ONLINE NEWSLETTER (No. 9/2007 - December 2007)
Editor: Fran Bock
Author Ruth Marcus submitted the following abstract of her article:
During the last five years I have been involved in research on Jewish life in the village of Lunna, now in Belarus. Part of the results of this research, together with old photographs that were taken in Lunna before WW2, are posted on the Lunna webpage at: kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/lunna which has been online since May 18, 2007.
The following article consists of two parts which have not yet been posted on the Lunna webpage. The background part describes my personal connection and attachment to Lunna, which was the hometown of my ancestors and the place where my father was born and grew up. The second part describes impressions and reflections of my visit in Lunna in August 2006, followed by selected photos from that trip.
© This article is copyrighted by Ruth Marcus.
Reprinting or copying of this article is not allowed without prior permission from the copyrightholders.
Once there was a small Shtetl named Lunna
by Ruth Marcus
My father, Yitzchak ("Yitzl") Eliashberg (also spelled as Eliasberg) was born on October 14, 1910 in Lunna. The village was then in the Russian Empire; between WW1 and WW2 Lunna was in Poland and now it is in Belarus. His parents were Yehoshua Eliashberg and Batya nee Kosovsky (also spelled as Kosowski). He grew up in Lunna with his four sisters: Malka, Yocheved, Chaya and Leah. He attended and graduated the "Torah Ve'daat" Hebrew elementary school which was established in Lunna after WW1. Later on, he studied at the "Tarbut" Gymnasium (Hebrew high school) in Grodno where he graduated in 1930. He was active in the "Ha'Shomer Ha'tzair" youth movement in Grodno and was one of its leaders. At the end of 1932 he left Poland for Eretz Israel and settled with his friends from "Ha'Shomer Ha'tzair" in kibbutz Bet Alfa. A few years later he left the kibbutz and moved to Tel Aviv. His father died in Lunna in 1934. At the end of the summer in 1937 Yitzchak traveled by ship to visit his mother, Batya, his two younger sisters, Chaya and Leah, and some other Eliashberg and Kosovsky family relatives who remained in Lunna. From that visit he sent several letters to his girlfriend Ahuva in Eretz Israel, who was born in Jerusalem, and whom he married a year later. In his letters he described the exciting meetings with his family relatives, friends and acquaintances in Lunna and in Grodno.
In 1939 before the outbreak of WW2 my father and his sister Yocheved were already living in Eretz Israel. Their older sister Malka Bialoblocki, her husband and their children were living in Rozyscie, Poland. Their two younger sisters Leah and Chaya were living in Lunna with their mother Batya. It turned out that my father had the possibility to bring to Eretz Israel only one of his two younger sisters, so he decided to get his youngest sister Leah out from Poland. To do so he paid for the travel expenses of one of his acquaintances in Eretz Israel who traveled to Lunna, married his sister and brought her with him to Eretz Israel on an official certificate at the "last moment" on April 5, 1940 and then divorced her (i.e. "fictitious marriage"). His other sister Chaya and his mother Batya remained in Lunna and perished in the Holocaust with all the other Jews of Lunna on December 8, 1942, the fifth day of Chanukah.
Yehosua Eliashberg and Batya Kosovsky Eliashberg circa 1930
Yitzchak Eliashberg at Lunnyanka Brook
Yocheved Eliashberg Rutenberg (rt) and her aunt Shoshana Kosowski Harkabi circa 1926
Bialoblocki family near Nieman River, 1937
(Malka Eliashberg, Avigdor B. and children Aviva & Shmuel-Arie)
Leah Eliashberg Yanovsky (left)
and Chaya Eliashberg in front of their
I remember the days when my father got together with his two sisters, Yocheved and Leah, in Israel. They used to talk a lot about Lunna, mentioning the Niemen River and the forests which surrounded the shtetl. With tears in their eyes they used to talk about their relatives and friends who had remained in Poland and perished in the Holocaust. His younger sister Leah used always to repeat the fact that my father saved her life when he had managed at the last moment to bring her to Eretz Israel.
Sometime between the late 1960s and the early 1970s my father began to write memoirs on Lunna. "Once there was a small shtetl named Lunna" — this is how he opened his reminiscences of Lunna. He wrote in Yiddish several memory stories as "A Fair Day in Lunna", "Theater in Lunna", "Berl der Furman" (the teamster) and added an introduction to them in Hebrew. He used to read these memoirs to his family relatives and friends during their meetings. I used to watch them at that time without understanding any word in Yiddish but enjoyed their interest and reactions. I suppose that my father intended to write a Yizkor book about Lunna but never reached this goal. In 1972 he had a stroke which changed the rest of his life. All his activities, including the writing of his memoirs and stories about Lunna, came to an end. Ten years later, on November 19, 1982, my father passed away.
About five years ago, I found in the home where my parents used to live an old copybook which included the three memory stories which my father had written. These memory stories, written in Yiddish, were translated for me into Hebrew and from then on I have been drawn to and have become engrossed with the town and deeply involved in its research. I started to interview former Lunna residents, in particular Mr. Eliezer Eisenshmidt, a Holocaust survivor from Lunna, who now lives in Israel. In the course of my research on the Lunna Shtetl, I became acquainted with its day-to-day Jewish life prior to WW2, its paths and alleyways, the public buildings and private houses it contained, the well-to-do and the ordinary people - most of them were artisans and petty merchants. I suddenly felt as if that I knew the people and the characters that were described in my father's memoirs. I got to know who was Berl der Furman (the teamster), Rubtze the Melamed (the teacher), Elka's Yankel, Leib the blacksmith, Yoske the baker, Berl the hairdresser, as well as other types and characters. The results of my research were summarized in a booklet entitled "Once there was a small Shtetl named Lunna" (Ruth Marcus, 2005, 195 p. in Hebrew).
Some time after the booklet was published and distributed among a few people who found an interest in that Shtetl, Mr. Eisenshmidt found at his home an old notebook with lists of names and addresses of people who resided in Israel during the 1950s and participated in memorials for the Lunna Jews who perished during the Holocaust. These memorials were held in Tel Aviv in the 1950s but ceased afterwards. Following these lists, Eisenshmidt and I managed to find many descendants of former Lunna-Wola residents who reside in Israel. As a result of these searches a Gathering of Descendants from Lunna took place in Beit Vohlyn in Givatayim in March 2006. About 150 people ingathered there from all over the country and participated in a moving and exciting evening.
In August 2006, I accompanied Eliezer Eisenshmidt, his granddaughter Liat and Mira Feingold (her father Aba Margalit was born and grew up in Lunna) on a visit to Lunna. Impressions and reflections of this visit, together with selected photos, are presented below.
Our visit to Lunna (August 2006)
We travelled from Ben-Gurion airport to Vilnius, where a Lithuanian driver was waiting to pick us up. From Vilnius, we drove on to Druskininkai, Lithuania, then crossed the border with Belarus and after three hours drive arrived in Grodno. There we had a hotel for five nights. A Grodno driver would pick us up every morning from the hotel for our daily trip. On the first morning we drove from Grodno, passed Skidel and after about an hour we approached Lunna, greatly excited. At first we took pictures of Lunna's sign, written in Belarusian Cyrillic, a few hundred yards before the entrance to the village. On the other side of the entrance to Lunna lies the village of Zaleski. We came to Lunna through the road which used to divide the former village of Wola. The village of Wola was officially annexed to Lunna in 1915. Many Jewish residents, however, continued to refer to Lunna as "Lunna-Wola".
Road sign of Lunna, 2006. L to R: Mira Feingold, Eliezer Eisenshmidt, Ruth Marcus
Lunna entrance thru road bisecting Wola; on the other side of the road is the village of Zaleski
In September 1941, on Sukkoth Eve, the Germans declared Wola to be the ghetto for both Lunna and Wola Jews. The Lunna Jews were then forced to leave their homes and move into the houses of the Wola Jews, the synagogue or the Beth Midrash (study house). After the war many old houses in Wola which remained in poor condition were destroyed by the Soviets and new buildings were built on the site. When we drove through Wola, Eisenshmidt showed us the small bridge over the brook where the flourmill of Galinski and Rumsisker and their partners had once stood and he mentioned the names of several Jewish families that had lived in Wola, including Replanski, Muler, Friedman, Murawski, Pluskalowski, Halpern and others.
We went on to the "Goyeshe Gass" where the Christians used to live and arrived in Wolpianska Street, now Sovietskaya Street. Eisenshmidt showed us the place where his family's house had once stood, its storage and the ice-pit. The house was destroyed and a new house was built on its place. The two Lunna Jewish schools had once stood to the right side of Eisenshmidt's house. Incidentally, he met an old Christian woman whose father was a shoemaker and a neighbor of his family. He talked in Russian with her and with other neighbors who joined the discussion, and he also simultaneously translated for us parts of their talks. His old neighbor remembered Eisenshmidt's mother Etka (Ethel) who used to feed her as a child. She also remembered other Jewish families who had once lived in Lunna and even mentioned their names. They both recalled the special reception that was held in 1932 at Eisenshmidt's home when Mr. Shwed (a Pole) was elected as the Mayor of Lunna. During their talks Eisenshmidt showed her the tattoo from Auschwitz on his arm and she began crying. Eisenshmidt's granddaughter Liat videotaped the whole exciting meeting. After spending a couple of hours with Eisenshmidt's old neighbors we continued our walking tour in Wolpianska (Sovietskaya) street and saw the places where Jewish families lived before the Holocaust, including those of Basha Becker ("der Eigele"), Nachum-Moshe Welbel, Murawski, Marchinowski, Feiwel Yedwab and others. In one of Yedwab's houses is now the supermarket of the village.
In the backyard of Eisenshmidt’s old neighbor, 2006. L to R: Mira Feingold,Ruth Marcus (holding old photos), Eliezer Eisenshmidt and two old neighbors of his
Eisenshmidt met some other old friends in Lunna. One of them, Mr. Romanowicz, a grandson of the former Russian orthodox priest, invited us to have lunch at his home. Mr. Romanowicz's neighbor prepared for us a salad of fresh vegetables that she just picked from her garden. We brought with us foodstuffs that we bought in the nearby supermarket, including of course, a bottle of vodka. Over lunch, Eisenshmidt and Romanowicz talked about the Jewish families who had once lived in Lunna, about the old Polish school where Jewish and non-Jewish students had attended, and they raised other memories as well. I had with me several copies of old photos that were taken in Lunna before the war, including a photo of students and teachers at the Polish school. Romanowicz looked at the photo of the Polish school and was excited when he identified his grandfather, the Russian orthodox priest, Alexander Kalishewitz, and the teachers: Kuznitzki, Raditzewski and Shurowski (the principal). He looked at that photo again and again, repeated the names of his grandfather and the teachers, and asked me to give it to him, which I happily did.
We spent four days visiting Lunna. We traversed the streets and at each house Eisenshmidt told us the story of the Jewish family that lived there before the Holocaust. We saw the Lunna market square, now called the Heroes Square, and we were told that a market-day takes place in the early hours of Sundays morning in which cattle is being sold. The Heroes Square and its surroundings were almost empty. It is hard to believe that Lunna was once the home of a vibrant old Jewish community. We went around the square and photographed the former houses of Moshe-Yudel Arkin, Raphael Zlotoyabko, Zeev (Wolf) Berachowitz, Israel Lubitz, Leib Goldin, Basha Yogiel, Eli Shalachman, Chaykel Friedman, Tzvi Eisenshmidt and others. The house of Leib Goldin is now the office building of the Lunna municipality. Most of the houses around the square were renovated and painted. When we stood in the square Mr. Eisenshmidt showed us the house where my grandfather Yehoshua Eliashberg lived with my grandmother Batya Eliashberg (nee Kosovsky) and their five children. Several families live there now and they let me wander freely through the house. I went into its various rooms. I looked through the windows onto the market square imagining the sights that my father saw in his childhood. Next to my grandparents' house was that of Aaron Kosovsky (my paternal grandmother's uncle) which is the only building in Lunna that carries an inscription of a Magen David (Star of David) on top it.
The houses of Yehoshua Eliashberg (white) and Aaron Kosovsky (dark), facing square, 2006
Inscription of year 1931 and sign of Magen David on top of Kosovsky’s house, facing Kirov Street, 2006
We also entered to the town club which was once the old synagogue of the "Mitnagdim" congregation. Inside we felt the holiness of the place and looked all around with tears in our eyes. Eisenshmidt showed us the place where the Holy Ark ("Aron Ha'Kodesh") once stood; the seat of Rabbi Tuvia Rotberg was to the right of the Holy Ark and the seat of my paternal grandfather to the left of it. The wooden house of Rabbi Tuvia Rotberg, as well as the "new" synagogue that belonged to the "Mitnagdim", and the small Shtibl (prayer-house) of the Chasidim which were located at the Shulhof (synagogue square) behind the "old" synagogue, were destroyed. On one day of our visit, Lunna residents gathered at the courtyard near the town club and celebrated the end of their harvest season. Some farming combines were placed around and music and singing by the audience were heard all around. Standing a bit far from there we imagined the Jews who used to gather at the same place on Shabbat days and holidays.
In a backstreet behind the "old" synagogue many poor families used to live, as Shabtai Yanovsky, Derewianski, Kraselnik and others. We passed through small lanes and through a backstreet behind the synagogue where the houses remained in their shape exactly as they were in former days. When we walked in Proletarskaya Street, Eisenshmidt showed us the houses of Pesia and Shalom Margulis (Mira's grandparents), Gisser the butcher, Simon Alperstein the Shochet (slaughter), Werebejczyk the baker and those of others.
The “old” synagogue, now the town club, (2006)
Old houses in Proletarskaya Street (2006)
Mira Feingold in front of her grandparents’ (Shalom & Pesia Margulis)house on Proletarskaya Street, 2006
In another day we walked along the street which leads to the Niemen River with a feeling of the footsteps of our ancestors who had once walked there. The street is now named Komsomolskaya Street. Eisenshmidt showed us the place of Pesia Margulis' (Mira's paternal grandmother) coffee shop and another house that belonged to Yedwab family (at the corner of Sovietskaya Street). On June 22, 1941, about ten Jews were hiding in the basement of Yedwab's house and were killed by the German bombing. Among them were Rebetzin Rasha-Mine Rotberg (Rabbi Tuvia's wife), Chana-Beile Lidski (Rabbi Rotberg's daughter) and her daughter Gela, Israel Lubitz's wife (her name unknown), Chaya Galinski and others. Eisenshmidt also showed us the houses of Yaakov Abin, Yehoshua Win, Mordechai Yevnin, Leib Reizner, Zalutzki, Munia - Berl der Furman's son, and other families. We also passed near the small brook where the Jewish youth used to take photographs.
Just in front of the Niemen River is a memorial monument for the memory of seven Russian soldiers from Brigade 64 who crossed the Niemen River to the bank of Lunna in WW2 and were killed while defending the area against 12 attacks of the German army. Nearby is also a monument for the memory of the anonymous Russian soldier. Eiseneshmidt told us that the old cemetery of Lunna was located on that area and almost all the tombstones there were destroyed. We reached the Niemen River greatly excited. Mira and I began singing and repeated saying: "That's the Niemen River our fathers told us about".
Ruth Marcus near small brook, Komsomolskaya Street, 2006
The Niemen River, 2006
On another day in Lunna, we made a walking tour of the scene of a big fire that caused a disaster in Lunna in 1931. The fire began in a wooden storage shed of Munia Kagan who resided in the middle of Zagorynay (now Kirov) street. We passed near the old building of the Polish school, near the place where Elazar ("Leishke") Kagan had once lived, and crossed the town-square, till we arrived in Grodzienska Street. Many wooden houses which were burnt in that fire were replaced by new houses built of bricks. Many of them carry the inscription of the year 1931 on their top (the year in which they were built after the fire). In Grodzienska Street we photographed the houses of Kuperfenig, Mordechai Kosovsky (my great-grandfather), his brother Moshe Kosovsky, Moshe Feinzilber, Israel Shnier, Berl Becker, Eli Rochkin, Yaakov Welbel and others. When we stood near the house of Mordechai and Tzipora Kosovsky (my great-grandparents) I asked for permission to get inside the house and was very happy when I was allowed to do so. I watched the rooms, looked through the windows and took pictures of the outside and also of the interior of the house - sights that my father saw when he visited his grandparents in his childhood. Before I left Israel I bought several souvenirs and vowed that if I get permission from the tenants to enter inside the homes of my grandparents and great-grandparents, I would leave them souvenirs from Israel. I was very happy to fulfill that vow.
Ruth Marcus in front of house of her great-grand-parents, Mordechai & Tzipora (Feigel) Kosovsky, Grodzienska Street, 2006
Kosovsky family members in front of their old house, burnt in fire in 1931. Sitting: Mordechai and Tzipora Kosovsky (circa 1930)
On one day we went to visit the City Hall and had a meeting with the mayor's secretary. She did not speak English but Eisenshmidt spoke with her in Russian and translated for us. We were surprised to find on her desk a copy of the photo of the Polish school that I gave to Romanowitz a day before. It turned out that Romanowicz made another copy for her since her mother also attended the Polish school in Lunna in the early 1930s. I asked her whether she had a map of Lunna or any records or documents of the Jews who had lived in Lunna before the war. Unfortunately, she had no material on Lunna from that time. Then I asked her whether she would be ready to draw for me a schematic map of Lunna as it is today. She promised to do that, and on the next day when we met her again she gave me a clear computerized map which she had prepared. I intend to insert in this map the street names, the Jewish houses and the public institutions as they were before the war. I had with me two articles (posted on the internet in 2005) regarding a discussion held about the constructing of a memorial monument for the 1549 Lunna Jews who were transported to the Wola ghetto and later on to extermination camps (1). We asked the secretary if something was going on with that monument and we were excited to hear that about a month earlier a memorial stone and a plaque were erected at Kirov Street close to the square. After the meeting with the secretary we hurried to see the memorial stone and the plaque.
Memorial stone for the perished Jews of Lunna.
L to R: Mira Feingold, Ruth Marcus, Eliezer Eisenshmidt
Memorial plaque for perished Jews of Lunna, 2006
On another day we visited the Jewish cemetery in Lunna which was restored by Dartmouth students in June 2005. They built a fence around the cemetery and cleaned up part of the area. A number of headstones were righted (See: http://sites.dartmouth.edu/projectpreservationtest/lunna-2005/ ). Mira found there the headstone of her great-grandmother Basha Yogiel. Eisenshmidt found the headstones of his aunt Elka Welbel and of his maternal grandfather Avraham Welbel. We all had tears in our eyes at the moment he prayed "Kaddish" and "El Male Rachamim". He then became obsessed to find the headstone of his paternal grandfather Shalom Eisenshmidt. He remembered the place where the headstone was located before the war and spent about an hour walking around and searching for it. However, the headstones in that part of the cemetery sank into the ground. On the next day we returned with shovels and dug around in that place until he found the top edge of the headstone of his paternal grandfather. Following with white chalk the scratches on the headstone we tried to read the inscriptions. Eisenshmidt who stood near the headstone suddenly said: "My beloved grandfather, I am your only grandson who survived the Holocaust; all your children and grandchildren perished in the Holocaust. I came here with my granddaughter Liat and we found your headstone which I have not seen for about 70 years. The Eiseneshmidt's dynasty continues to grow." It was heartbreaking when he prayed "Kaddish" again. I myself was quite disappointed from the fact that I did not find any of my relatives' headstones. I took with me old photos of the tombstones of my grandfather Yehoshua Eliashberg, my great-grandmother Tzipora Kosovsky and other relatives with hope to find at least one of them, but did not find any. There are several hundred stones extant in the cemetery. Many of them have sunk in the ground during time and others are hidden beneath high noxious weed. I hope that in the future more restoration work will be done and more stones can be reset.
Tombstone of Abraham Welbel, maternal grandfather of Eliezer Eisenshmidt
Tombstone of Shalom Eisenshmidt, paternal grandfather of Eliezer Eisenshmidt
Mira Feingold at tombstone of her great-grandmother, Basha Yogiel
We also visited the nearby village of Zaleski which is close to Wola. The Zaleski forest and the Niemen River that flows nearby attracted summer vacationers and the Jewish youth of Lunna before the Holocaust. Vacationers enjoyed walking and staying in the forest, breathing the fresh air and fishing in the nearby Niemen River. Many students from famous religious schools (Yeshivot), such as Mir and Eishyshock, also used to spend their summer vacation at Zaleski forest. Eisenshmidt took us to the place where the rest-house in Zaleski was located before the war, but we found it destroyed.
Near the Niemen River, Zaleski forest, 2006.
L to R: Liat, Eliezer Eisenshmidt, Mira Feingold, Ruth Marcus
Three friends in Zaleski forest, circa 1928.
L to R: Zeev (“Volfke”) Zlotoyabko, Saul Rotberg, Yitzchak Eliashberg
Currently there are about 1,000 residents living in Lunna, none of whom are Jews. During our visit in Lunna I was under the impression that the village was almost empty. Since we came back from Lunna, I have been looking several times at the old photos in my collection watching the smiling faces of the Jewish youth and children who lived in Lunna before the war. It is hard to believe that there was once a vibrant and active Jewish community in the Lunna shtetl.
I am very grateful to Eliezer Eisenshmidt for his willingness to go with us on that moving and unforgettable trip and for sharing with us his recollections about the life of the Jewish community in Lunna before the Holocaust and the hard and horrible time he had in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp.
 An article (in English) was published in the bulletin Assembly of Belarusian Pro-Democratic on April 4, 2005. See: http://belngo.info/cgi-bin/e.pl?id=822. Another article (in Belarusian] was published in the Belarusian News on May 5, 2005. See: http://www.bdg.by/newnews/news.shtml?71472.