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[Page 83]

Jewish Business Life before WWII

by Abraham Gelman

In memory of my mother and sister, Esther and Rivke, who perished in the Holocaust

Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg

Lida was an industrial city with various sizes of factories and enterprises. The big rubber factory “Erdl” [Ardal] was famous in all of Poland. It was established in 1928 thanks to the initiative of the KUSHELEWITZ brothers, chemical engineers. Partners were first the KUSHELEWITZ family, the owners of the ironworks ”Benland” (Brothers STEINBERG and WILENTCHIK) and the owners of “Drutindustry” (CHERTAK and SAVITSKY). After putting in a lot of money, the Polish financier MELUP entered the business. A couple of years later the business expanded so much that before the outbreak of WWII around a thousand people were employed working three shifts. The head engineer FORMAN, a son-in-law of MORDECAI WILENTCHIK, owner of a tobacco factory, was also a partner in the “Erdl” rubber factory. The engineers GURWITZ and KUSHELEWITZ were also employed. Later the engineer KUSHELEWITZ left the “Erdl” factory and started a small rubber factory of technical rubber products under the name of “Unigum”. The factory succeeded with time and employed ten or so people.

There was also in Lida a chemical factory, “Corona”, which made various inks, paints and dyes. The owners were S. KOTAK and PUPKO, a son of the shipping agent, PUPKO. SIMCHA KOTAK, a Socialist and Zionist worker, leader of the Judenrat, came to a tragic end because of the Nazi murderers.

A nail factory “Drutindustry” (owners Brothers CHERTAK and SAVITSKY, (today in Israel) also employed about ten workers.

Two ironworks, one owned by the brothers SHAPIRO, and the second under the firm “Benland” made various agricultural machines.

There were also two oil factories, one for olive oil, and the other poppy seed oil. During the season when the raw material was available, there were two shifts of workers. The partners were the brothers POLIATCHEK, the owners of the automatic mill under the firm name “Automat”.

There were two beer breweries that were famous in all Poland. One was owned by ELIMELECH PUPKO, and the second was owned by PAPIERMEISTER. They transported beer in kegs and in bottles throughout Poland. There was also a division of the Vilna beer brewery “Shafen” under the management of TAUB. There was also a division of a Warsaw beer brewery “Haverbush and Shileh”, under the management of WALLMAN and ROSENSTEIN. Five sawmills made various wood products for carpenters. The proprietors were GOROWITZ, KRANIK, POLIATCHEK, RAFAELOWITZ, PAPIERMEISTER and MELNICK. Each sawmill employed in season twenty to twenty-five workers. Most of the workers were Christians, and there were a number of Jews.

Five mills ground flour and various grains. The proprietors were the brothers POLIATCHEK and TROTSKY, WILENSKY, MELNICK, PUPKO and SIDOROWITZ. There were two windmills behind the city.

Two printing houses carried out various activities and published a weekly newspaper. The owners were ZELDOWITZ and KAPLANSKY. The head workers were MARGOLIS and A. DEMSHEK. Both printing houses had enough business from the county and city administrations, the movie house, and private undertakings. For some years there was a weekly newspaper called “Lida Life” under the editorship of JOSEPH ALBERT, who also wrote several books: “Proletariat Bandages”, “Toilers”, etc. Helping to distribute the books was the enterprise “Literary Pages” in Warsaw. The owners of the wool products and woolens factory were LEVIN and CHICHEMSKY.

There were also home enterprises such as G. FEINSTEIN and ISSER LEIB LEVIN, and various workshops.

In the area of restaurants and coffeehouses, Lida was also not lacking. “Bristol”, and “Americanka”, where the main patrons were the officers of the 77th Footsoldiers, and the 5th Fliers, were owned by SAVITSKY and RODENITSKY. There were confectionaries and other smaller sweet shops and restaurants, as well as delicatessens and wine businesses of the brothers WINOGRADOV, LEVINSON, etc. There were big businesses of home materials, like those of SHIMSHON PUPKO and PINCHAS RABINOWITZ, etc.

Hotels: “Grand Hotel”, owner BENJAMIN LANDAU, “Europesky”, owner GLAUBERMAN, where all the Zionist leaders stayed: Jabotinsky, Berl Locker, Boruch Zuckerman, Maier Yerry, etc. Other hotels were “Dagmara”, “Italia”, “Paris”, etc.

Four movie houses: “Nirvana”, “Edison”, “Malenke” and “Agniska” (the first three in Jewish hands).

Three apothecaries: “Stara Pharmacy”, owner BERGMAN – Burgomeister of the city, later the pharmacy bought out LEVINSON and ZELIKOWITZ (a brother of Aloof Abner, died in Israel), the brothers ZUCKERMAN and “Simikova Pharmacy (not Jewish).

Several pharmaceutical warehouses: Owners SIDOROWITZ, NACHUMOVSKY, SHIFF, and BARAN.

Several gold businesses, watchmakers, jewelers. There were also big manufacturing businesses, shoe businesses: big wholesale warehouses for spices, fancy goods, writing materials, like BERL DWORETSKY, SLUTSKY and others. Big ironworks, like G. CHERTAK, STEINBERG, etc.

In Lida, the city combined with all the small shtetls around it, in the last years before the war, to form a bus route. The first line was Stutchin – Lida. Later Belitsa – Lida; Lida – Novogroduk; Grodno – Skidel – Lida; Baranowitz – Novogroduk – Lida; Lida – Vilna; Radun – Eisheshuk – Lida; Ivye – Lipnishuk – Lida; Vasilishuk – Lida. Lida almost became combined with all the nearby cities and shtetls. At the beginning there were losses, but later all the bus lines united in one cooperative, which soon succeeded, and they bought new big busses.

CAPTION OF PICTURE ON PAGE 84

Jewish soldiers in the Russian Army during WWI. Among them the Lida residents: among those standing from the left side, SHMUEL RUTSKY. Among those sitting, second from the left BORUCH SLONIMSKY


[Page 86]

In the days of World War I

by Yaffa Guinzburg (Boyarsky)

Translated by Smadar Belkind Gerson

(German Occupation)

On the eve of World War I and the German invasion of Lida and its surroundings, my father bought two horses and a large wagon, in order to be prepared for an escape if it became necessary. Despite the fact that the Russians were anti semitic, my father preferred them to the Amalekites¯how he referred to the Germans. My uncle also bought a horse and carriage, and the two families planned to depart together¯following in the footsteps of the retreating Russian army¯towards central Russia.

Everyday, danger approached in giant steps. One clear day, when the Russian army was retreating towards Minsk and filled the streets of Lida, they seated us over the overflowing wagons and we departed. We took care not to veer far from the Russian army's procession and even if they called us names and swore at us, they did not harm us nor rob our belongings. Finally we arrived in the town of Shliov[1]. It was Friday night and we decided to stay there and continue after the Sabbath. We realized the receding army lines were dwindling which meant we would be able to advance with a bit more ease.

We found a comfortable hostel with room for us and the horses and carriages. We passed a peaceful night and mother tried to convince father to stay in the town until the tensions passed, but father insisted: “I will not remain among the 'Amalekites' (the Germans).

In the morning, the men went to synagogue and we, the girls, stayed with the mothers in the hostel. All of a sudden, a bombardment of missiles hit the town. By the time we found our family members returning from synagogue, the entire town was up in flames.

In a fright, we departed, and three kilometers down the road we encountered the approaching German army. The officers interrogated us and allowed us to proceed. We barely covered any more ground when we were stopped by two German riders. They began to search our wagons, ordered the children to come down, and using swords, poked all our belongings. Finally they discovered the little hay which we stored for the horses. We begged them to leave the little food we had for our horses since without it we could not continue on our way, but to no avail. The ordered us to lower the sack and hand it over to them.

All of a sudden I turned to my mother and said in Yiddish: “They are worse than the Russians.” One of the Germans, who understood what I said, became enraged, took out his pistol and pointed it at me. My mother burst out screaming and crying. She shielded me behind her back and pushed me below the wagon. At that moment, the second soldier, grabbed the first soldier's hand and lowered it together with the gun. The gun owner, marched angrily and they both continued on their way, leaving us alone.

My father was so frightened from the shock that he lost the ability to speak. My mother was the first to recover and calm my father. I came out from under the wagon and apologized that I only spoke the truth. But my mother scolded me and instructed me to no longer make my truth public.

When we returned home to Lida, we found grandpa at home in one piece, but the second house in the yard was occupied by German soldiers. A middle aged German officer moved into our home as well.

My father fell ill, he had a hernia, and his income dwindled, but the German officer who lived in our home would sometimes provide us with a little flour and white sugar. Eventually, when he was transferred somewhere else, he turned to the City's head officer, who was his good friend and reported to him, that if he wanted to live in a neat and organized home, he would confiscate our home for him. To our amazement, we received an order to leave our home and hand it over to the Head Officer. After much begging, the head officer agreed to confiscate any other home that we suggested for our use. We could not fathom forcing someone else to give up their home for us. We decided not to move nor vacate our home. Our stubbornness was of no use. The head officer sent soldiers with orders to remove all our belongings from the house and vacate it.

Helpless, we concentrated all our furniture and personal belongings in the basement and spent the night there.

The next day, a small house in the neighbouring yard to our yard was offered to us. The house belonged to an elderly couple who was relocated to a better apartment. We didn't want to move too far from our home and yard so that we could keep an eye on our property.

One day my mother decided to visit the nearby town of Zheludok—where we had good friends—in order to find some flour. She walked there and her friends managed to find 16 kg of flour for her. With the sack on her back, she made her way back to Lida. On her path, she encountered policemen who took the flour from her. When she returned home, she fell ill for several weeks.

Often, the Germans made an effort to humiliate the Jews. When an officer walked on the street, Jews were supposed to make room for him by stepping off the sidewalk, lower their hat and bless him. The men were taken for forced labor. Everything they needed, they took without pay. Hindsight says that already in World War I, the seed was planted and seedling began to grow, which would yield its poisoned fruit during World War II.


Coordinator's Note

  1. Possibly Shyl'vy-Bur, Belarus, 36 miles (58km) ENE of Lida, in the direction of Minsk. Return


Memories of the First World War

by Moshe Ganuzowitsch, of blessed memory

Translated by Phillip Frey

(Reprinted from “Lida Life”, a weekly for Lida and surrounding area, Lida, September 25, 1936)

A

As if he were alive he appears before me, not withstanding that I only saw him for a minute and since then twenty two years have passed.

It took place in East-Prussia, at the start of the first World-War. We, a company of Russian soldiers, were employed in the forest, preparing a position for our artillery. Our commander, a youngster from Gruzin, very energetic but harsh and reckless to the point of brutality, gives out commands, suddenly there appears a soldier from another company, leading a person in civilian clothing. I look him over: young, about 30 years old, he moves like a robot, his eyes appear to see nothing. His sadness-filled and wearied pallid face expresses nothing, neither joy , sadness, fear or frustration, not more than his body shivers lightly due to the cold autumn drizzle and his whole demeanor asks wordlessly a warm room and a glass of coffee. His accompanier, the soldier, leads him to the commander and hands over a note. Our commander reads and a smile appears on his lips. At first I understood nothing. Soon it became clear to me. Our commander places the stranger under watch and he sends one soldier for a rope. A shiver passed through my flesh: Our commander had been designated as hangman and this is the victim!

In fifteen minutes the stranger was no longer living.

Who was this? What was his transgression? Who knows? And what is the difference?

B

We are riding, more correctly, we are being driven packed like herring in a truck as prisoners-of-war. My friend, a happy lad, speaks to me and loudly fantasizes. Now we'll get a good rest after the difficult experiences at the front! What do you think? They'll give us a room for two or three prisoners. Clean, bright and warm it will be-- we are traveling to a cultured land?--- True, bread is probably in short supply in Germany. I figure, that we won't receive more than a pound or pound-and-a-half daily, but milk, butter, cheese—there's no lack of these. And what more do you need? A clean room, a bed, food, tea whenever you want it. You can read, write, sightsee and if you have money, you can ask permission and visit Berlin…and the war will certainly not go on very long!

Four, five months later, I and my friend are in the camp, fenced-in with electrified barbed wire, in one board dog-house, together with a hundred more on one common straw-bed. My friend newly out of the hospital, having struggled for long weeks with death, with the awful typhus disease. More than fifty die each day. He remained alive. A miracle! He is now privileged, my friend,: he receives a bigger portion of food, dried “vegetables” or hard beets with water, in order to “sustain” himself. Yes my friend is “rescued”. Unfortunately there is something not completely in order with my friend. He mixes up or forgets the words for various subjects. Reads with difficulty, has forgotten how to write. Waking him doesn't help, encouragement, it keeps getting worse. Until a horrible attack of insanity. He is lead away from us. Later I become aware: my friend has been freed…by a neutral country, sent back to father and mother…

One of my friend's imaginings did come to pass: for him the war had indeed ended- even earlier…


Remembrances from the First World War

by Moshe Ganuzowitsch

Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg

(reprinted from “Lider Leben”, weekly newspaper for Lida and environs. Lida, 10 th of Elul 5296, Sept. 28, 1936)

Although over 22 years have passed, and I only saw the man for a couple of minutes, he still stands before my eyes as if he were alive.

This happened in East Prussia at the beginning of the first World War. I and a company of Russian soldiers are deployed in the forest. We are preparing a position for our artillery. Our commander, young , very energetic but strict to the point of cruelty, gives orders. Suddenly a soldier from a strange company appears, leading a man in civilian clothing. I look him over: a young man about 30 years old, he moves like a robot, his eyes as if they see nothing. His wasted, tired and pale face, reflects nothing, not happiness, sadness, fear or despair. Only his body shivers as if from a cold shower, and his whole being asks without words for a warm room and a glass of coffee. The soldier, his companion, takes him over to the commander and gives him a note. Our commander reads and a smile comes to his lips. At first I had understood nothing. Suddenly it became clear to me. Our commander ordered that the stranger be guarded and he sent someone for a rope. A shiver went through my heart: our commander is appointed as hangman and this is the victim!

In fifteen minutes the stranger no longer lived.

Who was he? From where? What is his crime? Who knows? And what is the difference?

We are going, more correctly, we are being taken to the front packed like herring in a truck. My friend, a happy boy, talks to me and fantasizes highly. First we'll rest up after the hard experiences on the front. What do you think? They'll certainly give us a room for two or three, clean, light and warm – we are traveling in a cultured country! – True, bread is probably hard to come by in Germany. I figure that more than a pound or another half we won't get daily, but milk, butter, cheese – this isn't lacking, and what more do you need? A clean room, a bed, food, tea when you want it; you can read, write, walk around and if you have money, you can request a leave and see Berlin…and the war will certainly not last long!

Four or five months later, I and my friend are in prison camp, surrounded by electrified barbed wire, in one dog kennel with another hundred men in one straw bed. My friend is just out of the hospital, having wrestled with death for many weeks, suffering from the terrible typhoid fever. Over 50 die daily. He is left alive. A miracle!

He is privileged to receive a bigger portion of food, dry “gemiza”, or hard beets with water, in order to be cured. Yes, my friend is “rescued”. Unfortunately, something is not right with my friend. He forgets the names of different objects, reading is hard; he has forgotten how to write. It helps him not to wake. On the contrary, everything gets worse, until he has a horrible attack of insanity. They take him away. Later, I learn that my friend is free….He has been sent home to his parents through a neutral country.

His dreams have finally been fulfilled: for him the war has really ended earlier.

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