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[Page 309]

Under the Soviet Regime

Translated by Janie Respitz


The drama Club during Soviet occupation

First row: the second – Pesie Mayevsky
Second row: Sholem Bas, Yoine Brestovitsky, Hinde Mirsky, Lazovsky, Khashke Ganuzovitch, Moishe Mirsky, unknown
Third row: Yosef Indershteyn, Peysakh Rozov, Alter Gertzovsky, Noyekh Mnuskin, Etl Ovseyevitch, Yudke Khlebnik, Leybl Beshkin

[Page 311]

Under the Soviet Regime

by Efraim Shepshelevitch (Bat Yam)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Beginning in 1938 there was great tension in the world. Fascist Germany with the human glutton Hitler, may his name be obliterated, wired all of Europe. Disregarding that Poland felt they were pals with the Germans, they were also frightened.

In 1939 a partial mobilization was called. Young men from Zhetl were also mobilized and the situation was tense.


Efraim Shepshelevitch


Zhetl politicians would offer their hypotheses. The main speakers were Berl Dvoretsky, Avrom – Moishe Barishansky, Artchik Green, Khaim Mikhl Roznov, Khaim Levit, and others. The majority believed that the western states would not permit an open war with Poland.

This illusion was disrupted on September 1st. The German thieves crossed the long border and called up, with all their power, the Polish army. The air force, marked with the Swastika, flew very low and shot at towns, villages, suburbs, trains and buses. There was great fear to travel on the roads, but remaining in town was also scary.


My Return Home

On the morning of September 5th I left Vilna by bus and arrived in Zhetl in the evening. They were waiting for me at home impatiently. My mother could not sleep and waited for me to get off every bus. When I finally arrived home safely, there was great joy.

The joy was short lived as the mood in town was stressful. People were walking around confused and sad knowing full well what tomorrow will bring. Our father comforted us by saying: “whatever happens will happen to all of us, as long as our family remains together”. And with these words he wiped a tear from his eye.

When you met someone on the street the first question was: “So what's new? What are they writing in the newspapers? What did the last communique let us know?”

These communiques were not at all happy. German tanks invaded Poland and had reached Warsaw. Every hour felt like a day, and every day, an eternity. We did not sleep at night and during the day we were as if in a dream.


The Soviets Free Us

Suddenly a rumour began to spread that the Soviets crossed the border and were planning to free White Russia and Ukraine. We could not believe this. Most of Zhetl's Jews were happy with this news, because under the Soviets our lives were secure.

The communists in Zhetl were particularly excited with this news and began to prepare Zhetl to be freed from the Polish aristocratic yoke even before the Soviet tanks marched into town.

On September 16th the Polish police left town and for about 48 hours we were left without any legal authority. The communists in Zhetl issued a manifesto to the population in which they asked for calm and for people to follow their orders. By then the Soviet army was near Novoredok.

Suddenly we learned a group of Polish police were coming from the Slonim highway. A few communists met them, disarmed and arrested them. A barn served as the jail and they were guarded by Jewish boys.

When the Polish police realized the guards were not armed they tried to run away. They shot into the fire truck so we could not go after them and ran to the Lida highway. A few boys chased them. Araon Leyzer Novogrudsky was wounded in this action.

The noblemen around Zhetl ran away on time but the communists paid a few visits to their estates taking furniture, paintings and other items.

On the nights of September 17th and 18th people in Zhetl were confined to their homes. On the morning of the 18th everyone left their homes waiting for the Red Army. Everyone was now an expert

[Page 312]

and began to describe what a Red army soldier looks like as well as the commanders and the tanks. Small and big, young and old, stood in the marketplace and looked in the direction of Novoredker Street.

Suddenly there was a deafening noise. A large black tank appeared in the marketplace followed by another. The applause could be heard throughout the town. People began to give kisses of joy and threw flowers at the tanks.

The army arrived at night. They flowed in like a river, with cars, motorcycles, trucks, armoured cars, tanks, a motorized division and horse drawn machine guns. Many of the Red Army soldiers thanked us with smiles for the applause, but some sat with pensive faces, not looking at anyone. They must have been missing their wives and children, family and relatives who they left at home and perhaps they also were thinking if they will ever see light again.


The New Order

A short time later about ten party officials arrived and began to organize things in the Soviet style. They confiscated a few large homes in the marketplace. The party secretary moved into Rabinovitch's brick house. Hendl's house was renovated and unrecognizable. This was now the party club. Other houses were inhabited by various institutions that ended in “com”, “yuz” and “targ”. The entire Soviet was in Shikeh Dvoretsky's house. The N.K.V.D and passport division were set up in Motl Krashinsky's house on Hoyf Street. Zabelinsky's house became a produce store but of course, there was no merchandise.

I remember very well when they brought sugar, once in a blue moon, and people lined up in the evening. They stood all night in the cold and rain only to find out in the morning it would not be distributed that day.

“Why?” everyone asked in despair.

“We received an order” was the answer.

Some went home but others did not want to believe it and remained to guard the door. When they finally did distribute food only the privileged and those with fists received any.

There were some who were agile and received food two or three times while others received nothing.

The Zloty now had the same value as the ruble. No new goods were brought to the stores, old things were set aside and sold against other goods. We were living in times of antiquity. The farmers who could not buy anything for money demanded goods in exchange for their produce and paid the craftsmen with rye, eggs, meat and the like.

Many Zhetl Jews lost their livelihoods and looked for a way to earn a zloty. Craftsmen organized cooperatives and shopkeepers tried to find work in warehouses or other workplaces.

Since Novoredok was no longer the regional capital, my father was no longer “Avreymke the Starosta (Village Elder), or as others referred to him “Mr. Provincial Governor”. There was no longer any reason to go to Novoredok.

The Raikom proposed, any one who wants to, should work the soil. A few Zhetl Jews began to do this work. My father also received a few hectares of land and we worked with our own hands.


We Went to Soviet Schools

The youth, who were not yet worried about earning a living and did not want to know where their parent's found money to buy bread, eagerly went to study.

The Soviets believed their school curriculum was at a higher level than the Polish and they placed students two levels below. The seventh graders were now in fifth grade.

The Soviets opened three schools. In the building that had housed the Yiddish Folkshul, they taught with Yiddish as the language of instruction. In the “Tarbut” School and the Public School the language of instruction was White Russian. They also opened evening courses for adults.

The first year, the majority of Jewish children attended the Yiddish school. The second year some students switched to the Russian School.

Only three Jewish teachers taught in the Russian School: Yisroel Pergomenik, Muliye Zablotsky, and another from Vastochny whose name I do not remember. The school year passed quickly and everyone was making plans for the following year.

We had the idea to learn the material of the eighth grade on our own in order to save a year. But as the expression goes: “Man plans, and God laughs”. Hitler did not allow us to realize our plans.

[Page 313]

The Tailor's Cooperative

by Lize Rozvosky

Translated by Janie Respitz

In 1939 when the Soviets arrived in Zhetl we were persuaded to create a cooperative. This was difficult because tailors who had worked independently for years in their own workshops found it hard to adjust to these changes.

These specialists began to call meetings, made a big commotion but could not create a system. Then, a few people, more audacious, put together a list, and personally went to each house.

First we went to Khaye – Soreh the seamstress. Truth be told, she was the goddess of all the surrounding villages and ran a prominent workshop. She could not comprehend the idea of leaving everything, and in her old age, join a cooperative. When we explained to her they would suppress her no matter what, she had no choice but to sign onto our list. It can be said that we broke down walls.

When Hinde Zamoshchik and Dvoshke Haydukovsky saw Khaye – Soreh's name on the list they wiped their lips and said: “Well, so be it. It is what it is”.

After the list was compiled they gave us a two story brick house on Slonimer Street, where the Pole Bogulitch once lived. We brought all of our work tools to the cooperative and hung a large sign on the street: “Women's and Men's Tailor Cooperative in Zhetl”.

However, this is when the main commotion began: to which category does one belong, who will be the leader and who will be the cutters. In one word, it was cheerful.

After long discussions it was decided Itchke Lisagursky would be the chairman. Itchke Benyaminovitch or “The God” as he was called, would be the manager and Hirshl his brother, the cutter.

This issue was more difficult with the women, but finally they chose two cutters: one for old clothes and the second for new orders. The bookkeeper was Yente Rivke Gal and the treasurer was Itke Berkovitch.

With luck we were accepted by the whole town and began to work diligently. After we had been working for a month, no one actually thought how we would be paid.

A few people thought this was an opportunity to relax after so many years of hard work. Others thought, who would know, and who do we have to report to?

The mood changed at the end of the month when salaries had to be paid. This is when we saw there were different salaries. For example, Nekhame Breskin was earning more than Krayne Mokolovsky, and Krayne more than Khaye Busel. We ran to Itke the treasurer and let out our anger on her.

“What is this, Itke “Thunder” (that's what we called her). Why did I earn so little”?

She would pathetically ask: “Why is it my fault you've been played?”

The same thing happened with the men, let them be well. You could not compare Shaul Yoselevitch with his long feet and big hands, who ran a piece of merchandise through his machine, pressed it with the iron and it was ready. Ruvke Meir's, “The raw potato pancake” had to sweat a lot to catch up to him.

Later it was clear to all they had to get used to the conditions at the cooperative. But now new problems arose, namely working on the Sabbath and holidays, even on Yom Kippur. This was difficult for Zhetl's Jews who were not used to this. Of course we came to the cooperative, but we did not work.

Our boss was a Russian Jew, Gershman, the first secretary of the Raikom party. He understood the issue and came especially on the Sabbath.

When people saw him coming they ran to their machines. Everyone would grab something in his hand. In the evening when we barely lived to see going home a speaker would descend on us, usually Mikhal Rabinovitch.

He would stand and speak, like a passionate patriot, and when everyone noticed he entered a state of ecstasy we would quietly hold our laughter, pushing each other away, until he was left standing there alone.


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