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[Page 93]

Figures

by E. Schlechter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Christophe Philipon

I am now closing my eyes in order to bring to my memory the dear personalities who lived and functioned in our city of Ustilag. They appear before my eyes one after another like a movie in a theater. Each of them had their own appearance reminiscent of their activities and deeds, and the chapters of their lives and the life of the community as a whole.

First and foremost, my parents of blessed memory appear before my eyes. My father Reb Avraham was a dear man, knowledgeable in Torah, a shochet [ritual slaughterer], a mohel [ritual circumcisor], and the prayer leader in the shtibel. At times of need, he would go to one of the villages on the High Holidays to serve as a prayer leader without expectation of payment. He would beloved and acceptable to people because of his calm, deliberate demeanor. He related with patience to us, his children, who did not follow his path, even though the Hassidim sneered at him over this, and he certainly suffered from this… His home was open to every passer-by, for a warm meal and a place to sleep. Of course, this must be attributed to the merit of my mother, of blessed memory.

Reb Avraham the Shochet (Schlechter) and his wife Pesia

 

Friends and acquaintances would gather in our house on Saturday nights and weekday evenings to discuss words of Torah and world news over a cup of tea. Father would read to them from the Jewish newspapers current events of the country and the world in general. At times, he would sit with his family members in the evening and discuss bygone days, wonderful works of Tzadikim, the decrees of Czar Nikolay I, the snatching of children to the army, the Beilis blood libel trial, and other such topics. We would sit around him next to the warm oven on long winter evenings and listen attentively to his stories…

When the sons grew up, and he saw no future in Poland on the horizon, he did not oppose

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their emigration. Hershel, Shlomo, and Nachum immigrated to America. Lebish went to Mexico, and the writer of these lines made aliya to the Land of Israel. The only one to remain at home was my oldest brother Berl, a watchmaker by profession and a communal activist. During the years 1936-1939, years of crisis and bloody revolts in the Land, he would write me words of encouragement and ask me to maintain my stand and not despair. In September 1939, when the town was captured by the Red Army, the government allowed him to work in the “shechita trade” under their regulations, but he earned his livelihood with difficulty. Within two years, the town was conquered by the Germans, may their names be blotted out, and we lost connection forever.

My mother Pesia of blessed memory, was also pious and good-hearted. She was always prepared to offer assistance at a time of difficulty. When she found out about a poor neighbor who did not have provisions for the Sabbath or who was sick and had no money for a physician or medicine, she would immediately turn to her neighbor the rebbetzin, the wife of the rabbinical judge Reb Bentzi. They would go together from door to door to collect the needed sum. She would distribute a portion of the meat that Father brought home from the slaughterhouse to the poor on Sabbath eves. She especially took care of her neighbor the wife of Yeshayahu the shoemaker, who was always sick and bedridden, and whose children were hungry and neglected. On the Sabbath, she would hasten to be first in the women's section, and at home she would study the Yiddish holy books of Tzena Urena and Kav Hayashar[1].

I recall the many preparations for the weddings of her sons and daughters, Hershel, Nachum Esther, Chana, and Roiza. How much energy did she impart into these preparations! One month before the wedding, the seamstress sat in our house to prepare the bride's clothes. Then the “sarverke” Ethel came to prepare the biscuits and foods for the wedding, etc.

My mother died of a protracted illness in 1939, approximately a month before the outbreak of the terrible storm. She left father to his grief and his bitter fate that was to overtake him a within a few years…

 

Young Activists

Yehuda Fliszer

He was the son of an honorable family, a relative of the famous Yochanson family. He was tall, full of energy, always serious, and modest in is actions. He loved simplicity and distanced himself from pride and bragging. He was pleasant with his fellowman. He was a central figure in our town in all organizational and political activities during the period following the First World War. During that time, a new spirit passed through our town, the spirit of haskalah and national renaissance, which penetrated deeply into the hearts of the Jewish youth. The desire for the historical homeland grew from day to day. Yehuda was among the choicest activists in the Socialist-Zionist movement. I recall the splendid parade that he organized along with his friends on the day

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of the Balfour Declaration. They decorated the city with flags. Lads rode on horses with the flag of the nation in their hands. A youth choir followed them, singing, “Wake up, my People, take your flag in the hand and march toward your Fatherland…” The enthusiasm was great. The parade left a strong impression at that time also on our gentile neighbors. Hearts were opened. Many donations of money and valuables flowed in for the redemption of the Land.

Yehuda worked to spread the Zionist idea among the various strata of the city. He was among the founders of the Young Zion chapter. He was very active for the national funds and the Workers' Fund. He was one of the founders of the dramatic club that became famous in all the nearby cities. He was one of the founders of the Hebrew and Yiddish libraries.

In 1923, a chapter of Hechalutz and Young Hechalutz was founded, and he taught the youth Hebrew during the evening hours. On Sabbaths, he would arrange excursions to Biliankin Boulevard or the nearby forest. Discussions were conducted on the role of the pioneer [chalutz] in the upbuilding of the homeland, the value of the Histadrut[2], its institutions and activities. As a result of these activities, the youth began to stream to the hachshara depot in Klosowa and Grochow. A number of members succeeded in making aliya to the Land. Despite the crisis that afflicted the Land after the mass aliya from Poland during the Grabowski era, Yehuda made aliya in 1925. He worked at all types of difficult labors, and maintained his stand. He eventually worked in the Rotenberg Electric Company of Naharayim.

Bloody disturbances broke out in the Land in the year 5689 (1929). Yehuda was among the activists of the Haganah. He stood guard and protected the property and honor of the settlement. After the Land quieted down, he returned to his native city for a brief period. His presence in the town infused the Zionist movement with a living spirit. He participated in all the meetings and monetary campaigns for the Land of Israel. It was a special treat to see him strolling through the streets of the town wearing a white suit, with his camera in his hand. He returned to the Land after approximately a half a year. A few years later, he brought his fiancée D. L. on aliya. He settled in Haifa and was accepted as an official in the Shell Company. He hoped to attain a situation of peace. However, the Second World Wars suddenly broke out. Our land was also caught up in the bloody maelstrom. Italian airplanes bombarded the Shell oil refineries in May 1940, and a bomb hit his workplace. Yehuda was mortally wounded.

He was taken from us at a young age, leaving behind a wife and a child. All the natives of Ustilag in the Land and the Diaspora wept over his untimely death. May his memory be a blessing.

 

Yankel Yochanson

He was the son of Yedidya, the brother of the wealthy Reb Wolf Yochanson. Yaakov was among the activists of Tzeirei Zion and the founders of Hechalutz and Hechalutz Hatzair. He was one of the founders of the library. He was a fine orator, speaking with good taste and enthusiasm. His appearances at meetings left a strong impression on his entire audience. He decided to go

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on hachshara to Grochow, and from there to make aliya, however he was suddenly called up to the Polish Army. After he finished his army service, he took on the responsibility for sustaining the family. He worked in the lumber business. He was handsome. Everyone loved him and appreciated him. He perished along with his family. He left behind a brother Menashe and relatives in the Land.

 

Fishel Eisenberg

He was the son of Reb Lipche the teacher. His house was at the edge of the town next to the bridge over the Lug River (the Stav) that led to the village of Zloza and the forest. This place was well known to the local youth from the many hikes during the summer. In the spring, at the time of the melting of the snow, when the entire area was covered with water, they would sail on barges to distant places. His house served as a rest stop for the youth as they returned to town from their long journeys. During his younger days, Fishel was a teacher in one of the small villages of Volhynia. He was always sure of his own abilities, and was immersed in reading books. He played an active role in communal institutions. He had a serious, content oriented way of thinking, so everyone took his opinion into account. I remember the first Hebrew orator who spoke in the Large Beis Midrash on the 20th of Tammuz in memory of Dr. Herzl of blessed memory. He was among the best orators in town. He would speak primarily about literary topics. He would speak words of anger toward the Communist opponents of Zionism, but his words were convincing, and he always had the upper hand during debates with them. He married Bluma Elbaum. He worked in commerce. During my conversations with him, he always pointed out that heavy clouds were covering the skies of Poland, and he foresaw serious dangers awaiting Polish Jewry. His prophesy was fulfilled before he managed to find a refuge, and he was swept up in the bloodbath along with his family on the day of the Holocaust.

 

Yaakov Sheinerman

He was the son of Yechezkel Sheinerman. He lived not far from our house. We were friends from the time that we studied in school together. He was a thin, short youth with red hair, blue eyes, and freckles on his face. He was intelligent, with a precious character. He was diligent in his studies in an exemplary fashion. He was orderly and meticulous. Not even a tiny smudge could be found on his books and notebooks. At home, he was constantly involved in preparing for his classes. He did not permit himself go outside for a stroll to enjoy the fresh air during summer evenings. His favorite subject was natural science. He derived special enjoyment from walking between the trees and bushes with a tin can in his hand to collect bees, insects and butterflies, and to collect wildflowers for drying.

When he finished his course of studies in primary school, he wished to study in the final grade for an additional year. He was fluent in the Polish Language. His handwriting was calligraphic, his style was witty, and he made a name for himself in the town. People began to ask his advice on various matters connected with government relations. He wrote requests for leniency and reductions of taxes. The Jewish middle class and tradesmen suffered a great crisis at that time.

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Grabowski, the Polish minister of the treasury, imposed unbearably heavy taxes on the Jewish population over and above the civic taxes. Yaakov acted to the best of his ability to help them. He worked for some time at the merchants' organization. He refused to accept payment for helping the poor residents. After a brief period, he was hired as an official in the Ustilag town council. He fulfilled his role with faithfulness and dedication. He helped anyone in need of assistance. The Polish officials looked at him with an evil eye and attempted to trip him up from time to time. I found out in the Land that they fired him from his work despite the fact that he was the only Jewish official in the town council of a town that had a decisive Jewish majority. At that time, the Poles were acting in accordance of the spirit of the times. He began to work in business, and was considered to be one of the wealthy youths of the city. His intention was to liquidate his business and to make aliya to the Land as a wealthy man. Suddenly the Second World War broke out. He perished along with his family at the hands of the Germans, may their names be blotted out.

I was a frequent visitor in his home. I knew his parents, brothers and sisters. Of them all, only his brother Eliezer succeeded in escaping. He lives in the United States today.

Yaakov was a faithful friend of mine. He helped me a great deal before I made aliya. He was active in communal institutions. He was a faithful Zionist and he worked on behalf of the funds. His pure blood screams out from the soil of the town on behalf of which he worked so hard to develop.

 

Shaul Stolar

When Reb Leibchi the Shochet (from the Shinman family) died, the community accepted one of his relatives, Reb Nachum Stolar of Turczyn, to replace him. From among the children of Reb Nachum the Shochet, his eldest son Shaul stood out. He studied Hebrew from the teacher Shalom Spiegel and began to draw near to the pioneering youth. At first, he was a bit shy, but he slowly gained self-confidence and began to play an active role in communal life in our town.

He was a member of the pioneering movement, and a librarian in the Yiddish library. He participated in all political and literary debates. He was always in a good mood, and he was accepted by the group. He worked in commerce and dreamed of making aliya as a wealthy man. In the meantime he married the member Geula Elbaum and established a family. His two brothers succeeded in making aliya, but he perished along with his family.

His beloved countenance will never be forgotten from my memory!

 

The Berliant Family

The head of the family Reb Moshe was a maskil and a faithful Jew. He was fluent in the languages that were spoken in Western Volhynia – Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian. He was appointed as the Starosta of Ustilag (a form of mayor) by the Czarist authorities. In this role, he was known as a fighter for justice and protector of the persecuted.

When the First World War broke out and the front approached our town, it was necessary

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to provide the Russian authorities with manpower to work on fortifications, fixing roads, and guarding the telephone lines. Since all of this implied certain sacrifices by the population, he gained many enemies. However, with the passage of time, everyone learned to value his honesty and true concern for the wellbeing of the town.

It was told that the liquor distillery of the landowner Biliankin that was abandoned with the escape of its owners was a thorn in the side of the Jews, who were afraid that Russian soldiers would get drunk, do as they pleased, pillage, and perpetrate disturbances. Moshe Berliant and other activists rose up and hired several brave gentiles who poured out the liquor stock into the fields.

Even after the war, the work in the liquor distillery was not restarted. Its skeleton, along with its tall chimney that could be seen from afar, remained standing until I made aliya to the Land.

During the time of the Austrian occupation, Moshe Berliant served as vice mayor to the mayor Shmuel Izraeli. A Polish mayor was chosen after the town passed to Polish rule, even though the Jews formed the decisive majority. Reb Moshe was then appointed as the secretary of the town council, and served as the official spokesman of the community. During the brief period of Bolshevik occupation, Moshe Berliant served once again as the representative of the town to the authorities and the director of civic affairs after the Polish mayor fled for his life.

When the Poles returned, Moshe Berliant returned to his senior position in the town council. However, when the anti-Semitic winds began to blow through government circles and penetrated the town council as well, Reb Moshe was fired. He then founded the merchants' bank, in which he and his son Shmuel worked as accountants.

I recall one incident from 1925. I found out that a speech would be taking place in the yard of the Polish church. I and several other youths entered, and were shaken up to see the large gathering of Poles from all strata applauding every statement of the speaker that was directed against the Jews. A picture of a snake with a Jewish head was hanging from the church door… We immediately went to tell Reb Moshe Berliant, who wrote a complaint to the district captain. My friends and I signed as witnesses. We also informed the Jewish Sejm[3] representatives about this incident.

Reb Moshe Berliant had a large family: five sons and three daughters. They were all active in communal life, and the Berliant house was a center for all social happenings in the town.

The head of the family passed away after a long illness. The youngest daughter also became ill and died. Four sons Chaim, Yosef, Nachman, and Aharon and their eldest sister Sheindel immigrated to America before the Holocaust. The mother, the second daughter Batya and her family, and Shmuel and his family perished during the days of fury.

The children continued with their communal work in America. Nachman was the secretary and living spirit of the help organization of Ustilag natives. To our sorrow, the sad news had just reached us that Yosel and Nachman Berliant passed away this year. May their memories be a blessing.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tseno_Ureno and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kav_ha-Yashar. Return
  2. Zionist workers' organization. Return
  3. The Polish parliament. Return


[Page 99]

In Memory of Moshe Shpirer

by Yakov Biterman

Translated by Ala Gamulka

It was during the winter in the 1930s. The municipality clerks and collectors spread in town like thieves. They confiscated everything in their way in order to increase the income of city hall. There was an atmosphere of confusion in town. No one was used to such an undisciplined method of tax collecting. Everyone was angry and was cursing. There was great resentment, but there was no practical way of reacting. One day, I was visiting my teacher, Moshe Shpirer. His face was serious and resentful and in a quiet voice he asked me if we, too, had been visited by the tax collectors. “Yes,” I replied. “They took our wall clock”. I added, with resentment, “They poured the water from our neighbors' metal barrel and took it away. The people cried with pain and embarrassment”. He replied:” I want to do something about it. I wish to stop this thievery. It is good that you came here now”. I wondered, “How can I, a young boy, help him in this task?” He immediately explained: he would send an anonymous letter to the mayor to warn him about his illegal deeds and to threaten him about a complaint to higher authorities if it did not stop”. Since his handwriting was recognizable, he asked me to copy the letter in my script. I was very happy to fulfill his request and I immediately began to write. It was a long letter. It began by appealing to conscience and ended with a warning. It was signed: “citizens of Ustiluh who want justice”. He put the letter in an envelope and handed it to me, with shaking hands, so I would place it in the mailbox. The next day, the collectors went out on their usual route, but they were suddenly recalled and the activity ceased.

The letter fulfilled its purpose…

He was a modest man in all he did. I knew him for 13 years, first as a student and later as a good friend. He captured my heart in his devotion to any task. He was one of the founders of the Hebrew school and he taught many students. They learned Hebrew and appreciated and loved him.

WWII broke out. The Soviets came to town and his house stood exactly on the border, next to the barbed wire. All Zionist activities were not permitted and any visit to his house, especially at night, was actually dangerous. I then felt empty and longed for the past. I knew all our hopes for realization were gone. Very difficult and somber days followed. The majority of the youth were drafted into the Red Army, I among them.

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It was one early evening when I went to say good–bye to him. I arrived at his house and knocked on the door. His wife peeked from behind the window curtain. When she saw me, she immediately drew me inside the house. I found him near a pile of books and notebooks, throwing most of them into the lit fireplace. I saw how difficult it was for him to do it. He looked at them as if he wanted to enjoy them one more time. I sat down next to him and I looked at every book he intended to burn. I found an album from the Zionist congress, beautifully bound (I believe it was the 14th congress to which he was a delegate). The pictures were beautiful. I was unable to throw it into the fire. I looked at all the pages and I found in it a message from Zionist prisoners in Russia. They were seeking help from the world, to free them. I wanted to take it with me, but Moshe did not allow it. “I am afraid that if you forget to destroy it and they will find it, we will all be in danger”– he told me with tearful eyes. I read it a few more times and then I threw it into the fire. I said good–bye to him and his family. As I stood on the threshold, I saw the burning books. I felt I was saying good–bye not only to my teacher, my friend, but also to the past that was now going up in smoke.


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Leibale Helfman

by Yehudit Sapir–Chen (Helfman)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Leibale's life was not paved with roses. He was born in 1907 to a poor family. His father was sickly and he was exhausted by his work. His mother helped the father to earn a living by managing the wheat store. The boy was educated like all other Jewish children – in a Heder where he learned Torah and Talmud. He had special talents and he stood out among his classmates, so he was sent to the government elementary school in Ludomir. He graduated with distinction.

WWI broke out and Leibale wrote about the war and his conclusions: attacks by Cossacks on the Jews in villages, etc. He then determined that he wished to make Aliyah.

When he graduated from elementary school, he began to work as a bookkeeper in one of the guilds of the wheat merchants. He was self–taught in bookkeeping, as he was in other subjects: languages, geography, history– what he had not learned in elementary school.

He worked in the daytime and studied at night. He brought his earnings home. He became well–known for his honesty in his town and outside it.

He had a friend by the name of Yerucham Tzigel. He was an only child to his father who was well educated. The son, like the father, was studious and capable and was a good friend to Leibale. They had both passed the external matriculation exams, for which they had prepared by studying in the attic. Leibale said to Yerucham:” I don't have the opportunity to study at the university as I have to help my family, but you, an only child, should continue in your studies. Let me worry about the money you will need” … Leibale, together with a few friends, began to collect funds for his friend's education. He deposited the money with a neighbor and he obliged her to keep the secret. However, like other good Jewish women, she could not control herself and told Leibale's mother the secret. The news was spread through town, to Leibale's disappointment. He was modest and did not want publicity.

A second story had to do with the wife of a farmer who was buying wheat and forgot her purse in the store. When Leibale noticed, he immediately followed her cart and retuned the purse to the woman. The woman came the next day to the store and praised the young man.

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If he had not returned the purse to her, her husband would have beaten her to death. This story made the rounds in town. It was a wonder…

In addition to studying and self–educating, he was also active in the Zionist movement. He organized classes for studying the Hebrew language and the geography of Eretz Israel, in his home.

He was taken from us at a young age. He fell ill with dysentery and passed away in 1928.

During the funeral, Mendel Lipsky, a high school teacher in Ludomir, said the following to principal Starer:” I doubt that there is another genius like him in all of Ludomir”. The principal replied: “Perhaps in all of Volyn it is difficult to find someone like him”. The following saying referred to Leibale: “What God loves he takes to him”.


[Page 103]

Two Figures– Two Destinies

by A. Ben–Dov

Translated by Ala Gamulka

a. David “the investigator”

Among those who prayed in the Shtiebel, the one who especially drew my attention was David Tzigel, nicknamed “the investigator”. What really interested me was his brow. In particular, the top part of his brow was pale and shone with its whiteness, in comparison to the rest of his face which was dark and tanned. He had a black beard. It was as if this part of his brow announced:” this is where my brain resides and I do not want to darken it”.

His life style was modest and I believe it was like that of a young boy. It was as if there was additional testimony that this person had more wisdom.

The store of David the investigator was in the row of wooden, narrow and low shops. He would use a hand grinder for the preparation of groats. The back door led to his living space– as wide as the store, but longer. There, stood a “train” of two beds, a couch, a large bookcase, a smaller wardrobe, an iron chest for clothes and linens, a small table and a few chairs. It was impossible to go across the room without touching the wall. It was true that David's eternal, brown robe was usually dirty with plaster…

Every time my mother sent me to get fresh groats from David the investigator, I would return thinking of his way of life with his little wife. She had a strange–looking eye. His little son, the quiet and bright Yerucham was also there. I decided that this man deserved my trust. Why should there be a question of trust? It is because David the investigator showed an interest in me. He used to ask me questions about my studies and test my knowledge.

I discovered that there was a secret friendship between him and my father. They would study Or Haim (the light of life) together. After studying they would speak to each other in an intimate way. This connection between a Hasid and an investigator surprised me.

Once there was a discussion in the Shtiebel about honors that Israeli (the son of Shifra) felt he was not given. David said, nicely: “You are a fool!”. Israeli replied with anger:” you are a heretic!”

I pictured a heretic to look differently than David and I asked my father: “Father, is he really a heretic?” “No, my son” father laughed, “I believe he is a good Jew even if he is not a Hasid”

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Indeed, I knew many Jews who were not Hasidim, such as my grandfather and other men, but I understood my father did not refer to them.

“If so” I said “he must be a Misnaged!” (an opposer of Hasidism). Father smiled and replied: “Perhaps”. Perhaps? – is it to be doubted. if so, what is he? In any case, he is a good Jew and a scholar who is neither a Hasid nor a Misnaged. He is a special person who is a thinker.

One early evening, when I was already 13 years old, I was in the Shtiebel with David the investigator. As usual, he asked me questions about what I was learning with my father. Finally, he asked a new question: do I read Hebrew literature?

In those days I was already reading secular literature, but not in Hebrew. These were books, mainly novels, that my sister would obtain in the public library. My father, Z”L, would sometimes scan the contents of such a book, for censoring purposes, and he would belittle it completely: “It is all nonsense, a waste of time, that's all!”

We also had other books, such as one dealing with Genesis according to the Darwin Theory. If father would have read it, he would have had a different reaction. However, I did not consider ideas in books written in Yiddish to be important. I certainly was not influenced by these ideas expressed by a gentile.

I did not reveal to David the investigator the fact that I read in Yiddish. I answered his question simply: “No, I do not have any books”.

“Oh, you could actually obtain books in the “Young Generation”, but your father would not be pleased about it. Why don't you come to me? For now, my library will be enough”.

This is how I began to read Hebrew literature.

In spite of the friendly relationship with David, my father was not so trusting. At the beginning, he checked the content of every book. What could be suspicious of an innocent topic such as “The History of Russia” by Mandelkorn? The first books that followed were of the same type. Then came “History of the People of Israel” by Gratz, translated by S.P.R. Aha! Here there were thoughts about the Talmud, the Zohar, messianism, Hassidism, etc. These ideas could shake the beliefs of such an innocent youngster as I was. Then came more books, collections and compilations, filled with “heavy material”: biblical criticisms and discussions of “Traitors of the Light”. These were ideas that were ancient, but they were new to me. They shook me deeply.

This was such a large amount of explosive material that it could destroy my inner world. David the investigator dealt with me in a manner that seemed appropriate to my well–being. After many “negative” books, he found me some “positive” ones.

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These were the writings of Dr. Kaminka, Zev Yaabetz, and others. From these books I learned that the previous group of books were not the final decision makers when it came to belief and thoughts.

David the investigator's method was, therefore:” Don't just follow. Study and read everything and use your brains to decide what is right”.

 

b. Simcha Shovalev

Among those who came to the Shtiebel, I noticed one outstanding person– Simcha Shovalev. He, too, was a scholar, but so different from David the investigator.

The main difference between them was the expression in their eyes. David the investigator's dark eyes looked at the world as a philosopher and a skeptic, Simcha Shovalev''S blue eyes were filled with clarification: “Slow down, you don't have to take everything so seriously…”

They were also very different in their external appearance. David the investigator was dressed like a Hassid, but Simcha wore a shorter garment than usual. He had a “semi modern” hat. In contrast to David the investigator, his clothes were always neat and ironed. It was only when it came to the beard that he outdid David. His beard remains in my memory for the following reason:

A short time before WWI broke out, my father sent me to secular lessons with Simcha Shovalev. At the time, he was also teaching the sons of Haim Bortnoyer, who were wild and dense. Once, during a lesson, the teacher dozed with his head on his arm and the tip of the beard lying on the table. What did these ruffians do? They brought scissors and were ready to cut the beard. I took my life in my hands (I was scared of them), I used a ruler and I hit the hand of the cutter. The teacher woke up and the beard was saved. (I, too, came out intact).

The differences related above are understandable as they are either external or by impression. However, the real differences that was characteristic to these two men was that David the investigator would always talk about his ideas, but Simcha was modest and shy. He always preferred to listen rather than speak. If you did not know that he taught Torah and language to grown youths, you would never know that he was a scholar. It was only one time that he broke his silence: when there was opposition in the Shtiebel to Jewish National Fund as the Zionists were considered as heretics. Simcha shouted: “I like these heretics better than any of your beautiful Jews!”

It was also interesting to see the reaction of the two to the legends that some people in the Shtiebel would tell. David the investigator would listen quietly as if he was interested. When he was asked for an opinion he would say, with sorrow, “I have nothing to do with legends!'

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On the other hand, Simcha would giggle and reply tersely:” Nonsense!”.

All his years in the Diaspora, Simcha lived in sadness and poverty. His wife, Tzartel, was knowledgeable, genteel. She was pious, but never melancholy. Their economic situation was probably the reason. Perhaps, there was another reason. She died, in middle age, from cholera. Simcha was left with two sons, Aaron and Yehoshua. The latter died during the war. The older children had left home a long time earlier.

The father and son bought a rickety shack on the shore of the Bug. They renovated it and lived there, somehow. Aaron worked in carpentry and other jobs. He was injured in his leg and suffered greatly. There was only one hope for the two: to make Aliyah.

They merited to do so. Aaron came in 1924 and soon brought his fiancée Leah. Four years later his father joined him. They parted ways: the son went north while the father lived in Tel Avid until his death.

 

c. The fate of the family of David the investigator

One of the Holocaust survivors wrote me:

“In reply to your postcard about the fate of the family of David Tzigel and his son Yerucham– I know they died together with the rest of our townspeople during the Holocaust.

Yerucham Tzigel, before WWII, was an elementary school teacher. In 1939, when the Russians came, he became a principal. He was well respected in this position until the murderers came. They could not differentiate between good and evil and his fate was the same as the rest of the members of our community. Yerucham was married in 1933 and his wife, too, was a teacher. David the investigator was happy with them and they supported him. He lived comfortably”

 

d. Simcha Shovalev in Eretz Israel

When I made Aliyah in 1936, he was the first of our townspeople to visit me. His face showed the happiness he felt at seeing me here. I later visited his “apartment” in Tel Aviv. It was a container in the Yemenite quarters. It was very clean and neat.

I met him, a few times. in the Great Synagogue on Allenby Street. I saw indeed that he found his place there. He was dressed in clean black clothing. His beard was now gray and his face shining with happiness. He reminded me of the “Jews of Shabbat and Holidays” of I.L. Peretz. Here he was able to do good deeds. I know that he once collected funds and sent them to an orphaned family in Ustiluh. He was the only one of his generation of Ustiluh to be fortunate to see the establishment of the State of Israel.

[Page 107]

Simcha Shovalev in Eretz Israel

 

Late in life, he joined his son Aaron in Kiryat Haim (he had refused earlier to do it for religious reasons). He died there a few years before his son. He was 85. May his memory be a blessing.


[Page 108]

Three Who Dared to Protest

by Moshe Zemel

Translated by Ala Gamulka

It is difficult to accept the fact that the Jews of Ustiluh, as most of the Jews of Poland, were brought to their graves as lambs to slaughter. As if they did not show any opposition to the murderers.

Whenever I think of it, the phrase “How the heroes have fallen!” comes to mind. (Samuel 2:19). I ask myself if it was so because cowardice was not characteristic of the Jews of Poland. The events in Pshitik, Minsk Mazovitzk, etc. are well remembered.

There were at least three cases of opposition to the rioters that are well etched in my memory and I wish to relate them here.

a.

It was a Shabbat in the summer of 1931. As was the custom, people would go for a stroll in the marketplace in the afternoon. The police station was located across from the walled home of Vegenfeld and Eichenboim.

 

Hersh Haim Fleisher, z”l

[Page 109]

We were a group of young men walking with our renowned friend Yehuda Fleisher, Z”L, who was visiting from Eretz Israel. We ran into a drunken gentile, a liberated legionnaire, a settler with military medals. He began to curse and insult Yehuda. “Why are you insulting me?” asked Yehuda. The drunkard replied by slapping him. There was no use fighting back– we thought– because soon other gentiles surrounded us and the police always takes their side. We pleaded with Yehuda to give in. The story reached his father, Hersh, an elderly man. He could not accept the evil that had been done to us.

Some time later we saw Hersh quietly approaching a group of gentiles standing near the drunkard and praising him. The old man approached the “hero” and slapped him twice. Soon groups of Jews and gentiles were gathered, but the police dispersed everyone and the event was stopped.

This event was a topic of conversation for a long time in the town. It served us as a source of encouragement and strength and raised our honor in the eyes of the gentiles…

b.

It was a Friday evening in the spring. I do not remember the year. A few carts arrived carrying intoxicated young farmers, after they had enlisted in the army in Ludomir.

It was an annual tradition for the young gentiles that, on their way to enlisting and back, they would “have fun” with the Jews. This time they bothered some elderly Jews, hurrying to the bath house, as they were passing the house of Esther Manises. Michael Shafran, the brilliant and educated man, lived nearby. He saw what was happening and could not stand the fact that it was permissible to attack elderly Jews who could not fight back. He approached the young men and began to hit them right and left. The dozens of young men ran away as they came and never showed their might.

c.

The third event happened on Motzaei Shabbat in 1937. A few friends were preparing to make Aliyah. There was a good–bye party in the Hechalutz branch, at the home of Yehoshua Hersh Kritz, Z”L. In the middle of the dancing a few well–known gentile youths appeared and began to disrupt the event. We invited them to join us in the party, but nothing helped. They began to bother us and the young women. Our member Nissan Schlachter lost his temper and hit them. The “heroes” ran away and we continued with our party.

I do not know how the old man, Zvi Fleisher, died, but we know exactly what happened to Michael Shafran.

Witnesses told us that he was the first to climb into the vehicle that took the victims to the big gravesite

[Page 110]

in Piatidan. There he gave a speech. He said there was no choice but to die the way the killers wished. When I remember Michael Shafran, who had routed dozens of evil young people, I must come to the conclusion that we cannot judge the ways of our martyrs who had been killed by the Nazi Amalek.

In contrast with the deep pain that hurts our hearts as we remember the bitter end of the victims of the Holocaust, we recall with great happiness those who were fortunate to make Aliyah and who fought with us to free our country from oppressors. Among them– our dear friend, Nissan Schlachter– the third one to slap. Hurray!


[Page 111]

Concealed Lights

by Mina Sheinman

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The High Holidays are upon us– as we called them– and I find letters from home written 24 years ago. I read with sacred anxiety. This is what I do every year at this time– Sacred and Great, as my parents would say. Each time I remember anew these wonderful personalities, innocent and proper, who were slaughtered so cruelly by the Nazi beasts who pretended to be humans.

Here is one of the letters from my father, Z”L:

“My dear daughter Mindele. There are still two more hours in this holy and sacred night where God signs the fate of humans. I am full of dread and I wonder if, in your young heart, there is a feeling of shame for sins, in order to redeem the pure soul and not to dirty it with blotches. Mindele, these are days in which one must pray and ask for forgiveness and also to forgive others and to make peace. Please forgive me for the difficulties I caused you on your way to Aliyah. These are bloody days and the youth do not walk in the proper path. How could I agree to a way that was separate from the family? I do not usually speak much. However, my dear daughter, you must know that since you left us, I cannot find rest. I hold the newspaper daily with shaking hands and a beating hear. May the Almighty guard you and all other people and give you happiness and good health. May you continue on the straight path.

Your father who wishes you a good and holy year”

I continue to read the letters– there are very many– and there is a common theme in them: wishes for happiness, longings, preaching to keep the faith, to continue on the straight path, to love people, to forgive and to absolve, etc.

In front of my eyes, I see in a clear and wonderful light the image of a modest man, a shy Torah expert. He was short, but stood above everyone.

There was also a loving brother. His first letter after I made Aliyah said the following:

“I will never forget, my dear sister, the day we said good–bye to each other. Who knows until when? When you left, a large part of my life also left. Your image will always be in front of me. It feels as if I am still with you in the home of our late mother. My heart aches with your departure.

[Page 112]

I do not wish to mourn your leaving, but to congratulate you. You wish to find happiness and you are hoping for an ideal life, full of meaning. You had enough of the life of emptiness and idleness and you wish to improve it, to give it some beauty. Then, my dear sister, may you be blessed. May your star that has just begun to shine continue to do so in your life.

Your brother who misses you so much,

Binyamin”

His second letter:

“My eldest sister. Today is Hol HaMoed Pessach. I received your letter yesterday. Yes, my dear sister, it is the first Pessach that you are not with us at the traditional Seder of our family. I sit next to our dear father and he pours wine into the cups. He filled your cup instinctively. I look at your full cup and there is no one to drink the wine. My heart aches and many thoughts go through my head. Father is waiting for me to ask the Four Questions and I do not pay attention. I think of our saintly mother who was taken from us and then my eldest sister prepared for the holiday. Yes, my sister, how I would love to be a child again in my good mother's arms. Then I would not feel what is now in my sad heart. I understand, my dear sister, that you are also occupied with the holiday. I see you with a kerchief on your head, cleaning and organizing your narrow room, preparing the Seder together with your friends– the Hagadah and maybe even the kneidlach. The Four Questions are asked and really “How is this …different”? There are other questions in the air and not all of them can be answered. I do understand you. We must fill the empty space for the sake of tradition. My sister, do not forget your past, your homeland and your family. Do not give in to imagined liberty and anarchy. Life is rooted in the past and anyone who rebels against it will lose his future.

Your brother who is longing for his dear sister,

Binyamin”

Hidden lights, modest like Shabbat candles in the home of mother and father, are shining from these letters. You are my dear ones who lit them. Sacred is your memory. I will remember you for the rest of my life.

Afek, Tishrei, 1959


[Page 113]

Grandfather's Home

by Menashe Secharbrot

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The old, modest house stood near the Stav and the Bug in Ustiluh. It was not an ordinary family home, like the others, because it served as an educational institution for young boys, and even older ones. Grandfather Liptche (Isenberg) was an excellent teacher and educator, using the methods of those days. In addition, he was an outstanding prayer leader with a pleasant voice. He was active among the Hassidim of Neskhiz.

I was still very young when I left town in 1933. Still, I knew to value the traits and spirit of grandfather. He was an honest man, modest and gentle. He was a Torah scholar and a follower of commandments, but he had patience and did not tell others what to do. The following is a story I remember well:

I was in elementary school. I returned home from a lesson on the globe and the solar system. I asked grandfather his opinion. He, with great patience and control, replied that there are two systems of

 

[Page 114]

philosophy. This shows that he was a dear and intelligent man and far away from religious fanaticism.

Grandmother Leah was a personality in her own right. She was bright and had an unusual sense of humor, in spite of the fact that she was bedridden for many years. She knew how to joke and even laugh at herself.

Once she called for grandfather to bring her something. He was involved in his studies and he did not hear her. She then turned to him, with irony: “Enough, already, studying the Gmara. My place in Gan Eden is guaranteed already, even though the chair is broken and it will fall over”.

Last, but not least: my uncle Fishel Isenberg, His image stands in front of my eyes from many years ago, when I was a young child. I could not really judge people and appreciate them. Everyone says he was a many–faceted, talented person, even in sports– not too popular at the time in town. He was involved in political and social circles. I remember that in the bitter days when Hitler became the leader of Germany, my uncle, even then, predicted the future. At one of the large assemblies he warned about the danger of Nazism to the Jewish nation.

In the meantime, I left Poland. However, Fishel, his dear wife Bluma, their two daughters and my aunt Ethel with her son Yaakov stayed. They were all killed together with the rest of the community. My heart aches. Our dear ones will not return.

 

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