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{Page 440}

Verkhutin

(Verkhutina, Belarus)

5258' 2803'

by Khanan

Translated by Hershl Hartman

Among thick forests, thickly gnarled trees, and in clear, clean, refreshing air, there was a Jewish settlement that came to life in 1905. Tucked away there in a secluded corner, surrounded by green grass and magnificent trees, the Countess Gagin-Logi had a haven, an imposing house, built on a broad hill. From time to time, especially in the summer, she would come to visit the place to rest in nature's embrace. It was sustained by the countess's fulltime estate manager and a number of workers who lived near the house.

Without warning, circumstances shifted and changed. A German company, “Fritz Schultz” of Leipzig, bought up the forest. It built a sawmill to produce lumber and veneer. The railroad line was extended from Starye-Dorogi to Verkhutin. With the first whistle of the locomotive and the first roar of the factory whistles, new life entered the area. Quarters and dwellings were built for the loggers, who worked in shifts around the clock. It was actually painful to see the gigantic trees sawn down and hacked up, falling with a horrible crash. The forest was filled with noise and chaos as fallen logs were browbeaten along to the sawmill to be cut into boards.

The small settlement came alive and new faces suddenly were appearing. Merchants, traveling salesmen, and trading-agents came to buy lumber, wood products and veneers. A large area was enclosed by a tall fence and that became the storage place for all sorts of wood products. Jews from Pinsk, Vilna, Warsaw, Koenigsberg and Berlin could be heard in the streets, with their variety of accents and unique forms of speech[1].

Verkhutin also had a tiny factory that belonged to Zelig Khinitsh [Chinitz] and Dovid Dobroborski, which converted tree roots – dug up and dried out – into turpentine, tar, and charcoal.

In addition to the company-owned townhouses, private homes were built by scores of Jewish families that settled in Verkhutin and drew their livelihood from the 800 employees [of the lumber operation] and the visiting sales personnel. The small Jewish settlement also included shopkeepers, employees, commission agents, hoteliers and craftsmen. Consequently, a small community developed; it even had two separate congregations, one for Hasidim and one for Misnagdim [skeptics, opposed to Hasidim]. In addition, there was a modern [i.e., secular] Hebrew “kheyder” [one-room school] for youngsters. A small-scale intelligentsia developed in the place. In the summer, vacationers of all kinds would travel to Verkhutin to enjoy the copious shade of the trees and the wonderful, dry air. Days were sunny, and the nighttime was flooded with electric lights, both in the houses and on the streets. This was thanks to the veneer factory and the sawmill that were operating day and night and provided electricity at almost no cost. Parents sent their older children [i.e., sons] to study at the yeshiva in Lida or the Slutsk yeshiva, “Eyts Khayim” [Tree of Life], while others went to the gymnasias [government high schools] and commercial schools.

Where are you, dear Jews, who served as such role models, with your education, your intelligence, and your friendliness? What has become of men like Ezriel Zelig Khinitsh [Chinitz], not so long ago a ritual slaughterer who then became a commission agent – a learnèd Jew, an intellect, a committed Zionist, a Hebraist? His house was a place of both religious learning and the enlightenment of secular learning. Another, Levi-Yitskhok Halpern – a congregational prayer leader, a committed Jew – who studied without stop, day and night. Yet another, Dovid Katzenelson, who was a Hebraist, a Zionist in heart and in soul, a person of culture. The Fish brothers – intellectuals, whose houses were immersed in culture. Goldman – a fat, broad-chested Jew, almost a giant – a man of the woods, employed in the lumber industry; his daughters were well-known for their secular and Hebrew education. Noyekh Vaynshteyn [Weinstein], a devotee of Torah and a bookkeeper. The brothers Dobroborski – the elder became rich and the younger remained a simple Jew.

Leybe the tailor – who didn't know him? He had a long beard and was laiden with children. “God be blessed for every day and for what He sends us,” he would say – a man completely overflowing with children, just as he was with humor, with faith, and with belief.

Eliyohu Bodnitsh was a former baker who later ran a hotel. He had extraordinarily pretty daughters, and a house full of life and song, right across from the rail station and the post office. And there were the brothers, Binyomin and Efrayim Vinik, sons of Pinye Rasayer – one a storekeeper and the other a commissionnaire – simple, honest Jews.

Binyomin Shinderman was one who came all the way from Volhyn [Ukraine]. A down-to-earth, honest Jew, a storekeeper whose kind, unassuming family drew everyone's notice. And lastly, the Glinik family – the father, a Hebrew teacher, mainly in America, and the house itself, a place of Torah learning and worldly enlightenment. The family sustained itself by means of a grocery store.


Footnotes

  1. The difference in Yiddish pronunciation and idioms between, for example, Vilna Jews vs. those of Warsaw, was as great as between the English spoken by Americans of the Deep South or of Appalachia vs. that spoken in Boston. Return

 

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