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Chapter 1

[Pages 11-14]

Bereza, Kartuz Bereza, Bereza Kartuzka and Berioza

Also known by the name of Kartuzkaya Bereza, and in Polish as Bereza Kartuzka, Bereza is a small town that developed on both sides of the Warsaw-Moscow road in Grodno Gubernia. On the south, the Yasolda River pours its waters to the Fige River by the road between Brest (Brisk Litovsk) and Bobroisk, at the axis of the Brisk-Minsk Railroad. Until 1785 Kartuz Bereza was part of Poland, and later it passed into Russian hands. Between the two World Wars, it became part of Poland again.

The name Kartuz comes from the kartuzian monks of Saint Richard. The priests lived in the monastery and settled there by Prince Zaphiea's decree at the end of XVII century (the monastery was destroyed in the time of Karl XII). The name Bereza comes from the large birch trees in the town and its surroundings.

The Moscow-Warsaw Road was the main street of the town. On both sides houses were built. On the eastside the gentiles lived, and on the western side, especially in the square of the market and their surroundings, the Jews lived.

According to "Jewish Encyclopedia" (Ed, Keter, Jerusalem, 1971), in 1629 Jews were granted permission to build a synagogue in Kartuz Bereza. This fact is highlighted by the Jewish Encyclopedia published in Berlin in 1929. Also, the "Register of Communities” ("Pinkas"), Poland, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, indicates that the first information on the Jewish establishment organized in Bereza Kartuska was in 1662.

There is mentioned the following: "in the tax lists of the communities of the surroundings belonging to the mother community of Brest, designated by the Advice Commission of the country (Lithuania) is named K. K. Berezi" [translators note: K. K. means Holy Community]. Therefore according to all the sources of information, the establishment of Jews in Kartuz Bereza was not later than the XVII century.

Regarding the general population in Kartuz Bereza are the following figures:

Year Non Jews Jews Total
1766 242
1847 515
1878 1394 1113 2507
1890 1775 850 2625
1897 3603 2623 6226
1921 1363 2163 3526

Outstanding rabbis led the community of Kartuz Bereza and among them were Itzchok Elchanan Spector (between 1839 and 1846) and Rav Elihau Klotzkin (1881-1894). In Kartuz Bereza Aharon Oguz (1865) was born. In the 20 years he published in the US, he produced a great quantity of stories in Yiddish, and also translated "Duties of Soul" by Rev Bechai Ibn PEKUDA. "Arotshik" was the representative for Kartuz Bereza in the first Zionist congress in Basel in 1897, and later he was active in the advice to the town council under the leadership of Rev Shloime Gershgorn. All Zionist youth movements had branches in Kartuz Bereza, from "Bet Ar" through "Hashomer Hatzair". At the beginning of XX century, there also began to be active among youths of the town the communist revolutionary groups under the leadership of Dr. Shwartz, gynecologist and obstetrician, and his wife.

During World War I, the Germans conquered Kartuz Bereza. In 1915 they arrived to the Yasolda River and from there, they invaded the houses of the city and then conquered the town. During the German invasion many houses of the town were set on fire. The Germans designated two Jews as Mayor and Vice Mayor of the town. Then, when the town was passed to Poland, Naftaly Levinson was named as Mayor and also a Jew as Vice Mayor.

From the German conquest on, the timber industry developed and many Jews found employment in the industry of the forest and its by-products. The great steam flour mill was owned by a Jew, and Jews were also in other industries such as construction contracting.

In the Community's Register is mentioned details of the budget of the community of Kartuz Bereza. The following chart lists the main revenues of the community of Kartuz Bereza in 1939:

Taxes 8985 gold
Animal slaughtering 7880 gold
Burials 2000 gold
Birth certificates 800 gold
Library 400 gold
Various income 110 gold
Accounts collectable 2050 gold
Total 22225 gold

Expenses for the same year 1939 were

Debts payment 2646 gold
Rabbi's salary 3000 gold
Slaughter salary 6315 gold
Management expenses 3385 gold
Cemetery maintenance 880 gold
Library 500 gold
Social aid 2100 gold
Social security 720 gold
Popular bath 600 gold
Institutions budget 1095 gold
Maintenance 300 gold
Funds 90 gold
Total 22225 gold

According to the sources mentioned, the budget dedicated for the schools of the community went to the Talmud Torah, Y. L. Peretz Yiddish School from the "Tzisho" net, the Hebrew school Yanveh, and the Tarbut.

In Kartuz Bereza theater groups, choirs, and an orchestra of mandolins and wind instruments performed. Gentiles also participated in the orchestra, but most of the members were Jews. In theater groups and choirs only Jews participated. All were amateurs and the revenues came mostly from the sale of tickets to see the shows.

Due to the Molotov-Ribentrop agreement for the division of Poland on the eve of WWII, Kartuz Bereza moved into the domain of the Soviet Union. The Red Army entered the town and all Zionist activities were interrupted indefinitely.

The state nationalization of business and the heavy load of taxes, harmed many Jewish businesses but, in spite of everything, they made huge efforts and they gathered in cooperatives to resist being absorbed into state service.

During the delivery of ID (identity documents) in 1940, they tried to expel many Jews with the pretext that they were bourgeois, but Jewish communists gave testimony that these Jews had lost all their goods, and the decree was annulled.

On June 22, 1941 the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and the following day they conquered Kartuz Bereza. Many Jews of the town were physically hurt and their money and all things of value were confiscated. Some days after the conquest, on June 26 1941, the Kadisha synagogue was set on fire, and the devastating fire razed many houses in the surrounding area. The characteristic of Jewish life in those days was hunger, illnesses, kidnappings, and forced labor. On May 25, 1942 the Germans brought to Kartuz Bereza Jews of Selcz, and some from Malcz. In July 1942, Germans setup ghettos for the Jews: Ghetto A for productive Jews, and Ghetto B for the rest.

On July 15, 1942 the Germans seized Ghetto B telling the people that they would be transferred to Bialistok, but they took them to the train station of Bluden and from there to the forest of Brona Gura where all were shot and murdered, and buried in wells dug previously. Only two Jews were able to escape and they returned to Ghetto A. They told what had happened. Many of the residents of the Ghetto A escaped to the forests and to the town Pruzhany, and many of them were murdered by peasants and local residents.

On October 15, 1942 the Germans seized Ghetto A. They informed Jews that they would be sent to work in Russia, but this time the Jews didn't believe them. They set on fire their merchandise and the things of value that they still had. The fire extended to all the houses of the Ghetto. The members of the Judenrat organized a meeting and when it concluded, they committed suicide. Many Jews were murdered inside the town and others, almost 1800, were transferred outside of town; there the Germans shot and murdered them.

Jewish Encyclopedia, New York, US, 1902 (English) page 65
Jewish Encyclopedia, St. Petersburg, (Russian?), Book 4, p. 216
Jewish Encyclopedia, Berlin, Germany, 1929, (German)
Jewish Encyclopedia, Edit "Keter", Jerusalem, 1979, English, page 666
Register of Communities of Poland, Volume 5, Edit Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 5750 (1989)

[Pages 15-22]

Kartuz-Bereza: History and Memoir

by Yakov Gorali

On both sides of the Warsaw-Moscow road in the Brisk-Baranovich region exists the town of Kartuz-Bereza. To the north flows the Yasolda River whose waters pour into the Pina River and together with the Propto, Bug and Visla Rivers form the water system that leads to the Baltic sea.

The double name of the town of Kartuz-Bereza stemmed from two reasons:

  1. In the area of the town there are many birch (bereza) trees.
  2. Near the town in the distant past stood a monastery erected by Prince Sapieha at the end of the 17th century where Cartusian monks lived, named after Holy Richard de Cartus. Hence, the double name. The monastery was destroyed during the reign of Karl XII who brought a Russian military unit to the town for protection so that the Lithuanians would not return and rebuild the monastery and church within it. Later, many legends were spun about the monastery. The town elders told various stories about it, all of which describe the Cartusian treasures of the monastery before its destruction, and the ghosts, spirits and all kinds of evil goblins that inhabited its ruins. (They did not harm people but rather horses…)

The town was full of mud and from the month of Tishrei[1] until Shavuot[2], one could not walk through its streets without boots. There were no sidewalks and the market square was a stinking swamp full of water. Only at the beginning of the 20th century did they begin to pave some streets and to install wooden sidewalks. The center of the town was on both sides of the main street and it extended for about two kilometers and was known as "the road". On the west side near the market square the Jews lived crowded together. On the east side lived the gentiles. Near their houses were spread gardens and fields which were worked by farmers. Close to 6,000 lived in the town, about half of them Jews. The Jews' sources of income were the "road" and the Yasolda River. Before the railroad tracks were laid, the traffic between Warsaw and Moscow passed through the street which connected West and East. It was here that caravans of merchandise and mail passed, and it was here that there were horse-changing stations. This was a source of income to horse traders, horse breeders, and wagon owners. Blacksmiths, carriage makers, carpenters and metalworkers made a living around the railroad stations. Jews operated warehouses filled with grain and hay. There were also taverns, restaurants and inns for travelers.

The Yasolda River was the secondary means of transportation. The area was full of forests. In the winter the peasants would bring out the trees they had cut down in summer and bring them to the riverbanks. With the melting of the snows, they would tie the trees on rafts and float them downriver in the direction of Danzig. The wood trade was entirely in the hands of Jews.

All the houses in the town, except one, were built of wood. The roofs were made of straw. The houses were small and not covered with lime either inside or outside. There were houses that had no floors. In the center of the house stood the oven. Along the walls were long benches for sitting during the day and for itinerant peasants to sleep on. That's how things were in the distant past.

Over time things changed and the town took on new dimensions with the installment of railroad tracks for the Warsaw-Moscow line; this caused the town to develop. By the way, there is a typical Jewish story about that. When they were about to build the railroad station in Bereza, there was a commotion in the town. The leaders of the community started to try to cancel the project because the passing of the trains on Saturday afternoon would disturb the Sabbath rest. The government took the Jewish inhabitants' opposition into account, and built the railroad station in Bluden, 5 kilometers from Bereza. There was another reason as well for their opposition. The Jews were fearful that the proximity of the railroad station would disturb their source of income on "the road" and that the carriage owners and other craftspeople would lose their income.

The truth is that the railroad "stole" all the movement of merchandise and passengers from the road. The first victims were the carriage owners, horse station owners, the blacksmiths and the hay merchants. However, the laying of the tracks brought additional sources of income. The menial jobs were done by the peasants. The planning, execution, supervision and supply of building materials, the organization of the entire work was done by Jews. There developed a new type of contractor ("padriatchikes").

In Bereza there were big and small contractors of all kinds. Some received big job orders from the government for the laying of the railroad tracks over vast territories throughout the country. An example of this was Mr. Yisrael Greenberg who was a learned man in religion (talmid chacham) and a Zionist. He competed with big contractors from St. Petersburg and wrested various contracts from them. In his house in Bereza he ran a big office and from there his network spread far and wide, all the way to the Caucasus and Siberia.

There were smaller contractors ("ratchikes"). The big ones received vast territories of hundreds of kilometers and divided them among smaller contractors. They were great in number. The laying of the tracks occupied diverse craftspeople. The workers needed food and clothing, which were supplied to them by Jewish merchants and artisans: shoemakers, tailors, hatmakers and others. Thus, the curse of the railroad track turned into a blessing.

Another source of income appeared in the town – the commission agents. The railroad network brought together different settlements and enabled merchandise to pass between Germany and Russia. Young men from Bereza would setup offices in Warsaw, Lodz, Minsk and other large cities. They would get in touch with merchants and manufacturers and started trading to buy and sell throughout all of Russia. Some of them were expediters, and controlled a large share of the export trade with other countries. They lived outside Bereza but their families lived in the town. They themselves would come home for the holidays.

Suddenly, most of the population was affected by the mass movement. Immigration to Argentina and the United States started too. There were Jew who set up immigration offices in their home. They would send whole families or the head of the household across the ocean. Many families were supported from the money that their sons or husbands sent back home.

Also, the big military camps which the Russian government built at the end of the 19th century served as a source of income for Jews. The government considered that because of its closeness to the big fort in Brisk, Bereza represented an important strategic point, and they built many military camps close to the town. Many Jews worked in the building of these camps, supplying construction material and hiring workers and craftspeople. After the camps were built, Jewish contractors were supplying food and other necessities to the army, and making a comfortable living from it.

One day a week was market day. There was one day a month (always the same day) set aside as "fair day." The market and the fair brought merchants and craftspeople to the town from far and near. The wood industry grew. Sawmills, steam mills, brick ovens were built. Bereza distinguished itself especially in the fish trade. They would send fish and meat to Warsaw and to Lodz. All these events changed the face of the town. Bigger houses were built in the Jewish quarter of the town. The walls were covered with lime and plaster both inside and outside. The straw roofs disappeared and in their stead were tile or tin roofs. Porches and fences were built, and orchards and gardens were kept. Brick houses started to appear. The stores were cleaned and improved and contained a large assortment of merchandise and staples. The inside of the houses also changed. In every house flooring was put in. The walls were covered with wallpaper. The windows and doors were painted. Instead of the long benches, furniture appeared: tables, sofas ("Vienna chairs"), brass beds with mattresses. In many houses they used gas lamps. Curtains adorned the windows; tablecloths covered the tables. In many houses they put pictures on the walls. There was even a kind of competition- who would make his house more beautiful with nice utensils and dishes.

The town took on a new face during the holidays when all the contractors and commission agents would arrive home to their families. Each one would show off innovations brought with him from the big city. There were people who wore suits made from high quality English fabric. They wore shiny patent leather shoes and rings with diamonds on their fingers. After the holidays the townsmen would disperse and the town would return to the grayness and monotony of its weekday life.

Until the immigration years, Bereza maintained its ideal life in accordance with the generations-long customary Jewish traditions. The Learning Houses (Batei Midrash) were filled with people praying, and there were study groups of: Talmud, Mishnah, Ein Yaakov [commentaries on Talmud], Hefetz Chaim [great rabbinical work] where Judaism was being taught in the evenings. The young studied in cheders and yeshivas. For many years, Bereza was proud of its famous rabbis such as: Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, the famous rabbi of Kovno; Rabbi Eliyahu Klatzkin, who moved to Lublin and ended his life in Jerusalem. His son, the noted author and researcher, Dr. Yacov Klatzin was born in Bereza.

But with the immigration across the sea, the ideal situation ended and new winds and new songs reached the shtetl that had been frozen by it's guardians.

Friction began to gnaw at the small community.

The following text was omitted when this appeared in the 1983 Kartuz Bereza Yiskor Book

On the south side of "the road" lived the people of means: builders, forest merchants, owners of land and assets, and for that reason it was called the "street of the rich." On the north side and in the market square lived the poor folk: small merchants, wagoners, and artisans. And disputes and disagreements began between the two "classes." The dispute erupted, as is customary in Jewish communities, around the issue of the rabbinate. With the departure of Rabbi Eliahu Klatzkin from town, he offered the post to a relative of his. The rich did not agree and demanded to bring in Rabbi Oshervich, who served as rabbi in the neighboring town of Seltz. Every rabbi had adherents in the synagogue where he was recognized, and the inhabitants of the city were divided into two fanatical camps, fighting each other, being disrespectful to the Torah. In addition to the two rabbis, there was a rabbi on behalf of the government ("Kaziner Rabbin") who managed the Jewish birth, marriage and death records. This rabbi received a government salary while the other two rabbis supported themselves by selling yeast. Each one sought to improve his sales and did public relations not only with the Jews but also with the gentiles; thus, the gentiles also got involved in the Jews' dispute.

Since the income from yeast was insufficient for the rabbis, they were also given the job of selling Yom Kippur candles. But the candles could not lighten the darkness of their poverty, and the rabbis' families literally starved for bread. Therefore, it was decided to add on a weekly salary ("wocher"). Righteous women would collect donations for the rabbi. Naturally, each side sought to help its own rabbi. These appeals for donations deepened the dispute which even reached the bathhouse and the mikvah. And when the old mikvah building collapsed, each side built it's own bathhouse and mikvah.

The following text appeared in the 1993 Kartuz Bereza Yiskor Book

Until First World War, there was in Bereza six "Batei Midrashim" (religious study academies). It was the old Bet Medresh, the new one or group of study of psalms, that of the workers, and the "Shtibel" that was of the chasidim of Kobrin and Slonim. All these they were in the patio of the synagogue. The old one in Old Temple or "Alte Shul" that was burned. They were other two, that of the Chevra Kadihsa (Holy group) and that of the rich people.

The chasidic movement didn't spread in Polesie. In Bereza were some dozens of chasidim of Slonim and Kobrin. The chasidim of Kobrin were poor people, followers of Rabbi Klatzkin. The Chasidim of Slonim, for the opposite, followed Rabbi Asherovitz, but they lived in peace. The melodies of the chasidim of Polesie were monotonous and sad. On the contrary, the melodies and the prayers of the Jews from Poland,were enthusiastic. There was another difference: the chasidim of Poland traveled to that of the Rebe" y but in the case of those of Polesia the Rebe's went to see to their chasidim.

Most of the inhabitants were "misnagdim " ("antogonicos") that faced the chasidim with iron . The chasidim of Slonim was "Chovevei Tzion" (TN the lovers of Zion, antecedent of the Zionist ones) and they maintained relationships with the authorities of four communities: Jerusalem. Tiberiades, Safed and Chevron. A Chasid of Bereza that had emigrated to Israel returned as representative to visit some near towns and to its native city, giving them spiritual forces. The chasidim didn't look with pleasure on the Zionist ones; the last one began activities at the end of the XIX century.

The following equivalent text appeared in the 1983 Yizkor Book

Until the First World War, there were six houses of study in Bereza: the old study house, the new study house (also known as the "Psalms society"), the study house of the artisans, and the shtebel of the Kobrin and the Slonim Chassidim. All of these were in the synagogue courtyard (Shulhoyf). It was here where the old synagogue had stood (Kalte shul) which had burned down. There were another two other study houses; the Burial Society study house and the study house of the rich. Chassidism was not widespread in Polsia. In Bereza there were some minyans (prayer groups) of the Slonim and Kobrin Chassidim. The Kobrin Chassidim were the very poorest, and they supported Rabbi Klatzkin. In contrast, the Slonim Chassidim followed Rabbi Osherovich. But, the Chassidim lived amongst themselves in peace. The melodies of the Polsia Chassidim were sad and monotonic, in contrast to the melodies of the Polish Chassidim (there was a Chassidic saying that went as follows: from the Biblical phrase 'at the discovery, we were quaking' the Polish Chassidim kept the 'discovery', and left the 'shaking' to the Polsia Chassidim). It was difficult to distinguish between Ecclesiastes [sad] and Hayom Teamtzenu [a festive song]. The Kobrin Chassidim would pray with great excitement. Another difference between the Polsia and the Polish Chassidim was that in Poland the Chassidim would travel to the "Rebbi" , while in Polsia the "Rebbi" would come to his Chassidim. Most of the inhabitants were Mitnagdim[3] and would deride the Hassidim and would call them "Sachidim."

The Slonim Chassidim were "Lovers of Zion" and maintained contacts with Kollels[4] in the four communities: Jerusalem, Tiberius, Sefad and Hebron. A Chassid from Bereza who made "aliya" [emigrated] to the land of Israel would return regularly to visit the shtetl of his birth as an emissary of the Kollels and would bring with him some of the spirit of Israel. The Chassidim looked unfavorably upon the "Zionists" who started their activities in the late 19th century.

A representative from Bereza by the name of Aritchik participated in the First Zionist Congress. The first activists were both secularly educated and former yeshiva students who had studied Torah in their youth. These people awakened in the youth a love for Tanach (scripture), the Hebrew language and its literature. The foremost among them was Baruch-Zishe Simonovich, an educated person who knew Hebrew and wrote a grammar book. He spent his later years in Eretz Israel where he served as the principal of the "Mizrachi" school. The other activist was Isaac Molodovsky, father of the well-known writer Kadia Molodovsky. He raised a whole generation of Hebrew speakers. A special citation was given to Mr. Shlomo Ganz, who founded the first Hebrew school in Bereza, where he taught Hebrew in Hebrew.

The first chairman of the Zionist council was Mr. Shlomo Gershenhorn, a Torah student versed in the Talmudic law and ordained as a rabbi. As a dedicated Zionist activist, he worked zealously and honestly not only in Bereza but in the entire area. The Zionist movement united within it the feuding camps of both rabbis and included various strata of society, and sent "olim" [immigrants] to Eretz Israel. The first "chaluzzim" [pioneers] were the families of Eliovich, Berkovich, and others, who were among the founders of the settlement Yavniel in the lower Galilee. Others settled in Jerusalem.

In the early twentieth century a doctor, his wife, a gynecologist and a midwife, came to Bereza. Before they arrived, the Jews of Bereza had managed without doctors and without midwives. Reb Yacov – Yosl, "the Doctor," was a specialist of all the diseases in the world and even maintained in his home a pharmacy and prepared the medications himself. The Jews and the peasants relied on him. Gandzs, the Old Man, would extract teeth by means of a key, and there were many women who served as midwives. The young doctor, DR. SCHWARTZ, and his wife, the gynecologist midwife brought with them not only modern medicine but also the revolution, which shook up the tsarist regime throughout Russia.

The youth clung to the three medical people and would go after them to the forest and hold their secret meetings; the doctor and his wife attracted many young people and brought them into the secret revolt against the tsar. A short time later a student with a great shock of hair and a black shirt showed up in the town and would give lectures about Russian literature. The young men began to dress like him and eagerly drank up his words. Later rumors spread that the student was no other than Maxim Litvinov, whose origins were in Bialystok and whose real name was Volach, who later served as the Soviet Union's foreign minister. The town was in an uproar. Detectives of the Secret Police began to follow many people and hold surprise searches. The student would disappear from time to time and then reappear. Even Yeshiva students were pulled along by this current, and many Zionists exchanged Zion for Mother Russia. Young Jewish men would break into the homes of rich Jews and demand "a contribution" for the revolution while holding pistols in their hands.

During the First World War, battles were waged in Bereza, which was on the main Warsaw-Moscow road. The town became isolated from the surrounding area and the villages. Starvation began to reign in the town. The German, Austrian and Hungarian conquerors would loot all the property they found in the houses and stores. People's efforts were focused on one thing: to find a loaf of bread or potatoes so as not to die of starvation.

After the front moved eastward, the full extent of the destruction was revealed. Many houses were burned and damaged. Properties were robbed. Bridges were blown up. Regimes changed. Today, Germans and tomorrow, Austrians, and then it repeated itself. The Jews were forced adapt to the new reality. The Yiddish language served the Jews as a means of getting closer to the Germans. They began to try to receive permits to go out to other villages and towns in order to obtain food. The conquering authorities granted the permits and the town began to return to more or less "normal" conditions. Houses were built and repaired. Commerce was revived. The Joint began sending aid, and relatives from overseas aided, and it was as if life had returned to its regular course. But the days of peace did not last. The German surrender, the Brisk pact between the Soviet Union and Germany, the Communist revolution, the revival of the state of Poland – all these things destabilized the foundations of Jewish existence. The Polish-Russian war again cast the town into the horrors of war. The two combating sides, the Poles and the Russians, would rob anew and levy contributions on the inhabitants. The soldiers were hungry and wore rags, and pilfered anything they could get their hands on. They carried out meticulous searches. The Polish soldiers, who were particularly cruel, were known by the names "General Heller's soldiers" ("the Hellerites") or "the Posnanians."

The war ended with the victory of the Poles. Bereza turned into a Polish town and the Jews again began to mediate between the city and the village and to rebuild from the ruins of the war years. The Joint continued it's aid and life began to return to normal. An "aid committee" was founded with the participation of the rabbis, but its life blood was provided by people from the Bund and the left. The rabbis and the ultra-Orthodox contented themselves with re-opening the Talmud Torah, the ritual bath (mikveh) and renewing the religious schools. But all other matters were decided by the leftists. They turned "the bathhouse of the rich", into a school in which Yiddish was the language of instruction, where not only studies were pursued, but also food and clothing for children were supplied. In 1922 Zionist activists returned from Russia and began Zionist and Hebrew activities. They organized many young people within the framework of the Zionist movement, opened night classes for Hebrew and founded a Hebrew school based on the "Tarbut" organization. The Tarbut Center from Warsaw sent teachers and a Hebrew kindergarten was opened. Not only that, but the Zionist activists purchased a lot and erected on it a building for a Hebrew school. Young people and adults began to emigrate to Israel and take part in building the country, both materially and spiritually.

[Pages 23-24]

Polish Concentration Camp in Kartuz Bereza

by Elyahu Mote Bukshtein

At the end of the Nineteenth Century, the Russian Army set up camps in our town. On the side of the main road buildings were built for the soldiers' regiment. The camp included two fortified houses of three floors and many wooden houses. They also had stables and warehouses of ammunition, clothes and groceries. On the other side of the road fortified houses of two floors were built for officers, surrounded by trees and flowers.

In 1915 when the Germans conquered the place, they installed a military hospital there, and they located German pilots in the houses. Near the town there was a small airport. In 1920 during the battles between Russia and Poland, the buildings were burnt down, and after the Poles expelled the Russians, they installed armed guards in the repaired buildings. There was an officers school, a navy school, and one for armored troops that belonged to the Ninth Regiment installed in Brest. In 1934 when the power in Poland went from Marshal Pilsutzky to the "Azan" group, the Poles built there a concentration camp in the pattern previously used by the German army.

A barbed wire fence three meters high was erected around the buildings. A similar fence surrounded the buildings for prisoners, and they also built solitary confinement cells there. Some of the prisons were full with water and they contained various torture-instruments. The large square was the place for carrying out punitive measures. There was also a workplace in which prisoners manufactured concrete blocks to pave streets.

In the buildings there was a line of planks to sleep. The width of each plank was only 10 centimeters, and one or two centimeters separated a plank from the other. Inside the buildings were cells of approximately four square meters each. There was a dining room for the guards who watched over the prisoners day and night.

Initially this camp was planned to be used only for Communists whom the government didn't have any evidence to prosecute. The people in this category were sent by "administrative order" to the concentration camps. Then they began to include criminal prisoners, and their conditions were better than those of the political prisoners. They also had other elements of national minorities, mostly Ukrainian.

During 1939 on the eve of WWII many Jews were arrested and accused of "speculation", that is, they didn't put out the merchandise, that they had in stock in their stores, in the open and plain view, or they charged too much. Jews were held in prison together with their wives. On the eve of the war, Germans from Silesia were were brought to the camp. They were accused of making anti-Polish propaganda. Over time there were 7000 prisoners, 500 of them were women. About 200 guards and officers guarded the camp. All this was controlled by the Minister of the District of Brisk, Kastek Biernatzky, who was known infamously.

The prisoners were terribly tortured. During Catholic holidays they forced them to clean and polish the main street in front of the church. Guards, mounted and on foot, watched over the prisoners. The prisoners had to work quickly because behind them came running a wagon harnessed to other prisoners to pick up the garbage. Everything was carried out while running.

Prisoners who were freed were afraid to tell about the punishment in the camp, and even leftist journalists did not publish a word about the life in the camp. The prisoners did not speak about the bad fooding, because they feared that if they returned to the place, the guards would retaliate against them.

When the Germans came closer to Bereza in 1939, the mayor of the town requested ten volunteer firemen to watch over the town to stop possible pillaging by the peasants. He also asked that they (the firemen) watch over the prisoners since their guards had left town. The fire department picked 10 people for this mission. Six were Jewish and four were Christians. The Mayor gave them the keys to the gate of the camp. In the camp there was a warehouse full of food. On the evening of the 17th of Sept. 1939 the guards had fled in such a hurry that they left behind all of their belongings and all that they had owned in their homes. Part of the inhabitants of Bereza also fled to villages in the surrounding area. Bereza was left without a ruling body and almost without inhabitants.

On the morning of the 18th of Sept. 1939 the 10 volunteers (from the Fire Dept.) came and opened the gates of the camp to enable the prisoners to leave. But the inmates were afraid to leave their jail. They feared that it was a trick and the guards would have an excuse to kill or at least to torture them. The wives of the prisoners rushed in through the gates and started searching for their husbands. Only then did the prisoners understand that they were really free. They broke through the door and windows and climbed over the barbed wire fence. Many were barefoot and only wore underwear. They ran towards the exit of the town in order to distance themselves from the hell (of the prison camp). Many political prisoners want to bring to justice the criminal prisoners who used to mistreat them (the political prisoners). The calmer prisoners called for the inmates to gather according to their place of origin and search for their clothes with which they arrived at the prison camp. In the midst of all this a "committee" was formed to return to each inmate their clothes according to the name on the packages. Only bread was distributed. On the 19th of Sept. the Red Army entered the prisoner camp. The prisoners committee made contact with the Red Army. There were prisoners who couldn't return home because in the meantime their place of origin was conquered and occupied by the Germans. These prisoners stayed in the camp initially and then left on the 18th of Sept. A Jewish victim, Yosef Kamineski died. He was one of the guards. Peasants from the village, Oglen, saw that the Polish guards had fled and the peasants came to pillage the camp. Kamineski tried to stop them and they beat him to death. The next day he was buried according to the Jewish customs.

In 1944 when the Germans left Bereza they burned all the houses and buildings in town and in the prison camp as well. The rubble and destruction remained a long time as a memorial to the camp.

[Pages 25-26]

In my poor house

by Moishe Bernshtein

Translated from the Hebrew by Benyamin Teneh

In my poor house here I deployed my dreams
That climbed on the walls that were covered with lime
On sacred books and old worn out books
By the light of the lamp which lit in a corner.

Childhood dreams did not know boundaries
Far, they took me like a knight on their back
And when the road was unknown
A hidden tremor intrigued me

In my poor house in the light and in the blinding twilight
Each corner had its meaning
Although I was immersed in play as any child
But the hidden tremor accompanied me always

In my poor home were intoned songs non-stop
By the young apprentices in my mother's sewing shop
That pleasure penetrated in my life
I always feel it, I feel it as it were new.

In early dawns bowed on a sacred book my father intoned a melody
He never revealed to me the secret of the melody that he sung
And I listened to them melody and entered a hidden world
That nested in me and lamented.

In my poor house were told wonderful stories
Were told by neighbors with "Chasidic" inclinations
Together and separate, they accompany me in my wandering
As echoes that arrive from the distance as "balalaikas" sounds

My poor house was rich on Shabbat and during holidays
The candelabras glowed like golden crowns
Dad's songs, mom's prayers, little "Sarah"
They didn't get lost, I still feel them today.

Around my humble home a small garden grew and blossomed
In which I liked to lie deep in dreams
My humble and dear home in my memory I have kept you so much
I go drunk in the life, drunk by your good wine.

[Page 28]

The Cry of Memorial Stones

(to Bereza, my native city)

by Noach Peniel

Fog covers the ruins and it rises
It melts in front of the sun soaked of duel
And a leaden block covers the whitish road
Naked and large before my eyes full with tears.

To both sides of the route, grizzly ash
Naked trees rise
Telegraphic threads hum a cradle song
Satiny fields complain with silent voice

To the left of the destroyed mound where until yesterday it was a synagogue
My lost eyes lead me to the back street of the cemetery
As if I were united to a silent retinue
To my hearings an echo comes: "the virtue will save of the death"

A destroyed fence surrounds mute stones
Unjust mounds of orphan sepulchers
Inside the dark sadness in front of a sun in duel
My hearings capture the cry of the sepulchers.

[Page 29]

When I will Remind You

by Noach Peniel

I will remind you
While blood flows in my veins
Until the end, until the end
A warm tremor crosses my bones
Inside my body sick of anxiety

I will remember the palpitating of my heart
When stepping my feet for the first time
The green carpet of the fields
That surrounded silent and calm
While the green grasses were rocked
As waves, waves of spring wind

The burning happiness seals forever
Silent and singing
My eyes discovered the bridge on the river
And the forest that paints green the horizon.

And when taking my eyes to the ashes
Jumping from mound in mound
The thoughts accompany me with their songs
And the blessed memories
They groan silent before me

I will remind you
While blood flows in my veins
Until the end, until the end.

Translator's notes:
  1. Aprox. September return
  2. Aprox. April/May return
  3. In opposition to Chassidim return
  4. Religion study houses return

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