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by Chaim Finkel
Retyped by Helen Wolf
The ancient Ostrog Community dwelt in the Wohlin District in Western Ukraina, Poland. This town was as first owned by princes and counts, who, for their protection and defense surrounded it with a fortress, which gave it the name Ostrog (meaning fortress in Russian). According to scholars, its age today should be about 1,000 years (founded in 893).
In the IX century, there was a migration of persecuted Jews from Germany. They arrived during their flight to Ostrog and settled down there, under the patronage of Polish Prince Lashek. They mainly dealt with the trade of animals and horses, as brokers and money-changers, and later on, with trade and various professions.
|Remains of the Fortified Wall with Castle on the right and Tower on the left.|
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The old Jewish cemetery still has inscriptions on two tombstones dating back to 1445, but this does not prove that there were no older tombstones from more ancient times. According to the evidence of the Ostrog antiquity scholar, M.M.Biber, which is trustworthy and accepted by all of us, Ostrog had a Jewish community nearly one thousand of years ago.
During generations, Ostrog Jews were submitted to financial extortion by Polish and Lithuanian rulers. They also paid customs levies and serious amounts to the King treasury as well as bribes to judges and policemen. In spite of this, Jewish lives and property were never insecure.
Pogroms and Miracles
Libels and massacres have also, from time to time, occurred in Ostrog. Famous is the pogrom on Jews by students of Jesuit monasteries in nearby Pavlovitz, where nine Jews were tortured and killed, amongst whom the Holy Rabbi Zvi, in-law of the famous Rabbi Yevi. That is why there were quite a number of thanksgiving days for miracles that happened. One of them occurred after Passover in the fifth century, when peasants from a nearby village arrived at Ostrog with carts loaded with timber, as if it were, for sale. But under the wood, the peasants hid axes and knives and other well sharpened cold arms in order to start pogroms against the Jews. The Tatars, residents of the town, who were known to be bold and courageous, agreed for money, to assist the Jews. The Tatars girded on their arms, assaulted the peasants and confiscated their arms. The Jews were overjoyed.
In commemoration of another miracle, the Jews observed another day, Megilat Tammuz, when the Russian forces, under General Sovorov's command, occupied Poland. The retreating Polish army destroyed the bridges over the river so as to prevent the Russians from moving on. The latter started shelling the town and its houses, mainly the big Synagogue which looked like a fortress. The Polish inhabitants ran away, together with the withdrawing Polish army, and the Jews hid in the Synagogue and were in a desperate situation. Then, as is told, one old man, among the Jews, a bold man who knew Russian (the father of Rabbi Yossef Moshe the Narrator from Kormarno), went out to the Russian commander and told him about the escape of the Polish army and of all the Polish inhabitants and that he may enter the town without any more firing.
Until the XIV century, the Wohlin District was considered to be a Russian Princedom when Lithuania was united to Poland in the XVI century,
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Wohlin was annexed to Poland. During those days, the famous printing press was founded in Ostrog, in which were printed Holy Books, in Hebrew and the Bible in foreign languages as well.
In the XVII century, Jews suffered pogroms of the infamous traitorous oppressor Hmelnitzky and those years were marked with letters of blood ad fire in the history of our people as in that of the town itself which was destroyed by sword.
In 1797, the Wohlin District, including Ostrog, was annexed to Russia, only in 1920 did the greatest part of Wohlin with Ostrog return as a border town to Poland until 1939. Since the Second World War, the District – with Ostrog empty of Jews – belongs to the USSR.
As most of Polish towns, Ostrog also held a Community Register in which the Jews noted down the community events and laws. They also wrote in it stories and legends of the righteous and learned who lived and acted in Ostrog, but throughout the generations, following disorders and pogroms and numerous fires, almost no details remained of the ancient days of Ostrog – apart from recordings about the destruction of the community when about 7000 Jews were murdered and their property looted.
But the Jews who escaped returned and rebuilt the town, led exemplary community and spiritual life, set up synagogues and Yeshivas; they got organized in various societies, such as the burial society, the Study Society, a great Hassidim Movement founded by notorious persons like the Narrator of Magritch, and the town turned out to be a symbol and model for all other Wohlin towns and famous for many generations for its Learned.
An important contribution for the revealing of secrets from ancient days through a collection of material and checking of tombstones in the old cemetery of Ostrog, was made by the untiring scholar at the beginning of the XX century, a man from Ostrog, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Biber, who wrote the Momento to Ostrog Great People. This book, of great quality, gathers important information and serves to this day as a living memorial of Ostrog Jewry and all the research literature nowadays draws from it.
Ostrog – The Town of Great Torah Scholars
Jewish Ostrog is tightly linked to the names of great Torah Scholars and Talmud Commentators as the Maharal from Prague, Rabbi Shmuel Idlish, and the great Yeshiva he has headed for tens of years, and many others.
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The people told many legends and stories about Rabbi Shmuel Idlish and the great Synagogue named after him, built long before his coming to Ostrog in 1615 only thanks to the love and esteem of the community members and the fact that he lived, acted and was buried in Ostrog cemetery was the Synagogue named after him. He was considered to be the Father and Patron of the town, he was modest and hospitable. It was engraved in the stones of his house: Strangers will not stay outside – my door will be opened to guests. He died in 1632, leaving many books. In 1933, Ostrog Jews commemorated the 300th anniversary of his death. Rabbis and notables from all over Poland and representatives of the authorities took part in the celebrations. On that day, Jews closed their shops so as to be alone with his memory.
Ostrog also attracted people by its external look as a beautiful town immersed in greenery. The building of the Great synagogue overlooked the general view of the town and gave it a Jewish character. The Princes' palaces and the numerous towers added a special charm, as a memory of a town which, during a certain period, served as a capital for hundreds of small towns surrounding it. The fields, rivers and forest enabled excursions and outings for young people and the whole population.
Among the Great Torah Scholars who lived and worked in the town – apart from Rabbi Shmuel Idlish – were:
Rabbi Shlomo Lurie who lived in the XVI century, headed an important Yeshiva in Ostrog and served as an erudite Rabbi to all the Wohlin District. He moved to Lublin. His famous works included: Hochmat Shlomo and Yam Shel Shlomo.
Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevy Horovitz lived in the XVII century and served as rabbi of Ostrog. His book Shnei Luchot Habrit became famous throughout the world. He immigrated to Eretz Israel and lived in Jerusalem and Safed, was buried in Tiberias next to the tombs of Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar and Rambam.
Rabbi David Segal, who wrote Torei Zahav, lived in the XVII century and served as President of Tribunal and Head of a Yeshiva in Ostrog. His book is a comment on Shulkhan Arukh by Rabbi Joseph Caro, who was among the survivors of the persecutions. He wrote special prayers in memory of the disaster.
Rabbi Meir Margalit, lived in the XVIII century, was President of Tribunal in Ostrog and the District. He was a scholar and wrote Meir Netivim.
Scholar Rabbi Yaacov son of Rabbi Haim Rapoport, was President of Tribunal of Ostrog and the District.
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Ostrog in the XX Century
The Zionist Movement in the town started operating in 1909 and went on with its activities until the Holocaust. During the reign of the Czar, there were clandestine meetings, sometimes during Christmas, when the officials were tipsy.
Cultural work was carried out in various circles: circles for Zionism, for Jewish History, Geography, etc. The young people collected donations for the Odessa Committee of Hovevei Zion. A company was also set up for organization of trips to Eretz Israel. The Bund Party was also most influential in the Jewish street.
Since 1917, public Zionist work has been carried out openly. Lectures took place on Eretz Israel and there were contacts with institutions in Eretz Israel and in Warsaw. Balls and bazaars of the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) were organized. The climax of the Zionist Movement activity in Ostrog was in the 20's and 30's when the idea of immigration to Eretz Israel struck roots. Among the first persons who immigrated in the 20's was Yaacov Fishel Feldenkreis with his wife Dvora. In spite of is being a scholar, he fitted at the age of 45 in agricultural works in Petah Tikva, in orange groves and ploughing. He was also one of the holy heroes of the riots in the country.
Public figures with a developed sense of public work were at that time Kalman Frenkeland Avigdor Kamerman who served as Deputy Mayor of Ostrog and saw to it that the Jews were not deprived by the town authorities.
Ostrog was the centre of Zionist and pioneering activities in Wohlin in the years preceding the Holocaust. Youth from all Zionist movements went to training; Jewish education developed, schools and Tarbut High school were founded, lectures took place on Zionist and literary subjects. The Zionist Women's Association also participated in the various activities for the building of Eretz Israel.
Notables headed the community, such as Avraham Aharon Finkelstein, Haim Galberson and Haim Davidson, who all assisted financially Rabbis and social institutions in the town. Among the town Rabbis were: Rabbi Yossef Wertheim, who moved to Horovishev and then immigrated to Eretz Israel and died in Jerusalem; he was known to be sharp-witted and learned, popular in Zionist circles and with the authorities; after him, as rabbi of the town, was Rabbi Mordechai Ginzburg.
The last religious judges before the Holocaust were Rabbi Ephraim Guberman, Rabbi Dov Kaplan and Rabbi Zeev Wolf Sefarad, son of the last master and teacher in the town, Rabbi Eliakim Gezel Gelman was Rabbi of the New
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Town. During those days, famous in the town was learned scholar, and a strong opponent to the Hassidic Movement – Rabbi Menachem Mendel Biber.
The notables who acted in the Ostrog Municipality were Shlomo Comandant, Bezalel Bramnik, Mordechai Yaacov Nordman, Grisha Band, Moshe Abelman and others. Chaim Davidson and Leibush Biber were the most prominent Zionist leaders in Ostrog.
The activities of the Zionist leaders were felt in all the areas of life.
Ostrog was also blessed with excellent teachers, having a strong public Zionist sense, such as Shmuel Sarir, about whom the late President of Israel Shazar used to speak a lot, Mordechai Kaplan, Yaacov Nordman, Moshe Tolpin, Tanchum Zebin, Josef Finkelstein and others.
People with a leadership ability appeared in all the Zionist youth movements in the town. Yankel Kaplan of Gordonia fell as an outstanding partisan behind Nazi lines.
There was also a Mishnah Society in the town, led by Rab. Meir Zvi Finkel and Rab. Pinchas Pelikop which had tens of notables who studied every single day of the year; at the end of their studies, they used to organize a feast at the home of the leader of the Society; I, as a child, used to enjoy those ceremonies at home and the fragrant dishes prepared by the cooks.
That was the golden age of the varied public activity in the town until the Holocaust which brought about the bitter end of the splendid community.
|The bridges of the New Town on which Ostrog Jewry marched to death|
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Prof. Jacob Tolpin
There had always been an educated youth group in Ostrog. This group, which functioned on a voluntary basis, believed in helping those less fortunate than themselves obtains an education.
Isaac Jabin, the eldest son of the Jewish School's superintendent, Tanchum Jabin, was before the First World War a great believer in the teachings of the liberal and radical intellectuals of the town, but had little to do with Jewish culture. Every summer he would return home from his studies at the University of Kiev, and organize free summer courses for those who were interested. Almost everyone who had graduated from high school assisted him with his project there was no shortage of tutors or students!
|The Prince of Ostrog's castle|
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With the revolution came new hopes for a better life. New institutions were formed. I remember the changes at the time. I had planned to give evening classes to young, uneducated workers. When I returned home at the beginning of 1918, I found that my father who was a teacher had taken the initiative and that the Talmud torah building was to be used for this purpose. Together with friends from Poalei Zion I formed a committee for the collection of money, and evening courses established in memory of the late Ber Borochov, commenced. I was nominated as superintendent and teachers, and began to form a comprehensive study program. The Socialistim Sionistim (S.S. and Seimoves) began to lend support to the Peretz School and together we formed the Cultural League.
Ostrog's Cultural League grew. It combined different streams of thoughts, but Jewish culture played the most important part. People, who would otherwise not have shown interest in Jewish culture, became interested. Despite the fact that the League's program dealt only with culture and not with politics, most of its supporters were from Poalei Zion and the Bund.
When the Soviet government was formed, it took over various institutions. Plans for expansion were made, but in effect just the opposite occurred. The governor of Zhitomir County ordered all Hebrew schools and evening course to close. The Cultural League continued, however, and its salaries were paid by the government. Once when they brought the salaries for our town, I distributed the money among the Jewish teachers, leaving my father, my sister and myself for last. But by that stage there was nothing left for us! We did not mind, the institutions functioned regularly, we had a kindergarten, the Peretz School and the Ber Borochov evening courses. We also organized cultural gatherings, concerts, plays, etc. Nevertheless, the Cultural League had to endure anti-semitic propaganda from the left and the right movements. The local teachers' conference is worth mentioning in this regard. The conference was made up of approximately 250 teachers from our county. Many of the remarks made by them during the conference contained anti-semitic slander. Some of them wore Petlura uniforms. I was sitting next to the vice-commissar who was a nice persona and a true liberal. We heard a speech given by the commissar of the 44th soviet Division. This Division had occupied our region and in it there were several of Petlurs's former followers and pogromists who boasted about the success of the pogroms. The political faction of the 44th Division was led by a Jew who had a doctorate in philosophy from the Sorbonne University. He addressed the conference before the commissar spoke and his speech was ridiculed by the teachers among whom I recognized my French teacher.
A special event in the life of the Cultural League was the Assembly of Jewish Teachers in Kiev in 1919. This event gave big rise to our activities especially at the schools. Many well known writers and teachers with long standing experience became our leaders. They provided us with textbooks and instructions. We had a feeling that we belonged to a strong stream of Jewi99sh cultural activity. Names such as Shimon Dobin, Levitan, Noah Luria, A. Golomb, Papirna and others became frequent guests in our town.
In 1920 I went to Kiev as a representative of the Ostrog County's Education Ministry. I was sent b y the Cultural League's committee and presented
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a report on the work of the committee under the leadership of Dr. Moshe Silverfarb. My report was well received. Then the Soviet Education Department requested that the Ostrog Cultural League put forward a person who would be able to supervise the Jewish education in the country. This was an indication of the strength of our town's Cultural League.
When the borders between Russian and Poland were altered after the First World War, Ostrog became part of Poland. This brought about a change in the school system. At first the Inspector of Schools nominated me as the superintendent of the Borochov courses and the technical school. But when I arrived in Warsaw at the beginning of 1921 there was already a new law which stated that only teachers who passed a special exam would qualify to teach together with Polish teachers.
The work of the Cultural League to spread Jewish literature, etc., continued as before. However, with time, the Jewish school and other institutions gradually diminished and then disappeared completely.
The two pictures below tell a great deal: -----
The first shows the Teachers' Assembly. Mina Abelman deserves special mention. She started as a kindergarten teacher in Ostrog, and later organized kindergartens in Bialystok and Lemberg. Later still she continued her work in Warsaw. Among the other teachers deserving of mention was one Moshe Tolpin. He was chronologically the eldest, but always used the most modern teaching methods.
The second picture shows the committee of Ostrog's Cultural League (1921) Leib Ginker, Sarah Abelman, Hannah Spielberg, Dr. Shimon Tzviman, Dr. Joseph Rosenstrum (chairman), Prof. Jacob Tolpin and Haim Katz. Dr. Rosenstrum was very active. Haim Katz influenced everyone with his sincerity and clear minded thinking, Sarah, Rachel and Mina Abelman contributed much by working hard to better the lives of those less fortunate than themselves. Ginker, the modest teacher, also did his bit for the League, as did Dr. Shimon Tzviman who was always ready and willing to take part.
These were the type of people that the Russian poet Nekrasov and the Jewish poet David Bergelson praised and wrote about. The writer of this article was the superintendent of the Culture League. Hannah Spielberg, the youngest among us was a representative from the Bund. She was the youngest sister of a well known Zionist leader, Leib Spielberg. These were the kind of people who were interested in helping others to obtain an education.
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I am Zenia Eisenberg and I would like to talk a bit about my family.
We were 5 children and my parents, Shamai and Miriam. We lived together in Ostrog until the war broke out and then started to go in different directions.
My parents ran away to Lwow where my father was taken as one of ten hostages by the Nazis. They promised that he would be given back after the Lwow Jews paid a handsome ransom for the release of the hostages. They did not keep their promise and he with my brother Grisza were immediately shot by the Germans. My mother lived in Lwow until 1943 and was taken away and sent to a concentration camp. I do not know which one.
My oldest brother Abrasha was in the Red Army and was shot by the Nazis. His wife, Rachela, survived the war in Germany as a Christian. She is now a dentist, remarried and the mother of a wonderful son, a neurologist in Boston, Mass. She is still my closest friend.
My oldest sister Asia was married to Stach Siedlecki. She was shot with her 2 little children. Stach survived the war in the Soviet Union. He lives in London, England and is remarried.
My sister Ania (Hannah) ran away to Lwow and in 1943 to Germany where she survived as a Christian. Later she moved to the United States with her husband. Unfortunately, she died in 1973 leaving 3 wonderful children 1973 leaving 3 wonderful children. Sidney and Marilyn are teachers and the youngest, Arlene is a social worker. They all live in the New York area and are married.
I, the youngest in the family was in Lwow and in 1943 ran away to Katowice where I survived as a Christian. After the war I moved to Warsaw, Paris, Canada and finally got settled in New York. I teach in a high school and I am married to David, an American who teaches in the same school.
All my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents who lived in Europe perished in the war with the exception of Genia (Steinberg) Reuveni, who lives in Israel and Meisha Steinberg, her brother, in Germany.
While in Ostrog, we lived in the center of town and also had an estate 25 km. from there, in Wilia.
I hope that this information will help people to recall my father who was always ready to help the poor in our town.
(nee Zenia Eisenberg)
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Wife of Shamai
The oldest son of Shamai and Miriam
daughter of Shamai and Miriam
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Daughter of Shamai and Miriam Eisenberg
Wife of Abrasza Eisenberg
the youngest daughter of
Shamai and Miriam Eisenberg
son of Shamai and Miriam Eisenberg
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Lazar Zeigerson lived in Krasnogorska str. Who was active in the religious community in Ostrog, was known and respected for his Talmudic Scholarly knowledge and studies, also, in avocation. He was killed in August 1941, 1st in Naje Schut.
Syma Zeigerson was killed after the liquidation of Ghetto in 3th Akcja on October 1942. She had 5 children, 2 sons emigrated to U.S.A. before the war. Sidney (Siunia) Zeigerson and Buzia (Zeigerson) Nagiel, survived in Russia. (Sidney was very active in Betar, played soccer). Now resides in U.S.A. Buzia had 2 daughters and 6 grandchildren, living in U.S.A. she died in U.S.A.
Dorothy Drinims (Dwerka Zeigerson), survived 2 executives (Akcja), she lived with her mother in Ostrog Ghetto, until the final 3rd akcja. She escaped from the ghetto with Mark Grinims (Musia), were hiding in different places and then in the woods with other people. During the raid, she was shot and wounded in the foot by S.S. men, and thanks to false documents (Aryjskie Papiery), was in the hospital in Slawuta for 8 months. She and her husband Mark immigrated to U.S.A. in 1947. They have a daughter Lorine and a grandchild Simone (Syma).
Mark Grinims (Musia), after akcja, lived in the ghetto until 1942. He was in hiding with Dorothy. After the liberation by the Russians, was drafted into the Russian Army until 1945. After the army and together with his wife, he went to Munich, Germany. He resided in Jersey City, N.J., U.S.A. He finished his studies in U.S.A. and is a doctor.
Sonia Grinims (Mark's sister), was killed in Rowno in 1942. She moved from Ostrog in 1939 with her husband Gdal Gdalewski to Lwow. He was executed by the Russians for being a well know Zionist Leader in Wohlin. Sonia on the way to Ostrog stopped in Rowno and was caught in the akcja and was killed in 1942.
Other members of Grinims family: Father Woolf Grinims, occupation Pharmacist, had drugstore, died in 1935. Grisha Grinims son of Woolf Grinims. He died in 1952 in U.S.A. Before the war he studied Medicine in Vienna and Paris. Practiced Medicine in U.S.A.
Other member of Grinims family killed by SS: Jankel Grinims, Gabriel, Ania Chai-Rachel and Minia.
|Dr. Mark Grinims|
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