Concerning The Zelva That Was...
by Chaim Gilony
(Chaim Jonah Freidin)
In order for me to write about Zelva, that typical Jewish town that was located on the principal highway between Volkovysk and Slonim in the Grodno Province, I feel that I have to close my eyes, and delve into the dark clouds of the past that I have been away from for over fifty years, from the time I permanently left in 1933. In fact, I was already gone by 1926, when I returned to Zelva only during the summer months, for the annual summer vacations from the high schools in Volkovysk and Vilna, where I was studying.
It is not among the easiest things to draw upon deeply-seated memories and the images of life in Zelva that I witnessed from childhood until the time I left. It is possible that a skilled hypnotist applying his powers to me, would succeed in eliciting images from my mind going back to my earliest childhood, because in my memory, I do have fragmentary images from the time I was four years old. But let us set these speculations aside, and I will try to raise Zelva in my memory, as the village appears to me now, over the distance of time, and from the perspective of over fifty years. I am familiar with the well known fact that the past is often veiled in a mantle, through which the bitterness and difficulties we experienced become less harsh with the passage of the fifty years since these upheavals took place.
So, my town of Zelva stands out, first and foremost in my mind, as a place where the Zionist movement dominated, and stood out over the other intellectual movements that pervaded the Jewish communities of Poland, that also found expression there, such as the Bundists, Communism and Yiddishism. The blue-white Zionist flag, and the Keren Kayemet pushka [charity coin box] was the legacy and property of the larger part of the Jewish population.
Its population was made up of scholars, plain folks, active merchants and tradespeople, it had factories and a number of merchants of high repute for such a small town. The synagogues of the town also attracted a loyal following among the population. The Tailor's Synagogue, wasn't called by that name for no reason, having been founded by tradespeople of that pursuit. The biggest and most beautiful of the synagogues was the Moiehr Beis-Midrash (the Wall Synagogue), in which the middle class people worshipped, along with the storekeepers and merchants. The wealthiest worshipped in the Hiltzner Schul, and even if individuals were not so wealthy, but were considered especially distinguished, they worshipped there, including the Rabbi of the town, and the Dayan, and it was there that the Maggidim gave their sermons, and where guest Cantors performed before the Ark. There was also found here a small synagogue of unique character where the simple folk prayed, people of undistinguished calling and of a lower class. The name of this synagogue was Shiva Keruim (the seven called ones). The largest and most beautiful synagogue which was available to the entire Jewish population, but was used only on High Holy Days or very special Holiday occasions, was called Die Groiseh Schul (the large synagogue), in which there was a beautiful Ark, which was an outstanding example of Jewish Ark craftsmanship in all of Poland.
The aforementioned synagogues, many of the schools, the home of the Rabbi, and close by the cemetery, were centered together in a separate neighborhood, and these were the centers of culture
of the town.
It was in this center that the cultural life of the community was conducted for all strata of the Jewish population, leading, among other things, to the founding of the Tarbut Schule approximately in 1920. The educators of the town were the melamdim of the Heders. In the Heder of Berel the Melamed, who was the Shamess of the Tailor's Synagogue, I reached the level of the study of Gemara. At a higher level, Litman the Scribe taught in his house, next door to the home of the Zlotnitzky family. The Zionist spirit, before it pervaded the streets of Zelva, was confined to a few homes where the Hebrew newspapers Tzefirah and Shachar were read, and the books of [Abraham] Mapu and [Peretz] Smolenskin. With the founding of the Tarbut Schule, the Zionist spirit began to grow in the town with full force. The first signs manifested themselves with the Aliyah of the first pioneers from Zelva to the Holy Land: Rachel (from the Barkleid family), who was one of the founders of Ra'anana, and after her, the pioneers from the families of Levin, Lifshitz, Rotni, Ephraim Gelman, Yarmus, Yechezkiel (Chatzkel) Halperin, the son of the Kreplichah, and others.
The most memorable of the Tarbut Schule teachers were, Shmuel Boruch Freidin, Shabsel (Shabtai) Ratner, and Matlovsky. The identity of other teachers, who educated the youth of the town are lost in the recesses of my memory, and doubtlessly, other members of my town will be able to recall them from memory in order to credit them with their blessed undertakings in the town.
I especially remember an incident that proves the existence of the warm Jewish soul and its affinity for culture: the marvelous celebration in the town marking the occasion of the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1925 (and I was then 10 years old). Youngsters, and those older than I, [Eliezer] Futritzky, Nahum Gelman (my uncle), Foyka Gelman (Ephraim), and others, these I remember immediately, constructed a gate at the entrance of the Moiehr Beis-Midrash and decorated it with international flags (in white and blue), and under the gate, they put up a platform, on which speakers sat, including Nahum Gelman, today, Dr. Nahum Helman of Jerusalem, [Eliezer] Futritzky, and others. From where did they draw the strength and the wisdom to speak about the opening of the university? It cannot be but a hidden inner force that worked on their souls and caused them to exert themselves to arrange this tumultuous celebration in which hundreds of young townspeople participated. The students of the Tarbut Schule participated in this celebration, dressed up, with their flags, and blessings were heard, and singing by the school chorus, and if my memory is not faulty, I believe that the fire department chorus also performed. This was a unique international experience, that underscored the connection between a nation and its culture, as it was expressed by the tumultuous participation of the Jewish population of the town.
This event also reminds me that by coincidence the origin of the security forces of our army, the Haganah brigades, of the fighters and dreamers, each to his own kind, was rooted in this same group of young people, and was founded in Zelva to protect the Jews of the town against gentile hooligans. I remember these young people wearing uniforms, and arming themselves in order to fight with the shkotzim. I especially remember the figure of Foyka Gelman standing at the head of the troop (and it was the same Foyka, who joined the partisans in fighting the Germans during the Holocaust).
To continue this narrative, let me also describe the role that our youth played in the fire department. These were Jacob Moshe Einstein, Lantzevitzky and Peikowitz in the fire department chorus, and Yitzhak Pomerantz, of blessed memory, who was familiar as a clarinet player. The young people who appeared on stage either to sing or act were, Tuvia, who surpassed in his time the cantors Rosenblatt
and Kusevitsky, in particular in singing the prayer, Tikanta Shabbat, and on the parody, Al Shelosha Averot Nashim Metot [women die because of three sins -JSB]. In a like manner, I recall the singing of Liza Gelman, during the presentation of Yom Zeh Mechubad in the fire department auditorium, and the singing of Esther Moorstein, and the young girl students from the various schools.
Our good friend, and Zelva community Leader in Israel, Yerachmiel Moorstein, also participated in many of these activities, as did others, who I hope will forgive me for not mentioning their names, as I am unable to bring them all to mind.
Among the personalities that stand out, are those of Mr. Aharon Rotni, and his wife Fradl, who live with us here in Israel, who over many years were workers for the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael. Before my eyes, I see the erect figure of the Dayan, Rabbi Nahum Moshe, who lived at the edge of the town, near the Spectors. Similarly, I see the faces of Rabbi Pesach Rachko, and the scholar, Rabbi Joseph Shulman. And with the ears of my soul, I hear the praying of the worshippers on the High Holy Days, the voices of Herschel the Hocker, of Sedletzky, and Potztiveh (if I am not mistaken). And here before me, I see the image of Rabbi from Cologne, blessed be his memory, who was the only Hasid in our town, and was among the first to go to the Holy Land, and he is today buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It is not possible to forget the appearance of the Tehilim Zogger [the reciter of Psalms], for he is the father of Elke Nosatsky [also Nosatzky], who sang all the verses of the Psalms, by heart, with the congregation, in the time between Mincha and Maariv on the Shabbat in the Moiehr Beis-Midrash. Even more prominently, stands the figure of our late grandmother, Bubbeh Laskeh, who even till the end of her life, with the coming of the Germans to Zelva, was a provider to the needy, who worked indefatigably to provide food and sustenance, and was a pillar of support to the helpless.
An unusual figure that ties Zelva to President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the U.S.A. was Motti [Mordechai] Maggid, who had malformed legs, who despite his handicap, was a soccer player with all the teams, and was able to perform as if he were quite normal. When the Germans invaded the town, he corresponded with Roosevelt, and obtained assistance from him to come to the United States.
I also recall the Maggidim, who gave their sermons in the various synagogues, and their many topics in literature and philosophy, and the speaker (whose name escapes me) who spoke on the topic of: lovers and enemies of women. A crowning event in Zionist activities came with the establishment of a Betar preparation point in the yard of the Poritz (who, incidentally brought the first auto to town). This group used to march with pride to the synagogue, singing lustily the words: as one we proclaimed that we shall make Aliyah, and we shall, to Israel, naturally.
A great deal of singing was done on Simchat Torah, and when one was called to the Torah for an aliyah, it was customary to make a substantial donation to the synagogue. The good will and neighborliness of the community was manifest in the home of our grandfather, Avraham, Yosheh Maggid's of blessed memory. When the season for baking matzoh in the oven at his house came, it was accompanied by singing, and the good cheer pervaded all those who partook in this mitzvah.
The entire population participated in happy occasions, such as weddings, and when the time came, in sad occasions such as funerals, and the scene at such events involved many of the people of Zelva, and was representative of the strong family spirit to be found among all Jewish communities of Poland.
A somewhat special light was cast on the large group of butchers in the village by the teacher, Litman the Scribe, who nicknamed them, bnei bassar [sons of the flesh -JSB], drawing this reference from the prayer, Aleinu LeShabayach. I felt at the time, that this was a somewhat acerbic sobriquet, since it was through their effort, and the weight of their influence in the life of the town, that the first and only bank in the town was founded, which continued to function until The Destroyer descended on them. The Shiva Keruim Synagogue was established for the almost exclusive use of the town butchers. It was from here that their noteworthy influence on the town emanated. Among them were those who engaged in the trade of meat products with countries outside of Poland, and in this fashion, created links between this small village and the outside world, especially with Germany. Merchants from Warsaw and Germany would come to the Zelva fairs, and established international trade ties with the town butchers. Our father, of blessed memory, Yitzhak (Itchkeh) Freidin, and his partners, David Yosha Srybnik, and Itcheh Jonah Freidin, who despite his limitations as a simple country man, without formal education, traveled to Upper Silesia, to Germany, and carried on business and transactions on an international scale.
The monthly Zelva fairs bear witness to the prominence of our town in Poland. These fairs began on the third day of the month, and were held for several hundreds of years up until the destruction of the town. I recall how difficult it was to get home during the fair days, because the streets of the entire town were blocked up with wagons and carts right up to the doors of the houses, beginning even up to three days before the fair opened. What could you not find at the fair? It was as if all of Poland had created, grown and opened up in spirit and in substance -- everything centered and focused on the fair. Yes, I remember the acrobats, fire-eaters and magicians, each to his own kind, candy vendors and artists, etc.
Here is the place to quote the work of the Zelva songwriter Mr. Lunsky, which he wrote during his exile to Siberia, from his book of songs, Across the Lithuanian River, published by Yachdav.
|Zelva, in her fairs is to be praised,
Slonim in her sesame cakes,
You will yet be praised, my rejected village,
In my songs, as my name becomes known.
And because I endured and I sang,
Let a dog go by and scratch with his paw,
I cannot escape my feeling of local patriotism regarding our town, because even then, in my youth,
I knew that the town had been mentioned in the writings of Graetz and Dubnow as an important and central town in the lives of Polish Jewry; that its marketplace was well known, in which the excommunication of the Hasidim by the Vilna Gaon was announced. Consequently, I wore my pride openly in front of my comrades in Volkovysk and Vilna, for having been a product of so historically important a town. Even then, as a youngster, I was driven by curiosity and interest in research to discover who were the people interred in the very oldest of the graves in the town cemetery. Several were interred in decorated stone sepulchers, with trees planted around them. Even then, I knew of the hidden treasures in the repositories of the Great Synagogue, and I heard the stories of the spirits and souls of the saints of the town, who would stand watch in the night hours over this very same resplendent synagogue. I would inevitably succumb to fear and trembling every time I would hear these stories from old and young alike. Today, when I hear lectures on the Jewish Kabbalah, and on reincarnation, these childhood experiences take on a special significance, in connection with all the souls and spirits that circulated through the night in that self-same synagogue.
Despite this, I never really considered why Zelva specifically came to become the center for the fairs that were held there. However, after giving the matter some thought, it occurs to me that it may have to do with its geographic location: the railroad that went through the town, and the river, the Zelvianka, that connected to the larger river, the Neman, on which lumber was transported to distant places. This river served as an important link to all parts of the Grodno Province, and consequently as a barrier and line of defense during times of war. The capture of the river by one of two warring factions generally meant control of the surrounding territory, and consequently, many bloody battles were fought in the vicinity, and Zelva was a killing field as it passed from one hand to another.
This river had romantic secrets hidden in its banks, in addition to the men and beasts who fell dead in the corners of battle around it. On its banks, ardent young men demonstrated their amorous skills, as was demonstrated in the incident of the wife of the pious shochet, who gave herself to a young swain on a Sabbath afternoon, planning to spend some time with him in the tall grass by the riverbanks, when they were caught in flagrante delicto, and became the cause célèbre of the town. It was in this river that I learned to swim. My father, of blessed memory, would take me on his back when I would go immerse myself in the water. It was on these riverbanks, next to the flour mill (which was powered in its day by water accumulated behind a dam) that had been destroyed in one of the many battles to capture the river, next to the bridge that went over the river, that I and my friends would while away the time, and even then, I dreamt the dream of the establishment of the State of Israel. In this river, and in its clear waters, the Baptists would come to be baptized, and before they would perform this act of faith, we all, old and young, would come to watch the baptismal ritual.
The hospital was right next to the river. The odor of carbolic acid would constantly waft from the hospital, and to this day, I can smell it as if it is still reaching my nose. People suffering illnesses, such as typhus, were brought to its doors. It was a strange feeling for us Jews to receive assistance from the hospital. A feeling as if we were beyond the boundaries. Nonetheless, the fact of its existence was further evidence of the uniqueness of our village.
I remember the strolls along the Haufgasse, and passing the saw mill of our town's richest citizens, the Borodetzky brothers, and then approaching the apple orchards of the Poritz, Boshilov with the feeling of participation in the preparatory labors of our pioneers, who were getting themselves ready for the hard toil in the future, if and when their emigration to the Homeland would materialize.
Like a moving picture, people from all walks of life pass before my eyes, beginning with the prosperous manufacturers, the Borodetzky brothers, and ending with the tailors, and shoemakers occupied in their work. I remember well, carpenters like Grunberg, of blessed memory, and builders of wooden houses, Alter Goy, and his two sons, (who built the house I lived in until I moved to Israel), the barber, in addition to the gentile barber, who apart from his primary vocation, sold leeches for medicinal purposes and for bloodletting; the bread bakers: Moti-Meir, the father of Pesha and Henia Peikowitz, and the bakery that was next to the house of Itcheh Yudelicheh's; I can still taste his zemel rolls in my mouth; The bagel bakers on Schneider Street, Fradel Rotni, the owner of the general store right next to our house, from which we got not only our foodstuffs, but also our school supplies as well. Her husband, Aharon Rotni, made carbonated water and ice cream, The manufacturing merchants, the Slutskys, and the famous Herr Manzheh, and the vigorous merchants in the line of the small stores of the Volksdeutsche, Herr Schuchart, who added unique color and atmosphere to the diverse activities of our small town.
Kreineh Freidin was the most famous of the folk healers in the town and surrounding villages, to whom myriads would flock. She utilized incantations, balls of dough from fresh bread, and bones. She brought relief and succor to all manner of swellings in various parts of the body, and would remove the curse of the Evil Eye with a glance. She would receive all manner of agricultural produce in payment for these services, as well as eggs from gentiles, who would constantly flock to her, knocking on her door, which was right next door to the house I was born in, and in which I lived until I left for the Land of Israel.
As regards matters of health and healing arts, it is appropriate to recall the Feldsher Epstein. He was the doctor as well, and he was held in awe by all the townspeople, especially during the typhus epidemic, and I was then only a boy of four. I remember when he came to visit my grandmother, Michlah Gelman, of blessed memory, after she contracted typhus, and it was his diagnosis that she would certainly die, and indeed, that is exactly what happened after his visit.
It is also appropriate to recall the gentile feldsher, who according to my natural impression to this day, appeared to be a good gentile who was dedicated to caring for the ill, and he cared for them with conviction; as is also recalled with favor, our pharmacist, Ethel die apthekerin, who also healed the sick, and was someone who helped the sick not less than the feldshers themselves. She continued to do this, until she emigrated to Canada, along with the family of my grandfather, R'Avraham Gelman (son of Yosheh the Maggid, and four of my uncles and two of my aunts). After many happenings, and the passage of many years, a son of my grandfather returned to us in Israel, and today, Dr. Nahum Gelman is a dentist (in Zelva, he too was a pharmacist, and an assistant to Ethel the pharmacist, and he also emigrated to Canada). One of those uncles was the most popular Zionist lecturer in the town, and he really livened up the spirit of the occasion when the Hebrew University was established in Jerusalem. He was a uniquely responsible individual in his day in the town. He also was a revolutionary, and an expert in personal powers, who left the precincts of the Bet Hamidrash. As it happens, he was the only one in the town who studied the Talmud at night, as if it were day, and he even slept in the Bet Hamidrash. He was able to set a direction based on his revolutionary ways, and obtained a position at the post office in Gamina (the town) where he worked, even on the Sabbath, which sharpened the efforts of Rabbi Nahum Moshe, the Dayan and other town notables to alter his compromises with the exigencies of earning a livelihood to escape both unemployment and degeneration. Because of this initiative, this left an impression on me as a young boy. I was proud of my freethinking Zionist uncle whom I admired so very much.
|Seventh Grade in the Tarbut School -- 5698|
The Commitee and Teachers' Commission of the Tarbut School 1928|
Minsky Rosenblum, Kaplan, M. Y. Bakar, Rosatzky Rodman, S. B. Freidin
Taking Leave of Eliezer Futritzky Ritz Before His Aliyah to the Land
M. Salutsky, Y. Moorstein, M. Perlmutter, M. Rafilovitz
Keren Kayemet Activists - 1930
N. Gelman, A. Szturmkowicz, . MFeikewicz, M. Lifschitz, Y. Moorstein Z. Novick
|Poalei Zion -- 1930|
HaShomer HaTzair Leadership
M. Perlmutter, M. Rotner, M. Roseman, Nasetzky Bublecki, M. Rafilovitz, S.B. Freidin, Kh. Rosenbulm, T. Kaplan, M. Futritzky-Uryon
|Yitzhak Shaalev (Shulyak), Rivka Vishnivesky, Kalman Rosenberg|
On the Banks of the Zelviakna River...
B. Rotni, M. Rafilovitz, Sh.Lidisky, S. Spekto, Kh. Lifschitz, Y. Moorstein
In attempting to delineate a portrait of our town, I couldn't compromise on the impact made by my uncle's image in making so aggressive an impression as he did, whether it was necessary or optional as it was seen in those days by the majority of the town population.
If we are indeed discussing matters of health, then it is appropriate to also recall the town bath house, which also contributed to the health of the Jewish citizenry of Zelva. There were those who used the important services of this institution on Fridays, or towards the end of the week as the Sabbath approached, and there were those who used it only on the eve of holidays. It was a unique experience for me to go to the bath house with my father, of sainted memory, and to see the important Jewish men of the town nude, such as Reb Moshe Tschomber, who was well hung, and those who would spray each other on the shoulders with boiling hot water, using whisks from the top steps for a couple of seconds, because it wasn't possible to stand it for more than a couple of seconds, and in order to catch one's breath, it was necessary to immediately pour pails of cold water on them, and much steam would rise, to the point that it was not possible to see who was to be found in the chamber.
I also recall stories of the times that the women would come to the Mikvah for purification, in a side section of the bath house, and of incidents where there was contact between the sexes, and these tales were undoubtedly embellished and these happenings became the subjects of stories and jokes in the town. I have the impression that this was a Jewish institution only, and that the gentile population of the town did not make use of it at all. In this vein, I recall that from time to time, this institution required repairs and improvements that ran into a lot of money, and for lack of financial resources, it was not possible to implement these repairs and improvements for many long months, and therefore there was a singular difficulty, that involved risk to life, if one wanted to use it during the winter season when there was snow and ice.
Sports, athletics and playing soccer are also subjects that relate to maintaining good health. In my memory, several soccer games come and arise between our town youth (who doesn't remember Abraham Perlmutter, who could kick a soccer ball to such great heights?) and the police force, the gentiles, or playing against a team from Dereczin. The soccer players were high in the affection of our youngsters. Across the river and toward the meadows, a field was set aside for playing hockey, which was played by selected teams, and these games, the teams played on fields in the middle of town, like the field across from the fire house, or the field opposite the Gemina which served as a market for the sale of horses during the fairs, before the horse market was transferred to a location at the back of Volkovysk Street. In this regard, I recollect a singular effect on my health, caused by playing soccer. Instead of contributing to my health, these games caused me to develop an accumulation of water in the pulmonary membranes, and for several, long months, I was in the care of Dr. Aaronson in Volkovysk, who succeeded in curing me without using the newer cures of the day, notwithstanding the severity of the cure, and its duration -as I said- many months, and here I was a young man, who was by myself in Volkovysk, and I went to the doctor as if I were a full grown patient in all respects.
In addition to soccer, we made use of the ladders in the fire house, and other equipment, although this was primitive by our standards today, in order to exercise and improve our physical condition. We used this equipment with the support of Mr. Schuchart, the Volksdeutsche, but the truth is, that I do not know how the youth of the town made use of the equipment. However, I won't compromise the truth if I say that these young people also learned to play all the brass and woodwind instruments in the firemen's orchestra ensemble that had been established, and also worked to put on fire-fighting
demonstrations, especially after the town acquired a modern fire engine.
Advancing progress did not skip over our town either. In order to accommodate new fire engines, and for the health of the populace, the wells of the town were ordered to be repaired, and a water hydrant was installed opposite the fire house. This was a festive occasion, the time when the ground was broken and work begun for the first hydrant in town, after long weeks of drilling in the place. Looking back today, I really feel that if oil were struck after an extended drilling operation of this sort, it would not have caused any greater joy than this drilling did to the townspeople, when the well succeeded in bringing up clean and tasty water, that they then brought to their houses in pails. Instead of using water that we would draw up in a pail from the well that was adjacent to our house (and who doesn't recall that well near our house?), instead of muddy, polluted water, in which with bare eyes you saw living insects swimming around, instead of the danger that confronted you in the winter months, the time when the ice around the well practically covered the opening, and it was necessary from time to time to work hard to remove the layers of ice around the mouth of the well, because otherwise you risked possibly falling into the well itself, we had the privilege of being able to draw our water with the help of the hydrant, which in our eyes was truly one of the great wonders of the world.
In recording impressions about our town, we cannot skip over the constabulary. The prefect of police, the policemen, and the jailhouse itself that was beneath the police station. These were established by the Polish regime, and it was at their behest that things were done. As to street cleanliness, when the prefect of police came to inspect the town, the populace was responsible for cleaning off the areas beside their homes, and to pull out all the grass growing between the cobblestones. This was generally a festive occasion, in which all members of the household, and next door neighbors participated, and in the end, no prefect would even come. The jailhouse was in general empty, but from time to time, particularly during the fairs, its population would consist of an occasional drunk or so. Truly serious offenders were generally sent to the county jail in Volkovysk, which was the county seat for the area. However, it would occur that even one or another Jew from our town would end up in the Volkovysk prison, for bootlegging moonshine, or illegal money changing, as in the case of the arrest of my father, of sainted memory, who was caught in possession of valuta, or foreign currency, but these were generally released immediately, at most after a few days. In general, there was no Jewish crime in Zelva.
An independent Jewish governance, derived from the consent of the heads of the community and its distinguished citizens, existed in Zelva as long as I can remember, and there is no doubt that this pattern of life had gone on for the hundreds of years in which a Jewish community existed there. The gentiles of three denominations lived in a separate area, from which they nevertheless would send their pigs to forage in the Jewish yards, but the Jews who drive them off with blows, and this caused fights to break out between our young people and the gentile youth. A few Jewish families lived outside the Jewish neighborhood, at the edge of the town and near its entranceways, as was the case with my aunt's family (my father's sister) Hannah Sarah Bublecki, along with her husband, and their children, Jejna (Jonah), Kattel (Yekatriel), and Chaya who were the first victims who were killed by the Germans, after their gentile neighbors informed against them.
The first driver, the first bus that ran between Zelva and Volkovysk, the first and only gas station in the center of town, opposite the field in front of the Moiehr Bet Hamidrash, has left the impression in my memory that our town also and begun to take its initial steps into the motorized and mechanical age. It is my impression that the town's only locksmith, and bicycle sales and repairman
(whose name I forgot), was the first to travel to Volkovysk to learn how to drive a bus, and that returns us to those wonderful days of bicycle riding in the cobblestoned streets of the town, after we learned to bicycle ride, and the romantic days of ice skating on the ice, and of sleigh-riding on the snow from the top of the hill on which the Russian Orthodox Church stood, to the bottom near the water hydrant and the Gemina building.
Thus, in addition to the spiritual and cultural enjoyments and the various youth activities, were added periods where we could enjoy the many pleasures available in the bosom of nature, and in the beautiful environment of the town, in which nature is able to bestow pleasure and joy by the handful.
It is important to research and place on the record the deeds of the townspeople from the time of the Second Aliyah (if there weren't already such people in the First Aliyah?) and their contributions to developing the Homeland and the generations they brought forth to follow them. There is no doubt that since the Zelver seed and root was vibrant and full of Jewish life and essence, so it must be true of their offspring, trees, branches and fruit, whether in The Land or in the Diaspora. About a Zelver, one can say with certainty, that even if he is found in the Diaspora, only his physical being is there temporarily, but indeed, his soul and spirit is bound to Our Land, and is found there.
The things that have been written, and will be written by those that have come from Zelva, and will be enshrined in a Memorial Book as an permanent testimony and eternal remembrance of this sacred community and its Jews, will profoundly touch the hearts and souls of those who come from this town, and those that had a connection to its residents, even if they themselves are of different geographic origin, because we recognized that there was a special grace and magic to this little village.
Then, The Abrogator descended on Zelva, our town. Tractors and rollers razed its houses, its schools, its theater and its gardens. There are no Jews there any more, nor will there ever be Jews there anymore, after the Nazi exterminators wiped them out, burned them, and uprooted every remnant of Jewish life that existed there. And so all the treasure and property that was accumulated for generations by the Jews of our town was lost, but woe betide those who can sustain such a loss and then not remember.
Let us visit, work around, and care for the Trees of Zelva that were planted in the Forest of Martyrs in memory of our community. At all time, let the memory of our dear ones stand before us as a symbol and a sign, that our people and nation will continue to live, to grow and prosper on our fruitful Holy Land, in Israel, our beloved and dear country.
Dora Geiger & Haya Meiner
from the Srybnik Family
Much has already been written about our town of Zelva. We don't remember a great deal, because from the age of about 9 or 10, we went to Slonim, to attend the Kunitsa Jewish Gymnasium, in which the language of instruction was Polish.
For holidays, and in the summer for two months, we would return home, to Zelva.
We can remember the town, and part of its streets well, in addition to the neighborhoods that were close to us. Our mother's family the Selman family, and across the street was our father's family, the Srybniks. The real name of the family was Kahan or Kagan, since they were a family of Kohanim, but the name was changed to Srybnik some generations before, on account of one of the sons being drafted into the army.
Our family had been in Zelva for generations. The house in which we lived was an ancient building. Its walls were made of thick stone (about one meter thick). It had deep windows, and on its sills were put several rows of brick flowerpots. Also, the interior of the house was full of flowerpots. We remember a ficus tree that occupied a central spot in a room, and we, the children, were supposed to clean up the leaves that fell from it. It was our mother who loved the flowerpots, a pleasant, alert and effervescent woman, who looked after us five children, to assure our education and that we would acquire insight and skills.
There was a large oven in the house that was used to bake bagels. This was our grandfather Yosha's occupation, the father of our father, of sainted memory. Afterwards, it was also used to bake Passover matzoh for the townspeople for many years.
Our family had many branches. A large part emigrated to the United States and to Argentina.
Father, together with partners, was involved in the meat business, and from time to time also dealt in grain. His partners were leading cattle dealers distributing to Warsaw and Germany.
We recall, while being in Warsaw, we studied there after finishing our schooling in Slonim, that there were merchants who received an undertaking from our father to provide us with funds to allow us to meet our needs, and on many occasions, we were invited to their homes during holidays, in order that we not feel lonely in the big city.
After we graduated from school in Warsaw, Haya emigrated to the Holy Land in September 1933, and Dora in September 1935.
We had another sister, Rivkah, who was already close to being saved. Haya's brother-in-law made a trip to Poland in 1939 in order to bring her to the Holy Land, but when he reached Lvov, the war broke out, and he could not reach Zelva. He had no alternative but to return to the Holy Land as quickly as possible, taking two months with considerable tribulation, and by highly indirect means. Thus Rivkah was denied a means to elude the talons of the Nazis, and became a victim of the terrifying Holocaust along with the other members of the family there.
We recall a unique incident told to us by our parents.
The Zelva veterans who survived the First World War, made a pledge that they would all contribute to having a Torah scroll written, and would donate it to the Great Synagogue of Zelva. Our father, David Yosha Srybnik, Itchkeh (Laskeh's) Freidin, Israel Shulyak, and several others, took upon themselves the task of actually writing the Sefer Torah. The project took many years, seeing that it involved a considerable expense, but thanks to the stubborn dedication of the scribes, the work of writing the Torah scroll was completed, which was then splendidly covered and decorated with all the usual paraphernalia, and in a festive parade, underscored with accompaniment by an orchestra, and under a suitable canopy, they all stepped along the full length of the main street of the town with the Torah to the Great Synagogue.
This was a great celebration for everyone in town, especially for the volunteer scribes, and the sponsors who lived to see their pledges fulfilled and redeemed. Afterwards, a large and festive party was put on. Our mother, Esther, (David Yosha's) Srybnik, was the spirit behind it.
For most of the Zelva townsfolk, whose lives were pretty routine, this scene was something truly unforgettable, and served as a topic of conversation for quite a long time afterwards.
Many other episodes took place in Zelva, but have been forgotten with the passage of time. It is a pity that we can recall so little at so late a time, when we can place on record our recollections of our childhood years in Zelva, that with the passage of time pass on from our memories and are forgotten.
An so, The Abrogator descended on this effervescent Zionist town, and on its residents, who live there for so many generations.
by Joseph Vishnitzky
As we are moving further away from the period of the Holocaust with the passage of time, the impact of this terrifying tragedy overpowers me even more greatly, both on a personal and universal plane, and a terrible sense of guilt will follow me to my dying day, that I did not have enough sense, at the time, to bring my family with me to the Holy Land.
It is hard for me to get used to the idea that all the cities and towns that I knew so well no longer exist. From the dark swirls of time, images of my town and her populace form before me, who in the exigencies of the day, struggled with great ardor for each loaf of bread, yet without compromising more lofty goals such as education and culture. Despite the difficult economic conditions, there was a rich cultural life, whose crowning glory was the Tarbut School, which would not be an embarrassment even when measured against any of the good schools in the Holy Land today.
They lightened their drab existence by the value placed on pioneering initiatives, which imbued the youth with a love of life and new hope.
One of the figures that floats around in my memories is of a talented Jewish man (I forget his name, but I think he was a watchmaker) Zalman? [Possibly Zalman Brash, as described by Rivkah Wasserman later in this book. -JSB] He was the living spirit behind drama presentations and entertainment. He directed the plays and lead the choir.
Believe me, every time I hear the singing of Shir HaMaalot, it seems to me, and I feel again, and it always seems to me, that our version that was sung in Zelva was the best of all the others that I have heard to date.
And if there should be those in generations to come who will want to research our passing, and to return to our roots, I would want the world to know, and not to forget, that proud and honest people lived in Zelva, who were raised and lived there, and who were annihilated, that were not afraid of the gentiles who surrounded them, and when necessary, knew how to defend their honor.
The Jews of Zelva donated a great deal to Zionist causes and to our international rejuvenation as a people.
Here in Israel, you will not find the emigrants from Zelva in the aisles of the Bourse, you will find them among those who worked hard all their lives, and who did a great deal to build the Homeland.
by Emanuel Vishnitzky
In 1935, my brother Joseph was already in the Holy Land for two years, and we were receiving letters from him in which he indicated that he was working on getting me into the Holy Land with the help of my uncle.
My uncle had an orchard in Rehovoth, and each head of an orchard had permission to recruit labor from outside the country. In less than two months afterwards, we received a letter in which was an invitation for me to come to the Holy Land. We were overwhelmed, and didn't know quite how to react, and I was at that time only 18, from a small town, having never set foot outside of its boundaries, not even to neighboring Volkovysk, and here I have to travel to Warsaw, the capital of Poland. In our home, there was great joy: the second son is going to the Land of Israel! I saw my father, one of the strongest men in Zelva, crying at the side of the train, and I was crying along with him, as if I were just a little boy. That was the first time in my life that I ever saw my father cry, and this picture has remained engraved in my memory. To this day, I remember my little brother's words, who was then a member of Hashomer HaTza'ir: the day is not long in coming when I too will come.
However, to my everlasting sorrow, he, along with the remainder of my family, stayed behind in Zelva. My mother, Shifra, didn't know where to start: there was little time and much to do. I needed warm underwear sewn for me (gadkes mit bendlach). In short, there wasn't enough time to cry. My mother traveled with me as far as Brestovich. Her whole family was there, and it was only when we got there that she first began to cry from great joy. On the train there were many Polish students, who jeered at my mother with their chant: out of here to Palestine! My mother yelled back at them, crying as she said: yes, he's leaving - but to Israel. I went directly to my brother in the kibbutz of Hashomer HaTza'ir, to freedom, today called Ramat-HaShofet.
|The "Tarbut" School of 1928|
Advanced Hebrew Class in 1918
The Partisan, M(oshe) Salutsky, Y. Saperstein, B. Epstein, Y. Moorstein, Kh. Weinstein
|Transport in Zelva - 1927|
The members of the kibbutz, received me in absolutely outstanding fashion, despite the fact that they knew I was a radical Betarist, and I could never forget this. I was a guest of the kibbutz for a month. After this, I went out to work along with everyone else. I ended up working in my uncle's orchard, but then we fell on hard times that I didn't know or dreamed could happen. The work was oppressive. At night, when I returned from work, I used to fall on my bed from over-exhaustion without eating dinner. Despite all this, I sent letters home in which I indicated that everything was fine with me, in order to keep my mother happy.
After a while, I worked up enough courage to leave the job in my uncle's orchard, not realizing that on the outside, hard times were waiting for me, and it was then that I joined the Haganah, and from there - to the British Army.
In 1947, I met my future wife, who was born in Tzisov, and was a partisan during the Holocaust period. As of today, we have three children: Deborah, Shafrirah, and Eli.
Our son, Eli, was seriously wounded in the Yom Kippur War. He was a commander at the Suez Canal, and was captured by the Egyptians. Today, thank God, he is healthy and well. Today I am retired, and a grandfather to lovely grandchildren, like all of our Sabras.
by Dvoshka Bar-Nir (Ravitz)
In 1934 I left home for school in order to get ready to go to the Holy Land. I saw what was coming. It is good that I wasn't late for the train.
My sister, Rivkah, went to the Holy Land two years before I did. My cousin, Hadassah, reached the Holy Land in 1946, after she survived seven levels of Hell.
My mother said: children, begin your preparations, and make aliyah, and perhaps we too will be able to reach you afterwards. It was as if a premonition of evil had possessed her, notwithstanding the fact that our economic circumstances were still tolerable, because we had been farmers in Zelva for many generations. My father tilled the soil using hired help. We didn't lack for food, but man lives not by bread alone. Five years later, when I returned home from my schooling to get ready to leave for the Holy Land, everything had changed. My parents had gotten old, and both of them were sick, and my father was very worried. He had no other means by which he could support the family. My brother, Moishel, was in the army. My sister, Pearl, helped with the house work, and studied at night. The atmosphere in the house was difficult. The odor of smoke from the fires to come could already be sensed in the air. People said that the war could not be stopped, and it would break out, apparently, pretty shortly. In Germany, Hitler had risen to power, and his influence was recognized in Poland as well. The bubbling anti-Semitism was fomented by the statutes of the regime. The economic condition of the Jews of Zelva became more desperate day by day. The sources of income for storekeepers, merchants and working people were shut off. There was no peace or tranquility. Yet, the youth of the town still pursued various lines of endeavor, and the life of the Tarbut [school] continued along its normal course. The children continued to learn, and parents struggled to earn their sustenance, but you could feel the despair. But not even one of the young people conceived of their future as being in Zelva. To a one, they dreamed of the Land of Israel. The large majority of the young people belonged to one or another of the Zionist organizations, whether HeHalutz, Poalei
Zion, HaShomer HaTza'ir, or Betar. They all organized themselves and worked in order to make aliyah, to a better life than what they had in Zelva. I remember when I took leave from my parents and all my family. My father was a good and honest man. In his dealings with other people, he always looked for the good side of things. In my entire life, I only saw him cry once: at the side of the train as I embarked on my journey to the Holy Land. My mother was ever the optimist. She was a bubbly woman, well known for being good-hearted, a volunteer to help in Zelva, a dedicated mother and good homemaker. Our home was a warm place, where the door was open to anyone who was distressed or needy. My mother was always receiving guests with love and a smile. I recall, that people on our street would turn to her, asking that she write letters on their behalf to their relatives in America, to request that they send clothing or money. She wrote these letters in a style and tone that was uniquely hers, and in a short time, they would always receive what they had asked for.
The cherished likeness of my parents will go with me forever. I will never forget the last Sabbath that I celebrated at home. Sabbath morning, my father returned from the synagogue, and we sat around the table to eat our traditional warm meal, and in honor of my impending departure, my mother had prepared all sorts of delicacies that I liked. We sat by the table and toasted each other with L'Chaim, as I sampled my mother's delicacies, trying with all my might not to burst out into tears, lest I ruin the festive atmosphere that suffused all corners of the house. I sensed the tension around me, and I looked for an opportunity to leave the table. I had a feeling that this was my last chance to see my family that I loved so much, and to sit in its midst.
I remember the first bus in Zelva. The route was from Slonim to Dereczin, and from Volkovysk to Zelva. The bus used to arrive towards dusk. The whole town used to be as if on wheels. anxious to see, as if they were running to put out a fire. The children especially used to run after the driver, pleading with him to let them go into the little house that ran on wheels, and in general, they saw in the driver a kindred spirit.
I remember the fairs at Zelva which were renown throughout the area, especially the monthly fair that took place on the third of the month. There was usually fair once a week on Thursday. People would ride all night in horse carts in order to get there early in the morning with their merchandise in order to get one of the better selling spots. You couldn't cross the street on those days from sheer overcrowding.
The Haufgasse is etched into my mind, on which we strolled Saturday nights, after leaving the HeHalutz branch. I remember the train station, which was not far from our home, and the Bershker Wald [the Bereshko Forest] , the crisp clean air, that was suffused with the scent of pines. We came to this forest nearly every Sabbath, taking with us food for the entire day, and whoever wanted a drink of cold milk, used to go to the establishment of Jacob Lantzevitzky, and drink there on such occasions. I also remember the Bereshkovsky family which lived in Bereshko. It was a very well respected family.
I will never forget my family and my childhood years in Zelva, -- not ever!!
by Rivkah Wasserman (Ravitz)
In our little town, Zelva, there was a church at the top of a high hill that stood like a fortress. From the back side of the hill, we used to slide down on sleds from the heights to the Slutsky home at the
bottom. The east side served as a mock battlefield for the games of the youngsters on the Sabbath. Further down, there was a pasture that was used to grow wheat, that was sown in rows, and the wheat was beautiful and romantic, and the place drew young couples for strolls, and lovely places to take such walks were not missing in Zelva. To the north, one could see a forest of pine trees, and at its end was the town of Bereshko. In the spring and summer, this was a place where young people would come to spend time, and in the summertime, it was used as a sanatorium for curing the ill, especially those who suffered from tuberculosis. They would rent rooms from the gentiles who lived there, who also supplied them with such needs as milk, fruit, vegetables and the like.
In times of economic crisis in Zelva, when heavy taxes were imposed, and the harvest was meager, the Jews and gentiles suffered alike, but those Jews who made their living by serving the gentile population were especially hard hit. In the summer, the situation was generally a little easier, because there was seasonal work to be had. There was work in tobacco to be had from the nobleman (Poritz) of the area, who used to hire women workers from the surrounding villages, and even Jewish women had an opportunity to work there. And in similar fashion, the two sawmills that were in Zelva provided seasonal work to the townspeople.
After the First World War, when Poland was restored as a nation, the Jews were driven from the property that they had occupied. That is how Jews began to arrive in Zelva from the surrounding villages. While they were rooted there, their cultural level and the level of Jewish education among their children was somewhat deficient. In town, they tried to survive by becoming innkeepers, after arriving with little in the way of possessions, however, despite the best of intentions, their economic circumstances were difficult, because in town it was hard to get permission to open up an inn, and they couldn't make a living from farming anymore.
Towards the end of the 1930's, an emigration to South America began, especially to Argentina, and also to Canada. This was a period of growth in Argentina. The FIKA organization, established by Baron Hirsch, supported the Polish Jews farmers who wanted to emigrate in order to establish Jewish settlements in the hinterlands of Argentina. Several of the young people in Zelva, who simply could not find satisfactory outlets for themselves, and saw no future in their town, succeeded in emigrating to various countries.
Most of the young people of Zelva came from worker families, and they established there a branch of the Poalei Zion, while the middle class children established Hashomer HaTza'ir, and HeHalutz. All of these laid a foundation for socialistic Zionism. Despite the trying circumstances, they overcame all the obstacles, working hard by day, and studying by night. There were those who were very capable as leaders in scholarly matters, and they organized clubs, from which many gained significant knowledge, because not all parents were capable of imparting enlightenment and knowledge to their children. There were clubs for literature, economics, natural sciences, geography, and other subjects. This cultural work filled Zelva with substance, and the youth of the town took a great interest in it. And Zelva youth served as a role model to others, and the name, Zelva Chapter, preceded us in the HeHalutz and Poalei Zion organizations of our area. In 1924 we already had a following of Hashomer HaTza'ir, and I remember the first halutzim who made aliyah to the Holy Land. The conditions in the Holy Land at the time were very trying, and the pioneers from Zelva and other places fought for their survival, and were ground down because of grueling work, suffering from hunger, and attacks of yellow fever, yet only about one percent returned to Zelva, and among those were the two sisters, Hannah and Malka Lifshitz.
In Zelva, we succeeded to organize the workers, and we obtained permission to form a worker's union. We established that all the trades would be organized by the Zelva workers union. All employers knew that the Jewish workers did not work more than 8 hours a day. Even the Poritz, who controlled most of the summer jobs in the area, knew this, and took it into account.
I remember the first of May in Zelva, and the times we marched in the streets with slogans, singing songs, and dressed in uniforms. There were times when we did not obtain permits to celebrate May Day in this way, because informers would give prejudicial information to the police about us. There never seemed a lack of people willing to inform on us this way in Zelva, nevertheless, most of the time we got our permit. Even if we wanted to organize a meeting, if someone came from a central office, we were forced to apply for permission. Every young man and woman, without exception, belonged to one or another of the youth organizations in town. It was the cultural pursuits that occupied the position of greatest respect. At the beginning of the week, a schedule was drawn up, and every evening there was some activity dedicated to the interests of that chapter of the youth group. Every Saturday night, we used to organize a literary debate. The debaters were selected from the members of the chapter, and even from other chapters. Pro and con sides were selected, and that's how public debates were organized, which were of great interest to many participants. Those who participated learned public speaking, and a channel was opened to them for reading and independent thought. Among the books that I remember being debated were, Crime and Punishment, Buntzia Sahok, and The Trial, by Kafka.
Every Jewish household always had a daily newspaper. My parents used to read Dem Heint, and I also read the weekly Freiheit, and the monthly Befreiung. There was also a chapter newspaper called Dos Vort.
Zelva also had two drama studios: one was the Poalei Tzion studio, and the second belonged to the membership of the Tarbut school. The members were middle class.
The head of the Poalei Tzion drama group was Zalman Brash, who also was the director and the leading actor. He was a man of exceptional energy and capability. He would also do all the decorations and makeup. The actors were often members of the chapter as well. If the show was a success, they would take the production to surrounding towns, and the proceeds were used to acquire books for the library. They used to buy the better quality books in order to really be able to learn from them. The second company used to donate its profits to the town library. I remember the names of several of the players, such as Taibel Kaplan, Bashka Kaplinsky and her husband, Esther Moorstein, and Leitza Vishnievsky. From time to time, teachers from the school would also perform. I was particularly impressed by Bashka Kaplinsky's performance in Mireleh Ephrat, and her performance, which was truly outstanding, was talked about for a long time in Zelva. Travelling drama troupes used to come to Zelva, and we were fortunate to see companies from the Ukraine, Romania, and even Ida Kaminska and her company reached us. The drama hall in Zelva was a long wooden shed whose second half served as the firehouse. Evening entertainment was organized in this hall, as in the case of Purim, and for those occasions, the walls were decorated so that the bare beams would not be visible. This humble shed was transformed into a cultural center for all the townspeople, because when a play was put on, even the adults came to see it.
We, the young people, were occupied with collecting donations. In pairs, with boxes in our hands, we would pass through the town, soliciting the townspeople for donations to Keren Kayemet, Keren
HaYesod, Rabbi Meir Baal-HaNess, etc. We also participated in the sending of gifts (Shalach Manoss) on the Purim holiday.
We had a orchestra with all brass and woodwinds, and violins and mandolins. The orchestra performed at all town events, such as weddings, and Hanukkah and Purim celebrations, during which time a Beauty Queen for the town was also selected. This entertainment was organized at the Tarbut school, and if a large crowd was expected, it was scheduled for the firehouse building. Even the Polish intelligentsia used to come to these events. Most of the teachers at the Tarbut school were natives of Zelva, and only a small percentage were brought in from the outside. Rachel Kaplan was the first kindergarten teacher in Zelva. For the kindergarten, a large room was set aside in the Tarbut school. The kindergarten operated for a year or two, but was closed for lack of sufficient children.
As for my family, my grandfather was a landowner with a lot of property. He willed a substantial part of this to my father, and yet enough land remained for the rest of his children. The origin of these holdings goes back to the time of Czar Alexander II, who apportioned lands for use by the Jews. The sovereignty was in the hands of nobility, and the Jews had to pay them very heavy taxes.
When the income from these lands deteriorated seriously, my father sold most of the land off, but retained a plot for growing vegetables. Even during the time when my father would work the land in the summer, he would engage in commerce during the winter season. He had a partner, and my mother also helped out. He had a Grade A commercial permit, and we were well off. For many years, we had two non-Jewish servants: a shaygetz [non-Jew], who helped my father with the farming, and was practically the house steward, and a shiksa [non-Jewess], who helped my mother with the house work. However, when the government changed, and times changed as well, the amount of money we had dwindled. My father was forced to sell off his remaining land, but he still engaged in business to some extent.
The older daughter, Dvoshka and myself, went to off to school. The younger ones, my sister Pereleh, and my brother Moshe, stayed home with my parents. After six years, when we returned from school in order to get ready to make aliyah, there wasn't so much as a penny left in the house. My parents had gotten old, their health was not too good, and it was very difficult to find ways to make a living. The essential question was how to find the money that was needed for me to make aliyah and leave. That was when my father decided to travel to a town and take a loan from a gentile he knew there. They praised him, and honored him there very much, and he earned their trust. They even jested with him when they said: Pesach, what kind of a Jew are you that you don't even know how to be devious! And that's the way it was: the gentile brought the needed funds , conveying his desire to be rid of the daughter of Pesach and Tzeitel. At Saturday noon, he brought the promised money, we drank a L'Chaim, and we parted very good friends. And in the same manner, the aliyah of my sister Dvoshka was also arranged, literally at the last minute, at the time the Germans invaded Danzig.
The question can be asked, as to where did my parents get the money to repay their loans to the gentiles.
During the good times, my father was in the habit of buying valuable goods, such as wagon parts, farming tools, and also gold, and he would hide them in the eaves under the roof. When they became pressed for funds, they would take some of these items and sell them. Thanks to my parents, who lived frugally, my sister and I were saved, and though my brother Moshe was denied this escape, since
he was past draft age, after the Russians invaded our area, he was drafted immediately. After that, my parents never saw him and he vanished without a trace.
My little sister Pereleh did not want to leave our aged and frail parents alone. The Russians afforded her every opportunity to work and study, and thereby Pereleh worked extremely hard to assure sustenance for our parents and herself, and she also studied at night. I received letters from my mother facilitated by the Red Cross. From those letters I learned that from the time the Russians came to Zelva, Jewish refugees streamed into Zelva from central Poland and from all the places invaded by the Nazis. They put up tents for them to live in, and when they ran out of tents, they slept out under the sky. Slowly but surely, life began to return to normal. The younger generation united with the refugees, and they lived the present as best they could, without thought for what tomorrow may bring.
In the last letter that I received from my mother, she told us that my sister Pereleh was getting ready to be married. After that, the line to our remaining dear ones in Zelva was cut, because Hitler had invaded our area, and they were destroyed in the Holocaust among the other Six Million.
by Chaim Slutsky
[I write this] in memory of my town, Zelva, and in memory of the beloved members of my family who were annihilated during the Second World War by Hitler and his supporters who fell upon us:
In memory of my sainted mother, Sarah, of the family of Hasia and David Rubinstein, and my father of blessed memory, Yitzhak, from the family of Rachel and Moshe Slutsky, my sister Rashka and brother-in-law, Abraham Bereshkovsky, my brother Gedalia, who, in his time, served in the Polish army and was killed in the fighting against the Germans, and similarly other uncles and aunts and their entire families.
My town Zelva, in which I was raised and where I lived until 1935, until I made aliyah to the Holy Land, remains in my memory as a Zionist town, in which most of the [Jewish] residents were Zionists, who donated to Keren Kayemet and Keren HaYesod for many years, and only a small percentage of them were privileged ultimately to make aliyah to the land of Israel.
Zelva was surrounded by fields, forests, and had the Zelvianka River, along with beautiful scenery.
The inhabitants of the town mostly made their living from manual trades: tailors, smiths, shoemakers, carpenters, wagon drivers, and farmers who grew vegetables, fruits and grain. There were also storekeepers, merchants, innkeepers, and they had a variety of occupations. They were all straightforward, honest people, who worked hard to make a living.
I am reminded of the period before the holidays. The shoemakers and tailors would work far into the night, and even arose at an early hour, continuing their work by candlelight in order to earn their bread, and they made do with limited hours of sleep and rest.
We were raised and educated during our initial years in the Heder of the Rebbe. After that, we went to the Tarbut school from the Heder. After graduation from the Tarbut school, those students who had the means went to study in other cities, and a part of us continued to study in small groups with the teachers in town, in an informal manner, because Zelva did not have a high school.
The synagogues were in the center of the town, and the cemetery was not far from there.
My father, of blessed memory, worshipped at the Great Synagogue, called the Schule, which contained a large and marvelous Ark that was decorated with a variety of animals and birds, each according to its own species, an outstanding work of art, literally a wonder. On the Sabbath, my brother and I would go to worship along with my father.
The custom of the synagogue is engraved into my mind: those called to the Torah on holidays used to make a donation as requested of them. In particular, I recall that in order to obtain the ark opening for the Ne'ilah prayer on Yom Kippur, this honor was sold to the highest bidder. My father, of blessed memory, would buy the honor of opening the ark for Ne'ilah year in and year out. After the other worshippers realized that my father really wanted the honor of the ark opening very much, they would compete against him, and there were times when the final price got to be a very substantial sum of money, but, to the best of my memory, I do not recall any instance where my father relented and let the honor go.
The Zelva youth was educated in the Tarbut school with a Zionist spirit, and after joining such organizations as HeHalutz, and HaShomer HaTza'ir, they came to recognize that there was no future for the Jewish people in the Diaspora, and sought means of exit in all sorts of places in Poland. There were those, who after many years, managed to get to the Holy Land, and because of this they were saved and remained among the living.
And thus, our little town of Zelva was erased, and not even a memory remains of it. Let my words be recorded in the Memorial Book for all eternity, in memory of all our loved ones who are no longer with us.
by Aharon Freidin
The memories, experiences and adventures [of our townsfolk] have been extensively retold, however, in thinking about the townsfolk who were dear to me, and who had a part in contributing to the material in this Memorial Book, as I have, I will content myself with a short description of the celebration of Lag B'Omer as it took place in Zelva each year.
Most of the youngsters studies in Hebrew schools, and when they reached the age of 8 or 9, they joined such youth groups as HaShomer HaTza'ir and Betar.
The joy in our hearts enveloped all of us, and we were privileged to celebrate the holiday as it was intended, in the bosom of nature, in the forest. Every aspect was celebrated in the forest.
Dressed in uniforms, we stepped through the grass together. Many of us had short shovels, that we used to dig long narrow furrows in order to set up food tables. In the center, fires were lit that were used for cooking.
The candy stores brought their wares out to the forest, and there they set up selling booths, from which were sold a variety of sweets, ice cream, cold drinks, etc.
It was an unforgettable and emotional experience of being together, and to pass by the tables that we had set up with our own hands. Our communal feast (a Kumzitz), to listen to the lectures of our leaders, officials and guests who came from many different places in order to spread and implant in us the precepts of Zionism and its goals and objectives. It was from them that we received news of what was taking place in the movement in the rest of Poland, and other parts of the Diaspora, and also what was happening in the Land of Israel.
During the day, several sports activities were organized, soccer, badminton and handball.
With the onset of evening, we prepared to return home, a walk of several kilometers. We were as clean and as orderly as when we started early that morning. We fell in front of our group leaders and officers in rows, and we went out across the grass following our standards, with lanterns glowing in our hands, with a song on our lips from the Holy Land and the movement.
When we reached the outskirts of our town, the fire department band waited there for us, which was all Jewish except for Schuchart, the gentile German, [sic Volksdeutsche] who lived in the middle of town with his family. Here we met up with the members of HaShomer HaTza'ir, who had crossed the field under their standard, with their lanterns, and to the music of the band, we paraded the length and breadth of the streets to the joy of its citizenry, our parents and families.
This was the crowning finale of our celebration that I will never forget.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Zelva, Belarus Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2022 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 25 Aug 2021 by LA