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[Page 155]

From the Beginning to the End
[Excerpted from ‘Yalkut Wolhyn’]

by Baruch Raks

A Burgeoning Jewish Settlement

It was the year 1901. In the middle of the thickly–treed forests, young deer pranced about, licking the leaves of the trees, drinking from the waters of the rivers, and lived their lives, until one day, people arrived, and cut down the forest. In the denuded forest, steel rails were laid for a distance of hundreds of kilometers. The whistles of the steam engines frightened off the deer, who wandered off from their places. In this forest, a railroad station was built that was called ‘Sarny’ (‘Deer’ in Russian), that served as an important crossroads between Kiev and Warsaw, and Petersburg, Vilna, and Rovno. From that time on, a settlement began to develop beside the railroad station. And the Jews streamed to it, from all directions, both near and far. The people of Bereznica, Dąbrowica and other nearby towns, were especially drawn to the locale.

Yitzhak Raks (the father of the writer of these pages) built himself a house in the forest of Dzierzynski beside the station. Following him, Yitzhak Glick (the officer in charge of the government forest lands) put up a house. The town was built up rapidly, and took on the appearance of a Jewish settlement. The officials of the railroad line, and the employees, were a recognized part of the local populace. Nevertheless, a majority portion of the residents were Jewish, who made their living from commerce and craftsmanship, especially commerce related to forest products, on whose account, sawmills were erected, and became a partner to those working in the forest proper. The Jewish citizenry, that came from various places, were largely younger people, and quickly adapted to one another, and bonds of friendship were formed among them and equally between themselves and the Christians who worked for the railroad. The town blossomed and burgeoned. From the tens of the families that took up resident in it, at the beginning, the Jewish settlement grew, in the course of 20 years, to reach nearly ten thousand people. During those years, five synagogues were erected, among them the houses of worship of the Hasidim of Stolin, Trisk, Stepan and Berezne. The spirit of Hasidism could be felt in the town. Together with this, it was almost entirely Zionist, and pulsed with a cosmopolitan life.

Until the year 1918, most of the children of the Jews attended traditional or reformed Cheders, in which studies were conducted in Hebrew. As a result of this, [Jewish] Sarny youth knew Hebrew. There were two working libraries in the town: one was in the home of Nehemiah Nissman, and the second – belonged to the youth, organized by Goldberg and Jonah Glick.

After the Russian Revolution, Zionist activity broadened out, several substantial sums of money were gathered for the Keren HaKayemet L'Israel, and afterwards also for the benefit of Keren HaYesod. It was at this time that the Hebrew School, Tarbut, was founded in Sarny, which served as a platform for national education in the town, and a separate building was provided for it. The concern, of the supporters of this school, for its welfare, was substantial. There was not a house in town that was not graced by the presence of the blue/white Keren Kayemetpushkas,’ and the scions of Sarny knew to donate generously to Keren HaYesod and to every Zionist fund–raiser. The activists were also alert to all manner of aid and supplying of food that needed to be rendered in every instance that required the assistance of the community. Among these activists, let these be remembered: Shmuel Zingerman, Simcha Galininsky, the first of the scions of Sarny to make aliyah to the Land of Israel, and also Shmuel Sadah, Anshel Shakhniuk (Shacknai), Gamerman, Goldman, and others.

 

Between The Wars

During The First World War, Sarny served as area of battle, and at the end of the war it was thrown onto harsh circumstances. There were several times when it changed hands among the warring factions (Russian–Bolsheviks, Ukrainians, Poles, and a variety of bandit brigades). The Jews of Sarny suffered especially during the war between the Bolsheviks and the Poles in 1919–1920. In the interim periods between one regime and the next, an independent defense force was organized in the town, under the direction of Jonah Glick and Pinchas Zhuk, who came from Kharkov (the place where they had participated in a self–defense force of Tze'irei Tzion). The men of the self–defense force possessed arms, and oriented themselves to guard the honor of Jewry, and the lives and possessions of Jews in all instances.

When the town passed into the hands of the Poles in the year 1920, a change took place in the character of life. While the plunder and chaos stopped, the laws of the new regime brought adverse change to the community life of the Jews, especially impacting them economically. Because of the proximity to the Russian–Polish border, the town served as a military center for the eastern frontier, and as a result a military base was set down there. The town was declared a provincial seat, and administrative offices of the regime were concentrated there for the entire vicinity. Before the outbreak of The Second World War, an airfield was built beside the town. The regime desired to impart a Polish character to these border towns. Accordingly they were concerned with settling Poles in that location, and gave them assistance (among them being government officials, railroad employees, and ordinary Poles who had been transferred as Polish criminals) to build a separate neighborhood, in that part of the city that was called ‘Poleska,’ erecting well–appointed and beautiful buildings, paving the roads, planting shade trees, etc.

During this period, one could sense a very alert and active community initiative in nationalist endeavor. Male and female activists were added, and the local youth grew, developing ties with the Land of Israel, the Zionist Agudah strengthened, and a Zionist Ladies' Auxiliary was created, and WIZO, a provincial Zionist Committee was formed, and HeHalutz units of young people began to sprout. Sarny could have been thought to be the cradle of the Halutz organization for all of Wolhynia, because its sons were among the first of the Halutzim at the camp in Klesów. HeHalutz HaTza'ir, HaShomer HaTza'ir, Gordonia, and other organizations, were active in the city, all of whom had a focus on the Land of Israel. The emissaries of various funds and parties frequently visited the city.

 

The Holocaust

And then the last World War erupted. The city was captured by the Red Army. After the arrangement between the Russians and Germans was abrogated, the Russians retreated from Sarny after some short defensive battles. The Germans entered the city, and its Jews were thrown into a state of confusion. There were those who, from the outset, sensed what was going to happen, and left the city, following the Red Army. However, the greater majority did not have the means by which they could flee. Very few fled to the forests after which they joined up with partisan brigades.

The Germans displayed the ‘charm’ of their might, in Sarny and its vicinity, immediately upon their arrival. They assaulted the Jews, torturing them in the most cruel manner, up to the days of 14–15 Elul 5702, when The Abrogator fell upon this flowering community.

Let it be remembered, to the end of time, that the Ukrainians of the surrounding villages, and a number of local Poles, assisted the Germans in their extermination initiatives. For the murder of a single Jewish life, the Gestapo rewarded them with a kilogram of salt. The Ukrainians who murdered Jews, went into the forests to search for Jews who were hiding themselves there, and in this way, murdered even the remnants, the smoking embers rescued from the fire.

In a letter from Rokitno, dated January 1945, earth–shattering details were communicated from the Killing Valley in Sarny, that was completely cleansed of its Jews. After the end of the war, about twenty [Jewish] people returned, or could be found there. Afterwards, refugees were added from a variety of places, all broken and oppressed.


[Page 157]

Pogroms

by Moshe Yuz

Sarny, which lies on the crossroads, suffered greatly in the First World War (as it did in the Second World War). The city passed from hand-to-hand many times, and battles in the vicinity never ceased. There were a considerable number of military forces to be found in Sarny, their relationship towards the Jews was one of antipathy. Because of this, the Jews of Sarny sought refuge wherever they could during the times of conflict. The city remained vacant without any civilian population, and many houses were destroyed, including the 'Rail Depot' which had a special economic importance to the city.

A frightening initiative of pogroms broke out at the beginning of 1919, instigated by the Haidamaks. They broke into the city, and ran rampant. The contempt of the Jews incited the feral instincts and an appetite for plunder by the local Christian population. The situation was such, that if a Christian was not happy with a certain Jew, he would attempt to try and find him with the help of these killers in order to murder him.

The first such victim to fall was Michael Schwartztukh, whom the Haidamaks roused out of a sleep, took out into the street, and killed for no reason. The second victim who fell during those dark days, was the Kozioner Rabbiner (the administrative' Rabbi appointed by the government) of the community of Hancevicy, who happened to be travelling through Sarny. He too, was taken out of his house in the middle of the night, and shot to death.

But this was merely the beginning of the future plundering and murder to come. One pogrom would end, and another would begin. The Jews of Sarny hid in cellars, stalls and attics, and whoever was lucky in this was able to hold onto his life. Jews who were passing through in transit and who were attacked on the roads by murdering bands also suffered greatly. For this reason many unknown martyrs were brought to their final rest in the Sarny cemetery.

Immediately after the entry of Petlura's bands, there were the additional victims of Petlura: Muszer and Fishman, both teachers from Dąbrowica. So again the Sarny Jews locked their doors and barricaded their windows with boards so that no one should think that people actually lived there. No lights were lit in the evening, and there was great fear to utter even a single word. People slept fully dressed because at any instant one expected the appearance of the plunderers.

This situation lasted for five weeks. When the bandits had sated themselves somewhat on Jewish blood, things calmed a bit, and it was possible, by order of the murderous ruler, to give the murdered a proper Jewish burial.

As a result of the plundering, order dissolved, and there was want and large-scale epidemics, with people literally dropping in the streets. Entire families died. The healthier Jews, unable to stand the suffering and hunger of the tiny children, risked their own lives and set out into the surrounding area to look for bread. Many of them did not return, having been murdered along the way by local robbers and plunderers.

Levi Bernstein, a father of six children, in the village of Nemovychi had his head split open by an axe. Yekhezkiel Wax, a father of seven children, killed by an axe. Israel Wax, stabbed while in transit, 6 km from Sarny. Shmuel Kagan, a father of seven children, had his lungs beaten. On coming home, he lay sick for a number of days, lost his ability to speak, and died. These are only a very few of the victims.

It was the death by spotted typhus of the prominent balebatim of the city that made a particularly deep impression on the residents of the city: The first who died was the Ritual Slaughterer, R' Ziskind Gamerman k”z; his brother Shlomo with his wife; the Hazzan of the City R' Yehoshua Pickman k”z; the Principal of the Talmud Torah R' Ben-Zion Wax k”z; the prominent community activist R' Eliyahu Simcha Gliensky; the Stolin Hasid and devoted leader of prayer, R' Moshe Yoss'l Kottelczuk k”z; R' Mordechai Zandweiss k”z, a prominent community activist. Also at great loss, the city sustained the death of Rabbis: the Rabbi of Berezne, Rabbi Joseph Peczenik k”z, and the Rabbi of the town, Rabbi R' Matityahu Kavenczuk, a great Torah scholar. Those who paid their last respects to these fallen victims were assaulted by murderers, and were forced to flee the funeral procession.

This situation persisted in Sarny for nine months, until Petlura's regime retreated in the face of the Bolshevik army. The Sarny Jews immediately felt the impact of the Bolshevik forces. They took away everything down to a person's last shirt, and because of this, everyone breathed a bit easier. It was possible to walk freely in the street, and obtain either 'makukha' or 'zhaludehs' to eat. Forced labor was initiated for the 'front.'

The Bolshevik forces didn't last very long, and the Polish military entered Sarny. Before this, however, there was a very heavy exchange of fire, all over the city, and as a result, yet again, many more houses were destroyed and there were additional Jewish casualties.


[Page 158]

During the Days of Petlura and the Haidamaks

by Moshe Borko

In 1918, at the time the Bolsheviks gained the upper hand against Petlura's soldiers, and established their rule one city after another, in the Ukraine the news reached Sarny that the ‘Reds’ had captured Kiev. Newspapers got to Sarny, in those days, infrequently, and the news concerning the state of the arrangement between the Bolsheviks and Petlura were sparse and intermittent. According to this news, the Ukrainian army retreated from Kiev in the direction of Zhitomir and Korosten, and it was there that they began to display strong resistance.

Since 1915, Sarny existed in an intense state of tension because the German front was not far from it – in Manewicz, was beset by a nervousness that grew from day–to–day. Everyone hoped that the retreat from Kiev to Sarny – a distance of some 400 km – will take a long time. However, only a few days went by, and on one of the nights, from Thursday to Friday, the loud noise of arriving trains was heard. By very early on Friday morning, the town was flooded with brigades of Ukrainians, who fell upon the Jewish populace. They plundered everything that came to their hand, and wrecked everything that they could.

The pandemonium grew even greater on the following day, on Saturday, especially on Saturday night, into Sunday morning, when the Ukrainian soldiers broke down doors and shattered windows, as they penetrated into the Jewish houses, plundering, beating, wrecking, and even shooting. Representatives of the Jewish community that attempted to reach the authorities and officials of the Ukrainians, who were in the railroad station, were beaten on their way, and were driven away by the rampaging Haidamaks (cossack paramilitary bands)

I was then serving as the secretary for the ‘Peace’ Court in Sarny, and in this capacity, it was appropriate for me to wear regalia. A little after lunch on Sunday, I put on my official hat, and I took along the ‘Peace’ Judge Kryzhytsky, who also served in the capacity of elected Chair of the ruling municipal council in Sarny as well as the appointed person to implement juridical decisions of the court. Krynytsky (whom I happened to meet at the location of Judge Kryzhytsky), and the three of us, dressed in the regalia of our respective offices, walked towards the railroad station, with the objective of looking for someone with ruling authority and to seek from that individual, a consideration on behalf of the populace. Along the way, different groups of Haidamaks attempted to stop us, and a number of them even waved the nagaikas, that they carried in their hands, at us. Only after a considerable amount of effort, were we able to reach the station.

All the train tracks were chock–full of military transports. The entire railroad station hummed with the Ukrainian military, and it was very hard to push through them. We turned to the soldiers and the many officers, and we asked them to bring us to the person in charge of the city, but every one of them jeered us, or just simply turned their back on us. In the end, one office took pity on us, and took us to the track the left side of the ???, in the place where a row of switching cars and salon cars stood, surrounded by a watch of guards. He took us into one of the cars, and placed us in front of a black–haired man, of mature years, dressed in a military uniform, but without epaulettes.

After all the time we had asked to be brought to the head of the city, we were certain that we were standing in front of the right man, and we requested protection from him, for the local populace. This military man heard us out while standing, and after we had finished presenting our case, he replied that Ukrainian soldiers do not wantonly assault peaceful citizens. After added explanations and additional requests on our part, in the end, he ordered his staff person to send a reconnoitring guard into the city streets.

With this, the meeting stood at a close. At the last minute, I got the idea, when I considered the many difficulties in our attempt to reach him, to ask of him, if we could obtain passes to get through his lines, if we have a need to see him a second time. The staff person made a note of our names, went out, and returned in a few minutes, with three pieces of paper in his hand, which the black–haired man signed, and placed in the hands of each of us, as the pass permitting us access to him. Suddenly, Judge Kryzhynsky gestured to me, and pointed to the signature. I read: ‘Minister of War’ I turned with surprise to the black–haired man, who allowed that he is substituting for the ‘Minister of War,’ Zhukovsky. I held my breath, and turned to him once again and asked if we now had the great privilege of being able to speak with the ‘War Commander’ himself, since we would like to obtain his promise that he will extend his aegis of protection to the Sarny populace in the form of ??? peace, and protect their lives, possessions, etc.

It was only then that a smile fleetingly crossed his otherwise stern face. He invited us to sit, and opened an extended conversation with us, which in summary was that even though the Ukrainian forces were compelled to retreat from this part of the Ukraine and Kiev, temporarily, because of strategic considerations, that they will quickly return. They will beat the Bolsheviks, and capture Kiev, etc. In the end, he bent to our request, and ordered the ruler to strengthen the guard in the city, and to watch over the order within.

When we exited the train car, it was evening already. Judge Kryzhynsky went his way, together with Mr. Krynytsky, who lived on the Poleskia side of the city. I, myself, managed to get home with my life intact, because all along the way one could hear the shooting and wild shouting of the rampaging Haidamaks, and the screams for help from their victims.

When, despite all of the promises of the previously mentioned Minister, the assaults on people continued for the entire night, into the light of Monday, and a few people were also killed, I turned yet again, on Monday, in the hours before noon, together with Judge Kryzhynsky, to Zhukovsky. The traveling passes helped us, and we were able to get to him with less difficulty that the previous time. When we told him that the assaults, and the instances of plunder and murder continued, his face darkened. He left our presence, and left us with his staff officer. He returned about 15 minutes later, and took us to a different train car. There, he brought us into the presence of a tall citizen, who was in a state of severe anger, who responded to our greeting perfunctorily, and without asking us to be seated, asked us angrily, what was our request. We repeated our tale of the assaults and we begged him for protection of life and property. To this, the gentleman replied with the usual familiar refrain, that all of these deeds are nothing more than provocations on the part of the local Bolsheviks, and strangers to the area, who were prepared to sully the reputation of the innocent Ukrainian military, etc. In the end, in order to discharge an obligation, he roared at Zhukovsky: “Send the Sichovkii!” – and he disappeared.

Immediately after him, Zhukovsky also disappeared, and that is how that meeting ended.

The thoughtful impression with which we left this meeting, did not permit us to clarify before whom it was that we had the privilege to appear. We understood that this was a most important ‘big fish.’ The meeting staggered Judge Kryzhynsky, and he told me, after the fact, that this was the leader of the country, in his glorious self.

Already in that same Monday, beefed up cohorts of Sich Rifle Guards were seen in the city, who had insignias on their hats, whose reputation went before them as the most renowned and reliable of the Ukrainian soldiers. Even after all of these interactions, the incidents of plunder and assault did not cease entirely, but even so, Sarny was spared the full extent of the pogroms, and the fate of many cities and towns that were to be found along the path of the retreat of the Ukrainian brigades under the command of the Ataman Kusz, of despicable reputation, and other murderers like him.

Order in the city and its vicinity, and security in the lives of the Jewish populace, were restored only by the German army, who entered the Ukraine immediately afterwards with the Hetman Skoropodsky. The Jews received the German army as if it were a liberating angel. Who, at that time, could even conceive, that these very same Germans, in less than 25 years, will turn into the Angels of Death for the Sarny Jews, and of six million other Jews, that were exterminated with extreme cruelty, that far exceeded the terror of the Petluras, the Chmielnickis, and all the other Ukrainian murderers, ימ"ש.


[Page 161]

With the Changes in Regime

by Ari Moor (Moorik)

 

The First World War

Sarny – at the boundaries of the Czarist Russian Empire. The Russian army is retreating. The front is moving in a south–easterly direction. Through the railroad station (the intersection of the rails) trains are running in two direction: soldiers to the front, and the wounded – away from it. Heavy clouds hover over the city.

The draft into the army is proceeding at full force, and is all inclusive. Jews are looking for ways to avoid the draft, and a war that is alien to them. For what, and to what purpose, and on behalf of whom, are they being forced to fight and possibly be killed?

Among the many ways to avoid the draft, was to walk into the capture of the Germans. Jews, eligible to be drafted, streamed into the Jewish towns that were close to the front, and found refuge and camouflage in the attics under roofs, and other hiding places that could be found in Jewish homes, and anticipated the capture of the town by the German military forces, or the Austro–Hungarians.

By contrast to those that came to it, the residents of the town planned to flee from the front to the rear. All of the residents? – No. Was there a weighing of alternatives that brought them to the conclusion to flee, or remain in place? – No. The decision that was made, depended on the inner resourcefulness to overcome the fear of the unexpected, and fear of the unknown, the fear of a death that lurked behind the back of every individual, from the explosives, and the retreating Cossacks, and those thirsty for Jewish blood.

The poorest of the people did not see any possibility of fleeing, because it could not secure for itself the required transport for this (a wagon and horses), as understood – not easily at hand. Because of this, it placed its faith in a higher oversight, and threw itself under God's mercy, who ‘spreads his wings over his people Israel.’

People of means began to prepare for their flight. Even in our house, the pressure was felt, and we immediately sold off the cow, and in her place, in the stall, we placed a large wagon and a pair of horses that was loaded with the necessities of life: bedding, winter clothing, and a wide variety of edible things required for sustenance.

During the day, the horses were left free and rested, but at night, they stood at the ready, prepared to be harnessed for travel.

Also, the interior of the house underwent a change in the order of living. Towards night, we would only take off our shoes, take off our jackets, and sleep half–dressed and remained alert to any sign that would be given to move. Our mother sewed in a small amount of money into our shirts, while warning us not to reveal our secret to anyone.

All of this was well–received by us the children. An aura of abandonment was emitted from it: we are traveling into the unknown. Standing in place, and it was difficult to leave our home, the yard, the garden, and our friends, and the streets of the town. Sleeping like soldiers at the ready, and the floor took the place of the bed as – ‘preferred’ against the shrapnel of the explosives, that had previously miss our city, but we were sure they would reach us.

 

The Second World War

Sarny, near the Polish border, and not far from the Soviet border.

The Polish regime based its survival for close to twenty years on two mistakes: it fortified its borders with the Soviets, and practically eliminated entirely such fortifications on its border with Germany. It was from here that the second mistake arose: Seeing that most Jews were suspected, in its view, of being favorably disposed to the Soviets, it went to great lengths to assure that no meaningful number of Jews would be admitted to the military, trained in the arts of war, because the assumption was that were a war to break out, that such a war would be with the Soviets.

When to day of reckoning arrives, the Jewish soldiers in the Polish army went to fight the Nazis, and give up their lives for the image of man, and the honor of the abused Jewish nation.

After a number of years, the Polish–Jewish poet, Julian Tuwim wrote in his essay, about the participation of the Jews in the liberation of Poland from the Nazi invaders with words of the following nature:

‘Jojne, idz na wojne’ – I poszedl Joijne I zginal za Polske The poet cited the mocking anti–Semitic saying:

‘Jonah, go to war,’ and answered: Jonah went to war, and fell for Poland.

 

The Soviet Occupation

Seventeen days after the outbreak of the war, the country of Poland ceased to exist. It was divided up between Germany and the Soviet Union. Sarny ended up in the Soviet Union, as a part of the Western Ukraine.

New circumstances prevailed.

Forced rationalization commenced. The fear of the retribution of the pitiless N. K. V. D., whose reputation had reached us from the other side of the border, going back to the days of the famous ‘purifications,’ shut down all manner of thought and speech. The notion that ‘a human can do what an animal cannot’ became redundant. Everything was handed sown to us from above, already processes. ‘Sf` eqr jrn g` reb dól`er’ (there already exists someone who will think on your behalf) – this sobriquet passed from mouth to mouth. It became transformed into the core value for the way of life. And their approach was to educate us ‘the mantle–wearers of the petit–bourgeoisie’ from the ground up. In their language, it was called ‘Oepebnohr`mhe’ (Education anew).

Community life changed its skin, and changed their appearance.

Every individual began to fear his own shadow, much less the appearance of his neighbor. Every person saw in his friend, or his confidant of yesterday, a spy for the regime.

Even though those who were called in the middle of the night to the physical and psychological torture chambers of the N. K. V. D. did not reveal, even to the members of their own families, the reason they were summoned there, nevertheless, the news of the matter spread, and reached our ears. A complete picture of the new police was pieced together, the intent to create a disruption of the basis for local trust, that had been in existence in the group up to the time of the conquest.

Their goal was achieved: in the span of a short time, community life in Sarny was destroyed.

All of us knew that this was just the beginning, and that the real changes would come after they had established themselves, and only after the outcome of the war would become clear, it was nevertheless clear to us, that all those who had any part in the Zionist movement, and a stake in Hebrew culture, their ultimate fate was to be banished to the hinterlands of Siberia. Temporarily, they remain in their place, because the appropriate time had not yet arrived, to have them sent away. Until that ‘great hour’ will have arrived to ‘renew the face of the community’ the authorities satisfy themselves with the occasional expulsion of Jews, driven off to Siberia.

 

Germany Attacks the Soviet Union

And suddenly, a sharp turn takes place in the conduct of the war. German turns its jaws on the Soviet side. A general retreat of the Soviet communications began, on all fronts.

The atmosphere on the Jewish street becomes appallingly unstable. We find ourselves between the hammer and the anvil, between the destruction of Judaism by the Soviets, and the destruction of the Jews by the Nazis.

The fear of the Soviet police inhibits the Jews from following after them, to the rear. This was the case, in spite of the fact that the news reaching us, from the areas captured by the Germans, during the period we were under Soviet rule, were terrifying. Many Jews preferred however, to endure the psychological oppression from the Soviet police, rather than the complete human degradation of Jewish human being, by the Germans, and were prepared, by the thousands, to follow the retreating Soviets. However, the Soviet authorities denied the residents the possibility to flee en masse. They concocted news about their control of the situation at the front, and also denied allocating passes for exit from the city. It was in this way, they wanted to prevent a panic during the time of their own withdrawal. They did not attach any value to what they were leaving behind, or to where they were fleeing, it was pure instinct that drove them, and gave direction to their footsteps.

‘The common people’ were uprooted from their place, and began to stream in an easterly direction – my late brother Avigdor k”z argued – and it is necessary to move after them, because I trust their natural instinct…

And my mother k”z argued: ‘In the meantime, let us keep still, God is everywhere.’ And it was with this faith that she trod, after a while, to the extermination camp.


[Page 163]

Between One War and the Next
(Excerpt from Yalkut Wolhyn)

by Aryeh Attstein

 

Rioting and Pogroms

I will not recollect the predations that passed over Sarny during the days of The First World War (and they were not trivial), largely because of the tales known to our generation regarding the hordes of Circassians, Petlura soldiers, Bolsheviks (Russians), Poles, and unspecified riff–raff, who passed through Sarny, and even stayed to reside in it, plotting to inflict mayhem on its Jews. It was the Poles who surpassed them all, the army of General Haller (my grandfather R' Zadok Zandweiss k”z was tortured cruelly by them, and died a martyr's death s”hv). My mother k”z would tell us that during those days of pandemonium, she would place her vulnerable young children within an inner room, while she would place herself at the entrance to the house, and when the thugs attempted to enter inside, she bitterly fought them off, and prevented their entry. Did any of her strength remain, with which she could do battle with the German invaders during the days of the Holocaust of Elul 5702? Did she then also attempt to protect her home and children?

 

Administrative and Economic Distress

In the period of approximately twenty years, between the two world wars (1920–1939) Sarny took on a different appearance. It grew and developed, from a town during the days of the Russians – to a provincial seat under the Poles. Polish and Jewish residents were added, institutions and community initiatives were created. And it was in the curse of its destiny that it was included within the area under Polish rule to be a literary city, it benefitted from several administrative and economic arrangements, despite the fact that its proximity to the border created no small amount of difficulty for the Jews. It was the desire of the regime to enlarge as much as possible, the Polish influence in the place, and this desire had an unfavorable impact on the economic activities of the Jews.

As is known, from the time it was founded, the town was inhabited by Jews, and the non–Jews had a separate quarter. Commerce flowered in the central streets. Jewish merchants, from the outside, would come to transact their business in the city and its offices, and the pulse of life within it was strong. However, within this substantial activity, it was possible to sense, in a very prominent fashion, the pressure by the Poles against the Jews, in a number of walks of life, and positions taken by them, into their hands, for some time already. Worry about the future grew, and became sharper from year–to–year. In addition to this, the hand of the regime lay heavy on the Jews, in the heavy taxes that they levied, and the difficult means of collection. On top of this was added the usual Jew–hatred – and the picture is clear.

 

Hasidim and AdMo”Rs

Most of the original settlers in Sarny were scions of Hasidism, and in the course of the years, the city gave off an aura of Hasidism. During this period, a part of the Jews of the place counted themselves affiliated with the Hasidim of Stolin, Karlin, Trisk and others. At the root, these Hasidim were Zionists, and even good Zionists, who were active. They donated generously to the various funds, and took part in every national and community initiative, educating their sons in the Hebrew School, and sending them to training camps, and from there – to the Land of Israel. Not few of them made this aliyah with their families, and were taken with the Moledet. The moods melded well: Hasidim – Zionists, activists, and committed to being Halutzim. There were many of these among the scions of Sarny, and whose heart does not ache at the realization that not all of them were able to actualize the dream of a ‘Return to Zion,’ and fell victim to a bitter fate at being the prey to an avid enemy, the king of beasts.

The AdMo”Rs had a many fold influence in Sarny, each having their own ‘shtibl.’ Here is the Stolin shtibl. What warmth and spiritual elevation pervaded the interior of its walls! How faithful were those who prayed there, and how powerful their passionate Hasidic melodies were!

Its Tisches, around which so many gathered after worship, with the elderly Melamed R' Alter–Peretz, that coursed through the sea of casuistry and words of Torah, was embraced by the entire congregation – and do they not stand alive before my eyes!

And how can one forget the Hakafot during Simchat Torah, that went on at the Stolin shtibl until well after midnight, the vigorous dancing and singing during the Hakafot, and afterwards. And the repasts of ‘Kiddush’ that were set out during the days of festival and celebration, when one would walk from one to the other in song and ???, and the special feasts for the worshipers and the poor of the city, that were organized with a generous hand, amidst song and dance. And during the visit of the ‘Rebbe’ R' Israel'keh Perlov, and after him, his sons – R' Moshe'leh from Stolin, and R' Melech'keh from Karlin – how effusive was the character and the passion in the shtibl! People literally went out of their minds! These Hasidim not only knew how to make merry, but also to carry out the act of fraternity, concern for the general public, and to observe the commandments, even under the conditions of our generation. Their faith in those aspects of an unchanging order, strengthened them under all circumstances, and to be able to bear the burden of the Diaspora, and to yearn for good days in the future.

 

Community Institutions

As I bring up the memory of Sarny, in its last decades, I am obliged to recollect the community institutions, the charity and culture that existed in the city. The first in this category was the ‘Tarbut’ School that put the stamp of its signet ring on the entire life of the youth. Jews, from ‘all walks of life’ for whom earning a living was as difficult as parting the Red Sea – passed up the alien education that was given to them at no cost, on demand, and enrolled their children in this school, at the cost of paying tuition. Outstanding institutions existed in the form of the ORT Trade School, that turned out competent craftsmen; the Orphanage, to which the women of the city dedicated themselves with a motherly concern; the organization of TOZ and ‘Linat HaTzedek,’ the Yeshiva, Talmud Torah, and the reading hall, all of this because of – the Jewish community.

The organizations of the young people were alert and vibrant, for which to their credit, it can be said that there was not much difference between them. The opened a municipal reading room, in which they would organize discussions, presentations and interchanges every Saturday night. On Lag B'Omerh all of them would gather together, and under their banners, would go out to march in the city streets to the sounds of orchestral music. The directors, B. Frimer and Shlomo Gunik dedicated their time and effort to the education of the young. It was the first of these that was especially dear, who was the ‘favored child’ of the city, being enlightened, fluent in the law, and emanated his literary expertise. His public oratory would sway the hearts of all his listeners.

In the year 1920, a Conclave of the Committee of activists of the Keren HaKayemet L'Israel took place in Sarny, and from that time on, the revenues of the KK”L continued to grow in the city.

 

Rabbis & Teachers

And may the Rabbis of that period also be remembered for a blessing, the Torah scholars Kunda and Hechtman, who were so well–received by the community because of their endeavors on behalf of the community and especially the poor (Maot Khittim for Passover, and other things), and similarly the Ritual Slaughterers and Inspectors R' Pesach–Ely'eh Katz and R' Shlomo Gamerman, whose homes were open to anyone in need, concerned themselves with provisioning brides for their wedding, and engaged in charity.

It is difficult to forget the popular teachers: Njavozhny, Furman and Schneider, where all the young boys of the city learned. Their ‘Heders’ served as a sort of entry foyer and forecourt – to the Tarbut Hebrew School, which was the instrument that planted the love for the culture of Israel in the hearts of those it educated, and a love for the people Israel, and the Land of Israel. Similarly, let the educators, among them being Mr. Dichter, who dedicated all of his energy to the Keren Kayemet L'Israel, and to the care and development of the young people. During the international sport day in the city, the students of the school appeared, and were privileged to earn recognition for excellence from the ruler. This educator would organize Hanukkah celebrations based on the purity of Hebrew. Among the activists was also the principal of the school, Mr. Rabinowicz, who rooted a love for their people into the hearts of those he educated, and the teacher Tuvia Levin (Ta”l), and the poet, Ch. N. Bialik, who in passing through Sarny (1930) found an opportunity to present his considerable poetic talents.

 

Activists and Men of the People

Who will count all of the thousands of dear Jews who walked about the city? It is especially important to elevate the memory of Mr. Ruder, who after losing his assets, and engaged in the distribution of the national Polish lottery, had all of his pride invested in the letters of his daughter in Ein Harod, and took great pleasure from her use of Hebrew. Or, another case, of a Jewish man whose name was R' Pinia Zandweiss, who stood at the head of ‘Matan B'Seyter,’ in order to provide bread to the hungry throughout the year, and firewood to those suffering from the winter's cold.

Let the following activists also be remembered for the good: Mr. Gerszunok, a man of many activities, a committed Zionist, who was the head of the community; and with him, Mr. Tartakowsky, the Chair of the Zionist Histadrut, who gave over entire days to the KK”L; Mr. Shlomo Zandweiss – the Chair of the Tarbut branch, and secretary of the community; and the following community activists: Dr. Glick, Wisznica, Ostroesky, Dr. Steinberg, the ORT activists, and others, who carried the yoke of the Zionist initiative in the city.

 

Halutzim, Kibbutzim and Aliyah

From Sarny, the more internationally minded youth was drawn to nearby Klesów which served as a center for training for Halutzim. Klesów indeed put its mark on Zionist Sarny. Even in Sarny proper, training units existed for a period of time, and there were to be found Jews in the city, whose hearts ached to see the men and women pioneers at work at ‘hard manual labor’ and tried to assist them. Accordingly, the best of the sons of Sarny made aliyah by legal and illegal means, after they passed through the course of training, and considerable tribulation.

We also recall the celebrations surrounding aliyah of the Halutzim in Sarny, that were arranged, and carried out with great fervor, and with great spiritual uplifting; the Zionist gatherings that were transformed into a powerful demonstration on behalf of the Land of Israel; the visits of the indoctrinators, speakers, readers and actors, who would frequently stop off at the city, and were privileged with much success, because the Jews of Sarny were alert to everything and all activity.

In praise of the Jews of Sarny, let it be said that they knew how to protect Jewish honor, and here is an example: during the days of the ferment of Polish anti–Semitism, the Christian owner of the movie theater got the idea to run the film, ‘Golgotha.’ The Jews saw in this an offense to their honor, and stopped patronizing the theater in protest. When the owner sensed that this posture was causing him [financial] damage – he turned to the Jewish community, and asked their forgiveness, and even made a handsome donation to the charitable institutions of the city, and it was only at that point that the community responded and pardoned the owner of the movie theater.

And this was the way life coursed on in the city, until the Jews of the Sarny felt the earth burning under their feet, and that peril was closing in on them. These were the days of pogroms against the Jews of Przytyk, and Minsk–Mazowiecki, and the tiresome discussions about the ‘Slaughter of the Jews’ in the Polish Sejm. The Jews groaned under the yoke of the taxes levied on them, and stores, bearing the signs, ‘Christian Store’ sprouted and multiplied overnight. Jew Youth, that had grown up after the war, and was beside the table of an impoverished father, saw the decline in the means of making a living experienced by their parents, and the dissipation of any future for them in the city. It was then that a change took place in the thinking among the ranks of the young people, that began to stream to the trade schools, to learn those subjects that would enable them to master a craft, and make Aliyah to The Land. The news of the possible barriers to make Aliyah to The Land, aroused a storm in the city, and almost all of the young people registered for Aliyah. But that opportunity was snatched from them, and the Holocaust arrived sooner.

The Second World War broke out.…


[Page 166]

An Emissary to Wolhyn in 1930

by Ber'l Lukar

 

Sar169.jpg
Chaim Jezre'eli (Israelit)

 

Huge swamps and thick forests served as a barrier between the province of Wolhyn and the Grodno province (where I was born), but we speculated about the imaginings of school children in the myriad of tales of calamity, and transformed the province of their past into a land of legend, the land of the villa, where real gold and precious stones were to be found, and whose people – were people of good deeds, descendants of the giants of days gone by.

For us, the scions of Antoboli, the town at the periphery, rich in Torah [scholarship] and poor in material means, a village surrounded by the poorest of soil, whose folk eked out their slice of bread to eat from ??? after two weeks of scrimping, and a soup of tasteless grits – from one Friday to the next – Vilna represented a destination of plenty. For indeed, its land was fertile, and the grain grew as tall as a man, and even the poorest among the poor, that lived there, was able to eat to satisfaction from a slice of bread made from the flour of wheat (a white roll) during every day of the week.

Before America became known to us, Wolhyn was the bedrock for everything that we lacked for the sustenance of life – but only for a period of time, until ??? and whoever ??? would return home to the ‘place of origin’ with a packet of money in the pocket, and wondrous tales on the lips, and would assume the nickname of ‘Someone from Vilna’ or a ‘Vilnitz,’ which in the fullness of time was absorbed into their blood, and was transformed into a permanent family name, that was recorded in the official records, and followed them wherever life took them – to this day.

*

My visit to Wolhyn became a fact after The First World War, after the borders were mixed up, and the districts were amalgamated, and a part of which became recognized as part of the nation of Poland that had just been resurrected. After several years of hard work had passed in the land of my ancestry, I came to Poland to visit relatives, and with me ??? the land, inhaling the land, and the erect posture of its sons and builders…

My visit to Wolhyn was arranged by ‘HeHalutz’ in Warsaw. Rivne was designated as the metropolis where all the lines converged, from which lines emanated out to all the places in the area.

The trip had been set for the month of December, at the peak of the intensity of winter. In that year, a particularly hard winter had settled across Poland, that did not promise any favors to a man from Be'er Tuvia, who in this month, would already be engaged in plowing and sowing of wheat.

My first visit was to Lyubomil (Lybuvno). How my heart leapt with joy, upon disembarking from the train car, and coming towards me were groups of the local youth, who had come out to greet me with a winter carriage (sanucka), which I loved a great deal in my younger years, and had not seen in about twenty years. I was immediately engulfed by the blinding whiteness. I shut my eyes tightly, in the face of too much light, lightning, the buzz of activity and the ardor…

I was warmly received in the city. I enabled a gathering of the young people, until we simply ran out of space, and I told them of our life in The Land, and about my life, I – among those actually living the story– I described the good fortune of ‘eating by the sweat of one's brow’ and the sweetness of the ‘year of the laborer.’ However, I attempted not to gloss over and did not withhold from them the nature of the difficulties in our life.

And then we travelled from Lyubomil to Kovel, in which I found a Hebrew Gymnasium under the direction of a Doctor from Galicia (this land had assumed the role of providing teachers, principals, graduates with diplomas, and national leaders to Poland, that had been separated from Russian rule…). There I found a headquarters of Zionist youth, impressively organized, and it was there that I first ran into a daily small–town newspaper, whose number of pages in a week did not reach three. In a single glance, I was able to assess the totality of the situation: the organization, leadership and officials. Up to and including the agent for planning events– all were embodied in a single individual.

And then from Kovel to Rivne, a city designated as a ‘Mother’ in Israel, and all of Wolhyn. There, I set up my lodging for a month's time. There too, I found a large ‘Tarbut’ Hebrew Gymnasium, whose teachers stood at the center of cultural undertakings in the city, Hebrew schools, budding Zionist activities, different types of ‘daily’ newspapers, and one weekly.

And then we travelled from Rivne to Radziwilow, and from Radziwilow – to Zdolwonowo. On the train I found the ???: Two Jews with mustaches, broad–shouldered and physically hale, dressed in short overcoats, and shod in high boots, the type who were ??? in the land, speaking in a fluent Hebrew with one another. When I drew near to them, and entered the conversation, it became clear that they were from the same town as Yitzhak Lamdan [1] the poet, and one of them was a cousin to Lamdan – blessed be He who reveals that which is hidden…

The name, Zdolwonowo is etched into my memory from the days of my childhood. It was this place that supplied the wheat flour for the baking of Challahs for the Sabbath and Festival Holidays. I stayed there for a number of days for the purpose of renewing my visa with the Starosta, a matter that always involved payoffs and other encumbrances…

And from Zdolwonowo to Dubno, the city of the well–known Maggid, and the Holy SHL”H [2].

The evening, of the night of the Sabbath in Dubno, was dedicated to the confessions of one youth, who came to me to obtain advice, and to pour out into my bosom, the yearnings of his heart for The Land. In time, I ran into him in The Land, wedded to the earth in the land of his forefathers, standing on his two feet, firmly placed, and seeing his world in his life.

The encounter and lecture in Dubno engendered the customary party–banquet, that was arranged lavishly, and it was there that I got the opportunity to become acquainted with spirit of hops (a plant grown for the making of alcoholic drink, that this area engaged in growing, which brought wealth to those who engaged in it) – in all its grandiose and bourgeois splendor. All those who sought Zion, were to be found beside a book.

From Dubno to Rozysce. Reception, meeting, discussion, Q & A, and information – all as usual.

Yet, I returned to my place of lodging, I took off my clothes and got into bed, to grab a bit of sleep for my eyes, when the anger of the upstart youth leapt on me, banging on my door, taking me out, and conveying me to the meeting hall. And there, with hand on shoulder in tandem, given over to lusty song: ‘God will rebuild the Galilee, We will rebuild the Galilee,’ ‘We’ and ‘We ’ until the coming of dawn… and as I put these lines to paper, the depressing thought gnaws away at my mind: how many of these young people were privileged to be among those builders?

And we travel from Rozysce to Kostopil. This was on a Friday. The morrow proved to be a cold and deeply freezing day. I could not compel my will and turn my eyes to confront this kind of weather, whose like I had not seem in many years. And I was immediately punished – the local doctor confined me to bed for several days.

I also remember the feast of potato latkes on Hanukkah that had been arranged in my honor, together with a great to–do. These were real potato pancakes, an item that, in those days in The Land, was quite expensive, and not because it was strange to The Land, where seven oranges do not buy a single potato…

In this Kostopil I was witness by hearing a tale, about an incident that uncovered the plight of the Jews in this ‘free’ country. As was known, the railroad stations, of the area, were meeting places for merchants, especially grain merchants, and all other produce connected with agriculture. At the crossing of the rail lines, buyers and sellers of the same faith would meet, grab a bit of conversation, get information, give and take and connect for business purposes. The rail station in Kostopil' also, that was near the town, would hum with the throngs of fellow co–religionists when the trains came through. On one occasion, the station master was inclined to play a bad joke: with the arrival of a train, he shepherded all of the Jews into the station hall, and locked the door on them, until the train departed… this incident provoked a great deal of anger, and the issue was submitted to the Polish Sejm. Because I had become accustomed to a degree of freedom in The Land already, a freedom that had conquered us by taking us under the arm, this incident pained me to the point of crushing me.

During that same time, a convention was arranged in Rivne for journalists of the Wolhyn region. As a guest from The Land, and a comrade ‘of the pen, ’ I was invited to the convention to communicate my words. I opened with the incident at the Kostopil' railroad station, that had seized my entire existence, and was an outstanding source material for a newspaper article. I had no sooner opened my mouth, when they passed me a note: ‘If it is not your desire to have the convention closed down before it actually opens – change your subject, ’ and, indeed, I changed it…

From Kostopil' to Klésow. I arrived at the place as evening was falling, and I was received by comrades, and the heads of the training camp for Halutzim, who brought me to their homes. The members had already returned from their work, and preparations were underway for the evening meal. I was immediately captivated by an aura of hominess and a pleasant sense of camaraderie, a feeling that I knew from my visits to the collective factories in The Land. During the meal, a conversation ensued. Understandably, I began to speak in Hebrew. The person sitting to my right whispered: ‘You are not being understood!’ So I switched from Hebrew to Yiddish. It then became clear, that most of these comrades undergoing training were from ‘Poalei Tzion,’ from various regions of the country, who were loyal guardians of mameloshn, and were experiencing difficulty in accepting the dominance of Hebrew.

I spent two days with the youth in an atmosphere of good fellowship. We created an intimate bond between us, with many turning to me, using my common name, ‘Moshe,’ and adopting the familiar form of ‘thou’ in Yiddish, showering me with one form of affection and recognition, after another.

I had a mishap there, that amused the group, and was the subject of conversation for the day, and this is what happened: On the morning after my arrival, I asked them to attach me to a group that was going out to work. So they attached me to a group going to the sawmill (the work in the quarry was suspended during the most intense of the winter months). A great deal of hauling was don there: loading, unloading, bringing stock to the machine, and taking away the cut boards, I was stationed at the place where I had to load the boards into sacks, and how my shame grew, when after a half–hour of my work, more or less, my hands froze, and my fingers congealed into sticks of ice – and this Sabra did not pass the test of the climate in this land.

Klésow and Sarny were a sort of foyer and entry corridor. This railhead town was located on the intersection of the roads that rose like something that blossomed – I heard something of a pleasant lilt to its name, that reminded me of the days of my youth when I travelled not only once through it, and the conductor would announce: Sarny Station – ten minutes,' and it was possible to slake one's thirst there with a glass of tea.

This time, it opened its gates, and accommodated me during the course of two consecutive nights: the rest of the Sabbath day, and a lecture given that Saturday night. Immediately after the Sabbath repast, I was ‘taken’ to the offices, in which the young people sang the new songs that had come from the Land of Israel. I joined up with them, and added my voice to their own fresh voices, that penetrated the walls of the offices, and poured out onto the entire town, wrapped in the sanctity of the Sabbath – and in my voice, there hung a question and ???: ‘Jerusalem, holy city, for what reason and why did you not give me a month of days in these two days of the week?’ ‘Why and for what reason?’

Without intending to be so, my lecture in Sarny turned into a leadership seminar. With the beginning, I became aware that Dr. Israelite one of the saints of Be'er–Tuvia, my dear friend and neighbor, whom with my own hands, I brought to burial at his final resting place, after having lain for ten days after death without burial – was the very essence of the bones and the flesh of Sarny. I dedicated part of my remarks to Be'er Tuvia, its construction and destruction. A grieved silence pervaded the hall. Suddenly, from the middle of the silence, the sound of a sob reached my ears, and immediately people began to take their handkerchiefs out of their pockets. A shudder ran through me, and my heart fell, and in order that they not see me lose my composure, I raised my voice, and concluded with a few lines from ‘To my Sister, Be'er Tuvia’ (A list that was compiles thirty days after the destruction of Be'er Tuvia, and its entry in the last instance in the book collection, ‘They That Sow With Tears’): ‘We will yet build you, and you will be built Be'er Tuvia, Strength to your construction, and fortitude to it, and may your roots be on plentiful waters, and you will be a pride to us in the south, and a source of pride in the Negev’.

And so we travel from Sarny to Rivne – the last stop for getting together and then taking leave of friends. From there we go off to Luck, and too Berestecko – on the way back to Warsaw.

I arrived in Luck on Thursday, at nightfall, and there, I found friends with whom I had made contact with at a variety of meetings and conventions in Rivne. With their direction, I was able to become acquainted with a community of brethren who were distanced from us – the community of the Karaites, who had become citizens of this city many generations ago, and had constructed a house of worship, and a festival meeting place for all. This was one of three congregations of Karaites, that I had encountered during my visit to Poland, who were privileged to have equal rights, not only on the local territory, because their practice of Judaism was called into question by the authorities, Jews that are not really Jews… [3]

The day was already past noon when I reached the D9browica–Karczema railroad station. A deputation of young people awaited me at the station, and with it, a sleigh full of straw, bedding and various items of clothing, the likes of which I had never seen before, lamb's wool of sufficient breadth that it could envelop an entire family, a hood, felt shoes, a cloak, a dress – all as a supplement to the threadbare Israeli accoutrements.

I can still cast my eyes over the bedspread stretching out, roseate, precious, and my ear is cocked for the ring of the bells in the wake of the horses' trot, and towards us – a second sleigh, that had left in the wake of the first. The sleigh rounded us, and joined us. With the doubling of this ‘populace,’ a choir was created, and we broke out into an ardent song, songs of revival, songs of Zion, and the songs of yearning: ‘Admit me’…Oh, oh, oh – admit me! Carrying on like children, swallowing in the crisp, cold air, and sending our voice and cry into the great beyond, and a faint echo reverberates from the desolation, – in the fullness of time.

The day is done. In the distance, we see the hint of the light from Sabbath candles that had been lit in the houses. As we drew near the outskirts of the town, we descended from the sleighs, and as escorts to the Sabbath Queen, we entered on foot, strutting with pride, into Berestecko.

The house in which I lodged, immediately bestowed an Israeli air on me. The father, the mother and the children, the oldest, a girl, who was about fifteen years old, all spoke a fluent Hebrew. To my great surprise, I found an aged mother, who had just had her daughter come for a visit from a settlement in the Kineret, and she spoke the sweet ‘native’ Hebrew that she had learned from her grandchildren from the Kineret.

After the Friday night repast, we went to the offices of the young people. There, as well, the aura of Israel and that of Halutzim pervaded the place. Everyone lived in imminent readiness of making Aliyah. Those who were not able to qualify for training at a formal training location, did so at home; they acquired skills at various tasks, cutting wood, the women – in maintaining a home, and doing the laundry. A young lady behind me – with an axe in hand, like the bow of a violin, and she was proud of this.

The following morning, I was invited to various ‘Kiddushim’ that took place after prayers on the Sabbath, that reminded me a bit of Be'er Tuvia in its early days, where during the Festival days, we would return home to taste the products of the homemakers – and not a single house was left out. At these sort of festive occasions, most of which were conducted purely in Hebrew – Berestecko was revealed for all of its glory.

This town, whose entire size was somewhat minuscule, was an Israeli island in a Wolhyn sea. Even the simple people among her, were acquainted with the book, and heard Hebrew being spoken.

And the party that was arranged, after the Sabbath was over, which took in most of the residents, opened with the introduction of the guest, despite the fact that all the young people in the town already knew me, with blessings and introductions – as usual. When it came to my turn, and I bestowed upon them the best of my wine and honey, a bit about life in The Land, and the worker, a bit from my life in the area, and a bit of storytelling and tales from the legends.

From the hall where the party took place – to the sleigh, and from there, directly to the train car, that passes through once a day at midnight. And before dawn of Sunday, I stood in the middle of Luck.

My lecture in Luck took place on the evening of the same day, as well as the farewell party from the city, the coterie, and the lecture hall – escorted by a number of my new friends – to the train station on my way to Warsaw.

*

This was the night of the changing of the years – the year 1930 passed, and the year 1931 was ushered in. In celebration of the holiday, there were rather few travellers, and the cars were rather empty. I stretched out my body prone on a bench to ease my exhaustion, I sank into my memories and impressions of the trip: Not the good gold nor the precious stones (which I did not even seek) did I find in Wolhyn, but rather a good Jewishness, well–rooted and healthy, that struggles for its survival under the oppression of an alien and malign dominion, a Judaism that jealously guards its cultural assets, and dreams of the renaissance of its people on its own land.

But even in this blossoming Jewishness, there was the hand of malefactors that eradicated it from the face of the world.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yitzhak Lamdan (Hebrew: למדן יצחק) (born 7 November 1899; died 17 November 1954) was a Russian–born Israeli poet, translator, editor and Hebrew columnist. Yitzhak Lamdan was born in the Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire) in 1899. He immigrated to Palestine in 1920, during the Third Aliyah. In the 1920s, he wrote a poem called “Masada” about the Jewish struggle in a world full of enemies. Lamdan's poem is said to have inspired the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. Return
  2. Isaiah Horovitz (Hebrew: ישעיהו הלוי הורוביץ), (c. 1565 – March 24, 1630), also known as the Shelah ha–Kadosh (the holy Shelah) after the title of his best–known work, was a prominent Levite rabbi and mystic. Return
  3. In the2002 Polish census, only 45 people declared themselves “Karaims”, including 43 Polish citizens. Return


[Page 170]

My Visit to Sarny in 1935

by Ber'l Lukar

In connection with my tour of the broad lands of Poland, as part of my preparations for the Zionist Congress of 1935, I made a brief visit to the community in Sarny.

This visit was one of the most profound experiences during my tour. Sarny was a small community, but it was alert, and brimming with life, in all lines of endeavor of living Polish Jewry, that was creative, that struggled, and was stormy. It had an active Zionist movement grounded in the common people, in all of its branches and institutions. Every one of them conducted its own rationally organized work, and all worked together in Zionist endeavors with a common purpose.

Similarly, there was a movement in Sarny for Halutzim, that performed training in an fine manner, and already had a recognized ‘colony’ in the Land of Israel. In the town, there was a multi–pronged cultural initiative in Hebrew and Yiddish, whose crowning head was the Tarbut School. When I visited this school, I was deeply impressed by it, not only for the level of proficiency of the students in Tanakh, history and Hebrew literature, but I will also admit – by the courtesy extended to me by the Principal, the teachers, and the students, together. Also, the adult Zionist extended their respect to me by attending my lecture, and in the earnest attention they paid to my words, whether they agreed to all of what I said, or just some of it. And the conclusion was, as is understandable, with a very fervent party, in keeping with the effusive Zionism of Sarny.

All of this was exterminated by the Nazi Scourge. Only few smoking embers were rescued, of which a substantial part made Aliyah to The Land.


[Page 171]

This Is How We Grew Up,
This Is How We Matured

by Levi Bikowsky

 

The Experiences of Childhood

The seven days of the partying associated with the Russian revolution passed, and were over. Then came the bitter years of 1917–1920. Sovereignty and authority flip–flopped in the city with dizzying speed: Petlura, Ba3achowicz, Bolsheviks, the Polish Hallerists interwoven among them. We, the eighteen year–olds, were witness to all of this. All of it is etched into our memories. All of it profoundly saddens our demeanor.

Plunder, confiscation of assets, killing, murder – and especially, as is understood, of the Jews – hunger, lack of bread, illness and epidemics of typhus that drops people dead – these are the first pages in the book of our lives. I remember the Sabbath of Hol HaMoed Sukkot, in which I went out into the street, and passed by the house of a friend, he was still sitting in the Sukkah with his father: – it was a porch that was built out to the edge of the street, and his father was singing Sabbath songs, Everything was peaceful and ideal.

Several months went by, and my friend's father, a man of young years, was struck by a plague that broke out in the city, and fell ill with typhus – and passed away. This was the encounter with death.

The hunger was oppressive, and the adults were apprehensive in attempting to exit through the doors of their homes. In our house, as was the case in many houses in the city, we ate bread made from rye. From barley flour, we cooked up a sort of barley stew, which was not filling, and caused stomach aches and diarrhoea. My mother, and like her, many other mothers, tried to gather up some foodstuffs from the little that passing merchants had to offer, and who passed through the surrounding villages, together, we loaded up the sacks on our shoulders, and went out to the villages on foot. When success smiled on us, we succeeded in trading oil for potatoes, and salt, for a portion of flour. Laden with valuable necessities on our shoulders, we returned home in the evening.

On one of those evenings, as we drew near our home, suddenly, two tall Polish gendarmes sprouted up in front of us, they stopped us, and searched our packages. After we had been seized with our goods, they accused my mother and I of smuggling. My mother pleaded with them for our lives, and it was then that they issued their decree, that we should kneel before them on our knees. My mother did as she was ordered, because she remembered: at home there were hungry children, and me – for whatever unclear reason, did not do so. Because of this they roughed us up to their satisfaction, imposing a terror on us, but in the end, they allowed us to continue on our way.

These years, with the events that were taking place in the world, the experiences of poverty, and the degradation, all left deep scars in our memory, and in the heart of Jewish youth, and they were the foundation on which to examine the coming years.

 

The Young People Straighten Up

The First World War ended, Polish hegemony was established in the city, and life, slowly but gradually, began to return to its usual pace. Schools were opened, and we – the young people – returned to our studies.

We were the students of the fifth and sixth grade at the Tarbut School. Under the name of ‘Children of Zion,’ one day, without direction from teachers or adult friends, we organized ourselves one day, without having any specific goal in mind for our organization, but the name said something. We would gather, sing, enter into discussions, and read ???

Not many days went by, and the ‘HaShomer HaTza'ir’ was established by the older students. We allied ourselves with it, and disbanded our prior organization. In ‘HaShomer HaTza'ir’ we engaged primarily in scouting, disciplined exercise, a bit of exercise and hiking. A year or two went by, and we matured, and the demand to find a way forward in life, with some purpose, took on greater force. A few, who had the means, went out into a variety of places elsewhere in the country – Warsaw, Vilna, and elsewhere – in order to continue their education, and those of us, who remained behind, established ‘HeHalutz HaTza'ir.’

There were from 80–100 young people, of all ages, from all elements of the people – the sons of merchants, storekeepers, and craftsmen. Most of the children were students of the school, and a part of their ranks were drawn from the craftsmen, because the circumstance of their parents, began to study their trade at an early age. In the branch of ‘HeHalutz HaTza'ir,’ we would gather together and engage in song, dance, and conversation about only one subject: ‘The Land,’ and the older ones among us engaged in directing the younger ones. Our ‘home’ hummed and was noisy every night of the week, and on the Sabbaths – from the hours after noon until late at night. The ‘office’ of ‘HeHalutz HaTza'ir’ – ‘Die Lishkeh’ in mameloshn, was well–known to every father and mother in the town. It was good for us when we became organized, like our own home, and we would come there willingly, even if our own parents were not conceptually predisposed to this undertaking.

From time to time, we were visited by members of the central office in Warsaw. The visits from the central office were an experience for the children. Similar organizations cropped up in the surrounding towns, and the members from the branches in the vicinity would come to visit us. In time, we became transformed into a regional center.

The first visit by an emissary from The Land remains etched in my memory. A young man, tall, big boned, dressed in a shirt with rolled up cuffs, his hands well–worked and strong, the hands of a Jewish laborer, surrounded by tens of young boys and girls, and he spoke to us. For the first time, we heard about the labor movement in The Land, about the Kibbutz, and about Aliyah, and we swallowed his words with open mouths, and glistening eyes.

This is the way it was with us, and also with the other youth organizations that arose in the city: ‘HaShomer HaTza'ir,’ ‘Freiheit,’ and others.

Part of the young people organized themselves within the communist movement. Their organization was illegal, and they operated clandestinely, underground, under the aegis of the labor union of the unskilled workers, that had been established in the city, and whose center was in Kharkov. This organization principally attracted the laboring young, the sons of craftsmen, and the sons of families that has suffered economic reversals, who had, as a result, been compelled to abandon their studies, and learn a trade. This cohort of young people would gather, reading the writings of Lenin and other books, distributing communist brochures that were illegal. They had a good Yiddish library, and as a result they undertook issues having to do with work, the conditions, and pay of the young people.

The Polish police picked up the scent of this activity quickly, and they began severe crackdowns, many being arrested, and were sentenced to prison terms of many years, while others crossed the border into Russia, and there, they became lost to us, and to this day, we do not know what ever happened to them.

 

Training and Aliyah

In nearby Klesów, a training camp came into being, and young men and women from all over Poland streamed to it, in a flow that did not seem to stop. Those who finished their training returned to their homes to get ready to make aliyah, and new others came to take their place, both streams transiting the city, stopping there until the train departure time, touring, and visiting the office of ‘HeHalutz HaTza'ir.’ There were days when we left in the morning, in an organized fashion, to visit the Kibbutz – in Klesów, we were like members of the household there, we looked at the scene, and sighed: there were young men and women, dressed in plain working clothes, wearing large nailed shoes, and others without shoes, with their feet wrapped in ???, going out morning after morning with the loud report from the quarries in the area, working at every form of hard labor, being similar to all of the gentile laborers that worked in the quarries.

In the city, there was a group of wagon drivers, simple Jews – ‘men of the people,’ they dealt in the unloading of the cargo and luggage that came in the train cars, and their transport from the train to the city. They worked in tandem with each other and with a scrupulous sense of responsibility. At our request, they turned over to us the work of filling sacks of ??? that arrived on the train all spilled out, and this was our first manual labor. Our salaries, which was given to us for this labor, we dedicated to strengthening our institution.

Years went by. We matured. The personal fulfilment was transformed into the foundation stone in our training in ‘HeHalutz HaTza'ir,’ whose intent was training and then Aliyah.

In all years, individuals left for training to a variety of Kibbutzim in distant places, but in the Spring of 1929, a group left – for the Kibbutz in Ivacewic – the first group of 30–40 comrades, men & women, organized, equipped, all graduates of ‘HeHalutz HaTza'ir.’

They lived together for many years. They spent evenings and Saturdays in discussion about their destiny and future. During these many years, they wove together their vision of a different future, a different life, to live the life of Jewish working people until the day arrived, and in a joint move, they took the first step towards that future. They left the home of their parents – a few of them over parental objection, others in the face of their sharp opposition, and others yet – secretly, without their parents knowing, all came to the railroad station, among them being those who came to the train station as escorts for their departing friends, but at the last minute, leapt onto the moving train, and joined the other travellers.

All left for training.

And now, the hour of aliyah had arrived. During the twenties, a very small group of Halutzim made aliyah from Sarny. After a few years went by, a second group made aliyah, this after several month of training and labor. During all the years of the twenties, only individuals made aliyah, some even going to continue study at schools in The Land, and a few – with their parents.

At the beginning of 1930, after a number were in training for a number of months, a large, organized group made aliyah, comprised of close to 40 young men and women. Their aliyah aroused a movement of aliyah en masse, and they opened the way to tens and hundreds, who came in their wake throughout the decade, until the outbreak of The Second World War. During this time, many succeeded in bringing along their families, among them many of their parents who in their time has strenuously opposed the aliyah of their children. And today? Hundreds of émigrés from Sarny can be found among us, in cities, settlements, and Kibbutzim. They brought families into the world, well–branched and rooted.

They are the remnant of the Sarny Jewish community.

 

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