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[Page 251]

A Few Lines about Stantzia
Rafalovka between the Wars

Isaac Bril

Translated by Rachel Zetland

Donated by Jay Snider

 

A. How it looked. How it looked.

Stantzia Rafalovka [Rafalovka the Station, i.e. New Rafalovka R.Z.] was not your typical Jewish town as described in Hebrew literature. It had no town square in its center, nor was it crowded with old dilapidated houses. It was founded at the beginning of the 20th century and built according to a master plan, so its streets were straight and wide and it spread over a vast area. The commercial center was built around a square across from the train station at the edge of town. It owed its existence to the station.

The Tzar's government built the station near the Kovel-Sarny railroad 80 kilometers from Kovel and 60 kilometers from Sarny, to capitalize on the pine woods covering dozens of square kilometers close to and far from the station. A sawmill was built for this purpose not far from the station.

Stantzia Rafalovka quickly became a focal point that attracted Jews from the nearby towns and villages looking for a livelihood or a business opportunity to better their economic state. New homes were built every year, especially in the twenties after the war between independent Poland and the Bolshevik regime in Russia. Hotels were built on the perimeter of the station plaza and in adjacent streets to lodge wood merchants and their clerks. New stores opened every year in almost every house.

Streets were not paved but each street had wooden sidewalks on both sides. Between the sidewalks, sand reigned in the summer and mud in the autumn and spring. Houses were one story high, built from thick long wooden merishes, with slanted roofs of tiles or tin. Most of the houses were large, 5-7 rooms each, designed to accommodate the large families abounding in Rafalovka. Trees fenced off the front yards, mostly fruit trees. The back of the house had a lot where many families grew vegetables, mainly potatoes. Surrounding Stantzia Rafalovka were pine and oak woods that bordered the houses on the edge of the town. Sandy dirt roads traversed the forests to the Ukrainian villages that surrounded Stantzia on all sides at a distance of 3-6 kilometers. The settlement had about 2500 residents, 80% Jewish and the rest Poles, mainly government clerks and sawmill workers, and a small number of Ukrainians and Russians.

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B. The livelihood of the Jews of Stantzia Rafalovka

The Jews of 'Stancha'[1] dealt mainly in commerce, crafts and wood. The town served as the commercial center for the ten surrounding villages. Peasants came to sell their produce and buy whatever they needed: fuel, matches, salt, salted fish, etc. The peasants were poor, their farms small and undeveloped; this was because of the sandy barren soil which led to subsistence farming. These farms were practically self-sufficient, making their own clothes from linen they cultivated and spinning and weaving in their homes. They made their shoes from raffia or rubber from tires. They crafted their own carts and sleighs and the wooden parts of their farming utensils.

But there were things they couldn't make themselves and couldn't do without, such as iron blades for plows, the teeth of barrows, sickles and scythes, and these they bought in the Jews' iron utensils shops. They bought luxury goods at the haberdashery shops of the Jews: mirrors and ribbons for girls; thread, needles and buttons for women. They bought vodka in the government monopoly shops operated by Jews.

Thursday was weekly market day. Jewish peddlers came from far and wide to display their goods on makeshift stands in the square at the edge of town. The square filled with the wagons of peasants who came in from the surrounding area to shop. Some grocers and peddlers made most of their living on that day.

Some Jews had no shop or permanent source of livelihood. These people had to walk to the Ukrainian villages to buy chickens, a ewe, or a calf to slaughter and sell their meat to their neighbors. This is how they made a small income.

A fourth or a third of the entire town's Jewry made their livelihood from trades. The peasants in our area did not know crafts and needed the service of the Jewish artisans. They came to the blacksmiths to repair their plows, scythes and sickles, to shoe their horses, to put iron rims on their wagon wheels and sleighs. The builders and carpenters would go out to the villages to build homes and stoves for the peasants. Tailors, shoemakers, metalworkers and house painters would usually do their work in the town.

An important segment of the Rafalovka Jews made their living from commerce in wood. Some were big merchants who bought forests or woods to fell. Some were specialists, brokers, who assessed the quality of the trees. Some oversaw the cutting of the trees and their transport to the sawmill or the station. The peasants of the region would bring the felled trees to the sawmill and, after they were sawed, the boards would be carried to the merchants' lots. I still remember the large rectangular “towers” of the merishim and the boards piled up crisscross in the lots along the railroad line and left there untill they were sent to their destination on the freight train.

Compared to other Jewish towns, the Jews of Stantzia Rafalovka were economically not bad off. Few were rich and few were wretchedly poor. A small minority lived in luxury. The large majority of grocers and tradesmen worked hard from dawn to dusk to provide for their families. Housewives rose early to bake bread and cook, take care of children, and work in the cowshed and garden, and at night they sewed and mended the family's clothes.

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Our parents knew how to cut costs and live frugally. We ate every last bit of bread and bought new clothes only when necessary. Not every one had steady income and then the belt was tightened even more. But I don't recall Jewish beggars, bums, swindlers or, God forbid, criminals in the town. I don't recall a single time a Jew was called to the police station to be interrogated, or a Jew had gone there to file a complaint against another Jew.

 

C. The Jewish Consciousness of the Townspeople

Rafalovka the Station was unique for religious tolerance. The town's Jews enjoyed religion and tradition but were not excessively strict with themselves or others. There were no devout or fanatic zealots. Not even the old people wore the kapota or black clothes. Men 40 years and older did grow a short beard and those 60 and older grew large beards, but without sidelocks. The young bearded rabbi, who was a pleasant affable man, did not intervene to change the local customs. Actually, the people of the town did not burden him with questions of kashrut[2] and when they did turn to him he generally gave the more lenient judgement. However, all the townspeople, old and young, observed Sabbath and the Jewish holidays. Everyone came to the spacious synagogue that was built tall, to pray on Sabbath and holidays, in the evening and in the morning, and even the communists among the town Jews attended. Kashrut was observed in each and every house and the heads of families prayed three times a day on weekdays, usually at home. The fathers and the elders did not oblige children and youth to pray on weekdays. Moderation and consideration reigned between the generations, for the younger ones also respected their father's tradition. I don't recall disputes about religion in the town.

We all felt ourselves one hundred percent Jewish from the moment we were born until we grew old. We were born Jews, we spoke Yiddish, which we absorbed through our mother's milk. We lived a Jewish life in a foreign environment. The town Jews lived their social and spiritual lives within their social circle. It was not a closed circle for there were close economic ties with the surrounding non-Jews. We made our livelihood from them and they needed our services, but these were only economic ties. In a few cases these ties developed into a friendship between a Jew and a goy.

Three nationalities live side by side in the area of Volhynia, Ukrainians, Poles and Jews. The Ukrainians were the majority and had always lived in the area. The Poles were the governors, mainly clerks and workers, and the Jews were merchants and tradesmen[3].

The Jews did not feel inferior. On the contrary, they were economically and culturally superior to the Ukrainians and the Poles. The hatred between the Ukrainians and their Polish governors somewhat diminished the Ukrainians' hatred for the Jews and gave the Jews a relative sense of security. The Jews knew well they lived in a foreign country and were not wanted, but as long as they remained unharmed they saw no reason to fear for their future.

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D. Zionist consciousness of the town's Jews

All Rafalovka Jews were Zionists, even the Hassids of the Rabbi from Stolin. There were no Agudath Israel[4] and no anti-Zionist Bund, but there was a small group of 20-25 youngsters, mainly tradesmen, who were communists and active underground in the town and nearby villages.

The Jews of the town contributed to Keren Kayemet and Keren HaYesod[5], raised the Zionist shekel and participated in the elections for the Zionist Congress. They belonged to all the Zionist parties, not formally since they did not pay membership dues, but everyone voted according to his inclination.

The head propagandist of the Zionist idea and a devotee of Keren Kayemet was Shaul Katz, a pleasant, very active wood merchant who was a member of Al ha-Mishmar, Isaac Greenboim's party. His opponent was quiet Rosenfeld, a member of Et Livnot[6], what later became General Zionists Bet. The elders were pro-Mizrachi. The rich were mainly Jabotinsky followers. The family of Shlomo Yaakov Grober was known as the pioneering family. During the fourth aliyah in 1925-26, the town's first two halutzim[7] immigrated to Eretz Israel: Hitzia Grober who went to kibbutz Givat Brenner and Naftali Murik who settled in moshav Hogla. For us kids they were the symbol of Zionist idealism to be emulated. We said to ourselves that when we grew up, we would also make aliyah to Eretz Israel.

In 1927 Berel Primer[8] from Sarny founded the Ha-Shomer Ha-Zair branch in the town. In 1928 a group of 25 young men and women arrived in Rafalovka from kibbutz Habonim of Ha-Shomer Ha-Zair, mostly from Kovel and Ludmer[9], for hachshara. They worked as laborers in the sawmill and stayed in the area for two years. I remember how we, the children of the movement, Ha-Tnuah, went to the house where they were living to see with our own eyes what a hachshara kibbutz looked like. There were only three rooms with double beds from boards with straw mattresses and a tiny kitchen. This prosaic and far from charming sight did not diminish our desire to go for training and live on a kibbutz in Eretz Israel.

In 1930 the He-Halutz[10] branch was formally established in the town and dozens of youth began leaving the town for pioneer training in the “Shahariah[11] and “Klesow” kibbutzim. They later made aliyah. In 1932, a He-Halutz training kibbutz was established in the town with about 60 members. They too mostly worked in the sawmill. As members of the youth movement we developed close ties with the kibbutz and we held joint cultural activities.

In the mid-30s, during the peak of the fifth aliyah, entire families joined the youth in immigrating to Eretz Israel. They made aliyah as tourists for the Maccabee Olympics[12], or as visitors to the “National Exhibition” in Tel Aviv. Families of tradesmen also went through the immigration of the Oved in Poland.

 

E. Culture and Hebrew Education

The uniqueness of Rafalovka the Station is especially evident in its keen interest in giving advanced Hebrew education to its children. There was a Polish State school in the town that was open to all children of school age, regardless of ethnic origin or religion, but a very small number of Jewish kids learned there.

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There were also two heders in town whose teachers taught reading and humash[13] translated into Yiddish. These heders also had a small number of children.

Parents wanted to give their children a modern Hebrew education. As early as 1923 the first Hebrew teacher in Rafalovka, Kolodny[14] of blessed memory, opened a study class where he taught bible, literature and arithmetic in the 'Hebrew in Hebrew' method. This was a kind of “reform heder” composed of 30 pupils.

I remember the young Zionists of the town: Isaac Brat, Yoske Dichter, Leah Murik and Sonia Grober. They founded a public library from contributions made by the town Jews, with hundreds of books in Hebrew and Yiddish, the best works in both languages. There were also Hebrew translations of famous writers, such as Tolstoy, Chekov, Thomas Mann, Jack London, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Jules Verne, and the like, thanks in particular to the Shteibel[15] Publishers.

In 1925 teachers from among the townspeople established a six-class Hebrew school that grew to seven classes which was part of the Tarbut network of Hebrew Schools in Poland. Those teachers were Yaakov Schnieder (Yaakov Sarid) who later became the general director of the Ministry of Education in Israel, and Duba [Dubil] Schnieder-Grober. The school was located in a large spacious building and certified teachers taught there. They taught general subjects such as arithmetic, geography, history, and nature in Hebrew. A Jewish teacher who earned his certified from a Polish pedagogic institution taught Polish literature, geography and history in Polish. He was also the official school principal.

Founding a full-fledged school and maintaining it in a relatively small town like Rafalovka required great effort on the part of the teachers and parents. The Polish Ministry of Education did allow the building of Hebrew schools but they were considered private establishments. They did not subsidize them or accord them any financial support. Thus, maintaining the school was the work of the pupils' parents and was based on an expensive tuition.

The school could be maintained only if it was attended by almost all school-age children. This condition was fulfilled but the number of children was still small and never surpassed 200-250 pupils. Tuition was therefore heavy for most families. It required parents to be frugal or give up other essential expenses. From my parents' discussions I understood that during certain years the tuition represented a quarter or a third of my father's entire income.

A small comparison with other settlements will testify in our favor. There were two elementary Tarbut schools in the city of Kovel where there were 30,000 Jews. In the capital of the province, Sarny, there was one Tarbut school. Many towns in the area that had more Jews than Stantzia had no Hebrew school, mainly because of cost. We were fortunate to be blessed with wonderful dedicated teachers in our school. I remember in particular the founding teachers, Yaakov and Duba Schnieder-Sarid, Michael Gruber-Gilboa, Isaac Dichter, and the Polish teacher Hadassah who also taught German to seventh graders, the highest class, and Latin to a small group of kids so they could continue studying in the secondary school.

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The school set a high standard, especially in the Hebrew subjects. Between 1927-1929, Iton Katon[16], a weekly paper for children, similar to the Polish weekly, Meli Feshgeland, which was edited by the pedagogue and writer Janusz Korczak appeared in Warsaw. The editor of Iton Katon was Y. Weingarten, Janusz Korczak's pupil. Iton Katon, like Meli Feshgeland[17], was made up entirely of children's compositions. The students of the Tarbut school in Rafalovka sent many articles to this much loved paper and our items were printed and received a place of honor in the paper, third or fourth after Warsaw, Vilna and Rovno.

I remember an event that deeply moved our teachers. A Polish school inspector from the Education Ministry made a sudden visit to the school to determine whether it was entitled to government recognition. Lack of such recognition meant the school would close. Our class of seventh graders was an outstanding class and the inspector came in for the fifth hour for a lesson in Hebrew literature. We were studying an article about authors and literature. The inspector asked us to discuss the Hebrew article in Polish. He was so impressed by the high level of the discussion that he granted the government recognition right after the lesson.

An Eretz Israeli educational atmosphere was felt throughout the school. Pupils were brought up on Zionism, pioneering and immigrating to Eretz Israel. We learned not only the Poetry of Zion of Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi, Michal, Y. L. Gordon and Bialik, we also absorbed the spirit of these works.

We became acquainted with every settlement and kibbutz in Eretz Israel in our Hebrew and homeland classes. We knew more about what was happening in Eretz Israel than in Poland. As Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi said in Poetry of Zion, “My heart is in the East and I am at the edge of the West.”

The days of the Jewish community in Rafalovka the Station were numbered. It had just begun to grow, only to be cut down in its prime. In 1939 when the Soviets came into the Volhynia District, the Hebrew school was closed and emigration to Eretz Israel was stopped. In 1942, when the congregation was only 42 years old, the grim reaper descended.

Footnotes

  1. This is probably a nickname for Stantzia [New] Rafalovka. Return
  2. Ritual observance of dietary laws. Return
  3. Rachel Gilboa writes that the fire department in Rafalovka had a mixed orchestra. Most of the players were Jews (p. 264 in the original book). Return
  4. Hebrew for Union or Association of Israel [אגודת ישראל]. Anti-Zionist World Jewish movement and political party seeking to preserve orthodoxy by adherence to Halacha as the principle governing Jewish life and society. Return
  5. Palestine Foundation Fund. The financial arm of the World Zionist Organization founded at the Zionist conference of 1920. Return
  6. A radical faction of the General Zionists in Poland. Return
  7. Pioneers. Return
  8. [פרימר]. Return
  9. Most likely 'Vladimir Volynskiy'. Return
  10. Literally the Pioneer. An association of Jewish youth whose aim was to train its members to settle on the land of Israel. The original meaning of the Hebrew word is the vanguard who leads the host on its advance (Josh. 6:13). The association was conceived during the crisis experienced by Russian Jewry following the 1881 pogroms. The Zeirei Zion movement included in its platform “the organization of halutzim and their training for aliyah.” He-Halutz program consisted of organization, training (Hachshara) and aliyah. Ideological training (Zionist and social sciences, history and geography of Eretz Israel, and Hebrew) was complemented by practical training (vocational training, primarily in agriculture on Jewish owned farms and farms established by the movement for this purpose). Return
  11. [שחריה]. Return
  12. International games organized and approved by the International Olympic committee held every four years in Palestine and in Israel after the establishment of the State. The first Maccabiah was held in Tel Aviv, Palestine in 1932 with 500 Jewish athletes participating from 23 countries. Many of the competitors and those accompanying them remained in Palestine after the Olympic games were over. Hitler's ascent to power and the wave of anti-Semitism that swept through Europe intensified this phenomenon in 1935 when most of the 1,700 athletes and those accompanying them remained in Palestine. Return
  13. The Pentateuch, The Five Books of Moses. Return
  14. [קולודני]. Return
  15. [שטיבל]. Return
  16. Literally “Small Paper.” Return
  17. [מלי פשגלונד] Return
  18. Epic poem. Return
  19. [פן טדאוש] Return
  20. Lithuania in Yiddish. Return
  21. A 1st century Jewish historian of priestly ancestry who survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. If it were not for the writings of Josephus Flavius, we would know very little about Jewish history in the Greco-Roman Period. His most important works are The Jewish War, The Jewish Antiquities, an Autobiography and a refutation of anti-Jewish slander, Against Apion. He was unquestionably an important apologist in the Roman world for the Jewish religion, particularly at a time of major upheaval. However, his personal conduct during the war is a point of contention because he abandoned his position as a rebel leader and joined the Roman camp. He was granted Roman citizenship and a pension in Rome where he advised the Emperor started a career as a historian. His works are, therefore, suspected by many of being biased in favor of his Imperial patrons, particularly Titus. Later in life he returned to his Jewish roots. Return
  22. [שנרר] Return


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The old home – the landscape of youth

by Yakov Wajner

Translated by Sara Mages

To my parents,
to my brothers and sisters, who were murdered by evil gentiles,
to babies whose heads had been smashed on rocks.

 

A. The old home – the landscape of youth

Our tears are carried there on the wings of wind, to the graves, to the pits covered with clods of earth, there, to our extensive and unforgettable families.

The heart aches for each Jewish community that have been destroyed, but the heart is bleeding when it comes to my birth-place, Olizarka-Rafalovka, where I grew up together with my brother and sister. Together we longed for a homeland in the land of our forefathers, but their dream was cut off by the oppressor's hand.

May these lines, which are carved out of a painful heart, be a monument to their souls.

With awe and compassion, with trembling and reverence, I raise, from a distance of time, pleasant memories of youth mixed with feelings of sadness, memories for which the heart serves as a sort of locked safe.

From a distance we watch the dawn of our lives and the soul is filled with great longings for a world that has passed. Sights aren't forgotten. They are kept in our heart and we are blessed and privileged to raise our childhood vision in a book.

I was born in Olizarka. You will be looking for it in vain on the map, you will not find it. The roofs of its one-story houses were made of a straw, the floor was clay. On Thursday they worked hard to bring colored sand to beautify the floor for the Sabbath. I savored the scented smell of the forests and fields surrounding it. The people of Olizarka were simple, kind and honest, and imbued with warmth for each other. Their eyes were not dazzled by the abundance of blinding lights, and their ears weren't clogged from the sound of the waves of life raging in the big cities. In a dense forest, full of shade, we spent time with book after school. It is difficult to describe its beauty, serenity and youthful charm. All these are part of my life, there my life had come true and the light of my town will shine in my tears.

When we moved to nearby Rafalovka I did not abandon my hometown. In Olizarka I had a grandfather and grandmother, Avraham and Idel Wajner z”l, that despite their poverty and oppression their home was wide open to all. We can include my grandmother, who was a “zagerin” (she prayed aloud for women who couldn't read), among the noble figures we knew, and she kept the human image.

As the native of the town, who was close to it, I served, for two years, as a teacher in the “women's section” of the Great Synagogue where secrets and mysteries hovered in its space and constant chill and dim prevailed in it. It absorbed, for many years, the pure prayers of the townspeople.

I fulfilled, with my best knowledge and desire, the teaching of the Torah out of affection and respect. I also taught reading, writing and arithmetic. My explanations about the weekly Torah portion became a literary work. A great spirit passed through the classroom as I sailed into the biblical expanse and in the process brought them closer to the responsibility for the fate of the Jewish nation and the love for Israel.

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All these flowers, the honest, innocent and delicate boys and girls with tender soul and pure faith, scattered around them the scent of flowers and the rustle of germination as they sang, with joy and charm, the “Akdamut” for the holiday of Shavuot. All these flowers are gone they have been destroyed and plucked with the root. And out of the darkness of the clouds rise waves of memories of an exemplary Jewish life .

Rafalovka was pleasant to me in my childhood and also in the years of my happy adolescence. Small houses, modest people, alleyways without a road, without a pavement, and puddles and mud after the rain. The doors in the small wooden houses were wide open and the hearts were also open. Life was hard and they did not enjoy the luxury of the world and its pleasures. They fought hard for a slice of bread. The wooden houses were covered with shingles, the furniture was simple and made without decorations, there were no curtains on the windows and their clothes were simple All commerce was in the hands of the Jews. Rafalovka was small but full of charity and kindness. There was no great wealth in it.

Here comes the Sabbath, the Sabbath candles were lit and hundreds of Jews hurrying towards the synagogue. Now I see them in this walk, because the walk was also kind of a prayer. All six days of the week were nothing more than a corridor to the parlor. They return leisurely and Sabbath melodies rise in the town's space. The candlesticks, in which wax candles were stuck, gleamed. The oil lamp, hanging from the ceiling, glittered gracefully.

On Sabbath morning they woke up early to go to the synagogue to recite psalms, and again, in a melody of sorrow and longing. The Shacharit and Mosaf prayers of R' Bubla the cantor, and even the third meal, were integrated with religious songs and psalms. It seems that all the residents of Rafalovka felt the wonderful pleasure of the Holy Day. They weren't only dressed in clean clothes, but also in a new soul. Joy filled the soul, joy and longing for a day that is all good.

“Happy festivals, holidays and times of joy,” and who has the power to describe the holy anxiety that flooded us at the time of “Kol Nidrei” and the piyyut [liturgical poem] Unetanneh Tokef” [“Let us speak of the awesomeness.”

Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Ten Days of Repentance, and a long series of days of sadness, and after a break of four days, Sukkot, the sukkah and its decorations. Our joyous time, “and rejoice on your holidays,” the holiday of Passover and Shavuot, the noble figure of the Jewish mother, the wife and mother with all the purity of her soul, her simplicity, her love, and her devotion to the house and the family when all corners of the house glowed from her radiance.

Gray life, hard days, poor homes, poverty, but within all these people was a warm heart.

The mystery has not yet been solved. What fathers and mothers saw in order to make financial sacrifices and give their children to “Tarbut” school to teach them a language that had no basis in practical life.

 

B. The Zionist Organization and the Youth Movements

There was extensive activity in the field of Zionism and Hebrew culture.

People are different in their nature, their moods, their perceptions and paths of thought, but before them was one truth, pure and solid: the redemption of Israel

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and the longing for the homeland. Rafalovka excelled in its achievements for the national funds - “Keren Kayemeth” and “Kern Hayesod.” “Tarbut” school served as a model for Zionist-Hebrew education and progressive education.

The General Zionists: most of them belonged to the group “Al HaMishmar” [“On Guard” under the leadership of Shaul Katz z”l, a wonderful man whose spirit glinted like a jewel, and the group “Et Livnot” [Time to Build] under the leadership of David Tannenbaum, a man with a pale face that lines of nobility were spread over them. These people abandoned their businesses and livelihoods and devoted themselves to Zionist activities. They all worked for the benefit of “Tarbut” school which united all the parties and youth movements around one table.

The General Zionists were mostly active in the annual fundraising campaigns for “Keren Kayemet” and “Kern Hayesod.”

Keren Kayemeth Leisrael” [JNF] spread the idea of the redemption of the Land of Israel. The collection of funds in those days was limited to “bowls” in the synagogue on Yom Kippur eve. Rafalovka's Jews contributed generously to the bowl which was decorated with blue and white paper.

Keren Kayemeth” stamp and the blue box were distributed among the students and the youth.

Kern Hayesod” [United Israel Appeal] was a special fund. People pledged and contributed once a year.

The largest youth movement in Rafalovka was “Hashomer Hatzair” [The Young Guard] which conducted a serious educational activity and had an impact on the students of “Tarbut” school.

Other youth, a few of them older, belonged to Brit [covenant of] Yosef Trumpeldor - “Betar.

Hashomer Haleomi” [The National Guard] - “Hanoar Hatzioni [“Zionist Youth”].The chapter of “Hashomer Haleomi” in Rafalovka was active among the youth. This chapter held activities in the evenings and conducted scouting activities. The graduates of this chapter joined the “Zionist youth” movement.

The chapter of “Hashomer Haleomi” was established in town in 1931. During my stay in Rafalovka I served as the leader of the chapter and was helped by Lipa Guz, Zipora Zuk and Zalman Lesnik. We had three battalions, “Kshishim” age fifteen and over, “Tzofim” age twelve and over and “Ze'evim” from age ten.

The following members were sent to a kibbutz: Gitel Blizniak, Guz and Bert z”l, brother of Yitzchak may he live a long life. We arranged trips to Volodymyrets, mostly in sleds in the winter. We received information and guidance material from the center in Warsaw where I served as secretary before my immigration to Israel in 1935.

In the chapter of “Hanoar Hatzioniwe organized educational activities and there was active participation in them.

We were young then and in our heart was the will to act. The movement fascinated us like a legend. We were inexperienced and without financial means, but with effort we succeeded in our mission. Our canvas expanded. New members joined us from time to time and our number grew. We divided the chapter to “Kafirim,” “Ze'evim” and “Magshimim.” We set up a special plan for each layer and also published a newsletter.

The founder, the writer of these lines, together with Lipa Guz, derived pleasure like a gardener who sees the flourishing of the seedlings he cultivated.

 

C. The Synagogue

In Rafalovka religion and tradition left their mark on family life. Even those who belonged to the communists did not dare to smoke a cigarette on the Sabbath in public.

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Of course, everyone visited the synagogues on the Sabbath and, even more so, on Jewish festivals and the “High Holidays.“

In the synagogue the Jew found his spiritual satisfaction. Here he gathered mental strength to overcome his poverty, and here he poured out his bitterness, expressing his feelings of joy and sorrow.

The synagogue, with the “women's section,” wasn't the only place of worship. There was also a “minyan” in a rented apartment. My father, Asher z”l, was the cantor and reader. During “Mincha” and “Ma'ariv” the synagogue was full of Jews who came to hear a “preacher” or a yeshiva “emissary,” and sometimes, a Zionist speaker.

All the wedding canopies were led with music to the synagogue's courtyard.

Leah Murik-Dichter, now in Petah-Tikva, appeared in all the wedding events and so she sang:

In the name of all in-laws
Of the very important families
And all our good friends –
I am here to wish you, the groom and the bride
That the step that you now take shall be lucky and good.
Do not frown upon the blessing of a layman
God, blessed be his name, fulfills the blessings of a young child,
May all blessings be realized instantly.

Chevra Kadisha” established “Linat Zedek,” kind of a mutual aid society of our days, in the synagogue, and the synagogue administration also took care of the bathhouse.

It was customary to come to this synagogue with the deceased's “bed” on his way to eternal rest.

 

D. Social institutions

It is necessary to mention the People's Bank which has earned a reputation throughout the area. The bank was housed at the home of Rachel Leah Portnoy z”l, and was under the management of Shaul Katz and David Tannenbaum. The bookkeeper was Herstein, the clerks - Leah Murik-Dichter and Yakov Wajner. Yitzchak Bert usually wrote letters to the central bank in Warsaw.

The bank served as an important factor in the life of trade and crafts, and just for Jews, and helped them in times of distress. It was a national institution that managed to take root in the town. The Bank's management and elected officials worked day and night on a voluntary basis. It should be noted that the annual general meeting was held in the synagogue.

All the social welfare branches of today were in Rafalovka of those days, in the sense of “charity saves from death.” There were people, mostly women, who worked on a voluntary basis, diligently and devotedly, in order to help the town's poor and impoverished families.

There were those dealt with “Hakhnasat Kallah,” and charitable people who engaged in “Matan B'Seter,” they discovered the needy and provided them with food, “Maot Chitim” when Passover approached, etc.

 

Perpetual light

Throughout its existence Rafalovka was like a beautiful flower, delicate and fragrant. A community, poor in assets and rich in spirit and soul, blessed with qualities and good virtues.

To this day, we, the survivors, cannot reconcile ourselves with the fact that our town was destroyed. To this day we embrace that home with its radiance and purity, with its poverty and warmth, with its kindness and respect. It must be that the Divine Presence hovered between the little houses and narrow alleys.


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Memories of a Rafalowkian in America

By Joseph Brat

(autobiographical sketches)

In memory of my parents, Shmuel-Yehuda and Haya Brat; my sisters Rachel and Rifka;
and my brother of blessed memory who perished in the Holocaust.

Translated by Rachel Zetland

Donated by Jay Snider

 

A. Introduction

The great Polish poet from the previous century, Adam Mitskevitch, declares in the opening of his famous epopee[18], “Phen Tadeusz[19]: “Lita[20], land of my birth, you are like health – How valuable you are will learn only he who has lost you.”

In the same way you, Rafalovka, where I spent my childhood and adolescence, only one who has lost you forever, like myself, knows how you deserve to be admired and cherished.

I once visited you in the summer of 1937 when I came to bid farewell to my family and many friends and relatives before immigrating to the United States. I hoped at the time to be able to come back and live there as before. Regretfully, the Second World War broke out. I served in the headquarters of General Eisenhower's troops on the European front and I was both close to and far from you at the same time. But the Holocaust put an end to my hopes.

Indeed, dear Rafalovka, you have been lost to us forever and now I would like to share a few of my childhood memories of Rafalovka that have remained with me.

 

B. The Hebrew Tarbut School in Rafalovka, our pride and glory *

* The history is based on my autobiography written in Rafalovka in 1935.

If you would wish to know where the hundreds of your young ones, Rafalovka, got their fine education, their rich culture, their vitality and national devotion in order to stand strong in their lives, you must go to the Hebrew Tarbut School.

This was a special school and was higher achieving and more successful than other Tarbut institutions in Poland. It not only endowed its pupils with a basic education, a fluent knowledge of Hebrew, and a deep understanding of Jewish studies, it also prepared and inspired them to be devoted Jews dedicated to their origins.

The secret of this school was its superb staff of teachers, going back to its first days.

During the 1925-26 school year a private illegal Hebrew school was founded in Rafalovka. Since it had no permit from the government, studies were held in secret. For a time we learned in the synagogue building because we didn't have the means to rent classrooms. The first teachers were Yaakov Schnieder (Sarid), Dubel Grober, and Mr. Kolodny. The teacher Dubel was very affectionate and loving to her pupils and helped each and every one of them. Kolodny was also loved by his pupils but he didn't always maintain discipline in his classes. Things were very different with teacher Yaakov; he was respected and admired by his pupils and their behavior was impeccable.

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At the end of the first school year we heard a rumor that at the beginning of the next year, 1926-27, an official Hebrew elementary school would open under the auspices of the Tarbut organization. For this to happen we needed to complete our knowledge in the Polish subjects so the district inspector would issue our school a permit. A special teacher came to Rafalovka, A. Holtz, who was to be the first principal of the school.

In 1926 we had no summer vacation. During July and August we put in long hours learning the Polish subjects. Our work paid off and in September our school was granted a government permit. One bright warm morning a big Hebrew-Polish sign was hung over the new building: “Tarbut Hebrew Elementary School in Rafalovka.”

This was an important historical moment for you, Rafalovka. From now on we could openly study most subjects (math, nature, geography, history, etc.) in Hebrew.

We were all filled with a sense of national pride. We were the same as our Christian neighbors. We too had a school of our own, whose language of instruction was Hebrew. From that point on our Tarbut School flourished and developed. The number of pupils grew and the teaching staff expanded. Every teacher taught the subjects in which he was a specialist or towards which he was inclined. One taught Hebrew, Bible and Jewish history, another taught arithmetic, nature and geography, another Polish studies, etc.

Every class had a teacher/counselor who took care of the pupils' personal problems. The pupils were interested in their studies and cherished and liked the school. The classes were remarkably disciplined and studies progressed well. Our Hebrew school became our pride and glory.

 

C. Yaakov - a divinely gifted teacher

During the school years 1925-1926 and 1926-27, when I was a fourth and fifth grade pupil, Yaakov Schnieder (Sarid) was our Jewish Studies teacher. He taught us the Hebrew language, Bible and Jewish history. He was a divinely gifted teacher. He knew how to make us enjoy studying the Hebrew language and literature. He had a real talent for explaining. When we learned a poem by Bialik, for instance, the poet's experience became our own. The teacher's clear and musical voice would enchant us. When he read a verse of a poem the classroom would become quiet. We listened attentively to every sound he uttered. He cultivated in us a deep love of the Hebrew language and its rich literature. I was especially drawn to our great poets and writers, and already at this young age learned a great deal about the poetry of Haim Nahman Bialik and Shaul Tzchernichovsky, whom I liked and began quoting.

My teacher Yaakov took an interest in my classroom work and strove to nurture in me a talent for writing. Under his influence I began writing poems and articles.

We were grateful to our teacher Yaakov, who awakened in us the desire to take up the writer's pen. In addition, he worked to develop our public debating skills. When we studied about a certain personality in Jewish history who had noteworthy negative and positive aspects, he would appoint a prosecutor and a defender and have us perform a classroom debate.

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Joseph Flavius[21] was an interesting subject for us. Was he a national hero or a man who betrayed his people and crossed over to the Romans? It was a lively stimulating debate. Based on this case our teacher Yaakov decided to hold a public debate in the school and invite the townspeople. The debate took place after much preparation. I remember I was Joseph Flavius' defender. There were more than a hundred people at the debate and it became an important cultural event in Rafalovka. Teacher Yaakov was proud of his students who had shown that they were well versed in this chapter of the history of our People: the war between the Jews and the Romans.

 

D. Teacher Michael - an excellent educator

Our Tarbut School had unbelievable luck. A new Jewish Studies teacher, Michael Grober (Gilboa), arrived for the year 1928-1929. Michael Grober was a fine educator who gave his students profound knowledge in our literature. The classes in Hebrew literature and grammar were interesting and enjoyable.

Like teacher Yaakov, our teacher Michael also organized a public trial in our school. This time the subject was “Those who excommunicated Spinoza.” I defended Spinoza, who was ostracized by the rabbis of Amsterdam. This literary trial made an immense impression on the large audience. Each of us who had an important part in the trial received a prize from Shaul Katz, the writings of David Frishman.

Michael's influence did not stop at the classroom door. He tried to develop in us a desire and taste for public service and organized a student committee that took on different tasks. I was appointed to run our school library. The local Zionist Party activists, headed by Shaul Katz of blessed memory, donated money to purchase books for the library.

 

E. Closing

Fifty years have gone by since I left you Rafalovka.

This is a long time and forgetting such a distant past could have been easy, but it is not. Everything about you, Rafalovka, gave me a strong foundation in my life and

comforted my soul. I always valued and cherished the fine education I received in your Tarbut School thanks to its superb teachers. The knowledge I acquired in the school prepared me to continue studying at the Tarbut Secondary School in Kovel, at the Vilna Tarbut Teachers Seminary, from which I graduated in 1935, and at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem where I completed my studies with distinction.

When I went on for a doctorate at New York University in 1952, the basic knowledge I acquired in your Tarbut School, Rafalovka, came to my aid.

Indeed, I inherited from you, Rafalovka, a spiritual stock and wealth of knowledge that enriched me throughout my life, in every place I may have been. In you Rafalovka I take great pride.

Cleveland, USA


[Page 264]

Education and Culture in Rafalovka – the Station

by Rachel Gilbo'a née Gelber

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

In spite of the small area of our shtetl and the relatively small number of residents – about two thousand souls – its public life was quite lively. Most of its residents were Zionists, of all shades and nuances of the Zionist Organization, starting from Beitar and Hatzohar (Revisionists), Hashomer Hatza'ir, Hano'ar HaZioni, Hamizrahi, all the way to the extreme left. Lively discussions took place in the various community institutions, as well as in the homes, at the dinner–table. Teachers at the Tarbut School and some of the families regularly received Hebrew newspapers and periodicals, (Davar, Doar–Hayom etc).

The town had a Hebrew school of the “Tarbut” association, and the parents paid tuition. The needy were supported by the community. There was also a modern “Improved Cheder” [Cheder Metukan], where the Hebrew language and arithmetic were taught. During a short period, before the Tarbut School was opened, I went to such a modern Cheder where boys and girls learned together. I still remember heartwarming experiences from that time. The Melamed was Mr. Eliezer Morik z”l, who was privileged to have lived several years in Eretz Israel, and his entire family made Aliya. He was like a father to the pupils, and treated us pleasantly.

The “Tarbut” School brought new life to the town. The regular school–hours were from 8 in the morning to 2 p.m. The beautiful festivities organized during holidays, the Zionist songs from Eretz Israel, which expressed the Zionist–pioneering spirit, caused the Jewish population – except the Communists – to identify with Zionism and its undertakings. In the Hebrew school, the Rafalovka youth absorbed and spread the aspiration to make Aliya to Eretz Israel, which many of them fulfilled. The parents were proud of the Hebrew School and supported it with all their heart.

The Zionist pioneering youth movements contributed, no doubt, a great deal to the healthy social life of the young generation in town. The movements led important educational programs about Eretz Israel – new songs, folk–dancing, etc. For long hours we would sing, dance and learn; all this would deepen our feeling of identity with our country and intensify our longing to make Aliya to Eretz Israel soon.

We had an amateur Drama Club in our shtetl, who performed, several times a year, plays from the classical Yiddish theater, like Mire'le Efrat, but also King Lear by Shakespeare. My sister–in–law Miriam Gruber–Gilboa played Mire'le Efrat. The Rafalovka residents filled the modest hall; every performance was a happy day in town. We also had a “Firefighters Orchestra”, including Jewish and non–Jewish players, but most of the players were Jewish. My brother Shmuel was a member as well. I remember his rehearsals at home, playing on his big alt–trumpet, actually “playing on the nerves” of our household and the neighbors, who complained constantly. But he didn't give up. We also had a library, in Hebrew and Yiddish, for children and adults. I think that the manager was Itzik Bratt.

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Naturally, we had a synagogue, of a modest size, suiting the size of our town. Most of the residents prayed in the synagogue. In particular on Saturdays and during holidays – New Year and Yom Kippur – the synagogue was full of people.

The cantor, who had a wonderful voice, was Mr. Bulba z”l, who was loved and respected by all, especially after his prayers on “The days of Awe” [yamim nora'imRosh Hashana and Yom Kippur]. He would open our hearts and strengthen our souls, giving us the feeling of “the day of judgment.” Women were crying while he sang his prayers.

I cannot end the description of Rafalovka, without mentioning and remembering the contribution of our teachers, sons of our town Rafalovka, who taught us Hebrew and developed our Zionist conscience and our pioneering spirit. They were: Dobel Gruber–Sarid, Yakov Schneider–Sarid, Miriam and Michael Gruber–Gilboa. We, the pupils, admired them and studied willingly and with much interest. The level of our school was high, compared to similar schools in other places.

Michael Gruber–Gilboa and Yakov Schneider–Sarid would also lecture in the district of Volhynia, about the problems of building our country; many went to listen to their lectures and identified with the lecturers.

May their memory be blessed!


I Sang with the Cantor Bulba
(The Synagogue in New Rafalovka)

by Mote'le Hevroni (Portnoy)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

I am Mote'le Portnoy, son of the family of Moshe Yankel Portnoy. We were six brothers and three sisters, and I, the last to remain alive, managed in 1943 to reach Eretz Israel with Anders' Army, by way of Persia, Iraq and Transjordan. As I arrived in Eretz Israel, I deserted from the Polish Army. I want to tell you about the synagogue in Rafalovka.

At the age of six, I began singing with the cantor Bulba. He was a great cantor. He sang the prayers beautifully, with much sweetness in his voice. The cantor and the community members considered me a “wunderkind.” To this day I continue praying in Israel and in America the way I learned from the cantor Bulba, and it pleases the listeners.

Three months before the “The days of Awe” Bulba would assemble us: myself, Chaim Morik, Srulikel Portnoy and his own son Lipa Bulba, to rehearsals twice a week. I cannot forget the first Selihot prayers: the content and the way they were recited put fear in our hearts, announcing that “The Day of Judgment is near.” This was also the time to begin the preparations for the coming Holiday and to buy the children clothes for the Holiday and for the winter.

There were two other cantors in our synagogue. The early Shabat Morning Prayer, Psukei dezimra, was recited by Leibel from Scobola, who had a special voice and a special melody. From Hamelech, Yechiel Weingarten, an old man with a pleasant voice, took over. But we all waited for the Mussaf prayer, to hear again Israel Bulba and his choir.

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After Yom Kippur, we began building the Suka and preparing the Lulav and Etrog [arba'at haminim = “the four kinds”]. It was not easy to obtain them. We had to travel a long distance and pay a high price. After they were brought to our shtetl, we elected special people who would carry them from house to house to enable the women and children to say the Lulav blessing.

On Passover eve, we would take to the synagogue yard the dishes and kitchen utensils, to make them “kosher for Passover” in large vessels prepared in advance. The old people would do that voluntarily, for the sake of performing the mitzvah [commandment].

The Jews carried in their hearts the longing for freedom and expressed it in the performance of the customs of Passover Eve.

Finally, by various ways, I came to our Holy Land. I married, children and grandchildren were born – we have built a family.


The BEITAR Movement in the Two Republics

by Aharon Shavit

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

In Rafalovka there was a branch of the BEITAR movement, and many of the young people were members. The branch was headed by Avraham Gruber, Kleppel, Zelig Lasnik, Morik, Bulba, Minyuk, Fuchs, Goz, Chaim Katzman and others.

The members of the branch were active in organizing “Summer Colonies,” participated in various courses in Sereni, Rovno and Lutzk, as well as in congresses; helped collecting money for Keren Kayemet LeIsrael [JNF] and Keren Tel–Hai [Tel–Hai Fund]; were vigorously active during the election campaigns to the Zionist Congresses and the Polish Parliament.

In 1933, at the time of the Achimeir –Stavski trial and before the execution of Shlomo Ben Yosef by the British in Eretz Israel, BEITAR organized protest assemblies in the synagogue; all the Jewish residents participated, and the place was full.

When Zev Jabotinski, the head of BEITAR, visited Rovno, we traveled two days in a horse–drawn wagon to see him.

In 1933, many went to the BEITAR training camps – Hershel Dov to Klosov, Herzl Dudik to Kostopol, Shmuel Gruber, Yehuda Manyuk and I to Antzewitz and Baranowitz.

Hershel Dov was the first BEITAR member who made Aliya from our shtetl to Eretz Israel.

In 1933, after a training period in Baranowitz, I received a “certificate” – a permit to go to Eretz Isarel. I married Ethel Shirman from old Rafalovka (a fictive marriage, as was the custom, in order to enable more people to enjoy the much awaited “certificate” by making Aliya as a spouse). However, for various reasons my certificate was annulled, and so was my “marriage.” Ethel Shirman remained there and perished in the Holocaust.

I visited old Rafalovka. I met the members of the local BEITAR: Gedaliahu Birenboim, the commander of BEITAR in town;

[Page 267]

the families Bass and Schwarzblatt and others.

We activated the BEITAR branch in the shtetl, and we held meetings with other branches.

Before the outbreak of WWII, a considerable part of the Rafalovka youth registered for Aliya to Eretz Israel. Unfortunately, they didn't make it; the war, and the Russian and German occupation were the reasons they couldn't fulfill their wishes.

In 1937, I lived a long period in Rafalovka the Station. I managed the local BEITAR branch, together with Zelig Lesnik, chairman of the Revisionist Movement in town, Lipa Bulba, Alter Gurewitz, Shimon Zmototchinski, Ethel Puntch, Portnoy and others.

Before WWII, the young people felt that the earth was burning under the feet of the Jews in Poland, and illegal Aliya began from almost all countries in Europe. In this framework we also made Aliya – Herzl Dodik, Henia Shostak and I. We sent letters and regards from Eretz Israel to our family and friends, urging them to follow us. Indeed a considerable part of the youth in town registered for Aliya, but war broke out and they could not achieve that.

Some of them, who began the journey to Eretz Israel, remained stuck on their way, in Lithuania, Romania and Greece.

Those who remained in town were murdered by the Nazis and their helpers.


Rafalovka

by Lipa Goz

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The town Rafalovka, where I was born and raised, will never be erased from my memory. It follows me always, as a background to the memories from my home and all experiences of my childhood and youth.

Dear Rafalovka, surrounded by large woods and green unending fields, with its streets that connect the small houses, surrounded by fruit trees and various shrubs…

In the heart of the town was the beautiful synagogue, the focus and soul of the Jews in town. The entire community would gather here on Shabat and holidays, and the individual would find here a refuge and a source of hope at bad times. Here, also, Torah was learned and knowledge was acquired during the regular, gray weekdays.

The center of the economic and cultural life was the sawmill – the “Tartac.” It was the main source of livelihood for the Jews and non–Jews, whether directly or indirectly: the center around which life moved, in its regular cycles.

And now, as this life–picture stands before me as a thing of the past that was totally erased from the face of the earth, a sharp and burning hatred rises in my heart,

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knowing, that like all the Jews of Europe, my dear townspeople, among them my beloved family, my parents R'Leibel Goz and my mother Fruma, my sisters Rivka and Beila, all my relatives and friends were murdered by the Nazi animals.

A helpless cry calls through the silence and a feeling of revenge rises with the pain.

But what is the purpose of my words and my pain – part of the tragedy of the Jewish people – when I know that nothing will bring back our holy and tortured victims.

It remains only to believe that the pure and innocent blood of our family and all our dear, which was spilled wickedly and cruelly, will cry out from the depth and ask for revenge.

My brother Hershel perished in an accident.

Their memory will never leave me, to the end of my life.

Today, strange people live on the ruins of our homes. New houses were built, the fields were sown again and life goes on. The heritage of our family is in the hands of strangers. We shall transmit this treasure of memories to our children and our townspeople here and throughout the entire world, so that the young generation shall cherish their memory and respect those who have given shape to their homes and the homes of their ancestors.


Rafalovka, a Hebrew-Jewish town

by Ziskin Haim Brat

Translated by Rachel Zetland

Donated by Jay Snider

In 1939, when WWII broke out and the Germans occupied Poland Rafalovka was included in the area that was handed over to Russians and annexed to the Soviet Union. The authorities immediately opened a Ukrainian-Russian school. Teaching Hebrew was forbidden. However, the Russians permitted the Jews to have Jewish schools with Yiddish as the teaching language. That was the law in Russia at the time, although there were very few such schools in Russia. The teachers of our school directed by Mr. Shnerer[22] of blessed memory, seized this opportunity and decided to found a school where the teaching language would be Yiddish. They wanted children to continue to have a Jewish education and continue going to a school, which, albeit not a Hebrew school, would at least enable the perpetuation of a Jewish ember.

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I must say that our connection to Hebrew continued. Although Hebrew teaching was strictly forbidden some of the teachers formed Hebrew circles. They risked being imprisoned for holding such private lessons. But who bothered with that? Many of the children continued to have a large number of Hebrew lessons in order to preserve the ties with the language. Teachers, who continued to teach in the now-Yiddish school, officially taught on behalf of the authorities but they were motivated by the desire to preserve the “yiddishkeit” in every possible way. All the town's children continued to study in this school. They entered the state Ukrainian-Russian school only towards the final year, but this did not go on for long. It continued until the German invasion in 1941.


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The Martyrs of Rafalovka, Zhlotchek and Olizarka

by Aizik and Baruch Bart

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

In memory of our parents Avraham and Bat Sheva; our sisters Rosia and Sheindl; our brothers Yitzhak and Moshe.

The people in our shtetl – could they have believed in their worse dreams that such a violent tragedy would occur, brought on them by the hands of people-animals in the twentieth century, only because they were Jews? Those simple and quiet people, who were satisfied with what they had and never complained – their only crime was that they belonged to a people that the Nazi blood-thirsty oppressor decided that has to be eliminated from the face of the earth.

The evil hand did not skip even one remote corner in its aim to make it “Judenrein” [“clean of Jews”]. They reached our town as well; the fate of the Jews reached them.

The Jews in our shtetl were merchants and craftsmen, many of them of low income. Their lives were not easy, but their hopes were great. They were believing Jews who kept their religious tradition, and the Zionist spirit was planted deep in their hearts. The wish to make Aliya was strong. When one of the residents began his journey to Eretz Israel, the members of the community would send him off with warm blessings and the good wish “See you in Eretz Israel.”

The residents of our shtetl were true Zionists. Most of them knew and spoke Hebrew. There were various movements and parties, but when something had to be done for the nation or for the country everyone helped, including money contributions, every family as much as they could.

All these dear Jews from Rafalovka, Zhlotchek, Olizarka and surroundings, who were full of hope and faith in the fulfillment of Zionism and the salvation of the Jewish people in Eretz Israel – perished by the hands of the Nazi wild animals and their helpers, Ukrainians and others.

The memory of the Jews of our town will forever be kept in our hearts. May their memory be blessed.


[Page 271]

In Rafalovka in the Years 1937-1941

by Sender Appelboim

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

I was born in Brisk. In 1927, my father bought a forest near Rafalovka, and my family relocated to “Stantzia Rafalovka,” in Frenkel's house.

My sister and I went to the Tarbut School in Rafalovka, my sister started grade 4 and I grade 5. My older brother Yakov remained in Brisk, studied accounting and worked at the Gellerstein family. On vacations and holidays he would come home, to Rafalovka.

In Brisk I had learned in the Tachkemoni School. Brisk was a big city, many Jews lived there. The schoolhouse was big and beautiful. In contrast, Rafalovka was a small town and the classes were held in rooms in several buildings. In spite of all that, I loved more the school in Rafalovska; I found there a special atmosphere, almost like a family.

Of the teachers I remember in particular Rudia Mutcenik, Assa Shlita and the principal Schnerrer.

Rudia Mutcenik taught us Hebrew, Grammar and History. She was warm, good-hearted, sensitive and very devoted. She would remain in school after classes and help the weaker pupils. I made an effort to be a good student, because I loved the teacher very much.

Assa Shlita was the only teacher in school who had a B.A. from Warsaw University. She had graduated “with excellence” the Languages Faculty. Her lessons were very interesting and we had a special respect for her. In spite of the fact that she was a cousin of my father and she used to visit our house often, the distance was kept between us, like between her and the other pupils.

The principal Schnerrer was loved by the students and their parents; he succeeded in creating an atmosphere of discipline and learning in school. It was a private school and the parents payed tuition. A discount was arranged for those who couldn't pay the full tuition, and for poor families the community paid tuition.

During afternoons the school had special help for children and also special classes, like a Drama Club, Sports etc. Sometimes they had a “poetry evening” or “songs evening.”

A Zionist atmosphere reigned in school. Messengers from Eretz Israel would visit and bring news about building the country, about life in the new Kibutzim and Moshavim [villages] and about heroic feats. They also taught us the songs of Eretz Israel.

Most of the Rafalovka Jews were Zionists; some of them managed to make Aliya before WWII.

My family intended to go to Eretz Israel. In 1936, there was a pogrom in Brisk and I saw murdered Jews and robbed Jewish property. At that time, my parents began thinking of

[Page 272]

Aliya, but unfortunately they started too late. WWII broke out.

In 1939, the Soviets occupied our region. In Rafalovka they opened three schools: a Ukrainian school, a Polish school and a Jewish school in Yiddish. My sister and I went to the Jewish school. Most of the subjects were taught in Yiddish. We studied also Russian, Ukrainian and German. All teachers, except the teacher of Ukrainian, were Jewish. Of the teachers, I remember in particular with appreciation:

Gonik Meserani, teacher of Yiddish literature and grammar. His lessons were very interesting; I enjoyed in particular the stories by Shalom Aleichem.

The teacher Wolkon, who taught us Yiddish emotional songs.

The teacher Langenthal taught mathematics.

The teacher Burstein taught Russian language and Russian history. He was an educated man, and would tell us the contents of Russian movies.

The Soviets organized us in the movement of the “Pioneers” – a movement for schoolchildren. We had sports, cultural activities and outings.

During the soviet occupation, the situation of the Jews improved a little. Anti-Semitism was prohibited by law. Government and Police hired Jews, and there were Jewish officers in the Red Army. Jews were accepted at the universities, without any limitations. All educational institutions, including universities, belonged to the government, and the education in all of them was gratis.

The Soviet rule benefitted with some of the social layers, and persecuted others. Anyone who needed could obtain work.

But there were shadows as well. The Zionist Movement was outlawed and the activity of all Zionist parties stopped. Religious people were forced to work on Shabat. My father, who was a religious man and didn't want to be guilty of desecration of the Shabat, walked ten kilometers to work, and did not write on Shabat. His Christian aides wrote for him. Religious children I school were forced to write on Shabat.

Private commerce stopped entirely. Shops were closed, everything was nationalized. Some of the shops were given to government employees as living quarters, in others government offices were opened.

On 22 June, the Germans invaded Russia. The officers of the retreating Russian army and the Russian government authorities offered the Jews to join them and escape to Russia.

That was many years ago, but we must not forget that at that time, the gates of all countries were shut and Jewish refugees were not let in. USSR was the only state that opened the gates wide and offered shelter.

Unfortunately, only few escaped to USSR. Jews were thinking in terms of the past: pogrom, disturbances few casualties – but nobody thought of mass-annihilation. The older people even preserved “good memories” from the Germans in WWI.

Those Jews who willingly escaped to Russia – most of them survived.

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Rich Jews, or those who wanted to return to the areas occupied by the Germans were considered non-trustworthy by the regime and were exiled against their will to the depths of Russia. Many of them survived as well.

After the Russians retreated and before the Germans seized the town, gangs of wild Ukrainians came and robbed the Jews. My family remained without any property and we decided to leave Rafalovka. By the end of July 1941we relocated to Vladimartz. There we joined the large family of my father – brothers and sisters, uncles and cousins. We rented an apartment and our family helped us to put together furniture and other household necessities. We lived in Vladimartz from the day the Germans occupied the area until the liquidation of the ghetto.

 

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