|by Tzvi Shadmi (Kiryat Khaim), Sara Shadmi, Leibel Kahanov (Kfar Yehoshua), Yehuda Menukhi (Nahalal), BenTzion Komarov (Afikim), Shternah Ninberg, Mordekhai Simkhoni (Geva), Israel Ben Eliyahu (Ein Harod), Mordekhai Khalili (Mishmar Ha'Emek), Rakhel Pnini (Tel Adashim), Azriel Pnini (Tel Adashim)|
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Our colony, Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana [Literally the Small Field of Tranquility], was, as attested by its name, the smallest among the three colonies that were established along the River Inguletz. The three colonies were, Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola [the Big Field of Tranquility], BobrovyKut and Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana. The distance between our colony and Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola was about 1.5 kilometers, and between us and BobrovyKut about 7 kilometers. From an economical perspective, our colony lagged behind the other two colonies, where some wealthy residents, including store owners, resided, whereas in our colony, most of the residents were people who worked the land and owners of small farms. Similar to other colonies, the people of Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana suffered from a shortage of land; according to the Czarist laws, the Jews were prevented from purchasing land. The parcels that the first settlers received (300 dunam [about 74 Acres]) were divided, over time, among the sons. That resulted in a situation where many families owned parcels as small as 20 30 dunam [5 7.5 Acres].
For many years, the farming was extensive. Only in the beginning of the 20th century, when the JCA organization began its operation in the colonies, agronomists visited us and trained the farmers to farm their land using different methods. In Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana [an error in the book, should be Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola] and BobrovyKut, there were state schools. However, in our colony there was no school, only some traditional kheders [Jewish religious schools for children].
My father was a native of our colony and he learned carpentry in his youth in the city of Kherson. He excelled in his general studies and attained the title of rural teacher. He then left the carpentry occupation and began to teach lessons in Russian in several private homes, and in a kheder.
My father established the first school taught in the Russian language in our colony. With the help of his father, who was also a carpenter, he made the desks and the benches, a bench for every five six pupils. He hung a sign on the school building, in Russian, which he painted himself (he had a very nice handwriting). The sign read A Private Jewish School. There were three classes in the school, all in the same room. The curriculum spanned three years and included reading and writing in Russian, arithmetic and grammar. Boys and girls studied together. Until the state school was established in 1911, most of the youths were my father's students, among them there were students who studied one half day in the kheder and the other half in the private Jewish school. There was a small library in the school, which my father received from the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia [OPE organization]. I remember, until today, how they unloaded two wooden crates with books from a wagon. This was an unforgettable event in the colony nobody had seen a Russian book or a newspaper in the colony before that. There was a library in Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola,
and my father was the only subscriber in our colony who was registered to receive books. For 10 Kopecks a month, one could borrow two books. Every week, I would walk to Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola in order to exchange books. In our library, the students received books for free.
Upon the completion of their studies, the boys and the girls went to work, since the farm needed their help. Only a few boys continued their studies in the agricultural high school, which was established by the JCA organization in the colony of NovoPoltavka, which was 8090 kilometer away from our colony. The girls were not so fortunate, except for one girl who continued with her studies despite all obstacles. She received a high school diploma and became a teacher. While most of the colony natives, who reside now in Israel, were my father's students, many of the younger ones were the students of that teacher, about whom I want to tell.
During one of the winter days, one of the mothers brought a shy 10 old year old girl and asked my father to accept her to the school. This was in the middle of the school year, and the first class had already advanced somewhat. Because of that, my father assigned me the role of preparing her, so that she could continue to study with the class. I had already completed the school, and studied in the evenings in an advanced small class. Due to her outstanding talents (and not due my pedagogic talents), the girl caught up with the class very quickly, and became one of the most outstanding students. Over time, that girl played a major role in my own private life (she is my life partner), as well as in the life of the colony. She continued her studies after she completed our school, which was a new thing in Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana. Since we did not have a teacher in our colony, she would walk to Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola, in the summer and winter, dressed with clothing that were not appropriate for the weather. She managed to complete four years of high school and later on taught in the state school that was established in the colony. When she received the teacher certificate, some awakening took place in our colony. An amateur drama club was established, in which she was one of the most active, and a public library was established. The club presented several shows of which the entire revenues were dedicated to developing the library. Many other girls followed that girl and continued their studies after completing our school. During the war, she moved to the city of Kherson, where she worked as an educator in a private home, and continued to study in the evenings, until she received a state matriculation diploma.
While my father's home was the source for change in the social state of the colony, the home of that girl's parents was the source of national awakening. Her three brothers were among the pioneers to make Aliya to Eretz Israel, through some devious roads.
In 1925, during the NEP [New Economic Policy of the Soviet government], several families with little children, set out to leave from our colony on their way to Eretz Israel. All of the natives of Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana in Israel belong to the Labor Movement, the majority are part of the Hityashvut Ha'Ovedet [settlement movement aligned with the labor movement], in kibbutzim and moshavim and the minority are workers residing in workers' residences [in the cities].
When I come to put my memories from the distant past, on paper memories about the place where we were born and grew up and where we spent our childhood and youth, I see in my mind our small colony one long street and a row of houses on each side. At the northern edge, the street turned east around the mountain.
In my mind, I see very clearly the fruit trees orchard, which stretched on the bank of River Inguletz between our colony and the neighboring Russian village, Gradnovka.
In our old home, there was an entrance hall (more like a corridor a hoiz in Yiddish), along the entire width of the house, which also served for grain storage when needed. Once, when my parents were filling up sacks of grain, two Jews from among the colony's residents, offered Father to register for planting fruit trees. My mother was skeptical about that idea, but my father proceeded to register. How much effort was invested in this orchard! Everything was done by selfwork! Big holes were dug, and 120 trees were planted on an area of 3 dunams [0.74 acres]. Ten similar orchards were planted on contiguous areas. While these areas were located on the bank of the river, the beach was high above the water, and it took a long time until proper arrangements were made to water the trees directly from the river. In the meantime, they brought water from the other end of the colony, where the beach was low. Every tree received a barrel of water. This was hard labor [to fill up the barrels]. When time came to eat from the fruits of our effort, there was a big celebration! Our own peaches, our cherries, and later on, our apples! (when we arrived in Eretz Israel, we brought with us a crate full of Red Shafran apples).
I remember well, the time when our good mother was returning from the orchard with buckets full of fruit and distributing them left and right.
Many years passed since then. Mother passed away when she was only 35 years old. We were seven children, me the elder 15 years old, and the little one, only ten days old.
Fifteen years later, Father passed away as well, still in his prime at the age of 53, a victim of an incurable disease. He was not fortunate to fulfill his dream and make Aliya with us to Eretz Israel. The orchard was sold for 300 Rubles. It was hard to say farewell to the orchard, since every tree in it was like a live creature for me. When the ownership was passed to others, I could not go to that side of the colony.
The following is another chapter from our lives.
I was 13 or 14 years old, when I completed the elementary school. Besides the library in my father's house, there was no other reading book in the entire colony. My father subscribed, along with six other people,
to the Yiddish journal Der Fraynd (The Friend). I recall one home, whose head of the family was a complete ignorant, however, the woman had some affinity for books. She used to purchase small booklets. I do not remember what type of booklets these were, perhaps SHEMER books [by Yiddish author NakhumMeir Sheikevitz]. The woman would allow us to borrow two booklets at a time for one user fee of a Kopeck. I spent every Kopeck that came to me incidentally for that purpose.
In Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola there was a library worthy of its name, and one had to pay 10 Kopecks per month for the privilege of borrowing books. This was not a negligible sum those days. We lived a life of scarcity in the colony, and money was precious. However, in my thirst for books I would press and request Mother to give me the ten Kopecks. Despite her understanding, she did not have the money.
Only after a long discussion with Father, I would get the required amount. I was not satisfied with just reading. I wanted to study, and for that, I was willing to give up even on the most essential things. In the fall of 1908, I was already 16 years old. Father would go immediately after the holiday of Sukkot, to the Russian villages to work in glazing. Mother would fatten geese and hoped the earn 15 Rubles by doing that, which were slated to buy a coat for me. I talked to her and convinced her that learning was much more important than a new coat. I would simply cover the patch on my old coat with the edge of the large shawl that I wore on my head. I spilled many tears until Mother took pity on me and agreed. Ok, she said, we will pay for the studies instead of a coat. However, what would Father say when he comes back? My joy did not last long. I studied two months with Mr. Lieberman in Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola, and my good and dearest mother passed away. I (with the help of my mother's parents) shouldered the burden of maintaining the house and taking care of my little sister who was almost 5 years younger than I was.
One year passed. Father brought home a second wife [my aunt]. Before he did that, he turned to me and said: You wanted to study; now you would have the chance to do so. However, the promise was not fulfilled. The family was so big (the aunt brought two daughters of her own) and I could not ask for money from her. I once was hosted in my aunt's house in BobrovyKut. Our distant relative, who was a seamstress by the name of Rakhel Rozin, lived in my aunt's house. I was always sad; the desire for learning did not let me live in comfort. Rakhel asked me: What is the reason for your depression? I answered her that I wanted to study, otherwise I would not have any purpose for my life, and then the thing that astonished me came. I did not believe to what I was hearing: she offered to pay for my studies. A strange person offered to help me, while she herself was working hard to make a living. When would I be able to return the money? She calmed me down and reassured me that she is doing that on her own good will, and that it would not be difficult for her to do it. She said that I would start to pay her back when I start to earn money on my own.
Six months later, I passed the tests for the four years high school classes. I financed the continuation of my studies by myself, but first, I paid off the loan to Rakhel Rozin and started to teach children in our colony.
|Sdeh Menukah Ha'Ktana The vegetable garden
(during the beginning of the 1920's)
|Yefeh Nahar The synagogue|
I especially recall a large group of boys and girls, who passed a course of four classes of high school taught by me. The cultural character of out colony changed gradually and we established a public library so that people would not need to go to Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola to borrow books. An amateur drama club was also established.
I remember the first show by the drama club, which was prepared with the help of an actor who visited the colony. I also was slated to take an active role in the show (this was during the time that Mother was still alive). However, Father did not agree to allow me to do so, and even the words of persuasion by my mother did not help. The show was supposed to take place during the evening of HoshanaRaba [the night of the seventh day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot]. At the beginning of that evening, a local resident walked to the synagogue and announced along his way in a loud voice in Yiddish Yidden in schul un goyim in teater (Jews to the synagogue and gentiles to the theater…). After the praying session, a group of Jews came to interrupt the show and drive the actors away. I cried bitterly that night, not because I did not participate in the show but because Father participated in that group.
From his second marriage, Aba had two more sons and a daughter. When we made Aliya to Eretz Israel, only these two brothers and the two daughters of my aunt stayed behind in Russia from the entire large family.
In the summer of 1961, when I visited Russia to see my brothers, I was not allowed to reach our colony, Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana (The Soviets changed the name to Shterendorf). I was told that the colonies were now Russian villages and there were only a few Jewish families residing in them.
I was born in 1891 and was a single son to my parents. My father wanted to train me to be a merchant, and thus placed me as shop assistant in a village, 60 kilometer away from our colony. However, I resented the store and returned home after three days. My father was angry but I claimed: Why wouldn't we learn to also diligently work in our colony like the Christian farmers? It would better if we purchase additional horses and I would devote myself to agriculture. Indeed, thanks to my work and the work of my sisters in the farm, a considerable progress occurred. We began to purchase agricultural machinery; we had 4 horses and about 40 heads of cattle.
In 1915, I was recruited to the army and participated in battles on the front. Close to the end of the war,
I was admitted to a hospital. My mother zl and my wife visited me and I told them: When the war is over, we are going to make Aliya to Eretz Israel, no matter what. My wife was very enthusiastic. We started our preparation for Aliya, however, the whole movement encountered many obstacles. Many of the colony bachelors tried to steal the border and had to experience the adventures of wandering from one edge of Russia to the other. Only after many months, they succeeded to get out. I, as a head of a family could not put my small children in danger, and wander along the border towns. We continued to work in the farm and waited for an opportunity to make Aliya.
The destruction of the Jewish occupations by the Soviet regime, took away the source of their sustenance, and many Jews turned to farming. Since the estates were confiscated, it was possible to register and receive a piece of land. Groups of Jews from other provinces received land near us and began to establish new settlements. These merchants and shopkeepers were not accustomed to agriculture and required assistance by counselors. I was asked to become a counselor in a collective settlement that consisted of natives of Rokytna and I agreed. The new settlement was not very far from our colony and I could visit my home frequently.
When AgroJoint began to assist the settlement, I was asked by its agent to counsel seven collectives. This role, of counseling Jews in agriculture gave me a lot of satisfaction. I was very pleased to see shopkeepers and merchants become farmers. During my job as a counselor, I started correspondence with the He'Khalutz organization's headquarter in Moscow. About eighty families from among the farmers of the Jewish colonies were organizing to make Aliya to Eretz Israel and to establish there a colony made of Kherson province's natives. The He'Khalutz organization wanted to assist us and nominated two emissaries to travel to Eretz Israel and find work and land for the group members. The two that were elected were my friend Erev and I. The mission did not take place; however, with the help of He'Khalutz I got my license to make Aliya to Eretz Israel. I made Aliya in 1926 and was accepted as a member in the moshav Kfar Yehoshua.
My parents arrived at Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana from the town of Nevel in the Vitebsk province. I really do not know how they traveled a road thousands of kilometers long on horses and wagons. However, I do know that the journey lasted two years and that many children were born and some people died on the way. When they arrived, they settled in the colony of Nahar Tov [Good River], about a kilometer away from our colony where the land was desolate. This was an area that was conquered from the Crimea Tatars, who had used the area for pasture rather than cultivate it. Our parents' parents did not reside in Nevel they were people of settlement. That meant that they resided in villages.
During the reign of Alexander the First, they were expelled, just after the visit by the Russian poetsenator Derzhavin in their area.
The construction of the houses in the Jewish settlement was given to a contractor, and obviously, thefts were rampant. I saw a house that had just a frame filled with plaster clay. Even farm animals and plows were not delivered according to the plan. During the first few years, the people in the colonies were a source of mockery by their neighbors since they were not very knowledgeable in farming. Most of the people were visiting the Russian farmers in their villagers, where they engaged in glazing, sold tulk sardines, or purchased leathers for trading.
About 60 years ago, they started to cultivate the land with the help of agronomists, using modern equipment, such as plows with three wings, which was called buker's, harvesters that harvested the crops but did not transport it from the field and threshing machines drawn by horses.
Thirty five families settled in our colony, and all received plots of land. Over time, the families grew and their land allocation decreased to as little as 10 dunam [about 2.5 acres]. Despite the fact that the soil was very fertile (Chernozem soil), it was not sufficient to sustain a family, since there was no source of water, and they had to rely on rains which were not frequent.
The area of the colony stretched over a plane, with no mountains or slopes, over thousands of kilometers, which bordered with Tavria (in Crimea) in the east and the Province of Ekaterinoslav in the west. During my childhood, I was told stories about wolves, foxes and hares that roamed the area. I saw only a small hare with my own eyes. The snakes were numerous, even in my days. There were also the susliki a type of a field mouse, which was ruining the crops. In order to fight them, an order was issued to every farm that they need to provide the village committee with a certain number of the suslikis' feet every week.
The work in the fields lasted the whole week. We used to leave on Sunday and return on Friday. We bathed in the River Inguletz to wash the mud that accumulated on our bodies. There was also a deep well located at a distance of about 15 kilometers from the colony. A water drawer was sitting at the well permanently and in return he received a plot of land. The children studied in a school until the age of 13 and left school to work after that. There were several illiterates for whom the colony policeman, who was not a great scholar himself, used to sign.
The head of the colony was called Schultz and his two assistants were called Beisitzer, names taken from the many neighboring German colonies. The Schultz and the Beisitzer were elected by a list of signatories and were not people who were nominated from above. The authorities were represented by the state policeman (strazhnik [a Guard in Russian]). People used to serve him liquor and herring with some black olives.
During my days, we did not feel any hatred from the neighboring farmers towards the farmers of the colonies. On the contrary, there was some kind of comradery. When the colony farmers went to the city, and there were no inns on the way, they used to stop by the homes of their acquaintances for the night, and discuss matters of agriculture with them, or matters of food and drinks. There were those who exchanged recipes how to pickle cucumbers and tomatoes.
The village committee was authorized to judge and impose fines up to 25 Rubles or a month of imprisonment, which actually never materialized. When my late father was a Schultz, and somebody was caught stealing a small amount of wheat from his friend's field, his friends would gather and impose a punishment of a month in prison. The following day, my father would send Yaakov, the policeman, to invite the man to our house (there wasn't obviously any jail house in the village, and imprisonment was supposed to take place in our house, which was, in most cases like a resort for the prisoner). Yaakov the policeman would return and announce that the man did not have free time to sit in prison, and will consider whether to come or not, when he is done with his work. Obviously, that person never came, and the sides reconciled somehow.
The people who owned a big piece of land and, in addition, leased additional land from others, employed workers to help with the transporting and threshing work, particularly during the summer, during the harvest (people leased land because they owed taxes to the government 12 Rubles per disiyatin annually and did not have money to pay it). The price for 5 months of work was about 70 Rubles, depending on the quality of the work. Most of the workers were residents of the colonies who did not have much land. Sometimes a gentile would come to work; however, in most cases he would spend all of his earnings on liquor.
The closest town was Beryslav, which was located 45 kilometers away from the colony. That was where the wheat was transported, twice a year, before Passover and Rosh Hashanah, and that was where they bought clothing for the summer and the winter. Just before the First World War, ships began to sail from the city of Kherson up the river all the way to the colonies, and Kherson became the main town for the entire area.
During the First World War, a general enlistment took place. Whoever was at the proper age, was recruited, trained and sent to the war. Many youths were killed or wounded, and the enemy captured even more. Harsh poverty descended over the families whose main bread earner was enlisted. There was no government assistance available to the families of the recruits, and honorable women would go around the homes with a red kerchief to collect cash contributions for these needy people. This state prevailed until the October revolution when the Bolsheviks ruled, and the army started to fall apart and disperse and the captured soldiers returned home.
The overall situation changed for the worse. During the war, the government confiscated anything they needed and many wealthy people lost their wealth. At the same time, pogroms began in Ukraine. While our colony did not suffer from the pogroms, many people from the surrounding area, who lost everything, escaped to our colony. When Hetman [Russian military and political title] Grigoriev [paramilitary Ukrainian militia and gang leader] came
to our colony, he only demanded several pairs of boots. Some of our colony members joined his unit, until he started pogroms, and they separated from him then.
The colony was Zionist, and our platoon of He'Khalutz was one of the best. Platoons of pioneers from nearby and distanced cities arrived in our colony, and brought with them Hebrew books and news about what was going on in the world.
Seventeen members of He'Khalutz left the colonies [on our way to Eretz Israel] headed for the Romanian border, a distance of 400 kilometers, in two carts because we could not ride the train. There was no coal at the time, and locomotives were operated on wood, thistles and straw. A passenger who was too cold would jump off the train, and run in front of it, just to warm up.
During the First World War, all the young males were enlisted and following them so did even the elderly and the very young males. The colonies almost emptied. Following the recruitment of people, the recruitment of the horses and wagons for transporting soldiers and equipment to the front started.
We had two pairs of horses in our farm. It was customary that one pair would be recruited for the army's transportation and the other would stay in the farm. The question was who would be sent as the driver of the recruited wagon. I was the elder child in our home, and started to work at the age of six. I had already plowed the fields and performed all other fieldwork in the summer time, when I was nine years old. I went to school during the wintertime.
When the World War ended, the civil war started. Large forces of the Whites headed by Denikin were concentrated in Crimea, where they organized to fight the Bolsheviks. We, again, had to suffer another campaign of wagons recruitment, this time by the Bolsheviks who transported recruits to the front. I was 17 years old then and all tasks were divided between my father and me. [During the civil war] he worked in the farm and I in the army transport.
The front was in Perekop, a distance of 300 kilometers from our colony, on the line between Beryslav and Simferopol. The tribulations of the journey were not easy. The journey lasted about five to six days. The military food was rough, dry and monotonous. At the stops we slept outside under the sky and our ears were tired of hearing the roughness and the swearing of the soldiers.
We were relieved somewhat when we, the colonies' natives Jewish wagon drivers, met occasionally for a short while during one of the stops. We brought our travelers
the soldiers and their officers to the front, listened to the clatter of the shootings and returned with empty wagons home. Upon my entrance to the yard, joy descended over the family members, seeing the tanfaced boy and the horses coming back whole and healthy. I quickly threw off the dusty and sweaty clothes, which stuck to my body for twenty days, showered and wore clean clothes, and was served a tasty meal. Through the pleasure of stretching my bones, I lay down on my bed and fell into a deep sleep. In my absence, many tasks have been neglected. Thus, after a slumber of a night and a day, I shook myself out of my fatigue and assaulted the various works.
During one of the stops at night, when our passengers the soldiers, were deep in their sleep, we took our horses out of the camp, as if to allow them to graze on nearby pasture, jumped on them, and raced towards home, abandoning the wagons behind.
The battles between the two armies were fierce and desperate. The consequences could be fatal for each of the two enemies, not only in that region, but also in the entire area of southern Russia. A deep swamp stretched between Perekop and Simferopol. The Red Army managed to circle the White Army and push it into that swamp. Thousands of soldiers sank in the swamp and perished in it. The White Army suffered a defeat in that battle and they escaped on ships that sailed on the black Sea. The Red Army, intoxicated from its victory, entered the city of Simferopol with cheers and joy, and I, the Jewish boy among them.
Simferopol was known for its abundance of wines. The soldiers broke into the wine cellars and drunk for a whole day. Many of the soldiers were lying on the side of the roads before the day was over. At night, the whole Red Army fell into a deep sleep.
During the same night, companies of Makhnovists, entered the city, raided and robbed the entire property and equipment of the Reds and fled. In the following day, the Red Army members were astonished at the David and Saul action by the Makhnovists and took means to fortify the city.
When I reached the age of 19, I said farewell to my family in order to make Aliya to Eretz Israel. The story of my Aliya, which lasted about a year, was rich with adventures, escapes, jails, dangers and trials, which I all managed to survive. I arrived in Eretz Israel and I am a farmer in a Kibbutz.
A memorial candle in memory of my father ZL Avraham Moshe Ninburg who stood heroically on guard to defend his home and village during the years of calamity and pogroms.
During those days, it was customary that any army unit, upon entering a place confiscated the wagons and the horses. The Bolsheviks took wagons and four horses from us. We were left with only one horse. One evening, a company of soldiers passed, I think they were Reds. Several soldiers entered our yard running and wanted to take the last horse. My father zl locked the stable, hid the keys and absolutely refused to hand them over the last horse, claiming that an agricultural farm cannot manage without a horse, and that he had already provided four horses. The commander pulled a handgun from his pocket, lifted it to my father's ear and shouted: Give me the key, or else, I will shoot! My mother fainted. My sister Shlomit and I (we were 11 and 13 respectively), began to shout. My sister Feiga grabbed the soldier and begged for mercy. However, the soldier kept insisting: If he does not give me the key, I am going to shoot. But Father did not move, and continued to claim that he would not surrender the horse! The whole thing lasted perhaps, three minutes, but for us it seemed like an eternity. Finally the soldier gave up and said: If you the Jewish farmer, are so strong, I will not take the horse and walked out.
The shkutzim [a derogatory term for antiSemite gentile children which literally means loathsome] from Gradnovka liked very much the apples and pears of the Jews and were stealing them at every opportunity. We the youths, served in the front line against the thieves and had to be on guard at all times. During usual times, a guard manned by one boy or a girl was sufficient. During the night, we employed a professional guard. However, during the civil war the hutzpah of the shkutzim swelled. At that time, the Kantor brothers from Kremenchug hid by us and they were guarding the orchard, most of the time. However, one day toward the evening, a crowd of gentiles assaulted the orchard and started to pick the fruits. The Kantor brothers escaped home, since they were afraid to face the crowd by themselves. Father did not say anything, took a pitchfork and started to head toward the orchard. My mother broke out crying and did not want to let him go by himself: The whole orchard can go to hell, she yelled, I would not let you go by yourself. However, father did not listen and he went out. Ashamed, the two Kantor brothers followed him. They also wanted to see what would happen how would a single person fare by himself in such an uneven battle. A few hours later, the Kantor brothers came home with full admiration and told the story: Father went quietly to the orchard, crawled to the stone fence, and suddenly called, in a stern and loud voice, as if he has a whole company behind him onetwothree!
The shkutzim panicked and left the orchard at once. Father came back home, as if nothing had happened. In his opinion, this was normal a farmer's duty was to defend his property.
There is another case that was etched in my memory. During the period when Bandas (gangs) of murderers and rioters wandered around in our area, a Jewish horseman appeared one day, galloping on the main road of the colony yelling: Jews, run away! The Makhno is approaching, coming from the hillside. During those days, the name Makhno was sufficient to make the blood freeze in one's veins. Everybody began to harness the horses and load the family members and all sorts of belonging on the wagons in order to run away. My mother, big sister Doba, mother of five children and we, the children, wanted to run away, because we were scared. However, Father and my sister Feiga announced that they would not abandon the house. Father claimed that if everybody would run away to one side and gather in the field, the danger would be greater. However, after my mother and Doba pleaded with him repeatedly, he harnessed a wagon and seated Mother, the grandchildren, me and my sister Shlomit, and we escaped with everybody. My father and my sister Feiga remained at home and began to prepare weapons for defense pitchforks and a gun without a butt and were prepared to defend their honor, home and life. To our contentment, this was a false rumor. If the Makhno gang would have actually come the gang could have annihilated everybody with several hand grenades. When everybody returned home, my father and sister came to welcome us and proved to us again that one does not run from one's death, nor from one's home. One needs to defend one's life and should not flee.
I was born in the colony of Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana, a third generation to farmers. There were forty households in Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana when it was established. Its settlers arrived at the location after Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola was already in existence for 30 years. During my days, there were 120 farms in our colony.
It is logical to assume that the settlers of Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana were more fortunate that those one generation earlier. Despite of all that, the experiences of the journey to the south and the encounter with the new reality was etched so deeply in the memory of the settlers' first generation, that their story affected us as if we took part in the actual events.
The settlers of Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana originated from the city of Nevel in the province of Vitebsk in Belarus. They traveled for thousands of kilometers with wagons loaded with women and children, food supplies, tools and housewares. The wagons were equipped with wooden shafts. A bucket full of tar was hung on the wagons in order to anoint the shafts once in a while, so that they would not catch fire because of the friction with the wheels.
The settlers traveled for many weeks on rickety roads and off roads in forests. My maternal grandfather was a baby in diapers then. One day, the travelers realized that the baby was not in the wagon and not around it either he just disappeared and was lost. They stopped the journey and back tracked along the wheeltracks until they found him lying down on the ground sleeping. Apparently, he rolled and fell off the wagon during one of the wagon's bounces. Since he was wrapped in many covers and blankets and was not pulled out of his diapers, he was not hurt. This story about my grandfather was known among all of the colony's members and they would mention it as a miracle from heavens.
My paternal grandmother still remembered the arrival of the settlers to the colony. She used to tell us about the fear that the fields caused among them, since they seemed to be infinite with no end to them. There were no borders to separate between one plot to the other. In the winter, gangs of hungry wolves used to roam and attack the oxen, which were tied to the shed. Once, a young cow was caught by the wolves. In those days, the farmers went to the field with the entire family and children, since they were afraid to leave them home alone. In order to scare the wolves and prevent them from approaching the wagons' camp, they used to hang iron rods and make them chime, in turns, during all the hours of the day and night. During my time I did not run into wolves; however, their terrifying nightmare was still hanging in the air. Everybody who happened to stay alone in the field would envision these animals in his or her mind.
Poverty reigned in my home. My father inherited half the plot from his father (about 160 dunams [about 40 acres]). We sustained ourselves by growing field crops, which we used primitive methods to cultivate, and just one pair of horses. We had only two cows in the cowshed. We had a few chickens that lived in the attic. The colonists did not grow vegetables in the colony, and had not yet planted fruit trees.
The family was large and the children were small. My father was burdened by the need to sustain his wife and children, his widowed mother and his elder sisters who lived in our house until they got married. Father worked above his abilities. During the working season, he would leave on Sunday, very early in the morning, to the distanced fields about 20 kilometers from the house, and return on Friday afternoon. During the days that he did not have to work in the farm, he would make himself available to a Christian estate owner, earning some meager pennies, cutting wheat with a scythe from dark to dark.
During the beginning of the [20th] century, a substantial progress occurred in the Jewish colonies. The JCA organization assisted the settlers in purchasing advanced agricultural equipment and made agronomists available to them; the agronomists trained them and introduced many improvements in the seed cycle and the land cultivation methods. A credit union was established where the farmers of the three colonies (Sdeh Menukha [Ha'Gdola], Bobrovy Kut and Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana) could borrow money at a favorable interest. During that period, fruit orchards were planted, the harvests grew and the cattle sector improved. We experienced a substantial progress in our farm as well, particularly when we, [the children], began to work in the farm, first me, than my elder sister, and after her the rest of the brothers. Instead of the pair of horses, we had already four workhorses, and their number multiplied over time. Instead of sowing
the fields by hand, we used a sowing machine. Instead of harvesting with a scythe or sickle, we harvested with a harvesting machine. The number of heads of cattle grew. We enlarged the house and our life conditions, including food and clothing, improved. With all of that, it was still a hard life, under the primitive conditions of the Czarist Russia. We felt fortunate with the material improvement and enjoyed it. However, when I look back at the years of my early childhood, when we lived in poverty, I think that we did not suffer by being poor. Despite of the fact that candies, sweets, or a toy were considered luxuries, which we could not even dream about, the life of the children was full and lively. We were part of everything that happened in the farm and in the large family. I knew how to gallop a horse as early as at the age of four. We were playing with the small carts as much as one plays with the best of toys. With sleeved up pants we danced in the sparkling puddles after the rain. I was happy when I sat at the top of the ladder wagon, which was moving slowly, filled with the crops, on the threehour journey from the field to the house. Even the River Inguletz itself gave us many hours of joy and freshness. There was hardly any kid, who did not know how to swim. These were the sources of lifehappiness for the colony's children, who grew up within nature, free and confident.
Our mother did a lot to take out the pain associated with the stingingpoverty from our life, and to deepen the feeling of a warm home during my early childhood years. She passed away when I was fourteen years old, and did not leave behind even a single picture since she never posed for a picture. However, her image stands in front of my eyes, until today, clear and shining. I believe that Mother was a wonderful woman, diligent and blessed with good hands. We were seven children and our births were adjacent to each other. Beside taking care of the young children, my mother baked bread, cooked, did the laundry, sewed the clothes for the entire family, smeared clay on the floors every Shabbat eve, and plastered the house on the outside every year. During the threshing, she used to stand at the top of the heap, receive the straw pitchforks from Father, and arrange the piles neatly in the yard. She built, with her own hands, together with Father, the baking oven in the yard. Together they built the fence around our house. She took care to make sure that the children would be dressed with clean and mended clothes. If we were fortunate enough and received a new garment Mother sewed it according to the details of the latest fashion.
Unlike Father, who was reticent, our mother was opened to communicating with us. Nice looking, welcoming and full of laughter, the house was not too narrow for her, and she willingly shared our meager food with her motherinlaw and her sistersinlaw. During Shabbat evenings, our house was open, and served as a meeting place for my father's sisters. Mother always found something to serve for them and she was like a friend to them. As long as Mother was alive, our home was the center for our numerous relatives, and she made sure that my father's connections with his own family would not be loosened. Not only had our family benefited from her work, but also were other girls in the colony. A girl that was about to get married and needed to be trained how to cut and sew,
found support with Mother. She treated Father with love and respect and planted the same attitude toward him in our hearts.
The lifeyear in the colony was based around the work seasons and around the holidays.
The month of Elul, was under the seal of its gloom. The field emptied after the harvest from men and the piles of crops. The corn and sunflowers were picked up. Also gathered were the watermelons, melons and cucumbers. We were picking the apples in the orchard and transporting them to the attic, which filled up with their intoxicating smell. The women's hands were busy making food for the long winter, when all crops stop breathing and growing until the spring. We were now heading for the plowing and sowing work. Only a small portion of the fields would be sowed with rye and winter wheat. These fields needed to sprout and strengthen before the cold was coming, when a snow cover would fall on this germination and wrap it. When spring came, the snow would melt and the winter wheat would rise again, grow quickly and be the first to be harvested.
The fall plowing of the fields was introduced under the influence of the agronomists and the advanced cultivation methods. Before that, they were sowing on the top of the fields of stubble. Only after receiving the guidance, they tried to plow the fields before the winter ahead of time, to let them rest and absorb the wetness. That way, the spring harvest was also increased. Later on, they allowed the fields to rest from growing grains for more than one season and they managed to obtain larger harvests. Ukrainian fields did not need to receive fertilizers.
Many of my memories are associated with the fall plowing. I was only 14 years old when I went out, together with a hired boy, to plow the fields by myself using a sok plow. We two used to work from dark to dark, at a distance of 15 kilometers from home. We would rest the horses twice a day only to feed them, otherwise we continued to work continuously, in order to complete the plowing before the rains came. We were marching about 40 kilometers in one day of work, while one of us held the plow and the other drove the horses. During the night, we tied the horses to the wagon, where their food was loaded, and we slept near the wagon. One night, one of the horses collapsed and fell on top of us. We managed to pull it off and release our bodies from under the load of its body only after a big effort. Even if we wanted to yell for help, there was nobody who could hear us, as we were far from the colony, and there was nobody around.
Every house lived through the preparations for the Yamim Nora'im [Days of High Holidays Days of Awe]. During the small hours of the night, the synagogue beadle would go around the town and knock on every window of every house calling the farmers to say Slikhot [communal prayers for Divine's forgiveness, recited during the High Holidays or on Jewish fast days]. My father served as cantor on Shabbat and holidays. He knew the meaning of every word; he had a good hearing and a pleasant voice. He had melodies of his own and they liked his style of praying in the colony.
At the beginning of Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement], he would pray the Kol Nidrei [recited at the opening service of Yom Kippur] and the next day he would serve as cantor during most of the day and finish with the Ne'ila [closing] prayer.
Upon the approach of the Days of Awe, Father would start humming the prayers, and prepare the tools for plowing and the sacks of seeds, check the wagon to make sure that it is fully equipped, and practiced the prayers.
During the holidays, the settlers would lengthen the prayers and follow the commandments to their last details. At the day before Yom Kippur, they went out to the cemetery to visit the graves of the loved ones, and then gathered in the synagogue for the night and following day. During the holiday of Sukkot, they would build a Sukkah near every house; decorate it according to the best of their ability and imagination. For the children this was a source of Joy and happiness. During days of the Khol Ha'Moed [intermediate days of a long Jewish holiday], relatives would travel outside of the colonies for mutual visits.
The peak of the joy prevailed in the colony during the day of Simkhat Torah [Jewish holiday of the Rejoicing of the Torah at the end of the holiday of Sukkot]. During that holiday, our father and the adults became like children and we, the members of the young generation, participated with them joyfully and with amazement. They behaved as if they forgot all of their worries. The attention was distracted from the worry about the approaching winter days and their tough problems. The disputes and conflicts between neighbors were forgotten and the partitions removed. Everybody united in the joy of the holiday. Bearded and wrinkledface Jews, wearing long capotes jumped and hopped with the Torah scroll, made braids of their beards, danced on the table, and carried the gabay [synagogue administrator/ manager] on their joined hands. In this joyful tumult, they circled the colony's yards, opened ovens, went down to the cellars and brought up the tasty foods. They did it without asking for the permission of the homemaker on the contrary, the more the family was known to be stingy the more powerfully they would storm the dishes in the oven and the more zealots they would be in raiding the cellar. The colony young recruits, whose recruitment took place during that season, participated in this Simkhat Torah tumult. Although the young recruits' level of disintegration and rampage never reached the level of the youth from the gentile villages, the Jewish boys would lose control of themselves. This rampage was considered as allowed for those who were slated to leave their home for military service for a few years far away from home.
Weddings were celebrated throughout the entire year during times allowed for marriage. However, most of them concentrated during the period between Yom Kippur and Sukkot and on Shabbat Bereshit [first Saturday after Simkhat Torah the Shabbat when the reading of the first chapter of the Torah takes place]. For the agriculturalists, this was the most appropriate time, since it did not interfere with the burning harvest season. A wedding was a big joyful event in the colony, and its customs reflected the agricultural character of the place.
As early as the morning hours, a band of kleizmer [musicians] was passing among the relatives and the inlaws to rejoice and to remind them of the event that was about to take place that evening. If the groom was an outsider, they would go out to welcome him with wagons decorated with ribbons and flowers. Playing kleizmer and the people on the wagons would serve the groom with drinks and pastries. On the way back to the colony, the joyful wagon drivers would accelerate the horses, competing with each other, passing each other in fast galloping.
The groom would walk through the streets of the colony, accompanied by the relatives and the guests to the house of the bride to cover her face [with the veil, a Jewish custom before the wedding]. After that, the groom and the bride would walk, separately, through the colony, led, he by men and she by women, until they arrived at the synagogue, where the Khupah [wedding ceremony] took place. Everything moved in the solid path of tradition, and even the orchestra melodies were fixed for every stage of the ceremony. The wedding feast lasted until the following morning, and later they celebrated the wedding's gift giving at noon.
In the poem Khatunata Shel Elka [The Wedding of Elka] Shaul Tchernikhovski described the details of a wedding in our area. However, the one thing that was not discussed was how heavy was the financial burden that such a wedding imposed on the poor Jews. My father had to arrange for two weddings for my two sisters and provide them with the same dowry, since who would dare to discriminate between the daughters and between them and their friends and to deviate from the customary tradition? There was a difference of eight years between the weddings of the sisters. When the date of the wedding of the younger sister arrived, my father was still paying off debts from the wedding of the elder sister.
The holiday season with all the celebrations associated with it was like a crossroads in the year for the agricultural colony. Beyond it, the winter was already knocking on the door with all of its problems and the meager earnings. The work in the farm was slight. We used to pluck straw from the big heap in the yard, and taking it bundle after bundle for heating the house and feeding the animals. We also worked on fixing the harnesses and carried water for the home needs and the livestock. The winter was also the season when people were leaving for outside jobs. The farmers rented themselves along with their horses and wagons to transport loads into and from the city. Some went to the towns and gentile villages to repair windows and trade in leathers, dry fish or iron. Father was absent from home for long durations on these trips, and Mother would gather us all into her bed, in order to ease the feeling of loneliness. On Friday nights, Father's chair at the head of the table would stand empty. We were looking at Mother who was saying the blessing over the Shabbat candles and paused for a long time with her hands on her eyes. We knew that Mother was praying for the wellbeing of Father, who was travelling on the roads, and hiding her tears from us.
When the farms expanded and the cattle sector developed, they started to produce hard cheese and butter for sale. Winter employment was more readily available; however, that was still a period of respite, when one can recharge and make oneself available to do other things, such as social activities.
When the spring approached, the farmers started to prepare for the sowing. During the winter, they tried to save on the horses' food, while before the spring they would feed them diligently in order for them to fatten up and be able to withstand the harsh work. They would pass the grain through a winnowing machine and select the best seeds for sowing. They prepared the tools and equipment
required for the field. The sowing period was short about two to three weeks and the effort associated with it was substantial, since the fields were far away, and there was always the fear that the rains would begin and disrupt the work.
In order not to waste time on back and forth trips, they would stay in the field for the entire week. They would build a camp and sleep clothed in a canopied wagon. They would leave for the field at dawn. When the time for praying arrived, my father would cover himself with the tallit and whisper his prayers while riding in the wagon. When we arrived at the field, Father would cook breakfast and would pray while kneading the dough and mixing the big pot, hung on plow shaft.
At the young age of ten, I had already started to drive the horses. We were marching the whole day, without any rest, on the earth clods while Father was holding the plow and I was driving the horses. While we were plowing, Father would pray aloud the Minkha [afternoon prayer}. He would only stop for a short moment in his place when he reached the Shmoneh Esreh part of the prayer.
When the sowing period happened to fall during Pesakh, it would cause a lot of trouble. They could not postpone the sowing, for the fear that the rains would come before they had a chance to put the seeds in the ground. However, it was forbidden to handle the seeds because of the rule of Khametz [leavened food]. The farmers would bypass the rule by selling the seeds, the horses and the equipment to a goy [gentile], usually the colony's shepherd, as if they were not sowing the seeds for themselves. This enabled them to continue with the work. There were cases, however, where the gentile exploited his status as a buyer, as was written and signed in the agreement, and insisted on executing the sale according to the agreement. They had then to explore ways by which they could appease him.
When they were done with the sowing, they began to wait for the rains. Between Pesakh and Shavuot, they would cultivate the fruit tree orchard and sow the summer crops corn and sunflowers, watermelon, melons, pumpkins and cucumbers. Soon, whole families, along with the children would go to thin out the sowed fields. Suddenly, the sky would darken, lightning and thunder came, and a fierce summerrain pounded the ground. Young and old, would roll up their clothes and start running. Beards swung, tzitziot swayed, while everybody were dashing panicky to find shelter under the wagons.
The harvest season was the season of tremendous effort. It was short, but its results determined whether the farmers would be able to enjoy the bounty given to them by nature. Every hour was valuable. Although we would exchange the horses once in a while to let them rest, the harvester did not stop for a minute. This was quite a primitive harvester, compared to the stacking and bundling machines we are familiar with today in our country.
The work with the harvester required two people
and a substantial physical effort. After the harvest, we needed to pile up the grain and transport it immediately from the field. Every family tried to mobilize as much work power as possible. They would even take out the children from the kheder to help the adults. I transported grain from the field by myself when I was 15 years old. The transport involved substantial efforts. They tried to pile as much grain as possible on the wagon. For that purpose, the arrangement of the ladders wagon would have to be done properly, since the road was lengthy. We would leave our yard at two o'clock at night and complete the day's work only at eight o'clock in the evening.
With the 18hour work a day, we were able to transport from the field only three times. The ambiance during the harvest season was different from the one of the sowing season. Many people of many ages were in the field during the harvest. The fieldcamps were humming with many families. They would keep a cow in the field so that they could get a fresh supply of milk. They hauled barrels of water and cooked meals of two dishes. In the evenings, after a hard day's work, the laughter and singing voices of youths would echo through the place. Black from the sun and the dust, sweaty and dirty we would return at the end of the week to the colony and, holding a clean change of clothes, would rush directly to the river, which absorbed our sweat, washed and refreshed our bodies from the grueling work.
We would thresh the grain using a method similar to the one used by Arabs in Israel. However instead of their threshing sledge, we used a heavy hexagon shaped stone which was perforated by slits. This stoneroller was harnessed to a pair of horses, which were circling with it around and around and pressing on the scattered layer of straw containing the seeds. From time to time we would turn the layer of straw with pitchforks in order to enable the stone to penetrate it and separate the seeds. Then we would pass the seeds through a winnowing machine. This was also a hard work since we needed to rotate the winnowing machine's wheel by hand. With all that, one cannot compare work in the barn, near the house, to work in the field. With the winnowing machine, we used to work mainly at night, and change the people who rotate the wheel, often.
The threshing season was the favorite season for the children and the yards were buzzing from all the activity. The children would drive the horses, which pulled the threshing stone and gallop in the rounded barn, rake the golden seeds that were coming out of the thresher and jump on top of the wheat sacks that were piled in the yard. For the farm animals and the poultry, this was the season of plentiful food. It was also the favorite season for people, because the watermelons and melons ripened.
The agricultural work season was complete then. Finally we could load the wagons with the filled and flawlessly sewed sacks, and transport them for sale to the town of Beryslav, which was located about 60 kilometers away from the colony. There were years when the revenues from the sale of the wheat were spent entirely on paying off debts, which accumulated during the year. However, when our situation improved, we could purchase clothing and footwear for the family members, after the harvest, and even bring a bundle of Rubles home.
The society in the colony was based on a crisscross of relations family relations, neighbors' relations and age relations. Every family who settled in the colony sprouted additional families. When sons and daughters got married, the inlaws along with their families joined the circle of the family's relatives. On top of the initial family connections, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren were added. The closeness of the family was preserved since it was fed by the continuous contact between people in a small place where everybody knew everybody else.
The neighbors' relations played a special role in the colony life. The families resided house near house and yard near yard. This closeness resulted in relations where the neighbors were active participants in both the joys and sorrows of the family, they were the first to know what was going on, and the first to provide help.
The age relations were also natural and deep among the relatives, neighbors and the entire population. The fathers shouldered the burden of taking care of the farm; managed the public life and represented the colony at the authorities. The colony farmers did not rely on the judicial system. They solved any dispute among them according to the judgment of an agreed upon mediator. They needed to ensure the existence of all the needed community services by themselves synagogue, kheder for the children, cemetery and Khevra Kadisha [Burial Society]. Along with the common affairs stemmed from the agricultural work, the above services served as the background for the relations among the elderly. The youth were rooted in the colony, and only a few left it. After the study in the kheder, the youth joined the adults in shouldering the burden of working the farm and ensuring sustenance. They worked hard, and the amount of idle time for social pastime was small. It concentrated around the holidays, Shabbats and some times during the winter season. The youth were organized in groups, who met in its members' houses or while walking in the main road on Shabbat, cracking sunflowers seeds. We were singing a lot, repeating the melodies we heard from the klezmer at the weddings or other songs that somebody got from somewhere else. Work experience, horses and colony events captured a center part of our conversations. Later on, when the library was founded, we read books together or argued about a book, which was read at home.
Relations between the male and female youths were established through the social pastime with the group, and new families were added to the colony. When a young man approached the age of marriage, the family would make sure that he would have a coat and a city style suit, although these things were not very useful for our way of life and were just purchased to express his status as a member of the society, and to signify the status of the family.
Like the rest of the youth in the colony, my wife and I considered the development of the farm as our goal.
We realized that it was possible to increase the revenues from the farm and to earn a decent living, by introducing improvements in the cultivation methods and in the diversity of the farm sectors.
Indeed the farms of the Jewish farmers began to surpass the farms of the gentile farmers in our area. However, the events that followed each other after the revolution in 1917, changed the course of things, and life was directed to another path.
One day, a young man by the name of Khaim Bebilov the son of the Rabbi of Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola, arrived in our colony, after staying with his family in the cities of big Russia during the days of the World War. He brought a wealth of news, which we drank thirstily. He told us about the Zionist movement and about the pioneers of BILU [The Zionist movement whose goal was the agricultural settlement of the Land of Israel. The name is an acronym based on a verse from the Book of Isaiah House of Jacob, let us go], who made Aliya to Eretz Israel decades ago, and began to settle it. He told us about the Jewish colonies in Eretz Israel, about the pioneering Jewish workers and Jewish guards, and about the awakening of the Hebrew language. He said that youths are organizing themselves, throughout Russia, as nuclei of the He'Khalutz Zionist movement, with the goal of fulfilling the dream of making Aliya to Eretz Israel and settling its arid land. During those days, after the revolution, the youths were confused. There were those who were ensnared by the leftist atmosphere, and declared themselves communists. Against them, there were those who felt as if they were standing at a crossroads, asking themselves: where are we going now?
The Zionist message fell on fertile soil and fascinated us. A new world was unveiling a world which connected with our own lives. We can continue to be farmers. We will develop exemplary farms, not where we were, but in our own land. We were not only going to develop farms, but also build a new just society. We were going to establish exemplary villages, which would serve as models and educate Jewish workers who would continue to build chains of these villages.
From that day, when this new message took root in our hearts, a new life began. Although we continued to plow, sow, harvest and thresh, the work itself was not the main purpose in our life. The goal of attaining stability and continuity in our life in the colony diminished, since all eyes were now focused on making Aliya.
I, who until the appearance of Khaim Bebilov, did not know anything about Zionism, was completely taken by the idea. I was active in the movement during all of my free time. We organized as the local chapter of Tzeirie Tzion [Literally Youth of Zion the youth organization of the He'Khalutz], started to collect contribution to KKLJNF organization and spread Zionist propaganda in the colony. In 1918, members of the He'Khalutz movement, who came from various cities, arrived at the colony to receive agricultural training. Those guests introduced a breath of fresh air among the colony's youth. We gathered every week to listen to news about what was going on in Eretz Israel, which was disseminated from the He'Khalutz movement's center. We spent whole nights on stormy debates about the future of Eretz Israel and about ways of building it up. Somebody stepped forward and started to teach Hebrew. However, the center of our aspiration was making Aliya, for which we devoted the best parts of our discussions when and how would we be able to make Aliya? The time when our aspiration would be fulfilled indeed came.
We left on our way to make Aliya to Eretz Israel. We said farewell to the colonies that were established by the grueling work of several generations and served as the root of our life.
The horrible Holocaust descended on the colonies upon the Nazi occupation and wiped the Jewish settlements from the face of the earth. We, who continue the agricultural tradition of the Jewish farmers here, in Israel, guarded in our hearts their light which was lost and gone forever.
The following memories are dedicated to my acquaintances, friends, brothers, sisters and parents, to those who passed away at old age and to the many who were annihilated by the animals during the Holocaust, gathered like cattle, to ease the annihilation work. Among them were my three brothers, Shimon, Zalman and Peretz, who hugged each other when the Nazi troops pumped the bullets into them with their killing machines, and thus fell together blending their blood all those who once were, and who are not anymore.
Our colony Sdeh Menucha Haktana was located on a slope. Our fields (15 kilometer long and only one kilometer wide, on the average) stretched a bit east of it, on a flat plane beyond the high plateau. The River Inguletz, which spills onto the Dnieper, meandered west of the colony. The neighboring colony of Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola was located south of it, about a kilometer away. Five kilometers farther south, the colony of BobrovyKut was located where the poet Sh. Sh. Frug was born.
According to estimates, our colony was established in 1840, among some dozens of other colonies that were established dispersedly over an area of hundreds of kilometers in the province of Kherson, in southern Russia [southern Ukraine]. Most of its residents were natives of the city of Nevel in the province of Vitebsk Jewish farmers, people who liked to work and lived according to the verse [Genesis 3:19] : By the sweat of your brow you will eat. They raised and educated their children, each according to the best of their ability. They were familiar with the phrase: If the children would know how to work, pray, and after 120 say Kadish da'yenu [that's enough] . They were simple people. They were simple in their manners and views: honest, decent, trustworthy, and liked by anybody who had contact with them.
Most of the people sustained themselves by the labor of their hands, in the various sectors of farm work. They all knew each other, more or less, and were influenced by each other, just like in a family. Their education (except for a very few), did not go beyond an elementary school, including studies in the kheder for the boys. That fact probably contributed, in a small part, to the setting and the characteristic image of these people, who were very similar in their positive attributes.
They lived well and had a beautiful life. They never aspired for luxuries and simplicity ruled everywhere. They lived as workers and farmers, or as they were defined by Jews from the cities like goyim [gentiles]. In spite of that, the Jewish attributes remained in them the gentleness and the Jewish wisdom, the mixture of joy and sadness.
They walked and worked, erect and with confidence and without arrogance. They did not surrender to the goyim when these tried, once in a while, to raise their hand on them.
I remember the long winter evenings at the elongated fireplace, heated by burning straw, radiating pleasant heat and used also as a partition between rooms. On one of its sides, along its entire length, a one meter high steplike structure was built, and its width was just sufficient to allow one adult person to lay on it. Its name in Russian was lazhanka. The family's father used to lay down on that step to take a nap and rest after a long day of work. A smooth wall was located on the other side of the fireplace around which the other family members, neighbors and relatives colony residents or guests who came from afar, would gather, and listen to the stories told by mothers and grandmothers, about people whom we, the children, were not fortunate enough to know.
We listened intently, God forbid not to miss any details about those people, their qualities, anecdotes and phrases. From our father, uncles and the colony elders we would hear stories about glazing and trading in cattle, leather and geese (which was the main occupation during the dead season in the winter). From them we would hear stories about travels to near and far away villages, episodes and adventures on the roads, or on pathways in places where there were no roads, during days and nights, in a world full of snow. They told us about the roads that were so badly obscured or broken, that one could not continue the journey, especially at night when the snow fell stories of thousand and one nights. … They told us about mishaps on the roads, a broken wagonaxle, a horse that fell and did not get up, a wagon that got stuck in a ditch, which was not seen due to darkness or snow. They also told us stories about good goyim, who helped them to get out of difficult situations and about meeting with goyim with tainted intents about property or money that belonged to others… The attention of the children rose from one moment to the other, and the pride soared when they heard about how they fought against those bad gentiles with anything that was handy at that time. Obviously, the storytellers always won at the end.
While we are talking about winternights, I remember one particular night during the year, the night of
the gentiles' New Year (Silvester, or Novigod in Russian), which was, most of the times a freezing night with a lot of snow. We, the small and the older children, were laying in bed, dreaming dreams, some children daydreaming and some night dreaming. The adults were immersed in their worries about the family's livelihood, and about daughters who reached marriageage, or about tuition for schooling. All of a sudden, at midnight, there was a knock on the door and several shkutzim [derogatory term for gentile children, which literally means pests] from the neighboring village in their winter outfit, full of snow, wearing felt boots [valenki's] and fur hats on their heads entered the house and the cold broke suddenly into the warm house. The children woke up, and surrounded the strange guests, half welcome and half not. The guests were taking a handful of barley seeds from their bags, which were hanged on their left, and while spreading the seeds like people who were sowing, they recited a blessing for the coming New Year in Russian. At the end of the blessing ceremony, they received some coins from the head of the family, and a loaf of bread from the woman of the house. They thanked the family with a bow and got out continuing their visit with the rest of the colony houses.
When the long winternights approached their end, darkness still prevailed. Mother woke up to prepare all needs for the new day preparing the dough and baking the bread. While working, she threw a glance over the sleeping children to check whether they were covered properly, God forbid they catch a cold, and she put a kettle on the fire. Father woke up for God's' work, and just before the dawnprayer he hummed some Psalms verses, with a soft tune, soaked with sad melodies. The children woke up, opened their eyes and listened to the happenings around them, lying covered well in their warm beds. Sounds could be heard from the yard: the rooster's crow, the barking of the dog, the ringing of the chains by which the horses were tied to their stalls and the mooing of a cow. The humming of the kettle or the samovar could now be heard throughout the house a whole symphony.
Sometimes, the mooing of a cow was not just a regular mooing, but could also be a mooing that announces the calving pains (and it was very well recognized in the house). Father was forced to interrupt the humming of the psalms and go out to the cowshed. A short while later, he returned, brought the newborn, still wet, into the house and put it down near the stove on the floor, on top of the scattered straw. Very often, another calf, which was born a few days earlier, was already there and the children's joy on such occasions was indescribably great. Father, who knew about the children' excitement would approach their bed and hurry them up with a playful fatherly mischief: Nu children. Get up and look how the calf is doing. One slight jump and we were already there and see two instead of one, and the joy was multiplied.
The mother who took care of children shouldered the entire burden of the home, starting from preparing the dishes (and what dishes!), the delicacies, the bread and the rest of the pastries for a family
of 8 10 people on the average, including milking the cows. I remember the special taste of the milk that Mother milked directly from the cow's udder into the cup that I drank on the spot, without leaving any trace, only the fresh taste of the milk in my mouth.
The cleaning of the house and the yard and the handling of the children and clothing required a lot of attention, particularly the house, since the colony's houses, in those days, were very simple, much different from the house we reside today in our agricultural settlements in Israel. The floor was usually a dirt floor, which the house stood on. The floor was leveled and straightened, as much as possible, and in order to give it a pleasant look, they spread a layer made of fresh cow manure and yellow clay and a thin layer of golden sand on top. They repeated that process every Friday. Do not let anybody tell you that the smell of that mixture did not result in a good Shabbat feeling! On the contrary, the closer they would integrate this work with Friday's sunset, the blessing over the Shabbat candles by Mother, and Kabalat Shabbat service by Father upon his return from the synagogue, the more special the atmosphere the house would attain toward the Shabbat.
Only at the end of the Shabbat, the atmosphere of the holy day and rest would dissipate. The new week would begin when the homemaker would approach the somewhat sweaty window glasses, rub her hands and whisper: Got fun Avraham Yitzkahk and Yaakov…Der liber Shabbat Kodesh geit avek… [God of Avraham, Yitzkhak and Yaakov…Our beloved holy Shabbat is leaving…].
A new week would begin with its regular worries the kids were growing, and with them, the needs. One must fit the clothing which was passed over from an elder child who grew them out to the little ones, who were still not big enough for them. One needed to buy fabric for new garments, and sew according to the sizes of the family members. I remember the picture: Mother sitting under the light of the kerosene lamp and patching the garments of the family members. Father, too, taking a seat by her and fixing the harness's yoke, since the tear in it began to injure the horse at the base of its neck.
The homemaker took care of the poultry geese, ducks, chickens (we also had pigeons, in some yards, but not in all of the farms. However, they were more like the boys' hobby and their handling was done by the boys). The children had a warm heart for all the birds. I remember the days when we were waiting impatiently, until the eggs would hatch, and the chicks would start to chirp. When the eggs would finally hatch and the chicks came out, it was a big joy for the children! Several days later, some chicks would be brought out to the yard, where the sun would warm them, and the children were supposed to keep watching over them, to avoid any harm to the chicks by the other animals roaming in the yard a cat, dog, horse, foal or a calf, which could harm them unintentionally. They were also supposed to watch that the birds in the sky (e.g. a crow) that could intentionally and with cold blood, swoop up these soft creatures and harm them or cruelly devour them. We played that role with reverence. However, in spite of that, a crow would often succeed to swiftly assault the chicks from high in the sky, and devour one.
Oh how deep was the sorrow about the beloved soft creature who was taken away, whose chirping was ripping one's heart! Most of all it was horrible to see the sorrow of the hen that raised a croaker that reached heaven.
A special experience was a Jewish wedding in the village. There was certainly some difference between a regular Jewish wedding and a wedding in a Jewish agricultural colony. It is doubtful whether one could see the following picture at any other wedding the kleizmer playing the joyful melodies (Freilekhs [cheerful]) and uncle Zalman entering the dancers' circle carrying a heifer on his soldier, which he would, later on, hand over to the young couple as a sermongift [Droshe Geshank). Who can recall a wedding in our colony or other colonies in the same area, and not see, in one's mind, the band of the kleizmer from Romanovka, who were the family of BarCohen, headed by Hershel the kleizmer with his clarinet?
While they were leading the bride to the Khupah, Hershel would play the melody The cry of Israel (platch Izrailia), he would charm the listeners with his penetrating tunes. The clarinet did not play, but talked to every heart. Women used to say that when Hershel played, stones could melt. Sorrow and joy were mixed together in these melodies. Even today, I can see Hershel's big eyes, rolling up, when he played the tunes on the clarinet turned upwards, as if he was uplifting his listeners to the heights of his tunes. In the days that followed the wedding, these tunes would still echo and reach you, no matter where you turned.
(A native of Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola returned from a recent trip to Russia, not long ago, where he visited survivor members of his family and some acquaintances from those colonies. He heard from them how 1875 women, men and children, natives of the colonies were annihilated, while Hershel was forced to play the melody of Israel's Cry on his clarinet during the massacre, the same tune that was heard during every wedding in the area).
With some hesitation, I am going to describe an area, in which my expertise is limited. I remember how I felt as a boy, when the adults would express their opinions about the quality of some tool, its advantages and disadvantages. I, who was not very knowledgeable about that, could not participate in the conversation. The only person who came to the rescue was Yoelik the slaughterer's (dem shokhet's), since his expertise in these things was even less the mine (cold comfort). Likewise, was my knowledge in preparing the soil for the sowing and the sowing work itself, harvesting, gathering the crops, bringing it to the yard, and threshing, as well as everything else associated with this work.
That is why I would only touch, very little, on that part. I meant here the description of
the season, which was named the working season. The season started with the harvest of the crop using a harvester tied to three horses. A boy sits on a seat fastened to the front edge of the harvester and drives the horses. An adult sits on a seat, located in the backside of the harvester. Between the two seats, along the width of the surface, there is a knife, which consists of two triangular blades, well sharpened, as well as four rotating wings, which feed the harvested grain towards the surface between the teeth. The knife is rotating at a very high speed and the grain is falling down on the surface. The adult collects the grain from the surface with a fitted pitchfork and throws it piles after piles on the harvested field. Girls, and sometimes boys, would pile the grain in round and big piles (called kapitza).
Then they would come with long wagons, where ladders were hanging instead of a box. Two of the ladders were situated on the side of the wagon and the other two were built like wings and rocked on polls fastened by long screws in the front and the backside of the wagon along its width on the fixed ladders. When the wagon was empty, they would lower the ladders, and would raise them up via fitted hooks as the grain was piled up. In this way, they would transfer the grain from the fields to the colony, everybody to his own yard. There, they would unload the grain from the wagon and arrange it in extended piles, sloped on both sides, shaped like a roof, as a protection against the rain.
When the transport of the grain from the field was done, they started the threshing. The threshing stone was rotated by two horses, harnessed to it, running in a circular motion over the grain, which was scattered over a wide circle. The weight of the stone and the teeth, which pounded on the grain continuously, separated between the straw, the seeds and the stubble. They used a special threshing sledge to reduce the straw into chaff (a machine made with a wide board on the bottom side on which flints or sharp steel plates were attached). This tool was also moved with the help of harnessed horses driven mostly by boys.
The children would play around by jumping over the threshing sledge while it was moving fast. They jumped up and down, accompanying it by screaming and yelling, laughing and fooling around. It seemed that there could not be any more fun than that.
They worked on the threshing from the morning to dark with no interruptions. They would gather the stubble, seeds and chaff with special tools to the center of the barn, and create a big rounded pile, shaped like a pyramid. Every Saturday night, a winnower would be placed at the pile, through which they would pass the harvest using a wooden five teethpitchfork (pitrik) or, fineferik [pentacle], as the gentile Dunika Tatianes, who was fond of the Yiddish language, used to call it. The person holding the pitchfork would lift the mixture and feed it into the winnower's muzzle. The winnower was operated via a rotating handle. The winnower's wing would fly the chaff forward and the nets fixed in the winnower, separated the seeds and the wastage, which fell down separately near the winnower or beneath it. They would continue to work on that from the beginning of the evening until the morning. The winnowers' noise could be heard throughout the entire night,
the only monotonous noise in the colony: the noises combined like a single tone from all the yards of the colony.
I left home in 1921, along with some friends, natives of the colony, and wandered around throughout big Russia during the years of the postrevolution. During the first years of the new regime, the wandering from one place to another was as hard as the parting of the Red Sea. We wandered through huge train stations, among crowds of fatestricken and sick people. Some of us fell sick with the typhus, and our dear friend, Tuvia Ninburg zl, was buried in the cemetery in Minsk, Belarus. After wandering for a year and half, we arrived in Eretz Israel at the end of 1922. Along the way, we called ourselves the group from Sdeh Menukha. When we arrived in Eretz Israel (some of us were delayed in Russia and succeeded to join us only in 1932), we were welcomed by the colony natives Mordekhai Simkhoni (then Vesilnitzki) and Yehuda Menukhi (Ninburg). They had two farms in Nahalal, and we built a hut in the yard, in which we resided and began our first steps in Eretz Israel. A rumor was spread in Nahalal that 12 Mordekhai brothers arrived and they called us the tribe.
We are now scattered all over Israel, some in kibbutzim, some in moshavim and a very few outside of the Hityashvut [agricultural settlements], all of us are members of the Histadrut Ha'ovdim [Israel's Workers' Union].
All of us, the SdehMenukha people, remained strongly connected and we used to meet often at parties and festivities, remember the songs we used to sing and repeated them here, bring back the memories of home and of the various people the funny and the serious ones the synagogues, the kheder, the melamdim, the weddings, the brit milah celebrations, the holidays, the Shabbat, as well as the weekdays, the view, the river and the fields.
In 1925 I joined my mate, Rivka, our son Shaike and some of my friends who came before me as members of the kibbutz Ein Kharod (Ein Kharod was located then near the spring). During Passover of that year, after my first Seder there, a wonderful feeling descended, when many guests and the boys filled the dining room. We were crowded in there but it was infinitely pleasant, standing close together, reassured. After the Seder and festive meal, we continued to drink and party. As I returned to my tent where I lived at the time, at the small hours of the morning, I was thinking about my home, where I was born and where I spent the best years of my youth and where people who are close to my heart still remained. While deep in thinking, I sailed in my mind to places far away (probably also with the help of the wine that was still in my stomach). And here I am, in my colony, on the plot of land where my father's home stands. It is evening; the darkness keeps taking over the universe. I am almost at the entrance. A faint light can be seen through the windows. The doors are open, and I enter but I do not find anybody. The time is the milking hour. I go out of the house in the direction of the stable, which was also used as the cowshed. A faint light is also coming from there. And here I am already standing at the entrance. My late mother is sitting down and milking a cow. My father stands by her holding a calf, otherwise the cow would stop giving its milk… Everything is as it was in those days. Nothing changed….
40 years passed since then, and nothing was left from all of that.
These pictures and others keep coming and rising, sometimes in my dreams, sometimes while I am awake. They do not let go, even for a single day… Here is the house you were born in and grew up in, and the colony in which you played, were educated, entertained, loved, wished, got disappointed, stuck to new dreams, and new ideals and those brought you over here. Thanks to these dreams and ideals, it became possible, even only in a limited way, to bring the memories to writing. Everybody did the best to immortalize the healthy, simple and beautiful life of the Jewish farmers in the diaspora; it was so rare, and remained unknown to most of our people even to this day.
We had a spacious farmhouse. In the front, which had a red wooden floor, were one big room and the bedroom. In the other part of the house, there was the kitchen, with a big stove in it, a dining room, another two rooms and a room, which served as a parlor.
Our yard was sloped. Behind the house there was an entrance to the stable and the cowshed, and on the other side there was the storage place, a big and deep cellar, sheds for the young cattle, a large barn, a threshing barn, and big piles of hay and straw. We had a large agricultural farm. Although our land consisted only of a half of a plot 15 disyatins [about 40.5 acres] (according to the numbers of male in the family we received an additional area of 3 disiyatins, and all together 17.5 disiyatins), we cultivated three times as much, and sometimes even more by leasing additional lands. We had some 10 horses, 15 cows and some fruit trees. During the work seasons, we were helped by hired work, and we employed a worker who was almost permanent, during the entire year.
In my childhood, I was running around in that yard, which was full of animals, chickens, geese, turkeys and ducks. Only the turkeys and the male geese used to attack me and the Russian worker; then one of the aunts would run to help me when hearing my yelling. In the summer, Savta [grandmother] used to sit on a low chair in the shade, knitting or fixing somethings, while watching over me. I was always in her company. In the spring, when the fresh weeds were poking out of the ground, Savta would go out to take the geese to graze, and I trailed behind her. We would sit on the hill and oversee the small creatures. Sometimes the turkeys along with their chicks joined us.
Because of frugality and poverty, we would pass the garments from the elder kids to the small ones toward the winter.
As the eldest in the family, I always wore new garments, and it was usually big for my size, so that it would fit the following year as well. I had to diligently watch not to get caught in the coat's wing and not to play in the mud, frozen ground, or snow. Sometimes when I fell, the shiny brass buttons, which I was very proud of, would be plucked out. I wore a Bashlik (a triangular shaped head shawl with two stripes on its sides) on my head that wrapped the head and protected the ears and the face. The changes in nature that brought with them the winter, heightened my desire to romp around the snow and the cold, and to run to the frozen river. In the winter, people would drill a hole in the ice, pump the water and water the animals from a small trough. I would venture out to slide on the ice, until they chased me out. Sometime they would slap me a few times on my face to calm me down. Oh, how much I loved to breathe that frozen and fresh air!
During the long winter days, the entire family life was concentrated around the stove, which was built to heat up the house. It was built as a long double wall, in the middle of which a place for the firewood was available and above it a chimney was constructed. Savta [grandmother] was knitting, Ima [mother] was mending garments, Saba [grandfather] was studying Torah or calculating bills on his abacus and Aba [father] was reading a newspaper that happened to be available, or he would put me on his knees and play with me. Neighbors, particularly female neighbors, would join our company.
An emissary would always come to Savta, and she would leave with her to another room where she would receive information about the needy in the colony who required assistance and support. This family did not have food in their house, that person was sick and did not have money to pay for the physician, this family did not have money for firewood, or that maiden reached the age of marriage but her parents did not have money for a dowry… Savta would secretly leave the house, with some money from her hidden sock, and a basket of food with two loafs of bread… Aba and Ima would exchange glances about Savta's mischiefs. Saba would be furious, but swallowed his anger until he went to sleep. He would straighten the account with Savta over there in their room.
The winter persisted and with it the suffering of the poor. Looking for work in the villages was associated with much suffering. The Russian farmers were stingy in food goods, which were the currency by which they paid for haberdashery items or even for repairing windows. After wanderings for many weeks, the farmers would return home frozen, swollen from the winds, redfaced, with cracked hands and the profits were too meager to sustain their families. Everybody was yearning for the summer. I too, wished for the change in the weather, for the awakening of nature, and for the period of the ice and snow melting.
The river was beautiful especially when the ice broke and the journey of the ice blocks began in earnest. The river would widen then, and the water would reach the row of the houses closest to it. The movement of the iceblocks and the tree fragments proceeded noisily, and nature forces would captivate me to the point of losing my consciousness. More than once Mother would run around looking for me,
and would drag me back home by pulling on my ears and offering a stern warning . With time, the river would free itself entirely from the load of the iceblocks, which made their way for a distance of hundreds of kilometers from the river's source in the Black Forest to the Dnieper, about 75 kilometers away from my colony.
Before the sowing season, they would fatten the horses, and prepare the harrows, sacks of seeds and a long ladder wagon, on which a tarp stretched over an arched frame. That wagon was used for storing the seeds and for carrying supply for man and horse, as well as a cover for people who stayed in the field for a week.
When I was four years old, I was placed in a kheder. Children were studying, chanting and making noise. The rabbi was sniffing tobacco, and sometimes taking a nap on his throne, resting his head on the table. On those occasions, the children would increase their noise, somebody would be plotting a plot, like smearing glue on the desk near the rabbi's beard, and when the rabbi would move his head, the beard would get stuck to the glue. When the laughter and the noise would intensify, the rabbi would wake up, lift his head and lo, his beard was stuck to the desk. The rabbi would become furious, and he would grab his regular authority tool the scourge that was called kantchik and would start hitting the children right and left. Then the idea of destroying the scourge using chemical means came about. One child told us that the leather would crack instantly if we smear it with garlic and would break on the first lash. We smeared the kantchik with garlic, and when the rabbi lashed it on his desk to quiet the children, a piece of it was indeed ripped apart. There was no end to our joy. We buried the fragments deep in the ground. At the end of the school year, before Rosh Ha'Shannah [Jewish New Year], I already knew how to read and write. I strengthened myself in preparation for the next season. The break took place during the threshing season, the burning season at the end of the summer, when the crops needed to be brought from the fields in a hurry, and threshed before the approaching autumn.
The feeling of freedom instilled a new spirit and much vigor in me. The opportunities to spend that vigor were numerous jumping on the piles of straw and rolling down, running on the threshing floor after the horses that pulled behind them a heavy and sharply grooved stone, which threshed the seeds, and other activities. I ran after the threshing board that rotated speedily above the threshing floor, and it was the ultimate pleasure when I managed to jump over on top of the board and rotate with it. One needs to know the threshing work very well spreading the crop, threshing with the stone, removing the first layer of the straw, while leaving the seeds in the lower layer. The work with the wooden pitchforks was a unique art after the removal of the upper layer, a compacted layer was left behind filled with the seeds and one had to turn it so that it would remain well spread and fluffy. Following that, one had to thresh that layer again with the threshing board, which converted everything to chaff and stubble along with the seeds. At the end, they threshed the mixture with a diagonally slanted board pulled by a horse.
Following the threshing, they collected the chaff and the seeds into a pile to ready it for winnowing. The winnowing work also required agility and a special sensitivity for the pitchfork and trowel. Anybody who was not trained could throw away half of the seeds into the straw. Many people were required for that work the entire family and some hired workers. Therefore this was a lively work. People were working many hours during a 24 hours period, in a race against time and nature, since the rains, which often occurred early during the threshing work, caused damages.
They would work with the winnower during the night, after a long day of regular work. One person would hand the straw and the seeds over to a container using a wide wooden pitchfork with five teeth. Another rotated the winnower with a handle. Yet another person would receive the seeds in sacks or piles, separate the waste and the chaff. There was a feeling of joy of creativity during the night winnowing work, which often lasted until dawn, and the continuous buzz of the winnower was accompanied by enormous singing. The scene on the background of the threshing building was etched in my young brain the beautifully arranged piles, the wagon loaded with crops and the workers scattered around the crops with all the noise and the commotion around.
The Organization for the Jewish Settlement (JCA) established an agricultural school in the neighboring colony of NovoPoltavka. Under the advisement of the agronomists who came from there, it was decided to plant fruit tree orchards. About ten farmers planted the orchards along the river with a tall stonewall surrounding them. The orchards consisted of trees of several varieties of apples as well as cherries and pears. The orchard was closer to the Russian village than to our colony, and during the fruit season, it required continuous guarding. Despite the guarding, most of the fruit harvest was stolen. It was particular difficult to guard the apples of the variety that ripened late, with the first frost, which had an exceptional taste. Due to the thefts, we needed to pick up the fruit before it was ripened, and store it. In our yard, we had a storage shed, the attic of which served as the ripening place. They would spread straw on the floor and spread the apples on it. The apples would ripen there for the enjoyment of the residents, and sometimes, the enjoyment of many friends as well.
Several research studies on the state of the colonies were taken on behalf of the JCA. Two young men, wearing black shirts tied with a string and black pants, appeared once in the colony, went from one yard to the other, asked questions and wrote down the answers. This happened before the 1905 revolution, and the farmers feared them. I heard the farmers saying that these young men were certainly socialists. I did not know the meaning of the word, but I thought that it must have been something terrible.
Uprisings and revolts broke out later. Punishment missions visited the villages and the incitement against the Jews began. We received rumors that bands of peasants were going to assault us. Selfdefense groups began to organize. All sorts of sharp and blunt tools were made in the smithy, so that they could be used as weapons in a time of need. My father owned a gun, although totally rusted, since it was always buried away. It was a gun, nevertheless.
A long spear, headed by a pointed, sharp and bent hook stood in the corner of the house. Many times the alarm sounded at night. Father would grab his weapon, and Mother would dress him with warm clothes. She would cover and lift my little sister to her arms and would give me her arm. We would go out and wait if there was an assault, we would run away and hide. With fearful eyes, I would look out at our street. Sometimes, a few drunk gentiles, who happened to pass through, screamed, or a sound of singing which arrived from far distances with the wind, caused panic in the colony. Those nights were also etched deep in my memory people running around, and several young men riding on horses, and galloping around the colony to warn about the approaching danger.
The gentiles, who rioted when drunk, did not escape without harm. In an area far from a city and from any authority, the character of the Jewish farmer hardened and his national pride intensified. One could not very easily subdue a Jew from the colonies with threats or beatings. I traveled once, with my father, on a narrow road, at the foot of the mountain. It was customary, when two wagons met, that the wagon, which was less loaded, yield to the more loaded wagon. However, if a Ukrainian farmer would approach my father, he would never yield. He would say to me You should not show a gentile that you are yielding, regardless of how loaded his wagon is. He needs to learn to respect a Jew.
They transported most of the grain to the nearby city of Beryslav, located on the Dnieper. The wagon owners were Ukrainians, who were strong, dressed coquettishly, and their beautiful horses were harnessed to a big painted wagon. They had a long braided whip that had a piece of lead at its end. The second leash of the whip was interwoven with horse's hair, which whistled while the whip was snipped. They would not make way for a Jew, even if his wagon was loaded. They would just snip at the horses that came toward them and would not spare the horses' owner either. Fights developed once in a while, since the Jews did not give up their right to travel on the paved roads. Legends circulated around about brave Jews who stood their ground against convoys of gentiles. Indeed, Jews conquered an honored status for themselves among the neighboring gentiles.
A story was told, about a Jewish farmer, who traveled on a wagon loaded with grain and encountered a convoy of grain transporters who traveled with empty wagons but did not want to make way for him. He jumped down from his wagon, took out the shaft and advanced toward them. Despite the lashings by the hooligans' whips, he hit them right and left with the shaft without mercy. The hooligans' horses went haywire and cleared the road. The Jew came out of that only with a few marks of lashings.
The village committee's house was located not far from our house. A wagon covered with a canvas tent once approached the house and a Russian man, who probably came from one of the estates in the area jumped down from it. He had the rank of Feldwebel [noncommissioned officer] in the Czar's army. He cursed and vilified the Jews, stuck his hand in his wagon, and took out a big hunting rifle and started to wave it
toward the committee's house and yelled: I will annihilate all the Jews. I shrank from fear and squeezed myself against the fence. However, my father zl did not stay idle. He jumped quickly onto the antiSemitic hero and with a sound slap in the face dropped the gun out of the man's hand. Policemen who arrived in the village by chance released the agitator and submitted a complaint against my father to the court. They called my father to trial during eight years, but the gentile was ashamed to show up. The complaint was eventually annulled only when First World War started, since the authorities had more important worries to deal with.
The rural Jews were not usually people who strived for a quarrel or a fight, but working people, peaceful and modest. However, the bitter fate of a farmer in a foreign land, surrounded by beastspeople, led to the need for developing the ability to defend himself against any calamity. The village youths knew how to work, ride horses, swim and fight their enemies. When Russian youths would meet a Jewish youth, they would invite him to a wrestling match. If the Jewish boy would not be able to defeat his rival, he would face a bad and bitter end. Most of our boys were trained in all sorts of fighting techniques, and managed to stand their ground with honor. The need to be always strong and brave taught the youth to be ready for any trouble. When they assembled the young recruits, they would gather many youths from the villages, among them, boys from the colonies. The attitude of the authorities was not very polite; they put them all in one big hall and ordered them to strip naked. They would spend several hours being naked. The shkutzim always tried to abuse a Jewish boy by sitting and riding on him. A native of my colony, a tall and sturdy youth approached the leader of the hooligans and invited him to ride on himself. The hooligan immediately agreed, and when he climbed on top of him, the Jewish boy held him with his hand like a plier and hit his body on the wall forcibly until the victim began to whine and beg to take him down. However, the Jewish boy did not abandon his victim. It is interesting to note that nobody in the crowd dared to intervene. Only after he punished his rival, as he deserved, he threw him down to the floor.
There were fights among the Jews, more than once, due to trespassing, however, only rarely did that lead to physical fighting. In most cases, they would turn to the village elders for arbitration.
The Jewish farmers learned to love their land, and to cultivate it with joy and warm relations with the livestock, particularly the horses. They would take out the horses, in the beginning of the spring, and lead them to graze along ditches, creeks and border areas between the fields. If the horse penetrated a field of crops, fights would erupt. Groups of youths and children would watch their horses along roads or abandoned fields, they would tie the horses' front legs together, leave them to look for food, and sit down on the side of the road to tell stories or play games.
That was how they would spend the day, particularly on Shabbat. They would return home galloping on their horses in the evening upon the emergence of the stars.
A special folklore was created during that collective pasture. The common subject of discussions was the wondrous attributes of the horses, and stories associated with cases that occurred on the road, work or just riding the horses. The colony's natives knew all of the hundreds of horses in the village by name and the names of their owners. When we were waiting for Father to come home from the field or from a faraway trip, we would recognize the owner of the wagon by the sound of the wheels.
After the failed revolution of 1905 and the following wave of pogroms, the spirits calmed down. In our corner, too, the quiet was felt; it lasted until the First World War broke out. The [Jewish] farmers became soundly established. They modernized their farms, and as a result, the standard of living was improved. The image of the village and its unique character, including its celebrations and holidays, was stabilized, as if we had the feeling that those years were the last time given to us where we could live according to our will and ability.
At that stage, the war came, and with it the end to that idyll. Since then the Jewish village did not see even one bright light ray. The enlistment of the youth and adults separated families and left them without the means to sustain themselves, with no manpower for the work in an agricultural farm. The women and their daughters mobilized themselves to carry the burden of the work in the farm. The dream of many, to continue their studies in the agricultural school was shattered to pieces. My father was also recruited to the army, and then, it was I, the young one, who was tasked with carrying the burden of the farm. I had to continue my studies through private lessons; however, I learned more from life itself than from schooling. The big country of Russia experienced a dark period with numerous victims, during the war that had no sense or goal.
The life in the village became unbearable. Father managed to free himself from the army and returned home. He was elected to be the head of the village. The attention of the authorities was directed toward the villages, both because of the recruitment of people as well as recruitment of farm animals and transportation. Quite a few youths did not see any sense in fighting the war, and chose to defect from the army. Every time the regional policemen appeared in the village, my father sent me, secretly, to warn the hiding defectors. I knew almost all of the pits and holes where they were hiding. Although I despised them in my heart, I did understand that there was nothing, which could motivate them to fight for the defense of the motherland, as they used to call it then. The expression on the faces of the defectors was frightening. Fear was in their eyes, the hair on their heads and their beards grew wild and their faces were pale, since they hid away from the sun rays for many months. In their long loneliness, they yearned to talk to somebody, and they talked much about the approaching revolution, and about life in paradise on earth when their dream would be fulfilled.
Indeed, the dream of those poor souls and of the masses of people, who were fed up with the old and rotten regime, was fulfilled at the end. The revolution broke out in February 1917.
Joy engulfed everybody men, women and children, old and young, who danced and kissed in the streets. Beautiful slogans were hanged in a variety of hues. Above all, stood the slogan Peace, Bread and Land. It seemed that all of the heart's wishes would be fulfilled. Anybody who was not in Russia during those days did not witness a celebration of happiness and joy in one's life.
However, the radical reorganization began. The soldiers that defected from the front with their weapons, expressed their requests, threats and vigorous demands. The deprived and the oppressed became haughty. Although we did not have excessively rich people in our villages, and most of the public belonged to the deprived class, there were some, even among the Jewish colonies, who came up with sufficient reasons to try to stick wedges between close people and strive for the realization of the terms of the class wars.
The commotion among the political parties towards the election for the constitutional assembly began. It mainly concentrated inside the synagogue. Kerenski's temporary government was not in a rush to take revolutionary actions, and only promised that the constitutional assembly would be gathered, pass resolutions and make decisions. In the meantime, the election campaign, in which some Zionist parties participated, developed into in a full swing battle. Speech givers and representatives of all parties came, particularly representatives of soldier assemblies from various streams.
That situation did not constitute a blessing for the agricultural farm. The Russian peasants in the area were impatient to wait for the happiness and wealth to be bestowed upon them by the revolution and began to rob the estates. They took anything they could get their hands on (we need to mention that there were some Jewish farmers albeit not in large numbers who did not stay idle either).
The security situation in the area deteriorated. All of those soldiers, who abandoned the front and returned to their villages with their weapons, presented a substantial threat. It was necessary to boost the protection and to acquire weapons. The discontent in the villages increased even more after the October revolution. The ideology of the peasants was anarchy, and resistance against everything against the Communists and against the Whites.
The Germans took advantage of the disorder, penetrated Ukraine, and conquered all of its rich areas without firing a single shot. They managed to empty all of the grain barns and transfer the content to Germany. In the beginning, they treated the residents with silk gloves, however, in actuality they robbed everything and aroused the rage of the peasants who began to organize towards a war with them as well. In our area there were villages consisting of tens of thousands of people. Every village had its own armed militia. The Jewish villages were vulnerable against those gangs and it was difficult to distinguish who were the real rulers of the country.
Around the same time, the first members of the He'Khalutz Zionist movement started to appear, bringing the message of salvation to the colony. The best of our youth began to join its ranks. The decision was not very easy. The revolution blinded many, with its abundance of light and promises, and these Zionists were talking about a faraway and unknown land. It was difficult
|Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana Drawing water|
|The well in the colony's fields|
|Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola A farmer yard|
to contrast one path against the other. However, after I listened, one evening, to the speech of a Ukrainian soldier, who came back from the front, my path became clear to me and I registered as a candidate for He'Khaluz. Many others joined our ranks later on. We felt that there was a new substance for our lives, and we began to dedicate ourselves, with a youthful fervor, to action within the movement. We also did not abandon the cultural life of the village. We organized various clubs, among them a drama club, which prepared and presented shows whose income was dedicated to the expansion of the library and other cultural needs. Our pioneeringZionist activities, in studies, discussions and singing, acquired a unique charm.
The authorities did not notice us at the beginning. The distance from the citycenters played in our favor. However, a short time later, they started to send Yevsekis' [Jewish Communists] propagandists to us in order to limit our activities. In the meantime, the reactionary forces recovered and the armies of generals Wrangel and Denikin barricaded themselves in the Crimea peninsula, with the help of the allied forces, and took control of the area all the way to the Dnieper. All of the battles on the Dnieper took place in geographical areas close to our colonies. We became, unwillingly, essential participants in this front. The Red Army would recruit wagons and waggoneers from us to supply military equipment and food to their warriors. We would spend many months on the front, and our farmers had to travel all the way to the first fireline. Only a few farmers abandoned their horses and wagons, since the bond with the farm animals was an essential part of the farmer's life, and they would not abandon them easily. They would often seize me, for transportation service and later on seized Father as well. It happened once that a Whites' gang captured Father and loaded on his wagon the looting they had plundered and immediately after that, the Red army came and enlisted me. We were then serving two opposite warring armies; I was with the people from the Red Army and Father with a band of the Whites who were chased by the Reds.
During those days of in between the regimes, our entire wide area became a noman's land and an ample space for the activities of gangs of rioters of all kinds the gang of Makhno, the militias of Petliura and the armies of Denikin. The life of the Jews, especially in the villages was in danger and their state was desperate. They kept the horses harnessed at all times, and the wagons ready, so that they could escape at any moment. I recall one case vividly, and it was the evening of the Shavuot holiday. After we completed the last preparation for the holiday, a Russian girl from a neighboring village, about 30 40 kilometers from us came and told us that a gang, who planned to attack the Jewish colonies, was in her village. (I would never forget that dear friend, who endangered her life, during those days of lawlessness and anarchy, and came to warn us about the danger). I immediately jumped on a horse and rode to the top of the hill where it was possible to observe to far distances and watch whether there is anything occurring on the wide prairie plane. The three colonies organized, and sent out many horse riders to strengthen the guard, and to prevent the gang from surprising us. The following days, several horse riders went out to tour the area and they encountered the horsemen of the gang. The gang succeeded in capturing one of the youths and tortured him to death. The rest managed to escape.
However, the colonies were saved from a surprise attack. The captured youth was one of the best of our youths, a member of the He'Khalutz. Before he died he warned the hooligans not to attack the colonies, since a large wellarmed corps defended them.
That period lasted for a long time, until the Red Army pushed Wrangel to the shores of the Black Sea. Only after that, the Soviet authorities turned to clear the country from the hooligan gangs and the doleful and suffering country started to heal its wounds. The entire agricultural sector was neglected and abandoned, but the authorities sent whole battalions to squeeze the last grain of seed and the last cow out of the farmers.
The Zionist movement had to go underground, but that did not weaken our activity. The members actually increased their activity in all areas, with added vigor. We also began taking practical steps to prepare people for making Aliya to Eretz Israel in all possible ways. The first group of He'Khalutz left and the second group started to prepare and waited for the signal. Transportation was almost nonexistent, only one train per week left from our area of Southern Ukraine.
During one of the autumn days of 1921, we received a rumor that one of the members succeeded in reaching Belarus. Based on that rumor, we decided that our group would leave as well, however we decided to divide it into two parts, so that it would not stand out.
We went to our parents that night, woke them up and notified them about our plan. It is difficult to forget that picture. Aba zl became pale and Ima broke up crying and asked how would you do it? There is no transportation in the country, and in this situation where the country is not yet peaceful, where would you go? We asked them not to raise their voice, since our exit had to be kept secret, and we only had one day to prepare. Ima baked cakes and pastries (which became soaked with her tears). I went through the entire colony to say farewell to everybody, to every corner of the village, every tree, stream or rock. I said farewell to the fields too.
We left at night after midnight a group of boys and girls, climbed the mountain to go around the colonies. We were horrified so see, that despite the secrecy, the entire village came out to accompany us, and they dragged their feet following us weeping silently. When we climbed over the mountain and set down in a wagon, the entire crowd kept running after us.
That was the way we said farewell, forever, to the village we were born in, to my widespread family and to all the Jewish farmers and their children, who worked their land in faith.
Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana its name suits it. It was small and Jewish. All of its residents, except the shepherd of the cattle herd and the women who milked the cows on Shabbats (they and their children spoke Yiddish), were Jewish natives of the city of Nevel in the province of Vitebsk [then in Belarus, today in Russia, close to Belarus border].
River Inguletz, the mountains, the hills and the streams added a unique beauty to the colony and the entire landscape. For the young generation, these places served as locations for playing and recreation. We loved the colony, its people and work. Father and Mother, boys and girls, we all worked in plowing, sowing, harvesting, threshing and in gathering the seasonal crops. The women, in addition of being in charge of the yard farm, took care of the children, prepared the food for the entire family, fitted and maintained the clothing, everybody according to their size, cleaned the house and the yard during regular days, evenings of Shabbats, holidays and celebrations, and did all of that with taste and pleasantness.
The people in my colony observed the Jewish tradition. The Shabbat was felt everywhere. They helped others because of their inner feeling, without an organization or a decree of an authority: it was the normal thing to do. If a person needed help the help had to be provided. There was no differentiation between one needy person to another a distant or a close relative, a neighbor, a friend or just an acquaintance. The girls also carried the burden of the work at home or in the farm, during the free time or school breaks. They were included in the fieldwork as well, particularly during the burning season. With all of that, studies were never neglected, even if there was need to walk a kilometer and more to the nearest colony Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola. We walked to school, day after day, in the heat and in the cold, when it rained or snowed. We often went without our parents' permission. They claimed that schooling led to getting married late, or according to the concepts of those days could also result in remaining an old maid which was the worst. Those who were given the opportunity continued their studies in the high schools in Kherson, which was located 70 kilometers away from our colony.
In June 1962, I traveled to the Soviet Union for a visit in order to see the remaining family members who miraculously survived. They live, until today, in the city of Simferopol in Crimea, where they arrived after wandering to Kazakhstan as refugees, during World War II. My mother zl passed away in Kazakhstan in 1941. I managed to meet with my relatives residing in Odessa, Yalta, Simferopol and Moscow after a period of 38 years during which we did not see each other. I will not be able to describe in words our mutual excitement.
In Simferopol I found my father, who was already bed ridden on his death bed at the age of 86, just before he passed away to join his people.
Among my relatives, there were those who were members of the Communist Party, from as early as the days before I left the colony. I realized that in their heart, there was always the Jewish feeling that could never be extinguished.
On that occasion, I heard details about the extermination of the colony members. I heard these stories while sitting on benches in the city's parks, due to the fear from uninvited ears… I was told about the plan to run away when they felt that the Germans were approaching, and about other members of the colonies who remained in the colonies under the illusion that the Germans would not hurt people who worked the land. In any case, most of them began to prepare, some by harnessing the horses to the wagons, and some by packing the necessary belonging and food items. When the Germans approached they ran away toward the Dnieper, trying to cross it before the cruel hand would get hold of them. When they arrived at the river, an abyss opened in front of them. The bridge was blownup.
There was no escape, and the murderer's hand caught up with them. There were some who did not want to fall into the hands of the murderers and threw themselves into the Dnieper, and thus avoided the horrible suffering experienced by those who were transported back to the colony. These people were transported back like a herd of cattle by three brothers members of our colony, whom the Nazi sadists forced to gather and hurry the returnees by riding on horses accompanied by armed troops.
In the colony the hunt for the people who were hiding went rampant. The same three brothers executed it. They were forced to discover the hideouts and to promise them that they faced no danger, and that the reason for concentrating the people was that they were needed to perform urgent tasks.
The neighboring Ukrainians took part in all of the murderous acts and in the concentration of the Jews from the two sister colonies and of those who were brought back form the Dnieper. Everybody was gathered, and the preparations for the annihilation began. According to an ordered plan typical to the exemplary Germans, they first separated the children from their parents, and after conducting a count, the exact number was determined in the two separate camps. They brought the children to the top of a hill and operated their machine gun on them. According to the typical order by the Germans, it was imperative to make sure that the number of the murdered was equal to the number of the counted live ones. One of the mothers, the colony's member was tasked in counting the bodies. The poor mother collapsed and lost her mind. She was relieved from her misery along with the rest of the adults by the bullets of the murderers.
A ditch that previously served as a canon position for the Soviet army became a mass grave.
I was told about a 12 years old boy who miraculously avoided being hit by the murderers' bullets who laid down among the murdered, managed to free himself from the pile of the bodies who weighted down on his tiny body, and by crawling on the ground he distanced himself from the horrible killing field.
At a certain distance, he stood up and turned to the nearby village.
He encountered a German guard on his way, but thinking that he was Christian, the guard let him continue on his way. He arrived at a farmer house of one of his father's friends, exhausted. They welcomed him with pity like nice Christians, fed him, watered him, laid him down to sleep and… notified about him to the Germans. The boy was executed on the same day.
The cruel murder spree lasted for thirty days, from 16 August until 16 September, 1942. Jews from other districts were brought to the same mass grave between the two Sdeh Menukha, altogether 1875 people, old and young, women and children are buried there.
On these same benches in the city park, I heard about other known colonies, some nearby and some further away from my colony. I heard about the BobrovyKut colony, whose residents were murdered with the same cruelty. Their bodies were not thrown into dugouts or ditches, but into water wells, as deep as 60 meter the same water wells that served the Jewish farmers to quench the thirst of man and animal for more than 100 years.
The entire Jewish population scattered along the vastness of Ukraine was annihilated. Without any mercy, they abused the people with horrible cruelty, which cannot be comprehended by a human mind.
In 1960, my sister Nekhama and one of our cousins came down to witness with their own eyes what was left from this corner of beauty of our childhood and they were horrified. The truth of the rumors was validated in all of its brutality. There is no comparison between hearing about it and seeing with one's own eyes. There was nothing left from everything that existed there. They found perhaps just a sign of a house of a relative, a friend or an acquaintance, here and there but all the rest, just piles of ruins.
Horrified, they ran away from there and left behind them the dear views they remembered from their wonderful childhood: the fields, the hills, the streams and the river. They ran away, afraid to look back.
When they ran away, the memories of those days and of those honest and innocent Jews accompanied them the memories of old and young who are buried in the mass grave between the two sistercolonies of Sdeh Menukha. These memories and the horrible scenes followed them, racing and screaming, demanding and ordering them:
Never forget to the end of time.
From all the stories that I heard during my childhood about the colony and its history, the stories of my parents, Khaim and Zisle ZL, about how they built, with their own hands, their home and the smithy of my father, are preserved in my heart the most.
My father acquired the profession of a blacksmith when he was only 16 years old. He specialized in it during his service in the military. When he came back home, after five years of military service, he married my mother, without a dowry, against the custom of those days. He received a plot and, with the help of my mother, built their house with his own hands, using simple stones, clay and mud. Half of the building served as a residential home and the other for the smithy.
The entrance to the house was through the smithy. Therefore, my father used to cease his work on Thursdays in order to allow Mother to prepare the smithy for Shabbat. She smeared the floor with clay and spread reddish sand for decoration. She would cover the anvil with a white embroidered and ironed tablecloth. When she lighted the candles, an atmosphere of Shabbat would descend in all the corners of the house including the smithy.
My mother gave birth to six children in that house, without the need for a hospital or physician. She was only helped by the village midwife (babeh). They would call for doctor Burschuk from Sdeh Menukah Ha'Gdola only in most urgent cases. I recall only one such case when my father was wounded on his job, from a hit by a hammer his right hand broke. The physician who was called by one of the neighbors took Father to a hospital in Kherson where he stayed for several weeks.
I recall the smithy as it was during the days of the pogroms when it was decided by the village management to prepare weapons for defense. They would anneal the needed weapons during the night in Father's smithy.
My parents were evicted from their home and property during the collectivism as a punishment for their sin of being connected with their sons in Eretz Israel. Only after years of hardships, expulsion and wandering they were fortunate to make Aliya and live in kibbutz Tel Adashim during their old age. From their work and the entire village's way of life only memories were left for them and us.
I kept these memories in my heart during all the events that I experienced in my life first as a soldier in the First World War, on my way to Eretz Israel during the [Russian] Civil War, and here in my home in Israel. I saw in my mind our yard, the fields and the garden, the cowshed and the stable and especially the smithy. I saw it in my dream, but I did not have any tangible memory until a friend, a native of our colony, who visited the Soviet Union that year, brought me a picture of our yard and the house I was born in. Indeed, the house is still standing, and so is the smithy, however, there are no Jews there. A Russian blacksmith works where my father once worked.
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