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{Page 469}

Pohost

(Pogost, Belarus)

52°51' 27°40'

By Chaim Kuntser

Translated by David Goldman

Donated by Jeffrey Mark Lackner


Pohost is near the Slutsch River, and is mentioned in the history of the 15th Century: 500 residents. There is an Orthodox Church, 1 synagogue and 2 fairs. (According to the Bruckhaus-Ephrons Encyclopedia)

I was born in Pohost in 1916 and studied in kheder and community school from 1920-21. My father Zvi was a shoemaker and a hard-working honest Jew. There were approximately 200 Jewish families and about 50-60 Christian families in town. Most of the residents were artisans and agricultural worker. Wagon-drivers from Pohost used to travel to Slutsk, Starobin, Vizna, Timkovitch, Uretcha, and transported travelers and merchandise. There were also small merchants, storekeepers and shipbuilders.

Market fairs were held twice a year in Pohost, and large markets on Sundays. From time to time rafts would float by on the nearby Slutsch River. There were two synagogues in town – a House of Study [Beit Midrash] and a “Cold Synagogue” [sometimes a euphemism for a non-chassidic synagogue]. At first there was only one ritual slaughterer, R. Yaakov Leizer the Ritual Slaughterer, who was later joined by a second, R. Alter Marshak. There was one rabbi, and Arka Aronovitch, in addition to being the caretaker [it is unclear whether he was the caretaker (shamesh) of one or the other synagogue, or served as an assistant to the rabbi], was also responsible for the Jewish cemetery. In Pohost there was a Christian country doctor named Rakovetz. There were two pharmacists, one of whom, I recall, was named Tchiptchin.

Until 1920 there were kheders [religious elementary schools] in Pohost, and two government-run Russian schools: one went up to the 4th grade, and the second to the 7th.

In the Jewish school (that had 4 grades) students studied in Yiddish and Russian, and White Russian [Belarussian] was a school subject. The kheders were closed in 1926-1927. The teachers were arrested, and then later two teachers – Itshe Ba’al Haturim and Hillel the Teacher – were released. Jews had to make heavy payments to prevent their stores from being closes. The property of the landowners/nobles was expropriated and their land was distributed to poor peasants and day laborers.

In 1932 the synagogues were closed, as were the churches. The synagogues were taken apart and rebuilt elsewhere as a theater and garage for the fire trucks. The church was turned into a grain elevator.

Collective farms [kolkhozes] and cooperatives were set up in town and cities to put stores and private enterprises out of business. Many of them [unclear who or what this refers to] were sent off to various locations, and tailoring, shoemaking and blacksmithing and wagon-driving workshops were set up. Both Jewish and Christian young people aspired to leave the towns and move to the cities. Those with an education got settled in their own profession, and the unskilled looked for any job they could find. Some Jewish young people studied to become technicians, engineers, doctor; others studied foreign languages such as English, French and German in education institutions in Minsk.

I worked in Minsk, and in 1941 I returned to Pohost for a visit. A couple of weeks later the war broke out, and the Germans invaded Russia and bombed all the airports in Minsk and Slutsk. I traveled to Slutsk by foot, was drafted into the army there, and then sent to Minsk. Fifty airplanes bombed Minsk, which was now on fire. I experienced many things in various places, fought as a soldier in the Red Army in a number of battles, and remained alive. In June 1946 I was sent on a mission from Gomel to Minsk. The city was in ruins, and I arrived in Slutsk in the morning by train. Everything was burned down on Zaretsa Street; only the bathhouse remained standing. The streets were destroyed, and everything was in piles of bricks and ash. The old market was totally unrecognizable. I wanted to sell some of my possessions, and ran into a couple of Jews. They told me that they had returned from deep within Russia, and that another couple of people survived as partisans. They tearfully told me that everything was lost, and wondered about the fate of their loved ones. I noticed small boards, booths and a couple of Jewish stores with half-empty shelves, and a couple of restaurants.

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[photo:] First row, bottom, seated from right to left: Father, Zvi David Kuntser, son Chaim, Mother Roiza; second row, above, standing from right: Children Leible, Ethel, Michel and Sarah.

They asked me whether I had found anyone of my family still alive, a survivor or refugee. The city was really a huge Jewish cemetery. I met Keila, the daughter of Nachum Koppel, the dyer (she was our neighbor in Pohost). She told me that her entire family was killed, and she was saved by virtue of her Aryan appearance and documents, and remained with Christians. She was only 12 years old then, and once the Germans withdrew she went to live in an orphanage in Slutsk. I wandered through the ruined streets of Slutsk in a daze. This is Slutsk? There was death and destruction every step of the way, and I finally let for Pohost in a truck. The driver looked at me as if I were crazy. Why was I traveling to Pohost? Everybody there was killed. My heart was thumping and I didn’t ask him anything else.

I kept looking forward, trying to find Pohost. At the entry to Pohost I found the Christian homes still standing, and the center of town empty like a desert. My heart started throbbing and my eyes turned dark. I only saw the stones of the sidewalk and went into the house of our Christian neighbor Roman, a friend of Jews and an elderly good-hearted Christian. He got himself together and told me that the wicked ones arrived here, murdering and pillaging, burning and slaughtering. They had no fear of G-d, and those dogs only sought to kill Jews. Avramtsha Reingold of Pievesha and his two sons remained alive because they had joined the partisans. His wife and daughters, however, perished. The murderers shot his mezinik in one eye, and he was left with only one eye. In town I met my aunt’s daughter, Sarah Shapiro, who told me that her husband and
9 year-old daughter perished, but that she didn’t know what they did to them.

When the murderers were taking a group of Jews to the slaughter, the automobile stopped for a moment, and Sarah found the strength and will to jump out of the car and into a ditch. The Germans shot at her but didn’t get her. They didn’t stop, and when she realized that she had lost her husband and daughter, she started running after the automobile in order to share their fate. There was no trace of the people taken to the slaughter, and in depression she made her way to the partisans and worked for them. She cooked, baked, etc. When she returned to town she married Alter Epstein. I met Yankel Gorodnitsky in town, who had survived as a partisan; his son served as a captain in the Red Army.

The two brothers Yosef and Moshe Damnitch survived as well. Yosef escaped with his wife, jumped into the river and tried swimming to the other side. The Germans shot at them but didn’t get them. When they got across they ran into the forest where they hid and then joined the partisans. Unfortunately, the German police arrested them in the village of Sliv, and confined them to a grain warehouse, where they were kept under guard. At night they picked up a couple of boards and were able to bribe the guard and escape.


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Jews from town fell in battle as partisans in battle against the Germans. One of them was Yosef Zalmans.

According to reports, there was a gentile in town named Belka Riher who spoke excellent Yiddish. When the Germans arrived in town, he offered to work as a translator. He was appointed as an employee. Through his efforts the Jews were concentrated into a special ghetto in the priests’ residences near the church on Priests Alley. The Germans confined them there with barbed wire. There was almost not a single young person among those Jews, because they had fled to the partisans.

The gentile offered to kill the Jews so that no epidemic would break out. Eighty Jews, plus a four gentiles and a Christian woman were killed near the Nevolosch Forest.
The Christians were killed out of revenge. Three partisans were dressed as Nazi officers and went to the church, and by chance the gentile woman was standing there. They told her to call out the priest; as soon as he appeared they pushed him into a closed car and fled. The priest was found a week later hanging on a tree around Zolzevitz.

The partisans held a trial because the priest was collaborating with the Germans, and persecuted and informed on Jews and partisans. The Germans suspected that the gentile woman and four other gentiles were implicated in the priest’s death, and killed them in revenge together with the 80 Jews.

A couple of weeks later, the remaining women and children in the ghetto were shot on orders from the traitor Belka.

I spent 3 days in Pohost, and what I heard and saw shook me up. No Jews were there, and their property had been taken over by gentiles without any legal proceedings at all. I noticed my mother’s cow at one gentile’s house, and our stable at the house of another. Since I was still a soldier and owned a revolver, I drew it and warned the gentile to pay me for the stable. We worked out a payment: part of the money was in cash and the rest would be paid to me when I returned after being discharged from the army. I repossessed the cow, and no one dared confront me. I left the animal with an acquaintance on the condition he return it to me. Two months later I returned to Pohost after my discharge from the army and took the cow away to Luban, where I sold it to a Jewish woman. I also met my brother’s brother-in-law, Yankel Kavalerchik, and Baruch [un Bruchen]. Luban wasn’t as destroyed as Pohost, and was able to financially help out a Jewish woman in Luban who had to prepare her papers to travel to her brother abroad.

The survivors of Pohost moved to western Belarus – to Pinsk-Luninetz. I started weeping about my own situation, and decided to go wherever my eyes took me. I arrived in Baranovich. The rest is a long story: from there to Lodz, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany, France; then I went through a lot with the ship, Exodus, and battles with the English; I returned to France and then went back to Germany. I spent a year in camps, and then on May 1, 1948, just before the creation of Israel, I finally arrived in Israel, where I participated in the War of Independence, serving seven and a half months as a Jewish soldier in Israel.

I still feel as if it were all a dream: from the little town of Pohost in the Red Army, destruction and chaos in the Diaspora to creating a new life in our own independent State.


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Pohost

Shmuel Mehrshak

Miriam Mehrshak

Translated by David Goldman

Donated by Jeffrey Mark Lackner


Shmuel Dov Mehrshak, of blessed memory, was born in Pohost and study ritual slaughtering. At 16 years old his father passed away, leaving behind a widow with five children without any means of livelihood. Since he was a ritual slaughterer, Shmuel Dov was hired for that position and was thereby able to support the family. He was a Zionist, and immediately became an activist on behalf of Jewish settlements in Palestine; he was especially devoted to the Jewish National Fund – Keren Kayemet, and in synagogue promoted the idea of each person sending mail using a kopek stamp of the JNF. Not everyone agreed that a mailed letter should cost an additional kopek, so Shmuel went to the post office that sent mail from Pohost to Slutsk, and asked that the postal official return any mail that did not include a JNF stamp, with a note saying that it required that stamp. This was how he made sure that everyone would send mail using the JNF stamps. Later, he spoke with the synagogue’s Torah reader who was a Zionist, and they decided that anyone called up to the Torah would have to promise to make a contribution to the JNF. Anyone who didn’t want to promise to contribute was not given an aliyah during the Torah reading. This is how he gradually made all the Jews of Pohost Zionists.

In 1912, the community of Slutsk was looking for a new ritual slaughterer, and my husband got the position. He did very well on the examination, but the rabbi, R. Isser Zalman Meltzer was against him. “It is true,” he said, “that everyone likes you. However, we cannot take you as ritual slaughterer.” Shmuel asked the reason, and the rabbi responded, “It’s because people say you are a Zionist.” “Yes, rabbi, I won’t lie. I am a Zionist,” Shmuel said. The rabbi then told him that as soon as he gave up Zionism he would be hired.” Shmuel responded, “You’ll become a Zionist before I ever give up Zionism.” Nevertheless, he obtained the position, and we moved to Slutsk.

As soon as he arrived in Slutsk Shmuel again began working on behalf of Zionism, and encountered open territory for his activities. He visited the kheders and told them to teach Hebrew to the children. He and Leibush Gutzeit brought a kindergarten teacher from Vilna and opened a Hebrew-speaking kindergarten. They also established a community Zionist organization, and Shmuel planted the seeds of Zionism in the hearts of his own children. His work continued until World War I.

In 1914 food and clothing became scarce for some of the Jews. Together with Leibush Gutzeit and Dr. Shilderkraut, Shmuel became active in assisting them. Meat, white flour, rice, oil, canned products and old clothes were sent from the United States. The local committee met for four hours a day, distributing assistance to needy people. There was also a charity fund.

When the Bolsheviks arrived in Slutsk, our children were arrested – first a son, and then a daughter. When Jewish slaughtering was prohibited, we contacted my sister, who brought us to the United States. My husband found a position as a ritual slaughterer in Rochester, where he looked for a Zionist organization. He also found a Mizrachi women’s organization for me. However, he didn’t want to join the General Zionists or Poalei Zion, so he joined the Mizrachi association.

In addition to his activities for the JNF, he devoted a great deal of time to the Talmud Torah school, with the purpose of strengthening Jewish education through teaching children in Hebrew and through the spirit of Zionism.


Kapoli

This location had been settled very early; bone and stone tools were found here. In the 14th century Kapoli was named a city, and was a special principality – like Slutsk – during the period of the Lithuanian regime. At the beginning of the 17th century it was transferred to Count Radziwill.

338 residents, 41 estates, Christian church, Catholic church and Reform church. Two Jewish prayer houses, an elementary school and two Houses of Study. A beer factory, 2 water stations and six stores.
(From the Brookhouse-Efron Encyclopedia)

Typical urban settlement, the center of a region, 12 kilometers from the Timkovich railroad (part of the Osipvitz-Baranovich network), 186 kilometers from Bobruisk. There was a butter and cheese factory in Kapoli. In 1952 there were two high schools (Russian and Byelorussian), library, movie theater. Agriculture: potatoes, fowl and beef, 2 collective farms, 3 machinery and tractor stations, 2 alcohol factories, brick factory, 7 electrical stations.

(According to the Soviet Encyclopedia)



From Newspapers

On April 11, a fire spread from a barn and burned down the city. Approximately three hundred homes, four Houses of Study as well as the large 300 year-old synagogue that had just been repaired were consumed by the fire in two hours. No one was able to save their property and that of the House of Study and synagogue. Thirty-seven Torah scrolls were burned in the large synagogue. Aside from the Torah scrolls and many other books that went up in smoke, Kapoli was in ruins. Only twenty houses on the hills remained unscathed. On April 13, the fire broke out again and consumed what remained, devouring fifteen of the remaining homes, including one Jewish house. We wish to publicly express our great suffering, and ask for aid and charity from all nearby communities. Please have mercy on the forlorn of Kapoli, and assist them to rebuild the community so that no Jewish community should disappear.

Honest Man of Kapoli
(Hakarmel, vol. 8, 2 Tammuz, 1866)

On Sunday, the 28th of Iyar, a fire broke out in someone’s home, and spread instantly. Approximately 100 homes with large storehouses filled with food and grain, as well as lumber warehouses went up in flames. All the property in the homes was also destroyed, resulting in enormous losses.
Benzion Kalman Rubinock
(Hamelitz, 110, 1887, May 20)

Yitzchak Berger was murdered by unknown assailants who used a wooden log. He was the principal of the private Jewish school in our town.
(Der Yid, vol. 33, 1902)

[Hand-drawn map showing Belarus and parts of Prussia and Lithuania drawn on 7/10/59]



Pohost

by Avraham Levine


Pohost is next to the Sluts River. It is mentioned in history during the 15th century. 500 residents, a Russian Orthodox church, Jewish synagogue and two trade fairs. (From the Brockhouse-Efron Encyclopedia).

[photo:] R. Mordechai Finkelstein and his wife, Batya

There were approximately two hundred Jewish families and sixty non-Jewish families. Most of the residents were artisans and agricultural workers, as well as small merchants, peddlers and wagon-drivers who offered a transportation services for people and merchandise from Pohost to Slutsk and nearby communities.

Almost every resident in town had his own garden, milking cow and fowl. There were two annual trade fairs in town, and the market was especially busy on Sundays. There were two synagogues in town – one was a House of Study, and the other was known as the Cold Synagogue. There had been one ritual slaughterer in town, and then a second, one rabbi and a synagogue custodian who also served as gravedigger. There were also two pharmacies and a Christian male nurse. Until 1920 there were still several kheder elementary schools and 2 government schools – one through the fourth grade, and the other through the eighth grade.

There are a number of families from Pohost living in Israel, including the Gur family (Garzovsky), the S. Ben-Zvi family (Retgon), the mayor of Givatayim, the family of Batya (Ginsberg) and Ezriel Shelo in Degania A, and the Chaim Kuntser family.


Shimon Ben-Zvi (Retgon)

He was born in Pohost in 1890 and received a traditional Jewish education in kheder, and the yeshivas of Slutsk and Mir. He was among the organizers of a group of students in yeshiva that asked the administration to provide secular studies as well. The group was expelled from the yeshiva, and Shimon returned to Slutsk to study as an extern student, earning a living from teaching.

In 1914 he moved to Palestine and joined the Labor movement. He worked briefly at Tel Adashim with a group of guards. He worked as an agricultural worker at Ein-Hai, Ben-Shemen and Petach-Tikvah, and was one of the first residents of Kefar Melal (Ein-Hai).

Shimon served as the Secretary of the Agricultural Workers Federation in Judea and ran the first workers’ kitchen in Petach Tikvah. He then served as Secretary of the Agricultural Workers’ Federation in Jerusalem, and when the offices were transferred to Tel Aviv, he went too.

He was the head accounting manager of the company, Nir. When the Borochov neighborhood was established as the first workers’ neighborhood, and was drawn to municipal government work as a local resident of the community.

As the council chairman (now mayor of Givatayim), Shimon served the neighborhood for two decades. He worked together with friends to unify the nearby neighborhood called Givatayim. Shimon was a member of the Haganah; was a founder of the Co-Op in the Borochov neighborhood (the first Co-Op store in Israel), and was active in many organizations. He was also a member of ORT, wrote articles in the publication Hapoel Hatsa’ir [Young Worker], and contributed to the pamphlet and book, The Second Aliyah.


Pohost, Slutsk District, June 23, 1888

Recently R. Noach the Persian passed through our town. He is known to readers of Hamelitz from his letters printed last year. When he opened his record book to show me the testimonies of the rabbis of the Minsk district, where he was this summer, I saw Hamelitz, Vol. 208 of last year in which there was a letter attesting to his honesty and devotion to those who sent him on his mission. After my question was not answered correctly, I asked to enter into a discussion with him. In the meantime, this became known in the House of Study, where R. Noach displayed his arrogance. It became known to all that the rabbi of Priluk wrote in Hamelitz No. 170, 1887 that R. Noach was a swindler and a charlatan.

I have decided to show him up to the community. He speaks in Hebrew even though during his stay in Russia for the last seven years he certainly learned Yiddish. The pages of his record book are not attached with a string, and the book only lists large contributions (the smallest of which was from the town of Starobin, 5 rubles). There is no mention of small contributions. Apparently he does his accounting only for himself. It is amazing that his record book only contains mention of the towns in the Minsk district, but no mention of all the towns where he has been receiving contributions for the past ten years. Therefore, it is appropriate that rabbis carefully examine this individual so that everyone knows whether he is a truthful person or not.

 

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