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Jews who lived in predominantly
gentile hamlets neighboring Volozhin

By M.Porat

Edited by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Jewish peasants lived in the midst of gentiles in several hamlets and estates near Volozhin. The Yizkor Book describes some of them: Zabrezhe on page 382, Mizheyki, Goroditshtshe, Koniushtshina and Dubin on page 385, Belokorets on page 317, Youzefpol on page 386.

Jewish families labored in the fields and farmed in those locations for many years.

I remember two such families who lived all isolated from the Jewish community; Berman who resided and was employed by the rail station in Horod'k and Mrs Matke, her husband and their handsome son who dwelled in Rudnik.

I must record a few words from my own recollections of Matke and the Jewish farm in Rudnik, as it was not mentioned in the Yizkor book. Matke with her family lived in out-of-the-way Rudnik, three Km from town. We used to go there by foot; we would pass near the graveyard and then by Bialik's Mount and most of the path would go by the shore of the Volozhinka brook.

The family lived in a spacious house. They also owned a barn and a stable. Cows, geese, poultry and horses surrounded their house. Additionally the family possessed a vast meadow and a small pine grove.

The entire student body that attended our school, guided by the teachers, would turn up in Rudnik's Grooves every spring for our traditional Lag-Baomer picnic by the bonfires.

The Volozhin region's Zionist youth camps took place on Matke's Rudnik-meadow. I remember that on one occasion mother walked with my sister Sonitshka and I, for a visit with father's cousins; the beautiful Tsherne and Bloume Efron from the near by shtetl of Vishnievo. They camped in tents amongst many other young members of “HaShomer Hatzir” youth movement. They “took over” Matke's green meadow in Rudnik.

During summer time the house would turn into a “holiday hostel”. Many of the Volozhin kids spent a few weeks in the inn. They came to breathe in some fresh air. They were sent there with their parent's hopes that they would add a few healthy pounds, since they drank fresh milk right from the cows, and ate fresh eggs straight from the hens.

The gentile peasants did not make any effort to spare their Jewish colleagues and neighbors' life. Not even one of the Jews from the Volozhin vicinity hamlets survived the holocaust.

[Page 382]


By Moshe Eliyaswhkevitsh

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Revised by Mr. H. Mendelson

Zabrezhe (Zabzhezie – in Polish) is situated on the way to the railroad station, thirteen Kilometers from Volozhin. It is a small village on the Berezina (Bierioza) River shore. The Berezina flows to the Nieman River. The village is located among fields and forests, from which the Zabrezhe inhabitants made their living. The local Jews raised rye, barley, potatoes and wheat in those fields.

Twenty Jewish families inhabited this village; three of them lived in Horod'k, the railroad station, about three kilometers from Zabrezhe.

Those families were: Yosef Berman, Hone Berman and the seamstress the late Temka's widow. Yosef Berman practiced as an agent. He used to receive the goods on the station and move them in horse-carts to Volozhin. Here he distributed the goods to the merchants. Hone Berman owned a hostel and Temka made her living by dressmaking.

Harav Shmuel Dovid Levin (Shadal), born in Bobruysk, was the village prominent inhabitant. Reb Avrom Moyshe Bunimovitsh brought him to Zabrezhe to become his son in law. Harav Shadal used to study Torah day and night. He did not practice as the shtetl's rabbi.

His father in law Reb Avrom Moyshe Bunimovitsh was a wealthy man, a Jewish Poretz (land owner). He owned large tracts of land and a spacious house, which was located inside a big courtyard. Reb Avrom Moyshe was blessed with special privileges; he lived a long life to see many great-grand children. Reb Zeharye Berman and Reb Menahem Mendel were also considered as the village's elite.

The Zabrezhe Jews supported themselves by farming and by commerce. Aron Dudman owned a shoe and leather shop, Duba Berman possessed a cloth shop and the third, Yehoshua Berman was a flax merchant.

Some of the Jewish farmers cultivated their own land; the others were land leasers who tilled the land of nearby landlords. They were true peasants that worked the soil and made a living from the earth. It would be of interest to mention the estate owner, Mrs. Baranowska. She, her husband and their son the physician, were considered as righteous gentiles. Mr. Baranowski was friendly with the local Jews, and as I remember he contributed material to build the Zabrezhe Klayzl-synagogue.

The Klayzl was the village spiritual center, where the Jewish civic and cultural life took place. Reb Zkharia Berman performed the Gabay (synagogue manager) functions. He did not behave like an important personality, which he was. On Fridays, personally with his own hands, he used to sweep the floor, dust the tables and benches, to take care of the candles and to polish the candelabrum, Before Yom Kippur, Rabbi Zekharia used to hire a gentile (with his own money) to look from time to time after the burning candles. Three Torah scrolls were kept in the Synagogue Arc. The prophets' books were written on scrolls like the Torah books, which was unique to Zabrezhe. The shtetl children used to participate in the Simhat Torah Hakafot, with their “ Small seyfer Torahs“ in hand. The local Balabatim (real estate owners) were honored to read the Torah. Rabbi Yehezkel Yahas was the regular Torah reader. He died in 1940 and was buried in Volozhin.

There were not many Jews in Zabrezhe. However, the parents used to hire the best teachers to educate their children. During the daytime hours the Jewish children attended the Polish school. But in the evening they would be taught Hebrew and Judaism by Jewish teachers. The teachers used to be hired from nearby villages. They did their holy work for minimum salary. Nobody among them had ever considered striking. Torah teaching was by itself a reward. They did not stay in private apartments; they used to wander from room to room in the houses of their pupils. The teachers, that I'm able to recall, were Rabbi Zvi from Volozhin, Rabbi Ariye Leyb Grinhoyz, from Lebediev (died in Volozhin in 1945) and Rabbi Yekhiel Segalovitsh from Rubazevitsh. The last teacher was Rabbi Hayim Stolar from Vishnevo.

Our studies went on inside the Klayzl. During the long winter nights we used to learn by the light of kerosene lamps, whose shade was heavier than their light. Each student, in his turn, used to bring from home a bottle of kerosene for the lamps. I will never forget Rabbi Ariye Leyb Grinhoyz, my beloved teacher. He was a graduate of the Vilna-Hebrew-Teachers Seminary. He taught us Hebrew, Jewish history and Eretz Israel's geography. He made the Bible become alive for us. His explanations were exact. We became able to understand the emerging Israel community, the community that was rooted by the Zionists. He taught us how to recognize the faithful connection of our land's geography with its history.

Reb Ariye Leyb was a devoted Zionist. He had organized the Zionist Youth movement in the shtetl. The members were associated with the Volozhin Zionists. He founded in his room a Hebrew library. The first thirty books purchased were paid from his own pocket. This library served the students spiritually. Ariye Leyb was dedicated to his pupils. At the long winter nights he used to accompany each one of us back to our homes.

It has been said that Volozhin and Zabrezhe are like a room and a waiting room. Zabrezhe seemed to be torn from Volozhin and stuck on the main road. The Zabrezhe Jews were bound completely to Volozhin in every way. The food and clothing, was purchased in Volozhin. The dead were buried in the town's ancient cemetery. The ties were also in medical aid. There was no physician in Zabrezhe, only a medical assistant named Hardiniets from Losk. When a person became ill, a doctor would be called from Volozhin.

Across the Riverside (Zabrezhe) our ancestors lived generations after generations. They considered this life to be dictated by the Heavens and guarded by some human laws. Suddenly the terrible deluge came, and erased completely all that existed.

Temka and Judith Ginsburg were among the survivors. The Zabrezhe Jews have been murdered during the Holocaust. The Zabrezhe tiny ancient Kehila was annihilated in Hanukah 1942. The local Peasants and the Pashkovski brothers participated in the slaughter. They tortured the victims without pity.

The images of our dears will be engraved on our hearts forever.

[Page 385]

Mijeyki (hamlet)

By Barukh Tsivony (Farberman) – Haifa

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Eight families of Jewish peasants inhabited the small Mijeyki hamlet. They lived there for many generations earning their bread by toiling the land. Eight large estates owned by Polish nobles were located about 300 meters from the Jewish homes. The cultivated land belonged to the settlers, to the Jews as well as to the Gentiles. The Jews who lived there had various employments in addition farming.

The hamlet was situated on the crossroads amidst the environs settlements. Travelers who went from Volozhin to the shtetls of Rakov, Krasne and Horodok as well as ones who came from those places to Volozhin, used to stop in Mijeyki for a night rest. The hamlet's hostel belonged to Malka Kaminstein. Adjacent to the hostel stood a spacious stable filled with horses. Mijeyki was tied to Volozhin with strong links. Not even a single shop existed in the hamlet. The inhabitants used to go in town to buy food and dressing. The relations were reciprocal. The hamlet supplied Volozhin with most of its milk, eggs and poultry for consumption. They specialized in raising geese. It was sold to the Volozhin inhabitants, who used geese fat to fry latkes during Hanukah and to prepare Kneydlakh during Passover.

Among the hamlet's craftsmen was the well known tailor; Velvl Kaganovitsh. Velvel studied his profession in Odessa, where he met and married a midwife. She was quite “jobless” in Mijeyki. The place was not populated sufficiently to produce work for such a career.

Velvl used to sew cloths for the prominent people in the area: for the mayor, for district officials and for the affluent citizens of Volozhin. They ordered Velvl's products because he had "the golden hands"; dresses that were sewn by him were considered “masterpieces”. He has three daughters, all of them were sent to study in Vilna. Their father spent all of his earning on the girls education. For some years he was deep in debt but the daughters attended the most excellent schools in the big city of Vilna and received the best education. He was the son of a very scholarly man. His father used to teach the hamlet children.

Another renowned artisan in Mijeyki was my father "Moyshe der Shouster" (Moyshe the Shoemaker). He reached the very advanced age of hundred and ten years! He did not ever have a sick day. He would work day and night and the word “rest” was foreign to him. He was also a scholar and was capable of leading public prayers. At the age of eighty he lost his eyesight. Nevertheless even in blindness, he led the prayers. He knew all the prayers by heart.

Our home was small, however our father was firm in his wish to entertain guests. Many days' poor people who came to the area, stayed with us. Father used to accommodate them by spreading straw bedding on the floor.

The principal concern of The Mijeyki Jews was their children's education. For this purpose they invited an excellent pedagogue, a Hebrew expert - the teacher Kaminstein from Bialistock. He married a Mijeyki native girl. All the hamlet children were taught Hebrew by him.

The Kaminstein's were parents of four boys, all born in Mijeyki. As the boys grew up they abandoned their father's Zionist culture and were renowned in the area as devoted communists. Two of them left their natal hamlet to Russia on February 1917. The senior brother became known as a Red Army Commander during the Bolsheviks war against Poland in 1919. Some time in 1919 He came to Mijeyki with his unit, they were on their way to Warsaw. he spent some days with his father.

A Synagogue was built in the hamlet prior to World War One. The Russians destroyed it during the war, only the skeleton remained. The Synagogue was rebuilt in 1921 and became a respectable prayer house for Mijeyki inhabitants as well as for the surrounding rural community Jews.

Three Jewish families lived in Gorodishtshe, 2 Km. from our village. They used to come every Saturday to spend Sabbath and to pass the prayers in our synagogue.

In Koniushtshina village, 6 Km from Mijeyki three families settled, in Dubin only one Jew dwelled. He was a black smith. They used to sleep and pray in our hamlet during high holidays only.

During the brutal storm of the holocaust all those souls of the earth's offspring were utterly eradicated. Not a soul survived.

[Page 386]

The Youzefpol Estate

by Benyamin Kutshevitski (Kiryat Motskin)

Translated by M. Porat

Edited by Judy Montel

The estate belonged to the Polish landowner Mokashitski. Borukh Kutshevitski and Meir Shif bought a part of it. The estate was beautiful. Two avenues “The Love Avenue” and “The Separation Avenue” decorated it. In the center of a lovely park of fruit trees stood a giant arbor. It was our friends' favorite place to spend time. The multiple springs in the vicinity provided chilled pure water to nourish man and animal, to irrigate the vegetable gardens and to feed the steam engines of the gristmill and sawmill established here by our families. The engine's noise was heard day and night. The mill sawed the huge wood trunks for export. It employed 40 permanent workers. Hundreds of local laborers worked there during the rush season. The sawmill served also as a suitable work and training place for Jewish youngsters in the Beytar and Hekhalutz organizations from Volozhin and the area, which prepared them for Aliya [emigration] to Palestine. The estate was situated 7 Km. from the rail station Horod'k and close to Zabrezhe, a hamlet whence to we used to send our mail every day by messenger. The connection with Zabrezhe was very close. We went to Rabbi Shadal there to solve religious Kosher or Treyf food problems. On Saturdays and Jewish Holiday mornings we used to go there to synagogue prayers and return home after the service, back and forth by foot. At Kol Nidrey night and the next day of Yom Kippur all members of both families stayed in Zabrezhe. That night, after the Maariv [evening] prayer, Mikitka the mill-guard used to come to take us home in the flour-mill cart, where both our families would have the post-fast meal.

The two families took care for the children's Hebrew National education. A kindergarten schoolmistress was brought from Vilna. Grown boys and girls were sent to study in Hebrew Tarbut schools in Volozhin, Vilna and Oshmiane.

The medical help was quite primitive. It was the job of the local ”feldsher”; a goyish unauthorized paramedic who was drunk most of the time. We used his services as first aid only. In serious cases the sick person would be transferred by horse drawn carts to Volozhin. Once a Haluts-Hakhshara girl was carried for a doctor's consultation to Volozhin. The hard journey on a bad road caused the rupture of her inflamed appendicitis. The town doctor saved her from critical condition. There was not always a happy end. In Ozelevitsh our neighboring hamlet, the landlord Avrom-Itshe Levin's son stepped on a rusty nail. He died of blood poisoning after he was brought to Volozhin.

We lived on the Youzefpol estate like in paradise. We loved the rich nature, the beautiful landscape. Our economic state was good. We had all we needed. We hoped that this “Garden of Eden” would last forever.

The war broke out. The Soviets occupied the area. They nationalized our sawmill. My boyhood nest was destroyed.

[Page 388]

Volozhin Stories

By Benyamin Shafir (Shishko)

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay


The Complaint of a Jew Hater in Volozhyn

The two hotels that were found in Volozhin belonged to men named Brodna, Shved was the Mayor of the town, and Polack was the owner of the flour mill and the power generating plant.

One of the Jew–haters in Volozhin once commented: What a poor town is Volozhin. The two hotels are dirty (“brodni” in Polish means dirty), the Mayor is Swedish and the Polack (meaning a Polish person) is Jewish.


A Story about disciple of the NATZIV and a Rural Jew

A very rich Jewish villager asked the NATZIV to pick one of his more intelligent students as a prospective husband for his daughter. The young man came for an interview and the father wanted to test his knowledge of the Torah. He asked (in Yiddish) “How do you say ‘Dinstag’ in Hebrew?” The young man answered, “Dinstag is Tuesday in Hebrew.”

The father rejected the candidate. He returned to the Rabbi and this time asked for his very smartest students, however, all of them still failed the test.

One of the students, who truly liked the beautiful daughter, befriended her. He entrusted her to ask her father for the answer. The father told her that Dinstag in Hebrew is “support”. The young man passed the test and married the daughter.

Later he asked his father–in–law “I learned Torah so I know the Dinstag in Hebrew is ‘support’, but you did not study Torah. How do you know?” “Listen young man. Every day I pray the “Eighteen Prayers” and it says ‘support and kitchen to the righteous’ [the word ‘kitchen’ was a mistake he made by transposing two letters, Bet & Tav. Actually the text is MISHAN and MIVTACH (protection and support). In Yiddish MITVACH is Wednesday, in Hebrew MITBACH is kitchen].”

He continued: “Everyone knows that Tuesday comes before Wednesday and, therefore, Dinstag in Hebrew is ‘support’”.


Sweep the Floor with a Broom

It is a known fact that the NATZIV promoted simple interpretations of Jewish rules and laws.

[Page 389]

Once he entered the Yeshiva and asked the students “how do you sweep the floor?” and left. The students started to discuss his hidden intentions and their possible meanings. They all agreed that he did not ask about something trivial. After a few hours, he returned to see what they were arguing about and told them: “Young men, you sweep the floor of the house with a broom.”


A Volozhyn “Revolutionary”

Feytel the shoemaker was a religious man who prayed three times a day and followed all the rules of Judaism. However, in 1905 he became a “revolutionary”. This is how he expressed his aversion to the Tsar. He stood in front of the statue of the Tsar, checked that there were no police officers around, put his hand in his pocket and “gave the Tsar a finger”.


Why Jews Do not Have Their Own State

Shlomo Chaim Brodna, the son of the owner of the hotel, was an educated man. He was the Manager of the Cooperative Bank and attended the meetings of the Jewish Cooperation Organizations in Poland.

He used to explain why the Jews did not have their own State. When the Christians want to elect a committee, they assemble in the pub on a Sunday and drink Vodka “for good luck”. Then they go to Church and later they gather in the church's yard and elect a Chairman for the meeting. The Chairman proposes candidates and asks, “Who votes for Ivan Ivanovich?” Everyone shouts “Dobry” (good) – everyone agrees. Then, “Who votes for Stepan Stepanovich?” Everyone shouts “Dobry” – everyone agrees. They elect the committee in one minute!

It is a different story when it comes to Jews. The old caretaker of the synagogue died. What was his job? His job was to sweep the floor, wash the towels and distribute prayer books. However, electing a new caretaker is a complicated endeavor! When someone proposed Eliyahu, son of Yaakov, someone else opposed him because his grandmother had a sister who lived in a faraway village and she had a daughter who had married a Christian.

[Page 390]

They proposed someone else and he was rejected because he was suspected of having an improper relationship with a woman. In short – it is impossible to find a proper candidate for even the lowly position of caretaker.

Now you can understand why the Jews do not have their own State.


Torah Judgement in Volozhyn

Rabbi Chaim Baxter was a well–to–do and Torah–educated man who lived in a small town between Iwye and Volozhin. Shmuel Gimpel Shishko was a farmer in the village of Rabawa and he too was a Torah–educated man.

Many poor Jews were wandering among the different towns of Belarus and Rabbi Chaim Baxter was happy to invite travelers to stay with him. Shmuel Gimpel Shishko, too, wanted to show his generosity, but only a few travelers passed near his village. He drove his horse to the main road, and collected travelers and hosted them.

Chaim Bakster realized that the number of his guests was rapidly diminishing and investigated. When he found out that Shmuel Gimpel Shishko was “kidnapping” his guests, he sued him in the Volozhin Jews Court.

The judges listened to both parties, discussed the situation and decided: “those people walking from Volozhin to Iwye would stay with Rabbi Shmuel Gimpel Shishko and those people walking from Iwye to Volozhin would stay with Rabbi Chaim”.


Volozhyn's Version of Austerity

There was a blacksmith in Volozhin who became rich, very rich. Some people wondered how an artisan could become so rich. Others said he had “good hands” so it is no wonder he became rich. The man, however, kept his simple lifestyle. He ate black bread rather than white bread and drank sour milk rather than cream.

When people asked him why he was not using his wealth to live like rich people, he replied that it was a good practice to know how to live modestly. Sometimes things change and the rich may become poor and would not be able to live under their new circumstances.

The source of his wealth was eventually discovered. He was making copper coins and gold plating them. He then sold them as pure gold. His deception was uncovered and he was tried and sentenced to jail in Siberia.

When he was taken to the train station, many residents came to the police station to say goodbye. While they lamented his destiny, he turned to them and said, “As I told you, it was a good practice to know how to live in modesty. In Siberia, I will have the same black bread and sour milk I am accustomed to.”


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