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[Page 138]

Schlos Gass – a distinct township

by Eliezer Berkovich

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

Following the First World War, life had returned to the normal state of most townships in Poland. There was a division of opinions in town concerning the merits of the rabbi, Reb Meir Abovich. A section of the congregation, including the slaughterers and butchers was not in favour of him, because of his piety and inclination to pass rigorous rulings. A strong opposition had been created and, as a result, they appointed a rabbi who suited their requirements and taste. He was Reb Meir Meirovich from Swencian (Swienciany, Svencionys). When he took over officially the position of the rabbi of the town a great dispute between the two rabbis began. Reb Meirovich settled in Schlos Gass [Castle Street]. The householders of Schlos Gass created a separate township with their own rabbi, because they considered that Reb Abovich lacked authority and bearing, as is befitting for a rabbi and a great scholar of the Torah, who had written several books. But to merely appoint a rabbi was not enough, so the congregation hired their own slaughterer and built a slaughter house in the yard of the synagogue. Having invited the rabbi they had to give him an income. Well, there were the fees from the slaughter house, fees from the sale of Sabbath candles and yeast for the Sabbath bread as well as other income, from weddings, circumcisions etc. And so it was all arranged. The street had a large synagogue, bigger than any one in any of the other streets (except, of course, for the Shul Heif), and with nice, clever Jews who had impressive faces that were bearded and had side locks. [The Schlos Gass Shul was in the third house from the corner of Schlos Gass and the entrance to the Schlos (Zamok)] On Friday nights, the Jews would shed their weekday attire and dressed for Sabbath. Their appearance changed beyond recognition, they seemed like different people. The welfare of the neighbourhood depended on them. Everyone held their youngest by their hand and the older children followed their father to the synagogue to begin the Sabbath prayers. After the service, a number of paupers would be waiting at the door. The poor men were drifting from town to town. The congregants would each invite a needy person for a Sabbath meal.

I considered it appropriate to list the names of the people who lived in the street, beginning from the end of the street:

Avrom Ostashinski, timber merchant
Chaim Klitelnik, gardener and before Passover a baker of matzot (by contract)
Avrom Volfovich, farmer and (horse drawn) cab driver (to amend his income), a simple, honest Jew
Mordchai Movshovich, grain merchant
Shloime Movshovich, son of Mordchai, grain merchant, an intelligent, clever man, whom, when in need, one would ask for advice
Shmuel Mikulicki a boiler maker and part time farmer to supplement his income, a man of many parts
Mordche Angelchik and his son Yankef, tailors (the family Angelchik is mentioned in the memoirs of Chaim Kravets)
Yankef Ratner, draper, a man of the Book
Avrom Moishe Bielski, baker
Gavriel Arievich, baker
Dov Lagatkier, shoemaker
? Shmulevich, grain merchant
Irme Shmulevich, son of above [captain of the Maccabi Jewish Football Club]
Meyer Aicher, an enlightened man with wide world views, a good man of the Holy Book, he was for many years the head elder of the synagogue and a grain merchant
Shmuel Eliezer Benzianovski, timber merchant
Avrom Rudnicki, owner of a soft drinks shop
Dov Berkovich, my father, shoemaker, we had a nickname [as, I suspect, did most people in town] of which we were not ashamed
Tzvi Hershl Itzkovich, farmer
Itzchok Leizer Moishe Sapotnicki, farmer and gardener
Chaim Maslovaty and his father, flour merchants
Chaikl Berkovski
Avrom Benzianovski, timber merchant
Alter Kamenetzki, a wise man, a man of the Book, timber merchant
Shloime Bruk, shoemaker
Velvel Kaplan, tin smith, did not participate in the life of the community
Jehuda Gershonovich, shoemaker, loved to be involved in the life in of the street and participated in the games the children played
Velvl Bloch, laundry owner, prayed with fervour and meaning
Boruch Velvl Volfovich, a shoemaker
Yehyda Peresetzki, an honest carrier, who was trusted to carry money and deliver goods from Grodno.
Those were my neighbours for a part of my existence. Alas, in 1941 their lives came to an end in a most brutal manner. Blessed be their memory.

[Page 140]

Yiddishe Gass

by Miriam Lipchin Negrevitski

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

Many years have past since I saw last Yiddishe Gass [Jewish street]. There is nothing left of my beloved street. However, in my memory all is clear, as if I saw it yesterday. I lived in the Yiddishe Gass, there I grew up and everything matured with me, good and bad times, songs, dances, sadness and happiness, I experienced it all in my Yiddishe Gass. If you stood in the centre of the Market place, you could see all streets of the town. All the streets were descended from the Market place. Yiddishe Gass was the straightest. It was clean, was cobbled with big stones in the centre, and had paved walkways on both sides. Along the walkways were rows of young trees. The houses were mostly made of timber, only few were of brick. On both sides of Yiddishe Gass were many lanes. On the left, the lanes led to Valiker Gass. The first lane on the left was called Rabbi's lane, because there lived the rabbi. The second lane on the left was called Hegdish lane, because there stood the old hegdish (poorhouse). There lived the poor and the deranged of the town and district. Often dead people were brought there for burial. There you could see the destitute of the world. The third lane was called Pig's lane - it was not cobbled. In the summer there was always sand and dust in the air. For the rest of the year it was a large bog, which was created by the autumn rains. The bog would freeze in the winter. During the long dark nights, when only one light provided meagre illumination of the lane, one would need to know how to find one's way. If you did not know the way, you were likely to finish up in the bog, looking like a dirty pig. Further along was the Talmud Torah lane. In the evenings, classes were held there by Shokdey Melocho. Before my time another evening school was operating there. There, too, was no shortage of mud. Further still was the Jail lane, which led to the jail. Further down the street one could see the quarter for the public servants [kolonia urzednicza], followed by the station of the narrow gauge railway. Beyond the station, one could see in the distance the Skrydlewo forest. We used to go there in the summer to collect berries [it would not have occurred to anyone that within a few years 80% of the Jewish population of Novogrudok would be killed and buried in that forest]. In the Yiddishe Gass, opposite the Talmud Torah lane was the Jewish hospital, which was surrounded by a large orchard with all kinds of fruit. On the corner of the Yiddishe Gass and Talmud Torah lane was the Moshav Zkeinim [old people's home] where old people lived. We used to say that the angel of death did not like them. On the right side of Yiddishe Gass was the Shul Heif [Synagogue court}, where the old and new synagogues were standing as well as 12 small prayer houses (klozes), the slaughter house for poultry and the bath house. I remember on a Friday evening, when a Jew dressed for the Sabbat would come from the Shul Heif to Yiddishe Gass and would give a sign to indicate that it is was time to close the shops and celebrate the Sabbath. At that moment a festive Sabbath joy would spread over the town. Everyone went to a synagogue to pray.

In Yiddishe Gass there was a house on the border of the Shul Heif. In the house was a 3 metres long kitchen, with windows that looked out onto the Shul Heif and in the middle of the kitchen was a big oven. The house belonged to the worker's union. In the kitchen was the worker's library. It was difficult to create it with little help. There were many collections organised for funds and money. In that kitchen a theatrical group was founded to support the worker's library. All problems concerning the working people were discussed in that kitchen. Many meetings of the workers' parties were conducted there. In that kitchen you could meet members of Bund, Communists, Frihit (freedom), Hachaluts Hatzair. Even the Polish police found its way there, though nobody invited them. We, the youth, gave it a name - the historical kitchen.

I could see it all in my Yiddishe Gass - in the summer evenings when the sun would shine until late, in the winter with bountiful snow, I liked to stroll in Yiddishe Gass. Coming back from work, from the cinema, from the theatre, I would get the feel of the Yiddishe Gass. If I were asked why I liked the Yiddishe Gass, I would answer: “because in this street the sun shines longer during the day and at night there is the moon”. There were no toll houses in the street, which would obscure the sky. I left my home at the end of 1930 to go to Eretz Isroel, when the first snow was falling on the cobble stones and on the roofs of the houses in the Yiddisher Gass.

[Page 141]

United Jewish Artisans Association

By Samuel Nikolayevski

Translated by O. Delatycki

The United Jewish Artisans Association occupied one of the leading places in the communal life of Novogrudok. The foundation of the Artisans and Small Business Bank helped substantially to improve the existence of those engaged in minor commerce and crafts. The bank helped support very many Jewish families. A separate commercial bank was also established, but that bank was supporting larger businesses. Artisans and small business people represented 80% of all enterprises in town. They were the customers of their bank and members of their associations. This is why the Artisans Association was of great importance in the Jewish life of the town. The Artisans Association was also well represented in the Polish municipal council and the Jewish kehila. The government authorities were aware of the influence of the Artisans Association. I joined the Association as soon as I settled in Novogrudok and I participated in the activities of the Association until the last moment of its existence. I was a member of the board of management under the leadership of Yankef Lubchanski. The Artisans Association had looked after the interest of its members in a number of ways. It provided financial help and loans, it also assisted with legal and social problems. A small factory that produced edible oil existed in Novogrudok. One night one of its workers was seriously injured. He was taken to a local doctor for medical treatment. The doctor's wife did not let him into the house under the pretext that the doctor was not at home. The injured man could not obtain help anywhere in town. He was taken to Vilno, but died of blood poisoning. The management of the Artisans Association had investigated the matter. It came to light that the doctor was at home at the time but he did not want to get up at night. The Association decided to summons the doctor to face an arbitration tribunal. I was appointed to act as the prosecutor in the hearing. I started by investigating the doctor's attitude towards poor patients. I discovered that on one occasion the doctor refused to attend to a pregnant woman, who was brought to the hospital and was in labour, unless he was paid in advance. The woman was left siting on a bench outside of the hospital, where she gave birth to her child without any assistance. I found out also that a resident of the old people's home had fallen ill but the doctor refused to see him unless he was paid. This was sufficient proof for the arbitration tribunal. The doctor was made to pay a fine, but, more importantly, such medical transgressions did not occur again. A committee was formed in the Association which supported poor tradesmen. There were families among the members which were not able to buy bread or chala for Sabbath, let alone potatoes or meat. The committee undertook to provide discretely the necessary commodities to the needy. Five members served on the committee: Yankef Lubchanski as the chairman, Samuel Nikolayevski as secretary, Leibe Muler, Notke Sucharski and Shloime Gershenowski. The committee was particularly busy before the holidays, and specially Passover. We had to supply matzos, potatoes and meat to the needy. The poor requiring help were arranged in three categories: 1/ those who required provision of flour and matzos as well as other products, 2/ those who required money for baking matzos 3/ those who required both 1 and 2. The means for the assistance were obtained from the members, charitable organisations and at times collections. The Artisans and Small Business Bank was also of assistance in providing loans. On one occasion I was sent to Grodno to buy a freight car of flour. This eased the situation and reduced the cost of the assistance program. The poor craftsman received the provisions cheaply or at no cost. Alas, shortly before the war the Artisan Association was split into two factions: the majority remained members of the faction under the chairmanship of Yankef Lubchanski, the minority formed a group headed by Meme Gordieyski and conducted their own affairs. Obviously, this did not improve the condition of the artisans. The split was caused by competition between the two groups and differences in the political views of the parties. The conflict lasted till the Soviets occupied Novogrudok, when all came to an end. These were the battles and the bubbly life of the people of Novogrudok till the Nazi animals have exterminated the life of the town for ever.

I would like to use this opportunity to commemorate the names of my family who shared the fate of the population of Novogrudok – my wife Chanka Fishman- Nikolayevski and our innocent four small children Leje, Dwoire, Gawriel and Rifka.

May G'd avenge the innocent blood.

[Page 143]

The Professional Movement

by Eliyahu Berkovitch

Translated by O. Delatycki

In the year 1920, when Novogrudok became part of Poland, Jewish professional associations began forming in town. An association of shoemakers and an association of tailors were formed. The shoemaker association integrated all leather workers: shoemakers, makers of slippers, saddlers and all others in that field. In the tailors association were: tailors, hatters, milliners and employees in drapery shops. The associations started an intensive campaign to involve all workers engaged in those trades. An eight hour working day was introduced in the enterprises where the members of the association worked. The associations put an effort into enforcing the eight hour working day rule. The employment inspector of the Polish government helped with the implementation of the regulation. After hours cultural activities were conducted such as lectures, literary evenings with the participation of members of the intelligentsia of the town including teachers and students who would participate in all events organised by the associations and made their contribution. The leather association was connected with the central association in Warsaw. The association was infiltrated by communists. The textile association was connected to the central association in Warsaw which was allied to the Bund. The leather association was allowed to exist for a short time. Because of its link to the communist party the association was disbanded by the Polish authorities and their leaders were arrested. On the other hand, the textile association had become stronger and represented most of the textile workers. The cultural sub-committee had also increased its activities. They started setting up a library. Money was collected for that purpose by organising such events as flower sales, with the permission of the government. The money was used for the purchase of books. At the same time the workers dramatic actors circle was organised under the direction of Yoisef Israelit. Every two weeks there were theatrical performances. Later performances were arranged every Saturday night. The performances of the dramatic actors improved and the audiences were drawn from all levels of the population. They were successful and they made a profit. The money supported a number of institutions such as Shokgdey melocho, orphanage, workers library and other deserving institutions. At the same time, a reading room was set up where the whole Jewish press, dailies and weeklies, was on display. The Polish press was also available. The reading room was open from 7pm to 11pm and people would come to read the papers or play chess. Masked balls for Purim were run. It should be noted that our functions were frequented by the cities intelligentsia, and that encouraged us to continue our work.

And this is how we lived – workers and intelligentsia working in harmony until the town was destroyed in the Holocaust. May there memory be implanted in our souls.


“TOZ” activities

by Majrim Ginzburg

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

“TOZ” stands for [in Polish] “Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia”, which translates as “Society for the Preservation of Health”.

The name of the organization in Yiddish was “Society for the Preservation of Health of the Jewish people”. This was a Jewish organisation with the head office in Warsaw, under the leadership of the highest Jewish medical authorities in Poland. About 10 years before the second world war, under the influence of the journal “Folks gezunt” [Health of the People] ( a monthly popular medical journal), which was published by the head office of TOZ, several medical workers in Novogrudok had decided to establish a division of TOZ in town. Several persons founded a preliminary committee which undertook to attract members. The monthly membership fee was set at half to one zloty per month. After a number of people joined, a general meeting was called to initiate the organization. After the general discussion of the aims of the organisation, a committee of 7 persons was elected: Dr. Marmurshtein, dentist Shimon Kamieniecki, cantor Eliezer Rabinovich, Dove Eicher, Mrs Movshovich, Jankef Abovich and the author of this article [Majrim Ginzburg].

The elected committee started an energetic campaign.

The majority of the population of the town were small business men and tradesmen, who were hurried and overworked in search of a living. The care of health was largely neglected. Therefore, the committee decided that its first task was to awaken in the population an interest in the problems of health. It was decided to organise frequent meetings of a wide circle of people. At these meetings the problems of hygiene prophylactics were discussed in a popular form. The nature of micro organisms, how transferable diseases occur and how to prevent their incidence were explained. After the lectures questions were answered by the lecturers. It was also undertaken to increase the number of subscribers to the journal “Folks gezunt”.

The second task was to open in Novogrudok a “drop of milk” station. The central organization of TOZ was approached to help out in this matter. They welcomed our initiative and provided help. Assistance was also sought from the American Novogrudok Help Committee. The Americans supported the project and contributed a significant sum of money. Due to the support from the above two sources it was possible for TOZ to extend the proposed projects. A “drop of milk” station was opened. The station had many functions. The Sister at the station, Miss Iveniecki, began visiting the houses of the poor population, particularly in the poor quarters of the town such as the Synagogue square, Rachelo and Zalatuche. Her duty was to instruct the women how to look after themselves and their families, particularly during pregnancy. The sucklings were brought to the Sister for a weekly examination and, if necessary, to the TOZ medical officer Dr Marmursztin. There was a file at TOZ for every child, in which the development of each child was documented, such as: weight, height, vaccinations that the child was given etc. Newly born children of needy families received assistance and food. In time new people were attracted to help with the work among them were Dr Kiwelewicz and the midwife Rive Szwarc. The organisation was becoming wider known in town. TOZ had taken its honourable place among older established and well known organizations such as the Beit Cholim, Moshav Skeinim, Shogdy Meloche and the orphanage. Annual general meetings of TOZ were conducted, when the management and the revision committee presented reports of their activities in the previous year. Members of the committees were elected. These meetings were of great interest to the members and were well attended.

Every summer the TOZ organised for the children of Novogrudok day programs. During the day the children spent time in fresh air under the supervision of experienced guides. At night the children slept in their home. During the day the children received three meals. The cost of the program varied with income: the better off parents paid the full price, others paid half the price and the poor paid a nominal amount. Often the management was able to collect sufficient money to pay fully for the poor children. Thus, for instance, Moshe Brojdo, a respectable founding citizen of Novogrudok, would contribute each summer a sum which would pay the fees of several children. He always insisted that his donations should remain anonymous. It was indeed a great satisfaction and pleasure to see the Jewish children happy, cheerful, sun tanned, doing gymnastics and dancing under the direction of the kindergarten teacher. Chasan Rabinovich, who was devoted to the institution, would spend much time with the children and teach them to sing traditional songs.

At a joint meeting of the TOZ management of Novogrudok, Baranovichi and Lida it was decided to create in the forest of Novojelnia a joint holiday home for the children of the above mentioned towns. Money was collected in the three towns. The population supported the initiative. The required money was readily made available. A splendid corner in the Novojelnia forest was secured. A suitable big building surrounded by a fence was erected. Many children from the three towns were given a chance to spend some time at the home and benefit from the fresh, healthy country air. The fees were structured in the same way as those for the day programs..

The holiday home in Novojelnia had become well known in the district, because of its fine management and good order. A very vigorous and devoted activity in founding and managing the home was displayed by members of the Baranovichi TOZ committee Dr Nachimovski and Mrs Dr Izakson.

An event related with the holiday home comes to mind. Alexander Harkavy, during his second visit to Novogrudok, was making a film for our American townsmen. To do so Harkavy hired a crew of two operators from Warsaw. It was decided to include in the film scenes from the holiday home. I intended to travel with him to Novojelnia. Before we went, the deputy Mayor of Novogrudok Ostashinski had suggested that on the way we should film the Novogrudok narrow gauge railway station. We arranged for the crew to make the film. We had no idea that it was prohibited by law to photograph railway stations. The station master had seen us filming and started to abuse us heatedly. We ignored him and went to Novojelnia. The station master informed the local police, who in turn phoned the police in Novojelnia to apprehend the “criminals”. A few kilometres from Novojelnia a car full of policemen armed with rifles stopped us. We were taken to the Novojelnia police station. Luckily the policeman in charge knew me as a pharmacist from Novogrudok. Having spotted me the policeman was very surprised. I explained to him that the older gentleman in our group is a guest from America, a person of renown, who came to us to help our community. The other two were hired by the American gentleman to make a film of his visit. The policeman passed on this information to the police in Novogrudok. He was told to set us free and to cut of the portion of the film, which was made at the railway station. I was told to report to the police station in Novogrudok. After we had taken the film of the holiday home we returned to Novogrudok, where I went to the police station and I repeated my story. With that the matter was concluded.

In the spring of 1939 the committee of TOZ decided to buy a block of land and to put up a building in Novogrudok for the children who were enjoying the day programs. A delegation was sent to the Graf of Wsielub, one of the richest landowners, with the request for help with the project. The Graf promised to assist by supplying building materials, some free and some at a reduced cost.

[The Count of Wsielub O'Rourke stemmed from a long line of Irish nobles. His forebear, Lieutenant-General Count Joseph O'Rourke fought in the Russian army in the Napoleonic wars. In 1819 General O'Rourke retired and subsequently settled down in the Novogrudok region of the Minsk province. He was a prominent landowner in Byelorussia and held in his possession about 20,000 acres of land, including the small town of Wsielub and five villages. His grandson was known as a benevolent man, who treated fairly the Jews of Wsielub. He was somewhat eccentric and was known to wear a kilt, when inspecting his farm (see the articles on Wsielub in Pinkas Novogrudok on p.167, p.168, p.170)]

The war brought an end to all our plans.

[Page 148]

Aid for Jewish prisoners

by Aharon Rudnicki

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

There was an institution in Novogrudok which was called “Aid for the arrested”. It was headed by my father OBM?. The task of that body was not an easy one. Its main aim was to supply kosher food for the arrested Jews. It was not easy to obtain permission to do it. On a Sabbath and on festive days hot food was delivered to the prison. Before Passover new kosher dishes, matzos, wine and all that is required to celebrate Passover in a proper manner was provided. There was not always a minyan (ten adult Jews) in the prison. My father and I prayed in the prison on every festival. On occasions, persons picked at random were invited to make up a minyan. My father would serve as the guarantor for their good behaviour.

Once an event occurred which could have had dire consequences. This is what happened. There was a holiday. We arrived to join, as usual, in the prayers. The warden provided a nice, separate room for the prayers. The prayers were conducted uneventfully in a nice Jewish manner. I should mention that my father and I were cohanim (descendents of the priests in the ancient temples). This is important to stress to make the rest of the story clear. Having finished the prayers we went to fetch the food. As he walked, my father felt pressure on his foot. Initially he did not pay any attention to it. After the meal, having returned home, my father decided to have a nap. As he took off his shoes a letter fell to the floor. In those days, to smuggle a letter from a prison was punishable by exile to Siberia. My father dressed in a hurry and returned to the prison. He rang the doorbell and was asked “who” – father answered “it is I”. The door opened in an instant and the surprised warden asked him what happened. Father requested that the Jews be assembled for another prayer. The warden was surprised: “Haven't you just prayed?” he asked. None-the-less he ordered the prisoners to return to the room where the prayers were held. The prisoners reassembled. They were all frightened. Not knowing what happened they looked at each other and shrugged. Father began as follows: Dear Jews, today is a holy day and we all prayed. You should now confess who slipped a letter into my shoe. All prisoners were afraid and did not know what to say. All were swearing that they knew nothing about it. Father spoke to the prisoners emphatically: You all swear that you know nothing of the matter, yet one of you is not telling the truth. I will ask the Rabbi to come and he will make you swear on the bible. At that moment the warden opened the door and asked father to come out to see him. He said to father: “You passed the test. I put the latter in your shoe to test you and see if you are honest and trustworthy. As of now I have complete confidence in your honesty”. Father returned to the prisoners and asked them to forgive him for suspecting one of them. The prisoners answered in one voice: “We forgive you and go in peace”.

[Page 149]

Village Jews

by D. Cohen

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

It could be because I was born in a village not far from Novogrudok, that my heart belongs to those Jews who lived in the villages surrounding the town, who cohabited and traded with the peasants, lived in harmony with them and frequently helped those in need, spoke their tongue – Belarusian. It was only on the Sabbath and holidays that they shed their everyday peasant clothing and became festive Jews. Those who lived in the vicinity of the town would walk there on Sabbath to pray. Those who lived too far would arrange a local minien, would listen to the cantor, would be called up to read a portion of the Torah and for the duration of the holiday not hear an alien word. They would be certain to partake of a stiff drink, but would never get drunk. The mouthful of vodka would be followed by traditional Jewish festive delicacies and they ate morsels with gusto – eggs and onion, liver, jellied fish, meat, cholent, kugl (both typical delicacies of east European Jews) and in between bites they would wash down the fatty food with a stiff drink of vodka. It was no wonder that such a repast was followed by deep sleep. Thus passed the Sabbath or holiday and again one would return to everyday living, to trading with the farmers… and so on and on year after year. Children were born, they grew up together with the other village boys. And when the inevitable hour would arrive, they would not summons doctors, they would die and be buried among their own, facing the far yet near land of Israel.

Rivers of tears have been shed for the exterminated Jewish community of Novogrudok. An extra tear must be shed for the fallen dear, undemanding village Jews who perished with their sisters and brothers and were buried in the mass graves.

I would like to describe and immortalise the memory of a few village Jews, and through them the memory of all Jews who lived in villages around Novogrudok.

Joshe from Gorodechno

A large timber house is standing on a hill overlooking the Gordelovka forest. Next to it is a flour mill, a tavern and a small, low smithy which is issuing sparks and gathering around itself horses, wagons and sleighs. Reb Joshe sits in the tavern. I can still see him – tall, upright, looking like the lofty spreading tree which is shading one of the windows of the tavern. I don't know if he acquired the tavern as part of an inheritance, but he liked his tavern. He would meet all passers by with a cheery good morning or good evening, he would serve them a glass of vodka and a snack, but would never permit drunkenness in his tavern. He spoke to them in their tongue, but he kept himself at a distance. He would exchange with everyone a nice word, he would comment on political and social issues. He was very popular.

It was the time of the First World War. Novogrudok was only some 20 wiorsts (about 20 km) from the front line. The Germans, as was their habit, were requisitioning grain, eggs, poultry and horses. The farmers were anxious to learn of news from the front and naturally they would ask Joshe the innkeeper. As the night approached the farmers would assemble, tie the horses to the posts, take a hefty drink, sit with bulging eyes, with their ears wide open, ready to listen and to find out the news of the world and from the front. I was the one who supplied Joshe with the news and he demanded of me the names of the Russian generals and kept asking for more names. So I invented resounding Russian names, which were neither here nor there. I don't know if Joshe believed me and took the names I gave him to be real but for the customers he recited names with a particular aplomb: Ivan Petrovich, Nikolay Vasilievich came out of his mouth as terrific heroes, who attacked the foe fearlessly with their swords but, alas, at the end they had to retreat. The customers listened in awe, crossed themselves and asked for another drink and another story. Joshe smoothes his beard and smiles with pleasure.

I liked the tavern and the two daughters who played the guitar. They played longingly and romantically and looked up at the tree tops which were covered in hues of purple. They were a family of musicians. The son with the ringing name of Solomon had the feeling and taste of a performer and he became a music announcer in the young Tel Aviv in its early days. It was good news when I heard that Joshe the taverner was in Tel Aviv in Israel. I was immersed in memories, in romantic warm feelings and I can see him much older but still tall, His wide beard made him look handsome. He reminded me of a tall tree in Gorodeczno, but with its roots cut. He was missing his tavern and his customers and he returned to his home. He found his resting place in the treed cemetery in Novogrudok. In Israel he left a daughter with children and grandchildren.

Izik the blacksmith

I don't know why in my mind I associate Izik the blacksmith with winter, though I have seen him on occasions and had a chat with him in the summer. It could be that his black face was in strong contrast to the white winter world. I remember a Friday on a winter's day. I am walking to Slobodka. I pass the tavern and I am attracted to the warmth of the small house of the smith. The house is indeed pleasantly warm. Because of the inclement weather the smithy is closed. The wife of the smith stands in front of the blazing oven and is inserting a cholent in it. And the smith with his strapping son are engaged in an argument. The smith is glad of my arrival. He says to me: you are teacher so you will decide which of us is right, I or my son. I am impressed by that remark and I reply: “what is the problem?” I argue, said the smith, that we Jews are the chosen people and because of that we will all go to heaven and all gentiles will finish up in hell. “And what is your opinion” I asked the son. He replied: “I am arguing that the gentiles are not at fault that they were born gentiles, why do they deserve to go to hell?” Father gets irritated and shouts: “because the gentiles are like cattle and don't know anything”. The son got agitated and screams: “and what about the scribe in the Volost' (shire), can't he read and write?” The smith was lost for a moment, thought and ran to the book case, took out the Chumash and opened it at the beginning and said in a quarrelsome tone to his son: “look at it and read it” Shamed and puzzled the son read: “at the beginning God made the Heaven and the earth”. The face of the smith shone and he shouted: “you see, will the scribe of the Volost' be able to say that?” The son remained speechless; he inclined his head and said quietly: “it seems that you are right”.

I heard lately that the son of the smith had become a strongman and was appearing in large towns, where he was showing his might.

Uri the flour miller

The events which will be related here happened before the first world war. I, a young boy, was captivated by the teachings of a Jewish revolutionary party, the Simovces. I found myself in the city of Proskurov. They were the days of political storms and the young sole could not understand the internal party fights, when the main enemy was the Tsar, who was sending everybody to jail or the hangman. Disappointed and defeated I was thinking of becoming independent of everybody, not to be dependent on daily handouts like pupils in the Yeshiva. I was contemplating to break out through the border and from there to America. At that time grandfather Uri came to see his daughter Luba, who was the wife of the head of the Yeshiva Reb Shmuel and to see his grandchildren. The grandfather had a surname which sounded like a name of someone from Frankfurt – Openheim. He was broad shouldered and had a fiery, wide beard, thick lips and good kind eyes. A rare Jew. He liked good company, a good measure of vodka, a fat morsel, but at the same time he did not forget the world hereafter. Two of his daughters married rabbis. The water mill, which he had in Slobodka, did not yield enough income for the third daughter to marry a rabbi. She, Ete, was capable, sturdy and she married a miller, who ran a mill in the village of Selatycz. The two rabbis, the older rabbi Eliezer, who was studying the cabbala and wanted to hasten salvation, and the other, rabbi Shmuel looked down on their uneducated brother-in-law Mordche, who, in turn, looked upon the rabbis as on squeezed out lemons. Grandpa Uri was always trying to make peace among them. Clever grandfather understood me, his grandson, who was looking for independence and offered me a job in the flour mill. The job was to keep tally of the grain which arrived and of the flour which was taken away. Grandpa determined the wages of 40 roubles a month for his 15 year old grandson. Grandpa also agreed for the grandson to eat with the other workers, as it would suit a revolutionary. I got to like my grandmother, with her three colourful names Dvoire Chaje Finkl. She knew that grandfather was sinning at times, but she was the guardian of peace in the house and she revered the famed head of the Musar Yeshiva, Reb Yoyzl as an idol. He would stay in their house in the hot summer months. Grandfather Uri, who was concerned about the better world beyond, built for Reb Yizyl a yehide shtibl, in the forest close to Novogrudok, where the pupils of the Yeshiva would reside in a detachment in the productive days of the month of Elul. It would seem that Reb Yoyzl had a good understanding of psychology because, not long after, he extracted me from the flour mill and readmitted me to the Yeshiva. I was missing Slobodka, my grandmother and particularly my grandfather. Two or three times a week, together with my older brother, who was also in the Yeshiva, we would visit Slobodka. We would greet grandfather and the farmers, who were quite workers, and we ate tasty bliny, which grandmother would prepare. Years later my older brother Yizchok Aizek took over the management of the flour mill in Slobodka. Grandfather Uri died suddenly having suffered a heart attack. He was missed by all: poor Jews as well as the poor farmers, who he treated like his children.

Meishe and Tamara

Not far from Novogrudok, crossing a dense forest one arrives at a small, rapid stream which drives the grinding stones of the flour mill of Gordelovka. The mill was leased by husband and wife, Meishe and Tamara. Meishe was an unremarkable man, but Tamara was a rare beauty. The young men of Novogrudok would gather in Gordelovka like bees on flowers. On Sabbath days in summer, people would come to cool off in the shallow, cold waters of the stream and delight in a drink of cold sour cream, black rye bread or a glass of fresh milk. It was likely that most of the family income came not from the flour mill but from Tamara's butter, sour cream and milk.

I remind myself that when in need I stayed in Gardelovka, and my pretty aunt Tamara was good to me, like a good mother. There must have been more than ten Jewish flour millers in the district and they contributed much to the community of Novogrudok. They donated holy ornaments as well as supported the town's poor. They would bring to town flour, potatoes and dairy products for the holidays and most of all for Passover.

The Jewish “land gentry”

All the flour mills belonged to Poles, who were leasing them to the Jews. I remember the family of Niankovski, who were leasing the Gorodechno land holding. The family behaved like land gentry. The owned horses and cows. One of the sons behaved like a Pole. He was riding a horse, spoke Polish and did not have Jewish friends. But the rest of the family behaved as Jews and in their house prayers were conducted each Sabbath and on holidays. Here the millers from the district would gather for prayers and have a generous kidush (something to drink and a snack after the prayers).

Avreml from Boyarsk

I was brought up with little Abraham, the son of Mordechi from Sielatych and my heart is fool of joy when I think of his name. I remember the days when he was a youth with poetic leanings, rich fantasies and his attachment to Henia, a renowned beauty, who later became his wife. His parents were opposed to the marriage, but Avreml took no notice and married his beloved. As a child and a grandchild of millers, he leased the flour mill in the village of Boyarsk and built his own life. The village was known to have a group of enlightened young farmers with secret connections to the Communists. The Jewish miller was friendly with them. The farmers used to say that in Avreml's house the table was always set so that a man in need could be taken straight to the table. On one occasion the leftist young farmers attacked and killed an informer. Arrests followed. Among the arrested was Avreml the miller. The Polish political police knew that Avreml did not participate in the murder, but they tortured Avreml to disclose the names of the guilty. To no avail. Avreml was silent. He suffered in jail and was determined not to be an informer. When he was released from jail, agents of the government put fire to the flour mill and Avreml, his wife, two beautiful daughters and a son went to live in Novogrudok. Here too Avreml led a nice life. When the Germans came, Avreml and his family were taken with all Jews to the Ghetto. He died in the Ghetto from sickness and hunger. Both daughters were killed by the Germans. His son escaped east ahead of the German invasion. Henia survived the invasion in the forests. After the war she met her son in a refugee camp. I was privileged to meet them on their arrival in Israel.

Where are you, dear, ordinary village Jews, hearty, strong children of the people ingrained in the live of the village and linked with our brethren in Novogrudok. Slain with the whole Novogrudok community, may their spilled blood never be forgotten. May their slaughter be remembered and revenged. May their memory be always with us.

[Page 152]

Benjamin Kotlover

by Wm. Uris

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

In the surroundings of Novogrudok there were numerous Jewish settlements, i.e. Jews who were leaseholders of land from the [Polish] landlords. Under the Tsarist regime Jews were not allowed to own land. Benjamin Movshovich was one of the lessees in the village of Kotlovo, about 14 viorst [about 15 km] from Novogrudok. Benjamin Kotlover was an interesting man, with an unusual character. He was strongly traditional and deeply religious, but he knew the fine points and was a maskil [follower of the Haskola – the enlightenment movement]. All his children, including his daughters, received both a traditional and secular education. He was a charitable man and always glad to see a visitor – no passer by who stopped at his house left without food or an empty pocket. Benjamin and his wife Simka made sure that they left in a happy frame of mind. Benjamin was a man with a warm Jewish heart. He bemoaned the troubles Jews were exposed to under the Tsar's anti-Semitic rule and was hoping to live to see a Jewish state in Israel. Benjamin was a close friend of my father Reb Yosef Jerusalimski (Yerushalmi) and a devoted friend of our family.

I had a particularly close bond with him. He would invite me often to the country. He was a strict disciplinarian, but I was allowed complete freedom in the country and I could do whatever I pleased, even to go horse riding. The good hearted Simka saw to it that I should eat well and drink plenty of milk.

The two Jewish families who lived in Kotlowo, Benjamin Movshovich and his partner Brine, were the only Jews in the village. Though their financial position was quite good, they suffered much due to anti-Semitic incidents and the Tsarist lawlessness. Brine and her children left for America and Benjamin moved with his family to Novogrudok.

Benjamin died when he was preparing to join his children in America. Only one daughter, Maryashe remained in Novogrudok. Among those killed by the German fascists in Novogrudok was Maryashe together with her husband and four children.

[The above article is almost identical the chapter on Benjamin Kotlover in Wm. Uris' 'Memoirs from before the First World War'. I included it for completeness. O.D.]

[Page 153]

Weekly papers in Novogrudok

by Yehoshua Yaffe

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

In 1933 a weekly newspaper named Novogrudker Leben (Novogrudok Life) was founded. The editor was Avrom Buselevich, the son of Moishe Dovid Buselevich, a Slonim chasid. On the editorial board were the lawyers Gumener and Ciechanowski, the teacher Solomon. who was the initator and ardent supporter of the paper, and others. A third of the paper was taken up by advertisements, announcements and bereavements. They provided the main source of the newspaper's income. The newspaper was not connected to any party, it was mainly concerned with local problems such as the municipal council, the Jewish council (kehila), economic institutions and local schools. The newspaper published also historical articles about old Novogrudok and about events of the distant past. The newspaper was also in touch with emigrants, who contributed stories about old Novogrudok. One of the correspondents from Israel was Isroel Gurevich. The editorial board of the paper was also arranging memorial meetings to commemorate Jewish writers such as Mendele, Sholem Alechem and I.L. Peretz. The paper conducted open trials etc. The Novogrudker Leben made known its public opinion and took part in the economic, cultural and communal life of the Jewish population of Novogrudok. The newspaper continued publication up until the beginning of the Second World War.

In 1935 the newspaper Novogrudker Woch appeared, in opposition to the Novogrudker Leben,. Though it proclaimed itself to be an independent newspaper, unconnected to any party, it was an organ of the Revisionist party, which was opposing other Zionist organisations and the Histadrut.

[Page 154]

A native of Novogrudok
in the Herzlia Gymnasium

by Noach Yishayahu Avi-Amots

Translated from Hebrew by Aviva Kamil

Chaim Yaffe, the grandchild of the “gaon” Reb Gimpel Yaffe from Roznoy, was at the beginning of the twentieth century one of the revered and important people in Novogrudok. He was a gifted student and he knew Hebrew as well as general knowledge.

Chaim Yaffe had a large hardware shop and was considered to be affluent.

He had two handsome sons: Mordechai and Leibl. In order to give his sons a modern yet traditional education he engaged a teacher for them, Yishayau Tchernichovski, who was versed in the Torah and Hebrew as well as in secular subjects. Tchernichovski was known and respected in the town and the surrounding district.

The younger son, Leibl, had shown literary talent and at a very young age was composing beautiful poetry, which was published in “Haprachim” (the flowers) edited by Lerner, the known Rabbi and writer.

In the year1907 Betzalel Yaffe from Grodno invited Y.Tchernichovski to teach pedagogical courses, which were conducted by the Society for the Dissemination of Knowledge in Grodno. One of the great pedagogues of the generation, Aharon ben-Moshe Kahanshtam was the head of that school.

Y.Tchernichovski wanted his talented student to be given the opportunity to undertake further studies in a high school that was renowned for its excellence. He approached Shmaryau Levin, who was one of the trustees of the Herzlia Gymnasium in Jaffa, and asked him to accept Leibl Yaffe as a non-paying pupil at that Gymnasium.. The request was granted and Leibl moved to Jaffa to study at that school. Thus Yaffe's sons were the first in Novogrudok to speak fluently modern Hebrew.

Zeydl Bushelevits

by Ch. Leibovitch

Translated by O. Delatycki

Zeydl Bushelevits was born in Novogrudok to a prominent family. His father Moshe Dovid was a deeply religious man. Zeydl was given a traditional religious upbringing and general education. He obtained his matriculation at a gimnazjum [high school] in Vilno. At the high school he revealed his ability to write literary compositions. He was the editor of the student's newspaper. He also contributed articles to Vilno's daily newspapers. Having returned to Novogrudok, he became the organiser and actual editor of the newspaper 'Novogrudker Lebn' ['Novogrudok Life']. As a Zionist, he imbued the Zionist spirit into the 'Novogrudker Lebn'. He became involved with the Jewish intelligentsia and was devoted to the Jewish society. He was dedicated to the newspaper. He was an ardent student of the Yiddish language. He was very interested in photographs of Jewish subjects. He represented the finest traditions of Jewish Novogrudok. Zeydl liked Novogrudok with all its communal institutions, but his main devotion was to the 'Novogrudker Lebn'. It was a part of his being. He did not expect to get something from the paper, he did not use it to publish his literary works. He never published an article under his name. I don't know to this day if it was because of his diffidence or his intellectual pride. As a human being he distinguished himself by his modesty and heartiness. He was a true companion and friend. And just as he was true to others, he was true to himself. He never tried to appear to be greater than he was in the reality. He was one of the nicest types that lived in Novogrudok in the last decade before the war. After the war started 'Novogrudker Lebn' ceased publication. Zeydl Bushelevits was taken by the Germans with the second group, allegedly to work, but he was killed. It is unknown where his grave is. Let this modest contribution serve as a memorial to the editor of 'Novogrudker Lebn' Zeydl Bushelevits.

[Page 155]

Extinguishing the fire of hatred

by Noach Avni (Kamenietsky)

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

I can see it still in my minds eyes. At that time I was a young boy, a pupil of the Tarbut school. It is engraved in my memory and I cannot forget it, the first anti-Semitic event in Novogrudok that I was made aware of and the courageous, well organised resistance of the youth of the town. It was the time when the endec party [ND - national democrats - a right wing anti-Semitic party] was gaining influence. A leader of the endec party by the name of Chamiec, a virulent anti-Semite, was well known at the time. Wherever he would come underworld hooligans would appear and disturbances would follow. Jews were attacked and Jewish possessions were robbed or destroyed. This was Chamiec's main aim.

On a certain summer day Haman had appeared - “professor” Chamiec together with a bunch of hooligans had arrived. The mood in town was heavy and depressed. The local anti-Semites and a handful of hooligans were strutting about with their heads high. The curse “parszywy Zyd” (mangy Jew) was heard all around. There was a rumour that one of our boys was attacked, but he fought off the assailants. The day came when the ”professor” had come out with a coterie and started pasting to the walls posters with anti-Semitic slogans, advertising a meeting which was to be held in the kasyno urzednicze [the club for public servants] on the top floor of the house of Lejzer Hirshl Shymon Izraelit in the Market Place. It was emphasised on the posters that all were invited except for Jews and dogs. Well, the troubles have started. The mood was heated. We, the schoolchildren, have decided to remove the posters quicker than they were put up. As I was swift on my feet, I put up a good show that day. I was busy for some hours and managed to remove many posters, until I was caught and led to the police station. I was given a beating, which I remember to this day. But, believe me, it was worth it, because I became well known. In time, the School Principal Korn defended me and other school friends for the same “crime”.

But the most important part of the story will be told now. Who does not remember the Novogrudok fire brigade and the children of Motke: Moshe and Arke? There was no one who could climb on roofs faster. The fire brigade consisted of strong boys from Zalatucha and Rachelo with their leader Lejzer Izraelit and his adjutant Jankef Burshtain. On the Sunday, exactly at the time when the visiting anti-Semite was to give his speech - the fire alarm sounded. And it so happened that the fire was in the self same building where the meeting was taking place. Would you believe that our boys from the fire brigade have drenched the assembled with cold water. The heated mood of the forgathered, including the “professor”, was cooled off. Some of our boys were beaten up, and yet they were proud that they dispersed a large crowd of rabid anti-Semites. The following week a court case has began. The accused were those who had provided the cold shower as well as those who had torn down the anti-Semitic posters. I was one of them. Our defendant was the splendid attorney Zeldowicz, who volunteered his services. He kept on calling the “professor” Cham-pause-miec [cham means in polish rude, uneducated from Ham the vulgar son of Noah] and used to feign each time a coughing spasm as the reason for the pause. The audience in the court room was laughing resoundingly, until the judge caught on and asked the lawyer to mend his pronunciation. The schoolchildren were defended by the school principal Korn, who spoke very well. As Korn was a Polish legionnaire who was wounded in the service of the country, his appearance made a big impression on the court and the public.

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