1. Usishkan from Stepan
Next door to Irotzekal was Zalman Farlos's store. His mother was Malkah, the one who made millet and grits. When she became a widow, she opened a store for groceries and haberdashery. She had a daughter by the name of Rivkah, whose husband had immigrated to the United States of America. She remained in Stepan with her children. When World War I was over, they traveled to him, and Zalman remained with his elderly mother. He took care of her and supported her financially. Zalman got involved with Zionism and became one of the founders of the Zionist Federation in Stepan. He became very active in collecting contributions for the Jewish National Fund. He became so involved with this, that he neglected his livelihood and totally devoted himself to the JNF.
Zalman was a gentle fellow, he read many books, and he knew all the reports of the JNF by heart. If there were meetings in the town, Zalman was one of the participants and always was a speaker at the meetings. His voice was weak, and when he spoke, he was barely heard. Even when there was silence at the meeting, his words were not heard very clearly.
He referred to the name Usishkan many times because Usishkan was noble in the eyes of Zalman, and everything that was written about him or that Zalman read about him was considered holy by him. Therefore, before long, the people of Stepan began to call Zalman by the name Usishkan. Here Usishkan is coming, Usishkan is going, Usishkan is sitting, Usishkan has not begun to speak, etc.
Things changed when Zalman got married, and had to make a living for his wife. His mother died and the store's business went downhill. Zalman Farlos opened an oil press with his relative Binyamin Farlos. The work was very difficult for them, and they were not suited for it. The competition was great. One day Zalman sold the oil press. He moved from Stepan to the town of Liobomil by Kovel. He was killed in the Holocaust along with the others.
Alter Bebtchuk lived on the street of the non-Jews. He was bent down with a head of grey hair, with smart eyes that looked downward. He was nervous and short-tempered. He had a good Jewish and general education. Many called him in Russian Piser (the writer). It was told about him that in his youth, he read many books, and knew how to walk with authority. With regard to his nervousness, there were several reasons. He had two boys and two girls. His son, Zelek, a very talented boy, was killed in World War I, and it was not known where he was buried. His second son, Yankel, during World War I, traveled to America, and left his wife, Hannah and their four daughters at his father's house. He traveled to America to make money, but he returned after the war empty handed. (By the way, it was told about him that he was able to make some money and he bought clothes for his family. But he fell into the hands of swindlers, and they took all that he had.)
His two daughters were very talented, and helped him a lot at home and with the oil press, until they got married.
Reb Alter Zaligas was an educated man, but he was not able to make a living from his education, and had to make his living from an oil press. The tools and the machinery in the oil press were very primitive and it was hard and slow work. Days and nights farmers, who came from far and from nearby, waited with their wives in order to receive their oil. Of course, the noise in all the rooms of the house, during the day and the night, added to his nervousness and his short temper.
Indeed his education did not turn into a source of income for him, but when you spoke with him, you immediately felt that he was an educated man. He would bring proof from books and writers, and also with regard to politics he was superior. He would read the important Russian newspapers, and nobody should doubt his opinions. Since he was knowledgeable and well versed, he would turn many times to the authorities on behalf of the community in Stepan.
Once the Polish Archbishop came to our town to visit the Catholic members in the community, and Poles from the neighboring areas came to enjoy his divine presence. Of course, people of the other religions came to receive him, including the Jews. Every community made a gate of honor, and came toward him with bread and salt, as was customary in those days. Amongst the receivers was Reb Alter Bebtchuk, the representative of the Jewish community in Stepan. He blessed the honored guest in the pure holy language. The Archbishop understood Hebrew, and enjoyed the blessing very much.
Reb Alter lost his assets in his last years, and suffered from stress and poverty, because as time went by new technologies and machinery developed and ruined his livelihood.
He died before the horrible Holocaust that came upon the total community of Stepan.
In the town, he was called Moshe Yankel Yishayahu Leibes. All his life he lived in alleys outside of the town, because he was not able to pay rent for an apartment in the town. He became a widower from his wife, Fraydel, at a young age, and he was left to raise three daughters and a son. Moshe was not a great provider, and perhaps did not have much luck, as he had good understanding of all of the products brought by the farmers to the market. He had bad eyesight. Below is a story that happened because of his disability:
During World War I, a gang of brutal soldiers came to the town, and amongst them soldiers of the Polish army, who were known for their hatred of the Jews. Moshe Bebtchuk was walking on the street, blinking his eyes as if looking for something Suddenly he heard a voice calling him by his name in Polish: Moshike, come here. It was a Polish soldier who saw the man with a beard from far away and decided immediately to bother a Jew. Upon hearing his name said clearly by the Pole, Reb Moshe thought for sure that it was an acquaintance or a friend who wanted to see him and did not notice that it was a Polish soldier who he did not know. Quickly Reb Moshe moved close to the Polish soldier, and the soldier did not hesitate much, took out scissors, and instead of making a handshake in order to say hello, he took hold of the beard with his left hand, and with his right hand cut the beard up to the chin. We children, when we saw Reb Moshe Bebtchuk the next day with a handkerchief tied to his face without any sign of a beard, broke out in laugher. For many months, Reb Moshe Bebtchuk was ashamed to go out to the street without a handkerchief tied to his cheeks, until his beard grew back as it was.
His eldest daughter, Sosel, was very tall. Nobody knew what happened to his son, Tzvi. The second daughter, Tcherna, was sent by the Hashomer Hatzair Movement for training in a kibbutz in Chelm. She never returned from there, and was killed by the Nazis along with all the Jews of Chelm. The third daughter, Beila, survived in the forests and amongst the Poles. She made Aliyah with her family and from there moved to the United States.
I remember Meir Pik or Bebtchuk by the name of his family because of a dream. He was a tall Jew, with an elegant beard, one of the leaders of Stepan. In the winter, he wore an excellent fur coat, like that of the rich, and all of his behavior was like that of a leader, ruler. His wife, Chanache, or as she was called in Stepan according to the name of her husband Meir, Meirva, never carried the weight of the household, and she did not even know how to cook or bake. Try and imagine what Chanache's situation was when her husband, the lord, died in World War I, and she remained a widow, with her only son, Yitzchak, or as he was called in the village Irotzekal. Their wealth came to an end and the days of poverty began. In addition, in 1914, a big fire broke out, and their big home burned down. They barely put up a poor shack at the market square. There they began to build their lives.
When I was a child, I always visited their shack. It looked very poor inside, especially during the winter, when it was very cold, and they used moist wood to warm the shack with the oven. The mother and the boy worked very hard in order that it would be a little warm in the shack, and how much smoke they swallowed into their lungs. They both were always sooty and black, and many times I would break out in laugher when I saw them. But life continues, and sometimes the family would have some satisfaction from their hard work.
On Saturday night, when everything was already cooked and ready, the mother would turn to her only son in these words, My son, take out the violin and play for your mother. The son would not turn his mother down, and immediately there would be heard from the shack tunes of the violin, as if he wanted to get out everything that was stored within.
The son, Irotzekal, an only son to his mother, was under her continual supervision until he grew up. When World War I broke out and the Jews looked for a place to hide from the shooting in their basement, we saw and heard much about the poor lives of the mother and the son. I still remember their basement and the way to go down into it through the wild weeds. The unventilated basement served as the home for many neighbors with their children and their belongings. For many weeks and months, they were afraid to leave the basement.
When the war was over and the basement became empty, everyone went back to their own lives.
The mother died and Yitzchak remained a lonely bachelor. People suggested to him a shidduch (match) with a girl from Stepan. In the house of Bracha Rozen, there were three daughters who were rather old. When the eldest daughter married a man, they suggested to Irotzekal the second daughter, Sarahle. Irotzekal accepted the match.
They had two children. The eldest daughter was sick with tuberculosis, but very smart. The son was not a heroic type.
As years went by, they built themselves a big house and also a store. They worked hard in order to live with honor.
In the town, Bongart was always considered a stranger. He was not born there, and his fathers did not live in Stepan. He came from other areas of Poland. He was a short Jew and his eyes were always tearing.
He came to Stepan in the year 1925-26, after a big fire that fell upon the town. He built a modern bakery according to the standards of those times. Up to that time, Jewish women would bake bread in the oven in the big house and would sell it in stores to everyone. There were families whose livelihood was from baking bread, challot, and cakes.
Bongart caused a revolution in the baking and selling of bread. First, he would turn to every store that sold bread and convince them and even pressure them to sell his products.
He had a family. His house and bakery were on the edge of the town, not far from the oil press of Aharon Mordechai Shimshak. His store was in the center, in one of the stores on the plot of Roman, the sausage man. With the help of his wife and three sons, they worked hard in order to make a living with honor.
His oldest son, Tzvi, was drafted to the Red Army, and lives in Russia today with his family. The second son, Shimon, survived, but fell in the service of the Russian army. The rest of the family died in the Holocaust.
He was called kotz or kotzic because he was short. He was a Jew with a majestic appearance, fat, and had a beard. He was a merchant of fabrics of the superior type. He had different consumers that trusted him, and they bought from him because of his loyalty.
He had two sons: Aryeh and Avraham, and three daughters: Rochel, Dovah, and Gittel. When his children were young, the business went well. But when the children grew up, especially the girls, and he had to dress them well so they would be liked amongst others, the business weakened until in the end he went bankrupt. Bankruptcy was not usual.
On one of the charming spring nights, when dawn broke, a strange voice was heard that shouted: Get up, shake yourself, why sleep, there is a fire in the town, not far, danger is expected for you! The noise of all the neighbors of the street was very loud, and from the street the noise spread to the rest of the streets. Not but a few minutes passed and the whole town became bustling with activity.
In the meantime, men dressed in women's clothes were seen on the street, or just in their underwear. There were those who took his left shoe and put it on his right foot, and there were those who were barefoot, and everyone was screaming: Es Branet! The second would ask: Vas Branet? Nobody could decide where exactly, even though it was clear that the fire was close by. The doors were broken down noisily, and they started to take out the belongings, and one could hear the noise of boxes being taken out of the houses. In the meantime, the fire spread. One could hear the bells in the churches of the Christians, and the horns of the fire trucks. The cows in the barns smelled the smell of the fire and began to make sad noises. The pigs in the courtyards of the non-Jews began to scream in strange voices, and the dogs also did not stand by, but barked. It was very noisy.
In the meantime, it became known that the fire was in the house of Reb Michal Bardess. The Tanchum Sheinbaum family, who had a store on the same row in the market, next to the building of Michal Bardess, looked from their window and decided that their store was in danger. Everyone left the house half naked and barefoot, opened the store, and began to take out the bags of produce. In the meantime, the fire spread to the whole area of the houses and stores in that area and became one big fire. Chaim, Ben-Zion, Shmuel, and Shlomo worked hard in order to take out their belongings, which were about to burn to the street.
But then something surprising happened. When the fire reached the pillars and they burned, the roof fell and covered the doors of the stores. Ben-Zion and Chaim were trapped inside, and they were in danger of being burned or suffocating. They wanted to get out of the place, but it was too late. They had no choice but to jump straight into the fire. They jumped. In the end, they were taken out burnt, and barely alive. Their bodies were covered with burns, and they could not talk because they were in so much pain.
There were those who cried over their belongings, their house, or their store, but the Sheinbaum family cried over Chaim and Ben-Zion who were in a state between life and death.
The story of that spring night was not yet over. Ben-Zion and Chaim were brought to Lvov and lay there until they recovered. The rest of the families who were financially hurt because of the fire recovered, some how, over the years.
From this family, nobody remained after the Holocaust.
He was the son-in-law of Alter Bebtchuk, the husband of Raizel. He had two daughters. He came to the town from Brazna. He was an educated and smart man. He had a store for haberdashery, and was very accepted amongst people. He had a very polite and courteous attitude to every person, whether the person was an adult or a child. Such was the case even more so with women, as he turned to them with great courtesy. It was not surprising that many were drawn to him and his store. For this reason he had good revenue and honorable profits.
At any rate, there is no doubt that Chaim Guberman was an intelligent man, who was familiar with books, and thought of matters of supreme importance. We will not exaggerate if we will say that he was one of the interesting figures in Stepan, involved in Zionist activities and in public institutions, and he knew how to contribute in a nice way.
But his business grew and his revenue grew such that it was difficult for him to deal with it, and he became nervous. Of course, it soon affected his buyers and they began to leave him, and began to look for other stores. Then the opportunity came to my oldest brother, Mordechai, who was forced for security reasons to leave his livelihood of photography, to open a business in the same store that earlier belonged to Guberman.
Even though he was a free spirit, Chaim Guberman spent time on Shabbat in the synagogue by the Rabbi Baruch Tversky. This added to his diversity and his noble character.
He passed on to his eldest daughter, Datzia, his nobleness. She was a tall, slender, and charming girl. At the time of the Holocaust, when the people of Stepan were lead to be slaughtered on the bridge of the Horyn River, she jumped from the bridge along with other girlfriends and sanctified the name of Israel as opposed to being passive to the German monsters.
There were no survivors of the Guberman family. Let their memory be blessed.
The house of Pinchas Goz was two stories high and had twenty rooms, except for the basements. The house was one of a kind in Stepan in its size and comfort. To this day it is not known if he built his house by himself, or not, because he was known as a professional in building. Whenever he saw a structure being built, if it was a factory or a bridge on a river, he would appear as an engineer, and express his opinion, and move on.
I remember once when a long bridge was built in Stepan on the Horyn River, and there were engineers and good professional people involved. Of course, the bridge was built according to the government plans, and it was necessary to build it in order that it would be possible for very heavy loads to pass over it without collapsing, and to make it safe from tearing (the flow of ice blocks after the thawing of the spring, without moving the bridge from its place). Months passed and they prepared at Dubinushka the necessary pillars from oak trees. These were placed within the river and the work continued up to the middle of the river. Once Reb Pinchas Goz, out of curiosity, approached the shore and with his clear eyesight, looked at what was being done, and immediately said to the engineer who was supervising the work that between the rows of the pillars there was one pillar that was not placed straight, and that it would affect the continuation of the building. The engineer, a Pole, proud and arrogant, looked at who was talking to him, and this proud engineer, reluctantly, told the workers to take out the pillar that was deep in the water, and place another pillar in its place, as Pinchas Goz told him earlier.
His father, Moshe-Bar, made wood tile roofs. He was a poor and simple Jew, but honest and his whole life dealt with his profession. Days came and his son Pinchas saw his father's work as lessening his honor. Even though his son urged him that it was not honorable for a wealthy man that his elderly father was to deal with this work, his father did not leave this profession.
It is told of this Reb Moshe-Bar that once he was called before the Polish court to testify against someone. The Polish judge asked of him all the details that were related to his personal identity such as his name and his family name. But the name of his father he did not answer. The judge asked again the name of his father. Then he became resentful to the judge: What does sir the judge want from me? And then he said I am the father, and Pinchas Goz is my son.
Pinchas Goz became a widower from both of his wives, and in the end, married a third wife. He had two daughters: Faisel and Raizel and four sons: Avraham, Yitzchak, Ben-Zion, and Yankel. They all got married and lived by Reb Pinchas, except for Ben-Zion who lived in Kostopol. The third son, Yaacov, died in the First World War. The two older brothers, Avraham and Yitzchak, took initiative, and after their involvement in the alcoholic beverage business (types of wines made from the fermentation of beets, potatoes, or grains) that gave them good profits, they slowly began to build themselves by the house on the downward slope of the well known Wolh, a superior flour mill that had a good reputation in the close and far surroundings. Their house was a place for receiving guests and they gave a lot of charity and supported the Zionist funds.
Yitzchak Goz's wife, Bracha, was from the city of Kowolh, and in her youth, was a guest in the house of the Goz family. She was one of the first organizers of Hashomer Hatzir, the Zionist youth movement in Stepan. Many of her friends are today in Israel.
There was only one survivor of the whole Goz family Gittel Toib Shwartzblatt, the daughter of Pasya and Netzia Toib. The rest were taken as prey by the Ukrainian and German beasts.
Who did not know Chaim Gershon in Stepan and its surroundings? Amongst the Jews and the non-Jews, everybody, from the young to the elderly, knew him. The family of Chaim Gershon Goz had a grocery store, and except for fabrics and watches, it was possible to buy in the store anything that a person could want and at a cheap price. Everyone treated Chaim Gershon and his family with trust and support. The store was even open at twelve o'clock at night. On the Shabbat and on holidays, it was possible to buy anything needed, of course from the back door. In the town, Chaim Gershon and his family were known as educated people and as those who studied philosophy in depth.
When Chaim Gershon got old, one could see him wearing eye glasses, reading Jewish, Polish, or Russian newspapers, and in his hand, a heavy book, in a literal and metaphorical sense.
His wife was a sick woman.
The eldest son of Chaim Gershon and also his second son, Wolf Walka, also suffered from diseases. The third son, Shaul, was a learned fellow, well versed in world literature and in accountancy. He was a good and generous fellow. He was the internal manager of the business. Chaim Gershon had a daughter, named Chaya, a girl who finished high school, knew Russian well, was one of the active intelligent youths in the city, and of course, an ardent Zionist. After she was married, she made Aliyah. After a short time, they returned to Stepan with a set of twins of their own. The couple separated. She stayed at her parent's house and her husband left the town.
The fourth son, ShmuelShmulik, was a strong fellow, with an athletic body build. He read a lot. He was the manager of outside connections for the family business. Once or twice a week, he would travel to Rovno for commercial products. The merchants trusted him greatly, and he would bring merchandise that was sold wholesale and that was sold to grocers on credit.
In the later years, the business went down hill. Nevertheless, he continued to travel to Rovno. He would not only bring merchandise, but also spirituality. He would bring with him much reading material. I was the first to meet him on Tuesday mornings when he would return from Rovno, and he would give me reading material for the whole week until Friday. On Friday, he would take back the material from me, leave his business, go up to the attic in the haystack, or on the hill of the charming Wolh, and in a hidden corner would spend the whole Shabbat, along with me, and we would enjoy the splendor of the holy spirit.
Those hours had their affect upon us, and planted in us the love for the Hebrew language, yearning for the land of Israel, and desire to act on behalf of Israel. After many years of bachelorhood, Shmulik married Feigel Kagan, and they had two children. All of them died in the Holocaust.
It is impossible to tell all of Shmulik's merits. Many memories have weakened since then, but his character stands before me with clarity in all of its dignity.
After him, came the daughter, Rochel, or as she was called, Oka. I don't know if it was a nickname in Russian or only a childhood nickname. She was a very beautiful girl who read a lot, helped in the business, was active in the Zionist youth in the town, and loved to take hikes in nature in her free time and on weekends.
After her, came Mordechai Motke, the youngest and the agile. He also read a lot. He did not like the business. He befriended people who enjoyed tasting alcohol. They would meet in the evenings on the Wolh and sing songs in Ukrainian, and sometimes would join up with the Ukrainian youth, and become friendly with them. But this would not prevent the Ukrainian youth from giving them the cold shoulder, being cruel, and even killing their former friends at the time of the Holocaust.
Thus a large and enlightened family from the residents of our town, Stepan, was destroyed.
He was as his name says, a tall man, as it was said about him head and shoulders . He had a store, and in the same place was his home. The entrance to it was from the back door, through a shack with a roof. His house was always dark, because the light penetrated only through a small window.
Reb Yekutial had tall and healthy sons, like him. He had a business dealing with alcoholic beverages, gathering honey, selling grain, and other things.
His sons were: Nissel and Mordechai (today both are in Argentina), Yaacov who married Antonovka, Hershel who died in his youth, and Michal who married Osova. There was one more son who was deaf and his name was Yisrael. He had two daughters Raizel and Tzipa.
One time Reb Yekutial tried to go up to the attic of his house, and the rotten ladder did not carry his weight. Reb Yekutial fell from that height to the ground and broke his bones. For many days he lay in bed and was in need of long term medical care until he came back to himself. This ruined his health, and after some years, he passed away.
For many years, Reb Yekutial was the gabbai (the treasurer or beadle) of the high Beit medrish, and had much influence on the order in the Beit medrish. Thanks to his efforts, it was warm in the Beit medrish in the winter. It would enliven many souls to come in from the cold and snowy street and enter the walls of the warm Beit medrish, when Jews were sitting by the heater, learning Gemorah, taught by Reb Zelberberg. By Reb Yekutial's influence, there was a seuda shilishet (third meal) on Shabbat in the Beit medrish. It was very pleasant to sit in the dark and listen to the tunes of the holy Shabbat as it was coming to an end and the beginning of a new week was about to begin. There were also pranks performed in the dark by children against Walka the butcher (Zev), a short bearded man who had a bent back because he was old. He was always the victim of the naughty pranks of the children.
In general, Reb Yekutial was a serious man, and it was difficult to find on his face an expression of laugher or a smile. This was not the case on Shabbat, especially at the time of the reading of the Torah, or at the times of holidays. His face would beam, wearing his black capota, his beard combed, and his teasing eyes would follow after a person who could pay a high price for an aliyah to the Torah. There were always those, not just for the sake of heaven to make Torah grow and to glorify it, but simply to show the world who is a man who can pay a high price for the Maftir. Reb Yekutial would then beam from happiness and his face would smile.
He died, several years later after the accident, even before the Holocaust.
The family of Sheftil lived together with Yosef Zilberblatt. Their house was between the market on one side and on the other side was the Christian church. On the third side was the Horyn River. From this place, one could see the breathtaking view of all the surroundings. On the fourth side was the valley, or as it was called Dei Dolana.
The entrance to the house of Reb Sheftil was on the side of the church, through the dark horse stables. It was dark there day and night. It was possible to find an entrance to the living rooms only by the light that came through a small window that was in the door. But one did not know whose rooms to enter because the rooms were divided between the sons of Reb Sheftil and their families. If you wanted to visit Avrahamachik, you entered into Yaacov's room. If you wanted to visit Yaacov, you entered into Moshke's room. One way or another, you entered into the house of the Sheftil family.
Amongst the grandsons of Reb Sheftil there was one who was my age, his name was Zindel, and his nickname was Dar Deutsche (the German) because his mother was of German descent. His father, Moshke, married her when he was in America. When they returned, and the woman did not know how to speak Yiddish, and nobody understood English, and she spoke German. His nickname came from this.
Zindel was a healthy fellow. He studied less than the others in the Cheder because all the time he would tell stories about the horses in the stables, these feet and these mains. He would tell about the demons who danced all night with the horses and when the horses would wake up in the morning, they would be covered with sweat and their plaits tied to their mains. It was impossible and forbidden to untie them, because anyone who would touch them would be punished by the pests. There were those who believed him and there were those who did not believe him. Nevertheless, the people of the town did not have too much desire to pass by the place during the evening. Everyone knew that it was not a good idea to be in the area of the church and the stables too often.
But the stables and the horses served for something special to transport the mail from Malinsk, a distance of 18 kilometers from Stepan, through the forests. On a road that was not really a road, Reb Sheftil would drive with his horses with bells on their necks. The noise of the bells would echo in the air to the distance of hoofs, and would warn all sorts of terrorists and robbers who would not dare to get close. Be careful! Here the government mail is traveling.
On the way, close by the villages, when the non-Jews heard the noise of the bells of the mail, they would awaken on the long cold winter nights, and would light tar wood to light up the house. The women would begin to weave the flax and the farmers would harness their horses. They would go out to the forests to bring lumber. When Reb Sheftil would get close to Stepan with the mail and his bells, the Jews of Stepan would also awaken. The women would begin turning on the ovens, and the husbands would run to the Beit medrish to pray to the Creator. All this happened in the winter. But during the summer, the farmers of the villages went out to the fields to prepare their living and their animals for the whole year, and in the town, the Jews went to the market, to find their livelihood, and to lead their cows to the pasture.
When he got older, they hired other coachmen to transport the mail, and Reb Sheftil switched his profession and became a flour miller. By the Wolh, they built a dam for the water of the Horyn. The dam was built from branches, weeds, sand, and dirt without concrete and iron, but is still intact. By the dam, they built the flour mill with large millstones. The mill was tied with rope and with strong iron chains to the pillars that were by the shore, in order to watch that the flow would not carry away the mill. They would enter the mill by a wide board that was placed between the shore and the mill. The work in the mill went slowly. Farmers from the surroundings would sit days and nights, and would wait patiently for their turn. Reb Sheftil would sit with them, smoke his pipe as if one of them, and listen to their stories. The area of the mill with the board and also the other side in back of the entrance up to the big bridge, was called the river of the boys, or as it was called Dar Yengleshar Taich. The other side of the mill, under the Wolh was the river of the girls (Dar Medelshar Taich) because in those times there were no swimsuits. Only at the time of danger, after swimmers began to drown, everyone forgot about their nakedness, and would mix with each other in order to save lives.
That was in the summer. In the winter, when it seemed that even the fish were shivering from cold, no one spoke of people going swimming in the river. But Reb Sheftil knew no fear. On Friday, he would make a hole in the ice on the river, take off his clothes, jump into the river, and dip into the water according to the law. Afterwards when he would go to the synagogue for Kabalat Shabbat in his festive clothes, he would feel refreshed and full of energy, as if he came out of a warm bath in a bath house.
At the time of World War I, the flour mill was destroyed, and Reb Sheftil stopped being seen as the flour miller in the eyes of the public. One could see him in the horse market with his sons as an expert. He lived several more years and died at a ripe old age.
His sons: Avrahamchik, short and with a black beard, was one of the quiet coachmen in Stepan, who made his living from his trips to Malinsk. He was not rich, but made an honorable living. Yaacov, the second son, was also a coachman who would transport cargo straight to Rovno, and sometimes would take travelers. Moshke, who we already mentioned, and his son, Zindel, would also transport cargo to Rovno, and on the market days would also sell horses along with his other son, Abba.
In general, one could say that the sons of Reb Sheftil were quiet men and were faithful, going to the synagogue and keeping the honor of the family. They worked hard, and with their own sweat, they made a living for their families with honor, even if it was not easy.
He was called Pinya Goldstein. He was a man with a red face, red hair, and a small beard. He was always covered in flour, and he was seldom seen in festive clothes, and when he was in festive clothes, it was not on Shabbat and holidays, but on Polish holidays, when it was forbidden to operate the flour mill according to the law.
Pinya was a very preoccupied man, and if he found a spare minute to stand and talk, he would open always in one word: On my life. (Main Labein in Yiddish), while extending his hands in order to catch his pants as if they were about to fall. The thing turned into a habit, and it was possible to see him as if he was always afraid he would loose his pants. The jokers added flavor to his name and called him Pinya with the pants (Pinya mit day mitkas).
Along with all of this, Reb Pinchas was a Jew with a warm heart, loved people, and drew them close to him. He would ask how each person was doing. He was chosen to the area council (the Gemina), and it was not known if he was chosen by the non-Jews, who also appreciated him and liked him, or if he was chosen by the Jews. After every meeting of the council, he would come to the town amongst his friends and begin to tell: On my life, they want to increase the taxes and place it on the backs of the storekeepers and the craftsmen. I refused to sign and the decree was rejected.
During the days of World War I, when there was great hunger, he would grind flour almost free of charge, and was happy that a Jew received a lottery of rye or buckwheat in order to expel the hunger from his house for a week.
At the same time, they would sit days and nights and wait in line at the flour mill. During those days of calamity, many flour mills were destroyed, except water mills. Pinya served everyone tirelessly.
It was true of about Pinya Goldstein that he never in his life would get angry with someone, Jew or non-Jew, even though because of being very preoccupied, it was possible to get angry. He was very preoccupied before Passover when the Jews needed kosher flour for matzot. A month before the holiday he would invite the Rabbis to kosher the mill. All the Jews from the town and its surroundings enjoyed the flour that was kosher for Passover.
His wife, Manya, came from the big city, spoke Russian, and became friendly with Doctor Ashkenazi. Her two daughters, Ida and Sonya, were quiet and well mannered girls. It was almost impossible to say that their father, Pinya, the miller was always covered in flour. His financial situation was not always good. He would waste all of his income on wood for heating because his steam machine was like inferno, and it was impossible to satisfy its hunger. One would always see wagons harnessed to horses or oxen transporting wet wood to his courtyard all winter. This was for the coming year when they would dry.
The situation of Pinya Goldstein was saved by his son-in-law, Yitzchak Weistchinah, the husband of his daughter, Ida. Yitzchak Weistchinah, a happy fellow who was vivacious and full of energy, was all of his days a storekeeper in a produce store. When he received half of a flour mill as a dowry, he entered it as a man of standing. He thought he entered a pit of fat. As a matter of fact, the fat was stolen from him and the pit remained.
On one clear night, there was an alarm of a fire and when the residents of the town ran toward the fire, they saw that the mill of Pinya was totally burnt. After several weeks, they received the money from the insurance. The business changed and moved to other lines. Even though the business grew and developed, Pinya Goldstein never changed his clothes covered in flour, as if it served to him as an attribute for livelihood
Also of this family nobody remained.
Shlomo Gonik a special figure in Stepan, lived by the Christian church, east of the market. His house was built together with that of the Sheftil family and Yosef Zelberberg. The Gonik family had a hostel for Polish landlords and rich merchants. His father, Motel, or as he was called Motile, liked alcohol all of his life, unlike the way of Jews. This caused his wife, Tziporah, to separate from him, and he went to live alone in the apartment between Yaacov Buchliss and the tall Yekutial.
After the fire, when the Gonik house was burned with the rest of the houses that were opposite the church, the authorities did not give a license again to build the houses anew because they were close to the church. Shlomo Gonik and his mother, Tziporah, left their plot in the market place and went to build a house on a plot near Kagan and Wiantic the sausage man, the Pole.
Shlomo Gonik fought with the neighbors who did not see it nicely that they were building a house on a plot that all the years was empty, and that they used as a sanitary facility. In the end, they won in the struggle because of his connections with those in charge of giving licenses for building. Even though it was very crowded and that there were not proper sanitary conditions, the rooms were clean and orderly. Anyone who passed by did not hesitate to enter this motel. This was all because of his mother, Tziporah's conscientiousness and diligence.
Because he was close to the Polish authorities, he was not very involved in the life of the Jewish community.
Chaim lived all his life with his family in a nearby village to Stepan, Warbeche. After World War I, he left the village for the town, bought half a plot by Yitzchak Bebtchuk and slowly began to build his home. His wife was Raizel, the daughter of Reb Sheftil, and he had two sons: the eldest, Sheftil, and the youngest, Zev, and one daughter by the name of Gittel. Their business was buying grains from the farmers of the area and transporting the merchandise in wagons to the city, Sarni, in order to be sold.
Chaim Wachs was a Jew who supported education. As a result of this, he was a lot more free spirited than the rest of the Jews. He did not pray everyday and did not go to the synagogue too much on Shabbat. Even though he did go to the synagogue on the High Holidays, he did not act like all the Jews, but would go from synagogue to synagogue to hear the different, nice melodies of the different cantors.
The two sons of the Wachs family, Sheftil and Zev, were in the Betar Movement in Stepan. When the war broke out in 1939, Zev, the youngest, was in the regular Polish Army, and he became a prisoner to the Germans. When Stepan was conquered by the Soviets, they received many letters from Zev from Lublin, until they stopped coming. His tracks were lost. He was probably killed by the Nazis along with the rest of his brothers.
Sheftil, the eldest, stayed at home with his parents. He was caught by the Soviets for doing crimes of illegal commerce. He came to trial and was sentenced to go to prison. His time in prison was not too long because in the meantime, the Nazis invaded Russia. Many prisoners were freed in different ways, and amongst them was Sheftil. He moved from place to place in Russia and ended up in Middle Asia. At the end of the war, he got to Poland, from there to Germany, and from there to Italy. In the end, he came to the United States, raised a family and lived there. The rest of the family became extinct.
It was never clear where the nickname Buchalas came from. But it should be noted that Reb Yaacov never was ashamed of his nickname, and he would always point out and say: I am Yaacov Buchalas.
It can't be said that Yaacov Wachs had a majestic appearance. But it should be noted that his daughter, Shirka was rather pretty. She married a fellow from Alexandria, which was near Rovno. He had a son, Yisrael, who traveled to Argentina, to search out his luck. He did not find his luck there. On the other hand, he lost the fingers of his hand in an accident, and returned to Stepan.
Reb Yaacov Buchalas made a living from a store for household utensils. They were not the nice utensils that are found in most of the stores in our country. Those kinds of utensils were barely seen in his store, but simple pots from clay that were selected and painted with light lacquer.
He had another business to add to his livelihood. In the summer, he would collect green cucumbers, pickle them in big barrels, and leave them there until autumn or winter. Everyday he would roll the barrels in order that the cucumbers would pickle and have a good taste and shape. When winter arrived and the good and superior fruits disappeared from the market place and the heart wanted something to revive the soul, then one would send a child with a plate in his hand to Yaacov Wachs and buy from him pickled cucumbers with some sauce. He who did not eat them with potatoes or as a spice with meat did not know from something with a good taste in all his life. The cucumbers of Reb Yaacov were famous in Stepan.
Nobody from this family survived.
The father of Moshe Wachs Reb Yaacov Wachs was a redheaded Jew. Like his father, Moshe also was a redhead. It is possible that their family was called Wachs as its color was yellow. At any rate, in Stepan, they called him Moshe Dar Galar (the Redhead).
Many buyers came to his fabric store, which was one of the biggest stores for selling fabrics. They said of him that he bought his merchandise from Lodz, from the factory and paid with cash. Therefore, his had nice profits. They said that his son, Dodel, gave an injection to the store, and placed it on its feet.
This son of Moshe was a very interesting character. He was called in Stepan Dar Lashakel (the colt). He was given this nickname because in his childhood he would drag himself after his father to every place, like a colt going after a mare.
The colt professed to be an aristocrat. He always smoked superior cigars and gave off the smoke to distances, like a lord. He always tried to use words that he collected in lexicons, and he would throw out archeological expressions to his right and to his left without distinction and out of context.
He married a nice woman from Rafalovka, who gave birth to two girls.
It was interesting that even though he had an aristocratic tendency, in his house, he did not act with lavishness. Nevertheless, his house was orderly. His two girls, Rivkah and Liba, were quiet girls. They moved to Kostopol after they got married.
They were also victims of the Holocaust.
Gedalia's house was on the descent to the river. When one entered the house, it seemed that it lead to the depths of the earth. But from the back side, it looked like a two story house.
Gedalia, the shoemaker, was a Jew with a short beard. His beard was not anything special, but Gedalia's character was one of obstinacy, rebelliousness, and protest. He would express his opinion loudly, as if all that was important was to express his opinion, and that it was unimportant if his opinion was accepted or not.
The days of Chol Hamoed Passover and Succot were the days of Gedalia's regime. Then it was customary that the craftsmen did not work. Then groups of people would assemble and smoke cigarettes while broadening ones mind and dealing with high politics. After that, they would go to activities at the synagogue and close accounts with the Gabaim (treasurers). Many times this kind of gathering would end in disagreements.
Gedalia had many supporters, especially amongst his friends, the craftsmen. He and some of his friends were active in the Chevra Kadisha, and did their tasks very carefully. Gedalia had a son, Motel (Mordechai). He also went in his father's ways with regard to picking a profession and his activities. Motel and his wife had one son called Avraham.
This family was also destroyed in the Holocaust, along with the others of the town.
Moshe's house was in the center of the city which was in the center of the market place. His house was two stories, and stood out more than all the other houses of the city. The living quarters were upstairs, and on the bottom floor there were many stores which were rented to Jews.
Moshe Weistchinah was a short Jew with a black sharp beard that was going grey. His speech was fluent and quick, and so were his movements. Despite his age, about sixty, he was very quick and very active. He would carry sacks of grain from the wagons of the farmers and he knew how to deal with them. His family was large and extensive the girls: Gittel and Golda; after them, Yitzchak, Dodel, and Tania (Todros); after them, a girl, Esther; and after her, Aaron and Ethel.
Moshe Weistchinah had special luck with his son-in-laws. The husband of Gittel, Moshe Morik, was a handsome, tall fellow, who was miserable that his wife gave birth only to girls. The second son-in-law, Boaz, the son of the Rav from Rafalovka, sat in one of the stores below and sold grocery commodities, while his apartment was above. The third son-in-law, Esther's husband, was from the village of Zalotzek, and his name was Zelik. The fourth son-in-law, the husband of Ethel, was the most handsome and intelligent of all, Avraham Dorochinsky from Salonim.
Moshe Weistchinah was successful with his son-in-laws, and his portion was not lacking with his daughter-in-laws. His first daughter-in-law, the wife of Yitzchak, was Ida Goldstein, and they lived on Listofada Street. The second daughter-in-law, the wife of Dodel, was the daughter of Yaacov Yechnoik from the village of Korist, and was from a rich and good home. The third daughter-in-law, the wife of Tania, was the daughter of Arakder from Rafalovka. The last daughter-in-law, the wife of Aaron, was from Rovno, was a widow after her husband.
Lately, there was formed in the stores of Moshe Weistchinah a wholesale commerce house in partnership with all of his sons and son-in-laws. They competed with the small merchants in Stepan.
Moshe Weistchinah was considered one of the honorable people in Stepan. He would sometimes pray as the cantor, especially on the Shabbat, in the morning and the afternoon service, and also on Yom Kippur. His house was open to give donations and contributions to causes in Eretz Yisrael.
From the large Weistchinah family, only two son-in-laws stayed alive, Zelik, in Russia, and Avraham Dorochinsky, in Argentina, and one of his grandsons, the son of Dodel, Yitzchak Weistchinah, who is in Israel remained alive. They say that his youngest son, Aaron, lives in Russia. All the rest of this large family was destroyed.
It is worthwhile to dwell upon the characteristics of Avraham Dorochinsky, who came to Stepan at the time from Salonim as an expert in the lumber business and worked as a clerk in the firm of the well known philanthropist, Paster Bernstein, who bought the forest estate in the surroundings of Stepan. Dorochinsky was a cultural man with character. He contributed to every cause nicely, and was very popular amongst the revisionist Zionists. He would take part in balls that were held in the town for charity purposes, and was welcome and accepted amongst all the parties and parliamentary institutions.
It is worthwhile to point out that as a clerk, he was not afraid of the income tax authorities, and he bought himself a sophisticated radio. It was the first radio in Stepan. Many of his acquaintances would gather in his house and would enjoy listening to the news and even music and orchestras.
When the Soviets invaded the area, something strange happened to Avraham Dorochinsky. The owner of the estate of the forest of Stepan, the philanthropist Paster, was left without a means of existence. When this became known to Avraham, he met with the late Moshe Kaufman and with Ben-Zion Sheinbaum, may he live a long time now that he lives in Israel, in order to get financial support for Paster. The operation was done quietly, without any advertising. But the Soviets heard about this. The three were accused of acting against the revolution, and expected a severe punishment.
I do not know how the trial was canceled. But Avraham, who was before one of the people who ran the business of the municipal institutions in Stepan, was removed from the administration, and had to bless the Gomel along with his two friends because they came out alive from the lion's den of the NKVD (today called the KGB).
There was a small house on the banks of the Wolh, between the Pinchas Goz family and the Chaim Gershon Goz family. In my imagination, this house was like a midget walking between two giants.
Meir Michel was a bright Jew. Jokes and brilliant ideas would be emitted from him like from his grits mill, where he would process seeds. The force that made the mill work was Vinik's feet. He was never rich, but his house was clean and orderly. I don't remember his wife, only him, his son, and his daughters.
I remember an incident that Meir Michel told about himself. At the time of World War I, when the front came near our town and the artillery began falling on the houses, thus Meir Michel tells: I heard from far away the noise of a cannon, I pushed myself to the nearest wall, and exactly at that moment, I felt fragments of stones falling on my body. I thought the wall was falling on me. I moved away from the wall, and by crawling, I found a second shelter, and thus I was saved from sure death. But not for long as after a few days, Meir Michel passed away.
He had one son, Avraham, and he also died at the time of the world war.
His three daughters were: the eldest, Rochtza, who married Natan Milstein; the second daughter, by the name of Reitze and the third daughter Gittel. Milstein left Rochtza and fled to Russia, where he became a commissar. He left her with their young child, Yitzchak. The second daughter, Reitze, was a quiet and dedicated woman to her husband and children. Gittel, the youngest, was pretty with a round face and curly hair, and always reading in Russian. She did not leave the house without a book, and was considered one of the intellectual youths in Stepan. She left Stepan during the first years of the Polish regime, and immigrated to the United States.
Shaul, the butcher, had a wide beard that showed his elderly age. He was tall, wide shouldered, and always serious. Nobody saw him argue with anyone or raise his hand to anyone. He would sell non-kosher meat only to non-Jews and Polish landlords.
Before the fire, he lived above on the row of houses, and below the residential houses was his butcher's shop.
He had three sons: Yitzchak, Gershon, and Tzvi, and several daughters: Yentil, tall and fat (she was called the kozak), Leah, Sonya, Shandel, and another two daughters whose names I do not remember. The younger children learned in school. Some of them became friendly with girls their age, and others stayed at home as if they abstained from enjoying life. Apparently the financial situation in the home was not very good, and there was no dowry in order to marry off the girls. Yentil married, and one of the boys, Yitzchak, married.
Gershon, the second son, was sickly. After he returned from his army service in the Polish Army, he spoke a lot about his life in the army. He would tell about it at any chance, whether others wanted to hear or not. Apparently, his army service influenced him greatly.
I remember the sight of Gershon carrying on his back a calf that he bought from a farmer, two feet on one side, two feet on the other side, and in the middle Gershon's head. He would walk, cursing in juicy Russian curses the cow, the calf, the farmer, and the buyers. Thus he would continue until he reached his house.
One daughter remained a survivor, as she was under a Russian guarantee. Today she lives in Israel. Also one of her sisters lives today in South America. The fate of the rest of this large family was like the fate of the rest of the people of the town extinction.
The home of Gershon Peysis was near the river. His house was a little higher than the house of Sokalsky, and was larger in area. There was a vegetable garden around the house.
Since the house was old, Gershon, the plasterer and builder, made improvements. He destroyed the old building, and built in its place a new building. He built a modern bakery there.
Gershon filled his position faithfully in the Chevra Kadisha.
Gershon had several sons and daughters, amongst them were Moshe, the tall, and Tanchum (Tania). The two were quiet, hard working fellows who worked in the bakery. They were active in the Zionist Pioneering Youth.
Like others, they along with their families were killed in the Holocaust.
According to his name, he was a Jew, and such was his origin. But according to his looks, with a little beard below his chin, and his customs, he was different from those of the rest of the Jews of the town. He was amongst the learned Jews (otshonei yavray) from the time of the Czar Nikolai. It was not known where he acquired his education, and especially the Russian language. All the years, he acted as a clerk for the Russian authorities (the walast), and everyone related to him in that manner. When the state of Poland was formed and Stepan, like all the Wolynia area, became part of the new state, Zelberberg was chosen as the vice Woit (the vice head of the town council). When the head of the town council was absent, he would act as the head of the town council. He would wear a wide green ribbon with one side of it on his shoulder and the other side would hang down on his waist. The green ribbon was the symbol of the state of Poland.
In fulfilling his public-state job, he actually preferred helping the Ukrainians and the Poles. It was obvious that he did not visit the synagogue except on Yom Kippur for the Kol Nidre Service. That was primarily all of his Judaism, as he hid himself after the service until the next year.
His being Russian was expressed mostly in his drinking of tea that became a ritual for him. The samovar was placed before him on a table, and they would pour him four cups of tea at the same time. He would sit and would drink cup after cup until the samovar was emptied. When he was involved in this holy activity, it was forbidden for any of his children to enter the room.
His wife, Esther Malkah, was a storekeeper who sold fabrics for the farmers of the area. He had two sons. The eldest died when he was a lad during World War I from a contagious disease. The second son, Shmuel, immigrated to America. The daughter, Tzirel, married into the Feldin family from Kostopol. The daughter, Hinda, married Yona Grossman. One of her children, Yosef, went through the Holocaust and is in America today. The youngest, Raizel, married Yerachmiel Pearlstein, and they lived in Rovno.
Yofef Zelberberg and his wife died before the Holocaust, and the rest of the family died in the Holocaust.
Amongst the row of stores was a store with living quarters without a window. The light in the room broke through the store in the market place. But in that one room, two boys and two or three girls were born, educated and raised. The boys are now in America. One of them, Avraham, a brave and bold fellow, was a member of the fire squad. When a fire would break out, he would run into the middle of the market place, wearing his steel hat with a horn in his hand, and would blow it and make noise in order to awaken the sleepy. How I was jealous of him and his great job.
Zeivel was already at that time elderly. His eyesight was defective. When he would sit and sew hats especially for the non-Jews, he would be engrossed in his work. He would place in the hat not only the needle, but also his eyes and his nose. It seemed as if he didn't sew with a needle, but with his nose. His wife was short. According to most, she was the one who sold the merchandise to the non-Jews. When his son, Avraham, grew up, he became the one who sold the merchandise.
At the end of his life, Reb Zeivel bought a better house in the area of the synagogue. The room by the store was used by Avraham. He would invite friends his age there in the evenings. They would have meals together and meet with friends. Of course, they were not lacking in good spirits, and they would go out to the Wolh, and sing Ukrainian songs, according to the non-Jews' version. This way of life got them close to the Ukrainians who spent time with them as friends.
In the house of Reb Zeivel Pres, a granddaughter of one of the girls was raised, and supported them when they got old, because the girls left their parents and they got married, and Avraham traveled to America. The elderly couple remained lonely.
Reb Zeivel died before the Holocaust. The elderly wife was left with her granddaughter, and they were murdered along with all the Jews of the town.
His house was on the east side of the alley, on the down slope to the Horyn, standing as if it was dug into the mountain. The house was old and run down, just as was the head of the house, who would lie in bed all of his life.
Near the house was a stable with a wood shingled roof, which had weeds growing on it. One could stand on top of the mountain, and look into the stable.
I knew the house for other reasons: Firstly, in the summer, we would go swimming in the river, and how was it not to peek into the house that was by the river. How happy is the man that does not have to bother himself to go far on the boiling summer days in order to go swimming.
Velvel Sokalsky was an old and weak Jew. His wife, apparently his second, was pretty, young, and nimble. They had one son, Leibeske, with glasses, and was amongst the intelligentsia of the town. He immigrated to America, and there remained with them one daughter, Fesil.
His second wife, who was the provider in the family from the beginning, got sick suddenly with a long term sickness and could not be healed from it. The daughter, Fesil, filled her place as the provider of the family. She married a fellow from AustriaWelin.
This family was also destroyed in the Holocaust.
Reb Sheftil, a Jew with a white beard and with a majestic appearance, had several businesses: beer in barrels, iron products, and other businesses. He died at a ripe old age, and left after him six sons and two daughters. The eldest, Ben-Zion his wife died when she was young and left him with a son, Rafael, and a daughter, Tziporah. The son is in Israel. After several years, Ben-Zion married another woman.
The second son of Sheptil was Baruch who lived in Dombrovitza. He was not very successful in making a living. He would come to Stepan to see how his family was, and in the meantime would get an injection of several hundred golden coins.
The third son, Shammai, was sober and independent. He dealt with selling cattle and horses. He never got rich from his business, but made a living with honor, and along with his friend, Baruch Rassis, he knew how to deal with the non-Jews. But during the time of the ghetto and the Holocaust that did not help him. He was killed along with the others.
Tzvi (Hirsh), the fourth son, married someone from Manivitza. She was a pretty and slender woman. They had children, and led a regular family life. The same was for Dov, who married a woman from Rovno. Only one son immigrated to the America, and lives there to this day.
The eldest daughter, Devorah, married a fellow from Keliven. The second daughter married Eliyahu Kaufman. Eliyahu was from Russia, if I am not wrong from Odessa. He was learned, and knew many languages. After the wedding, he opened a store for fabrics, but he did not know how to direct the business. He always dealt with philosophy and politics and the business went downhill. One day, when he didn't have anything to do, he went to the forest to do physical work, which he did not have the strength to do.
In the meantime, he met with a group of young people, and told them, in secret, that he invented a new arithmetic method that would bring a total revolution to economic policy and would bring great relief to the political crisis that took place in Poland at that time. He told that he wrote an economical pamphlet and sent it to the government as a patent. According to him, this revolution would bring forth the formation of the Jewish State which would not encompass an area from Madan to Beer Sheva, but from the Don River near the Volga to Warsaw. Of course, the fellows of Stepan had a lot of material to have a good time with and to make fun of this Eli.
In the black days of great suffering in the ghetto, Eli did a lot of his prophesies and fantasies, and as the calamities increased and decree came after decree, Eli Kaufman would prophesy that redemption was coming near, in his desire to comfort and encourage those who were struck and chased after. He always knew how to find reasons and to explain his calculations on a complicated arithmetic basis. Indeed a great portion of the Jews of the ghetto, who were in great distress and despair, were a bit encouraged by the prophesies and fantasies of this Eli, even though they knew of him, that it was like the person who is drowning holding on to hay. He was killed along with all his family and along with the rest of the people of the town in the horrible Holocaust.
Before the World War I, Nachum and his wife, Sarah, lived by Moshe Vashchine. His wife was diligent, had a feel for business, and was very religious. These were their seven children: Moshe, Yisraelke, Feigel, Batya, Brindel, Pinchas, and Shoshana (Reizel).
Reb Nachum was a very handsome man, with a black beard and good and caressing eyes. He was a public figure with every inch of his body. At the time of World War I, there were many people, especially women, whose husbands immigrated to America and who needed financial aid and a good word to be said. Reb Nachum was the address for all of them. When there came an announcement to a woman from her husband in America to join him and she did not know who to turn to and what to do, Reb Nachum would help her in order to make it easier for her to immigrate to America.
The son Moshe was involved in a clothing store, and by this he helped his parents. Yisrael was unusual. He would take to something after having a taste of it. If at home he would act according to the tradition, outside he would totally leave the ways of tradition. He was one of the most learned fellows in the town, dealt with Zionism, different plays, and of course, romanticism. Amongst the young people of the youth movement his age, there was one girl, also learned, who knew Hebrew well and was from a good home, and her name was Esther Galprin. She was the daughter of Reb Zalman Galprin. The two young people liked to spend time together.
At the time of the war, contagious diseases spread in all of Stepan, and there was not one family that someone didn't die. Disease and bereavement did not pass over the Kagan house. Reb Nachum and Yisrael, his son, got sick and died.
Some years later, the son, Moshe, was walking by foot on Simhat Torah from the train station in Malinsk to Stepan. He came back by train from Rovno, where he had gone before the drafting committee of the army. When he came back from Malinsk, he did not want to profane the holiday and travel in a wagon. The distance between Malinsk and Stepan was 19 kilometers and the way was through forests, a place destined for trouble. In the middle of the road, robbers jumped on him, put a knife in his throat, and took what he had. But they did not kill Moshe. He tricked the robbers, and when they placed a knife in his throat, he pretended that he was dead. They left him, and he remained to bleed to death. He had luck and a neighbor of the Kagan family, Vatak, the sausage man, passed by, and recognized his neighbor, Moshe. He hurried to the town, which was joyous and happy because of Simhat Torah, and brought the horrible news to the Kagan family.
All of Stepan was bustling with activity. They harnessed horses and ran quickly to the place of the disaster. It did not take too long to take Moshe to Rovno with the knife stuck in his throat, and with the efforts of specialist doctors, they were successful in saving him. His condition was very serious and dangerous, but the doctors saved his life. Shortly after this, he married and his wife gave birth to one girl. Feigel, a nice girl, took on all the chores of the house, kept it orderly, and took care of the clothing store. She was amongst the finest girls of Stepan. She immigrated to Argentina, even though she was a dedicated Zionist. There she had to work hard in order to make a living, but did not stay in Argentina long and returned to the town. In Stepan, she met Shmuel Goz, and the shidduch did not take a long time to develop. They had two children, and lived quiet and happy lives until the Holocaust.
Batya was a tall and happy girl. She married Avraham Rodnik from the village of Kosmachov. They had children, and lived a quiet life in the parent's home. And also her sister, Brindel, was very pretty and charming, quiet and dedicated to the home.
The youngest, Rezel, or as she is called in Israel, Shoshana, was pretty and vivacious in her youth. I remember one time a band of actors came to Stepan, and did the play Dei Romantishe Chatuna (The Romantic Wedding). Shoshana took part in the play as the role of a young girl. The words of the song Holiet Holiet Kol Z'man Iher Zit Yong (They were mischievous when they were still young) vibrate in my ears to this day. Also Shoshana, along with Pinchas, did not have it easy in the later years. The mother got sick and died. The two were still young and had to run the house and the store. During the Holocaust, Shoshana hid herself in a far away corner. She took her fate in her hands, was saved, and lives today in Israel. All the rest of the family was killed in the horrible Holocaust.
The family of Rabbi Leib, the shoemaker, included his wife, Shprintza, his son, Zeleg, and his daughters, Tzipah and Yentel.
Rabbi Leib barely made a living for his family, and was one of the poor families in the town. Along with this, he was a proud man, and G-d fearing. He did not complain, even though he was close to starving. He lived with his family in a poor shack, with a mud floor and a leaking roof.
His son, Zelek, was drafted into the army, and was sent to the Russian-Japanese War in 1905. Since then, he did not return to his parent's home. There were rumors that somehow he got to Paris and lived there. But there was no connection with him through the years.
The daughter, Tzipah, married, and her husband immigrated to the United States before World War I, and she stayed with her parents. A few years after World War I, Tzipa joined her husband in the United States. Since then, she helped her father by sending packages and money.
The second daughter, Yentel, married a Jew from the nearby town, Osova. Thus Rabbi Leib and his wife remained alone in their house. By the aid of righteous neighbors, they were able to exist barely.
Even though his economic situation was very difficult, Rabbi Leib would not grumble, and at every chance, he would make jokes and make up imaginary stories. He was well liked by his neighbors.
Below is one of his stories:
On one of the nights before the Holy Holidays, Rabbi Leib woke up early for the Selichot Services. On the way from his house to the synagogue, he saw in the darkness a figure wearing white clothing, moving slowly and heavily toward the synagogue. The person carried on his back another corpse, who was also wearing white. (There were rumors in the town that spirits, demons, and dead people visited the synagogue at night.) Immediately Rabbi Leib became suspicious that these dead wanted to visit the synagogue. He was brave and decided to follow this mysterious figure. When he followed the figure, Rabbi Leib noticed that the figure was coming near one of the houses of the non-Jews, and dropped what he was caring on his back with a blow on the ground. Rabbi Leib came close to the figure, and what did his eyes see. It was a non-Jew that he knew, wearing white linen clothing, carrying on his back a log with white bark.
And the lesson to be learned, according to Rabbi Leib's words is that all the rumors about spirits and demons are groundless. One has to be brave and argue against these rumors.
Nachum Meir was a short man. He had a red beard with grey hair coming out of it, but was still going strong. His business was selling merchandise to the non-Jews from the neighboring villages.
He had two daughters: the eldest, Maltchie (Malcha), and the second was Matel. They were part of the modern youth, who would take walks with boys to the Pagolinka (the promenade), and would take part in the amateur actors' troupe in Stepan. Maltchie married Nissel, the son of Reb Yekutiel Goldberg, and Matel married Dov Wachs.
The store of Nachum Meir was not enough in order to make a livelihood for his family, and they left the town.
Dov and Matel live today in Argentina, and the rest of the family died in the Holocaust.
In the same crowded row of nearby stores and apartments without a window to the street was the apartment of Fali, a Jew with a wide beard who was short. His wife, Ita, was shorter than him. But the neighbors would say that she was a Kozak woman. They had four sons and two daughters. The oldest son lived in Rovno.
The daughter Feigel had a husband who would make wheels for wagons. He was a quiet man who worked hard. Two of the grandchildren, Yitzchak and Avraham Rochblatt, are in Israel.
The second son, Zev-Veli, was an industrious man and a jack of many trades. He tried his luck with many livelihoods.
The second daughter, Sheindel, married a man who fled from Russia. He married in Stepan and returned to Russia with his wife.
The third son, Moshele, was an agile and slick fellow. He had a wholesale and retail store.
The youngest son, Avigdor, immigrated to Argentina.
What did a Jew like Reb Fali make a living from? As he was connected to the Kalenikas, the Klezmerim, he would play on a contrabass at weddings and joyous occasions.
But the Klezmerim was not his only livelihood. He sold cooked and pickled fish, whose aroma was smelled from afar. His wife made them. Not only did the non-Jews enjoy his fish, but also many Jews bought from him. Fibish had another livelihood making alcoholic beverages. He would hurry his wife to pour for the gentiles: Ita, pour for this gentile a cup. Make a fat bill for this gentile. But he was never satisfied with the results. He always thought that he did not get a good price for his work, and would always be angry.
Despite all of this, Reb Febish and his wife reached an old age. But the atrocities of the Holocaust did not pass over them, and destroyed his family.
The whole Prishkolnik family, including their elderly father, Ben-Zion and his offspring, were called by the name, Dei-Gatas. I don't know where the name came from, but there were rumors that the name was stuck to Yoel's grandfather, Rabbi Yishayahu Prishkolnik because he emphasized too much Lord, your G-d, of truth, as he was a gabbai, a treasurer, and a cantor.
Yoel's house was on the street of the synagogue, under the same roof with his parents. The store was close to the house of Roman, the sausage man, and in his ownership.
Yoel was one of the founders of the Zionist Movement in the town, and was part of the group of educated people in Stepan. When a troupe of dramatic actors was founded in the town, he became part of this troupe.
I have a distinct memory of the figure of the witch in the play of Goldfedan (in Yiddish, Dei-Kishuf-Macharin). The best actors took place in this play, and invested in it all of their strength and energy. They had rehearsals for many long days. I don't know whose idea it was to give the role of the witch to a man. But Yoel Prishkolnik played the role of the witch with great success.
Since then, many years have passed. But the calls of Yoel Frishkolnik, the witch, to his nephew, Yishayahu Elikim in the play still echoes in my ears: E-li-kum-kim. E-li-ku-kim!
The impression of the play was very strong in Stepan. I saw the actors of the Ohel in Israel in the play, the Witch, which was a great success. But it seems to me that this cannot be compared to the acting of the dramatic troupe in Stepan.
Yoel Frishkolnik passed his years in Stepan like the rest of his friends. He married and had children. Amongst them were his son Yishayahu and his daughter, Sosel, today Sara Kaplan, who are alive today and live in Israel today.
Yoel turned from a great actor to an owner of a store of tobacco products, and was a man of standing. At the time of the Soviet regime, he worked as an accountant. He, his wife, Tivel (from the Zuckerman family from the nearby Brazna), and their eldest son Shaul were killed by the cursed Germans, and their local Ukrainian partners.
He was from the city of Rovno. He learned in the cheder of the Talmud Torah. His family was poor and they could not afford to teach him any more. They turned him over to learn to be a tailor. He did not finish his studies to become a tailor. He was half-learned because he did not finish his studies and the other half, he was half a tailor.
When he came to Stepan, and married one of the daughters of Melech, the tailor, he announced clearly that he was a tailor of the highest level, and there could not be found anyone on his level in the area. It was clear, in comparison to his father-in-law, he was an excellent professional.
His father-in-law, Melech, a sickly Jew, who looked like someone with tuberculosis, was a tailor for farmers all of his life. Farmers from the area ordered from him clothes and they didn't care too much about exactness and the size. Therefore, when it happened that a farmer would insist on trying on the suit, we, the young people, would stand on the side and look on. We would comment that one sleeve was long and the other was short; every pocket was turning in a different direction and was a different size. Also the buttons were not sewn straight in the same line, but in a sort of zigzag. But what would a poor farmer do who barely had enough money to buy the fabric, and could not afford a better tailor? He would take the clothes and go home in peace.
This tailor saw the work of his father-in-law, and thought that all the tailors in Stepan were like his father-in-law. Therefore, he thought he was excellent.
After his wedding, he began to think about making a living, and there were people who advised him to join Shmuel Gerber, the best tailor in the area. There he could make a good living, and could gain experience in the field. After waiting a while and having doubts, he answered the request of his wife, and went to Shmuel Gerber to see what he was like. He entered the working room with measured steps, surveyed from above (even though he was short) all the people sitting in the room, and turned to the head of the shop, Shmuel Gerber with these words: Will I have to sit and work with all these shura-vantz (vantz-bugs in Yiddish). A voice of laughter broke out amongst the people sitting on their work. Since then Chaim Kaminitzer was called by the name Chaim Shura Vantz), which did not leave him till the last days of his life.
He was a good man with good manners and responsibility.
At the corner and central store was the store of Rivka Kamenstein (the eldest daughter of Moshe Yosef Sheinbaum). She became a widow from her husband, Yehoshua, at a young age, and her one and only son, Yitzchak, stayed with her. He was called Itchenke. He was a tall and handsome boy.
Yitzchak was accepted amongst the youth, and acted many years as the representative of the Keren Kayemet (the Jewish National Fund). He was active in the actors' troupe that performed in Yiddish.
Rivka married a widower from Rovno or that area. Itchenke also married and moved to Rovno or Zadolebonov.
Like many others, they also were killed along with their family in the Holocaust.
At the age of fifty, Baruch became a widower, and remarried a second wife. He had four sons and one daughter. For work he had a wagon and he would take the mail between Stepan and Malinsk, and his sons would help him. Nevertheless, he was not successful in feeding his family. When he had to feed his horses oats, he would turn to the seller of the grain, place into his hand a coin, and the rest he would take on credit. But he always owed the seller of the grain money. Because he dealt with horses, he began also to deal with selling horses. On every market day, it was possible to see him checking horses, and all of this was in order to add to the livelihood of his family. But he never made this addition to his livelihood. After the market day, one could see him at the saloon, drinking spirits in great amounts. This was in order to flee from the difficult reality.
It was obvious that Baruch was not a very learned man, and such were his sons. Even so, in their childhood, he sent them to schools. But their father's business enchanted them more, and many times they would be seen with their father in the saloon.
Baruch Rassis could have spent his whole life in Stepan, and could have died without standing out, except for one incident that happened to him, that shook up the whole town.
Baruch's daughter was pretty and charming. Her name was Rivka. She studied in a Polish school and finished a couple of grades. She matured at an early age, and was the target of the lustful looks of men, and even more so, of non-Jewish men. If the fellows of Stepan would let her pass by quietly without touching her, the manager of the Polish post office would take advantage of her innocence. One bright day, a voice was heard in Stepan that Rivka Rassis ran away from home with her lover, the manager of the post office.
Stepan was bustling with activity, because at the same time another girl fled from her home and converted. There were rumors that there were others girls in line to be converted.
Baruch Rassis, even though he was not amongst the more religious in the town, when he heard this horrible news, he turned white over night. He looked for his daughter days and nights. He went to different places, and asked his friends to follow her steps, until one day it become known by chance that she was found in a city near Warsaw, along with the manager of the post office and his family.
Baruch arrived at the place and pleaded with her to return to him and she said: No! No! Once he sent one of her friends who was very much attached to her, in order to influence her to visit Stepan for a short while and then return to her husband. She returned to Stepan in order to visit her father's home. It was appealing to her to have the status of appearing as the wife of the manager of the post office.
Baruch Rassis knew how to take advantage of this opportunity and called all the youth to come to his house to visit. Perhaps they would succeed in influencing her to stay at her father's home.
This act will be remembered well, for the youth of Stepan of all age groups volunteered to come to Baruch's house, and spend there days upon days. Amongst the visitors was an educator and a teacher, who was very much influenced by this Rivka and fell deeply in love with her. Not much time passed and in spite of the objection of the teachers and the local parents' committee, Shenrer married Rivka Rassis and thus saved one Israeli soul from conversion.
For a long time after, many said in Stepan: what Tuvye, the milkman, from Katrilevka was not successful in doing, the teacher from Stepan was successful in doing.
No one from this family remained alive after the horrible Holocaust.
The family of Moshe Yosef Sheinbaum was a large and branched out family in Stepan. Tanchum Sheinbaum was the second son to his father. It was accepted as if he was the eldest son of the family, and all the decisions received the approval of Tanchum.
The boys of the Tanchum house, who were Zionists from their youth, received a traditional education, and afterwards also a secular education. They learned in Chederim with the best melamdim (teachers) in the town. Afterwards, with the opening of the Tarbut School, in the year 1923, that Tanchum was one of its initiators and founders, the boys went to this school. Along with this, they helped their father in commerce. Almost all the sons were brilliant salesmen.
Tanchum Sheinbaum was the buyer and seller of all the merchandise that came into his hands, and almost always was successful. He would trade pig hair, grains, fresh and processed skins, harness equipment for horses, and all sorts of groceries. He would buy grain for animals, barrels of oil, kerosene, tar, bags of rice, dry alfalfa, and what would he not buy? Full days he would deal with commerce. He hated lazy people, and would always rush others, why sleep? It happened more than once that he would visit our home and would find me in bed in the early hours of the morning. He would scold me: Are you still sleeping? Get up! It's time.
Tanchum Sheinbaum had many good qualities and advantages, but the most important amongst them was his search for peace. Even though he was a Cohen, and it is known that Cohanim were short tempered persons, he would never get angry and in his house nobody would raise their voice. If it became known to him that in this house or another in the town there was a family quarrel, or a quarrel between neighbors, he would come without any hesitation, enter in the middle and force the fighters to make peace immediately.
Tanchum's wife, Ita, was from a cultured family. She was known for her education, her wisdom, and her influence on the education of her children (four boys and one girl) was great and decisive.
The eldest son of Tanchum and Ita, Chaim, a serious and intelligent fellow, learned accountancy, and read a lot. For a long time, he was the secretary of the Zionist Council in the town, the secretary of the Keren Kayemet (the Jewish National Fund), and would also worked in a store for manufacturing utensils with his uncle Heschel, until his uncle lost his assets. Chaim married Shifra Marcus-Makoritz. They had two sons. All of them were killed by the Nazis.
The second son, Ben-Zion, today in Israel, helped his father with commerce from a young age. He married Bronia Tachor, a young and nice girl. They had two beautiful and charming children, who were perfect in their beauty. Ben-Zion was drafted during the war into the Soviet army, which saved his life. His wife, Bronia and her children, were killed in the forests of Stepan, after she was successful in fleeing from the general massacre in Kostopol.
The third son, Yitzchak Sheinbaum-Oren made Aliyah in 1934, after years of study in the secondary school in Vilna, and afterwards in France. When he arrived in Israel, he got a job in the Tel Aviv municipality. As time passed, he was promoted to a very high job in the municipality, the treasurer of the city of Tel Aviv. He held this high job until 1971. When he retired from the municipality, he was named the head of the board of directors of the lottery. He was also a member of boards of different public and financial institutions in the city. He is married to Sonya, and they have two sons and three granddaughters.
In 1935, Tanchum Sheinbaum and his wife, Ita, made aliyah along with their only daughter, Bracha (Bozia). When anti-Semitism and the hate of the non-Jews got greater, he understood that he must leave the town and move to Israel. A year after he made Aliyah, Tanchum got sick and died. His wife, Ita, could not bear her sorrow, and retuned to Stepan along with her daughter, Bracha. Bracha married a relative, Shmuel Achtenbaum from Kalban, and they had one daughter. In the meantime, the war started, Achtenbaum was drafted into the Soviet army, and thus was saved. Ita Sheinbaum, Bracha, and her daughter were killed in the Holocaust.
The fourth son, Shmuel, made Aliyah after the Holocaust. He was saved from the Nazis because he was drafted into the Soviet army.
The fifth son, Shlomo, has been in Israel since 1936. He arrived in Israel before the war, married Batya Bakar, and continued to deal in commerce.
The rest of the family who remained in the town was killed in the Holocaust.
The captions below the pictures:
The father of the family, Tanchum Sheinbaum, of blessed memory, died in the Land of Israel in the year 1936.
The mother of the family, Ita Sheinbaum, of blessed memory, was killed in the Holocaust.
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