he had been given the permit he needed, he certainly would have razed many of those beauties destroying new buildings without pity. Since he did not receive the permit, he began by at least saving the remaining antique-style buildings. Each change in a door or window, a banister or cornice, required a special permit from the conservator, who was more concerned about the antique shape and style than the comfort of the people living in the house.
At any rate, the Polish architects thought that the city of Kremenets contained more well-preserved original antique-style buildings than any other city did, so much so that town's general character retained its own original style. The architects made the town a sort of center for disseminating the original Polish construction style. Each year an incursion of dozens of artists and painters spread all over the town's streets and its surroundings, painting the views and the old buildings. The authorities supported this project, and the visiting artists received stipends and boarded in the Lyceum's buildings.
What was the Jews' role in this war? They were a completely passive element. They liked the Russian style of simple, straight lines and inexpensive construction. The Polish opinion was that the Jews, and particularly the wealthy among them, had destroyed the city's style and so were very angry with them. As a result, the Jews saw the conservator's demands as a senseless edict. They were unsympathetic to his reasons and tried to circumvent him and his oppressive demands. This was another cause for friction, and here, too, the Jews were the third side whom each rival saw as his enemy.
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Updated 20 Mar 2013 by LA