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The Beginnings of Lenin

by Engineer Mordechai Zaitchik and Yitzchak Slutsky

(Adapted by Ben-Zion Furman, Tel Aviv)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

A.

We are unable to determine with precision the time of the founding of our town, and we cannot even provide exact statistics about its growth and development during its early days. We do not possess historical documents, for nobody thought of recording all of its annals and the details of what took place with its inhabitants.

From the inscriptions that are engraved on the tombstones in the old cemetery, from looking in the ledgers of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) and from discussions with elders of the town who heard traditions from their fathers and father's fathers – we can estimate that Lenin was the youngest of its neighbors: Lachwa, Dawid Grodek, Turow, Starobin and others.

What we do know is that at the beginning, the town as a small farming village whose residents were White Russians. Jews began to settle in that region only approximately 250 years ago, at the beginning of the 18th century. When the number of the residents of the village increased, it became a town.

The following are the proofs:

  1. In the Ledger of the Council of the Four Lands, in the place where it talks about the city of Pinsk and its environs, many towns in “Pulsia” are mentioned, including all the neighbors of our town – Lachwa, Dawid Grodek, Kozhan Grodek, Turow, and others. However, the name of Lenin was not mentioned among them; that is to say, it did not exist in those days.
  2. In all of the aforementioned towns, all of the residents, Jews and gentiles, were considered as and registered as burghers (Meshchani). Not so in our town – only the Jews were registered as burghers. The Christian residents were considered – until the latter days – as village farmers (Krastiani).
  3. The elders of the community relate that they heard from their fathers that 200 years ago, the Jewish residents of the town would bring their dead to be buried in the towns of Lachwa, Turow and Starobin. From this it can be deduced that in those days, Lenin had not yet been recognized as a town by the authorities, so the Jewish residents did not have the right to set aside a parcel of land as a cemetery.
Two elders who lived with us here in Israel – Reb Mordechai Julevitch of blessed memory, and, may he live, Reb Avner Yonai (Golub), relate that when they were approximately 40 years old, that is approximately 50 years ago,

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a wooden monument that was rotted at the bottom section was found in the cemetery, tottering and falling over one of the graves. Upon it was engraved the name of a person who was brought to burial approximately 40 years before the weakening of the monument. They were sure that this was the oldest monument in the cemetery. In their opinion, there was no Jewish cemetery in the city until the end of the first half of the 18th century. Only dead babies were buried in a small field in the center of town which was set aside for that purpose, apparently discretely and without the knowledge of the authorities. That is the almost square plot, approximately 10 meters by 8 meters, between the houses of Reb Eliahu Dolgin and Reb Mordechai Steinbok of blessed memory. That plot remained desolate until our day, for the townsfolk were careful not to step upon it or to do any work on it.

From all this, we can state with certainty that our town is at most 250 years old, and that prior to that, a small farming village named Lenin stood on the place.

 

B.

There are those that claim that the village was called its name after the word for flax, “lion” in Russian, which the farmers would grow in the bogs around the village. Others say that it was called thus after the name of a countess named Lena, the daughter or wife of the estate owner. The name was corrupted by the residents, who would call our town Liolin.

The estate of Lenin was large, approximately 40,000 square kilometers. It was situated between large regions on three sides – Slutsk, Mozir and Pinsk. These large areas were mainly covered by forests and waters – natural marshes, rivers and ponds.

The estate is situation mainly in the areas of Russia known as the Pinsk Marshes or the Pulsia Marshes.

Our town lies modestly in the forests, up to the boundary of this marsh region, as it seems to me. The route that leads northward from the town to the town of Starobin and from there to the regional center of Slutsk, approximately 100 kilometers long, passes by forests, fields and meadows – dry areas. This is not the case with the routes that go southward and westward from the town – to the train station of Mikaszewicze and the towns of Luchow and Turow: the forests, fields and meadows are surrounded by marshes and ponds on both sides. The Sluch River that begins near the city of Slutsk and upon whose banks our town is situated flows into the Pripet waterway 20 kilometers away, which cuts through the Pinsk Marshes in the center. During the rainy autumn days, and even more so during the melting of the snow in the spring, the Pripet River floods over very wide areas and cuts off the connection between the near and far settlements in these regions.

What was the merit of the village of Lenin, and what was its force to attract Jews who gathered to it from far off and nearby cities, both large and small, settled in it, and turned it into a town?

It seems that this was caused by its geographic situation. The Sluch River, the highway that runs through its entire length, and the location of the village at the gateway to the marshes and the forests – these factors helped

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to make this village as the center for the forestry trade and industry. The forest grew on its own from the soil of the marshes. Its treetops reached the heavens and its cuttings were thick. There were tall pine trees alongside solid, wide-branched oaks. Some distance away there was a grove of white birch trees, as if separate from the community of trees. Below these giants of the forest, sheltered in their shade, there grew fruit-bearing and non fruit-bearing bushes, broad ferns, and an abundance of all sorts of truffles and mushrooms.

At times, one of the old trees no longer had the strength to stand on its roots – it would buckle and fall down at an unusually strong wind, and remain in the marsh at its full height. There were no small number of trees that fell in the marsh soil. The foliage of one such tree would almost touch the roots of the fallen tree in front of it – and this would serve as a form of a bridge over the natural marshes for the forest animals and also for humans, the local children who were expert in walking over these partial planks. (During the Second World War, these also served the partisans who spread out through the Pulsian Forests.)

The large estate was originally owned by German noblemen. The elders know the name of the last German estate owner, Count Wittgenstein. He had no children and left the estate to his wife who sold it to a Russian man named Ogrokov.

The German estate owners partitioned small plots to those who came to settle in the town in order to build residential homes. These were in the valley that was between the pond and the banks of the Sluch River. At the beginning, these houses were small, poor, and crowded one against the other, since the entire length of this valley was not greater than 300 meters. The plots and their boundaries are listed in the ledgers of the estate on a very well crafted map. The residents had to pay modest lease fees, and they also had to pay a special payment for the right to obtain heating wood from the forests of the estate. It is obvious that this payment was collected according to the number of ovens in the building. Each resident who owned cows had to pay for a permit for each cow to allow it to graze. Summer was the time of harvesting blackberries, truffles and mushrooms. Each harvester had to pay a set fee for each measure. The guardians of the forest would confiscate the utensils and the harvested produce from anyone who was caught harvesting without a proper permit.

 

C.

During the time of the first owners of the estate – the German noblemen – the lumber business was concentrated in the hands of Jewish forest traders. As well, the production and supply of tar and turpentine was in the hands of Jewish manufacturers.

Until this day, every native of our town remembers positively the name of the forestry merchant Ben-Zion Ziklig. He was a wealthy and honorable man, and he did not hesitate to support his wide-branched family. He would travel abroad annually to deal with his forestry products that were floated on barges during the springtime.

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Mordechai Ziklig, the father of the aforementioned Ben-Zion, built a large house with many rooms in the center of town. It was surrounded by a large yard. All of the lumber and forestry merchants would come to his house.

From among the Jews who came to Lenin on account of their business and work, there were some who settled there permanently. With the passage of time, the families consolidated according to their places of origin. It was possible to accurately ascertain the place of origin of every family.

The following families came from Slutsk: Slutsky, Gryov, Dolgin, and Rubinstein. The following families came from Starobin: Starobinsky and Chinitz. The Zikligs came from the town of Lachwa, and until our day were registered officially as residents of Lachwa. The Horodichkys came to us, of course, from Dawid Grodek.

All of these contributed to the unique character of our town, which was different from the character of other Jewish town. Aharon Singelovsky described this in brief: “A town without a market place, without the stalls and booths of peddlers, and whose small number of shopkeepers were not shopkeepers but rather scholars, intelligentsia, and honorable citizens.”

Chaim, the father of Herzl Paperno, and his wife Charna Chana, who came to our town from the city of Bobruisk, were the first shopkeepers. It is said that he traveled to the city of Volozhin and asked the Rosh yeshiva to choose a groom for his granddaughter Sara Leah the daughter of Herzl Paperno. The Rosh Yeshiva selected a diligent student, Reb Zalman Shmolkin, a native of Slutsk. He was called Zhama by our townsfolk. With the passage of time, he acquired a vast amount of erudition. At times, he would say jokingly: The elder Reb Chaim Paperno, the father of his father-in-law Herzl, was appointed over the Hamelitz newspaper. He read it from Alef to Tav and did not skip over even one dot or punctuation mark. He would explicate the newspaper and read it with great devotion, starting from the word “Hamelitz” and ending with the last word and last dot in the last article: “London 15.10 the fifteenth of the tenth month, two stripes”[1]

The old woman Chana, the widow of Reb Isser Nakritz-Shalo, who died on the 21 of Cheshvan 5714 (1953) at the age of 84, told us that she heard from her grandmother of the Braker family, that when they arrived in the town from Slutsk, and she went out on the street for the first time on the day after she arrived, she returned to her home perplexed and said, “What is this?! A terrible plague has apparently taken its victims here. Go out and see that all the townsfolk that I have seen go around without shoes on their feet. They walk around in socks like mourners.”

Indeed, according to the stories of the elders, many of the poorer residents of the town would trod through the mud in the street in those days barefoot in the summer, and in the winter with a type of reed shoe made from wooden wicker fibers upon their feet that were covered with rags, in the manner of the village farmers of Pulsia to this day. As was customary, towns used to ascribe nicknames to their neighbors, as a form of recognition. Perhaps it was for this reason that the residents of our town were nicknamed Leniner Lapties”. (“Lapti is a reed shoe in Byelorussian).

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D.

Until the 1870s, the fate of all Jewish towns in the Pale of Settlement of Russia was similar to the fate of our town. Aside from a small number of well-to-do people and one or two how almost became wealthy, poverty and backwardness pervaded in the town. Epidemics broke out on occasion and felled many victims. There was no physician in town, and not even an experienced medic.

The few elders of our town still recall the cholera epidemic that broke out in our town 80 years ago. They related that as the disease spread throughout the town, and there was no house where there was not a death, they began – as was the custom in those days – to examine the deeds of their friends, to try to figure out whose sins had caused this great disaster. They searched and found – and hatred, dispute and slander pervaded in town. Despite this, they found wise people who advised that rather than investigating sins and sinners, it would be better to investigate the sanitary state of their bodies, homes and yards. Many listened to their advice. The elders state that before eating, many people did not suffice themselves with washing their hands according to the laws of the Code of Jewish Law, but rather washed their hands with alcohol.

As in all Jewish towns in those days, fires broke out on occasion. Since there were no fire extinguishers, the fire spread quickly to the straw roofs, and consumed house after house within moments.

However, the residents slowly overcame the afflictions that came upon them. After every fire, the town was rebuilt and even improved somewhat. New wooden houses were built. The straw roofs gradually diminished until they disappeared completely and were no longer found atop Jewish homes. In our days, the roofs were already made out of wooden shingles.

In 1891, something occurred that brought an economic improvement and general progress to the town. The large estate that was, as had been stated, in the hands of the German dukes and barons, was sold to a Russian man named Stefan Feodorovitch Ogrokov.

Thus did a new era begin in the annals of Lenin.


The Estate

by Yehuda Grinberg of Argentina

Translated by Jerrold Landau

As I recall my dear town of Lenin – which was called Liolin by the Jews – and its good hearted citizens, my heart rejoices that I too was numbered among its residents. The Jewish community consisted of approximately 120 families, which is 700-800 souls. The earned their livelihoods as merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, craftsmen and porters.

Until 1891, the town and its environs were owed by Princess Hohnloha, scion of German royalty. However, the Russian government passed a law in 1890 stating that only Russian citizens have the right to own real estate in that land, and that all land owners are required to obtain Russian citizenship. This was not pleasing in the eyes of the German princess, so she sold her large estate

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which was upward of 35,000 square kilometers, to the Russian citizen Stefan Feodorovitch Ogrokov.

That year, a new landowner came to the town along with his workers and officials, who were headed by two Jews, Semion Perelovitch and Grinberg. When they arrived, the previous residents had not yet vacated their residents, so Ogrokov and his men lived in the house of Ben-Zion Ziklig for a year and a quarter. In the interim, the buildings were vacated and renovated according to the tastes of Ogrokov and his people.

The estate of Ogrokov extended for very wide areas in the three directions of Mozir, Sluts and Pinsk. Its forests were the largest of the forests in the region of Minsk. New orders were established in the estate, and it was divided into three administrative areas: Lenin (the central administration) Chuchovitch and Dyakovich. Ogrokov purchased the estate for 1,100,000 rubles. He only paid a portion of this in cash, and he owed the rest through contracts payable at specified times. Within a brief period, he was not able to meet his debt, and officials of the executive office often came and seized large portions of his property.

They began to search for sources to cover the debts. Semion Perelovitch, the Jewish manager, brought his brother Yaakov Perelovitch, a well-known merchant, for this purpose. He organized a sort of partnership of forestry merchants, which included Yaakov Rogovin of Minsk, Moshe Leb and Pinchas Kaplan of Lachwa, and others. They began to cut down trees in the forest, and in exchange, they paid Ogrokov's debts.

Thus did our town develop economically in the realm of practical work. Porters were employed and paid well. When they could not do all the work, wagon drivers came from nearby towns. With the passage of time, some of them settled in Lenin. The few shopkeepers who were always short of customers slowly strengthened and began to earn more income.

An era of economic success came to the town, to the point where it aroused the jealousy of nearby towns. The porters of the town were from three families.

a) The Baruch family, consisting of five brothers – Mordechai Leib, Isser, Yehoshua, Zelig and Yaakov, all of blessed memory. Each one of them was married, had children, and was an honorable householder in the town. The family ties among the brothers were strong. Some of them maintained the transportation link between the town and the Mikaszewicze train station. They were men of culture and politeness, and knew how to conduct pleasant conversation with the travelers during the journeys that were fraught with obstacles. Some descendents of these families are living in Israel.

b) The family of Yechiel HaKohen Timkin, which also consisted of five brothers. One of them, Zecharia, lived in Malakhovitch. The brothers Moshe, Hershel, Chaim and Yehuda, as well as the daughters Bluma, Mina and Leah lived in Lenin. Their father excelled at hosting guests. The doors of his home were opened wide to any passer-by and to anyone who was hungry or thirsty. Descendents of this family also live in Israel.

c) The family of Yechiel Zaitchik.

On a summer's day in 1897, Mordechai Ziklig came from the “office” where the only official

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of the Jewish residents of Lenin worked, and spread the news of the death of Ogrokov. He said that the “office” would be closed for a month in observance of a period of mourning for the death of the owner of the estate. The elder Ogrokov left behind a son, and the estate of Dyakovich was divided among his three daughters. At the conclusion of the mourning period, Ogrokov's son came to the office, accompanied by a group of workers and officials, and he appointed Pangalos as the manager of the office. This manager began to institute new orders in the conducting of the forestry business. His first deed was to distance the Jewish merchants and to cut off business links with them. He felt that the “office” itself and its administrators were able to conduct the forestry business, the flotation along the river and the business outside the country. However, it did not work out as he planned. He failed. The management of the office and its business was transferred to the hands of a manger named Charushachov, the brother of Ogrokov's brother-in-law. However, he had no more success than his predecessor. In the wake of these definitive failures, the younger Ogrokov came and appointed a Jew, Lazer Pavelovitch Levin as the office manager. At this time, well-known forestry merchants came and established contact with the “office” These merchants included Mr. Lobzinski, the brother-in-law of Chaim Weizmann[2], and the well-known merchant Gur-Aryeh from the city of Kremenchug. Thus did a period of success return to the town.

Levin was a Jew in heart and soul. He would attend the synagogue and attempt to draw the Jews of the town near. He lived for a long time in the home of Ben-Zion Ziklig. Later, he moved his family to the town and lived in one of the buildings of the “office”.

Proper protocols were maintained in the estate during the time of the management of Lazer Levin. Experienced workers from different nationalities were invited – Germans, Frenchman, Jews and also Latvians, who new the business of cutting trees. The estate was divided into quarters. He began to dry the marshes of the estate. This work employed many workers who dug many conduits so that the water that covered the marshes could drain away.

He managed the office in a liberal spirit. He sent Avraham, the son of the cantor and shochet Yisrael, to study music in a conservatory. Along with him, he sent a young, talented Russian to study agriculture. Both of them had their tuition paid by the “office”. The management of Levin set a tradition that pervaded even under the Russian administrators that followed him – where someone with a Russian name was not shown any favoritism over someone of a different nationality.

Later, he brought a new official to the “office”, Zelig Singelovsky, who lived with his family in the town for several years. During his tenure, he spread his spirit upon Lenin, he influenced it only positively, and contributed greatly to the raising of its cultural level. The Singelovsky children (the only daughter Sara and five sons Yehoshua, Yaakov Nachum, Shachna and Aharon[3] studied in high schools in large cities throughout the year, but they would return home for festivals and holidays and bring the spirit “of the wide world” with them. The youth would awaken when they would come, and many of them would come to hear news from them. Indeed, they had what to tell.


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Sources of Livelihood and Economic Existence

by Mordechai Zaitchik

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Shortly after the end of the First World War, during the years 1922-1926, many stores opened in our town. They literally sprouted like mushrooms after a rain… A store was opened in every home, in every entranceway or hallway – whether for linens, haberdashery, groceries or fruit (a few apples or pears – this was also a store!). For the most part, these stores were general stores so to speak, which sold good of all types: starting from needles, salted fish, to linens and shoes.

However, the situation did not last for a long time. Simply, there were not a sufficient number of purchases in our town for these stores. They closed one after the other. Those that remained continued on until the last day of our community.

Aside from commerce, the residents of our town were involved in other trades such as: carpentry, building, tailoring, shoemaking, blacksmithing, teaching, peddling in the villages, etc. Of course there were also those who were unemployed.

On account of the forests that were found in the area around our town, there were those who were involved in the forest trade and everything related to it. A plywood factory was opened in the neighboring town of Mikaszewicze which also employed many Jews of Lenin.

The Breakdown of the Jewish Population by Profession in the 20 Years Following the First World War

Profession or TradeNumber of families
earning their livelihood
  
Merchants and shopkeepers140
Builders and carpenters115
Tailors and hatmakers90
Blacksmiths, tinsmiths, watchmakers and mechanics95
Shoemakers and sewers85
Forest workers and supervisors70
Physicians, pharmacists, lawyers, teachers and clergymen85
Plasterers, painters, simple workers65
Wagon drivers85
Butchers50
Temporary workers, unemployed, those supported from America190
  
Total1,070

As this table demonstrates, 81% of the population earns its livelihood from all types of trades. The rest live from unsteady work or support from family in America.


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Until the First World War

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The Appearance of the Town Until the Year 1910

by Mordechai Zaitchik

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The main street passed by the area between the Sluch River and the pond that is adjacent to it, which was the most populous part of the town. It was completely populated by Jews. The old synagogue stood in the area of the center of town. The homes of the rabbi and other members of the clergy spread out around it, and next to them were the bathhouse and the mikva (ritual bath).

For some reason, this center was located in a muddy area, and all of the sand wagons that stumbled in it were not able to manage. Even during the summer, when the land had dried up around it, the mud reached to the knees. In the fall, one could only traverse the alleys in this center of town with tall rubber boots. On the main street, opposite the synagogue, a walkway make of thick wooden planks was constructed leading from one end of the street to the other, and ditches were dug on both sides – but the mud stood in its place.

It should come as no surprise that our town was not noted for its cleanliness. Pigs and goats wandered through the street, going wherever they wanted to. Goat dung would sully the few sidewalks, the porches and the corridors. The estate owner Milnarich only changed his mind and forbade the raising of goats in the town about 40 years ago.

Behind the main street and parallel to it was the Street of the Gentiles. It was according to its name: White Russians lived in it, and only at the end of the street, at the shore of the pond, live the Ziklig brothers who were nicknamed the “Bruches” after Baruch the son of David Ziklig. There was a lot of deep mud on this road as well. The end of the street facing the pond, where the brothers, the sons of Baruch lived – was better than this, for it was dry during the summer.

 

Len021.jpg [25 KB] - Podlipya Street
Podlifia Street in the spring, at the time of the melting of the snow

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The third street in the town, Podlifia Street, was located parallel to the pond, starting next to the bridge of the pond. Jews lived on about half of the street, starting from the end near the bridge. Christians lived from the middle until its other end. The new synagogue stood on that street, not far from the main street. At the beginning of the spring, when the snow and ice melted, the corner of this street was covered with water. At times, the only access to the synagogue was with a raft or barge.

The inn of Zalman Shmolkin stood on the other side of the bridge, next to it. After it was the poorhouse, which later became the fire hall, which housed small fire engines and 2 or 3 small barrels. This hall and the firefighting utensils which were located there were under the command of Chaim Shuster, who organized the fire brigade. He was fully involved in this, and regarded this activity as his life's work.

From that point onward, there was a non-built-up section on both sides of the road until the town hall (Volost) and the home of Dov-Ber Bruchin which was opposite the town hall. At this point, the road leading to the Mikaszewicze Train Station branched out southward. There, there stood a lone house with a smithy next to it – the home and workplace of Reb Yisrael Gelinson the smith. Further on there were about two more lone houses. There were other smithies at the edge of the city, farther on from the town hall and the home of Dov-Ber Bruchin.

After the First World War, the city spread out from its narrow bounds between the pond and the river. New, large wooden houses were built across the bridge, as a continuation of the main street. As well, residential houses were built on both sides of the road to Mikaszewicze. Lachwa Street took on the form of a veritable street.

The built up area over the bridge was better than the area between the pond and the river. The streets were cleaner, and there was no mud on them.

In “Ruska Yevreiska Encyclopedia” (The Russian Jewish Encyclopedia) we find that the town of Lenin, in the region of Mozir, province of Minsk, had a population of 1,173 people in 1873. 753 of them were Jews, comprising 64.2% of the population.


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During the Years of the First World War

by Mordechai Zaitchik

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The outbreak of the First World War did not have a special impact upon the population of the town. Many of the youth of our town were drafted to the army. During the war, older men were also called up, but not in great numbers. The town itself did not suffer at all from military action. The front was far enough away from the town. Only when the regime changed from time to time – to the Russians, the Germans or the Poles – were lone shots heard. Quiet pervaded immediately. The population lived without fear of the Poles and Germans, even though they were strange in their language and customs.

At first the Russian army, headed Commandant Kozachinski, rules our town.

This commandant was handsome, but very exacting and strict. He was prepared to administer beatings for any small matter. Therefore, when he was even seen in the street, coming out of his residence in the home of Avraham Yitzchak Chinitz, people

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would flee and hide from his face. During the time of his rule, the boulevard was removed from the main street, but the trees were not uprooted. Commandant Pashkovski came at the conclusion of his rule. Like his predecessor, he had a wonderful temperament[4]. Once during a service that was conducted in his presence in the Old Synagogue, he was presented with the gift of a cake…

Commandant Pashkovski remained in the town even after the war.

The Germans did not remain in town for a long time. They caused no troubles and unpleasantness, and the population got accustomed to them. To the population, it made no difference who was ruling the city. The main thing was that they would not be cruel. The wish of everyone was that the war should end quickly, and the draftees should return to their homes.

The entrance of the Poles left a harsh impression upon the townsfolk. They prepared for their arrival for several days. Everyone hid in the cellars – at times several families in one cellar. In the interim, they would spend time together and tell each other various stories.

In the morning, when we peeked outside, we saw the Poles entering the town, shooting with their guns and running along the length of the street next to the houses. At that time, the Russians retreated to the other bank of the Sluch River.

The Polish army set up their field kitchen next to the well that was adjacent to the Old Synagogue. The soldiers knocked on the doors of the homes requesting milk, eggs, etc. Nobody could understand their language, except for the wife of Shlomo (Tatel) Aka.

They were busy most of the time with cleaning their quarters, smoking and even playing cards. They would be very noisy when they talked among themselves – or perhaps it only seemed that way to us, for we did not understand their language.

As is known, the Polish army ruled over our city twice. After the first conquest, they were thrown out by the Bolsheviks who pursued them to Warsaw. After the “Miracle on the Wisla River”, the Poles pursued the Bolsheviks to Kiev.

Every situation of change was generally unpleasant. There were exchanges of bullets, and it was necessary to guard the horses and cows from confiscation by the army. Therefore, people would bring their animals together in the forest under the protection of the shepherd in the forest, and the women would go out twice a day to milk them. At night, a group of men would go out to the forest to guard them. They would light a bonfire there, and sit and talk by the light of the fire. On such nights, the sounds of machine guns could be heard from the bridge over the Sluch River.

As in all places in the country, two revolutions passed over our town in 1917.

Even we students marched in the parade with revolutionary songs in our mouths and various placards in our hands. We had barely absorbed what had taken place, but we were very impressed by the bands that appeared in our town for the first time, and the singing of the “International” from the porch of the only two story house in our town.

At the end of the war, the Lan River next to Shiankievitz, approximately 20 kilometers west of our town, as established as the provisional border between Russia and Poland. Our town was provisionally within the borders of Russia.

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Rumors spread that the border would be set in the center of our town, which would divide the pond into two: one portion would be for Russia and the other portion for Poland. The people of the town were uncertain on which side to remain, and did not know which would be better.

During that era, there was not yet a serious guard at the border, and many families from the Russian side (including families from Lenin) crossed the Lan River and immigrated to America.

After the peace treaty was signed in Riga, the Sluch River was designated as the border, and as a result, Lenin remained within the borders of Poland. Border guards were placed on both sides of the bridge: Russian guards on one side and Polish guards on the other.

During the first years, the guards were not very strict. Many people took advantage of this and stealthily crossed the border back and forth. Later, they became stricter.

Public schools as well as evening schools for adults were opened in our town, for the government was interested in teaching the Polish language to the population. Even so, most people continued to speak Russian. Even in the Gmyna (local council) the officials were forced to speak Russian with the farmers who came to arrange their affairs.

During the first years after the war, bands of robbers wandered through the routes in our vicinity, as in other vicinities. They attacked stores and pillaged them, especially in the village.

In the first years following the war, many Jews who were residents of the villages of the region, such as Zalytycze, Hryczynowicze, Grabow, and others, moved to our town. This was because of the attacks of the robbers who threatened the security of their lives and property, for they were isolated from the gentiles in the village. Aside from this, there was an additional benefit with the town, in that they could live among Jews. There were synagogues, a rabbi, and the rest of the clergy that was necessary to live a Jewish life.

At the beginning of 1939, the population of Lenin was comprised of the following:

Jews1,070
Byelorussians and Russians900
Poles40
Others30
 _____
Total2,040

The Christian population grew through natural increase, for almost nobody of them immigrated to other countries. However, the Jewish population also grew through natural increased as well as the families who moved to our town from the villages.


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Between the Two Wars

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The Influence of the Border on Life in the Town

by Mordechai Zaitchik

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The geographic situation of our town, located on the Sluch River which served as the boundary between Russia and Poland from the end of the First World War until 1939, greatly influenced its development.

First of all, there was a constant curfew imposed on the town, restricting anyone from being on the streets from the early hours of the evening until the morning. People who lived outside of our town had to obtain a special permit from the regional authorities in Luniniec, so that they would be able to enter the town. This law applied to merchants as well as relatives of the residents who wished to remain in the town for some time. The permit was only given for a restricted period. Of course, this situation had an influence in the economic development of the town.

There were great difficulties when the youth wished to put on a performance. The play had to be translated into Polish and presented to the censor for authorization before a permit would be granted, despite the fact that the same play had been performed elsewhere in the country without any restrictions. This was the situation as well with presentations from independent powers or speakers from outside.

Despite the fact that the border guard was sufficiently strong, there were incidents where people crossed back and forth over the border.

From time to time, there were incidents where a horse or some geese crossed to the other side of the border. Telephone negotiations took place between the two sides, and a special delegation arrived that was permitted to return the lost animals to their homes.

On the great Christian festival (Kraszciania)[5] that took place on January 19 according to the new calendar, farmers from the entire region went out to the Sluch River to collect holy water in bottles. Farmers would also gather together on the Russian side, and thereby families and relatives who were separated by the border would meet. However, with the passage of time, the authorities on both sides forbade this. After some time, a definitive ban was issued on bathing in the river, which at first was restricted to a specific place. Indeed, individuals were able to obtain permits for bathing, but it was especially difficult for Jews to obtain such permits.


[Page 27]

Border Changes at the End of the First World War

by Anonymous

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Until the First World War, nobody from our place had heard of incidents of murder – and if anyone would have heard they did not believe such. The Christians of our place, White Russian farmers, were people of peace and toil. Understanding relations prevailed between them and their Jewish neighbors. The Jewish residents did not complain about the relationship of the Christian residents to them. Nobody hesitated to go out alone on a journey or to traverse the thick forests by wagon or by foot.

[Page 28]

Nobody thought that danger awaited them from his fellow. On the contrary, if one encountered someone on his journey, they would be happy to meet and enjoy the opportunity for conversation.

However, things changed after the First World War. Freed soldiers returned home after the First World War. Their hands were sullied with the blood of the enemy and their feet had trodden on the corpses of the fallen. The blood of man had become cheap.

Nevertheless, it was not people from our town who started the deeds of murder and the spilling of innocent blood. Rather, the Poles who came to us through their conquest started this. During their first retreat, when they were being pursued to the neck by the Bodyuni Army, they left a trail of blood in their wake: they pillaged, set cities and villages on fire, tortured, cut off and plucked out beards of the elderly, and spilled blood. They murdered Aharon Slutsky from the village of Puzicze with great torture. They tied him by his hands to the shaft of a wagon, to which was hitched a yoke of galloping horses. The man was dragged and rolled for several kilometers along the road until he died. He was found crushed and maimed after a few days, and brought to a Jewish burial. They did not merely cut off with scissors the beard of Avraham Rubinstein, an upright and righteous man, but rather literally plucked it out with a dull sword… When the Jewish residents of the town saw that evil was befalling them, and that death was awaiting them at the hands of the cruel murderers, they fled for their lives along with their children to the forests. They wandered around for seven days and seven nights, frozen with the cold and ice, hungry and thirsty, until they found out by chance that the Polish army had retreated and also burned the wooden bridge behind them. Only then did they return to their homes, which they found empty. The pillagers did not leave any food behind, not even a spoon or a knife. The ovens were dismantled, and the books were torn, with their pages scattered on the floor.

The Bolsheviks chased after the Poles and arrived to the suburbs of Warsaw. Then a sudden turning point took place – the Poles called this historical event the “Miracle on the Wisla River”. The Bolsheviks began a panicked retreat, and the Poles, drunk with victory, chased after them and returned to us. The fear of death overtook the Jewish settlement, for we had heard about the atrocities of the Polish brave men[6]. 37 notable men of Pinsk were stood up against a wall and shot for no reason. Indeed, it was not for naught that we were afraid: the evil reached us as well. In the village in Czimszwice, approximately 8 kilometers from our town, the Poles found a “Bolshevik spy”, who was a resident of that village, the Jew Orihyu, 60 years old with a long beard, a righteous and upright man. He was taken from his home along with a Jewish youth. They were brought through the town, before the eyes of the residents who were weeping for him in the privacy of their hearts (so as not to bring suspicion onto themselves, Heaven forbid, of supporting a “Communist”). He was brought to the Mikaszewicze train station and shot to death. Nobody knew the reason for this. To add to the fear, news arrived about the murderous partners of the Poles, the “Balchow” gangs who came along with the Polish army or in its wake and perpetrated mass murder upon the Jewish resident with such cruelty and wickedness that anyone hearing about this would have his hair stand on end and blood freeze in the veins.

Deep sorrow and heavy mourning enveloped our town when the news arrived of the murder of 18 young people who went out of the city of Turow to cross over to the Zytkowiczei train station. They included two sons of the Lenin resident Mr. Eisenstat, and Eliezer Kolpanitsky. A few days before this, Eliezer left his home and traveled to Kiev to continue his medical studies at university. On the way he heard about the Balchow gangs that were approaching our town. Apparently, his conscience did not permit him to leave the town, his parents, family members and all the residents of the town

[Page 29]

during the time that the danger of death was hovering over them. Eisenstat's two sons and 15 other young people from nearby towns did the same. When the rabbi of the city of Turow found out about the plans of these youths, he summoned them to visit him and begged them not to go out on the journey, for death would be stalking them with every step. However, the youths could not be convinced. They were afraid about what was taking place in their homes. They went out on the journey and fell into the hands of the Poles who accused them of espionage (in their manner of that time to accuse of espionage any Jew who was found outside his area of residence). All 18 were taken to be shot.

Many of the Christian youth of our area joined the Balchow gangs of murderers. Most of them were liberated soldiers who returned home after the war and were unable to or did not want to return to the pattern of their former lives from the time of peace. After the Balchow gangs were dispersed, these youths returned to their villages, with the desire for robbery and murder in their hearts. Then difficult times came upon the residents of our town, and sevenfold difficulties for the Jewish residents of the nearby villages.

The family of Aharon Migdalovitch waited anxiously for the return of their son Yitzchak after he had been absent from the house for a long time – but in vain. A shepherd came after several months and informed them that he saw the remains of a human skeleton lying in the forest. His parents immediately went out along with many other residents of Lenin to the place which the shepherd mentioned. That day, we saw a vision that was terrifying to the heart and soul. The people returned from the forest with lowered heads as they accompanied the father and mother who were carrying the remains of their son Yitzchak in an apron.

During those days, the Red Army and the Polish Army reached a ceasefire agreement, and the sat down in the city of Riga to negotiate the conditions of peace and the establishment of boundaries. They negotiated there for approximately a half a year. In the interim, a provisional border was established on the Lan River about 20 kilometers west of the town. A 15 kilometer wide strip on both sides of the border was established as a neutral area. Many of the villages that were connected with our town, including the village in which we were born, became part of that lawless area. Who can describe he suffering and tribulations of the residents of that area – especially of the Jewish residents?! Divisions of he Polish Army or bands from the White Army under Polish protection entered and inquired about who had offered assistance to the Red Army, or who was suspected of this – and the people were taken out to be killed with cruel deaths. After some time, these bands fled for their lives, and divisions of the Red Army came in their place – they demanded that the tables be placed near the window so that they could set up machine guns. They would open fire for no particular reason, and investigated if there were any counter revolutionaries in the village. This division would leave in the middle of the night, and toward morning, another gang would come, and so on…

There were farmers who found it appropriate to offer assistance to the handful of Jews in their village. They dressed them in farmers' clothes, brought them into their homes, and kept them together with their family members. They did this discretely and secretly so that this would not be known to the bloodthirsty youths.

Finally, the two sides signed a peace treaty in the city of Riga, and the border was moved from the Lan River to our Sluch River. We remained in the bounds of Poland. We were cut off from the city of Starobin and other nearby cities that were close to us, and many of whose residents were our relatives. However, this also worked out for the best. We awaited the worst. Rumors spread that the border would pass through the pond, and that the city would be split

[Page 30]

through the middle. There were those of us who took these rumors seriously and debated, while there was still time, which side of the border it would be best to live on.

After the border had been established according the Riga peace treaty, it seemed that peace and quiet prevailed in the land. The Polish government began to impose order in the country. The activities of the government were noticeable in our town as well. A public school was opened whose purpose was the imparting of the Polish language to the border town.

Nevertheless, the desire for robbery and murder by the young villagers who were remnants of the Balchow gangs of murderers were expressed discretely and secretly. An anonymous force organized these beings into gangs whose purpose was to carry out deeds of terror in the border towns within the Russian boundaries. Storehouses of arms, weapons and military equipment were prepared in several villages along the Polish border. The murderers gathered together in the darkness of the night, received their weapons, crossed the border and paraded around at night under the protection of their friends and acquaintances in the villages within the Russian boundary. In the morning they would launch a surprise attack upon the town in which they arrived. They would slaughter men, women, and children. After perpetrating these acts, they would flee to the place from whence they came, return their weapons to the secret storehouse, and return to their villages and homes with their booty. We heard about the slaughter that these murderers carried out in the towns of Lyuban, Starobin, Piotrkov, and others.

The pure and righteous man Yaakov Eliahu Kolpanitsky and his comrade on the journey Eliahu the son of Herzl Chinitz were killed by these murderers in one of the villages within the Polish boundary. Apparently a command was issued to these gangs not to murder anyone within Poland, but they apparently ran into a gang that was returning from its activities across the border, and there were some people among this gang whom these two Jews recognized. These people murdered these two Jews so that there would be no eyewitness to their deeds.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. I am not sure of the exact translation. It seems to be some sort of technical publication term, not meant to be read by the readers. Return
  2. Chaim Weizmann was the first president of the State of Israel. Return
  3. There is a footnote in the text here: “See the article on Aharon Singelovsky” in the section on Personalities. Return
  4. This seems like sarcasm. Return
  5. Epiphany. Return
  6. It seems that this was meant as sarcasm. Return
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