Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki
He knew much of midrash and Hagadah. He was liked by the whole town, particularly by the tradesmen, who were busy the whole week, but in the evenings and on Sabbath they used to join him at his table to listen to his stories or hear readings from the books by pious men of the present and from the past or a chapter of the Chumesh with commentaries. He taught people who were not highly educated. They understood him and were pleased with his efforts. On returning home they retold his stories to their wives and they were well received. The tales eased their hard, monotonous lives. Nachemie would also deliver hespeds [funeral orations]. If some one died, the body would be brought to the synagogue square and put on a table in front of the Todres synagogue. Nachamie would deliver the hesped. He did not have to prepare himself to deliver it. He had the orations well prepared in advance. When he was told that such and such died he would find on the spot something suitable for the occasion. All his life he was learning midroshim and he would pass them on to the people. He did not participate in divisions and altercations. He was a quite man and lived in peace with everyone. He died in the 1930's, and with him died the last magid and hesped speaker in Novogrudok.
Reb Benjomin's son Mojshe sold flour. He was the cantor at the Mitaskim synagogue. He had a thin, ringing tenor voice, and he was one of the best cantors in Novogrudok. Reb Benjomin's grandchildren studied at a university and were members of the Novogrudok intelligentsia.
Bezalel Nikolayevski was one of the organisers of the Zionist movement in town. He was one of the leaders of Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayisod. He was also a member of the committee of the Tarbut school as well as a member of various cultural and social organisations. After the Soviets arrived in Novogrudok Bezalel was in charge of an organisation purchasing oakum and tow. However, he was arrested for participating in Zionist organizations and kept in Soviet jails. He never returned from his confinement.
When we established in 1934 the Ha chaluts ha Mizrachi in Novogrudok he became one of its members. He put his small house at our disposal for meetings. We used the accommodation to conduct cultural work. He wrote philosophical dissertations for our weekly newspaper. Once a month he would lock up the shop in the middle of the day and would collect money for Keren Kayemet. The pleadings of his wife were to no avail. He would tell her: 'For Eretz Isroel I would give my life, not just my small shop'. He read and wrote a lot on philosophical subjects, but his manuscripts were never published. In 1940 the Soviets accused him of illegal trading and jailed him for 5 years. He was never seen again.
His children were always arguing among themselves, and their voices could be heard in the street. He was a lively, impulsive, stormy person in the street and in the synagogue. Everywhere and always he campaigned for Israel. He spoke from his heart, with all his soul. In his last years his business was conducted by his children and his wife. His time was taken up in his work for Israel. When the Soviets came they arrested his son Benjomin, who was an ardent member of Betar. Before the outbreak of the German-Soviet war the whole family was sent to the remote regions of the Soviet Union. He died there.
After the socialist revolution of 1917, when the EvSeks [members of EvSec, which stands for Evreyskaya Sekcia- Jewish Section of the Communist Party] were murdering and terrorising the Jewish population and religion and Zionism were prohibited in Soviet Russia, he joined a Zionist organisation. Since than he advocated that the only salvation for the Jewish people was Eretz Israel. He lived his entire life in need and survived on the income from a small food shop. He gave his children a religious Zionist upbringing. He was a communal worker. He was for many years the gabi of the Katzev's [butcher's] synagogue and influenced all who attended there to become Zionists. He was an active member of Mizrachi and on the committee of Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayisod. He was on the committee of the Tarbut school, where his daughter Dvoira was a pupil. He also supported and helped to collect money for the small yeshiva and he also sat in Vad Hayeshivot. He fought the pious fanatics, who opposed the Zionist movement, and tried to induce in the religious populace the spirit of Zionism. If a magid (preacher) or a courier arrived in town, father would endeavour to meet him. He would lock up the shop in the middle of the day and go with the magid to collect money for whatever purpose the magid came to town for. He was the secretary of the businessmen's union in Novogrudok for 15 years. He was an adherent of Harav Mayerovich, who was the Zionist rabbi and kept in contact with Harav Abovich and did much to reduce the tension between Aguda and Mizrachi in Novogrudok. In the last years before the war, as Polish anti-Semitism had become stronger, he worked with Jewish youth to persuade them to go to Israel because the future in Poland was not at all certain. He sent his oldest son, Moshe Zvi on Hachshara of Hachluts Mizrachi. Moshe went to Israel in 1939. In 1940 [1939?], when the Soviets arrived in Novogrudok he wept. He kept saying 'now we are lost, we will be isolated from the rest of the world and we will not be able to go to Israel'.
When in 1941, when the Germans bombarded Novogrudok and burned down most of the town, he separated himself and read Tfilim the whole day. 'The end is near', he kept saying, 'we sinned too much'. Eighteens of Kislev Taf Shin Alef [8 December 1941] they took him to the slaughter together with my mother Rivke Leye, a quite, good and pious woman and their only daughter Dvoire who was then 14 years old. We, the three brothers remained alive. We also survived the second slaughter. During the third slaughter of the 2nd of February 1943 my brother Jankef Yehuda Jaffe was killed, a quiet man, a good mechanic. God will punish them for our blood.
During the German occupation Dr Kaminiecki was morally depressed. He was disenchanted with his socialist, assimilationist views, the friendship among nations, the unity among the nations etc. When the Soviets arrived in Novogrudok he found a solution for the Jewish nation. Let's intermingle with the Soviet people he advocated. And after this disappointment, the cultured German nation was eradicating Jews.
Through his window onto the market place he saw how the Germans had arranged 50 Jews in 5 rows of 10 plus two 2 members of the Judenrat and killed them all. They were not human.
He was moving on his one leg from one room to another and could not rest. He was broken morally and was regretting his past beliefs. He regretted that he fought against Israel and Zionism. He regretted that he had denied the existence and future of the Jewish nation. He took the Tilim and started saying: 'blessed is the man who did not follow in the steps of the assassins'. 'I did everything in the opposite way' he began crying and he gave me back the Tfilim, 'in my dirty hands I dare not hold such a holy book' he told me. 'but if there is a G-d' he looked up 'I ask him for vengeance, from the depth of my heart. I ask for vengeance for our innocently spilled blood. And perhaps there will be someone who will survive. He must tell the future generations about us, about our inhuman suffering and awful death'.
He made arrangements for the smaller boys to 'eat days' with the local families. A kitchen was set up to feed the older boys. He collected bread and other produce for the kitchen. Reb Aron Dovid would go from house to house to collect food for the Yeshiva kitchen.
He told me once 'I am not an outstanding scholar, I have difficulties in understanding the Gemorah, I would be honoured to see to it that the children would be studying and would grow up to be good, pious Jews. On Simchas Torah he would invite the students of the Yeshiva to his home. His wife would prepare the best delicacies. He used to say: 'This gives me courage to work for another year for the Yeshiva'.
His pupils are to be found in Israel. He had a son and a daughter. The daughter was a teacher at the Bet Yakov school and his son, Moshe Epstein taught in the Kleck Yeshiva. From the Yeshiva he went on hachshara through the 'workers of Aguda Israel' with the aim of going to Israel. When the Soviets came to Novogrudok he smuggled himself out through Wilno, because there were rumours that from Wilno it would be possible to get to Israel. This is the last we heard of him.
There were some of his pupils who endeavoured to live according to his directions, but they did not succeed, because those ideals were even then against the established norms. Reb Judl Kaplanski, however, was serious in his believes. He was honest and he endeavoured to live according to his ideals. As time went on he had fewer and fewer pupils.
Translated by O. Delatycki It is definitely the wrong image when Novogrudok is represented as a town of shopkeepers, shonky business dealers and airy-fairy arrangements. If we look into the reality and not in the literary criterion, which emphasised a sceptical view of the Jewish existence, we can find a second Jewish town, a productive town of hundreds of artisans of many occupations, who made products for the large population of the countryside. They made clothing and shoes, they built carriages and ploughs and made all manner of tools and dishes for the field and home. Of particular interest is the story of artisan associations, their organisations and their fight against the infamous law, introduced in the interwar period, concerning guilds. It is also worth mentioning another level, a more modest, little noticeable and seldom mentioned. It is the trade of gardening and the gardeners people of the land, people who produced flowering field, people which we looked down upon from the height of the town. Most of them were Jewish. The survival of the trade under the prevailing laws is remarkable. How could Jews be able to compete economically with the gentiles, working on hired the land [under the tsarist and Polish law Jews were not allowed to own land other than a building block for a house] and considering the Jewish existence with the emphasis on education, religion and culture compared to the existence of the illiterate, primitive gentile farmers. The difference was the Jewish entrepreneurship and knowledge. Many gentile farmers were unable to achieve the output of vegetables to satisfy the needs of their own family. Farmers from outlying areas would come to town during the harvest season to buy from Jews cucumbers and cabbage for preserving for the winter. The gentile farmers would employ their young children as shepherds. The Jewish children were sent to a religious school or later to a primary school. The minimum level of education included the ability to prey, read Chumash as well as the ability to read and write. This was achieved by industriousness and frugality. A common sight in sunshine, rain, in mud and snow was a carriage loaded with large containers of milk, trudging up the hill to deliver their products to their customers. The money earned was used for the education of their children. No matter how poor and restricted their lives the money was found to build a synagogue. Not many town dwellers ever went to the country, where on the crossroads from Brecianka to Litowka stood a synagogue. The old synagogue was taken apart for the building materials and taken to Germany in the first world war. For a number of years after the war the preyers were conducted in private homes, till the time came, which was a real epopee, of how and with what dedication have the poor country Jews began to build the new synagogue. There efforts resembled that of the ants. In the dark nights they would travel to the state forests, fell the trees and removed the brunches and by dawn the logs were at the building site. Everyone cooperated. Even the Polish forester approved of building of the house of prayers. Everybody worked. Everybody contributed something some a board, some a brick, some a few zloty [Polish currency]. Even those contributed whose roof was in urgent need of repair. When the synagogue was built they came at least on the Sabbath. Having worked hard during the week, on Sabbath they came with measured steps to the house of prayers. Here they participated in reading of the Torah, each was given a portion. They had a chance to have a chat, to speak of what ailed them. There was always a bit to eat and a cup to drink. There were students of the Yeshiva in town who made it their duty to visit the lonely synagogue. In the summer the windows were opened wide and the summer aroma of the fields would spread. In the winter one had to thread through the deep snow to form a passage. Their own houses were heated with anything to hand but the synagogue was heated with logs of pine and birch.
The nearest suburb to the synagogue was called Peresike, which became a place of infamy. During the German occupation a Ghetto was established in Peresike and it was the place of two mass murders of Jews.
Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki As in every town, Novogrudok had also its share of peculiar types of people. I remember some of them.
She wore only patched dresses. Even if she was given a dress without patches she would sow on a few patches of various colours. Her cheeks were always smothered in soot with the edges of the soot painted red. She kept repeating that somebody wanted to poison her and because of this she would not accept food from everyone. But if she was very hungry, she was less choosy and accepted food from whoever gave it to her. When she had her spells, she would shout and curse. She frightened people who came near her on dark winter nights.
At times he would isolate himself and would not speak to anyone. At other times he would be talkative. He was also occupied with political problems. He knew about the situation in Israel, and why not he was a big merchant of empty bottles.
His only family was his daughter Rifke, a hefty maiden with rosy cheeks and big, expressionless eyes. She gazed at everyone. She went about barefoot in all seasons. She had her customers, where she cleaned their houses. But most often she followed Riva the midwife. She was a quite person and did not bother anyone. But, despite of this, she was called 'Riva the crazy one'.
Bobe Tzinke, with all other Jews of the township of Wselub, was taken by the Germans to Novogrudok, where she was killed and buried in the mass grave of the 4000 [more than 5000] victims in the Koshelevo [Skrydlevo] ditches.
Translated by O. Delatycki The public bath was to be found at the corner of the Shul Heif (Synagogue Square) next to the Koidanov synagogue. This was the meeting place of all the Shul goers on Sabbath eve, and in mid-week, on appointed days, of all women of Novogrudok. The bath served as a club where all news and gossip were told and retold. I went there every Friday with my father. At the bath father would buy a broom [made up of twigs] for one kopek [the lowest denomination of Tsarist Russia currency]. He would take two water containers, one for each of us, and we would go in to the sweat room. In the corner of that room was a pile of hot stones. Each bather would pour cold water on the hot stones. As a result, a thick, choking steam would fill the room. Five rows of shelves were built into the walls of the bath. On the shelves lay those who were seeking a thorough steaming. I was able to endure only the heat on the lowest shelf. On higher shelves I would choke. My father would climb onto the second level. Only few would be able to endure the third level. There were however, four bathers who would climb fearlessly onto the top shelve. Who were they? They were Leibe Bodjung, the father of the well known Kandibe family, who lived in Pig's lane, Fishke Noske, the stone paver, who was given the name Noske because he had a flat nose, through which he would bellow as he spoke, Shachne the tandetnik [purveyor of second hand cheap goods] a small, rosy cheeked Jew, who would carry around during the week a mound of old clothing, which obscured him almost completely and Ele the fisherman, , an ancient man, who's age nobody in town could remember. They were the uncrowned rulers of the bath. They would come to the bath on Thursday afternoons, when the oven in the bath would be lit and would go out on Fridays before dawn to pray. They had a corner at the entrance, where they would cool off between periods on the top shelf. They would sit on their water containers and indulge in an endless conversation. But when they would rise to go into the sweat chamber, all others would run away as if perused by a wild animal, nobody could endure the sweat chamber when the foursome entered. The steam and heat would issue from the chamber and cover the wash room with a dense mist and a hellish heat. Undeterred, the foursome would climb onto the fifth shelf, flog themselves with the brooms and shout in a loud voice, as if someone was about to kill them. This would last for a substantial time. After, they would slowly go down, go out from the sweat room, pour over themselves cold water and go to the outer room to cool off. They looked red, like boiled crabs. After a rest they would return to the sweat bath and on and on until the time for the blessing of the candles. Once a month they would apply cupping glasses over cuts in their skin to clear the blood. This operation was done in the entrance to the bath. Following the operation the entrance looked like an abattoir. The foursome would rest after the bath. They would return home to regain their strength. I was curious to find out how Fishke Noske had regained his strength after the cupping glasses treatment. He lived not far from our house. His wife was waiting for him with a home made brew of beer, a large plate of tzimes [stewed carrots] in which a large portion of fat mutton was to be seen. He ate all that was prepared for him and finished up with a samovar of boiling tea, which he drank by sucking the tea through small lumps of hard sugar. After such a repast he would have a snooze for a few hours. On Friday night he would partake of a Sabbath meal. For most of the week he would live on black bread and sour milk, which he would buy at the market from a Jewish milkman from Skridleve. On Sabbath they ate meat and fish. On Friday his wife would buy from Ele the fisherman small fish, which were cheap. At the butcher she would buy cheaper cuts such as the lung, liver, tripe, flap, fat and a few meters of small intestine. She would also buy one or two cow's legs, which were used for making fisnogie [jellied meat]. From these raw materials she would make a number of dishes: large plates of fish balls, sweet and sour fish, she would clean the gut and stuff it with flour and fat, put it in to two large pots and take them to the baker for baking. She would also bake in a very large baking dish of a sweet kugl made of noodles and raisins. All that food was consumed on the Sabbath weekend.
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