By Yitzhak Lamdan
(From 'Yalkut Wolhyn')
The Jewish communities in European lands, that were eradicated by the gentile executioners, from the map of the world even though, in general, their frame of reference was a framework of 'a nation living apart' among the nations not one of them was a generic model. Each of these settlements had its own characteristics, its way of life, outlooks and expectations. They had differing roots, some evident, others having vanished and hidden by the fog of past generations, and in the mysteries of climate and ambience. That which was missing in a Polish settlement that could be found in a general settlement, is that one who would be rich in one region, would be poor in another, and vice versa. And it was in this way that they complemented one another, and together comprised the greater congregation of Jews in Europe, which through the generations was not only the majority of the people and its builders, but also its prime wellspring, the well from whose waters came the very life, and the enlivening of the people.
The Jews of Wolhyn, as a distinct part of the Jews of greater Ukraine, did not have a meager share in the complexion of the community of Jews. Its valuable qualities had an impact on the lives of Jews among the gentile nations of the world, generation after generation, and the evidence of its traces are readily recognizable in the paths of the renewed 'Return to Zion,' and its vision. The Jewry of Wolhyn did not sparkle with analytic skill, and excellence in Torah scholarship, or intellectualism , as did the Jewry of Lithuania; nor was it crown with a diadem of pedigree, and did not enjoy the cultivation of breadth as the Jews of Poland did, but in place of all these, it was blessed with a wholesome heart, a fundamental folk simplicity, and devotion and adherence to their foundation and to the essentials of things, and not to their superficial outer trappings. This was a Jewishness of the heart, that radiated a great deal of love and devotion, that guided its virtues to the sea of larger World Jewry, subtly, and with a constant devotion that was not always evident, similar to those same flowing streams of Wolhyn that make their way, modestly, through the forests. It is the foundation of what is in the heart, that especially gives form to all of the spiritual expression of Jewish Wolhyn, and this is the bastion that stands between the afflicted ranks of 'Yevayn Metzulla' of Rabbi Nathan-Neta Hannover, and emerges out of the traditional lessons and parables of the Maggid of Dubno; it is the firmament for their way of life, and the lore of the patriarchs of Hasidism; It was impervious to the Wolhyn Haskalah, which in contrast to the angry countenance and fanatic rationalism of the Haskalah in other places, revealed itself in Wolhyn in a benign form, and in the noble, heartfelt style of the RIBL; and it was he, who grafted onto his own self, the light from the depths of the many roots of Bialik, and what emanated from the sad, dreamy eyes of Fiarberg.
Jews of the heart. And several hearts of dreamers, people with a lust for life, creativity, and disseminators of a light of devotion, it was still possible for this Judaism to emerge from its midst! And then the gentile heartless monster arrived, and under its polluted, unclean feet, trampled this dear heart, together with the great living heart of the entire Jewish community of Europe.
By Ber'l Frimer
|Members of the Municipal Magistrate
(1) David Birg; (2) Yaakov Bryk; (3) Yitzhak Levin; (4) Joseph Brum; in the year 1933
|The Ceremony of Swearing in the Jewish Soldiers into the Polish Army, by Rabbi Hechtman|
Sarny had a unique geographic ambience. It lay close to the Russian border, and rested on the crossroads between Poland and the Soviet Union. This crossroads was not only a physical one. It was as if the town had been flung to lie between two worlds. From the west, the winds of the larger world of Europe streamed in, and from the east came the reverberations of the nations, both heavy and sharp, of the world of revolution. This clash created a 'bi-lingual' régime. The air was still saturated with Russian romanticism of values and ideals, however, in 'Poleska,' one sensed the stirring of Polish themes. The atmosphere was a national Zionist one, though during my childhood, there are more than enough somber recollections woven through my memory, of the prohibitions on a young Jewish communist, and of underground activities in the narrow streets, and the quite houses.
Sarny was a young town, that grew quickly on the edge of roads. It did not have a form of roots and tradition like ancient Stolin, and not even like Dąbrowica. It was always on a trajectory of chaos. Everything was fresh and of a pioneering nature. At the outset, everything about it was of the sort of a 'reformed Heder,' modern in its conduct, somewhat dandyish, and its windows open to the wide world. Religious fanaticism was outside the frame of reference, and Zionism was the thing that set the tone of life for all of the city's life. It appeared to me that the most modern of all communities was the one in Sarny.
The city was not blessed with an enchanting natural ambience, although the ambience of its character and culture was deep and beautiful. It was a sort of 'Tel-Aviv' of Polesia-Wolhyn, a Garden of Eden of lecturers, theaters, bands of all sorts, clubs and libraries.
At this opportunity, perhaps I will sing a song of praise about the Jews of Wolhyn. They were blessed with all the attributes of goodness. They had Lithuanian scholastic ability, the Hasidism of Podolia, the simplicity, together with the cultural spiritual idealism of youth. It is not for nothing, that our province, in a very prominent way, provided the largest number of Halutzim from Poland. But Sarny was not only Wolhynia, it was also Polesia, and the forests and lakes endowed it with a sweet and noble sorrow, which to this day, enriches our souls, and brings a tear to the eye, as a result of the depth of our longing...
What dominated the city was the reverberation of the control of the young people. These young people had exceptional maturity. These were not the type of older child, that Mendele portrayed grotesquely, but rather a maturity that was derived from a richness of experience. This intellectual maturity did not detract one bit from its innocence and dedication. This cadre of young people felt its contact with the Land of Israel in a substantive way, and saw its life in Sarny as strictly temporary. This was a group of young people that did not exhibit even a tiny drop of small-town attitudes. In my life, I wandered extensively, I studied in Europe, lived in America, acquired cultures and languages, and met countless types of people. In all of these, I found nothing new, that I had not known of previously, or hadn't learned in the attentive streets of Sarny, and like myself, this was true of others as well. Our young people had open eyes, and the pathways of the world were open and beckoning to them.
With all of its idealism, the youth was practical. The issues competed with one another intensely the movement, the preparation, the aliyah itself its objectives being simple, and without a philosophy, and appeal to heroism, it also seemed to me also without any unusual hassle with parents.
The young people concentrated themselves around three institutions: the schoolyard, the clubs on the Szeroka Gasse, and the training camps in the city and its environs.
The schoolyard is tied, in my memory, to the parades of HaShomer HaTza'ir, and the branch that I had established. It was not by happenstance that there was an organizational connection between the school and the Halutz-oriented young people. We were blessed with teachers of precious character and grace. On one occasion, I gave a lecture in Buenos Aires on [C. N.] Bialik. An elderly man came up to me ans asked me: Where did you learn this? From you, I answered. This was one of the teachers from our school. Many of these teachers live with us in the country of Israel Gurfinkel, Salutsky, Goldberg. What an honor, and how dear it is for them to have a pupil of theirs abase himself in the dust of their feet, as he writes these words!
And there were youth clubs walls, a floor, rickety benches, but everything was harmonious inside them. What didn't we read, and what did we not ingest? Ahad-Ha'Am and Kropotkin, Tolstoy and Mapu, Freud and Marcus, a chapter of Hasidism and the platform of the Bund, excerpts from Lenin and a chapter from Herzl. And what did we not sing? The songs of shepherds and excerpts from opera, Russian melodies and Polish tangos. And despite this, there was no dissonance, and there was no confusion. A true soul straightened out all conflict, and the character of the intellectual youth blossomed, one that built bridges and created self-control over one's self and one's temper. Of all the community positions and all the titles, it is the diadem of leadership, in the youth movement, that is most dear to me. I learned more than I taught. When I arrived in the Land [of Israel], I found those that I had educated in the kibbutzim, those of my own age, and I was able to see how much they had all grown...
And last of all kibbutz and training, at a center, as you understand, in Klesów. I had very strong personal ties with the formative institution, of which my father zl was the director, but I had concluded that I would not record personal recollections in this memoir. Klesów was the 'apple of the eye' of the Halutz movement in Poland. It was active, open, fulfilling, stormy, full of good will, and afflicted with a profound sense of togetherness, understanding of the deprivations of hunger and suffering, covered in the dust of stones, and all of it radiant. Benny Marshak, with his tense and stormy personality, was one of my childhood heroes.
There was also a training camp in Sarny itself young people cutting wood and drawing water, sleeping on rickety beds, or on the floors, pampering itself within its own modesty, frequently isolated by the estrangement of the Jews of the city, and their efforts at sticking together.
I have rambled on, and ye have only just begun. I still can hear the rustle of the Poleska Forest, and in my spiritual eye, I can see the roads that lead to the villages. Where, today, is this rich world? An ill wind has carried it off, and only an empty gap is left in the heart.
By Yaakov Tzuk (Kottelczuk)
My unforgettable town, the cradle of my beloved childhood. Even though you were not endowed with the virtues of physical beauty, that characterized cities and communities elsewhere in the Diaspora of Russia-Poland you earned the love of your scions, the recognition and respect of those who entered your gates, and your name was uttered in glory by the mouths of the many, as one, venerable and influenced by Torah, charity, and good deeds.
Your sons and citizens came from near and far, to build you, and o be built themselves. You gathered the dregs of the villages, the unemployed, and those unable to make a living, refugees fleeing the sword, and the pursuit of the law for all of these you spread out your canopy of peace, you salved their wounds, and served them as a secure and reliable refuge.
My town of Sarny you had no shine or gloss. You rested amid swamps and pools of water, with lairs of sand around you. Your streets were laid out without any order, and during the rainy season, were transformed into mud holes and puddles of water. The homes of your residents, largely constructed of wooden boards that had blackened, and remnants of wood turned green, testified to the economic circumstances of your citizenry, but they were dear to us as they were. We did not detect your flaws and shortcomings, just like a baby does not sense the flaws in its beloved mother. You were entirely the product of the effort of those who lived in you and built you, the evidence of their livelihood, their deeds, and the wisdom of their lives, that stood by them not only once, in the face of the upheavals of fate. In your midst, they lived for nearly a jubilee of years; they raised families, raised sons, and fought for their survival in all circumstances of adversity.
My personal fate took me far away, as was the case with many of my age, far from your boundaries. The years of my youth, and coming of age passed in a stormy confinement, in reverberating streets, between ??? houses and gardens. And despite all of this, my heart years after the memory of you. Your Jews are dear and respected to me, because of their simplicity, modesty and loyalty; for the way they lives, their manner of speech and attitude, who excelled in their marvelous harmony of 'being soft of heart, and having a profound love of Jewry, without limit or constraint.'
Like a bird set free from its cage, so I would hasten to your nest to renew my youth, to be refreshed by your atmosphere, that pulsed with Jewish life, both national and cultural.
My shtetl of Sarny it was not only in swamps and well springs of water that you drowned in, but also in the sea of hatred and antipathy, on the part of both ancient and contemporary neighbors, that disrupted the livelihood of your residents, upsetting their standing, and created a situation that any survival at all was a matter of a miracle, that very meager survival that served as the arrows of the criticism by the younger generation, in whom the absence of means seethed, as well as the absence of any prospect for the future. Yet, despite all this, the heart is full of longing, soft sentiments, and longing for that unique Jewish ambience, the tradition that excelled in Torah [study], fear of heaven, and Hasidism, a longing for those very Jews who had that fear, but were at one with themselves and their Maker, for those very young children of Israel, 'soft in countenance and sad in eye,' that very youth that entertained so many different ideals, and for most of whom, never saw any fulfilment of these ideals, that excelled in its freedom of spirit, in its desire for beauty, and fearlessly dedicated itself to a change in the status quo, throwing itself with its entire energy into the circle of pioneering Zionism.
I have a great sorrow for you, my shtetl, the youngest of the settlements in Wolhyn, that the specter of death rose to appear in your windows, that The Abrogator exterminated the best of your sons and daughters, and that fate designated you to become the center of the killing of all the Jews in the area.
By Aryeh Avtikhi
For many of us, Sarny continues to be remembered in its vigor. In the first period, there were only a small number of residential buildings close to the railroad station, that had been built in the middle of a forest, and in part created there, and in them, the employees of the railroad resided, and the first of the Jews, engaged in forest product work, employed by the railroad, suppliers, jobbers and storekeepers.
This small group of Jews, for all practical purposes, were the ones who laid the foundation for this budding Polesian-Wolhynian shtetl. The Jews in the vicinity heard that a new settlement had taken form, and was developing, and they came there to see if they could establish themselves and make a go of it. Accordingly, in those days, Sarny was a collection point for all those who sought to come there. It was justifiable to say: Jews came to Sarny, they populated it, and it was they, who gave it its color and cast.
Commerce, as was usual in those days in the Pale of Settlement, was in the hands of the Jews, and it assumed a prominent place in Sarny. In its ambit, they worked and built their lives as officials, craftsmen, and members of self-standing professions, possessors of inns, teachers, and clergy. The development of the settlement proceeded apace with vigor. With the economic development of the city, both members of the faith, and non-members streamed to it, to find order for themselves, a way to make a living, and industry. It is clear that most of those who came were, by-and-large, young in age, and success did not tarry in shining its light on them.
Sarny made unusual progress even before The First World War, but the zenith of its flowering came afterwards, especially under Polish rule (1920-1939), despite their initiatives to deter the development of the Jewish settlement in that location. The city was transformed into a provincial seat, and within it, were government institutions. Community life, and national political life were active. Economic activity was in the hands of the Jews. Sarny rose more quickly than its neighbors, those ancient towns, which dominated the past, were left moribund behind her.
Sarny had a permanent relationship with Rovno, the nearest large city, and the metropolis of Wolhyn, that was a center of commerce, culture and Zionism, and for the life of the community in the past generation. Almost everything was brought to Sarny from Rovno, and it was by Rovno that it was suckled and from which it derived influence. Emissaries and lecturers, who visited Rovno, would also make a side trip to Sarny, and there was a symbiotic influence between the cities.
The Jews who built Sarny, were largely progressive people from the ranks of the Jewish intelligentsia in the surrounding towns. They knew how to organize community life in a new place, and establish a congregation in accordance with the better aspects of the tradition of Jewish congregations. Synagogues were built, as well as institutions of help, and provision of food, charity and good will; a Rabbi was recruited, ritual slaughterers and all manner of individuals involved in religious ritual, and a great deal of attention was paid to the education of children in Heders and schools.
In the fullness of time, a young and proud generation arose in Sarny, that gave of its energy to the various streams of the national and cultural movements. Capable activists emerged among them, idealists, dreamers, and those who could turn things into reality. The association of the Hebrew teachers in the area, in concert with those teachers that were invited to come, or happened to find their way to Sarny in the years of the twentieth century, supported the flowering of Hebrew culture in that place. A national-Jewish ambience was created in that location. Its Jewish character melded Zionism and Hasidism together. Accordingly, even the Hasidim (the Hasidim of Stolin and Brzezno) that were in Sarny, were Zionists, and there was no distance or clash felt between these two streams of thought.
The youth of the shtetl, and among them were the children from Hasidic homes, got their education in Hebrew schools, filling the ranks of the national and pioneering youth. They dreamt of making aliyah to the Land of Israel, and went off to training, and at their first opportunity they made aliyah, using all the means at their disposal. Fund raising for all the national funds, and the remaining initiatives for the Land of Israel, were always organized successfully in Sarny, and as a sign of heightened importance. It served as an example and role model to the many settlements in its vicinity.
It goes without saying, that life in Sarny took on a unique cast. It continued with the accepted way of life of the Jews of Russia and Poland, however, signs of zealotry took root there. While still in their youth, in the small surrounding towns, its builders had rebelled against the appearance of excessive ritual observance, but they did not break faith with tradition. From this, it is possible to understand the inroads of Hasidism in this community, that was considered progressive, yet also retaining the yoke of [religious observance] of Judaism.
Sarny was blessed with activists that had great spirit and dedication, who accomplished a great deal during their time in which they lived in this city. Using their own energy, they created, worked in, and strengthened the community institutions, education, and all public undertakings in that location. These were the Zingermans, the Gerszunoks, the Zandweisses, the Bryks, the Gamermans, the Glicks, the Rabinoviches, the Goldbergs, and others. A number of them were privileged to make aliyah, but many did not.
Another characteristic line to Jewish Sarny it received visiting guests with a wide open heart. At every instance where there was a stream of refugees that reached the city, it passed through it by train and these instances were far from rare during the war years and the pogroms that followed Sarny was fully cognizant of how to take in their brethren who were refugees, support them, and lighten their suffering.
The Holocaust, that descended on the Jewish people in the area of Europe (1941-1942), and uprooted a third of its populace, also was the bitter fate that overtook the thousands of honest, and decent, Sarny Jews. This beautiful Jewish settlement, forty years of age, came to an end.
Jewish Sarny was a blessing, and now no longer exists.
By Dr. Jonah Glick
Up to The First World War
Despite the fact that I spent most of my years outside of the city where I was born, and the place where my parents lived, I had a constant contact with Sarny. I remember the city from its beginning, while there were still trenches on both sides of the street, and a small number of oil lamps that lit up the principal streets.
Afterwards, with the regularization of the railroad tracks, Sarny became a central station, through which passed trains from Kiev to Petrograd, and from Vilna to Warsaw.
Our town was a focal point for lumber trade, new markets opened, and the city continued to grow.
My father, who in the course of 15 years, served as a secretary in the government forestry division, was forced to resign his position because of his Jewishness. He left Brzeznica, and opened a manufacturing store in Sarny. My father was educated, and was one of the few, in those times, that read a Russian newspaper. He was active in the municipal bank, and was honored to be one of the dignitaries who escorted the minister of taxation during his visit our city, a matter that, at that time, was considered an honor.
The years of our childhood were spent in Heder, in which we studied from morning until the darkness of night fell. From among the teachers and melamdim, I recall the following: the teacher of general subjects, Boaz Jaszpa zl, who was the first to organize a Hanukkah celebration with a rotating lit menorah; the teacher Abraham-Chaim Schneider, who was in the custom, at the beginning of the school year, to engage the students in a visit to a bookseller who would bring the 'color of Hebrew literature' and the short Russian book of the fables of Krylov; the teacher Alter Peretz, who invited the teacher Neuman from Pinsk, and introduced the study of the Hebrew language in the afternoon hours, added to the study of the Talmud, etc.
The students, of these teachers, were the ones who laid the foundations for Zionist endeavor in our city: Nehemiah Nissman, Torok, Gamerman.
Zionist activity was conducted illegally. The Czarist police would constantly be snooping after whatever it was that was going on among young people, and in community activities.
After the year 1905, there were individuals who made aliyah to the Land of Israel: the Galinsky family, and the son of R' Joseph Goldberg zl, who returned after a short amount of time.
There were young people who engaged in disseminating the Zionist ideal. On the Eve of Yom Kippur, there was a [collection] plate put out for the benefit of Keren Kayemet L'Israel, which stood out among the collection plates set out in the various synagogues. We would read, with great satisfaction, in the annual report of the head office in Odessa, about the participation of our city in the collection of funds. Sarny took a respected position among the donors.
In the year 1913, when I studied at the of Rabbi Aharonson in Kiev, I came into possession of several Hebrew books, with the thought that, when I returned home, I would organize a Hebrew library. Before the founding of the library, [there was] ' The Voice of the Reader,' that was printed in secret at night at the printer Szpilszer. The first bookcase stood in the foyer of Goldberg's house, in the house of the Shokhet, Gamerman zl.
When we learned that the wealthy man Aleksandrov got married, and his Zionist wife was from Bobruisk, I was given the mission of giving her 'The Voice of the Reader' in the hopes that we could interest her in our work, and that she would extend some help to us. And so it happened, that once, while she passed by the Heder of Edelstein, on a stroll, I stood with a friend of mine and we conversed in Hebrew. When she heard our conversation, she stopped. We handed her 'The Voice of the Reader.' She invited us to her house, and we succeeded in getting her to sign up to be a supporter and helper of the library.
During the Revolutions and Change of Government
When the revolution broke out, the news was received in our city with feelings of fervor, but also with reserve. Young people waxed enthusiastic in anticipation of this powerful change in life. It was happy in anticipation of the repeal of all of the burdensome constraints placed on Jews. When the first parade was organized to celebrate the day of the revolution, there was a thought among the worshipers in the synagogue, that the Jews need to stand on the sidelines for a while. But the young people did not heed the advice of the dignitaries, and gathered together in the street in order to participate in the march. When the parade passed our house, in which the pharmacy of Barzam was located, the important people and the elders of our city stood there. One of them took a small red banner out of his pocket, and called out a blessing on the revolution in Russian. After that, he hid the small banner again, in his jacket.
The Zionist movement began to get organized. A dramatic club was founded, and the presentations aroused considerable interest amidst the young people and the larger resident populace. The first group of HeHalutz was organized. Young people began to travel to the central cities of Russia in order to obtain an education, and upon their return during vacations, brought back new ideas with them.
When I returned from Kharkov, where I participated in 'Tze'irei Tzion,' I approached the task of establishing a 'Tze'irei Tzion' chapter in Sarny. We invited the teacher, Rogtzowsky, from Dąbrowica, and on the afternoon of a Sabbath, the founding meeting was held, in the home of Zlata Frimer. I was elected as the Chair, and Gedalia Lifschitz zl as Secretary.
In that same period, a municipal committee of the Zionist Histadrut was founded, in which the 'Tze'irei Tzion' and the Histadrut also participated. It led all of the Zionist and cultural work in the city.
The political events in Russia disrupted the tranquility and joy also in our city. The governments kept changing: Germans, Petlura, Bolsheviks and Poles.
During the time of German hegemony, Zionist endeavor continued as normal. I recollect that each and every gathering required its own special permit. The submission of the request was turned over to a Jewish translator, A German officer participated in these gatherings, which were held in the movie hall of Rosenberg.
The first 'Tze'irei Tzion' club was set up in the home of Steinworcel, Two flags, a national and a red, were drawn on the wall of the club. The young people spent the opening night in revelry until midnight. When we returned home, we suddenly heard shots and explosions. It was only in the morning that the nature of the incident became clear.
In our city, there were two trains sitting with soldiers of Petlura, and at the same time, the Germans were still in control of the city. The Petlura forces decided to assault the Germans, and drive them from the city. Early in the morning, we were called by Goldin and Aharon Zandweiss, that worked in the Refugee Relief Committee, in order to help them, since, during the battle, they had been on the train, and were wounded.
A hard period then ensued. The Germans stood ready to leave the city, and the Petlura forces stood ready to seize their place.
Having been tried by fire as a member of the security force of the 'Tze'irei Tzion' in Kharkov, I immediately made the effort to organize an independent self-defense unit in the city. Together with Pinchas Zhuk, we assembled all of the young people on Saturday, in the synagogue of the merchants, and with the participation of the Ukrainian municipal leader, we announced the formation of such a security force. The teacher, Nachman Wiszcina, and Rosenberg, that had served in the army in the past, were appointed as the first of the directors of the security force. We set up its headquarters in the house of Lieberman, and Zhuk and myself were its first officers.
The officers of the Petlura army encountered difficulty with their plundering, which our young folk disrupted. At their demand, a meeting of the citizenry of the city was arranged at the synagogue, and the officers of the Petlura army demanded a decision on the dissolution of the security forces. To our sorrow, the community did not understand the circumstances, and the assemble decided to disband the security forces. I, and my comrade Zhuk felt that we were being subverted, and because of this, we forsook the city of our birth the following day: I to Kharkov, and he to Odessa.
A difficult period ensued for our city: changes in régime, plunder and robbery, and the dead were to be found in the streets of the city every morning.
When, in the end, the Bolsheviks captured the city, I returned to Sarny. The stores were shut down. Young people had been drafted into labor, and the activists to government services. Zionist work ceased. After this, the control of the city was taken in capture by the Poles, and then the arrests began.
Between the Two Wars
It fell to my lot to be among the first who traveled to Warsaw. I connected there with the central offices of 'Tarbut' and 'Tze'irei Tzion.' I arranged for the dispatch of the newspapers 'HaTzefira,' and 'Heint' back to our city, and Zionist and cultural work was resumed on all fronts.
From those days, I remember the celebration in remembrance of San Remo. A huge organized parade was arranged, hat passed through all of the central streets, and even received the blessing of the Polish head of state.
In the evening, the festive gathering went inside to the movie hall of Rosenberg.
In the year 1921, I made aliyah to the Land of Israel. I visited Sarny again in 1927. I found a burgeoning new generation there. The older veterans had vanished, and the young people had taken their place. The desire to make aliyah was strong among the youth, that was oriented to pioneer.
My last visit to Sarny was in 1938. On the Eve of Rosh Hashanah, when all went to the synagogue, I was compelled to leave my city, because of the rumors of impending war, and I feared being cut off from my family in the Land of Israel. On my way to the train, and in parting with tears from my mother, I could still see the Jews heading for the synagogue. I never dreamed that my city would be destroyed, and that all that would remain would be sad memories.
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