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[Page 198]

Some of Our Personalities

by Shalom Cholavsky

Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp

 

Reb Hirsch Kalmanovitz

Reb Hirsch Kalmanovitz lived next to our house, next to the Kuzimir Synagogue. Reb Hirsch was tall of stature, thin, moved and spoke quickly, while his wife Shayna was short of stature, with a calm demeanor, and her movement and speech were quiet and serene. The husband and wife were opposites, yet they completed each other.

Reb Hirsch would rise early, open the doors and the shutters, go outside, and with a large broom clean the square paving stones of the road from the droppings of the horses and cows, and would immediately hurry with his tallit under his arm to the Kuzimir Synagogue to pray in the first minyan.[1] Shayna his spouse arose from her sleep later, opened the grocery store, and seated herself on a bench anticipating customers. They called them “Shalavenkar” because of the planed boards that covered their house, which was built of wood.

With his return from the morning prayers, Reb Hirsch would set a pot (which was called “lek”) of water on the fire, drink tea, dine quickly, and enter his small chamber, whose walls were made of thin boards and constituted the nerve center of the whole family. This was his “office,” here were kept his account books, letters, bills, documents, and here ideas popped up. Here was the place of honor of Reb Hirsch, the brain of the family.

Reb Hirsch had three daughters and two sons. He married off his daughters and sons according to the following arrangement: two daughters in Stolpce, a son in Baranovitz, and one daughter near him in Nesvizh. The youngest son Chaim was friendly from childhood.

According to his way of life, the children needed to remain near him after their marriages, or in the nearby area, so that he could enjoy seeing the brightness of their faces, help them when things were difficult for them, and to see their happiness.

Reb Hirsch had two grocery stores: one in his house and the second in the market (“in the raden”). Shayna sat in one, and in the others – his children. In his narrow room in the morning, he would arrange the business of the family, and of his stores. No details of the situation in the stores or his family's business escaped his mind. His business decisions were based on forecasts and justified by common sense and realism. He held the reins of his and his children's businesses. His advice was accepted almost without doubt within his family.

He would enter the store by way of the interior door, lay out his new consideration before Shayna his wife, and before she would respond to it, he would return to his little room.

About once a month, at set times he would visit one of his daughters in the adjacent villages or his son, when their businesses were in a state of decline and he would help them with advice or money, and set them back on “their feet.”

Reb Hirsch was deaf, and his voice – loud and fast, accompanied by hasty hand movements, like the movements of the conductor of an orchestra. With strangers he would speak by means of a receiver. Yet, with those who were speaking with him it was difficult to glean anything clearly from the speed of his speech. If the one with whom he was speaking succeeded in making a word or two heard, Reb Hirsch would grab hold of them and inundate him again from his “horn of plenty” of ideas and advice….

Reb Hirsch was a polite man. One could never say “Shalom” to an elderly or young man before him, and he was not accustomed to entering into a conversation with another, but once he began to converse, one could not quickly bring it to an end. It was difficult also to “digest” most of his original and brilliant ideas. Reb Hirsch had a sharp mind, and a wide range of knowledge, one of the more intelligent men that I ever met, and he influenced me in my childhood.

After he completed the arrangements of his business matters, Reb Hirsch would seat himself next to the books. He was a quick reader and comprehended quickly. In the course of one day he would complete the reading of a thick book, and you could be absolutely certain that he had understood it well with his mind. There was barely one book in our village library that he had not read. His reading encompassed the most different and varied topics. All day he sat in his little room, absorbed in books. Towards evening he would peek into the store, his garden and his household, and hurry to the synagogue for the afternoon prayers.

Frequently he would go out to wander around by himself, in the green fields, absorbed in his thoughts, enjoying the view of the fields around him, and politely blessing every acquaintance who chanced upon his way. Between the afternoon and evening prayers he would sit by himself in his corner and study a page of Gemara, since he could not hear “Ein Yaakov” of the Rabbi of Kuzimir. Reb Hirsch was an exalted scholar of the Torah, erudite in his experience of the world, and thinker of original ideas, deep and brilliant. He was an ardent Zionist, and kept like the apple of his eye the shekel[2] from the First Zionist Congress. Together with this he believed in the coming of the Messiah.

In the long winter evenings, after my return from the “cheder” of the “Varshever” (Rabbi Butzin, may his memory be for a blessing), I used to visit my friend Chaim, who was

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my age, Reb Hirsch's son. Chaim excelled in short stories, which he heard with great interest. Reb Hirsch Kalmanovitz would reveal to me fondness and rejoiced with my arrival.

On market day – Wednesday in the evening, Reb Hirsch Kalmanovitz's store would be crowded with farmers that were returning home. The “goyim,”[3] the regular shoppers from the villages, would buy from him kerosene, matches, “kalach” (loaves of white bread), salted fish, and more. When they had finished their shopping, they would slice the kalach, grab hold of the salted fish with two hands like a harmonica, and chew it with their teeth, beginning with the head and finishing with the tail, and it is not known if he came to their innards. One of the customers was Alyushka from Seilovitz,[4] whose eyes were always dancing. He had a habit, without which he could not return to his house in the village, to buy by himself all of his needs. When Shayna, the owner of the store, would make up his bill, when she was hunched over the table, Alyushka would quickly grab for himself a wet salted fish from the barrel, quickly thrust it into the belly of his cloak, and he was so satisfied with his theft that he would pay his bill (and Shayna would add to his bill, in advance, the price of the stolen fish), and go out happy to his house in Seilovitz.

Every week this performance would regularly return, and Chaim and I never missed the opportunity to watch it through the cracks in the wall.

With my going out to Vilna to complete my studies, Reb Hirsch Kalmanovitz began to reveal great interest in me. He would read my letters, written in Hebrew, to his household, and praise my writing to my father. In the vacation months when I returned home, I used to visit him, to listen to his interesting and on–target matters, which were always, for me, material for much thought.

I remember, one day some time before the outbreak of the Second World War, Reb Hirsch Kalmanovitz met my uncle, Reb Aharon Levin the shochet.[5] The two of them were accustomed, from time to time, to meet and talk. Reb Hirsch would hurl matters at Reb Aharon: “See” – he said to him – “you sent your children to the ends of the world, your two sons – to Australia – your daughter, to Belgium, and in the time of your old age you are left abandoned. I think that you made a mistake. A Jew is obligated to establish his family near to his house, to marry off his sons close to his house, to worry about Jewish continuity, close to home, as I have done.” Reb Aharon Levin sighed and assented in silence.

When the Bolsheviks arrived in 1939, he sensed the great upheaval that had occurred. With great acuity he understood the reality of the German invasion of Poland. In a conversation that I will never forget – and it seems to me that it was the last one between us in September of that year – Reb Hirsch said to me that every period of trouble in the lives of the Jewish people engendered a new spiritual movement. He brought many proofs for his words from history. And, even with Hitler's invasion, a new spiritual movement in the life of the nation was born. Let this be the answer of the Jews that would occur in the future.

His words were not optimistic, yet they were imbued with marvelous faith in the vitality of Judaism, and in Israel's eternity.

I did not continue to talk with him further. In the sad days of the Soviet rule, and afterwards, in the terrible days under the German conquest, I would see him passing like a shadow next to his house.

He made his final way with all of the Jewish community to the market square. Of all of the widespread family of Reb Hirsch Kalmanovitz, not one person was left alive.

 

Shaul Friedshtien

In my childhood I heard his name only as one of the young men who learned in Vilna. After that I saw him in our town, in the days of the summer vacation, dressed in gymnast's clothing and a special hat with the Hebrew badge: Vilna Culture Seminary for Teachers.

At the age of 14, I began to learn in the Study House for Teachers “Culture” named for Kahanshtam in Vilna. I was accepted in Grade Aleph [First]. Shaul was a student at that time in Grade Hey [Fifth], and was on the verge of completion. A stranger in the new area, I walked along the length of the wall of the great hall in the seminar. Saul, when he noticed me, would speak words of encouragement to me, throw a glance of affection my way, and sometimes a caress. His relationship to me cheered me up a little, for soon he would be a teacher.

 

nes199.jpg
Shaul Friedshtien

 

The Educator of Grade Aleph was the Director of the Seminar Dr. Schmetterling (nowadays Gilead), who was at the time in his thirties, and everyone very much appreciated him. However, we the young ones almost did not merit Dr. Schmetterling's lessons, except for a few conversations about the age of maturation. In these discussions he had time to come to know everyone: and I, the youngest in the class, had the nickname “zuneniu.”[6]

Shaul was Dr. Schmetterling's friend. One of the educational values that distinguished the Seminar were the close relationships between teachers and students, and especially between Dr. Schmetterling and his students. Dr. Schmetterling had the custom of visiting his students in their rooms, to talk with them, and to take an interest in their futures, and the condition of their spirits.

Shaul was very much influenced by Dr. Schmetterling's visits, and adopted for himself the unique educational values of the seminar, which was the most excellent among the Hebrew educational institutions in Poland. He taught in Svencionys and as his students attested at the time of my visit in that village, was very successful as the Director of the “Culture” school. Afterwards Shaul served as the Director of the “Culture” School in Nesvizh in the years before the war.

On September 1, 1939, I was supposed to begin teaching in the “Culture” school. However, on that same day the war broke out, I was drafted into the Polish army, and on September 17th the Soviets invaded our village. The Hebrew school began to teach in Yiddish. Shaul and I served in it as teachers. Among the teachers were: Binyamin Katz,[7] Moltchedesky, Velodka, and others. The Educational Director of the school was Mayzel, a Soviet Jew, a Yevsek[8] type, an antagonistic dwarf. He always suspected that of all people, the Jewish teachers would trip him up. Mostly his worry was given to the “kashrut” of the school, and we endured days of torment. It was difficult to be in the children's area. Their simple souls were afflicted. They seemed abandoned and betrayed. We seemed helpless in their eyes, and sometimes they even expressed feelings of pity for us. But the belief in each other was not weakened.

In the evenings, I used to sit in Shaul's house and discuss the reaction of the children, their longing for the land of Israel, for the “Culture” school, their surprise and their confusion. Bella, Shaul's wife, and their small daughter Nava, who was 5 years old, blue–eyed and light–haired, spoke Hebrew,

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and created a national–Jewish atmosphere in Shaul's house that was unique in its kind. Shaul was a man flowing with optimism, a lover of life, and believed that light could be seen.

Our conversations were animated, stormy, and charged with great anxiety. Memories of friends in the land, the fate of fellow teachers, the seminar on Vilna, were brought up. We groped about in a fog, without knowing what was happening in the Jewish world in the land, and the question that gnawed at the mind: where is the exit?

Shaul spoke much to his family in South Africa and his friends and acquaintances that had gone up to the land. We were struck a hard blow when the Chairman of the Jewish community, Yoel Rosovsky, was arrested, and after him, over a short period of time, his wife Freydl and his son Nyoma. We suspected that the intention of the blow was: to strike at the nerve center of the local Jewish National life.

On one of the days there broke out a disturbance in the school: Mayzel, the Director, burst into the teachers' room like one bitten by a snake; “What? You hung Bialik's[9] picture in the school?” In the great hall of the school among the other pictures that were hung “with approval,” there were also pictures of two Jewish writers: Shalom Aleichem and I.L. Peretz. It became clear that Mayzel, with his great “expertise,” could not distinguish between Bialik and I.L. Peretz.

After a brief time we moved, Shaul and I, to serve as teachers of mathematics, to the Polish gymnasia[10] that had been turned, over the course of time, into a Russian school. Grodis, a previous Director, also served as a teacher.

On one of the days all the teachers of the city were called to a general assembly, to choose a “Teacher's Council.” At the head of the assembly sat party representatives. Most of the participants in the assembly were Polish teachers. Shaul was nominated by one of the teachers as a candidate for the Council. Before they proceeded to the election a past teacher at the Jewish School, Zaltzman, requested permission to speak; she suggested that they reject Shaul's candidacy, since he was a Zionist.

A silence hung in the hall, but in the hearts of many her words awakened great anger. I requested permission to speak, and I said: “If you want to reject Shaul because of his Zionism, you will have to reject the vast majority of the Jews who live here, because they are all Zionists. Hebrew is the living language of our children, and a large portion of our adults; I do not recognize the existence of the languages of reactionism.” I concluded my words with the words “History will prove who was right.” The community answered me with extended applause, and I myself was dumbfounded by my words. The members of the leadership, I imagine, did not all catch my words, which were spoken in the Polish language. Shaul was elected to the Teachers' Council by a great majority of voices. Had it not been for his election, danger was surely expected for him and the members of his family.

That same night I was convinced that they would come “to take me.” However, to my surprise, they did not come. Present at this teachers' assembly was a teacher who taught history in the gymnasia. She had arrived from Moscow not long before, and followed with great interest events after the elections. Her name was Bubilova. Her husband was head of the N.K.V.D.[11] in Nesvizh: her facial appearance was Mongolian, and she awoke respect with her every appearance. In her conversations with Shaul she asked about what the substance of the argument was that broke out in the matter of the elections, what was the nature of the “Culture” school, what is Zionism? And what were the spiritual lives of the Jews before the Soviets came, etc. When Shaul was convinced, after misgivings, that her intentions were not to conceal a trap for him, but a sincere desire of a Russian Jewish woman for a national identity, he told her about the movement for Jewish national revival. Shaul had many discussions with her to explain our national movement, and presented her with a number of the textbooks that were used in the “Culture” schools. Bubilova was captivated by the Zionist idea, and revealed great interest in the land of Israel.

These two years under the Soviet government bound Shaul and me in deep spiritual bonds. With the coming of the Germans I worked with Shaul, with Lolik Avalevitz and Noach Tcharni in the digging of peat, in the area of Radziwill Castle. The hours of work in the field were the quietest hours, since we were far from the city and from the tension that ruled over it. To the field where we worked arrived faint echoes of shelling by German units that shelled besieged battalions of the Soviet army, but we in our anticipation deluded ourselves that the Germans were retreating. This was our heart's desire, the prayer that escaped from the straits.[12]

Shaul's height became stooped over. It was difficult to recognize in his face a speck of the optimism that distinguished him so much. His heart prophesied in him.

On October 29, 1941, a group of Jews, Shaul and I among them, was ordered to transport cattle from the Nesvizh station to the Horodziej station. Towards evening the order was revoked, but instead they ordered the Jews to present themselves the next day, in the morning, in the market square, for the purpose of checking documents. Towards evening I approached Shaul to see how he was doing. He was excited. His eyes were full of anxiety. Five minutes before the time of the curfew I left his house – the House of Yereshevitz – and from then I did not see him.

By Shalom Cholavsky

 

Reb Manya the Shamash[13] (Savirschik)

A Jew of short stature, hunched over and gaunt. His beard unkempt, his eyes sparkling with fire, always peering to the sides, and his voice a little hoarse. So I remember him from my childhood, and so he remains engraved in my memory, as if his days were frozen in time and he did not get older.

Manya did not walk in the middle of the sidewalk, but on its edges. He did not like to encounter people. Always a little sunken into himself, his eyes flying to the sides, and following on the heels of what was happening around him. His eye was astute and watchful.

He was the shamash of the Kuzimir synagogue. It was possible for the synagogue to exist without a rabbi, but without Manya was impossible to imagine.

Manya's house was not far from the synagogue. It was taken care of by many daughters who arrived periodically, but nature did not grant them the grace and charm to win the young men over to them. And Manya did not reveal initiative in this area, to take care of his daughters. More than he was a husband to a wife or a father to a family, he “belonged” to his family. There were certainly many reasons for this, but they were hidden from my eyes. He was the shamash of the synagogue, and fulfilled the work that was dependent upon him, but he was also the “baal kriah,”[14] and also sharp and expert in the Talmud, Mishna, Tanakh,[15] and the “Final Decisor” in matters of Jewish law. His hand was never on the losing side of a disagreement with a rabbi.

A rabbi that was accepted to serve in Kuzimir was obligated to stand for a “test” with Reb Manya. And a rabbi that Reb Manya found to be not ordained,[16] would have his life made miserable; he would bomb him with questions, and argue sharply with him between the afternoon and evening prayers, in the hour when they would learn a page of Gemara together. With great logic and deep knowledge and a stormy voice, he would mercilessly overpower his opponent. His was hot–tempered – and his speech was a double–edged sword. And when he “entered a trance,” his voice would be cut off in the middle and he would make shattered syllables whose meaning was impossible to understand, for they were swallowed in his throat.

He did not show favoritism to anyone in the law. Not a wealthy person, not a “respected Jew,” not one with a fine pedigree, not a “Master of a Name,”[17] only the truth, and it alone “exists and is in force.” People sought to avoid being torn by his sharp and biting tongue. He never remained “obligated” to respond to a person. He also had another “profession.” He was really a unique craftsman among his kind. He had a “talent” for being hungry. And when the head of the household was hungry, the eight members of his household hungered with him. He was hungry, yet he did not bow his head before a wealthy person. And when it came to “taking a sip of whiskey,” it was not just a sip, but a revival of the soul.

Even I once fell “sacrifice” to the arrows of his sharp tongue. And this is what happened: in the Talmud–Torah[18] my beloved teacher was Reb Yudelevitz. He taught the Hebrew language and its grammar, and especially brought me close to the Hebrew book. In one of the lessons the teacher requested that I describe “a personality in your near environs.” I wrote about the personality of Reb Manya, in the styles of Sholom Aleichem and Mendele,[19] by whose stories I was influenced at the time. The composition found favor in the eyes of the teacher Yudelevitz, and he turned it over for reading to Niomka Eisenbud, in whose house he lived. And so it became known to Reb Manya

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that I described his personality. When I arrived at the afternoon prayers, at the synagogue I saw Reb Manya taking large steps to greet me, a towel in his hand, and all “volcano,” ready to rip me up alive: “A shaygetz like you, you will write compositions about me? A shaygetz[20] like you, I will tell your father, wait!!”[21] I immediately “activated” my legs, and I began to run around the bima,[22] in order to escape from his eyes, but he sensed that I was inside and began to run after me, until I fled from the synagogue.

For a few days I did not cross the threshold of the synagogue, until I had confessed my “sin” to my father, and my father quelled Reb Manya's anger, and almost forgave me for my “transgression.”

 

Reb Aharon Levin (The Shochet)

A patriarchal figure, with a pleasant, welcoming face, respected and beloved in his community. He was my uncle – Reb Aharon Levin – the shochet in the city.

He was generous. A day that he was invited to do good: an act of lovingkindness, a gift in secret – was for him a day of pleasure. And when his wife would reproach him, that he had to worry about the children, that the days of old age were approaching, and “strength is not eternal,” Reb Aharon would listen with love and be silent.

His inclination was good, and he was called to good deeds. His world view, his religiosity, were drawn from the fundamental principle of the world – good deeds.

His upright character, his beard that old age cast upon him – his magnanimous qualities – were known by many and many adults and children were fond of him. Immediately when I encountered my uncle, Reb Aharon, at home or on the street, he honored me with a coin, to buy sweets.

His eldest son Shraga went up to the land with the Third Aliyah,[23] his daughter Sarah'le the youngest of them all, went out to Belgium to study pharmacy, and his son Leibl, a “Mizrahi”[24] man, was an agent of the Jewish National Fund over the course of many years in the village.

Reb Aharon's house was full of books, pamphlets, charts, maps, about Israel and the pioneers. Reb Aharon's house was in the courtyard of his brother–in–law Reb Yitzchak Saragovitz (Itshe the High)[25], who was a money–changer. Reb Yitzchak Saragovitz had a sharp mind; he was punctilious, meticulous and quick. Reb Yitzchak would make his calculation within only a few seconds, with a long “indelible” pencil punctiliously sharpened. His opponent would take the pencil, calculate from top to bottom and bottom to top, list and calculate, peek into Reb Yitzchak's eyes with amazement, and Reb Yitzchak would nod his head with a forgiving smile as he said: “Calculate for an hour, calculate for a day, the mathematics will not change.”

Uncle Reb Aharon was his complete opposite. This one was from the House of Hillel and the other was from the House of Shammai.[26] Each man was always his fellow's opponent, but out of love. Sometimes the matter of the dispute was current affairs, and sometimes it was in the name of heaven[27] and Jewish law.

The two uncles, Reb Aharon and Reb Yitzchak, would both give lessons on Torah in the two study houses, and the narrow courtyard between the two houses was always full of argument over the Torah.

On the night of the Seder, the uncles, Reb Aharon and Reb Yitzchak, had the “chazakah”[28] to distribute charoset[29] to all who were in need, when the winners of the operation were my righteous and good–hearted Aunt Rashe and my grandmother. Grandma Musya, hunched and wizened, still helped in the household. When I would come to visit her, she would “grab hold” and inundate me with the words of the Sages and clever popular sayings, in order to teach me “the wisdom of life.” She was murdered by the Germans when she was about 100 years old. I would run like a deer after the prayers, in my velvet garment and my new sandals over the face of the thin ice, to the house of the uncles to get a portion of “charoset.”

Reb Aharon Levin understood the hearts of the needy, loved life and was optimistic, but his feet stood on the ground. His spirit was not broken in the days of the Soviets.

After the German invasion I would “jump” to them, in order to lessen their isolation to some degree. We would be seated in the closed courtyard and Reb Aharon would tell the news that had arrived that day “on the radio,” on the many defeats of the Germans. There were other “sources” for news, and one of them was the shochet, the son–in–law of Reb Meir Mayevsky, who served for many as a most reliable source, and hourly he would provide an abundance of new information. He would bring his news to Reb Aharon, and it was he who would tell it to us, out of hope that “the German would not last for long, he would be forced to collapse.”[30] When he saw German airplanes in the sky, Reb Aharon believed that they were “our” planes that were flying to bomb Warsaw, Brisk, etc.

A short time after the arrival of the Germans, Reb Aharon was asked by a Jew from Horodziej to circumcise his grandson.[31] Reb Aharon agreed and went out with the Jew on foot to Horodziej, and on the way they were caught. Reb Aharon was returned to Nesvizh and was ordered to appear the next day in the morning at the Gestapo headquarters. He put on his Shabbat kapote [robe] and turned to the Gestapo.

That same day I worked at the “Alba,”[32] taking potatoes out of the field. An anxious quiet carried in the air. Suddenly, the silence shattered with a burst of gunfire. My heart foretold evil. When I returned from work they told me: the Germans walked Reb Aharon Levin to Glinishche[33] and there they murdered him.

The death of Reb Aharon terrified all the people of the city. He was the first sacrifice in the city.

My uncle Yitzchak Saragovitz with his wife Rashe presented themselves on October 30, 1941, in the market square together with all the Jews. Grandmother was murdered in her house, and my aunt Chaya–Zisha, Reb Aharon's wife, who lay sick in bed in our house in the ghetto, mumbled all her days “Why didn't Aharon return?”

 

My “Rebbeim” [teachers]

When I was fully five years old, after I had previously visited the Russian kindergarten, I was allowed to attend the cheder of Mashbitzki the Elder. Even then I sensed that this was a privilege, even if I didn't understand its quality.

The “cheder” that was near my house was about 150 meters from the Kuzimir synagogue. I was provided with a roll of white bread (bulka in Polish) , a delicacy food in those days, and I was sent to the cheder with a satchel (sumka in Russian) on my back.

Mashbitzki the Rebbe was an old man, but he was accepted as the best teacher in the city. A father would make great efforts for his son to learn with a good teacher. Sometimes a person's intelligence would be appraised by the Rebbe with whom he [the son] would learn.

For some time it was known to me that Mashbitzki was appointed over “Chovevei Tzion” and that he even wrote in “Hatzefirah.” This fact that the Rebbe penned stories and reported on his city created renown for him as a linguistic and a grammarian.

His didactic method was simple: Rebbe Mashbitzki taught his students from a regular prayer Siddur, on whose first page – on one side was printed the entire Aleph–bais[34] and on the second side – the vowels. On this page was printed the prayer “How Good are Your Tents Oh Jacob.” On the first page: Please learn the letters and vowels, and if on the second page, please be so kind as to exercise your mind a little and read what is written on it. This was the didactic theory of Rebbe Mashbitzki “on one foot.”

After two “periods” (a period equals half a year) I moved to learn with the “Varshever,” the Rebbe Buzin who taught in the “Ladier shul,”[35] not far from the Tzadok House. In this cheder were gathered children from all the neighborhoods of the city. The Rebbe – about 40 years old, in his best years, invested great toil in his instruction, and achieved good results. After a short time, a world of Tanakh opened before our eyes that enchanted us. We learned grammar and conjugations. We returned to our houses after the evening prayers, to the evening meal.[36]

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In the snowy winter nights we wrapped ourselves in warm coats, put “bashlikim” (fabric hoods) on our heads, plunged our legs into the high snow from one end of the city to the other, from the alleys of Michaelishok until Kuzimir [Synagogue]. We, five children of Kuzimir,[37] always walked on a set course: by way of the alley in which lived “Michael the Parasolnik” [umbrella maker] to Vilaneska [Street], and from there to Kuzimir. As we passed Michael's house, we had a naughty custom to knock on his windows. And when he came out to catch us, we would quickly escape.

In the cheder of the “Varshever,” Shlomo, (Leimah)[38] the son of the Maggid [storyteller] from Nesvizh, taught us. With great ability he would mimic the homilies of his father the Maggid in the style of his speech and pronunciation; long hours we would listen to the Maggid speaking from his son's mouth.

My Rebbe in the Talmud Torah was Shmuel Gelfand (Shmuel Yeshurun). Reb Shmuel was strict, he never tired of repeating; to review and repeat the chapter in the ears of the children until it was gathered in their heads. With this stubborn method it was possible to breach walls. “It is not possible to go out of here an ignoramus” – he would claim.

Reb Shmuel's Talmud Torah slightly resembled a school. Here the teacher Yudelevitz would teach Hebrew and grammar. The teacher Graubard taught Polish, and we even learned music under the leadership of Rebbe Leibl Gelfand's son, who was then a student in the Polish Teachers' Seminar. In his lessons he was assisted by a harp, on which he would play songs like “There is the Beloved Ancestral Land.” We felt ourselves as if we were really “gymnazystim.”[39]

In the second “cheder” in the house of the Talmud Torah Rosovsky the Elder[40] would teach. He is engraved in my memory sitting facing the students, his hands engaged in work. He was especially fond of sharpening pencils. Pencil sharpening in Rosovsky's hands was truly the craftsmanship of an artisan. He had a long stick, wonderfully carved, the work of his hands, and when a student was distracting during the time of learning Chumash[41] with cantillation[42] he would wave the stick over him with the complaint: “Ach, a shaygetz like you, have pigeons settled into your head?!”[43]

Berel Chatzkels from “The New Synagogue,” the white bearded supervisor with the elegant face, would visit us in the lessons. After some time Berel Chatzkels began to teach us a page of Gemara and Ginsberg the elder (the father of Dr. Ginsberg) would test us on Friday and would argue with our progress in our learning of Gemara, and a word of praise from Ginsberg the elder's mouth, that he would present to one of us, was considered in our eyes a certificate of honor.

When I reached the land in the year 1948, I was happy to hear that my “Varshever” Rebbe lived in the land. He followed his son up to the land. When I encountered him – he remembered my name and the period when I learned in his “cheder.” After some time, he died.

 

Siyomka Farfel

Siyomka fell in the forest on February 8, 1943.

I remember Siyomka as a small boy, as one of the children of Kuzimir. He had big, black hungry eyes. His family, who did not know extra comfort, lived in a modest apartment in a narrow alley, on the border of the “baal–batish.”[44]

From the fog of the time arises an image of his mother: open–hearted and taciturn, carrying the burden of the house secretly and without complaint, her eyes expressed a good heart, eyes that did not demand a thing, and only ready to give. She raised her children with love and a maternal heart. And Siyomka's father – most of his days and nights he wandered on the paths, in the villages, seeking “prey” for his household, yet the income was far from him.

Siyomka learned in the “Culture” school. He was an intelligent child, a determined person, but was not drawn to the children of the respected middle class that were in the school, but in fact to the children of “amcha,”[45] to the children of Kuzimir. With the completion of his studies in the school he began to work as a carpenter's apprentice, and was a member of “Hashomer Hatzair.” His free hours after work he used for reading.

After activity in the branch [of Hashomer Hatzair] he would return to his house, and seat himself in a corner until late and read literature and poetry until late at night. Siyomka was an intelligent working man. After work he would bathe, put on a Shabbat shirt, comb his very curly hair a little, and go out to the library. Also, his friends in the movement and outside of it were members of “amcha.” He loved the Yiddish language and his ears were sensitive to Yiddish idiom and to the liveliness and creativity in this language. Therefore, the students of the Yiddish school were close to him, and even though their world was different, he would awaken with them.

Even then he would write down, with deep affection, the witty jokes of his friends from the alleys.

 

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Siyomka Farfel

 

And in the nights – he penned. He wrote poems in Yiddish. He enjoyed a good book, and other worthwhile pastimes. There was in him, in Siyomka, a successful combination of two fundamentals – an “amcha” man, and a poetic soul. He had healthy instincts, a sense for life, for love, he was realistic, and with this he was blessed with the heart of a poet.

He was an autodidact, completed his learning by his own power, and with this was gifted in reason and understanding. I came to know him more closely when I returned to the city to my family on the eve of the World War. He was faithful to principles, and with the coming of the Soviets he descended with his Hashomer group into the underground.

Despite his nationalism and his attachment to the working man, he turned his back on the “new songs” and with greater strength remained faithful to himself and his way. I met with him frequently, and we would discuss, man to man, heart to heart, and I knew that it was possible to place on him educational responsibilities amongst those younger than me, since they had now completed Hebrew school, or were about to, yet they had been left alone. With the coming of the Germans, in the first months Siyomka, Freidl,[46] Tzila,[47] and Lolik[48] would meet in my house, preparing methods of action and education amongst the youth, in the new conditions.

And in the ghetto – after Lolik and Tzila were already not alive, we would meet in Siyomka's house, and the principal topic that was on the agenda was: ways of self–defense. Siyomka was a man of thought, the suggestion and the act were as one in the underground in the ghetto, especially in its last days. He took care of the weapons in the preparation of the bunkers and the revolt, because he carried the idea of the revolt in his heart all the days of the ghetto. He wrote many delicate and beautiful poems in the ghetto. And when the ghetto went up in flame, he appeared in our bunker and with him a knife

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and his book of poems, but when we hastily abandoned the bunker, Siyomka forgot his book of poems in it, but the knife he did not forget. Together with Siyomka I emerged from the ghetto and we reached the forest, to the Bozhenko[49] unit. He quickly acclimated in the forest as a partisan. With my arrival in the forest, I sought a connection with ghettos, in order to call to the Jews, and especially the youth, to join the Jewish Partisan unit. The nearest ghetto was Stolpce. I wrote a letter to the youth in Stolpce, and I asked Siyomka to also write a letter to his friend, his age, in the movement.

I went out with Siyomka and with Rosen to search for arms in the area of Yazviny,[50] – on the previous Russian–Polish border. After some time, Siyomka had equipped himself with a rifle that he found in a communal grave of Red Army soldiers. In Staritsa[51] Forest Siyomka and Shmuel Nissenbaum went out with another group of partisans for an action. On the way they passed a village where a wedding was being held. It was known to Siyomka and Shmuel that at the wedding there were two Belorussian policemen. After careful surveillance Siyomka and Shmuel pounced on the two policemen, and with the help of the rest of the partisans that took part in the action, they tied them to the wagons and brought them to the forest. He was full of satisfaction when I met him next to the forest Guard, with the bound policemen that he brought.

He was among the first in the actions during the entire time that he was in the forest. His joy grew when Jews from Stolpce and Sverzhna [today Novyy Sverzhen] reached the forest. When he would sometimes tell about his parting from his mother, sister and brother in the ghetto, he would be reminded of the notebook of that he left in the bunker. In Orliki, next to the shared “oven” that we arranged in the forest (zimlanka), there we lived together. People from Sverzhna would come, such as Harkavy Akselrod and members of the movement, bringing up memories, discussing much about the land,[52] and Siyomka would recite poems that he wrote in the forest and poems that he wrote in the ghetto, that he remembered by heart.

Deep ties were made between us, from the outbreak of the war and in the forest. On February 7, we went out; me, Siyomka, and another 9 partisans for an action in a dangerous area, to Loktishi [today Laktyshy, at 52°50' N 26°43' E] next to Zaostrowiecze [today Zaostrovichi, at 52°54' N 26°47' E]. On our way back on the weirs, next to Chminki,[53] we came upon an ambush of Germans and policemen, that opened strong fire on us. In this battle 8 of the partisans fell, Siyomka among them.

Next to Chminki, on foreign ground, was dug the grave of the partisan Siyomka Farfel. Not one of his poems remains in my hands, but his image is engraved in my heart.

 

From Father's House

All the days of his life my father, Yitzchak, worked at hard labor. He was always stuck in the work–house hunched over his work or hitting a wooden wheel with a hammer.

I remember well the lathe with all its accessories: a thin post within, two posts on the side with two iron cones and a concave lathe knife. At the top of the narrow post a rope was tied. The wooden branch that was designated for chiseling was held tightly by the rope. Father's foot that was stuck on the post at the edge of the rope served as the lathe's “engine.” When he raised or lowered his foot the branch would turn between the iron cones. And so, father stood for long hours and chiseled, his foot going up and down, his hand chiseling.

Father would return tired and weary from work. With crushing work he sustained his house. There were years when in the days of winter the work disappeared. Therefore, in the days of summer he needed to bring forth bread[54] for all the days of the year.

In spite of the distress and poverty that no one outside knew about, Father appeared as “middle class” among his people. In spite of the distress, he paid his debts on time. The account in the store – paid off. The tuition for learning for the children – paid.

When father had earned a little he would hire for us milk “from the cow's udder” (in misspelled Yiddish/Russian, “foon de vymya”), and then in the summer evenings, between the afternoon and evening prayers, we would go to the barn of our neighbor the farmer next to Savliovosky and drink at the end of the milking a few cups of warm milk. These were the things that were permitted in the days of less distress.

Sometimes I would come to help Father. Then I would roll a wheel to the top of Svarzna Street, and from afar I would call to Damesek the blacksmith, and push the wheel on the slope of the street until it arrived at Damesek's hands.

Father's work day began with the morning light, and came to its end with the sunset – at the time of the afternoon prayers. We sat down to eat the evening meal after the evening prayers; the parents, Moshe Shabtai, Mordechai Zalman, and me. Father would slice the big loaf of bread, and mother would serve potatoes, salted fish, and sour milk, sometimes cheese and a little butter.

Only Shabbat would break the routine of the weekdays. On Friday my mother, Teibl, would wash the yellow–painted wooden floor that in its corners remained red, a memory of the good and happy days of this house.

With the end of the day the table would be covered with a white tablecloth. Shabbat Candles. The house radiated light (in our language [Yiddish] “it has brilliance”). And in the heart there was light, warmth, and serenity. Already on Wednesday, the market day, Mother would buy a few “tens” (“dyesyatkes”) of eggs and chicken in honor of Shabbat. And when there was chicken for Shabbat the house would be filled with delicacies for all the members of the household, seven souls. To this day, I still do not know with what Mother filled the chicken, whose aroma filled the whole house.

The minute of the kindling of the Shabbat lights when Mother's tears would stream down her face – was the most emotional moment of the entire week.

With our return from prayers the smell of chicken soup wafted through the house ([in Yiddish] chicken feet soup), and when we had all gathered around the big square table next to the elegant carved “buffet,” Father – at the head, Mother – to his left, and we children all around, the Shekhinah [presence of God] rested upon the house. Father in an ironed Shabbat shirt, his combed hair and his well–managed black whiskers radiating around him, and Mother, who was very beautiful in the years of her youth, was beautiful again, after a workweek infused with her maternal beauty that shone upon all of us from her immeasurable love from the goodness of her heart and for her boundless concern for her children. Father made Kiddush[55] over the wine and afterwards mother served the chicken delicacies. First course: “beylek,” small balls of chicken breast meat in gravy.

Afterwards – the chicken meat, and the soup. Every Shabbat night meal and lunch feast on the next day came from the same one and only chicken that mother bought on the eve of Shabbat. To this day when I see a “chicken” whole or cut into quarters my heart is filled with scorn for an “empty” chicken like this. “This is a chicken?” “Apusta kli”[56] and then I am reminded of Mother's “chicken” that had “heldzele” (stuffed chicken neck) and “pupikl” (gizzard) and “leberl” (liver) etc., in short, filled with “substance.”

Until today I believe with complete faith – like that same Litvak[57] who came to investigate the deeds of the Tzaddik from Nemerov[58] – that mother put her heart, her whole heart, into these delicacies.

With the arrival of the fall, preparations for the impending winter began. It was necessary to prepare clothing. Generally, the clothing of the child that “sprouted” from them passed “in the natural way” to the next youngest child, until the garment became worn out beyond repair. Shoe repair: Father had in the attic a number of bags of old shoes, in order to use them for “fatshinkes” (repairs). And when pieces of leather were brought to the shoemaker – the repair was cheaper.

Towards winter we would put in “dublet” (double windows) to preserve the heat in the house and between the double windows – shavings, sawdust, etc.

Likewise, it was necessary to prepare a number of “klafter”[59] of wood, food: potatoes, apples, (for freezing), vegetables (for preserving), (“shtelin burekas,” “shtelin ugerkes,” “syetkeven krovet,” [kraut, pickled beet, cucumbers and cabbage]), the boiling of jams

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Dear uncle Moshe and family,

You must be wondering why you are receiving this card. I also don't know if you know who this is writing to you. Firstly, I wrote to you about 6 months ago. But I did not receive a response from you. I am your nephew, Yitzchak's son, I am living in Vilna and the entire time wanting to go Israel. I hope that I will soon reach my destination. I received a letter from my father. You likely know about their situation but we cannot help. They write that they are thank God healthy. I write with them often. [uncertain] They advise me to do what I am set on since there is no other future for me.

I would have turned to you with the request that in an emergency I too will have to pay the expenses and that I have to endeavor to help out, you should communicate with your aunt Leah Nechama and uncle Naftali and together perhaps you can help. About this I have also communicated with aunt Leah–Nechama and I reckoned that you will do it when the time comes that I will need it – it is possible that I will be successful in traveling and will not need your assistance. If you agree, then I will notify you by telegram how to send me the money for which I thank you in advance, I mean uncle and the entire family. It could be my dear uncle that I will not need your financial help – I will [???] I do not want to make things difficult for you, but if I send you a telegram my dear uncle, I will strongly plead with you that you should help me out this time because this time I will not have any other alternative. Therefore, I thank you for everything in advance, and I wish you and the entire family much “naches” [derived happiness], luck, and health. I reckon that we will be able to correspond in the best occasions to hear better and happier [???] from all of us.

Please answer me. I wish you the best. Your nephew, Zalman Cholavsky

My Brother Zalman's Letter from the Pioneer Center in Vilna to the Uncle in America[60]

 

from fruit and berries (yagedes, malines, agresn, tshereshnies [blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, huckleberries]), with which one would “revive the soul” with the arrival of the days of winter, especially in the long winter evenings. With the approach of Pesach, the preparation in the house increased, since to greet the Pesach festival Mother would prepare new clothing for all of the children, and new sandals. I very much loved velvet clothing and sandals that “squeaked” while walking. The purchasing of the fabric, the sewing, brought the festival into the house many weeks before its time. Passover eve and Rosh Hashanah eve – twice in the year – father had the custom of sitting and writing letters of blessing to all the members of the family who were across the seas.

These evenings of literary writing (the letters) by Father, and the ironing and sewing by Mother – had the smell of the festival in them. And as it was known, the preparation for the festival was an inseparable part of the festival itself. And on the night that the festival was sanctified – 14 Nisan, with our return from the synagogue that was adjacent to our house in the suburb Kuzimir, I would wear new clothing and new sandals. The house was bathed in light, a polished brass lampstand in the center of the house. In the heart there was much light. Mother took great pains with the preparation of the Seder. Father helped by her side. I would go out to my traditional “mission.” I would quickly go down the wooden steps of our house, cross the road, and run nimbly – to fly around on the empty streets, my face a little reddened when the air carried the sharp chill of spring. I ran in the direction of Vilaneska Street on Renerdinska to the house of Grandmother Musya, the wonderful scholar who was already then 90 years old or more, in which lived my uncle Reb Yitzchak Saragovitz and my good–hearted Aunt Rashe, and also my uncle the shochet and mohel Reb Aharon Levin and my Aunt Chaya–Zisha who lived in the same room. My uncle Reb Yitzchak Saragovitz would prepare charoset for many of the townspeople. This “chazakah” he took upon himself and held it for many years. It was “my mission” all of the years to run on the eve of the seder to Grandmother and the uncles to bless them with a “Chag Sameach”[61] and to return home with the “family” charoset. This mission was, for me one of the most pleasant moments of the Passover festival, which was, without a doubt, the nicest holiday in our house.

Many were the worries and fears that filled our household: the trouble of raising children, earning a living, concerns about health. Yet there were many hours of deep pleasure, an atmosphere of “an extra soul,”[62] of internal radiance, of love and domestic warmth, to which no other warmth could compare. These memories live within me, as an “inspiration for the soul” to the hours that passed by and are no more. One of these hours was the afternoon of the Sabbath day; we would sit in the warm house, after the Sabbath feast, calm, relaxed, and enjoying the radiant faces of Father and Mother.

I knew very little about Father's youth. A few years ago, I found in the book of Shlomo Damesek, who was from our town, “From Here and From There” (pp. 164–165) the following paragraph:

“And when I tell about the keepers of the embers, and the faithful of the Zionist movement, I see an obligation to mention here the faithful in the branch of “Poalei Tzion” that was in Nesvizh, the group, which, too, stood at its post in the hard years and continued its work in the underground from within mortal danger, in dedication to the miracle.

This group of “Poalei Tzion” in our city in those days assembled in the house of Hazel Hertzog. She was a pure and distinguished personality with a gentle soul, and with lofty idealism.

…. Hazel's house served as an underground place for the small group of faithful from the “Poalei Tzion,” over which they appointed Golda Hailperen. The popular teacher, Moshe–Arkeh Shkolnik, the tailor blessed with ability and a well–developed musical sensibility, who was fond of Yiddish literature and especially folk music, Yitzchak Cholavsky, young with an understanding heart and gentle spirit, Berel Lipovsky, and a few others…”

My father was among the quiet ones. Extremely rarely he would tell about himself. But when the spirit moved him, he would talk about himself. He would speak very slowly – each word weighed, but warm. This was the voice of his hidden soul. He told about the “Poalei Tzion” group that would go secretly into the attic or a small grove and hear the fiery words of Avraham Machtai, who came from the big world and brought word of the Zionist–Socialist movement. After gathering densely in the attic, they were all rushed to the synagogue to “grab” the afternoon or evening prayers…

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Most engraved in my memory of the days of childhood were his words about Jewish self–defense in the village at the beginning of the century. While he was speaking his eyes would be ignited, he would arrange his mustache, and with his extended hand he would point: here in our house, below the window, in this brick wall there was a “secret hiding place” for weapons… I felt in his words and his eyes that this was the story of the peak of his misdeeds in the days of his youth. And of all of Father's stories this was the story that was kept most in my heart until this day, and for all the years that pass, I remember it more and more. It seems to be that it had in it a sign of what was to come.

 

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Two Soldiers from Nicolai's Army
From right to left: Shmerl Zatoransky and Yitzchak Cholavsky

 

Freydl Rosovska, May Her Memory Be for a Blessing

All her days, Freydl Rosovska was a very busy woman. Income, and raising children. All her days she was stuck in the store, as in the market that stole the best of her strength from morning until dark.

Her husband Yoel Rosovsky, may his memory be for a blessing, was the crown of his village Nesvizh. He served as head of the Jewish community, head of the Zionist organization, head of the council of the Hebrew “Culture” school. All his days he served his community, the poor and the needy, the widow and the orphan, and every person that was in distress. A person in trouble – he turned to Yoel Rosovsky.

Dressed nicely, his Herzl–beard[63] was always severely done, and curls of his hair grew grey from under a hard–brimmed hat, which was made like half a nutshell. Yoel Rosovsky walked among us when all of those around him felt respect for him. His gaze was warm and soft, like one who seeks to do well for everyone, and therefore from morning til night – he was engaged in communal matters, worries “of this world.” Nevertheless, he seemed like a dreamer, as if daydreaming a little on the issues, and his eyes were lifted to “the world to come” – the world of Zionism, of the land of Israel, of Hebrew education, etc.

Freydl his wife was his opposite, but she completed him. Stuck in this world of worries, of making a living and raising children, and all the large and small troubles of the house.

Yoel Rosovsky was imprisoned as a Zionist in the days of the Soviets, and sent to the forsaken land [Siberia], from which he did not return. Freydl and her son Nyoma were also sent – but they returned.

We remained, a very few, orphaned and alone after the war. I too was the only one left of the members of my family. I went out on my wandering way. Due to my action I went from camp to camp on the way to Austria. And in one of the refugee camps in Austria, to my great surprise I met, in an emotional meeting, Freydl and Nyoma. I froze in my tracks. Tears gathered in my eyes. Freydl stood facing me, her hair having grown white, her back a little bowed, and her eyes – the eyes of a Jewish mother – the only mother that was left from all of Nesvizh, and her tears streamed from her eyes. She received me as a son.

This was a Thursday of the week, and when I agreed to the request of Freydl and Nyoma to be their guest for the Shabbat day – great was their joy. The conversation flowed. My story, their story. Sometimes the story was stopped in the middle with a deep and quiet sigh, like a submissive acceptance of judgement.

Within the little shack, in Austria, in a remote camp, I stayed with them over the course of two days. A Shabbat atmosphere prevailed, the room, the floor, and the table, the tablecloth, the candles, the food, the blessing after the meal, everything had in it the Shabbat rest of Father's house in Nesvizh, and above all – the image of the good–hearted, sighing, “Yiddeshe Mama.” This was Freydl's image, that was perceived in the eyes of the refugee camp. A Shabbat like this after the war I had not yet had.

Freydl got to go up to the land of Israel and to realize the dream of her husband Reb Yoel Rosovsky, the Zionist dreamer, that justified our faith during the Siberian nights – here she met her daughter Channah and her family, friends and acquaintances, and knew to cherish the lovingkindness that was offered to her. The wounds of the time, the pain and the sadness, Siberia, the expulsion and the wanderings did not diminish the strength of her vitality. A few times I visited Freydl and Nyoma in his house in Kfar Vitkin. The son took care of his mother with unparalleled devotion and faithfulness.

Also, in the last meeting, when she had become sick and weak – she was optimistic and awake in her spirit. She asked about and was interested in various matters, for she loved life and people. She was not weighed down by her illness. She kept her spirit till her last day. Here in the land of the ancestors she found her “Rest of Eden.”

 

Zovovitch – The Righteous of the Nations of the World

The “Zovovitches” lived on Pulsodskigo Street, in the Kuzimir quarter. The relationship of the Zovovitches to their neighbors, among them also my father's house, was for all the years fair and courteous.

Zovovitch owned the shoemaking workshop on the corner of Pulsodskigo–Barnardinska Streets, within the center of a Jewish area. He learned the ways of life of his Jewish customers, their customs and their language, and he was fond of them. When he met his Jewish acquaintances on the street Zovovitch received them with an expansive and heartfelt blessing. His inside was like his outside.

Also, his wife and his daughters were blessed with the same unique qualities with which the father of the family was blessed.

The days of the ghetto arrived.

On one of those same terrifying days, Neufeld, may his memory be for a blessing, one of his customers, met Zovovitch on the street – and asked him anxiously if he would be ready to accept his two children when the day of trouble came. Zovovitch responded positively.

I heard this story from Neufeld in the ghetto.

On July 20th 1942, anxiety prevailed in the ghetto. This was after the liquidation of the Horodziej ghetto. That same day I stood, towards evening, in front of my house in the ghetto. Neufeld and his wife Berta arrived with their two small children, Yehudah and Levi. Together with the parents I stood next to the wire fence. The parents kissed the children with tears welled up in their eyes. Neufeld lifted the wire of the fence and the children went through the fence and went out.

Beyond the fence a dirt path ran along the length of the granaries, which had sloped straw roofs, across from Albianska Street. Today it led to a swarm of wild beasts. The eyes of the parents shed tears. The children, as if they had suddenly grown up, went out to the world, turned their heads a few times and went forward on their way. After a few minutes they turned right. From Albianska Street to the house of Zovovitch was a walk of about ten minutes.

They waited some time in expectation and hope that the children had indeed arrived to the house of the shoemaker without anything bad happening to them.

Yehudah and Levi stayed in the attic of Zovovitch's house for over a year. He tended to them with love, as did all the members of his household, despite the great danger that threatened them, since their house stood on the main road of the city.

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When the Germans began to conduct searches for Jews in the houses of gentiles, Yehudah and Levi were moved in a wagon loaded with straw to the forest to the family camp of the Jewish partisan unit named Zhukov.

Yehudah and Levi knew the fate of Jewish partisan children.

 

Levi Neufeld in the Land

With their emergence from the forest, Yehudah and Levi were adopted by members of the Kravitz family, who took care of them with devotion and love outside of the land [of Israel], and in the land.

Yehudah and Levi grew, learned, and revealed many abilities in their learning and their deeds. One evening in 1958 Levi visited me in my house on the kibbutz. He was a handsome young man, a medical student in Jerusalem. That same evening the foundation for education in the hills of Ephraim held a party in honor of the appearance of “The Book of the Jewish Partisans” of which I was one of the content–writers.

I invited Levi to this party, which was emotional. Afterwards we travelled for a long hour and talked about the party. Levi spent about two days with me in my house. His presence caused me great enjoyment, I was amazed at his intelligence and his broad prospects.

After some time, rumors reached me about unfortunate changes that occurred in Levi. It was also made known to me that Levi had disappeared. One day police officers came to my house and asked me details about Levi. I asked them about the reason for their investigation and with great amazement I heard about the connection that they were making between Levi and the sensational events that they were connecting to him. However, I stuck to my opinion, for Levi was a man of conscience, and I knew him for his honesty and common sense.

The police conducted many pursuits after Levi.

After many months, a Jerusalem youth found Levi's body in one of the attics in Ein Karem, which is next to Jerusalem, which he so loved. – – – From the letters that they found in the suitcase that was laying next to his body, the police concluded that he had killed himself. Thus was drawn to its close the most wide–scale pursuit that the Israeli police conducted at any time. – “Ha'aretz” June 1, 1964 “The police have removed all suspicion from Levi Neufeld.” The poet Zelda wrote a poem about him in her book “P'nai.”

 

Next to His Grave

Next to his grave I said:

We have come to eulogize Levi. Honest, pure was Levi, until the last minute of his life.

I believed in his honesty and his purity all of the days.

All of the suspicions that were cast on him were baseless, and the fruit of a miserable imagination.

I knew Levi from the dawn of his childhood when his young and upright mother Berta was travelling with the wagon and in her Levi the beautiful, with the pale curls.

In the ghetto I kept him near me in his parents' house.

I stood next to the wire fence when Levi with his brother Yehuda, may he live long, emerged one evening from the ghetto to outside of it. I stood next to the parents drenched in tears. Levi with his brother were hidden in an attic for more than a year by a good–hearted man, and when the Germans began to search, they were transferred to the forest to a Jewish partisan unit.

They emerged from the forest and with their adopted family, by wandering paths, they reached the land.

Levi the good–hearted and gentle–souled grew and became a handsome young man, with brilliant talents. He withstood his examinations in his medical studies.

On the threshold of life – when the future with all its opportunities shone for him on the horizon.

Yet the bitterness of his lot pursued him and brought him to the grave at the peak of his youth.

I take leave of you Levi, in my name and in the name of all the Jews of Nesvizh, whose bitter fate you knew, and for its sons I weep.

 

Lolik Avalevitz, May His Memory Be for a Blessing

We grew up together. On one street, in one school, he learned with me in the cheder and in the Talmud Torah. In the “Culture” school we met in one class.

Lolik lived ein ek (at the edge) of Kuzimir, in the sawmill. He had sisters and a brother, and he was the youngest among them. His father died on him when he was still a young child. His mother was inspirational; it was she who carried the entire burden of the household. Lolik was handsome, a cute boy, happy, “an optimist in his blood,” beloved by people, polite, knew how to conduct himself with young people and adults alike. With his completion at the “Culture” school, he turned to the Polish gymnasia and at the same time joined “Hashomer Hatzair.” He was a fine high school student, also industrious in his studies, but was not fond of the known approach to teaching of the Polish gymnasia. Extended education formed him, continuing education in additional subjects. Lolik was an exemplary member of the movement in his personal characteristics, in his performance and his devotion, in his love for the members of his youth group and his movement. Therefore, it was natural that within a short time he rose on the ladder of leadership, was added to the administration of the branch, and bore on his shoulders all of the educational work in the branch. He was known throughout the region, and in the regional summer collective settlements he had a reputation as an outstanding movement educator.

At the end of the 1930s, he was drafted to the army. With the outbreak of the Polish–German war he fought in the area of Mlawa. With the end of the war, Lolik and Yankele Charlap returned to Nesvizh, faithful companions. They stayed only a short time in their parents' homes. Lolik and Yankele went out to the area of Lida to call Yosef Kaplan. And their “task”: the smuggling of pioneers in the area of Devenishki to Vilna. Yankele and Lolik remained the last, and this indicated their personalities. They did not cross. Yankele “went” and was caught at the border. He was sent to a concentration camp in the north and did not return again. Lolik returned to Nesvizh and from there established ties, as much as possible, with the movement, with Yankele who was in the forsaken land.

With the coming of the Germans, Lolik participated in an organization of children and youth in educational units together with the young people, who worked in the underground in the days of the Soviets and that continued in the days of the Germans in the underground fighting organization.

Lolik worked by the Germans in digging peat in the field.

On the last day before the big action, at the end of October 1941, Lolik still took care to supply a wagon of peat to my house. On the next day, while standing together with all of the Jews of Nesvizh in the market square, I saw Lolik come to the market by way of the courtyard of the Gilrovitz family in bringing his refined mother. I did not see him again.

In the last years, Lolik became quiet. A fundamental change took place in him. The cheerfulness and joy were taken away from him and maybe were damaged, also the optimism that so characterized him. Army. War. Anxiety over smuggling people across the borders. His sorrow over Yankele – who was like a brother to him – that he fell into the trap, his thoughts about the present time, his sense of the future – did he really sense the approaching storm? All these greatly tainted his spirit.

Our many discussions in the days of the Soviets, and while working in peat and the drying of fruit in the days of the Germans, always surrounded the present and the future, and all that he was obligated to bear and we are only a shadow of what was hoped for us. Lolik became a serious warrior, a man who was forged in war and in the work of the underground.

May his memory be blessed.

Shalom Cholavsky


Translator's Footnotes

  1. In the Orthodox Judaism practiced at the time in Nesvizh, a quorum of ten men were required for communal prayers Return
  2. A coin that served as the Certificate of Membership Return
  3. Non–Jews. Return
  4. Seylovichi, a small village just northeast of Nesvizh. Return
  5. ritual slaughterer Return
  6. Yiddish “little son” Return
  7. The Hebrew abbreviation Caf–Tzadik, כ”ץ used here, is the source for the name “Katz.” It means “Holy Priest” and denotes a man whose male ancestry is from the Cohain line that descended from Aaron the biblical High Priest. Return
  8. A member of Yevsektsiya, the Jewish faction of the Soviet Communist Party. Return
  9. The Yiddish writer Chaim Nachman Bialik Return
  10. A school that prepared students for college entry. Return
  11. Soviet secret police agency Return
  12. Psalm 118:5 “In distress I called on the LORD; the Lord answered me and brought me relief.” Return
  13. The shamash is the sexton, or caretaker of a synagogue Return
  14. The Torah reader. Return
  15. Hebrew Bible. Return
  16. This word here seems to mean unqualified, as opposed to the meaning of not ordained as a rabbi. Return
  17. Renowned. Return
  18. elementary school Return
  19. Author Mendele Mocher Sefarim, Mendele the Bookseller. Return
  20. An extremely derogatory term for a non–Jewish man. Return
  21. In the book, this is written in Yiddish, and translated in parentheses into Hebrew. Return
  22. Raised platform in the synagogue where the leader stands. Return
  23. the phase of immigration to Palestine that took place after World War I Return
  24. Religious Zionist. Return
  25. in Yiddish. Return
  26. Houses of study that were founded by Hillel and Shammai, leading scholars of the first century BCE Return
  27. Arguing for the sake of Torah. Return
  28. A presumed right. Return
  29. traditional food on the Passover Seder plate, usually composed of nuts, apples, cinnamon and wine, that is part of the ritual foods handed out at the Seder Return
  30. In Yiddish, Hebrew in parentheses. Return
  31. Interestingly, the shochet of the town was also frequently the mohel, perhaps because of his expertise with a knife. Return
  32. Probably the name of an estate. There is in 2020 an inn named Nesvizh Alba. Return
  33. Multiple places have this name; none have been found in the vicinity of Nesvizh Return
  34. Hebrew alphabet. Return
  35. The Yiddish word “shul” means “school,” but it is used to mean “synagogue.” Return
  36. Named in Yiddish and Hebrew. Return
  37. Synagogue. Return
  38. His nickname. Return
  39. Secondary school students. Return
  40. In Hebrew, with Yiddish in parentheses. Return
  41. Five Books, Torah. Return
  42. The prescribed melodies to which the reading is chanted Return
  43. In Yiddish, with Hebrew in parentheses. Return
  44. Yiddish for middle class. Return
  45. literally, “your people.” Connotes everyday people Return
  46. Lachuvitzky? See Sefer Nesvizh p. 109 Return
  47. Gilrovitz? See Sefer Nesvizh p. 109 Return
  48. Abelovitz. Also spelled Avalevitz. Return
  49. A partisan unit associated with the Red Army. Return
  50. Village at 53°24' N 26°55' E. Return
  51. A village east of Nesvizh, 53°14' N 27°16' E. Return
  52. Of Israel. Return
  53. Location of this place is uncertain. Return
  54. Earn a living. From the blessing “Blessing are You, Adonoi our God, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Return
  55. recited the blessing over the wine to inaugurate the Sabbath Return
  56. Yiddish for “vessel of an apostate,” assumed to be a derogatory epithet Return
  57. The opponents of Chasidism, the Misnagdim, were generally from the Lithuanian (Litvak) communities. Return
  58. “Higher and Higher,” a story by I.L. Peretz. Early every Friday morning at a time of penitential prayers, the Rabbi of Nemerov would vanish. He was nowhere to be seen. Other people were of the opinion that during the prayers, he would go to heaven while the Litvak did not believe that openly. In order to find out the whereabouts of the Rabbi, the Litvak went secretly to his room and hid under the bed. Early morning when others were praying for the people of Israel, the Rabbi disguised himself as a peasant and left the house. After some time, he went to the nearby forest and cut a bundle of firewood. He brought the wood to the house of a poor Jewish woman and made a fire. After he put the wood into the oven, he recited the first portion of the penitential prayers. As the wood started burning, he recited the second portion and when the fire was set, he recited the third portion. The Litvak saw all his activities and became his disciple. Return
  59. A unit of volume of firewood Return
  60. Some words in this handwritten letter were deemed unreadable Return
  61. Happy Holiday. Return
  62. extra dimension of spirituality which Heaven instills in a Jew before Shabbat in the style of Theodore Herzl Return
  63. in the style of Theodore Herzl Return

 

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