Translation by Naomi Gal
Writing on Rovno's tombstone is not a light task since she had more than one face. There were the mountains and the valleys, the marketplace and the alleys, the rich and the poor quarters. And this whole Rovno was not the same one during last century as in was in the previous one.
Hence, I will restrict myself to a few lines, marking only one house in a single alley.
The house is the house of uncle Meirke Patechnik, the rabbi from Rovno's, the brother of Rabbi Shemuel from Berezne, a house attached to Beit Shemuel synagogue, named after the aforementioned rabbi.
From there, through the attic's porthole that opened to backyards of shabby, crumbling dwellings of the simple folk, the poor and the paupers, from there the wide world was revealed to me in its spring, when my life was budding.
The smell of coal from the locomotives filled the air, transported by red, blue and green lamps, darting and winking lights, accompanied by whistles and bell ringing, The Third Ring: - Sarny, Kowel, Kiev
In those years Rovno was a county seat to dozens of smaller towns and villages, smaller than small, some of them known all over the world like Mezhirichi, Dubno, Koretz, Anipoli, famous beyond the Volhynia-Ukrainian horizon, and some just simple villages, Jewish abodes.
Rovno was on a crossroad between north and south, to Polesie and its swamps: Sarny, Luniniec, Pinsk, and another road to Zdolbunow, Dubno, Berdychiv, Kazatin and Odessa!
And we, the sons of the small villages, were proud of this big city, relying on her with the might of our remote villages and depending on her for our lives. When you asked a Berezne's son or a kid from Aleksandrja: Where are you from? He'd proudly respond: from Rovno! Only with a second or third inquiry you'd find out that he really is from a tiny village, around 50 miles from Rovno
Travelers from all villages used to take the highway at night, through birch and oak forests, on rickety roads with horse-wagons run by Jews. They sang folk songs on their way and with non-Jewish wagon-drivers atop mounds of hay and straw, so that at dawn you arrived to Rovno's gates, and had the whole day in front of you.
Once you arrived you entered the big Torah school of Rabbi Liebish that was in the heart of the market and really a part of it, and you'd get a praying shawl and teffilin from the beadle so that you could pray. From there you made your way to the nearby hotel of David Rasis or Pinye Glayt, reserve a bed for the night and have breakfast.
The brass samovar stood at the table's edge, whispering and sizzling, fuming and steaming, relaxing and encouraging. You'd take a couple of buns, butter them, savor sweet tea, and talk business.
You met everybody in this nice inn, and you'd talk about everyone and everything. Obviously each had a secret, business secret, but besides these there were no secrets, what is there to hide? After breakfast you'd make a blessing and the running began. The idiom used to be: The day does not stand still, you go here, you go there, and the day is over.
Running where? If for fabrics on a small scale you'd go to Yankel Yobicha, a respected woman, a housewife and a woman of valor; for wholesale fabrics, you'd go to the famous Lemlach-Shatz & Manzon where you'd find a forest of fabrics, silk, velvet and wool, for the railroad workers and their families. There were merchants who managed to become the providers of all the railroad workers clothes. No point in being envious, their income indeed was secure.
Running and buying and carrying loads and the room was full of packages and bundles, crates and merchants' and brokers' boxes.
At dusk you'd go to Uncle Meirke's house, which is like going to a ball or the opera after a workday. The house was mostly a worship place; it had three half-dark rooms on the side, full of guests and relatives, rabbis from nearby villages and remote grandchildren. One is the son of Rabbi Michale from Kozin, who came with his son, a youngster with a beginning of a moustache and beard who is about to be called upon his military duties. He is proud to be shortsighted and says he is counting on his eyes. He came to be checked by Dr. Gurfinkel: he has all kind of eye problems. The rabbi of Lutsk, his wife and daughter are here as well, to get wedding garments. A third relative, from Olyka, came to see Dr. Segal, everybody talks about his craziness and his genius as a doctor: when you can find him at a sound moment he is the best.
Uncle Meirke likes it when the house is full of guests: you unscrew some doors and put them on boxes in the synagogue and wait with supper till quarter to midnight, when the last train from Polesie arrives.
At Uncle Meirke's you see all the important politicians, some of them the heads of the local Zionists, and other just simple public activists. Hirsh Haylir is famous all around town; you can see him running in the streets, always in a hurry to something very important. And he is usually late to every place he goes. Shelomo Kolikovitcher is also popular amid the authorities. He is even on the Royal Bank Board.
In Uncle Meirke's house you pay no heed to the Zionists, because according to him they are liberals, who do not adhere to Jewish law but you'd refrain from slandering them openly since after all it is about Zion and Jerusalem
There are some young women at the house, who every now and then disappear for a few hours. It seems they are peeking at The Hebrew Lovers Club. Obviously the parents are not happy about it but it is better than going after the Bund activists. Some of these are locked behind bars, sons and daughters of prominent citizens of the city.
The prison stands by a grove, and ironically this is where the Bunds dwell. Rovno is constantly in a social and public upheaval. One Sabbath the rabbi from Stolin arrives and the whole town is excited; he pays a visit to Rabbi Meirke, who in his turn visits him the next Sabbath.
We are waiting for Greenboym, and we already know Jabotinsky is preparing his speech for the banquet.
At Motyouk's place they are preparing an important Zionist project, and representatives are traveling to congresses, holding a Zionist Minyan and collecting money on Yom Kippur's Eve.
On the rabbinical seat is the klyrekel a prominent rabbi who knows the world as well as the Torah; he is in the lumber business.
There is in Rovno a big group of educated people. They are famous beyond the city's borders: Dr. Zilberfarb, who would briefly become a minister, like Rabbi Saul Vohal, the king of Poland for a day, Dr. Nohum Shtif, and with and around them a group of intellectuals. Every article by Jabotinsky is an event, exactly like an article by Achad Ha'Am amid the Zionist circles. Intellectually they are adversaries.
Jews are weaving their lives alongside the Polish population, the devout Catholics and the non-Jewish Ukrainians, with whom they live side by side when it comes to commerce, selling, buying, cash or credit
On the Sabbath everything is closed and locked, the market is empty and all the Jews are rushing to synagogues. As for Sundays: the store doors are closed up front but the commerce is conducted secretly, in the backyard. This is the non-Jews holy day and they, the masters of the land, go to churches accompanied by ringing bells. If, on a Sunday, close to Easter, a group of bandits wants to have some fun, some tough guys from the Wolja interfere and restore order. In Klusov, Polesie and in other places young Zionists from Rovno train for life in the Land of Israel. Some of the heads of the Zionist movement immigrate to The Land of Israel, as well. And the world goes on.
Years went by and the Jews adapted to the Polish Regime, exchanged the Russian language for Polish while keeping the National Jewish flame burning, hidden, struggling for a way of life, fighting for survival. They bought houses and planted forests, married their sons and daughters and nobody predicted the horrible doom and distraction, that in one day swallowed around eighteen thousand Jews, babies and elderly, children, rabbis, Zionists and their opponents, everything wiped out with blood, fire and smoke, all the neighborhoods, all those lively crowds that created and built. No trace left of Uncle Meirke's house, and his righteous wife Rachel-Passil who during the dire times, when there was nothing left to give to the needy gave some sort of weakened tea, and with them perished the two precious sisters, whose names I can never say, except in prayer, they and their families, boys and girls. The heart breaks remembering youth's nest, and secretly cries for the forgetfulness that drowns everything and soon nothing will be left
To the soul of my father, Rabbi Lifa Kornik
Last generation of Diaspora, first one of redemption
Translation by Naomi Gal
Stones are flying out and shattering glasses in houses and stores' windows. Gates are quickly locked to avoid the wild beasts, rowdy shouts: kill Jews as a continuation to the cries of Viva the Revolution! at a mass demonstration celebrating the Russian revolution of 1905. These are my first childhood memories. Since that time I have a deep respect for the Jewish porter, who with sticks and stones forcefully scared the non-Jewish bandits, drove them away and saved Rovno Jews from disaster.
Inside the city boundaries the bandits behaved well toward the Jews, although you had to keep your distance when they were drunk. Not so outside the city. There they did not miss any opportunity to provoke Jews, who were seeking some touch of nature and fresh air, and you'd better avoid solitary walks. In the resorts in Klewan's forests, where we used to spend our summers, we frequently met naked or half naked Jews asking for help after an encounter with these bandits on their way from the village to the resort. These sights are engraved in my memory. It makes no difference if the purpose was robbery or just provoking Jews; the fact is that all the casualties were Jews.
The spiritual life of the city was in the synagogues; the old one, the big one and the Trisker Cloise, all three were around the same area and together created a cultural-spiritual center. During Sabbaths and holidays God-fearing ambiance prevailed, especially in the period of the High Holidays. People from far away came to worship at these synagogues. A visit by the rabbi from Turiysk was a huge event and thousands of people pressed so that they could shake the rabbi's hand. I was very disappointed when this handshake turned out to be a light touch of the thumb and index finger, but after some thought I justified the rabbi. Could you really shake the hands of thousands of people in such a short period of time?
The hospitality building that was close to the synagogues lodged not only moneyless guests. A Jew married his daughter (unlike nowadays when girls find their own grooms, God forbid) and invited to the wedding all his relatives and friends to the first floor of that house. The Klezmer, who looked as if they were taken right out of Chagall or Mane Katz' painting, played the same tunes night after night, the joker used to tell the same boring jokes and the curious kids got the same treat. The street was full of mirth when the procession passed. One with the groom at the head and the other with the bride at the head, and in front of them the family dancing the beggars' dance from the Dibbuk while the klezmer joyfully played till they got to the big synagogue, where the wedding ceremony was held, and then back to the hospitality building.
Each holiday had its own celebration. Potato pancakes, lighting of the candles, at Hanukkah; the packages with the dried fruit from the Land of Israel at Tu B'Shevat the disguised paupers and the Haman's pastry at Purim; the baking of the matzos and the cleaning before Passover, celebrating Jewish heroism at Lag Baomer, decorating the houses during Shavuot, building Succas and decorating them for the Harvest Holiday, the God-fearing ambiance during the High Holidays, and mostly the Hassidic enthusiasm during the dancing with the Torah and the eating in Simhat Torah . All these added content and spice to the dull Jewish life that was busy all year long with commerce and work. These were the highlight of the children's lives who spent their childhood in dark Heders, next to long, gray tables, shaking their young bodies to the rabbi's order (the more you shook the better) and repeating together Hebrew grammar and then Talmud chapters that most of the time were beyond their comprehension.
The waves of the Haskala (enlightenment, or general education) and Zionists' movements found a fertile ground in Rovno and around her. The buds of Haskala turned some of the youth to the high school that was proud of its graduate, the famous writer Korolenko. But this writer's spirit did not reign on his school that was very intent on the percentage quota, which controlled the number of Jewish students. The Jewish school and the high school could not fill the void and many had to travel all over Russia in search of higher education. These students were admired and envied when they came home for breaks, adorned with their uniforms and their shining buttons. Especially impressive were the conservatorium students with their epaulettes.
The Zionist revival that came with the Haskala put a wedge in the assimilation problem that was hidden in the Haskala's roots. The improved Heder of eight foot (after the name of its four founders: teachers Eisenberg, Borstien, Frilok and Ribanson) where you learned Hebrew in Hebrew and secular studies, attracted many students and had a great influence. Hebrew became fluent in babes' mouths and the Hebrew newspapers were popular among children and adults. Youngsters selling Jewish National Funds stamps were present at every Jewish celebration. Gluing these stamps on letters' envelopes in addition to the regular stamps became a tradition. The Jewish National Fund was the first amid the charities' bowls in synagogues on the Eve of Yum Kippur. The Zionist education proved itself and when the time came the ground was ripe for establishing Hebrew cultural institutions, and many Jews in comparison to other cities immigrated to the Land of Israel, and hence were saved from the inferno.
The storm of war and revolution
The storm of World War One with all its horrors; the refugees and the front-life; the falling of royalties and the founding of new regimes; new revolution every day and change of power; the emancipation of repressed peoples, and Balfour's Declaration amid them; riots and pogroms against Jews; changes and revolutions in the economies and cultures of peoples and countries, all these uprooted the essence of the Jewish Diaspora, whose roots were not in a homeland, and washed away the imaginary idyll of Diaspora life. The Jewish youth reached a crossroad, between the charms of the liberating revolution and the Zionist demands, the fall of Trumpeldor and his friends, the beginning of assembling youngsters in Hechalutz for Alyia. Hebrew literature on one side and cultural activities on the other and pogroms by Ukrainians and the antics of the Bolsheviks, rumors about the closing down of Zionist offices and institutions on one side and a desperate struggle with parties that believed in the Diaspora on the other hand, all these were incentives for vigorous activities.
1918. The regime keeps changing daily, sometimes without your noticing. Sometimes you don't even know who is ruling the city, or different regimes are ruling different parts of the city. Since the armistice in Brisk a German army is stationed in town; affected by the last defeats they try not to assault Jews. The communication with the world is sporadic and the information interrupted and unreliable. But when one bright morning we discovered the city empty of Germans, who left at the dark of night, we realized that the war was over and the Germans defeated. From now on the Ukrainian bandits could riot undisturbed, with no reaction or support from the Germans, as they saw fit.
In free Ukraine
When Skoropadsky was expelled from Kiev he settled in Rovno but did not stay for long. Petliura succeed him and was enlisting youngsters to fight the Bolsheviks from east and north, and to fight Skoropadsky from south and against the Polish army from west. The Jews are ordered to enlist, too, but the primary enthusiasm to free Ukraine, that found an echo in young Jews is now evaporating as they hear about the pogroms. The Jews are hesitating, dodging. Youngsters at the age of military service are being kidnapped in the streets and they are being surveyed in their homes. To hide? To stay in hiding till it is safe? No, Jewish youth was educated to shake the shackles of the Diaspora.
Life at the army barracks on the Wolja are not very appealing; it is crummy, dirty and noisy. I pleaded and to my delight got permission to sleep at home. But I will never forget the experience of singing folk songs on guard duty nights, unorganized simple folks singing Ukrainian folk songs. If you never heard them you don't know how beautiful folk songs can be. Soft, melodious, heart wrenching sounds that make you yearn and crave. Like a tale from One Thousand and One Nights. Like the singing of a muezzin next to Constantinople in October 1920 on the way to Israel.
Someone who could read and write was a find in Petliura army. After two days of training with arms they found out I could read and write, since they couldn't tell right from left. Later, when I became the squadron's secretary, they could not give any details about their age or any other personal information. But they knew well the difference between a Christian and a Jew. Even my commander knew the difference. Although he was very pleased that two days after assigning me the job of establishing an office and choosing an attendant to serve me all day, he already knew the number of the soldiers in his regiment and their names. After we became friends he promised me, on our way to Novograd-Volynsk, that he would give these jids a taste of his arms, and indeed as the train was riding, soldiers tried to use what they learned about guns; they were mainly non-Jews who managed to find a scapegoat.
This commander was the head of the saving squadron that was sent, after the pleading of the city's activists, by the commandant Kovenko to save Rovno from the bandits who for twenty hours pillaged and murdered mercilessly. What happened to you here? he asked me, marching at the head of the squadron on the main street. Your friends ran a bit wild, I answered, furious at the saver. No big deal, he said and went on marching. These are your redeemers, Israel, I thought silently biting my tongue. This saving squadron and their officer were soon captured by the Poles, and I remember a few months later I met him in Rovno on his way back from the Polish captivity stumbling home, starving and dressed in rugs. I felt no compassion for him. I was helpless when he made his shenanigans and I was now indifferent to his plight. That was my revenge, a Jewish revenge.
And this is another Jewish revenge: some of the bandits that created havoc in the city joined the saving squadron (the bandits became savers!) and were captured by the Bolsheviks. Some of them were shot in the forest behind the high school for being part of the enemy's army, and maybe it was as a result of their nice deeds in the city, as some believed. I recognized among the dead one I had seen performing acts of pillage and murder, breaking into stores and giving merchandise to the local peasants who came with carriages driven by horses to enjoy the reveling. I saw him go after Jews who dared show themselves in the street. His face was distorted and shredded. I was deeply sorry that he was not hung and thus given the citizens he abused the opportunity to tear him apart. These were the impulses back then, frontline impulses.
In Petliura Army
The front is moving and getting closer to us. From the northeast the Bolsheviks, from northwest the Poles. A new group of recruits arrived and began a fervent incitement against the Jews. The ambiance at the camp is stifling and dangerous. The Jews are secretly talking about defecting, which is no less dangerous. The officers, with whom I had a good relationship and some I even befriended, especially after they taught me to drink with them, paid attention to my concerns. The conversation, that was a long one, involved the general problem of Jews serving in the army. In just a few hours they held squadron meetings, the provocation was stopped and the tension eased.
Oskilko, the commander of the Southeast front, one of the adjutant-majors of Petliura (who was murdered near Rovno sometime after Petliura) visited the camps and received a delegation of Jewish soldiers, who complained to him about maltreatment and discrimination. His promises were quite vague. What could one expect from him ridden by hatred for Jews, after he protected the bandits from Pruszkow, who performed a massive massacre on its Jews? We fondly remembered the intervention of Kovenko, the city commandant who prevented these rioters from coming to Rovno.
In a village next to Gorodok, nine kilometers northeast from Rovno, the 49th battalion was busy guarding the ferries and the bridges from the Polish army. One morning there were worrying rumors: The Bolsheviks conquered Rovno, Rovno is burning, Rovno is robbed, the population is escaping the city, one rumor followed another, each one worse than the one before. An order to retreat. In half an hour the battalion began to retreat. The destination was unknown. We, three clerks with all the office supplies, the officers' belongings and nine guns were left behind. After numerous requests and pleading, one of the peasants consented to give us a cart to move everything just two kilometers away, to Gorodok. The peasant with whom we left the aforementioned luggage must have earned our trust. But what could we do? The battalion swiftly moved to Dubno and left us with no orders. It was clear that Petliura's army was counting its days. So we cordially parted from each other and went our separate ways. Two of them went to Galicia their homeland, and I to Rovno. Fearing an encounter with an enemy army we took no guns. For lack of military equipment we were already in civilian clothes, and thus, after destroying our military documents we became regular civilians.
The way home was free and quiet and I found the city still standing, rejoicing at the peace Petliura's armies left her, apprehensive about what was about to occur, fearing the unknown. The next day I regretted deeply not having taken with me at least one gun. I don't know if it would have helped me, but looking through the window empty-handed at the acts of robbery and murder of the bandits, that arrived to town the day after and ran wild with no resistance, I felt an extremely bitter feeling of helplessness.
Soldiers came back from the front, from Mazyr. One of the officers, a short witty guy boasted enthusiastically about his heroic deeds. Against the Red Army? No, against the city Jews. He ordered one Jew to give him his boots, and when he refused he took them away with the legs. He related stories about abusing Jewish women with cynicism and relish. He was very surprised when I interrupted his speech and reprimanded him in front of the others about his patriotic deeds. He began to stammer and apologize, and when those present most of them non-Jews supported my arguments, left shamefacedly and never came back.
There was one Jewish soldier, a Rovno citizen, a mean hypocrite, who used to join every Jews' slanderer and even surpass him, participating with the bastards in their trips to the villages to chase girls and drinking with them to oblivion. During one of his escapades, when his mouth reeked of alcohol and curses of Jews, he was given a glass of castor oil by some of my goyim friends, with my inspiration, after taking away his gun. This drink calmed him down and since then I never again heard him repeat his ugly tales, at least not in my presence.
A Hebrew kindergarten and a Hebrew school are very important institutions, but you have to build them. Avitachi, the living soul of Tarbut (culture) who initiated the establishment of a high school, approached the endeavor energetically, as always. Again, the political events came to his aid. Skoropadsky's government, that ruled Ukraine, was pushed away from Kiev and settled in Rovno. Krasny, the Jewish affairs' Minister, did not like the idea of a Jewish high school, but the education minister had a goyish head and did not understand why permission should not be granted. With the license in hand, which in these daily political changes was worthless, you found a kind of apartment, collect some old furniture and most importantly: declared the foundation of a high school and called for students to enroll. Teachers? Principal? Equipment? Somehow all will be found. The road to a Tarbut Center approved by the government in Kiev was not all wine and roses. In order to take the train you needed documents and permissions, sealed; all that was missing was the commissar's signature, who for some reason refused to sign. Maybe he got it? With a signature in the name of the commissar I head off to Kiev risking my life, in case I was caught with a falsified signature. After three days of troubles and adventures, I arrived safely to my destination.
In the Tarbut Center in Kiev the astonishment was great. Offices and Zionist institutions were closing daily and here they are founding a new establishment? They must be hallucinating! Dovnikov and the late Alterman tried for hours to convince me to go back home and wait for better times. I refused to budge without a principal. Finally they sent for Mr. Kipper, and when they couldn't find him, I agreed to go back only after they gave me their word of honor they would send him at once. And indeed, after a few days he showed up.
The preparations for the opening of the high school were in full speed. The political ambience around told us that the conditions for creating a Hebrew high school were ripe. We had the right apartment, at least for a year. We had somehow rounded up the furniture. Hebrew teachers had been found as well. Students? Now that was an important question. The parents were scoffing, others were skeptical, and there were those who nodded their heads at these lunatics who at these harsh times were dreaming about a Hebrew high school. Lobbying, promises, personal influence and cajoling, and maybe some aspiration to give the child a Hebrew education maybe the dream would come true all these brought a few dozen kids to the two first classes. But where would textbooks and equipment come from? Again I was on my way to Kiev, this time with a kosher travel-license. The license is only to Zdolbunow, 12 kilometers from Rovno. I tried my luck and it worked. From Zdolbunow to Shepetovka and from there to Berdychiv and so on, in leaps full of ruse and miracles, I arrived to Kiev after three days and three sleepless nights. Books and equipment you could buy only at the central warehouse of the education commissariat. Equipped with a reference letter from the education commissar in Rovno, I was received by the manager of the warehouse, who for a long hour tried to convince me that good teachers do not need textbooks or equipment. He himself was a teacher (what kind I have no idea) and knew it. My quite recent experience as a student did not impress him, of course, but the sight of the half- empty shelves convinced me he was right. With mostly empty hands I left him hoping that help would come from somewhere else, acknowledging that deprivation is the father of advancement and false pretence.
The premonition proved right. The Poles pushed the Bolsheviks away and chased them toward Kiev. The new regime settled slowly and Mr. Kipper was on his way to Warsaw to get permission for the high school; from there he was sent to Vilna the center of occupied Ukraine and for the time being he was kept in prison. Meantime the school year began, the parents' patience was running thin and we feared the students might disperse. After a lot of striving Mr. Kipper returned with the craved permission and the school opened. The hundreds of students who were part of the high school can testify about the Zionist role the school played during its 20 years, till World War II.
A Hebrew book and newspaper were mandatory for Tarbut activities. When communication with the west was re-established after years, a book warehouse was founded for the whole area. Books by Shtybel publishing house, the buds of Israeli literature, Hebrew press from Warsaw (Hazfira), from the US (Myklat) etc. The warehouse was famous and had growing demand. The Yiddish fans were envious and quite wild. Those amongst them who know some Hebrew dropped in every now and then to find out what's new in the Hebrew literature; they had a difficult time absorbing the large circulation numbers. One of the most fanatic tried to console himself claiming that the counts, at least, were done in Yiddish, but when I proved him wrong he left defeated. He had a difficult time accepting what he was seeing.
In the transition period, when the army chased the Poles toward Warsaw, the book warehouse went underground,-- meaning it was hidden in one of the secret rooms of the high school apartment. Dr. Segal and only two or three other people knew its whereabouts. Two Jewish soldiers from the Red Army, who were yearning for a Hebrew printed word, were initiated to that holy of holiest location. One of them, P. Gorochovsky, who lives nowadays in Tel Aviv, came recommended by D. Baharal, and did not give me unnecessary difficulties. I spoke with him two hours to make sure there was no danger in revealing the secret. The other one, M. S., nowadays in Kefar-Yehoshua, required two or three days to check his credibility. I recall that both of them were very excited when they saw the abundance of books and newspapers; they requested books and newspapers to pass on to our people in Kiev and elsewhere. I was more than happy to oblige.
Administration-wise we were an occupied territory under military authority. The contact with the Polish Zionist Center could not be normally maintained. Each place was at the mercy of the local rulers. The mass slaughter amid the Zionist activists in Pinsk left a depressing impression. After many hesitations and consulting, the Zionist Center for Occupied Ukraine was established. We were trying to get in touch with the surroundings and establish cells of the organization. Activists from different locations responded, sometimes because of local favorable conditions, and sometimes despite the difficulties.
Dubno was falling behind. The activists did not respond. It was true that the city was half destroyed, but it was still an important city: the city of the Maggid from Dubno. As the secretary of Rovno's center I traveled to find out what was going on. Traveling on a carriage for 40 kilometers was not a pleasant ride. The veteran activists blamed their lack of activities on the authorities' hostile attitude and promised nothing. The youngsters promised to act and I believe it was feasible. Everyone was willing to distribute information pamphlets and Jewish National Fund stamps. My attempt to convince a kindergarten teacher, who was educated in Hebrew but works in Yiddish, to come work in a Hebrew kindergarten failed. She believed in Yiddish and did not care about the scarcity of Hebrew teachers. Feeling uncertain about the relevance of the trip, in the evening after a full day of work, I settled on the carriage to go back home. At the outskirts of the city a Polish policemen cordially asked me, the only one amid the voyagers, to descend the wagon. At the police station an officer interrogated me about my actions in the city, and was very interested in the revolutionary material in my luggage stamps and Jewish National Fund pamphlets. Finally they ushered me into a prisoners' hall, with no light or air, full of thieves and other delinquents, as I found out by listening to them. The air was unbearable and I spent most of the time by the porthole in the door, to have some fresh air and in the hope to find a savior or at least an opportunity to get out the word about my situation. The coat, which I took by the advice of my late father, saved me, serving as a mattress on the cold dirty floor. A Jewish prisoner who was released the following day, promised to spread the information, but it turned out that my imprisonment was immediately known and provoked confusion and fear. I had on me protocols from the meetings with the names of the activists and the fear was of further arrests. The gefilte fish and the excellent challah I received for lunch it was the eve of Shavuot uplifted not only my stomach, that was empty for 19 hours, but my mood as well, since I felt someone was concerned about my fate. I don't know how long I would have spent in that hotel, if the city activists had known that I managed with the help of different devices to destroy the protocols. When I was summoned, after two horrible days and two sleepless nights, to another conversation with the same officer I felt by the sweetness of his talk the sweets he received. All my belongings were returned to me, including the revolutionary material. Mr. Kodish, who arrived from Rovno the same day on a special mission to free me, found me at the house of one of Dubno's activists, after a tasty holiday feast. On the second day of the holiday I was already having lunch with my family to their joy and the joy of my friends, and I was on time to participate in the big meeting for San-Remo's resolution.
The offices of the Starostevo
(Page 315 in the Hebrew text)
The relations with the Polish authorities were more or less correct. I had good contacts at the office of the Starostevo because I could speak Polish, which was helpful under the military occupation. Obviously there were some officials who enjoyed when Polish soldiers tore out Jewish beards and there were others who felt real sorrow about assaulting Jews. The policemen rejoiced at the opportunity of taking down the blue and white flag that decorated the City park on the occasion of the San-Remo's celebrations. Someone at the government offices was interested in preventing the issuing of the license and hence canceling the celebration. A friend of that official was very upset about it, detained the clerks for half an hour after working hours and the license was issued. The police officer who was responsible for taking down the flags and profaning them, was extremely disappointed when I came at the very last moment with the license and the celebration took place as planned.
The same hostile official made sure that the passports of the group of the Koretz pioneers, the first to leave Rovno on their way to Israel, and also those of the first Rovno group, would get lost when the Starostevo were retreating from the Boudyoni attacking army. To his dismay the passports were found, despite the terror stricken clerks, and the two groups were able to leave before the Bolsheviks conquered the city. But it did not prevent them from the pleasure of spending several weeks in a Warsaw prison, hospitality of the enlightened Polish government.
Aliya to Israel
Bolsheviks again, Boudyoni's Cossacks are nothing like the Red Army soldiers we knew. Their dress is elegant, their horses adorned with expensive rugs and loaded with bags full of jewelry, gold and diamonds they found on their way. In a few short hours all the city stores were combed. Doors that different robbers throughout the revolution could not overcome are now opened in front of Boudyoni's soldiers as if by magic wand. Those soldiers showed a deep interest in Russian newspapers from Warsaw. The articles, the editorials, did not attract them nor did the literary supplement; they used to cut the ads of the jewelry stores so that they could find them once they reached Poland's capital. They had no doubt that they would get there and indeed they rode swiftly toward the gates of Warsaw and were pushed out in her outskirts. I was bitter about the totality of the robbery, that left us powerless, and even more so since because of family reasons I was unable to join the group going to Israel and whose travel arrangements I was making. It is possible that this mood made me wrestle with the Cossack who tried to rob me. After I managed to make him fall and run home, he tried, with the help of his friends, to break down the house door, but a Red Army officer who happened to pass by slapped them on the face and drove them away. One of the miracles of those days
Boudyoni with his horsemen used to surround the Poles and force them to retreat, if they wanted to avoid capture. Sixteen thousand Poles were entrenched in the thick forests of Aleksandrja, and the cavalry were not able to enter. The reds were retreating to give the Poles a passage and meanwhile they took Jewish dignitaries as hostages. Why? No one knows. Days of siege, of danger in being in the streets, of hunger for those who did not stock their houses, of using frozen potatoes and flour that went bad. Such is the life in the city these days.
The confusion was great. No one knew what the future held and what would become of the institutions we worked so hard to establish. We tried to connect with friends close and far away. We sent Kiev some literature and money the Joint left to help Jews in need. More and more we feel that our world was destroyed. Overtures about the possibilities of immigrating to Israel led to the Serbia's border that was in Rumanian hands. The idea of passing through the Polish front seemed extremely dangerous. My attempt to go to Odessa and check the options failed when I was returned from the railroad station with the permission in my hand. The Red Army was retreating but we did not want to wait any longer. The Ukrainian University in Kamyanyets-Podilskyy opened possibilities of getting closer to the border. The Ukrainian deputy of the education commissar was proud that Jews are interested in studying there, and after getting satisfactory responses to his questions, especially concerning the Ukrainian language, he willingly granted a recommendation. Equipped with traveling documents as students, both Avitachi and I left on our way. Only close family and a few friends knew where we are heading. For precautionary reasons no one saw us off, but Rozenhek, who found out at the last moment, came to the train station to say goodbye. This is not the place to tell about the hardships on the way, the robbery by the Red Army at the border, the crossing of the Dniester River, partly by foot in the water, the drowning in the Black Sea, etc. This would take a whole book in the style of immigration-literature. In Constantinople we found a brief notice in the newspaper: The Poles conquered Rovno. We felt relief for the saved establishments. Three months after we left Rovno and a few weeks after my arrival in Israel I received from a friend via London a copy of Hazfira with an ad in which the Zionist offices in Romania and Constantinople are asked to provide information about the whereabouts of the Zionists Garbuz and Kornik on their way to Israel.
Translation by Naomi Gal
There were rumors in Rovno that Tsar Nicholas 2nd visited the city in the beginning of this century, while the army was maneuvering around Kiev, but no one knew if it were true. What is known is that the Tsar spent some time in the city during World War I, when Rovno was close to the front.
Mr. Shemuel Fisyouk from Rovno tells this story:
In 1915 the authorities issued an eviction order for an elderly Jew, Lybish Kermnizer, an owner of a candy factory, because he tried to enter the city without a special military permit. Henia, his old wife, scurried from one place to another to free her husband, who was taken to a Siberia prison, but to no avail. When she found out the Tsar was in town and about to visit the military hospital, she wrote him a letter in which she poured out her heart, asking for mercy from the mighty Tsar, pleading with him to free her sick, old husband who was unjustly arrested. The old woman stood next to the hospital and waited for the Tsar to come out. Finally a few officers appeared, with the Tsar among them. She ran toward them letter in hand. Soldiers on guard hurried and stopped her from approaching the distinguished entourage, but the Tsar, who noticed, gave a sign not to touch the old woman and addressed her: What do you want, old woman? The woman was overwhelmed and scared; she fell to her knees and handed the letter to the Tsar. The Tsar took the plea and put it in his sleeve and the carriage went on its way. Henia Kermnitzer plodded along on her way home, stumbling, tears dropping from her eyes, and in her heart a glimmer of hope for the Tsar's mercy. And, indeed, she was not disappointed: she got a notice that His Highness the Tsar took notice of her request, and after a month her husband was released and arrived safe and sound to his home and family.
Mr. Eliyahu Rizman from Rovno remembers this event:
Lukashevitz, one of the Christian inhabitants of Rovno, who was a friend to the Jews, used to socialize with them. Once, at the beginning of 1915 we went on a walk with Lukashevitz and we reached far beyond the city's boundaries. We saw from afar a group busy playing pranks: throwing snowballs at each other. When we came closer we saw a strange scene: the players were prominent personalities and amid them, actively and youthfully enjoying himself, was Tsar Nicholas the 2nd. We were amazed at the sight, but we could not linger and watch the game fearing the guards, and we went back deeply impressed by seeing with our own eyes the Sovereign of Greater Russia.
Mrs. Tanya (Tova) Domenis tells:
In our store on the main street back in 1915 there was a nurse who came in every now and then to buy artifacts and other merchandise we were selling. I was impressed by her cordial manner and her endearing personality and I was curious to know who she was. Finally my curiosity was quenched when I found out that she was Princess Tatiana, Tsar Nicholas' sister, who was in charge of the city's military hospital that was named after her. She was a pleasant and humble woman, and treated others with simplicity. She probably liked us because she treated us with respect and trust. Per her request we provided her with items we did not carry in the store. One day a fancy military carriage stopped by our store and a uniformed man descended followed by the nurse we knew well. Other high-ranking officers accompanied them and they all walked into the store, and bought whatever they bought. The next day the nurse revealed to us that the elegant military man was no other than her brother, the Tsar.
Translation by Naomi Gal
In 1915 World War I spread and emergency enlisting began. I was enlisted as well. Soon I was sent to the Austrian front in Volhynia. Battles were taking place on the Stohod River and reinforcement was needed.
In my regiment (The Alexandrine of the 71 division) that was stationed near Rovno, were 60-70 Jews, most of them volunteers from south Russia, jolly guys and good soldiers. I was one of the outstanding soldiers who were decorated and received the Sacred Georgian Cross. I am not sure we were avid patriots of the Russian regime, but we felt the responsibility of men in uniform and we were eager to beat the enemy and win the war.
And then something unexpected happened: staying in the trenches facing the enemy we were surprised by the order of the Grand Duke Nicolai, the Russian Army commander-in-chief (the uncle of Tsar Nicholas) who was a famous anti-Semite, to transfer all the Jewish soldiers from the Austrian front to the Turkish front. The reasons were these: since the Jews speak Yiddish, which is similar to German, the enemy language, and they are suspected as conveying information to the enemy, they should not serve in that front. They do not speak Turkish and thus would not be able to spy for the enemy on the Caucasian front.
As a conscientious military man and a Jew who served faithfully I saw this order as a flagrant case of discrimination, a peak of anti-Semitism and a national insult. I was furious and in despair. Others in the unit felt the same way. Arssney Mikahilovitz Wolhovontov, the commander of our regiment, a seasoned officer, was a good-hearted liberal, loved his soldiers and treated all of them as sons with no bias. He particularly appreciated the honest soldiers who faithfully fulfilled their tasks, and we, the soldiers, loved and respected him in return. Wolhovontov, who knew me as an easy-going man noticed the change in my mood. In one of his visits to the trenches he asked me what happened, fearing I was sick. I told him the truth and expressed my deep disappointment from this unjust attitude toward Jews who risk their lives for victory.
He listened to me and his expression changed. His response was cordial: You are right, my fellow, this is how justice works for us. I know about it and am chagrined. I haven't slept since I heard this order. But what can we do, it is an order from the commander-in-chief and we can't change it. But don't worry, I will try and get you recommendations for the new units and I hope they will appreciate you the way you deserve. Go on being a good soldier. I will now grant you a short leave to ease your mind and for some rest. Go for one day to Rovno, drink to your heart's content and you'll feel better.
I took the leave permit and on the same day was walking in Rovno's busy streets, depressed and immersed in thoughts. A Jewish city crowded with soldiers, all strangers to me, who would understand a Jewish soldier carrying his national insult in his heart? I was not looking for a drink, I never liked vodka and especially not now when I felt lost. Different plans were running through my mind.
I was passing a synagogue and the sound of prayers reached my ears, my heart ached and the Jewish notes thrilled me, I walked inside. In this kind of situation it is good to be with Jewish brothers who are praying, continuing the tradition and do not lose hope. I stood up when I heard: Hear our voices and I was overcome by an extraordinary feeling. For a moment I forgot the goyim, their decrees and the burning insult of the anti-Semites. He will oblige to his believers wish, He will hear their plea and save them I repeated the verses and tears were streaming from my eyes.
When the prayer ended an elderly Jew with a dignified look (I later found out he was a prominent fabrics merchant, one of Rovno's dignitaries) approached me and peeked at the cross on my breast. I remembered that I should not have carried a cross in a holy place. I wanted to take it off but he prevented me saying: Never mind, you should not take off a military medal. It does not harm the holiness of this place. We are ordered to be loyal to the regime. After a brief silence he invited me to his home.
It was a rich and patriarchal household and the family members the lady of the house, her two daughters and son were kind to me. The master of the house was very cordial, the way Volhynia Jews are, heard about my ordeal, gave it some thought and tried to encourage me. Meanwhile some of his friends came by and we spent the evening together talking about the war, the situation of the Jews and more.
The next day my host came in and told me that he spoke with the city's rabbi about me and all the other Jews in the army and that the rabbi advised us to avoid any hasty moves, but to stay loyal to the army and to wait for a solution. We should not despair but trust in God and He will save us. He asked that I relate his words to my friends, the Jewish soldiers in my unit. I accepted the mission. The hosts' family accompanied me, gave cigarettes and gifts for my friends and me, and invited me to come back and visit them soon.
I was again walking Rovno's streets hurrying to get on time to my unit. I went back to my place feeling a bit better. Wolhovontov met me beaming, looked at me and asked how was my mood and how did I spend my time in the big city Rovno. Finally he informed me that he addressed, by telegraph, General Rogoza, the front commander, and asked him to leave his Jewish soldiers under his responsibility, and that, if that is impossible, he would like to move with his Jewish soldiers to the Caucasian front.
I was surprised by his genial behavior and respected him even more. I rushed to my friends and conveyed to them Rovno's rabbi's words and our commander's announcement. And indeed his appeal was successful: a few days later we were informed that General Rogoza ordered that we would stay with commander Wolhovontov. We were overjoyed. We won, we thought. On the first occasion I had to visit Rovno I went to my host to give him the good news, and I was again impressed by his pleasant, warm home, one of the blessed Jewish homes of Rovno that I will never forget.
Since then, whenever I recall my military service in the Russian army and my visit to Rovno, I remember the kind and helpful commander Wolhovontov. He was an officer and a gentleman.
Translation by Naomi Gal
Till the renewal of the Polish regime in 1920 there were old houses in every street in Rovno and especially on its side streets. These houses were shabby and looked as if they were about to sink into the ground and disappear. Only in Shossejna, the main street (whose name was changed to Third of May Street under the Poles) the old houses were destroyed and new, modern ones were built throughout the years. In the part between Wolja Bridge and the city bridge some new stores were opened in the front of the houses that were two stories and even higher.
Only two low old houses were left in Shossejna Street in the part of the old city, close to Topolyova Street. These were the Zem family houses, which were passed by the end of the 19th century from the father to his two sons, Moshe and Zeev. The houses looked like ruins, but their owners wanted to keep their facades, painted them blue to make them more presentable, and lived there with their families.
Those twin houses looked alike, the same height, roofs, the railings in the front and their shabby appearance. Each one of them had in the front at least one room that served as a workshop of tinsmiths; both the Zem brothers were tinkers and had been tinsmiths since their youth. They maintained a good brotherly relationship, but as they grew old they became angry and the peace was disrupted.
People who visited Rovno were surprised to see those two ruins, which no one had restored, standing on the main street. The inheritors of the brothers were equally indifferent and were probably incapable of building new houses instead of the old ones. These two houses stood as silent reminders to the events that took place in Rovno. Legions of Poles, Cossacks, Russian army, Germans and other conquerors marched alongside these houses on their way in or out of the city. They were witnesses to the different political and social movements of Israel. In the house of Moshe Zem were born and educated his sons and daughters: Zeev (Wolf) the eldest, who in his youth was an avid supporter of the Haskala movement and helped the idea of the rebirth of Israel. He is the father of Avraham Zem, a Maccabi activist of the last generation of Rovno. Lieb, the second son of Moshe Zem, was involved with the Bund and as a result of his revolutionary activities in 1904-1906 had to leave Rovno and immigrate to America. His two daughters Debora and Zlata studied education and medicine and went on to serve the masses in Russia.
The town's elders remarked that throughout the years these houses were never touched by fire. It is well known that there were many fires in Rovno and in some of them whole sections of the city were burned down, and there were fires around these houses, but they remained standing. They did not sink into the ground the way other old houses did, and stayed as tombstones to the past and to the people who inhabited them and dreamed about changes in life and society, yearning for revolutions and a new way of life.
The writer of this article visited Rovno in 1945, as soon as the city was liberated from the Germans, and went to see the house of his aunt, Sara Zem, the inheritor of one of the houses. He found both houses still standing, looking the exact same way, unharmed even during this last war.
Translation by Naomi Gal
In 1749 the forefathers of Rovno's Jews got a license from Prince Lyubomirski to found a Hevra Kaddisha while Rovno was a small village with around 200 families, so it says in the Hebrew memoir of the community. Each Jew had to pay six golden coins per year to the society, and one golden coin for burial. This decree, written on a parchment and signed by the Prince, was kept in the community's archive.
Two hundred years later, when Rovno's community numbered thousands of families, came the filthy gang, founded by a murderer, the father of the Nazi calamity, and in one single day dug a mass grave for ten thousand Jews, next to the gardens and groves of Lyubomirski. The burial fee for those murdered by a machinegun was the property and labor accumulated for generations.
Once, during Succoth, Volhynia's descendants in Israel organized a convention and an exhibition of Volhynia's archives. I saw the exhibition and participated in the conference and it was heart breaking. A wave of memories washed over me from the days when I first passed through the city, and later, when I came, while risking my life, to settle there, and the parting when I made Alyia.
In 1913 I was a Yeshiva student in Zvhil, called Novograd-Volynsk, and on my way home to one of Volhynia's remote villages near Sarny. The little money I had was barely enough for traveling the fourth compartment. But against my better judgment, standing at the railroad station in Rovno, I decided to travel to Sarny in the third compartment. I knew as soon as I entered the train that I did something stupid, but it was too late to change. Here I was sitting, 14 years old, in the train compartment realizing that the pleasure I was deriving would be lost because as soon as I arrived at Sarny, I would have no money for the rest of my trip. Two Jewish merchants who boarded the train in Rovno as well, noticed me and my embarrassment and asked: From where and where to? I answered. They went on asking: Who are you and why do you look so worried? I told them my problem and all at once I became an important personality in the compartment. Jews began telling each other: we have a Yeshiva student and he doesn't have enough money to get home. People started collecting money for me. But I told them that the travel from Sarny to my station costs only twenty kopiykas and I will not take more, because once I arrive home I will lack nothing. I disappointed the good Jews, because each one of them wanted to perform a Mitzvah, and how many Jews can participate in a fund-raising of twenty kopiykas?
Showing an immediate willingness to help someone in need, taking an interest in a boy traveling from Torah studying home, and the evolved sense of charity among these Jews were part of the merits Volhynia Jewry excelled in, and it left an everlasting impression on me. There were hundreds and thousands of boys like me who roamed around Jewish habitats, on their way to this and that Yeshiva, and still every Jew considered it his duty to help them as much as possible.
In 1921 I was a refugee from Bolshevik Russia, staying with my wife at Korets on the Polish-Russian border, on our way to Rovno. But you could not enter Rovno without a special permit, granted only to veterans and famous citizens, and even then, only if they could prove the urgency of their travel. What would refugees do when they had no documents and no businesses? We, the youngsters, sat down and debated. The locals on their part did their best and searched for ways to enable our trip to close by Rovno. One day they came up with a suggestion: cattle was supposed to be transferred from Korets and its surrounding for the use of the Polish army in Rovno, and since supervisors of the cattle were needed, why not use the opportunity and go with the cattle to Rovno? We accepted the idea at once. Korets' Jews took care of the arrangements and the appropriate camouflage and in a freezing winter morning some dozens of us left on our way, following a cattle of some hundreds bulls, cows, and calves. We marched around 15 kilometers till we got to a village. The bitter cold chilled our bones and the snow was up to our knees. Some of us who were lagging behind suggested to their colleagues to stay there overnight, but they objected since the place was close to the border and there was not enough space for the herd. We had no choice but to go on. Night fell, we were stumbling, and we could not take a rest because the herd was not waiting for us. Our situation became worse and worse, we were exhausted, more and more tired and the urge to sprawl on the soft snow and nap for a while was getting stronger. But we knew too well that our lives were at stake and we continued although fatigued, and with our remaining energy followed the cattle. And then a miracle happened: a calf begun to lag, the herd advanced and he stumbled and fell. We tried to push him to stay in line, to no avail. And then, luckily, some Jews passed in a carriage and they had traveling licenses. We explained to them the situation, saying we were responsible for military property, and they lifted the calf and us to their wagon. Thus we arrived to a close by inn, we defrosted, found our stamina, and the next day we arrived with the cattle, which caught up with us, to long-awaited Rovno.
In similar manner thousands of refugees from all over Russia found their way to Rovno, which accepted us warmly, lodged us in her houses in remarkable conditions (no one asked for rent) and settled in this blessed Jewish city till most of them were able to go to the Land of Israel or to other countries. Many others stayed in Rovno and around her. The refugees did encounter many problems from the authorities that persecuted them and demanded they leave the country. The young recently restored Polish government considered these Jews a threat to the country's safety and there were often hunts for those who had no permits; they were arrested and driven to the other side of the border. Our brothers the Jews took many risks in order to help the refugees who found shelter in their homes. They came up with imaginative inventions to help their brothers get temporary certificates and grant them the huge privilege of those days, which was to stay in Poland!
In 1932, I was a Rovno citizen, one of the happy ones who settled there, and I was busy preparing for my immigration to the Land of Israel. There were many obstacles, and a great mental effort was needed to overcome them. I was able to face these difficulties due to the special interest Rovno Jews took in me as someone who intended to make Alyia. Ordinary Jews saw it as a completely impractical move: to leave Rovno after I settled down and found an income, to leave a comfortable life and sail far away to restart everything. Zionists saw me as a lucky-one who can fulfill the Alyia dream and had no hesitations in face of the unclear future.
They, who remained in Rovno, seemed as if their future was safe and secure: some more taxes to be paid to the Polish government, a few more economic, cultural and other decrees they will have to face, but there will be enough business. Jews would give each other livelihood and go on living their lives there. In contrast I, yesterdays' refugee, would arrive to a new country and would have to get used to a new way of life. We would encounter sufferings and shortages, at least in the beginning. Friends thought they had to encourage and comfort me in this circumstance. So believed the innocent, that back then, came to terms with their lot in the Diaspora; thus they spoke to me while accompanying me and other immigrants to Israel to the Rovno railroad station, shaking our hands with sympathy, and then returning to their lives and businesses. Later they'd ask how did so and so acclimate and were glad to find out that he was content and felt at home in the homeland.
Who would have believed that the end of those cherished Jews, sons of Rovno and other cities, would be so close and so tragic? Could I have fathomed when I left Rovno that this holy community with its thousands of inhabitants, dozens of synagogues, libraries, her youngsters and the elderly, children and babies, will succumb to such evil?
Translation by Naomi Gal
After the October 1917 revolution in Russia, when winds of freedom were blowing in all areas of life, we, the Jewish high school students felt the change as well, and our national consciousness increased. We were students in the 7th grade of the governmental high school of Rovno; the principal was Kosonogov, an anti-Semitic Russian, descendent of the Cossacks. The high school stood on Shkolna Street, a street inhabited by Jews only. Most of the students were Jews, also. Nothing much changed in school except the disposal of the Tsar's picture and the revocation of some old habits, but we knew all too well that the principal and the veteran teachers were not happy about the changes that would harm their status.
One day in April a Russian student cursed one of our classmates and called him Jid. The insulted student slapped the insulter's face.
When the principal heard about it he summoned the slapping student and told him he was being expelled due to his insolent behavior: beating a Russian classmate in school. The principal's reaction angered the Jewish students from the upper classes and it was decided to demand the return of the student to school at once. A delegation informed the principal, but he refused to talk with them. We decided not to go back to school till our friend would return and left school.
When our parents heard about this they began preaching and demanded that we go back to school, but we were all adamant. We all left our parents' homes and convened in an empty apartment, in Dr. Segal's backyard. We sat there arguing and waited to see what would transpire. The students held different points of view according to their political inclinations; some were Bolsheviks, but we, the Zionists were more influential and in this case were all united: we were rebelling against the anti-Semitic principal.
After a few days the whole city knew about our rebellion. The Parents Board convened and we explained to them how justified our demand was. When the meeting of the Board with the principal was supposed to take place many people gathered in front of the school. What did the principal do? He asked for the army's help and demanded a squadron of soldiers to supposedly protect him. The soldiers indeed arrived and dispersed the crowd with threats and beatings. This raised the public's fury and the city was in turmoil.
Facing the situation we sent a delegation with the following members: Asher Bernstein, Joseph Bokimar and Zeev Zaid who went to the Workers' Board and the city soldiers explaining what was going on. A notice was sent to the principal at once saying that the revolutionary administration would not tolerate this irresponsible behavior and that he was being dismissed.
Kosnogov was furious but he did not dare object and left Rovno. Other teachers left with him to Zdolbuniv, and taught there. We the students, assuming responsibility for the situation, taught the lower classes as substitutes for the missing teachers and per our request, replacement teachers were sent from Kiev, progressive teachers, supporters of the new curriculum, and with them we ended our school year.
Translation by Naomi Gal
The Yiddish movement in Rovno was not as prominent as it was in other cities. But since the Russian Revolution the heads of the Yiddish movement in Rovno became more active in social welfare and education. This activity went on under the Ukrainians regime, when national-social movements were allowed to expand and the authorities openly encouraged national institutions and establishments.
But the city public life was gravely disturbed by the voice of a national-denier, a Bund member.
It happened on summer 1919 when the city's Zionists decided to convene a memorial rally for Dr. Herzl on his death's anniversary, July 6th. Big posters were hung all over town inviting the public to the rally that was supposed to take place at the Zafran theatre. The Zionists' students' movement, that was back then organized in the Histadrut, was in charge of decorating the hall and preparing the rally. Dr. Joseph Shwidki and the dentist Yaakov Berman were scheduled to speak at the rally.
One day before the rally the Bolsheviks' army entered Rovno. The Zionists did not think they should cancel Herzl's memorial. But the Yiddishists (Bund members), who opposed the rally from the beginning, must have informed the new regime, with whom they felt close, about the intended rally and that was enough, the rally was officially canceled.
That same day, in the afternoon, a few Bolshevik soldiers came to Dr. Berman's apartment; they inquired about the scheduled rally's purpose and, with no further ado, informed Berman that the rally could not take place. They arrested him and confiscated his apartment and its content for the Red Army needs.
In vain were all the imploring and arguing of Dr. Berman and Debora, his wife, explaining that the apartment served as a dental clinic as well, and that the rally was not political, but simply a memorial. After a series of pleadings and begging the officer in charge agreed not to arrest Dr. Berman on the condition that he would not leave town. The apartment was confiscated and they had one hour to evacuate it. There was no choice and the Berman family left their apartment and moved to Tarbut high school.
This created a scandal and the rumors led to the sources responsible for the cancellation. It was clear that this ensued from blinding jealousy and the public circles in the city were extremely upset. The rally, of course, did not take place, to the joy of the objectors. Dr. Berman lived sparely in one of the Hebrew high school rooms and the Zionists were bracing themselves for arrests and searches. The local Yiddishists were responsible, believing that this was their opportunity to take revenge on the Zionists, their nemesis. As for the Zionists, they regarded this as a mean political settling of accounts by petty provincials, who reverted to vengeance for lack of better ways to cope with their opponents.
No further arrests were made. The Berman family lived for a month side by side with the Kipper family (the school's principal) and when the Bolsheviks left town went back home.
Translation by Naomi Gal
It happened in 1920, a few months after the Poles entered Rovno. The conquerors were suspicious of everybody, especially Jews, and of any public activity. Maybe they were not yet secure and maybe they feared the Bolsheviks, since they were still around. No matter the reason, they suspected everyone.
Rovno at that time became a shelter for Jews who escaped Ukraine and Volhynia, which remained under Bolsheviks or the Ukrainian regime. It also served as a transition for refugees who wanted to stay in touch with the world and wanted to contact relatives in different countries. There were quite a few Zionists who passed Rovno on their way to the Land of Israel. They all knew that there was no way of leaving areas that were under the Soviet regime; hence, they risked their lives and traveled to an area occupied by the Poles. Rovno served as a first station, where they could stay for a while. And Rovno indeed was very active in saving people and helping the less fortunate. The survivors told many stories about imprisonments and suffering for weeks and months, about punishments and penalties they endured for illegally crossing the border. In many cases they were caught and returned to the other side of the border, or were murdered in unclear circumstances on the border.
This is one of the stories from these days. It was twilight time. Two young men, aged 19-20 appeared suddenly at the apartment of Dr. Yaakov Berman, the dentist, on Shossejna Street, next to the second bridge on the Ostia River. The two were pale and shaky. They waited in the waiting room till the doctor came out thinking they were patients. He invited them in and found out that they escaped the Polish police that had arrested them when they arrived from Zhytomyr, which was under Russian rule. They were not yet interrogated but they did get a lot of beatings as Bolsheviks, spies and Jews. Luckily, they were able to escape and were now looking for the city's Zionists. They were on their way to the Land of Israel, and they had heard that Rovno's Zionists were helping those who were on their way to the Land of Israel. They found a synagogue and were referred to Dr. Berman; they found a boy who led them to the Zionist activist's apartment. Most of all, the youngsters needed someplace to sleep and a shelter.
Dr. Berman listened to their story, and trusted them. He ushered them to a side room and, while his wife served them a meal, he went out to attend to the matter. He came back after a while and took each one of them separately to a nearby house, where they stayed for the night. Meanwhile a manhunt was being conducted on the main streets; the police were looking for the escaped boys and arrested some youngsters, after checking their identity. They had no idea that the missing boys were Zionist and that they already had found shelter.
The youngsters stayed in that house the next day. A member of the Zionists' Youth brought them food, and she encouraged them, saying that a more permanent arrangement would be found. Dr. Berman and his friends looked and found a place in the Home for the Aged, where they could stay until they could leave on their way. Uniforms for their new job were provided, and after dark they were moved in a car carrying foreign flags. The two then worked at the Home doing odd jobs. They were educated youngsters with national awareness, Zionists from Zhytomyr, who had been drafted into the Ukraine army and were able to escape while the Ukrainians were retreating. Now they had decided to go to the Land of Israel and were on their way.
Two weeks later the youngsters received refugees papers, and after a nice rest they left Rovno on their way to the Land of Israel.
Translation by Naomi Gal
The late Rabbi Israel Perlov (1869-1923), known as Yenoka was the rabbi of Stolin, famous among the thousands of Hassidic of the Karlin-Stolin dynasty. Every year the rabbi used to visit Rovno, where he had many adherents and admirers.
The late rabbi Israel Perlov
(Page 328 in the Hebrew text)
His visit took place in the spring on his way to a family burial vault in Mlyniv, near Dubno. He stayed with Isser Gildngoren, one of the prominent forest merchants, who was one of the heads of his followers in town.
The stay of the rabbi from Stolin had a huge impact on Hassidic Rovno. Adherents from the city and its surroundings frequently came over to spend some time with the Tzadiks, even if just for a few days, and all thronged to the synagogue, so many that the crowd overflowed. The Hassidic inns were crowded and the rabbi was the talk of the town.
Every visit, the rabbi attended a morning prayer in the old Cloise and made an Aliyah in front of the famous ancient Torah Book that belonged to Rabbi Ephraim Sofer. I accompanied the rabbi several times in his travels, to Rovno as well; I went with him to a prayer in the Cloise, saw with my own eyes this Torah Book, and was deeply impressed by its illuminated letters.
Well remembered is the Sabbath feast laid before the rabbi; this royal reception, prepared for him with splendor and holiness, attracted also people who were not his adherents. Stolin tunes were played, Hassidic dances and singsong were performed and everyone prayed loudly and with ardor, in the Stolin tradition and style.
The late Rabbi Abraham
Rabbi Moshe Perlov
|(page 328 in the Hebrew book)|
Rabbi Moshe Perlov in Stolin and Rabbi Abraham Elimelech Perlov in Karlin, the sons of Rabbi Israel, who inherited his seat, continued their father's tradition, till they were both lost during the Holocaust.
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