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[Pages 144-146]

Shumsk as I Remember It

by Pesach Lerner

Translated by Sandy Bloom

Donated by Howard Freedman and Michael Hirschfeld

Note: A previous, partial translation of this chapter was donated by Howard Freedman and Michael Hirschfeld. This translation incorporates their contribution.
Pesach Lerner was born in Shumsk in 1901 and emigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1921. He founded the Organization of Shumskers in Israel. For more biographical information, see the translator's notes on page 199 of this yizkor book.

 

I implore the Lord of writing and memory not to let me down, and to enable me to write down accurately my memories in the Yizkor Book of Shumsk.

It was in Shumsk that I drew my first breaths in my life. The perfumed air of the forests and fields surrounding the town filled my lungs, and I enjoyed the scent of the town's orchards.

The town sheltered me like a pleasant greenhouse in my early childhood as well as during the lovely, happy years of my youth.

Despite the forty years that separate us, I can still see her in my mind's eye, standing there proud, including her friendly and honest people, full of warmth toward each other. Personal and communal responsibility prevailed, and the social life and national awareness were intertwined and alive.

 


Last visit to Herzl's grave

 

All the beauty of the hundreds of years of the town's existence seemed to accumulate in my lovely town.

Shumsk! Ostensibly there were hundreds and thousands of small, lively Jewish towns scattered in the fertile land of the Ukraine that was at once both blessed and cursed. Yet Shumsk was something special, exemplifiying the Volhynian Jewish community with familial warmth abundant in every corner.

Any stranger who found himself in Shumsk immediately felt accepted as if he were born there, and this feeling of brotherhood led directly to the philosophy and teachings of Zionism – which espouses the unity of the nation and the brotherhood of its children.

Perhaps this stemmed from Shumsk's special geographic location. Most other towns were located near a big city or a district capital, thus came under a certain amount of social, cultural and spiritual influence. Shumsk, on the other hand, was located on the crossroads between Kremenitz and Ostrog, far from both cities and from foreign influences but not close enough to either to be influenced by them. Thus, a unique synthesis developed in Shumsk which did not exist anywhere else.

In addition, it is well known that the Jewish presence in Shumsk began from one lone family that branched out over the generations. (There are different opinions regarding the name of the family: some say it was Bahat while others claim Shumski.) Perhaps that explains the atmosphere of warmth and familiarity that characterized the town for generations.

 

 

The population of Shumsk was no larger than other small towns. Nevertheless, it always seemed to number tens of thousands of people, as life in Shumsk was vibrant and full of life. The population included diligent Torah scholars and those who studied in yeshivas. Many such students left Shumsk to learn Torah in other places, but they would return to their hometown regularly after their encounters with large cities and the foreign world.

Shumsk maintained an unlicensed Hebrew school. In fact, the school went back to the days of Czar Nicholas, may his name be blotted out, when such a school was extremely dangerous and risky. Nevertheless, those simple, honest Jews maintained that school faithfully even though they risked their lives to do so.

Commerce in the town was based on trade with farmers in the area. Due to the relationship with the farmers, a local liquor-schnapps industry developed. The latter industry reached a rather large magnitude, by the standards of the time. The town's flour mills were also well-known in the district; they were operated by river water which produced electricity that lit up the entire town.

Shumsk boasted organized public institutions, elected community leaders, a cooperative bank, a Free Loan association lending cash with no interest, and a group of people who volunteered to spend the night at the homes of sick people.

In addition, there was much dynamic Zionist activity which different parties operated, but all were united under one Zionist organization umbrella group. This made it easier to collect contributions to the various Zionist funds.

The Hebrew Tarbut school in Shumsk was on a high level, and all the Shumsk youths spoke Hebrew. This even included the so-called Communists and the amateur drama group. Names of some of the outstanding members of the drama group were: Zvi Marmelstein, director and leading actor; his wife Sheindel who excelled in typical Jewish roles of the “Yiddish mama.” Herzl Milman acted out tragic roles including recitations and speeches; Konyanski adopted comic roles. There was also Chaim Kleinshtein and others, whose performances are engraved in my memory.1

The Shumsk landscape was exceptionally picturesque and beautiful. If Kremenets was viewed as “the Switzerland of the district,” then Shumsk was a charming corner of this Switzerland.

Surrounding the town was the wide, merry river whose lovely water sounds were disseminated like a pleasant tune. This river provided Shumsk's adults with an excellent source of livelihood, but to us it was a meeting-place for youths to meet and enjoy ourselves: that was where we swam and sailed in the summer, and skated and played games in the winter. There was also an ancient, dense forest which began near the town, and had led all the way to Kiev in ancient times. The forest attracted hikers and offered a wealth of nuts and strawberries that didn't need to be disinfected because they were always clean and sparkling from the nighttime dew. Then there was a large orchard of fruit trees within the town, on the road to the liquor breweries; it was said that the people living nearby became drunk on the wonderful scents of the fruits in the spring. Then there was the pine-tree grove on the famous “Gorka” hill; it was surrounded by fields and a breakaway stream of water from a hidden spring. Its horizon seemed to extend indefinitely. There were also many more lovely areas that Nature gave our town. Yes, this was our lovely, pleasant town of Shumsk.


Translator's Footnote

  1. All of the drama group members named in this paragraph perished in the Holocaust, and the author notes their passing with the Hebrew equivalent, after each name, of “may he/she rest in peace.”. Return


[Pages 147-150]

Experiences and Memories

by Yehoshua Toren

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Notes: Yehoshua Toren was born in Kremenets to Sara and Avraham Toren, according to his daughter. In 1922 he immigrated to Palestine, living for some time in Kibbutz Ein Harod and later in Be'er Sheva, before Israeli statehood, when there were only a few Jewish families in the town. In this article he tells of his participation in Shumsk memorial meetings held in Israel and relates his memories of the time he spent in Shumsk during and after World War I. He also contributed two poems to this volume, “My Grandfather's Synagogue” and “Preparations for the Holiday of Shavuot.”

The meeting with the survivors of the Jewish communities, decimated and liquidated by the Nazi villains (may their memory be erased for ever from human history), became a tradition. The days of the Hebrew month Elul,[1] in addition to their role of awakening prayer and penitence, became a uniting and unifying force for remembrance of the loved ones lost in the great Holocaust.

The 2nd of Elul[2] is the day the survivors of the Shumsk community reunite, standing, trembling, while listening to the solemn tones of the cantor remembering the pure holy martyrs of the community of Shumsk. The tearful eyes of the crowd and the voice of the cantor spills over the blood-soaked land and together with everyone you are drawn and led to that same area saturated with blood, in the valley wherein the killing and slaughter took place, there by the open pits, where groups were led, you see the murderers, messengers of Satan and you mutter under your breath: Damn them!

The cantor finishes his prayer and the traditional Kaddish is recited The electric lights come one and the hall is illuminated; you stand rooted silently in your place – meditating, trying to recall from the depths of your soul, memories of that wonderful Jewish town, nestling between the hills, near a stream, in the land of Volhynia.

The town of Shumsk is rooted in the ancestral traditions of its fathers at the same time longing for redemption, with a glorious youth seeking a path to a new life. This was a wonderful Jewish town within which were found the old and the new together, There was longing for the coming of the Messiah and also the dream of Zion, Torah and secularism, the educated and Hoi Polloi, rich and poor, tradesmen and laborers; but above all a devotion to one's fellow townspeople and a warm welcome to all who came to the town, in obedience to the commandment: “Love they neighbor as thyself.”

I was caught in Shumsk at a stormy and exciting period. Strong opinions and spirits thrived and blew from all sides. These were the early days of the Russian revolution whose influence and results reached and were felt in every corner of that massive state. First of all, as usual, the Jews were the first to feel the effects; their lives were immediately touched. But the hopes of many for redemption and freedom immediately and quickly turned to fear and threat. Various groups of hooligans and gangs began to wander the towns in order to rob, plunder and murder, casting their violent trademark on the Jews. Petliura[3], Denikin[4], Wrangel[5], Makhno[6] - and others whose names I no longer remember – but all of them remembered for their cruelty.

Here are a few of my memories from those days. Perhaps in this way

I will add a stone in memory of those generous good Jews with whom I shared those days:

My first meeting with the youth of Shumsk. I was invited to take part in a meeting of those dreaming of Zion and was struck immediately by an on-going stormy argument round a topic that was entirely new to me. The topic was what will we do with the Arabs living in the Land of Israel? The Chairman of the meeting was Mottil Segal, it as if I can see his handsome form here before me now, and sitting next to him Getzel Tzoreff, with his little beard. To the question asked, one of the participants replied (I no longer recall his name), “The Arabs” – he said– “will always be 'drawers of water and hewers of wood'”. Such innocence and faith!

Understandably no one felt it necessary to reply, especially me who already belonged to the Poalei Zion[7] movement. Nevertheless, the entire group identified me inextricably as one of them and until I left Shumsk I was considered one of them.

 


The Nationalist Revolution – 1917
In the center: Mottil Perel's
[Mottil Segal, son of Perel]

 

* Winter, 1917. The cold and frost were fierce and hard. For most of the days the residents were weighed down with the ordinary known problems of day-to-day sustenance and other factors and now came an additional woe with an outbreak of typhus. Not a single household was left untouched and Dr. Jakobson and his assistants ran endlessly from sick-bed to sick-bed, accompanied by a young man, Mendel the butcher's son. The young man longed in his soul to study medicine and he went in and out among the patients ignoring the danger of infection. His goal of becoming a doctor was achieved after years in America. He died quite young but “crowned” with the title “doctor”.

During those same days, while the plague raged in all its strength throughout the homes of the rich and poor alike, one unforgettable personality stood out conspicuously: the daughter of a poor wagon-master, named Ḥava Bordman. During those hard days of frost and sickness, night and day she was found sitting at the bedside of the sick, changing the ice-packs on their head. It was one of the noblest sights to be seen as she asked no recompense for her toil. Besides bringing comfort to a patient during his passing, she fulfilled her vision by becoming a head nurse at Hadassah Jerusalem. Her fate was cruel and she died from a malignant disease. (May her memory be for a blessing).

* Winter passed and with it the woes of the plague. Summer came and with it, new woes: The Revolution gave birth to gangs of plunderers and murderers; there was no stable authority and everyone became a leader. A week never passed without injury or damage to person or property. And yet there was a sweet incident concerning honey during those same days filled with fear that saved Shumsk from a mass murder. This is how it happened: After the Bolsheviks overran the area, on the property of many bee-keepers in the villages, there was an abundance of honey. An order was issued instructing all the honey to be collected into barrels and sent to Russia. In the meantime, the barrels were gathered together in a storage facility in Shumsk. After a short while, the Petliurans overcame the Bolsheviks and the honey stayed undiscovered. At the same time, there was an outbreak of disturbances in the villages led by the Petliurans against the Jews – always “the guilty ones” – and they had to be punished. Within a short period of time, a charged atmosphere was produced and disturbances loomed.

It happened on a Sunday. Dawn had hardly broken when one began to see the beginnings of the disturbances with the peasants and farmers of the district, with their carts and their womenfolk. Quite quickly, movement could be seen on all the roads. A few of the non-Jews began to approach the homes in order to commence their depredations. Here and there, shouts were heard. Suddenly – silence, movement among the hoard and people running in the direction of the brewery. What happened!? Who caused the sudden excited dash to that side of town? No one knew. Only later when all the Gentile men and women ransacked the homes and stole only pots and pans and suchlike, did it become clear: the Gentiles, close to the brewery, discovered the stores of honey in the barrels and the information quickly spread among the throng and the Jews and their property were quickly forgotten. Thus was the town saved from extinction by the honey and the departed Bolsheviks.

* The entry of the Balachovich into Shumsk. This was a battalion of the Polish army under a French commander named General Haller[8]. It was ostensibly an army of liberation and salvation that expelled the various gangs and hooligans although at that time, with their entry things appeared differently. It was a lovely summer's day, warm and bright. The first soldiers to enter town, were infantry on carts commandeered from local farmers for that purpose, as was the practice in those days. As I have said, my family lived in Kremenets. I was something of a stranger to Shumsk and I had not seen my mother and family for some and I had sought an opportunity to visit them. Earlier there had been no possibility to travel but with the entry of the Polish army, I had seen the opportunity to do so and seized upon it,

I knew a Christian who had been released from the army and arrived home. I asked him if he would take me to Kremenets and he agreed to do so. I sat on his cart and away we went. When we reached the suburbs of Rachmanov there was a military guard and their orders were to stop all carts from proceeding. My driver, when he saw that he was going to be turned back, spurred his horses on with me in the cart. The patrol opened fire on us but fortunately missed. Not giving up they chased after us and caught us. When they asked us why we had run my driver answered that the Jew sitting next to him incited him to do so. His answer was enough for the guards to release him. But the young Jew – the Bolshevik, as they called me – they began to deal with…It was about 10 or 11 in the morning that they began beating me, with short intervals for me to recover and thus it continued until the evening. When darkness came, they hauled me in front of the French commander.

Word spread about what had happened to me. The town had been seething since the morning and the wealthy members of the community ran from place to place to save me and a Pole (who had risen to prominence with the entry of the Poles), was brought to testify. He stated that I was not a Bolshevik and said that he did not know me. The good Jews toiled without rest until just before dawn, they obtained my release with the most extraordinary efforts and managed to free me from the hands of the police.

That was the Shumsk of those days, as I knew her, a town of precious good Jews struggling for their existence and future.

The cruelty of man destroys everything. Shumsk and those like her no longer exist.

If I have succeeded in recreating something of those days in memory of those good Jews and to add a stone in their memory, it will be my reward.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Elul corresponding to September/October of the civil year contains the holiest of the Holy days of the Jewish calendar – New Year's (Rosh Hashana) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Return
  2. In fact, Erev Rosh Chodesh Elul, that is, the day before the first day of the month of Elul, is the date that Shumsk survivors in Israel noted as the date of the Shumsk massacre and the date when their memorial meeting used to be held. Since the Shumsk memorial gatherings were combined with those for Kremenets, the meetings take place on or near Aug. 14, the date of the last massacre in Kremenets and the date chosen by the Kremenets group for the memorial. Return
  3. Symon Petlura (1879-1926) was a Ukrainian socialist politician and statesman, one of the leaders of Ukraine's unsuccessful fight for independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was briefly the president of Ukraine during the Russian Civil War (1918-1922). Petlura was assassinated in Paris in 1926. The name is also commonly spelled Petliura or Petlyura. Return
  4. Anton Ivanovich Denikin (1872-1947) was a Russian general who led anti-Bolshevik forces on the southern front during the Russian Civil War of 1917-1922. He turned over his command in 1920 to Pyotr Wrangel. Return
  5. Baron Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel (1878-1928) was a general who led anti-Bolshevik White Army forces in the final phase of the Russian Civil War. Return
  6. Nestor Ivanovych Makhno (1888-1934) was a Ukrainian anarchist revolutionary and commander of an independent anarchist army in Ukraine from 1917 to 1921. Return
  7. Poalei Zion (Workers of Zion) was a movement of Marxist-Zionist Jewish workers who envisioned a Jewish proletariat coming into being in the Land of Israel. In Russia, a faction of Poalei Zion participated in the Bolshevik Revolution and organized a brigade to fight in the Red Army. Return
  8. Jozef Haller von Hallenburg (1873-1960) served in the Austro-Hungarian Army and later was a lieutenant general in the Polish Army. He led Polish troops fighting Russians and Germans in 1918 before creating, in France, a force known as the Blue Army or Haller's Army, which was dispatched to the Ukrainian front in 1919. Return


[Pages 151-157]

Shumsk in the First World War Years
(Local figures and lifestyles)

by A.M. Gejlichen

Translated by Sandy Bloom

Note: Avraham Moshe Gejlichen was born in Shumsk in 1891 to Mikhel Luzer and Sara Rivka Gejlichen. Active in the Hechalutz youth movement in Shumsk, he came to Palestine in 1926 and was a lifelong member of Moshav Bet Oved. He was married to Rivka, a daughter of Tzvi and Esther Wilsker, also from a prominent Shumsk family, many of whom came to Palestine.

Most of the towns in Volhynia resembled one another, and Shumsk was no exception. Shumsk's houses and streets, synagogues and even churches resembled those of the nearby villages surrounding them. The same was true for the way its inhabitants earned their livelihoods, and many other things as well.

No Zionist movement existed in Shumsk prior to World War One. There were a handful of people who paid dues to the Zionist movement and that was all. There was also not much in the way of public affairs or activities in the town; the sense of community was best expressed in the Batei Knesset, such as the once–a–year election of the gabai (synagogue beadle), or election of the Town Elder, the strosta.

It was in the rabbi's house that most of the town's concerns were decided, as well as in the homes of other prominent local figures. One such example was the home of Kovke Bernsztejn. In the evenings, one could meet there a number of respectable male family heads sitting in a large anterior room around a large table on which was placed a shiny, polished kettle with boiling water. At the head of the table would be the head of the family with a velvet yarmulke on his head, always the gracious host and greeting everyone with sparkling, astute eyes.

Not only was Kovke one of the town's leaders, he was also accepted by everyone in town as a wise man with good, straight advice to all who turned to him. When anyone ran into a problem with the local authorities, the first thing to do was turn to Kovke who went to great efforts and troubles to help others. And, of course, he never accepted anything for payment.

Kovke was one of the partners in the large flour mill called the “Rika Mill.” The other two partners were Avraham Wilsker and Yaakov Gejlichen. When Kovke passed away, the entire town went into mourning and crowds streamed behind his coffin. Yehi zichro Baruch! (May his memory be a blessing.) He left behind an extensive family; many were killed, but a small percentage survived and live with us here in Israel.

* * *

At the time, some of the youths in Shumsk received their education in the local Russian elementary school, where they learned only Russian. Many parents didn't send their children to the school because the pupils there were forced to attend school on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Instead, most of the youths learned in cheder (Jewish religious school): reading and writing, but mainly Bible and Talmud. A small percentage also studied Russian with private teachers.

 

 

There was no library in those days. However, people could pay a fee to borrow reading–books in Hebrew, Yiddish, and some Russian from Jehoshua the book–binder. An important source for buying Hebrew books were the booksellers who circulated in the towns mainly before the Jewish festivals. Their first stop was the Beit Midrash (study room). The bookseller would unload the heavy package from his shoulder and place it on the table, and the pupils from the cheders would crowd around him. The especially prominent items he brought were: ritual objects, Passover Haggadahs, prayer books, holiday prayer books, packages of tzitzit, bentchers and the like. In addition were tales of righteous men, and books in Yiddish and Hebrew.

Monya Chazen was the one to provide the first push toward revival of the Hebrew language and recognition of Zionism. He boldly opened a Hebrew school with the help of Matitjahu Frejder, without any other budgetary allocation or public assistance. Many parents sent their children to this school, in which they studied Russian as well as songs about their Jewish homeland. There was another serious attempt by Rabbi Beirinyo 1 to organize evening classes on the Talmud, given by volunteers with the necessary scholarly backgrounds. These were: Avraham Shochet, Leib Greenberg, Ephraim Goldenberg, Aharon Gejlichen and Yitzak Mejer; each gave a class once a week, beginning with Masechet Shabbat. About thirty boys participated in these classes, but unfortunately the classes were canceled after one winter.

No organized social–welfare help organization, such as a benevolent loan association, existed for the needy. One exception were the monetary handouts before Pesach, by the town's rabbi. Also, individual people sometimes took the initiative. For example, several righteous women would circulate on Fridays to collect Shabbat challah loaves for the town's poor people, or a couple would go from house to house to collect money for a person who had fallen on hard times or other needy person. Thus the town's affairs followed a regular course of action without many ups and downs or prominent happenings – until the First World War broke out. Then, many families were adversely affected by the fact that their sons and husbands were drafted by force into the army. Some reported to duty while others went underground and went into hiding in various places, because they did not want to serve an army and a government permeated with anti–Semitism. Thanks to this fact, many remained alive. Rabbi Beirinyo endangered himself by hiding many Jews in the Beit Knesset, who were saved as a result.

The great oppressor Nikolai Nikolaevich (uncle of the Czar and chief of staff) issued a decree forcing Jews who lived near the front lines to leave their homes and migrate to inner Russia within a few hours. The first convoys of Jews who had been expelled arrived in Shumsk. The town spontaneously organized to give first aid to the exiles who had been driven from their homes penniless and lacking basic necessities, as they were unable to salvage even part of their possessions, which were then pillaged by others. Some of them were put up in the synagogues and many were placed in private homes. The Shumsk townspeople treated the deportees with great dedication. They staunchly helped their fellow Jews without making a fuss or preaching about it or writing about it in the papers. It was out of an inner, humane and Jewish desire to help those in need. Of these deported families, several remained in Shumsk and managed to get along, with the help of the townspeople and all kinds of ways. One of these was the Sefarim family from Radzivilov, blessed with many sons and daughters. Sendar Sefarim laid the foundation for revival of the Hebrew language. His students were the foundation for the Zionist pioneer movement in the town.

* * *

Close to three thousand souls lived in the town. Some were wealthy, others middle–class and yet others were poor.

Industry: There were two flour–mills in the town that supplied flour for the town and its environs. Quite a number of families earned their livelihood around those flour mills. In addition, the Kanfer family ran a small leather–processing factory while the Klejnsztejn family ran an independent cement–tile factory in which all the family members were involved. They used to cover the roofs in cities and villages (Shalom Klejnsztejn lives in Israel). Zvi Wilsker ran an oil factory and, in later years, Szimon Wilsker also opened an oil factory. There were four mills for grinding groats, run by: Jeszayahu Hinis, the Kahanir family, Lejbci and Zedils, and one more. There were two workshops for cleaning sheep wool, one belonging to Jehoshua Duchowna's son–in–law and the other to Leib Gejlichen. There was a large liquor factory that was shut down during the war and a factory, called a 'brewer,' for beer. After that was closed down, plays were performed in the buildings.

Health: The only doctor in town was Jakobson. He was well–known and respected in the entire vicinity, and also worked as a doctor in the government hospital (Bolnici). In addition to him in Shumsk was a Christian paramedic and another Jew who was called “Alter Doctor”; these last two were not officially certified. Nevertheless, when someone in the family became ill, they would call for Alter the Doctor. He would come immediately, examine the person, ask questions, but never wrote a prescription for medicine. He would verbally instruct the family what to do while already walking toward the door, would accept what he received, then left.

Commerce and crafts: There were a significant number of craftsmen in the town. For example there were tailors for men and women who also served the rural people in the environs. These tailors worked from morning till night and barely eked out a living. There were a small number of shoemakers, their situation was rather meager; one or two saddle makers; and a blacksmith, actually a father and his son. There were several wagon drivers who froze in winter from the cold and suffered from the heat waves in the summer. Laundry was given once a week to a Christian woman from a nearby village; after a few days, she would return the clean, folded laundry. There were fish sellers and a few butchers, builders and whitewashers, and carpenters who built buildings and furniture. There were two tinsmiths who dealt mainly with the roofs of Christian churches: they fixed and re–painted the roofs. Their work was hard, exhausting, and rather dangerous. They worked mainly in the summer, on high roofs of hot, burning tin. There were three glaziers (glass cutters) for the entire area; two or three barrel–makers; a gravedigger who was said to be a hundred years old and wouldn't let anyone else dig a grave but him; two bakeries and a few shochtim (ritual slaughterers).

 


A Keren Kayemet group meeting with Dr. Bernstein

 

Two men who stood out were brothers Yitzhak and Binyamin Shochet, of blessed memory; they were melamdim (religious–study teachers) who also taught Talmud. Another melamed named Shmuel was more advanced and he taught writing, arithmetic, a little Russian, and mainly Bible. Anyone who studied Bible with Shmuel to the melody of the Haftara underwent an experience he would never forget.

Then there were chimney sweepers and lumberjacks; but the cow shepherds of the town were goyim (non–Jews). There were two barbers in town: Kjva the Bundist who became a communist and Josef Lerner, a decent, good–hearted Jew with two sons who worked together with him. He always contributed generously to all the money–raising appeals. Lerner used to collect money for the indigent and give anonymous donations; most of the townspeople knew him, respected him, and trusted him completely.

In addition to all kinds of stores, Shumsk boasted a very developed wheat trade. Numerous villages surrounded Shumsk and they sold their wheat to the town's wheat merchants. One of the town's most prominent wheat–merchants was a woman called Lifchj (Frejda Wilsker). Although Frejda was illiterate and even her Ukrainian was poor, still she did her business mainly with landowners. They trusted her and treated her honorably, as a respectable lady.

Religion and tradition: There were five synagogues in Shumsk. In the Great Synagogue (Beit Knesset Hagadol), the prayers were generally led by a chazan (cantor) with accompanying singers. Chazan Szlome'la, with his two sons, made a unique impression on the worshippers. People would stream from the town's other synagogues to the Great Synagogue in order to hear Szlomela with his two sons and choir.

Most of Shumsk's residents were traditional Jews, yet few chassidim lived there (unlike the rest of Poland and Galicia). Those few chassidim living in Shumsk belonged to the two courts of Trisk and Olik; their rebbes would frequent the town one Shabbat every year. This was a special, exciting occasion, and Jews flocked to hear their words of Torah.

Weddings in Shumsk were grand celebrations. On the Shabbat before the wedding, the bridegroom was accompanied to the synagogue and when he was called to the Torah, the women threw candies and nuts on him. The children waited expectedly and then fought valiantly against one another for the sweets. Weddings were conducted in the middle of the week, mainly on Tuesday nights near the Great Synagogue. The guests would accompany the couple to the chupa (wedding canopy), and a large mob would join them – mainly the youths who streamed to the happy event. Everyone jostled one another: to get to hold the chupa poles, to see the bridegroom break the glass, and at the end to abandon the poles that inevitably fell on the heads of the young couple. At the end of the chupa, the musicians marched at the front of the procession while playing joyous folk songs. If the bride or bridegroom had a grandmother, she would dance in front of everyone on the way to the bride's house. Well–off parents would hold a banquet, called a “seudah,” and when everyone was having a good time at the meal, the badchen 2 would announce the gifts for the couple; they called this the “drasha geshank” ceremony. The badchen would call on Mr. So–and–so, the generous wealthy man, to give five coins in lieu of a drasha geshank (a sermon) by the bridegroom; then he'd call on another respectable wealthy man for half a dozen silver teaspoons on the side of the bride, and so forth. The merriment would continue until the late hours of the night, while happening outside too. The young fellows and girls stood under the windows, watching the proceedings inside the house.

An especially joyous occasion took place when someone contributed a Torah scroll to the shul. This was a celebration that included everyone, young and old alike. The festivities were held on the Saturday night following Shavuot. That was also the season in which the weddings began.

Some of the more well–known town figures: An interesting couple was Mejer Lejzer and his wife, who sold tar to the villagers for their boots and a similar lubricant for their wagons and wheels; they engaged in this from morning to night. They were a “sparkling” couple: their hands, faces and clothes shone from the tar and smelled like it too. Everyone liked hearing Mejer when he led the prayer in the synagogue, especially on the Days of Awe (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement), because he had a pleasant, sweet voice and it was a pleasure to listen to him. Many people went to that specific Beit Knesset to hear him. Mejer Lajzer was also the shadchan (matchmaker) of the town.

Ephraim Goldenberg was another prominent person; he possessed incisive wisdom and insight. He often served as arbitrator in inquiries and dinei Torah between people, conducted according to Jewish law, and always succeeded in patching things up between people in a positive spirit – and without receiving remuneration. Goldenberg was a religious scholar, yet bravely allowed his storehouse to be used for the initial Zionist meetings after the war and also for the initial plays put on by the first drama club. He did not heed the haredim (ultra–Orthodox) who criticized him for allowing licentiousness on his premises. Over time, he became a Zionist who contributed generously to Keren HaYesod. Unfortunately he was not privileged to make aliyah 3 together with most of his children who are with us here [in Israel], and that is very sad.

Zvi Wilsker was a good–hearted Jew, whose hand was always open to give charity and anonymous donations. The villagers with whom he did business had perfect trust in him like followers of a chassidic rebbe. It happened one day that most of the houses in the village of “Sivka” 4 burned down. The very next day, Wilsker went to the trouble of traveling to the village with money, which he lent to everyone individually so that they could rebuild their houses. Later on when there were pogroms, Zvi Wilsker's house was robbed and he was left penniless. Word got out to these villagers, who brought him all the best and got him back on his feet again.

Alter Jukelson was a fellow who enjoyed the company of those younger in age than him, and was accepted by the youths as a member of their social circle. Jukelson was erudite in the Talmud as well as secular texts. He always participated in Zionist activities. It was a pleasure to talk to him; his witticisms and jokes were among the most well–known in the town.

Avraham Rajch, owner of a flour mill and a very wealthy man, was a maskil 5 with heretical views. His heresy bordered on assimilation and despite his erudition, he negated everything Jewish in general, and Zionism in specific. When people would collect money for Zionist causes they would enter his house too, but turn to his elderly mother, not to Rajch directly. The hospitable mother would welcome everyone and say to her son, Avraham, give the children some coins, and he'd do so.

Hercik Milman, a modest and good–hearted young man, was active in all the town's institutions, well–liked by youths and adults alike. By day he worked as a bookkeeper and by night he devoted all his time to Zionist activity: to Hechalutz 6 and to the drama club. He was a counselor and lecturer in Hechalutz and orator at all the other Zionist assemblies, while also encouraging others to be active as well. Milman always had the lead part in all the drama plays. He, together with Vaad Hechalutz, would be the ones to authorize Hechalutz members to make aliya. Milman was in charge of the Hechalutz organization's funds, and was also one of the founders of the Hitachdut party, to which most of the Hechalutz members belonged. He sent many chalutzim (pioneers) to Eretz Israel and guided them, but unfortunately he himself never made it to the holy land. Dina Sztejnman 7 told us the story of his death: After the ghetto was liquidated, several bunkers remained and Hercik hid in a bunker with five other people. At night, when they suffered from thirst, Hercik would go out with a bucket to draw water from the nearest well. One day he was caught by the Ukrainians who still guarded the ghetto. They promised that they would let him live, if he would show them to the hidden bunker. Hercik of course refused to do so; they stripped him naked and tortured him with the butts of their rifles until he died. Yehi zichro baruch (May his memory be a blessing).

Changes in the town: When the [Russian] Revolution broke out in 1917 and the Jews received equal rights, all the draft–dodgers who had been living in hiding came out to the free air. They enlisted in the army with the sense that they, too, were obliged to defend the Revolution, and did so admirably. Everyone wore red ribbons on their lapels and were all called “citizens.” It was a wonderful feeling; the youth felt reborn and erupted into the streets. Suddenly you heard songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian and the songs seemed to take on special significance.

The Revolution was supposed to unite everyone together, without respect to religion or language. But in Shumsk, for some reason, things were interpreted differently: “If there's equality, then I can choose my own life.” Almost from nowhere, a Zionist national sentiment began to beat in the hearts of the youths, and burst out. Public life in the town took a significant change. I remember the first large public assembly, which took place in the square in front of the Catholic church, when Nam Kostyuk spoke in Ukrainian and belted out revolutionary slogans. Afterwards, Mutil Segal got up on the same stage and spoke in Yiddish, his voice shaking with emotion (and fear of public speaking). That was the first national Zionist speech; in fact, one can say that Mutil Segal laid the foundation for the Zionist Organization in Shumsk. Afterwards people began canvassing for donations to the Keren Kayemet, to develop cultural activities and make contact with other Jewish centers in the big cities. Mutil Segal, a young man of only twenty–three, headed all these activities.

Segal's assistant was Nachum Asher Geldi, and Tuvil Wilsker with his lovely handwriting served as secretary and treasurer. Geci Coref was a fine, pleasant and also good–looking young behalf of the General Zionists. The youths were thirsty for all this: they studied Hebrew intensively with private teachers. Money was collected before every festival, event, or occasion including Simchat Torah when men were being called up to read from the Torah, and during weddings. Percentages were deducted from entrance–fees to amateur plays, for the Keren Kayemet fund.

All the Zionist activities took place in Ephraim Goldenberg's storeroom: the Zionist meetings as well as the first plays of the drama club and the rehearsals. The place served as a clubhouse where everyone met in the evenings. Then, Pesach Lerner from Berditchev showed up and founded the association of Bonei Tzion. Lerner – together with Zalmen Weksler, Sender Milman, Chava Burdman , of blessed memory, and Leib Coref – became the first chalutzim (pioneers) who moved to Eretz Israel in the Third Aliya, from Shumsk. At that time the Hechalutz movement was founded in the town, a movement that attracted many of the youths; the founders were: Yisrael Akerman, Herci Milman and Rivka Wilsker.

At the beginning, Hechalutz was a very broad–based organization in Shumsk; its members assisted all Zionist endeavors in the town. They were members of the drama club, under the guidance of Mirmelsztejn, who called it “The Yiddish Dramatic craze.” Over time, the club split into smaller groups and the Hechalutz members funded their own drama club under Herci Milman, in order to raise money for penniless immigrants to Eretz Israel.

More than forty years have passed since I left Shumsk. Its memory alone remains, and the figures who once populated that town remain forever dear to my heart. They were special souls, unique for their generation, creative and dynamic. May their memory be a blessing and may they never be forgotten.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Rabbi Beirinyo: Rabbi Dov Be'er. The use of Beirinyo, the diminutive or nickname for Be'er, usually used for children, attests that this rabbi was beloved in the community. Return
  2. Badchen: Jewish comedian hired for weddings Return
  3. Aliyah (Heb.): Literally, ascent; the term refers to immigration to Israel from the Diaspora. Return
  4. “Sivka”: Andrushivka, about 12 kilometers southeast of Shumsk Return
  5. Maskil (Heb.): A person versed in Hebrew or Yiddish literature, especially an adherent of the Haskalah movement, the European Jewish enlightenment between the 1770s and the 1880s, which sought to preserve and renew Jewish culture and to educate Jews to fit into modern society. Return
  6. Hechalutz (Heb.): Literally, pioneer. Hechalutz is the name of a worldwide movement, founded in Odessa in the first decade of the 20th century, of young people who were preparing for pioneering immigration to Palestine and later the State of Israel and were planning to settle the land. Return
  7. Dina Sztejnman's sister Ruth Sztejnman Halperin wrote about how the two sisters survived, in “The Last Days of Shumsk,” beginning on page 28 of this yizkor book. Return


[Pages 158-161]

Summer Sabbath

by Chaim Livne (Yukelson)

Translated by Shulamit Berman

Notes: Chaim Avraham (Yukelson) Livne was born in 1913 to Rivka (Berezin) and Alter David Yukelson. Chaim graduated from the Tarbut School in Shumsk, studied at a vocational school in Kremenets, and became active in the Zionist youth movement. In 1933 he moved to Palestine. He was a member of Kibbutz Messilot in the Bet Shaan Valley, where he lived until his death in 1991. Further details of his life and family are in the introductory notes to “Schools in Shumsk” on page 267 of this yizkor book.

Sabbath in Shumsk had its own special flavor in the warm summer days.

The town looked bright and hot on the Sabbath before Shavuot, verdant, blossoming and flowering. Young spirits, too, yearned to leave the crowded town, to take long walks with other young people, to shake off the humdrum weekday yoke and all restrictions, especially those between males and females. From early morning, even before daybreak, some hardy souls went bathing in the Vilya river that bordered the town on the north and the south. These were, of course, the adults, who occasionally condescended to take the youngsters with them. It was a fine thing to see so many people thronging to the river, or else to the concrete-floored tunnel of the aqueduct that powered Rajch's flour mill. This bathing spot, Koplany, was restricted to those who had connections with the manager and others in charge of the mill.

Our ears were filled with the songs of early morning. We were still only half awake, shivering with cold, traces of sleep still visible on our eyelids. We dunked very purposefully, like hassids or kabbalists, the pure, cold water purifying our bodies and flooding our hearts with love in anticipation of a summer Sabbath.

 


Novostav 1935

 

As we returned from our early morning dip, Jews could already be seen hastening through the streets on their way to shacharit (morning prayers). Most of them were craftsmen – shoemakers, tailors and wagon drivers who were accustomed to rising early every day and trudging to work, or else traveling for hours out of town. Maybe they were in a hurry … to acquit themselves of their heavenly obligations … and thus extend the joys of the holy Sabbath.

Now the more well-to-do were on their way, trailed by their children, either wrapped in their prayer shawls or carrying them, and the occasional woman could also be seen, her prayer book with Yiddish translation tucked under her arm. The craftsmen were already on their way back, calling out “gut Shabbos (good Sabbath),” their faces radiant in anticipation of their beneficial midday meal or a kiddush (light meal following the blessing over wine) at the home of a friend.

Many attended the Sabbath services, excluding, of course, the doctor, the pharmacist, and several more intellectual types … The services were also attended by those who, although lacking faith, went to meet and greet, pick up gossip, and particularly because this was the place to see and be seen.

Decorum was not strictly observed in the synagogue. There were all manner of heartwarming goings-on because, according to hassidic tradition, sadness leads to sin. If it so happened that the gabbai (beadle) was an easygoing man, fond of jokes and riddles, willing to overlook youthful pranks, the prayer service was truly pleasurable, and the prayers themselves added to the joys of the Sabbath. The gabbai decided upon whom to confer the honor of maftir (reading the final Torah portion of the week), and the honoree was expected to foot the bill for a lavish kiddush at the home of the rabbi, who lived next door to the synagogue. Vodka and delicacies gladdened the hearts of all those who had invited themselves, words of Torah and jests flowed freely, until eventually silence fell as everyone headed home for the Sabbath meal.

Traditional kiddush tunes wafted from the windows; the smell of radishes and onions dipped in oil filled the air and whetted the appetite. The head of the family and his wife and children were already seated at the table. Woe betide the child who was late. The gaze of his parents rested from time to time in rebuke on his empty chair. His tardiness does not conform to proper conduct. His punishment will be either a silent reprimand or a severe tongue-lashing. He is condemned to miss the meal – but his kindhearted mother will secretly feed him when his father isn't looking. It's inadvisable to be late for the Sabbath meal; it's not a pleasant experience! After lunch the youngsters are free – their elders retire for a Sabbath nap, sweet as the Garden of Eden.

The youngsters rush outside for a walk among the pine hills known as the Gorky or else they go to Surazh forest. It's hard to decide which is better. Before Shavuot, both sites are great for walking and eating sunflower seeds, known as siniches. Summer is also a good time for fruit and there's no shortage of fruit trees. It's far better than buying from the fruit seller's stand. Nothing beats climbing a tree and eating its fruit – it has a totally different flavor. The main thing about these walks is being with our friends and what we get up to on the way.

Friends gather in groups. Woe to the one who doesn't belong. These groups are where we decide about the others in our class and our yichus (importance). Actually, yichus isn't the most important thing but it's nothing to sneeze at. If you ask anyone in town about someone's parents, you can infer from the response whether he doesn't have much yichus, or whether he really is somebody. This is where ancestral merit is decided, and to a great extent, the merit of their offspring as well.

Casual gatherings of boys and girls in public, in broad daylight, with adult supervision, are considered unacceptable in our town. Although one can get away with it at dusk and even at night, during the day it's unseemly. However, going for a stroll on the Sabbath, boys and girls together, is fine. A boy can walk next to a girl who takes his fancy while they feast their eyes on the verdant scenery and the grass scattered with brightly colored flowers on the way to Surazh forest. Or through the fields of corn, almost as tall as a man, on the way to the pine hills of the Gorky.

Starting from their school days until they pair off to marry, or prepare to depart for Eretz Israel, for the young people these Shabbat strolls are a taste of the Holy Land of which legends were woven, about which they heard and studied at school all week.

Going there was an adventure. Sometimes a gentile looked askance at the Jews and tried to disrupt their fun; sometimes things didn't go so well between a boy and girl and hearts would be broken, but usually it was a great experience, nourishing the soul for days to come.

Upon arrival at the forest or the pine hill we would stretch out on the grass, enjoy the cool shade, and enjoy ourselves doing whatever appealed to our particular age group. Happy cries could be heard. The older ones enjoyed the taste of a cigarette, sweeter because it was prohibited on the Sabbath, or else they flirted with their sweethearts, watched by amazed and curious youngsters. A plague on anyone who dared betray these goings-on to the wrong person. His punishment was swift – never again would he be permitted to join our hikes.

During harvest season everyone picked and ate until they were fit to burst. Everything was in abundance. You need only bend and gather it up.

Surazh forest is vast; few have traversed it. The forest extends all the way to the town of Ostrog, near the Russian border, separating Ostrog from Shumsk. There is very little contact between the two towns. Ostrog is not what it used to be. The Gorky hills are also near the Russian border. It's an enticing place but also frightening…

 

 

We return at sunset. The group breaks up into pairs. There is occasionally a solitary youth whose eyes are not yet sated with the glory of nature. He walks alone, his soul filled to overflowing…

Parental concern and the evening meal await the returnees. The adults are seated in doorways, their eyes reflecting their sorrow at the departing Sabbath. Kerosene lights flicker in the houses. Very few homes have electricity. The women pour out their hearts in prayer to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The croaking of frogs in the Vilya river is deafening. The road leading to Kremenets is crowded with people. The youngsters compare their experiences of the Shabbat that just passed.

This was our Shumsk.


[Pages 162-163]

The Jews of Shumsk - All cut from the same cloth

by Pesach Lerner

Translated by Sandy Bloom

Note: Pesach Lerner was born in Shumsk in 1901 and emigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1921. He founded the Organization of Shumskers in Israel. For more biographical information, see the translator's notes on page 199 of this yizkor book.

 

All the Jews from Shumsk without exception shared sterling qualities and values; they cared about each other, were always hospitable, and gave aid to those in need. When outsiders would visit Shumsk, they would feel at home immediately, as if they were with their own families. People were always ready to help those in need, without expecting any kind of payment. Thus, newcomers felt at home quickly, as if they were born in Shumsk.

I recall one episode, during the First World War (1914-1918). It was a fall evening when all the residents of the town were shaken up to receive word via a messenger from Kremenets that a large group of [Jewish] refugees were on their way to Shumsk to sleep in our town at night.1 These refugees had been quickly removed from their homes under orders from the military commanders in Radzivilov, after the front lines had been breached and now moved closer to the town. Therefore, the people living in the town and nearby areas had to leave, since the area was likely to turn into a battlefield within a few hours. The Jews packed up what they could under such short notice and were forced to leave behind their homes, their property, and all that was dear to them and their ancestors over the generations.

 


Active members of the Zionist Organization of Shumsk

 

These Jews were exhausted, mentally and physically, by the time they reached our small town Shumsk. Immediately, the Shumsk people went to assist the unfortunate guests. The first thing they did was to requisition the bakeries to be used at night. All public structures and synagogues were commandeered for the refugees. The youths came of their own volition to assist, and argued among themselves who would be the first to extend a helping hand. Owners of private houses turned their kitchens into miniature restaurants, where they offered hot drinks and food to the newcomers. Thus the newcomers were welcomed with open arms, and in an encouraging atmosphere. When the convoy readied to leave in the direction chosen for them, Shumsk people organized wagons and horses to send preparatory notices to all the relevant sites slated to house the refugees; one example is Kuniv-Ostrog.

Under the influence of our warm reception, several families in the group decided to settle in Shumsk, out of love for the town and its people. Names of families that I remember: Seforim, Strit, Teper, Freidel, and Kozolka.2 I have forgotten the other names.

The refugees did not have to worry about housing because all the Shumsk homes opened their doors to them. Thus, many of the refugees became bona fide members of the town, as if they were born there.

This example of supreme brotherhood, and other, similar characteristics of our forefathers, the founders of Shumsk, constitute a shining example of true brotherhood. May we, too, have the strength to continue their traditions, ourselves and our offspring.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. On the so-called Eastern Front, fighting between the Russian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, each with its allies, took place in areas with a combined Jewish population greater than 4 million, and the frequent movement of armies back and forth across this area over a four-year period disrupted the lives of all the region's inhabitants, according to the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Shumsk, which never fell to the Austro-Hungarian army, became a refuge for many. Return
  2. The Seforim or Sforim family is described in a translator's footnote to the preface of this yizkor book, and family members also are mentioned in “My Hometown Shumsk” on pages 347-355 and “Things I Remember” on pages 294-296. Rafael, who changed the surname from Sforim to Sapir, wrote several chapters of this book, and other members of the family wrote chapters as well. It's possible that the name Strit refers to the Stirt family; there are several mentions of members of the Stirt family in the Radzivilov Yizkor Book. Kozolka might refer to Kozolchik, a family also named in the Radzivilov Yizkor Book; birth records show a Kozylchuk baby was born in 1917 in Shumsk. Return

 

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