« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 255]

Wagon Drivers

by Mendl Machtey

Translated by Esther Libby Raichman

In past years, a wagon driver's work was not considered a respected Jewish profession. Wagon driving and horse driving were regarded as inferior occupations.

In Stolpce, there were about 40 Jewish families who earned a living in this way, among them were a considerable number of honest, diligent Jews who used to pray three times a day. If a wagon driver was not on the road, at work, he would drop into a prayer house for a “barechu[1] or a “kedushah[2].

The question arises of how the Stolpce wagon drivers made a living. Of concern was the fact that the train station was a distance of approximately one and a half verst[3] from the town, and many people walked to the train to save a few groshen.[4] In addition, the Jewish wagon drivers had on-going competition from the Christian wagon drivers because in the winter, when the Gentiles had little farm work, they earned extra income by working as wagon drivers. They were able to sell their services at a lower price, as they had food for their horses from their own fields. Despite this, the Jewish wagon drivers continued to compete, and the Christian customers would rather turn to the Jewish wagon drivers when they needed to move something. The reason for this was simple – the Jewish wagon drivers were diligent, more capable, and more punctual.

The work of the Stolpce wagon driver was varied. They began with taking wooden beams and boards from the sawmills, and pitch from the tar works, to the train station. They unloaded goods from the train wagons - flour, sugar, herring, and other products, and delivered them to the storehouses of the Stolpce merchants. The wagon drivers transported everything that came their way to the surrounding towns and villages – wheat, rye, bricks, stones, as well as passengers, both Jews and Christians – as long as it provided a little income for a Jewish family with a considerable number of children.

When the son of a wagon driver turned 12, he would help his father until he was independent and could be relied upon to take responsibility. Then his father would buy another horse and wagon, and the son worked for his father until he was drafted to serve in the Russian army. When he returned from military service, he again worked for his father until he married.

When a son received a little dowry, and in addition saved a little money from a few years of kest,[5] he bought a horse and wagon, rented an apartment - a room, and led an independent life. In cases where a wagon driver was gifted only with daughters, he would hire a boy to work, provide him with food and a place to sleep in his home, and also “m'zumen” - a few groshen. There were also young men in the town who rented horses, as for example: Leibetzke's son Chaim, Reshe's son Mottel, Tevel's boys Yankel and Yashe, or Chaim Berel who was fed up with his tailoring trade and became a wagon driver. There were also family men who used rented horses, for example, Moshe Leib Bezrutzky when he had become impoverished, or Gershon Perekoptshinner, and others.

And if there were insufficient horse drivers in Stolpce, there were those who came from the surrounding areas, Zalman Kugl from Swerznie, Chaim Shetzke's son Yehoshua'le from Nyesvizsh, Ruven Burille from Rubzevitsh, Gershunke from Karelitsh etc.

It is worth mentioning Yoel Tunik who was a typical example of the character of a toiling Stolpce wagon driver. He was the son of a wagon driver who went to work with his father when he was still young but later, did not want to work with his father. Thanks to this, he managed to save a little money and by the time he married, he already owned a few horses and his own small house. His future wife, Gittel Matte, the daughter of Moshe the teacher from

[Page 256]

Swerznie, was also an enterprising woman who managed to bring a considerable dowry to her husband. After their marriage, Gittel had a milk cow at their house, and in the summer, she cultivated a large garden.

In addition, Yoel had a beautiful voice and loved to sing along with cantorial pieces of music. He had two brothers who sang with the cantor. I think that the first gramophone in Stolpce was in Yoel's house.

He used to stand at the tube of the gramophone and sing along with Cantor Zavel Kvartin's “Tzur Yisrael[6]. It was difficult to distinguish whose voice echoed outside, the voice from the gramophone or Yoel's voice.

Yoel attended the new prayer house every day and observed the tradition of praying three times a day. He generously supported the house of prayer. In the winter, he would open the doors of the prayer house at 3am. For years he paid for the privilege of opening the ark for “Ne'ilah[7] He also felt that this virtue would give his horses long lives.

A group of jokers, knowing his weakness for buying the opening of the ark for Ne'ilah, would raise the price of this honor to 15 Rubel in gold, but Yoel bought the honor and would not be deterred at any price.

On the Sabbath, before the evening prayers, he would sit at the long table in the prayer house and join in singing with all those attending, “Ashrei t'mimei derech”. To this day, his special melody rings in my ears.

In past years, I thought that wagon drivers had bought the claim to recite the Psalms, because the largest number of those reciting Psalms, were wagon drivers. For example, Moish'ke Berkovitz, or Hendele, and others. The Psalms were always with them, wherever they were – in the prayer house or sitting on their wagons on their way, they always recited Psalms.

In contrast to Yoel, who was typical of the stable, committed, wagon drivers, was Hendele. He was orphaned as a child and was forced to find a way of earning a living for himself, so he traveled on a boat as far as Germany, as a young assistant who cooked food for the boat workers. He later married Pesya Chaiken, the sister of Chaim the rag collector. He purchased a horse and wagon, became a rag collector and worked in the villages, but he was an unlucky person and would lose his way. The Gentiles called him Mendl because they had never heard of the name Hendl. When his sons, Leibl and Eizl, grew up, both became peddlers.

In the summer, when work in their trade was scarce, the brothers began to drive wagons occasionally, until they gradually became true, stable, wagon drivers.

They also traveled into the forests, transporting logs, bringing lime and sand into the town. They also took passengers to distant towns and villages. They fulfilled the verse “so that your ox and donkey may rest”[8] and as a result their horses benefitted from the Sabbath as a day of rest. They did not generally turn to the Rabbis to buy a deed of sale, that would allow them to hand over their horses to the Gentiles to travel with them on the Sabbath. They would not even give the horses to the young boys, to allow them to take the horses to the Niemen River to be bathed and to drink water, but they wanted to consult the Rabbi regarding a matter of concern - are they permitted to bridle a horse on the Sabbath when the horse is taken to the well. They always observed the practice of saying their prayers, even at the expense of earning a living. At dawn, they were already running to pray in the Yurzdikker prayer house. In the evening, when all the other wagon drivers stood at the town's commercial center opposite Chaim Yonah's tavern, the brothers ran to the synagogue courtyard to join the evening prayers. On Friday evening, they left everything behind, drove home early, unhitched the horses, and put them in the stable.

The old Hendele left for the bathhouse dressed in a simple, coarse cotton, long coat with a clean shirt, in honor of the Sabbath. He greased his boots with castor oil, and with a good lubricant. He went to the artisan's Yurzdikke synagogue to welcome the Sabbath and after saying his prayers, he always took two poor people home as guests, at his Sabbath table.

The old Hendele, would say the Kiddush[9]. Following that, his two sons, each separately, would say the blessing over the two Sabbath breads. Twelve candles in polished, gleaming Sabbath candlesticks, burned on the table. A large kerosene lamp brightened the house and lifted everyone's spirits. After reciting the ‘Grace’ after the meal he would read the weekly Torah portion, sing the Haftorah[10] with its cantillation, and even recite the Aramaic translation.

Throughout his life, Hendele observed all the commandments, the customs, the Sabbaths, all the festivals, and fasted on all the fast days.

This is how a quiet wagon driver's family lived, one that did not ply their trade by fighting with Gentiles or with Jews; they did not even know how to curse or be abusive like other wagon drivers.

Stolpce wagon drivers were a toiling mass of industrious people. They were not afraid of frost, of snow, or a downpour of rain. They were always prepared to go to the ends of the earth to earn a few groshen.

[Page 257]

In their homes, they led a respectable, middle-class life. They did not wear a red gartl[11], did not smoke a pipe, did not recite their prayers with mimicry and little dances, but they liked a little brandy at every opportunity; and for example, when a Jew like Arre the Kohen[12], a wagon driver, hated the taste of the bitter drops, the group once poured the brandy into his mouth by force. But do not worry, a Stolpce wagon driver could respectably pour in a little brandy, but with common sense, never wasted money on drink.

They lived, earned an honest living, saved groshen after groshen, built their own small house, and sometimes, perhaps, rented out a room. Theirs was not an easy life, but one of faith, an acceptance of their lot in life, and all with love.

Generation after generation passed, the wagon drivers families spread and increased.

In September 1939, the small world of the wagon driver was destroyed - and the man and the horse were parted.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A barechu – presumably, an “Aliyah” - the honor of being called up to the reading of a section of the weekly Torah portion. Return
  2. A Kedushah – a section of prayers in the repetition of the ‘Amidah.’ Return
  3. Verst – a measure of distance in Tsarist Russia, equivalent to .66 of a mile or 1.06 km. Return
  4. Groshen – a small coin, a “penny”. Return
  5. Kest – room and board provided to a son-in-law to enable him to continue his religious studies. Return
  6. Tzur Yisrael – Rock of Israel Return
  7. Ne'ilah – the closing prayer on Yom Kippur. Return
  8. This verse appears in the Book of Exodus chapter 23, verse 12. Return
  9. Kiddush – prayer for wine recited at the Sabbath table before the evening meal. Return
  10. Haftorah – a section taken from the Prophets, or the Writings read in the synagogue after the reading of the weekly Torah portion. Return
  11. A gartl – a cloth belt or girdle worn by orthodox men, which was tied over one's clothes to symbolically separate the upper and lower parts of the body. Return
  12. A Kohen – a person descendant of the ancient priests in the biblical period. Return


by Shmuel Milcenzon

Translated by Melissa Rubin McCurdie and David Rubin

Before my eyes there stands the dear little town of Stolpce with its smooth cobblestone streets and wooden single-storied houses. Many years have passed since I received the last letter from there from my nearest and dearest. I know, that of all of them, there remains only a large communal grave. I still cannot get used to the thought that I am talking about dead people who were murdered in a bestial way and who have left us orphaned and with memories of the past.

In Stolpce, a beautiful proud Jewish life developed. Stolpce possessed both a Jewish and a Hebrew school. There were Jewish organizations of all kinds. Stolpce young men knew how to stand up successfully against the attacks of the rampant peasants and against Endek's[1] anti-Semitic hooligans. How did it happen that this proud and strong Jewish community went like sheep to the slaughter? Only a few people of the large, extended families remained. A few, who took with them last glimpses of our dear ones in their painful moments of life and passed it on to us.

I remember Stolpce in 1918 when our family returned from Minsk. The streets were full of empty places where houses had burned down. Half collapsed ovens with a piece of chimney were witness that houses once stood there. The market place was only cobbled on the sides and in the middle stood a few stalls that served as shops. After each rainfall, the middle of the market place became a huge mud pool in which the pigs used to wallow.

My first school, which I knew in Stolpce, was inside the women's section of the big synagogue. The teacher was then Avram Chait of blessed memory. However, the “Cheder” didn't last long. The World War ended then (WWI), but the Russian-Polish war dragged on until 1921. With the passing of the years, I still remember the “modern Cheder” in the Liss's house on Zagumener Street. From there it moved across to Bernstein's house to the corner of Potstove Street. The teachers then were: Meier Yossel Shwartz, Yosef Skolnik and Avraham Chait. When the Bolsheviks arrived in Stolpce for the last time, a Jewish school opened in the Prass's house on Minsker Street (later known as Pilsudkis Street). In the school we learned only Yiddish. I also remember the school in Freydel Chait's house, which was saturated with Yiddishness.

The picture of our Shtetl, when the first Poles retreated, flits past my eyes. They called them the first Poles to distinguish them from those who came to us the second time, at the end of the war. That was a summery (as in summer) Sabbath. Suddenly the Shtetl was flooded with hundreds of Polish soldiers who started to steal Jewish goods. They were soldiers from a passing train that stopped at the station. Ever since the day the Jews first populated the Shtetl, pogroms were inflicted on them by soldiers riding or walking through. The local Christian inhabitants followed the soldiers with sacks and baskets and robbed the Jewish people of their worldly goods. The theft continued for more than a week. The Jewish life and possessions became anarchic. The Gendarmes (Police) looked for my father in particular because of his popularity in the region. That meant he had to leave the house and hide himself in the barns of the surrounding Christians and in the bushes on the banks of the Niemen. A rumor spread in the Shtetl that the soldiers would burn the houses. The demoralized Jewish population, remembering the fires of 1915, went in their hundreds to the banks of the Niemen and spread themselves onto their hurriedly packed parcels, leaving their homes and possessions in disarray. We

[Page 258]


The Hotel of Shulkin and Milcenzon


did the same with our mother. But, soon, we had to leave that place for fear that the Police (Gendarmes) would look for us if they didn't find my father. We then hid ourselves at the Kankolovitches on the way to Kruglitse until the Bolsheviks came.

The population returned to normal living and we children to our beloved war games. I remember that the youth in the town divided themselves into two groups: one was called Potstove Street and the second - Minsker Street. Every Saturday afternoon, the groups would have a war between themselves. The battleground was behind the yellow church between the barns. One group would throw stones at the second group, forcing them to retreat. There was no shortage of older boys in this game. It is understandable that each side had its heroes and when these heroes appeared on the battleground, the game took on the form of a real war with the wounded and captives.

In those days, Bolshevik agitators would ride around. A young 18-20 year old such character came to us as well and requisitioned a room in our house and he led the agitation in the town. Our war games on the Sabbath also interested him and in the heat of the battle he would come to the battlefield and would try to take over the leadership of the conflict. When he didn't succeed, he disappeared the next day. The Bolsheviks didn't stay with us long. The Polish soldiers

Top page 258 second column second paragraph.

came back and our Shtetl remained part of Poland until the outbreak of the last World War.

With the end of the Russian-Polish war, Jewish life again began to develop. Shuls and Cheders began to open. A merchants union was founded, a bank, a Gemilut Chesed organization etc. At that time, Zionist activity also began amongst the Jewish population, mainly amongst the youth. “Hashomer” was founded, with Zionist content. The organization (Hashomer) held an exhibition of gymnastic display and pyramids[2]. The organization didn't last long and Poalei Zion and Hitachdut[3] took its place. Later they also established “Hechalutz” and “Hechalutz Hatzair”, “Freedom”, “Gordonia” , “Hashomer Hazair”and “Betar”. Before the establishment of Poalei Zion and Hitachdut, they established the youth organization “The Shining Star”. In the organization, we developed a more or less planned activity. Ahrele Chait used to make presentations about Zionism for us.

We also presented a play “Hannah and her Seven Sons” at a Chanukah evening. Then there was also the beginning of the establishment of a Zionist Library. We bought the so-called “Netzanim” brochures. I remember that on the eve HaShanah Rabah[4] I, together with Isser Rabinovitch, picked branches in Kurstanik near the railway line on the way to Swierzno. From the money they earned from selling the branches, we bought Netzanim Booklets.

At that time, the teacher Yosselevitch of blessed memory, also came from Russia to Stolpce with his family

[Page 259]

and the Tarbut School was established. With the establishment of the school there was a struggle between the supporters of the school and the supporters of the Talmud Torah, each side wanted to occupy the building for themselves. The Rav Yehoshua Lieberman, may his memory be blessed and Guttel Borsuk, may his memory be blessed, stood in the struggle against Yosselevitch. Finally, the struggle went in favor of the Tarbut School.

Some of the people of Stolpce, surely still remember the Cheder of the teacher Michael Barishansky of blessed memory, in the Beit Midrash Street. Mr. Michael sat at a long table and taught us Torah. The long thin stick never left his hand. I still don't know to this day if he would have been able to manage us without the stick. Also, he seldom used it and when he did, the gesture was stronger than the blow. The Shul was in a small Christian street, and in the breaks, there was no shortage of gentile youths who used to fight with us with stones of course. These same gentile children used to wait for us on the way to Cheder. I cannot be certain if they were always the guilty ones in this.

A Maccabi organization was also established in Stolpce that occupied itself with sport, mainly football, and the sporting oval was on the other side of the Niemen River.

The youth of Stolpce were divided among various organizations. The Bund also became strongly represented on the Jewish street. The Zionist youth developed its own local way of having the dominant leadership in the town. Each organization conducted its own activities. The only neutral base where all these organization came together was the Keren Kayemet activities and to a lesser degree, the HeChalutz. The center of the Keren Kayemet activities was in Borsuk's house. Channah and also her brother Noach Borsuk, who died tragically, made the Keren Kayemet work their life's goal. Once a month, pairs would go out among the houses to empty the Keren Kayemet boxes. The day was usually on a Sunday because then the majority of scholars and adults were free from their occupations. They also organized balls and the entrance fee was exclusively set aside for the Keren Kayemet. Erev Rosh Hashanah, organized a Keren Kayemet postal system to distribute greeting cards for the New Year. The Jewish population used the postal system eagerly and that brought in a lot of money for the fund.

The postmen for this were the friends of the Zionist youth organizations.

I spent the years of my youth in “Gordonia” movement and from there I drew my Zionist ideals. The founders of Gordonia were active friends of “Hitachdut” like Channah Borsuk, Noach Borsuk, Aron Tunik (Zhave's son) and so on. The Gordonia organization did not manage to broaden itself and remained a narrow circle. Yet, they used to conduct development activities. We had different activities in the summer months.


A group of conscripts from the year 1910

Sitting from Right: Yosef Tzaretzes, Chaim Kumok, Yosef Aginsky, Sapodshnik;
Standing from right: Isaac Baskin, Berel Gorfinkel, Shmuel Milcenzon, Muliah Kumok, Baruch Motznik


[Page 260]



Sitting from right, Row 1: Avraham Leit, Zosha Klatzok, Elchanan Raduntzky,
Sitting from right, Row 2: Leiba Rozovsky, Rochel Motznik, Issar Rabinovicz, unknown, Hirshl Kumok, Yaakov Vodones, Tzivia Bruchanski,
Standing from right: Gershon Rabinovicz, Klotsh, Lieba Klotsh, Bruchanski, Leibel Borsuk, Motznik


We used to travel to summer camps in the surrounding areas with people from Niesviz, Vilna and surrounding branches.

We also tried to establish a training farm kibbutz. A group of us went to the Nikolai brickworks and there we worked loading and unloading the ovens and other jobs. At that time there were also friends with us from Volkovisk, Vilna and Lodz. The kibbutz didn't last long.

What was interesting for us were the outings that occurred for us on the 20th of Tamuz. I am reminded of an outing to the Sinyaver Forest. In this excursion, Hashomer Hazair and the Swierzno chapter of Gordonia also took part. In the forest, each group made its own camp. The outing was immortalized by a photograph of all the participants. Late at night, the Gordonia youth returned to the town in organized formation and with song marched into the streets up to the market place. The marching in military order and with hearty singing made a strong impression on the Christian population and for a long time after this, one could hear the singing of the song “Forward the Worker.” The Stolpce youth generally enjoyed to go for a walk into the surrounding fields and forests. It was sufficient to only cross over the bridge at the watermill and you were already in the Okintzietzer Forest which stretched far for tens of kilometres. On the other side of the Niemen, about 2 km from town was the small Sinyaver Forest, a remnant of the former big Sinyaver Forest that stretched on both sides from the train line and far behind the lime pits. Behind the Konkolovitches (presumably the name of the people in a house), the massive ruggedness of the Krugnitzer Forest began.

In these summer months, the main strolling place of the population was the bridge over the Niemen and the hayfields. There, whole families used to go out on Shabbat evenings and nourish themselves on the aromatic air of the newly cut hay. These strolls were loved especially by us children where we let ourselves enjoy various tricks and games between the cut bales of hay. It is understandable that these games were often disturbed or interrupted by the owners of the hay who would chase us away from there.

The Niemen was known to each Stolpce resident from his earliest childhood years and we would run to its banks every free moment. Especially beloved were its banks in the summer time on Fridays. Big and small

[Page 261]

used to dip themselves in its waters and gave themselves over to a fun playful atmosphere around. There was no shortage of tricks which they used to play on one another. The most loved trick was to make a knot by tying the sleeve of someone else's shirt and wetting the knot in the water. The children would burst out laughing when the victim would come out of the water shivering from cold asking them to untie the knot.

In the summer evenings, the Niemen was full of little boats with couples and groups.

On winter Sabbaths and Sundays, the frozen Niemen river was full of sled riders and onlookers. It was pleasant to spread out the corners of one's coat and allow oneself to be carried by the wind over the ice for kilometres at speed.

At Purim time, the Niemen would free itself of its ice covering. Its waters would spread wide over the banks and endanger the neighboring little streets that became flooded with water. Many times, the water rose so high that they needed to use little boats to reach the flooded houses. On such days, you would find sappers and firemen who with long boat hooks would break up the large floating ice chunks, so as not to endanger the bridge. This, in spite of the fact that there were concrete[5] pillars that supported the bridge. The flow of ice over the Niemen was a spectacle that drew the populace. Often, the boat hooks were not enough to avoid the convergence of the ice, and then they had to break it up with explosive material. It once happened that one of the sappers fell off the bridge between the pieces of ice and drowned. They didn't find his body. One summer's day, a bather stepped on a hand that was sticking out of the sand under the water. In this way, the body of the drowned soldier was found.

The fire brigade occupied a large area in the Shtetl. Most of the firefighters and commanders were Jews headed by Shmuel Tunik, of blessed memory. They used to get together on a Sunday to practice and they used to march through the streets with their band leading them. It is understandable that such a march would always take place cheered on by hundreds of children standing around.

The central events and gatherings of the Stolpce Jewish community used to take place in the big Shul. There we used to gather together to hear a preacher, or speaker from Keren Kayemet or Keren Hayasod. Protest meetings against the Mandate-related politics in the land of Israel used to take place there. There too, gatherings of the merchant union, of the Jewish Bank, the Gemilut Chessed and others would take place.

Jewish Stolpce was a vibrant concentrated community. There was no shortage of arguments about Rabbi's chairs and party debates, etc. From early on, a proud Jewish youth existed in the Shtetl, who stood up and acquitted themselves well against every anti-Semitic aggression.

From all these people, there remained only a handful of memories with a painful awareness of that big communal grave that has remained abandoned among the ruins.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Endek was an anti-Semitic government official. Return
  2. Presumably human pyramids. Return
  3. Hitachdut means unity. Return
  4. HoShanna Rabah is the Jewish festival on the 7th day of Succoth when The priests carried the palm branches or willows in their hands round the Shul. The entire ceremony is to demonstrate rejoicing and gratitude for a blessed and fruitful year. Return
  5. Sonia Rubin (Milcenzon) says they were triangular shaped. Return

My memories of Shteibtz

by Leibel Mirsky

Translated by Melissa Rubin McCurdie and David Rubin

I remember that in the year 1919 my mother took me by the hand to Wolf Tunik's house where a “cheder” had been organised.

The teacher was Meyer Yossef Schwartz. He covered the windows that faced the Niemen River so that the pupils would not be distracted by the ducks that swam on the Niemen River.

In this way we learned for a half “time”. Afterwards my mother took me to the local little Beit Midrash in Potshet Street where we learned in the communal cheders of the teachers, Avrom Chait and Michael Barishansky. I remember their shining faces how they wanted us to reach higher and higher goals in learning. Avrom Chait, may his memory be blessed, used to hit me with his “lokshen” for my translation of “Vayitrotzetezu habanim bakirba” - “The children were struggling in the womb”. At that time in the women's shul of this same Beit Midrash there lived an old Jewish man without a family who had served in the army of Czar Nikolai for 25 years. He used to tell us stories how they grabbed him when he was very small. We would listen to his tales intently. After the might of the Polish Army was strengthened, we were forbidden to learn in the Beit Midrash and as soon as we saw a policeman we used to run away from the Beit Midrash. Later we moved to Avrom Chait's house to learn. Avrom Chait's wife was very knowledgeable in Hebrew and I remember how she used to help me learn and prepare the lectures. Her name was Tzvia. They lived with Yitzchak Izgur. In the year 1922 we were already learning

[Page 262]

in the “Tarbut” school under the direction of Yitzchak Yosselevitch who began a colossal Zionist activity together with the “Tsiungs Arbeit”. At the same time they began to organise a Zionist Youth under the direction of Bebe Charchurin (son of Yerachum) and Yossef Karp. The first song still rings in my ears:

“We have a land and her name is Palestine
There they eat honey and cheese”
Later the printer, Naftali Klebansky, organised the youth movement Hashomer Hatsair. The highest class of the Tarbut school went into Hashomer Hatsair. We were drawn in with the burning ideals of youth in the work for the land of Israel. The pillar of the organisation was Yitzchak Yosselevitch. Under his direction we started to organise the Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod. There will always stand before me the image of our teacher Yitzchak Yosselevitch who imbued us with a Zionist patriotism. The members of Hashomer Hatsair used to do all kinds of work in order to earn a groshen for the Keren Kayemet, chopping wood etc. And I used to even catch mice for Shaul Mekler in the dairy and I used to receive 50 groshen per mouse. This was all done aside from the monthly work of emptying the Keren Kayemet boxes.

There was no shortage of disputes in the shtetl. On the one hand they began to organise the Revisionists in “Betar” and also the Bundists who tried a few times to open a “Yiddish” school. The Zionist Youth Movements; Hashomer Hatsair, Gordonia, Betar and Freedom used to organise outings to the Siniaver Forests to which the whole Jewish population used to come. It is necessary to mention our friend Yitzchak Charchurin who died in Russia and did not live to see the blossoming of the Land of Israel for which he gave up so much. Honour his memory!

On the 17th September 1939 our bubbling /active (turbulent) lives were stopped…….

For 4 years I was in the Russian Army and posted in Moscow, liberated Prague and took Berlin.


My Last Visit to Shtiebtz

The appearance of our shtetl in 1956/1957 was shocking, truly unrecognisable. Our mass grave on Zeimener Road was a free for all, every shepherd who wanted to dig up the dead and look for gold teeth. When I went down to the Head Council of Shteibtz in 1957 and informed them, I received no answer. I gathered the bones and heads of my best shtetle friends and brought them back to the Jewish burial place, took leave of them and left my shtetele Shteibtz on 14 March 1958.


Avraham Mirsky, his sister Yocheved (Yocha) with her children


A. He Kept His Word

by Yitzchak Russak

Translated by Melissa Rubin McCurdie and David Rubin

Many years have passed and when I think of my childhood, it is hard to believe how naughty my friends and I were. The tricks that we used to play on one another, and also on the adults, are simply unbelievable. In wintertime no one with a horse and cart could pass by the schoolyard. We used to startle the horses and made them bolt, broke window panes with snowballs and threw pinecones into beards and into the girls' hair etc.

Every child who was intimidated by other children would come to Alter, the teacher, to complain. At first he used to speak to us gently and tried to appeal to us; if this did not help then he would address us sternly; and if this did not help either, he threatened to throw us out of the “Tarbut” school. Even then we did not take his word seriously and as usual continued with our devilish pranks.

Mostly we plagued the teacher Leah Tilman who was a refined, delicate, quiet lady who suffered a lot from our class and cried quite often.


The “Tarbut” School


On a particular day, in the middle of an arithmetic lesson, she called me out to the board to read a problem. One of the friends made a comment that they could not hear my explanation, because I was speaking too softly. Then all the students burst into resounding laughter. The teacher Tilman was unable to control the class and ran out in distress. A few minutes later she entered the class with Alter the teacher and he chased everyone out, adding that he would not allow those who caused the disturbance, back into the class and he kept his word.

[Page 263]

B. My Last Lag Ba'omer in Steibtz

by Yitzchak Russak

Translated by Libby Raichman

Every Lag Ba'omer, all the Zionist organizations, the Tarbut School and the cheder boys, would go into the forest to enjoy the day freely, engaged in sport and dance in a truly pioneering atmosphere.

The older members of the participating organizations would arrive early at a designated place. They would prepare the camp sites for the youth and leaders who arrived later. Many visitors from the town were glad to attend and see everything.

As in every other year, so too in 1932, the last Lag Ba'omer that I enjoyed in Steibtz, was when we went out in the middle of the night to set up our camp.

The day was unusually beautiful and warm, the air had the moist scent of the flowers, trees and grass.

Everything was in order. When the youth of all the organizations and their leaders arrived, the opening speeches began and then the parade. In the afternoon, they began to play sport, for which they had been waiting impatiently.

In the middle of their activities, a black cloud suddenly appeared, and it did not take long before the rain came down accompanied by thunder and lightning. Simply, a flood. Everyone ran to find a shelter.

The Betar movement, to which I belonged, had that year erected a large tent, that could accommodate hundreds of people, and in a few minutes, it was overflowing. We stood packed like in a box of sardines.

It rained for a long time and the whole celebration was spoilt. As soon as the rain stopped everyone hurried home as the town was some distance away.

As we were preparing to go home, we noticed that our Betar flag, that we had taken down from the flag pole

[Page 264]


Betar on Lag Ba'omer in the forest


before the rain, was missing from the position where it had been placed, and no one knew who had removed it.

Suddenly I remembered that when it was raining so hard, a member of “Hashomer-Hatza'ir” (not from Steibtz), was standing close to the spot where the flag had been placed. Without telling anyone, I immediately ran to the “Hashomer-Hatza'ir” camp to look for him. When I met the member and I looked at him carefully, I noticed that he was unnaturally fat. Without thinking too long, I lifted his shirt and found the flag wrapped around his body. As I was pulling it out, a large crowd gathered.

His friends and also others, reprimanded him severely for using our hospitality, and in such unnatural circumstances, commit such a crime – certainly no heroic act.

You can imagine everyone's joy, and the impression that the incident made on us all, and especially on me.


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Stowbtsy, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 30 Jan 2024 by JH