Translated from Hebrew by Naomi Sokoloff
The Mizoch Book is a modest monument, a tombstone on the grave of this small, holy community, on the grave of our dear ones who were cut down while they were flourishing, tortured and killed by wild beasts, and their bones scattered to all the winds of Mizoch.
This memorial book has been created ex nihilo. It is the fruit of a blessed initiative, hard work, love for the town and its inhabitants, longing for its vibrant, interesting Jewish way of life, and a desire to leave for coming generations a vestige of this dear town in which we were born, grew up, and were educated, and from which we imbibed dedication to our people and love for the ancient Hebrew homeland.
This book was neither made nor written by people who are professionals at such craft. The editorial board had no historical, literary, or other sources. The material was collected and assembled with much labor, from the surviving sons of Mizoch, who saw with their own eyes the worst of catastrophes and felt on their own flesh all its cruelties, and from the few who succeeded in arriving at a safe harbor in the Land of Israel before the storm of destruction hit.
We recognize and acknowledge the defects, deficiencies, and errors in the book. It has not escaped our attention that the material gathered is incomplete and many gaps clamor to be filled. However, we are proud that in our circumstances -- when no material about our town remains anywhere in the world, and when we number no more than 50 families, all of limited means -- we nonetheless, with remarkable volunteer effort and tireless labor, knew how to make a monument to our loved ones who were not fortunate enough to find Jewish burial. We have put in place a memorial for them.
It is my pleasant obligation to acknowledge the dedicated, faithful contributors and express here my thanks to Moshe Feldman, Nachum Kopit, Baruch Pliter, Yacov Gelman, Liza Shtellung and Chaya Altman, who worked hard gathering material and producing the means to publish the book. To Moshe Perliuk who advised us and edited the book, and to Reuben Melamed who spared no effort in collecting testimonies and gathering material. To Mordechai Sheynfeld and Yosef Karmi, who devoted their time and energy to the book. To Menachem Shtellung and Aharon Altman, whose connection to Mizoch came to them by way of marriage to women from our town; they lent a hand and aided us passionately in realizing our goal. Similarly, my thanks go to all who contributed their writing to the book. Blessings on them all.
|Mizoczers in Israel on the eve of the memorial for the martyrs of the shtetl in Tel Aviv|
by Asher Gilberg
Translated from Hebrew by Yonatan AltmanShafer and Corey Feuer
In the heart of western Ukraine, in the triangle between the cities of Rivne, Dubno, and Ostroh; in a wideopen ravine, surrounded by dense forests, blooming villages, and the most fertile spaces sat the esteemed town of Mizoch.
The time of its founding and the names of its founders are shrouded in mist; in the literature of tears of the Cossack riots of the seventeenth century there is not even a trace of the name of Mizoch, even though it lies on the path of the bloody journey of the ataman Khmelnytsky, may his name be blotted out. The name of the town is also not found in Hasidic literature, despite the town's proximity to the cities of the Hasidic cradle: Velyki Mezhyrichi, Ostroh, and Korets.
The town was young, there were no antiquities there. Even the pedigree of the Polish count Karwitzky, the landowner of the town, is short lived and is almost unknown among the nobility.
The town's cemetery was small and only after the thirties did people start to distinguish between its old plot and new plot.
Of all the above, it should be noted that the age of Mizoch is not more than 200 years, and that Mizoch was established out of necessity, in order to serve as an administrative center and repository for the rich crops of the fields, the gardens, and the forests and for the overflowing produce of the barn and the coop.
Factories, Trade, and Services
The first to recognize the importance of the town was the Jewish industrialist Horenstein, who built a large sugar factory on the northeastern edge of the town, and next to the sugar factory, a farm for fattening cattle with beet waste.
This factory over time fell under the control of the famous Jewish sugar magnate Brotsky, and he expanded and refined it until it became a big factory with considerable productivity and exquisite output.
The count Karwitzky set up a factory for beer and a large flour mill, and the Jew Isaac Braz set up a factory for coarse woolen fabrics for the farmers. Thanks to the sugar factory, a track was laid for a train that connected Mizoch to the larger world via the KyivLviv railway line. Apart from these, many workshops and small industries were established, such as: the oil press houses of Avraham Bronstein, Bozai Mizoch,
Temah Berman, and other smaller ones; two sawmills belonging to Kaput and Meizlich; a dairy belonging to Meir Braz; and many workshops of all kinds.
At first, the sugar factory employed few Jews and only in clerical positions, but over time, thanks to the influence of Zionist youth movements, their numbers increased to many tens who worked in all departments. The extensive trade of the town was originally dominated by a few big grain merchants, who were buying the crops from the farmers before harvest and were sometimes paying for crop yields years in advance. Each merchant had farmersuppliers that lived in the villages in the domain under his nearexclusive influence, and the transactions that amounted to considerable sums were usually only done verbally without any written commitment. These merchants made trade connections, not only with grain stores in the country, but also with distant countries abroad, and hundreds of wagons loaded to maximum capacity with various grains were exported, which indirectly led to the opening of the train station in the town. When they realized the industrial value of the plant called hops, which requires certain knowledge and specific treatment, they knew how to convince the Czech farmers to grow the plant and export it in large quantities.
When the industrialization of Poland began and a large shipyard, which required a lot of oak wood and a special type of brick, was built in the city of Gdynia, the authorities eyed the virgin forests surrounding Mizoch, and they set up a lumber industry in the city and the surrounding area. The wood trade required significant expertise, professional knowledge, and a great deal of wealth, and therefore only the local brothers Tekser and Leib Gorvitch dealt in it. The rest of the merchants and expert clerks were mostly nonlocal Jews and came to the city especially from Rivne, Warsaw, Vilna, Danzig, and also from outside of the country.
A number of years before the Holocaust, several of the locals learned the profession and made a decent living from the wood trade. The gentlemen Kopit, Kleinmen, and Gentzburg, managed with modest financial means to establish woodtrade partnerships and become players in the market.
Mizoch was overflowing with an enormous selection of the most exquisite fruits of the species with which Ukraine was blessed. However, until the beginning of the thirties, only the close city of Rivne enjoyed them. This is because the peddlers in their wagons did not go beyond it [Rivne]. The fruit trade was conducted until then in a primitive manner and on a small and narrow scale; the peddlers would buy several seasonal fruit trees from a farmer, load them in bulk on a cart harnessed to a horse, and move them to a shop in Rivne. There, they sold them to the fruit stalls for no matter the profit and sometimes, when the market was flooded with fruit,
they would come out of the transaction with a great loss. Generally, these fruit merchants worked hard from morning to evening and their livelihood was meager. At dawn they went out to the villages to pick the fruit, working all day to load the cart, and at night they would transport the fruit on rickety paths in order to make it to the market in the city by dawn of the next day. In Rivne, they would stay for some hours until they sold their goods, and at the end of the day, they would return home in their empty wagons in order to start anew the next day. Some of them learned to store fruit in the cellars and to sell it at winter for good prices. A few families in our town made meager and austere earnings from the fruit trade.
At the beginning of the thirties, some Jewish fruit merchants from Warsaw and western Poland discovered Mizoch. From then until the town's destruction, the fruit trade included most of the city's residents. Directly and indirectly, all of the residents benefited from it. They no longer transported fruit in janky carts, but rather in train cars, with hundreds and thousands loaded at the train station, and the exquisite fruit transported to Polish cities as well as to cities across the border. An entire industry of packing tools and materials developed. The Jews learned the science of storage, familiarized themselves with the markets of the greater world, and adapted to the tastes of the residents of the big cities. The fruit trade that had until then been considered a disgrace to its dealers started occupying an important place in the town, and everyone benefited and profited from its success.
The developed trade in grain and wood and in fruit and in cattle on the one hand, and the sugar factory and the rich villages surrounding it on the other hand, brought great prosperity to the town. Mizoch was thus one of the sole cities in Poland if not the only one that did not know scarcity and poverty at the verge of the war. Some of the residents became rich and affluent, while others only earned a living at a profit, but no person knew paucity. In Mizoch, there were businesses and stores that could have glorified any main street in one of the largest cities in the country. It happened occasionally that merchants and salesmen from the timber and grain industries came to the town at the same time, along with those seeking to buy cattle, poultry, and eggs. Together with the fruit merchants that were in the town nearly all year, they filled every hotel and hostel and brought great abundance to the place.
Gradually, the small and ugly houses disappeared from the horizon. In their place, beautiful multileveled houses from brick were built, the roads were paved and expanded, and quality of life in the town rose dramatically. The town's name spread far and wide, and whitecollar professionals, students, and other workers came to live there.
On the verge of the war, Mizoch stood at the peak of its material success. The authorities began to encourage Polish settlers to trade in the town and planned the construction of a row of factories for the preservation of meat, fruit, and vegetables. The Polish businesses developed,
|View of Mizocz|
though they could not hurt those of the Jews, which were more experienced and competitive. The Ukrainians and the Czechs also tried to infiltrate trade in different ways. The space was not narrow and provided opportunities for everyone.
After the fall of Poland and its division between Germany and the Soviets, the occupying Soviet army found goods and materials in Mizoch that could satisfy for about a whole year a huge army of soldiers, officials, and party functionaries from Soviet Russia, who were hungry for consumer goods of beautiful and high quality.
Religious Life in the Town
Mizoch was a traditional town, tolerant and far separated from religious zealotry. It is doubtful there was a single house in Mizoch that did not follow Jewish law and respect the Jewish tradition. Still, it was common among many of the youths to visit a Christian restaurant, and no one stopped them from doing so. During Saturdays and Jewish holidays, commerce halted fully and absolutely, and even a freethinking Jew from out of town would not dare to desecrate the Sabbath in public. During holidays, everyone went to a house of prayer with almost no exceptions. On Saturdays, however, it was common for the bachelors to skip the prayers. Married men, conversely, could not shirk the duty of visiting the house of prayer.
There were three houses of prayer in the city; a beit midrash, the kloyz of the Trisk Hassidim, and the big synagogue. Next to this last one was a small house of worship, intended for Mincha and Ma'ariv during weekdays for worshippers of the big synagogue, although over time it became an independent house of worship. Each chapel was always full of worshippers and in the beit midrash and the kloyz several minyanim were held every day. During the High Holidays and the Days of Awe, the houses of worship were not able to contain all those seeking to pray in public, and so several temporary houses of prayer were prepared. They were especially populous during Simchat Torah. The prominent and permanent of the Simchat Torah minyans were those of the Jewish National Fund and the Revisionist TelChai Foundation. In these minyanim, they always used to speak of matters of the day before the Torah reading and would preach to the worshippers to donate generously to the foundation. After the services were held, there was a great kiddush for every minyan that usually lasted for many hours. Among the private minyanim, the minyan of my uncle Baruch Pliter's house especially excelled. For Simchat Torah kiddush, they prepared at his house many days before the holiday, and it would last until the evening hours. When they were blissfully inebriated, the participants of this kiddush, who were all friends of the master of the house,
were ordered to bring kugels and delicacies prepared by their wives, and there was no end to their delight. Three years before the Holocaust, the private minyanim were canceled, and their members went to pray in minyanim of the foundations.
Initially, every house of worship had a certain different class of worshippers; the rabbi, the slaughterers, the scholars, the holy vessels, and the respected homeowners prayed in the beit midrash. The pious and Hassidic congregated at the kloyz, and the craftsmen and the masses of the simple folk prayed at the big synagogue. In the last ten year of the town's existence, due to the great prosperity that befell the town, the partitions between the classes dissolved and the status of the big synagogue rose. The sugar factory owner, the great Jewish philanthropist Halbmilion, donated a considerable sum of money to renovate the synagogue. He brought artists from outside, and with their help, the synagogue turned into a little temple. The inauguration of the synagogue was held in all of its splendor and was attended by officials from the nearby city. Whenever Halbmilion was in town during a holiday, he would pray at the synagogue. The pharmacist Finkel, the doctor Liebster, and other guests who were in town for business quickly followed him. Since the synagogue was spacious, beautifully decorated, and very comfortable, and dignitaries such as Halbmilion and the like prayed there, many of the young people began to purchase seats in the synagogue. The permanent cantor there was Rabbi Yechiel Reznick the butcher. After his death, his only son Tzvi Reznick took his place.
There was one rabbi in the town who lived close to the synagogue. The last to serve in this role was Rabbi Neta Lerner, who was a great student of the Torah, pure and godfearing with a strong affinity for the Zionist movement. He inherited the position of Rabbi from his fatherinlaw, the Rabbi Michael Lerner, and he was accepted by every section of the population.
The slaughterers and checkers in Mizoch were four in number: the brothers Reuven and YosefDavid Milhelter, Rabbi Yechiel Reznick and the yeshiva student Yehoshua Lenger. After the death of Rabbi Yechiel, three butchers remained, because Yechiel's successor, his son Tzvi Reznick gave up the position. The sons of the brothers Milhelter also did not train as slaughterers and checkers, and only Yaakov, son of Rabbi Reuven, learned at the yeshiva, but he wanted to be a rabbi rather than a slaughterer and checker.
Some of the respected landlords supported the rabbi in addressing the religious needs of the town. They were responsible for the matter of the purity of the family and kept the bathhouse and the mikvah. The number of people in need of material help in the town was zero, and if the opportunity arose to help someone, everyone was happy to fulfill the mitzvah of and let your brother live with you.
Rabbi Yechiel Reznick served as mohel of the town until the day of his death. He was an artful mohel, and doctors would marvel at his agility and expertise.
After his death, a mohel was brought in from outside.
Shmurah matzah was baked at the kloyz, and Mordechai Gnipoler provided matzahs for all the people of the town. The homebaking that was called tolka in the dialect of the area stopped completely a number of years before the destruction.
The religious and social lives centered around the houses of prayer. Each house of worship chose its own gabbayim on Simchat Torah night, before the hakafa, and they conducted the business of the community for the course of a year. The chevra kadisha was connected by its members to the big synagogue. Its assemblies and the traditional feast fell on the 7th of Adar which according to tradition is the same day Moshe Rabbeinu passed away. A special committee headed by the rabbi took care of the bathhouse and the mikvah.
Weddings customarily took place on Fridays in Mizoch. The kiddushin was handled by the rabbi, who was usually accompanied by Yosef David the butcher and his sons or Yechiel Reznick with or without his son Tzvi. The two butchers had embroidered chuppahs of their own, which were placed under open sky, and Jewish couples stood under them in order to enter the marriage covenant. It was customary to put up a chuppah inside only for a second marriage.
Religion played a very important role in the Jewish life of Mizoch until the day of its destruction. Every private joy and every public event was connected to the synagogue. Memorial services for important figures, announcements of a new factory or fundraiser, jubilee celebrations, or the marking of an important date all were held within the walls of the synagogue. The gabbayim did not discriminate between the different groups and let everyone use the synagogue according to their needs. It should be noted that only the big synagogue and the beit midrash allowed the Zionist movement to operate within their walls. In the kloyz, Zionist operation was limited despite most of its worshippers being Zionists. Out of all of the houses of worship in the area, only the kloyz was also used as a place to study Torah, and after the hours of worship, there were always people there engaged in Torah study. The rabbi's house, the houses of worship, and the bathhouse were all located nearby to each other. Only the kloyz was located a bit of a distance from the rest, seemingly not only in place but also in time.
Institutions and Organizations
The oldest committee in town ran the Wheat for Money campaign, collecting donations of matzah and wine for Passover to give to the poor of the town. This institution was very active until the town's bitter end. In its last years, when there were nearly no more needy in the area, they brought the donations to the center of the yeshivas. The committeemembers I remember were Rabbi Yoel Molman, the grandfather Rabbi Yitzchak Pliter and Rabbi Yonah Namirober.
|The Hebrew kindergarten in Mizocz|
The Committee for the Orphans
The Committee for the Orphans did wonderful and beneficial work. The committee was organized in 1927 and was constantly supervised by the Central Committee in Warsaw and the Provincial Bureau in Rivne. The committee received much monetary and material support from the center, and together with the money collected in the area, was able to provide assistance to every orphan and widow. At the head of the committee were Mrs. Wasserman, secretary Avraham Gentzberg, and as treasurer,
Mrs. Esther Pliter. In times of need, the Committee for the Orphans was able to mobilize people for large and lucrative projects. The glorious masquerade dance was especially memorable, conducted by the committee in the winter of 1928, with many guests from nearby cities as well. Because there were no more needy orphans, the committee dispersed at the end of the 1930s.
The Bestowing Chesed Fund
The Bestowing Chesed Society was founded in town at the start of the 1920s. The basic capital was received from the American committee for the aid of Jews who were wounded in the war. Among the first committee members were Yitzchak Pliter, Yonah Namirober, and Yehoshua Bar Gentzberg. The fund gave nointerest loans to all who needed, and it consistently operated until the Soviet occupation. Among the committee members, Moshe Mandiuk, who is currently in Uruguay, stood out in particular. The fund's money was confiscated by the Soviet authorities and the society dispersed.
The cooperative bank, founded in Mizoch with the encouragement of the center in Warsaw, developed into a major financial institution, ultimately employing ten workers. The first manager of the bank was pharmacist B. Finkel. However, when the institution developed and needed a real salaried manager, they chose Asher Shapiro for the job. At the beginning of the 1930s, a second Jewish bank called The People's Bank, whose majority shareholder was manager Isaak Kashuk, son of Tuvia, was opened. This was because of the growth of business conducted in the town. The existence and development of both banks was assured. And indeed they both conducted their operations up until the Soviet occupation.
The Merchants' Association
The heavy taxes, the various harsh sanctions, and the explicit policy of the Polish government that encouraged Polish trade at the expense of the Jews necessitated contact with the authorities and constant protection of those affected by the policy. Consequently, the Merchants' Association was founded, headed by former teacher Yitzchak Shochet. On behalf of this organization, participants were vetted and selected as representatives by the authorities at the District Tax Office in Zdolbuniv. Some time after its establishment in 1932, a second organization of small business owners was established, led and managed by Moshe Rodman. Both organizations provided legal assistance to their members and helped them overcome their difficulties.
The Fire Department Society
The Fire Department of Mizoch was a veteran and respected institution with many members and a lot of property.
It was housed in a spacious cabin not far from the synagogue. Many of the town's youth were members, and strict discipline was maintained. At the head of the society was Baruch Pliter with his deputy Binyamin Halperin, soninlaw of Moshe Mirmelshtein. The organization would perform maneuvers from time to time and demonstrate their capabilities and equipment to the great joy of all the children in town. They would always participate in the processions on May 3rd and November 11th, the two national holidays, as a few of the members of the society were Christian neighbors. Those Christians knew how to speak the Yiddish tongue well, due to all the meetings and exercises (with the possible exception of special professional terms) that were conducted in that language. All of the members were given special clothes and shiny helmets, and they were required to train frequently. The Christians had a separate yet similar organization, associated with the fire department of the sugar factory. During fires, there would be competition between the two societies, and the Jewish organization always proved its effectiveness.
The Municipal Zionist Library
The library was founded at the dawn of Zionist activism in the country by Yisrael Koppelman, Gisiya Kestenberg, and Hava Teller. At the management level were Shmuel Gentzberg, Yosef Kleinman, Shlomo Koppelman, Laivish Melamed, Yehuda Broinstein, and Reuven Melamed, all leaders of the Hitahadut party. The library included 2,000 books in Yiddish and Hebrew from the best and most beautiful literature, in both original and translated editions. There was also some scientific literature. Additionally, there was a reading hall next to the library. There, aside from books, were daily and weekly newspapers and magazines, both from the land of Israel and from other countries. This library was open to the public three days a week and board members took turns working there. On Saturday nights they would sometimes hold iton chai as well as lectures or readings. The editor of the iton chai was Shmuel Gentzberg, an experienced and very cultured journalist. All the town's luminaries would contribute to the newspaper and would read pieces they wrote on all sorts of topics. Hava Teller would write gentle, sentimental pieces about nature and the cosmos. Laivish Melamed often wrote about the history of Mizoch and created interesting pieces about the town, the people, and their livelihoods (a shame that he perished and his work was lost). The editor Shmuel Gentzberg was always brilliant, especially in his main article on current events. He wrote and read about subjects at the forefront of current events, and Yonah Firer would always close the evening with a humoristic feuilleton, making everyone burst into laughter.
Admission to the iton chai nights was typically by reservation, and the hall would fill up completely. When rival parties to the Hitahadut formed and created separate libraries for themselves, the municipal library was dissolved and its activities discontinued. Some of the books stayed with their borrowers, and the remainder went to the authority of the Hitahadut party. The Beitar movement established a great library for themselves, and the National Guard had their library too. All of the libraries operated up until World War II broke out.
The members of the Hitahadut party founded a kindergarten in town in the early 1920s. This matter didn't come easily; they had to invest a lot of effort and work into it. The first kindergarten opened in Gedalya Kornick's house, and was initially supported ideologically and financially by the Zionists. Over time the kindergarten developed, purchasing suitable equipment in line with their mission. The kindergarten was run entirely in Hebrew and hosted plays and dances independently. The teacher was typically socially involved and active in JNF and the Zionist movement. A large part of the organization of the kindergarten should be credited to Yitzchak Meir Tekser, who helped guide it through its first steps.
The Drama Troupe
Many twists and turns underwent the Drama Troupe in Mizoch: they began at the end of World War I. Among the first of its members were Mirmelshtein (from the village of Holchi), Batsheva Kopit, Avraham Schoenfeld, Yisrael Koppelman, who died at a young age, Shimon Kastenboim, Avraham Pliter, Sarah Olicker, Fulia Shernick, Asher Shapiro, and others. The plays were performed in the fire department's cabin, the hall in the sugar factory, or in Lieba Atlas's warehouse. They put on all kinds of shows, and all proceeds went to orphans and refugees. However, with the aliyah of Sarah Olicker, the death of Koppelman, and the marriages of the rest, the troupe's work began to lull. In 1925, Asher Shapiro restarted the troupe from scratch and performed his own dramatic piece with great success. There were many attempts to reorganize the troupe with talent from the girls' choir, like Liza Melamed and Tehila Shochet, but after only a few performances, the choir came to an end. In 1928, a dental technician named Abba Fidelman settled in Mizoch, and he renewed the activities of the troupe which continued on even under the Soviet occupation. Fidelman tracked down the right people and encouraged them to return to the stage. The troupe performed plays by Gordin,
Sholem Aleichem, Sholem Ash, and plays from the world repertoire. The plays were of high quality and always attracted a large audience. Later, during the Soviet occupation, they performed Gordin's The Slaughter to great acclaim. Many others were in this play: Abba Fidelman, Baba Bakast, Celia Kashuk, Asher Gilberg, and others. The authorities of the occupying forces were present at the play, along with most of the Communist Party, as well as a massive crowd. After the show, the authorities demanded a ban on the repertoire and ordered the performances of the Soviet play The Chimney Sweep (Der Koimenkerer). The veteran members of the troupe were pushed aside, and Fidelman, with endless zeal, brought in young new members. In the ghetto, the troupe did not perform.
The Zionist Movement
Zionism never had to be brought to Mizoch; the town's Jews were Zionists from birth and the children were raised on the love for Zion from infancy. In the teacher Koppelman's cheder, all the children learned Hebrew, Tanach, history of the Jewish People, and love of Zion. They all knew how to recite and sing Bialik's poem To the Bird by heart, up until the line The land where spring never ends. Intense longings for the ancient homeland had laid dormant in the depths of their young souls, and every little spark would set their souls alight.
I remember in the tender years of my childhood learning in Koppelman's room. Someone brought the Gospel of Svoboda and the Balfour Declaration to Mizoch. The older students stitched together a blue and white flag, beautiful and grand, and organized a Lag B'Omer procession for students in the Sosenki Forest. Many young people participated in the procession, and of those walking at the front, I remember Nunek Idsis, Reuven Melamed, and Aharon Kleinman. With song on our lips, we marched joyously and cheerfully, and proceeded into the forest. Someone would lead the song She'u Tziona Ness v'Degel, sung with great intent, until we reached Teller's house. There, we were blocked on the road by large Gentiles who wanted to steal the flag. I remember Nunek Idsis tried to coax them and explain that the Svoboda now allowed Jews to hoist flags. I don't recall precisely how the incident ended; I only remember that I never reached the forest, and that I decided then and there to leave the diaspora. I was not yet ten years old.
In those days, around the years 1920/1921, the first of the pioneers that had escaped from the terror of the Communists arrived in Mizoch, stopping on their way to the land of Israel. The pioneers were all educated and enthusiastic idealists. In town, we thought of them as lunatics and shook our heads at them. They worked all sorts of jobs to make a living from
cleaning cowpens and chopping lumber to giving music classes to the wealthy children. They were with us for a few weeks and planted within Mizoch the first seeds of the Labor Zionist party.
I remember that the first Zionist gatherings were held in Koppelman's cheder, where I went to school when he was alive. His oldest son Yisroel and his good friend Shimon Kastenboim were the main speakers in these meetings. I was able to attend the gatherings because I had organized a children's play and given the proceedings to the benefit of the JNF. I received a print receipt from their headquarters and kept it forever. This was the era of the Russian civil war, and the town passed from the Bolsheviks to Petliura's army, after which the Bolsheviks returned, and then came the antisemitic Hellerchiks from the new Polish army. With great joy, the Jews were mentally preparing themselves to make aliyah. A few wealthy, esteemed men decided to bring a new Hebrew teacher to Mizoch in place of the late Koppelman a teacher who would fill his predecessor's shoes and be able to establish a Tarbut Hebrew school. They decided and so they did. They traveled to Rivne and announced that the new teacher would be coming soon. And one day towards the end of the summer, the longawaited man arrived in town. The teacher was named Yitzchak Shochet; he was tall and handsome with beautiful hornrimmed glasses, dressed majestically and in all means respectably. He only had ten students who paid very high tuition for the time period. He arrived with his wife Tehila and their little daughter Hadassah, who only spoke Hebrew with the Sephardic pronunciation. Their house became the Zionist center of the town. His first public appearance was in the minyan of JNF on Simchat Torah. He spoke Hebrew and Yiddish and enchanted the crowd with his speech. He was a General Zionist, and he successfully founded a branch of the party, and brought in the pharmacist Finkel, Dr. Liebster, and other esteemed Jews. Members of the Hitahadut party brought to town another teacher, in addition to Yitzchak, by name of Leib Dayan. The two teachers had known each other from earlier days, and despite the fact that they had different political views, found for themselves a shared language, to collaborate on expanding Hebraic and Zionist education and to bring it to an appropriate level. Their influence was very deep in the town, and they left their mark on the place for years to come. Thanks to them there was a common vision to see young Jews conversing in fluent Hebrew. Eventually, Mr. Shochet left the profession of teaching, and his friend Dayan moved to Argentina. In their places, many new teachers arrived; however, the impact of those two remained in Mizoch up until our generation.
There were no nonZionist movements in Mizoch. To the town's credit, this remained so during the Soviet occupation.
The first attempt to organize a Zionist youth group for Hashomer Hatza'ir in Mizoch was conducted by Yosef Foigelshtein of Rivne in 1927. Foigelshtein came to stay with his brother, the soninlaw of Yehoshua Katz. The branch was formed and listed more than fifty youths as members. They organized a few gatherings and worked on plans of action, but immediately after Foigelshtein's departure from Mizoch, the center was dispersed amid disputes over power and roles within the group. Learning from the experience, another attempt to open a branch of the youth movement was made in 1928 by Asher Gilberg and Moshe Perliock, rebranded as Hashomer Haleumi, with the encouragement of the teacher Yitzchak Shochet. This organization was, in fact, the first Zionist youth group in the area. After many great efforts, they managed to include within the organization a significant portion of the town's children, who willingly accepted the discipline imposed upon them. Thanks to the modest dues and the work of the adults, they rented a meeting space in Aharon Shernick's house, and created connections with the main leadership in Warsaw and the Galil leadership in Rivne, and the organization became a major player in town. The drama troupe of the youth movement and the choir under the leadership of Siome Olicker performed with great success and attracted people to the ranks of the movement. Rabbi Yonah Namirober, father of Liza, a member of the leadership, provided much assistance to the movement.
Members of the Hitahadut began to organize the Gordonia, both for young children and teenagers, successfully recruiting some of the unaffiliated youth to the group.
After the split of Hashomer Haleumi and the departure of the Revisionists from the General Zionist movement, Moshe Perliock, a student from the gymnasium in Rivne, joined the Beitar movement. During the summer break of 1931, when Moshe returned home to Mizoch, he founded the town's Beitar chapter. Beitar began its activities with great momentum and soon cut off the other groups, taking its place as the foremost youth movement. They had great success with recruiting Siome Olicker to their ranks. Aside from being popular in town, he also had significant organizational skills. With the aliyah of Perliock to the Land of Israel, Siome was appointed as commander of the chapter, and under his leadership, Beitar of Mizoch became one of the best, most magnificent, and largest branches in the entire country.
In the days of the formation of Beitar, a branch of Hatzohar and a branch of the Soldiers' Alliance also opened up, which involved circles that were previously not engaged with the Zionist movement.
Here are the Zionist organizations that were active in Mizoch:
The activists of two of the groups, all friends since birth, would not even greet one another, as they saw each other as not just political opponents, but personal enemies. In the middle of the 1930s, Gordonia and Beitar founded two training camps for their members. With the revocation of the certificates from Beitar by the Zionist leadership, and of intensification of the iIlegal immigration operations, the Beitar camp came to its end, while the Gordonia's camp continued on.
Only when it came to sports was there consistent collaboration between the movements. The sports club Z.S.C. (the Żydowski Sports Club) was made up of the best soccer players from all the Jewish youth groups, and managed to successfully face off against the Christian sports clubs. Oftentimes, they even won against the local Polish army's strong team. The club only appeared united against nonJewish groups; within their organizations, they continued to maintain their unique character.
The Jewish National Fund
Until the split with the Revisionist camp, the Jewish National Fund was the only institution that everyone accepted. It was considered a privilege and an honor to be a member of the local JNF committee. Not a single household in the town refrained from hanging the blue box on its walls. The special projects of the foundation, its benefit banquets, were always successful and were a major event in the city. Activists and unions fought for the right to collect money for the JNF.
The best activists from all of the parties and organizations participated in the local JNF committee, and Shlomo Koppelman served all those years as a JNF treasurer.
Keren Hayesod rarely operated in the city. While there was a committee of dignitaries, it would only start operating when an emissary from the headquarters arrived. They would then go out to raise money, which would continue for a few days, and some lectures would be delivered, and with the departure of the emissary, the action almost completely halted. Keren Hayesod's efforts centered on a small number of donors and the activists involved were mostly the same as those who worked at the JNF.
Keren Tel Hai
This fund became a factor in the city after the boycott announced by the Revisionists against the JNF and the establishment of the New Zionist Organization. Its projects enjoyed considerable success and the new proceeds from emptying the boxes caught up with the JNF's proceeds. Baruch Pliter headed this fund and most of its activists were members of Beitar, Hatzohar, and Brit Hahayal. The Jews eventually got used to the competition between the JNF and Keren Tel Hai, and many contributed to both of the foundations.
Incidents, Events, and Special Occasions
Life in the town was usually quiet and gray. But sometimes however rarely there were occasions and events that left their marks for days.
The Murder of A.S. Lenger
An event that shocked the community and haunted it for a long time was the murder of Avraham Shmuel Lenger. It happened during the war between the Bolsheviks and Petliura's army. He was slashed with a sword in broad daylight in the middle of the road for no particular reason. After this incident, a secret defense force with firearms was organized. The rioters heard about this, and from then on, throughout all the upheavals, nobody harmed the Jews and their property.
The Death of Kashuk
On one of the Sabbaths during which Rosh Chodesh MenachemAv is celebrated, the elderly Kashuky left his house in good health to go to synagogue to serve as hazzan. When he lifted the Torah and reached the words and give us long lives in the prayer Birkat Hachodesh,
he collapsed and died with the Torah in his hands. The event was the talk of the day, and it also received a lot of publicity in the mainstream press of those days.
The Committee for Orphans' Masquerade Ball
The magnificent masquerade ball held in 1928 by the local committee for orphans was a source of great pride for Mizoch. The masquerade ball was held in Maizlitch's silo hall, which two decorators and an outside painter decorated for weeks. The masks were a great success and marveled everyone with their original designs. The organizer of this masquerade ball was Avraham Pliter, who was a man with a welldeveloped sense of beauty, and who was wellversed in the art of decoration and makeup. He arranged for an orchestra, a bountiful and tasteful buffet, and for guests from the cities of Rivne, Dubno, and Ostroh. The masquerade ball brought in a lot of money for the organizers and justified all of the investments put into it.
The Inauguration of the Big Synagogue
The owner of the sugar factory, the Jewish philanthropist Halbmilion, donated a large sum to the renovation of the synagogue. He himself took care of finding suitable painters and he spared no effort nor expense to give the synagogue an elegant look. When the work was completed, the synagogue committee organized a glorious inauguration inspired by the benefactor. Thanks to Halbmilion, the ceremony was attended by all the high officials of the district with the starosta in the lead, army representatives, the Pravoslavie and Catholic priests, the prince Karwitsky, and lots of other curious people from all denominations. The synagogue shone with beauty and it raised the reputation of the Jews and their religion in the eyes of the authorities and the population.
The Inauguration of the Beitar Flag
The inauguration of the flag of Beitar Mizoch was held when the movement was at its peak in 1934. The local chapter invited to the celebration all of the parts and factions of all the movement's branches near and far. Consequently, several hundred Beitar followers and soldiers from the Brit Hahayal came to town in full uniform. The officers of Brit Hahayal, who came wearing their swords and symbols of rank, made an unforgettable impression on the town's residents. The military procession of all those gathered made a significant impression on all who saw it, and the Poles had said that Mizoch was occupied for a day by a Jewish army. And indeed, with every step taken, they would run into a Jewish military man. The flag inauguration took place in the big synagogue, with participation of Dr. Chertok who presented the Beitar center the local rabbi,
|Parade of the Beitar group in Mizocz|
representatives of all of the Zionist parties of the area, the institutions, and government representatives. During this event, Dr. Chertok revealed the flag and guests stuck silver pegs into the flagpole. In the evening, a magnificent ball with lots of guests was held. It should be noted with satisfaction that although the celebration was partisan, it brought great pleasure to all of the Zionists.
The Immigrations to the Land of Israel
The departure of the first immigrants to the Land of Israel had a significant impression on the town. The departures of Yaakov Gelman and his family and those of Sarah Olicker and Mordechai Shinfeld were accompanied by banquets, parties, speeches, and large crowds. Women and children came to say goodbye to them, and all of the residents gave them blessings for their journeys. As time went on, people got used to this sight. Nonetheless, each departure caused excitement in the town. Nobody left Mizoch for the Land of Israel without a banquet and a crowded farewell.
Dr. Liebster's Suicide
The old bachelor Dr. Liebster was admired in the town and was considered a quiet, levelheaded, and most decent person. He was a member of the General Zionist Organization, donated routinely to foundations, was acquainted with the pharmacist Finkel's family, and had connections with Christian high society. He never fought with anyone, and he never involved himself in conflicts, gossip, or murmurings none of which were lacking in Mizoch. This perception of him was shattered out of the blue when Dr. Liebster killed himself. He got up one summery Saturday morning, washed himself, shaved, put on clean underwear, lay down on the couch, and shot himself through the mouth with a gun in his possession… I do not think since the founding of the town a suicide had ever occurred there. The town was therefore in turmoil for many days. Everyone talked about the incident, theorized about the content of the suicide letter left to the pharmacist, and finally decided that the surest death was that of a shot through the mouth and not through the temple like normal.
Relationships with Neighbors
The relationships between the Jews of Mizoch and their Ukrainian, Polish, and Czech neighbors were exclusively related to trade. There were no social relationships between them. Only a few individual families established social relationships with their Christian neighbors in the town. That being said, a large part of the Jewish population, whose livelihoods were at the village, had sincere, mutual friendships with the Ukrainians, Czechs, and Poles. The Czech teenager Lyuba Bachan, for example, spoke Yiddish like she was one of the Jewish girls,
visited the youth Zionist clubs, and was good friends with the Jewish girls her age. Thanks to respectable relations between these neighbors, the city did not face suffering from Petliura's army during the wave of disturbances that befell Ukraine throughout his reign, nor did it face suffering during the war between the Poles and the Bolsheviks. The murder of Yerachmiel Lenger was at the hands of foreign and distant rioters who were immediately stopped by local Ukrainian leaders. Even when the Nazis were in control, many of the town's Christian population tried to maintain friendships with the Jews. Here is the problem, though: these friendships misled the residents and community leaders and planted the dangerous illusion that the town of Mizoch would yet again be the exception and that it would be saved from annihilation and extermination. And indeed, when it came time to put this to the test, all of these friends stood over the blood of the Jews and broke their promises to notify in advance what was about to happen to them, to provide shelter to them, and to rescue the ghetto residents. About half of the Jews of Mizoch managed to escape on the day of the destruction through the fences of the burning ghetto. Most of them, however, later died at the hands of their neighbors and acquaintances. Of the many hundreds of survivors, only 19 lived to see the defeat of the enemy. Most of them are in Israel and only a few ended up in America.
The Soviet Occupation
Upon establishing itself in the town, the Soviet government immediately introduced significant fundamental changes both to Mizoch's appearance and its way of life. The expansive, flourishing trade industry stopped in its tracks. The town's private businesses were shut down one by one, and their owners and managers tried to squeeze their way into jobs as clerks and workers in the government factories established in the town. The rich people who were afraid to stay in the town settled successfully in cities near and far while concealing their backgrounds.
The town's Zionist organizations shut down on their own the day war broke out between Germany and Poland. Young people from all of the Zionist organizations joined Komsomol in order to hide their Zionist backgrounds and to be saved from expulsion. Because there were no Jewish communists in Mizoch under Polish rule, and the Jews who rose to prominence among the Bolsheviks were all active in one way or another in different Zionist organizations the Zionists did not suffer any particular harassment. In secret, many Zionists continued to congregate to dream together about Zionist work and making aliyah to Israel.
The residents of the town, who under Polish rule had flaunted their beautiful and elegant
clothing as well as their gorgeous and neat apartments, adapted immediately to their new situation and altered themselves beyond recognition. Everyone knew how to speak Russian and Ukrainian and they at least seemed to integrate completely into Soviet life.
The population of Mizoch swelled due to the many refugees arriving from Nazioccupied Polish territories, who found residence and work in the town. Everyone knew, however, that the authorities were plotting against a large portion of the Jewish population. This was evident through the mass and frequent deportations of Poles, refugees, and some Jews and Ukrainians. Investigations into the pasts of all of the town's residents did not bode well for the Jews and robbed them of any sleep, although, unfortunately for them, the Soviets did not get to massively expel them. And so in their blindness, the majority stayed in their places instead of fleeing from the Nazis deep into Russia on the day of the Red Army's retreat. And everyone knows how that story ends.
It is worth noting that the few Communist Jews in Mizoch who rose to prominence only under the Soviet rule not only did no harm to the suspects, but also attempted to protect them and prevent harsh rulings against them.
Indeed, Misha Vigoda, an educated guy who spent eight years in a Polish prison for Communist activity, tried at the beginning of his government career to harass the Zionists and to mention their crimes at every opportunity; luckily for us, however, he quickly fell out of favor and was dismissed from his government position. I remember that during the first days of Soviet rule in Mizoch, he did not respond to my greetings and always turned his head away from me, even though we knew each other well and spent time in the same circles during the days of Polish rule. During one of his public appearances at a mass rally, he viciously attacked the Zionists, and, pointing at me standing on a balcony in front of the stage, promised to hamper the Zionists. For some reason unknown to me, however, he quickly fell out of favor with the authorities and he lost his high standing.
Since then, he always sought my company and greeted me first… Among the new leaders were a few influential Jews. I especially remember Sheinman, the director of the sugar factory. He was a talented and lively young man, an avid Communist with a warm Jewish heart. We talked a lot, and at night we freely discussed politics. He tried to get me to write an antiZionist statement. Naively, I opened up my heart to him and passionately defended the Zionist ideology. I note here with appreciation that he did not turn me into the authorities and only insisted that circumstances had changed and warned me to be careful. Our relationship became distant from then on and we no longer met for friendly chats. When I tried to ask him for a job at the factory,
as he had at one time promised, he denied me work under various pretexts, ultimately advising me to work as a menial laborer and to keep to myself. From then on, I knew I was a candidate for deportation.
During the Red Army's retreat from Mizoch, I walked next to him for some time while escaping deep into Russia. He gave me many pieces of advice as to how to act in Russia and hinted to me that the war had saved me from deportation. We parted at Pitovka and I never heard from him again.
Under Nazi Rule
The Nazi occupation began with a pogrom against the Jewish population. Miraculously, the pogrom ended with two or three casualties, a few wounded and some store looting. It should be noted that it was not the Germans who initiated the pogrom. The Ukrainians began it on their own accord, and had it not been for the quick intervention of the German army, it would have ended up much more tragic.
For a long time after the German takeover of the area, Jews were not harmed. Furthermore, even after the order to establish the ghetto, the authorities took into consideration the Judenrat's opinion regarding the determination of the ghetto's borders, and in fact, the ghetto was open even after its establishment. Jews were able to exit it, Christians were able to enter it, and many of the residents worked at factories outside the ghetto and came into unrestricted contact with the Gentiles.
The Judenrat was comprised of experienced and veteran community dignitaries: Abba Shtivel head chairman, Shmuel Bonis, Melech Gusack, Moshe Berez, Yonah Namirober, Avraham Weinstein, and Hersch Goldbrenner as representative of the refugees. Moshe Rodman took the role of secretary. Because of disputes over authority and interactions with the Germans, he got into conflicts with the Judenrat, and the Germans expelled him from the town. After a few days, his wife Sonia and two sons were also taken. Nothing is known about their fates. At the head of the Jewish police was a member of the Judenrat, Goldbrenner of the refugees. The police's job was to make the deserters from forced labor return to work and to collect the various levies imposed by the Judenrat, in order to satisfy the German demands for money, clothes, dishes, jewelry, etc.
Not once did the police ever act violently or abusively. A few of the Jews, mainly from the professionals among them, even succeeded in endearing themselves to the Germans, thanks to the free services they provided. This deluded the ghetto's prisoners with false hopes and empty promises that Mizoch would be saved from extermination due to its usefulness to the Germans, and if the worst comes, they would save the Jews who are essential to them. Abba Fidelman, for example, was a very effective dentist for the Germans, and he believed that this would save him and his family, up until he was led naked to the slaughter pit.
He left the bunker where he was hiding with his fatherinlaw Mr. Sheinman, when he heard that anyone who would be found hiding would be shot on the spot. Sheinman warned him that the Germans should not be trusted, but Fidelman took his family and settled in the market square, at the front, so that his German acquaintances would notice him. One of them indeed approached him and advised him to give him his watch and all of the valuables in his possession for deposit. He promised to return them to him immediately after his release to continue his work for the Germans. It is interesting that Mr. Sheinman, who was hidden with Fidelman in the bunker, survived and is currently in Israel, whereas Fidelman was among the first to be shot.
At the time of the ghetto, aside from the aforementioned Rodman, the Germans also took Reuven Gelman, as he had gone out to the villages to trade with the farmers and told them that according to information in his possession, the Germans were being beaten on the front. It is possible he would not have been punished for simply leaving the ghetto, but there was no saving him from being punished for spreading rumors of German weakness. Due to a small monetary dispute, the butcher Shlomo Kniever tipped off the Germans about Zeide Gelman (the brother of the aforementioned Reuven), who had slaughtered a cow in the ghetto, and the Germans hanged him in the town square in front of his wife, children, and elderly mother.
Throughout its entire existence, the Mizoch ghetto never suffered from need or hunger. The Jews knew how to get by. Flour, fruit, vegetables, and even meat aplenty were smuggled into the ghetto. The environment was as bountiful as it always had been; even in the ghetto, nothing was missing. No wonder, then, that the Jews of Mizoch believed that God would not bring any evil onto them. Even when survivors of nearby cities, who had begun to flee death, (Verkovich, Yaziorni, Dubno, etc.) came to the town, and told them that all hope was lost and that the days of Mizoch were numbered and also that they must flee immediately into the forests the residents of Mizoch did not believe them. They continued to sit beside their pots of meat, quite literally, and believe that it won't happen to us.
It is possible that if at the time there had been courageous and wise leadership, they would have warned the residents of Mizoch in time, and most of them could have scattered among the nearby forests and thus been saved from extinction. A battalion of partisan fighters also could have been established from among the excellent youth of the town, as all the optimal conditions for success existed. But this illusion was their downfall. Only in the last days did the youth start to dream of escaping to the forest, weapons in hand. Yet time worked against them and they were too late.
On Tuesday, October 13th, 1942, all of the Jews were summoned to the market square and led to pits prepared by armed soldiers. Before they left for their final journey,
they managed to set their homes and property on fire so that the oppressors would not be able to benefit from their belongings. Although the firefighters immediately went into action, they were unable to quickly get the massive fire under control, and most of the town went up in flames.
Details about the last days of Mizoch are found in the records and memories of the few survivors who experienced the Holocaust in the flesh, who fought with bitter Death and defeated him.
After the fall of the Nazi oppressors, I visited the remains of my beloved Mizoch. The Banderite gangs, who endeavored to complete the destruction started by the Germans, still roamed the area. Some loved ones, who managed to escape from the German predator, fell at their hands. The home of the sole Jew in Mizoch, Mr. David Dartava, resembled a fortress under siege; sandbags in the house, barbed wire against the windows and doors, grenades in hand, and constant vigilance. The town was terrifying in its shocking destruction, and it was as silent as a graveyard everywhere.
Now, with the aliyah of the Dartava family, not a trace of the Jewish people is left in Mizoch. And only in the Ukrainian houses can evidence of the roots of rich and vibrant Jewish life be found in the form of clothes, dishes, furniture, and jewelry. Jewish life in Mizoch was cut off prematurely when it was still in full bloom; cruelly and treacherously, it was destroyed.
|The Gordonia Hachshara (kibbutz preparation) group in Mizocz
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