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[Page 68]

Sent Off to Dereczin

by Ray Raskin

(Original Language: Hebrew)

I recall Dereczin and its Jews, who are today no longer with us, with love and pain.

I was not born in Dereczin, but in another town, not far from there. Through a circumstance, I was recorded as a Dereczin citizen, and obtained my passport there in those Czarist days of long ago.

When I was very young, I was impelled to know more about the larger world, and I voyaged to the distant Russian city of Kharkov. I worked there for a woman clothing tailor. Very quickly, I became a member in a secret revolutionary organization. When I was apprehended, I was sent under guard by the authorities to… Dereczin , because my passport identified me as a Derecziner.

In small, tranquil Dereczin, a modest but orderly way of life prevailed. I scrutinized the faces of the residents – worried, overworked people, with insufficient sustenance. I already felt myself to be better off, more developed and better experienced than all of these Jews, young and old alike. I already harbored dreams of a better more beautiful, and more just world, and I was prepared to sacrifice myself for such a world.

There was no secret revolutionary organization in Dereczin at that time. When the citizens of Dereczin became aware that a young Jewish girl had arrived under guard, and was involved with the authorities and the police, they became alarmed. I remember when I went to present myself to the Pristav (the Police Chief), many of the townsfolk followed me. Something of this nature had never happened in Dereczin. And when I was already inside the Police Chief's office, I could see inclined faces peering in through the windows. The Chief himself was good and scared as well after he read over my paperwork. In that paperwork, it stated that I had to live in Dereczin under police surveillance. The Pristav yelled:

-- “You all need to be strung up!“ –

What he meant was all revolutionaries. When the crowd out under the windows heard his shout, they fled to their homes quickly and full of dread.

After that, you can imagine, it was difficult for me to obtain a place to live. Only one family had sufficient courage, and rented me a small corner in their dwelling. The people in town were still very uncomfortable with me, the “sentenced one.“ At night, when I was already in bed, I could still hear voices whispering about me:

– “What is she doing?“

–“She's not asleep yet. She's reading a book.“

–“Really?!“

And during the day, when I walked down the street, I could see how stealthily the windows on the small houses would be opened, and the heads of the womenfolk would emerge, with inclined eyes that would follow me:

–“There she is.“

–“There she goes.“

It was difficult for me to live in this atmosphere. I

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had an opportunity to submit a report to the higher authorities in St. Petersburg, in which I requested permission to move to Slonim, the District capital, where I would be able to get work. Deep in my heart, I hoped that in Slonim there must certainly be a secret revolutionary organization with members that will make it possible for me to have an easier and better existence.

Days and weeks went by. The townsfolk in Dereczin got a little used to my presence, “the banished one,“ and they were not so frightened of me. People would even say:

– “A Jewish girl, and she strayed from the straight and narrow…“

I even got a job with the Damask cloth tailor in town. Every day, a policeman would come there to verify that I had not run off, because all this time, I was under police surveillance. I already had in my mind to approach and propagandize the two young girls I worked with at the cutting table, to “open their eyes,“ so that they too, would begin to believe in a better, more beautiful world, and become revolutionaries, like me. I lived with a family (unfortunately I don't remember their names) that consisted of a man and wife, and three children. They had a grocery store. The two little boys studied at a Heder. The little girl used to play outside, in the sand, with her girlfriends. The father and mother were totally occupied all week with the store. But when Friday came around, one could feel the onset of the Sabbath in the house. The poor little dwelling was freshened up, and the floor was washed. In honor of the Sabbath, the table was covered in a white tablecloth, on which lay the two challahs, covered in white napkins.

All of this was prepared by the mother of the family. She washed the children, dressed them in clean clothes – as befitted the Sabbath. When everything was set for the reception of the Sabbath, she blessed the candles. In that instant, I was able to perceive the day-to-day cares of the week vanish from her otherwise worried countenance. A joyful Sabbath aura spread over all faces, and suffused every nook and cranny.

And just at that moment, the father returned from Schul, walked through the house, and sang the hymn, Shalom Aleichem. Everything in the house is joyful with the arrival of the Sabbath. At the table, all are sitting in a more elevated and tranquil state of mind. The children are quiet and attentive, when the mother brings the delicious Friday night delicacies to the table. Afterward, the father chants zemirot, and everyone at the table accompanies him softly.

I also sat with them every Friday night at the table. Not willingly, I found myself drawn into the feeling of ennoblement and the beauty of the Sabbath. It was so incompatible with my revolutionary theories against religion, and I remember well my mixed emotions on those Friday and Sabbath days.

Then, a reply came from St. Petersburg, which gave me permission to go to Slonim. I had a heartfelt parting with the family and other people that I had come to know in Dereczin. I packed my bag, and traveled over to Slonim.

And that is the way my short stay in Dereczin ended. For the [short] time, many things and many people became dear and precious to me. The feeling of love for that Jewish Dereczin [way of life] followed me for my whole life, and only became stronger, when it was encumbered by that great, sharp pain after the terrifying destruction of Dereczin Jewry at the hands of the cruel Nazi murderers.


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Stormy Years

by Joe Silkovich

(Original Language: Yiddish)

 

Der095a.jpg
Zalman Weinstein, longtime Commander of the Dereczin Fire Fighters

 

Der095b.jpg
Rabbi Plotkin's Children

Top Right to Left: Yaakov-Meir & Emanuel
Below (i.e., sitting): Beilkeh, Moishkeh, & Hadass

 

I am impelled to relate to those younger landsleit from Dereczin, who by some miracle passed through seven levels of Hell and remained alive, a collection of memories of Dereczin from days gone by, from those years between 1903 and 1910, to the extent that those memories still remain with me.

Dereczin was a shtetl, like many other shtetlach, pretty, lovely, warm, and impoverished. Yes, there were a few prominent balebatim, and among them, even a few with some significant means, however, the majority of Derecziners were simple storekeepers and laborers, who exerted themselves strenuously, just to be able to make a living. Not only one Derecziner would start on Monday patting his brow, wondering from what means the coming Sabbath would be funded.

The children of the balebatim were schooled by the better teachers, the poorer children – largely to Talmud Torah, where they managed to learn a little Hebrew, not even knowing the translation of the Torah text. For a long time, children of the poor could not come by learning, because even as youngsters, they would have to leave school and go to work in order to add to their father's efforts to provide sustenance.

 

The Ruffians

Understand, that the children of the well-to-do, would continue their education, going to Yeshiva or a Gymnasium in various cities. The poorer young boys, who became workers at an early age, and had not learned a great deal, would hang out all over the town in the evenings, and would not have anything to do. It was in this fashion that a group of young people got patched together who were termed, zhulyikehs.

Seeing as there was nothing else to do, these young men would pull all sorts of pranks, especially to irritate the balebatim, or the quiet, circumspect Jewish daughters of the town.

The best night for these young folks was Friday night. They would hang out all over town until late at night – [after all], it was not necessary to get up early the following morning to go to work – and pull all sorts of pranks, such as, for example, taking the butcher block, which the town butchers would leave at “deaf Eshkeh's“ store, and heave it into the brook by the market, or flinging a cat through the window of Elyeh der Kvossnik[1], who was sunk in a deep sleep after a debilitating week of hard work.

It was a custom, at the time of a wedding, to celebrate the wedding ceremony on Friday night, and the vechereh,[2] that is, the feast, the singing, the musicians and the dancing, all would be held over until after the Sabbath at night. If, it should happen, that a daughter from a balebatisheh family refused to dance with a young man from the family of a common laborer, that was fodder for something to do the coming Friday night: at the bank of the brook by the market, on the wall of the old Mauer [schul], on the Sabbath, Derecziners would discover placards with all sorts of nasty comments about the behavior of that young woman, “with her nose stuck up in the air…“ These signs hung for the entire Sabbath, because no Derecziner would venture to tear them down, thereby desecrating the Holy Day. Among the zhulyikehs, was one fellow, who excelled at this form of communication, and he would create these placards…

 

One Becomes a Bundist

While we were still Yeshiva students, periodically, we were tossed proclamations. There were Yeshiva students who immediately discarded these materials, but there were individuals who would take the time to read this material through with care, and make the effort to understand these new concepts, such as ‘proletarian,’ ‘struggle’ and ‘unite together, ’ While there was a lot in this material which we as yet did not fathom, something did stick.

In short, little by little, I became a proletarian [radical] in Dereczin. I remember very well how this got started. On a certain Saturday afternoon, when I took a stroll through the Agrest-Sod, as was the custom, I was approached by Sarah-Leah'keh, the blind musician's daughter, and asked me whether I wanted a pamphlet to read. Sarah-Leah'keh had come to us from deep in the Russian heartland, where she had worked as a laundress, and was a well-read Bundist, who was very articulate and capable of creating labor agitation, and on top of this was good looking too.[3] I had heard by this time that she went around with young men from balebatisheh families. As a result, I was inclined to accept a pamphlet from her.

But as soon as I brought this pamphlet into our house, my brother came over to me and gave me one good slap, yelling at the same time: “You, Yeshivah Bokher, are you starting to hang out with socialists!?“

That slap turned me into an ardent Bundist.

Slowly, the small circle of Bundists grew, until it encompassed the larger part of Dereczin's younger generation. Also, the former zhulyikehs abandoned their prankish behavior, and organized themselves into Bundist cells.

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The First Meeting

A short time after the incident of the pamphlet and the slap, a friend of mine approached me on a Friday night, and let me know that a meeting was being planned. It will be necessary to go past the barracks, and over the bridge that leads to Aleksich, and there take a left turn, to the pretty shrubbery. He then whispered the secret password into my ear that I would have to provide on the way to the meeting.

The night was dark, and the sky was full of stars. We came to the appointed place. Along the way, we encountered a number of young people who were known to us and were already organized Bundists. The young women had covered their faces with their kerchiefs, in order that they not be recognized. However, I knew everyone in Dereczin very well!

Try to imagine my emotions at the time I went to attend the very first illegal gathering. I relived almost the identical feeling of that time when my father wrapped me in his tallit when I recited the Haftarah at my Bar-Mitzvah. The thought that people had confidence and trust in me, filled me with great pride, and because of this, I had a great inclination to see whom I would encounter at this clandestine gathering.

And I was indeed awestruck to see Chaim Rabinovich and to hear his speech. There were several other young people there whom I never would have thought belonged to us, the workers.

There were fifteen comrades at that first get-together, but from one meeting to the next, the Bundist ranks grew. The leather factory workers and other young workers came, as did the young intelligentsia. A culture initiative was undertaken, whereby the young people were taught to read and write Yiddish. In time, a library was established. A Drama Circle produced Goldfaden's plays on the stage, and for the first time Dereczin saw theater!

Slowly, the town began to show the Bund some consideration. And for us young people, there came a substantive, serious, but also happy time in our lives. In the summer, when various activists and speakers would come to Dereczin, every Sabbath get-together was literally like a Holiday. We sang a great deal, studied, strolled about, and dreamed of a happy outcome for all working peoples.

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The Fire-Fighting Brigade

In those years, the firefighting brigade was established in Dereczin, die Pozharneh Komandeh – the fire-fighters who wore helmets and shiny buttons. The entire firefighting apparatus consisted of two tanks that always leaked, and one hand-pump. Every time there was a fire, the machine would malfunction and be useless.

But it is because of this that I recall an instance when everything in the firefighting brigade functioned properly: one of the Dereczin balebatim had caught his daughter with a treyf book, and out of great anger, this [traditional] Jew tore it to shreds and then slapped his daughter around. The Bundist members of the fire brigade found out about this, and decided to conduct a fire drill, using the house of that particular family. The pump worked, the tanks did not leak, and that Jewish man got a taste of a blaze without so much as a lick of fire, but with plenty of water…

In those times, when the majority of young boys and girls in Dereczin were organized and carried out an active, meaningful and enthusiastic communal life, there were those daughters of balebatim, who in the evenings and on the Sabbath, sat on the sidelines, and observed how the daughters and sons of working class people would promenade, spend their time together educating themselves, and keeping company with one another as if they were part of one big family. And it was not easy to be ‘outside the camp.’

When a wedding was celebrated by one of the members, it became everyone's happy occasion. Almost all of the young people in the town would come to make merry, to dance and enjoy each other's company.

By this time, the Bund was arbitrating between labor and management. Saturday night working hours were eliminated. And when the sun of revolution managed to shine in Russia, even though it was briefly, the youth of Dereczin marched through the marketplace on the First of May with red flags.

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. A person engaged in the manufacture of the beverage, kvass. Return
  2. From the Russian meaning ‘evening,’ and hence the ‘evening meal’ Return
  3. Sounds a lot like Adam being offered an apple by Eve. I don't think ‘comrade’ Silkovich had a chance! Return


Once Upon a Time…

by Joe Silkovich

(Original Language: Yiddish)

Once upon a time there was a splendid little town by the name of Dereczin. Within its boundaries, and around it, nature was benign. About four hundred Jewish families lived there harmoniously, as if they were part of a single family. The friendship among the Derecziners was noteworthy. The youth of the town strongly wanted to develop itself intellectually. An unwritten moral code governed our lives and was continuous between generations, and Derecziners, from the oldest among us recall this, until the last day of the last Derecziner.

A sense of security pervaded our lives. We walked and rode through those fields and woods without fear.

* * *

In my younger years, I belonged to an organization – I always wanted to be with adults – which in the summertime would gather in the woods. At the head of our group, stood a talented orator, who would speak to us at every meeting, and entrance us with his speeches. We felt a sort of holy aura during the time we were together in the woods.

And that is how the time went by, we wanted to know more rather than less and also – to get a little pleasure out of life. I am reminded of the time that we had decided to put on a show. We had decided to put on the play, Bar Kochba.[1] I was also a member of the Drama Circle, and I was given the part of Dina the bride of Bar Kochba. This was no light role, and I put in considerable effort and energy and despite everyone else's opinion, played the role well. Also, the remaining “artists” performed their

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respective roles in a fitting manner. I recall the young man who played the role of Bar Kochba – tall and handsome and vigorous young fellow, not from Dereczin, but from Izavelin, a town near Volkovysk. His name was Shlomo Azernitzky. Both of us were required to demonstrate ardent love for one another in the performance. The role of Dina's father Eliezer, was played by Volfeh Zaklas, the son of Israel the Shammess. His brother, Chaim-Nahum, Moshe-Yaakov Abramovich, Shmuel-Yaakov Muller, Leib'keh Shulkovich [Shelkovich?], and Moshe Minkovich played the part of the Sanhedrin. Nahum Blizniansky played the part of the King, Rufus, who was also in love with Dina, and wanted to take her forcibly. When Dina refused to consent to go to Rufus, he had her arrested. There, she is subject to torture, but she refuses to submit and is prepared to die rather than become Rufus' mistress…

I remember that three other girls played parts in the drama, as chaperones to Dina: Henya Lubetsky, Rachel Grachuk, and Chyenkeh Abramovich. They were in bondage to Rufus, and devised all manner of burdens for the arrested Dina, forcing hard labor on her, and all manner of tiring and debilitating activities on the delicate arrested young woman. She begs them to be more civil toward her, and sings them a song about a young shepherd boy. Her singing is well received by the three overseeing slave women, and they slacken their discipline toward her, joining in her singing.

A third character, Pappus the Lame is also secretly in love with Dina, and he steals his way into the jail where she is held, and hears her singing from behind the walls, and becomes enchanted… the role of the lame Pappus was played by someone from another town, who worked in the factory, named Eliyahu the Plotnick (I do not remember his family name).

Understandably, Bar Kochba does not want his beloved Dina to die in prison, so he comes with his warriors to do battle with Rufus. When Dina learns of this, she crawls out onto the roof of the prison, and gives a long dramatic oration directed at Bar Kochba, in which she urges him to desist from battle with Rufus, because he will lose the battle and his life. Dina throws herself from the high roof and is killed…

The director of the drama was also not from Dereczin. He was called Aharon-Yaakov and he was a Yeshiva student at the Alter Mauer [Bet HaMidrash]. He matched up the parts to the actors very well, and also directed the play very well with all the participants.

I recall that the staging of Bar Kochba in Dereczin made a colossal impression, and it was talked about for several months in town. The proceeds earned from the play were applied to benefit the poor families for the Passover Holiday [sic: Maot Hittim]. The play was put on three times. Being in the role of Dina brought me invitations to perform in a variety of roles in surrounding towns. Please understand that I refused these invitations.

* * *

Dereczin had a lively and talented community of young people who knew how to make merry and enjoy themselves. It was for this reason that relationships between the young boys and girls were of a correct nature, and in accordance with the expectations of the adult community.

This is how I spent my youth in Dereczin until I got married. As usual, that changed my entire way of life, with the onset of worries for financial sustenance and the raising of children. This was followed by the outbreak of the First World War, with its difficult years of hunger, and then the Polish occupation, with its attendant tribulations for the Jewish people.

However, from today's perspective, those times seem to be almost idyllic when placed against what happened under Hitler's dominion, when Dereczin, that once lovely and happy town, was annihilated under trial and torture, murder, and bitter battle in the woods – those very woods, where in our youth, we wove the most beautiful dreams about the attainments of our people and of all mankind.

 

Translator's footnote:
  1. The Jewish leader of a rebellion against Rome c. 135A.D. Return


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Memories from My Father's Tavern

by Dvora (Dvosha) Kress-Beckenstein

(Original Language: Yiddish)

I came to America before the First World War, while still a young girl, and in Dereczin people wondered: “How is it that Shmuel Beckenstein comes to send his daughter to America?” In those years, the ones who went to the ‘Golden Land' of America, were those who could not find work in Dereczin. In our family, things were quite good, although you could never describe us as wealthy people. We ran a tavern, a way-station, and a beer brewery, in which we would pour beer from barrels into bottles for subsequent sale. Understand, that we had written permission and a license to do this, which granted us a franchise to serve beer, mead and wine, and also associated solid foods, but we were not allowed to hold [or sell] strong liquor, because this was a state monopoly.

But how then, can one come by a shot? To meet this demand, we did keep this type of beverage on hand, but in secret. We had to be constantly fearful of the Excise Tax Agent, because when such an official arrives, and catches us with whiskey on the premises, it is necessary to pay a monetary fine. In Dereczin we had a ‘good’ Excise Agent. He was required to inspect us three times a month, and he would always first come into the store of our aunt Eshkeh, which was his signal to us that he would be coming to inspect us shortly. Until his arrival, we worked around our store to bring everything in order. By the time he came into our store, all that was left for him to do, was to enter a notation in his book that he had found everything in order. Once a month we would receive a visit from a District Agent, and the local Agent would alert us to the time of that visit, in order to assure that the District Agent would not find any forbidden merchandise in our store.

This continued until our good situation came to an end. Someone squealed on our Excise Agent, and he was sent away from Dereczin, and in his place a real bloodhound by the name of Rafalovich was sent. He was known as a bad person, who made everyone in town miserable.

Not long after this misfortune, we were beset by an even larger one: one day, late at night, several people who worked at the church were sitting in our back room, and they were eating and drinking. All of a sudden, my father hears a knocking at the door. He opens the door and sees a well-dressed man in civilian clothing. The man asks my father if he can obtain a night's lodging. Father took him to a room. The other person requested a bottle of beer, which my father brought to him forthwith. The guest drank one glass of beer, and then addressed my father: “Do you know who I am?” and proceeds to take out credentials from his wallet and show them to my father. My father was appalled: it was Zayats, the Chief Inspector in charge of all Excise Agents in the Grodno Province. He had the reputation of being an extraordinarily evil man, who inspired fear in everyone. My father wanted to remove the bottle of beer, but he didn't permit it, saying that he needed the bottle as evidence to prepare charges against my father for the hearing in front of the magistrate.

To add to these troubles, it was the eve of a local holiday, when the sale of strong drink was prohibited for three days. But it was precisely on such occasions that we expected a big surge of business, and in the adjacent room we had stocked a rather large supply of whiskey. It was already midnight when Father came to us, the children, and woke me up, and my brother, Yaakov-Chaim.

In the room where the large cache of liquor was stored, one of our small children lay sleeping, so we woke him up in order that he cry, and in this manner our cross guest in the next room would be unable to hear what we were doing.

We did what we had to: For a long time, we put the bottles of drink into cartons, and handed them through the window to our father. From the garden, we later dragged and hid all this at Leibeh Valitzkin the shoemaker on the Slonim Gasse. Afterwards we went to all the Dereczin tavern keepers, and woke them, and alerted them to the imminent possibility of an inspection. A substantial cache of strong

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liquor had been put in place in all the taverns. Late at night, we found out that, in addition to our terrible “guest,” an additional two “officials” had arrived. They were billeted at the home of Yosheh Mishkin, whose house served as the seat for the constabulary.

The following morning these three inspectors searched and ransacked all of the Jewish taverns, but they left with nothing.


Bitter and Sweet Memories

by Nahum Bliss-Blizniansky

(Original Language: Yiddish)

Yizkor – To Remember! It is easy to utter this word, but what memories this word is tied up with!

For me, as a Derecziner, it brings to mind our town, its Jews, and their bitter fate.

Along with the Jewish community, the larger part of my family, the children and grandchildren of Maishel Blizniansky were annihilated. Oh, what has happened to such a large family! From a family of ten brothers and sisters, with their numerous children, only nine persons remained living, sown and spread all over the world. I am in America for many years already. I was the oldest son in the family. Our youngest sister was saved from the murderous German hands. An additional seven grandchildren are found in a variety of countries.

Yet, I have sweet memories of our Dereczin from my childhood years up to the time I became Bar Mitzvah.

My father sent me to the best teachers in the town, first to Reb Avraham-Chaim the teacher of Alef-Bet, afterwards to Reb Alter then to Reb Shlomo, the Kazianem Rav, and then later I studied the Gemara with Reb David-Chaim Shmeuns, and toward the end with Reb Chaim-Yitzhak in the Talmud-Torah until Bar Mitzvah.

After becoming Bar Mitzvah, I went away to study at Yeshiva out of town. I “ate days,” and came home very infrequently, only on holidays. When I became a little older, I traveled to the larger metropolitan centers – to Vilna, Warsaw.

Later, I spent a few years in Germany, Switzerland, and traveled to Argentina. I have lived in America for more than 53 years.

I am now an old man. Those sweet years I had in Dereczin, blend in my heart and mind with the bitter recollection of the destruction of my beloved family. Difficult – it is difficult to have survived all of this.


Jewish to the Last Breath

by Moshe Kwiat

(Original Language: Yiddish)

I will relate what I know of our town from my childhood years. Many years have elapsed since the wars, slaughter, and partisan resistance in the woods, and it is possible that portions of my memory are not so accurate, but the readers of our Yizkor Book will forgive me if I make a small error in related my recollections. The important thing is my well-intentioned desire to portray the Jews of those generations at the beginning of this [sic: the twentieth] century.

 

Rural-dwelling Jews

Good, loyal and observant Jews, were those that

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homesteaded land in and around Dereczin. In almost every such rural town there was a Jew who served as a middleman, an estate manager, and was also a tiller of the soil. In certain of these towns, there were several Jewish families in residence.

They were all pious and observant, and a number of them were scholars as well. And while they lived among gentiles, they took special care in providing for a Jewish upbringing for their children.

On the High Holydays, and other Holidays as well, they would come to Dereczin to pray in our Batei-Midrashim. In town, they were held in respect and well received.

It is because of this that I cannot forget the Yishuvnik from Puzovitsa, a town between Dereczin and Piesk. He was a Jew possessed of a very accommodating personality. As it happened, our Dereczin merchants and workers would make a monthly trip to the market fairs in Piesk, they would regularly have the occasion to travel by this town. And this Jewish Yishuvnik would be out, standing by the road, stopping all those coming from Dereczin. It was necessary to stop and come into his establishment[1] and partaking of food and drink – he did not let anyone go by without extending this courtesy at his establishment, and no one was prepared to insult him by refusing to do so.

My father, of blessed memory, used to tell me how this Kretchmer of Puzovitsa, not once, would forcibly shove him through the door of his kretchma, give him a bite to eat, and even afford him use a room in private to rest and wash off the sweat of the summer heat, and only then permit him to continue his journey to Piesk and the market fair.

It is, by now, difficult to enumerate the names of all the Yishuvnik families that lived in our area. I do recall though, my father telling us about the pretty daughter of the Yishuvnik, Berel Plishiner, who fell in love with a shaygets, and wanted to convert out of Judaism. Her father was apparently unaware of this, but my father, to whom this news did arrive, immediately went to Berel in order to convey this bitter pill. The Yishuvnik immediately addressed this matter, and dispatched his daughter to America. This was one of the ways that Jews tried to look out for one another. The rural gentiles had respect for the Jewish Yishuvniks in their midst, to whom they would come for advice, even on family matters.

 

The Dereczin ‘Bourgeoisie’

My grandfather, may he rest in peace, was a Stolliner Hasid, and he was a tailor. He would sew for the gentiles in town, the so-called ‘bourgeoisie.’ I recall at the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, when the draft was being mobilized, older Christian people largely from the bourgeoisie of the town, came to my grandfather so that he could offer them a blessing before they departed for war. My grandfather would offer them his hand and wish them a safe and sound return from the hazards of battle. As it transpired, by the time the soldiers from Dereczin arrived in Siberia, the war had ended…

And I also remember, that in Dereczin there were several Christian women, who would be in the habit of bringing gifts to the Batei Midrashim, mostly towels, when someone in their family would fall ill. And I further remember when Ahar'keh2[2] the schul crier, would come to us on the Zelva Gasse, which had a mixed Jewish and gentile population, and in the middle of the night wake my father and others for Selikhot services with such loud shouting – but never did a gentile utter a cross word either to Ahar'keh , or any other Jewish resident on our street because of this.

This contrasts sharply with the murderous and rapacious behavior shown to us by the same residential bourgeoisie, in their great fear, during the Nazi occupation, both before and after the Holocaust.

 

From the New Month of Elul to Simhat-Torah

I am the son of an observant family. My mother was so Yiddish-frum that year-round on Fridays, she

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would gather the cholent[3] pots from many neighbors and put them into her baking oven, even though each of these houses had their own baking ovens. “I want to earn a mitzvah, and yet another mitzvah,” she would answer, when I asked her why she offered the other balebustas this service of setting their cholent up.

I cannot forget those special days from Rosh Hodesh of the month of Elul to Simhat-Torah. With the onset of the month of Elul, an incredible dread would fall upon us all, young and old alike. For that entire month, and throughout the High Holydays, I used to tremble like a fish in water, and I didn't yet understand what it all meant.

Yom Kippur was a day of prayer, fasting and trembling. One could barely wait until the final Ne'ilah service arrived – and immediately start building a Sukkah. This was a sign to us that lighter and happier days lay ahead.

With what joy we used to construct our Sukkah, making an effort to assure that our Sukkah would be nicer and better than the others around us, and we would bring green branches in order to decorate our Sukkah both inside and out.

Simhat-Torah was for everyone, but especially for us young boys, happy holiday. It was a joyful holiday. Even the gentiles in town would come to hear the cantor, and watch the Hakafot. Simhat-Torah in the afternoon, the Jews would have a drink in schul, and go to each others' homes for a glass of drink and a bite. It was merry in Dereczin!

My father told me that once, the day after Simhat-Torah, he came to a neighboring town, and saw several Jewish homes with broken windows. What did this mean? In that town there were two sittings Rabbis, and each Rabbi had his own following. On Simhat-Torah, the Jews of that town got good and drunk, and started arguing and fighting with on another – and it eventually came to physical violence, and they started to break windows…

Such conflict was unknown in Dereczin. Dereczin always had only one sitting Rabbi.

 

The Authorities in Dereczin

I remember the Jewish Starosta of the time, Sholom Mansky. He would distribute passports to everyone, and annually would determine who would have to go do military service. He had a Christian secretary employed in his chancellery, Citizen Sienkewicz. His principal function was to affix the official stamp in the designated strip on the document. This was all still under the regime of Czar Nicholas II.

I still recall Shlomo the Kazianer Rav, whose duty it was to record all new births and deaths in Dereczin.

The authorities in town consisted of a Pristav (bailiff), an Uradnik (magistrate), and gendarmes from the local gendarmerie. Among these was one Jewish gendarme. He would accompany the Christian Stasrosta to collect taxes. If someone was unable to pay the tax, he would confiscate the candlesticks, and run from the house. He would have to be pursued in order that the Sabbath candlesticks could be suitably redeemed…

 

The Fire Brigade

At that time, Dereczin already had a respectable fire brigade, with fine membership – entirely Jewish. The Marshall of the Fire Brigade was Zalman Weinstein.

As was the case in many other towns, also in Dereczin there was for many years a running bitter fight for the control of the Fire Brigade between Zalman Weinstein and Yankel Dworetzkin. Each one desperately wanted to win the sympathy and support of the rank and file firemen, and the last holdouts, indeed, benefitted from this – receiving good food and drink from both sides… The gentiles would literally bust with envy when they saw the modern Jewish firefighting equipment, and the Fire Marshall in his white gloves during parades, the gentiles would literally have to show respect to the Fire

[Page 78]

Brigade from their horses.

 

Dereczin Was a Jewish Town

The Sabbath in Dereczin was – Shabbos, and a Holiday was – Yom Tov. The gentiles understood this very well, and on the Sabbath one saw virtually no Christian horse-drawn wagons. In general, on the Sabbath and the High Holydays, one saw virtually no gentiles in the streets.

If, perchance, a market fair day should happen to have been scheduled for a Saturday or for a Jewish Holiday, the Christian in charge of the calendar would soon ‘hang out a notice’ that the fair day had been delayed to a further week day.

And as much as the gentiles, with their officials and priests, tried to make Dereczin “more Christian,” more Russian – it was to no avail.

It was of no use to the Germans during the First World War to “Germanize” our town, and [subsequently] the Poles to “Polonize” Dereczin.

Until its last day when it ceased to exist, Dereczin was Jewish and manifested a Jewish character – and that is what it was when it was destroyed.

 

Translator's Footnotes
  1. Called a kretchma in Russian, being something of a café or restaurant. Return
  2. A Yiddish diminutive for Aharon. Return
  3. A bean-potato-meat casserole/stew, prepared on an overnight flame, favored by Eastern European Jews as a main Sabbath meal. Recent scientific evidence has shown that cholent can produce some of the lowest pH factors measured in the human alimentary canal. Return


Those Pious, Upstanding Jews

by Esther Nissenbaum-Bricker

(Original Language: Yiddish)

It is not possible to forget those Jews, pious and upstanding, poor and believing, who are today no longer with us in those lands to which we have been scattered.

Of all the nice, special type of people, most often, my own family comes to mind, the family of Yitzhak-Yaakov Bricker and his wife, Hannah-Rachel. He was an educated man, and the Rabbi invited him more than once to be one of the arbitrators, when amongst Jews there was a conflict among parties.

Physically, he was a weak man, and he was unable to rise and attend the morning Shacharit prayers, but every afternoon, he attended Mincha services in the Bet HaMidrash, studied a page of Gemara, a chapter of Mishna, and a coterie of listeners always sat about him there, who would take in his every word.

I am reminded of the day when my grandmother, Sarah-Hinde passed away. My father returned from the interment, sat down to observe the Shiva period, and began to study the Book of Job. Our house immediately was filled to capacity with people. It was a summer's day, and we opened the windows, and many of the neighbors positioned themselves there – everyone giving heed to the entreaties of Job and his great misfortune.

[Page 79]

Our house was always open to Jews and Christians alike. There, weddings were arranged, with the badecken[1] and all the ceremonies leading up to the huppah; on the Sabbath, after services, [our house was the place where] honey cake and a shot of whisky were served in honor of the parents of the bride and groom, and toward nightfall – the sumptuous ‘Third Feast.’[2] The house was made available without charge, and the parents of the young couple had only to carry out the furniture in order to create more space inside. It was we, the young children, who derived the greatest pleasure from these wedding ceremonies.

Our house stood across the street from the Russian Orthodox Church. On Christmas Eve and New Years Day, when it was intensely cold outside, our house stood open to the Christians for them to be able to warm themselves up a little.

Yes, there were Jews like that at one time, and let us always remember them.

 

Translator's Footnotes
  1. The ceremony of uncovering/covering the bride with her wedding veil. Return
  2. Called Shalosh Seudot in Hebrew, and elided in Yiddish to Shaleh-shudiss Return


A Night Ride on the Coach

by Malka Alper

(Original Language: Yiddish)

Dereczin was strongly bound up with Slonim, its district seat for commerce, education, administration, medicine, etc. As Dereczin was about fifteen kilometers from a railroad station[1] from which the train could take you to Slonim, the practical means of connection with Slonim was -- on horses, that is to say, by coach. The coach was a large wagon, covered with an awning, which was intended to offer cover from the sun and rain.

From Dereczin [to Slonim], the coach almost always went empty of cargo, but on the return trip from Slonim to Dereczin, the wagon was loaded with everything that could be packed into it, and on top of all the packages and bundles, the passengers were ‘packed in’ as well.

I recall, from my childhood, a hot summer's night in the seating compartment of Sholom-Herschel the coachman. The wagon was filled up with kegs, packages, and boxes, and was hitched to a tired old nag. Even more exhausted was the appearance of the passengers, who were packed into the seating area under the canopy, which covered the larger part of the wagon.

Reb Sholom-Herschel himself, who the prior night had made the trip from Dereczin to Slonim, and had spent the entire day running around to all the various businesses, delivering packages and taking on merchandise, was sorrily sitting, with his head nodding, on the wagon behind his horse. He had concealed his horsewhip, in order that it not be taken, and used to urge the horse on, who had the habit of stopping where he pleased, and under no circumstance would deign to move from where he had chosen to stand.

The people in the riding compartment attempt to grab a few winks: on with his head on another's shoulder, or on a package of merchandise, and whoever couldn't find such a resting place, nodded their heads from side to side, or up and down – all in rhythm with the movement of the wagon, as it traveled over an unpaved thoroughfare.

The horse decides to stop, and the passengers are awakened – but not Reb Sholom-Herschel. They try to urge the horse on, but he refuses to budge.

–“Reb Sholom-Herschel, the horse is standing still…” – a passenger says, waking him up and sitting next to him.

Hearing his master's name, the horse moves off his spot, urged on by Reb Sholom Herschel's cry of ‘Whoa! Whoa!’

One of the ‘esteemed passengers’ had bought a bread roll in Slonim (A Slonimer Kuchen had a name [sic: as a delicacy] in the area). In a stored little container, he also had taken with him a pat of butter. And so, in the middle of a summer night, when the air outside is hot, and the heat in the passenger compartment is oppressive, and packed with people – he takes the kuchen out of his napkin, sticks his finger into the butter container, and proceeds to spread the melted grease on the kuchen… and starts to eat with gusto.

Oh…how does one get out of this overcrowded coach compartment that is full of the stench of rancid butter, and into the fresh air! But go now,

[Page 80]

crawl over legs, hands and even bodies. So, one sits imprisoned for the entire night, not being able to move.

A break in the monotonous and tiresome journey is provided by the barking dogs as we pass through gentile villages. The horse is frightened, and moves more quickly.

The coachman snaps his whip in the air to drive off the hounds. And the ‘esteemed passengers’ get a treat – the horse moves along more rapidly, and the awning protects them from the dogs…

The night passes, and is replaced by a gray dawn. Through the grayness, it is already possible to catch a glimpse of the Church in Dereczin. The heart lightens a bit, in anticipation of the end of the fatiguing trip.

 

Translator's Footnote
  1. This railhead was in Zelva. Return


A Teacher in Dereczin

by Hannah Novick

(Original Language: Yiddish)

 

Der105.jpg
From L to R: Sh. Rothstein, the music teacher and bandleader, his wife, Eydeleh and her sister Rachel – both of whom were midwives, daughters of Meir-Shia the Feldscher.

 

Before my eyes pass a gallery of my relatives, lovely people, forgotten events and experiences of my pristine childhood, which remain deeply etched in my memory.

I remember, as a child, that my brother and I spent nearly a year at the home of my grandfather in Notzkeveh. This was after my mother passed away. On one occasion I fell, and twisted my hand out, at which point my grandfather took me to Dr. Novitzky, after which he took me to the Feldman family where there were many children, and later, he went with me to Bebbeh's where I went to work. From that point on, I remember Bebbeh as a short lady with wise and understanding eyes, and a sweet feminine voice, which made a very good impression on me. I was so satisfied, that my grandfather, Mordechai-Benjamin Novick told me afterwards, that for the High Holydays, he and my grandmother, are planning to come to Dereczin and to stay with this goodly woman – with Bebbeh Rabinovich.

Years later, my grandfather found lodging for me with Fradl Goldberg. It was at that time that I decided to undertake teaching as a profession, giving private lessons – in Dereczin. Fradl had a sewing store, and rose early in the morning to prepare food for her oldest son, little Shlomo'keh, who was already attending Heder, and for the younger boy, who stayed home with his grandmother, Fradl's old mother.

Fradl's house was in the middle of town. Across the street was Alpert's Pharmacy, Bebbeh's place of business, Yochi's house, and the way to the Schulhof, where there was a wedding taking place practically every Friday. The Huppah was erected on the Schulhof, and when I would hear the musicians start to play, I knew thereby that the bride and groom were being escorted to the Huppah. At which point, I also made my way there, and met with people that I knew.

With what impatience I used to wait for Fridays! When I arose in the morning, the floor in the main room had already been waxed, on the table, which had already been covered in a snow-white tablecloth, stood sparkling candlesticks with candles, ready for the Sabbath blessing.

Two challahs lay on top, modestly covered in a napkin, the oven was partitioned off with a board, and from it, emanated tempting odors of the Sabbath delicacies.

On Friday, by noon, Fradl was already closing her store. After coming home, she would put on her Sabbath clothing, dress up her children, and along with her mother, begin preparations to receive the Sabbath. Her face looked entirely different from the way it looked during the middle of the week: her face, usually manifesting the burdens of work, shone, the wrinkles were smoothed out. When she stood up and chanted the Sabbath Kiddush, it seemed as if the Holy Spirit rested on her. After the Sabbath meal, we would go out for a stroll, during which she would tell me about her husband, who had died prematurely, and her plans for raising her two small children.

When I hear talk today of the Sabbath, the image of Fradl swims out in front of my eyes, along

[Page 81]

with her Friday nights.

In the middle of the marketplace was the home of Meir-Shia the Feldscher. There were two daughters there. The oldest was called Rivkah. Young people used to get together there, and so I would go there as well, but I somehow didn't quite fit in with this crowd, despite the fact that I was treated in a very friendly manner.

About that time, I was invited to Yochi's house, for a literary evening, where her husband Chaim was to give a talk, and I made the acquaintance of Rivkah Rabinovich, who for a long time remained my close friend. There, also, I became acquainted with Yehudit Plotkin, the Rabbi's daughter, with the teacher, Pintzov, with Rachel Kaplan.

A new and interesting world opened up for me. I even took parts in two theater productions which were suitably produced under Chaim's direction in a fully-packed auditorium at the edge of town. The proceeds were applied to a much-needed purpose. The two productions were: Sholom Aleichem's Mazel Tov and The Doctor. The children in town, after my performance used to call me ‘je vous prie,⁏-- a French phrase I had occasion to use in my role.

And how can I ever forget the summer in Dereczin? The meetings on the little bridge past the Blizniansky house, the first house on the way into town from Notzkeveh into Dereczin.

Across the way was a park, over which the moon shined seemingly brighter and friendlier than anywhere else. By the park, in an old house with rather large rooms, lived the daughter of my grandfather's brother from the town of Lantzevitz. She was called Shayna. My grandfather's sister, Stirkeh, had a little store in the middle of the marketplace. Her husband, a scholar, would come to help out on market days, and would give away the merchandise free of charge to the poor peasants out of pity for them. Their only son, Berel, studied at a Yeshiva. This also belongs to the packet of memories from Dereczin.

It is especially pleasant for me to recall that winter and summer in Dereczin, with all the people, who remained my closest friends also later in life, but it is painful and bitter to remind oneself of their annihilation and the destruction of the beloved town of Dereczin.


[Page 82]

From the Last Will and Testament
of Simkheh
[1] the Storekeeper

by Hannah Novick

(Original Language: Yiddish)

– A time will come when we will have to give an accounting for everything. At that time, there will be no excuses in order to remain ‘right’ before the Final Judgement. At that place, the argument that “I didn't have the time to think about myself, but day and night, I was over my head in worldly concerns …“ simply won't work. But what can one like me say, who has taken stock of himself a little too late in life? What indeed, will my purpose be seen to be? I feel myself growing weaker from day to day, there is no immortality, and one needs to anticipate all things…

– My entire hope, that my sons will lighten my eternity with the recitation of the Kaddish, with study, as is the custom among good sons to lighten the passage of parents in the afterlife, – is a hope I do not have any longer. I have transgressed against my two crown jewels, through whom I would be freer of the bonds of Gehenna, and now I have no one on whom I can rely on, but first on God, and on my son-in-law. Because he understands my plight quite well. I have nothing to say about my children, they should only be well and prosper – those who are far and near, all. But they are busy men, and one can't expect this from everyone, it is difficult for them to demonstrate this.

Only Yitzhak do I implore, that he should count me like a mother, that he should do me the truest boon that can be done as a compensation, with prayer, the saying of Kaddish, and study, all these things that I ask. Even though I understand that what I ask for is too great a request to make, nevertheless, I hope that he will feel able to oblige me. And I ask that a candle be carried for me each day for the first year. The Yahrzeit should be recorded, so that it not be forgotten.

Also, I come to implore my husband and my partner, that in the case where I have given something with my own hands shall be mine – I have worked hard enough in my life to the end of my strength, not having spent any money on frivolities, or on any entertainment. My entire concept is to sustain oneself for life's basics, and to set something aside for the later years.

I ask you once again that everything I have asked be done properly, even if this is asking a great deal, but I beseech you one and all not to refuse me.

I ask my beloved and loyal daughters to live a good and proper life, even though I know I don't have to write this, you are capable, but despite this, it is important to say this to you, because one must obey what a mother has instructed to be done.

You have to know, my dear daughters, that I have led you in a path of Yiddishkeit, and your husbands are like my own sons. Remind them, when Yahrzeit comes, that they are to pray, and to set lit candles. This is my entire behest, something to lighten my transition to eternity.

I know that my sons-in-law are decent Jewish men…. I also ask of my children that my candlesticks be utilized each Shabbos, on my behalf, to bless the candles on the same table, as a memorial –

 

Translator's Footnote
  1. Here, the name of a woman. This is Simkheh die Kremerkeh, Epstein the grandmother of Dov Gorinovsky, who writes about his grandparents on p. xx . Her picture appears earlier, on p. 35 of the original text. Return

 

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