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[Page 234]

My Last Encounter with Tsvi Prilutski

By Avraham Zak (Buenos Aires)

English translation by Tina Lunson

From the Editor: This chapter appears in Avraham Zak's trilogy Di velt geyt unter [The world turned upside down], in the first part, Warsaw 1939 (in the volume In umru fun yorn [Disquiet of years]), and we print it here. It deals with his last visit with the old editor of the popular Warsaw newspaper Der Moment, our Warsaw native Tsvi Prilutski. The writer Avraham Zak had worked with Tsvi Prilutski in Warsaw over a period of almost 30 years, first at the newspaper Undzer lebn (before World War I), and later at Moment, and thereby became very familiar with the Prilutski family. His record of the Prilutskis in the tragic Hitler years in Warsaw is of great interest, and we found it necessary to present it as an important document about the last days of our famous landsman.

I go to visit “the old one”–Tsvi Prilutski, my first editor in Warsaw back in the times of Undzer lebn (before World War I) and my last editor, of Moment, until the fatal date: 1 September 1939.

“The old one” lives not far from me, at Bonifraterska 31.

I call on him one afternoon.

It takes a while for the door to open.

I hear a woman's voice behind the door: “The bell's ringing …. Who can it be?”

Frightened people. In all Jewish homes, people are afraid of unexpected visits.

“Open, open!” I say, intentionally in Yiddish so that they can hear it inside.

The door soon opens, and I meet the now totally grey Mrs. Prilutski.

“Oh, it's you!” she says, happy that it is I, and not some “other.” “How we've been longing for a familiar person! No one ever visits.”

“You must understand,” I answer, “we live in a continuing nightmare, in a fever. One isn't secure walking in the street.”

“Come in, come in. The editor isn't feeling well and is in bed.”

I follow her into the bedroom.

“The old one's” head turns quickly when I enter the room. It's a shock to my eyes to see the whiteness of his beard. Apparently, these days he has neglected his beard and has not engaged in adding a little darkening … Tsvi Prilutski never wanted to appear old. At his age (he's probably 80 already!), he always put on a brave face, dressed neatly, walked evenly, never stooped. In the editorial office, he was interested in everything, had everything in his head. Only from time to time did he stay in bed for a few days, when the sclerosis “sent him a greeting.” When he felt better, he would stroll into the office–fresh, chipper, with his beard trim and darkened. His wife had oversight of his toilet–Pese, or “Pe” as he called her. It happened once that he appeared in the editorial office with two colors in his beard: one half of his beard was darkened, the other half grey.

[Page 235]

Apparently, the old woman hadn't checked him over before he went out, as in distraction he hadn't finished his toilet.

In recent years, the “old one” strictly protected himself, having his older age in mind, and didn't ever like to talk about it. He had his sclerosis in mind, which was unavoidable, and he would be very frugal in expending energy. A lot of work that he had always done himself, he now entrusted to other coworkers in editorial, such as reading and editing certain handwritten manuscripts. Instead of doing as he had years ago, writing the daily popular political article on the second page under the name “Der Moment,” he recently wrote it only once a week, in the Friday issue. During the week, someone else wrote it under another title.

He could protect himself, the “old one.” He always tried to forget about death. He even avoided going to the funerals of people he knew. A funeral can lead to a sleepless night, to sad ideas; to dark thoughts; and he did not like that.

Now he is lying in bed, the “old one.” Can he avoid sad thoughts now?

“Good evening, Mr. Editor!” I call out with invented cheerfulness. “How come you're in bed?”

“Oh, Zakevitsh!” he called out, giving in to the joke, as always, of adding an “-evitsh” to my name. “It's good, good, that you came. Everyone has forgotten our address.

“No, not forgotten, you know that … the current situation.”

“But you live only a few steps from here. How far is Sventoyerska from Bonifraterska?”

“One doesn't need much to fall into the hands of the angels from hell; it's enough just to appear at the gate.”

And I illustrate the case to him, as I had at the gate of my house when a German with a revolver chased me and I ran up to the fourth floor.

“Well, sit, sit, take a chair.”

I pull an armchair over to him. “Have you heard anything from Noach?”

“I had a greeting from Vilna. The locusts brought a note from him. He's better off than we are.”

“You mean that Noach is doing well, did he get away?”

 

Noach Prilutski

 

“Well, for certain. The Gestapo certainly wants to arrest him.”

“They're already looking for Noach.”

“They went to his wife. A miracle that he wasn't there.”

“Probably they'll come for me someday, too,” said the “old one.”

“I know what!” I said. “They won't come for an old man.”

“But I'm listed as the editor-in-chief of the newspaper.”

“Your anti-Hitler articles weren't signed. Anyway, if it happens, you can say you've been sick for a long time and not active in the newspaper, that you only figure into it as a matter of form.”

[Page 236]

“In any case, the Gestapo has informants. We'll surely have to get out of here. But, may you not experience it, you see … I don't even have the strength to lie in bed.”

I see that the “old one” is quite sick and frightened, and I try to make the conversation a little more general and lighter.

“Do you know, Mr. Editor, I'll be very interested to read your political overview now. Strange–what will you write now?”

“Now is a time to be silent,” he answered. “When the cannons speak, the Muses fall silent.”

“You see that you did predict such things in your political overviews?” I posed a question.

“In politics there's always a blind play going on,” the “old one” offered as an answer. “There's no value in sentiments, no ideologies, only purely egotistical interests. Here you have a living example: Moscow has united with Berlin; it seems like fire with water ….”

“Did you ever, Mr. Editor, think about such an eventuality?”

“Yes, I thought about it, but didn't want to go so far as to believe in it.”

“And now? Now?” I ask.

“Now everything is lost.”

“It's a play that no one can predict the end of.”

Meanwhile, one of Tsvi Prilutski's clichéd phrases flashed through my imagination, one with which he had always ended his political overviews:

“What will happen next, the near future will show us” (with an exclamation point, or vosklitsatelni znak was how he used to dictate it to his secretary, in the old Russian habit).

“Besides that,” he turns to me after a while, “one must believe and hope that World War II will end with a sound defeat of the Germans.”

“That would be good,” I agree.

“Yes, but when will that be? Until some solace comes … don't invite disaster … you know who that has to do with.”

“I know what,” Mrs. Prilutski joins in, “he's convinced himself that the Gestapo can slaughter the Jews. They can't slaughter a whole world. He lies there like that and worries about it continually.”

“I think that, too,” I add, in order to calm the “old one” a little. “No one slaughters a world unless there is really anarchy.”

“About that insane Hitler one really can say, without law and without judgment.”

“He agrees with you.”

“Haven't you read Mein Kampf? You don't know his program? What he thinks about Jews?”

And strangely, the “old one” was more frightened of the Germans, of the Gestapo, than of the advanced arteriosclerosis from which he was lying in bed.

I try again to draw his attention and tell him about my visit with Hilel Tseytlin.

“Yes, I wanted to ask you, how is Hilel?” he grabbed at it.

“He isn't in the best of health, but he maintains, he watches over his books.”

“So, Hilel is probably better. He's a big optimist.”

“Now it's very good. One must live in whatever is easier ….”

“But what did he talk about, Hilel? What does he believe?” the “old one” asked, as if intrigued.

“You yourself said that Tseytlin is a great optimist. So, he says that the Master of the Universe would not allow such a crime on the people Israel.”

“That's a nice belief,” the “old one” remarks, a little skeptical.

Tsvi Prilutski considers it. His eyes turn to the ceiling, his face covered with a cloud.

“What thought are you deep into?” I interrupt.

“Oh, when I see you, I am reminded of many things. Do you remember the time of Undzer lebn? A lot of water has gone by.”

[Page 237]

“Of course I remember. You, Mr. Editor, you were the first to introduce me to an editorial office. Yes, that was before World War I; now we are in the second.”

“A piece of life gone by,” he speaks as if very touched by his thoughts. “And now, now it's ending very sadly ….”

It is the first time I hear the “old one” talk in such an elegiac tone. He, who always hated to talk about death, he, who was afraid of the very topic.

“Don't overdo it,” I try to distract him. “You'll see: the war will end, Hitler will meet a terrible end. And you will again write political articles for Moment.

“Eh,” he gave a skeptical shake of his now-long, undyed beard. “A shame, in one year Moment would have been 30 years old. Not meant to be, that particular celebration. So much energy invested in it.”

“You know,” an idea for the “old one” occurs to me. “These days you're always at home and have a lot of time; in all fairness you should write your memoirs about the Yiddish press. It's really a huge Yiddish epoch.”

“Correct. But … strength! Energy! And to whom can I dictate it?”

“You can dictate it to your daughter. She's also always at home. You shouldn't strain too much. A little each day. Write about Veg, Undzer lebn, and Moment.”

“Oh, there's a lot, a whole lot to write. I'll start it from Hamelits.”

I see that he likes the plan very much.

“However,” I add, “it will keep you busy, and you'll have to spare some thinking.”

“You are correct, Zakevitsh,” he answers, in a cheerful mood. “Sonitshke!” he calls out to his elder daughter.

Sonye comes from another room, silently, with quiet steps, as is her nature. On her barely womanly face is depression. She hasn't had any luck in life. She had a husband and left him–something did not work in their family life, and she remains alone, like an old spinster, and always sad. And now, these days, her sadness is multiplied and peers out of her face with a hard unfamiliarity.

“Sonitshke,” says the “old one,” “from tomorrow on I'll give you a little dictation, good?”

“Good.”

“Remember, you should remind me.”

“Fine, but you're weak.”

“You should push the little table up to the bed. I mustn't lift it because of this.”

She stands for a while and then leaves as silently as she entered.

“You're correct,” the “old one” says to me again, “a shame to lose all this to forgetfulness.”

“Absolutely do it. A great shame that you haven't done it before now.”

The old woman brings in a tray with two glasses of tea, for the “old one” and for me. The tea has no resemblance to our former tea. It is ersatz tea.

How quickly everything changes. At the Prilutskis, they always drank the best glass of tea with the finest aroma. I am reminded of the very first glass of tea I ever drank with the editor. It was the first time I came to Warsaw. I came to Prilutski with a sketch for Undzer lebn. It was in the afternoon hours, the old one was lying on a bed, and I sat on a chair and read it to him. In the middle, he rang for the maid and asked her to serve tea. The gentile brought in two glasses of perfect tea. “For me as well?!” I was astonished and was not bold enough to drink it.

[Page 238]

“Drink, drink!” said the editor, and had to remind me a few times. The tea was so delightful, so fragrant. I remember the taste even today. And now … one can see the decline even in the tea.

The Prilutskis always ran a fine household. There was never any luxury, although there were years of abundance, and the “old one,” as a chief editor and partner of the publishing company, did make some profits. But nevertheless, the “old one” got behind in his household operations and even went into debt; he lived above his means, with a generous hand.

“There are no snacks, unfortunately,” Mrs. Prilutski apologizes.

“We live in bizarre times,” I reply.

“Father cannot maintain his diet. He needs to eat a little chicken every day.” The younger daughter Ida makes this remark; she came in from the street and brought the “old one” a copy of the New Courier of Warsaw.

“If only it doesn't get any worse,” the “old one remarks. “What have you brought me, Idotshka? That Hitleristic rag?”

“Can you get anything better? I wanted to buy a Moment, but they were all snatched up already,” she answered as a joke.

In a moment the “old one” calls me to the window.

“You see?” she shows me, “maybe you know some interested person who would buy a ring?”

That question pulls at my heart. I don't know anything about rings.

“With a diamond?”

“Yes, with a small diamond. Of what use is it to me now?”

“You need to ask a jeweler.”

“But we don't go out anywhere.”

“Good, I'll ask a jeweler on Novinarska. I'll send him to your house.”

“Thank you very much! I ask you to do it without fail, because …”

She interrupts herself after the “because.” It isn't necessary to interpret! I understood her motive very well.

“Miss Ida, what do you hear on the street? Are they catching people? Are they chasing people?”

“There was a lot of running on Nalevska. But I have a rule: I don't look, I'm not curious, and I go on my way.”

Taking my leave I remind the “old one” again, “Mr. Editor, dictate some every day without fail, as your strength allows.”

“If you were my secretary now, as before, before … I would certainly do it.”

“Unfortunately,” I begin to announce what I have been avoiding: “I'm going away.”

“Now?” the “old one” snapped.

“Very soon.”

“You see, Pe? Everyone's running away, and we stay here. What will become of us?”

With that, the old one lay back with such pain, such sorrow.

I left the Prilutskis with that pain and that sorrow. In saying goodbye to the “old one,” I could feel a last “Be well!” in his ailing hand. How pathetically the gravely ill hand gave away his death throes. I would feel that sad goodbye long afterward.

I dragged myself sadly along of Bonifraterska Street in the oncoming evening, staying close to the walls. Open trucks full of Germans were roaring from Hantsik Station. They screamed with bloodcurdling voices. The heavy truck tires made a droning and unfriendly noise and deafened the Jewish street.


[Page 239]

The Last Years of Noach Prilutski

By M. Yelin

English translation by Tina Lunson

 

Noach Prilutski

 

Note: The article by M. Yelin about the last years of Noach Prilutski was taken from the journal Sovetish heymland, Number 3, from 1965.

The stream of refugees from half-ruined Warsaw–which was drowned in blood under the boots of the Hitler occupation–in October 1939 brought to Lithuania one of the most outstanding representatives of Yiddish philology–the well-known community activist, publicist, and literary and art critic Noach Prilutski.

A man with gigantic creative energies, Prilutski, even in his situation as a refugee, could not sit with his hands folded, eating, as the saying goes, food from the charity of a good friend. At almost 60 years of age (he was born in 1882), Prilutski threw himself into Yiddish cultural life in Lithuania with youthful impetus.

He involved himself in the press, participated in public performances and gatherings, and cultivated folklore, researching linguistic problems. According to the then-current laws issued by the bourgeois Lithuania toward refugees, a citizen of a foreign state was not allowed to work; for that, one had to have a special permit from the administrative department of the interior ministry. Prilutski turned to the department director for permission to work. He explained that since 1925 he had been a member of the central board of directors of the Vilner Idisher Vishenshaftlekher Institute (YIVO), and a member of the philological section of the same institute. Since 1938 he had been editor of the journal Yidish far ale [Yiddish for all], which was published by the philological section in Vilna. His two volumes of Dialektologishe forarbetn [Dialectological research] were published there in 1937; he advised them that he was an author of more than 10 volumes of linguistic and literary-historical works. Prilutski's request was modest: allow him to present lectures on themes of Yiddish philology in Vilna, Kovno, and another five towns in Lithuania.

That request, as one can see from Prilutski's archival dossier, went around from hand to hand in the department, and finally, with the help of intercessors, was it granted.

It is a reminder that thanks to that permission, a wide public in Lithuania, in particular the Jewish working masses, had the opportunity to hear Prilutski's brilliant lecture about the history of Yiddish. A masterful speaker and popularizer, he gave a vivid picture of the rise of the Yiddish language and the development of the Old Yiddish literature up to the Classic writers.

One can see further from the archival dossier that the work permit first granted to Prilutski was unjustly annulled before its term. The reactionary Lithuanian authorities were not agreeable to the activities of a “foreign citizen” around whom were grouping progressive local energies and whose appearances were a source of knowledge and education for a broad stratum of the working people.

[Page 240]

A further request and further advice show that in Vilna he, Prilutski, was no incidental person. From 1921 until 1939, he came here often, and each time he stayed longer. For this reason, he should not be considered as some kind of incidental person. In that same request, there is a resolution dated May 18, 1940: “Permitted for one lecture in five Lithuanian cities, including Vilna and Kovno.”

Despite the disruptions by the official bourgeois Lithuanian government, despite his deeply shattering personal experiences–losing his home and all his relatives (except for his wife Paula, who succeeded in bringing him to Lithuania), losing all his possessions–Prilutski did not stop working intensively the whole time. He prepared and edited the almanac for literature Untervegs [On the way], around which were grouped Yiddish writers whom the storms of war had driven from Poland into Lithuania. His great work “Why did the Yiddish theater develop so late?” was published in that almanac. (Later, under Soviet conditions, the work was published in book form, 136 pages, Vilna, 1940.)

Against the background of the development of theatrical arts in the world, Prilutski stated, the arrival of theatrical plays by Jews came late. He discussed the first efforts of dramatic arts and literature by Jews at the end of the 16th century, their development in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the first public performances of “Purim-shpiels” at the beginning of the 19th century. This chapter anticipated Yiddish stage arts. His thoughts led the author up to Goldfaden.

Prilutski published a long article about Y. L. Perets in the literature and art collection Bleter 1940, published by the progressive literature group in Lithuania. Here he made an effort to give to the 25th anniversary of Perets's death a portrait of him against the backdrop of the epoch in which the author had lived and written.

But Prilutski's appearances in public were episodic and also tied to much interference by the Lithuanian government.

Very different perspectives opened for the researcher after the summer of 1940, when the Red powers established themselves in Lithuania. In contrast to the Polish refugees, fleeing “community activists” of all colors who sought ways (legal and illegal) to flee further, Prilutski decided to put roots down here. He requested Soviet citizenship and received it on January 1, 1941. But after all, the new order gave him, and everyone else, all the conditions of living like a human being, being creative, working productively in the area of philology. In the previous circumstances, he had had to occupy himself in the legal profession.

His book on Yiddish phonetics was published in Vilna in September 1940, titled Yiddish Phonetics. An Elementary Course for Teachers; 65 pages with 4 tables and 8 illustrations. This was a synopsis of the lectures Prilutski had given in Kovno in August 1940 for the state courses for Jewish teachers who were preparing for the upcoming school year in the Soviet era.

The Vilna State University board decided to consider Noach Prilutski's work as work that earned him a scientific title. He received the title Docent of the new Department for Yiddish Language and Literature, beginning October 1, 1940.

Prilutski became the administrator of the Yiddish department at Vilna University. That which was impossible in bourgeoisie Lithuania became a fact under the Soviet powers.

November 12 was designated for the ceremonial opening of the department. Noach Prilutski stated: “A comprehensive department with equal rights could only come after the rays of the red five-pointed star have shined over Lithuania.”

In the Vilner emes [Vilna truth] of November 15, we find a detailed report about the ceremonial opening of the department:

[Page 241]

An overflow audience filled the activity hall at the university. Prilutski offered his words after the official speeches. And again the aged scholar could not hide the thanks and feelings that flooded him. He explained: “There, where the Soviet order rules, it is a natural thing for the proper degree of liberty to be given to the cultural needs of all peoples. But after the repercussions of the past, what is natural seems to us extraordinary, and it calls up great joy. I am touched by the great honor that unexpectedly came to me to initiate this natural and simple thing–a department for Yiddish language and literature–in the historic city of Vilna, in which the laboring Jewish masses fought for the ideals of freedom and justice and in which earlier Hirsh Lekert and later Julius Shimshelevich and their colleagues gave their young lives to the struggle for the time which we are destined to experience.”

We have to wonder at Prilutski's intensive creative activity, his tireless energy to work. He led the department, teaching a special course on the Yiddish language and the history of the new Yiddish literature, and an episodic course memorializing Y. L. Perets. In accordance with the determination of the presidium of the newly founded scientific academy of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, he was nominated as director of YIVO.

The former erudite secretary of YIVO, the well-known Vilna attorney L. Verzshbovitsh, gave a few details of Prilutski's activities. There was a period of reorganization and rebuilding. Besides YIVO, the new institute had to integrate with the Strashun Library in Vilna and the funds of the former Anski's Historical-Ethnographic Museum. The work never stopped. Prilutski took to it with enthusiasm. He initiated ties with the centers of Yiddish research in Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad, and Minsk, and simultaneously conducted an exchange of printed materials and information.

 

Noach Prilutski's Gestapo card

 

L. Verzshbovitsh related that on June 21, the eve of the war, he visited Prilutski in his home. Prilutski lay very ill with a lung infection. Several issues with the institute kept the patient from resting, and he requested that he be given daily reports about everything. The two parted late in the evening, and Verzshbovitsh, whose family lived in Kovno, traveled home to spend Sunday there. No one could imagine that that would be their last meeting.

The plundering Hitler-Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Very ill, Prilutski could not evacuate and fell into a horrible predicament.

In the folder of his personal matters, there is an excerpt from “Act-2-1” from July 1941, according to which all the Jewish coworkers were dismissed from the university. The dismissal was counted from June 22, that is, it was valid retroactively.

[Page 242]

The order was signed by Rector Mikolas Birzshishko, who, as a Lithuanian bourgeois-nationalist, had actively served the murderous usurpers, was doggishly loyal during the whole occupation, and then fled with it. Later, like others of his sort, he found refuge in the United States of America.

Also in the folder is Prilutski's docent certificate for Vilna University. The certificate is crossed with two red lines, making it invalid.

And last, a small card, the paper yellowed by time … it is the Gestapo's card on Prilutski. He fell to their hands on July 28, 1941. On the line “released,” it is cynically noted in ink, “Liquidated 12 August 1941.”

May the list of the Hitleristic murderers, who had to keep an accounting of humanity for their bloody deeds, not lack the contemptuous name of the Untersturmfuhrer Palenziva, the “official in charge” of the Prilutski “matter,” who sent the famous researcher to death with his own hands.

 

General view of Kremenets after the destruction

 

[Page 243]

Sofiya Isakovna Kremenetskaya
(A Spirited and Pure Personality)

By Beyle Bernshteyn (Buenos Aires)

English translation by Tina Lunson

Sofiya Isakovna, daughter of Isak Yofe of Niezshin (Russia), spent her student years in Peterburg (today Leningrad). There she met Azriel, son of Kremenets resident Yankel Kremenetski.

They married while still students and then settled in Kremenets; and Sofiya Isakovna became more of a Kremenetser than many a native born Kremenetser.

I first met Sofiya Isakovna in 1921, in her work for the summer camp for orphaned children. (I unfortunately cannot say much about the years before 1922, because then I was studying in Kiev and only spent the summer months in Kremenets.) The camp was outside the town on the road to the Dubno Ragatke (a suburb of Kremenets) on the side of the railroad.

It was difficult to find just the right building for the summer camp, and even if it was not completely suited to a children's home, it could at least be a temporary roof for the lonely children, who had just recently been registered by Sofiya Isakovna.

And Sofiya Isakovna did not have to describe them on paper–she held them all etched in her heart and mind. Above all, she was opposed to formalities and, even more so, was against bureaucracy.

Sofiya Isakovna was without doubt a very sensitive and impulsive personality, with a huge, warm heart. A little nervous, she often could not contain her feelings and adapt herself to narrow forms and formulas.

She was therefore always in an “undeclared war” with the bookkeepers and (later) with the Joint and its regulations.

Her secretary and bookkeeper was Leybke Rozental, and his salary (it is worth noting) was dependent on the condition of the bank account. And the bank account was always low, if not completely empty.

But after all, as bookkeeper, Leybke demanded a reckoning from her from time to time, and for Sofiya Isakovna that was the hardest moment of her work. Then she would say, “I put the money in one pocket, and I paid it out of another pocket.”

Then she would place the remaining money, the change, on the table and say, “Here it is, you have a clear accounting; this is the money I have and no more!”

She was deeply convinced of her own truth and did not like papers–what she called “paper truth.” Then Leybel had to find out who had the necessary receipts for the expenditures that Sofiya Isakovna had paid for.

The town was not large, and all the merchants knew both Sofiya Isakovna and L. Rozental, so it was not difficult for Leybke to establish and produce in a documentary, bookkeeper's manner the clear and true truth when necessary.

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In 1917, right after World War I, the Joint led a large aid action in all areas, but only in places a little further from the battlefields. Kremenets–because of its position as a border town–was not attended by the Joint. Due to its relative isolation in those days, the town was not even known to the Joint–but, on her own initiative, Sofiya Isakovna had already created a registry of orphans and general lost children of Kremenets and its environs.

 

The orphans' home

Sofiya Isakovna sits in the middle, with deputy A. Levinzon
Standing: Administrators A. Basis, F. Baytler, Leyb Rozental, with the orphans

 

The town was situated close to Ikva River, where in 1914 and 1916 battles took place between the Russians and the Germans, and Jews–and not only Jews–fled from all the villages near the Ikva into the larger town, Kremenets, and the town was overflowing with refugees.

The Jewish population grew larger, but these were impoverished people suffering from the war, and a large number were completely or halfway orphaned, their parents killed in the war or lost in the migrations.

The war with all its consequences also brought about certain degenerate persons who simply abandoned their children; and those were without a doubt the most tragic among the orphans.

[Page 245]

Sofiya Isakovna observed this; she understood and deeply felt it and could not rest; she went from house to house and got acquainted with the naked need and studied the situation and brought help, as much as possible.

Nothing and no difficulty could stop Sofiya Isakovna from visiting the poorest houses and places, starting from beyond the public baths, and so on.

The more Sofiya Isakovna encountered poverty and need, the stronger her will and her self-sacrifice became to bring help for the forlorn and unhappy little children.

She conceived the idea that in gathering all the children together, they could be helped more, and not only with food or clothes, but also by pulling them away, saving them from the dirt and degeneration into which need and poverty had thrust them.

Then she began drawing us young women to the work and awakening in us interest in and understanding of such holy work.

One can therefore say boldly that Sofiya Isakovna was an educator of a generation of young community activists!

Among others, she drew my sister Riva Bernshteyn (she later lived in Tel Aviv and died in 1959) and also me into the work. In time she would say that we were her two hands; with her eternal sincerity and refinement, she promised that she did not know which was the right and which the left hand.

I maintain, however, that the right hand was my sister. Rivke, then still a girl, with no preparation for managing the education of children, took on the work of heading the camp of 50 to 60 children, all that thanks to the stimulation of Sofiya Isakovna.

Because Sofiya Isakovna did everything with love and heart and also taught and influenced others to first of all have goodwill and a good heart.

So she also influenced my sister Riva, who knew well that she was going to work without pay.

Sofiya Isakovna began her work without no material means–one never knew what the children would eat later or tomorrow. Each day Sofiya Isakovna brought food from town or her helpers, and Riva would have to get milk, vegetables, potatoes, and other things from the surrounding gentiles.

More than once Riva was afraid to stay alone with the children, fearful that the gentiles would attack the camp; such an offense could happen.

The camp was in such a difficult situation that the question always was, “what will happen next?” and a new problem would arise, “what do we do with the children who have nothing after they finish their term at the camp, where will they go?” (There were three terms, or three tours.)

For Sofiya Isakovna, no difficulty was an obstacle to caring for the lonely children: two private rooms were rented for them in Avraham Brik's house, not far from the seminary. (Later, for the Polish children, the Lyceum.)

But that still did not satisfy Sofiya Isakovna as a faithful mother, full of concern for her children, and she carried around the idea of having her own house for them.

Then she came into contact with the Joint. That organization really made it possible to rent the two rooms for a longer time, but it did very little to support all the other necessary outlays, so there was no way to hire people to do housework and for the kitchen.

Sofiya Isakovna herself cooked, peeling potatoes, washing and cleaning the kitchen, and doing all the other heavy work that she certainly had never done in her own home.

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She was concerned that the children not lose any time, and she sent them to school or to learn a trade with an artisan, and so on.

She not only was concerned about the 20-odd children in the quasi-orphanage, but also stayed in permanent contact with all the poor and lost children and always found ways to help them out.

There were, for example, children with parents who could not qualify for the help designated for small children according to the Joint rules; but Sofiya Isakovna soon found ways and means for such families to receive support.

As already stated, she used to send them to study a trade at ORT or in private workshops, and did not let them out of her sight or from under her management.

So those children, now older, who were out of the orphanage, as well as all the other children, stayed around her and clung to her as to their own faithful mother.

After the Joint began tangible help in the abovementioned rescue work for the Jewish child, Sofiya Isakovna, through her loyal secretary Leybel Rozental, wrote “complaint” letters to the rich relatives of “her” children in America–she had already gotten the addresses–and demanded help from them. And in many cases, that brought positive results.

In getting money from relatives in North America, some people later helped her: Buma Treger, Rozye Vaynberg's husband, a “new” Kremenetser who had immigrated to New York. (He is no longer among the living.) In New York he became chairman of the Kremenets landsmanshaft organization. Through him, Sofiya Isakovna received significant financial help from the Kremenets landslayt union in an organized way. At that time, the orphanage was located in a large and comfortable house–with Mrs. Boym–on Slovatski Street, with a large hall for children and an overseer (Mrs. Fani Baytler) and with their own piano–all of that thanks to the above-mentioned Buma Treger-Vaynberg.

Wandering from one place to another, and all the difficulties in procuring an appropriate apartment for the orphanage, strengthened her will, and she worked to have her own house for the children–and Sofiya Isakovna achieved it!

I will never forget her joyous letter to me (I lived in Warsaw at the time) in which she shared her great joy and happiness with the official opening of her new orphanage; the mayor of the town, Beaupre, cut the ribbon and gave her a kiss in recognition of her hard work and preparations. This was in April 1930.

The place for the new orphanage was given by the magistrate thanks to the intervention and involvement of Sofiya Isakovna's husband, Azriel Kremenetski, representative of the Jewish population on the town council, who had found a place on Slovatski Street for which there were no legal heirs.

Sofiya Isakovna and her husband belonged to the so-called elite of Kremenets, the more privileged strata. They were the best among the Jewish-Russian intelligentsia. Sofiya Isakovna lived among the privileged but did not always love them–she belonged to the people and loved everything that was authentic and of the folk. Thus she understood and felt the suffering of the impoverished and unhappy.

Being a true intellectual aristocrat, Sofiya Isakovna was not possessed by and did not tolerate the small-town “aristocrats” with their snobbism and their manners; but she did do everything to get material support out of them for her orphans. Perhaps because of that, she did not cut herself off from them completely, because in the end they were the wealthiest ones in town.

Yet it was not easy to tear money away from those self-satisfied “aristocrats,” without which the orphanage could not have existed, because the membership fees paid by the majority of the population were not enough to cover all the expenses.

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More than once we heard her say, “I cannot bear those overstuffed, satisfied faces that cannot grasp the stranger's need!”

She was reared on the Russian language and culture, thought and spoke in Russian, but to the unfortunate Jewish masses she spoke Yiddish, even if a “broken” Yiddish.

She wanted to draw the poor woman and mother closer to her. Sofiya Isakovna had a large, warm, Jewish heart!

She spoke Russian to the children, although they answered her in Yiddish. All day they found her by “Sirotski Dom!” and she ran home only for lunch. And when the eve of a holiday was coming, Sofiya Isakovna did not come home to eat.

I will never forget an episode that so vividly marked the holy and clear personality that bore the beloved name Sofiya Isakovna.

She lived one house away from my parents. Once, on the eve of Passover (I had come home to visit for the holiday), still very early, Sofiya Isakovna ran past our house (she was usually alone–running). “Zdrastvoytye gospodin Bernshteyn!” She was usually the first to greet someone, both the important and the lesser.

“Where are you racing to, Sofiya Isakovna, so early in the morning? Is it even 6 o'clock?” my father asked her.

“It's almost Passover, the seamstresses are sending out the dresses for the girls! But I don't have any shoes for them yet, I have to go myself …”

I will not forget the joy with which my father shared with Sofiya Isakovna that “My children from the Talmud Torah already have their little shoes lined up on the shelves.”

Sofiya Isakovna's house workers complained that she neglected her own house almost completely. More than anyone else, her only daughter, Beba, complained. And maybe rightfully, she felt abandoned and lonely thanks to her mother's absence in the home.

She once told me, “My mother cares for 100 orphans and doesn't see how I am orphaned!”

I found it necessary to speak about that with Sofiya Isakovna. She answered, “My daughter gets almost everything–she studies in a gymnasium, learned to play the piano in the Lviv conservatory, where she travels twice a month and so can enjoy the big city, while the poor children have nothing!”

The house was run by Malke Bekman, who had come into the house of Sofiya's husband's parents as a young girl. Sometime later, she moved to Sofiya Isakovna and in fact became the manager of the entire household.

She, Malke Bekman, felt so familiar in Sofiya Isakovna's house that she was often allowed to mix into her private life; Malke often said, and in the presence of Sofiya's husband, “I do not understand what man would not suffer if a wife knew nothing about and was never in their home.”

Azriel would just smile good-naturedly; he understood her well and valued her work, and they had a happy life together. Sofiya Isakovna had an expression for Azriel: “My golden Azriel!”

I used to think–is he golden because he is a redhead, or is he really a golden person? In truth he was both: he was a redhead and a good man as well. He was a good-natured and passive person–a typical fine administrator, satisfied with what he had, happy with the everyday bourgeois comforts.

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However, she, Sofiya Isakovna, was full of temperament, a restless, dynamic soul with the noblest humanitarian leanings, and all of that needed to find expression. And as a result, the two-story orphanage for 60 to 70 children came into being.

But her activities did not end with that. Sofiya Isakovna was the nerve and tone-setter of all Kremenets community life: she took part in many administrations, including ORT, OZE, the hospital, and others. She often repeated that one cannot be in an administration and do nothing; and she, she belonged to the orphanage. Only that did not help her: she was always consulted, and her opinions were always reckoned with, even when they were expressed in private.

But Sofiya Isakovna was especially interested in all educational institutes for children, such as the Talmud Torah and others. She was everywhere and spoke with real authority. Which was, they were still her children!!!

The children called her “Tiota Sonye” (Aunt Sonye), but she was more than a good aunt to them. The children felt it, they sensed, that she was a faithful mother to them, and they loved her and always circled around her, and often accompanied her. One seldom saw Sofiya alone, even in her home, and even in the half hour when she ate breakfast at dawn, children came to her.

Malke would drive them away from the house; she yelled that they scuffed the floors. The children were afraid of Malke, but they could not or did not want to wait–the needed to see “Tiota Sonye” now, soon now.

Sofiya Isakovna also did not forget “her” children's homes. She led a large educational effort among the mothers and worked to improve the hygienic conditions in their homes and often, of them. With them, the mothers, she conducted conversations in the simplest heartfelt way and won their trust. She often brought help to those houses and hoped to make the whole atmosphere clean.

She knew well that with lighter conditions and a healthier environment, the child would grow normally and be brought up better and healthier.

Thus Sofiya Isakovna educated several generations, and more than one generation at a time, because she gave her attention to better times for both the parents and the children.

I can remember to this day former children of that orphanage who were successful persons and useful to the community, and enjoyed the recognition and attention they earned from everyone.

No finer and more worthwhile deed is possible than the one that Sofiya Isakovna herself created with her fruitful, deeply humanitarian life, with her eternal concern and work for the benefit of the lonely and abandoned Jewish child.

The deed that Sofiya Isakovna established in her life, which was murderously cut short along with that of her family and all the other near and dear of Kremenets, will never be erased or made to disappear. Sofiya Isakovna will live in the hearts of all Kremenetsers who knew her and treasured her large, warm Jewish heart.

Honor to your memory dear Tiotya Sonye, as the children, your children, called you.


[Page 249]

Isaac Stern,
Virtuoso Violinist from Kremenets

English translation by Tina Lunson

Isaac (Ayzik) Stern [Shtern], the famous violin virtuoso who today is considered one of the greatest artists of his kind, was a son of Kremenets. It is therefore logical and just that we, the Kremenets landslayt, should take pride in him, just as we are proud of other intellectuals, thinkers, Zionist leaders, and artists our town produced, and whose later personalities in a few cases–for example, that of RYB”L [R' Yitschak Ber Levinzon]–have taken on an pan-Jewish character and have even had a singular influence on Jewish life, as, for example, the activity of the Prilutskis, who wrote important pages into the modern history of Polish Jewry.

 

Isaac Stern

 

Relative to Isaac Stern, he is regarded to this day as one of the musical geniuses of the younger generation. In that sense, he continues a Jewish tradition, because taken historically, Jews have provided a large percentage of the violin virtuosi that are known in the history of music. We will therefore present the thoughts expressed about Isaac Stern by one of the most famous music experts, the writer Solomon Kahan of Mexico, who dedicates an essay in his book Musical Essays to the famous violin artist.

Kahan begins his essay with the assertion that the music lover in recent years has asked, what is the matter that no new violin virtuosos have appeared in the likes of Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, Zimbalist, and others, who created epochs in the history of music with their virtuosity and technique. There are great violin players, but not in the category of the abovementioned Jewish violin virtuosi, who have created a sensation with their talents and genius. Kahan answers:

“Until now there has been a lack–he is speaking about 17 years ago–of a Jewish violin artist who is a real representative of the younger generation who could stand at the height of a Jascha Heifetz.

“And here, a few years ago in the United States, there appeared on the artistic horizon a new star. He shines brightly, and since his appearance, he has occupied an extraordinary position in America's artistic life.

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“His name is Isaac Stern. Here in Mexico, he has played with the local symphony orchestra as a soloist, interpreting Beethoven's violin concerto.

“Even with the first sound he produced, he brought his listeners into a state of ecstasy. And what is more, he penetrated the poetic depths of that masterwork–which, together with the Brahms concerto and those Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky. He is a pillar of the literature of that kind–and the fact becomes ever clearer that before us stands a young man who has displayed the unbelievable: at only 20-odd years of age, he has refined in himself the incomparable Elman tone, the artistic nobility of a Zimbalist, and the devilish technique of a Heifetz.

“When he had finished playing only the first part of the concerto, there was no doubt left among the enchanted audience that the word “genius” was in this case no exaggeration, and that Isaac Stern will admirably continue the great artistic traditions of his parents' and the intermediate generation of Jewish world artists. The endless lasting applause that filled the large hall at the end was witness that everyone was convinced of this.”

Solomon Kahan wrote those words about Isaac Stern and his artistic classification in 1948. Since then some 17 years have passed, and those thoughts have been confirmed many times over by Stern's great successes throughout the entire world. Stern performed in the greatest centers of Western Europe, the Soviet Union, Latin America, and Israel as a soloist with famous symphony orchestras conducted by world-famous music directors, and everywhere his success was extraordinary, from the point of view of both the audience and the critic. All were unanimous in acknowledging that he belongs to the select individuals of the violin virtuosi that the world has seen, and now, at the age of 45, he finds himself at a very mature position in his artistic career, with a world name as a violin virtuoso.

Isaac Stern is a Kremenetser, and we are justified in being proud of our great landsman.


[Page 251]

H. Gelernt,[a]
(Gershon-Henekh Hokhgelernter, 1892-1960)

English translation by Tina Lunson

He was born in 1892 in Kremenets, in the Volhynia region. His father, Leyb Hokhgelernter, was a ritual slaughterer and circumciser. His mother's name was Rachel-Leye of the Margulis family. The father was a Hasid of the Bendzin Rebbe and often traveled to see him. Henekh was sent to cheder at the young age of three years and was given a strict religious education until age 17 or 18. He also studied at the Brest yeshiva and prepared to be ordained as a rabbi. However, he became a free thinker and joined the People's Party.

During World War I, from 1914 to 1918, at the beginning of the war, he traveled around the Russian-Austrian front lines and helped organize aid, kindergartens, and schools for the children of homeless Jews. Kremenets was not far from the front lines. Later Henekh went to Petersburg (now Leningrad) and from there–along with Sh. Anski and the musician Kiselgof–traveled around to Jewish towns and villages and collected folk material (Yiddish folksongs, melodies, sayings, and so on) for the Jewish Ethnographic Institute.

 

H. Gelernt (Hoykhgelernter)

 

At the beginning of 1917, after the Russian Revolution, Henekh returned to Kremenets; he worked as a teacher in the Yiddish school organized by YEKOPO [Jewish Relief Committee for War Victims]. He also helped organize and was a member of the local committee founded to support the camp for homeless Jewish children, and, later, the Jewish kindergarten organized and subsidized by OZE. At the time, there were many poor, homeless Jews in Kremenets who were fleeing the villages along the front lines, and their children lacked a healthy intellectual and physical atmosphere.

In 1920, Henekh traveled with Leyzer Levin, the well-known community activist from Pinsk, to the Russian-Romanian border. There they gathered many Jewish families who were seeking an opportunity to cross the border and emigrate further (mostly to America).

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They had no material means. Because of hunger and unsanitary conditions, epidemic diseases had broken out there. Jewish aid organizations subsidized the action to organize aid for the homeless mass.

In 1922, Henekh worked in Warsaw in a transit kindergarten organized by the American Joint for orphans who were evacuated from Ukraine and needed to travel to America as “adoptions” for American Jewish families. They stayed at the children's home until they could travel out.

A year later, Henekh arrived in Berlin and worked there with OZE. He was also active in YIVO's work. As well, together with (deceased) Meir Mendelson and Rafal Abramovitsh and the then-secretary of the Yiddish Encyclopedia in New York, Avraham Kin, he collaborated in establishing the Jewish book and press exhibition in the Jewish pavilion at the world exhibition in Cologne, Germany.

As early as the beginning of the 1917 revolution, he had already gone over from the People's Party to the Bund. All his years, he had been a devoted member and collaborator in all political and cultural activities. When Hitler came to power, a plan was devised to rescue all the Jewish and non-Jewish Socialists from Germany, and the members of the Bund in particular. The Bund had a very large, valuable archive in Berlin that had to be saved. They decided to take it to Frankfurt, which the Bund members had a right to travel to, and there procured asylum rights. They had to do that in total secret, while the S.S. was watching. And they carried it out under the literal threat of death. Henekh played an important part in the rescue of the archive, along with (the deceased) Franz Kurski.

In Paris, where he settled in 1933, Henekh was again active in the Bund and a number of other Jewish organizations, such as YIVO and others.

Henekh printed articles on political and social themes, and sent his articles from Berlin to the Warsaw Folks-tsaytung [People's newspaper].

When Hitler took Paris, Henekh and his family went to the free zone of southern France at the last minute. There he also found rescued Bundists and members of the Russian social-democratic party, the mentshivikes. They managed to receive entrance visas to America. The abovementioned groups of Bundists and mentshivikes, and others, joined with the Jewish Workers Committee in New York, which after long and difficult negotiations had negotiated with President Roosevelt a special ordinance to issue visas for all those groups. At the end of 1940, Henekh and his family arrived in America.

And in America he became an active member of the Workers Circle and of his branch, Workers Circle Branch 61. He again published short articles from time to time in American Yiddish weekly and monthly publications, such as Der veker, Frayer arbeter-shtime, and others. He died in New York in 1960.

He collected books his entire life, as well as press materials and documents. After his death, the documents were partly given to “YIVO” and partly to the Branch archive (Franz Kurski Archive).

He spent the last few years of his life editing the memorial book of Pochayev, which was published by Kurts Press before his death.

Henekh finished his work about Kremenets (which is printed in this book) shortly before his death. That must not be considered a history of Jews in Kremenets written by a professional historian; they are notes from a lover of Jewish history, who wanted to eternalize something of his murdered community, knowing that a good history of Jews in Kremenets still needs to be written.


Original footnote:

  1. In H. Gelernt's book, there are several very valuable works: the history of Kremenets, monographs of Y. B. Levinzon, Dr. Meir Litvak, and others. Return


[Page 253]

R' Duvid Shikhman
and His Widely Branched Family
[a]

By Moshe Granitshteyn (Buenos Aires)

Translation by Tina Lunson

After the era of the national devastation in World War II, when Jews stepped up to proceed with the process of the continuation of our people, we posed the question to everyone: “Who should we go with?” That is, in other words, “Who are we, after this horrific tragedy, left with?” And our answer is–the eternal Jewish answer–our youth and our elders. It is our good fortune and a merit that we still have in our ranks not only young enthusiastic youth who flame with willingness and idealism, but also older, lucid elders who, with their refined wisdom and faith, are in position to be teachers of the way for all of us, the pillars of fire and cloud in our further path to general salvation.

And one of those few, rare individuals that we merited living to see and have among us and to prevail upon, was the old Buenos Aires inhabitant Mr. Duvid Shikhman, may his light shine, about whom we will write in detail, about him and about his planting for the future–his widely branched family.

R' Duvid son of Mordekhay Shikhman was born in 1875 in the village of Katerburg, Kremenets region, Volhynia province, Russia. He was a son of a ritual slaughterer and examiner and grandchild of the same, and he stemmed in general from a long line of well-known Jewish clergy in that large circle of old Russia.

His grandfather's house, in which the child Duvid was reared, was known in the entire region for its lovely Jewish characteristic of welcoming guests; it lay open along the highway, and by day or night offered a friendly face to anyone traveling through: a passerby, a weary wanderer yearning for a place of comfort, up to all the many rabbis, fine Jews, who were traveling through in that area and there, at that well-known house, could stop and lodge with them.

Up to age 13, little Duvid went to the village cheder, where he stood out for his zeal and concentration; but for bar mitzvah his father Mordekhay enrolled him at the local study hall, where he himself, the great scholar, had begun his study of Talmud and commentaries. But very quickly the young genius little Duvid became independent and with his sharp mind immersed himself with striking zeal and shrewdness in the sea of Talmud. His own father did not deter him from this, because he saw very well what kind of son he had been blessed with, and since he had someone he could, thank God, rely on ….

But at that same time the child became an autodidact, and along with Talmud and commentaries, he also studied the Hebrew language. Although he himself did not properly know what his purpose was, he did it. And though this was his own intuition, it was a kind of essence of his heritage, which began with him and for him alone.

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Madame Rivke Shikhman, who over the span of many years was like a mother to the Kremenets community, a personification of a warm Jewish mother

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The patriarchal figure of R' Duvid Shikhman in his old age

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He merited, and as it happened to be the case with him, his spirit broke through every turning point in his life (his strict religious Zionism) to which he later converted, with the whole flaming consciousness of a Jewish person who finds himself growing up and maturing on the border of two worlds: the old and the new.

But let us return to other things. The young child became such an expert and calligrapher in our old language that people began talking about him as a novelty in the whole region. And, it is said, that was the main point that upset the balance in the baffling issue of making a marriage match. They say that the effect of a letter in Hebrew that the 13-year-old genius little Duvid, son of Mordekhay the ritual slaughterer, wrote to the family of his wife-to-be had such a remarkable effect on the in-laws on the bride's side that the match quickly became a decided fact.

Becoming a fiancé at 13 years old, the young genius Duvid the ritual slaughterer's nonetheless stayed with his study in the same study hall in the village of Katerburg until he was 18, when they celebrated his marriage and he moved to Kremenets.

During that time, he gained ordination as a ritual slaughterer and examiner, but he did not practice it and did not allow himself to be pulled away from his studies. In time, he began to learn with study partners in the study hall, and it appeared that he possessed a huge strength in explaining things, and he declared and got entangled in difficult matters, and at the same time argued with his usual fire. And the successful young man, Duvid the ritual slaughterer's son, became even more eminent and respected in the eyes of his study hall colleagues, as well as by the whole village community in general. Soon he felt that people were looking up to him; people expected something from him, were waiting for his word. And that simultaneously made him feel so deeply that he was no longer free, but that he owed some debt to the community, and that this was the time to pay the debt.

Hanging over Jewish life in old czarist reactionary Russia were the painful aftereffects of the bloody pogroms of the 1880s. Those waves of Jewish troubles affected many of the better sons of our people and brought about a deeply fundamental reappraisal of their values, until it led them out onto the roads to national renaissance and Zionism. And that same process also caused Duvid the ritual slaughterer's son to experience the restless, agitated spirit of the generation in that far-flung Jewish-Volhynia village of Katerburg, where all the news about everything to do with Jews in the whole world arrived. The young Duvid learned from the BILU'tses (“Beys Yankev lekhu v'nelkhu”), that group of Jewish students who gave up their studies in Russian higher schools and took off to the Land of Israel to renew their lives on the soil of their own homeland; and the young Duvid sensed that the hour had finally come for the great decision in their lives, and that on that road they were now taking, treading upon, they would find their true wholeness. And he decided and enthusiastically concluded that this emerging Lovers of Zion movement was it, and with the entire sacred fire of his youth, he turned his speaking talent to it in order to pull young and old along to the new national renaissance.

He spoke in the study hall and the village streets; everywhere he found Jews gathered, he, the new orator, tutored them in the new historical lesson of the Exile. So he preached before Jews and enchanted them all; and he began to make history in his home village.

But the young Duvid, the master of dreams, was no plain, superficial enthusiast. He was a youth who thought, pondered, felt. And he wanted to deepen his new worldview; he wanted to bolster it in himself and also so he could use it against enemies. He wrote to HaTsefira and HaShiluch as well as other Zionist journals in Yiddish; and he was off on a fresh, enthusiastic series of studies.

The fiery young enthusiast Duvid the ritual slaughterer's son did not stay just with the Talmud.

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He also began forging deeds, along with his flaming words. He also undertook to found youth society in Katerburg by the name of Demanders of Zion, which set out as its task assembling funds and collecting money to send to the Lovers of Zion committee in Odessa. At the same time, he was carrying on a continual exchange of letters with a certain Dr. Sheyn in Kharkov (which was then the Zionist leader for all the regions of Ukraine), with whom he corresponded and whose advice he sought.

The proclamation of political Zionism by Dr. Theodore Herzl in the first conference in Basel called up immense joy in young Duvid, because he saw that all the strenuous efforts until now had not been in vain or gone to waste. But along with the encouragement it brought, it also laid out new obligations and aroused a deep responsibility in the builder's heart. One must not forget that young Duvid's education was strictly religious, and he had not strayed one hair off the path of Torah and reverence, and as is known, there were strong sectors of Jewish orthodoxy in Russia and in the whole world that came out mightily against political Zionism, which they designated as an antireligious, even anti-Jewish, idea: “Therefore, because he started himself, with his own hands, to bring about the Redemption, without the will and without the help of the rabbinate ….” Yes, and without the will of heaven….

And here young Duvid had to manifest extraordinary courage, independent initiative, and indeed a real revolutionary spirit to go against the current as he had been going, literally, against the will of his own father, and while he was appearing in the synagogue before the audience as the preacher for political Zionism, he himself saw that he came there to conduct a sharp struggle, not limited to–and perhaps against–the whole community.

But he maintained that the Jews' return to Zion is the will of God Himself, because all of Jewish religious life is connected to and interwoven with the Land of Israel; therefore Zionism is no insurrection, heaven forbid, against the will of God, may He be blessed, but exactly the opposite: explicitly a fulfillment of the divine will.

Young Duvid moved worlds for his great Jewish-divine ideal of redemption, and with tireless zest and enthusiasm, he continued along his designated path, without stopping.

A short time before the wedding, Duvid and his bride moved from Katerburg to Kremenets, where they settled. He was a ritual slaughterer and also a Hebrew teacher all the years he lived there. But the point is that he went on being active with his Zionist propaganda among the strongly orthodox spheres of the local study halls and prayer rooms. But he was beloved in all circles in the town, where his prestige continued to rise and grow so far that when, years later, in 1925, he was leaving there for Argentina to make his new home there, all of Kremenets was very regretful and literally did not want him to leave.

* * *

As we mentioned earlier, R' Duvid Shikhman, a light of Israel, grew like a mighty tree, an oak, with many thick branches that bowed and waved on various sides, that is, they reflected all the ideological directions that flowed and streamed through the Jewish world, but the father's revolutionary fire and his restless blood enlivened them all alike.

His eldest son Meir (may he rest in peace), the young man, was reared in strict religious tradition, and during World War I he was mobilized into the czar's Russian army and was killed someplace in battle. He never returned home. May his soul be bound up in the bond of the living.

His second son, Avraham, matured in the ranks of the left Workers of Zion. He later left for the Soviet Union and went to Moscow, where he settled, and to this day holds important government posts. Yet it is worth adding that at the same time he remained faithful to his national-progressive ideals for the youth.

[Page 258]

The third son, Yehuda (Julio) grew into an inspired Zionist. In his 20s he was forced to leave Kremenets, and he went to Lviv, and from there managed to get to the Land of Israel. That was his dream, his ideal. Along with that, he was also the envoy for his father, who longed with his whole body and soul to settle there, along with his family, in the Holy Land, the land of the forefathers. And had Yehuda been successful then, he would have brought the rest of his family over. But after a series of strenuous efforts and strivings, which because of his less-than-good situation, which he could not overcome in any way, he was tossed into another corner of the world and arrived in Argentina, and so here began to build his home (which, by the way, became over time also the home of all the Kremenetser landslayt), where people came together, calmed down, and spent time together in longing for a home. Thus that same Julio–in agreement with the fine characteristic of welcoming guests, after his grandfather, may he rest in peace–many landsmen helped in any way they could to settle everyone; and indeed, here, too, at his home, all kinds of familiar institutions were conceived, in particular the plan to establish the Kremenets Society. He, Julio, began to work at a printer, and not long after brought the entire family over here: his father, R' Duvid Shikhman; his mother, Rivke (may she rest in peace); the sons Barukh, Bentsion, and Yitschak; and the daughters Manye, Chane, and Feyge.

The older children soon found jobs; the younger ones set to studying, later moving into professional positions and in time built their own homes.

Manye, a woman with an intermediate education, married Nachman (Musik) Royt, himself a Kremenetser who graduated from a Russian trade school there, studied Yiddish and Hebrew, and here, in Argentina, became one of the best print workers. Chane, also with a significant local education, married Moshe Rekhes, who had for many years had been active in the progressive circles of Buenos Aires and Cordoba. Feyge studied and graduated as a pharmacist and married Yakov Yadushliver, and both were active for many years in progressive social institutions.

The son Barukh was active for many years in the ranks of the revolutionary society, also in the circles of the theater studio “Yung Argentina.” At the same time, he was busy in his profession as a press operator.

The son Bentsion (may he rest in peace) was active in progressive spheres, where he excelled with his deep idealistic belief and fire. He had a big, full heart, the most tender blossom of the whole family. On July 13, 1934, at the age of 24, he died from a serious illness. He had devoted his whole life to his ideals, in the struggle for a better, finer world. His life being cut down so young was a hard blow for the family, who grieved for him for a long time, and the bloody wound never properly healed.

The son Yitschak, may he rest in peace, was known by the nickname Friend Isak. He arrived in this land very young, went through a middle-school education, and later became an enthusiastic activist in progressive-society circles, where he excelled with his inspiration, bright smile, optimism, energy, courage, and faith, and in those he completely resembled his father. But in all spheres of his productive activity, he underlined the national emphasis. He was also active in the Kremenets landslayt society, where he displayed great insight in organizing the youth, the boys born here and the daughters of the Kremenets landslayt: for those youth for whom it was so difficult to talk together, the Friend Isak was there and demonstrated his understanding, won their trust, and put them on the right path of national-progressive consciousness.

Working as a typesetter with his brother-in-law Nachman and his brother Barukh in the printing shop that his older brother Yehuda had established, he succeeded in creating and developing a Yiddish department in the shop.

[Page 259]

Beginning small, it grew over time, maintaining and improving, until it became, in a sense of veneration, a more serious relation and technique–the most important center in Argentina, where to this day the best modern works, which reflect all the ideological directions of our life in the world, are printed in both our national languages, Yiddish and Hebrew.

* * *

At the center of that widely branched tree stood the mighty old trunk himself, the father, R' Duvid Shikhman, a light to Israel, who allowed his life and juice to flow and stream into all the branches of the whole tree, without exception. And although one part of the branches was pulled to the East, and one part to the West, one part pulling to the right and the other part pulling to the left–all the branches together formed one whole with the essence of the tree itself. The father's deeply Jewish and eternally young, national-revolutionary spirit beat and pulsed in all the children, no matter what, wherever they were.

When R' Duvid first came to Argentina, and in order not to be a burden to his children, he became a ritual slaughterer and examiner for chickens, and for more than four years worked at the Mercado Rivadavia 11 hours out of 24. Later, when the son's printing press had expanded, he began working at various other tasks, which he fulfilled over the years in the most exacting manner, on a par with all the other workers, to whom he was a good, sincere friend, and thus they all valued and respected him greatly.

At the same time he, R' Duvid, began to be active in local religious spheres in the area of spirituality. And in time his prestige and influence grew strong and did not stop becoming ever larger and more real.

R' Duvid became active in the synagogue Chevre Mishnayot Shomrey Shabbat at Tucuman 2186, where he studied a verse of Mishna with the congregation for many years between the afternoon and evening prayers, and after the evening prayers a topic from Talmud, as well as the commentaries on the Torah, in keeping with the Torah portion of the week.

And at the same time, he joined the Mizrachi organization, where over the years he became one of the most prestigious, energetic. and active members in all areas, and thus let it be noted that always, his tireless, feverish activity was for the good of the Jewish National Fund and all the Zionist campaigns and initiatives, an activity he enthusiastically strengthened even more since the founding of the State of Israel.

The old, God-fearing R' Duvid, who had been thrown off his feet by the recent world tragedy of our people, had endured a dangerous trial from the Creator of the world, from whom he had strenuously searched for an answer: “How could He, the Father in heaven, have allowed the bloody enemy, may his name be blotted out, to make such a complete devastation of the Jews!” And, hardly the last, he tried to find a rehabilitation for the Master of the Universe somehow, since he had seen to compensate for our unbearable pain–with the tone to restore the people Israel in the land of their fathers, the Land of Israel.

He still did not know, R' Duvid–old and deeply wounded and in torment–sadly, what a new horrible trial he would have to bear in his old age.

On December 25, 1950, the horrible news spread quickly that while Isak Shikhman and his wife and children were driving back home from a vacation at the Julio Levin colony and, crossing the railroad outside the Govland station, an unexpected train hit their car at full speed, and in a flash, literally in the blink of an eye, smashed into them. To this day it has not been determined how that terrible catastrophe happened.

[Page 260]

When the train finally came to a stop and the passengers from the train cars and other people rushed to the crushed car with the hope that perhaps someone was still alive, they were stunned with horror at the catastrophic, nightmarish scene of dismembered, destroyed human limbs mixed together on one track with broken pieces of metal from the car so that nothing was recognizable, and they froze in action; but there was a miracle: thrown to one side of the bloody ball of those killed lay a very small child, crying. It was the only survivor of them all–but no one knew how it had been spared? Had it alone been flung to the side, or had one of those killed in the car realized at the last minute and thrown it out to save it? In that tragic crash (besides other Jewish passengers), Isak Shikhman, may his rest in peace; his wife Ayda Kelman de Shikhman, may she rest in peace; and their children Gavriel and Reveka, may they rest in peace, died. The only child of theirs who was spared was the little girl Rachel-Leye (Lidia), who was found at the side of the tracks, where she lay frightened and crying; but, thank God, she came out whole and was not harmed.

As it was later explained, the child was sitting in her mother's lap, and when the desperate mother suddenly realized the inevitable tragedy coming to them all, she had the presence of mind to help her child and at the last moment hurled the baby outside the car, on God's mercy; and so the sole little sprout of Friend Isak's family was saved.

That shocking news struck everywhere like thunder, causing uproar and deep sadness, and it shook the country' entire Jewish community, where the Shikhman family's good name and prestige had spread. It was soon understood how hard the tragedy had affected Kremenets landslayt circles and the numerous friends and acquaintances in general, who had so revered and treasured the tragically killed Isak and family for years.

One can imagine how terribly difficult the dreadful blow must have affected his own family, so hard hit, and especially the old father, poor R' Duvid, living out his elder years and now seeing them cut off. Woe, the young lives of his dear, kind son, his fine daughter-in-law, and the sweet, innocent grandchildren, and how deeply the terrible wound pressed on them all. They bathed in rivers of tears, mourned and wept, hard, comfortless depression from that unexpected misfortune; and nothing could make up for it; and good friends and close ones saw their difficult pain and wept with them.

The funeral of those killed took place two days later (because of the necessary formalities). A day earlier, the dead had been brought into the old father R' Duvid's house, and for the whole previous day and night, countless friends and acquaintances who came to pay their final respects to the tragically cut down filed past the coffins. During the funeral, the street was packed with people, wrapped in grief, and all the shops in those blocks of the town were closed, in a spontaneous decision in the general sadness and in keeping with an expression of respect and honor for the members of the hard-hit family.

The funeral procession extended to the cemetery in Ciudadela, where the tragically killed were brought for burial.

Weeping bitter tears. A concession to his tragedy, to the bloody contribution to the general folks-catastrophe that the Master of the Universe Himself has come for and collected, such a gruesome victim. He remained stunned and dumb, R' Duvid; oh, of course, he had to cope however he could, and not go too far with his complaints against the Lord …. And then … who knew? What? And then he suddenly snapped; and he simply suffocated all of it inside himself; and completely broken (oh, like the eternal Jew, when he feels the heavy, crushing hand of fate), he justified the decree within himself and (he alone, not entrusting it to anyone else) went on administering the burial of his own, of his blood, in accordance with all the details and fine points.

[Page 261]

Whoever did not see that has never in his life seen true, unshakeable, spiritual Jewish courage, and he must regret it in his deepest heart. But otherwise, those who did see it will have it to think about their entire lives and describe it to the generations that come after; yes, tell the wonder-filled story of the eternal Jewish oak; oh, of the old Jewish unshakeable trunk that carries on through all storms and tempests, the most ferocious gales; only He is stronger than everything and remains alive in eternity.

Over the fresh graves of the dead, several representatives of the Kremenets society said a few touching words: Itschak Arbit and Hilel Goldsher, who demonstrated the luminous presence of Friend Isak; his deep sincere idealism and belief in a new, better world tomorrow, for which he fought with such energy and enthusiasm and sought to plant his splendid ideals in the succulent hearts of the youth.

At that opportunity, Friend Goldsher and others ceremonially promised to eternalize the name of the sincere friend Isak and the names of his family members in Pinkas Kremenets, which the society was preparing for publication in the near future.

* * *

And shortly, before the year of mourning was over, on Sunday, December 16, 1951, the gravestone erected on the grave of the unforgettable Friend Isak and his family was unveiled. And again, there at the cemetery in Ciudadela, the whole family gathered, headed by the old father R' Duvid and many of the landslayt, friends and others; and then one could see that despite nearly a year's time passing since the great misfortune had occurred, the heavy wound that the tragedy had inflicted remained freshly swollen and bloody, even as in the first days after the terrible event. Who could ever forget the dear, sincere Friend Isak, with his constant bright smile, with his courage and his clear belief in the world and in humankind? Who could make up one's mind and make peace with the thought that it was now almost one full year since the gruesome death tore him away from us so brutally, he and his family; and that they were all no longer living among us? And the heart in each of us wept; the deep, barely closed wound had opened again in everyone, and there was nothing that could appease, still, or comfort it.

The Kremenets landslayt society placed a bronze memorial plaque on the gravestone. During the uncovering of the gravestone, Friend Hilel Goldsher, representative of the society, spoke, and the author of these lines also spoke a few words. They both expressed the feeling of everyone gathered in sorrow, there around the grave of the dear and sincere, the feeling that they were unforgettable.

At the religious ceremony for the unveiling, the old father R' Duvid himself once again officiated. Deeply aged, a grim grey. Oh, how misfortune had, poor man, so visibly broken and bowed him in both body and soul in less than one year. Yet with the eternal Jewish spirit of our often-tested people, he remained as before, so strong, powerful, unshattered, when he stood and led the religious ceremony.

* * *

In the 70th year of his life (a year before the tragedy with Friend Isak happened), his children inscribed their old father R' Duvid into the community's Gold Book, and after a short time, when the local National Fund bureau received the application certificates from the central office, they organized a solemn event in a public hall, during which they gave out the certificates.

[Page 262]

In that, each person could say a few words to the audience on the subjects of the day as he received his certificate.

When it came to old R' Duvid's row, it took a moment for the familiar, strong orator's spirit of his youth to awaken in him, from those early years in Katerburg. For a moment the grey R' Duvid was silent and looked around, distracted. It could be that he was imagining the long, difficult road that he had traversed from Katerburg to this place, Argentina.

Then he invigorated himself and turned from his distraction. He looked around at his family, his children; at the whole audience of Jews, as if grasping onto the reality of the world, of life. All this lasted for a moment, and the old-young R' Duvid began speaking to the audience, speaking his piece, his teaching, for old and young, and the point is, to the new generation that was coming; for further growth; for the continuation. And he laid out his exact vision of a Jewish future. R' Duvid said:

“Gentlemen! It is not only difficult problems that have awakened the Jewish people to return to the Land of Israel. If it were only that, then it would probably be the same with Jews as with other many peoples who have been driven from their land. In their wanderings over the world, they either mixed in with stronger peoples and disappeared, or they conquered some other territory, where they built their home anew. But one thing is clear: they have been separated from their pasts forever. But that has not happened with Jews. We have not mixed in; we have not looked to build our home in another place. All that happened because Jews are God's people and the Land of Israel is the holy land of God, for His people Israel. Because our people's whole life, the entire Jewish faith in the Master of the Universe, all the prayers of every hour, all day, from all the holidays and intermediate days and of all the generations and times, are tightly bound and tied together with the sacredness of the Land of Israel, which is the sacredness of the Torah and the sacredness of the Master of the Universe's essence. And thus the Master of the Universe longs, and his Torah and the holy land long, for the people Israel. Without Jews, the land of milk and honey reverts to an empty vessel. That is why, gentlemen, early in my youth I took up the call of Zion, of the eternal Jewish home and the eternal Jewish language–the holy tongue–and that is why I have come out against any and all from the old world who want to convince us that “Jews going to Zion on their own, before the arrival of the Messiah, is an act, heaven forbid, against the will of God!” Not only the way of Jews to the Land of Israel, the return to the holy land, must at this time be the return to God, which is the way of Torah. Only in that way will we be able to restore the people of Israel to the Land of Israel. And the State of Israel? Of course we must bless her and do all we can that she may become strong and can defeat all her enemies. But the state, as she is being built now, is not yet the last word, because it is not us–God's people, who gave the world the Torah with the Ten Commandments–who must in their old age become a people equal to other peoples, but exactly the opposite! We, Jews, will–and it is our desire and mission in life to do that, therefore, as all peoples, the entire world should be like we are–that is the sense of our being in the world: to redeem the whole world! Yes, because we, the Jewish people, God's people, are different and in any case must also conduct our life differently. My firm response to these various questions is: not by remaining spread over the world (as others would have it) and there teaching everyone justice and fairness, but by establishing a Land of Israel, as God wants: a land in the way of Torah, in order that the words can truly be fulfilled: ‘For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah,’ and Jews shall be, soon–a light unto the nations. Amen.”

Thus the elderly R' Duvid finished his words to the audience and remained quiet.

But his flaming word was not quiet. Oh, it was planted in the listeners' hearts, and it would certainly bear the wished-for fruit, because he, R' Duvid, a symbol of the mighty, eternal Jewish oak, was the honor and courage not only of his own family but of the entire Jewish settlement!

[Page 263]

He is the trunk, and we are all branches who receive the abundance, the life, the juice from him, and we swear to live on in the true Jewish path of the old and eternally young father, R' Duvid.

 

At the monument for the victims at the cemetery in Tablada, during a memorial for the martyrs of Kremenets, R' Duvid recites “God, Full of Mercy.”

 


Original footnote:

  1. Moshe Granitshteyn was a well-known Yiddish writer who for many years lived and created in Argentina and knew Duvid Shikhman and his family well. This work was written more than 10 years ago, when Duvid Shikhman was living in Buenos Aires. Duvid Shikhman passed away more than a year ago in the State of Israel, to which he had immigrated in the last years of his life. Return

 

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