by Yoal Charak
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The First Battle
(18th July to the end of August 1914)
The city of Lutsk felt the World War a day before the day ready for calamity, Tisha b'Av 5674 [1st of August 1914].
Because of the fear that the Austrian military would suddenly invade the city, the strategists from the Russian military made the first move, hastily burning the bridges in the suburb Nidev.
The speed of with which the destruction was carried out did not allow the neighboring residents to save their possessions. This brought extraordinary fear and confusion to the entire Lutsk population.
All nearby Jewish houses with their entire contents went up in flames.
The confusion in the military and in all government institutions was great. The city acquired the appearance of a war site.
We anticipated with pounding hearts that an embittered fight would flare up near the city, that provoked and rampaging Austrian soldiers would invade the city to loot and murder.
The Austrian military divisions did not accomplish this. Up to 20 verst [a verst equals 0.66 miles or 1.1 kilometers] from Lutsk, they encountered a Russian battalion that arrived from Proskurov and Kamenetz- Podolsk [Kamianets-Podilskyi]. The first battle took place near Lutsk and the first Austrian prisoners were brought to the city.
Victories by the Russians Tranquility for the Jews
The Russian regiments that were designated to help the army in the fight against the center, on the road to Lemberg, stormed through Lutsk.
The soldiers filled every house. The first left for the front and the others arrived from deep Russia. The city was in turmoil. The soldiers did not appear to feel at home with the population.
The hate that reigned in the high spheres to outsiders in general and to Jews in particular penetrated deep into the hearts of the broad masses and particularly in the army. The soldiers were embittered. They thought of themselves as candidates for certain death and therefore everything was permitted. They were permitted to cause devastation for the Jewish population as they wished and as the hate propaganda prompted them.
However, a situation was created similar to one of which King David said: You put gladness in my heart that is greater than theirs at the time that their grain and wine abound. (I rejoiced even more than when my enemy, the wicked, [rejoiced when] he had increased his harvest of grain and wine). The Russian Army was victorious on the southwest front; they gave the Austrians a severe beating and drove them very deep into Austria. The Russians penetrated deep into Galicia up to the Carpathian Mountains and Lutsk remained far from the actual war operations and from the soldiers who were going into battle.
Over nine months, when the Russians fought in the Carpathians, Lutsk was quiet and we did not experience any fear. The military very rarely marched through the city and when it did it consisted of the so-called zapas [reserves], an older and a quieter element, fathers of children and families, who themselves felt the tragedy of being taken away from their homes because of the misfortune of war. When they were stationed in the city, they grew to feel at home with the truly amicable and compassionate Jewish population and became friends joined in acquaintanceship and friendship with it.
Together with other cities on the same line, Lutsk was the first point in Russia to supply Russian goods (mainly food products) to Galicia and Galitzianer goods (mainly factory manufacturing) for Russia. The city was full of military and merchants from Russia and Galicia; commerce blossomed and the population earned a profitable income.
They Throw All of the Sins on the Scapegoat the Jews
After receiving a great blow, the Russians began to run from the Carpathians. They remained for three more months near the city of Sokol and other cities on the line, a distance of 80 versts [about 85 kilometers or 53 miles] from Lutsk. However, with the arrival of the Germans to aid the Austrians at the front sector, the Russians began to suffer defeat after defeat until they gave up Galicia for lost and even a large part of Volyn.
The defeats on the battlefield were a result of the criminal behavior of the high and low officers in the army. The high government ministers were mindful of their desires and interests. Many simply for money or with debauchery and drunkenness sold and gave away military secrets and plans. Certainly not everything was permitted to be made public. But what we already saw was enough. A high leader, a colonel or even a general, [Sergei] Myasoedov, was sentenced for treason and actually killed. An anecdote was told in the city, which was an actual fact: From the Krasner side, that is, from the front, an automobile flew like an arrow. Sitting in it, was a nervous, distracted officer. It was thought that an important secret was being carried from the front to the main headquarters. The officer at a noisy pace flew through the main street, jumped out at Kaznaczajstvo, quickly bought several packs of cards and returned to the front!
However, for the world and mainly for the duped soldiers, one had to find another pretext for all the defeats.
So they accused the Jews! The commanders and their collaborators spread foolish legends among the soldiers and the masses about the devotion of the Jews to Austria and to the Germans. They would designate the German military divisions as Zydovskoya Voyska [Jewish troops]. The sinister soldiers would say that the Germans speak a real language that is similar to Yiddish. They suspected that the usual wagons of goods and food, which naïve merchants took to sell in Galicia, which still belonged to the Russians, were not sacks of salt, but sacks filled with gold and silver and the Jews were taking them to the detested army, the Austrians or to the Germans. In the living geese that the Jews took to trade, the obtuse Russian Jew-haters in their hatred saw gold and diamonds. Among the sinister Russian masses stories were spread that the Jews had buried telephones in the ground and through the ground telephones they showed their nepriyatiye (hostility) by sending secrets about the [Russian] Army to Vienna and Berlin. Such Jewish traitorous telephones were even suspected of being in the thick Jewish beards; they claimed that the hairs were disguised wires
The deluded, embarrassed, broken and wounded Russian soldiers saw in the Jews their murderers, those guilty for the defeat of the Russian victorious army and for the death of the Russian soldiers.
From time to time, the highest Russian commandants issued decrees to drive out the Jewish residents from the war areas and from the fortress cities. And although, when the Russians escaped from the Austrians and Germans in fear, the edict of expulsion had long been voided (many areas already were then simply not in Russian hands), the edicts appeared to affect and discredit the Jews in the eyes of the masses who held that Jews must not be believed, that Jews were enemies of the Russian people and of Matushka Rossiya [Mother Russia] and, therefore, the Russian peasants and soldiers could take revenge on the Jews with their own hands
The Russians and their Shame
And in the future, when the army and the raw masses had been poisoned with hate for the Jews, all of the refugees from the Russian masses, had to pass at a run through Lutsk with the crippled, with the military hospitals, with all of the military loneliness and need. The peasants from Volyn and Galicia whom the Russian military had torn from their homes with their wives and children and their livestock and pigs [were taken] with them by the escaping [Russian] army so as to not leave so many workhands for the aggressive Germans and Austrians [as the area] changed hands.
All of the people, embittered at all the hostility that they encountered one on the battlefield, another in his village were ready to take revenge against the Jews, who were guilty of everything and who remained on their long-inhabited lands.
The situation became more terrible from minute to minute; the Austrian troops and their weapons of mass destruction strode energetically and drove out the Russians; for several days without stop the Russians ran through the
city without any order, with great fear of the arriving Austrians and in anger at the Jewish population.
In the width of the street ran the confused in clusters soldiers with oboz [military transport], cannons with swine. Everything turned in a magic dance in many places. There was no equal to the noise of the soldiers, the crying of the peasants' wives and children, the whinnies from horses, the banging of the cannons and iron wheel rims on the highway stones.
The hearts of the Jews gaped at the sight of the indescribable chaos and of the grey, twisted fury on the faces of the soldiers and peasants who were running from death.
The chaotic running lasted three days and at night, after burning the train station and several of the barracks, and after wrecking the electricity station, the Russians left the city.
Jews Take Over the Regime and Install Calm
The city was sunk in a frightening darkness. The blazes from the celebrations breaking out hellishly lit the empty, dead city. Choking, despairing voices began to be heard from here and there. Marauding soldiers, murderers remaining from the escaping army with the Russian civilians from the underworld began to break open Jewish shops, to loot them and to make a ruin of whatever came into their hands and to murder everyone who, by chance, they found in the street or in the shops they had broken open.
The population hid in the rooms deep in their houses. No candles were lit; the entire family curled up close together under rags, furniture and waited in deadly fear for the murderers whose wild voices could be heard from the nearby houses.
However, as was discussed previously, hardened, determined pale faces began to appear in the streets small groups of young Jews with stronger character. They took upon themselves the defense of the lives and the honor of their wives and daughters and to avoid the destruction of years of Jewish efforts. Armed with sticks and iron tools, but even more, with heroism and devotion, they ran unafraid under the bullets of the looters, against them. They disarmed the looters, chased several of them and the looting ceased that same night.
In the morning, the city was abandoned, without a government. The Russians were no longer here; the Austrians had not yet entered. Out of fear that the looting would repeat itself at night in a more organized form, the Jews did as their father Jacob had done before his meeting with his brother Esau. Lutsk Jews prepared both for prayer and war. Firstly, the Jews had improvised so-called pitatel'nyye point, nourishment locations in several places in the city where every passing soldier or Cossack would receive, without any payment, a roll and tea to satiation. Secondly, every Jew perhaps said a prayer in his heart that the crisis would pass peacefully and made up his mind that they would not be offended nor insulted and would be quiet at an insult from a soldier, a malcontent, so, God forbid, not to provoke someone.
And, thirdly, and this was the strongest argument, the Jews had prepared for war. Yes, for war! They, with the permission of a Russian officer, who in a wonderous way because of some kind of extraordinary mission, appeared for an hour's time in anarchistic Lutsk founded a civil militia with regulations and with discipline. White armbands with the Russian words, gorodskaya militsiya [urban militia] appeared on arms. Instantly, iron rods, all of the same kind, were found in the hands of Jews. The two so-called symbols of power gave courage to the young Jews to stroll in the streets, to welcome the soldiers and Cossacks on horses and motion to them exaltingly with slaps and with fists to have respect for the Jewish militia and that they should on the horses, with weapons take to their heels and run away.
Thus passed a day and a night. The last Russian soldiers went through the empty streets in the darkness and from the formation they berated and cursed the Jewish militiamen who correctly, but firmly, were stationed at their posts.
In the morning, the first echoes of the Austrian batteries very close to the city were heard.
Two Russian soldiers emerged from their hiding place. They were designated to set fire to the bridge that led from the suburb of Krasne into the city. They carried out their task and immediately escaped riding together on one flying horse. In the extraordinary environment, it appeared like a fantastic creature from a ballad from an ancient Russian poet
Lutsk a Toy
The city remained between the two battling sides. From both sides of the city, the Austrians fired shells over the city at the escaping Russian Army. Over the
city flew and exploded shrapnel with various clamor and whistling. Several had a joyous, impudent reverberation, like the laughing of easy women; others roared like angry, bad old people. This all was accompanied by the fine voices of the rifles and machine guns; everything together was the devil-music at the wedding of Asmodeus and Lilith
Every minute, hundreds of young, human lives in the army died. The population ran into the cellars. Under a hail of bullets, several strong men brought families of women and children to more secure places. They were busy with wounded civilians and they gave first aid. In the morning, there were two killed and more wounded.
The shooting lasted until the afternoon and then military divisions of burned, darkened and sweating Austrians entered the city.
The Jews breathed easier. They went out of the houses into the street. The Austrians were very friendly to the Jews. Jews were considered as a good loyal, bourgeois element and they quickly proposed to the Jews that they organize the management of the business of the city.
Quickly, erev [eve of] Yom Kippur 5676 , the Austrians provisionally, as with a plaything, began to leave the city to the Russians who were fortified near Klevan and tried to attack the Austrians from there. The sorrow among the Jews was great, first they were afraid, in general, of the transfer process from one regime to the other. And secondly, they trembled particularly about the return of the Russian government of evil. Many pious Jews were forced to desecrate the holy day and escape from the front lines in wagons to avoid mortal danger. At night on Yom Kippur in the synagogues, the Jews emphasized with great longing the words of the Psalm [4:9]: In peace, in harmony, I lie down and sleep. Sleeping calmly in peace and not being afraid of death from the rampaging soldiers of all kinds appeared like a fantasy in these crazy times.
The chaotic withdrawal of the Austrians lasted for several days and at night erev Sukkous [Feast of Tabernacles] shrapnel began to fall from the Russian side.
Sukkous morning gut yontef [happy holiday]! The Russians had returned to the city. However, it was apparent that to them Lutsk was no more than a sukkah [temporary structure in which meals are eaten during the days of Sukkous], a temporary dwelling. They had not considered arranging all of their belongings in Lutsk. The Austrians had not withdrawn from Lutsk. They had only left the city, but they remained in the small village of Malianik, 5 or 6 verst [about 3 to 4 miles or 5 to 6 kilometers] from Lutsk. From there they placed their batteries even with the city and even against the high walls, where according to their hypothesis, the commanders were lodged. The city was transformed into a [fighting] position. The Russians dug trenches in many places between the houses and from there shot at the Austrians. On the shore of the Glushec River batteries were placed behind the county court building, which with their serious bass language spoke to Malianik, to the Austrians. The others were not innocent. Over the course of three months, they made such nanium [the motion made shaking palm fonds on Sukkous], actually threatening to make a ruin of the city.
A few hundred souls from the civilian population perished and were wounded. Many houses were damaged. The people already were accustomed to such a life, which hung by a thread. During the short pauses between the shooting, they crawled out of their hiding places into the streets and each time they learned about the deaths of their own and of acquaintances with great pain and, therefore, awaited even worse.
The battery was welcomed with music. The Russian soldiers improvised platforms. They good naturedly pulled tables, chairs, old crates from rooms out of the houses and bands played music in the middle of the empty streets.
On the second day of khol hamoed [the intervening days of Sukkous], early in the morning the Austrians already were back in the city.
It was demanded of the Jews that they go outside the city and help to create a little order: clear away the dead soldiers from the Russian Army. First here, the Jews, peaceful by nature and brought up with a feeling of mercy for every human being created in God's image, with alarm saw the sad harvest of the shooting that had occurred at daybreak. The dead people sat in the trenches in various poses and with various expressions on their faces. Near one, right near his right hand, which still held the trigger of the rifle, lay a New Testament; near another one, a cross. Near another, a picture of an older woman with a shawl over her head, apparently a mother; or a picture of a young woman, perhaps a bride; near someone else, a picture of a small nursing child; near a Jew from Kishinev [Chişinău] lay a Siddur [prayer book] opened to the krisme [Krias Shema profession of faith].
And just as with almost all of the dead, both Jews and Christians, there was a sort of nobility on the faces of the dead, a sort of spiritual appraisal at the last minute of their life while the living Austrian soldiers working around the dead appeared exactly the opposite. They appeared like a fish in the sea the big one that swallows the small one. It was notable, without anger and without hatred, but they were so at ease, even with a kind of collegiality, as they related to the dead soldiers and comrades and with a kind of gratitude, that it was he that was dead So, for example without any shame for us Jews, an
Austrian began to take off the beautiful boots from a dead Russian for himself and laid his torn rotten [foot] wrappings near the dead one. Another one crept with his hands into the pockets of [the dead one's] Russian comrade and emptied them.
And the corpse moved its head when the marauder's hands were searching him. The eyes were open and stared as if they were asking in wonderment: is it possible?...
Under the Rule of Kayzer Zol Lebn!
After their recent entrance into the city, the Austrians were more tenacious; they related to the population on a regular basis, without ceremony and sentiment. First, they began to harass us, so that in the three days, when the Russians were in the city, the Jews, of course, gave them secrets about the Austrian Army and, in general, they helped with everything that was necessary. It is true that individual Jews intervened among the Russian higher officers so that calm would reign in the city. However, this had nothing to do with treason. However, during the emergency, this was blown out of proportion by enemies as treason and 20 innocent Jews were arrested and were taken to Ludmir, where according to what they were told in route they would be no less than hanged On the way, they met the chief commander of the Fourth Army, Josef Ferdinand, one of Kaiser Franz Josef's sons, and, quickly investigating the entire event, he found out that they were innocent. He ordered Ludmir that they [the 20 Jews] should be freed from there. In general, there now developed a different relationship from our Jewish population in relation to their loyalty.
The headquarters of the Fourth Army settled in Lutsk. They brought in a military [regime] and a strict regime. Each resident felt a secret surveillance, spying on him. It was forbidden to be in the street after eight in the evening. One was interned deep in the country for [doing nothing]. For such a sin as not giving respect to the military, for not raising a hat to an officer, one could receive a lashing, have half of one's beard shaved, having one's hand tied behind his back and the like. The Austrians, in the course of their time in Lutsk, hanged three people, True, these were not Lutsk residents. One, a Russian soldier was from Bessarabia, the second a peasant from a village near Koval, and the third a Jew, an Austrian soldier.
The Austrians arranged the executions with great fanfare: For they will hear and see [for the sake of learning]; it should have an educational significance This was carried out in the center of the city outside the district garden that we would call the old boulevard. This would be announced in advance and the entire city went to watch and receive the moral lesson.
About the moral lesson it must be said here that all of the enemies of the Jews needed to receive a moral lesson just from the peasant from near Koval, the hanged Masajszuk. A version went through the town at that time that before his death Masajszuk said that despite the sin that the Austrian military regime attributed to him, he was pure and innocent. However, he earned this rope very honestly, for his good deeds of a few years earlier. Namely, he was a loyal member of the Russian Black Army [Makhnovisti], of the union of Russian People and, in his village, he was the first to agitate against the Jews in peaceful Volyn and also organized pogroms against the Jews in Volyn.
The severe Austrian related to the peaceful population as to enemies from whom they needed to makes demands with insolence and they took from the population as if they were doing them a favor and they were carrying on a milkhemet mitzvah [war by commandment]. They searched the houses for brass and copper and took it. Demanded workers (without pay) to dig trenches and for other hard labor. They grabbed the noblest people, learned, intelligent and dragged them to work with derision and mockery.
The economy was also severely weakened. There was no income. The regime devised various taxes: for the least permission for a shop, or to travel to Austria for goods and taking money away, they demanded that they be given Russian rubles and gold.
Reb Yakov Wants to Sit in Peace
The attitudes improved little by little. The regime noticed the quiet Jewish element and began to relate to it with more justice and respect. The corporal punishments were canceled and in their place came monetary penalties. From the start, the fines went to the state treasury, but then they began to be used in the city itself for the newly created Aid for the Poor Committee. A so-called Workers Committee was also organized to create work for those who had need of it and to receive workers for those who required them. Thus, the question of workers to dig the trenches was regulated and men were no longer grabbed for the work.
Great changes also came to the municipal economy. The management consisted, mainly, of Jews. This had a good effect even on the relationship of Christians to Jews. Jews received more esteem and respect from the Christian population.
The regime trusted Jewish consistency and loyalty so much that it began to give hints that the Jews would receive autonomy.
There was a revival of trade. It was relatively easy to obtain passes to willingly travel deep into Austria. The economic situation was very good. The population began to carry on various communal improvements. The aid committee expanded its activities and would give out various grants for other purposes of 4,000 rubles a week.
The regime issued orders about sanitary advances. Bathhouses were created, just as vaccination against small pox and other hygienic, sanitary institutions. The population adapted well to all of these justifications for enacting stricter laws and believed that the regime deserved thanks.
However, another hardship began: a lack of food, an extraordinary scarcity of raw materials.
The regime had to adopt repressive means against this. It became forbidden for private people to trade in grains, flour and other agricultural products and a card system was introduced for bread and sugar, which were sold in especially designated stores.
The city was under Austrian authority for eight months entirely separated from the Russian area, a separate world. The border was near Lutsk. We had no concept of what was happening across the border. Rovno [Rivne] seemed to us as veiled in a fog of fantasy, like the world on Mars. Yes, we remembered the city of Rovno with its familiar Jews, but this was somewhere I did not know with the Russians, behind the Mountain of Darkness, behind the secret piece of earth which is the border of life and death
During the eight months, Lutsk had the opportunity to be visited by Karl, the heir to the throne, who became the Kaiser of Austria after the death of Franz Josef. Several times, great military geniuses spent time in Lutsk. Among them the Turk, Enver-Bey [Pasha Ismail Enver], and the German [Field Marshal August von] Makenzon, who with his speeches wanted to breathe new life into the Austrian officers with a feeling of heroism and strength.
Very high guests, Russian airplanes, visited the city three times and strolled through it. They, God forbid, did not do anything bad, only once they dropped some bombs that, by the way, did not harm any people. They exploded with great noise and made a racket at the shores of the River Styr, in the Nidev part of the city.
This was supposed to be a memento remember where you are, it is not yet peace, it is war!
With Sounds and Lightning
The Jews languished during the time of Austrian rule in Lutsk, occupying themselves by looking for income and in thinking about bettering things in the city and other such matters while the Russian and Austrian armies carried on bitter struggles about 30 verst [almost 20 miles or 32 kilometers] from Lutsk on the road to Kovel. In the city, shooting was heard all day from both sides. In the evening, in the distance, tracer shells from cannons were even seen. One would see how suddenly a piece of heaven was illuminated this was from a Russian searchlight that would crawl and occupy even more area like a fantastic living animal. And very high above, in airplanes under the clouds sat invisible men studying the illuminated area and considering how to make a ruin of it
The consequence of the games of [hide and seek] was that erev [the eve of] Shavous [the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people] 5676 , the Austrians were beaten without mercy. General [Aleksei] Brusilov's army came with sound and lightning and broke through the Austrian front in many places. The Austrians found themselves in a terrible situation. They were threatened with not only losing Lutsk and its surrounding they could be surrounded on all sides by the Russian regiments and remain in captivity with all of their multitudes, completely. They actually [were lucky] and withdrew from the city and from the entire area to a distance of 50 verst [about 33 miles or 53 kilometers] across the entire southwestern line.
With great sorrow, the Jews perceived the escape of the Austrians, who recently, with their equal treatment of all nationalities, received the sympathy of the Jews. Now the Jews waited for the transfer from one regime to another. In addition, a transfer to the hated Fonye [Russia].
For the fourth time, the Jews had to hide in the cellars and pits and this time there were a few young Jews, as if they meant nothing by it, who walked through the houses (in other words, cellars and holes) and took small amounts of money to buy bread and cigarettes to [welcome] the arriving Russian soldiers.
The entire second night of Shavous, the Jews in the cellars heard the hordes in the street. Hand-to-hand combat between the soldiers on each side took place in the city itself.
However, this time the transition took place without victims from the civilian population.
In the morning of the second day of Shavous, the city was occupied by Russian soldiers and the coarse but artless good brotherly greeting zdravstvuy brat [hello, brother] could be heard again.
Hardship from Our Own and from Strangers
The headquarters of the Eighth Army settled in the city. This was the army that carried out the last victory in the entire front sector.
The regime became significantly more relaxed in comparison with what we had remembered from previous times. The military regime, mainly the military itself, showed (with very few exceptions) a good relationship to the population. On the day of the arrival of the Russian commanding officer, seeing the Jews' trade contacts, he created for them the opportunity that the Jews would be the suppliers of provisions for the military.
Jews were given the opportunity to join the Union of All Russian Counties, the Union of the Cities. Many Jews took respected posts in the Unions, which were government institutions.
Food products, which the Austrians lacked and which Russia had in abundance, were cheap and the life of the common people became easier.
However, Jews began to experience a special oppression, an oppression that was directed only at Jews and that came completely from another side, from the administrative regime.
However paradoxical this may appear at first glance, it was a fact: the army and the army regime were more liberal and humane than the civilian regime. And when we thought about it, we even found a certain enlightenment from the phenomenon. The army, fighting against the central European armies, came in a kind of close contact with them and learned somewhat from them in relation to their attitude toward the citizens. The army often lived together with the population of the occupied areas and heard many songs of praise about the courteous relationship to the citizens and this had an effect. More liberal breezes began to blow among the Russians, the conquerors. It is certain that kernels of other ideas that over the course of nine months produced fruits began to infiltrate. As a result, the military regime became so settled and it was almost unnoticed that it became well deposed to the Jews.
The administrative regime and the police were different. The local regime organs always remained in the city, not sticking their noses outside and they were so old that they were unaware of any heretical breezes.
The functionaries from the administration and the police all the same as before returned to the city, from the district police chief, the still stubborn, angry Mikhalke to the town policeman, the pock-marked, indulgent Halasiuk. In their envy toward the Jews who had been lucky under the civilized Austrians for almost nine months, they took their revenge with particular hatred. For the smallest transgression, one was punished with a fine of 3,000 rubles or three months in prison. It would happen that walking past a shop, the police chief ordered one to gather the garbage and horse dung on the highway, bring it into the shop and lay it on the table
The police were given the task to provide people for work at the war positions. They grabbed people in the street, came to search for them in their houses. And they sent them to the villages around Lutsk, such as Zhydychyn and Nebizhka, to dig trenches, build trenches and so on. Unprotected people were placed in the greatest danger. Austrian and German airplanes rained bombs or machine gun bullets over their unprotected heads. The airplanes strolled over the city several times a day over the course of several weeks. The bombs found the gasoline reservoir and the gun powder warehouse. Many people perished during these weeks. No business was carried out. There was no income and the scarcity of food grew.
But life was made worse for the Jews by the chinovnikes [officials]. In addition to their own cruelty, from the higher spheres came a wink to persecute the Jews. They literally bathed in the blood of the Jewish population and arbitrarily punished with monetary fines and lashes and if one deigned to bribe someone, they were asked to give such sums of which no one could ever dream.
Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood
However, help then came for the Lutsker Jews not in some sort of accidental small change on a local large scale to which we were accustomed until then. Lutsker Jews became a ring in a larger chain of events which changed the shape of all of Tsarist Russia with all of its subjugated lands.
The great upheaval that took place in the country after the Russian people became tired of suffering disorder, chaos, arbitrariness and theft, the overthrow [of the tsar] filled Lutsk with more strength because of its nearness to the war front.
The army at the front and the garrison in the city were reorganized by the provisional government that was designated by the revolution.
It appeared that God in heaven had during the
night taken the earth with its jealousy and emnity of one nation to another and of fear of death by one homicidal murderer over another and planted an idea in the zodiac, one of His many million other armies of heaven, a kind of brilliant planet, a planet of a new world to come, a world of the prophetic, at the end of days of freedom and brotherhood, of love between man and man
On the 10th of March 1917 the soldiers organized a demonstration in honor of the revolution that had occurred; every division went through the city in rows with its commander, with music and song. The courtyard of the Russian cathedral was filled from the steps downward. They gave speeches to the thousand-headed crowd from all ethnic groups for freedom, equality and brotherhood between all citizens in Russia, without distinction because of belief. The crowd was so carried away by the speech by one speaker, a Jewish soldier Rozenberg, that soldiers and officers wrapped Rozenberg in a fire-red cloth and carried him high above the heads of the crowd, with great praise for the freedom fighters and freedom-thirsty Jews.
Airplanes with long, red flags waving [flew] not very high over the sea of heads as if they wanted to symbolically protect the people.
Autos decorated in red drove around the city the entire day. Soldiers, officers and civilians from all nations stood in them arm in arm. They sang and greeted the people for the great victory of freedom over slavery, of humanity over barbarism; there was no limit to their enthusiasm.
The Russian military finally was persuaded as to who was guilty for all of the misfortunes in the country and at the front, that the Jews were being made the scapegoat and it was unjustified when the lock was removed from their mouths and everyone could speak according to their understanding, the boundaries in the country between citizen and citizen were removed.
Accompanying the revolutionary celebrations, freedom in life also began to be realized. The regime was transferred to the people. A commissar came to the city who was supposed to be the representative of the provisional government at the municipal and communal institutions. Representatives from ethnic groups were elected to the commissariat. Two delegates from the Jews also were elected to it: Avraham Gliklich and Khaykl Vajc.
Among others, 12 Jews were elected to the city managing committee.
The Jewish People's Committee at the Head of Lutsk Jewry
The Jews in Lutsk were not organized. It felt like a necessity to create such a Jewish organization, such a center, that would direct all communal matters and would have the necessary authority among the Jewish masses and also serve as a deliberating organ for the Jewish community to examine and consider all questions.
It was decided at the large people's meeting that a certain percentage of members would be elected from every synagogue. One hundred and thirty people were elected. Forty people were chosen from them the so-called Yevreyski Norodny Komitet [Jewish People's Committee], which set as its task to be watchful of Jewish interests in Lutsk.
Several days before Passover, there arose fear of a pogrom that was being prepared by sinister forces, based on what was being heard. A meeting was called of all 130 people and in agreement with the Russians, a committee was chosen that worked out a plan to stave off the danger. It was determined that the most formidable cause of the pogrom was the illegal sale of alcohol. The members of the committee through various means fought against the sale of alcohol: with propaganda in the synagogues and in other places; as was needed, they went to the secret places, sealed the boxes of whiskey or completely confiscated them. Drunk soldiers were stopped in the street and it was learned from them where the whiskey sellers were located; the soldiers also worked to bring calm and there was no pogrom.
The White-Blue Flag with the Mogen Dovid over the City Council
The Jews began to organize in various groupings and unions. Several Zionists proposed a group initiative and called for gatherings and meetings. A Zionist organization was founded and premises where Zionists and Zionist sympathizers could gather were arranged. There also were created: the central office of the Professional Union, the Organization of Jewish Artisans (employers), a Profession Union of Workers Jews and non-Jews groups of the Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Revolutionary Party.
The various groupings did not fight each other. Under the influence of the liberation, they lived with each other in peace and comradeship. Their activities were expressed more in acts of a demonstrative character, in represention at their various events.
Those less skilled at understanding political distinctions together with their almost amateurish negotiations regarding party membership created attitudes that could not exist at the same time that the laws of the party and its program were strongly followed.
On the 1st of May 1917, a great freedom holiday was declared in which the Lutsk population took part without distinction as to religion and social position. There were red flags with general freedom slogans,
yellow-blue [flags] of the Ukrainian people, many-colored [flags] of the Polish people. The members of the Jewish People's Committee in which the majority of the bourgeois Jewish element had grouped itself carried a white-blue flag with a Mogen Dovid [Shield of David, the Jewish star] and a slogan, Long live the freedom of the nationalities. The more nationalistic carried a flag of white-blue silk with the inscription, Long live the Hebrew people.
The military and non-Jewish population with their flags concentrated at the square in front of Lubart's Castle and the cathedral; the Jews gathered at the square of the large municipal synagogue. At a previously designated hour, the procession of the flags and various songs began. Several groupings sang the Marseillaise, others, their national hymns. The Jews sang Zionist songs and the Hatikvah [The Hope now the national anthem of Israel]. Groups from various organizations and institutions joined the procession on the way. [People] often greeted speakers of various nationalities from the balconies along the entire route.
An event that awoke joy accompanied with deep sadness took place at that moment when the joyfully singing demonstration [of people] dressed for a holiday and decorated with flowers accidentally came alongside a division of Russian soldiers, dusty from the road, unshaven, who had just gone through the city of Lutsk on its way to the front. The two groups crossed on the road.
The singing holiday demonstration greeted the soldiers: Long live the free Russian Army! The soldiers, who still were going to their deaths, shouted with enthusiasm and love: Long live all nations that live in free Russia! And they waved their military hats.
The demonstration stopped at the city hall. The balcony was decorated with red flags, with a Ukrainian flag and with the Jewish flag of white and blue with a Mogen Dovid. The chairman and the councilmen greeted every ethnic group separately.
The parade went on the Uzhendnicha camp field. From a dais, the speakers preached about freedom, equality and brotherhood for all ethnic groups that live in the area of Russia. There was no limit to the elevation of the mood.
Zionists Have the Hegemony in the Jewish Neighborhood
The Jews actually were free citizens. The city hall consisted of almost only Jews. Life began to reveal wide differences of opinion among the various groupings on many questions economic, political, religious and national. The elections to the Jewish People's Committee did not satisfy the general public: secret, direct and so on. The elections did not agree with its mission and it disintegrated. The Jewish groupings began to crystalize and presented their own demands. The Jewish community took part in the main groupings: Zionist organizations, professional unions of artisans (employers) and professional unions of workers. In the latter, there were many non-Jewish members.
A decree was published around June or July to organize a city duma [representative assembly] based on new democratic precepts. An election fight flared up. The Zionists obstructed the artisans' professional union and thus expected to block them also in the voting to the future all-Russian founding meeting.
The differences of opinion in the city duma convinced people that the match of the Zionists with the other unions was not successful. After the publication of the Balfour Declaration, the Zionists succeeded in popularizing the Zionist idea and therefore the Zionists decided hereafter to go with a different list [of candidates] purely Zionists, without a mixture of other elements. They took the first independent step at the elections to the provisional government.
After their victory in the elections, the Zionists felt their power and their material influence over the Jewish masses. They declared a struggle for the Hebrew language, which was considered a luxury and chauvinism among the more leftist element. The Zionists then founded a branch of the Tarbut Society [Tarbut ran Hebrew language secular schools]; they worked out a plan for an organization of teachers and sympathizers of Hebrew; they founded a school and so on.
The Zionists did not limit their activity to special Zionist matters, and they were the first to take an active part in everything that concerned the larger Jewish community. When it was learned in Lutsk about the great need and poverty among the Jews in then- Poland and Lithuania, the Zionist Committee arranged a giant meeting with the purpose of carrying out a collection of money for those suffering.
The gathered money could not be sent to the areas because of a new upheaval and remained in trusted, honest hands until Passover. And then a Passover kitchen for the soldiers who originated in Poland and Lithuania was organized using the money.
* * *
This ended the epoch in Jewish Lutsk the time of the Russian regime war, on the eve of the revolution and during the revolution.
by Pinkhus Tshetshotko, Haifa
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
In August 1915, the Russian Army under pressure from the Austrian Army withdrew from Lutsk. With the permission of the last military commandant, a civilian militia was organized under the leadership of Dr. Kartshemni, of blessed memory. The task of the civilian militia was to protect the civilian population from looting attacks and to organize help against fires, which kept breaking out as a result of the ceaseless bombarding of the two enemy armies. The [bad] elements only waited for an auspicious opportunity to begin looting Jewish possessions.
After the Russian military retreated the Austrian Army entered, which, having been in Lutsk for three weeks, also had to withdraw, but not completely. The city of Lutsk is divided by the Styr River and the front line actually went through the middle of the city, on both sides of the Styr. The shooting went on constantly and gave rise to human victims. The population remained hidden in the cellars. However, the civilian militia had to stand on watch against fires and looting attacks. The situation continued from the Day of Atonement to the end of Sukkous [Feast of Tabernacles].
On Shabbos [Sabbath], the last day of Sukkous, when we all were hidden in the cellars, bombs fell on the brick house of Yehoshua Yakov Drauzen, may he rest in peace, and killed many people. This happened because the Russian field kitchen was in the same house, from which smoke rose and this was a target for the Austrian bombs. One of them created a desolate ruin. The writer of these lines was not far from the spot mentioned and survived certain death through a miracle.
At first a rescue action was organized. The dead were pulled out and the wounded sent to the nearby field hospital and transported to Rovno.
In the morning, the dead were buried at the Jewish cemetery. The crying of the families of the 15 who were murdered was heart-rending. The Austrian Army entered Lutsk on the same evening, the 2nd of November 1915.
We crawled out of the cellars and various hiding places and had the opportunity to breathe more freely. However, our hardships began again. The Austrian military regime began to requisition the most important food products. Even before the Russian Army had left the city, an order was issued that the storehouses of food be turned over to it [the Austrian military regime], and those who could not do this kerosene would be poured on [the storehouses] and they would be set on fire, so that nothing fell into the hands of the enemy. This really created a great scarcity in food. However, there was no other choice and we had to accustom ourselves a little to being hungry.
The civilian militia was reorganized with the arrival of the Austrian Army, but without Dr. Kartshemni, who had been arrested as a hostage along with several other citizens; and a [ransom] payment of 10,000 rubles in gold was placed on the city [for the release of the hostages]. The sum was actually paid and the hostages were immediately released. Dr. Kartshemni's place in the reorganized militia was taken by a certain Graus, an owner of a printing shop on the main street, and his aide, Tshatshki, a former teacher at Diksztein's school, Yitzhak Akt and so on. Their task consisted of helping the Austrian occupation regime carry out various requisitions for residences, horse and wagons and the like from the local population.
To all of the local hardships, another general one arrived: the homeless. The war operations in the Lutsk surroundings created an empty ruin in the small shtetlekh [towns] around Lutsk. Kolki, Rafalivka, Manevychi, Volodymyrets, Rozhyshche, Torchin, Kysylyn, Travec, Lokhbytsia, Ustyluh, Baremel and many other villages were made a ruin and burned by the bombs. The homeless, who had barely emerged with their lives, began to stream from the surrounding shtetlekh and left their possessions in the care of the fires. The need was limitless.
The arriving winter lay particular hardships on the homeless. There was no heating material, no food, no shoes and no clothing. The crowding in the residences was great. Various epidemics broke out. There were no days without several deaths. A deep sadness lowered over the Jewish community in Lutsk.
And this was not everything. The Austrian military
regime began to grab Jews to dig trenches around the city. Those grabbed were held far outside the city and they were not permitted to go home. This had a particular effect on the material conditions of the poor strata, where the men had been the only earners. In order to avoid being grabbed for work, a committee was organized of which Reb Eliezer Druker, of blessed memory, stood at the head. The committee was located at the house of Reb Yona Feldenkrajz, of blessed memory. The entire Jewish population aged from 16 to 60 were provided with special work booklets in which was filled out each one's work duties according to their rank. Thus, with the agreement of the Austrian military county commandant, the wild plague of grabbing [Jews] to work was abolished and a certain order was brought in. Those, who were not capable of filling the work duty had the opportunity of hiring another so that he would work for him. Understandably, with this, income opened up for a portion of the population.
The material situation of the population gradually became better. With the permission of the Austrian military commandant, goods began to come in from Horokhiv and Lemberg. Various businesses began to open. The coffee and tea houses grew like mushrooms after a rain. Everyone who had a window open to the street opened a teahouse and had income from it. All of this, together with various other opportunities, thanks to the military's government work, alleviated a great deal of need.
At the beginning of 1916, Dr. Marinsztajn, of blessed memory, was nominated as Rabbi in place of the former rabbi, Reb Moshe Gliklich, of blessed memory, who had evacuated to Kiev. The new rabbi was occupied only with taking care of the religious needs of our kehile.
After the Austrian military regime brought in a little order, it began to carry out passportization [mass conferral of citizenship] of all adult residents of the city. This began in February 1916 and it was carried out in the following manner: there was a special commission in the building of the military district commandant; as [property] owners, two esteemed members of the middle class from each street became members of the commission. Every two to three days, the residents of another street had to appear at the commission and on the basis of testimony from the property owners, they were identified and they were given the appropriate documents.
After the conclusion of the passportization of the population, the entire city was surrounded by the military. Military patrols were placed at every street to find the hidden elements of the population. To the severe regimen in which the residents lived and to which they had to conform to the military time requirements was added another hardship because of which we were as if locked in our own ghetto for a time.
As I previously mentioned, various epidemics rampaged in Lutsk. However, there were almost no medical institutions in Lutsk. The institution, Bikur Kholim [society for visiting the sick], was then the only medical institution from which Jews could receive medical help. Alas, it could not absorb all of the sick who needed medical help and isolation. Because of this, many of the sick had to remain in their residences. There was a great scarcity of doctors. They had all been mobilized in the Russian Army. Only two doctors remained in Lutsk, a Jew, Dr. Ranc, may he rest in peace, and a liberal Christian with the name of Dr. Pomianowsky as well as three feldshers [traditional barber-surgeons], Reb Mendl rufah [healer], may he rest in peace, Reb Zalman rufah, may he rest in peace, and a Tarczyner healer named Fuks, may he rest in peace.
The Austrian occupation regime provided a disinfection machine for disinfecting the houses in which there were sick people.
Understandably, in such a situation, the teaching institutions were not active. The Talmud Torah [religious school for poor boys] was requisitioned for a military hospital and the Diksztajn school was taken over by the occupation forces. This all led to the organization of the Lines haTzedek Society [poorhouse], at the head of which stood Reb Avraham Landberg, may his memory be blessed.
With the approach of Passover in the month of March 1916, a general committee was organized whose task was to provide poor Jews with all of their Passover needs. Representatives of all of the houses of prayer were elected. From the Vilker house of prayer: Reb Uzer Debert, of blessed memory, Reb Yitzhak Daliner, of blessed memory, the Vilker Rebbe Reb Ben-Tzion Lederman, of blessed memory, Reb Yosef Sztenbaum, of blessed memory, Reb Meir Kupersztajn, of blessed memory, Reb Moshe Libhober, of blessed memory, Reb Dovid Golub, of blessed memory, Reb Dovid Szajnman, of blessed memory. From the large Vilker synagogue: Reb Yehiel Ajnbinder, of blessed memory, Reb Alter Pres, of blessed memory, Reb Yakov Bawerman, of blessed memory. From the Novo-Strajaner synagogue: Reb Moti Fuks, of blessed memory and Reb Yakov Fridman, of blessed memory. From the Daliner synagogue: Reb Meir Firer, of blessed memory, and Reb Borukh Szpigel, of blessed memory. From the Trisker synagogue: Reb Motl Waksman, of blessed memory, Reb Gershon Cwitman, of blessed memory, and Reb Itshe Kestenbaum, of blessed memory. From the suburban large synagogue: Reb Anshel Waserman, of blessed memory, Reb Shimeon Goldberg, of blessed memory, and Mirmelsztajn of blessed memory. From the large synagogue: Reb Itshe Kraun, of blessed memory and Kriszmalka, of blessed memory. From the Krana synagogue: Reb Shlomo Ajzenberg, of blessed memory and Sznajder, of blessed memory.
The people who found themselves on the managing committee of the help action were: Reb Yisroel Wajntraub, of blessed memory, Reb Avraham Landau, of blessed memory, Reb Chaim Bukowiecki, of blessed memory, Reb Yudl Nuch, of blessed memory with the complete help of our rabbi, Dr. Marinsztajn, of blessed memory. In general, those families whose men had been mobilized into the Russian Army were taken care of for Passover.
At this opportunity, I will record a very
interesting episode in the life of the Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community] at that time. The Austrian military regime was searching for a suitable premises for its nightclub for the Austrian officers. They wanted to requisition the house of Reb Meir Kupersztajn. The top floor had been furnished with the necessary facilities for such a premises. They also wanted to take the lower floor where several branches of the Kupersztajn family, which was considered the most distinguished family in the city, lived. For the latter, arranging such an entertainment place [in their home] was a great shame. All interventions with the occupation regime did not help and they [the Kupersztajn family] were in danger that the entire house would be taken for such an elevated purpose. Literally at the last minute, Reb Meir Kupersztajn had a good idea. There was a large room in this house in which a rich rabbinical library with various sacred manuscripts was located. They opened a small synagogue in this room in which they prayed. They placed three Sifre-Toyres [Torah scrolls] in an ark, a lectern with a table for reading the Torah and many other religious articles. Then they demanded that the commission of the Austrian military regime inspect it to see whether a nightclub could be arranged in a house in which there was a house of prayer. A military commission of Austrian officers with the participation of a Jewish field rabbi did come and determined that a public nightclub must not be organized in this house because this would insult the religious feeling of the local population. The requisitioned top floor was also released. This small synagogue remained active until the last, great destruction [the Holocaust].
The mentioned episode took place three months before the Austrian Army left Lutsk. However, before it left the city, the days of fear repeated themselves, similar to the earlier ones when the Austrians took the city. Over the course of three days, violent shooting, which forced everyone to hide in various hiding places, began unexpectedly. This was at the end of May 1916, Shavous [the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people], at night. Our entire family gathered with our uncle, Reb Gershon Cwitman, of blessed memory, in his brick house not far from the Krasner Bridge. Suddenly, the entire mass of the Austrian military was an obstruction because of the great congestion of all kinds of Austrian military divisions that were withdrawing from the city in great haste. This obstruction was noticed by the Russian artillery, which started sending its shells here. Almost at the last minute, we went down to the lowest part of our house where it was more secure than the upper part. The two shells that fell on our house did not harm us and we escaped with only fear. We knew that the Russian military would return to the city and we were a little afraid of this. The danger was particularly great from the advance units, which acted on their own and could create great hardship for the civilian population.
The cannonade became weaker and weaker and only rifle fire interrupted the relative quiet. In our hiding place, in addition to our family, there also were several other families from the street on which we lived. Someone stood on guard all the time, in order to catch some indication about what was happening in the light of day. Around two at night, when Reb Yisroel Leib Matiuk, of blessed memory, stood on watch, we received an order from him: Quiet, be still. I think they are speaking Russian! We all held our breath even more and them we heard Russian being spoken in the courtyard. The Russian soldiers, who were then in the courtyard, also noticed our hiding place and the weak night candle that flickered from our hiding place and they came closer to us. Reb Matiuk went out to meet them and immediately returned with a Russian soldier who greeted us with a warm Zdravstvuyte [hello]. They looked at our hiding place and calmed us, advising us not to come out until morning. We gave them cigarettes. The soldiers were very friendly to us.
In the shooting then, two victims fell. These were Yudke Papirosnik's wife, of blessed memory, and Yisroel Kowal's wife, of blessed memory.
Right after this, when the Russian military returned to Lutsk, the new military commandant turned to the civilian population and called upon it to return to normal bourgeois life; they should open their businesses, workshops. The front was then located about 30-40 kilometers [18.6 to 24.8 miles] from the city. The commandant gave out propusk [passes] to travel to Rovno. The population did not wait for long to be asked and commerce was revived. All products appeared in the city and one could buy everything.
It did not last long and the civilian regime returned with the previous police and its police chief. The previous city president, Malowicky (gorodskaya golova mayor), returned. They simultaneously began to grab people for various military work, but a short time later, everyone was mobilized.
At that time arose a Jewish help committee for the war refugees in Lutsk and its surroundings. The central [office] was located in Kiev. At the head of the central was a special plenipotentiary, Guterman (the son of a Kiev rabbi), later the director of the Joint [Distribution Committee] in Warsaw, who perished during the Hilterist occupation.
This help committee created a kindergarten for orphans whose parents perished in the war.
Businesses were also organized in which widows of those who had fallen at the front were employed as workers.
At the same time, the writer, Sh. Ansky, came in the uniform of a Russian officer to Lutsk from the Kiev Central. He visited our synagogue with its antiques from the Middle Ages, which he took to Petrograd (Leningrad).
The German air force did not rest, not during the day and not in the bright nights. We were bombed every day. As a result, many victims often fell. I still remember one such air attack. One morning, we were shaken up by a strong explosion. We were simply thrown from our beds. The doors came off their hinges. The windowpanes were knocked out of the windows. The German airplanes then bombed the train station, where the military transport of ammunition stood. One bomb actually hit a wagon of explosive material. A terrible explosion occurred and caused a fire that was localized and finally extinguished after several days work by the municipal fire brigade.
Despite the careless bombarding of the German invaders, life went on at its normal pace. Commerce blossomed. The workshops worked at full steam because the front kept demanding war materials.
The bombarding stopped with the arrival of the autumn rains and we caught our breath a little. In contrast, during the winter months various epidemic illnesses again began to spread, brought from the front. Appropriate means to fight the epidemics were undertaken by the military and civilian regimes. Every resident was provided with a special book and was obligated to go through a disinfection every week. However, there were still a large number of victims that winter.
The [newly created] Lines haTzedek [poorhouse] organized a widespread medical aid action. Someone was sent to every sick person, who would watch over him the entire night.
Thus passed the winter here in 1916-17.
A radical change arose with the outbreak of the February Revolution in 1917. First of all, the nominated self-rule committee and the designated city president, Olowczik, left us. In their place was designated a new self-rule committee with Reb Avraham Warkowicky, of blessed memory, at the head as city president. Designated as members were: Reb Yehiel Ajnbinder, of blessed memory, Reb Yosef Zshitin, of blessed memory, Reb Meir Ingber, of blessed memory, who, at the city hall, took care of the current municipal matters and the food supply (there had already begun to be a lack of important basic food products) along with a certain number of Jewish and Christian councilmen.
A large number of changes in the communal and spiritual situation of the city also arrived. Like mushrooms after a rain, various organizations, unions and political parties were organized. The Society for the Promotion of Culture, which existed then in Russia, opened its evening courses. The opening of the first liberal organization, Progres, must be emphasized, in which free-thinking young people were grouped and in which the following people excelled: Yitzhak Szternfeld, of blessed memory, Kolodne, of blessed memory, Ahron Cwitman, of blessed memory, Yona Szternfeld, of blessed memory, Zishe Baglajbter, of blessed memory, Efoim Maranc, of blessed memory, Shmuel Tshetshosko, of blessed memory, Shmeya Kimelman, of blessed memory, l'havdil [to distinguish between] life and death Chaim Leibl, Leib Lerner, Dovid Grinsztajn Leib Kotliar, Dwoyra Grinsztajn, of blessed memory, Shaya Wajcberg, of blessed memory and so on. A dramatic section was organized that often presented Yiddish theater at Lubart's Castle. The thirst for a living, Yiddish word was so great that every time the dramatic section performed, it was over-filled. The income from the performances was designated for the purposes of the organization. After [the lifting of] the restrictions of the Tsarist regime, which did not permit the performance of Yiddish theater, we used the time of the new, free opportunities for cultural activity.
Various workers' unions arose in which there were representatives of various political parties. Thus, from the Bund, Dovid Ajzen, of blessed memory, was active; from the Fareinikte [United] Szternfeld, of blessed memory, from Paolei-Zion [Labor Zionists] Wisocky and Golib, of blessed memory. Active in the artisans' union were: Reb Yehiel Einbinder, of blessed memory, Melimewker, of blessed memory, Klimbird, of blessed memory and Bajoner, of blessed memory. Active in the retailers' union were: Reb Eliezer Gindel, of blessed memory, Reb Euzer Cvirt, of blessed memory, Reb Noakh Sztajnberg, of blessed memory and Yosef Finkelsztajn, of blessed memory. Active in the merchants' union were: Reb Yudl Szapiro, of blessed memory, Bronberg, of blessed memory and Dal, of blessed memory.
The Zionist organization was organized, at the head of which stood Reb Kheikl Wajc, of blessed memory, Reb Yehosha Berger, of blessed memory, Temerlin, of blessed memory (the latter died in Israel), Khalaf, of blessed memory and, l'havdil [to distinguish between] life and death Avraham Waksman.
Also in another area, communal life began sprouting with new strength. Thus the Jewish gymnazie [secular secondary school] and a Hebrew school was organized. A division of the Kiev Kultur-Lige [Cultural League] was opened, which possessed a rich library of Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian books. Moshe Ferdman, who also in later years, was a councilman in the city local rule organs for many years, led the library. The Zionist organization also opened a library in which there were mainly Hebrew
books. My friend Yosef Wajntraub, of blessed memory, led this library.
In Jewish alleys, there was joy and jubilation. Political life began to pulse at a quick tempo. We began to prepare for the first free elections to the municipal authority. All of the above recorded parties and organizations organized gatherings and meetings day in and day out to which they brought special lecturers from Kiev. These elections actually took place at the end of July 1917. Thus the following people were elected to the city council:
From the Zionist organization: Reb Kheikl Wajc, of blessed memory, Yehosha Berger, of blessed memory, Temerlin, of blessed memory, and other activists in the Zionist movement.
From the artisans were elected Reb Yehiel Ajnbinder, of blessed memory, Reb Avraham Klimburd, of blessed memory, Melimewker, of blessed memory, Fajntuch, of blessed memory, Szpicman, of blessed memory, and Frenkel, of blessed memory
From the middle-class property owners: Reb Avraham Warkowicky, of blessed memory, and Reb Yosef Zshitin.
From the Jewish workers who, in general, entered the Social-Democratic list, on which Jews and Christians appeared, Yitzhak Szternfeld, of blessed memory, and Daw, of blessed memory, and Ajzen, of blessed memory, were elected.
The first public meeting of the newly elected Lutsk self-rule committee took place in August 1917. It occurred with great pomp and was very solemnly organized. Residents from all strata of the population was present. There was great joy because of the freedom they had received. The welcoming greetings were impressive because of the historic event. A fraternal atmosphere reigned among the Jews and Christians and there were no feelings of hate of one for the other.
It was the same in daily life during the honeymoon of the provisional Russian government, at the head of which stood the Prime Minister [Aleksander Fyodorovich] Kerensky, until the outbreak of the revolution on the morning of the 7th of October 1917. A day earlier, I was at a certain military office to submit a request about a matter and the acting officer told me to come the next day for an answer. However, arriving there, I noticed an armed soldier at the entrance. Several curious people had come with me. We were told to wait. Meanwhile, the acting officer received none of us. After waiting for about half an hour in the hall, we learned that the previous night the Bolsheviks had taken power. Meanwhile, the city managing committee remained the same.
The military office was then in Eli Kraunsztajn's house (where the Bank Odbudowy [reconstruction bank] was later located.
On the same day, the Bolsheviks opened the gates of the Lutsk prison and freed all of the arrestees.
A special meeting of the city managing committee was called in the evening to discuss the newly created situation. Several councilmen from the Social Democratic faction were absent. The Jewish opposition appeared as one.
A great people's demonstration in honor of the victory of the Bolsheviks took place in the municipal park. Several cannon volleys were fired.
The elections to the kehile, which were supposed to take place at the same time, did not happen because of this. Until then it consisted of representatives from various houses of prayer.
The supplies after the October Revolution significantly worsened and basic foods began to be lacking. In general, from the beginning of 1917, we were not in a good situation in the matter of supplies. The municipal self-rule committee was forced to distribute the articles according to a card system. After the October Revolution, the situation became even worse.
In the meantime, communal life became disorganized. The military divisions in Lutsk crumbled. The soldiers began to wander around without a purpose. More looting and robbing attacks began. The hungry and ragged soldiers created groups and began to rob and murder the peaceful population. The new regime could not control this disorder. Therefore, an armed self-defense group was created by the workers' union, which assumed as its task to fight, armed with weapons, against these groups. In general, not a night passed without looting attacks. One was afraid to move around the city. No products were brought in. The money was devalued. The peasants did not want to take it and, therefore, they did not sell their products.
Later, in January 1918, the German occupation came, during which the looting ceased and life provisionally stabilized a little. Jews again received the opportunity to trade and earn money.
by Sh. Warkowicky
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
In April 1917, the wave of the Russian Revolution also reached Lutsk. Mass meetings and demonstrations took place in the city.
One giant demonstration of city residents, workers, the military and others, which stretched across Szoseine Street (Jagelonske) stopped in front of Nakhum Warkowicky's house, in which the municipal uprave [managing committee) was located.
Molawczik, the city golova (mayor) went out on the balcony and greeted the demonstration. However, unexpectedly for everyone, a doctor emerged out of the masses and demanded in the name of the demonstrators that Mr. Molawczik leave his office as representative of the old regime.
Mr. Molawczik, irritated, immediately entered the uprave and handed in his resignation.
On the 22nd of April 1917 a special meeting of the city duma [parliament] took place under the chairmanship of Molawczik's representative, Steciuk, at which for the first time in the history of Lutsk, a Jew was elected as mayor Mr. Avraham Warkowicky.
The next day, after taking over the office, A. Warkowicky looked over the daily correspondence and immediately asked that everything be taken care of and that all incoming papers be answered. The secretary and personnel were astonished: what did he mean take care of everything? Until now, taking care of everything, even the littlest matter, took a month at the minimum.
In the course of the first month, A. Warkowicky carried out an important, at that time, sensitive matter. He permitted the enlarging of the Jewish cemetery in the direction of the highway, thus increasing its area.
Warkowicky occupied the office of the mayor for six months until November 1917, when the leadership of the city was taken over by newly elected socialist duma [parliament].
There, Warkowicky occupied the office of representative of the mayor because he did not belong to any party.
At that time, there was a moment when the central government wanted to move the county court from Lutsk to Rovno, which would have been a great loss for Lutsk. Thanks to the rapid intervention by Warkowicky, who specially traveled with a delegation with the Messers Zajkowsky and Sorokin (former members of the county court) to the minister in Kiev. The county court remained in Lutsk.
In those years, working in the self-rule committee was very difficult. These were the uneasy post-war years. Russia had lived through a terrible civil war. Ukrainians fought for their own state and Marshall [Józef] Pilsudski had drawn the borders of the Polish Republic with fire and sword.
In 1917-1919, Lutsk went from hand to hand several times.
Each regime demanded products, residences, payments and so on. The hungry, poor population required bread, heating, clothing.
|The demonstration in Lutsk after the outbreak of the March revolution|
Many times, the Jewish mayor was taken to the headquarters under bayonets. Many times, the city hall was occupied by the military, which made Warkowicky personally responsible for the immediate provision of all the demanded products and material; many times, threatening hordes of hungry, jobless people, driven crazy by hunger and cold, demanding bread and heat, took him infuriated from the headquarters.
And everything had to be created; all demands had to be satisfied, despite the fact that they city did not have any normal income and the currency changed with each regime.
If a regime left Lutsk, Warkowicky received a friendly letter from the mayor that he must leave because of family matters and that the entire city managing committee was being left to him, Warkowicky.
Such a letter also was left by the former Polish burmistrz [mayor] Suszinski and when the Polish military again settled in Lutsk, the Polish commandant of Lutsk expressed his great amazement at the daring of Warkowicky who had the strength to undertake such a mission at a time when this was connected to such certain danger to life.
Warkowicky did not feel any resentment in representing the city even during the terrible moments for whichever regime it might be because he was and felt himself to be a permanent Lutsker citizen.
At a special meeting on the 31st of August, 1918, Doctor Pinus expressed in the name of the council and with ovations from all present councilmen Trust, gratitude and respect for the efforts and achievements [of Warkowicky] for the city of Lutsk.
A. Warkowicky left his post at the city hall in 1922, when he returned to his pre-war trade banking, where he worked until September 1939 as a managing committee member and treasurer of the cooperative bank society.
by Shoshana Ben-Arye, Haifa
Translated by Sara Mages
It happened in the days of the First World War. Our city, Lutsk, tasted the taste of calamity in great quantity. Many difficult incidents happened then in our city, but I will not forget this incident. Indeed, a night of horrors was that night. I was little then, I did not understand much, but I was afraid of everything I understood. The Russians left the city and everyone anxiously awaited the arrival of the nobles - the glorious Polish army We tasted the taste of the Russians and did not enjoy the attitude of the soldiers. A piece of bread was not available, and it was also difficult to get a small quantity of water because we were afraid to go out into the street.
It happened on Sabbath eve, father, a religious Jew, did not go to the synagogue. He remained at home and couldn't fulfill the mitzvah of Oneg Shabbat because we did not have bread! We, three little hungry girls, huddled in one bed for fear, we lay down and kept quiet, every rustle outside frightened us. And the fear grew. We heard the sound of a mob. The Polish soldiers arrived. They immediately declared a curfew and, whoever violated the curfew, his sentence was go to a place from which no one returned... They suspected that every Jew was a communist.
And precisely on that night one of the occupants of the nearby houses wanted to go to his neighbor with whom we lived in the same house, even at the same entrance. We knew nothing about it. And behold, suddenly the door opened and a Polish soldier came in and asked for that man. We knew nothing. But since he could not find the man, because he was hiding under the neighbor's bed, he pointed at my father. Father denied everything. But the soldier demanded that he would go with him. We knew the meaning of this walk. Father began to prove to him, in the clearest way, that he had not left the house. We all spoke excitedly and begged, but in vain. The soldier did not want to hear. The more we begged, the more stubborn he became. He insisted that father would go with him. We all burst into a heartbreaking cry, but it did not touch the stone heart of the Polish t...
To the sound of our weeping and wailing our neighbors gathered and everyone begged for mercy. And the soldier insisted: No and no! Only after one of the neighbors stuck a coin in his hand - he agreed to leave alone.
Father remained at home.
by Lawyer Aleksander Kotliar, Tel Aviv
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
As a result of the Russian military defeat in 1915, the front began to approach the Wolyn area. The Russian troops began to flood the Wolyn cities and shtetlekh [towns]. This created a terrible situation for the Jewish population in these places. The Russian soldiers and the peasants from the surrounding villages stormed the Jewish houses and looted them; the wild soldiers, embittered by their defeat at the front, attacked the Jews in the streets and houses. The Jewish population in the small areas fell into a panic and began to run away en masse to the large Jewish communities where they felt safer.
Lutsk was then literally flooded with thousands of refugees who stormed there without end. The situation became particularly critical when Lutsk was occupied by the Austrian Army. The city was cut off from the Russian market and had not yet succeeded in making contact with the new Austrian market. The commerce and the small industry that Lutsk possessed almost completely died out. The provision of the city with food products was in a catastrophic condition because the peasants were not interested in bringing their products into the city. Therefore, it is easy to imagine what kind of heavy burden [in caring for] the masses of refugees fell on the city.
This situation reigned until the city was again taken by the Russian Army. Then, Russian Jewry responded, and generously began to send help for the Jewish population in the Wolyn area and among them, to Lutsk.
With this purpose, a committee was created in Kiev with the name KOPE a shortening from Russian of Komitet po Okazaniyu Pomoshchi Yevreyskomu Naseleniyu Postradevshemu ot Voyennikh Deystviy [Relief Committee for the War-stricken Jewish Population].
Then the son of the Kiev Rabbi,
In the middle row from the right: 1) Kh. Wonie, 2) A. Warkowicky, 3) Y. Gilerman, 5) Y. Nul, 6) M. Mendelbaum, 7) L. Ozcziker, 8) Y. Kotliar, 10) A. Tacszyner
Standing from the right: 4) W. Tshetshotko, 6) Moshe the mashgiekh [supervisor of dietary laws], 8) Finklsztajn
Sitting on the ground (the office personnel) from the right: A. Debert, 3) Golendberg. The names of the others are unknown to us
H. Giterman (later the director of the Joint [Distribution Committee] in Poland), came to Lutsk and created a division of the above-mentioned committee in the city. The committee consisted of the following people: Kheikl Wajc chairman, Avraham Warkowicky and Yakov Kotliar vice chairmen, Menakhem Mandelbaum Avraham Lender, Yudl Ptic, Berger (Rozshishtsh) and so on. The committee created an orphan's house in the residence of Leibtshe Fisz. The wife of the above-mentioned Berger and Mishka, the daughter of Yakov Kotliar, ran the orphan's house.
The help committee developed vigorous activity in various areas. The central committee sent large sums of money and transports with food products and clothing. The committee's storehouses were also in the house of Leibtshe Fisz.
Thanks to the activity of the committee, the situation for the Jewish population in the city began to improve quickly. The money that the central committee had sent was divided as support among the needy and also in the form of loans for retailers and artisans. The latter took part in the revival of commerce and of artisanship. There also was an improvement in the supplies because of the distribution of food products and clothing among the Jewish population. The orphans' house took in hundreds of Jewish orphans, supporting them and from time to time sending groups of orphans to Cherkassy (Ukraine), where the central orphans' house was located with the central committee.
The work of the help committee was very difficult and responsible. The members of the committee worked with great self-sacrifice and therefore with significant results.
Little by little, life began to normalize in the city. Many refugees returned to their homes. However, the committee continued its work until the outbreak of the October Revolution, when Russian Jewry was not merely in a position of being unable to help, but itself was in need of help.
The activity of the Jewish help committee during the war is one of the most beautiful pages in the history of the Lutsk Jewish society as a whole.
by Y. Ben Amitay (Golub)
Translated by Sara Mages
Summer 1919 The days are the dying days of the rule of Hetman Petliura in Ukraine. The irregular troops of Petliura's government were pushed from the north and the west by the Polish armies of generals Haller and Piłsudski.
Petliura's armies retreated in disarray and scattered in gangs over Jewish cities and towns. They destroyed entire settlements, slaughtered women, the elderly and children in a cruelty that surpassed all imagination in those days. They looted the Jews' property and there was no rule that would tell them: Stop! The ring around independent Ukraine (Samostoyatel'naya Ukraina) was getting tighter, and in this way also came the turn of Wolyn Jewry to drink the cup of poison to the end.
Zhytomyr, Berdychiv, Ovruch and Proskuriv were looted, and their Jewish inhabitants were mercilessly slaughtered by Petliura's men and all sorts of Hetmans who commanded the independent gangs.
On the other hand, reports arrived that also the troops of the Polish General Haller carry out pogroms against the Jews in their military journey.
A wave of pogroms swept through all the Jewish settlements in Ukraine and was getting closer to Rovno and Lutsk, the last fulcrums of the Ukrainian army.
Hetman Oskilko the commander of the regional camp, and his helper Colonel Shapola head of the military secret police, raged in Rovno, and on everything Polkóvnik Paliyenko the commander of the Battalion of Death (Ruren smerti). In April 1919, in the last dying days of Petliura's rule, Hetman Oskilko tried to organize a revolution on behalf of the Independence Party and when he failed - he poured out his wrath on the Jews.
The head of the secret police, Shapola, was a terrible monster for the Jews of Rovno, Lutsk and the surrounding area. Many Jews lost their lives in his torture chambers that were installed in train cars. The Battalion of Death of Polkóvnik Paliyenko carried out a mass massacre of the Jews of the nearby towns, and Hetman Oskilko did not accept the Jewish delegation request to intervene in the matter.
This atmosphere became denser and worrying as the Red Army approached Rovno and Lutsk from one side, and the Polish army - from the other.
The first signs of the impending disaster were seen in Lutsk when a battalion of soldiers, who were staying at the Bel-View Hotel on the main street, raided the city after getting drunk. They beat and wounded every passerby, and for a successful start of the riots opened fire from machine guns to the windows of the apartment of the Bolshevik, Dr. Korczimani, the dentist, a rich man and a reactionary by his views. By swift action of the leaders
of the Jewish community who turned to Hetman Abaza, commander of the Grey Division and the head of the military government in the city, the attempt was stopped at its outset.
This situation required the residents of Lutsk to immediately organize self-defense. Indeed, in Lutsk there were Jewish political organizations and even a Maccabi Zionist youth organization, but these people did not have military training. There were more than enough weapons after the 1917 revolution, because the Russian army withdrew from the front near Lutsk and Kovel leaving behind weapon depots and a lot of military equipment. Anyone who wanted stole a rifle, machine gun, boxes of hand grenades, motor vehicles, etc. All this, for any trouble that may come.
The first nucleus of the defense was the volunteers of the Fire Brigade because of their regime and the semi-military organization, and especially because of the brave men among them. Above all, it was important to acquire for this purpose the bravest among them, and he is Leibchik Bender, meaning, Leibchik the bandit. He was a sturdy and strong man, fearless with a very unclean past and present and one of the leaders of the criminal world. The whole city and the surrounding area, even the policemen, were frightened when they heard that name. He was an unrestrained man in his non-kosher businesses, but was a quiet man with people he had no businesses with him. He was also a good Jew and severely punished anyone who insulted a Jew because of his Judaism.
A headquarters was soon assembled. Participated in it: Leibchik - on behalf of the Fire Brigade, my late brother Yitzchak Golub - on behalf of Poalei Zion, the writer of these columns - on behalf of the Zionist Youth (Maccabi etc.), the student Yozik Ranz - on behalf of the left circles (communists, etc.), and Shaike (Yehusua) Kroyn (now in Israel).
But before they could organize the companies and train them, the first echoes of the howling cannons east of the city have already reached the residents' ears. Indeed, it was from a distance of several dozen kilometers, but the echoes were clearly heard and informed that the Poles are ascending on Lutsk. The city was suddenly emptied of army. Every soldier, who still remained in reserve, was sent to the front, and the Grey Division remained in the city with Hetman Abaza at the lead. Here and there, lone Ukrainian officers were seen running around like mice in a trap. Meanwhile, a rumor arrived that the Red Army, which came from the west, captured Rovno. There was no more rescue for the remnants of the Ukrainian army. They did not want to come to terms with the fate that had already been imposed and continued to fight on both fronts.
And in the meantime we were also in this turmoil and the fear of last acts of despair by the retreating troops forced us to decide on quick actions.
First of all we assembled a strike force headed by one of our talented officers, sent it to disarm the Grey Division headquarters and imprison all the officers in charge. This task was fulfilled with the accuracy of a watch. The officers, including the Hetman, hardly resisted. At first they thought this company was an advance guard of the Red Army, and decided that there was no point in resisting the Red Army without military support in the city, but when they later learned that they were Jews, they regretted their surrender.
The Ukrainian headquarters was imprisoned in Bel-View Hotel and a guard was placed over them. Our headquarters occupied the offices of the Ukrainian headquarters in Kronstein's house.
Civil rule was almost non-existent. The district governor, and the high officials, fled the city and only a few low officials came to the offices and walked around, here and there, embarrassed and anxious of what to come.
An order, which came from the defense headquarters, instructed these officials to remain in place and to fulfill their duties until the establishment of the new regime. So as not to arouse suspicion in the eyes of the Christian Church in the city, and in the surrounding area, that we strive for Jewish rule, we searched and found a retired old general named Krumnow and asked him to give his name and signature on the orders of the civil government as interim district governor. The salary promised to him was paid immediately and retroactively. In fact, one of our confidants controlled the district offices by the headquarters' appointment.
In theory, there was still a police force headed by the commissar Meissner of a Czech descent, who was not much loved by the Jews because of his hostile attitude toward the Jews during Petliura's regime. While touring the city, accompanied by several police officers, he only encountered a few policemen. They hid or fled for their lives. The armed forces he encountered were defense companies marching in formation in the streets.
Meissner drew the logical conclusion and came to our headquarters offering cooperation between the police and the defense in order to maintain security. At first, there was an offer to disarm the police and arrest Meissner, but eventually it was decided to keep Meissner in his post and only ensure cooperation. In order to keep an eye on him, we provided him with a company of armed youths and our own liaison officer. The police received their orders from the defense headquarters. Meanwhile, the members of the defense received training. Outside the members of the youth movements civilians also flocked to the defense: merchants, artisans and students flocked to the defense. Every father, who could not fulfill a role in the defense, saw himself obliged to send his son because everyone knew what would happen in the city when the desperate and hungry retreating troops will break into it. By the third day of operation there were already 400 volunteers in the defense. Someone suddenly brought an armored car. It was a broken-down car that the Russian army had left in the yard of the government treasury (kaznacheystvo). A mechanic was also found to repair it and it went into action.
The journey of the armored car through the city streets on a patrol of the defense guards encouraged the Jews, who had been for several days in suspense and anticipation of all evil. They awoke a little from the depression and started to appear in the streets without hesitation. Only the fear of the new regime occupied their thoughts. Who will come first? The Red Army or the Polish army? Who is preferable and who is more easy-going for Jews? And what if the battle for Lutsk will flares up between the two camps from every direction? Also the question of food and supply began to worsen. Basic groceries have run out. No one can go in or out, not even the army. The Ukrainians probably believed that the city had already been occupied by the Red Army and therefore did not turn to it. And life in the city was like in a besieged city.
Meanwhile, the cannons' noise was getting closer. The Polish army already arrived in Rozhyshche and the Ukrainian troops withdrew in disarray. And under enemy pressure companies of soldiers-non-soldiers infiltrated to Lutsk, dirty people dressed in worn clothes, and it seemed that soon they would pour all their rage on the quiet population. The first clashes with these companies started in the suburb of Karsne, near the bridge, when they began to loot Jewish homes and abuse them. Then, the defense company intervened and put an end to it. At the head of this operation stood Leibchik in person, and the member of the defense, Yona Waldman, was wounded.
After this incident the number of soldiers infiltrating the city increased. We came to the aid of the frequent alarms from all parts of the city. There have been minor clashes with no serious consequences, and the situation required vigorous and swift action to prevent organized events.
The headquarters ordered the patrolling guards to disarm any Ukrainian soldier who appears on the street, concentrated a number of companies at the entrances to the city and ordered them to prevent the entry of armed soldiers if they came in a limited and disorganized number. Only wounded soldiers were allowed to enter. The order was carried out accurately and only cost a few lightly wounded on both sides. The weapons were taken from most of the soldiers and they were given permission to enter the city. Those who refused to hand over their weapons turned to the fields along the Styr River, and continued on their way to the nearby villages. There was usually no strong opposition from the Ukrainian soldiers. Many of them thought we were Red Army soldiers, and when the rest heard various legends about our armed organization, fear fell on them.
A typical case occurred in the Volka quarter. At six o'clock in the morning I passed the main street at the head of a company - for inspection. Suddenly we heard shouts and cries for help from one of the yards. We hurried there. The soldiers immediately felt us and began to flee through the nearby yards as they were shouting, escape! escape! the Jewish militia arrived! But we caught up with them on the street and ordered them to stand. Their number was six. While fleeing, one of them took out a hand grenade from his belt and raised it to throw it. At that moment he was hit by our bullet and fell. The grenade exploded next to him. Two more soldiers were wounded and the rest fled in the direction of the river outside the city.
The nervousness in the city, which had already subsided, suddenly increased with the arrival of an alarm for help from the Yarovitsa quarter near the train station, where the barracks and army warehouses were located. The barracks were empty, but the warehouses were full of military equipment, sugar and canned food. We did not know about it and no one guarded these warehouses.
And now came the news that peasants from the area had raided these warehouses ans they are looting them. Although this property did not belong to the residents, we had to intervene to prevent the spread of anarchy that could have moved from there to the Jews' homes.
A company of twenty five men went out to the place and found there dozens of peasants' carts laden with crates and sacks. The peasants were ordered to disperse, but they refused on the grounds that it is an abandoned public property. To prevent casualties they were warned by shots in the air and then they surrendered, but they asked that we give them some of the loaded food, especially the non-kosher canned food, and they left the city.
The food found in the warehouses was immediately handed over to the mayor, who distributed it to the Jewish and Christian residents, and with that the shortage of basic food was somewhat alleviated. But the residents' nervousness did not subside. The defense, and the remnants of the previous rule, could not fill the place of the state rule. The anticipation of what the next day would bring stretched the nerves to no end.
Who will come? When will it come? And if it will come - would there be security for life and property? Will the defense cease to exist? These questions popped into my mind and demanded an answer, though no one could answer them. We were surprised that the Polish army had not yet entered the city. From this morning we no longer heard the thunder of the cannons. The rifles and the firing machines were silenced. There was complete silence in and around the city, and everything was so obscure and mysterious.
What happened? Did the Poles retreat? Is the Red Army not approaching? Did the Ukrainians gain power? Why, then, they do not return in droves drunk with victory?
It's already evening, night came, and the silence was not broken. Amidst the pleasant smells of the gardens in and around the city, which were carried in the summer night air, we felt the smell of a horrible explosive that could have exploded at any moment. That was the feeling each of us. It was like a quiet before a storm. We expected the worst.
Almost no one slept that night.
At dawn, two military cars waving white flags approached our headquarters building and stopped at the entrance gate. Two Polish officers accompanied by two adjutants got out of the cars. They went up to the headquarters and asked for the officer in charge.
At first our people were confused. But their fair and calm demeanor reassured us and they were taken to our duty officer's room. I don't remember now who this officer was. The student Ranz and I entered the room after them.
The Polish officers saluted our officer and introduced themselves. One of them opened and said: we are the emissaries of the victorious Polish army standing at the entrances of the city. We know that there is a well-armed local force and in a large number. We did not want to storm the city so as not to cause unnecessary victims. We ask you, for your own good, that when our army will enter that you would avoid any kind of collision because we will respond mercilessly.
Our duty officer asked them to sit down. They sat, and he explained to them that we were not demanding the rule of the city for ourselves. We were just a defense organization, and the only thing that matters to us is the security of life and property.
To this the officer replied that he agrees to keep the defense companies in the city as a militia until the police force be organized in the city, and temporarily our headquarters will be in charge of security in the city. For our part we requested that the soldiers will avoid any conflicts with the residents.
The agreement was reached, and at our request we received their written consent on behalf of General Litovsky's headquarters.
It was a huge achievement. Official recognition of our armed forces to serve as a militia for the safety of the residents - this matter encouraged everyone. We asked them, when the first Polish forces would enter the city, but they evaded an answer. The officers got up, saluted us, and left the headquarters.
At the same time we informed them that we had prisoners, Hetman Abaza and his headquarters. They were very happy for such an important booty, praised us for our courage and asked for their extradition. Two of our men traveled with them to the Bel-View Hotel with an order to extradite the Ukrainian headquarters to the Poles. After they were taken away, the Poles returned to where they came from (by the way, I later sat as a political prisoner in Brest Fortress with Hetman Abaza his headquarters. The student Ranz was also sitting there and they rejoiced our downfall. They protested to the fortress
authorities that they were holding Jews in the officers' ward. And when they did not receive an answer to their complaint - they shot at us a hateful look and angrily muttered anti-Semitic curses through their teeth).
Our confidence has increased. The residents' nerves calmed down and preparations were made for a festive reception of the Polish army, but we did not know that we had been cruelly deceived.
At noon, the first advance companies were seen in the suburb of Yarovitsa. Immediately the raid on the houses and the looting began. Our men reacted harshly to this and did not refrain from using firearms. Meanwhile, the advance guards arrived in the suburb of Krasna and also began to riot and loot. The troops of General Heller especially excelled in this. The minor clashes turned into battles between the rioters and the members of the defense. That day five of our men were killed, many were wounded also among the Jews who did not participate in the defense. There were also casualties on the part of the military. At this price a mass massacre, which was prepared in advance without taking into account a fierce armed resistance, was avoided.
Only at four o'clock in the afternoon, when the main troops headed by the High Command, which had been received by the Christian mayor and the city's Jewish and Christian dignitaries - the situation calmed down a bit. But not for long. They began abducting civilians who were taken to unknown places and shot there. In this manner the shopkeeper, David Kos and his son, were abducted by a Polish horseman who tied them behind him and dragged them across the road along the entire city and in front of all the residents. Later we learned that they had been brought to the ancient Lobarts Castle where they were ordered to dig themselves a grave and were shot on the spot. Over the following years, all the requests of the community committee and other Jewish institutions before the Polish authorities to bring them to a Jewish grave were to no avail. The castle later became a stable and the horses trampled these Jewish martyrs with their legs.
The community committee protested before the headquarters and asked for protection, but in response to that the student Ranz and I were arrested and brought in for questioning by the military police. The other members of the headquarters managed to leave before that and went underground. The members of the defense also disappeared from the street by order of the headquarters, which knew the Poles' intention as soon as they entered. Before we were arrested it was decided, in an urgent consultation at our headquarters that we would continue to activate the defense in the underground because the authorities were preparing to disarm us and arrest the members. General Lisztowski was very upset that we had guessed his intentions and preceded him, and tried to extort information from me and student Ranz about the whereabouts of our members and our weapons. I know that this bitter enemy of the Jews, who executed thirty young Jews in Pinsk for a crime they did not commit, will not hesitate, and will not shy away, from anything. He threatened the community committee. We were tortured by the secret police hangmen with all sorts of tricks. When we lost our senses they waited until we regained consciousness and then they tortured us again, but we kept silent. Finally, we were put on military trial for organizing armed gangs and attacking the Polish army. The letter from the Polish officers, according to which we were recognized as a militia until the police force was organized in the city, did not help. We were sentenced to death. The city was in turmoil. General Litowski refused to accept the Jewish community delegation, and only thanks to a personal appeal of someone to the French General Bernard, who had served as a military adviser to the Polish army, the death sentence was changed to imprisonment in the fortress.
We were sent to Brest Fortress and our escape from there after many months of torture is a story in itself. But with that the plots of General Litovsky against the Jews because of their armed defense did not end. The harassment continued until the military rule, which was replaced by civilian rule, was transferred to the interior of Ukraine with the advance of the Polish troops to Kiev. And if there were no riots then it was only thanks to the defense which operated first openly and then underground
This affair is one of the brightest in the lives of the Jews in Lutsk.
|Lipstein - the Hebrew teacher|
Yehuda Papir, Washington
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
In January 1921 I was delegated to travel to Lutsk by the Washington division of the Lutsker Landsmanschaft [organization of people from the same city or town] for Relief Work in Lutsk and its surroundings. As a result, after an absence of 14 years, I was given [the opportunity] to visit my birth city where my parents, Yankl Grober and Chana Slawa, lived, along with my brother Shmuel Papir and his wife and children, my sister and her family and many uncles and aunts and their many branched families. I lived in deep longing for the beautiful landscape of Lutsk and its surroundings where I had spent many happy satisfied years, despite everything during the time of my 14-year separation from my old and dear home. Baked deeply in my heart were the Lutsk rivers and forests where, in summer, I swam and spent much time on various excursions in the area; and in winter I skated on the ice, for which I was given slaps and warning by my father, of blessed memory, that I should not do what Hasidic boys were not permitted to do.
On the way to Lutsk, I spent several weeks in Warsaw where I arranged the appropriate formalities that were connected with transferring money that American relatives had sent to their families in Lutsk. This matter was connected with the issue of money and the transfer of dollars into marks in agreement with the existing financial laws in Poland. A great deal of money designated for the Lutsker victims to cover the transportation expenses for immigrating to America remained in the possession of the Joint [Distribution Committee]. The rest of the money in Polish currency was transferred to the remaining victims in Lutsk. All together, this made a round sum of around a hundred thousand dollars. Around 40,000 dollars were exchanged to Polish currency at 610 marks to the dollar. This money was packed into a large crate, which took up the entire area of the Joint auto. I had to sit on the crate and this drew attention to me from the Jews in the Warsaw streets on which we had to drive on the way to Lutsk. The Nalewker Jews particularly marveled at this picture of an American Jew sitting in an auto and his head reaching heaven. At the last minute I understood the comedy of the situation, exited the auto and traveled to Lutsk by train. Later, it appeared that I should goyml bentshn [a prayer of thanks said after completing a dangerous journey], because outside of Koval, the auto was shot at by bandits, who suspected that there surely had to be a large sum of money in the crate. If I had traveled with the auto, my head surely would have been a good target for the bandits' bullets.
I arrived in Lutsk around 12 o'clock at night. The night was very dark. At the train station I was taken by an izwoszczik [coachman] a convert [to Christianity] who I knew from my childhood years. He also recognized me. We drove into the city and began looking for the house of my parents. However, the darkness was so great that this was not so easy for us. We drove around the same place many times and were completely unable to find the right place. With luck, my parents heard our voices and they ran out to welcome me. Understandably, the joy of our meeting was very great after such a long time of having not seen each other.
I spent many months in Lutsk, during which I had the opportunity to see the terrible post-war need of the majority of the Jewish population in Lutsk. It demanded an
extraordinary strength of endurance and much human understanding for the suffering of the Jews in Lutsk.
On the second day, the vehicle with the chest of money also arrived. Because of the need for security, I did not bring the chest into my parents' home because this would have put them in danger of being attacked by bandits and looters, but I took it to the building of the kehile [organized Jewish community] where there was an iron safe. Two nightguards were placed there who watched the money to which the hundreds of Jewish families in Lutsk had turned with hope.
In the course of my three-week stay in Warsaw, the concerned families were informed about the money transfers that I had brought with me. On the first day of my arrival in Lutsk, my parents' house was besieged by hundreds of Jews. There also was great jostling at the kehile building. The payments of money took place under the rigorous supervision of the distinguished Jewish men of the city. Because of the great jostling around the table where the payouts at the kehile took place, the kehile-shamas [community caretaker] began to drive them out of the premises. However, I immediately intervened, calmed the crowd a little and asked them to behave in a way that the payouts could take place in an appropriate atmosphere. The payouts lasted several weeks. But, alas, many remained unsatisfied. As the American saying: Try to satisfy everyone and you will surely satisfy no one. Thus it was in this case. Each one of the institutions present in Lutsk claimed leadership and precedence. However, the monies were distributed with impartiality and this was the way the distribution had to take place. Everyone had to be satisfied.
The reason for the dissatisfaction lay in the instability of the Polish currency. Several Jews actually wanted us to distribute dollars, not believing that the Joint, according to the existing law, had exchanged the dollars for marks. Even now, several tens of years after my mission, I want to make use of the opportunity to again assert that I carried out my work perfectly. My conscience has remained clear to this day.
After finishing the payment came the second part of my mission: completing all formalities that were connected with the immigration to America of the Jews from Lutsk and the surrounding areas. All of the Jewish immigrants had to assemble from various small cities and shtetlekh [towns], with their families, of which many children had ringworm on their small heads and they had to be cured. They were sent to the hospital in Warsaw. Much effort and energy was used in preparing the trips and passport formalities in the Polish offices. No less effort was placed with the American consul, who after my profuse sweating in various Polish offices, began a new investigation. He suspected that the money [I brought] for emigration was from a somewhat unclean source and it was connected with a certain intrigue. With great effort, I worked to persuade him that I had been involved in a communal mission and with humanitarian help.
After spending seven months in Lutsk, I succeeded in gathering 50 children from various parents. I rented a special train car for them and transferred them to Warsaw. Their parents traveled on separate trains. Obtaining the visas and passports took a great deal of time and took place accompanied by many bizarre situations. The instructions of the American relatives were such that the monies were designated only for emigration. In a case when someone [decided not to go], the money had to be sent back. Older girls, whose relatives wanted to bring to America, saw it as a suitable opportunity to get married. Matches and weddings actually quickly took place to which I was invited more than once. This caused me great embarrassment.
* * *
A particularly interesting chapter of communal and cultural work took place then. In addition to private money, I had 9,000 dollars that I had to distribute among various institutions.
There then existed in Lutsk various institutions of a diverse character. There were Zionist, Hebraist and Yiddishist institutions that had their specific needs and problems. It really demanded great tact in order to find the correct balance in the appropriate distribution of the 9,000 dollars that were at my disposal. I held many conferences and consultations with the representatives of the interested institutions to analyze the labyrinth of their tasks and their practical needs. Each of the Lutsk institutions claimed authority and merit. However, the money was sent completely impartially and that is how the distribution had to take place. Everyone had to be satisfied.
This was just then erev [the eve of] Passover. The great need because of the war threatened that hundreds of Jewish families would remain without matzos and other requirements for Passover. They demanded that I distribute a certain sum for this purpose. At that time, there were a considerable number of newly rich war-wealthy men who did not excel in the good traits of the pre-war wealthy men. They kept their purses closed under lock and key
and did not feel any responsibility to their fellow Jewish citizens who found themselves in need. Therefore, I demanded that these rich men should first tax themselves for this purpose and then I would contribute the same sum that they would collect. And thus the Jews were provided with the necessities for Passover.
The Jews who came to the Lutsk Jewish kehile for matzo for Passover made a frightful impression on me. I once knew them as good looking, rich and middleclass people. They were ruined by the war operations and had to stick out their hands for help. These scenes were etched so deep in my memory that I cannot forget them even today.
The city synagogue in Lutsk was found in very sad condition. Because of the war operations in that area, it was severely damaged. The back fence was completely ruined and open, because it actually served for an unclean purpose I appropriated a certain sum and the fence was erected, and other necessary repairs around the synagogue, were completed.
The two above-mentioned communal actions took a thousand dollars from me. The remaining 8,000 dollars were divided among the various institutions in Lutsk. Today, I cannot remember exactly how much each institution received. The Kultur-Lige [Culture League] was taken care of with two beautiful houses for its schools. A considerable sum also was distributed for the gymnazie [secular secondary school] and for the Tarbut [Zionist Hebrew language] schools. The pictures of these institutions were given to the museum in Bat Yam during my visit to Israel. I photographed all the Jewish institutions in Lutsk before departing from Lutsk. These pictures, which are found in the museum at Bat Yam, are a memorial of a once ebullient and lively Jewish community in Lutsk, where there is now only the mass grave of our dearest and nearest, annihilated by the Hitlerist beasts.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Lutsk, Ukraine Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2022 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 5 Jul 2022 by MGH