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Medical Institutions
and the Physicians of Kovel

by Dr. Mordechai Leiberson

Translated by Amy Samin

The city of Kovel with its 32,000 inhabitants had 25 physicians, of whom 14 were Jewish. The work of the doctors was centered around the city's hospitals. One was the governmental Simikovi Hospital and the second the Jewish Hospital on Behalf of the Jewish Community. The director of the latter was Dr. Weitman. The budget which supported the hospital was partially based on support from the municipality but the majority of the support came from the community. This hospital had an average of 60 beds. In the city there were also a number of clinics run by municipal organizations as well as a few run by the community. The Taz association organized a large polyclinic which served the Jewish public in the medical field and in its daily needs. In this field, the work of the Jewish doctor at Taz was on a volunteer basis. The treatments and medical assistance in this organization were enjoyed mainly by the simple folk of the Jewish community. From the time of its founding until the destruction of the clinic in 1939, the heads of this institution were the famous doctors of the city, including: Dr. Feinstein z”l, Dr. Zisskind, and Dr. Appelboim. In the day to day medical care, they were joined by doctors each according to his profession and specialization:

Dr. Schatz, internal medicine; Dr. Vidra Yosef, internal medicine, gynecology, and obstetrics; Dr. Nymark, internal medicine; Dr. Lekal, ear, nose, and throat; Dr. Zisskind, pediatrics. Administrative work was handled by Sonia Margulis. In addition to all of the clinical medical work the management also did vital prophylactic work in the field, providing vaccinations against all kinds of seasonal infectious diseases such as smallpox and typhus, as well as detection of the disease tuberculosis. In the summer, Taz organized camps for the schoolchildren from the poorer strata of the Jews in the community. These were the famous colonies of Horodlatz, the summer resort next to Kovel. The operation of those summer camps was in the hands of the doctors: Dr. Zisskind, Dr. Schatz, Dr. Vidra, and Dr. Tzichnovitz. A good diet, the fresh air of the pine forests, sunshine, water, and sports were the factors that immunized and strengthened the children before their return to the city for their renewed studies. One of the most senior physicians of the city was Dr. Feinstein. He dealt in general internal medicine, and was very well liked and respected in the city. He was a figure who inspired respect, with his imposing figure and a smile always spread over his face, which drew to him all who came to him for counsel and medical assistance. He passed away at a ripe old age. He was one of the doctors of the old Russian–Jewish school, which has disappeared and is no more.

Dr. Tzichnovitz, a doctor of general internal medicine, was involved in public affairs and was an activist, and spent much of his time dealing in public health matters. He was the school physician at the Jewish schools and the Hebrew Gymnasia. His lectures on personal and public hygiene, and hygiene of the student were very interesting. For years

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he preached on cleanliness of the body, nutrition, proper attire according to the season, sports – in short “a healthy soul in a healthy body.” He gave of his time and energy to work for Taz, organizing summer camps for the children of the city who needed it. He survived the Holocaust and lives in Russia with his family. He was an ardent Zionist, and I am certain that his heart and his longing are given to our country.

Dr. Zisskind Petya z”l was a pediatrician and also dealt in internal medicine. He was a serious doctor who was devoted to his patients, and also a public activist. He was among the managers of Taz for many years and even the severe heart disease that afflicted him only temporarily stopped him from the treatment and care of the health of Jewish children, whether they were in Taz or not. He was murdered during the Holocaust. His younger daughter Sofka lives in Israel, and the other, Freya, lives in France.

Dr. Vidra Yosef z”l practiced internal medicine, gynecology, and obstetrics. He was a popular doctor in town and was devoted to his patients. He served the public and gave of his knowledge and ability to those in need of medical help in Taz and also worked at the Jewish school. He and his family were murdered in the Holocaust.

Dr. Weitman's specialty was dermatology. For years he was the manager of the Jewish hospital and he also devoted his time to public medical work in Taz. His family was murdered in the Holocaust. According to reliable reports, he survived and is in Russia.

Dr. Shomstein z”l specialized in internal medicine. He arrived in Kovel during the 1930's and immediately endeared himself to all levels of society in the town. He was an excellent physician and a good diagnostician. He and his family were murdered during the Holocaust.

Dr. Schatz z”l practiced general and internal medicine. He gave of his time and energy to public medical work in Taz. He and his family were killed in the Holocaust.

Dr. Lekal was an ear, nose, and throat doctor, an excellent specialist and surgeon. He was one of the assistants to the famous Professor Noiman of Vienna. He worked in Taz. He was murdered during the Holocaust.

Dr. Nymark z”l, who practiced general and internal medicine, was one of the younger doctors of the city. He quickly became endeared to everyone, and was considered a serious and devoted physician. In Taz, he worked as an internist. He and his family were murdered during the Holocaust.

Dr. Hassim (in Israel) is an expert in diseases of the lungs – tuberculosis. He practices in this field in Israel and through his serious knowledge in this field is helping to eradicate the disease among the Jews living in Israel.

Dr. Ratnovsky–Ratniv Pioter, a surgeon, who worked with Dr. Retaisky, the manager of Simikovi Hospital, and with Dr. Yaborovsky in the Jewish Hospital. He worked in Taz as a surgeon. Today he lives in Russia where he serves as the chief surgeon in a military hospital.

Dr. Weisberg, a general internal medicine physician, was one of the younger doctors. His wife, who was of the Burstein family, was a teacher

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at the Klara Ehrlich Gymnasia in 1938–39, and later at High School No. 10 during the days of the Soviets. She was murdered during the Holocaust.

Dr. Varba Gershon (Grisha) is an ophthalmologist (oculist) and today is the manager of the municipal polyclinic in Kovel. One of the younger doctors. He completed his studies in Czechia. He is a graduate of the Tarbut Gymnasia. He is the son of the attorney and activist Leon (Leib) Varba z”l. He has not been allowed to leave Russia despite his wishes.

Dr. Geller z”l was a graduate of the Jewish–Polish gymnasia, and practiced general internal medicine. He completed his studies in Czechia. In Kovel he worked in the Jewish hospital for a number of years. He was murdered during the Holocaust.

Dr. Melamed Yosef z”l, also a graduate of the Jewish–Polish gymnasia, was a surgeon. In the days of the Soviets he worked in the hospital and in a clinic. He was murdered in the Holocaust.

Dr. Weinstein Binyamin is a graduate of the Jewish–Polish gymnasia who finished his medical studies in Italy. He lives in Tel Aviv and practices internal medicine.

Dr. Marmelstein Yosef (Yozik) is a graduate of the Slovetski Government Gymnasia. He began his medical studies in Warsaw and completed them in Lvov, during the Soviet days of 1939. He is an internist, and today lives in Australia. He survived the Holocaust as a doctor in the Partisans.

Dr. Eisenberg z”l was a dentist. He was quite well–known in the city. He and his family were murdered in Kovel. His only son lives in Israel. He graduated from the Technion University in Haifa and works as an engineer.

(Mrs.) Dr. Kotzin z”l was also a well–known dentist in the city. She was murdered in the Holocaust.

Dr. Kotzin z”l was a famous dentist. He was a Zionist and public activist. He was cut down in the prime of his life.

We also recall the well–known figure of the medical assistant – feldscher[1] – Reb Motink z”l, who was the permanent assistant of the famous Dr. Schatz. He was murdered in the Holocaust.

Baskin, one of the first medical assistants in the city, also owned a pharmacy and was very well–liked in town.

Magister Shtillerman, a pharmacist with Leinat HaTzedek. He ran the pharmacy with dedication and loyalty. He was murdered in the Holocaust.

Kramer Avraham was the husband of the teacher Grau. He worked in the pharmacy of Praj Movesky.

Magister Erlich z”l was a pharmacist with Friedlander. She was the sister of Klara Erlich, the principal of the gymnasia. She was murdered in the Holocaust.

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We recall the memory of the ranks of the Jewish nurses, who anonymously and with unfailing devotion, brought relief and medicine to the patients at all hours of the day and night. I do not remember their names.

In the days of the Soviets, from 1 September 1939 the public medical institutions of the Jewish community were closed. The Jewish hospital became Municipal Hospital No. 2. The Taz was shut down. Leinat HaTzedek also closed, and the pharmacy was destroyed. The doctors went to work for the government.

 

Translator's Note

  1. a health care professional who provides various medical services Return


The Founding of Bikur Cholim and the New Hospital

by Eliezer Leoni

Translated by Amy Samin

Prior to discussing the hospital, we must pay tribute to an exceptional person, a great doctor, one of the directors of Bikur Cholim– Dr. Mordechai Kolkin, z”l. Dr. Kolkin was the first Jewish doctor in town. He died young, at the age of thirty– three. The townspeople remember, no doubt, that when they went to the new cemetery, they could see, not far away, Dr. Kolin's gravestone. Next to it was that of his three–year–old son.

There were many legends told about Dr. Kolkin. He stood out in his qualities and in his good deeds for needy patients. He never asked for payment from one of them. In addition– he supported needy patients with his own funds. It was common to discover that when Dr. Kolkin left the home of a poor patient, his family would find money under his pillow. He was well–off and he did not wish to embarrass the poor family by giving them money directly.

The elders of town tell the story that, once, when he was in his wagon on his way to one of the patients, the horse was moving lazily and was barely able to stand erect. Dr. Kolkin shouted at the Jewish driver because he was anxious to get to the sick patient who was in danger. The driver replied: “yes, dear doctor. I know you are in a hurry to reach your patients, but I can't do anything. My horse is sick and I do not have the money to buy another one, a better one”. “How many rubels do you need to buy another horse?” asked Dr. Kolkin. “Fifteen”– replied the driver. “Will this be enough?”– asked again the doctor. “It will suffice”– replied the driver.

Dr. Kolkin took fifteen rubels from his pocket and added fifteen more. He said: “With the additional money, you can prepare for Shabbat and you and your family can eat well”.

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Dr. Kolkin died on 16 February 1892, at the age of thirty–three. On the day of his funeral, all stores were closed, even those of the non–Jews. The Rabbi ended his eulogy with these words: “Go out now, angels of peace. Carry him on your shoulders. May his soul, in the Garden of Eden, be bound with the living. He was honest and charitable and his good deeds will be repaid double”.

Bikur Cholim was founded in 1882. Its directors were: Dr. Kolkin, Dr. Feinstein and B. Rabinerzon. When the permit was obtained in1891, the institution began to do more activities. From year to year, the state of the institution ameliorated and it served the purpose for which the townspeople had established it.

In order to understand the breadth of medical help that the hospital offered to the Jews of Kovel, we can study the annual report of the hospital from 1900. In that year, there were 209 patients: 89 men, 74 women and 46 children. In addition to those hospitalized, there were also visits by 920 patients. They were able to recuperate at home. There were 235 men, 245 women and 390 children. Many received free medications from the pharmacy in the hospital.

In 1895, the administration of the hospital realized that it was lagging in scientific research. There was a need for a new, modern hospital, equipped with up–to–date gear. The administration approached the Minister of the Interior to assign 10 000 rubels, from the meat tax, towards the construction of the new hospital.

These efforts were fruitful and in 1898 the required permit was received. The lot for the construction had been prepared earlier in one of the suburbs. It was a large space, surrounded by greenery. As soon as the permit was given, the construction began. It took close to three years. The building was magnificent and well–suited to medical and hygienic requirements. It contained 16 large rooms, 16 beds, a pharmacy, doctors' room, a bath house, laundry and other necessary offices. The expenses came up to 12 575 rubels.

The building of the hospital and its enlargement were possible thanks to a donation given by a saintly person. Near town, there lived a wealthy man called Melishkevitz. His father was the treasurer of the federal archives in Kovel. When he died, he left his son all his wealth. Melishkevitz visited the hospital and was impressed by its beauty and comforts. In recognition, he donated, on the spot, 4 000 rubles. He also announced he was ready to give more, if needed. This donation helped to make the building even better and to build lodgings for the guards and the medic. They also added an ice cellar.

On 14 May 1901 the official opening of the new Jewish hospital took place. It was an elegant celebration. At 2:00 pm a large crowd gathered.

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Among the people there were some non–Jewish guests: army generals, municipal clerks and doctors, the mayor and his friends– all beautifully dressed. The cantor and his choir sang “Song for house dedication”. They were followed, on stage, by Rabbi Brik. He led a short prayer in honor of the dedication and then spoke, in Russian. He explained to those assembled the meaning of the commandment “Bikur Cholim” (Visiting the sick). Our religious leaders in the past had always considered it to be one of the most important commandments. Those performing this commandment earn their place in heaven.

At the end of his speech, the Rabbi thanked the directors Prozhansky, Brandeis and Rabinerzon, all the people who took part in the erection of the building and all those who donated beds and other household goods to the hospital. He especially praised Dr. Feinstein, the head doctor in the hospital.


The Lives of Kovel's Laborers

by Mordechai Hinizon

Translated by Amy Samin

I would like to commemorate the city's trade unions and activists of the city.

At the head of the Woodworkers Union stood Michel Hinizon, Lederman, Colodner, and others. At the head of the Bakers Union were Zeelig Burstein, Friedman, Kagan, and so on. The Needleworkers Union – Batya Mendel, Rahel Masir, Chayat, and others. The Construction Workers Union was led by Kagan, Melamed, and others. The Leatherworkers – Goldener and others.

I further recall the Evening Classes company, led by David Mailer, Zela Kaploshnik, Dr. Reis, and others.

Alongside the professional associations, there existed a Workers' Library, which was used as a meeting place by the workers during their leisure hours, after work. On Saturdays, the library management would arrange question–and–answer receptions attended by the local working intelligentsia and by guests from outside. Among those from Kovel who participated were, mainly, Weintraub, Waxman, Feigelman the teacher, and others.

There was also a dramatic association, which put on theatrical plays in Yiddish which aroused great interest in all of the workers of the city.

The workers were represented in the municipality by Yagodnik, Steinman, and Dr. Reis z”l. However, fascist Poland looked askance at the rising power of the trade unions and began to constrict their movements.

When the trade unions decided to celebrate the first of May together in 1928 and appealed to the starosta[1] for a permit to do so, it was denied. However, the workers paid no notice and gathered in large numbers near the trade union building.

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Then the Polish police arrived and began to forcibly disperse the crowd. The crowd spontaneously organized itself into a procession and began moving towards Warszawska Street. However, a massive response came from the police, both on foot and mounted on horseback; they began raining murderous blows on the protestors. Several activists were arrested and imprisoned for 10 months. In March of 1929 the trial was held, which ruled to release them, however that same evening more arrests took place, and many of the workers and the working intelligentsia were jailed. The Woodworkers Union was disbanded and the Workers' Library was closed and its contents confiscated.

 

Translator's Note

  1. A government official Return


The Clubhouse Named For Y.L. Peretz

A. Doari (Potchter)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The clubhouse served as a meeting place for middle and working classes. The main attraction was the library which had 2 000 volumes in four languages: Yiddish, Russian, Polish and Hebrew.

The organizers were: Meir Reis, Dobrovdka, Weintraub, Yoske Yeruchamovitz and Fania Schwartzberg. The first librarian was Margolian. He was followed by Potchter and Fania Yeruchamovitz.

The clubhouse served as a meeting place for those who were unable to study in high school and higher, but were interested in learning science, literature, singing and music. There was no political or party affiliation. It was simply cultural. The youths were seized by the idea and dedicated all their strength and energy for the good of the clubhouse. They came in the evenings, after work, to spend time together and to hear lectures on artistic and literary topics, given by various speakers.

Music held an important place in the life of the clubhouse. There was an orchestra of 20 people. It was organized by Mr. Broshek who played the violin. Others were Arlichgerecht, Fimes, Potchter, Moshe Weinstein, Aharon Friedman and Fidelman.

The orchestra had prepared a concert to be performed in front of the public. However, for some reason, it did not happen. There were internal concerts and all income was reserved for the maintenance of the clubhouse and the library.

It is not for nothing that the clubhouse was named for the great, popular writer.

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Founding executive of the Clubhouse named for Y. L. Peretz in Kovel

 

Peretz wrote stories for the people and the library was intended for workers– laborers, clerks and teachers. All these people would gather in the clubhouse to read a newspaper, play chess and discuss world events.


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Righteous Lodging

Yaakov Teitelkar

Translated by Ala Gamulka

There were various popular–traditional institutions of charity in Kovel. They were “Bikur Cholim”, “Residence for the elderly”, “Fund for the Needy”, etc. “Righteous Lodging” held an important place among these institutions. This charitable institution was similar to “Kupat Cholim” and was meant, first and foremost, to look after the poor of our town.

The name “Righteous Lodging” literally means– house where charity will lodge. In general, this description suits all the philanthropic institutions of the Diaspora existence. It indicates the original purpose of this institution, i.e., charitable lodging, in the homes of its members, of lonely, segregated and sick people. These people had no family. It was important to do it and especially in times of epidemics and calamity which sometimes affected the entire population of Kovel. There was a need for volunteers who could offer help immediately.

The basis of “Righteous Lodging”, like the other institutions, refers to the earlier times of the Jewish Diaspora. Then, social help was done by individual families, when the villages had a stable life, one large family. People looked after each other in a good way.

In the meantime, the population of the town and the village grew and blossomed. Culture, education and an organized society could be seen through the spiritual ghetto wherever there were Jews. In time, everything changed and modern educational institutions were created. Charitable institutions also changed and wore a new fašade. Leaders with advanced views took over and placed the institutions on a proper public standing.

One of the first leaders who undertook the job of organizing “Righteous Lodging” was the famous, modest philanthropist of Kovel– Yosef Shochat. He dedicated himself to the institution and gave it all his energy and his might. This is in the full sense of these words. He did much for the advancement of the institution. Instead of the traditional treasurers, a modern committee was elected. The committee included: representatives of the religious Jews, the best from synagogues and shtiebels, Zionists, merchants and trades people, political parties and various organizations. An apartment was rented. It included an organized pharmacy (in the house of Pickholtz–Goldberg near the bridge). The pharmacist was Zalman Shtilerman. His medical service was helpful and important to the poor and even the middle class.

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The duties of the institution branched out, spread out and expanded. The traditional aim of “Righteous Lodging” was for volunteer–members to host the sick, poor and needy in their homes. Now, with the approval of the committee, Rabbis and other organizations, there was an additional task of distributing medications and therapeutic instruments, medical appointments (doctors were cooperative), assistance with obtaining admission to the hospital, visiting nurses in homes of the sick, etc.

 

Shlomo Tolier, z” l

 

“Righteous Lodging”, as other charitable institutions, depended on pledges and donations for their existence. These were done in synagogues and Shtiebels– donations from collection on the eve of Yom Kippur, from the community budget, monthly fees paid by members (collected by the veteran treasurer “Voptsi”), and sums given by community leaders. However, all these funds could not cover the perpetual deficit of a charitable institution due its constant needs, great expenditures and small income.

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Soon the unpredictable years of WWI came and the town was flooded with refugees from nearby fronts. The economic and health situations worsened, the deficit was great and medical needs could not be looked after. The “Righteous Lodging”, as other institutions, underwent a big crisis and it was ready to dissolve.

When the war ended, the desolation in the public institutions was huge. Towards the end of 1919, the Poles entered town. There was a change in authority as well as new ways of life and the work grew exponentially. The Poles investigated and found that the apartment of “Righteous Lodging” was inadequate for a pharmacy. Due to the economic breakdown, there were many internal arguments between the committee and the pharmacist. Yossel Shochat– a straightforward man, resigned from the presidency. “Righteous Lodging” was orphaned and was waiting for redemption… and here he came– in the image of the energetic town leader– Shlomo Tolier, z” l.

Shlomo Tolier came to Kovel from Bilitskrov (Russia) in 1919. He was an energetic businessman. He was a partner in the electrical station and owned a factory manufacturing nails. He found time to dedicate himself to the turmoil of public life in town. Most of all, he was involved in “Righteous Lodging” and expanded all his energy to the rehabilitation of this institution. In 1921, he took over, from Yosef Shochat, the running of the institution. He immediately undertook to reorganize the committee and to bring in new recruits. The new committee consisted of: Shlomo Toiler (president), Michael Rosenblatt (vice president), Mika Gasco (secretary), Leib Fish, Leibel Frishberg, Yehiel Eibshitz, Moshe Schwartzblat, Volf Gonik, Mordechai Mokrin, Avraham Glaz, Avraham Geller, Liova Stock, Shteinbach, Shlomo Schnitzer.

His second task was to rent a new, appropriate apartment for the pharmacy, as required by the authorities. It was in the house of Tsippa Roiter on Warshavska Street. Soon he addressed the need for an economic grounding for the institution by increasing the number of members, raising monthly fees, organizing parties and concerts by famous cantors (Sirota and Koussevitzky). They were brought especially to Kovel. There were also flower tag days. There were also constant struggles with the Polish magistrate for additional funds for “Righteous Lodging”. There was improvement in the set–up of the institution and its accomplishing its duties. All this was due to his efforts. He managed to elevate the institution, to advertise it in the community and to create a strong basis which would guarantee its existence and development.

This successful situation in “Righteous Lodging” continued for 13 years. His 10th anniversary was celebrated in 1923. He was recognized for excellence with a special plaque commemorating his activities for “Righteous Lodging”.

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In 1933 he left Kovel (the Polish authorities confiscated his electrical station). He went, with his four brothers, to Lublin. They opened a factory there. He was replaced by Michael Rosenblatt. Even after his departure from Kovel, Shlomo Tolier was still important. His influence was still evident. “Righteous Lodging” was put on the right road by him and it continued to develop and succeed. It became well–known in all parts of the population and many poor or sick or needy people found a place there. They were supplied with all their needs. Then came the satanic world sinner, Hitler, may his name be erased, and he overturned everything. All the patients and the doctors, the receivers and the givers– those who perform public service in good faith– may their memory be a blessing for generations!


Institutions, Groups and Gathering Places
(Streams and moods of some of the Jewish youth in Kovel)

Meir Rosenblatt (Paris)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The 1930s– Polish anti–Semitism– were tough times for the Jews. They struggled daily for their existence. On the other hand, it was a period of the deepening of national identity. Among the Jewish youths of Kovel there was a change of values– a thirst for cultural values.

The students of the Jewish–Polish high school, headed by Klara Erlich, met with other Jewish students from the Polish high school. They also connected with the students of Tarbut high school. The latter met with Hassidic young people.

In this special atmosphere, several unusual youth organizations were created in Kovel.

 

The Zionist, non–party youth organization in Kovel

There were dozens of Jewish youth, who identified as nationalists, but were unable, for various reasons, to join the existing Zionist youth organizations in Kovel. Senior students and graduates of the high schools had debates about joining one organization or another.

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Someone made a suggestion: “why don't we create a Zionist, unaffiliated youth group?”

Talk became deed and in 1930 a different organization: “The Zionist unaffiliated youth organization in Kovel”. Kovel had groups of all colors of the rainbow up to then.

The organizing meeting was held in the Beit Am hall on Senkevitcha Street. There were about twenty to thirty young people. Representing Tarbut high school were: Yitzhak Guberman, Penina Goltsblat, Yerachmiel Goldsmidt and others. From the high school of Klara Erlich came– Velvel (Zeev) Lifshitz, Liova (Aryeh) Reiner, the author of this article and their friends.

The program aims of the movement were: activity for the Funds, research into the history of Zionism, geography of Eretz Israel, deeper study of Hebrew culture, etc.

Yitzhak Guberman was elected chairman of this new movement. Together with the chosen committee, he began to develop a broad and many–faceted program. The home of the movement became Beit Am. It was offered by the Kovel Zionist organization.

Unfortunately, the days of this new youth movement did not last. There was a great struggle within the various Zionist youth movements to entice these unaffiliated young people. Several of the leaders of the new group went in different directions. Others just left. The movement collapsed. However, the fact that had even existed was typical of the train of thought of some of the Jewish youths in Kovel.

 

Yiddish Clubs

The students of the Jewish–Polish high school had a very shallow and limited knowledge of Jewish culture. They wished to learn more after school hours.

As proof of this need, a group of students organized a club for the study of Jewish literature. Meetings were held in the warm and welcoming home of the Gelman family on Fabritchna Street. The hosts– Moshke and Meike Gelman, may they rest in peace– welcomed their fellow students.

In addition to the high school students, there were Hertz Levin, Liova Gelman and Aaron Werba who recited the works of the leaders of Jewish literature.

We worked hard on analyzing “Mipi Ha'am” (from the people) by Peretz. We would read a story, ask questions and awaken ideas. There was an interesting and substantive exchange that usually ended with a discussion of the cultural, social and present problems.

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Literature and History Clubs

The students of Klara Erlich were energetic and active. They did not stop at Jewish literature since they were also interested in general Jewish topics– history, Tanach, Jewish life, history of Zionism and the pioneering movement.

They were joined the few students from the Polish high school. They, too, were hungry for Hebrew culture.

The lively leader in these clubs was, for a long time, Russia–Ruth Djeshevsky. She had studied in the Polish high school. One day she left it and transferred to the Jewish–Polish high school.

She was the daughter of Pinhas Djeshevsky, z” l, who was known around the world as the person who attacked the persecutor of Jews, Pavel Krushevan. The latter had been responsible for the Kishinev pogrom. She, obviously, had inherited a fiery and stormy temperament from her father. Her uncle was Avraham Sheynkar, a well–known Zionist in Kovel. This is where she learned about the first Zionist congresses.

She was sensitive, educated and talented in literature and other cultural subjects. She was swept up by the cultural values of the Jewish renewal movement.

The meetings took place at least once a week. Sometimes they were held in the home of Russia Djeshevsky and other times in different houses.

The students of the Jewish–Polish high school who attended were Tsippa Beirach, Velvel Lifshitz, Reiner, Rosenblatt and others. Those from the Polish high school were: Fania Osiuk, Fira Khazanov–Ziskind, Fania Forshteler, Regina Roiter, etc. The only representative of Mirenitche School was Srulik Burstein.

The lecturers were mostly students of the Hebrew high school. Frimer spoke about the majesty of the Jew who praises his superior, as described by Mendele. Tuvia Weisbrot discussed the “Exodus from Egypt” as the earliest socialist movement in history. Yerachmiel Goldsmidt recited “Auto emancipation” by Pinsker.

Questions were posed, opinions given and there was excitement and argument. The youths searched for solutions to current, burning issues. Over all, Jewish topics were of utmost interest.

The discussions in these wonderful clubs went on for hours. Late at night, after the meetings were over, the quiet streets of Kovel still echoed with the discussions.

These clubs were not run by teachers or leaders. They were autonomous creations.

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They were an integral part of the Jewish youth scene in Kovel. They became essential to many of the young people.

 

Ohel Shem

The House of Learning of the rabbi from Trisk had, several times a week, Hassidic young men who came after work to study Gmara. Here is Yochanan (Yochanantchik) Tversky– smiling, but with a penetrating look. He was the son of the town rabbi– Nahum–Moshele. There is the silent Fishel Gitlis, son of Yeshayahu the Scribe; another is likable Leibel Tabakhandler, son of the Lubavitcher Hassid Rabbi Avraham–Nachman; there is serious Asher Kleinerman. Others are the young boys, gifted children and grandchildren of the ritual slaughterers of Kovel.

On the other side appear several graduates of the Hebrew high school and the Jewish–Polish high school. They were knowledgeable in Tanach, Hebrew literature and Jewish History, but they wanted to enrich their knowledge in original sources. They were Yitzhak Klonitsky– friendly and round, lovable Yitzhak Guberman, happy and talented Israel Steingarten, Liova (Aryeh) Reiner– always involved in artistic endeavors, Meir Rosenblatt and others.

Unseen threads connect the first group with the second. The two groups sensed that one can complement the other.

This is how the special, outstanding Ohel Shem was formed.

The young people met several times a week– sometimes in the House of Learning of the rabbi from Trisk –located in the outskirts of town– and other times on the “sands” of the little House of Learning of “Righteous Lodging”.

The Hassidic enthusiasm merged with the scientific method. Deep beliefs joined dreams of culture and development. Leibel Tabakhandler studied Gmara. Everyone was seriously studying Tanach, Rambam and discussing Jewish values. They went deep into Jewish philosophy and human experience.

The club grows and draws new faces. Effervescent Mates Krazhner, leader of the Zeirei Mizrachi of Kovel; gentle Hershel Bakun; Yehiel Goldberg who is always busy with his own problems; Berl Landver, son of the Rabbi; the brothers Melamed, the saddlers who live in “town” and the three Bochover brothers.

They study seriously until late at night. They get closer and become friends.

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Members of Ohel Shem
Standing right to left: Mates Krazhner, Hershel Bakun, Yitzhak Klonitsky, (unknown fourth)
Seated right to left: Hershel Avrech, Yeshayahu Avrech, Meri Rosenblatt, Goldschmid

 

A party is organized in the Trisk House of Learning. There are speeches and Hassidic dancing.

When the studying is over, everyone goes home late at night. The “town” people go in one direction while the “sand” residents go in the other direction.

* *

Young people from different social strata, with varying degrees of culture and learning– managed to unite in clubs and groups, in friendship. They yearned for Jewish content, Jewish thought and they were interested in sources. They dreamed of a world of honesty and justice.

Most of them were killed in the name of God. May their memory be a blessing!


[Page 360]

The Orphanage From Within

M. Olitzky (United States)

(Translated from Yiddish to Hebrew by E. Leoni)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

I spent five years of my life in Kovel. Usually, these childhood years are the happiest times in one's life. Unfortunately, for me, these were bleak and gloomy years. Being an orphan and living in a foreign place were heavy burdens. I was shy and sensitive from birth and the atmosphere in the orphanage depressed me. I was obliged to accept my bitter fate and to face reality. I constantly thought how I could escape from this place and these thoughts added to my feelings of depression and sadness.

I felt tormented every time I came to the orphanage for the noon meal or to obtain a loaf of bread. I was comforted by the fact that I did not have to sleep there with all the other children. I was staying in a private home; sometimes alone and other times with more children of Reitze.

The orphanage building was not fully completed and it stood in a corner of town near the municipal prison. The short lane emerging from Mitzkivitcha Street was covered in snow in the winter. In autumn our legs were mired in clay and slime. The orphans walked on by holding on to the rickety fence.

The lane dissolved into a large square near the prison. There were two walls– the red one of the orphanage and the white one of the prison. They both inspired gloom. Passers–by would lower their gaze so as not to be suspected of looking up at the tiny windows. They were all in disrepair.

The depressed mood did not ameliorate when one entered into the rooms of the orphanage. The building had not been completed yet. The walls showed helplessness and desolation. There were long wooden tables where the children sat. Occasionally, there were white tablecloths. In front of the kitchen door there were many hungry children waiting impatiently for their “daily bread”. The three meals of the day were monotonous: in the morning and in the evening–bread with jam or fat and a semi–sweetened tea; at noon there was soup with black bread. Sometimes there were a few pieces of meat. The bread was not rationed, but there was really not enough in the meal to satisfy hunger. Small children and sick ones were given milk. On Shabbat there were slices of challah.

I did not usually eat with the other children. I had special privileges because I lived far from the orphanage. I avoided the other children and I went closer to the table. I was embarrassed by the large piece of meat I was given on a plate because the other children looked at me with their hungry eyes. I also tried not to bump into Mr. Appelbaum.

[Page 361]

Old man Appelbaum built the orphanage with his own money. He also continued to give material help. He did not want to accept me. It is possible the reason for this was the difficult economic situation or my “old” age– I was 14. The “old man” was respected, but he really was not the boss. The true bosses were Reitze Levin and Erlich. They were on my side to be accepted into the institution.

Reitze Levin, or as she was called simply Reitze, sank her whole being into working for the orphans. She had started as a young girl. She came from the dynasty of Sarah Ben Tovim and dedicated her days and nights to these poor orphans. In daytime she would roam the town to find homes, work and money. Often, she would collect Challot for Shabbat. In the evenings she looked after the children and their clothing. She went to sleep late at night at her parents' house. It was a long way and she was received angrily at home. She sacrificed her personal life. She gave up on having children and did not marry Erlich. The entire town was expecting them to marry and everyone was anxious to wish them Mazal Tov. For the good of the children, she found them private homes. She hoped it would be easier for them to succeed and become independent. These were the children of Reitze.

I never knew the first name of Erlich. He was short and a little stocky, but his face radiated goodness. He always carried a thick walking stick with which he was able to “cross the Jordan” It paved his way in the mud and slime as he went to work in the orphanage. Officially, he was the secretary and bookkeeper, but he was really “everything”. All the problems of the orphanage were thrown on his shoulders and he took care of them.

There were many good people who tried their best, but it was not enough to satisfy dozens of children. Sadness was always visible on their faces. It was rare to hear a child laugh. I don't need to add that they did not sing.

In my lowly opinion, this situation was not decreed from above. The educational side was inadequate. The absence of experienced and knowledgeable teachers was obvious. They would have enriched the lives of the children and made them happier. Pasha, the official teacher, was bothered by administrative duties. She made sure the children received food on time, that linens were clean and clothing was, more or less, not torn. She often had to search for bread for their meals. She, too, was not pleased with the situation. She often complained that she had to perform duties that she was not happy to do.

[Page 362]

She could not do more. Her love for the children was boundless. As she passed hurriedly through the building, she often hugged the children.

For the children these hugs were not enough. As a result, they became serious quite early. They began to think about studying and a trade. They wished to become independent and to leave the orphanage. Their dream was to grow up and become one of the children of Reitze. The latter lived in private homes and not every one knew that they were orphans.

Erlich also knew and understood that the educational part was inadequate. He planned many assemblies or celebrations, but they never came to fruition. He had other problems to worry about.

I slept over in the orphanage on some nights. The bedrooms were on the second floor. They were long rooms with iron beds covered in blankets. Before bedtime Pasha would light small red lamps. In this gloomy light, the rooms looked even darker.

The first night I went to the bedroom, I was shocked by the red light and I stopped at the door. In the dim red light, I noticed a few children crouching on their beds. Others stood at the windows and looked at the bright moonlit skies. Their sad faces were lit and they were all deep in a heavy and depressing muteness.

I lay on my bed, in my clothes, until late at night. I did not close my eyes. I felt the loneliness of the orphans and I understood my situation.

On that night I wrote my poem. A few years later it was published in “Literary Pages”.

Children

Where should I go with my smile, since
Children also have the serious faces
Of grown ups?
In daytime they stand with their faces looking down
They are in foreign places.
At night they look out through the window pane
Their eyes reflect tiny moons
Like large tears of milk.
They dream of a mother's bosom which had not nursed them
How good it must be
A piece of bread spread with butter,
Like a ripple moon.
Where should I go with my smile
When even children are serious?


[Page 363]

The Founding of the Ort School and its Development

Avraham Glaz (Poland)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Towards the end of 1922 there was a meeting at the courtyard of lawyer Appelbaum. The artisans' association was there. Many people came to the meeting and a committee was chosen. However, no one agreed to be the chairperson. I had no choice and I undertook the position.

In those days there was, in Kovel, a workshop for men's tailoring. There were eight or nine apprentices. Their teacher was Avraham Manis (he was called Avraham-Berl of Trisk). The workshop was on the outskirts of town, in the house of Avraham Sheynkar.

The next day, after my appointment of the chairman of ORT, I went to see how they were learning. When I entered, I saw the teacher teaching the boys Rosh Hashana prayers. He was also a cantor in the Brik synagogue. When I saw that the teacher had transformed the workshop into “opera”, I decided to transfer the tailoring class to the center of town. I rented an apartment on Third of May Street, in the house of Asher the musician. The workshop was there now.

Six weeks later I went to visit my creation. Here, again, they were continuing to rehearse prayers of the High Holy Days. They were not even tired as there was no sign of tailoring work. I realized that this was useless. I called a meeting of the committee and said: I had hoped to create artisans, but here I see artists. We should disband this workshop and open another one for women's tailoring.

This is what happened: I sent a messenger to prepare a list of young girls who wish to learn sewing of women's clothing. He brought me a list of 30 such girls from the orphanage and 10 others from various places in town. When I had a list of 40 candidates, I began to look for a director.

[Page 364]

I got in touch with Vilna and they sent me a licensed director- Miss Fania Fishkes (later Mrs. Hayat). I rented a large, spacious hall on Mitzkivitcha Street. We received a permit and we began to do serious work. Thanks to Lieber Armernik who helped us to obtain the permit for the school, ORT was founded in 1923.

A year later, we opened another class. We brought another teacher, Miss Feigelson, who is now in Israel.

During that period of time, there was an event. There was a teacher by the name of Kopit in Kovel. He died suddenly and left a widow with two young daughters. The widow had no income and she went to Trisk to live with her son. He was a teacher there. One of the daughters, Esther Kopit, asked to be accepted as a student in ORT. I accepted her and her mother used to bring her twice a week. I asked the orphanage to accept the girl so she could acquire a trade. I was given a negative answer with the excuse that the orphanage does not accept semi-orphans.

It so happened that an orphan from the orphanage, a young gir,l wanted to be accepted at ORT. The chairman of the orphanage himself, Mr. Appelbaum, came to me and asked me to take her in the middle of the school year.

I said: Appelbaum, my friend, I will accept her on the condition that the orphanage accepts Esther Kopit. He agreed. Esther Kopit is now living in Israel.

In 1924 the economic condition of ORT was dire. We were instructed by ORT headquarters in Warsaw that we had to sustain the school on our own or to close it. ORT was now independent of the Joint, but had no funds. I called a meeting of the committee. Some members were in favor of closing the school, but I was of the opinion that we had to do our utmost to continue. Some members resigned from the committee. With great difficulty, we continued our work and we did not pay attention to the fact that some ORT schools, in other cities, were closed.

It did not take long and the central office in Warsaw sent us 20% of the budget. After much begging, the amount went up to 50%. We collected the rest from internal sources. This was the way we were able to put the school back on its feet. It grew and broadened. In 1925 we opened a third class, directed by Mia Tchuch-Volvoshes.

In 1926 I was sent, from Kovel, to the second world conference of ORT in Berlin.

[Page 365]

In 1928, or so, Dr. Sokolovsky, a dentist, was elected chairman of ORT. Pinhas Sheinbaum and I served as vice-chairmen.

After Dr. Sokolovsky died, the principal of the Hebrew high school, Asher Frankfurt served as chairman. This is how the school existed until WWII broke out. When the soviets were in Kovel, we still received, for 8 months, funds to cover our budget. Afterwards, I received a letter telling me to close the school because it was “unusual”. I gave Miss Mandel, the secretary of the orphanage, the entire inventory. The workshop continued there. Haya Margolis was the teacher.


The Carpenters Association

Hertz Levin

Translated by Ala Gamulka

On the corner of Old Lutsk Train Station Street, there were two little houses. On the tables would lie a few Yiddish newspapers, and some pictures of Yiddish writers hung on the wall.

Every evening one would find young fellows leafing the newspapers or reading a book using the colorless electric lighting.

Officially, this is the Carpenters Association. Truthfully, it is the meeting place of the workers revolutionary youths.

Every Shabbat, when our parents went to synagogue, the young workers went here to discuss current issues.

This is where they rejected the old world, the small bourgeois, disabled existence. In short, the order that must disappear and be replaced by the creative workers and the future, fair world.

The leader was Mendel, a carpenter for many years. He was a tenacious, caustic man with clear, intelligent eyes. He worked hard from a young age with his father. He did not have a good education, but he had a healthy, practical outlook on life.

For Mendel, all problems were simple and clear. He conducted various secret actions with obvious authority. He commanded with military discipline.

[Page 366]

At every theoretical discussion, he felt his lack of background. He needed a base, a proper education.

He appealed to the progressive youths, the sympathisers. Every week there were lectures about Jewish writers or a literary discussion or a collection evening.

I remember the discussions about Matke the thief and Buntche Shweig, the recitations of the works of Peretz, Mendele the book seller, Peretz Markish, Kolbek and others. I can still see the earnest faces of workers who presented various, mainly political–economic questions at the collection evenings.

Every theme was studied seriously and deeply and every issue was well handled. I must admit that the discussions were on a high academic level.

Following is a short list of the participants from the workers university. They were all killed by the Germans murderers:

 

Moshe Kuperberg

A simple proletariat, always unhappy man. He read books all week and on Shabbat he scanned the “Literary Newspaper”. He had great romantic dreams and many ideas. None of these were ever realized.

 

Ephraim Dobrovdka

He once studied in a Yeshiva and was knowledgeable in Jewish literature. He looked for a purpose in the modern world, but he could never really detach himself from the Yeshiva atmosphere.

 

Moshke Weintraub

The opposite of Dobrovdka. Cosmopolitan with poor background in Jewish literature in general and a follower of Marxism.

A European with progressive ideas, always sporting an ironic smile. He had a mop of messy hair. He was a typical anarchist.

He could discuss, all day, economic issues and he would not allow anyone else to speak. He never agreed with anyone else, not with other members, not with leaders of western politics, not with the systems of the East.

[Page 367]

If anyone ever tried to argue with him, in a private conversation, he would interrupt, using sarcasm: “your brain is too small to understand me…” A minute later he would smile and resume his monologue.

 

Kalman Liss

He was a tumultuous, isolated person who described, in simple language, Jewish people– the hard–working Jews of the villages in the wide Ukrainian fields. Kalman Liss, my childhood friend, from Heder days until my departure from Kovel.

He began writing at a young age and he always had in his bag a few new poems which he was ready to recite – to gauge the reaction of his friends. Not a day passed that Kalman would not find me on Levitzker Street and forcefully dragged me to his home.

“Mother”, he would yell, “Make a glass of tea for Hertz. In the meantime, I will read him my latest piece”.

His simple ways, good–nature and naivete made him a bit comical.

No one is a prophet in his hometown. Kovel did not give him a career of a writer. He later accomplished it in Warsaw.

In Vilna, where I studied with Kalman in the Hebrew Teachers Seminary, we went together to the cemetery. There was a monument there of a Jewish writer who was killed at a young age by the Poles in 1919. The monument had an eagle with imposing wings, but one of them was cut off while in flight.

The bird was killed.

Kalman, with tears in his eyes, signed his name on the monument. A few minutes later, he said courageously:

“You will see. My birds will take me very, very far”.

Kalman's life was finished in a similar way. He deserves the same monument.

 

Yeruchomovitch

He had a pale, tortured face with some white hair on his head. A sick, elderly man. He spent years in prison and was used to that life. He could not handle freedom

[Page 368]

–How do you plan to arrange your life, Yeruchomovitch?

–I have no plans to make. I will probably come back here, with the moles.

He was not wrong.

It is difficult for me to describe a few other members. It was the circle of people who helped in the cultural growth of the Kovel proletariat, the people's university.

* * *

At the beginning of 1928 I left for Paris. Seven months later, almost all the members of the club, including Moshke Weintraub, were arrested.

* * *

Two years later, the same members were paraded through the streets of Kovel to announce that they were sentenced to 8 years.

* * *

Six years later I received a letter in Paris from Mendel, from the central prison in Galicia.

He proudly suffered his difficult fate. There was no sign of bitterness. He wanted to know what was happening in the wide world– closed to him.


[Page 368]

The Home for the Aged in Kovel

Meir Rosenblatt (Paris)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Whenever a Jew recited Psalms and reached the phrase “Do not abandon us in our old age” (Psalms 71; 9), he would heave a sigh. The fear of being alone in old age, without assistance or subsidy, subject to a bitter and cruel fate – created sadness and unhappiness in his heart.

Previous generations of Jews respected and admired the elderly. Our ancient literature always praised them. It equated old age with intelligence and life experience.

[Page 369]

Our sages said: “The elderly, our bright people, as long as they get older, their intelligence settles on them”. Also “Construction of children is a contradiction and the contradiction of the elderly is constructive”.

Kovel existed on the eternal values of Judaism. It stood out in its devotion to and care of the elderly. It did not want them to feel alone and solitary, but to make their last years more pleasant.

The Home for the Elderly was founded in Kovel after WWI. There were two buildings- one for men and one for women. The houses stood on Pomnikova Street, on the corner of Fabritchna.

I remember the following as among those who did this holy work: Batya Armernik, Michel Roizen and Michel Rosenblatt. The image of Batya Armernik is well etched in my memory. She was the second wife of Berel Armernik, z” l. Batya dedicated her life to the Home for the Aged. She knew nothing else- only caring for the poor old man who had to leave his home and come to the Home for the Aged. She worked hard to make sure these elderly people were not lonely. She visited them several times a day and always brought special food to make the elderly happy. In spite of the fact that she was wealthy, she did not really enjoy life. She did not wear fancy clothes, nor did she have jewelry. She was dressed modestly and simply, which showed her great soul. She was a person who always cared for others.

Batya Armernik raised two war orphans- the Friedman siblings. She also brought up a third child. She said he would be her “Kaddish”.

The elderly continued their lives until they died, surrounded by devotion, love and caring.

This was the life inside the Home for the Aged, until the big change in the life of the Jews of Kovel when the Soviets entered.

When the Red Army entered, there was a definite change in the way all charitable institutions functioned in town. In the first weeks under Soviet rule, the fate of the Home for the Aged was not clear. However, the devoted town leader Michel Rosenblatt worked energetically to help the elderly and not to abandon them. He knocked on the doors of various government office, brought food from the cooperatives and searched for underwear and clothing.

Soon, the Home for the Aged came under the auspices of the general social insurance and Michel Rosenblatt was named director.

His main worry was that the Home for the Aged should not lose its Jewish function and that the elderly should live in an atmosphere that represented their values.

[Page 370]

When treif meat was given from the Food ministry, he replaced it with kosher meat. Before Pessach he made sure that the elderly people were provided with Matzoth and would have a proper Seder.

In the last months before the Russo-German war, the Home for the Elderly was moved to a central Home for the Aged in a village near Kovel. Michel Rosenblatt stayed in town and, with great sadness, said good-bye to his “babies”- the elderly of Kovel.

 

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