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[Page 5]

Map of Rovno
The map of the city of Rovno was drawn by memory not to scale

Legend translated by Sara Mages

Legend

1 High-School for girls 20 Flour Mill
2 Jail 21 Train Station
3 The District Council 22 Freight Train Station
4 The new post office23 Match Factory
5 Tarbut High-School 24 The Stock Soap Factory
6 Governor's Offices25 Well
7 The Government Bank 26 Maternity Hospital
8 Cinema and Theater 27 Bergschloss Brewery
9 Synagogues 28 Jewish Hospital
10 Treasury 29 Military Barracks
11 Cathedral/Basilica 30 Government monopoly on alcoholic beverages
12 Science School 31 Jewish condominium
13 Elementary School 32 Jewish Cemetery
14 Lubomirski Palace 33 Tatar Cemetery
15 Jewish home for the aged 34 Christian Cemetery
16 Firehouse 35 Housing for government officials
17 Talmud Torah 36 Lake
18 Church 37 Village
19 Power Station 38 Brick Factory
    39 Tyutkevitz
The Jewish Ghetto during the days of the Nazis Mass Grave

 


[Page 13]

Foreword

Translation by Naomi Gal

With deep awe and heartfelt sorrow, separated by countries and borders from the mass-graves of the sacred deceased of Rovno, the big city, the largest community in Volhynia, we light a Yizkor-candle to our dear ones by publishing this memorial book containing the story of Rovno with its glorious past and bitter ending.

Active and vibrant were the Jews in Rovno, especially during the last century, a period of sustained growth. But bitter fate had it that the Nazi enemy, who brought extinction to millions of Jews around the world, did not spare Rovno and its ten thousands of Jews who were slaughtered and extinguished by various means, leaving nothing behind. The destruction of this community, and hundreds of other communities, is the worst annihilation the Jewish Nation experienced during thousands of years of Diaspora – they were completely erased from the face of the earth. It is grim and shocking that while one-third of Israel was being annihilated, the enlightened world went on weaving its life without lifting a finger to help the millions of Jews sacrificed in Ghettos and death-camps. Indeed, never before did the entire world demonstrate such a cultural and moral bankruptcy.

Before the curtain was raised and the tragedy revealed in all its atrocity, there were rumors about the horrors the Nazis were performing on Israel's dwellings, and Rovno amongst them. Incomplete reports found their way to newspapers and hinted about something horrible that was happening in this big community, but common sense refused to accept it; it was unimaginable. We were behind an opaque wall that separated us from our distressed community torn by the fangs of the beast, as we were vacillating between hope and despair, adding rumor to rumor, news item to news item, and the mystery was deep, harsh and depressing.

And then came the lightening, the mystery was solved; we found out that our worries and anxieties were not unjustified. The world of the sons of the Rovno was darkened, following torture and humiliations, they were exterminated according to the Nazi plan for European Jewry. From oppression and having to wear a badge, they went to slave-work, eviction and bondage and then to the Ghettos and to mass extermination.

Thus, with one wave of an axe, came the end of Rovno's sons, an unprecedented catastrophe. But we, the generation that witnessed the horrors in this time, will never forget the Jewish Communities that were uprooted. Especially Rovno's Community, where our roots lay.

We knew we had so much to tell future generations and ourselves about this bloody period and the preceding events. The goal of those bringing forth this book is to write a memoir for future generations about events and happenings from the life of the city and its Jewish inhabitants. We would like to shed light on the public, national, spiritual, religious and economic way of life and the developments and changes that took place in the city throughout the generations under the different regimes. This goal was only partially attained, since as much as we elaborated we could only convey a small amount of the stories and the history of the city, and all those who lived and labored there, forming a multi-layered, rich life. Those who endeavored and cultivated the idea of the memorial initiative are fully aware that one cannot depict in a memorial-book all the details of the past and that it is impossible to describe in-depth the horrible tragedy that happened during our generation in the anguished Diaspora.

To write about Rovno, the metropolis of Volhynia's Diaspora, after the Holocaust is to wonder about its past from the time it was a cultural settlement through the development of its Jewish Community with its trials and tribulations, and tell its history throughout the generations. However this book does not claim to be a history book, but mainly a memorial for a Jewish Community, vibrant, flourishing and outstanding in different ways under the rule of Poles, Russians and divers conquerors, till they were wiped away by our generation's archenemy.

In his foreword to History of the Jews historian Simon Dubnow indicates: “The Jewish history during the last generations (1789-1939) is loaded with major political and cultural changes, with brief alternations of oppression and freedom for the individual and the national, as well as the assimilation of Western and Eastern European Jews, in the latest period (1881-1939), with the growth of anti-Semitism on one hand, and the national movement in Israel, there is a dramatic change in the life of the nation: since the beginning of the European exodus one part created a prominent center in America and the other, unfortunately smaller, sets the foundation for a national center in the historic homeland: Israel.”

“World War One 1914-1918, the following Russian Revolution and the horrible reaction of Nazi and fascist racism during the last years, destroyed large numbers of Jewish centers, and brought the nation to a crossroad, wondering about her future.”

Alongside millions of Polish Jews and communities in Poland, Russia and other countries, Rovno center, with its active, creative and thriving members was annihilated as well. Yet the torn city still carries its previous name, and it is being rebuilt by others that restore her ruins and rule her, but we, the Jews, have just a tragic memory, mingled with burning pain and fury for losing our hold, and the loss of all that was created by Jews throughout the generations. Now all we have there are mass-graves that engulfed sons and founders – close to thirty thousands souls. Our brothers, who entered the city as soon as it was freed from the Nazis, erected gravestones for the victims, but who knows what is the tombs' fate, are they still there, or did the locals destroy them, as was done in other places.

Among the different memorials for the Holocaust victims that are being established around the world, this book will be a tribute to Rovno's sacred sons, it will have its place among other books about the Holocaust, so that every generation, till the last one, will know.

Historians have to look back when they recount what happened in the past and they find information from available sources, so that they can shed light on the past. They research publications, documents and papers, as well as memoirs, when trust-worthy. The lesson learned from each period of time, the background and reasons based on available information, creates a data on which the historian bases his conclusions, that is why all the assembled details are important for the present and for the following generations, and they are more significant for us after the Holocaust, and the extermination of one third of our nation.

The life conditions in the Diaspora prevented keeping archives that generally help researchers, and very little was left after the Nazi destruction. The only material still available can be found in countries that were not invaded by the Nazis. In addition testimonies of Holocaust survivors help us restore a fragmented history of the ruined cities, including the story of Rovno, the large and blessed community. It is possible that much information and important details that deserve to be in this book are not included, either because they didn't reach us or were not trust-worthy, so the book might raise different complaints. But those in charge of publishing the book toiled and labored incessantly, wishing to render the material they assembled in a simple and honest way, and to use it with no further ado, so that they could at long last publish the Rovno book.

It is a pleasant duty to express gratitude to the main helpers of the publication. To Yacov Adini, who edited, to A. S. Amiel and H. B. Eilon and to all those who shared their writings, particularly to Y. L. Yonathan, Z. Dagany, M. Zinovitch, S. Izraeli, and Z. Scatz, and the activists: S. Rotenberg, S. Phisyouk, A. Rize, Y. Ben-Ari, Moshe Horowitz, and Y. Shactov. The publishing houses M. Newman Tel Aviv and “Kiryat Sefer” Jerusalem – thank you all.

The editor


[Page 16]

Register - Memorial Candle

by A.A.

Translation by Naomi Gal

In the past, Jewish Communities noted important public events in the public register and in Hevra Kaddisha's register. There were many entries in the registers of Rovno's Community and they are a source for its history. The Hevra Kaddisha register is from the mid 19th century and was kept by the inheritors of Rabbi Yom-Tov Weintrob, who was the synagogue's manager 50 years ago. The last public register was kept by the community board, and based on this register, Rabbi Zvi Heller, a local activist, published a Yiddish booklet titled The Notebook of Rovno (Assembled by Zvi Heller, from Rovno, with the help of Asher Shtil, the community scribe, Lublin 1923).

The booklet contained the history of Rovno and the biographies of the major personalities that lived there for the past hundreds of years till the present day, as well as the history of World War I till the Polish occupation. Mentioned as well were some of the city's establishments with footnotes by the editor in the style of synagogues' managers and scribes from previous generations. Most of the booklet is about the history of Rovno's Jews throughout the years.

In 1917 the Rovno branch of “Tarbut” set out to document the history of Rovno and its citizens. Meetings were held between activists and teachers, a plan was made and an intensive search began for materials about the city, its institutions and mainly its Jews. The idea attracted many who assisted: Dr. Yosef Shvidka, Moshe Kiper, Dr. Yakov Berman (Yardeny), Meir Kodish, Zeev Kornik (Degani), Zeev Zam, Nehemia Lutski, Arie Gerbuz (Avitachi), Hikel Kopelman, Leib Eizenberg, Ribenzon, Woldorski and others. A special committee was nominated, headed by Garbuz, and at the beginning of 1918 they started to organize the materials. It seemed as if the endeavor would be successful, but then the sky darkened for Rovno's Jews, as well as for all of Ukraine's Jews, and thus the initiative was hindered. In 1920 the regime changed, the Ukrainians replaced the Poles, and the Jewish life in Rovno changed; on one hand there were new worries, but on the other, a new horizon opened for national and social activities. The project of publishing Rovno's History, that could have been an important source for the Jewish history in the Diaspora – was put on hold. One of the main reasons was the immigration of the activists to Israel: among them were Dr. Yakov Berman, Moshe Kiper and Arieh Garbuz. They had no followers so the publication of Rovno History, with all the assembled material, stayed buried in the closet of the “Tarbut” society and no one knows its fate.

Since we heard the atrocious news about the end of Jewish Rovno, and after all our illusions were shattered – the need to publish became more urgent and the decree “write as a memorial” was constantly on our minds. The branches of The Rovno tree in Israel volunteered to the mission of bringing into fruition the initiative that began in Rovno many years ago.

May this memorial book be the last publication and a memorial-candle to the Rovno's community that was eradicated and exists no longer.

A.A.


[Page 17]

The Main City in Volhynia

by K. Shabtai

Translation by Naomi Gal

It can be said that Rovno is the essence of Volhynia's Jewry, of Jewish Volhynia. There are some basic reasons for its fame: the greatest luminaries of the Torah lived there and their words reached far, far beyond the borders of their towns. The Jewry of Volhynia was never sealed in its narrow world; its imagination was never in shackles.

This is true as well for the fertile and reviving spice that was part of Volhynia's Jewry – the Hassidic movement. This elixir gave wings to the Jewish imagination, was like water to its parched soul and filled its yearning heart.

While Polish Jewry was still blocked from world's culture, education in Volhynia flourished, and bright stars like Isaac Dov Bar Levinzon and his friends, were the pioneers of a new spirit for all eastern Jewry.

Those movements stem from the healthy simplicity of Volhynia's Jewry, typical throughout all its history. Until the end of World War I Volhynia's Jews did not experience industrialization; hence, the Jewish folklore was kept in all the towns. Thus the communities were able to keep their tradition and not be influenced or integrated in neighboring cultures. In Volhynia there were no “Russian who adhered to Mosaic Law” nor “Poles who adhered to Mosaic Law”, and definitely no “Ukrainian who adhered to Mosaic Law”. In the towns and cities of Volhynia grew only whole Jews, “Jews from the country of Jews”. No wonder, then, that Volhynia was the only place in pre-Holocaust Poland that was a Jewish fort for Zionism and Hebrew and where the Jewish life was traditional as well as contemporary.

You will find these characteristics especially in Rovno. Rovno was first in all of Volhynia, not only in implementing Zionism, Aliyah and Hebrew, but also in every other aspect of Jewish life. Every time Volhynia was cut from its center because of ideological fights and disputes that disrupted communications, Rovno assumed full responsibility. It became a new center, a temporary one, till a bigger and more important one was established. This was true in 1919, when the main Zionist office was established and until the Holocaust, when Rovno, in the short period of time while under the enemy's sword, was responsible for all the smaller settlements around her. When the rumor spread that the policy of the archenemy is to liquidate the small settlements and leave only the big centers, Rovno planned to rescue all the Jews from the surrounding smaller communities. There was a call in Rovno for a consultation with the Jewish committees of the smaller settlements about moving thousands of Jews to Rovno, and Rovno, already in a difficult situation, worried about her brothers-in-suffering.

Rovno was a city of prominent personalities, amongst them activists and writers. And no wonder: this is part of the city's traits since her first day. As Rovno was the essence of her surroundings she encompassed all the glory of Volhynia's Jewry.

Another attribute that made Rovno stand out was her newness, stemming from her youth. Rovno was unlike the noble, old, traditional and respected communities of Volhynia, unlike the big Ostroh, Volodymyr-Volynski, Dubno or Tuehin, Korets, Turiysk and other smaller communities, minor in Torah and major in the Hassidic movement. She is no equal to aristocratic-intellectual Kremenets, since Rovno was actually a new city, and although she was born in the 15th century, she only became a real city and a center, The Center, at the end of last century. The reason was her geographic-strategic nature that attracted population, and as a new city she had her own character that made her stand out and outshine her sisters at once.

New settlements are usually built layer upon layer. First is the layer of people with no income or status in their community, and thus easier for them to change their place hoping to turn their luck. Later come vibrant people with energy and initiative who had no outlet to their energy and initiative in their older, sleepy, set-in-their-ways dwellings. You found them abundantly in Rovno. She was an old settlement, with all the institutions and enterprises of an organized city, and her rapid development opened a venue for young and daring forces and thus attracted the best from Volhynia and from outside as well: those who yearned for achievement in one of life's areas, and couldn't find it in the small sleepy towns of Volhynia, made their way to the center, to vibrant, lively, awake and bustling Rovno.

The larger a center the city became, the more people were attracted to her, and the more people she had, a bigger and more attractive center she became.

The way Rovno was the first in Volhynia's Jewish life, she was also the first to drink the poison to the last drop. The first ghetto in Volhynia was established in Rovno, and it was there the murderers (November 1941) made their first “Action” under the rule of the civil administration, when the Jews were still under the illusion that now – when the military regime was over, a chaotic period of in-between – their situation would improve. They believed that any regime that will reign is bound to protect them as well… And Rovno was the first for a total loss, a final liquidation in the “second action”, July 12 1942, when she was annihilated with nothing left.

K. Shabtai


[Page 19]

People of Rovno

by Zvi Yashiv (Fishbien)

Translation by Naomi Gal

The time elapsed since Rovno's Jews were slaughtered allows us to view their characteristics with a certain perspective. Rovno, the remarkable city in Poland, had between World War I and II a singular Jewish majority.

Rovno's Jews had hardly any communication with Jews elsewhere on account of the distance from other parts of Poland. Hence, there was no point of comparing and deciding what characterized Rovno and its Jews, and how different they were from others. But now, when Jewish Rovno came to an end and some of the city descendents acclimated in Israel and were meeting – and still are – with descendents of other places in Poland and other East-Europeans countries – you can't help but compare and try to find out: what is special about Rovno's Jews?

Who are they really? Did they excel in Torah learning, in wisdom, and perseverance – typical to Lithuania's Jews? The response is almost negative. There were no erudite scholars or world famous luminaries.

Were Rovno's sons especially dynamic, ambitious or outstandingly talented, as were the political Polish Jews? You can't answer “yes” to this question.

Did the “Galicians” – seen as “savvy”, flexible and able to adapt to any conditions and circumstances, influence Rovno's Jews? The answer is again no. Also as far as we are concerned, you will not find in the sons of Rovno the characteristics of Russia-Ukraine Jews (who tend to have an extreme idealistic passion); very few of them give that impression.

Indeed Rovno's Jewry is a spiritual enclave between the four main blocks of the above-mentioned Eastern European Jewry. So let's try and catch a glimpse of the spiritual image of her sons, as perceived by the writers of these notes.

The Rovno Jew was not a complicated soul. He carried his Judaism yoke without being self-conscious or feeling inferior, that's why he saw no need to fight fiercely for its existence. He was always self-contained, without having any worthy role model to emulate or follow in the “Goyish” environment. For many years Volhynia was a provincial place politically and culturally, almost a no-man-land. The distance between Volhynia, the Russian cultural centers, and the important spiritual centers of Poland was hundreds of kilometers. The Rovno Jew did not excel in the Russian language, and he had no time to be fluent in Polish in just twenty years of Polish rule before the war. The Jews settlements of Volhynia savored very little European education and had no part in the battle to expand it, as we learn from history books and ancestors' stories. In the past the clash between “Hassidism” and “objectors” was not bitter, since Rovno's son favored both.

Thus, the average Rovno Jew was not prone to extremes; even in the last dozens of years when, in other places, the brawl among the Zionist parties and its objectors reached some peaks, Rovno's attitude was rather lukewarm. A “wall to wall coalition” in Zionist and national institutions were widespread in Rovno for one reason only: lack of an extremist attitude to the pressing Zionist issues. The Rovno Jew was considered “weak” politically and did not know how to fight for splitting hairs. This lack of extremism was at times accompanied by contempt for power-hungry politicians, since for the Rovno Jew what counted was the essence, and not the trivial-turned-into-essence, which required lots of time and energy. No wonder, then, that other Polish Jews regarded the Rovno Jew as provincial who wouldn't go with the flow. Rovno's sons disliked those who turned Zionism into a profession, a livelihood, instead of a system-of-beliefs.

On the other hand the generosity of Rovno's Jews was remarkable, especially when they contributed money to the victims of the Arab pogrom in the land of Israel in 1929. The operation encompassed everybody and there was no Jew who didn't give as much as he could. The donations for Jewish institutions in Israel back then were ordinary, but the donations for the 1929 victims were outstanding. Rovno's Jews felt that this was not about buying Jewish land or about helping the settlers in Israel, but about something that endangered everything established so far, so they gave openhandedly.

Another Rovno trait: one doesn't push oneself to the head of the line, not because one lacks ambition, but rather because of slight impatience. The Rovno Jew does not have the patience to advance slowly toward his goal, using the two ways that lead to power: groveling and flattering the prominent and hurting the equal. The Volhynia Jew was honest to a fault and Rovno's Jews even more so.

This honesty and innocence of Rovno's Jews naturally led them to prepare their sons and daughters to life in Israel and positively influence their surroundings. Thanks to the healthy instinct of Rovno's Jews the number of youth who immigrated to Israel was larger during different “Aliyah” waves, in various period of times. The Zionist plantings were bearing fruit. That is why we remember Rovno as a doting mother who gave her sons the very best and the ultimate, which is so crucial nowadays, when our nation fights for its survival and our state fights for its independence and sovereignty.

We agree with Shmuel Sharira who said about Volhynia Jews: if the Lithuanian Jews were considered the brain, Volhynia Jews should be justly considered as the heart of the Jews in the Diaspora.

Zvi Yashiv (Fishbien)

 

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