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[Page 309]

Types and Personalities

 

Figures and personalities that I knew

by Dov Bernstein

Transliterated by Sara Mages

a. R' Yeshaya Zweig

R' Yeshaya was like the character “Arie Baal Guf” from Bialik's story, but he was of a distinguished character, had a warm Jewish heart and fulfilled the mitzvah of “love your fellow as yourself” with all his soul and with all his might.

He had a store on Shkolna Street for dairy products, which he bought from Germans who lived in the vicinity, and made a good living. However, Yeshaya pondered in his heart: “And if I am only for myself, then what am 'I'?” so he devoted most of his time and money to support the poor and the needy.

And here's a bleak picture which rips the midst of heaven with its gloom: winter, the frost intensifies from day to day and strong winds run rampant. In a small dilapidated house on Shkolna Street lives a Jewish family of five in a narrow room without a floor, without light, and without air because the windows are sealed with rags. The only breadwinner, the father of the family, is ill with tuberculosis and he's coughing and spitting the remains of his sick lungs. His wife and children are starving. Who will save them? Who will support these unfortunate souls?

The matter becomes known to R' Yeshaya and his heart is breaking inside him. He harnesses his wagon, turns it from house to house and collects firewood, clothing and food. He brings the wood to the pitiable hut, stokes the fire with his own hands and revives the unfortunate souls whose hands and feet froze in the cold.

This family wasn't the only who received his attention because there were other poor people who were hungry for bread. Immediately after he finished his work, R' Yeshaya harnessed his wagon and brought food to these unfortunate people

On Passover, the poor of our city enjoyed “Maot Hittim” [“Wheat Money”], but the amount was very small and was only enough for three or four days. Poverty and distress also prevailed at the homes of the poor during the Festival of Freedom and the children were hungry for matzot.

R' Yeshaya can't sleep at night. Is it possible that our Jewish brothers will also be hungry during Passover? He equips himself with a large sack and a basket, walks from house to house, and collects eggs, matzot and meat and distributes them to the poor.

R' Yeshaya supported the poor “Yeshiva” students. It was a great honor for him to host a “Yeshiva” student in his home.

[Page 310]

He admired the Torah scholars and loved to study with them. He has done his acts of charity in secret and only a few knew about them.

This Jew died a martyr's death. Immediately after the Nazis entered the city they set fire to the Great Synagogue which was one the most magnificent synagogues in Wolyn. The synagogue was built in the tradition of 200 years ago by a Jew from Korets named R' Yosef.

R' Yeshaya sees that that this temple is going up in flames and the Torah scrolls are burning in the fire. The Germans are shooting from every direction. R' Yeshaya bursts into the burning synagogue under the hail of the murderers' bullets, he wants to save the Torah scrolls! The Germans are closing in on him from every side and direction. The burning ceiling collapses. R' Yeshaya is holding two Torah scrolls in his hands and he's looking for a way to escape from the flames and rescue the honor of the Torah.

The flames wrap around R' Yeshaya's body and burn it. He's writhing in pain but he doesn't let the Torah scrolls fall out of his hands. R' Yeshaya's soul rose to the heavens together with the Torah scrolls. He died for the sanctity of the Jewish nation and his Torah

 

b. Dr. Yakov (Yany) Herschenhorn

Dr. Herschenhorn was born in Korets in 1887 to his father, Nehemiah Herschenhorn, who was the community rabbi.

After he finished his studies at the gymnasium in Zhitomir he studied medicine at the University of Kiev and received a medical degree at the age of 25.

He joined the Zionist movement when he was still a student and was one of the organizers of the Zionist federation in Korets. He didn't abandon the field of Jewish public work after he became famous as a doctor, and served as the chairman of the Zionist movement in the city. He was very active in the Zionist funds and “TOZ” [Society for Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish Population]. He also served as a doctor in “Tarbut” school and “Talmud Torah.

He was popular with local farmers and the Christian population also trusted him. He served as the doctor for the Korets monastery and the sugar factory that, as we know, didn't give the Jews a foothold.

Dr. Herschenhorn received a high commendation on behalf of the Czar.

[Page 311]

In 1914, he was drafted as a military doctor and served in the Russian Army until 1914. He was discharged from the army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was awarded the “Golden sword” medal. This award contributed to his popularity among the non–Jewish population.

Dr. Herschenhorn devoted most of his energy to the treatment of poor children. He was the doctor of the “summer colonies” that were organized by “TOZ.” He took care of sick and faltering children like a merciful father, and saved more than one child from the arms of death.

Dr. Herschenhorn was a simple man by nature. He was free from arrogance and pride. The warmth of a Jewish family was felt in his home. His wife, Maria Yefremova, was also popular and received everyone who came to her home with kindness. She was also very active .She participated in welfare institutions and was the chairwoman of the committee for the aid of the city poor.

Dr. Herschenhorn didn't separate from his wife to his last day. The Nazis wanted to keep him alive, but he chose to die together with his beloved wife. Before his death he asked the murderers to give him a cigarette, and when the rings of smoke rose the murderers' bullets pierced the heart of the beloved and revered doctor.

 

c. Dr. Yehuda Zeitlin

Dr. Yehuda Zeitlin was born in Shklow. He was a descendent of the rich and Talmudic merchant, Yehusua Zeitlin, who was one of the close associates of Prince Potemkin who founded the “Free Academy” in his estate in Osetia near Shklow. In this academy it was also possible to study natural sciences, medicine, botany and chemistry. Therefore, Dr. Zeitlin absorbed in him the spirit of study and scientific research of his famous grandfather.

Dr. Yehuda Zeitlin completed his medical studies at a collage in Warsaw and settled in Korets as a young doctor before the First World War. He served as a general physician and gynecologist. He excelled in his vast knowledge not only in the field of medicine but also in other branches of science.

At the end of the First World War, when Korets was flooded by a stream of refugees who escaped

[Page 312]

naked and destitute, the JOINT opened a branch for clothing and food in our city. Dr. Zeitlin stood at the head of this committee and dedicated his energy and free time for this aid activity.

At the same time a typhus epidemic, which caused the death of hundreds of refugees and residents, broke out in Korets. At this time of great calamity Dr. Zeitlin revealed his noble virtues. He walked from house to house and fought the angel of death with all his might.

Dr. Zeitlin was a sensitive man and the horrors that his eyes saw in the rescue work evoked tears in his eyes, and quite often he wept bitterly. One evening, during this period of calamity, I found him very depressed at his home. He told me that he had just visited one of the homes. The parents died in the epidemic, and he found the small children lying in the beds of the dead parents. The sorrow and poverty of these poor children touched his heart and he broke down sobbing. In this conversation the skeptical philosopher awoke in him, and he expressed several melancholy thoughts regarding the human life on earth and the torments that a person suffers in his lifetime.

When the JOINT's branch was eliminated in our city, Dr. Zeitlin was placed at the head of the “Health Committee” and continued his work for the health of the residents. He also cared for development of the sports, and was among the founders of the physical education in our city.

Dr. Zeitlin was also active in public affairs. When the elections to the municipality council were held, the workers' left wing, which was organized as a bloc for the elections, asked Dr. Zeitlin to place his candidacy at the top of the list. Thanks to him the left wing received most of the votes, but the Polish regime was jealous and invalidated the elections.

In 1935, Dr. Zeitlin decided to settle in Rovna where he had a good reputation. However, he didn't sever his ties with Korets. He was summoned from Rovna in special cases of severe illness and was always willing to help.

Before he left the city the local institutions organized a magnificent farewell party for him. Dr. Zeitlin was very moved in his parting words. He said, if only we will meet again…and burst into tears.

His heart predicted, but he didn't know what. When the Nazis entered Rovna and started to abuse and humiliate the Jews, Dr. Zeitlin understood that the end had come. He injected lethal injections to all his family members, and injected the last injection to himself.

[Page 313]

d. Herzl Silberman

R' Herzl was born in Korets to his father, HaRav Avigdor Silberman, who was called “Avigdor HaDayan.” He received a traditional education but he wasn't a religious man. From his youth he dedicated himself with a Hasidic enthusiasm to the Zionist movement.

He was one of the founders of “Hapoel HaMizrachi” in our city and served as a permanent chairman of this religious–Zionist party.

He lived in poverty all his life and didn't have a source of income. He always walked hungry, but, he ignored his hard–pressed situation because he was totally devoted to the Zionist idea. The content of his life was the resurrection of our homeland and he always strove to to settle in the country and see our national revival with his own eyes.

He especially excelled as a representative of “Keren Kayemet LeYisrael.” On Purim eve or on Yom– Kippur eve Herzl Silberman rushed from house to house. He visited the members of the Zionist movement, arranged them in pairs, and sent them in to collect contributions for “Keren Kayemet LeYisrael.” When he learned of a wedding, circumcision or a family party – he immediately made sure that those celebrations wouldn't end without a contribution for “Keren Kayemet LeYisrael.”

His world was darkened when the Soviets entered our city. Suddenly he was cut off from the content of his life – “Keren Kayemet LeYisrael.” However, he hoped in his heart that this nightmare would pass and he will be able to immigrate to Israel.

He suffered from the shame of famine during the Soviet period. However, he was full of faith and confidence when I met him: "It's not over yet. The Zionist movement is alive and will live forever. I don't know who, but I'm sure that some of us will survive and immigrate to Israel to see its rebirth." Those were the last words that I've heard from him.

The cruel fate! Herzl Silberman, who worked enthusiastically throughout his life for the Land of Israel, never got to see it with his own eyes. When he went on his last journey to the pit of death, he also dreamed and longed to the land of the forefathers.

[Page 314]

e. Mordechai Silberman

 

He was born in Korets in 1893 to his father, Rabbi Avigdor the Judge. In his youth he studied Talmud and Poskim with his father and secular studies on his own. He was always immersed in his studies and was constantly working on enriching and expanding his private library. His father was an enlightened man and did not prevent his son from reading irreligious books.

When he was twelve years old he was already famous in Korest as a brilliant speaker. He was the main speaker on Herzl's memorial day and amazed everyone with his pleasant speech.

In 1912, when Hebrew evening classes for workers were established in Korest, he was the driving force in these lessons (among the initiators of these lessons were Pinchas Schwartzman (Avisar), the teacher Leibush Roitblit and Joseph Kleiner).

In 1911, Ansky visited Korets. He knew Silberman and saw him as a talented young man who was created for greatness. Silberman asked Ansky to get him a job. Ansky fulfilled his request and got him a job with Baron David GŁnzburg in Petrograd. The Baron was very surprised by Mordechai Silberman's talents and wrote his father the judge that he can be blessed with his son.

Silberman worked as a clerk in the Baron's office but, a short while later, Ansky took him to Kiev to work in the Zionist newspaper “Der Telegraph.” Here, Silberman became famous as a brilliant journalist and his reputation preceded him.

When he lived in Kiev, he translated Maupassant's novel, “Mademoiselle Fifi,” from French to Russian, and from Russian to Yiddish. He gave the translation to the editorial staff of the newspaper “Unzer Leben” which was published in Odessa.

Frishman, the literary editor of this newspaper, was very impressed by Silberman's translation but because of the troublous times the translation was not published in the newspaper. The years were the years of the revolution and with the outbreak of the riots “Unzer Leben” was closed.

With the outbreak of the revolution Silberman left Kiev and returned to Korets. He became a correspondent for “Unzer Leben,” which began to reappear, and printed there articles from the life in Korets and the lives of the Jews in Wołyń. He also made a living by giving lessons in Hebrew and became an agent of “Di Grininke Beymelekh” – tall tales that Kletzkin published in Vilna.

Mordechai Silberman perished during the plague that broke out in Korets and he was only 28 years old at the time of his death.


[Page 315]

A Korets Talmid Chacham [Jewish scholar]

by Shmuel Bar'am

Transliterated by Sara Mages

Our house stood near the “Makarover Kloyz” where the Hassidim of the Makarov Rebbe prayed. At the same “Kloyz” R' Avraham the slaughterer, one of the distinguished men, sat in a permanent place. His mouth did not stop repeating his studies day and night, and while all the Jews of the city were asleep – a faint light came from the Makarov Synagogue. R' Avraham sat and studied the Torah.

Between Mincha and Ma'ariv, or on a holiday eve before Ma'ariv prayer, the worshipers stood in a semicircle round the seat of R' Avraham and listened attentively and eagerly to the wonderful stories he told of Baal Shem Tov and the “Shpola Zeide” [Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Shpola]. R' Abraham told the stories like an artist because he was gifted with a descriptive talent. He knew how to combine an image with an image and blend vivid colors, and it was a pleasure to hear his tales. The imagination went wild with excitement and everything was festive and joyous. Sometimes, they prayed the evening prayer late at night because everyone wished that R' Avraham would tell his legends on and on and without an end. And the content of the stories was the yearning for the Holy Land, and he ended each story with –”And the Redeemer will come to Zion speedily in our own days.”

The image of R' Abraham is engraved in my memory since early childhood. When I grew older, and came home late at night, there was suddenly a ray of light breaking through the darkness and I saw a light flickering in the “Kloyz.” I walked slowly and opened the door. There was no one in the synagogue, only R' Abraham sat and studied in his permanent place near the Holy Ark. I paused for a moment in the doorway and watched this wonderful sight. And when those who rose early in the morning and came to the synagogue to pray the Shacharit prayer, R' Avraham finished his studies, put out the candle and went to rest a little.

R' Avraham, as the city's Jews tell, had one prayer in his heart, that God will extend his life so he would be able to reach the level of HaGra [HaGaon Rabbenu Eliyahu of Vilna], and finish the SHAS [Six Orders of Mishnah and Talmud] sixty times. However, his prayer was not accepted. Before his death he wept like a child that he is taken to the next world before his time, for if he had lived a few more months he would have completed the SHAS 13 times…

R' Abraham begot loyal sons to Israel. His son, R' Shlomo the slaughterer, immigrated with all of his family to Israel and was among the builders of the homeland. His grandson, Mr. Moshe Dafna (Blubstein), immigrated to Israel fifty years ago and he had the right to be called the first Zionist immigrant from Korest. His second grandson, Asher Blubstein, was the director of “Tarbut” library in our city. He is the only member of this family who did not immigrate to Israel and perished in the Holocaust.

[Page 316]

R' Yitzchak Fuchs the blacksmith

Our city was blessed with many craftsmen in all professions: builders, blacksmiths, locksmiths, carpenters, tinsmiths, shoemakers, tailors, coopers, glaziers, painters, etc. They were innocent and honest people that many of them bequeathed their profession to their sons.

We remember very well the carpenters, who worked all days of the week in the villages among the non–Jewish population, and their lives were very difficult. And when the desired Friday arrived, they returned to their homes and families, rushed to the bathhouse, and when they came out of the bath they dressed in Shabbat clothes and walked to the synagogue to welcome the Shabbat.

Around the “Torovica” – the large circular square next to the Skwerer Synagogue, there were several smithies and blacksmiths worked together with their sons, in hard and arduous work, and honestly found their livelihood.

I will speak exclusively about one of them. I knew him better than the others because we were neighbors. It was R' Yitzchak Fuchs the blacksmith that his two sons fled from the revolution and immigrated to Israel with the Holocaust survivors.

R' Yitzchak loved his profession and his work because he saw it as a work of art. There was a spark of a skilful craftsman in him, of an artist, and therefore his work as a blacksmith was not just for earning a living, but mostly for the pleasure he had in turning raw material into figures and tools.

The spirit of the artist sprouted in him the strong yearning for cantorial music. The hymns of famous cantors were well known to him and he hummed them as he worked.

And when a famous cantor arrived in our city, R' Yitzchak was one of the first to rushed to hear his prayers and singing. Even though the man was tired, in his body and soul from his arduous work, he never missed hearing a cantor with a pleasant voice.

I remember one Sabbath when a well known cantor was about to pray in the Blacksmiths Synagogue (Videmeker Shul). R' Yitzchak was full of joy and invited his neighbors to go with him to the synagogue to hear the cantor. At that hour the Divine Presence rested upon R' Yitzchak, his face was flushed, his legs were light, and he looked as if he had been thrown from his secular way of life to another world.

And the next day he stood in his smithy by the anvil. The bellows blowing, the coals are inflamed, the iron is whitening, sparks splashing, and Rabbi Yitzhak, his face sooty, the heavy hammer in his hand and from his throat emerge “pieces” of cantorial music that he heard from the new cantor.

There were many like him among the craftsmen in our city. Good and honest people who were happy with what they had. A smile always floated on their faces, they were pleasant to both young and old, because these people were kindhearted.


[Pages 317-318]

R' Nisan Brezner

by Avraham Reiz

Transliterated by Sara Mages

During the reign of Czarist Russia the liaison between the Jews of Korets and the authorities was the well known “Starosta,” R' Nisan Brezner, one of the Hassidim of the rabbi, R' Shmuel, and later, R' Michela Brezner. When something happened in the city they immediately came to seek the advice of R' Nisan, who took care of the Jews and loved to help everyone as best he could.

In his home they always met Pristav [the Russian supervisory official] Sadovki, his secretary Mitigin and the rest of the city's rulers. For many years his secretary was Aaron Sprecher. As the representative of the Jews, R' Nisan participated in all of the meetings of the “Volost” (local council), which was largely composed of Christians, and he was the only one who protected the Jews.

When a young Jewish man had to be drafted into the army, the military authority could not decide whether to accept or release him without R' Nisan. The chairman of the recruitment committee, the well–known Dr. Luminsky, listened to his advice. R' Nisan was a real “miracle maker”: he “killed” the living and gave life to the “dead”… all according to his understanding, and the committee fully trusted him.

In his time, Yakov Konopit and Yosef–Chaim Gilschlak (the shamash of the Great Synagogue) went to report to the army. The committee decided unanimously to accept Konopit and disqualify Gilschlak because of his poor health. R' Nisan stood u and claimed that Gilschlak should be accepted and Konopit should be released, and the matter was decided according to his advice.

This information spread in the city and there was great bitterness. When the matter became known to Yosef–Chaim Gilschlak's father, he ran to R' Nisan and said to him in tears: What have you done to my son? R' Nisan did not change his decision and had an explanation and a reason of his own: Yakov Konopit is a yeshiva student who sits all his days in Beit HaMidrash and studies the Torah. He's strong while Yosef–Chaim is weak and the army will disqualify him in a few weeks. And so it was, a short time later Gilschlak returned home relieved of his army service.

The rabbi, R' Michele Brezner, passed away in the month of Tishrei 1914, and a few months later R' Nisan also passed away. The two candidates for the position of “Starosta” were: the influential people proposed R' Yehusua Kutzer and the “simple folks” proposed R' Leibush Krotopesach. Pristav Sadovki wanted Krotopesach over the others and held the elections in the winter of 1915 at the synagogue of the Trisk Hassidim. The Pristav, “he and no other,” influenced the residents to elect Leibush Krotopesach and the result was that ninety–three voted for Krotopesach and thirty–six for Kutzer. The residents were very fond of R' Leibush but the October Revolution, which canceled the position of “Starosta,” broke out during his tenure. A community council was elected and managed all the affairs of the city's Jews.


[Pages 318-319]

Episodes from the life of Reb Yakov–Yosi Horenstein

by Herzl Frenkel

Transliterated by Sara Mages

Reb Yakov–Yosi Horenstein contributed, to a large extent, to the economic development of Korets. He was a very rich. He had his own estates and forests around Korets and his name was well known also in the big world.

After the great fire that broke out in Korets at the end of the nineteenth century, when all the synagogues in the city went up in flames, R' Yakov–Yosi built a magnificent synagogue named after him, “R' Yakov–Yosi's Shul.” He invited well–known artists from Odessa and they built the synagogue for beauty and splendor. However, R' Yakov–Yosi was not only very rich, but also a great philanthropist and a charitable man.

They tell of one Jew who came to the rabbi. The rabbi submitted a glass panel to the Hasid's eyes and asked: What do you see? – The whole world, replied the Hasid. The rabbi presented him with a mirror and said: and what do you see now? – Myself alone. The rabbi said, when a Jew covers himself with money, he only sees himself… However, this is not the case with R' Yakov–Yosi who distributed a lot of charity to the poor and various aid institutions. And I will tell about three revelations of his generosity: Because of the small quantity of grain in the fields it was predicted that a drought year was impending. R' Yakov–Yosi bought a lot of grain in the autumn because he was certain that prices would rise in the spring and the poor Jews will suffer hunger. And so it was. Reb Yakov–Yosi ordered his warehouse manager to distribute the grain to the poor. Once, he strolled on the balcony and saw a frail old woman approaching with a sack in her hand. After she had loaded the sack with the grain on her back, she fell to her knees because of the weight of the load. When she saw the rich man strolling for his pleasure, she shouted in his direction: “let R' Yakov–Yosi's life be as easy, as I can easily pull the load.” When R' Yakov–Yosi heard these words, he really danced from joy because he was able to perform a mitzvah for its own sake. Charity that is accompanied by a curse – is the real charity.

And once, on Passover eve, his porter came to him and with tears in his eyes begged him to give him ten rubles because his wife had died and he has no money for burial expenses. R' Yakov–Yosi gave him the money, the porter left and since then he had disappeared. This was very puzzling to R' Yakov–Yosi and he went to investigate and find out what it meant. He found out that the porter's wife was alive and well. The rich man was not angry with the act, but, on the contrary, he searched for the porter to bring him back to work. Once, they met by chance and the porter confessed before him: “I remember my sins today.” R' Yakov–Yosi said to him. You idiot, because of ten rubles was it worth you to “kill” your wife and “orphan” your children? And if you spoke to me openly and explicitly, would I refuse you? And R' Yakov–Yosi gave him a new ten–ruble note and brought the porter back to his court.

Once, an emissary came to him on behalf of the “yeshiva.” They came to an agreement and the emissary was about to leave. Suddenly, the postman entered and brought a telegram. When he opened the telegram R' Yakov–Yosi called the emissary to come back and asked him to give him a receipt for a larger sum than he had received. When he saw signs of astonishment on the emissary's face, he said to him: The telegram tells me that some of my rafts drowned in the water and the damage is great. And now, do you understand a Jewish rabbi? To the devil I can “donate” such a large sum, and not to the yeshiva? Therefore, I decided to increase the rate of the donation…

 

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