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[Page 172]

“TOZ” in Korets

Dov Bernstein

Translated by Sara Mages

The beginning of “TOZ”[1] lies in the activities of the JDC[2] for the needy of our city. The JDC opened a special branch in Korets for this purpose, but it was liquidated in 1921. The JDC only left the “health committee,” which was headed by: Dr. Zeitlin, Dr. Eizi Kaminer and Dr. Shmuel Finkelstein.

The “TOZ” branch in our city was developed from the activities of this “health committee.” This institution was founded in 1924 at the home of Yorshi Weinstock, which stood in the market. A committee, which included the following doctors and public officials, was elected: Dr. Zeitlin, Dr. Eizi Kaminer, Dr. Shmuel Finkelstein, Dr. Yakov Herschenhorn, Yosef Michelson, Yakov Neiterman, Yosef Kaminstein, Dov Bernstein, Yakov Riess, Yosef Kleiner, Gatzi Wilner and Pinchas Hendler. The active members who joined it: Sosnik, Leizer Gerestein, Frida Kaslman and Shmuel Yerushalimsky.

Our goal was, first and foremost, to provide medical help to a large number of Jews whose health deteriorated due to poor nutrition. At one time, there was a Jewish hospital in Szkolna Street next to “Talmud Torah,” but it was closed for lack of suitable means. We opened a clinic in this building and the director, Dr. Yakov Herschenhorn, received patients, free of charge, three times a week.

[Page 173]

“TOZ's” committee in Korets

Standing right to left: 1.Pinchas Hendler, 2. Yosef Michelson, 3. Yakov Neitrman, 4. Yosef Kaminstein, 5. Yakov Riess, 6. Yosef Kleiner, 7. Gatzi Wilner.
Seated right to left: 1. Dr. A. Gachman, 2. Milrod (a guest from Argentina), 3. Dr. Yakov Herschenhorn, 4. Milrod (a guest from America), 5. Dov Bernstein.

[Page 174]

Dr. Herschenhorn did his work voluntarily. He prescribed medications to needy patients, and they received them free of charge from the “TOZ” pharmacy. Patients, who were bedridden, were visited at home by “TOZ's” doctors. In severe cases, when a patient needed surgery or a specialist, we made all the efforts to send him to Warsaw or to Rovno for treatment. The poor not only received medical care at the clinic, but also various foodstuffs that were necessary to strengthen their bodies. We also distributed, free of charge, various food products to patients who were on a strict diet.

Our main concern was for the children of the poor who lived in horrible overcrowding, in cellars and in neglected apartments, without light and fresh air, and in unsanitary conditions. Many of them were afflicted with tuberculosis. We took them out of the dense air, in which they lived all the days of the year, so they could heal in the fresh air and in the sunshine. For this purpose we organized “summer colonies” which lasted two months. The most successful “colony” was located in Korets' fortress. We leased the nearby estate which extended over an area of 30 dunam. The place was beautiful and the scenery attracted the children's hearts. Every morning the children arrived to the fortress from their poor homes, spent the day with teachers and professional instructors, and were supervised by the maternal care of Bevel Schorin. The children spent the whole day in the fresh air and ate three meals. The teachers taught dances and songs, and many hours were dedicated to gym classes. Occasionally, the children organized special parties with the participation of a violin orchestra.

This activity was done during the summer months, but we also took care of the children during the winter. We knew very well that many children returned to their homes hungry, and a hot meal wasn't waiting for them. We organized a special kitchen for these children at the Fire Brigade's house, and every day they ate a hot lunch there. The kitchen was run by a women's committee that its members were: Gisia Horwitz, Dotzi Wilner, Dotzi Vitman, Sonia Tzipansky, Chaya Sendler, Chana Glumberman and Fanya Tobbin.

“TOZ” also took on itself the medical supervisions of the school children. Dr. Yakov Herschenhorn served as the schools' doctor. The board visited the schools together with Dr. Yakov Herschenhorn to inspect the students' health. The sick children were registered by the doctor and received the necessary treatment. We also gave a cup of hot milk to the students, and for many it was a cup of salvation and a rescue to their health.

[Page 175]

“TOZ's” summer colony in Korets


[Page 176]

We renovated the building at the beginning of the 1930s. Yosef Kleiner, Yosef Kaminstein and Yosef Michelson dedicated themselves to this holy task. The renovation cost a lot of money, but the building was adapted to accommodate a proper modern clinic. The pharmacy was also inside the clinic, and the pharmacist was Lisa Schneider. In addition, we also established a dental clinic that was managed by Dr. Shmuel Finkelstein, who volunteered to do this hard and responsible work.

“TOZ” also worked in preventive medicine - to protect the residents from diseases and infections.

Apart from the ambulatory work, “TOZ's” doctors also engaged in educational activities among the population, and provided the residents with the basic information on matters of hygiene.

“TOZ's” budget was largely covered by a monthly allowance that we received from the central office in Warsaw. The “Amateur Club” also helped us a lot. The club presented plays and reading parties, and their revenues were dedicated to “TOZ.” In addition, the youth organizations organized flower days for the benefit of “TOZ.” In spite of everything the situation was quite difficult, because we didn't receive any support from the community committee or from the city council.

In Korets, that its economic resources were meager and few, there was a considerable number of poor Jews that the hunger undermined their health. For them, “TOZ” was almost the one and only support.

Our branch was visited by the officials of “TOZ” from Rovno and Warsaw. The dentist, Dr. Shmuel Gorin, came to us from Rovno. Also Dr. Walman, the general director of “TOZ” in Warsaw, visited Korets and expressed his admiration to the high level of medical services that the institution gave to the city's poor and sick.

Translator's footnotes

  1. TOZ - Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia Ludności Żydowskie - Society for safeguarding the health of the Jewish population Return
  2. JDC- The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. A world wide Jewish relief organization headquartered in New York. Return

[Page 177]

The TOZ Children's Colony [Summer-Camp]

Nechama Kranzberg (Nelson)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

With a pounding heart and hesitating steps I entered the backyard of the Korets Castle. On that day the TOZ Organization opened there the summer Colony. The sounds of the well-known children's folk song were carried in the air: “Hershele is small, but his desire to travel the wide world is big…”

I walked in the direction of the sounds and I saw a very large circle of children of various ages. In the middle Ehrlich stood, in short pants and a funny hat, looking like a grown child himself. With a little stick in his hand he was conducting the children's choir.

As he saw me, he left the children and approached me with a smile: “I have heard about you from Shmulik Finkelstein and Yuzik Michelsohn.”

As if by a special invitation, Shmulik Finkelstein and Yuzik Michelsohn appeared, and right behind them, walking briskly, Yankel Neiterman followed. “I had to close up the store, he said,

TOZ Children's Colony


[Page 178]

I have probably lost a good sum of money…” He came nearer, with his good-natured smile.

“We shall begin,” said Shmulik Finkelstein, “with the kitchen and the dining-hall, since the most important matter here is to eat.” – “And how we eat” added, half seriously and half jokingly, Yuzik Michelsohn.

We walked toward the dining-hall. There we met Lea Sklar and Chaike Sarver. They had years of experience working in summer camps and they felt at home. Dear Jewish mothers! For me as well, they were like real mothers during my first steps in my independent work.

We walked from room to room. All was white, shining clean. It brought joy to the eye and the heart. Ehrlich acquainted us with the castle. How different was the castle now, as I saw it in the bright light of day. I have seen the castle many times before, but it was usually during a leisurely walk in the late afternoon, when the entire place seemed mysterious and enigmatic, with its frightening deep cellars and the tall clock on the very top. In the evening it was beautiful, majestically distant and foreign. It was different now, bathing in the morning sun, as if it suddenly became younger in age, in the company of the little Jewish children.

Soon we went to work. The first thing to do was to measure the height and weight of the children. Pale, with thin little arms and legs, they reminded one of small delicate plants that have grown without enough light…

How dear and enjoyable was that summer of 1934! It went by swiftly, like a sweet dream. Work was not difficult, just a song of fruitful effort. How much toil, heart and good will were invested by the members of the TOZ Organization! I can see them all before my eyes even now, living and working.

Soon the last day of the “Summer Colony” arrived. Half of Jewish Korets was assembled to watch the grand performance of the children. They looked different now: faces fuller and rosy and eyes shining.

[Page 179]

Our work was completed. The children left the castle, where they had spent a few happy weeks, and returned to their poor and crowded little houses.

I packed my things and took a last quick look at the castle. Again it looked silent and full of secrets; a complete stranger to me… not at all like it was during the summer that just ended.

The yellow leaves rustled under my feet. I watched them and listened, and thought: the wind will probably carry them to far places, and there they will tell the story about a brief time of children's carelessness and joy…

From the distance, the wind brought to me the sounds of a familiar song - - - narrow streets, walled-in streets, dear Korets streets, forever, until my last breath, I shall mourn your loss…

[Page 180]

The Fire Brigade in Korets

Yosef Brode (Broder)

Translated by Sara Mages

The Fire Brigade in Korets existed long ago. A “firefighter” was an important “commodity” in our city that its wooden houses with straw and stubble roofs resembled a box of nuts - if you take one, all of them roll - if one of the houses caught on fire - the entire street burned immediately.

My acquaintance with the fire department started when I was a child. I remember that one Friday a fire broke out in the city center near the Golod's house. The fire burned until the conclusion of the Sabbath. I wanted to see the fire, but I was very fascinated by the sight of the Fire Brigade, especially, from the pump with the big brass knob.

In those days I didn't even dream, that one day I would be a fireman and use, with my own hands, the same fantastic pump.

The main existence of the Fire Brigade, in the period that I speak of, namely, the 1930s, was the result of the social and economic changes that have taken place in the structure of our city's Jews. An alarming impoverishment process occurred in those years, and as a result, sons of privileged families were forced to live from manual labor.

To alleviate the unemployment, the municipality imposed taxes on the residents in order to create relief jobs whose wages were very small, namely, one Zloty a day.

The municipality, which was interested in the existence of a Fire Brigade, announced, that in place of relief jobs it would accept volunteers to the Fire Brigade. In this manner, a rather poor workplace was created for a few dozen young men who needed a job. Those who volunteered to the Fire Brigade were: Leibel and Berel Boff, Yakov Blener, Yosef Zimmerman, Eliyahu Switzer, Motil Schneiderman, Yakov Zafran, Itzik Warnick, Leibel Linik and the writher of these lines.

My brother, Yakov z”l, served as the commander. He was assisted by the following board members: Noah Bershk (deputy), Yosi Kaminstein, Asher Rosenblat, Melamed, Yitzchak Berenstain and Hershil Parr (Chapkes).

Truth to be told, that the desire to be a firefighter was also caused by a youthful whim. There was some romantic splendor in it. The idea of racing through the city streets, with the big trumpet and firefighting tools, brought festivity to the heart.

The Fire Brigade in Korets was somewhat grotesque. Its existence and actions were on the verge of the ridiculous and funny.

[Page 181]

Do you remember the Kalantzah? It's impossible to describe Korets without the Kalantzah, and it's impossible to describe the Kalantzah without Korets, because they were made for each other since the beginning of their creation. However, it's possible, that by reason of distance and time, the exact definition of the Kalantzah is blurred in your memory. Therefore, let us recall the forgotten.

The Fire Brigade building stood in the center of the city opposite Bazedova Street. The two-story building was among the tallest buildings in the city. Since I have used an exaggerated language, I'll immediately say, that indeed, it was a one-story building with a fire observation tower on top of it. When we climbed to top of the tower, it seemed that the city was placed on our palms. This tower was called “Kalantzah.” It was extremely dangerous to climb to the top of the tower because the stairs were rickety and swayed like a drunk.

The “Rabbi” was our friend Fyodor. He was the only one in the Fire Brigade who received a salary from the municipality. All the others were volunteers. This Fyodor had a long leg and a short leg. When he walked, he jumped like a clown, and when he stood, he looked like a stork standing on one leg. He was a big fan of the “intoxicating liquor,” and was always drunk.

He slept at the firehouse, and his duty, during a fire, was to call the firefighters by tapping on a crowbar that its sound traveled to all corners of the city.

Since Fyodor was always drunk, we had to wake him from his deep slumber and inform him about the fire. Once we came to him and shouted: Fyodor fire! The man rubbed his eyes and replied: What comes out from this “irritation”? “The fire broke out by itself, and will turn off by itself.”

In what did we travel to put out the fire? Every night the carters had to provide a pair of horses to the Fire Brigade. Imagine, one lent us a big horse and the other - a little horse whose face was like a cat's face. When this pair was harnessed to a cart, the little horse fell off the cart because the harnesses were too big for it. The burning house collapsed by the time we managed to harness it again to the cart.

However, horses weren't always at our disposal, and then we had to push the cart with the barrel of water with our own hands. Those who didn't see Fyodor dragging his leg in this act - have never seen a funny act in their life. We always prayed that if we were sentenced that a fire would break out, it should fall in Bazedova Street. All this for what? This street was on a slope and the cart went down on its own.

There was an immutable law, that if we put out the fire or not - the fire victim

[Page 182]

had to honor us with a decent dose of vodka. The clowns among us joked, that the organization of firemen came to the world to drink vodka, because we never put out a fire. When we were called to put out a fire, we drank “L'chaim” before we started our work. When the fire victim shouted: “thieves, the house is burning down and you demand a “drink,” we answered him: these are two different matters, indeed, the house is on fire, but you must give us vodka.

There were cases when we were given a double serving of vodka. How can it be? There were two types of fires in Korets: a fire which was caused by the flare of soot in the chimney, and a fire that its cause was unclear. When the soot flared up we argued as follows: you were legally required to clean the chimney, and since we aren't going to inform you to the authorities we deserve a shot of vodka. And the second, you're a thief, don't we deserve a “Kiddush” for saving your home from a fire?

During the winter we were almost out of work. The snow lay on the straw roofs and the fire didn't control them. Then, we gathered in the small room of the fire house. It was warm there. We sat and waited, maybe “God will have mercy on us” and a fire will break out because our “souls dried out.” It's been a long time since we tasted the taste of vodka. We prayed, if only a fire would break out in one of the city's taverns, at the Gilgun's house or at the Siroka's house, because, for sure, a proper drinking will take place there …

The Fire Brigade received honorary tickets for theatre productions or to the circus. The presence a fireman in the lobby calmed the hearts of the audience. Three firefighters came if the play was successful, and when the play was boring - only one went.

The Fire Brigade in our city was more of a myth than reality. To my knowledge, we didn't save a single house from a fire. We always came after “closing time.” Why? Our horses couldn't compete with the speed of the fire, especially, when one horse ran and the second staggered behind it. Sometimes, we were forced to push the cart with our own hands while Fyodor was foaming behind us.


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