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[Page 195]

The Phenomenal Matmid[1]

by Baruch Goldberg

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

The following translations were commissioned by Avigail Frij,
whose maternal grandparents were from Ustilug (Kopp and Kultin Families)

Tear for Moshe Shpirer, may his blood be avenged

Of all the positive figures mentioned in my previous article, I particularly got to know the phenomenal student Moshe Shpirer. My first experience with him came about in the following manner: In my childhood years, since they used to bring us all kinds of craft works from the Betzalel school in Eretz Yisrael, my favorite was a small siddur with small panels of hard wood that were decorated with a Magen David, upon which was written “Zion” and “Yerushalayim.” I could have made the panels myself, but could not have printed the words. My father took me to Moshe Yankel Geillis (as he was known at that time) in the Blodovker Shtiebel, where we prayed together, and then he drew the letters for me. From that time on, we remained close until the bitter end.

I knew Moshe so well, because he was my teacher and served as a role model on how to avoid wasting time with useless things. For this reason, I consider it my right and obligation to write some of the events in his life as a memorial to him and for future generations. It is important to know what valuable people our town possessed, people who were slain in a horrific manner by the Nazi murderers.

Moshe was born – according to my calculation – in the year 1894. His father, Shmuel, who came from Dubyenka, was a grain producer. His mother, Gelle, was the daughter of Yankel Geillis, who would not speak any mundane “weekday” words on Shabbat. Until 1914, they lived in the village of Treszczanko, but Moshe always lived in Ustiluh at his grandfather's home, learned in the local Heders. He was, however, under the constant supervision of his uncle, the enlightened person] and teacher Shloime Kanat.

[Page 196]

Moshe's tourist status quickly ended, and he soon received his own visitor's card [permit]. He became a teacher, like his Uncle Shloime.

Together with some other teachers, they opened the first modern school in Ustiluh where the young Moshe had the opportunity to demonstrate his considerable teaching skills. Moshe taught others while at the same time educated himself. He devoured all the Hebrew books from the Shtiebel submissions, along with all the original Russian classics. At one point, he decided to become a literary expert. He threw himself into this endeavor with all his study skills and with the added assistance of correspondence lectures from St. Peterburg. He once offered me the opportunity to study with him. But I could not accept his offer. First, I was far below Moshe's level of general knowledge, and of Russian language in particular. Second, my father decided to send me to Warsaw under the supervision of my older brother Yitzchak, to learn a trade. I left for the capital city. When, after two years, I returned home, I found Moshe a changed person.

For various reasons, he had to terminate his correspondence with St. Petersburg, but meanwhile, he had memorized the contents of the book she read.

This came to good use for him in the “Beit Hasefer” as well as in private lectures.

The young teacher maintained his modest lifestyle for fifteen years. During WWI, when the Austrian army took over our town, economic life broke down. This also brought the closure of the Beit Hasefer. Along with the rest of the population, Moshe, his parents and sister, endured much hunger. Furthermore, the Austrians pressed people into forced labor, while some were conscripted into the army. Others fled to wherever they could. Some in the village, some in Beliankin's yard, or simply in the forests, where they used to weave fences for the military. Yisrael, the son of Yossel Kiser and I, left for Ludomir, and worked as carpenters in Wolf Yokenzon's warehouse. But Moshe was nowhere to be found. He hid in his grandfather's attic, only coming into contact with his family. But this turned out well for him. He diligently studied the German language that he was later able to put to good use. When the town slowly began to get involved with wartime conditions, people were looking to acquire some merchandise to satisfy at least to some degree, the town's needs.

[Page 197]

This was impossible without obtaining a permit from the military official in charge of the city, to move about in town, except to the edges of town. Suddenly, knowing how to write in German became a vital necessity. Until now, the official “petition” writers were not so well skilled. Now, Moshe Shpirer's German writing skills were in high demand.

Although he wrote for individuals, he mainly wrote to advance community interests. And what writing it was! A high–level literary style that evoked amazement from the new “businessmen.” They invited him to meet them so they could get to know him personally, but Moshe did not go. He was a skilled writer, but not such a good conversationalist. Other than that Moshe suffered from a physical problem: He was a bit deaf and he feared they might laugh at him or make light of him. For that reason, he strove to remain in the background, often avoiding unknown company. I remember a certain lieutenant, who lived at the home of Moshe Frishberg (metal dealer), who, after visiting him, highly praised his writing talent.

Sometime later, a Polish priest found out about Shpirer, the one who knew German, and offered him a teaching exchange: Moshe would teach him German, and the priest would teach Moshe Polish. Moshe accepted the deal.

I don't know how well the priest advanced in his German studies, but Moshe certainly learned Polish well. Many people attested to his later Polish language writings during the time of the government uprising.

In 1919, Moshe published a one–time newspaper (handwritten) containing several important articles that he had written. He convinced me to contribute something as well, and I did. My article, of a humorous nature, was entitled “An Overheard Discussion.” The newspaper was passed around from hand to hand, and when Nachman Burlyant traveled to North America, he took the newspaper with him.

For a short time, he worked in the Polish congress (I believe in Lublin), where he had successful surgery on his ears. After recovering, he stepped up his social life. In particular, he became the director of the Mizrachi movement that had just recently opened in town.

[Page 198]

Thanks to him, this movement was largely accepted in the Chassidic circles, to which Moshe, as a deeply religious person, felt a strong loyalty. As strange as it seems, we must understand that Moshe was a different type of intellectual than typical irreligious types they knew. He did not shave with a razor [in accordance with Jewish law] but used an electric shaver. His clothing and his overall deportment followed Orthodox customs. He did not scorn Jewish religious practices, like most of the non–religious General Zionists, let alone the leftist Zionist parties.

At that time, the Beit Sefer was reopened by a group of teachers, among whom Moshe held the most prominent position. Even though the Polish government sent a supervisor to the school, the educational program followed a Jewish national spirit, and over the years, the number of young people who had both Jewish and general knowledge increased.

In 1929, when I left for the second time to Argentina, we parted very warmly. Even though we followed different paths in life, we continued to correspond occasionally.

In his last letter to me, he asked me to speak to a particular family, and remind them that they owed Moshe for some writing he did for them that assisted them in immigrating to Argentina. Then the family was unable to pay him, and now they would pay off the debt ten–fold. Except that now, there was no one to deal with the debt, because Moshe and his family along with most of the Jews of Ustiluh had been so horrifically murdered.

In conclusion, I would like to say a few words that emanate from depths of my heart:

Dear teacher and friend Moshe! I don't know where your physical remains are, so let these few written words about you be the memorial that will remain for eternity.


Translator's Footnote:

  1. Diligent Yeshiva student Return


[Page 199]

Nachman Burlyant, Z”L
In memory of a Landsman, Friend, and Cousin

by Tzila Fleisher

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

Nachman was born in 1895 in Ustiluh. His father – an educated Jew, was, for a long time acted as the town mayor. Later, he became the head bookkeeper, in effect, the director of the People's Bank.

 

 

Their home was more elegant than many of the others. Their children were well educated, even attending the high school in the nearby city of Ludomir, which, before WWI, was an unusual feat. Young Nachman could not attend the gymnasium because the World War had broken out, which upended normal life for the children, along with everyone else. But Nachman studied with special effort on his own, and thus kept up with his studies. In addition, Nachman was an extraordinarily good–natured person who was always ready to help the sick and the needy.

[Page 200]

I remember during our childhood years, when, on the way home after school, the children would sometimes get into fights. Nachman always stood up for the weaker one. In later years, once on a Shabbos evening, we went to accompany a friend home. She lived on the other side of the Stav River Bridge. Suddenly, we were attacked by boys from Danches Street. Nachman, walking with friends on the hill, heard our shouts, and ran over to help us. When we got older, and began to occupy ourselves with societal activities, the difference between the “cultural” and “material” was made. Nachman was of the “material” ones. That does not mean that he did not appreciate culture, but he argued that “if there is no bread, there is no Torah.” First you have to help the poor people and only afterwards can you build libraries and other cultural associations. He was, in fact, active in the drama section and in all other societal activities in the city.

In 1920, when the mass exit of the youth began, Nachman and his brother also left Ustiluh, heading to the United States. He returned after a few years and married Sarah Yokhenzon and had a child. Nachman, however, could no longer live in Poland. Growing anti–Semitism was in the streets and in the government and this forced Nachman back to the United States. After a while, he succeeded in bringing over his wife and child.

In the United States, Nachman replanted his social activities and became one of the leaders of the Ustiluh relief committees.

At the beginning of 1945, we received a letter from Nachman, that we should connect with Ustiluh survivors wherever they were. The committee would send them aid because it was easier to contact them from Israel. Their son Pinchas was also interested in the fate of his compatriots. “The actions of the fathers are a symbol for the children” [Book of Genesis]. I heard a lot about this when I was their guest in the United States.

In his last years, Nachman suffered from heart disease, but he ignored it, refusing to abandon his activities.

On July 19, 1960, after a heart attack, his good, refined heart stopped beating.

May his memory be honored and blessed!


[Page 201]

For God and For People

by Malka Chometzki (Reiz), Brazil

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

Our place of birth, the town of Ustiluh was destroyed by the Nazi savages and by local Ukrainian murderers. Yet it always stands before my eyes with its beloved Jews, and the beautiful, intelligent youth, with whom I spent my younger years.

I well remember the hard work and difficult conditions in which they were raised. I can never forget that in my family, paying tuition fees for my brothers' education was more important than food on the table. My dear, beloved father, Shalom Chazzan, of blessed memory, earned just a few rubles, changed it for a golden ten [coin], and put it away to pay the tuition fees. And if, Heaven forbid, no other income would be earned to make Shabbos, we would be without meat and fish… as the Shalom Aleichem saying goes, you can make something tasty even from an onion.

I remember, once on a Friday night, a fire broke out in which dozens of houses burned down and hundreds of souls were left without a roof over their heads. Friends and relatives came forward to gather the homeless into their homes. Our family went to Moshe Burlyant, the mayor of the town.

At the Shabbos table, my father sang the Shabbos songs as usual. Eidel, the wife of Moshe Burlyant, a relative of my father, while she served the food, asked, “How can a Jew sing so joyfully when he just lost all his belongings?” My father answered, “That's exactly why I am happy. Because my entire fortune is sitting here around the table.” That meant that he left behind all his worries for the weekdays and not for Shabbat.

Simple, warm friendship marked the relationship between Ustiluh's Jewish residents.

[Page 202]

I remember in particular the Rosmarin family. One day our dear friend Brontzia had not seen even one person from our family. In the middle of her chores, she locked her door and came over to see if, Heaven forbid, someone was sick.

I could describe many memories of my dear town Ustiluh, but I am sure others will do so with greater skill. So, may I be permitted, in my simple words, to express my great pain and deep anguish about the horrifying deaths of our martyrs, among whom are: my brother Avram'ke and his wife and three children, my sister Faigie Perlmutter, her husband and three children, and so many other relatives of ours. Our large, extended family was murdered by the Nazis. May their blood be avenged.

 

Faigie and her family

[Page 203]

Avraham (Avrom'ke) Reiz
Founder and First Director of the Drama Circle

by Tzila

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

After his sister Malka has already given a brief character sketch of their father Reb Shalom Chazan, may he rest in peace, and his blessed optimism, all that is left for me to add is that this optimistic spirit was a feature of the entire Reiz household.

 

 

Their home was always bright and cheerful. You could not know if a rich man or a pauper lived there. The children were taught in the same way as the children of wealthier families and were dressed the same as the others.

Avram'ke, the oldest and brightest, left to the capital city Warsaw where he worked in a dry goods store. In his free time, he devoted himself to cultural and scientific studies.

[Page 204]

He attended musical and literary evenings and made acquaintances in all the various literary circles.

He would come back to Ustiluh for the holidays when he would share his impressions of the big city with his friends.

During the First World War, after he came home for one of the holidays, he was unable to return to Warsaw. Then his cultural activities began to flourish in town.

 

“The Wild Man”

 

He first created a cultural group that held literary and musical evenings. The income from those gathering was used to fund other cultural activities. Later, he organized a drama club. The first piece that they performed under his direction was “Mirele Efros”. After that, they performed many other plays by Yaakov Gordin, Peretz Hirschbein, Shalom Aleichem, and so on.

[Page 205]

After his marriage, Avram'ke lived in Kharkov, where he built himself a beautiful home. There, too, he continued with cultural activities until the horrible end. Avram'ke and his family were massacred together with the rest of the community.

 

 

Ustiluh Drama Group

Translated by Ala Gamulka

End of Shavuot, June 5, 1919
All proceeds dedicated to the Poor

Program

I.

Chashe the Orphan

A drama in 4 acts, by Yaakov Gordin

Cast:

Yoel Trachtenberg, a wealthy businessman Haim Burlyant
Freida, his wife Etel Kvassevitzer
Vladimir, their son Nachman Burlyant
Carolina, their daughter Sarah Yokhenzon
Motya Shtreibel, Frieda's brother–in–law,
a village Jew
Nechemia Koltun
Chashe, his orphaned daughter Toybe Stav
Mark, Carolina's fiancée Shlomo Schlachter
Fasha, Trachtenberg maid Bluma Sheinborn
Young boys and girls
Performed in Ekaterinoslav  
Arranged by Moshe Brif  

II. Discrimination–Post–Buffet

Program: Chashe, the Orphan 1919

[Page 206]

 

“The Wild Man”

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Organized by the youth of Ustiluh

First evening of Hol HaMoed Pessach, 4/1920

Proceeds dedicated to cultural activities

Program

The Wild Man

A life story in 5 acts and 1 transformation

By Yaakov Gordin

Cast:

Shmuel Leiblich, a wealthy merchant Fishel Eisenberg
Liza, his semi–retarded daughter Toybe Stav
Ziman, his son, a high school student Yaakov Grinberg
Alexander, his son, a nothing Mordechai Fleisher
Lemach, his son, the idiot Fishel Giderberg
Shifra, a maid Rivka Blander
Zelda, his second wife Batya Burlyant
Vladimir Voroveitchik, Zelda's love Nachman Burlyant
Feivel Goldshteyn, Liza's lover Shlomo Shinerman
Rascals, students
Stage manager– Odes  
Organizer–Haim Burlyant  

II.

Music, Choir, Buffet

[Page 207]

A Vanished Dream
(from a letter to friends and former neighbors)

by Eliezer Reiz, Brazil

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

… As a vanished dream I wish to describe those sweet times. My memories carry myself back to our small home town of Ustiluh, a town like many other towns in Volyn –Ukraine, whose Jews were merchants, shopkeepers, craftsmen, village peddlers, along with those who worked in religious occupations. They struggled to earn a living, but were always filled with faith and trust in Hashem. Even under the most difficult economic situations, they did not lose strength, and stubbornly faced the future. They carried the heavy yoke of the exile with the hope for Mashiach and the return to Zion. Life was sweet despite their poverty.

I remember the beautiful Shabbos and the holidays: “The heartfelt sounds of praying and learning that were heard from the synagogues, Shtiebels, and Study Halls. The prayers, melodies, and Shabbos and holiday songs that used to fill the streets brought the Jews a sense of pride, a connection to Hashem and their own souls. I well remember the large Study Hall where my father Shalom, the cantor, led the morning prayers on the High Holidays. My older brother Avram'ke and I were his choir, and my mother Bayle– or Shlom'ke, as she was called – would gaze from the balcony of the women's section, melting with pride.

I remember the narrow, small shul and its congregants – simple, hardworking Jews, and how my father sang the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Musaf prayers. My brother Avram'ke, who, with his sweet tenor voice, would sing out loud the “haben yakir li Efraim” [“my precious son Efraim”], and “ve'al hamedinot bo ye'amer,” and the holy silence that reigned among these devout people; the love and gratitude that shone from their eyes towards the exceptionally talented young boy.

My brother Avram'ke! He sang in the Warsaw Hazamir choir,

[Page 208]

was a bookkeeper in a store. When he came home for Pesach he usually brought along some new songs, sayings, and happenings. These fresh ideas reinvigorated the town, making her more joyful and festive during the holidays.

And who could forget my sister Faigie, the pretty face and genteel manners and enormous will to study!

I remember the first Beit Hasefer [school] that was created. Despite the fact that my father was the city's cantor and a Trisker Chassid, I was one of the first children who registered in the school. This was despite the desire of many teachers who wanted to scare off the religious parents because of their modern (often “heretical” views). With particular respect, I want to mention the teachers Shloime Kanat, Shmerl Sekular, and Moshe Kornfeld, who lived in Milwaukee. Shloime Kanat, the genius in town, and Shmerl Sekular, and Moshe Kornfeld, now in Milwaukee. Shlomo Kanat was the genius of the town and

 

Shlomo Kanat with his daughter Mindel and grandson

[Page 209]

Shmerl Sekular, fully devoted to Hashem. He was a studious learner who was willing to go hungry so that he could buy a new religious book and then sit all night studying it.

Today, before my eyes, there stand the scholars of the Trisk Shtiebel, the ritual slaughterers Leibtzi and Avrom'ele, our modern and shining Rav, Reb Yossel Wertheim; the city patron Wolf Yokhenzon, would come to the siyum[1] carrying his Maseches Brachot[2], and his wife Sheindel, a very charitable woman. She gave charity discretely, helped brides marry, and gave charity for all kinds of communal needs; our good friend Moshe Yekes and Brontzia, and their extended family; and all the wonderful neighbors. A shudder of horror passes through me when remembering that all this, along with thousands of other Jewish communities, are gone, so tragically destroyed by the Germans and their collaborators, may their memory be erased. We are not allowed to forget them. We have to try to continue their unfinished lives, and their images must always remain before us. May Hashem bless those who, through publishing these Yizkor books, create a permanent monument, a gravestone for future generations of what once was. Let the world know of the unspeakable crime that they endured. I am sure that one day, some great spiritual writer will find a way to express this great tragedy and the anger at the destruction of European Jewry.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Celebration of completing a masechet (tractate) or the entire Shas. Return
  2. The first tractate in the Shas. Return


[Page 210]

The Ustiluh Youth – From 1917 to 1922

by Chaim Weinshel, Milwaukee

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

I take to writing the memories of Ustiluh with a heavy heart. I look at a picture of a class in the Yiddish Folkshule. It is 1917 and the question is: Where are all those people who we see in the picture? Here another photo, a picture of “Hador Hatzair” (“The Young Generation”), 1919. How many of those in the picture were still alive after the war? That is the feeling with each picture from those times. The anger grows, permitting no rest. But you strengthen yourself to concentrate and continue writing.

I will not write about the physical attributes of the city. even Hashem was good to Ustiluh bestowing upon it two beautiful rivers – Lug and Bug – with lush forests around the city. But the anti–Semitic atmosphere created by the Polish–Ukrainian populace did not create any great love for all this.

I left Ustiluh and went to the United States in August 1922. So I will just describe the youth of those years of which I was a part. No doubt many of those who lived in Ustiluh will write about the earlier and later generations since they are naturally more familiar with those times.

In Ustiluh there lived a large intellectual group. One can say the same for the children and youth of that time. They were nationalistically inclined, proud, and knowledgeable in Jewish matters. One example that comes to mind is an incident that I feel is unequalled, and is worth describing. This happened some time in 1916–17. During World War One, when Ustiluh was under Austrian occupation, the Jewish Folkshule was headed by Captain Kimmel, who forced

[Page 211]

upon us students a great deal of German and Polish studies at the expense of Yiddish and Hebrew. Those of us in the highest grade – fourth, I believe – went on strike. When Captain Kimmel came into our classroom and began to study a certain subject with us, every single one of us refused to respond to his lecture. We told him that we would not study German and Polish subjects unless they would give us more time for Yiddish studies. And we won.

 

A class in the school in 1917

 

It was the same youth who, sometime later, founded “Hador Hatzair” and conducted Zionist activities in town. They participated in the “Flower Days” parade, marching through the streets on the day of Herzl's yahrzeit, along with other Zionist demonstrations, and went to every wedding to collect money for Keren Kayemet. They also founded a library, and anxiously awaited

[Page 212]

every new book that arrived from Warsaw, especially the publications of the publishing house Shtiebel. There were also readings and lectures on Shabbat afternoons.

Another incident, that even though it ended in tragedy, deserves mentioning. This happened toward the end of WWI when the German and Austrian revolutions[1] broke out and the occupying government collapsed and fled back to Austria. Ustiluh was left without a governing power, so the local Jews created a militia to maintain order in the city. In time, a small number of Polish soldiers took over the government and occupied the region for the Polish government. The occupying Austrian forces left behind many horses and other animals, and a great deal of food. Most of this was seized by the Polish gentiles, while only a few Jews managed to obtain some of these things. After some of the Polish soldiers had entered the city, the Polish gentiles told them that the Jews had taken everything. The Polish soldiers demanded a large sum of money from the Jews as compensation. The Jews argued that most of the merchandise was grabbed by the non–Jews; Jews only took only a few things. But the soldiers refused to budge and issued an ultimatum to the Jews requiring them to pay a large sum of money within a few days. They also arrested a number of important townspeople. There were not many Polish soldiers and the Jews had an armed militia. Many argued that they should not give in, but should resist this attempted extortion. Although the Jews did resist, unfortunately, they were ill–prepared for such a confrontation. The result was thirteen Jewish fatalities and many wounded.

Regarding the youth movements, the “Hador Hatzair” group later created a branch of Zeirei Zion. The entry requirements of this group were so strict that many in the group claimed they were older than they actually were in order to join the group. This branch was very active, and in a short time became the leading branch of Zeirei Zion in the area. The founders of the party would often send its leaders to visit the Ustiluh branch. E.g., Koltun, Shvalba and others.

[Page 213]

In Ustiluh in those times, 1918–1919, there was an exceptional drama group for adults. But we also wanted to perform in the theater. Although we were only 14–16 years old, we considered ourselves experienced adult performers who, in fact, used to perform in the Folkshule theater. So, we created our own youth drama circle. Over the years, we performed many plays. I remember only a few of them: “The Destruction of Jerusalem” by Yosef Lateiner, 1919; “Yeshiva Student” by Zlotorewski; “The Carcass” and “The Intellectual), by Peretz Hirschbein, 1922. The group had many talented actors. For instance, Schlachter, a very talented comic; Hinde Zak, a natural character performer; Bluma Sheinborn, a fine dramatic performer; along with several others. I am certain that under more favorable circumstances, part of the group would have contributed more to the Yiddish theater.

In 1920, part of the youth studied with the teacher Kloper, in preparation to advance to higher education. We went to Ludomir for the exams. Interestingly all of us Jews failed the exams, and all the non–Jews passed….

For the next few years, until my departure for America in 1922, we were active in two main areas. We performed in the theater, and worked diligently for the rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael. But, the anti–Semitic atmosphere in Poland at that time constantly put forward vast challenges to Jewish existence. We did not see a future for us in Poland. Whenever some opportunity arose, the Poles wrecked it. This is why part of that generation scattered to all corners of the earth, including Eretz Yisrael. The majority, however, remained in Poland, only to perish later at the hands of the German murderers.

[Page 214]

Hador Hatzair” [“The Young Generation”], year 1919

 


Translator's Footnote:

  1. The German Revolution was a civil conflict in the German Empire at the end of the First World War that resulted in the replacement of the German federal constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary republic that later became known as the Weimar Republic. In Austria, there were mass strikes and mutinies after which the Habsburg monarchy collapsed. Return

 

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