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[Page 211]

“Boze moyi”

A story of a Jewish miller

Translated from Hebrew by Oskar Delatycki

In blessed memory of my brother Izchok Izek (Kahn), his wife Beylke
and their children Shoshana, Zvi and Arye, who were killed by the Nazis.

It all started in the distant past, before the first world war. The small village of Slobodka, not far from Novogrudok, consisted of a single street with small timber houses with thatched roofs. On the top of a hillock, just visible through the leafy trees, stood a small church with a cross on top. The church overlooked a small cemetery where the deceased hard working peasants were buried. In the valley flowed a stream which drove the flourmill. The mill belonged to a Polish noblewoman, who let it year in, year out to a Jewish miller. The house of the miller was perpetually shaken by the mill, to which it was connected. That day was a day of celebration at the millers. The oldest daughter, married to a learned man, gave birth to a boy and it was his bris.

Guests arrived from town, among them the rabbi and the mohel. Millers from near and far joined them for the big festivity. Next day, when the mother of the child was already up and about, a party for the farmers was arranged. All farmers from the surrounding villages, who were customers at the mill, were invited. The old pop [orthodox prist] joined them. He was broad backed with a smooth face, a broad nose, watery eyes, the long strands of hair coming down in ribbons. The pop, having drunk a considerable amount of vodka and eaten well too, demanded to see the newly born, so that all could see him. 'What, don't we have a right to see the child, didn't his mother grow up with our sons and daughters? Why can't we see her first child?' There was no avoiding it. The old miller came in with his daughter and the newly born on a large cushion. The old pop, with the heavy silver cross resting on his protruding stomach, stood and looked with his watery eyes at the newly born boy and suddenly he fell to the ground, he crossed himself and started to shout 'Boze moyi (my G-d), he looks like our Jesus'. When the farmers heard this, they fell to their knees, were genuflecting and murmuring 'Boze moyi, Jesus Christ'. And this is how a rumour started in the surrounding district that at their miller's a small Jesus was born. As the boy was growing up he was surrounded by love of the farmers. The miller was urging his son in law to obtain his rabbinical appointment and take the boy away. The boy was pleased that the farmers likened him to Jesus.

The time came and the boy together with his father the rabbi, and mother went far away to a small town in Russia. The boy, who was growing fast, was longing to go back to his birthplace and to the farmers. Even after he started studying in a yeshiva, he used to go for the holidays to his grandfather. He would meet the farmers, who were happy to see him, and the farmers' daughters met him with ardour and would kiss him and press him to their ample bosoms. He was growing up. He finished his studies in the yeshiva and obtained his rabbinical qualifications. At that stage he joined the revolutionary movement. He managed to avoid imprisonment and, when his grandfather died, he took over the running of the flourmill. The old Polish landlady was fond of him. But most of all he was liked by the ordinary farmers, and he reciprocated their feelings. On Pesach he distributed among the poor farmers white flour and visited their poor homes, where he partook of their hospitality.

After the First World War started the Germans occupied the village. All mills were taken over by the army, except for the mill of our young friend. A couple of old Landsturm soldiers sat in the mill, and though they did not believe that the Jew was Jesus they did appreciate the gifts such as white floor, good quality butter, kept cool in the stream, bread rolls made with eggs, and, with all this, a good piece of pork. Those gifts were sent each week to Germany and the old Landsturm soldiers made certain that the mill came to no harm.

After the Russian Revolution and the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty, the Germans left the village and the Bolsheviks arrived. One day an agitator with a sharp tongue came to the village. He assembled the farmers in the centre of the village and gave an 'enlightening' speech: 'Please tell me, comrade farmers, the land which is owned by the landlady, to whom should that land belong?' And they all answered 'It should belong to the State'. 'And the factories in towns – who should they belong to?' 'To the State' the farmers shouted. The young Jewish agitator continued with growing vigour 'And to whom should the watermill in your village belong?'. And the farmers threw their hats in the air and replyed in one voice: 'The mill did belong and should continue to belong to our Jesus'. 'What Jesus, who is he – where could he be?' the agitator stammered. And the farmers answered 'Jesus is our Jew'.

The mill was requisitioned by the government, but Jesus remained as the miller.

When the Poles came with their blown up manners and their hatred of Jews, the Jews began migrating to Erez Israel. The miller was considering migration, but he was strongly attached to his farmers. The farmers used to jest: 'If they will take us all to Palestine, our Jew will come with us'. The older sons of the miller went to Israel, but the miller with his wife and younger children remained in the village. The farmers maintained their friendship to the miller.

After the Second World War had begun, the Nazi beasts were ravishing the towns and villages of Poland. The mass murders started. The Germans encouraged the farmers to kill the Jews among them, but the farmers protected their miller. They all believed that somehow they would all survive the fearful times.

One day the village was surrounded by German soldiers. They went into the mill and brought out the Jewish miller, his wife and two children. The third child hid among the bags of flour and they could not find him.

All villagers were watching. Among them stood their young priest. When the miller appeared, his features white, covered in flour, his delicate face with the gold beard indeed reminded them of the pained face of Jesus. All farmers kneeled, genuflected and the young priest murmured: 'the cursed anti-Christs are tormenting our miller, may the Almighty's wrath be cast upon them'.

The German soldiers took the miller and his family to the Jewish mass grave. The farmers hoped that the youngest son of the miller, hidden among the sacks of flour, would be saved. But the Germans left a guard around the mill. The farmers thought that after night fall they may be able to smuggle out the boy and hide him.

Alas, when it started to get darker, the boy, thinking that the Germans had left, left the mill. The German soldiers caught him. The farmers begged the soldiers to release the youngster, but the Germans led the boy away and took him to the mass grave.

In the quiet of the night the farmers bemoaned the loss of the miller and his family. The young priest was crossing himself and murmuring: 'may G-d's wrath spread on all Germans and their children for all generations'.

[Page 213]

Letter from a mother

by Edna Kagan

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

My dear son,

When I read how the Germans had destroyed our nation, smothered the young and the old, men and women and the Jewish towns among them our Novogrudok, where my sister lived with her four children, her husband and our extended family, how they tossed young children, in front of their parents, into ovens, whilst the music played on, and how they treated young girls, perhaps among them my sister's Mariashke's three girls, how the Jews were forced to dig graves for themselves, I felt numb and faint. I thought that I could hear my sister calling to me: revenge, take revenge for me, for my children and my husband. And this is why your letter announcing your resolve to join the army had filled me with elation. I suddenly knew that I and my children will not live in a world which others have fought for. Therefore I say to you go. Be not afraid. I know, my son, what you think of the war. I know what your feelings were when you saw a gun or a sword. But go and take revenge for all the innocent children, for all the Jews who died for one reason only that they were Jews. Take the gun or sword in your hand and destroy the wild beasts which threaten to destroy you and your nearest. Be filled with vengeance and hatred. Do not rest till the enemy of the world is defeated. You have a dual duty to your nation and to the world. All viciousness that was committed against all nations of the world is of concern to the world, but not the viciousness against one nation, our nation. It is because of this that I am certain that you are going to fulfil a holy mission with certainty in your heart. What else, my son, can I tell you, when the entire world is unsteady under our feet, when the animal replaces the man? I am crying, I shed tears, not for you, who are going to fight for a better world, but for those unhappy, innocent children who were removed from this world. What else can I tell you, my son? Go and luck be with you, go with the will for revenge in your heart, and may your weapon be light in your hand. Greet Zita, tell her that your mother blesses you. Tell her to look after herself.

Your mother.

I am taking my son to the draft board

I am taking my Meyer to the draft board. I remind myself of all I lived through. My feeling when I took him for the first time to kindergarten, he was dressed up, shiny. I remember when I took him for the first time to the Jewish school, when I told him of my hopes. I said to him: my son, you will grew up to be a proud Jew and a good human being. You will not bring shame to your town. But where have I taken him now? Is he going to learn how to defend his country and its freedom? He may, perish the thought, not survive. A mother is taking her child to be educated, to be cured, to be married. But now I am taking him to the draft board. There are many people around us: mothers, fathers, wives and brides. There is a strange quite around us. Mothers are buttoning up the jackets of their children. They look helpless. It is the first time that they stand on the edge of danger and they can do nothing to save the children from that danger. Names are called out, my son's name among them. Somebody is speaking to the new soldiers. Young wives are covered in tears. Now the soldiers are boarding the busses. I hear the name 'Pennsylvania station'. I am running to the station. The station is packed with people. I am looking for my son. Here stands a young man and he drinks milk. His mother wipes his lips. The son is embarrassed. He is a soldier, after all. I noticed my son. I run to him, but some one pushed me away. At least I stood next to him for a moment. Suddenly there was the sound of a whistle. The soldiers fell in in rows. They started to march towards the rail lines. I follow my son with my eyes. I can see only his head. Now his head has disappeared. I murmur a prayer 'God, take care of my son, save him from danger, save all sons, the two of mine among them'. The station emptied. What now? Where could I go? Home? Why home? There is no one at home. I thought suddenly 'there may be a letter from my son Boruch'. His letters sustain me.

The battle of the Seventh Army

Ah, the night of the retreat will always remain in my mind. It was just as well that my sister slept that night in my house. As a rule I avoided having guests in the evenings. If I was alone I could listen to the wireless and could follow without interruptions the movements of the Seventh Army. My Boruch is in the Seventh Army. I am aware of all the strategic moves and I could listen to the radio till the late hours. I don't know how I got there, but, as I was thinking, I found myself in a house between a forest and a river. There were many people in the house. People looked suspiciously at each other. I was sitting next to a door and I was very strained. It was quiet, just like after a storm. The Seventh Army had occupied the whole area. I felt as if I was there, at the battle. I was concentrating, perhaps my Boruch will come by. I was imagining how surprised he would be to see me: 'what are you doing here, mother" he would ask. A mother is everywhere. Suddenly I could hear running feet, shouting, thumping of artillery. Soldiers were running in all directions. Ah, God, ours were retreating and were pursued. There was shooting. Soldiers fell. The enemy soldiers came running with bayonets at the ready. There was much noise, cynical laughter. And now I could see my Boruch walking. He was bent and was limping. I started shouting 'my child, my son, your mother is here, I was waiting for you'. I opened my eyes, my sister was standing next to me with fear in her eyes. "What happened' she asked me 'did you have a bad dream'? 'What were you shouting about? Who did you call'? I replied 'wait a minute, Freidl, let me recover my breath, let me think, have I really seen Boruch, my son. They were pushed back. They pursued the enemy several hundred miles into Austria. And now, such a setback'. 'What are you talking about' said Freidl. 'You fell asleep and you dreamt all this. I am not surprised. You have been listening again and again to the same news bulletins. Come, go back to sleep'. 'How can it be a dream, if I could picture the place in detail, the surroundings. I can see even now all that happened. I can not forget it.' I was waiting with impatience for the morning news. The Seventh Army had a substantial setback. My son Boruch wrote to me that he could not conceive how I could have seen in detail the place where they were pushed back by the enemy.

The telegram

I was at the house of my sister Golda, a block from my house. It was Passover eve. There was a knock on the door. It was a man with a telegram in his hand. My sister was lost and started to shout: 'a telegram, who from?'. I was numb and could not speak. I was thinking: 'it must be my neighbour, she knew that I went to my sister and she sent him here'. The man who brought the telegram put us at ease. He said that it was a Passover greeting. My sister and I could breath again. The man said 'I just delivered a similar telegram to a house near by'. I turned to the man 'is the telegram addressed to Mrs K?'. 'Yes' said the man, 'that is the name. Don't worry, my friend, it is addressed to you, Mrs K.'. The man departed glad to have brought good news and happy with the generous tip. I was reassured because it was not bad news. For a while I remained at my sister's. On the way home I stopped at a shop to make some purchases. As I walked home with the parcels in my hands, I thought: 'my neighbour is right, she said frighten me G-d, but don't punish me'. As I approached my house I saw a group of people. As soon as they saw me they dispersed. As I got closer I noticed that my neighbour walked away from his window. When I started to walk up the stairs, he came over and took my parcels. I could not understand the sudden concern. I thanked him and opened the door. He pushed me aside and indicated a yellow envelop. Suddenly it had all become clear to me. I said 'this is just a holiday greeting, I know all about it, my sister received a similar telegram'. The worried look on the face of my neighbour changed in an instant. "Why didn't you ring us, do you know how worried we were? Go and speak to my wife.' Ah G-d, we are all on an edge.

Wartime postman

I could see him approaching with a bundle of letters. For some it will bring a greeting of joy, for another dark despair. For me the postman was in the days of worries a conveyor of good news from my children. I did not receive post every morning. On such days I could see him pass by my letterbox in a hurry, as if he was the guilty one. But when he had letters for me he would ring the doorbell and say cheerfully 'letters for you and photos, not to worry, now you have much to read'. My neighbour upstairs thought of a different strategy: why wait for letters that don't arrive, it was better to go for a walk and find an unexpected letter in the letterbox when she returned. Sometimes I could hear the postman assuring a neighbour 'don't worry, I will have a letter for you in the afternoon, the boat was late and the sorters are still working'. The postman had aged lately. It was hard for him to witness so much pain. Sometime days and weeks would pass without a letter. I was frightened when the doorbell rang. I decided to wait outside for my destiny. Having positioned myself thus I saw on occasions the postman coming around the corner with a bundle of letters in his hand, a smile on his face, and he would shout 'I saw the letters for you at six o'clock this morning. I couldn't make up my mind should I phone you or not. My heart told me to ring, but my head dictated otherwise, because I may give you a fright'. I realise only now that I don't know the name of the postman.

Uncle from Riverside drive

I was at my brother's house in Riverside drive. One could see cars rushing one after the other through the windows. From the 21 floor they looked like armies that move without stopping. My sons may be among them. The full moon was reflected in the Hudson river. Opposite electric lights were changing colours. You may wonder what I was doing there. My son was given a few days sick leave. In a few weeks time they will remove the plaster from his foot. He took the opportunity to visit his mother, brother and uncle. Uncle and his wife were eating their supper. After they will finish eating we will talk business. This was the reason for my son's visit. The brothers are talking. Mayer was amused: 'if one had to break his foot why not during the war, why break a foot after the war? See how much time you have lost. Five months in the hospital in Chicago. Was it not silly, don't you think uncle?' Boruch was philosophical about it. 'Who knows what is best? I could have been killed, it is all a matter of luck. On one occasion a few of us armed with rifles went out. We had to take care because of snipers. Suddenly there was a cry and parts of a body flew everywhere. He must have stepped on a mine. He was my best friend. It could have been me. I could have been the one in front. My friend was shot to pieces, I broke a leg, it all happened during the war. It is the after-effect. It is all due to the war.'

My sister-in-law asked me why I was so depressed. We finished the meal. Uncle helped his wife to clear the table. Boruch said: 'Uncle, I imagined that things would be quite different. I did not expect that I would come to you. But, in a few weeks I will be rid of my impairment' and he illustrated his words by lifting his foot in the plaster cast 'so I came to you because I have to think of my future. I have a wife and a child. So I came to hear what you have to offer'.

Uncle was rearranging the table. He stopped and asked: 'what do you intend to do, Boruch?' 'It is difficult to tell, uncle. I am young, but I have experienced a lot. My head is in a whirl. I have seen ruined towns, homeless, rootless people. Our people had been slaughtered. The enemy is still proud of their deeds. I hear that everything is very different. The people are different, the streets are different. This life looks alien to me. The change has been too sudden. There it was hunger, heartbreak, and here there is laughter and merriment. People are so free with their money. We gave our best lives for no reason. We were perpetually in danger. Here all was peaceful. It seems as if I am in an alien world'.

'You should realise that it will take time for you to adjust.' 'I need help'. 'For the time being, Boruch, you are a soldier' his uncle said 'when you will be demobilised we will look at the situation again. I may try to find a job for you in the Zionist organization. I know a lot of influential people in the movement, because I am a substantial contributor to the cause.' 'Uncle, I believe that I would not be able now to do communal work. I am not able to make speeches, encourage people, stir up people's interest. The job would involve tensions, meetings, agitation. And' lowering his head, 'I am not the same Boruch that I was 4 years ago. Now I need a steady job under supervision. Could you use me in one of your businesses and give me a chance to recover.' For a while the conversation came to a halt and then the boys said 'mother, let's go'. Uncle took his nephews and sister to the elevator. He waited till they got in and before the door closed he said 'I will see you later'.

On the way home

The brothers sat in the train and spoke to each other. I looked at my sons and I thought how different their letters to me were. Mayer's letters were short, laconic, just the news that was most important for his mother, that he is alive and healthy. Boruch's letters were filled with detailed information. He shared with his mother his moods, impressions and events. In one of his letters he wrote: 'Mother, I am now working with the military government. The work is important and interesting. Because I can converse in a few languages, I am attached to a prisoner of war camp. I was travelling today through a big town in a jeep and have seen thousands of German prisoners of war. I was glad to see that this is what happened to the herrenvolk. But suddenly I noticed a group of deformed, ill looking people dressed in rags. I drove nearer. I recognised them, they were Jews, who must have recently been saved from the gas chambers. I got out of the jeep, walked over to them and spoke to them in Yiddish. They started crying. Can you imagine, mother, such an event? Among thousands of German prisoners of war, I, an American Jewish soldier stood and cried with the saved Jews. They were 15 to 20 years old. They were old looking children. They started asking me questions that caused me pain: 'why were you silent in America?, why did you do nothing to save us?' 'I assured them that now we will do all we can for them. I had in my pocket a Yiddish newspaper and I gave it to them. They read it ravenously. Don't worry, mother. Our military command will look after them. And so will I.' The conductor called out the name of our railway station and we walked off deep in our thoughts.

Sleepless nights

My dead sister is demanding of me in my sleepless nights; 'revenge, take revenge for me, for my children for my husband'. She spoke to me day and night. I spoke to her in my sleepless nights: 'sister mine, we know how you must have suffered, they will pay for it, can you hear the march of our armies, they are going, they will come with anger and lust for revenge, my sons among them. You can be sure, sister, that righteousness must win through. Innocent blood will not be forgotten. Rivkele, my 19 year old niece you may have been somebody's bride, Blume and Henie with the dreamy eyes, Benyomin, my little nephew, with your shiny face and clever eyes. How could anybody harm them? Jankel, you are clever and fleet footed. But now I know that Jankel was shot when he brought meat to the Ghetto, that you, my sister, were shot on your bunk and nobody will tell me what happened to the children. Revenge won't bring you back to life. I am shattered, in pain and helpless, my sister. We are all victims in the indifferent world. Oh G-d, bring a flood, bring a fire like in Sodom and Gomorrah till the whole world of darkness will disappear forever.

[Page 217]

The Shloss-barg

[The Castle hill]

by Dr. Avraham Ostashinski

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

I remember it well – the Shloss-barg, and which Novogrudker does not, the old, peaceful and so familiar and dear Shloss-barg. We all grew up on its wide space and spent many a day on its surrounding hillocks. I can see it in front of my eyes – the two hills divided by a valley and connected later by a road which went past the house of Szimanowicz. The round amphitheatre on the big hill with its two towers – the bigger one on the east side provided a nice view of the surrounding country side. One could see the road to Korelicze. The fields, neatly divided into squares, stretched to the horizon. Close by was a small grove where we would go in the summer to gather nuts. Through the fields winds a footpath to Brecianka, where people would go to the water mill to drink at the miller's warm milk straight from the cow, or try a plate of cold yogurt with black bread and hard, cold butter. It was a great pleasure on a warm summer evening. A little further on was the road to Peresika and Litowka. Aha! Here comes Chaim the water carrier, with the good water from Peresika for making tea. Further, on the horizon we could see the forests past Grodno Street. Under the hill was a deeper valley where in the spring and autumn was a stretch of water, which would evaporate in the summer. A hillock divided the area under the hill from the Sapotnicki's garden, where cucumbers, cabbages and other vegetables grew. The second, smaller tower stood on the south-west corner. Below was a narrow stream and past it the old fara [parish church] with a red roof, Niankovski's farm house, Kowalski, Korelicze and Sieniezyc Streets buried in greenery.

As children we loved the Shloss-barg. On the hill all was interesting and attractive. The brag never disappointed us. We had much joy on the barg on a Friday in summer, when we had classes only in the morning. For the rest of the day one could do whatever one pleased. If you so desired you could play 'chaverlach' ['friends'] on the big hill. You could conduct battles, take bets on who was going to run up and down the big hill fastest, toss stones and bricks from the bases of the towers or go for a stroll to the grove. Some of us would attempt scaling the towers, though this was not an easy task. Yet there were always those who were willing. Some of them scaled the walls high up to the embrasures. Later we discovered an underground tunnel. Stories were told that the tunnel was a passage to the fara church. Others were more imaginative and spoke of the tunnel extending to the town of Korelicze [22 km away!]. We would lie on our stomachs and crawl inside. The inside was narrow and low and very damp. It was not possible to move forward a meter, let alone to Korelicze. But what was missing in reality was provided by our imagination.

In winter the hill was covered by a white, glistening layer of snow. It was a big achievement to crawl up the hill and to be immersed to the midriff in snow. Everyone wanted to mark the smooth layer of snow with his steps. The best was to ride down the hill on ones backside. The tiny lake at the bottom of the hill when frozen made an excellent surface for sliding on. In the late autumn, when the lake was covered by a thin layer of ice, an attempt to slide on it would finish up in a dunking in the cold water and a speedy retreat home.

The Shloss-barg was an attraction not only for the young. On Friday evenings and on Saturdays the hill was visited by many. After consuming an ice cream at Rudnicki's it was time for a stroll on the hill, sometimes with the whole family and at times as a couple. The benches provided an airy and romantic place for couples. The revolutionary youth in 1905 and the Zionists, the Shomer youths on the Hachshara, everyone would come to the Shloss-barg. Sometimes quite late, the old Efron, immersed in his thoughts, would rush by in a heated discussion with the meek teacher Mirski.

Basically unaltered, the hill was subjected to some changes. On the lower hill, close to the Shloss street, stood an old windmill and a decrepit house. During the First World War the Germans filled in a narrow section of the valley and formed a passage from the lower hill to the big hill. Later the Poles conducted an archaeological investigation and dug parts of the wall surrounding the top of the big hill. The soil from the walls was used to form a small mound on the lower hill. This mound was put up as a memorial to the native son, the famous Polish poet Mickiewicz. The memorial hill was small and reminded one of a knob on a forehead. Later flowers were grown on the lower Shloss. The fire brigade would march onto the Shloss on major holidays with a band and torches.

At the entrance to the Shloss-barg was the house of Szimanowicz, the photographer. Everyone knew the tall man. He was a philosopher. Wearing dark glasses he would walk immersed in thoughts. He was having deep thoughts about the formation of the earth and liked to tell his marvellous stories. His two sons, particularly Senia, were the real keepers of the Shloss. The boys used to say that Senia is not afraid of anyone. At the entrance to the Shloss lived also Kaminiecki and Benzianowski, two wise Jews with large families and many boys, who together with Senia shared the domination of the Shloss. Further along lived Benjomen Chaim Gordon, in the street where the old windmill stood. Next to the windmill lived the pork butcher, who had business contacts with Jews and a bad son, who was connected to Polish extremists who were hostile to Jews. [During the war the pork butcher Jarmolowicz hid eight Jews and saved their lives].

The last time I visited the Shloss-barg was during the summer of 1946,on my way from Russia. The hill was still the same dear Shloss-barg, which had seen so much and experienced the destruction of the town and its population. The hill was empty and sad. It seemed that it was in mourning for the soul of the town, which had gone.

[Page 220]

My hometown (a poem of a kind)

by Emanuel Efron

Translated from Yiddish by Aviva Kamil


Novogrudok, my precious town, I remember and treasure my dreams and memories of my beautiful and pleasant childhood which I spent there. A great town, you were like a mother to the Jewish people. You were very old, one of the forebears of the Jewish communities of Poland and Lithuania. Three nations fought for you- Lithuania, Poland and Byelorussia, they wanted to conquer you and call you their own. But above all you were Jewish. The Jews gave you your attractive and noble image, they developed you and gave you your true character. With a bittersweet sadness and an unfathomable sorrow I will write my memoires to present the greatness of our hometown to the people of Israel and of other countries of the world. Let my memories become a part of this memorial book.

The synagogue square

Above all things, I remember well your Great Synagogue. It looked superior to my eyes and distinguished itself among all the houses of prayer that I have seen in my life. The synagogue was very old, built like a castle and one had to come down seven wide stone steps to fulfil the saying: “From the deep I called to you, G-d”. The bimah was wonderful as was the Holy Ark decorated with exquisite engravings. Remnants of your beautiful and colourful paintings, which withstood the test of time, could be seen on your convex ceiling. Many attempts to hide the paintings could not erase their traces. They were seen now and then from under the thick layers of lime and paint.

The great synagogue was like an upright giant in the centre of the Shulhoif, opposite it stood the great Beit-Midrash. The small klaizlach crowded around them, like pullets around a brooding hen, as if they wanted to draw warmth and find cover under the wings of the synagogue and the great Beit-Midrash. As I was writing about the synagogue, the image of Rabinovich appeared before me. He was our last town cantor, who enlightened us with his pure and sad prayers.


How could I forget the aromas emanating from the kitchen on a Sabbath and Jewish festivals? And the calm and confident walk of our fathers and grandfathers, returning from synagogue, relaxed and surrounded by an air of holiness, as if they absorbed the greatest pleasure on earth.

I remember the images of the leaders of our community. With their tidy beards and their high brows, in their Saturday best, wearing suits that were sometimes old but always clean and tidy. In the centre of this group stands the dear image of Avraham Shlomo Efron: all his life he was dedicated to the social needs of the community, to the poor, orphans and widows, but above all he was fired by the love for Zion and its great poets who heralded its redemption.

On the hot days of Tamuz and Av he would leave his family and his businesses and travel around the district's towns and villages to preach of Zion and collect donations for Keren-Hakayemet and Keren –Hayesod. He did all that voluntarily and he bore the cost of all this activity.


How could I forget your noble teachers who were fired by their love to Israel and Zion? The martyrs, the friendly Mirski and the noble Lidski were the most memorable among them.

I can hear still the singing of your cantors who imparted in me a love of music.


In front of me pass pictures of my childhood, of the market square and 'the row of shops' (Rad-Kromen), which was a big building supported on all sides by round columns, with scores of Jewish shops on all four sites. Every Monday and Thursday the market was bustling with Russian and Polish peasants, noise and clatter all around, carts loaded with the best of farm products, grown in the fertile soil of Byelorussia. The Jewish dealers were buying the products from the farmers. As they were paid, the farmers would wrap the money in their handkerchiefs. Having sold their produce, they would buy goods in the many Jewish shops. They bought everything: half a kilo of sugar-cubes to sweeten a hot cup of tea on a Sunday or a holiday, a packet of Machorka tobacco, wooden clogs (lapties). The rich among them would buy a pair of polished high boots. The women were attracted to colourful materials with red, blue and yellow flowers.

The brides bought colourful scarves, which reminded me of orchards of apples, pears, plums and cherries in their spring blossom. I wandered around the market. I saw the poor women –villagers who sat on the footpath in front of the row of shops and sold red forest berries. They displayed big ceramic bowls full of berries and measuring glasses, 5 groshy (a coin of Polish currency, 100 groshy = 1 zloty) for a small glass and 10 groshy for a big one. The buyers were many, old and young. A few poor children glared from a distance with hungry, jealous eyes, salivating and waiting for someone to buy them this unaffordable treat. My mother would notice these children, she would buy a glassful or two of berries and gave it to them with her blessing: 'to your good health children'.

How can I forget the red - cheeked apples and pears, and, as autumn was approaching, slightly overripe and tasty apples, which were sold by farmers who shouted in praise of their produce. The cooked legumes and broad beans, displayed in the peddlers' baskets, were ladled out for the children, who ate them while still hot. Special food was also prepared in private homes for Shabbat, Brith-Mila or weddings, in which all the community took part. The food's delicious taste is still in my mouth. Never in my life did I eat such tasty and satisfying food.


In the evening the commotion in the market calmed down. The last of the peasants hastened to depart, urging on their horses with the whistles and cracking of their long whips. Here and there a policeman was gathering the drunks, who could not stand on their feet. The sun went down, stars appeared and a round smiling moon lit the market square. At that time the town's youths, all nicely dressed and neatly combed, came out to stroll around the footpath of the market square. The air was full of merriment of the young. People talked to each other about the day's events, about successful sales or purchases. On the notice board they read that Charlie Chaplin's film “The Gold Rush” was showing in the cinema of Ivanetski.

I liked to walk around the Shlosbarg, climb up the ruin of the old castle from the days of the Lithuanian prince Mindaug, who chose Novogrudok as his capital, and to look at the soft and beautiful landscape. There was green scenery all around, blessed with sunshine and water. From a distance I could see the Brichenke wood and the little lake, the water was shallow, but we liked to bathe in its cold and refreshing water. On the right side of the castle, down the hill, was the old Catholic church, wrapped in golden dust of a sunset and in old legends. Boys and girls, Jews and Christians played at the foot of the whitewashed walls. We all picked spring flowers-the blue cornflowers and the white daisies with their yellow centres.


In the morning, in the grey-green light of Byelorussia, I would wander sometimes into the winding lanes of the town and Rachelo to watch the Jewish youths.

I saw them hurrying to their cheder, with their soft faces and sad eyes, their skin white and transparent; one could see the blue veins through their skin. Their faces were pale from lack of food and sleep, from the stuffy air in their small dwellings with the low ceilings.

Fearful but excited they hurried to cheder. There they would search unknowingly for the sun in the land of Kenaan. When perusing the holy book they would hear the rustle of the sheaves in the fields of Kenaan and smell the Mediterranean sea, the river Jordan and the Kineret, the Carmel, Judea and Galilee mountains.

I pitied the elderly Jews, when watching them in the kloizim and in the big Beit-Midrash, sitting in pairs or foursomes, discussing a “special problem” that they encountered in Rashi or one of the Midrashim. Some of them would get hungry and would go home for a poor lunch of boiled potatoes with pickled herring or cucumber sauce, and probably a thin soup made of bones and barley. Meat and fish would be eaten only on Shabbat and holidays.

Among them was my dear grandfather Reb Avigdor Efron ZL. He was a Talmid Chacham (a person knowledgeable in Jewish studies) who was a wealthy man (gevir) before WW1, a leather merchant. After closing his shop he would go to the Todres kloiz and study a page of Gemarah and a chapter of Mishnayot.

During WW1 the soldiers of the Teutonic race robbed him of every thing he owned. They took his goods and gave him a cheque for a thousand marks, which did not have any value at all. For many years the old man believed in his naivety, that he would get his money back. Only on his deathbed did he realise the evil of the deception. My grandfather lost his wealth. To survive he was forced to accept help from my father, who supported him generously. My father supported also my sister Yehudit, who became a widow a few years after her marriage. She had a little boy, Avremaleh, a gentle child who had a good brain and was studying the bible and the Talmud. The Germans murdered her and her son. Her second husband was taken to a labour camp and never returned. We don't know where he was buried.

I can see in front of my eyes the image of my uncle. He was one of the learned people in town, Reb Berl Rabinovich, the dayan (arbiter-rabbinical judge). He knew by heart all the sacred literature; he could name the page on which a certain problem was discussed. Like the Gaon of Vilna, he studied the Talmud all his life. He was unassuming and would not accept kavod (honour) and fame. He lived in sadness and poverty all his life. A few years after his marriage his wife died and during WW1, his son Meir, the eelui(excellent student), also died. My father ZL supported him and his family generously. The words of Ch.N.Bialik in his poem “The Meek of the World-let me share what's mine with you”- would apply to my uncle.


When I think about my childhood, I remember my childhood games: the games we played on the castle hill or in the yard of our home, the Tsaichanes (jacks, using the knuckle bones of calves). Special holiday games: during Pesach-games using nuts, during Hanukah-spinning tops, cards and a lottery. You could not compare all these to the heroic game at Lag-Baomer, the bow and arrows, the beginning of the military training of the children of Israel. Even on the Ninth of Av, the national mourning day, we showered each other with prickly thistle flowers that we picked in the Jewish cemetery. We also liked to play with the colourful eggs that the shkotzim [gentiles] were given for Easter. We played with all the lack of care and innocence of childhood. Even the Russian Cossacks, when they camped on the castle hill, came to play with us and persuaded us to bring them purple plums-Vengerkes - which grew down the hill. In exchange they filled our pockets with lollies and aromatic Halvah.

I can still smell the tang of the branches, when I helped my father to cover the Succah. He watched me to make sure that everything was done properly. Who would not remember the taste of the Kiddush in the Succah or the flavour of the food eaten there? Even in pouring rain we continued eating our meal. My father ZL had his afternoon nap there.

Vivid are the memories of the night of the Ninth of Av in the synagogue, when all the praying people, young and old, with their shoes off, sat weeping and lamenting the destruction of the temple and the nation. The eve and day of Simchat-Torah were light and bright. A Jew forgot all his worries and was given to pure joy. We all remember the Chasidic dance in the shtibl. Chasidim in our town were few but on Simchat Torah they were the most important participants. Their frivolity was the talk of the town.

I grew up and drew my learning and understanding of life from the stories of grandfather Mendele, stories and plays of Shalom-Aleichem, there was nothing like those to illustrate the love to the Jew as a human being and the love to a Jewish child; the poems and stories of Ch.N.Bialik, Tchernichovski and Zalman Shneor, the knights of our national poetry.

The volumes of “Hatkufah” commenced their publication after WW1; the best and most beautiful of the world's literature was translated for us. We read the books, which appeared in the “Shtibl” publication, in suspense and with interest. Every new book in the library was a cause for celebration. We touched the cover lovingly as if it was a pair of new shoes that we were given for Pesach. Where are all the many volumes of Jean-Christophe by Romain Rolland? With great expectation we waited for every new volume to be translated. Does the Jewish youth of today have that anticipation?


When my mind is in turmoil, I find refuge in my workroom, which is also my bedroom, where I think about you, my town and the landscape of my motherland. If I have a restless night or dream strange and frightening dreams, my heart beats with longing. I smell a familiar smell, which “comes with the wind and reaches my quivering nostrils”- I smell the spices in the hot fish, Gefilte fish for Saturday, caught in the river Nieman. Some times I smell the aroma of my mother's jam, served with a glass of tea on the long wintry nights, or I feel in my mouth the taste of Purim sweets and other holiday delights, the taste of kreplach on the eve of Yom Kippur, the honey cookies, the ingberlach served to the guests on holidays.


A few national events are engraved in my memory.

Scene a

The Balfour declaration of 1917. A rumour spread through the town: England had declared that it would help the Jewish people to build their national home. A dream of 2000 years began to materialize. All the Jews of the town assembled in the big Beit-Midrash and on the Shoolhoif(one building could not contain the whole congregation). The blue and white flag was brought in first, and hung up beside the Holy Ark. The Rabbi took out the Torah and blessed shehecheyanu; at that moment a sacred thrill went through the hearts of the assembled. The Rabbi talked about the importance of the day. My father ZL was animated with joy and excitement. The crowd listened intensely to the speakers and erupted with Hatikvah at the end of the speeches: “ Our hope is not lost.”

Scene b

The day the Mandate was entrusted to England by the League of Nations. That day was remembered by the Jews of Novogrudok with joy and confidence. From now on the Jews would have someone who would not only help them to return to their old homeland but also would guard the newcomers from the Arabs, who were incited by their nationalistic leaders.

That day was declared a national holiday in town. The shopkeepers and the tradesmen shut their businesses till noon, among them were members of the Bund and a few Communists. All assembled in the Shulhoif, both old and young: schools, youth-movements, Maccabi, Hashomer-Hatsair (at that time there were no other organisations in town). The band of the Fire Brigade played. It was the only wind instrument band in the town. All musicians were Jews, they were the pride of the Jewish community.

It is hard to describe that event. The atmosphere all around us seemed different. The restless, sad eyes of the sons of the Diaspora sparkled with new merriment, as if they were open anew, as if confidence filled their hearts and gave hope for a better future. From now on ancient Israel would be one of the nations and would exist again, like in the days of old…

After the speeches of the Rabbis and the Zionist leaders we went in a procession, with the band in the lead, marching to the market square, and we all sang. When we reached the building of the Polish government offices the starosta, the head of the sub-district, and the wojewoda, the head of the district, came out to welcome us. At the time the wojewoda of the Novogrudok district was Raczkiewicz, who was later president of Poland in exile during the WW2. He was an honest, altruistic and wise governor, a real liberal and liked by all the Jews of the town. During his days in office, no one, be it a Pole or Russian, dared to hurt Jews. Only a few people in Poland were like him. I remember the blessing he gave to the Jewish residents of the town and to Jews everywhere: “I wish you to obtain complete independence, like we have, and to be a free people in your old motherland”. It was the first time in the history of Novogrudok that a governor blessed Jews sincerely and warmly. The Polish and Russian residents watched amazed, but applauded and congratulated their Jewish acquaintances.

Scene c

The time was the end of WW1.Summer of 1920.One Friday after sunset the Shabbat candles were lit in Jewish homes. Most of the Jews were in the synagogue when the rumour spread that the Red Army was about to enter the town. From a distance one could hear the music of the Cavalry band. A big crowd, especially the youth, boys and girls came out to welcome the new “redeemers”. Few older people gave up their evening prayer (or perhaps they prayed at home earlier) and also joined the crowd. And I, a ten-year-old boy, was among them. The Red Army impressed us no end, especially the Cavalry “da zdrastvuyet rivolutsia, tovarishchi”(long live the revolution, comrades) they greeted us with enthusiasm. “We redeemed Great Russia from under the yoke of the despots and capitalists. We brought you peace, victory, bread and freedom”. It is hard to describe the happiness of the crowd. Cries of Hurrah filled the air. Young hearts honestly believed in the new redemption and were full of enthusiasm. We sang with great feeling the International the Marseillaise and the Bund anthem. No one could guess that within a short time those “redeemers” would betray their principles and crush with arrogance everything dear and sacred to the human spirit including all that was sacred to the Jews, who contributed so much to the Russian Revolution! No one thought that in the new Russia Hebrew and Yiddish schools would not be allowed to exist, that Jewish theatres and newspapers, contacts with Jews abroad, all would be forbidden. It hurt to see all our hopes evaporate. As our national poet wrote “the wind carried them” and we were left alone with our suffering and frustration.

Scene d

They were the burning days of the month of Tamuz. They praised the French general Weygand and his divisions positioned on the Vistula. They came to help Poland and to halt the Soviets' advance into Europe. The Red Army retreated before the Polish Army. The market and streets were full of Red soldiers, tired, hungry and broken; they were desperate. Many of them were bandaged and their clothes were in tatters. They dragged their feet behind carts loaded with badly wounded soldiers. Among the injured were some with their entire heads bandaged. I could hear moans and quiet weeping. Their procession lasted for days. The remnants of their cannons and machineguns were towed slowly behind them. The flags were down and folded. That was the first and the last time I saw a military in retreat and I realized its significance. There were no words and no point to describe what happened spiritually to these soldiers who just a few weeks earlier believed in their absolute victory. Most of the onlookers, little I among them, cried. Some could not take it and went home.

A decision was taken by the committee of the Hebrew congregation and Tarbut school, to pick plums and apples in the neighbouring orchards and distribute them among the soldiers, who were hungry. I volunteered to be among the fruit pickers. With the fruit collected we walked from cart to cart and gave it to the soldiers. They looked at us with good and sad eyes and thanked us “spasibo dorogiye” (thank you, my dears), I will never forget those words.


I could bring up many more scenes and pictures, I could sing to you many songs of longing for my dear town Novogrudok. But a voice within me tells me to end.

After 35 years

On the 1st of May 1960 it was 35 years since I left you, the town of my birth and my childhood dreams. On a few occasions I came to visit the town, to see how my parents and the dear family, my friends and all those who built the town were getting on. I cannot deny it, I was glad to return to my town for a few months, to stroll in the sad but attractive streets, to look at the little wooden houses with their sloping roofs covered with shingles. I saw the town's poverty when many of the residents, young and old, had left to look for a home elsewhere in the world. A great number of them came to Eretz- Israel and put down roots there. This made me happy. When I was back in town I would climb up the Shlos-barg and would call out: 'be consoled my people and you - the great Jewish town- you will always have a vibrant Jewish and national life, and you will continue to send many of your sons to Eretz-Israel to strengthen the hands of the builders of the third Temple'.

To my sorrow my prophecy did not come true.

The history sentenced you, my town, to be eliminated with the rest of the Jewish communities of Europe. But I promise you, my dear town, as you were a good mother to me, that I will never forget you.

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