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[Page 125]

Olyka and the Villages Surrounding It


Among the Gentiles

Shmuel Gal

Translated by David Goldman

The village of Kharlopy is located approximately 10 kilometers from Olyka, and about the same distance from the train station. Kharlopy was a totally Ukrainian village, as were most of the villages in Volhyn. Nevertheless, we lived there permanently, a third generation, a Jewish family that included two families: the family of my father, Hertz Gal, and that of my uncle, Falik Gal. We were 8 people: father, my mother Feiga, sons Berl, Shmuel and Uziel, and daughter Rivka, as well as my father's father, Eliyahu Mordechai, and his wife, my grandmother Gitel. There were seven people in Uncle Falik's family: Uncle Falik Gal, his wife Chaya, daughters Rachel and Tzvia, and sons Motel, Aharon and Shmuel.

Grandfather, of course, was the founder of the clan. He settled there at the beginning of the second half of the 19th century. He was the supplier of the owner of the estate, who was apparently impressed by Grandfather's honesty and skills; he appointed Grandfather over all his property and income. Thus, G-d blessed all of Grandfather's actions and decisions, and he Grandfather increased the wealth the owners by virtue of his outstanding management. The owner chose to reward Grandfather for his good work, and acceded to all Grandfather's requests and wishes. Thus, Grandfather succeeded in setting up his sons in the village and even acquired a license for purchasing land, something that was an enormous achievement in those days. He also taught his sons the grain, food and grocery business, and obtained for them a license to sell hard liquor and tobacco – a feat not even often achieved by non-Jews, and for sure, not by Jews.

Obviously, the Ukrainian villagers were jealous of us and of our rights that we acquired from the estate owner. The Ukrainians considered us to be competitors, exploiters, and maybe even directly responsible for their suffering and hard work; they soon began to incite the populace against us. Grandfather invested great effort to head off such evil plans through providing charity, philanthropy and loans for the benefit of the needy villagers.

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Through his actions he was able to locate and put out fires headed in our direction, but not for long.

[Photo:] Hershel Korman from the village of Paltsha. He was a timber merchant (in the photo: a timber delivery). He died in Israel in 1970.

One night at the beginning of the twentieth century family members saw themselves surrounded by flames. The house was made of wood, and it was on fire! It was set afire from both sides. The family managed to escape with the clothes on their backs, and also managed to save things from the warehouse, the granary and the store.
This was a heavy blow to everyone in the family who wanted to escape, though not to Grandfather. He knew up close about the poverty of the Jews in the small towns of Volhyn and their difficulties in earning a living, and decided not to leave. Therefore, within a short time he was able to renovate and rehabilitate the house, and even to enlarge and improve it. The family members stayed in the village and expanded their grain business through good business decisions due to the fact the house was located at a crossroads leading to town and the train station. Farmers were well paid for their grain, and benefited from advance payments and loans, which prevented them from having to travel with loaded wagons to distant markets.

Various types of Jews started coming to the village: peddlers and artisans who sought a livelihood for themselves and their families. Some of them decided to settle in with their families our village and nearby villages

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where there were a few Jewish families. Both our family and other families in other villages extended assistance to them, but because of reasons caused by Ukrainian villagers, these new arrivals didn't stay long, and none of the “ immigrant” Jewish families managed to stay on longer than two years.

[Photo:] At the gravesite of Devorah Friedman (16) in the Soviet Union. Her mother Chayka, brother Yosef and cousin Yosef Perlmutter. [The gravestone itself says:] “ Under this stone lies the young educated virgin, Devorah, daughter of R. Chaim Zvi Friedman. She died on the 28th of Adar II, 5703. She was from Poland, Lutsk, Volhyn.

Nevertheless, the “ fire” of persecution against us didn't disappear completely. They were mostly primitive people who were incited by the provocations, and our house was set afire a second time during my childhood right after World War I. I remember that it happened on Saturday night. My father and his brother were going over their accounts when a fire broke out around the house. Before we realized it, the house was completely surrounded by fire. We tried to escape outside, but the doors were locked from the outside, so we forced them open. Outside stood hundreds of villagers watching the scene, among whom were “ friends” and acquaintances. None offered any help. They dispersed and left the scene. The fire got worse, but we managed to save part of our property.

We decided to leave the village, but wondered where we should go.

Two of my father's sisters lived with their families in nearby Olyka,

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[photo:] The author's mother, Chaya Feiga Gal. She died in the Holocaust.

so they decided to go to Olyka. We moved there temporarily, and started planning our stay there.

Evidently our escape from the village impressed the villagers, and most of them started repaying their debts. The estate owner paid us back and even helped us financially in Olyka.

My parents and uncles decided to moved to Lutsk for a short time when the children got older because there were high schools in Lutsk that didn't exist in Olyka, plus there were greater opportunities for marketing grain (which was their business) in Lutsk and elsewhere because of the railway. Thus, we remained in Lutsk approximately 12 years, until 1930.

As time went on, it became increasingly difficult to go around to the villages every day of the week to purchase seed etc. The estate owner started talking to my father and trying to convince him

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to return to the village. Thus, two families did return. Each family built a separate home and warehouses to store grain on the main roads. The heads of the families were now more experienced in business and marketing, and they once again enjoyed success.

[Photo:] The father of the author, Hertz Gal. He died in the Holocaust.

My father was a wise and progressive person; he planned things in advance and foresaw events. The House of Study he built was large and even included ample living space for his sons as soon as they started their own families. Next to the house he built a grain warehouse and store for selling groceries and tobacco products. He obtained a franchise

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despite the fact that licenses for the sale of tobacco and cigarettes were earmarked solely for the war disabled.

The house also included a large auditorium that served for social gatherings for the villagers, who enjoyed it and filled it every evening except for the Sabbath and festivals. They would discuss political and economic issues; issues related to work, agriculture and commerce; issues related to their aspirations, dreams and plans. There wasn't anything they didn't discuss. On more than one occasion the information we gathered was of tremendous benefit, especially in economic matters. For instance, the head of the village (the soltice) spoke about an upcoming visit to the village of the income tax officials. This was in the days of the famous Grabski, who was intensely disliked by the Jews. Thousands of Jews all over Poland went bankrupt because of the measures Grabski took against them. One of those measures was the inventory count and its 30-60 annual turnovers, for which he imposed the tax payment for several years until the next inventory count. This action had the effect of killing the Jews' business, from which there was no “ resurrection from the dead.” At the next visit, of course, there was no inventory and nothing to count….These developments caused significant Jewish emigration from Poland to Palestine (known as the Fourth Aliyah) and to various other countries.

However, whoever was smart enough to drastically reduce his inventory prior to the visit of the “ counters and assessors” was able to hold out easily for a few years. We know about most of these visits ahead of time, thanks to discussions and stories at the social gatherings of the farmers. We thereby were able to save ourselves from the jaws of the lion.

Among those who attended the social gatherings was one drunken farmer who was a known horse thief and petty criminal. His name was Khvadas. Once when he was drunk he tried to demonstrate how big a hero he was. The told a story about his involvement in the fire at our house. He didn't do it because he hated Jews. On the contrary, he actually enjoyed our home and was fond of “ Herzko” (my father's nickname). What happened was that a Polish storeowner named Shtakovski drew him into it because his financial situation was so bad (and when was Khadvas' situation good, considering he spent all his money on drink?). Shtakovski offered him a large sum of money to start the fire, and Khadvas couldn't resist the offer. He thanked his Lord and the Holy Mother afterwards when he learned that the Jews managed to escape. Unfortunately for him, he didn't benefit as much as he had hoped, since Shtakovski and his friends

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didn't believe Khadvas that he had locked the doors and windows because the Jews succeeded in escaping ------those cursed Poles!

Then there was the story of Dmitri Olyon, a farmer who wasn't among the wealthy of the village, and who was always in need of help from my father. He often remained among the last people at he social gatherings, and tried to convince my father of all kinds of stories, events that happened and that didn't happen so that my father would take a liking to him, and thereby offer him a loan that Dmitri could never repay. He even tried to bring news about political events occurring in the village. At that time there were a number of Ukrainian nationalist cells sprouting up, disguising themselves as working on behalf of “ Prosvita” (“nationalist education”). This organization was considered legal by the Polish authorities, even though they knew it was against them.

The case was similar with a left-wing underground organization that disguised its activities as the work of an association dedicated to improving the economic situation of the farmers and their cooperative organization as a competitor to Jewish businesses (though it didn't succeed very far). They would hold farmers' meetings for business discussions, however, they actually engaged in sabotage of the governmental authorities, and maintained contact with the Soviet authorities. Dmitri made every effort to bring us news about the activities of the two organizations. We were only interested in economic news, and these two organizations had plans against the Jews, mainly in the economic sphere. Their business influence wasn't much, and it was no match for the Jews' business influence, which is why the organizations wanted to get rid of the Jews forever. Eventually they became partners and helpers of the Nazis in the destruction of the Jews, and were dreaming about it even before the Nazis arrived; they directed Ukrainian farmers how to kill a nation. They slandered the Jews with charging usurious interest, which was prohibited by law, but many Jews were convicted and sent to jail. The lucky ones among them had to spend all their money on lawyers in the hope of being acquitted. Most of the farmers were released, of course, from their debts to the Jews, and they thus offered false and sophisticated testimony as “ eye-witnesses” who were believed by the anti-semitic Polish judges. The accused were judged harshly.

A lawsuit like this was even lodged against my father in court, and was to be used, if successful, to assist in other lawsuits. However, this did not proceed because the Polish estate owner in the village appeared with his attorney and testified on behalf of my father. He used organized accounting records to show that the debt of thousands of zlotys that he owed my father, who required virtually no interest on the debt, to say nothing

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of usurious interest. My father was acquitted, and dozens of village farmers, among whom were the “ wise men” and the leaders of the organizations, were put to shame.

[Photo:] My brother, Uziel Gal, who died in the Soviet army.

One evening, even before the usual social gathering, Dmitri said to my father, “ Listen, Herzko, this time I know something extremely important, but I won't tell you even if I die.”

“Tell me before you die,” my father responded with a laugh, and didn't ask Dmitri another thing the whole evening. Then, just before sunrise, Dmitri knocked on our door, snuck in quickly and said that his brother, Ivan Olyon, was traveling that morning to town to transfer his house and business to the names of his sons in the records of the estate owner, just as he was advised to do by the heads of the organizations after the failed lawsuit against my father so that he could avoid repayment of a large debt that Father

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lent him to build his new house. After the story Dmitri left for home in the dark of night so that no one would see him in disgrace.

Father immediately went to town and filed a distraint against the transfer.

Many enemies rose up against Father and our family, but he was unafraid of them, and won out against all of them with his honesty, trust and intelligence.

[Photo:] My sister, Riva Gal. She died in the Holocaust.

However, his sons, who grew up today, educated in high school in Lutsk, started to see life differently. The were looking to the future, which didn't appear to them to be too rosy, in contrast to Father's opinion. Anti-semitism planted roots in all the neighboring villages, and produced deep hatred of Jews. These younger people started

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to develop the idea of leaving the village, but ideas are one thing, and reality is something else: thus, ideas developed slowly.

As mentioned earlier, we were friendly with Jewish families in the nearby villages; the families included the Friedmans from the nearby village of Romano. We would spend the Sabbaths and festivals with them and have public prayers in their “ synagogue.” Mr. Friedman had a large flour mill, and was very well-to-do. He was the first person to visit Palestine to determine whether there was anywhere he could settle down. Therefore, he traveled to Palestine in the 1930s (during the Fourth Aliyah) when Grabski bankrupted the Jewish businesses. Friedman returned without particularly encouraging the village Jews to move to Palestine. Those were times of trouble, unemployment, etc. With great sadness we saw the idea of moving there slip between our fingers, as did the youth of other villages.

Father was a religiously observant man, though was not a fanatic like many of his contemporaries in Volhyn and Poland. He wore a simple short suit, but a Jewish rather than a Ukrainian style. In his free time, Father used to enjoy looking over the newspapers and arguing with others about politics and economics. He was a merchant since his youth, and later on, a seasoned businessman. He only wore a very trimmed beard, fulfilling a verse that suggests that a little is better than nothing. Mother had community activism in her blood, and while we were in Lutsk was even more able to express this than she was in the village. She would spend days on end being involved in community projects, though without sacrificing her household duties. She was the motivating factor in the free Jewish community medical service for the poor, and was almost the only person to accompany the service's blind doctor from Rozhitch, a doctor with a good reputation who would come regularly to visit his patients on behalf of the service in Lutsk. Afterwards, Mother helped the patients as much as she could, and she was considered to be a really merciful nurse in all respects.

When we were children, we had a Hebrew teacher at home who taught our cousins and us. The teacher was a young unmarried fellow who was fluent in modern Hebrew. He loved to work, but for some reason was always frightened. I remember that one Saturday night he took the large glass jug from Mother, a jug in which she made yogurt, and he started doing it himself. Suddenly he dropped the jug, which broke into a thousand pieces on the floor. He was so frightened he ran out of the house and hid among the trees in the backyard. We searched for him all night but didn't find him; he was just like Adam in the Garden of Eden, and wouldn't answer to his name. We only found him the next day hiding among the branches of a thick tree.

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Then there was the story of Grandma Gittel, who used to organize the kosher animal slaughter in the villages when there were people who decided to settle in one or another village, opened a small store, etc. However, when the Ukrainians started their cooperative movement, they were easily able to forget about the Jewish storekeepers, since they didn't have permission to settle in the village. No permits were granted, and the Prosvita Ukrainian nationalists knew how to cause trouble for the Jews. Those of us who were long-time residents in the village offered them advice, suggestions and money. We helped them go from village to village until the unrest would subside. Unfortunately, the unrest didn't subside. I remember one Jewish family like this, honorable people with many daughters of marriageable age. The Ukrainian nationalists started causing the family trouble. My father and Mr. Friedman from Romano bribed whomever they had to, and succeeded removing the problem for three full years. They offered considerable financial assistance to the family, and the family was able to extricate itself from its difficulties. The head of the household thereafter became a regular congregant in the village synagogue as a sign of gratefulness. Prior to that he would travel to town for the Jewish holidays.

There were, however, more “ desirable” Jews who came to live in the village. These were wealthy peddlers who sold on credit, and mainly large cow dealers. These dealers would buy hundreds young cows in the neighboring villages, and bring them to be raised on the estate's fields. For those times they paid handsomely for feed, supervision and shepherds. The estate owners made alot of money this way, and even got organic fertilizer for free.

The cow dealers and peddlers would frequently spend the Sabbath at our home, especially in winter when the snow and storms covered the fields and roads, and was special when a preacher was a guest. Mother always knew how to handle the situation.

It was great during the summer as the fruit was ripening. Relatives, friends and neighbors from Olyka, Lutsk and places further away would come to visit. They all had the opportunity to enjoy themselves. Among them were students, high school students. We enjoyed sports, swimming, boating, fishing, etc. The huge trees in the garden provided us with fruit and shade, and we were never short of other times of vegetables either. In the later years the youth would gather to talk and develop Zionist dreams.

At one of those parties, just after the return of Mr. Friedman from Palestine and his less than encouraging news, I decided I wanted to emigrate to Palestine at any cost. I couldn't accept what he was saying, and in a conversation with some of my friends, I brought up the case of the spies sent by Moses into the Land of Israel who brought back negative opinions about the land.

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Of course, there were some who agreed with me, and who decided to sign up as members of various Zionist youth organizations that were starting in those days. I felt as if I was flying high, and a few days later joined the Hechalutz [Pioneer] organization to undergo training to move to Palestine.

A year and a half later I was approved to move to Palestine, and before I knew it I was in the land of my dreams at Kibbutz Gan Michael. Since I was a “ village boy” I felt like a king in the kibbutz. No work was foreign to me, since it was all agricultural. This is, of course, a chapter by itself.

I immediately started writing my parents and relatives to get them to emigrate also. They decided to come, but events worked against it, and they lost the chance.

Of all of my relatives in the village, none remained alive except for my brother, Berel, who succeeded in escaping from Hitler's hell, and the person telling his story in this book is his story.

But woe! When I gave the material to the publisher for printing, I was called to his place of residence in Brooklyn. He was extremely ill. When I arrived, he passed away. Heaven, have mercy on me.

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Village Memories

Berl Gal

Translated by David Goldman

[Photo:] Berl Gal, who died in America when this book was being published.

There were non-Jewish villages around Jewish Olyka such as Kharlupa, Faltsa, Vatin, Koptsa, Ramanov, Fodivitz and others that also had a few Jewish families. In the latter years there were almost no far-flung Jews who could scarcely sign their names, and no Jews like there were earlier on

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who were land tenants. There were now modernized Jews, leading modern, cultural lives, even though the economic situation of most of them wasn't all that bad in general compared to Jewish communities in Volhyn. They were able to send their children to school in the large cities such as Lutsk, Rovno, Vilna and others.

Sending children to the gymnasia high schools, seminars, etc. actually showed the effects of the “ silent revolution,” or more correctly, “ evolution” of the village Jews in Volhyn. The first step was taken by the parents themselves, who started teaching themselves by subscribing to various, newspapers and books, especially Yiddish and Hebrew ones that were nationalistic and in demand. The youth were all the more interested in this, and as stated above, studied in the gymnazias.

I remember that my uncle, Falik Gal (Falik Kharluper, as he was known), sent his children to study in Olyka, and then to Lutsk and Vilna. My other uncle, Hertz Gal (Kharluper) lived in Lutsk for many years, and had his business in Olyka and Kharlupa so his children could attend the gymnazia. Only after they could stand on their own two feet did he rebuild his large house, which had been burnt down by anti-Semites in the village of Kharlupa years earlier, and where he lived a life of culture. His door was opened wide to his friends, relatives and other people who were active in cultural and nationalistic affairs in Volhyn.

I have really good memories of those days. In summer and winter our house was crowded with uninvited guests from Olyka, Lutsk, Kowel and other places. Young people used to come for their summer vacations. We spent time in the nearby forests, cracking nuts, picking berries, swimming, fishing while we discussed literature, Judaism, Zionism, Socialism, pioneers, etc. We also fell in love. It was just great.

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In wintertime young people would come to our village to enjoy winter sports. This was much more possible in the village than in town or the cities. There was no shortage of three-horse sleds, sleighs and kankas for everybody who wanted to join in. Not only did city kids come to our village, but young people from all the surrounding villages – it was great fun. There was, however, always someone who was responsible for intellectual,

[photo:] A. Isod, Y. Barselman, S. Finkelstein, Y.Katz, H. Feltcher, H. Gal (1914). They died in the Holocaust.

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cultural and nationalistic nourishment in the spacious, warm house during the long evenings.

Once in a while the village Jews would travel to town to spend the High Holidays. This was an old custom, a kind of tradition. Each person had his own place to stay – with relatives, good friends, etc. Village Jews always sought to obtain a good seat – at a hefty price - in the synagogue or House of Study for their entire family. Over time, however, they built their “ own” synagogue in Romanov. One of the most famous hosts of guests in Romanov was R. Chaim Friedman (Romanover) and his wife, Chayka.

[photo:] Brothers, Shlomo and Moshe Friedman (Romanov), and brothers, Shmuel and Berl Gal (Kharlupy).

The village of Romanov was a good place, and the people were very generous. A great cantor, who really knew how to chant the prayers, was there, and he handled the whole thing. The congregants reserved a special honor for R. Itshe Batiner (Greitzer) and R. Zeidel Paltser (Korman), two wonderful and fine men with beautiful long beards, who lent a beautiful air to the prayer services. In general, all village Jews

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were faithful to their synagogue in Romanov, and would gather together there for any death anniversary (yahrzeiti) in any kind of weather, rain or shine. Every Simchat Torah it was decided that the Friedman family would provide the best of everything, roast duck and the best whiskey. (R. Chaim Friedman used to joke that he was the luckiest man around, since “ which other Jew, tell me, has the pleasure of having such a large Jewish family in his home as I?”).

[Photo: Chaim Friedman and his sons.]

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