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The Cultural Life

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Blank

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S. Ansky in Lutsk

by Yitzhak Szternfeld

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

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Yitzhak Szternfeld

 

I saw him three times on various occasions in Lutsk. And although he came on a different mission each time, one mission complemented the other because, as is known, S. Ansky [Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport] was not only a writer, dramaturg and lecturer, he also was a communal worker and ethnographer whose task it was to travel through the cities and shtetlekh [towns] of the Pale of Settlement and gather recordings, all of the old, Jewish folksiness that lay fallow among the wide-ranging folk: their laughter, their tears, their prayers and song.

Ansky related to the mission with extraordinary love and devotion. With the diligence with which one threads pearls on a string, he would absorb, collect and record everything so it would not, God forbid, be lost to future generations.

I saw him in Lutsk for the first time in 1910, if I am not mistaken. He had then come here as a guest of the “Jewish Literary Society” for a lecture. This society, which bore the name Yevreyskoye Literaturnoye Obshchestva [Jewish Literary Society], was led by a small group of Jewish intelligentsia with the deceased Dr. Eli Bronberg at the head. Participating with Jewish Cultural Russia[1] in celebrating S. Ansky's 25 years of literary activity, the society invited the celebrant himself to read a paper about the new Yiddish literature. S. Ansky accepted the invitation and came. He was then called Semyon Akimovich and spoke Russian. His smart, good-natured eyes, which looked out from under his black, wide-round hat drew everyone in and an atmosphere of close, sincere friendship was created instantly. The lecture, which was given in Pinczuk's hall, drew a large audience of the elite Jewish society and everyone exited extraordinarily inspired and in a holiday mood.

* * *

The second time I saw him in Lutsk was in approximately 1912. He was then delegated by the Historical-Ethnographic Society in Petersburg to gather old stories from rebbes, old songs from the people, Hasidic melodies and various objects of worth from antiquity. Then he no longer was Semyon Akimovich, but Friend Ansky. In Meir Duniec's Hotel Rossiya, where he was staying, we met and became better acquainted. A dear one, a warm one with a beautiful ringing Vitebsk Yiddish with resh [a pronounced use of the Yiddish letter resh or “r”], he welcomed everyone who came to him with open arms, to get to know them, to speak or for no special reason. He had a recording device with him to record valuable conversations, songs.

The city ¬khazan [cantor], Reb Ayrle Rozmarin, of blessed memory, served him well. He took him around to Hasidic houses of prayer and there heard the stories of rebbes told by old men. And when they came to his hotel room, Ansky was flushed and enchanted. Grabbing a glass of tea, Ansky turned on the recording device and Reb Ayrle sang into the machine Reb Mekhele's prayers for the Days of Awe, a bit of the devotional praying of Reb Pinya Kolker, may his memory be blessed, and several old songs from the rebbes' tables that had been wandering around for tens of years

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S. Ansky in Lutsk

 

in the oylem hatoye [world of chaos] without recognition. I sang for him [Ansky] the old Brisker Rebbe, Reb Leibnau's “The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways,” which the rebbe would sing at Minkhah [evening prayers] before welcoming Shabbos [Sabbath] and the Trisker Sholem Aleichem [greeting that when said on Friday evening means good Sabbath] from Friday nights. Reb Efroim Krasner – a fervent Sadigurer Hasid and sincere baal tefillah [one who recites the prayers in synagogue] – sang to him his version of “It will yet be remembered on our behalf,” from the prayers of the Days of Awe.

S. Ansky was also very interested in the Purim-shpil [Purim play] that was called goles-shpil [exile play] here in Lutsk and was performed for a time in the yeshiva [religious secondary school] and, later, among the people. This was a play with a great deal of music and marching. Ayzyk-Moshe Batszar and I undertook to perform it for his [Ansky's] sake. (I gave the entire text of the goles-shpil to Friend Nakhum Sztif, of blessed memory.)

S. Ansky was in Lutsk then for eight whole days. A heated samovar was constantly on

 

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Ansky Street in Lutsk

 

a table near him and when someone came in to see him, he had to drink a glass of tea.

In a short time, we became so connected to him that it was hard for us when he left. Taking leave of him cut deep into me and is still in my memory until today.

* * *

I saw him for the third time in the fervor of the war [World War I]. He was then an emissary from the Ziemsky Farband [union] and a journalist at the front and traveled after the Russian Army. It was when the Russians withdrew from Galicia. He came to Lutsk in a military uniform as a captain. However, he was a broken man physically and spiritually. I had the impression that

 

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Literary Circle [1914-15]

First row, from the right: first – Dovid Ptic, second – Dora Khicz, fourth – Wisocki. Second row, from the right: second – Liberman, third – Roza Szrajer, fourth – Szpak, seventh – Ben-Tzion Grinberg

 

the horrors of the war and particularly the destruction in Galicia affected him greatly. He was greyer and paler and quiet, withdrawn into himself. Looking at his weak eyes and at his grey head, one wanted to bow one's head to him, just as to a martyr and holy one.

We did not see him again.

Lutsk, 1938

Translator's note:

  1. Jewish Cultural Russia is probably a reference to the Obshchestva dlia Rasprostraneniia Prosveshcheniia Mezhdu Evreiami v Rossii – the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia. Return


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The Jewish Press in Lutsk

by Sh. Chazan

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The rise of the Volyner Prese [Volyn Press] dates from the 17th of August 1928. Then, on that Friday, the first issue was born after severe pains. However, the newspaper was not a first born; before it, an entire two years previously, the weekly, Volyn, arrived on God's earth. The “midwife” was the writer of these lines and the kvater [godfather – man who carries the boy at a bris – ritual circumcision] was Yitzhak Szternfeld – the only writer at the time with “ordination” from such literary giants as Yona Rozenfeld and L. Litvak.

 

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Sh. Chazan

 

Volyn was the first Jewish periodic newspaper in the city and with it we will begin to weave the first chapter of history of the Jewish press in Lutsk.

Therefore, we will begin to tell of the time of the first issue of Volyn.

It was the beginning of winter, 1926. Jewish public life in Lutsk was going through an up-turn; the spring of the liberation of Poland; the rise of the Jewish bank, the growth of social, cultural and political organizations that undertook to fill the gap and patch the holes in our post-war life; born of the first democratically elected kehile [organized Jewish community] and city council. Democratic winds began to blow across everything.

At that time, there was a literary youth group active in Lutsk that carried on intensive cultural work in two directions:

  1. Creating a general youth union in central headquarters that would oppose the narrow party hegemony with an independent program that contained in it the solutions of the grievous problems, national, social, cultural and others. A collection, entitled Di Yidishe Yugnt [The Jewish Youth] was published and then the literary journal, Shprotsungen [Sproutings] that attracted literary and journalistic talent.
  2. Cultural work on the spot. Lectures took place, literary mornings, evenings, disputes that awoke interest in spiritual matters. Several of these youth groups also joined a series of organizations, where they took leadership positions in the struggle against neglect and strove for the democratization of public life by allowing a wide strata of the people to [take positions of leadership].
One of those in these groups who was active among the artisans was the writer of these lines. It was clear to him that a platform was needed that would activate the potential communal strength from among the general population and win them over for the work for the public good in the best sense of the word.

The decision about a platform [was accepted] – how would we accomplish this since there were no financiers or patrons among the group that succeeded in winning the idea to publish a newspaper? Everyone of us possessed Menakhem-Mendl's acumen for business: commonsense.[1] In addition, there was then no printing shop in Lutsk that had Yiddish type. If there had been type, we could have done this the way proper people do: we would go into the printing shop, we would publish a newspaper and… we would not pay. Then we would not be able to print another such “issue.”

However, the drive to publish a newspaper did not

 

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No caption: Masthead of Volyner Vort [Volyn Word]

 

abate and we decided to publish a weekly newspaper printed in Warsaw no less. The first issue under the heading Volyn was actually printed there with the friendly help of Comrade Yoal Perel, who then lived in Warsaw. One of the editorial staff was the writer of these lines.
“…we were a group of young people and experienced communal workers, who perhaps (a beautiful “perhaps”...!) did not possess immense wealth, but therefore possessed courage, energy, stubborn will, dynamism and temperament. This was, believe me, sufficient and we also possessed something else, which
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was most important: we possessed complete optimistic confidence, the complete conviction that the greater mass of the people, the best, healthy part of our society was with us. And actually, this conviction, this faith, created the reservoir that supplied our strength and audacity to appear with our periodical in open struggle.

“…raising the standard of communal life in Volyn, awakening the communal consciousness among the masses, purifying and normalizing our public life – this was our purpose that we placed in our motto: impartiality!”

After the first issue, understand, the second issue was supposed to arrive. However, we remained motionless. The little bit of money that we contributed and which we collected from the advertisements, was burned through with the first issue. We then looked around and decided that if we were to move to Warsaw, the newspaper would not survive – in addition, the technology was

 

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Coworkers of the Volyner Prese [Volyn Press] in the years 1928-38

In the center (group of six), from top right – M. Gliklich, Sh. Chazan, Y. Charak; underneath – Y. Fridman, Yehudus Charak, Ai. Wegner
First row top right – Dr. Sh. Z. Jewelewicz, Alter Bardicz, A. Gliklich, A. Guln; among them in center – M. Szternfeld. M. Wajnsztajn
Third from top down, right – N. Gartibl, left – Y. Szternfeld
Third from top, down, right – Y. D. Peczenik, left – Leib Lerner
Bottom row, from the right – Y. Khumsz, B. Wajnsztajn, Sh. Szlajfsztajn, Sh. Z. Garbasz, Y. Libuber, Dr. Sh. Oksman, A. Landberg

 

terribly complicated. In short: we decided to buy our own typesetting [equipment]. Then, we understood, we could be certain [of publishing] the newspaper.

After a pause of a scant month, the second issue was published, namely on the 19th of November 1926, typeset on our own typesetter and printed at Richter's.

The ?[2] asserted that this did not happen so easily. It should be remembered that the typesetter was located at Krasna, behind, near the bathhouse, and Richter's printing shop was located at Yagelonska. The composed type had to be taken on a wagon across half of the city and mainly going up from below on the sloping mountain.

The composed type often “rebelled” and turned to dust before it arrived at the printing shop. There was even a case where the composed type for all four pages of Volyn settled on top of the Styr [River] instead of being printed on paper. Then we carried the composed type across the frozen Styr, but suddenly we felt that the ice was breaking and the wagon was going to sink. Now, I cannot imagine how the city would have accepted such a “misfortune” had Volyn drowned. Thus I remember how the main typesetter returned pale to the typesetting shop and could barely speak, how he succeeded in doing an about face with the composed type. Then we all wanted to bentsh goyml [recite the blessing for escaping great danger]…

However, these experiences and trials could not weaken our desire and fervor to endure and continue the work. The newspaper was published regularly, improving with each issue. It was read all

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over, eliciting positive responses. The number of co-workers grew as well as a circle of friends that continually grew larger.

A crisis suddenly arrived: the writer of these lines, who was the chief editor, had to leave Lutsk. He left the newspaper with his closest co-worker, Yitzhak Szternfeld and the fate of the newspaper was uncertain.

Meanwhile, a division of communal strengths began in Jewish public life. It was on the eve of the voting for the city council. Various camps were created. One, with Dr. Bronberg at the head and another with Dr. Bajlin at the head. Both camps fought formidably and each strived to obtain hegemony in the city. Everyone then had an appreciation of the strength of a newspaper, and Dr. Bronberg bought it from Yitzhak Szternfeld and his verbose partners, as one of the discouraged partners, Z. Baglajbter, called the typesetter. Taking over the Volyn completely, Dr. Bronberg began “cutting” “…against the Lord and against His anointed…” Then the other side with Dr. Bajlin at the head, also bought a new typesetting [machine] in Warsaw and began “firing back” at Bronberg's camp with its newspaper, Volyner Gedank [Volyn Thought].

With luck, I observed from afar, several hundred kilometers from Lutsk, this entire rampage and the frightening poison created by both newspapers in the city. Therefore, I will not deal with this period of the local press. However, despite the fact that these newspapers were created in the fervor of personal ambition and were showered with insinuations and constantly washed their dirty laundry [in public], they had the merit that they still strongly cultivated the local soil and made it ripe for a continuing newspaper. I felt this when, in 1928, I returned to Lutsk. Instead of my newspaper, I found a ruin. Both newspapers, Volyn and Volyner Gedank, were already “corpses.” I gathered the surviving coworkers of the former Volyn: Yitzhak Szternfeld, Sh. Barber, Z. Baglajbter and we bought a new typesetting [machine] in Warsaw, rented a residence at Plocke Street and began to publish the current Volyner Prese [Volyner Press]. On the 17th of August 1928, as previously mentioned, the first issue was published.

We wrote in the editorial:

“…through and across the published newspapers, we throw a rope to the first Volyn, to the first really independent, democratic tribune. At the time, life fundamentally changed. The previously influential people were like insignificant and impoverished men, out of the arena as if they had been nothing and at the time others swam up, who took the lead. We need to interest ourselves more with all of this, very actively lower our beam of critical analysis, under the control of public opinion. Our orientation: in general political questions – Jewish nationalist, not in the chauvinistic sense. In the specific Jewish question – democratic-secular. The cultural question is the starting point of our amed-hoeysh [pillar of fire that lit the path for the Israelites in the desert]: Jewish culture and Yiddish language. Our motto: we are objective and non-partisan.”

Lutsk 1938

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Menakhem-Mendl is the main character in many stories by Sholem Aleichem. Menakhem-Mendl is a naïve optimist who enters many business ventures without success. Return
  2. There are letters missing and it is impossible to determine what the word should be. Return


Yiddish Theater in the Past

by Yitzhak Szternfeld

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

A particular chapter in public Jewish life under the occupation of the Austrians was the challenge of presenting Yiddish theater.

General communal life was then entirely stopped because of the war conditions that reigned in the city. We could not come together because going through the streets in the evenings was forbidden.

However, there was an amateur theater group that was drawn by an uncontrollable attraction to the stage and to acting in the theater. They could not make peace with the bitter conditions of inaction. The front was far from Lutsk. Life continued to flow more or less normally; they already were accustomed to the hardships and customs of the occupation. In short, they started to do something. Belonging to the group then were: Roza Kuperman, Batya Bik, Ester Gorinsztajn, Irabiter, Efroim Maranc, Shimkha Szlajfsztajn, Volf Sztern, Leib Lerner (later, a famous actor), and Avraham Kolodni, who was the director of the group.

First, one had to be recommended to the group leadership to be permitted to take part in the theater work. They received such a recommendation from Moshe Soroka, then an older member of the militia with “connections.” He

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succeeded in getting the permission and was the official impresario. A theater hall was also found: the former Renesans [Renaissance] movie theater. This movie hall was transformed into a stable for horses by the Austrians and, now, there was success in making the stable into a theater hall. That is easy to say: succeeded. It demanded a great deal of money to renovate the hall and to bring order to it.

However, the amateurs were not afraid. From the previous Blagorodna Sobranie [noble assembly], we took the stage and our tools; for the rest, everyone gave from their pockets. Meanwhile, we rehearsed Hershele Meyukhes [Hershele Ostropolyer – Hershele from Ostropol]. However, we were not destined to open the curtain for the first presentation.

A day before the premier, in the very middle of the dress rehearsal, we suddenly heard shooting.

The cannons began working again. The shooting grew even closer and the military baggage carts began going over the roads – this time the Austrians. On a beautiful morning, when we went outside and saw filth, hay and straw in the streets, we understood that we were unimportant to the Emperor of Austria if he permitted the garbage to lie on the main streets. Thus it actually was. [Aleksei] Brusilov broke through the front, the Austrian Army began to withdraw and the Krasner Bridge again burned. People began to run from Lutsk and with them left some of the “artists.” Everything collapsed.

The Russians came again. Russian artillery, cavalry and infantry flooded all of the streets, roads and highways. Several days later, the front grew more distant from Lutsk and life in the city again began to be normal. The various administrative officials and offices began their activities. Merchants changed the direction of their wagon shafts: instead of toward Galicia, they began to travel to Kiev and Berdychiv. However, life became more difficult with each day. It already was the third year of war. There was unlimited scarcity and, in addition, there was an anxious premonition.

On a beautiful day, the train from Kiev did not bring any newspapers. The most varied versions [of rumors] began to spread in the city. We barely made it to the next day, but again no newspapers arrived. On the third day, large placards appeared on the walls in the familiar version of “My, Nikolay vtoroy” [I, Nicholas II), in which it was announced that he, Nicholas, abdicated the throne in behalf of his brother Michael. A few days later, a new placard appeared – that the brother also had abdicated. The city took heart. A new wind had blown. We began to walk more freely in the street; we began to come together in houses, to deal with events. We no longer read reports of war. It seemed, in general, that there were none. In the newspaper that people would grab, we came across new names, such as [Pavel] Milyukov, [Alexander] Guchkov, [Vasily] Shulgin. Here in the city, the familiar natshalstva [administration] was dismissed. The “town policemen” began to hide little by little and the commandant of the city was Colonel Kurc. These spring winds woke everyone to active communal work, everyone according to their aspirations and capabilities.

In the coffee house on Dominikanska Street, a group of young people, who had an understanding of Jewish cultural activity would come together. These were: Shmeya Kimelman, Zisia Baglajter, A. Armel, Yontl Armel, the Jus sisters, Shayke Wajsberg – all arriving refugees from nearby provinces – and the residents of Lutsk: the Rozmarin brother and sister, Dvoyra Grinsztajn, Yacha and Yitzhak Szternfeld, Shmuel Cziczotka and others.

As Passover was arriving, the group decided to arrange an evening of [Y.L.] Peretz. The Peretz memorial evening took place in Ahron Skircz's house, where there was a school before the war and where weddings would be held. It was terribly crowded. However, the audience was so enthusiastic that even today it would again be prepared to endure the crush of people. The writer of these lines read a lecture about Peretz. The second part consisted of recitations by Dvoyra Grinsztajn, the Juz sisters, the Rozmarin brothers and others.

Soaring from the great success of this evening, the mentioned people, who thanks to this evening, became more closely bound, decided to create a dramatic group that would give performances.

It was not easy to finalize this decision. The group consisted of people with a feeling of responsibility and stage fright. There were no tradesmen who would know the techniques of theater performance; they had no idea about directing, scenery and props. However, they were intelligent people, they could be entrusted with a role – they took to the work, “risking their lives for Jewish belief.”

It is an old precept: Boldness wins. It was also true here; a very fine group was assembled and the performances were a morale and material success. The theater building then was not bad; this was the wooden summer building in Lumbart's Castle, where the Austrians would show films and sometimes provide theater for the soldiers.

For the first time, this building had the honor that within its walls would reach the waves of the Yiddish language. Performed were: Sholem Aleichem's Tsezeyt un Tseshpreyt [Scattered Far and Wide], Meyn Veybs Meshugas [My Wife's Madness]

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by Mark Ornsztajn, [Yakov] Gordin's Familie Tzvi [The Tzvi Family], Brider Lurie [The Lurie Brothers], Perec Hirshbein's Inteligent [Intelligent], Anna and other smaller pieces. During intermissions, which were long enough habitually for lovers [of theater], we introduced the playing of music so that the audience would not get bored and not need to stamp their feet… As there were no Jewish musicians in the city – except for the klezmer wedding band – we would hire a military, Cossack orchestra that would play the most beautiful opera motifs as well as Jewish pieces.

Taking care of the presentations on the technical side as cashier, making arrangements were Alter Bardicz, Khona Garbasz, Tevel Tabacznik, D. Goldberg, Z. Osifov, Ezrial Dov and others. It was decided that the income from the presentations would be utilized for a Jewish library.

Meanwhile, life moved at a fast tempo; we had already read about [Alexander] Kerensky. An order arrived to carry out an election to the city duma [assembly]. A division arose in the Jewish neighborhood and the later political parties began to emerge. The later director of the Joint [Distribution Committee] in Poland, Mr. Yitzhak Giterman, who was then in Lutsk, took part in the election campaign. His grouping actually had a great victory in the election. A large Jewish faction entered the city duma, with Mr. Giterman and Dr. Mininzon at the head; Dr. Mininzon was elected as vice-chairman of the duma. Meanwhile, people began to travel back here to Lutsk from all of the points of immigration. The old theater-lovers, Kolodny. Szlajfsztajn, the Elya-Meir brothers and Shklar Libuber, Roza Kiperman, Polya Liberman, L. Kotliar and others.

The existing theater circle fell apart and the members left completely conscious that everything that they knew, had done entirely for Jewish culture, should be continued by the more mature and experienced ones.

Thus it actually was. However, this is a chapter in itself.

Lutsk, 1938

 

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