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In the First World War

 

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The Years of War & Occupation

By Chaim Rabinovich

(Original Language: Yiddish)

When the First World War broke out in 1914, many young people from Dereczin were mobilized into the Russian Army, and immediately sent to the front. Immediately, in the first days of conflict, the Czar's Army suffered severe defeats, and began to pull back from the borders. In the first days of the war, Dereczin suffered its first casualty – Pesach Dworetzky fell at the front, who had recently completed studies at the Vilna Teachers Institute, and was known in Dereczin as an intelligent and capable young man and an active revolutionary. He had married not long before that, and left his young wife widowed and pregnant. Their son became a doctor in Ramat-Gan, and to our sorrow, passed away in 1963.

The reversals of the Russian Army came one after another. The Germans moved ever closer to our area. As was usual in times of stress for the Czarist regime, so it was this time, that the anti-Semitic rulers sought a scapegoat in the Jews, and accused them of collaboration, espionage and, of course, plotting [with the enemy].

The then Commander-in-chief of the Czarist army, Nikolai Nikolaevich, uncle to the Czar, Nicholas II, was a sadist and anti-Semite. He gave the order that Jews, along with the retreating army, should abandon their homes and towns, and permit themselves to be moved deep into the heart of Russia. First off, Jews were driven out of the border towns, away from their homes, and arrived in our neighborhoods almost empty-handed, and then they were driven even further, to the east. Not only one town or village, in the path of the retreating Russian army, was put to the torch.

 

The Russians Retreat

We, in Dereczin at that time, lived in daily fear. We did not know where we stood, or what it was that we had to do.

When the Germans got close to our area already, Dereczin became flooded with retreating Russian military forces day and night, who fled in panic, and often without order or discipline, full of fear for the German enemy. Our own fear grew with each new wave of retreating Russians. The Cossack battalions of the Russian army wreaked havoc on us. Russian officers and soldiers were billeted in nearly every one of our homes.

Many Dereczin Jews had already prepared horses and wagons, to be used in the event there was a forced evacuation, or in the event that other dangers might befall us, which threatened us from the side of the Russian soldiers and other organs of the military.

I remember that in the last days before the Germans arrived, a senior Russian Officer stayed in our home a certain Grand Duke Trubetskai, an intelligent and cultured Christian. When we became better acquainted with him, we were motivated to ask his advice – should we also abandon our hometown along with the Russian Army. Our three children were still very young, and we were literally in a state of flux, and unable to decide what to do. At any moment, we had already prepared a horse and wagon for the inevitable march into Russia. The officer thought for a moment, looked at our small children and our frightened faces and said: “I advise you to remain here, in your home. You will be lost, if you get in the way of such a chaotic route and retreat of our army, with such small children. The Germans will not do you any harm as civilians. You may pass along my advice to the rest of your friends and relatives.”

Indeed, this is exactly what we did, and immediately advised our surrounding neighbors that they should not budge from their places.

Two days later, during the night hours, the last detachments of the Russian army passed in retreat from the front through Dereczin. The same senior officer, the Grand Duke, directed us not to spend that night in our own homes, which were on the front street through which the retreating soldiers

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would be marching, especially Cossacks that had been incited to riot. “They will cause you trouble,” the Grand Duke warned us.

 

A 24-Hour Period of Fear

On the last day before they departed from Dereczin, a certain angry and panicked [Russian] officer gave the Cossacks an order to drag all the Jewish men out of the houses and line them up in the marketplace across from the church. By hand and with nagaikas, the inflamed Cossacks ran from house to house, driving out the menfolk to the designated place. Thus, they gathered all the menfolk, and let them stand in fear for an hour, surrounded by Cossacks. Nobody knew what they were planning to do with us. Fortunately, a group of womenfolk furtively went to the manse of the Polish Priest, where a Russian General was quartered, and with tears and wailing told him what the officer had ordered to do with all the men. The general immediately ordered all the menfolk to be released and sent home.

We went through such hours of terror more than once in those days.

That last night was terrifying. We were, altogether about a hundred souls with women and young children, at the home of Alter Bukshtever, who had a house on a side street behind Meir-Shia the Feldscher. The men concentrated themselves in a front room, and we concealed the women and children in a back room. The night was frightening. From the faraway houses, we heard terrible screams of alarm. Periodically, drunken soldiers would also barge into our location, tearing off whatever they could that we had on, especially better shoes, taking money, and watches. At that time, the womenfolk would raise such a hue and cry, that the soldiers would become frightened and run away. They didn't have much time to rob and plunder – the Germans were already quite close.

At about five in the morning, we observed that the last contingent of Cossacks were pouring kerosene on the houses, and were getting ready to set the town ablaze. As we had become emboldened, knowing that there was a Cossack Hetman at the home of Rivkah-Rachel, a good person, we got a delegation of about ten men together, and secretly went to him. With tears in our eyes, we told him that the Cossacks were preparing to burn down all our houses. Our entreaties had the desired effect on him, and he told us: “Go in peace to your houses, I will be here until the last soldier leaves here…”

The Germans were already a couple of kilometers away from the town, and the Hetman did not permit the houses to be set afire. We wanted to present him with a gift, but he refused to take anything.

 

The Germans March In

At about seven in the morning, the last bomb destroyed the church – and the German cavalry marched into Dereczin. The last of the Cossacks had only minutes before galloped away on their speedy horses.

After a night of such terror, several of the elderly Jews broke out into a dance, seeing the arrival of the German leaders of that era, who had liberated us from the wild Cossacks.

All the houses and stores that we had abandoned, were robbed and pillaged on that last night. We found practically nothing left, even to the point of having nothing to eat on that first morning.

After the arrival of the initial reconnaissance troops, phalanxes of soldiers began to march into town. The very first day, their penchant for order showed its real face. They began to drive the Jews to start clean off the mountains of rubble from the streets, left by the retreating Russian army.

In town, signs of a cholera epidemic began to appear. The Russian soldiers dragged everything they found out of storage. Dried, tanned leather goods, they stole, the wet, damp sections they pulled out of their containers and tossed them all over the streets – and this befouled the air and called out all manner of illnesses.

Because of the suspicion of cholera in Dereczin, the German Command was afraid to establish itself in the town, and so it quartered itself in Halinka.

Suddenly, about three or four days after occupying the Dereczin surroundings, an order came from the

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Command that the leadership of the Jewish community should immediately present itself in Halinka. A fear gripped everyone. Rumors began to circulate that the Germans were apprehending Jewish “detainees,” and holding them as hostages under arrest. Nobody wanted to risk their lives, until it was decided that the following four people would appear: the immediately past Starosta, Sholom Mansky, Hirsch Beckenstein, Fyevsky from Halinka, and the writer of these lines, Chaim Rabinovich.

Frightened, we came to Halinka, and presented ourselves at Command Headquarters. We were received by an elderly Major, named von Wrangel, with a number of other staff officers. There we met two Christian representatives, the Graf Tishkevich, and another nobleman.

 

The Area Overseers

The old Major immediately declared that the Germans had taken possession of the surrounding area and would remain here as the permanent masters. There were in need of six overseers who understood German and will represent the six districts, into which they had divided Dereczin and its environs. Without waiting for an answer, he immediately spoke to us in an authoritative voice: “I appoint all six of you as officials, who will be responsible for the six so designated districts. You are appointed as those designated by civilian consent and will receive a salary of fifty marks a month.”

The officer immediately took down our names and addresses, and spreading out a map of the area in front of us, proceeded to show each of us the specific areas for which we would be responsible. The districts encompassed villages and fields, and each of us had the right to appoint assistants and intermediaries.

It was in this fashion that we were transformed not into “detainees,” but into – officials, “Area Overseers.” We breathed a little more easily, and returned to Dereczin, not under arrest.

 

Concern for Food

This turned out to be a favor both for the Jews of Dereczin and the peasants in the surrounding area. It became quickly apparent that for a variety of reasons, far fewer peasants fled with the Russian army into the heartland of Russia, from Dereczin, than from most other areas. Almost in every village, a substantial number of peasants remained behind, who had guarded their fields, as well as the property of their neighbors that did flee, and were well provisioned with a large number of the tools needed to do their work. The Jewish leaders conserved resources for the entire war, on behalf of the Jewish population in their town, and concerned themselves with assuring that they should not, God forbid, suffer from hunger. A number of the Dereczin Jews had actually begun to manage the fields of those peasants that had fled. Under the influence and with the cooperation of the Area Overseers, a reserve of grain and other produce was created, to serve the needs of the citizens of Dereczin, the Christian population and the villages were also satisfied, because each Overseer had selected those villages that were familiar to him, and dealt with peasants whom he had befriended through many years of acquaintance. In addition, we advanced our interests through a variety of arrangements, in which we put in place successful relationships between the populace and the military forces. Our management created a situation where “the wolf was satiated, but the sheep remained whole.”

It is significant to underscore that Dereczin was one of the few regions where not only did the populace not suffer from hunger, but was able to provision, more than once, other regions such as Slonim and Baranovich, which suffered from a complete absence of food. From those places, almost the entire Christian populace either fled, or was driven because of their proximity to the battlefront.

Frequently, and understandably, there were difficult months during the war years. The German occupiers, more than once, demonstrated their despotic character in regards to the resident population. However, it must be said that in our area, we did not experience serious incidents or complications.

More or less, life in Dereczin under the German occupation proceeded normally. Apart from the Officer, Sholom Mansky, in whose district Dereczin

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fell, along with those villages on the way to Zelva, together with Kolonia Sinaiska, as the representative of Dereczin proper, there was Itcheh-Berel the carpenter a skillful and intelligent Jewish man. Several young Jewish boys were designated as intermediaries.

The secretary-bookkeeper for the Jewish area was the religious Jew, Reb Yitzhak-Avraham Abelovich, well known in Dereczin, a beloved and upright man, and with the permission of the German military Beamts-Forsteher[1], leutenant Rhein, a magazine for grain and other produce was established in the town. The representative Itcheh-Berel, with the secretary Abelovich, would every two weeks distribute set food rations to each family, in accordance with the number of people in it, for quite low prices. The Jewish overseers from the Christian districts received special permission from the Beamts-Forsteher to submit even fish caught in the lakes of their rural districts to the food-magazine, and even that was distributed to the residents of Dereczin at reasonable prices.

Some time after their arrival, the Germans opened a public school with a German as its headmaster. Local male teachers, and a number of female teachers were appointed to the faculty, among them, two from the Novick family. It is understood that in that school, the German language was also taught.

 

A German-Jewish “Ideal”

The military Beamts-Forsteher, leutenant Rhein, was an intelligent man with higher education. His secretary was a German Jew. Both were attracted with understanding and sympathy to the Dereczin Jewish populace. It was anyway, convenient and comfortable for them to maintain a relationship with the Jewish, more cultured community, because they could not find a common basis for discourse with the standoffish Byelorussian peasantry.

I remember an incident in the year 1916, when the well-known Jewish Bundist lecturer and culture worker, Jacob Patt came to Dereczin to raise funds for cultural causes, and I went to the Beamts-Forsteher, with a request for him to permit us to call for a larger-than-normal gathering to which Patt would give his appeal. The German leutenant asked only if the speaker will speak in Yiddish or Hebrew, and when he heard that Patt would speak in Yiddish, he immediately granted his permission, provided a location, and requested that he also be invited to the assembly. Indeed, he actually did come, and stayed to the very end of the meeting, thereby establishing that Patt was a good speaker…

In general, the Jews continued to conduct their lives according to their prior practices, they went to the synagogue, studied the occasional page of Gemara, organized weddings and circumcisions, to which they invited Germans of their acquaintance. The conduct of commerce took place even under a more strict military oversight, the roads form Dereczin to the larger commercial centers, such a Bialystock, were always full of German patrols, who strongly forbade transport of a variety of products, but despite this, Jews found a way to deal with this. A familiar ruse of that time was often used: when a German patrol would stop a wagon with Jewish merchants that was carrying contraband merchandise, in order to avoid the customary search of the wagon contents, the patrol leader would encounter one of the Jews lying down in the wagon, covered with bandages on the head or abdomen. The partner, namely the wagon driver, would immediately start describing to the German, that he was transporting someone ill with typhus – and this produced the absolutely best result. The Germans always would immediately recoil from such a wagon, murmuring “Donnerwetter!” and similar epithets.

Jews developed all manner of stratagems of this nature, and smuggling was carried on. Actually, because of the outbreak of various epidemics, we were able to cause the German staff headquarters to remain in Halinka, thereby causing them to remain at a distance from Dereczin. Every time when we district overseers would report to the staff headquarters, the old Major would always ask us about the status of the cholera epidemic that broke out shortly after the Russians had departed from Dereczin. For a long time, our answer was that there were still cases of cholera, and this significantly

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alarmed the Germans.

 

Banditry in the Forests

A certain time after the arrival of the German occupiers, deserters from the Russian army, who were hiding themselves in the thick forests around Dereczin began to appear, and who engaged in attacking isolated citizens, and wagons passing through the area, whom they would rob, and even commit murder. The German military lacked the forces needed to track them down, because the surrounding Christian populace was fearful of turning them over, as it was often forced to provision the deserters and robbers, under threat of mayhem and murder.

At the outset, two Jewish victims fell at the hands of these thieving deserters. Two Jewish millers had set off on foot to a distant village, carrying money with which to buy a horse. They never returned, and all the efforts to find them on the part of the German military, the Jewish district overseers and intermediaries, produced nothing. Not even a trace of them was found. Also, a Slonim forest products merchant who had a wood business in the forests around Dereczin, was murdered along with his Jewish foreman, while traveling with a large sum of money that he was going to use to pay off his forest workers.

Because of these bandits in the surrounding forests, we found it necessary to purchase from the Germans, because they had left Dereczin, a larger amount of weaponry, with hand grenades, and even a machine-gun in order to protect ourselves against their predations, when there were no forces in the town.

 

A Privileged Town

Now, many years after the first German occupation, and informed by the terrifying deeds of their second occupation, one can obtain the impression that Dereczin enjoyed the status of being a privileged town.

It was because of this, that we were able to render assistance to the fire victims in Slonim after the great blaze of 1917, even though Slonim was in another district, and it was strictly forbidden to conduct the transaction of merchandise between our town and Slonim. We lobbied the military authority for permission to assemble grain, potatoes, and other foodstuffs, and transport it to Slonim for the use of the fire victims.

The Jews of Slonim were extremely grateful to us, and could not forget the help that they received from Dereczin. Several years later, when a fire broke out among us, the Slonim community sent us several wagons with clothing, and other products, along with a sum of money to help the victims.

This was the way Jews managed to get through the difficult war years. During this time, a part of the Dereczin Jewish population learned how to reclaim land, farm and plant. The Jewish population also became accustomed to the German standard of orderliness and attention to detail – characteristics which had never been seen during the era of Czarist rule.

All of this generally was to the benefit of the day-to-day life of the Jewish populace during the German occupation, but the real purpose of German attention to detail, and “order,” the real face of German hegemony, was felt by the Jews during the years of atrocity of the Second World War.

 

Translator's Footnote:
  1. Official military representative to the civilian population. Return


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In the Vise of the War

by Malka Alper

(Original Language: Yiddish)

 

Der117a.jpg
Chaykeh Mishkin, Teacher

 

Der117b.jpg
A German School class, with their teacher, Chaykeh Miskhin

 

Der118.jpg
A. Sh. Emanuel, (sometimes spelled Emiel) Teacher at the German School

 

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, our town, like someone dead, became enshrouded in despair. Really, an understatement! They mobilized fathers of children, reservists who had fought in the Russo-Japanese War, young sons of elderly people, and even slightly underage young people. Many families were left without their breadwinners.

The Jewish committee that was organized to help those families whose fathers were on the front, focused on lightening the need and difficult circumstances of those families that were suffering, but this was like a drop in the ocean. From what I recall, the Czarist regime, apart from the meager salary paid to each soldier, largely did not care for the families of those who were mobilized.

Also, the Christian populace was shaken up by the outbreak of the war: apart from the mobilization of the skilled workers, their inventory of livestock suffered neglect, and fields were left fallow and unplowed. Understand, that this had immediate repercussions on the livelihood of the Jews in the town.

Under such circumstances, there was nothing to think about regarding sending children off for an education. Only the Talmud Torah continued to function after a fashion, and even took in more than its usual amount of students. The entire energy of the town was focused on generating sustenance, about which there was a continuous stream of bitter news. Everyone's thoughts were occupied with their relatives either at the front or in the barracks.

And so, the months flew by, and the front got closer to Dereczin. One lived in fear and under pressure from the decrees of the military authorities. It becomes clear that the Germans are going to reach us as well. Everyone prays that we will live through the impending transition of power: that the Russians retreat without bloodshed among the civilian populace, and the “good” Germans take over already.

After the last days of summer, the High Holydays arrived, and after nights of fear and sleeplessness, after hiding oneself wherever possible, we became free of the Russians, and the Germans occupied our area.

In town, there is a transport garrison, the horses are stabled with the local Christian populace. Everyone had rooms [in their homes] taken for use and they were occupied by Germans of all types. The economic circumstances were not good. In order to travel from town to the village, or from the village to town, it was necessary to receive [formal] permission.

And then they started taking men for conscripted labor, to repair the infrastructure that had been ruined [because of the fighting]. The pay for this work was meager, often in the form of bread ration coupons. Dereczin finds itself caught in the vise of war, with everything that this condition entails.

Whole families, women and children, go out into the fields to dig up what few potatoes they can find that haven't already been harvested, in order to stockpile for the coming winter with whatever they can. It was terribly sad to look at the women and children, returning from the fields after a wearying day, with a basket full of potatoes on their backs, often barefoot, wet from the rain. From eight o'clock in the evening on is “curfew,” and you are not allowed to be on the streets, and gendarmes patrol the streets to enforce the order. Even if someone had good reason to be out of their house and on the street, where the outhouses were found, one had to be extremely careful, and be able to account for oneself, or have to plead with the patrols.

In time, the pressure felt from the occupation forces

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began to lighten, but the first period, with its character of compelled activities etched itself deeply into the memories of the Jews of Dereczin. I remember very well the school established for school-age children, by the military command, shortly after they took over Dereczin. It was compulsory education, conducted in the Prussian manner and style. Jews accustomed themselves to this as well, and attempted to infuse the education with more Jewish character and content.

Things became a little easier when in the place of the military command, an official representative to the civilian population was installed (Beamts-Forsteher). He looked down on all the Jews. He granted permission to bring in and move out merchandise and food, and the livelihood of the Dereczin Jews depended on him.

And what can one not get used to eventually? Slowly the Jews, and the young folk who came of age in the war years, became bound to the yoke of finding sustenance. One traveled around from town to town, or to nearby cities, some looking for business, others for work.

The epoch of occupation comes to its end a little bit at a time. Revolution breaks out in Russia. The reverberations reach even the areas under German occupation. The German front is shaken up.

The surrounding forests are full of deserters and escaped prisoners of war. It is dangerous to travel on the roads, but what does one not do in order to make a living? Ignoring the isolated instances of murder on the highways, Jews travel the villages, build houses, set up ovens, sew clothing, and footwear for the local peasantry, and bring a little food into Dereczin. Merchants travel to Slonim and Volkovysk to bring merchandise from there.

But the young people, who make these trips instead of their parents, come back with not only merchandise and food – they frequently bring back a periodical, a brochure. Just as the town Jewish people would duck into a convenient Bet HaMidrash, in order to partake of a sacramental bit of learning, so these young people duck into the branches of their organizations in order to obtain material for the young people in their town.

 

The Prussian School

For the first year of the war, and until the Germans came, nobody gave any thought to the need for educating the children. Worry about husbands and sons who were at the front, and also the day-to-day concerns of making a living, for these families who were left alone, consumed the time and attention of most of the Dereczin residents. This same condition continued to prevail for the first several months of the German occupation. Dereczin was virtually isolated from its entire surroundings. The military authorities made themselves comfortable. The military condition was a difficult one. Apart form the Talmud Torah, there was no institution of learning.

A short time after the occupation of Dereczin, the occupiers established a school for the school-age children -- a German school. The Germans had the expectation that the territories that they had occupied would remain under their control even after the war ended.

They were certain of their victory. They decided to initiate the “Germanization” of the occupied territories, and with giving the occupied territories a “taste of German culture.”

They did this in their usual Prussian way. On one day, an order went out, requiring all children from the age of 6 to 13 to enroll in the school. The organizer and director of the school was a military man, a Prussian. With his swagger stick in hand, he drove the German-Prussian discipline into the school. The rod was not spared in instances when the director felt that a child was slow to understand, or did not respond quickly enough to please the director.

Teachers? Local men and women who could read and write a bit of German. One teacher was from outside Dereczin – A. Sh. Emanuel. The director himself taught the highest grade, and he kept his eye on everything that went on in every corner of the place.

And since this school was compulsory, the Heders, which were barely existing, closed up, one after another. Few families who had the means, allowed themselves to have their children schooled in Hebrew by private instructors such as Feivel

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Einstein, Leizer Matz, and the same A. Sh. Emiel who taught at the German school.

Despite its Prussian character, the German school was to a large degree, a planting of the seeds of general education for the children of Dereczin – a current that had its origins in the first years of the twentieth century.


Under the Yoke of the German Occupation

by Jacob Rabinovich

(Original Language: Hebrew)

Der119.jpg
Jacob Rabinovich as a student in the German School

 

As a memorial to my father, brother and sisters, and their children,
who were exterminated in the Holocaust at the end of 1942.

In September 1915, about a year after the outbreak of the First World War, the great retreat of the Russian armies from the province of Grodno began. Whole battalions of Cossacks and artillery began to stream through Dereczin. The first-aid stations became clogged with wounded soldiers. The Jews of the town were filled with fear of the impending events. Cossacks would break into the houses and take whatever they could, especially money. I recollect, that at about that time, there was a festive parade in honor of the Czar's uncle, Nikolai Nikolaevich, apparently to help raise his spirits. The great prince received the review standing on the porch of our house. When the show was over, my mother, she should rest in peace, approached him, and invited him and his retinue in for a glass of tea. He responded to her request, and from then on, his soldiers did not have the nerve to enter our home for purposes of plunder.

At the end of the month of Elul, the Russian army left the town. On the night of the retreat, there were many incidents of robbery. The citizenry locked themselves in their homes, but the Cossacks forcibly broke into them. The Jews were defenseless. These wild men broke into our house as well. Suddenly, the wife of Shmuel Stukalsky, Vikhna, appeared, accompanied by a Cossack officer. It turns out she had bribed the officer, and was going from house to house, in order to calm the residents, and thanks to this, there were no human casualties.

The following daybreak, the Germans entered the town. At first, the thought was that the Germans were bringing liberation to the Jews, but in the end, the bitter disappointment came. They issued a decree that all citizens above the age of nine were to appear in the courtyard of the Russian Orthodox church, and to be photographed there and receive a residential passport. Whoever was not provided with a document was liable to be conscripted into forced labor.

During the three years of the German occupation, from 1916-1918, the economic condition in the town was lamentably bad. The captors confiscated everything, beginning with clothing, and bedding, all the way through to copperware. Sholom Mansky was selected by them to function as the city's chief executive (Burgomeister). At his side, a sort of citizen's committee worked, (Burger-komitet). One of the duties of this committee was to distribute food rations in accordance with ration cards. The Jewish community suffered from a state of malnutrition. Every little thing, like a trip to the cemetery, required prior clearance and special permission from the German ruling authorities. Jews managed to sustain themselves through smuggling and trading. They would secretly buy from the Germans, and resell to the farmers. All of the synagogues in town were seized by the occupiers. The Jews prayed in minyans that were convened in private homes. Despite this, the plight of the Jews in the town was much better than that of the farmers in

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the surrounding area. They were beholden to the Jews, who understood the language of the conquerors, and who ruled the farmers with a harsh hand.

In the middle of 1916, the Germans issued a decree requiring all Jewish children beginning at age nine, to undergo compulsory registration in a German school. As it happens, only part of the children got registered. There were many parents who were reluctant to enroll their children in a non-Jewish school. The director of the school was a German officer by the name of von Zusnirtz. Three classes were opened. Two of the classes were conducted in the in the hospital building, and the highest class (Uber Stuffe) was held in the school building across the street from Izaakovich (der Mikhoisker). There were several Jewish teachers: A. Sh. Emiel, of blessed memory, Sima Rubinovsky from Slonim, and others. The language of instruction was German. Textbooks were received from Germany. Discipline was strict. The curriculum was quite varied. The common name for this school was : Stadt-Schule der Judische Gemeinde zu Dereczin. A portion of the students secretly studied Jewish subjects in the afternoon.

After the October 1917 revolution, the governance of the German occupation forces became more liberal. Almost completely out in the open, a Yiddish cultural group, called Atid[1] was founded (the Yiddish Kulturverein “Zukunft”), in which the influence was Bundist. The group was headed by the sons of Sholom Mansky, Menahem and David, and the son of Ephraim-Yehoshua, Herschel Levitt. With the consent of the Germans, representatives from Bialystock, such as the Bundist representative Jacob Patt would appear in town, as did others.

At about the same time, word of the Balfour Declaration reached the town, which led to the establishment of the Histadrut organization of Zionist Youth (Tze'irei Tzion), under the direction of David Alper, of blessed memory. We, the young people in town, would split up to attend the meetings of both of these organizational streams, but with care, so the director of the German school wouldn't catch us. From time to time, there would be evening discussions held jointly between the two groups. I have the impression that in those years, the hand of the Bundist-Yiddishists was the upper one, and their influence on the young people was stronger than that of the Zionist Youth organization.

The relationship of the German authorities to the population improved and softened.

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I recall that a portion of the Jewish residents took up working the fields of the farmers that fled in fear of the Germans, at the time of the Russian retreat. Jewish refugees reached our town from areas that were quite distant from us, from even as far as Warsaw, and they stayed to live in our midst during the entire period of the occupation. The people of Dereczin assisted them quite a bit, a portion of them remained afterwards permanently.

 

Translator's Footnote:
  1. “Future” in Hebrew Return


The Food Committee

by Mattityahu (Mottel) Abelovich

(Original Language: Hebrew)

Our town was on a side thoroughfare, without railroad service, and without a highway. In order to get to Slonim or Zelva, it was necessary to be taken by a horse-drawn wagon driver.

The Germans came into Dereczin at the time of the First World War, disciplined in their manner, with a complete plan as to how they will “bring everything to order.“ They immediately took to the task, putting sanitation facilities in place, building roads, and later, even opened a school in order for children to begin the study of German. They took the former Russian teachers, and prepared them to be German teachers. The occupiers had a good idea of what they wanted to accomplish, and allocated capable people and leaders [to get it done.]

I myself, was prepared to enter the high class (Uber Stuffe) of the school. I knew a little German from before, having taught myself from a Yiddish textbook. Quite a number of young Dereczin children studied with me at that time.

In the town proper, a committee was established, which gathered food products from Dereczin and its surroundings. With the approach of the German army, many of the peasants from the surrounding area fled into Russia, leaving the villages behind with significant amounts of food. All this was gathered up by the food committee, which was headed by my father, Yitzhak-Abraham Abelovich. His responsibility was to distribute this food to the populace, and to keep the books. A daughter of the Hurwitsch (Horowitz? ) family, who knew German, helped my father with the bookkeeping.

There was no lack of work for the committee to do, especially my father. A lot of the menfolk from town had already been mobilized into the Russian army, and their wives and children remained behind in town, many of them already widows and orphans. Apart from them, there were many elderly people who were desperately in need. My father did everything to assure that the foodstuffs would be divided fairly and equitably, and that no one, God forbid, should be left without something to eat. Periodically, German inspectors would come to us from Slonim in order to assure that everything was being carried out properly.

I greatly want to write about my father, may he rest in peace, who was taken from this world at a young age. I cannot forget my early childhood, when I studied the Gemara with Reb David. On the afternoon of the Sabbath, he would invite the fathers of his pupils to come and hear the way their children learned. My father was a scholar in his own right. He would listen to me, and when I demonstrated that I understood the issues of the Talmudic debate I was studying, he would swell with pride, come home full of nachas, and tell this to my mother.

And to this day, I cannot forget the Passover Seders at my home. My father would sit at the head of the

[Page 95]

table, and together with my older brother, Shmuel, would direct the course of the Seder, with the Haggadah and with singing. People actually came to stand under our windows to listen to the singing, in which we, the younger children chimed in to help our father and Shmuel.

On Yom Kippur Eve, after taking the last meal prior to the fast, our father would put on his tallis, and before he departed for the synagogue, one-at-a time he would take each of us aside, and bless us with a warm, Yiddish blessing.

The Friday nights in our family remain as some of the most beautiful and shining memories that I have.

When Rabbi Plotkin assumed the Rabbinate of Dereczin, he became very friendly with my father, and always took his opinion into account when dealing with community affairs.

It was in this manner that my father, during the time of the German occupation, served his community with integrity, and concerned himself with the welfare of the poorer element in our midst.

The war, as we all remember stretched on for a long time. After the Germans retreated, the sovereignty of our area changed frequently, the Bolsheviks came, and after them – the Poles, and later, once again the Russians. When they entered Dereczin, they immediately mobilized the youth. Part of these young people were shipped deep into the Russian heartland.


A Charity Soup Kitchen for the Needy

by Malka Alper

(Original Language: Hebrew)

During the First World War, when Dereczin was under German occupation, a soup kitchen for the needy Jews in town was established by the Amts-Forsteher, who served as the senior officer in charge of the civilian administration. He was a uniformed German, with a thin rod in his hand, He was deferential to his seniors, but looked haughtily down with derision at all those he came in contact with, he was the “mover and shaker” because by his word, commerce could dry up, and he was the one that established who had permission to take out farm produce, and who could import from the markets of surrounding towns.

He personally knew all the residents of the town, and knew the distress suffered by part of the population, and it was then that he granted a “great boon” to the [food] committee that had been organized at his behest (door-to door solicitation and street begging were outlawed), to open a soup kitchen so the needy may be able to obtain hot soup, if the Jewish community would provide the following: a salaried cook, with assistants, daughters of the townsfolk, who would come at a scheduled time to peel vegetables, provided by the surrounding landholders at no cost.

In those days of limitation, an order was given and the kitchen came into being as a reality. Each day, daughters would come to participate in the preparation of the vegetables for the following day. Even “the Boss” in all his glory, would show up almost every day, since he was pleased to see the young women gainfully occupied, and jeering at those who seemingly had no skill for this kind of work, sticking the ladle into the big pot, and tasting what was cooking, remaining sometimes for the period where the food was distributed into pots, that every mother would bring there to get their ration for their family. They were often given a portion of bread that was provided by the Jewish “committee,” to take home along with the soup.

The kitchen was set up in the home of Zelig

[Page 96]

Lobzovsky, not far from the old Bet HaMidrash.

One day, I was summoned to the office of “The Boss.” Every request of this nature aroused dread, because a meeting with him, and his haughty looking down caused very unpleasant feelings, which when they welled up inside, needed to be consciously suppressed with effort, lest they burst out into the open. What was up?

A landholder from the area had arrived with a shipment of vegetables – mostly potatoes, beets and carrots, for the kitchen, and it was my responsibility to show the wagon driver where to deposit the shipment. In turning to the landholder, without so much as introducing me, he said:

“The vegetable girl Alper will look after arranging this.” I parted from them with good wishes, and a lighter feeling, that this was the sole purpose of the call.

If my memory doesn't deceive me, the kitchen functioned for the years of 1916-1917.


War Chitchat

by Malka Alper

(Original Language: Yiddish)

 

Der122.jpg
The barracks. Before the Germans, a part of the barracks served as a prison.
By the end of the occupation, the larger part was used as a public meeting place.

 

Immediately after the outbreak of the First World War, reservists from Dereczin were mobilized, among whom were those who had already served in the Russo-Japanese War.

The reservists were the fathers of families. Their families were left without breadwinners, and suffered a great deal materially, because the Czarist regime provided next to nothing for them. The community did whatever they could for them.

On a certain evening, a woman came to us [in the store], whose husband had been a soldier in the Russo-Japanese War, and had been mobilized again, and was at the front. After purchasing what she needed, she paused, and spoke from the heart:

– “You don't know what they are like. At the time they signed the Russian-Japanese peace treaty, the plans for the present war were already lying under that very table…”

A second woman, whose husband was also mobilized and sent to the German front, complained about her bitter fate. Suddenly, she abruptly stops what she is saying, and asks:

– “Tell me, I beg you, and please don't take an umbrage at the question, but do they wage war there during the night?”

– “Of course,” came the reply.

– “Oh, my God,” she says, clasping her hands, –“You could knock someone's eye out that way!”…

 

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