Donated by Marjorie Backman
Typed by Ellen Sadove Renck
in love and reverence to the
sacred memory of my family
and the Jewish Community
By Moses Einhorn, M.D. New York
I do not doubt that others cherish the memories of their own native towns as I do the memories of Wolkovisk. I do not compare it with other towns. I know only that there I spent my childhood; and that, thanks to my immediate family, relatives and friends, my childhood there was rich and happy; that the men and women I knew were simple, kind, and good; and that through the long generations, the Jews of Wolkovisk created traditions of which not only its own inhabitants were proud, but all Israel. Now Wolkovisk is gone. Let one of her sons give expression to his love for her.
Wolkovisk was a city and mother in Israelfamous throughout White Russia for its deeply rooted traditional Jewish life. It is situated not far from the famous cities of Grodno, Bialystock and Slonim, great centers of Jewish life and culture. As a railway center it was in daily and intimate contact with scores of other Jewish towns and villages. It was noted also as a military base, important because of its proximity to the German border.
Although I went to Palestine to study when I was quite young and continued my studies in America, where I have been engaged in the practice of medicine, through the years I would return to my native town to visit my family and to renew contacts with the comrades of my youth. My ties with Wolkovisk were never severed.
To me, Wolkovisk was always beautiful. It is situated in a valley in the ancient province of Grodno, the heights of Rosh on the north, and on the south the Schlossbarg where once upon a time Russians and Swedes engaged in battle and along which Napoleon's army passed. Surrounding the towns are great forests, the Zamkover Waelder, once famous for their many wolves. Rising in the East, the Wolkovia River widens into a lake on the edge of the town and then flows along the southern boundary
of its Jewish quarter. It is only a trickle in the summer-time and freezes over during the winter, but overleaps its banks when the spring freshets come. Near the center of the town stood a mill, a short distance from which were the bath houses. The land belonged to the Catholic Church and upon it the galach (priest) lived, but all were free to come and go, and to play in the waters and upon the banks without hindrance.
In the old cemetery one may find reminders of the ancient proud past of Wolkovisk, going back hundreds of years. In her silent tombs lie buried great Jewish personalities who were her sons. Wolkovisk produced a long line of Jewish notables, men who enriched with their lives and work the spiritual heritage of the Jewish people. There were Rabbi Yonathan Eliashberg, Rabbi Abba Yaakov Boruchov (father of the writer and Zionist leader Brachyahu). Rabbi Yitzchak Kassovski) who became chief Rabbi of orthodox Jewry of South America, and Nachman Rachmilewitch, Minister for Jewish Affairs for Lithuania. The Einhorn family produced the world famous gaon, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenskywhose mother was my auntand a long line of rabbis, physicians, and literary men, among whom are the distinguished gastroenterologist, Dr. Max Einhorn of New York, the Palestinian agronomist Iser Einhorn, the journalist Aaron Einhorn, and the poet and literateur, David Einhorn. Wolkovisk also had its great merchantssuffice it to mention the names of Nache Heller and Horatzia Heller who shipped their timber to far distant places.
During the period immediately preceding World War I, Wolkovisk was noted for its fine, idealistic, youth associated with all great movements looking toward the betterment of humanity. They were particularly active in the Russian revolution and the Zionist movement. During their adolescent years, they were usually away the greater part of the year attending Russian gymnasia, European universities, or East European yeshivoth.
The chief pride of Wolkovisk was in the young people who, beginning in 1910, emigrated to Eretz Israel for the purpose of attending the then newly founded Hebrew gymnasium Herzlia in Tel Aviv. The ties of the Jews of Wolkovisk with the new life in Palestine were particularly close. To the Kvutzat Wolkovisk in Palestine belonged Yaakov Rabinowitch, the distinguished Hebrew writer, who recently died in Tel Aviv, and the late Eliyahu Golomb who became leader of the Hagana. In the
Aliyah before World War II, the Jews of Wolkovisk were well represented. There are scattered throughout Palestine four hundred Wolkovisk families engaged in building up the Jewish yishub.
Of Wolkovisk now nothing remains. Like so many other Jewish towns and villages of Poland, it has been erased from the map of the world. Very little more than the old cemetery with its silent tombs is left to bear testimony to what once existeda zecher l'churban (memorial of destruction).
The recorded traditions of Wolkovisk go back about a thousand years when the entire region, then under the rule of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, was covered with heavy forests. It was then infested by robber bands. Two of these bands were particularly notorious; the leader of one of them was Wolako; of the other, Visek. It was their custom to waylay and rob passing travelers. Their careers were cut short by a courageous, determined individual named Zabreko who gathered a number of honest men about him, captured both Wolako and Visek and
hanged them on trees in the Zamkover forest. A memorial of the victory was erected on the spot. Later the memorial was destroyed, and in its place, in the year 1000, a chapel was erected on the edge of an artificial lake. The chapel and lake have disappeared, but traces of both are still to be seen in the depth of the forest. The village that grew up nearby came to be known as Wolkovisk, combining the names of the two notorious robber captains.
Through the centuries Wolkovisk had a colorful history; at times it has been tragic. Many warring armies passed through the town and it changed hands often. In 1224 it was captured by the Tartars and became a possession of Russia then dominated by Tartar hordes; in 1252 it fell into the hands of Ukrainians who held it for six years, only to lose it to the Lithuanians.
An important date in the history of Wolkovisk is 1386. That year the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Jagello, then residing in a palace in the town, was married to the royal Polish princess Jadwiga. Under the terms of the marriage contract, Jagello was to be recognized as King of Poland. For centuries, until Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire, Lithuania retained her autonomy as a grand duchy under the joint crown of Poland and Lithuania.
In 1496 the Teutons occupied Wolkovisk, but it was eventually again restored to Lithuania. By the 16th century Wolkovisk had become one of the important towns of the country. In 1656 it suffered a severe siege. Poles and Lithuanians encamped on the northeast, the Tartars making common cause with them encamped on the northwest, and arrayed against the Poles, Lithuanians and Tartars were the Swedes on the south. The contending armies engaged in bloody battle lasting three days, the Swedes finally suffering defeat. The Schlossbarg (Castle Hill) was built as a memorial of the victory.
During the war that broke out six years later (1662) between Russians and Poles, the town was destroyed and we are told that in 1762 it consisted of only 112 houses. However it grew so rapidly that thirty years later the number of houses had increased to one thousand. It was in 1793 that the second partition of Poland took place and Wolkovisk together with all of Lithuania was absorbed in the Russian Empire. In 1812 the town became the headquarters of the Second Russian Army, and during Napoleon's retreat from Moscow that same year it
was the scene of a great battle, as a result of which the town was once more destroyed.
This time Wolkovisk was slow in reviving, and as late as 1876 it was comprised of only 156 houses. However at the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, the town had a population of well over 15,000 Jews and Gentiles. After World War I, it went through a period of prosperity and rapid growth.
In view of this history, it may be assumed that the Jewish population had its own tragic experiences. We have no record of the first settlement of Jews in Wolkovisk, but reference is made to them in a tax law of the year 1557 in which it was stated that all citizens, including Jews must pay a poll tax of twelve groschen; and in another tax law of the year 1580 it was provided that the Jews must pay their taxes to the government through the Jewish Council of the Four Lands.
The Breite Gass, called by the Poles the Sheroka Ulitsa, was the main street, running east and west, (extending from the Milner Gass to the town's western end) dividing Wolkovisk into two almost equal sections. Parallel with it, and next to it in importance, was the Ostroger (Kosciusko) Gass upon which was located the White Prison and which began at the Pritzishe Gass; further east it changed its name to Grodner Gass and still further on to the Tartarske Gass. In the very center extending the full distance between these two main streets was a white brick structure built around an open square, containing three hundred shops. This served as the business center of the town. From the Breite Gass ran a number of gesslach (little streets). A little street one block west from the Milner Gass led to the Jewish cemetery. On the river bank, at the small bridge where this street crossed the stream, the Jews would perform the ritual
of casting their sins in running water (tashlich) on Rosh Hashana, and along this street the funeral corteges would pass on the way to the cemetery. We children feared to come here at night; it was always associated in our minds with the dead. Upon the little street one block still further west, near the river bank, stood the chassidishe shtuebel, synagogue of the Chassidic sect. There were scarcely a hundred chassidim in our town, but they of course had to have their own place of worship. Beginning at the point where the Ostroger Gass becomes the Grodner Gass across the street from the northwest corner of the building in which the shops were located, running northward, was the Neie Gaessel which was to play an important role in events during the Nazi occupation of Wolkovisk.
Further west on the Breite Gass, directly across the street from the shops, stood our home, in which I was born and in which my family lived for some generations. A short distance away, on the same side of the street, was the Schulhof (Synagogue Court) which occupied the area between the Breite Gass and the river. Within the court were located the synagogues, the Talmud Torahs, the Moshav Zkeinim and other institutions relating to the cultural and communal life of the Jews.
Like so many towns all over the world Wolkovisk in the course of its history had its great fires; during the memory of living man there were as many as three. One broke out in 1886 when most of the town was burned down and only Ostroger Gass was saved. It was believed by many that the fire was halted by the prayers of a saintly dayan. When the town was rebuilt, a number of brick houses replaced old wooden structures. In 1908, another fire broke out and a large part of the town was again burned down. The Jews mourned the loss of their beautiful synagogue and its precious Ark of the Law. A third fire which might be mentioned here took place during World War I, destroying a large section of Cholodowski Gass.
From 1915 to 1919 the town was occupied by the German army and survivors still speak of the excellent discipline of the troops at whose hands they received kindly treatment. This was before the days of the Nazis and the conversion of Germany into an insane and brutal nation.
During the years I lived in Palestine and studied medicine in America, the inner life in Wolkovisk underwent a profound change. Wolkovisk could not escape the world-shaking influence of the first World War, the Russian revolution and the creation of the Polish republic. The town did not lack contact with the outside world. It was served by two railroadsone connecting with Siedlice, Lida, Grodno and Wilno, the other with Bialystock, Slonim and the great cities of Russia. But as a child I was quite unconscious of the infiltration of new outside influences. I knew only of the ways of life and the Jewish spirit that permeated the town, the spirit that was bound to dominate the life of a small boy of a Jewish middle class family rooted in the ancient traditions.
In Wolkovisk, as everywhere else in the Russian tchum (Pale of Jewish Settlement), the education of the child began as it emerged from its infancy. All little boys and girls, of the rich and the poor, were sent to the same chedorim. As the children grew older, the sexes were segregated and the boys were sent to chedorim where more advanced subjects were taught. Near our home on one of the little side streets running down to the river was the cheder of more advanced study which I
All lessons were chanted, the aleph beth by the little ones, the prayers, dikduk and week's parshah by the older children. Every week's parshah was rehearsed and its chanting could be heard throughout the town announcing the coming of the Sabbath.
In the chedorim for the more advanced children, the daily sessions were long, but the day's monotony would be broken by a short recess during which women were permitted to sell the children the latkes and klines, dearly loved by all.
The children of the more well-to-do were generally provided also with private tutors who would come to the homes to teach the Russian language and literature and other secular subjects. When I was a child a realschule was opened by the community. I attended it for a time until for some unknown cause it was closed and converted by the government into a girls' gymnasium. The boys were compelled to go elsewhere to continue their studies, generally to neighboring towns. Thus came about the emigration to Palestine of the first group from Wolkovisk for the purpose of entering the Herzlia Gymnasium then being founded in Tel Aviv.
Only on the Sabbath, holidays, and during the vacation period were the children free. Six days of the week, from early morning until late in the evening, the younger and older pupils were engaged in study; one went home at noon for a leisurely lunch, and again in the evening for supper, returning to the cheder or Talmud Torah. The winter days were short in Wolkovisk and every child had to be provided with a lantern in which was inserted a candle, to light his way. The youngest were brought home by the behelfer, or assistant teachers. The older
children found their way home by themselves, for they had no fear of the dark, nor of getting lost, as the way home was not long and took them only through the Jewish section of the town.
During most of the year the town was stripped of the older boys of well-to-do families, attending gymnasia, universities and yeshivoth. But during the summer vacation, and twice a year during the holiday seasons, it was quite different. The entire town would awaken with the return of the student youth. Great was the heartbreak among the stay-at-homes, for many of the girls would thrust them aside and shower their attentions upon the returning ones, about whom absence had thrown a romantic halo. It also gave old friends a much appreciated opportunity to meet again.
Life in Wolkovisk lacked neither color nor youthful joyousness. During the summer there was bathing in the lake, and during the winter, skating; also sledding on the slope of the hills and snowballing in the fields.
The Sabbath never lost its atmosphere. On Friday the aroma of the baking and cooking of the Sabbath meals pervaded the streets and the entire valley. It helped one to look forward to the coming Sabbath with a keener zest. Every housewife prepared her own cholent which was baked by the town baker and kept in the great oven until the Sabbath noon meal. Ours, I remember, was brought back regularly by Marilia, the goya, from the oven of Ronye, the baker. To my youthful palate it was ambrosia. Wolkovisk was quite innocent of lampposts, but when Friday evening came, the houses brightly alight with many candles and lamps illuminated the streets.
Our house, as I have said, was situated on the Breite Gass near the Schulhof. On Sabbath and holidays all Wolkovisk passed by, the Rabbi accompanied by two shamosim, the important baalebatim (leaders of the community), wearing tall silk hats, the less important individuals in derbies, and the workers in cloth caps. One could fix the social stratum to which a Jew belonged by the hat he wore, but everyone was attired in Sabbath clothes.
Everybody attended the synagogue regularly, men, women and children, the religious and the radicals. On Saturday mornings the youth congregated in the courtyard during the reading
of the Law to greet each other and to engage in discussion. It was not their fault if a single problem of the universe was omitted, and here revolution and Zionism were preached.
On the afternoon of the Sabbath the men would take their short naps while the women would sit gossiping together, during the summer on their balconies or steps, during the winter within their houses. Relatives and friends would visit each other and enjoy afternoon tea.
During the summer, late in the afternoon the houses would be emptied and the entire population would steam toward the Ostroger Gass for its promenade. The promenade would take them along the Ostroger Gass to the Pritzishe Gass, linked with many trees, where the houses of the well-to-do Gentiles were surrounded by gardens, into the street past the Catholic Church, to the Milner Gass, along the shore of the lake, back to the Ostroger Gass. Often this circle would be made a number of times. Many would leave Pritzishe Gass and follow a path which took them alongside the railroad tracks, or still another path which took them across the fields in the direction of the Schlossbarg. Promenades were occasions for the women to done their finery and to dress the children in their best.
The month between Purim and Passover was the most exciting period of the year. Purim, a happy festival in itself, announced the coming of Spring. The snow and ice accumulated during the long winter months, now beginning to melt, would be removed. In every house the storm windows would be taken down and the facades of the houses and interior woodwork painted, and the walls within would receive fresh coats of kalsomine. The tailors, dressmakers and shoemakers had their busiest season, for clothing and shoes were not bought ready-made, but were ordered to measure. The shops were equally busy. Food and all necessities, luxuries too, flour, eggs, sugar, beets, potatoes and other things, were bought in great quantities, to last many weeks, until past Shvuos [sic] at least. The borsht was cooked in the great copper vessels. The wine and meat were brought in from the neighboring larger towns.
The Passover dishes, pots and cutlery, which were the finest and most expensive owned, were taken down from the garret where they had been stored the past year, to be cleaned and kashered. We boys would take the cutlery and silver down
Every housewife prepared the matzos for her own family. The use of the oven in the town bakery would be arranged for in advance. The flour was provided, but expert women would make the matzoh dough which would be flattened out and then run over with the wheel that made the rows of little holes. It then would be placed in the oven and when baked, taken out, fresh, warm and crisp.
The poor of the town were not forgotten. The Jewish community provided the flour and the young people would volunteer their services to make the matzos. As a child I loved to watch the girls knead the dough, roll it flat and make the rows of holes, while the young men would attend to the baking in the great ovens. As the work went on, the revolution would be preached.
The children felt and shared the excitement of the season. Furthermore, for them it was the time of promotion and the donning of new clothes. What lent particular interest to Passover was the presence of the students and out-of-town workers. It contributed greatly to the happiness and joy of the Seder
nights, when all the members of the family were reunited at the table under the parental roof.
The ten days beginning with Rosh Hashanah were dominated by a solemn mood. No one failed to be inspired by a feeling of awe when the Day of Atonement came and all who had quarreled during the year made peace with one another. Everyone fasted as a matter of course, and prayed to the Lord for forgiveness for his own sins and the sins of all Israel. The blowing of the Shofar at the end of the day created a deeply moving moment. The solemnity of the other fast days, particularly Tisha b'Ab, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, could not fail to impress deeply the mind and heart of a child. Succoth and Simchath Torah, following within a few days the Day of Atonement took on a deeper joyousness because of the solemn days that had immediately preceded the holiday.
The eight days of Chanukah, coming as they did in late December, broke up the monotony of the long Polish winter with the charm of its candle lights, the gaiety of its feasts and the pleasure of exchange of gifts.
A Jewish child, growing up among Jews in a town like Wolkovisk could find a goodly measure of happiness and beauty in life. Sometimes he had to reach a certain maturity before feeling the menace that threatened from the world without, the menace of anti-Semitism, of pogroms, and of war.
Throughout the year, two days every week were set aside as the busy, exciting market days. Jews and Gentiles, small townsmen and peasants would come to the market on the Breite Gass to sell their wares. At the end of each market day, cash in their purses, having disposed of their own products, they would visit the shops to purchase their own needed supplies. The town's economy was chiefly dependent upon the out-of-town patronage these market days brought, and upon the patronage also of the XVIth Artillery Brigade, stationed on the outskirts of the town near the railway station. Ours was by no means a wealthy community. It nevertheless succeeded in maintaining the high standards of a religious and cultural Jewish life.
Jewish Communal Life During the Last Few Decades
During the years of the first world war when Wolkovisk and all Lithuania and White Russia were occupied by the Germans, I was a student in America. The unanimous report was that the Germans had behaved in an exemplary manner and had even shown kindness to the Jewish inhabitants. In those days no one could have believed that in another generation German Nazis would bring upon the Jews of all Europe
the greatest tragedy and behave with a bestiality unprecedented in history.
Until the very end, Wolkovisk retained much of its ancient character as a Jewish town, but influences within and outside Jewish life left their impress upon it. During the last few decades the Russian, Polish and Hebrew languages came more into use. Modern schools (including a Hebrew gymnasium) and modern teaching methods were introduced. The town took a profound interest in all that concerned the welfare of Palestine and gave generously and gladly to all its funds.
The townsmen felt themselves belonging to one family with a sense of pride and dignity growing out of their traditions. Violence and theft among them were unknown. If a theft did occur in Wolkovisk it was assumed as a matter of course that it was committed by some stranger passing through. Wealth, it must be confessed, sometimes won a certain recognition but always yiches, character, scholarship and service were held in the highest regard. There was a group of men not necessarily wealthy, deeply respected by all Jews and Gentiles, who fought for the welfare of the Jews and interceded whenever necessary in their behalf with the authorities.
Always, Wolkovisk maintained the highest traditions of Hebrew and general culture. Of its synagogues and the schools, and of the quality of its youth I speak elsewhere. There were other institutions and organizations which greatly influenced the life of the community. I am aware that we will find such institutions paralleled in almost every Jewish town, but nowhere were they more lovingly fostered than in Wolkovisk. They were as varied in character as the needs of Jews. There were the Bund, the Zionist organization, the Yiddish theatre, the Maccabee organization. There were also the Hospital, the Orphanage, the Home for the Aged, the Gemilath Chasodim, and there was the great pride of Wolkovisk Jewrythe Fire Department.
The Bund was organized in 1897, the year the Zionists held their first congress in Switzerland. The Russian reactionaries unwittingly helped to bring it about when the rise of the revolutionary spirit among the intellectual classes led the government to drive many of the youth out of the universities. A number of these young intellectuals settled in Wolkovisk as teachers and immediately began infiltrating the
They were responsible for the first strike the town ever knew. The town in those days had no factories; instead, there were only the shops of the artisans. At that time a youth desiring to learn a trade would be apprenticed to an established artisan. The working hours were as many as the human body could be made to endure. The apprentice worked every day except the Sabbath and every night except Friday. He assisted his employer in the shop and attended to all the tasks imposed by the wife of the employer. He was both apprentice and household drudge. The people of the Kruzhok group instigated a strike for free Saturday nights. It was not a peaceful strike, many of the apprentices were beaten by die Shtarke, the muscular young Jews who up to that time had been called
upon only to keep drunken Gentile peasants from creating trouble on market days. When die Shtarke were won over by the strikers, the employers surrendered. As time went on the apprentices were granted shorter hours, and their lot was greatly improved.
The Kruzhok developed into branch of the Bund. The Bund became a highly important national organization, went into politics, and elected delegates to the Polish Sejm.
The spirit of the Russian revolution so deeply permeated the life of the Jewish youth in the town that when the Zionist movement was organized, at about the same time, there were but few of the young people among its adherents. Only the more well-to-do and older Jews were then deeply interested, and it was from that group that the support of the movement came. However the situation changed during World War I, when every element in the Jewish community began to show the deepest interest in the establishment of the Jewish National Home in Palestine. The settlement in Palestine of more than four hundred families, the registration of a large number of students in the Herzlia Gymnasium and the large contribution to all Palestine funds, gave evidence of the great devotion of the Jews of Wolkovisk to Zionism.
The Yiddish theatre was an important cultural institution in Wolkovisk. There are few Jews who do not love the theatre. Plays with casts of amateurs were given at regular intervals. Dance recitals were also held. The plays and recitals always drew large audiences.
During the last few generations Maccabee athletic organizations have sprung up in many towns throughout Eastern and Central Europe. They expressed the new spirit prevailing among our Jewish youth. In Wolkovisk, the membership of the Maccabee organization was comprised of men and women who came from every walk of life, the rich and the poor, the radicals and conservatives in religion and politics. They ski-ed and skated in the wintertime, played soccer during the summer and fall, during all seasons held boxing and fencing matches, and gave exhibitions in Swedish calisthenics.
The young generation grew tall and strong. In the armies in which the youth fought, it gave a good account of itself and rendered heroic and efficient service in the partisan bands that harassed the Nazi armies behind the lines. It was the
Also indicative of the new spirit was the fire department manned almost wholly by Jews and commanded by them for many years immediately before World War II. It consisted of 200 men, all volunteers, and it was a democratic organization, for enrolled in its ranks were wealthy merchants, professional men, poor cobblers and tailors, and young intellectuals. The first Jew to be selected as fire chief was Abraham Neiman and he was succeeded, in order, by Abraham Galatzki, Motel Kilikovski and Melech Chantoff. The importance of the fire department was recognized by everyone, for in modern times, before the department was organized, two great fires had destroyed, or almost destroyed, the entire town. Most of the houses were of wood for only the wealthy could afford homes of brick. The houses were close together and the streets, with
Notwithstanding its Jewish personnel and command, the fire department served the entire town, and Jews and Gentiles regarded it with great pride because of its high efficiency and the many deeds of heroism for which it was noted. In the course of its history the fire department as a unit, and many of its individual members, received numerous gold medals for heroism and loyal service. In 1929 on its thirtieth anniversary the government of Poland awarded it a certificate of merit and sent its official congratulations.
BREITE GASS IN 1922
In the early days the sick received such attention as was possible in their own homes under the guidance of a physician. In more modern times a simple clinic came into existence.
At the beginning there were no trained nurses, but all Jews, men and women, regarded it as a sacred duty to help care for the sick. At the clinic were kept the thermometers, ice bags and the like, and the people would come here to borrow such articles as were needed by a sick person. It was all rather primitive and not exactly hygienic. It was the custom for volunteer attendants, or hospital aides, to serve nightly, and in pairs to keep each other company.
In 1898, Nachman Heller, the wealthy merchant, donated a hospital. After the first world war, an excellent dispensary with a good laboratory attached was established. On the staff of both the hospital and dispensary were competent physicians
CLASS OF TARBUTH SCHOOL
Jewish children have always been the chief concern of our Jewish communities. Before the first world war, orphan children were cared for by their nearest relatives. The close of the war however found a number of children homeless and without kith or kin, and for a short time no proper provision was made for them.
During the war Eliyahu Shaikevitch had been away from Wolkovisk but in December 1920 he returned. His heart went
out to the war orphans. He called upon Rabbi Abba Yaacob Boruchov and asked for his help, offering to dedicate his life to the welfare of the children. The good rabbi gave him his blessing and assured him of his cooperation.
He then called on Dr. Rosa Einhorn, Chaya Sara Lev, Anschel Bliacher, Baruch Yunovitch, Shabsai Gordon, Eliyahu Schlossberg, Sarah Yudzik, Perel Lev and a number of others. All assured him of cooperation. On April 26th, 1921, a meeting was held, an organization was formed of which Schlossberg was elected president, Shaikevitch vice-president and Rosa Einhorn treasurer.
When the delegates came from American with relief funds, a certain percentage was set aside for the orphanage. The building, no longer in use, that had been set aside for Hachnosas Orchim, (for the reception of visiting guests or strangers) was taken over and twenty-five children, boys and girls, installed. Later a vacant lot which belonged to Noach and Belke Lev, then living in America, was donated to the orphanage, the generous donors adding a substantial money contribution. Upon this lot one of the finest orphanages in Poland was built. This
was made possible by the additional gifts from the JDC and landsleit from many cities in America. Shabsai Gordon was superintendent. E. Shaikevitch continued as president until 1938 when he left for Palestine.
Every effort was made to give the children of the orphanage the same opportunities that fell to the lot of those more fortunate. They were given the best education the town could afford and when they attained the age of 18 and went out into the world, they were provided with a certain amount of cash and helped to secure proper employment. Every endeavor was made to make holidays days of rejoicing for all the children.
The constant emigration of the new generation to western lands and Palestine, together with life's fatalities, left a number of persons of the old generation alone and lonely. They were not necessarily poor but were cut off, for various reasons, from their kin. A number had been leading citizens who in their day rendered important service to the community. The care of the Home of the Aged was to Meyer Schiff, one of the most respected and beloved Jews of the town, a labor of love. Schiff devoted himself to the Home until his death in 1936, when he was succeeded by Yaakov Lienetski. The place was not merely an institution, but a club for the men and women who resided there, and who found there what they most needed, companionship. In 1927 the place housed 18 men and 13 women. When the Nazis came, the old men and women residing there met death in various terrible ways.
One more institution I must mention. Wolkovisk, like most towns of its size and degree of prosperity had its banks, which were used by its merchants and more substantial citizens. Like other such towns it also maintained a fund, known as the Gemilath Chasodim, out of which loans, carrying no interest, were made to responsible persons of more moderate means. All that was required was the endorsement of two persons. This enabled the smaller tradesmen to carry on through bad seasons and the artisans to purchase their tools and to tide over periods of illness. This fund played a highly important part in the economy of the town. The percentage of loss through such
loan was negligible. Thus did the Jews aid each other through the generations.
The first of my family to settle in Wolkovisk was my grandfather, Chaim Ozer, a merchant who came from a neighboring town. He had nine children, six sons and three daughters.
My grandfather gave each of his children a good Hebrew education and sent his sons to the seminary in Wilno. After graduation from the seminary several of his sons studied at the university and absorbed Western culture. Among Chaim Ozer's sons and grandchildren were many who rose to distinction as lawyers, doctors, writers and merchants.
My father, Zwi Hirsh Einhorn, known as Hirshel der apteiker (apothecary), was the youngest of the children. Of medium height and dignified bearing, well built, with fine features and a great mass of hair, he was gentle in manner, and had a delightful smile. He was deeply respected by the entire community, Jews and Gentiles alike. He possessed an extraordinary understanding of men and women. The confidence in him felt by all, even to the simplest Polish peasant, was without limit, and to him people came for advice for the settlement of their problems as well as the cure of their ailments. He was tireless in his patient kindness. People would come to him for little favors as well as big, and many hundreds
of mailing addresses to relative and friends in America were written by him. The people of the town had a blind faith that a letter or card addressed by him would most certainly reach its destination.
My father's knowledge of pharmacology was profound. During my visits to Wolkovisk in looking over his formulas, I was amazed to discover how great was his knowledge. As a physician I have not hesitated to use a number of his formulas in my own practice, always with great success.
Of the warmth of his love for his children it is too difficult to speak. All his children were given the best possible Jewish education available and sent to the gymnasium or university. He was a deeply loyal Jew, religious without bigotry, who respected all people of all faiths. He died in 1918 during my absence in America.
My mother was Michlia, daughter of the distinguished Chaim Leib Kagan, great merchant and leading Jew of the community of Lida. My grandfather Kagan was the shtadlan of his community and represented it in the traditional rite of presentation of bread and wine to the Czar when the monarch passed through the town. My mother looked the aristocrat and had many of the ways of one. She was slender and beautiful, as well as kind and gracious. She loved to dress well, and bore herself with great dignity. In addition to her other qualities she possessed high intelligence and great cleverness. She was absorbed in her family and was very ambitious for all of us. She and my father together created the home atmosphere that united the children with the closest ties of devotion and love.
In 1926, when I learned my mother was ill I closed my office and hastened to Wolkovisk to reach her bedside. All her children were there; my brother Oscar made the trips from Sosnowiec to see her and my sisters, Lisa, Rosa and Paula and I remained with her through the long terrible months, until death came. We gave her all our love and, if possible, were drawn even more closely together by the love we held for her.
My parents had seven children in all. Little Shmuel died
when he was three years old. Six of us grew to maturity. Lisa, Oscar, Rosa, Dora, I and Paula.
When World War II came to a close in Europe, I sought the first opportunity to fly to Palestine to visit Lisa. I was the first civilian to arrive from the outside, July 16th, 1945. The overwhelming joy with which I was received by my sister could not conceal the terrible state of anxiety that possessed her. Her love for her family had always been deep, and being childless herself, the children of Rosa and Paula were as precious to her as if they were her own.
Later when I learned of the fate of the family from Kotliarski, Roitman, and Sheine Lifshitz, witnesses of the tragic series of events, I had neither the strength nor courage to tell her what had happened. We clung to each other and except when called away on pressing matters I spent all my time in her company. She came daily to me to ask if I had news. She had hopes that someone of the family still lived. If Rosa survived, she would say, she would surely find some means of communicating with us.
When I returned to America, I wrote her regularly long letters filled with details, trying to give her such comfort as there was in me to give. She found it difficult to write frequently but when she did write, it was with great warmth and deep affection. One day in June 1946 the news of Lisa's death came like a thunderbolt.
My brother Oscar was quite young when he left home and went to Tashkent. Later he settled in Sosnowiec and opened a shop for the sale of optical and photographic supplies. He
When the Nazis seized Sosnowiec he somehow obtained an Aryan passport and moved to Czenstochova. There in 1944 his identity was discovered by the Nazis and he was shot. A daughter, Therenia, was married and lived in Austryn, Poland. She and her two children have disappeared utterly, undoubtedly murdered by the Nazis, together with the rest of the Jewish population. The other daughter, Halina, was sent to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt. There she remained for two years, until rescued by the allied army. She and her brother Jerzy are both alive today; Jerzy is studying medicine in Posen.
Of my sister Rosa it is impossible not to think, but difficult, very difficult, to write. When the people of Wolkovisk mention
her name to the members of her family, they would always say our Rosa, indicating their love for her. The survivors of Wolkovisk will bear witness that she was a saint, possessed of rare and exquisite beauty, that she had unusual intellect, that she was gentle and strong, and that she was generous in thought and deed. Like our mother she was tall, slender, graceful. She had a mass of dark hair, great black eyes, splendidly chiselled features, a smile that bespoke utter sympathy and goodness.
Rosa attended the government gymnasium at Grodno, then studied dentistry at the University of Warsaw. Her great heart went out to the poor and oppressed and in her early youth she identified herself actively with the revolutionary movement and the struggle for equality and justice for all men. During her later years she became deeply sympathetic with the movement for the restoration of Palestine. Her heart encompassed all humanity. When patients, Jews or Gentiles, rich or poor, came to her for treatment, they paid or not, as they could or would. To the needy, Jews and Poles, she was the first citizen of their community. The Gentiles, apparently in some strange way even the Gestapo, could not resist the unconscious charm that pervaded her personality. Hence they would have saved her from the gas chamber had she been but willing to survive those who were nearest and dearest to her.
Her young daughter Dora possessed much of the beauty and intelligence of her mother. Before the war broke out she was noted for her high spirits and her skill and courage as an athlete. Mother and daughter were inseparable and Dora could not accept life when her mother went to her death.
The first of the children who reached maturity to pass away was my lovely sister Dora. She died at the age of twenty-four. Rosa had graduated in dentistry in Warsaw before the first world war. Dora joined her and began her studies for the same profession. When the war broke out and the Germans advanced into the country, she fled to Odessa and graduated in that city. The Revolution came and Russia withdrew from the war. Rosa and Dora met in Minsk and found employment with the newly organized Zemstvos.
In 1918, when my father was taken with the illness which was to be his last, the care of the apothecary shop fell upon the
It was sometime later that Lisa and Dora learned of the
death of my father and they also came to Wolkovisk to stay with my mother. After a while, Dora returned to Minsk, but before the Rosh Hashanah holidays came she decided to revisit the family. On the train she contracted typhus and arrived in Wolkovisk very ill. Notwithstanding the best medical care and most tender nursing she died two weeks later. At that time I was a medical student in New York, and although I was in constant communication with my mother, knowledge of my father's and sister's deaths was withheld from me, until one day, almost two years later, a letter from my mother revealed the heart-breaking news. I was sustained by the comforting letters which came weekly from my mother and Rosa.
In 1921 I visited Wolkovisk. Although almost three years had elapsed since Dora's death, I found my mother and sisters still in mourning and was informed it was the habit of Rosa to visit Dora's grave daily. Upon my insistence my family gave up their mourning and Rosa ceased the daily visits to the grave. I spent some time in Berlin in further medical study, and during frequent visits home was able to help create a more serene atmosphere at home.
My sister Paula, or Peshke as we called her, was very young when she assumed the responsibility for the apothecary shop of my father, during his illness. When he died, she remained in charge. The sense of responsibility that animated her was deeply appreciated by all of us. In her devotion to her family, she was an intense partisan, and she would defend us against the least slight with all the fervor of her fine passionate nature.
She loved Wolkovisk, attended the gymnasium there, and never left it for any long period. However, she made frequent trips to Warsaw to purchase medical supplies and occasionally made visits to Warsaw to see Lisa, relatives and friends, and to Bialystock, Grodno, Lida and other towns. A pleasant wholesomeness characterized her; she was decidedly goodlooking, strong, healthy and efficient. Her little children, who died with her and her husband in the gas chambers at Treblinka, were born after my last visit to Wolkovisk.
And now I alone of the children of my parents survive. I know not, I understand not, the ways of the Lord.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Volkovysk, Lithuania Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2013 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 8 Feb 2010 by LA