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[Page 57]

Self Defence in Slutsk

by S. Menachem

Translated by Sara Mages

During the period of pogroms in Ukraine, in 1905-6, there were no pogroms in Slutsk but the Jewish community, with all its parties, was ready for a day of trouble and distress and to defend itself.

The defense was organized from all walks of life, starting from the ordinary people, the General Zionist, Zionist Left and the “Bund.” A committee, which was composed of all streams, was elected, starting with Yisrael Brahon who was close to the authority, from the heads of the fire department to the “Bund.”

The writer of these lines was one of the committee members who visited, in pairs, the homes of the wealthy to solicit donations for the needs of the defence according to the committee's assessment. Many responded and donated generously and without opposition, while some objected and threatened to report us, and, of course, they avoided it because the fundraisers warned them not to do so.

My fundraising partner was a member of the “Bund” and when we arrived to M.G., one of the richest men in the city, he threatened that he would remember my hat and my glasses (for he didn't know me and didn't know my name). It is possible that it caused results in the future.

Another amusing story about a wealthy Jew named Y. M. that we found sitting on a stool in a house that was empty of furniture. We thought he was in mourning and prepared to leave, but he stopped us and asked: what do you want? We explained to him that we had come to receive a donation from him for the self defense and he replied: I'll give you ten times of what you demand of me, provided you will save me from my hooligans.

We were very curious to know who they were. It turned out that while he was away from his house for his business, his sons moved from their apartment in the old house on Tritshan Street to his house, which was purchased from one of the Polish landowners, on Broad Street (Breiter Gass).

 


On the right: Rachel Efrat

 

With the money collected we purchased firearms: a few dozen pistols and a large quantity of bullets which were hidden under the stove in my apartment on Zaretzer Street. When it seemed to me that undercover policeman was sniffing in the area, it was decided to move the weapons to a safer place.

 


Rivka Efrat

 

The act was done by female members who transferred the weapons to Bere Efrat's home. He was a wealthy widower who loaned money with interest to merchants, shopkeepers and just Jews, with the help of speculators who always came and left his house. The man was wise, involved with people and loved to talk about daily affairs. He was cynical in his conversation and also in his habit. He only walked in his underwear at home and sometimes appeared the same way outside to oversee his vast property that included a large number of stores in the middle of the market. During the emergency years of the revolution the lenders, and the borrowers alike, were impoverished, meaning, they were left without their pants...

I, and my dear friend Eliyahu Charnyi, were frequent visitors to his home. I taught Hebrew to his daughters and Charnyi, the wise and witty, was a friend of the family. That strict old man loved to talk to us. His daughters have long since reached adulthood and the amount of their clothing grew from year to year. The weapons, and the seal of self defense, were buried in the large cupboards, in bedding and stacks of embroidery and lace. Thanks to our friends, Rebecca and Rachel Efrat, no one could think, and no police officer could guess, where the weapons were hidden.

In 1921, during the hunger years in Russia, Rachel Efrat died of starvation in Petrograd. Rivka Efrat, who immigrated to Israel, told me that after I left Slutsk, Eliyahu Charnyi moved the weapons to another hiding place with the help of a number of female members.


[Pages 58-59]

Three Encounters

(In the presence of “Poalei Zion” and the “Bund”)

by Dr. Aaron Domnitz

Translated by Sara Mages

It was at the beginning of the winter, when I was a student at Yeshivat R' Nehemiah. Beit HaMidrash of R' Issar (R' Issarkes Shul), where the yeshiva was housed, was located near Synagogues Square (Der Shul Hoiyf). Houses of worship, and various Batei Midrash, concentrated there. It was the public center of Jewish Slutsk. The sound of Torah emerged from all the synagogues. In every house of worship were young men who “studied alone” (”Gelernt far zich”) and prepared for ordination. Boys, age eleven and above, flocked to the permanent yeshivot, most from the small towns near Slutsk. Among them were also from Babruysk, Mazyr and others. All of them ate by “days,” meaning: a regular day every week on the table of a particular homeowner. Sometimes, a homeowner also housed yeshiva students in his apartment, but for the most part they slept on hard benches in Beit HaMidrash.

Once, a rumor spread that there was a thief among the yeshiva students. It was discovered that a pillow and a blanket had been stolen from one of the boys. Also, a food package disappeared to one and to the other - a shirt for the Sabbath. The boys didn't know what to do and the concern encircled all Batei HaMidrash. In their grief, everyone began to suspect his neighbor and followed him. One evening, after “Ma'arive” prayer, a boy burst into R' Isarka's Beit Midrash and announced that the thief had been caught near the Butchers' Synagogue. Many burst out, I was slightly delayed. I remembered the stories that when the farmers in the village caught a thief, they beat him to death. I couldn't restrain myself. I went out. The boys ran and I among them. A horrific sight was revealed to me - a youth was lying on the ground, the boys were beating him and he screamed and shouted for help: Take pity of me! I raised my voice. “Enough! Leave him alone! To my surprise, they listened to me and released him. When the thief got to his feet, he straightened up, looked around, stared at his rescuer as his face expressed rage and hatred, and left.

He was from my hometown, a friend of mine from my youth in Romanova, the blacksmith's son. We studied Hebrew and the beginning of the Chumash in the same heder. He was seven at the time and didn't know his verse at the end of the week, and I was five and a half years old and was well versed in it. At the teacher's command I had to slap his cheek, as was the custom of those days, and he took revenge on me after that. When we left the heder I complained to my mother, with abundance of tears, that blacksmith's son is beating me.

Years later we met again in Slutsk, and what a big change that was: I am a student of R' Nehemiah in the upper class, and he steals the food and the meager bedding of the yeshiva boys.

Seven years have passed, and what are they in the life of the individual? Seemingly, there are also many changes from the age of twelve to nineteen, and even more so, during the years of the first revolution in Russia that its echoes reached the remote cities of White Russia.

In Slutsk, and its neighboring towns, the youth awoke to action. I went through adolescence in Minsk where I lived for five years. I was involved in the youth movement circles that sprang up in the Jewish street: Zionism, Socialism and Socialist Zionism. I joined “Poalei Zion” and also knew the Bund'aim [members of the “Bund”]. Among them I had many acquaintances, my schoolmates from the yeshivot. We spent days and nights debating: “which is better, Zionism or Socialism? Sometimes, the personal interaction between the opponents increased. There have been many instances where individuals have gone from party to party without a conscience. There was, indeed, a feeling of confusion in the hearts, rushing around between idea and emotion, a deliberation in the soul that was caught between two authorities. But, the mutual hatred, which was discovered later and turned former friends into enemies, was still missing.

When I came to Slutsk in 1905, I found in it almost everything that was in the big city, but on a small scale - youth movements of all the rebellious parties, with their flags and slogans, but something was missing in them. Instead of holiness, idealism and youthful purity, I found here insolence, bullying and ugly party quarrel. Instead of idea, the fist and the violence dominated. “Poalei Zion” got off the stage, split, disintegrated and was eliminated. The Zionist Socialist Party in Russia (S.S.), and its platform, inherited their place: just territory, but not Eretz Yisrael and socialism in the entire world. The territory is needed for the realization of socialism, the Jews will become proletarians and in this way the socialist redemption would come.

And the Bund'aim? They ruled the street, waved flags, demonstrated slogans and showed their strong arm. The “Bundbecame a mass movement. Already then I have discovered in them the buds of contempt for the “intelligent,” the dreamers and the theorists. I no longer recognized my Slutsk the quiet and humble, lawlessness took over its streets.

In those days a rumor spread in Slutsk that the villagers in the area were planning to come to the city and conduct a pogrom. It was told, that unknown people were wandering in the villages and inciting the crowds to gather on market day, to attack and rob. Self defence was organized. There were two separate organizations, the “Bund” and the Zionist Socialist Party. Out of my opposition to the Zionist Socialist Party, I signed up for the “Bund” defense organization. The center gave an order to all registrants to come at midnight to a secret meeting at the Great Beit Midrash. I felt as if I was desecrating a holy place. Indeed, I already abandoned Batei Midrash as a place of study, but to come in secret in the middle of the night to the Great Beit Midrash, which I knew in its greatness, and attend a socialist meeting, was to my dismay.

I came. The building was full. Speaker after a speaker climbed on the stage, spoke against the Czar, the police, the rich, and defamed Zionism, the “backward country” and the dead language. It was a typical “Bund” meeting. The defence matter was not mentioned at all. A knock on the door was heard. Those standing on guard opened it slightly, observed, exchanged words between them and let the man in. It was the head shamash: who knew nothing about the meeting. The shamash [beadle] stood at the door, alarmed and amazed and asking: What is going on here? - “Be silent, don't interrupt.” - “I do not obey your commend. I am in charge of this place and not you” - the shamash scolded and his lips trembled - “I'll call the police!” As he turned to leave, those standing on guards held him back, threatened with a gun in front of his face, sat him on a chair and warned him that if he kept silent nothing bad would happen to him. The shamash understood and obeyed. He murmured softly: “Who would have thought? ... I know many of them. They are the sons of important homeowners. Are they also among them? Indeed, a new and insolent generation has risen.”

A surprising incident occurred during the meeting. One of the speakers got on the stage bareheaded. The shamash jumped out of his seat, as if he had been beaten by a snake, and shouted: it's not possible by any means, you can shoot me, I will not allow to turn Beit HaMidrash into a cloister!! A commotion broke out. There was a danger that the noise would be heard outside. Two of the leader's bodyguards leapt off the stage with clubs in their hands to silence him. One intended to strike a blow on the shamash's head. In the blink of an eye I held his hand to prevent it. Meanwhile, the chairman ordered in a commanding voice: don't strike! Quiet! The violent man lowered his arm, looked at the chairman and also at me, we knew each other: the blacksmith's son from Romanova, “my friend” from the Chumash heder… Now he is a member of the “Bund” and his weapon - a strong club to defend the revolution with it.

In anger these words came out of his mouth: “You are also here? You rotten intelligent! Come. Let us confront each other.” I haven't seen him since.

These are my three encounters with him. That same winter I left Slutsk and Russia. I immigrated to America. Occasionally thoughts rise to my heart. Maybe a fourth meeting would have taken place during the October Revolution. He - armed and marching as the ruler of the Tsheke [prison], and I - a prisoner of Zion in the cellar, in the depths of that same building, waiting for further investigations and tortures by the rulers of the holy proletarian revolution.

Chills attack me from the fourth imaginary meeting that did not take place.


[Page 59]

Tzeirei Zion

by Noah

Translated by Sara Mages

The General Zionist Association, which was headed by the affluent Zionist, Leibush Gutzeit, existed, and continued its activities, until 1913. The Zionist activity was expressed in the sale of the Jewish National Fund stamps, shares of the Colonial Bank, the placing of bowls on Yom Kippur eve in the synagogues to raise funds for Eretz Yisrael on behalf of “Hovevei Zion,” conducting balls and lectures with Zionist and national content.

Since Gutzeit was known to the police as a man of great personality, it did not pay attention to the nature of the Zionist work and sometimes also turned a blind eye.

From among the well known Zionists in the city were: the slaughterer R' Alter Marschak, a learned Jew, intelligent and a lover of the Hebrew language in all his soul, the teachers Hazanovitsh, Shveydl, Gutzeit, and also the drug store owners Karmin and Shaykevitsh, Chipchin, the elderly Faynberg the owner of the flour mill and others.

However, at the beginning of 1913 a group of “Tzeirei Zion” began to organize. They set and marked for themselves an independent and responsible work: to get closer to the high school students, put them under the wings of Zionism, and create small classes for Zionism, Hebrew and lectures. In order not to get the attention of the police there were five to eight young people in each class. They read, discussed and argued. In addition, certain activities also took place in various places in the city.

The center of activity was in Shpilkin's house on Podblenya Street. This house was completely imbued with a Hebrew and Zionist spirit, and a great person lived there - R' Ben-Zion Shpilkin, son-in-law of the well known tzadik, R' Rafael Yosel. He was a scriber, a modest man who served as a shamash in the tailors' Beit Midrash. His wife was righteous, modest and kindhearted.

His son, Avraham Yitzchak Shpilkin (A.Y.S) was a scriber like his father. He read a lot and was a humble man. He undertook the Zionist activity and his apartment served as a center for fertile work. Papers and circulars were destroyed immediately after they were received. One evening the house was surrounded and the police conducted a thorough search. After a vigorous investigation all those gathered were released for lack of evidence.

The police eye watched and followed. Once, an emissary of “Tzeirei Zion” came from Vilna and, in order to talk with most of the young member, it was decided to gather behind the city in the “Syolka.” There, on the lawn, lay about sixty young men and women and in the center, the emissary, an educated young man and an enthusiastic Zionist. His words were brief and a plan of action was proposed. In the meantime, one of the members noticed a policeman approaching. All the pieces of paper were carefully destroyed and hidden and, therefore, the gatherers were not surprised when the police company appeared. They were surrounded and asked, why did you come to this place? It was explained to them that the day was a holiday and a trip was arranged for this occasion.

Indeed, the answer was unsatisfactory, but since nothing illegal was found - the gatherers were released and only two had to appear at the police station for a certain period of time.

On 20 Tamuz we, about 15 people, gathered at the home of the member Berkovitch. A female member recited the poem “Stile Alive.” A few members spoke briefly and read from Herzl's writings.

Active at that time were: the sons of the well known dentist, Dr. Epshteyn, his daughter Dunia (a doctor) and his son Sasha a student from Petersburg, Schmeril Noah Goldberg, Tzvi Razarn, Tarasova, Chaya Rachel, H.M. Apelsin, Shpilkin and Chinitz.

 


Tzeirei Zion” in Slutsk, 1914

1) Moshe Brahon, 2) Dvora Epshteyn, 3) Musia Harcavi, 4)… 5) Masha Epshteyn, 6) Shmaryaho Brahon, 7) Shkolnik, 8)… 9) Nachum Chinitz, 10) Moma Lashovsky,

11) Trasova, 12) Z. Radunsky

 

In this manner the work continued in the underground until 1916. Speakers, who gave public lectures in Russian on well-known topics, were brought in. Dr. D. Pasmanik, the student Natan Greenblat from Minsk, Dr. Alexander Goldstein and Bistritzky (Agmon).

 


A group of “Tzeirei Zion” in Slutsk

 

The days were difficult in the city and, since it was near the front, it was flooded with refugees. Many Jews were accused of espionage, a matter that caused a greater impact and prepared the hearts for a Zionist and national spirit.

Many of the Jewish soldiers at the front were eager for a Hebrew word and a lecture. Even though the subjects were literary - there was in them kind of a power of speech and longing for something hidden and out of sight. This discontent was expressed, in all its validity, at the outbreak of the revolution against the Tsarist rule.

Tzeirei Zion” participated in first procession. They gathered around the anonymous soldier (\member of “Tzeirei Zion”), who proudly carried and waved a blue and white flag on which was written, in Hebrew and Russian, “Land and Freedom.”

 


Membership card for “Tzeirei Zion

 

Tzeirei Zion” meetings were held during the German occupation, but it was necessary to give advance notice of their content and trend. Among the German soldiers were also Zionist Jews who wanted to vent their longing to Zion. Sometimes it was necessary to be careful and make sure that the soldier was not a spy.

The active members at that time were: Landa, Shpilkin, Chipchin, the Harkavi brothers, the son of Gutzeit Yasha, Gabai who was a passionate Zionist, Musya Harkavi, Avraham Tshernikhov, A.Y. Nozick and Altman.

With the Polish occupation in 1919, the Poles restricted the freedom of action of the Zionist activists.

Despite everything, “Tarbut” school was opened and various meetings were held in the school hall. Various activities were conducted under special permits. In 1920, groups of young people still managed to leave Slutsk and immigrate to Israel.

With the signing of the Peace of Riga, the Poles had to leave Slutsk and upon their withdrawal dozens of “Tzeirei Zion” members were able to move to Poland. Some immigrated to Israel and some to the United States.

 


Tzeirei Zion” in Slutsk , 1917

First row (on the floor, right to left): 1) Shalom Shpilkin, 2) Eliyahu Altman, 3) Dov Sheptel, 4) Ashka Lev.

Second row (seating): 1) Arnbaum, 2) Avraham Tshernikhov, 3) Avraham Yitzchak Shpilkin, 4) Mordechai Melinski 5) Moshe Harkavi, 6) Motya Pehmer-Melamed.

Third row (standing): 1) Lipa Yom-Tov Gabai, 2) Ester Rachel Tarasov, 3) Musya Harkavi-Katznelson, 4)… 5) Chaim Moshe Apelson, 6) Yisrael Noah Goldberg, 7) David Neimark, 8) Shmaryaho Brahon, 9) Fanya Krepkh

[Page 61]

Movements and Parties

by Zvi HaGivati

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

The Zionist Youth in the Underground

Slutsk - a provincial city in White Russia. Known all over Russia for its fine fruits, which earned its reputation; Immersed in the summer in greenery, in the autumn and the spring - in mud and in the winter - in snow. City - mostly Jewish, famous in the “Reformed” Cheder, in its Rabbis and in the great Yeshiva, that many from the near and far surroundings come to learn in it. A city with a juicy and vibrant Jewish community.

With the February revolution and with the beginning of the October revolution, the Zionist parties began to develop in it: “Tze'irei Zion” (Zion Youth), General Zionists, Mizrahi, Poalei Zion. The Bond party was fighting Zionism, but the Zionist spirit in the city was strong and conquered hearts, and had an impact not only among the adults, but among the youth and children as well.

Those days were very good days for the Zionist movement, which flourished and prospered. The restrictions and decrees against the Jews have been abolished, the percentage norm in schools has been abolished, the “living area” has been abolished. The Jews were equal in their rights with all the residents of Russia. The removal of all the restrictions and decrees and the freedom, made everyone enthusiastic. Bold dreams, it seems, are on the verge of coming true. Zionist Conferences, the gathering of the Jewish Communities in White Russia in Minsk. Soul-stirring news came from afar: the Balfour Declaration, the Jewish High Commissioner in Israel, every Jewish soul elevated.

However, the days of glory did not last long. The sky darkened over Russia in general and the Jews in particular. The civil war broke out. The Jews were caught in the middle and suffered a lot.

With the victory of the Bolsheviks, the ax was waved on Zionism. It was clear that the roots of the Hebrew spirit would be eliminated and destroyed. Therefore, the Zionist movement in 1920, when White Russia was under the rule of the Poles, was very active and feverish action was carried out. Many members of “Tze'irei Zion” (Zion Youth), among them a group of university students, left Slutsk and traveled to Warsaw, in order to immigrate to Israel, because they knew that when the Poles withdrew from the city and the Bolsheviks return, the borders would be closed and they would not be allowed to leave Russia.

And indeed, with the return of the Bolsheviks to White Russia, the major Zionist parties ceased their operation and the initiative passed to the youth, who were educated on the principles of the Zionism and the Hebrew language.

This youth did great things and sacrificed his life for the fight with the almighty government.

* * *

Slutsk excelled in its Zionist and Hebrew work. It had 2 “Reformed Cheders”, where the teaching method was learning Hebrew in Hebrew and which were conducted by the best Hebrew teachers. In addition to the “Reformed Cheder” there were also teachers for private lessons in Hebrew. The teachers were kind and loved by the students. In the summer, at every opportunity, on Lag Ba'Omer, on Shavuot, the students would go out with their teachers outside the city, to the countryside, a place of meadows and forests. There everything was allowed. The young teachers, full of excitement, competed in running with the students, had fun with them, played various games. And suddenly, everything went silent, the noise and commotion died down. The teacher told them about the Land of Israel, about the heroes of the Jews, about different periods in the history of the Jewish people. The teacher cultivated love for the people, for the spiritual assets, for the ancient language. And the children's eyes, which just sparkled in mischief, now shined in a completely different light. They were fascinated, their hearts were receptive and they listen attentively to the teacher.

Indeed, the seed was sown, tamed and planted deep, deep in the soul of this group of children. Later, as the children matured, the seed sprouted, were fruitful and prospered. This group organized the Children's Organization, “Pirchei Zion” (Flowers of Zion). This children's organization organizes many children and they engaged in various activities: founding a library, writing essays, reading books and discussing their content, making connections with the adults of “Tze'irei Zion” (Zion Youth), helping in the election process, inviting lecturers on various topics, develop action for the KKL (Jewish National Fund), participate in collecting funds on film day, organize plays.

In particular, one play is remembered, which was presented in the municipal theater, called “Musar Na'ar Ra” (Bad boy morals), which was composed by the Hebrew teacher, who was also the director of the “Reformed Cheder”, M. Hazanowitz. The play was very successful. It brought together a large audience from all classes and strata, who came to watch it. There was thunderous applause for the young actors and it had a great echo in the city.

The “Pirchei Zion” (Flowers of Zion) Association extended and had branches. Many children joined the association. It is true that many of them, when they grew up, got rid from all their childhood activities and turned their backs on them, and turned to foreign ways, but this group of children, whose members were connected to each other from a very young age, who studied together in the “Reformed Cheder”, founded together the “Pirchei Zion” (Flowers of Zion) Association, entered together to the Russian schools - the gymnasium and the trade school - accepted Zionism in an instinctive manner and imbibed of its origins. No frenetic wind had the power to shake it and divert it from its path. It remained loyal to Zionism all the time despite all the strong temptations, even when the misleading and deceptive light of communism shone in its eyes, even when it promised a comfortable path, safe and complacent life, the life of an apprentice, the life of a student, a life that is much more worthwhile.

* * *

In 1920, after the expulsion of the Poles from White Russia and the complete victory of the Bolsheviks over the White armies, the situation in Russia became quieter and more stable. The civil war was over, the agitated spirits have calmed down, the hearts have calmed down. They began to build what was destroyed, to repair what was ruined during the world war and the civil war.

But, if Russian Jewry was sentenced to a physical extinction during the civil war, then now, a spiritual extinction was decreed for it, not from the outside, but from the inside. The Jewish Yevsektsiya was established by the Communist Party and decreed extinction of the life of the people as a nation, of any manifestation of national awakening, of any desire for a new life in the homeland that is being built. However, the Jewish youth did not remain indifferent to the life of their people and their destiny and there was a fight between the all-powerful rule and the youth.

At the beginning of Soviet rule, the Zionist movement was in a semi-legal state and was not touched. They would get permission to open clubs

[Page 62]

for various sporting actions, in which disguised Zionist work was carried out. We no longer knew malicious acts and persecution, until the Yevsektsiya began with a momentum war, with means of repression, with imprisonments and deportations.

The years 1920-1924, when military communism ended and the NAP began, were boom years for the Zionist youth movements all over Russia. Until 1924, they did not know about any deportation from it. It was only from this year onwards that they began to deport the Zionists, first to Israel and later - to Solovki, Siberia, the Urals, Kazakhstan, etc.

The Zionist movement was included among the regime's enemies, which needed to be rooted out. The Yevsektsiya raised its head and called for a holy war with Zionism, declared it as a reactionary, chauvinist, bourgeois movement, who helps and serves British imperialism and who must be fought to the bitter end.

Thus, all the Zionist organizations were disbanded and the underground period of the youth began.

The small group of the youth mentioned above, whose members were now studying in the upper classes of the Russian secondary school, brought about a complete revolution among the youth. The major parties: the General Zionists and “Tze'irei Zion” (Zion Youth), with the announcement of their ban, ceased to operate. Their members supported their families and could not risk their livelihood. However, this youth group could not sit idly by, it began to operate under underground conditions and persisted in it. They abandoned their parents' discipline, some of whom wanted their sons to go with the flow, adapt to the new life and enter the university; It aroused the embers of Zionism that was blurring; It rose up and stood at the head of the protests against the Yevsektsiya, against the Komsomol and against the communist rule.

* * *

In December 1922, an apolitical Zionist youth organization was organized under the name of “Kadima”, which included studying youth and working youth, operating illegally and placing itself at the head of the Zionist campaign.

 


Several of the founders of “Kadima”

Sitting from right to left: 1) P. Efron, 2) Y. Ratner, 3) Zvi Hazanowitz (HaGivati)

Standing: 1) Zusha Peker, 2) Shabtai Baskin (Beit Zvi), 3) Shlomo Neikrog (Noi)

 

The small initiative group worked wonders and completely changed the way of life of the youth in the city and gave them a different motivation and other concepts.

It attracted to it wide circles of students and working youth. The operation was branching out and expanding. Many boys and girls joined the movement. We have taken over the archive of the “Tze'irei Zion” (Zion Youth) and from there we published all kinds of pamphlets about the Land of Israel, Zionism, various photos and postcards of the Land of Israel and of personalities in the world Zionist movement. We read the books, studied problems and also taught others, who joined the movement at a later stage. We held balls, parties, lectures, readings, raffles and different games as is customary with youth, in various members' apartments.

 


A group of members from the youth studying in “Tze'irei Zion” (Zion Youth), Slutsk, the year of 1918

From right to left: Shapira Aryeh, Shpilkin Shalom, Apelsin Moshe (died in Russia), Nozik Avraham (died in Tel Yosef), Winograd Aryeh, (died in Tel Aviv)

 

The operation was mainly concentrated in the house of Reb Alter Maharashak, which was a little far from the city center. He was a veteran Zionist, whose sons and daughters all received a Zionist education and knew Hebrew. He would greet us with a pleasant hospitality. Despite the danger, he did not object to holding gatherings and parties in his house and this house, which was full of love and warmth, was like a magnet for us and from it thin threads stretched to the hearts of the members.

We established a children's organization for children at the age of 13-14 called “Yok” – Yogand Kadima, which also brought together many children. Among them were talented children, who had a promising future. There was a lot of activity. They were very dedicated to their organization and were a loyal help for “Kadima”, as the organization considered itself as one that follows the Kadima path in the future and as its heirs.

We had help, that was given by several of the older members. Azriel Nakritz was one of the founders of “Kadima” and its living spirit in the first period. One member, who studied at the university and came to Slutsk on his days off, also participated in the training. Later, another member, also a student, a member of SZ, who was loyal to its principles, explained to us about the Socialist Zionism.

We held a literary trial at Maharshak's house about Aman – the Yevsektsiya - for which we had been preparing for a long time and which was held in all the court's formalities with a prosecutor, a defense attorney, the head of the court, witnesses, etc. The trial was very successful, and it was of interest to the members. In it, it was as if we agreed and consolidated our Zionist identity.

[Page 63]

I still remember one evening, when several members of the “HaChalutz” from Bobruisk passed through Slutsk, on their way, illegally, to the Polish border, in order to immigrate to Israel. Many members gathered at Maharashak's house, where we held a party for them, sang songs, talked about the Land of Israel, our heart's desire, and we spent a long time together. We looked at them with envy: In a little while they will be in Israel. And what awaits us?

We were thirsty for any information about Israel and Jewish life, beyond the Russian region. Every piece of news, which came randomly from there, would make us happy. We sang songs from the Land of Israel: there are foxes there, there in the land of the lust of fathers, there in the land of the deer, the return of the Lord, and we also learned the Hora dancing, according to the melody: Gilu HaGlilim. We would go to the parents of the members, who traveled to Israel during the time of the Poles rule, and we drew encouragement from their letters.

The activity, as mentioned, was many and extensive: the youth organization, assemblies and conversations about Zionism, socialism, communism, about the bridge between nationalism and socialism, many debates in high school and outside with the Komsomol, the Yevsektsiya, the secret publication of a newspaper about Shapirograf, the organization of Zionist groups in various institutions. A struggle began for the souls of the Jewish youth and against communist assimilation.

This activity of ours began to anger the Yevsektsiya and the Komsomol. They realized that we would soon take over all the Jewish youth and decided to uproot the “bad one” from its root.

* * *

In August 1922, a thorough search was conducted in Shabtai Baskin's house. They searched, but did not find forbidden things. This time they had to be satisfied with a search only.

A short time later, the G.P.O. placed a siege on the houses of previously active Zionists. Former “Tze'irei Zion” (Zion Youth) activists and 4 members of the youth organization “Kadima” were banned. Unintentionally, the last three did not sleep in their houses. And this was the affair of their imprisonment.

We would carry out our activities in different places: in the parents' houses, in the rooms of relatives and friends, in the summer - in the fields and in the meadow. Reb Alter Maharshak then leased a large garden of fruit trees. We would often gather in this garden, talk and dream about the Land of Israel that we longed for. Sometimes we would also sleep in it, build a fire and sit around it, roasting potatoes and apples. That night, when the G.P.O. surrounded the Zionist houses and searches and arrests were conducted, a group of members stayed in this garden. And so, when the dawn began to break, they came running from the house of Maharashk and talked about the searches that were carried out in the city. They were also held at Maharshak, Nakritz, Baskin and at my parents' house. Since we were absent from the house, the G.P.O. soldiers remained at our houses to wait for us, and to arrest our parents if we don't return home.

We arranged a short consultation, deciding between us how to talk and what to answer in the interrogation. I came home and found a complete chaos in it. They searched every corner, to find incriminating material against me, but could not find anything in their search. The soldier looked at me strangely, he measured me from my feet to my head and blurted out: “Are you the criminal?” He thought he would see an older man and here stands a 15-year-old boy instead. I'm being led to the G.P.O. The soldier walked after me, with the machine gun aimed at me. I met acquaintances and neighbors on the street. They looked in wonder, mixed with pity and shook their heads.

17 of us were in prison. From “Kadima” - myself, Baskin, Maharshak and Nakritz. The rest were former members of “Tze'irei Zion” (Zion Youth). Anyway, there was a reason for the imprisonment of myself and the other members of “Kadima” - after all, we were activists and acted against the government, but what did they want from the older Zionists? They long ago withdrew from any action and had no organizational connection with any Zionist organizations. Indeed, apparently, they remembered their past.

Our first imprisonment was easy. They had no facts to prove our guilt. We were in prison for 3 weeks and were released.

However, the war against us was already in full force and was being conducted in a raging fury. We started to be more careful. We didn't walk the street with forbidden papers in our pockets, we learned how to avoid the eyes of spies, we acted with a serious conspiracy. Our organization became a mass, grew and expanded and finally, even, provocateurs were also discovered in it.

* * *

Our operation went beyond the borders of the city of Slutsk and began to spread in the nearby towns. Boys and girls from the same towns studied in the high school. Many of them joined our organization and when they came, on their days off from school back to their homes, they organized branches of “Kadima” in their towns. This is how the organization expanded and we were already in control of many towns: Grozovo, Kapoli, Wizna, Timkovitz, Ljuban, Pohust and Strubin.

The branches in the towns conducted their operations under our direct guidance. We sent, from time to time, members to lecture them, deliver news and give the necessary instructions. In Slutsk, a district committee of Kadima was organized, which managed all the activity in the district, often convened conferences and councils, that were composed of representatives of the branches, in which each branch gave a report about the activity of the branch and its probability of success.

The ties with the branch in Grozovo were the closest. The distance from this town to Slutsk was not large. We would go out, every once in a while, on foot, to Grozovo for meetings and talks of the branch. Sometimes all the members of the branch would go out to the fields and forests halfway to Slutsk and we would meet them there. They would arrange shifts, so that we wouldn't be caught and we would give lectures, giving the main information about the Zionist activity, about what was happening throughout Russia and a tiny bit, from what we would raise, about what was happening in Israel.

One of the most typical and visible actions was in Grozovo. The Yevsektsiya held a public trial against “the Zionist” with the composition of a jury, prosecutor and defense attorney. Members of the audience were allowed to appear as witnesses on behalf of the prosecution or the defense. We decided to use this opportunity and appear openly at the trial in defense of Zionism.

We sent Baskin and Shimon Maharashak to participate in the trial. However, the trial was postponed until the next day. They took advantage of this delay and walked to Capuli in the bitter cold, which prevailed that day, to visit there at the branch and provide information about the situation.

The next day, when the trial began, they both appeared: Baskin on behalf of the defense and Maharashak on behalf of the prosecution. As the first witness appeared

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Maharashak. The judges were hoping to hear real prosecution words about “the Zionist”, however, they were embarrassed when they heard his fiery words when he accused the Zionist who is not a real Zionist, is not Zionist enough, and is a caricature of a Zionist. Baskin did not have time to reach his speech. The G.P.O. arrived and they were both banned. They were banned for a few weeks and then released.

Another typical visit that I remember, was when me and Baruch Lifshitz went to the town of Vizna at night. It was a harsh winter day. The cold was great. We traveled in a convoy of three sledges. Two Russian girls from a village near Vizna were riding in one sledge and we introduced ourselves as members of the Komsomol.

When we arrived to Vizna, we gathered with the members of the branch in the room of one of them. We started lecturing and finding out the topical questions. A short time later, members, who were on guard, suddenly announced that the members of the Komsomol heard about our arrival and they were following our tracks. A great danger was involved with it, because Vizna was near the border and a special license was needed to be in it.

We sneaked out of the house. They led us along winding paths, behind fences, arranged a sledge for us, and we barely made it to Slutsk.

* * *

Our Zionist activity expanded day by day. New members joined. The financial expenses also increased. Therefore, we collected membership tax. We held various raffles. We received from the members not only money, but also wheat, which was equivalent to money at the time. Collecting money only from our members was not sufficient, so we also turned to older Zionists, who were not active for a very long period but who followed our bold actions with whimsy and admiration, and collect various donations from them as well.

We had contacts with the central bureau in Minsk and we used to travel to central conferences of “Kadima”. New branches appeared not only in the vicinity of Slutsk. They were also along the railroad Slutsk - Minsk: Oratsia, Sitria Dorugi, Osipovici, Holoy, Lefitz, Svislots. The action was in full scope.

We were active in the high school in its two upper classes that were called courses for general education. We developed a branched Zionist operation. Many students were attracted to our ranks. It was the glory of “Kadima”, whose members were active, energetic and ready to act.

In the student assemblies, the Komsomol usually behaved as the ruler. It was enough for the Komsomol representative to announce: On behalf of the Komsomol, I offer this and that, and no one would dare to open his mouth, as it was customary at all meetings in greater Russia. And here, suddenly, students dared and announced that on behalf of a group of members who are not related to any party, they offer a counter proposal and sometimes their proposal gained a large number of votes. There were also students, who were afraid to publicly vote in favor of the proposal, which the Komsomol did not propose. But secretly they would encourage us. It is worth noting the fact that in the elections to the Otzkom (the students' committee) the members of the Komsomol were afraid that they would be defeated and their representative, Sinitzky (whom I will talk about further below) negotiated with us and suggested that Fayvel Efron should also join the Otskom.

This is how the Komsomol members realized that our action was interrupting them and their influence on the students was diminishing and they decided to take vigorous measures against us.

Then came the great purge and all our active members were expelled from the school as an undesirable element under the excuse that they were, so to speak, of bourgeois origin. Indeed, some students, who proved their proletarian origin, were accepted back, but many were expelled altogether and had to continue their studies in other cities.

* * *

After the first imprisonment in 1922, a series of imprisonments began from time to time. In November of that year Baskin was arrested and taken to Minsk. He was accompanied by a soldier from the army of the G.P.O. Our members Ratner and Skaklasky traveled with him on the same train. They befriended the soldier, and he fulfilled all their requests. In Osipovici, during the long waiting time, everyone went down with the soldier to the house of one of our members and the soldier even gave his rifle to one of the members.

This imprisonment did not last long and after an interrogation with one of the members in Minsk, Baskin was released.

Our action at that time reached its peak. The center of “Kadima” was in Minsk and was called C. B. (Central Bureau). Once in a while we would meet with the members in Minsk, at the councils and conferences of “Kadima”. However, the operation that was conducted by the Central Bureau did not satisfy us, the members from Slutsk. We were full of energy and a strong desire to act. We had a lot of organizational power. We organized many branches in the towns. We acquired a lot of experience. The operation of the Central Bureau was too weak in our opinion. We demanded to transfer the center to Slutsk, as well as the publication of the central newspaper on behalf of “Kadima”.

In this regard, members of the Central Bureau visited Slutsk several times to clear the atmosphere between us. At the end, the central journal of “Kadima” was transferred to Slutsk and we edited and printed it. 7 members were elected to the Central Bureau: 3 from Minsk, 3 from Slutsk and 1 from the nearby branches, I think from Osipovici.

* * *

And here is a sensation in Slutsk. On March 12, 1923, 5 members were arrested by the G.P.O.: Nakritz, Lifshitz, Skaklasky, Hazanovitz and Karina Maharashak, while they were printing the newspaper of the movement “Kadima”. This was, of course, a “big deal” for the G.P.O. and the Yevsektsiya, and they lunged on us, as if they had found a big treasure. We were arrested, interrogated, and sent to Minsk. The trial day in Minsk had already been set, but Nakritz who then was serving in the Red Army could not be released and come. Finally, it was decided to hold the trial in Slutsk, and not just a trial, but a process. We have pledged not to leave Slutsk until the trial and in the meantime, we were released.

Of course, during our imprisonment the action continued, and we, when we were temporary released, returned immediately back to work. Before the trial, we decided to call a large gathering of members and say goodbye to them, because we feared that the punishment that is expecting us is severe. The meeting was held at the edge of the city, at the house of a relative of our friend. The room was too narrow to contain all the members, who sat crowded and listened to the farewell words.

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Suddenly beeps and whistles were heard outside. We didn't have time to come to our senses when the two G.P.O. soldiers broke into the apartment. We were amazed. Admittedly, among the present were members that the G.P.O. knew them as active Zionists, but most of the members were not known as Zionists. They were not suspects and their revelations threatened them with serious consequences. The people of the G.P.O. began to register the members and suddenly one of the members was heard calling to the soldier: please do not address me in the present tense, and in Yiddish: Comrade do not be afraid, give false addresses and names. They won't arrest all of us, we are too many and they are only two”.

The compressed atmosphere dissipated. The tension was over. The young members cheered up. As a reply to the questions of the soldiers, names from the Haftarah were given: Feinfinkelkroit, Wolkenkratzer, Lamaffernstein, etc. Here and there a laughter was heard as a response to the names invented.

The soldiers wrote down the names and addresses that they had given them, and when they realized that they would not be able to take over all those gathered, they released them. Us, the ones who were awaiting the trial, they knew personally and there was no point in imprisoning us, when, in a few days, we will stand trial.

All the Yevsektsiya forces were recruited for our process. One of the judges was Avraham Yaakov the cheese maker, who was known for his virulence that permeated everything that was related to Zionism. The prosecutor was Shelchovitz, the secretary of the professional associations and on the bench of the accused were sitting boys and a girl aged 16-19. Indeed, all this honor was given to them.

And I was sitting on the bench of the defendants and looking at the crowd of people that was filling the great hall. My gaze reviewed the audience and tried to find sympathy for us. Our groups of members were scattered in several places. Their faces reflected anxiety for our fate, in the faces of some of them I read admiration for us, love and sympathy. But the majority of the public was cold, indifferent, expressing their agreement to the accusations by clapping their hands – was it out of true agreement, or out of indifference, servitude and stagnation, out of the habit of obeying whatever the government says?

And the prosecutor thundered in his speech and poured out all his anger and wrath on us, and not on us only, but on Zionism as a whole. And he accused the twelve sections of the counter-revolution; And the twelfth section was the most terrible crime: reviving a dead language, that was destined to extinction, like the Latin language, a language that is religious, mystical and counter-revolutionary.

And I listened to the words of the prosecutor and thought: “how can people say so many stupid words? Did the hatred, stupidity and the hardness of the heart grow so much? Will these people be able to overcome us and defeat us? No way! If we will be punished - others will come in our place and the war will continue and the chain will not be broken”.

A verdict was issued: three were released due to their young age and they were - Lifshitz, Skaklasky and Hazanovitz; Karina Maharashak was sentenced to a year of probation; Nakritz was sentenced to a year in prison.

Sometime after the trial, ideological debates began in “Kadima”. In Russia, there were three apolitical youth organizations: the “Hachaver” - in Great Russia, the “Histadrut” - in Ukraine and “Kadima” - in White Russia. A proposal was offered to unite all these three organizations into one apolitical organization in the name I.W.O.S.M. On the other hand, the question of the politicization

of the youth organizations and their party affiliation was presented.

We debated this question a lot. At the beginning, we had a tendency to unite with I.W.O.S.M. and Fayvel Efron came to Moscow to carry out this unification, where he met with the late Misha Efrat, one of the active members, who was one of the founders of “Kadima” in Slutsk, who made all the efforts regarding the unification of Kadima union with one youth organization, which had split from the “Hachaver”, and was named A.S.Y.P. (Yidishar Socialistishar Yogand Perain) and sent special letters to various members in Slutsk.

Efron met with the members of the center of A.S.Y.P. and the unification with I.W.O.S.M. was postponed for now. It should be noted that in a political sense the members of Slutsk were very close to the organization A.S.Y.P. and the unification with it captivated many members.

The unrest all over “Kadima” in White Russia was great. The question that was raised was whether the apoliticality of the youth should be maintained and the organization should be unified with the I.W.O.S.M. and by this to establish a large and extensive Zionist youth organization, whose power will be great, or to define the movement as political and accept the principles of A.S.Y.P.

In this regard there were disputes, there were differences of opinion and finally a conference was called in Minsk and there was a division. Some members joined the I.W.O.S.M. and most of the members joined. A.S.Y.P. A branch of A.S.Y.P. was founded in Minsk and it began to develop a wide operation in the close area. “Kadima” in Slutsk and all the branches in the towns in its entire district, joined A.S.Y.P.

In March 1924, mass imprisonments began among Zionists throughout Russia and even in Slutsk. The people of the G.P.O. went from house to house in the city and banned active members as well as ordinary members. One day before all the prisons, I was banned and my prisons were in somewhat unusual conditions. I went to the train station, at the edge of the city, to deliver a letter to the center of A.S.Y.P., to the father of one of our members, who went to Moscow. The cash register was in a small, narrow box. I went in there and handed over the letter. And here I see two soldiers from the G.P.O stand by the door. I understood what it meant for me. My mind was working hard on how to get out of this trouble. Suddenly I saw that one of the soldiers made a movement and moved a little to the side of the door. I immediately exercised the opportunity. I leapt through the opening and like an arrow from a bow I ran in the direction of the city.

The soldiers chased after me shouting: “Stand up, we'll shoot you”. But I trusted that they wouldn't shoot in the crowd that was at the station. The railroad was already behind me. The soldiers were at a large distance from me. I ran forward and I thought I've already been saved, and here in front of me I saw a friend from school, with whom I studied for many years in the same department, Haim Sinitzky, the representative of the Komsomol in the high school. He stretched out a leg. I failed and fell to the ground. He attacked me and I wrestled with him. In the meantime, the soldiers arrived and caught me.

I was put in a barrack at the train station. My first thought was how to get rid of the illegal substance, which I carried with me. Luckily, they left me alone in the room for a moment and I immediately used it and stuffed all the papers into the cracks in the walls of the barrack.

They brought me to the prison and put me in a cell. I was already used to

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prisons and I was not so depressed. And here the next day I heard familiar voices in the prison yard. I looked through the window and saw that almost half of the members from the branch were in prison. Indeed, that night the people of the G.P.O. went for hunting, they went, according to well-known addresses and banned many members.

All the members were kept together in one room, while I was kept separately. Of course, I found tricks on how to communicate with them and pass them notes. I was already a “veteran” and used to prisons and knew all the tricks. For a week we were all in the prison in Slutsk and after that we were sent to Minsk to the G.P.O. Only when we left the prison, at the train station, I was joined to the rest of the members and since then we have not been separated. On the way, at the various train stations, members from different branches joined us and our number increased. That's how we arrived in Minsk and were brought to the G.P.O.

The building of the G.P.O was a huge building and all the prisoners, including me, were locked in the big basement. The cell I was sitting in was for 15 people. The window was at the top, near the ceiling, and was made of iron grating. I used to lie curled in the corner, on the hard plank, among the other members of the cell, pondering: what is happening now outside the prison? What are the other members doing? How is the work going on in the organization? And you wait impatiently for them to call you for interrogation - maybe you will know a little about their fate.

And the interrogation is also conducted in a unique way: they are not satisfied with daytime interrogation, but also interrogate at night. In the middle of your heavy sleep, you feel a hand that shakes you and you hear a rude voice: “to interrogation”! And you jump up from your bed confused: where, for which interrogation, for what, which room is it here, which soldier? But the bitter reality slaps you in the face. In silence you get dressed, wrap yourself in a coat and leave the cell with the soldier.

Night. Darkness. A cold attack you. Quiet is everywhere. And you leave the basement to the inner courtyard. The building of the G.P.O. towering before you in all its height. And you start going up with the soldier to the first, second, third floor, you go forward, and the soldier with the rifle is behind you. And he commands you: “to the right, to the left, forward, to the side”. And you open a door and close a door. Electric lamps are lit on the stairs and the rooms in a dark light, darkness, you meet no one. And you go and go, from room to room, from floor to floor, and there is no end to this walk. A shivering attack you, you are cold. And you imagine what kind of meeting you will have with the interrogator, and you feel bad and bitter. And you are attacked by the desire to get out of the prison at any cost and be free... You barely control your nerves, get over yourself, wrap yourself in the coat and keep walking on (this whole walk in the middle of the night, on a long and complicated road is just a ploy of the G.P.O. to scare the prisoner). But here we come to a door on the fifth floor. The soldier puts his rifle in the corner, lights a cigarette and orders you to knock on the door. With all the courage left in you, you knock on the door.

An answer is heard: “Come in”. You open the door and enter. A large and spacious room. In one corner stands a small table, next to it are two chairs. Above the table descends an electric lamp with a green marble. The room is half dark. I go to the table.

The interrogator sits there, as if he doesn't notice me at all. I sit in front of him and remain silent. He is also silent. Suddenly he raises his head, as if he just noticed my presence and greets me with a sneer. The interrogation begins. The questions are common, and so are the answers. He tries to complicate me, asking me a lot of relevant and irrelevant questions; Wants me to tell him the names of members; Wants to put me in an iron circle, from which I cannot get out; Weaving thin, invisible spider webs around me and I answer him, carefully, tearing his webs, severing the tuber; All my senses are alert, tensed. We play the cat and mouse game. If there is a question that I have difficulty answering, I say: “I don't know”. And when my answer does not satisfy him, I add: “It may be look as if my words appear to be incorrect; but this is so, this is a fact”.

At first, the interrogator behaves politely, coaxing me, seducing me, promising to release me, complimenting me, as if he spared me, that I am so young and have to sit in prison, and how I, who am of proletarian origin, can be a counter-revolutionary; He suggests that I move to the Komsomol, go to work for the G.P.O. When he sees that the temptations are not useful, he begins to get angry, takes out papers from the drawer in the middle of the interrogation, as if these papers contained all my fate; Suddenly runs to the other side of the room, rings the phone and comes back to me with a triumphant expression on his face. Finally, he takes out a gun and places it on the table. He gets more and more excited, his face turns red, his voice is irritating. He starts threatening to put me in prison forever, to send me to Siberia, to Solovki, to kill me like a dog. Finally, he is unable to stop himself, and all red with anger, he begins to curse in crude Russian slurs. When I ask him to be more polite and be careful with his language, he attacks me with clenched fists, starts shaking me with the chair, grabs the gun, puts it in front of my temple and shouts: I'll shoot you soon, son of a bitch!“ A shout erupted from my throat: Put down your hands, barbarian, Huni!” The interrogator looked at me with intense hatred, breathed heavily and ordered me to leave the room.

I was all shocked and left. The soldier who was waiting for me in the corridor looked at me curiously and led me back, but not to the previous cell. As a punishment the interrogator sent me to the terrible cell of the G.P.O., to the single cell No. 6, which was considered by all the prisoners as a monster...

And so, days and nights went on, turning into weeks and months, everything was sickening. Every day prisoners were taken out and new ones were put in their place, and only we were not touched. Every once in a while, they called us for an interrogation, repeating the same questions; Tempting and threatening again - and you returned to the prison, heartbroken, your nerves were on the edge, tensed; A light touch and they will explode. You go to the window and look impatiently at the sky. Oh, the sky, the sun, the freedom!... How you long to see them again! Is it true that there are people who walk freely, who can do whatever they want, that no damn soldier follow them everywhere; People who breathe the smell of the fields, the fresh air?.. And the nights and days pass. And all the days have one form and one tone... We have been sitting in prisons for about six months, and the end is not seen in the horizon. And it was annoying, just to sit there, without a trial. And a desire arose in us

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to do some bold thing, to take drastic measures, in order to force the interrogator to put an end to our unknown situation. Let them send us wherever they want, provided that they do not continue to torture us with this state of ignorance.

Seeing that the imprisonment continues and has no end, we went on a hunger strike, which lasted 4 days, demanding to have our interrogation intensified.

The strike was successful and the interrogation was over.

We were informed of the verdict:

Deportation for three years to the Urals, or deportation to Israel. We stood amazed and confused. Deportation to Israel or to the Urals? To the Land of Israel! Even in our wildest dreams we could not dream that we could be so soon in the Land of Israel. Because it was impossible to leave Russia, and they had not yet deported people to the Land of Israel. These were the first deportations to the Land of Israel. And the interrogator presents us with a dilemma: the Land of Israel or Ural! Well, this was the end of working underground, of the prisons, of running from the G.P.O... we go to Eretz Israel!

I was deported from Russia. And as I stood on the deck of the sailing ship and looked at the shores that were getting farther and farther away from me, my heart contracted: you, the great and wide Russia. You expelled me as a despicable child, why, then, was I imposed to suckle, to be feed on your culture, that is foreign to me at its core, for so many years?

 


Members of Kadima and A.S.Y.P., the first to be deported to Israel from Slutsk

From right to left: Israel Ratner, Zvi Hazanovich (HaGivati), Nakritz Azriel (Shalev), Lifshitz Baruch, Shimon Maharshak

 

Why this tragic duality in my fate. The fate of a young Jew, to absorb and digest foreign culture and education? Why did I have to draw from a foreign country, from springs not mine, why?


The trial of the Zionist youth

by Azriel Nekritz

Translated by Sara Mages

At the beginning of 1922, a Zionist youth organization called “Kadima,” that I was among its organizers and instructors, was established in Slutsk. This organization developed and expanded. One of its activities was the publication of the central newspaper of the entire movement, also called “Kadima.”

On 12 March 1923, one of the newspaper's issues was printed in my house. Suddenly, in the middle of the printing, the men of the GPU[1] burst into my house (later we learned that one of the neighbors informed us), arrested the printers - four male members and one female member - and confiscated all the material.

 


Members of “Kadima” in Slutsk who were tried in November 1923

1) Azriel Nekritz (Shelef), 2) Baruch Lifshits, 3) Yehudah Skakolsky, 4) Krayna Maharshak-Baskin (Beit-Tzvi), 5) Tzvi Hazanovitsh (Hagivati)

 

The GPU arrested us and four days later transferred us to Minsk. Along the way, we agreed that during the interrogation the members, who were young in age, would lay all the blame in regards to the newspaper on me, and I will answer all the questions that directly concern me. And indeed, so it was during our interrogation and we all stood the test.

At the end of the investigation we were told that we would have to stand trial, we will be released until the trial out of a commitment on our part not to leave Slutsk without a permit from the GPU. I had to report to the army to which I was drafted prior to imprisonment.

Our indictment contained two clauses: clause 72 of the criminal code which dealt with the ownership, preparation and distribution of illegal literature, and clause 83 which dealt with incitement and the seeding of international animosity. After a while they added to me, the adult among the prisoners, another clause - disrespect for the Yevsektsiya[2] as an integral part of the Communist Party. Our trial was set for 24.9.1923 in Minsk.

On the day designated for the trial in Minsk, the four members appeared without me because I did not get a release from army to appear in the trial.

The chairman of the court opened the trial and announced, that since the main defendant was absent the court decided to postpone the trial until a special announcement.

The Yevsektsiya in Slutsk was not interested that the trial would take place in Minsk, because it wanted to turn it into an “exemplary trial,” to prove to the masses of Jews the revolutionary nature of the Zionist movement. Therefore, it used the opportunity of the postponement of the trial

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and started to take care of the transfer of the trial from Minsk to Slutsk, a place were the defendants were known. The Yevsektsiya succeeded and the trial was set, for the second time, to 27.11,1923, and this time in Slutsk.

From the correspondence with the members, which did not stop all the time, I learned that our file in the hands of the investigator was getting fatter day by day. It was clear that there was a need for an early meeting of the members with me to clarify our position and coordinate our appearance at the trial.

I tried to get permission from the military authorities for an early travel. I explained to the commander that I have a political trial. I am being accused of counter-revolution, I want to prove my innocence at the trial and for that I want to be given the opportunity to arrive early in Slutsk to contact a lawyer. During our conversation a political debate developed over the Zionist issue, and even though the commander - a member of the Communist Party - was not a Jew, the question seemed reasonable. My stand in this debate was well-liked by this gentile and he helped me to get the permit. I managed to get to Slutsk a few days before the start of the trial for a joint meeting of the five “defendants.” I first went to the court house to review our file. I was referred to the judge himself, a local man, who was the only judge in the trial, and without his approval I could not get the file for a review. He graciously received me and said that he was happy to have the opportunity to talk to me as the central personality in the trial. We talked for a long time. The judge tried to influence me “to express my remorse” for my wrong way, and promised and declare, that from now on I will be loyal to the social revolution, etc., etc. For his part, he promised that he would do everything for the cancellation of the trial, or, that only a symbolic judgment would be given. I explained to him, during a convincing and serious conversation, that our path is not wrong and that we have nothing to regret. We are interested in a profound and serious public inquiry and we are sure that we will prove the righteousness of our war and actions. From our conversation it became clear to the judge that we would defend our way, vigorously and warmly, and that the trial could become a public political debate.

The next day we learned that the judge had approached Minsk and demanded to send a special session of the Supreme Court because he was unwilling to assume responsibility for the administration of this trial. His demand was fulfilled and a special session was sent in the composition of three judges with a chairman. I contacted a well-known Russian lawyer (Petkavitch), a former member of SRs [Socialist Revolutionary Party]. After I lectured the matter to him and answered his questions (which, by the way, proved to me that he understood the matter nicely, as if he were a Jew), he enthusiastically accepted the defense and refused to accept a payment for his work. “I do not get paid by politicians” - he declared. The layer had to read the file and I had to get an agreement from the presiding judge that the trial would be conducted in the Russian language. The next day, when I came to the court, I learned that a special assembly was already sent from Minsk. The new judge accepted me with a noticeable and deliberate coolness and refused to conduct the trial in the Russian language. My explanation that our lawyer is Russian and doesn't know Yiddish did not help. A few hours later, when I met with the lawyer Petkavitch, I told him about my conversation with the judge and the results of my request to conduct the trial in the Russian language he announced that he is forced to step away from our defense. From his remarks I understood that he was hinted about his political past and was advised not to stick his nose in a matter bordering on “counter-revolution.”

After consideration we came to the conclusion that we also wanted the trial to be conducted in Yiddish since most of the Jewish residents of Slutsk did not master the Russian language. And we, after all, needed a Jewish audience because we were interested in convincing the Jews of the righteousness of our ideas.

In a joint consultation with the members, in light of the situation that has arisen, we have decided to not to accept the official defense provided by the college of lawyers and take on the defense. We also decided not to publicize the matter ahead of time and announce it as a fact at the trial. The college of lawyers informed us that it has appointed the attorney Repp, as was customary by rotation.

The trial was set for Wednesday, 27.11.1923, at the Slutsk municipal theater, which was the largest hall in the city and contained more than a thousand people sitting and standing. The Yevsektsiya's choice of this hall, and setting the time for seven in the evening when everyone was free from work, proved the Yevsektsiya's intention to turn the trial into an event in the city.

And indeed, it was a powerful and wonderful Zionist demonstration that I do not remember anywhere else in Russia since the Zionist movement was declared counter-revolutionary by the government. Even though the entrance to the hall was by special tickets distributed to the members of the Communist Party, the Komsomol, the members of the professional associations, etc., many Jews, and members of the youth movement, also entered in various ways despite the efforts to prevent them from entering the hall.

The hall was full to capacity. The ushers couldn't control the large crowds that gathered at the entrance and sat on the windowsills. Outside the hall hundreds of people stood around the building and besieged it. The trial opened at seven in the evening as the three judges, the prosecutor and the appointed defense attorney - the lawyer Repp, sat on the stage, and on the side, on the defendants' bench, sat our five members. After the usual formal questions (names, age, profession, etc.), I announced, on behalf of all the accused members, that we are removing ourselves from the protection given to us by the law and take on the defense. The effect was full. The defense attorney - the lawyer Rapp, was confused and was forced to apologize. He left his seat next to the judges table and move to the audience benches.

The prosecutor's speech was in the well-known style: he started to talk about the social origins of the defendants, who were the children of traders, speculators and clerics (Krayna's father was a slaughterer), but, also here he had to be somewhat reluctant because I was a soldier in the Red Army and sat on the defendants' bench in military uniform. Before I joined the army I belonged to the working class, I worked (as a pharmacist) in pharmacies and was a member of the Professional Association of Medical Workers. After that came the political affair - the counter-revolutionary activity of Zionism in Russia. The agreement between Jabotinsky-Petlura,

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that came to prove the connection between Zionism and imperialism. Together with that, the prosecutor announced that he was removing the third clause in the indictment - disrespect for the Yevsektsiya as part of the Communist Party, a matter that was very unpleasant for the members of Yevsektsiya in Slutsk. He ended his speech demanding that the defendants, especially the main defendant, Azriel Nekritz, who guided the other defendants and had a devastating and criminal effect on them, will receive the maximum penalty.

After the prosecutor's speech, the judges turned to questions, more precisely, the presiding judge to the defendants. Among other questions I was asked about my attitude to the Red Army and whether I was serving out of choice or against my will. I replied that as a citizen of the Soviet Union I consider it my duty and fulfill my civil duty willingly and faithfully. With that I shut his mouth and disappointed him, and he lost the urge to ask me more questions. He only “commented” to me that the Red Army would not tolerate counter-revolutionary elements like me.

After the questions the members' speeches began, but, as we agreed earlier, the members spoke briefly and each touched one particular point. I gave the main defense speech and spoke last.

The trial lasted two consecutive nights, from seven in the evening to dawn on the 27th and 28th of November 1923, and during all hours of inquiry on both nights. The huge crowd didn't move from the place and remained tense and listening. My speech began on the second night of the trial, at about midnight, and lasted over three hours. I prepared for this speech while I was still in the army. I read, with great care, everything that was written about the national question by the leaders of the communist movement: Lenin, Stalin, Bukharin, etc., and copied many quotations from their words in a special notebook. Close to that time, the fourth All-Russian Conference of the Comintern [Communist International] was held, and I also drew a lot of material from it for my upcoming speech.

I lay before the judges, and the huge audience in the hall, the history of Zionism, the aspiration of the Jewish people for the homeland. I proved with many quotes from the words of the communist leaders, which I read from my notebook, that the national aspiration, the nation's longing for the homeland, is not counter-revolutionary, nationalism does not contradict socialism, if there is no territorial basis under its feet, and if it is without a homeland. I contradicted the prosecutor's accusing points. I proved that the Zionist youth movement is not chauvinistic and reactionary, and no less socialist than the Komsomol. I destroyed the blame that there was a connection between the Zionist movement and the Jabotinsky-Petlura agreement.

It was a typical public Zionist speech, which made a great impression on the audience who listened to every word with great tension, and angered the judges and the members of Yevsektsiya. The presiding judge stopped me from time to time and demanded that I should talk on the topic, but I informed that I answer, one by one, to the prosecutor's points of charges, and therefore I'm talking about the topic and the court does not have the right to deny, or restrict, the defendant's last speech. I continued to speak through the frequent interruptions of the presiding judge until I reached the point of proof based on the words of the communist leaders, that if to blame an idea and national ambition with counter-revolution, therefore, the Comintern is also counter-revolutionary. With that, I exaggerated and the chairman stopped me and announced that since I was not talking about the topic, in spite of his many warnings, he is not allowing me to continue and finish my words. I protested against it and demanded that my protest be entered to the protocol. The presiding judge stopped the court's meeting and entered the consultation room together with the other judges.

 

 

The consultation lasted approximately three hours, and in the early hours of the morning a verdict was issued: I was sentenced to one year in prison, expelled from the ranks of the Red Army and denied the right to vote. The member (Krayna Maharshak) was sentenced to one month imprisonment, but since she was already jailed for four weeks before the trial, she only had to stay in jail for two days. The other three members were released due to their young age.

I should point out that the maximum penalty of clauses 72 and 83 of the criminal code is: one year imprisonment under clause 72, two years under clause 83, together, three years in prison. And indeed, during the consultation of the judges with the prosecutor, as told to us by one of our members who secretly listened to their discussions, the latter strongly demanded this maximum penalty for me, but the judges told him that after the defense speech, clause 83 (incitement and the sowing of international hostility) should not be taken seriously and it is necessary to turn a blind eye to it without informing its cancellation. In this manner, a verdict was issued for only one year in prison and with that the Yevsektsiya suffered defeat. But, that was not enough. Its main defeat was that instead of proving to the general Jewish public, by turning this criminal trial into an exemplary political process, that the Zionist movement is counter-revolutionary and the Zionist youth movement is chauvinistic and reactionary, the Jewish public came to know the opposite, and expressed open sympathy for Zionism and our movement. Shortly after the trial, as I sat in prison, I learned that new members, from the working and studying youth, had entered the ranks of the youth organization “Kadima” in Slutsk and other locations in White Russia. It was a reward for our proud standing in this trial.

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The Yevsektsiya in Slutsk felt well the defeat brought by the trial. A closed meeting of the Yevsektsiya was held immediately afterwards and it was decided to turn to the party center and demand that it would no longer arrange public trials against the Zionists because the results of these trials were to their detriment (one of our members managed to copy several sections from the minutes of the Yevsektsiya's meeting). And indeed, it was the second public trial (after the Kiev trial) and the last of the Zionists in Soviet Russia.

Translator's footnotes

  1. GPU - the State Political Directorate (also translated as the State Political Administration) (GPU) was the intelligence service and secret police of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Return
  2. Yevsektsiya - the Jewish section of the Soviet Communist Party and its stated mission was the destruction of traditional Jewish life, the Zionist movement and Hebrew culture. Return
  3. Return


Everything that have happened

by Fayvel Efron

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

In memory of my late mother Itke - the pure and noble soul.
In memory of my late father Yosef Dov Ber - the sharp and daring.
In memory of the destroyed house.
Widowhood and bereavement. The exterminator exterminated everything.

The sentence was decided a long time ago. The shadow of the total destruction was everywhere. But the end was horrible. And the destruction was in its diabolical and terrible shape - who could have imagined and think what will happen?

Slutsk - my hometown. Why it was so special to me? - Because it was mine, it was my home, my childhood, my youth, the beginning, the dreams, ambitions, hopes and faith. Faith in man and humanity.

I lived in it only for a few years. But my longing and cuddling are numerous. My love and gratitude are strong. And at the same time, I remember the driving force, the aspiration, the desire and necessity to leave, run away, depart from Slutsk. Many left Slutsk, mostly teenagers. And I wish those who remained would have left as well.

The Jewish Slutsk - seriousness, severity, strictness, fanaticism and honesty together with innocent faith, longing and yearning. Quietly restrained grief and trembling sadness spread over everything. The whole landscape seemed sad and serious.

A few years, a shocking crisis. From way of life of innocent faith, conservative piety and zealous observance of the religious commandments - to a heresy that takes over and fights and breaks everything that is accepted and sacred, even to the point of marriage without a Rabbi, mixed marriages and uncircumcised children. Who can count how many fathers were in sorrow and how many mothers' hearts were broken? Who can mourn the shock and anxiety from this generation?

And with the background of a few general events in this short period of time - here are some fragments of memories and impressions of a boy and a teenager in Slutsk as he saw them, felt them and lived them.

Baylis' trial. World War. Refugees. The first revolution. The second revolution. Exchange of regimes and authorities. Crisis and destruction of Jewish life. Zionist underground. Imprisonment and leaving home. A distress came down to the calm life and the childish peaceful. The distress by the Baylis' trial. And fear of the future. The boy's heart also felt that something crucial was about to happen. In the evenings, neighbors would gather and excitedly read newspapers.

On Simchat Torah, restraints were loosened among the crowd of the young people, and they used to outburst into the courtyard of the synagogue and out into the streets of the city, with fireworks and sipping a drink. On this Simchat Torah holiday, before the verdict in the Baylis trial, all joy was nullified. (As fate would have it, and since then the celebration of Simchat Torah has not resumed publicly and cheerfully in Slutsk) ... An enormous fear and depression. With a great sadness, the prayer was quietly and we approached the encirclements of Simchat Torah. A stranger suddenly appeared, a guest from the Hassidim, who was an unusual sight in Slutsk, which opposed the Hassidism. The guest approached the holy ark and began to dance, something we were not used to see, an adult dancing... - And I remember the silent typical movement, the slow and restrained speech without raising a voice, all the anxiety and sadness were expressed in the words: “Fe, Reb Id - Maacht Zich Nit Naresh” ... Yazt... (Fe, Jewish Reb, don't lose your mind now...) which were said by the Shamash Reb Yaakov (Reb Yankev, as it was pronounced in Yiddish), a kind and respected Jew, pleasant.

How can I forget the joy of liberation from anguish. Constricted and restrained joy, so as not to upset the gentiles... lest... it was not over yet? Baylis was indeed released but the Jewish people were not cleared of guilt. And severe insult and bitterness accompanied the joy. Who knows what will happen.

And indeed, the evil forces did not rest in Russia. They did not disappear when the verdict was given and they did not silent, but continued and increased their propaganda and incitement against the Jews.

Also, in Slutsk they decided to take advantage of a young gentile man named Gabrila, who many years ago was murdered by Christians, and years later a part of his body was found intact. In the spring of 1914, they recollected him and declared him a saint. And to denote this event, they decided on a large conference and a magnificent religious parade in Slutsk. The incitement against the Jews of Slutsk and the surrounding area increased. They spread the rumor that the Jews were the ones who killed Gabrila. The fear grew. There was a real danger of a pogrom. The rich Jews fled and left the city.

The conference took place, the magnificent parade passed, a large crowd gathered and came to Slutsk. But the enthusiasm was not great as the planners had planned. And there was no pogrom. And they said then, that it was mainly due to a generous gift that was given to the governor. And in any case, a reinforcement of police officers was brought, as they said that the youth of Slutsk also prepared and organized for self-defense.

And then, a natural phenomenon occurred. A total solar eclipse, which left a great impression on the children as well as the adults.

A sign of evil, new troubles, a sign of war, mumbled and prophesied women and men alike.

And indeed... - a very short time later, in August 1914, the war broke out. It was on 9 Av. The First World War with all its horrors. The world as we know it had changed. Slutsk, who had never excelled in publicly expression of joy - became completely silent. No

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weddings or any other celebration were held. Melancholic was everywhere. The Jews felt themselves outcasts and strangers to the country in general and to the war in particular. They resorted to all kinds of means of evasion. They even reached to the point of mutilating each other with minor as well as severe and serious disabilities. Professionals were specialized for this purpose. The bribery business flourished. And there were also those who disappeared completely from the area and went underground.

In the rotten regime of Russia at that time, after small victories at the beginning, the great and shameful retreat began. And of course, the Jews were also to blame for this discriminating retreat. The Jews were accused of extradition, sabotage and espionage. Nikolay Nikolayevich, who was from the royal family and the commander-in-chief at the time, ordered a global and immediate deportation of all the Jews in the area of the battles. All Polish Jews were deported. The “Bezantsim” Affair began, the refugees.

 


The late Elisheva Eshkol (Elka Kaplan)

From the nearby town of Snyavka, she stayed in Slutsk as a refugee in 1917-18 and was active in “Tze'irei Zion” (Zion youth).

 

In the fall of 1915, many refugees arrived in Slutsk. They were received with great care and hospitality. They were fed and treated with brotherly love. Most of them were housed in synagogues and private homes. Women and young women collected clothes and food needs, cooked He cooked, brewed and fed them.

But these Jews were strange to us. Hasidic Polish Jews, with long, curled and embossed sidelocks. The people of Slutsk would humble them, without exaggeration and external bragging.

And their special clothing. The small hats, the socks over the pants, the various capote with “belts” worn on them - until then, Slutsk had never seen such Jews. Also, their Yiddish speech was different and strange, foreign and odd, unclear and unpleasant to the Lithuanian Jew in Slutsk. The children would call them with a special melody “Itshe-meye”... (r). - They would also add “Heing afen tye“=8; (r). And for a complete relief, they would harshly add – “Poilishe dribkes”…- Indeed, contradictory groups. And there was mutual reluctance and a partition between the residents and the refugees. (Different partitions were also within the residents among themselves. Between different classes, professions and degrees - special Beit Midrash houses. And the main partition was according to genealogy, ancestry).

And the refugees also established special Minyans for themselves. Minyans of Hassidim. But over time, the differences and contrasts were blurred. The refugees recovered and acclimatized and the residents helped them. And there were among the refugees both rich and beggars, and also professional beggars. And over time, the integration increased. Partnerships were established and they even reached to “mixed marriage”. Indeed, integration of exiles.

The Russian retreat stopped not far from Slutsk, near the town of Liakhovitz. And from there, they did not expel the Jews, and most of the Jews did not leave the town. The town was bombarded continuously, there were many victims there. Only a few came from there to Slutsk, broken and ragged.

And at the same time, in the atmosphere of war and a close front, a new doctor appeared in Slutsk. A young Jewish man, quick, smart and cheerful. He only spoke Russian and was dandy. No one knew where he came from. And he immediately stood out. He joined and became a member in the circles of the Naichelstavo“, beginning with the Ispravnik” and ending with “Vainski Nechelknik” (from the police inspector to the military commander). He was appointed as a military doctor and was promoted to sit in the “Prisotstva”, the committee for examining and accepting recruits for the army. And here he found an open door for accepting bribes. And he took advantage of it with a broad hand and brutally. And the Jews of the city hated him, especially the Slutsk women, who would accompany him on his carriage ride with bitter curses. He established a high and luxurious standard of living for himself. He lived in the spacious house of one of the richest people in Slutsk, who left the city when the front approached it. He married a beautiful woman. Four Christian servants and maids served them in their house. And almost every evening, and night after night, debauchery balls were held in his house, and all the members in the “Naichelstavo” were its guests.

From time to time, one would see in his apartment a Jew with a distinguished face and a well-kept beard, staying in his house for a few days. In the summer, this Jew would be seen sitting in the porch and studying Gemara. “It's his uncle” - the servants would tell. And it was an enigma to the neighbors. And one evening - it was at Sukkot (5677) his regular guests came to him unexpectedly, without invitation and without prior notice and arrested him.

It turned out that he used a name that was not his, and he was not a doctor at all, but a third-year medical student.

The government officials were afraid about their fate so they held a party in his cell and poisoned him.

The Slutsk Jews were amazed. They shook their heads, even those who once cursed him, out of pity, participation in grief and powerlessness over the corrupt, hostile and Jew-hating government. And when the revolution broke out a few months later, the Jews would still be reminiscing him and saying among themselves: “If only he had lived a few more months, he would have risen to greatness”... There was something about him that charmed the people of the city. Like a stray star, he appeared and surprised, deviated from the straight path, misled the people and fell into the oblivion.

The revolution broke out, the February Revolution. At first, the people whispered with hesitation and while looking to the sides. It was said, word of mouth,

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that something was happening in the capital. The emperor resigned... in favor of his sick son Alexei... in favor of his brother Michael... Michael Caesar... Michael did not agree... Michael resigned... Republic... Provisional Government... –

I remember the first Shabbat and the fierce debate at the synagogue. “The one who gives salvation” to whom? Opinions were divided and the spirits were agitated. There were distinctly conservative monarchists - who sided in favor of King Nikolay. And progressive monarchists who were in favor of Michael. And there were also republicans who were in favor of the provisional government. And on that Shabbat, there was no “the one who gives” and there was no “salvation” in the synagogue. It was as if something was missing. It was as if they were after a surgery in which a vital organ was amputated.

The emperor was dethroned. Russia was a republic. There was a provisional government. It was a dream. Spring. General joy. Joyful face. The heart sings and aspires to wonderful things. An outburst of feelings of mutual brotherhood and a desire to operate. Aspiration for heroism and self-sacrifice. A great experience. And the deserters (the skivers) came out of their holes, - now we know what we should fight for - they said.

And the demonstration of gratitude in the market square was general. Christians and Jews. The intelligentsia and the common people. The clergy too. - The entire population. - The revolution of the entire people, a revolution - without bloodshed.

Even then, there were indeed skeptics who remembered the year 1905. With a heavy sigh they would express their fear and hesitation, who knows what will happen and let's hope that everything will not end like in 1905.

All parties came out of darkness and organized. Groups, associations and organizations were created and organized every now and then. Also, the Zionist movement in all its wings and nuances. A Zionist youth movement, and even a children's association - “Pirchei Zion” (Flowers of Zion).

And as if there is no longer a war. Only freedom, endless freedom. And they enjoyed this freedom as much as they could. The youth wanted to share this celebration even with the dead and would spend and walk at night in the cemetery. Even the fear of death and the dead disappeared. The spirit of freedom and a light mischievous spirit took hold of everything. It also touched the members of the yeshiva and the sons of the Rabbis even started learning Russian and playing in the lord's gardens (albeit secretly) with the daughters of the lords and the intelligentsia - crackat. The election cauldron and the election war have begun. Assemblies and speeches. Those who were held in the katorgas also came to speak and preach. And these were admired heroes by the entire residents of Slutsk. The director of the commercial school, Dmitry Ivanowitz Ivanov, a liberal Christian, also came to give a speech on Shabbat, in the Great Synagogue (the cold). He was unlike the director of the Sokolov Gymnasium, who was a reactionary. The election war was conducted furiously, with everyone believing in their own way with complete faith. Everything was reorganized. A city management was elected in general elections. There was a militia instead of police and the head of the militia was a Jew, and Daniel'ke was a militiaman. And on the evenings of his guarding - in the policeman's pavilion, girls and boys and children gathered around him - and there was joy everywhere. Politerke the policeman, the monster and the fear of the Jews, was fired. Chastened, he greeted loudly every Jew he saw from a distance. How he fell from his grace and lost whole his threatening power. – Finally, he was recruited and sent to the front.

The dreams were beautiful. The hopes were big. But the spring was short. The reality became difficult and gloomy day by day, the new soldiers were not useful either, the former skivers, and at the front - defeat after defeat. There was a great anarchy in the entire country, one government was replaced by another, everyone longed for the Constituent Assembly.

The October Revolution came. The power was taken by the Bolsheviks. Their slogans were: give the land for the farmers immediately, and end the war – let the soldiers return to their homes - had an effect and charm. They especially captured the hearts of the tired soldiers. The Bolsheviks were neither harmed nor disturbed by the talk of the Slutsk Jews about them: they are disturbed, unscrupulous, anarchists, just thieves, and as they shouted all over Russia – they were German spies... - they seized power, - but the anarchy prevailed. In the meantime, there was a pause in Slutsk: according to the Brest-Litovsk agreement, the Germans also entered Slutsk, and if at first they left a hard impression when they entered the city, when they took hostages from among the city's dignitaries, over time their attitude was revealed to be kind and fair. And it was long ago when the Jews had such good days, days of well-being, peace and quiet. And perhaps this was the case with the Slutsk Jewish refugees during World War II, who did not believe in the wickedness and cruelty of the Germans. Perhaps this was one of the reasons that the Jews did not leave and did not run away from Slutsk.

At the time of the revolution in Germany, the Germans also left Slutsk.

A period of great suffering and many upheavals followed. A severe and brutal civil war was going on in Russia. There was a continuous change in the governments and the suffering increased. There was a shortage of everything. And a real hunger. The Jews were always to blame. Anti-Semitism increased and visible banditry appeared. A despicable wave of riots swept over the whole of Russia. “Hit the Jews, save Russia” - this was the slogan of all those who were fighting the Bolsheviks. The Jews, against their will, became accomplices to the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks appeared as their saviors. And unfortunately - it was not always possible to trust the Bolshevik saviors either. I remember the funeral procession of murdered saints, which passed in a demonstration in front of the offices of Cheka in Slutsk demanding protection and an effective war against the banditry (at the time, such a thing was still possible). The person who headed the Cheka at the time met with a delegation on behalf of the protesting funeral participants and promised them things. After a while it became known that he himself was later shot on charges of association with the gangs.

The banditry did not affect the city of Slutsk itself, but it spread in the surroundings, in the towns, in the villages and on the roads, and cast its heavy shadow on the city as well, shocking and poisoning life. The change of government in Slutsk was relatively amicable. Bolsheviks and Poles and once again Bolsheviks and again Poles and finally Bolsheviks. The days of distress and oppression have come. Every rule and its decrees. Every period and its troubles.

The first withdrawal of the Poles should be noted in a special disgrace. The retreat lasted for days and weeks. The abuse then reached its peak before it reached to Slutsk. They robbed, looted, beat and flogged. Riots broke out - it was literally a pogrom. They destroyed and burned houses and even raped women. There were also victims. The Jews shut themselves in their houses and basically, life stopped.

The actions and conduct of the late Dr. Schildkroit, the leader of the Jewish community at that time, who did not sit idly by, were well known. Perhaps the activities of my late father were less known. Many knew that he would go around and help those in need with food and comfort them with a word of encouragement.

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More than once he was beaten on his way. Once he encountered a group of high-ranking officers. He approached them and rebuked them about the barbaric acts, in the name of the nobility of the Polish people and their culture, in the name of Adam Mitskevich, in the name of the Polish people's war for their freedom, among whose fighters were also Jewish heroes - he demanded that they stop the rampage. The group of officers listened to his words and promised him faithfully to end the riots. And indeed, after this conversation, a few days of relative silence came.

And as to the Polish nobility - during the second retreat of the Bolsheviks from Slutsk, the Polish doctor Silitsky and his son were captured, while crossing the railroad tracks in the direction to the front. There was no doubt that they were engaged in espionage. And yet they were not executed. One of the Parfontov family, one of the sons of the converted Hannah Bilka, who was a communist and close to the government, intervened in their favor and saved them.

Hannah Bilka and her sons, this is a story for a separate chapter. It was said that in her youth, she was beautiful and because of the love of the priest's son Parfontov, she converted and married him. But the great love expired and her life was very difficult and she was even beaten by her husband. She had beautiful sons, who resembled more to the Jews. They were talented for every handicraft, work of art and especially for painting, singing and playing. But they were lonely and isolated. They could not associate with deep friendships either with the gentiles or with the Jews. Both sides have rejected them. They called them “Palzshidki” – half - Jews. Nevertheless, they were closer to the Jews. I studied in the same class with two of her sons. I was in their house a few times. It gave the impression of a sad and untidy house. Hannah Bilka was no longer young, but the impressions of her beauty were still visible in her face. And her eyes were sad, the eyes of “a Yiddish Maame”...

And when the Poles re-entered Slutsk, Parfontov, the communist son, was caught and imprisoned. Hannah Bilka ran to Dr. Silitsky, who was saved thanks to this son, and asked for his assistance. The Silitsky family members locked themselves in their house and did not open the door for her. Hannah knocked, cried, shouted - and to no avail - the son was executed.

It was an evidence and expression of the Polish nobility.

In the end, the Bolsheviks remained in Slutsk. Their rule was solid and well established. And at the same time, the situation of the city's Jews worsened. And this time not out of malice and evil, nor out of anti-Semitism – it was purely the essence and purpose of the regime. At the head of the government were both Jews as well as residents of the city, but it didn't ease the situation of the population. On the contrary - the Jews were more strict, pious and zealous in their new Torah. Synagogues were closed and all the cheders were destroyed. The teaching of the Hebrew language was prohibited. Teachers (melamedim) and Rabbis were put on trial. There was a crisis in the spiritual life. The cheap and crude heresy came to rule. The spirit of freedom disappeared. The organizations, associations and parties were eliminated. An underground Zionist youth movement was established and developed.

The economic situation was also very bad. And this should be known, in Slutsk, the war against the bourgeoisie - meant a war against the craftsmen, who themselves were paupers, and against the shopkeepers, whom mostly lost their property. And they were the majority of the Jewish community. The status of the Jews was destroyed, all their livelihoods were eliminated, new and different types of livelihoods were created - that even Shalom Aleichem neither knew nor thought about them. And first and foremost - the trade in valuta. There were all kinds of valuta and money. There was a difference between new and old money, between wrinkled and smooth, dollars, Polish money, Soviet money and even tsarist money, of the king. There were notes with holes (pin holes) and without holes, Kanak money, and the value of all the various notes was different. They would replace valuta with valuta, create holes and plug holes with all kinds of soap (a whole industry was developed around it), and iron the money bills, buy, sell, and make money from it and make a living.

Individuals also started to engage in smuggling. The border was close. The trade of the mashochniks (sack owners), who were merchants that all of their goods were contained in a sack, developed and became widespread. This trade developed because of the great shortage and the huge differences in prices, which were created between the village and the city and between the cities themselves. This trade spread despite the severe prohibition by the government and the great danger that was involved in it. More often than not, these mashochniks were left without goods and imprisoned as well. The population was then divided into three types: those who had been sat (in prison), those who were currently sitting, and those who will sit in the future. This Jewish joke did not stop. The “Agot wort” and “Agot wertel” - were always acceptable and desirable in Slutsk.

There was a shortage of everything. Even in essentials needs, food needs and also in clothing. They came up with various inventions and all sorts of tricks in order to overcome this shortage. They tried to fill their stomach and cover their body. Various substitutes were invented instead such as bread made from flour mixed with bran, crude oil, crushed and dried beetroot tea, saccharin, black salt, etc.

Girls sew clothes from sacks and old weavings and all kinds of diverse scraps until eye-catching combinations in abundance colors were obtained.

A complete home industry was established of shoes made of old cloth and their soles made from ropes. Shoes were also made from cork wood. There were also girls who were able to sew and prepare fancy shoes and elegant clogs.

But this was not what the Jewish youth dreamed of, nor what did they strive for. The high schools did not accept the young Jews due to their non-proletarian genealogy. They were not welcome anywhere, they were without any shred of hope, with no way out. And this situation increased the quest of the youth to the Zionist movement, the underground movement - the only solution, the only way - the way to Zion.

And at the same time, like a miracle, the new theory of the Communism grew stronger and stronger and took over the minds and conquered the hearts. And over time, even more and more. At first, it swept the youth and then also the older population, either out of recognition or out of careerism.

A typical tragic case was with a Jew, who was approached by a woman that wanted to console him in his mourning for the death of his young son. The mourner sighed and said: death is better after all, than if the son had been a communist. And the woman had a communist son. No man is judged when he is in sorrow. The reluctance and hatred for the communists was indeed great at the beginning. But only two, three years later, when the same Jew spoke with the son

[Page 74]

of that woman (not the communist) about his Zionist son who was exiled and in prison, he consoled himself and boasted with satisfaction, that his younger son is no longer following dangerous paths. He, thank God, is a Komsomol and is a member of the Communist Youth Organization.

The communist ideology and terminology penetrated the ranks of the Zionist underground as well. Both the foundation and the formulation were Marxist. And in the evenings, young men and women sat in the underground and argued, and made excuses for themselves why they did not follow the crowd, on the wide and wonderful road of the global socialism, but rather followed a side path, a crooked path of war for socialism within a small nation - doubtless a nation, a proletariat that is not a proletariat, that was not yet born, on an unknown path of immigration and concentration in a very problematic and remote country (with malaria). In addition to all this - being underground in the land of socialism being realized... they justified themselves. And out of self-righteousness they accused the Bolshevism of deviation. And there was a debate about what was the deviation. There were those who claimed that the deviation was only in the question of the Jews. And there were those who said that the deviation in the question of the Jews was a result of the general deviation. And here they found help, reinforcement and encouragement for the Zionist idea and the underground Zionist movement from an unexpected source, a Bolshevist government source... In 1924, a booklet by a man named Bergin appeared in Russian and contained an analysis of the situation of the Jews in Russia at that time, a truly Zionist analysis in the full sense of the word. And the proposed solution was a settlement of the Jews. Where? - by their places of residence, and by implication to the Crimea.

A public committee, “Gezard”, was established, a government committee, “Kammerd”, with the enthusiastic support of several important figures in the central government led by Smidovich, the deputy of the Soviet President Kalinin. A movement arose, gatherings were held. Also, in Slutsk, Minsk and all of White Russia. As a result of this movement, a small number of Jews also moved to agriculture. Both in White Russia and around Slutsk, the Jews were indeed willing and wanted to move to agriculture, but there was no available land. Not even in Crimea.

 


Itke Efron, wife of Rabbi Yosef Dov Ber Efron

 


Rabbi Yosef Dov Ber Efron

 

Together with the establishment of committees and a movement for Jewish settlement within Russia, the authorities increased the persecution of Zionism. The authorities realized that Zionism had become stronger and stronger because of this movement. And they decided once and for all to completely eliminate the Zionist underground. They did not succeed in eliminating the settlement, even after reaching Birubidzin. However, they succeeded in eliminating the Zionist underground. But Zionism was not eliminated, the Jewish spark was not extinguished in Russia to this day. With the extermination campaign and the elimination of the underground, it was also my turn (in January 1925) to be imprisoned together with a group of members and to be sent to a foreign country. Until then, I managed to avoid imprisonment. And it was my first and last imprisonment. And the dangerous political criminal, 18 years old, was imprisoned in the prison cell of gthe GPO in Minsk with many criminals, smugglers, bandits, spies, vagrants and the unspecified. Despite the concerns, cordial and beautiful mutual relations were formed among us.

After the interrogation ended, the entire material was sent to Moscow. And about two months later, the stereotyped decision of the collegium of the G.P.O., which discussed human rights without seeing or hearing the accused, was given – exile for three years to various remote places in Asian and Northern Russia. The great and wide Russia.

It was said, that instead of being exiled to remote places, we will immigrate to Israel, as was customary at the time for those convicted of Zionist crimes. Upon receiving the verdict, we were given a two-week leave to prepare for the trip. Liberal times! And it was clear that within two weeks all the formalities for traveling to Israel would be sorted out. But a week later we were banned again. What happened - we do not know to this day. Conceivably because of betrayal, provocation by one of the members. We wanted to bring her to Israel as the wife of one of the “deported” members. She agreed to this - both by force of discipline and by force of her true desire, so to speak, to immigrate to Israel.

[Page 75]

But... - Apparently our plan was delivered by her to the G.P.O. and the G.P.O. decided to send us to the remote exile places and not to Israel. The “bride” was still needed by the G.P.O. She has not yet finished her role. And indeed, she worked a lot for the G.P.O. For a long time, I tottered along the way and passed through multiple prisons until I arrived at the designated exile place in the northern rear.

And then my father began more seriously to take care of my release and the exchange of my exile with immigration to Israel. I didn't like it. I felt a violation of my honor, the honor of a political warrior. My father also came to the exile place and visited his son, his youngest son. And then, he was no longer young and he was very weak. My father was great in the Torah, a member of a family of Rabbis for generations, the sister's son of the late Rabbi Yosef Dov Ber Soloveitchik. During his visit to me in the exile village, he recited to me by heart entire chapters from the Bible and songs of Zion - beginning with Yehuda Halevi, through Dulitzki and ending with Bialik. He also read some of his poems in Hebrew and Yiddish, which he wrote and did not publish. He had a wonderful memory. A complete and detailed map of cities, Jewish settlements, was in his head. He was knowledgeable like no other in the biographies of many families in the three aspects of their attribution, origin and branching. Thanks to his great energy, his firm strength and great ability, he reached the leaders of government in Moscow: Katanyan, the prosecutor at the time, Kalinin, the president of the Soviets and Smidovich, his deputy. Dad indeed spoke Russian, but his Russian was not excellent. He was very knowledgeable in Russian literature.

He was received nicely by the Russians and he held interesting conversations with them. Kalinin was especially enthusiastic by his well-groomed beard, which was very long. How, how do you grow such a beard, - he repeated and asked several times. (Kalinin himself had a sparse goatee beard). But the matter that father acted for, was not settled so easily. It also took a lot of time. Lots of rushes and postponements. Everything was in the hands of G.P.O. But finally, the exchange-release decision was received.

And indeed, I was the first of all the people deported to the remote exile place, (the region of the Zirians or the Komi region as they called the place) - to leave to Israel. This opened the opportunity for the other deported as well. On the way to Israel, I was not allowed to visit Slutsk. And I won't see it anymore -the Jewish Slutsk no longer exists...

 


A group of pioneers on their way to the Land of Israel

First row, from right to left: Altman, unknown name, Shomroni, Podlipsky, Shalom, Shifman, Podlipsky, Birg Yoel, Peskin Mandelwitz
Second row, from right to left: Mizel, B. Katznelson, his wife Mosia Harkavi and their daughter, Shapira Pesia, Shapira Aryeh, H. Kaminer, Epstein
Third row, from right to left: Ostrovsky, S. Shpilkin, Yoel Birg, Hannah Mizel, Aharon Rolnik, Bashevkin

 

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