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Our Shtetl (Village) Lenin
A Yizkor (Memorial) Book

Mordkhai Zaytshik

Translated by Sanford A. Kaplan

Published by The Committee of Lenin Landsleit (home-town people) in Israel
With the Participation of Lenin Landsleit in America
Tel Aviv, 1957

[Page 237]

The Rise of the Shtetl Lenin 

Culture and Education 

Living Conditions 

Destruction and Revenge 

Parties and Institutions 

Recollections 

Shuls and Religious Leaders 

Personalities 

Landslayt (countrymen)


[Page 243]

The Founding of Lenin

by Eng. Mordechai Zeitchik

Translation by Yocheved Klausner

A.

The main difficulty in the research of the shtetl Lenin is to establish the exact, or at least the approximate date when it was founded, considering the fact that there are no real historical documents on which we can confidently rely.

Seeking to establish the beginnings of Lenin I used: 1. inscriptions on old gravestones in the old cemetery; 2. the register of the Hevra Kadisha [Jewish burial society] and other sources, for example stories told by the oldest residents of the town, who remembered well what their grandfathers had told them about the former generations, etc.

Relying on these data and calculations, we can state almost with certainty that the shtetl was founded around the years 1640-1650. An error of 10 to 15 years is possible; however considering the above-mentioned sources we can state that the date is correct.

According to general knowledge, the name Lenin originates from the fact that in all the neighboring fields the plant Linum was grown, from which they made flax. According to what we have found out, however, the name Lenin could derive from the name Lena, a baroness living in the area, who was honored by calling a town on her name.

 

B.

The first years of its development

The first house, around which more houses were built as time passed, was a tavern, or inn; the inn stood on the road that years later was to become the main street of the town, several hundred meters from the river Slutch. The inn was built by a nobleman, who used to travel in the region for his business.

The nobleman was the owner of very large fields and woods

[Page 244]

in Russia, part of them in the Pinsk region. There were some – very few – settlements in the mud covered valleys and between them were large stretches of uninhabited land. Such “taverns-inns” were built on the roads, and travelers could get there a glass of hot tea, a drink of brandy, something to eat and a place to sleep. Most of the inn owners were Jews, who were called “the Nobleman's Jews.”

 

The Location of the shtetl

The location found for the shtetl was appropriate: very close to the river Slutch. Since the communication means were scarce at that time, the main travel was by water.

The river Slutch, quite deep, was an ideal way for the transport of great masses of wood of all kinds – natural and manufactured – and the logs were left to move with the current until they reached the Pripet, into which the Slutch flowed, and from there even further to the Dnieper and the Black sea.

It is interesting, that even in later years, the shtetl was built and developed near and around the tavern, although the ground was very low and muddy, and pouring sand on it did not help, and although at a distance of 1-2 kilometers to the north, also near the river, there was a good area, high and dry, with pine trees, much more suitable for the needs of the population.

The Jews settled in the place gradually, as did the Christian population, the “white Russians.” The first Jews that appeared were from Slutsk (90 Km. north of Lenin) and from the region of Pinsk. Later, some came from the shtetl Lachve (30 Km. west of Lenin), which was older than Lenin.

The development of the shtetl during the first hundred years was very slow, and the general number of residents did not exceed one hundred.

 

C.

The Growth of the Shtetl in the Second Century of its existence

During the second century, the development and growth of the shtetl increased. We know, that in the first half of the second century

[Page 245]

of the shtetl, there were several minyanim [minyan = prayer-quorum of ten male adults] of Jews, who could afford to hire their own shochet [ritual slaughterer], R'Leibke Zeitchik from Minsk, who came to Lenin around 1770 and remained there.

The number of the Christian residents increased as well; they worked in the fields, lived in small houses with straw roofs and traded with the Jews, buying from them the elementary necessities.

 

D.

The large families in the shtetl

The largest families in those early times were: the Tsikliks, the Slutskis, the “Dovid's,” and following them the Galovs and Zeitchiks.

The Tsikliks originated in Lachve. At first, two brothers, Mendel and David came to Lenin. Mendel's children, Yashke and Mordechai had large families and occupied a corner at the very end of the street, in the direction of the river.

David's son, Baruch, had a large family as well. They were called the “Broches.” They lived on the other end of the street on the Christian side, and they occupied an entire block.

The Slutsk family, who originated, as their name shows, in the Slutsk region, was one of the oldest and most numerous families in Lenin. They were notable in their good health and simplicity.

The third large family, the “Dovid's” were named after old David, who had many daughters and all were married to fine sons-in-law, knowledgeable in Torah and general science; most of them came from Slutsk.

The other large families, like the Rubinsteins, Migdalowitz and others arrived later, from the neighboring and more distant villages.

 

E.

The Cultural Life in Those Years

The chief place for meetings and social life was the synagogue, where almost always one could listen to the learning of a “page of the Talmud” [daf gemara] a portion of the Pentateuch [chumash] with Rashi commentary, or just have a chat and hear news from the wide world.

[Page 246]

Main Sources of Livelihood and Existence

The main occupation of the Jewish population was crafts: there were cobblers, tailors, carpenters, ironsmiths – and later there were also some shopkeepers, mostly grocers. The first grocery shop was opened by Chaim Papyerna.

The forest and lumber occupations also had an honored place among the local Jews. Since the shtetl was surrounded by woods, all connected occupations were common.

The woods belonged to Graf [nobleman] Wittgenstein, who owned entire Gubernias. In later years, part of the woods, in the Pinsk region, was bought by Agarkov and the wood business grew and ramified.

The lumber was prepared for export. Several professions were needed for this task: brokers, “secretaries” or scribes to keep the necessary registers etc.

These professionals were Jews. On the other hand, hard work, like cutting the logs, transporting by water on the rafts or barges and other such work remained in the hands of the peasants, who would stay for many weeks – even months sometimes – on the river with the lumber. Everything – eating, sleeping etc. – was done on the barges.

Many Jews and Christians made their living by this work. It is also worth mentioning, that many first-class types of wood was grown in these forests: oak, fir, birch, elm, linden and others.


[Page 247]

The Estate and the “Office Quarter”

Yehoshua Grinberg (Argentina)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

In a remote corner, somewhere among woods and marshes our little shtetl Lenin (Lyelin) was located. When I remember its good-hearted people, who are very dear to me, I am proud that it was the place where I was born and brought up.

In my time Lenin numbered not more than 120 Jewish families, approximately 700-800 persons – laborers, craftsmen, wagon drivers, some merchants, very few lumber traders and three or four shopkeepers.

Until 1891, the land of the shtetl belonged to the baroness Hohenlohe, who was part of the German imperial family. In 1890, the Russian government published a law, which forced all foreign residents who owned land to adopt Russian citizenship. The baroness had no interest to change her citizenship, so she sold her large estate – more than 35,000 square kilometers – to the Russian citizen Stefan Fiodorovitch Agarkov.

Agarkov came to Lenin, to take over the management of the estate. He was accompanied by a staff of clerks and laborers, among them two Jews, high-level employees, Semion Perlowitz and Grinberg.

The office complex (the “Office Quarter” or, as it was called: the “Quarter”) was located at the edge of town and included the apartments of the clerks and workers, the management offices of the estate as well as two large beautiful houses for the estate owner and his family. As all this was still occupied by the workers and employees of the former owner, Agarkov and his people lived temporarily in big houses that belonged to the rich lumber merchant Ben-Zion Zieklig. They remained there 15 months, during which time the old buildings were rebuilt and renewed to the taste of their new residents.

Agarkov bought the large estate for one million and hundred thousand Rubles. Part of the sum he paid by signed promissory notes; each month an officer of the court would come to collect payment. They also imposed mortgages on various parts of the estate – the buildings and whatever else that was possible.

They began looking for means to cover the debts. Semion Perlowitz

[Page 248]

called on his brother Yakov Perlowitz, a known lumber merchant, who had established a Shares-Society of merchants: Yakov Ragovin from Minsk, Moshe Lev, Pinchas Kaplan from Lachve and others.

In cooperation with the group of lumber traders, Yakov Perlowitz began cutting the trees and sending the logs through the waterways to export them – and with the profits they covered Agarkov's debts.

Lenin began to bloom economically. Not only local people were able to make a living; people came from neighboring towns and villages, and some pf them even settled in our shtetl. Forest-management employees came as well. A time of prosperity began, and the neighboring villages actually envied Lenin.

One summer-day in 1897, the office clerk Mordechai Zieklig (or, as he was called: Motel Yoshkes) brought the news that Stefan Fiodorovitch died, and as an expression of mourning the offices closed for one month.

Stefan Fiodorovitch left one son, Fiodor Stefanovitch, and three daughters. The large estate was divided into three parts: Lenin, Tchotchwitz and Diakovitch. The son Fiodor inherited the two important parts: Lenin and Tchotchwitz; the third part, Diakovitch, was divided between the three sisters.

After the 30 mourning days passed, the young Agrakov came to our town, accompanied by one of his managers. He appointed as the head manager of the estate one by the name of Fangalos. The new manager began to institute his own regulations. He stopped the connection and relationship with the Jewish lumber merchants, his plan being that his management would conduct all commercial operations as well as the commercial connections with foreign countries. However, Fangalos failed badly. Nothing came out of all his planning. He was forced to resign from his high position, and the management was entrusted into the hands of one by the name of Chrustchov, a brother of Agrakov's brother-in-law who, however, was no better than his predecessor. Fiodor Agrakov became convinced finally that both of them were of no use and that he could not expect anything from any of them. He hired as manager a Jew, Lazar Pavlowitz Levine.

Everything became refreshed and revitalized; the great lumber merchants arrived and reestablished the

[Page 249]

connection with the main offices. Among them were Lavzinski, Chaim Weizman's brother-in-law, and the well-known merchant from Krementchug, Gur-Arie.

Lazar Pavlowitz Levine was a man with a Jewish heart. He did all he could to establish a brotherly relationship with the Jews in the shtetl. Often he came to shul. He lived for a time in Ben-Zion Zieklig's house. Later he brought his family and took residence in one of the buildings in the Quarter.

He introduced many suitable and beneficial administrative changes in the estate management and the Quarter. He brought professionals and specialists in the lumber business – people of various nationalities: Germans, French, Jews and Latvians, who were famous woodcutters. Levine also divided the entire area of the estate into precisely measured parts.

He began drying the swamps; this enterprise gave work to many laborers, who dug canals to drain the swamp waters.

Thanks to L. P. Levine, an atmosphere of liberalism was created in the Quarter. He sent Avraham, the cantor-shochet's son, to study music in the Conservatoire, and a talented Russian to study agriculture – both at the expense of the Quarter.

This liberal atmosphere that began in the time of L. P. Levine and thanks to him, continued in the Quarter after him as well; The Russian managers who arrived later treated the non-Russians the same way as they treated the Russians.

Levine also brought to the Quarter a Jewish employee, who settled in the shtetl with his family and had a very good influence on the population. His name was Zelig Singalovski and his family – his wife, one daughter, Sara (now in Israel) and five sons: Yehoshua, Yakov, Nachum, Shechna and Aharon.

The Singalovski children learned in secondary and high schools in the great cities. But on vacation and holidays they would come home – and the young people in town would be stimulated and enlivened. They would gather around the young students, hear news and learn from them – and from the Singalovski children one could really learn a great deal.

[Page 250]

 

len250.jpg
The single two-story house in Lenin
(Herzl Papirna's house, in the center of town)

 

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