[Hebrew page 7] Forward by Abraham Emikem
[English p. 9, Hebrew page 17, Yiddish page 341] [No Title]
Wind, outside. A winter wind.
I am immersed in meditations. Outside, winter.
Grandfather, far away at home, writes a book. A book that is not strange to me.
I am no longer a little girl.
From away from home, I fall asleep in a storyless night.
Once upon a time, in faraway winters, when a blanket was hung over the window to keep out the wind, in a giant bed of Grandfather [sic] and Grandmother, between warm pillows and featherbeds, I lived the stories.
Today, they write about the faraway township. Now there is a book. Today, there are memories.
Once, people lived them.
I lived them, through the winter nights. A little girl, struggling against sleep, I swallowed stories.
Grandfather did not tell.
Grandfather lived anew those moments he told about.
I would roam through the woods with him, woods dark and musty, between trees and dense undergrowth, fighting the wolves with sticks. At night, we used to light bonfires against the cold, chase away wild animals, and fight the Gentile children who dared to invade our domain and disturb us.
Winter was different. Not like here. With lots of snow, white and hard, endless expanses of whiteness. We rode on sleights, far into the frozen fields. We glided past the peasant huts half-buried in the snow.
At times, we saw only the black chimneys against the background of blinding white, and the straw stuffed into the cracks in the windows.
We glided down the mountain slopes, we invaded the snow, losing every sense of time as we were carried down. When we had been good, we were taken to Krinitzi to visit Aunt Hannah.
We harnessed "Bolan" to the cart, and we were off. I loved "Bolan" most of all. Grandfather said that he was like a camel, yellow and huge. Every step of his swallowed half a forest.
And one night, a dark night when we slept in the granary, we were nearly killed when the big and heavy iron door collapsed.
Grandmother took us to the Heder, to learn with the Rabbi. We were very small still.
And when Rabbi Naftu raised his stock and chased us around the room, trying to hit us, because we had not recited nicely, Grandmother wagged her finger at him threateningly and warned him not to touch us.
During the intervals, we played ball.
Wintertime, we used to store potatoes underneath the wooden floorboards of the house, so that we should have sufficient food at last.
We felt the spring when the snow started melting
[English Page 10]
and its whiteness mingled with mud. We did not like it anymore.
We waited for spring.
Spring, for us, was the caves in the woods, war with the "Shkutzim," the stream, cherries, and the feelings of freedom.
We no longer closed ourselves in like bears in their den, and we no longer felt the weight of the snow on the roof. We were on our own, unfettered, once more belonging to the things we loved. We were not locked up.
We loved the stream.
A whirlpool of green and blue. It had the power of water, flowing and ruling and reaching distant, unknown places. We stayed behind, only looking.
For hours, we could look at the water. In winter, it was like a white path. In springtimeice floes, large and dangerous, drifted on it. And after the ice had vanished, we would again see the water we loved.
It was a stream of swans, a steam reflecting the clouds and the trees, a stream on which one could paddle endlessly, removed from the grey earth and carried by the water.
There are no more stories. All this belongs to another world.
No longer have the nights stories. Now, Grandfather writes a book.
Once, there was a little town, there was childhood. There was a stream and everything was carried away.
(Granddaughter of Haya and Yehuda Borovski)
[English page11-47, Hebrew page 19-57, Yiddish page 343-386]
The township of Piesk belongs to Bielorussia, White Russia, a republic in the west of the Soviet Union, covering an area of 207,600-sq. km. and with a population of 10 million (1947.) Byelorussia extends between parallels 51°15--56°08 North, and meridians 23°10--32°43 East. In the East and Northeast, Byelorussia borders on Russia, in the North, on Latvia, in the northwest, on Lithanio, in the West, on Poland, in the South, on Ukraine. Only a small part of Bielorussias borders are natural the River Bug in the southwest, the Dnieper in the southeast.
The political borders are almost identical with the ethnographical ones, as in the years 19191939 the territory was expanded to coincide with the Bielorussian language zone. They extended beyond the historical borders of Bielarussia (of the 14th-18thcenturies) and include Black Russia (the provinces of Novohorodok, Slonim, Volkowysk, etc.) and other territories.
Some 80 km from the township of Piesk. District and town in the northwestern part of the Soviet Republic of Byelorussia. Borders on Lithuanio in the North, and on Poland in the West. Area, some 21,000 sq. km. Situated in the Alo Bialo Plain. Its highest peak is 182 m. above the Baltic Sea level. The district is crossed by the Bug-Naro, Neman and Bober rivers. There are a number of lakes.
District capital of the township of Piesk.
Lies on the Ros river (left-bank tributary of the Neman), some 90 km. east of Bialystok, on the railway line to Minsk. Number of inhabitants, approx. 16,000 (1958). The area lives mainly from agriculture, cattle breeding and forestry. Local products are processed. Factories of building material and metal works.
Volkovysk already existed in the 11thcentury. At that time, it served as a bastion defending the western borders of the Principality of Kiev.
In the second half of the 12thcentury, it was alternately conquered by the Princes of Wolhyn and of Lithuania.
By the middle of the 13thcentury, it had already belonged to Lithuanio and Sweden, and was held by Poland which united with Lithuanio in 1569. This continued until 1795, when it was annexed by Russia. In 1920 it returned to Poland, and in 1939 was again annexed by Russia.
Jews are mentioned for the first time in the Volkovysk region in a document of the year 1577.
[English page 12]
The little town of Piesk is situated in a plain, surrounded by lakes and forest, a dense network of rivers, streams, grassland, ornamental trees and orchards of all varieties.
The river Zelbianka crosses it center. Its eastern and northern parts are in the plain, while its southern part lies on high ground. This includes Napoleon Hill.
The story goes that Napoleon ordered the local population to raise an embankment to protect his withdrawal from Russia, and thus the hill came to its name.
Piesk is naturally divided into three sectors, each of which lies on a waterway.
The southeastern part lies along the canal, from the flourmills and the bathhouse, along the water, up to the sluice gate of the "Tameh" canal. To the north-east is the "atz" and the Jewish cemetery. The northeastern part, next to the Schul, starts at the house of Malka Shevah (di Schneiderke), continues from the well along the length of the street and approaches Zelbianka River, which meanders and flows in the direction of the Perkop Bridge and the township of Mosti.
This sector starts at the flourmills. Its southern part the market place, the Orthodox Church and the entire length of the street which was inhabited by Christians, up to the Perkop bridge leading to Mosti is not far from the Zelbianka river.
In southeastern part continues from the well eastward up to Tori village and lies on the canal.
To the east of Piesk lie the towns: Zelbe, Dertzin, Slonim, Baranowitz, Minsk.
To the West: the towns Velp, Rash, Luna, Skil, Grodno.
To the north: Mosti, Razenki, Stutzin, Lida, Vilna.
To the south: Volkovysk, Svislutz, Bialystok, Warsaw.
The township lies in the middle of forests, grassland, orchards and ornamental trees. It is surrounded by waterways on all sides, and lies on the cross-roads:
Due to this geographical position, the area was fortified in every war and became the theatre of heavy fighting, resulting in the burning of the little towns, including Piesk.
At the beginning of the 20thcentury, even before roads connected Piesk with the provincial towns and the railway station was situated 12 km. from the town, Piesk knew economic growth thanks to its location on the intersection of several main roads. There was much movement. People passed through or stopped over. Some stayed on. Among the latter, there were mainly merchants attending the fair and the markets.
Piesk lies astride the stream Zelbianka, which is about 100 km. long. Its headwaters are in the springs near Rozonoy, and it joins the Neman in Zelbian. Piesk is 7 km. distant from the Neman.
It can be assumed that the origins of Piesk were in the Schulhoif sector, not far from Zelbianka
[English page 13]
whose waters were used. This was probably around the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14thcentury. In the "Yizkor" book of Volkovysk (volume 1, page 9), one of the streets mentioned in 1507 is called Piesk Street.
At the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th, the canal was built to the east of the town, in a westward direction. It is 4.5 km. long, 60-70 m. wide and 3-5 m. deep. This canal divided the town in two. The northern sector is called Perkop, meaning "across the excavation." The southern sector is called Zaretz, meaning "across the stream."
It is said that the canal was built by Count Potozki himself, or by one of his relatives, as all the land belonged to this family.
The late Israel Shebach, the "Magid" of Piesk, participated to a large extent in financing the project. After the flourmills were built on the canal bridge, they were leased to him and remained in the family until around 1920.
The canal served a twofold purpose:
The four mills were important to Piesk whose population had grown by the end of the 19thcentury to about 2500 souls. They also served the entire region, which counted scores of villages with a population of several thousands.
It is believed that Piesk already existed in the 12th13thcentury and served as a bastion protecting the borders of the Principality of Kiev. After the disintegration of the Principality, in the second half of the 12thcentury, Piesk, together with the district capital Volkovysk, were alternately conquered by the Princes of Volhyn and Lithuania.
In the middle of the 13thcentury it belonged to Lithuania, Sweden, and was held by Poland that united with Lithuania in 1569. Piesk remained under Polish occupation until 1795 i.e. until the Third Partition of Poland, when Russia annexed it. In 1920, Piesk was returned to Poland, but in 1939 Russia again annexed it.
Piesk developed, apparently, in the 13th 14thcenturies, at the time when Grodno is first mentioned as the district capital.
At the time of the Lithuanian and Polish Princes, the entire district of Grodno was being populated. Volkovysk, the district capital, existed already in the 11th century. It can therefore e assumed that settlements were established to the north and the west of Volkovysk up to the Nemen and beyond, as the river was very important to the rulers. The distance between Volkovysk and the Neman, at Mosti, is 30 km. Piesk lies on the crossroads between Volkovysk and Most. It is therefore likely that Piesk was established with the first settlements in the region.
Jews are first mentioned in the Volkovysk district in a document of the year 1177. As Piesk is the first settlement to the northwest of Volkovysk, distant only 22 km. and there was no
[English page 14]
other Jewish settlement to the northwest between Volkovysk and Piesk, it may be assumed that the Jews mentioned in the 1177 document included those of Piesk.
Moreover, in the Four Country Committee Register, the entry of June 23, 1533, says that King Zygmund I requests all the authorities in the Principality of Lithuania to assist the commercial agent of the Queen, a Jew by the name of Ben-Matityahu, who was involved in some dispute. From this we may learn that Jews were living in the entire area, including Piesk, and that the King was favorably included towards them.
According to the sources of Regeste I Zapinski, it was decreed, in the year 177, to levy, due to the danger of war: 12 groschen from every Jew.
In the Four-Country Committee Register, mention is made of the tax levied from every Jew, which was transferred to the Lithuanian "Knaz," in the years 1680-1693. According to this same source, there were 4781 Jews in the Volkovysk district in the year 1766.
In the year 1847, the number of Jews in the Volkovysk district was 5946, distributed over the following localities:
|Navi da Bar [Nowy Dwor]||53|
This table shows that, after Volkovysk, the district capital, Piesk had the third largest Jewish community.
In the year 1897, the figures of the general population and of the Jewish population were as follows:
|GENERAL POPULATION||JEWISH POPULATION|
|Navi da Bar [Nowy Dwor]||1481||183|
[NOTE: THIS PORTION IS ONLY IN HEBREW SECTION, NOT YIDDISH OR ENGLISH FROM PAGE 23 TO 28]
|SURNAME||NAME||OCCUPATION||TOTAL FAMILY NUMBER|
|Schulhoif Sector: 69 families, 404 people|
|none listed||Itzak||Hat maker||5|
|none listed||Itzak the Geler||rabbi||2|
|none listed||Meir Yudl||wood cutter & tailor||8|
|Lev||Abraham Moshe||wood cutter||6|
|Rozinsky||(Dov) Berl||wood cutter||8|
|Peskovsky||Feiva||bookbinder & sofer||5|
|none listed||Merka||none listed||6|
|Frei||Shkar Moshe||flourmill official||5|
|none listed||Khesa Gitul||shoemaker||7|
|none listed||Zidka||none listed||4|
|none listed||Bila Merka||none listed||5|
|Sofer||R' Mendel||maggid (preacher)||6|
|Levin||none listed||wood cutter||5|
|Vand||Menzi||trip merchant [sic]||6|
|none listed||Beilka (Meirim's)||baker||6|
|Perkof Sector: 75 families, 388 people|
|Kirshner||none listed||handcraft owner/artisan||4|
|Kviat||Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh||rabbi||10|
|Shebach||Abraham||merchant & shop owner||6|
|none listed||Leizer Aharon||glazier||4|
|none listed||Chaya Etky||shop owner||4|
|Morshtein||Yosef and Bashka||shop owner||4|
|none listed||Rabbi Daniel Shimon Binyamin||rabbi||6|
|Feltzky||none listed||medical assistant (feldsher?)||4|
|Shapiro||Itzak haKohan||none listed||6|
|none listed||Erekhmial Shnuor||glazier||4|
|none listed||Bashky (Tzire's)||kiosk owner||4|
|none listed||Rachel-Toiby||none listed||4|
|Yugel||Mordechai-Getzel||shop owner and manufacturer||7|
|none listed||Feigl, Cantor Morshtein's daughter||none listed||4|
|none listed||Yakob the quilter||stitcher||4|
|none listed||Chaya-Yeta||none listed||2|
|Mlkoitzky||Henok Velvel||coachman-cart owner||8|
|Zaretz Sector: 68 families, 370 people|
|Borovsky||Itzak||grain merchant & crop owner||3|
|Borovsky||Meir||grain merchant & crop owner||8|
|none listed||Felta||shop owner||4|
|Lev||Zelig||grain merchant & crop owner||6|
|Lev||"nis yakhot" of Rabbi Zelig||merchant||2|
|none listed||Gita Gneshy||merchant||1|
|Lev||Aharon||crop owner & grain merchant||5|
|none listed||Freda Kheila||shoemaker||3|
|none listed||Pletial||none listed||12|
|Volntziky||3 brothers and __ Vand||shoemaker||10|
|none listed||Leika||shop owner||5|
|Lev||Aryeh (brother of Zelig)||coachman-cart owner||4|
|Grad||Sarah-Shifra and Boruk||wood merchant||5|
|none listed||Menukhakha||none listed||5|
|Borovsky||Rochel Yosef||wood council?||4|
|none listed||Shmuel and Merl||teacher||4|
|Shmulovitz||Shabtai and Bluma||owner of orchard||6|
|Rokhkin||Aharon||tenant of post office||5|
|Borovsky||Yoel||grain merchant & crop owner||3|
|Borovsky||Mendel||grain merchant & crop owner||4|
|Vand||Yakob-Leizer||shamas of synagogue||4|
|Borovsky||Nachum and Sara||wood cutter||6|
|Sarafin||Meir and Eska||owner of garden||5|
|Sarafin||Freda||owner of garden||5|
|Lev||Leishky||maggid and dayan||6|
|Borovsky||Leiby||grain merchant & crop owner||6|
|none listed||Shlomka (Keily's)||tailor||6|
|Leib||Yehuda||merchant and scholar||6|
|Dumshovitzky||Volk-Zev||farm laborer and "ordained" assessor/appraiser [sic-certified?]||6|
[End text appearing only in Hebrew portion]
In the year 1847, the number of Jews in Piesk was 622, while, by the year 1897, it had grown to 1615. In other words, their number increased by some 60% within 50 years. This appears to prove that the end of the 19th century was a period of prosperity for Piesk.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the oppression of the Jews of Piesk intensified, as a result of the abortive uprising of 1905. Many Jews of Mosti and Piesk, who had participated in the uprising were arrested and deported to Siberia. Many youngsters fled to Western Europe and to the United States.
In 1906, a pogrom took place in Bialystok. It is most likely that it was initiated by the authorities. Much Jewish blood was spilled, and many searched for ways to escape from the reign of terror in Russia. Some of the Jews emigrated to Western Europe, others to South Africa and to the United States, some to South America.
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