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[Page 282]

Working for the Community

Eliohu Blyakher

Translated by Meir Bulman

For my father Moshe Ben Binyamin, a son to a family of distinguished and respected lineage, who had lived in Divenishok for several generations. I recall that on days of remembrance, my father would show us the gravestones of his father and grandfather at the old cemetery. My mother's name was Khenye, and she originated in in Kovne. She was his second wife.

His first wife died young and childless. My father was a typical Jewish man like many residents of Lithuanian towns. He was a religious Jew, rooted in the Jewish tradition. Love of Torah and love of humanity were at the core of his life force.

He was a wealthy man, and because he did not have children with his first wife, he devoted part of his fortune to writing two Sifrei Torah.[1] He donated one to the Old synagogue, and kept the other in a Torah ark at home. On Shabbat and holidays, Minyanim[2] were held in our home. On Simchat Torah we went to the synagogue with the Nevi'im[3] scrolls, and fulfilled the Mitzvah of Hakafot.[4] It was a great honor for us, but was envied by neighboring children.

My father was a very observant man. He went to pray at the synagogue three times daily. Between Mincha[5] and Maariv[6] he routinely participated in learning Mishnayot.[7] Prayers were a natural need for him and he prayed with great devotion.

He was a righteous man, quick to fulfill a Miztvah.[8] On Fridays he would quickly cease working and go out to the market place to plead, “קינדרלך, ס'איז שבת פארמאכט די געשעפטן! (“My children, Shabbat has begun, close the shops!”). He would urge the late ones, saying: “Nu! Nu! Quickly, quickly, Chilul Shabbat, Chilul Shabbat!”[9]

All the town residents would respect my father's request, because they knew his actions arose from a sincere faith in the Torah. When my father would appear at the marketplace all would quickly close down their shops, and if a customer would delay a grocer, then he would tell the customer, “My Jewish friend, can't you see that Moshe the Tinsmith already announced Shabbat? Do you want him to reproach me?”

My father was active in the Chevrah Kadisha[10] in town, and was fully devoted to that role. “I am granting those who have passed the chesed shel emet.”[11] That was the most important Mitzvah to him. He would fulfill it with sacred dedication.

He was murdered by the Germans in 1942.


Editor's Footnotes
  1. A holographic copy of the Torah, prepared according to strict guidelines, and often commissioned by wealthier members of the congregation Return
  2. A quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious prayers and rituals Return
  3. Refers to the section of the Hebrew Bible comprised of the books of the various prophets Return
  4. Refers to the ritual circle dance around the bimah (pulpit) on the holiday of Simchat Torah Return
  5. Afternoon prayer service Return
  6. Evening prayer service Return
  7. Lessons from the first section of the Talmud Return
  8. Good deed Return
  9. Literally ‘killing the Sabbath’, meaning a Sabbath violation is occurring or about to occur Return
  10. Jewish burial society Return
  11. ‘the truest act of kindness’ Return

[Page 283]

My Father and Grandfather
Loved Working the Land

Yosef Kaplan

Translated by Meir Bulman

My grandfather passed away when I was an infant and so I cannot describe his character, but according to the stories about him he was a strict Jewish man and was not willing to concede one iota.

Our plot of land was the largest in town; it stretched all the way from our house at the market place up until the קודרע[1] (the famous pool on Vilne Street). As was customary in Poland, an unworked strip of land separated ours from and the neighbors' plots. On that strip grew the wood sorrel (Szczawik zajeczy, or simply Szczaw in Polish) that was among the town residents' favorite food items.

Usually the peasants' wives brought Szczaw to sell in town, but at times there were also a Szczaw shortages, and then the town's young women would raid the strip of land and pick the sorrel. My grandfather would chase the girls with a stick, but they chose to continue picking the forbidden Szczaw to spite him. Then once he tripped and fell mid–chase, became ill, and passed away.

My father loved working the land and in the scalding season the family joined him, be it to harvest grain or uproot the potatoes. We stored the potatoes in the basement and they served as basic nutrition all year.

In the days of the Russian Czarist regime, my father was secretary of “מיעשטשאנסקאיא אופראווא”(city administration); my father would assist Jews who needed to change their names or obtain a residence permit. These services were most important to Jews escaping from Russia to Poland.

My father was an observant Jew who was also a public servant. He served as gabbai[2] at the synagogue, and for a while as a treasurer and bank administrator after Sholem Yakov Rogol left for America, and Yakov Druck resigned – since the bank was then at the brink of collapse.

I was the youngest of the family and everyone pampered me. We had a tavern at home where we kept beer barrels. I once snuck in and drank directly from the barrel so Father would not notice. My sister brought the entire family and everyone stood in the doorway and watched me drink – and my father stood there and smiled.

Like all town children I too attended the Hebrew school, where the language of instruction was Hebrew. During my time there, a change was enacted and Yiddish became a secondary language of instruction. The Yidishists[3] in town likely got the upper hand at that time.


Editor's Footnotes
  1. The Kidreh Return
  2. Beadle Return
  3. A political party that sought Jewish national autonomy within the Diaspora Return

[Page 284]

In memory of my father Leyb Dubin
May He Rest in Peace

Rachel Zuvitshki (Dubin)

Translated by Meir Bulman

My father Leyb Dubin was born in the village of Dubinke, located on the road from Divenishok to Benakani. My father was in the forestry business. After he married, he moved to Divenishok. My mother Beyleh was from the Kramer family. Moshe Kalmen Kramer, the famous cantor, was my mother's first cousin.

I spent my childhood and young adulthood in Divenishok. Of all my teachers I remember Stutski from Ivia, who was beloved by the town's youth. He organized the Bund[1] organization in town, and would give magnificent speeches opposing the Czarist regime. Thanks to him the Bund in our town was well organized. Its members were Socialist minded.

Gatherings took place in secret – in the field or the woods–– in fear of the government. The Bund leader in our town was Bezalel the Chasid's[2] son, an educated young man with excellent leadership skills. His family left Divenishok a long time ago.

In 1909, I married my husband Eliezer Zuvitshki and moved to Vilne. My husband worked at a bank in Bunimovitz.[3] My father too moved to Vilne, but the bond with my birth–town did not cease. We visited the town often and had a special tradition of visiting Divenishok during the summer break. That tradition was kept by our descendants as well. We would always return from Divenishok with many positive experiences and impressions.

My father was a sought–after cantor; he had a sweet, pleasant voice and served in that role his whole life. During our stay in Divenishok, and later in Vilne, he was the cantor at the famous שאוול'ס קלויז[4] synagogue.


Editor's Footnotes
  1. Allgemeyner Idisher Arbayterbund in Lita, Poylen un Rusland, a pan–Diaspora labor organization and political movement Return
  2. From the word for ‘pious’ or ‘piety’, Chasidism is a mystical Jewish practice founded in the 18th Century in the Western Ukrainian section of Poland and characterized by an emphasis on prayer, religious zeal, and joy Return
  3. The town of Bunimovitz has not yet been identified. It is presumably a town in the vicinity of Vilne. Return
  4. ‘Shavlos Kloyz’; this small synagogue has not yet been identified. There were over 100 synagogues in Vilna at that time. Return

[Page 285]

Mordechai Blyakher ז”ל[1]

Moshe Mintz

Translated by Meir Bulman

Mordechai's father was named Hershl (Tsvi) der (בלעכער the tinsmith), and his mother was named Sarah Ita. They lived near the Gavya Stream. After Mordechai's mother Sarah Ita passed away, Tsvi married again, and Mordechai often had to leave the house. He was a leather maker and worked in various locations.

They arrived in Israel in 1925, and being a member of HaPoel HaMizrachi,[2] Tsvi found work with a Petah Tikva farmer named Donovitsh, earning enough to fulfill his needs. Once, Donovitsh's young son saw a film in which a horse dragged a man. It left a strong impression on him and he decided to try it on one of his father's workers. One day while unsupervised by his father he commanded the Arab workers to tie Tsvi to a horse, which immediately galloped forward. Tsvi began to scream and the horse was stopped only with difficulty. He was severely injured and taken to the French hospital in Jaffa.

After recovering from his injuries he hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit against the farmer Donovitsh. Investigators came to the scene, but the investigation yielded no results. The investigators were probably bribed by Donovitsh and did not even deem it necessary to summon Mordechai Blyakher to recount the event. The French hospital was also allegedly bribed and the lawsuit was dismissed.

Donovitsh fired Tsvi, and as if that was not enough– withdrew his recommendation to accept Mordechai Blyakher as a farmer in Netanya; Ben–Ami, the village mayor, expelled him from the co–op.

All those events broke his spirit and he was bedridden for a long while. After recovering he married a woman from Hertzliya and lived there for the rest of his life.


Editor's and Translator's Footnotes
  1. Tr. Note: ‘Of Blessed Memory’; the title of the essay is ‘Mordechai Blyakher’, but the events described mostly deal with his father Hershl Tsvi. Return
  2. Ed. Note: Literally ‘Mizrachi Worker’; HaPoel HaMizrachi, founded in Jerusalem in 1922, was one of the two parties that later in 1955 combined to form the National Religious Party, or Mafdal, in Israel (the other party being HaMizrachi). Return

[Page 286]

My family

Kheyne Sutskever

Translated by Meir Bulman

My paternal grandfather, Yosef (Yosl)[1], of a Divenishok family living there for generations, worked as a blacksmith. He married my grandmother Kheyne (I am her namesake). My father, Shimon Leyb, found his beloved, my mother דובה[2], in the nearby town of Ivia.

My eldest brother, Raphael, attended the Stutchin Yeshiva, where his uncle was Chief Rabbi of Stutchin, HaRav Yehuda Leyb Khasman (also known as R' Leibtshik Stutchiner). The son of the Rav, Raphael Khasman[3], worked for a while for the נייעס[4] newspaper's editorial staff in Kovne, and after that was appointed secretary of the editorial staff at די אידישע שטימע[5]. Raphael made Aliyah in 1926 and was appointed secretary of the editorial staff at HaTzofe.[6] He passed away in Tel Aviv on 1972.

My brother Raphael married Etl of the house of Abramovitsh. Her brother, Motl Abramovitsh, married in the town of Rudzishok,[7] where he was later murdered. My brother Raphael, his wife Etl, and their three children, perished in Voronova with my father. My brother was a devoted Torah scholar, and at the end of each exhausting work day he would study a Talmud chapter in the synagogue in front of our home. My sister Shifra arrived in Israel in 1926 and was a guest in the home of our uncle HaRav Yehuda Leyb Khasman, then spiritual administrator at the Hebron Yeshiva. She was miraculously saved from the massacres in Hebron, where she met her husband HaRav Moshe Saritski, who was a student at the Hebron Yeshiva. My brother–in–law now serves as Rabbi of Karkur. Shifra passed away in 1967.

I loved public activity and I remember that when I was young I worked at the Beit Zandman library. The rehearsals for drama club took place in our home. The biggest attraction was when HaShomer HaTzair[8] acquired a radio and rented a space in our home so the youth in town could listen to the radio.

My husband, Lolle Sutskever, was also very active in public service, an active member at the VILBIG[9] library, as well as being a commander at the fire department, devoting the bulk of his time to training these firefighters.


Editor's Footnotes
  1. The family being described here starting with Yosef is believed to be of surname Khasman. This is based on the statements in the second and third paragraphs stating that the author's uncle was named Yehuda Leyb Khasman. Yehuda Leyb Khasman is believed to be the blood brother of Yosef, thus justifying the application of the surname Khasman to the whole family. Return
  2. ‘Dube’ or ‘Dobe’ Return
  3. Both the article author's brother and her uncle's son were named Raphael Return
  4. ‘The News’ Return
  5. ‘The Yiddish Voice’ Return
  6. ‘The Oberver’ Return
  7. This town has not yet been identified; it is possibly the town also known as Radoshkovitsh Return
  8. ‘The Young Guard’; Zionist Youth Movement Return
  9. ‘Vilner Yidishe Bildung Gezelshaft’; Vilne Jewish Educational Society Return

[Page 287]

On Those Who
Escaped to Soviet Russia

Rivke Krizovski

Translated by Meir Bulman


Yosef Levine (son of Yitzach Artzom)

His family was with us when we escaped from Divenishok, but then they returned with my mother. He managed to reach Russia and suffered greatly there. In 1943 he was enlisted into the Lithuanian military and participated in combat. He was wounded eight times and received medals for excellence. He now lives in Kharkov and has two daughters. He often visited me when I was in Vilne. He also helped me a lot in reaching Israel.


Lolle Olkanitski

Lolle snuck across the border in 1933 with Paula, Tsvi Srulovitsh's wife. High quality Jewish youth in Poland were not at all aware of what their fate would be if they crossed the border to Russia illegally. Thousands of our best young men and women risked their lives and faced lengthy prison sentences if the Poles were to capture them while trying to cross. And indeed many were captured and imprisoned, and placed in the Bereza Kartuska Prison Camp. In prison they envied their close friends who had succeeded in crossing the border to Russia and thought they must be the happiest people ever. But they were gravely mistaken! All those who crossed the border from Poland were considered spies in Russia and were exiled to Siberia, which was their final destination in life.

Lolle was lucky; his wife Paula[1] had relatives who lived in Russia and thanks to them they were not sent to Siberia. Paula died four years after they arrived in Russia and Lolle remarried, to a Russian woman. They had a daughter. His in-laws were very anti-Semitic and so they forced their daughter to divorce him. Later he married a third wife and from her too he had a daughter. He passed away a year before I arrived in Israel.

Bilke and her mother Rokhl Leah also succeeded in reaching Russia. Rokhl Leah died there. Bilke married and lives in Romanovka, near Moscow. Her husband is a supervisor at an aviation parts factory. She would often visit me in Vilne. She is no longer the same gorgeous Bilke. Time has left its marks on her.


Translator's Footnote
  1. Here Paula is described as Lolle's wife. In the previous paragraph she is described as the wife of Tsvi Srulovitsh. Return

In Memory of Our Mother

Shoshana (Reyzl) Ben–Dov

Amnon and Yaffa

Translated by Meir Bulman

My heart bleeds as I am about to describe the image of our mother of blessed memory. She was a model of righteousness, humility, honesty, and love for the family.

She inherited her noble soul from her parents, about whom many stories are told. Her father R' Eliahu–Chaim, was a righteous man, and was well–known in town for his fairness and kind heartedness. Her mother Pesye Malka, despite her troubles and woes, never said a bad word about a fellow human. More than that; every Friday, she would cook for the town's poor people, so that they too can feel the holiness of the Sabbath. She also always contributed to Keren Kayemet[1] and the town's institutions.

She made Aliyah with her husband 50 years ago, residing in Haifa, which according to her was “mountains and stones.” There she would care for the bachelors from town who had made Aliyah with them and assisted them in those difficult days.

My mother's life goal was devotion to family, aid to her fellow man –particularly those who were connected to her town – and to her final day she mentioned the people of Divenishok and showed interest in their lives.

That is how our dear mother was and it is a shame she passed away so soon.

May her soul be bound in a bond of everlasting life. May she rest in peace.


Editor's Footnote
  1. Jewish National Fund Return

[Page 288]

About A Jewish Family

Dina Lebizuvski[1]

Translated by Meir Bulman

My mother's family tree had many branches and they always lived in Divenishok. My grandfather's name was Matisyahu and my grandmother was Khayne Rishe. Arye, Zalman Salducha (Zalman Artsiks) Isha (יאשע) Nashes (נאשע' ) and Chaim Alferovitz– were grandmother's brothers.

My grandfather Matisyahu was son to a rich family in Minsk. Because there were many men in his family for whom military enlistment was mandatory, he was sent to Divenishok, where he received a passport under a different name–– and did not enlist in the military. Instead he remained to live in Divenishok where he married my grandmother. His original last name was Vigodsky, but was changed to Levine. He was a great Torah scholar who studied Torah day and night and passed away with a Talmud volume by his heart.

My grandmother had six brothers who lived in Divenishok. My mother had four brothers, among them Chaim Levine, who remined in France. His son Yehezkel Levin is a well–known internal medicine physician in France.

My father, Eliahu[2] originated from a family of scholars in Eshishuk, and he too was a Yeshiva student. After he married he had to work a butcher and he found it very difficult to provide for his nine children with his wages. Naturally, the older children emigrated and spread across the globe. One sister traveled to Africa, two sisters and a brother to Boston in the United States, and my sister Yente (Of Blessed Memory) and I made Aliyah. Sheynke[3], Lolle Sutskever's wife and her two children, and my brother Aharon, remained in Divenishok, where they perished at the hands of the Germans. One brother lives in Argentina.

I met my husband Yehuda Blezuvski[4] in Divenishok. He was among the heads of HaKhalutz[5] in Eshishuk, a group that taught Hebrew to the pioneers, and conducted social activities in the spirit of Zionism. In 1925, we made Aliyah as passionate idealists to build the land.

Our first journey was to Afula, where my husband worked paving the road to Zemach. In Afula tragedy struck us: the shack in which we lived burned down with all our belongings and we survived only penniless. After that we moved to Petah Tikva and lived near my in–laws. There, my husband became ill and passed away after being bedridden for over a year. I remained a widow with my infant daughter Deborah. I raised my daughter with great pain and effort until she married and established a home, in which I found some rest – we live together.


Editor's Footnotes
  1. This surname is spelled two different ways in this article: Blezuvski and Lebizuvski. Return
  2. The surname of the author's father Eliahu is believed to be Khasman. This is based on the reference to Lolle Sutkever's wife, Shenyke, in this paragraph. Sheynke's maiden name is believed to be Khasman from the article entitled ‘My Family’ on page 286 of this volume. Return
  3. Also known as Kheine Return
  4. This surname is spelled two different ways in this article: Blezuvski and Lebizuvski. Return
  5. Zionist youth movement Return

R' Leyb Aharon Engle זצ”ל[1]

Eliyahu Netaneli (Itskovitsh)

Translated by Meir Bulman

My first Rebbe was a short–statured man with a long beard. He was a wonderful man, both God–fearing and a lover of Zion. All day he would teach Torah to pupils in his home, which was packed, and he would counsel them with a gentleness as well as serious discipline. On Fridays before Shabbat he would sweetly sing the Haftara[2] with his pupils.

His wages were quite low, yet he was never angry. When pupils payed tuition, one Ruble once or twice monthly, he would accept payment with tear–filled eyes and say to the child, “What will become of you? What will you learn? I fear you will leave this room ignorant of Torah. Is that possible? For that I spend all the oil in my house? What outcome will your studies have?”

The students were not pleased by that speech nor by his strict supervision of them. They knew how to behave in his home, respectful and studious, but that did not suffice for him. He wished to establish a generation of scholars.

When my father left to the United States, he fulfilled this role: he was proficient in Talmud and the Poskim,[3] and liked to study the Torah commentators in depth. The whole audience loved him.


Editor's Footnotes
  1. ‘May the memory of the righteous be a blessing’ Return
  2. The weekly Torah portion Return
  3. Judicial decisions on Jewish Law Return

[Page 290]

Eliahu Chaim Shkolnik

Eliyahu Nataneli (Itzkovitz)

Translated by Meir Bulman

One day, Eliahu Chaim went as he did very day to pray Shachrit[1] at the synagogue. When he reached the entrance he did not enter, but instead turned back and quickly walked towards the street. My father, who was in the synagogue at the time, noticed that something unusual seemed to be happening to Eliahu. “Chaim,” he called him, and asked, “R' Eliahu Chaim, why are you returning home without praying? Did something happen?”

Eliahu Chaim replied, “On my way to the shul I saw a child at the market place who was barefoot, with feet red from the cold, and winter is quickly approaching. On my way I pondered the issue and I got agitated. Until the boy has shoes I will not be able to pray with a clear conscience. In this case, fulfilling the mitzvah of clothing the naked takes precedence over the shachrit prayer.”

My father was very impressed by Eliahu Chaim's actions and he would tell this story every chance he had.


Editor's Footnote
  1. Daily morning prayer service Return

One of the Ancient Families

Esther Ala (Blyakher)

Translated by Meir Bulman

Our family is one of most ancient and expansive families in Divenishok. We had many relatives in town, both paternal and maternal.

My paternal grandfather's name was Eli Feyvus. He was a good man from the expansive Kartshmer family. Grandfather worked as a butcher and made a good living. There was a pleasant religious atmosphere in my grandfather's home; he was a traditional God–fearing man. He often led prayers at the old synagogue. He would regularly trill and hum holiday and festival prayers.

My father, Yitzach, son of Binyamin Blyakher, passed away in 1922, leaving behind seven children, and our mother who was pregnant with our sister Khaya Lefte. Our financial situation was quite poor.

Thanks to our sister Zilpa, who made Aliyah with the first khalutzim, most of our family succeeded in making Aliyah and live here with us. The eldest sister, Radke, stayed in town and perished along with her husband and five children at the Voronova Ghetto.

Our little brother Tevye, the youngest in the family, died a heroic death with our town's last Partisans in the Stoki forest. Tsvi Novoplanski provides a detailed description of that in this book.

Our mother Itte passed away in Israel a few years ago. My brother Shraga, my sister Zilpa, and my sister Khaya Lefte live with me in Peta Tikva. My sister Gitte–Merke lives in Giv'atayim.

We have two sons, the eldest Dani and the second Eliezer, who both established a home. I am happy to have the good fortune to live in Israel, but my heart aches when I remember my sister, brother, and all my relatives who perished in the Holocaust.

[Page 291]

My Husband Yosef Levine:
A Multifaceted Man

His wife, Yehudit Levin

Translated by Meir Bulman

I cannot accept the fact that my husband Yosef, or as the members of his town of Divenishok affectionately named him, “Yosele dem muler's”, is no longer among the living. He was indeed a man with great energy, active and activating, lively and enlivening.

Yosef had a special touch for literature and his knowledge of Jewish and global literature was astounding. His favorite authors were Mendele Mocher Sforim, Sholem Aleichem, and Karl Marx, whose works he nearly memorized.

Yosef was blessed with a phenomenal memory and memorized all the important historical events in both global and Jewish history. Before final exams, friends of our only daughter Hadassah would gather in our home and study.

I met him in Vilne and it was there that our fates intertwined. He worked at an electronics factory, and despite not possessing basic knowledge in electronic science, succeeded very much at his work. He acquired a vast amount of knowledge in that profession and succeeded in improving and devising new operation procedures. That amazed his mangers, who gave him excellence awards and substantial bonuses.

Yosef, my husband, was blessed with excellent musical talent. As a young boy he taught himself how to play mandolin. When he enlisted in the Polish military his talents were recognized and he was accepted as a trumpet player in the military orchestra. That was a rarity in the anti–Semitism ridden Polish military, which routinely blocked Jews from attaining respectable positions. Hadassah, our only daughter, inherited his talent, and she too excelled in the musical field.

He was a man of great traits. His speech always flowed calmly. He was always smiling, cordial, affable, and beloved by people. He never lied once his entire life.

He had a natural flare for public activities and with his strong persistence archived every goal he set. Those talents were expressed boldly in his role as director of culture at the Petah Tikvah retirement home. He wrote and directed plays, organized and conducted the choir at every festive event, lectured on intellectual and literary topics, and instilled in his listeners a love of the arts and culture.

As his town folks told me, Yosef excelled at public activities. He was one of the managers of the public library, was quite familiar with all the books in it, and would amaze all readers with a book recommendation fitting their tailored preferences.

In his town of Divenishok, he was active in the Yiddish youth movement VILBIG,[1] and stood out as one of the most important Yiddishist leaders in town. He excelled both with the youth group as well as the cultural activity. He managed to attract youth with his charm and became their spiritual leader.

Following the holocaust in Europe, and after spending many years in the Soviet Union, a substantial shift in his views occurred. He was deeply disappointed by the cruelty of the Soviet regime. “We dreamed of the liberation of the proletariat,” he would say, “but in fact the proletariat is now subjected to a repressive authoritarian regime and the Soviet “paradise” is in fact a dark hell.”

His soul was especially burdened by the extinguishing of Jewish life in Russia; Yiddish culture ceased to exist, values of preserving Jewish uniqueness seemed to have perished, and Yiddish journalism and literature were unheard of. In sum, the Jewish people in Russia are dwindling, and it will not be long before they completely assimilates and disappear. This hurt and angered him very much.

While still in Vilne, we decided to leave the Soviet Union and make Aliyah. Lively and turbulent arguments took place in our home on that issue with Lolle Olkanitski, who escaped in the thirties to the USSR with Paula and would often visit us in Vilne. In those arguments I was surprised by my husband's deeply rooted Zionist views and I thought about the changes in his political and national views. Indeed, my husband became a conscious Zionist, which was boldly expressed in his essays, one of which appears in this book.

A grave illness put an end to his active life and he left behind a vacant space that will be tough to fill. His good memory will always remain in our hearts.



Editor's Footnotes
  1. (“Vilner Yidishe Bildung Gezelshaft”;) Vilne Jewish Educational Society Return
  2. “[…]the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life[…]”; from 1 Samuel 25:29 Return

[Page 292]

Tsvi Rogol

Shulamit Fuchs (Rogol)

Translated by Meir Bulman

My brother Tsvi was born in 1909. He completed his degree in chemistry and pharmaceuticals in Vilne. He was a tall and strong young man with a gentle soul. Though his father was among the wealthiest men in town, he always favored youth from the lower class and was of the radical intelligentsia camp.

While at university he was a member of leftist student unions- and under surveillance by the Polish secret police.

He was modest and quiet, and his speech flowed calmly and in good taste. Due to this he was beloved and accepted among his peers.

Before WWII, he married in Slonim, and was a manager of a large pharmacy. In addition, he lectured young students in pharmaceutical studies and on other subjects.

In the days of German occupation he escaped with his wife to the Slonim woods, but returned to the ghetto and perished there along with his wife.

[Page 293]

About My Parents and Grandfather

Shlomo Gordon

Translated by Meir Bulman


My grandfather

My grandfather, Berel Katz (or as the town residents named him “Berel der shooster,[1]”), was a famous figure in Divenishok. My grandmother Feige passed away before I would have the chance to know her. Leybe Idel's, who lived on Girneyner Street, was my grandfather's brother. Hirshl Krizovski's mother was my grandmother Feige's sister.

In his youth my grandfather worked as a shoemaker, hence the “Berel der shooster” nickname. He was naturally skinny and amazingly quick. Once, someone fell into the well at the market place. Nobody wanted to descend into the well to rescue him, but my grandfather risked his life and saved the man.

My grandfather owned a large garden which was admired by the town residents. It was the only garden in town owned by a Jew. My grandfather had a natural gift for gardening since childhood. He knew how to grow two types of fruit on the same tree, care for trees, and heal them when necessary. The garden was very well–kept, and the scent of cherry blossom would spread to the area and fill the people with a feeling of happiness and calmness. He had great success in growing different strains of fruit; the apples and pears were sometimes the size of grapefruit.

In his old age grandfather quit shoemaking and the bulk of his income came from the garden. On market day Thursday he would take out a wagon filled with fruit for sale to the public in front of his house at the market place (which bordered the priest's garden). Even the government clerks would buy high quality apples. In winter he would prepare frozen apples, which was considered by the youth as a delicacy.

The fruits of the garden also enticed the town's children and they were attracted to the juicy apples smiling from the tree; they would sometimes try their luck… but not on Berel's watch! He guarded the garden like the apple of his eye and even built a hut in the garden where he would sleep.

He was a humble man of few words, observant, and a lover of Torah. He was a regular member at the Mishnah society and prayed daily at the Synagogue. In his old age he would spend many hours praying and reciting Psalms at the Synagogue. My grandfather passed away in 1938.


My father

My father was born in 1889 in Lida, where he spent his childhood. In 1912 he completed medical school (“fletzeraskia shkola”) for which there was a four year study period, and then received the degree of “certified fletser.” My father came from a poor family and attained his position on his own merit. He arrived in Divenishok as a “certified fletser” and began practicing medicine. There he also married my mother, Ahuvah. My grandfather gave him the house near the garden as a wedding gift.

With the eruption of WWI my father was enlisted in the military as a medical operative. The military hospital where my father served wandered all across Russia until finally it reached Melitopol, Crimea. My sister was born in Divenishok in 1914, and I was born after we moved to Melitopol, in 1916. There we experienced hardships – we went through the civil war and the Bolshevik revolution, were afflicted by starvation, poverty and suffering. The film Doctor Zhivago is a good description the state of our wellbeing while living in Russia.

We resided in the Soviet Union until 1923. My grandmother ז”ל[2] missed her daughter very much and she wrote asking for her return. My father also wanted to leave that prison as soon as possible, but that goal was not easily achievable. At that time in Russia movement between districts was forbidden, let alone traveling abroad.

We snuck from district to district like Partisans, and the journey lasted three quarters of a year. We traveled in freight trains, wandering from camp to camp, and then we had to cross the border to Poland illegally.


My mother

My mother contracted tuberculosis due to the travel woes, and reached Divenishok sick and weary. My parents left me at the hospital in Vilne because I was bloated from starvation and exhausted from the long journey. My father had to care for my mother and so could not even travel to Vilne to pick me up, and I, still quite feeble, had to travel on my own from Vilne to Divenishok with a coachman.

My mother passed away in 1923 after much suffering, and my father remained a 34 year–old widower, caring for two toddlers. Two years later my father remarried and the relationship between my grandfather and father intensified–– father had to leave Divenishok and move to Smorgon in 1930.

My father was a pleasant and mingled well with people, always calm, and smiling. He had a natural tendency to console his patients and his family. With his devoted, fatherly attitude, he would instill a feeling of serenity and security in the home of the patient. He consciously projected his personality onto his patients and the psychological impact was tremendous. He would explain to the patient the nature of the illness with a smile, lessening its perceived dangers with a good joke or a heartwarming anecdote– and he was successful.

During times of need and on special occasions he would save the sick by conducting home–visits. He did not consider time or money – financial matters were secondary to him. When needed he would sit with the patient for hours to calm the patient and the family. In severe situations he would waive the fee and add medicine at no cost.


I made Aliyah

My father understood the importance of technical fields, even back then, and so he did his best to provide his children with a professional education. I was steered to an ORT[3] technical college. It was one of ORT's prestigious institutions in Poland; the best teachers and engineers taught there. The language of instruction was Yiddish.

When I completed my studies at the technical college I was unemployed because all gates to government jobs were closed to Jews. Anti–Semitism increased in Poland and the future seemed grim. Instead of sneaking across the border to Russia, like many other youths from town, my father sent me to Eretz Israel, even though he was not a Zionist. “The only path for Jewish youth is in Eretz Israel,” he would say.

I first met my wife Esther Schwartz in Ivia in 1933, where we had moved for family reasons. She was a seminary student in Vilne. In 1934 I made Aliyah as a student at the Technion in Haifa, and in 1937 I returned to visit my family, and then married my wife Esther and made Aliyah. That was how we were saved from the Nazis' claws.

In Israel we started a family and have two children, the oldest Uzi – an architect at the Technion in Haifa, and a daughter, Ahuva, a university graduate.

My father perished in Ivia in 1941 in the extermination of the Intelligentsia. On Tisha B'Av of 1941 many doctors, teachers and the other intellectuals were taken, supposedly to work, but did not ever return. My stepmother perished with my sister Rivke, and her husband Shmuel, and their son, when the Ivia ghetto was disbanded by the Nazis.


Editor's Footnotes
  1. Berel “The Shoemaker” Return
  2. ‘may her memory be a blessing’ Return
  3. Общество Ремесленного Труда, Obchestvo Remeslenogo Truda, “Association for the Promotion of Skilled Trades” Return


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