by Mendl Makhtay
Translated by Ruth Murphy
The town of Rebzevitsh was situated 30 kilometers northeast of Steibtz, in the direction of Minsk. In the town, with its mixed population of Jews and Christians, that existed for generations, there were approximately 200 Jewish families. The town was never affected by fires, and indeed for this reason the houses were old-fashioned.
Before World War 1, Rebzevitsh was directly linked to Minsk. The railroad station was in Negarele. When a pol-stanek was established in Koydenov, people from Rebzevitsh would travel there to buy meat, butter, eggs, etc. The products that were purchased were brought in the same wagons that were used to transport the produce to Minsk. Rebzevitsh therefore possessed quite a few agents and commercial coachmen. They traded with Minsk in this way for generations, until 1921, when Poland became a state and the border was established one kilometer from the town, that resulted in Rebzevitsh being cut off from Koydenov and Minsk. Since then, Rebzevitsh was linked to Steibtz and to Steibtz District, and all trade moved to Steibtz.
The largest storekeepers who used to purchase their merchandise in Warsaw, Bialystok, or Baranovitsh had to travel by wagon to Steibtz first, and then proceed from there by train. Almost all towns had a watermill or a windmill, but Rebzevitsh had two watermills because two different little rivers flowed on each side of the town. Both rivers flowed into the Nieman. The street of entry from the direction of Stoibtz was very long, with two small side streets going downhill to the mills. The scenery on the way downhill to Koydenov, was beautiful; there the houses stood on posts, all were old wooden houses, and the synagogues were old buildings. It was not a fertile region, as many fertile villages remained on the other side of the border; yet there were many villages with small and large forests. Every Tuesday large markets were set up: Traders from Steibtz and other towns would come to the market, and each one made a living from it.
In the beginning, after the border was established, there was great prosperity. A smuggling trade with Russia developed: Various manufactured goods would be supplied to Russia, and gold coins, diamonds, and the best furs, were brought back from there. Those who lived in more distant towns were very envious of the inhabitants of Rebzevitsh, although, in reality, the latter did not become very wealthy, especially after the strict prohibition, as a result of which, some were forced to flee to Russia or overseas.
Many families in Rebzevitsh lived from the proceeds of agriculture. The inhabitants planted gardens themselves and tilled the field. Reb Yaakov Kashtzevits and a few others would till the fields so efficiently, that the Christians would always admire their diligence. In the surrounding area there were also a few successful Jewish farmers in the villages of Tonneve, Gilyavke, and Volme, and in particular, the fine Nakhomtsik family, in the village of Nydanevitsh. In recent years, the Jewish Colonization Association planted orchards on Jewish-owned land in Rebzevitsh, Derevne, and Nalibok. An agronomist from the association would often come to give instructions and oversee the work. Were it not for the world conflagration and the extermination of the Jews, the Jews of Rebzevitsh would have had their own fruit from the trees that they planted and would have been able to pride themselves on the work of their hands a fine example for the Christians, that Jews too, could devote themselves to agriculture.
Culture and School System
In former times the main system of education for children was the kheyder. Some would also travel to the Talmudic academies in Mir, Volozhin, Slobodke, Radin, Kletsk. There were educated young people involved in Zionist activities, and from time to time, Zionist speakers would visit. A dramatic circle also existed, that presented interesting theatre. Actors from elsewhere would also come with various presentations that were performed in the premises of the fire brigade, that also served as a theater. There was also a competent fire brigade, as in all the surrounding towns. Perhaps thanks to them, Rebzevitsh never experienced any fires, and the houses aged. Thanks to the Zionist activity, pioneers traveled to the Land of Israel, first undergoing a hachasharah. Rebzevitsh had a doctor named Yitskhok Funt, a pharmacy, the lawyer Kavarsky, as well as a Polish doctor, Tsernetski. In case of a need for surgery, people traveled to the hospital in Steibtz. In the summer months a bus operated between Steibtz, Rebzevitsh, and Ivenits.
From the time that Rebzevitsh became closely linked to Steibtz, several families settled in Steibtz. Approximately thirty young men and young women were married in Steibtz. The Pozniyak family was hat and cap makers for generations; the brothers Mordekhai and Elkanah were the first to move to Steibtz, and they immediately opened a hat and cap store. Later they brought their remaining brothers and sisters, to join them. Almost all married in Steibtz. Perhaps thanks to this, a few brothers and sisters survived, and now live in Argentina. They did not witness the great destruction of the Jews of the towns. But the pain remained in the hearts of all, having lost their families and friends.
For generations a town lived with its religious functionaries, storekeepers, butchers, orchard keepers, artisans, coachmen hardworking Jews, who were always very busy with daily life, the heavy yoke of providing sustenance for their families, giving their children a better education, deriving a little pride and enjoyment from them, and the anxiety of raising their children.
Almost the entire handful of survivors from Rubzevitsh has settled in Israel. Forever we will mourn the annihilation of our brothers and sisters.
Oh earth, do not conceal their blood!
by Gishke Polayesh
Translated by Ruth Murphy
In the first days after the outbreak of World War II, our town was occupied by the Bolsheviks. We went to bed as Polish citizens, and in the morning, we found out that we belonged to Russia. Naturally the first thing that was done was to confiscate our stores and everything else. It was not all that good, yet our lives were secure, and in these circumstances the Russians stayed with us for twenty months.
And here is where the real troubles began. For several weeks, day and night, the Red Army ran with its tanks and trains loaded with military equipment, back to Russia, because the sinister Amalek pursued them. Suddenly the first Germans appeared in the town. First, they ordered us to put on the yellow patch and forced us to do hard labor. We began to suffer from them terribly. Their aim was to humiliate and weaken us, so that in the end we would allow ourselves to be slaughtered without any resistance.
The commander of the town ordered that a Judenrat be formed; it consisted of the following leaders of the community: Liotte Ayznbud, Yitzkhok Guryan, Solovaytshik, Yakov Lifshitz, and Shaye Shapiro. Whatever the commander demanded, had to be provided to both him, and to the police; so, when we were driven to work, we were not beaten and tortured as much as before, but on every day following, we would continue to hear of more terrifying incidents, of slaughters that took place in neighboring towns, such as two large slaughters in Koydenov, Rakov, Baranovitsh, and Steibtz. We were no better off than all the surrounding towns that were so dear to our hearts. We became the living dead.
The ghetto in our town was set up at the marketplace, and since the peasants would need to pass through the town, our ghetto was not fenced off with barbed wire, as in other towns. The Jews of Nalibok, Derevne, and Volme were driven out of their towns and brought to us, in our ghetto. In the small wooden houses of the town, where there is barely room for one family, fifty people were forced to live in one house. We lay crowded together like herring in a barrel and shared a dry piece of bread with each other. Suddenly the real robbers and murderers arrived from the headquarters in Ivenitz. They assembled all the Jews, from age ten to sixty, placed us in rows, with four in each row, and drove us to Ivenitz. The screaming, the shrieking, and the weeping of the older people and of the mothers and children who remained, could be heard miles away.
This was on the eve of Shavuot; the devils implemented all their evil decrees on the eve of a Jewish holiday. It was on a very hot day that we were being taken to Ivenitz, a distance of 20 kilometers away, and those who could not walk fast, were chased and beaten. Ten people fell on the way, and anyone who wanted to rest or drink a little water, was shot on the spot. Beilke, Refael Kalmanovitsh's youngest daughter, and another young lad found the walk difficult, so they dropped their packages. They were then taken out of the rows with ten other people and shot in front of everyone. They continued to urge us to move forward, without any respite. In Ivenitz we were locked up in a camp; all night the children begged for a little water, but no one responded. In the morning the murderers came and took the children away. Those who resisted were beaten murderously.
My only daughter was then ten years old. No one knows what great difficulty I had, how I barely survived to raise her, and what joy there was in my family when I gave birth to a child. My parents donated a lot to charity at that time, and my husband Jacob then donated a Torah scroll and now they wanted to tear her away from me…. I screamed, my husband resisted their attempts, so they beat him murderously, bloodied his head. An outcry, a commotion arose, so I escaped with my daughter and hid until the turmoil passed and in this way, I miraculously saved my only daughter.
From there we were driven to Nalibok, and then to Ivenitz later to Navaredok, from there to Dvoretz. We were told that we would work there, that we would have to excavate stones.
We were terribly exhausted, beaten, with swollen feet from walking tens of kilometers on foot from one town to the next. When the commander saw us, he was terribly irritated. How will you be able to work in the mountains excavating stones when you can't even stand on your feet? I will have to send you back to Navaredok, to the slaughter that is to take place there.
When we heard this, we began to sob convulsively, and we said to him: How can we stand on our feet after walking such a long distance? We begged him to allow us to rest for a couple of days, and we would give him everything that we have with us, and we would do whatever heavy labor he would assign us. And so, it was. After a little rest, we worked unbearably hard for eight months. During this time, they came twice to slaughter us, but the commander would always delay and say that he needed us for work.
More than once we were led to the mass grave that had already been prepared for us, so that we would see with our own eyes the sad end of our lives. But each time a coincidence or a miracle would happen, and we would be saved for a while longer.
Finally, the day of the slaughter in Dvoretz arrived. The cries and screams were indescribable. Jews ran confused, frightened. My daughter, my husband and I, and a few other Jews from Rebzevitsh, escaped from the commotion and hid at the wall of a dilapidated house. We lay there for two days and two nights, until it became quieter, and then we ran across fields and forests. During the day, we would lie hidden in the forest, and at night we would go to farmers that we knew in the villages, to ask for a little food. Meanwhile, we coincidentally met with the Sagalovitz and Kashtzevitz families. Together we went into a thick forest and lived there for eight months. Afterwards we found out that the Germans were conducting a search, so we could no longer go out at night to look for food. The search lasted several weeks. It was our luck that it rained every day that saved us. Later we heard that in the large, dense forest between Nalibok and Lubtz, there was a large group of Jewish partisans. When we went there, we found that they had already set up earthen huts in the ground and a kitchen, and that the young people brought potatoes and bread from the villages. This is how we spent nine months in the dense forest. Meanwhile we began to hear
good news, that the Red Army was already not far from us, but during the last days we were informed that the Germans were conducting a search for us, so we ran out of the earthen huts and hid in the deep swamps of the forest. When things quieted down, we crawled out of our hiding places and returned to the earthen huts there we found eight Jews who had been shot dead, Jews who did not have the strength to run out and hide.
Some days later the Red Army marched into our region, and we were liberated, but my good husband did not live to see this. He died on that same day, after an illness of some weeks. He had lived through terrible times torture, hunger, cold, worked hard under the Germans, saved himself from all the slaughters, and lay in the forests thinking that he would overcome everything but he did not live to see the day of liberation. The wife of Freinkman, daughter of Yehudah Bentziye, also died in the forest.
We were all exhausted and stark naked. My little daughter was weeping, and we all wept with her. Where do we go now? And we set out on foot from the thick forest, back to our town of Rebzevitsh. We returned there and were overcome by fear. Houses stood like skeletons, with doors and windows wide open; there was no street, no house, it was a cemetery. We cried bitterly, endlessly. Where are you, father, mother, brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law? Where are you, little children of Rebzevitsh who were raised together, where are you all? We ran through the town and found nobody. Then we found out that on the road to the village of Simkovitz, not far from the gentile cemetery, lay 500 of our finest, most beautiful, and dearest, in a communal grave. On a day of burning frost in 1942, on the 20th of the month of Tevet (9 January 1942), they were dragged out of town and ordered to throw themselves alive, into the large pits that had been prepared for them. Their neighbors, and peasants of the surrounding villages, plundered and robbed everything and afterward helped to bury everyone alive. The Jews expected this, because the old gray-haired Rabbi, together with Liotte Ayznbud dressed festively in their kittels, prayer shawls, and phylacteries, ready to meet the Lord of the Universe, with the cries of Hear O Israel on their shriveled, frozen lips.
Cursed be the earth that soaked up innocent Jewish blood and may the murderers run around like mad dogs and cut each other's throats in the cities and towns that they rendered Judenrein. May this remain a mark of shame upon all of them for generations. Lord of the Universe; avenge them, for our spilled innocent blood.
by M. Tsinovitz
Translated by Sara Mages
HaMelitz, 1889 (108) - Zelig Pallies writes:
About a year ago the building of Talmud Torah was founded in our city. At first, the number of students in it was about fifty, and now it has risen to more than ninety sons of the poor. In their names, and the names of their parents or their poor relatives, I thank and bless the honorable rabbi, who handles a matter wisely and his name rose to fame because Torah and education were united in him, our teacher the rabbi, Arye Leib HaKohen, son of HaGaon, the writer of the book Chafetz Chaim, that only through his efforts and toil he was able to bring the correct order in Talmud Torah and put it on a proper and existing foundation.
It is hard to estimate how hard this honorable man worked before he reached his goal, because, unfortunately there was no one in our community who got up to come to his aid and he alone, when he saw that the children of the poor were undisciplined and will grow up without education and manners, took pity on them and did not give up until he achieved his goal.
He appointed expert teachers to teach the students of Talmud Torah, Tanakh and the grammar of our holy language, and melamdim to teach them the Talmud. He also appointed a teacher to teach them the Russian and Hebrew languages, and he himself supervised the order and the cleanliness and each and every Sabbath the students passed before him like soldiers, and he tested them to know if the study of the days of the week was well known to them, and, thank God, he was pleased with them.
HaMelitz, 1890 (118) - Zelig Pallies writes:
More than two years ago the building of Talmud Torah was established in our city by HaRav HaGaon, HaRav R' Arye Leib HaKohen, son of HaRav HaGaon the writer of the books Chafetz Chaim and Mishnah Berurah.
Currently, there are about seventy boys in Talmud Torah with three teachers. The majority of the students are children from the nearby cities and the minority are from our city. From time to time, HaRav HaGaon comes in person to check the students' progress in their studies, and he is always very pleased with the students.
But, suddenly the Melamdim in our city woke up and came out of their hiding places to speak sharply against this house of Talmud Torah, because the boys will grow up without Torah and manners. And they found an unbearable sin in this house because the boys are being taught the Tanakh with, Heaven forbid! the commentary (of the author S. L. Gordon), and also grammar, and the homeowners listen to their words and no longer wanted to finance the maintenance of the house with their money. One of the inhabitants of our city, a moneylender who is accustomed to overcharge the poor, was not able tolerate the Tanakh and the grammar. He stood and screamed loudly that Talmud Torah is a shkoles [school] and he wants to ruin and destroy this big thing.
Another great thing was done by the aforementioned genius rabbi, he established the
association Gemilut Chasadim to loan money to the poor with a pledge, and to this day six hundred rubles have been collected by HaRav HaGaon for the society's existing fund, and HaRav HaGaon mentioned above will try choose people to collect the money on the eve of every Holy Sabbath, according to the ability of each person to donate.
On behalf of all the boys attending Talmud Torah, and on behalf of all their relatives, I offer thanks and blessings to our Jewish brothers in America for their kindness and support for Talmud Torah. Because, in the two years since the house was founded they sent the amount of one hundred and eighty rubles for the benefit of Talmud Torah, and we hope that in the coming days they will continue their good deeds.
The correspondence in HaMelitz from 1890 (120) by Aharon Zavalevich, about the immigration of Jews from Rubezhevitz in those days, indicates that one tailor from this town already managed to be there and returned to the town with a wad of money in his hand.
With all that, one Sabbath, when he wanted to buy a maftir with a kikkar of gold, he was not called to the maftir and the homeowners' claim to it was: because he made a fortune in America he will not be given honor and glory in Rubezhevitz, what he has in his mind will never happen. This matter caused a bone of contention among those who envied the honor of the aforementioned tailor, and the group of tailors went to make their own Beit Midrash and their own quota, and also the shopkeepers and the tavern owners have come out of their midst and no longer mix with the owners of the city like clay made from old ground clay. And they wrote and signed an agreement that they will separate from the entire community. They made their own minyan and in the near future they will also build their own Beit Midrash. And now the people approached them and asked for forgiveness and atonement, but the tailors' zeal is as strong as the grave; its coals are coals of fire of a great flame! and there is no peace in the city.
And in HaMelitz from the aforementioned year (171), in regards to another interesting matter similar to the aforementioned. The son of the ritual slaughterer from our town, who was also in America and returned to the town in the terms of a slaughterer left and a slaughterer returned, did not change in his actions and form, and when he came to our town he wanted to slaughter as before, but our townspeople did not let him be a slaughterer in their town, to help his father with the slaughter as he had done before, saying, that the land of America defiles its people, and since the man saw the land of that country he will be called impure and those, who fear for their safety, will stay away from him because he is damaged and his slaughter is a carcass of a kosher animal not killed in accordance with Jewish law.
Meanwhile, when the father of the American travelled to Minsk, and the town of Rubezhevitz remained without a slaughterer, the people shouted to say: who will feed us meat? We don't have a slaughterer. Then, the people hurried to say that they will eat meat from his slaughter, and the rabbi, who is a wise man, did not find anything improper with his slaughter, and he stood before the people and insisted that his words were true. But the God-fearing, and those who value His name, didn't eat from his slaughter, and for them, the slaughtered meat was like the meat of a pig. And they answered and said that all the glory in the land of America is similar to those who have no God.
In the end, A. Z. writes, the sin of the son of the ritual slaughterer was atoned and forgiven after they saw that many members of Shlomei Emunei Yisrael travel to America, and God, who resides in the land of Lita, fills the whole world and also there, and they also came to know that the son of the ritual slaughterer is God-fearing, secretly and openly, and he is allowed to slaughter in the slaughterhouse, and also those, who value His name highly, will eat from his slaughter without a clever question.
HaMelitz 1890 (126)
We, the leaders of the community here in our city, give an open protest against one from our city who left to describe the situation of Talmud Torah in our city, and we can say, on behalf of the people, that there has never been a person from our city who will come to protest the activity of HaRav HaGaon, our teacher the rabbi, Arye Leib HaKohen. All the inhabitants of our city give him thanks and blessings for all his precious actions that he has done in our city. We also praise and glorify the order of study that he organized for the boys, and everything was done in a proper regime and order, in common sense, good taste and knowledge, according to the way of the Torah and teaching, and we have already been privileged to see true payment from his precious actions, and we willingly took it upon ourselves to provide the boys with kosher food and all their other needs. And to validate, several people signed their name together with the community's seal.
Yisrael David son of my father, my master, our teacher the rabbi Moshe zl, cantor and ritual slaughterer of the community;
Zev Wolf, son of our teacher the rabbi Yitzchak Kanterovitz, the Elder of the Community;
Nathan HaLevi Rabinavitz;
Yerucham Yitzchak Nawick;
Yisrael Avraham Brill
Translated by Sara Mages
At the age of nine, R' Leib already studied with his father in Vaslilshok, Lipnishok and Zhetl his father's hometown. The Chofetz Chaim came from time to time to Rubezhevitz to visit his sister's son who lived there. Once, a matchmaker came and offered the Chofetz Chaim the daughter of R' Avraham son of R' Eliyahu, for his son R' Leib. When the Chofetz Chaim began to study the matter, he liked the match. He learned that R' Avraham is one of the city's dignitaries, a Torah enthusiast and a wealthy man.
R' Leib describes his father-in-law as outstanding in the Torah, God-fearing and a great philanthropist in secret, and the writer of Chafetz Chaim expressed himself about him, that it is difficult to find a man like him among tens of thousands of people, in his kindness and perseverance in the Torah, and his avoidance of robbery and deception. R' Leib received an exemption from the army, and on 3 Heshvan 5640 [20 October 1879], he got married and was supported by his father-in-law. Later, he received financial help from his father for his help in collecting the material and organizing his essays Mishnah Berurah on Shulchan Arukh Orach Chayim . During the period of R' Leib's residence in Rubezhevitz, his father visited him every year to closely check his financial situation and also his exaltation in the Torah and in God-fearing. While he was with him he set time to study with him. R' Leib invested his time in public affairs and matters of benevolence, to establish and improve a lot of things, and, as is well known, the improvement of Talmud Torah and the establishment of Gemilut Chasadim. In addition, he also assisted in the settlement of Eretz Israel by raising funds and sending them to Moscow where the center was located before the office was opened in Odessa, and by recruiting people to settle in Israel and cultivate its land. His opinion on this was: they, the secular, are quick, in the meantime they are conquering the land and strengthen in it, and no plot of land will remain for the observant when they will come to settle in it. After all, it is better for those who are loyal to tradition and to ancestral heritage, to do propaganda and leave in large numbers, come to Israel and overcome the secular in quantity and spiritual weight. However, out of respect for his father he did not express his opinion in public.
This matter especially captured his heart after it became publicly known about the founding of the merchants' organization of the Ahad Ha'am circle in the name of Benei Moshe, that according to its essence and the intention of its founders, the goal was to make corrections in religion, especially in the field of education in the new settlement in Eretz Yisrael.
R' Leib is a great scholar, one of the best in pilpul and understanding, wise in world affairs, and even inclines to moderate education. He expresses affection to Hovevei Zion and Mizrahi, and openly supports the Jewish National Fund.
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