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[Page 185]

Special Persons in Shumsk

 

[Pages 185-187]

Rabbi Mordechai Lerner
– Av Bet Din of Shumsk (Volhynia)

by Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Yosepov
(member of the Rabbinate of Haifa)

Translated by Shulamit Berman

 

Notes: The author of this article, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Yosepov, was one of the numerous grandchildren of Rabbi Mordechai Lerner, many of whom were important rabbis in Volhynia.1 Rabbi Yosepov's mother, Yocheved, the eldest daughter of Rabbi Mordechai Lerner, married Rabbi Baruch Halevi Yosepov, who was a rabbi in Dubno. The author, Shmuel Yosepov, immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s, settling in Haifa. He wrote “The Book of the House of Shmuel,” enumerating the names of his many relatives who perished in the Holocaust. He noted dates of death, if known, so that kaddish could be recited for them on that day each year.

Rabbi Mordechai Lerner2 was the grandson of the righteous and holy Rabbi Mordechai of Lakhovits (in Polesia) and son-in-law of the righteous and holy Rabbi Yosef of Radzivil [Radzivilov].3

Rabbi Mordechai Lerner served as the admor (chief rabbi) and av bet din (head of the Jewish court of jurisprudence) of Shumsk for nearly forty years, famed for his brilliance and piety. He was renowned throughout Volhynia.

[In 1898] he traveled to the home of his daughter [Chavale], the wife of the great Rabbi Mechel Tobman, who served as av bet din of Slavuta, to attend a brit mila (bris). On his way home by way of the town of Kinov he suddenly fell ill and died soon after. He was buried in Kinov, because before his death he had instructed that he should not be moved from wherever he died.

The entire town of Shumsk was present at his funeral. One of his disciples cried out at his grave that if his righteous teacher was no more, he wanted to be buried alongside him. And indeed, he died on the spot and merited to be buried next to the grave.

Rabbi Mordechai Lerner's wife, the rebbetzin Reizel, was noted for her appearance, her wisdom, and her generous heart. Immediately after the death of her sainted husband she turned all the rooms of their home below the first floor into a Talmud Torah (religious school) for the children of the poor people of Shumsk, supporting it from her own pocket, from money she earned by selling gold jewelry for many years. She also provided indigent brides with wedding gifts of rings and other jewelry.

Their oldest son was my uncle, the famous Rabbi Yisrael Dov-Beirinyo Lerner.4 While his father was alive Rabbi Yisrael Dov-Beirinyo was the av bet din of Volochisk but after his father's death in 1898 he was appointed av bet din of Shumsk in his father's place.

Rabbi Yisrael Dov-Beirinyo's wife, the rebbetzin Faygele, was the daughter of Rabbi Yitzhak Wertheimer of Bender. Since they were childless, the couple opened their home to provide hospitality to everyone who passed through Shumsk.

My uncle also gave room and board to exceptional young married men and yeshiva students. He himself taught them Mishnah5 until they were qualified to teach Jewish subjects.

 

szu185.JPG
An excerpt from a listing of rabbis, by town

 

I, the writer of these lines, personally merited to study in my early years with my father (now deceased) and afterward I studied for some years with my uncle Rabbi Beirinyo. I received semicha (rabbinical ordination) from him and other Volhynia rabbis.

The death of Rabbi Beirinyo at the age of 58 occurred during the time of the murderous Petliurites6 and other bandits who entered Shumsk, took the rabbi hostage and held him for an enormous ransom. Since there was no possibility of raising the required sum, they tortured him to death. He died on the 2nd day of Nisan 1918. May his blood be avenged.

After the death of Rabbi Beirinyo my brother-in-law Rabbi Yosef Mechel Rabin,7 the son of my uncle who was the rabbi of Lanovits, was appointed to the position of av bet din of Shumsk. My brother-in-law Yosef Mechel was a student of my uncle, Rabbi Dov-Beirinyo Lerner of Shumsk. Rabbi Yosef Mechel Rabin perished in Shumsk, along with his wife Hasya (who was my sister) and their three children, at the hands of the murderous Nazis during the Holocaust. May their blood be avenged.

The second son of Rabbi Mordechai was Rabbi Yitzhak Lerner, av bet din of Radzivil [Radzivilov]. He and his family perished during the Holocaust. May their blood be avenged.

His third son was Rabbi Avraham Lerner of Ostrog. He too perished along with his family during the Holocaust. May their blood be avenged.

The oldest daughter of Rabbi Mordechai was my mother, Yocheved. She married my father, Rabbi Baruch Halevi Yosepov of Dubno, who died in 1926. I was with my father when he passed away. To my great sorrow, my mother and all her extended family died in the Holocaust. May their blood be avenged.

Rabbi Mordechai Lerner's second daughter, Chavale, died with her entire family in the town of Slavuta during the Holocaust. May their blood be avenged.

His third daughter, Faygele, whose husband was the admor of Kremenets, made her way to Israel where she died in the fullness of years.

Their youngest daughter was the rebbetzin in Lanovits. She perished, along with her entire family, during the Holocaust. May their blood be avenged.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Members of this extended family who settled and died in the United States are buried in the Sanhedria Cemetery in Jerusalem, including Rabbi Aharon Wertheim and his wife, Rachel, daughter of Rabbi Aharon Rabin of Lanovits. Inscribed on their gravestones are the names of their relatives who perished in the Holocaust, including Rabbi Yosef Mechel Rabin. Return
  2. Rabbi Mordechai Lerner was a son of Moshe Lerner. Return
  3. Rabbi Mordechai Lerner married Raizel, daughter of Rabbi Yosef of Radzivil. Return
  4. Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner, known as Rabbi Beirinyo, is described by Rafael Sapir in the chapter of this yizkor book beginning on page 188. Return
  5. Mishnah is the first major written collection of Jewish oral law and traditions and the first major work of rabbinic literature. It serves as the basis of the Gemara. Return
  6. 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), when many deadly pogroms against Jews were carried out by soldiers under Petlura's command as well as by other forces involved in the conflict. Petlura was assassinated in Paris in 1926, and the assailant said he was avenging the deaths of thousands of victims of pogroms. Petlura's name is also commonly spelled Petliura or Petlyura. Return
  7. A remembrance of Rabbi Yosef Rabin begins on page 221 of this yizkor book. Return


[Pages 188-192]

Rabbi Beirinyo

by Rafael Sapir (Sefarim)

Translated by Sandy Bloom

 

 

Notes: Rabbi Beirinyo, as he was affectionately called, was born in 1867. His full name was Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner, and he was the eldest son of Rabbi Mordechai Lerner, who served as the rabbi of Shumsk and head of its religious court for over 35 years. In 1900 Rabbi Yisroel Dov/Beirinyo Lerner was appointed as a rabbi of Volochisk. With the death of his father in 1907 Rabbi Beirinyo was called back to Shumsk to serve as his father's successor. He died in the typhus epidemic of 1919.

“Shal naalecha,” Remove thy shoes in this holy site!

With awe and reverence I take upon myself the blessed task of describing the pure and holy Rabbi Beirinyo. As I approach this mission, I am filled with a strong sense of responsibility akin to a sofer stam (Jewish scribe who transcribes sacred religious writings). I am deeply distressed that I cannot narrate all his wonderful actions and include all the aspects of his illuminating figure because I knew him for only a short time. We were also divided by the different viewpoints and opinions we held. Thus I am forced to make do with isolated descriptions of his life, of which the crowning glory was: rescuing Jews from the goyim (non-Jews). His rescue actions were repeated over and over, with great self-sacrifice and without receiving any kind of compensation for his efforts.

Rabbi Beirinyo was a man of truth in all his actions, and completely fulfilled the mitzvah mentioned in the Shaharit prayers. “May a person always be Yerei Shamayim (God-fearing), in private and in public, and be a person of truth.” He viewed this as a command given to him personally.

[Ironically,] the first reception our family received from him was not pleasant at all. When World War I erupted we fled from our border town in fear of our oppressor, unable to take anything with us; we arrived in Shumsk penniless. We chose Shumsk because it was somewhat far from the front lines and we opened a Tarbut school there, Father z”l (may his memory be for a blessing) and myself. Then we were urgently summoned to the rabbi. As soon as we appeared, he fell upon us with harsh words, saying “I will pursue and persecute you to the ends of the Earth. I will not allow you to disseminate words of heresy through the Krinsky1 books” (Harstomatya, which was used a lot in those days). The controversy between us was terrible; it was a matter of life or death to both sides.

Rabbi Beirinyo was, on the one hand, a very pious Jew who painstakingly observed all the mitzvot and faithfully tended to his congregation like the shepherd tends to his flock, lest they be tempted to abandon Torah Judaism. While he was entirely a man of mercy and lovingkindness, he brooked no compromises [in religious matters] and would fight bitterly, taking vengeance like a snake, as befits a talmid chacham (a learned scholar). Then, on the other hand, there was us: a large family that escaped from its town on the front lines by the skin of its teeth, leaving everything behind and lacking all basic necessities. Our profession was teaching the Hebrew language; our livelihood and existence depended on being involved in a local school. Just as Rabbi Beirinyo was adamant and resolute about his beliefs, so the founders [of the Tarbut schools] were adamant about their lofty goal of disseminating Hebrew culture. Clearly there were many obstacles and mishaps but despite it all, a [Tarbut] school was opened in Shumsk and continued to exist.

Eventually, Rabbi Beirinyo actually perused Krinsky's books and came to the realization that it wasn't as terrible as he had thought. This study-text quoted sayings of the Sages, texts from the Talmud, and sections from other holy writings. When he saw this, he did not hesitate to change his mind. Eventually he even set aside part of his large house house for the school. Meanwhile the school grew and as a result, it moved from the rabbi's home to other places; the number of pupils kept increasing, and eventually there was no appropriate structure to house everyone.

The rabbi viewed justice and righteousness as one of the pillars of existence of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, and he dealt with it at all times. But his real nobility emerged during the First World War2. The front lines demanded more and more victims, but Jewish youths had no interest in sacrificing themselves to protect the horrific government of [the Russian Czar] Nicholas II. Therefore, they shirked their army duty to the best of their ability.

At that point, Rabbi Berinyo opened his doors to all the draft-dodgers but mainly to those from poor families, whose housing conditions did not allow for creating proper hiding places. Thus draft dodgers came from far and wide to hide in the rabbi's secret shelter.

This became known to too many people throughout Russia: that somewhere, out in a far-flung town, was a mysterious and wonderful man. This man hid draft-dodgers in his home: he fed them, gave them what to drink, and put them up in his home – full board, without charging a penny.

Young men formed groups and came from nearby towns and far-flung places as well, places with names that were unfamiliar to us. When circumstances allowed, these youths (their numbers reached the dozens) filled the Beit Medrash (religious study hall) in the rabbi's large house, thus Torah study was upheld. The more learned ones delved into the gemarrah (Talmud). Those who were not expert in the Talmud read Tanach (the Bible) and chapters of Tehillim (Psalms). The rabbi actively encouraged them to learn Torah; he really believed that they would be delivered from the evil [Russian] monarchy, by virtue of their Torah study.

The number of young fellows rose from day to day, and eventually the house became too small to contain them. The rabbi lost control over events, and was not master of his own home. When he would try to turn someone away for lack of room, he would do this weakly. There were those who did not listen and simply moved in, and the rabbi was forced to accept the fait accompli. After all, how could he expel a fellow Jew who had risked his life to make the trip? Thus the number of “Beit Medrash youths” rose from day to day while the rabbi took care of their security and their food. It is a secret to this very day, how the rabbi secured the enormous means to provide for his “sons,” as he called them; he was actually childless.

We can guess that most of the money was contributed by the townspeople. Even in regular times, the local Jews would send him “pidyonot” (donations in exchange for personal requests) and gifts. He received only a minuscule salary as rabbi, which never covered the costs of running the house in which he hosted guests his entire life.

In quiet, “regular” times the rabbi's Beit Medrash and several private rooms housed the “sons” – most of whom were not local people. Each of them would return to their home, after the search ended. However, this was not the case during periods of real panic and fear. When rumors were heard that the “flying company” was going to conduct searches, by surprise of course, all the “usual” draft-dodgers, including local fellows, would go down to the basement. But in the town were also draft-dodgers who were not of the Jewish faith, and they knew exactly what was going on in the rabbi's home. It happened that one of these said to himself, When the regiment comes, I'll “acquire” a beard and peyos (sidecurls), I'll sit in the rabbi's house and study the holy books –– “tatli, mamli.” (He was an expert at imitating the tune of studying gemarrah.) However, things didn't get that bad and he evidently found a more appropriate, safer place to hide than the rabbi's basement.

And this is the story of the basement:

Under the floor of the house was a large, spacious basement with a tiny window that barely let in some light. Entrance to this room was via a hole, barely the width of a person; the hole was covered by a small door that could be closed by hooks on the inside. It was difficult to discern this on the wooden floor. The draft-dodgers would descend into this basement when necessary, and often spent hours down there. The unwelcome guests would visit us from time to time. Sometimes things could be set right by under-the-table bribes. Other times, it would be heard that the unwelcome guests on their way were honest souls who could not be bribed, and panic and fear would grip the entire town. The town elders would then turn to the rabbi with entreaties and also severe warnings not to risk himself, and that the situation had become intolerable. But their words didn't sink in. In moments of danger the rabbi became a figure of courage and valor, with no signs of fear or panic on his face. Thanks to these characteristics, he was often able to save the situation. Only after danger passed could we see how those frantic days had affected him and his wife with the pure soul, the righteous Feiginyu3 z”l. She, too, was partner to the great enterprise of saving lives, with the splendor of courage and the glory of benevolence. After each search episode, both of them would become sick and lie in bed for days or weeks.
I will tell the story of such a search in greater detail, a search which I personally witnessed: The rabbi z”tzl turned to my father a number of times and said that I should come under his protection in his basement, because I also was subject to the draft. This is what he said: “After all, there is no room in your house to hide him and I know that he, your son, is a learned young fellow. Let him come to me, to sit in the Beit Midrash and study the Torah which will protect and save him from all evil. Do you think I would turn away a member of this town when I also house those who come from afar?”

And I would rather be captured and sent to the front, than be one of those who endanger the life of such a dear, holy man. I did not accept his invitation and instead remained inside my house without going outside at all, but also without hiding anywhere since there was no appropriate place in our apartment. Luckily, the angel of destruction always skipped our apartment.

But once they paid a very early visit on a Friday morning, and the cry engulfed the town: the “flying battalion” has paid a surprise visit! According to what we were told, the soldiers were cruel; they would not have mercy on us and money would have no effect either. I was dragged by my father and the owner of our apartment to the rabbi's basement. I suffered much anguish over this, and pangs of conscience. But together with remorse, I felt a pang of great satisfaction at seeing the rabbi's glory in his act of rescue. The elevated emotion that engulfed me was similar to those moments in which I witnessed the glories of creation.

When I was led to the basement, all the others were already inside. Before I managed to make my way in the darkness, a horrified voice cried out: Open! Save me!

This was a young fellow whose hiding-place was uncovered, and he fell into the hands of the searchers. Somehow he succeeded in evading them and escaped, but his pursuers evidently noticed that he disappeared into the rabbi's house, and ran after him. The door to the basement was opened to the fellow who screamed in horror, but the hands of the fellow inside were shaking from panic and he simply could not close the hooks. It was a moment of pure terror; all the people present stopped breathing; everyone was sure that all was lost. They were certain that the rabbi would be arrested, the deserters would be revealed, the entire town would be disgraced and subject to the terror of pogroms. But the rabbi did not lose his composure for a moment. He stood on the cover of the breached basement and the hem of his wide cloak covered the opening. After joint efforts from inside, the secret door was finally locked. On that spot, the rabbi calmly greeted the trackers; in his hand was the set of keys to the many rooms in his house.

The head of the trackers asked if there were draft-dodgers in the house; the rabbi answered in the negative. When asked if he was willing to swear to that fact, the rabbi shook his head in the affirmative. He held the head of the group on his arm and said, Come with me! See, all the keys are in my hand, I'll open all the doors and you can search to your heart's content.

The trackers parted from him in friendship and said farewell.

The rabbi still had not calmed down from the frenzy and panic which left their mark on him, and already he was knocking on the basement door: He encouraged us and told us the good news, that the danger had passed. Almost every few minutes he would knock on the door of the basement to tell us which direction the trackers went and in which house they were found. A bit later he brought cakes to us in the basement, tea with milk. For lunch he brought us the traditional Friday cooked dish and challot. He brought it all to us with his own hands, not via an emissary.

Not long after, the Czar was toppled from his throne. The rabbi assembled all the “children” and told them, “My sons! Till now I gave you a hiding place, but now that the kingdom is a benevolent one, the Talmudic law of “Dina d'malkhuta dina” applies – in other words, we must obey the government's dictates. Go home now, do your duty and serve in the army. May God guard you from all evil.”

But the peace and quiet we so yearned for, lasted for only a brief period of time.

It happened not long after the rabbi's brave enterprise in saving young Jewish men: we began to suffer from pogroms and riots incited by Petlura4 and Sokolovsky's5 men and all kinds of gangs bearing different names. But they had one thing in common: their intentions were to plunder and murder the Jews.

The Angel of Death spread its wings on the town and darkened the lives of its inhabitants. This went on for about a year and a half; one gang would make its appearance and leave, then another would appear in its stead. Each group would rob, murder, and rape. A new group would appear to halt the robbery of the old group, then engage in the same acts themselves.

A Vaad Hatzala (Rescue Committee) was set up, headed by the rabbi, which started out by trying to raise money. This was difficult for the contributors, and for the fund raisers as well. The needs were great, and the “ransom money” was steep: for each gang we had to come up with clothes, boots, foodstuffs, gifts for the head of the gang and his deputy and a special gift for the entire gang. And everything had to come from the community, at a time when it was harder than ever to make a living and money was scarcely to be found. It was a crazy, frenzied period; business, work, and earning a livelihood – all these barely existed. And anyone who had a bit of money on the side, watched over it like the apple of their eye for no one knew what the morrow would bring.

The members of the Rescue Committee were bowed down with work: They had to visit each house many times until they succeeded in reaching the money-quota that was imposed on the new local authorities. It was dangerous to walk the streets, and even more dangerous to meet the leaders of the new gang in town. Who knew if they were interested in ransom money, or just out for blood? Perhaps they would take out their wrath and fury on those who walked into the lion's den of their own volition, while the other townspeople made themselves scarce in their hiding places? The rabbi accompanied the community's emissaries every single time; he was the first to enter the lion's den, the first to come face to face with the invaders when no one knew how this “meeting” would end.

Indeed, it came to pass that one day, the plunderers attacked the rabbi and inflicted a deep wound in his head. Yet the rabbi continued on his way while his head bled, radiant from joy that he had been privileged to protect the other Jewish souls with his very body.

The rabbi led the community for many years as faithfully as the shepherd tends to his flock. Unfortunately, the typhus epidemic that erupted at the end of the war took his pure soul.

May his memory live on with us for all eternity.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yehuda Leib Krinsky was a Hebrew scholar, theologian, businessman and philanthropist in Belarus in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was aligned with the right wing or religious segment, as opposed to the secular branch, of the Haskala or Jewish Enlightenment. Return
  2. The time was 1914-1915 and the Russians were fighting WWI against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The front lines, which kept shifting, were at times close to the area of Shumsk. Return
  3. Feiginyu is an affectionate form of the name Feige. Return
  4. 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
  5. Various accounts of pogroms in Ukraine in this period refer to threats and attacks by the Sokolovsky band or detachment, or “Sokolovsky's men.” Sokolovksy's first name is not given. Return


[Pages 199-200]

Dr. Jakobson, of Blessed Memory

by Pesach Lerner

Translated by Rachel Karni

Translator's notes: Pesach Lerner, the author of this chapter, was born in Shumsk in 1901 to Malka (Roichman) and Moshe Lerner. In 1921 he emigrated to Eretz Yisrael among the first group of Shumskers to do so, stopping on the way in Vienna, where he visited the grave of Theodore Herzl (photograph on page 144). Pesach Lerner married Esther Sudman, also from Shumsk, and was instrumental in the immigration of her parents, Yisrael and Sara Sudman, and many other members of their families, in effect saving their lives. After World War II many of the new immigrants from Shumsk found a warm welcome in the Lerner-Sudman home in Tel Aviv. Pesach Lerner founded the Organization of Shumskers in Israel and stood at its head for many years. He played a major role in the publication of the Shumsk Yizkor Book. Biographical information about Dr. Herman Jakobson and his family appears in the endnotes to this chapter.

Generations of people from all strata of the town were cared for by Dr. Jakobson, of blessed memory. He received expressions of gratitude from people of different religions and ethnic groups on more than one occasion for having saved their lives. People in all of the villages of the area surrounding Shumsk came to him to receive the benefit of his medical expertise.

I came to know him when he was already elderly and had grown hard of hearing. My parents, who had known him for much longer, said that he had not changed: straight-backed, heavy of gait and hard of hearing. But when a patient entered, he perked up his ears and diagnosed every twinge of his heart. No irregular heart rhythm remained unnoticed — and this without equipment.

In the course of the many years that he served as the only doctor in Shumsk and the surrounding area thousands passed through his devoted hands. He knew them all — each of them with their weaknesses and their unique human qualities. He did not speak much. He was reserved and immersed in his work and in his inner thoughts, like a person who is weighed down by something and does not engage in idle banter or lighthearted conversation.

As a person who was highly educated, he differed from most of the members of the Jewish community of Shumsk. But he did not belong to the “intelligentsia” of the town and he did not emit an aura of superiority to others as they did.

It was said that he had been an outstanding yeshiva student in his youth and had been ordained as a rabbi and then left the world of the yeshivas. How he came to medicine was not known. Evidently his extraordinary talent stood him in good stead and he was able to bridge the gap of years that he had spent in the yeshiva in the course of obtaining his medical education. Because of his yeshiva studies he was not in awe of the level of Talmudic erudition of some of his esteemed patients, who tried to impress him with their expertise in Talmud. He acted as if the words of the patient were not directed to him personally and gave the impression that he had no time for anything else but the physical and emotional health of the patient he was caring for at that moment. The human being, and his life, were his overriding concerns. If each one would think this way, and respect the rights of everyone else to live, there would be no more wars and mankind would be saved.

But this was not in his hands.

War1 broke out, and in addition to the terrible suffering this caused there was the suffering from an epidemic, which followed the course of the war as ravens follow a plow. I was a teenager in the town when the typhus epidemic broke out2. People fell ill, one after another. Those who had not yet fallen ill walked about like shadows from lack of sleep, exhaustion and worry.

I volunteered together with many other young people in the town in an organization called Bikur Cholim whose purpose was to care for sick people during the night.

The epidemic struck every home in the town and resulted in quite a few deaths. Despair struck everyone. With every person who fell ill, the world of the members of his household and that of his relatives fell apart. People did not leave their homes, and the usual, traditional social life we had had in our town ceased. Those who had fallen ill were kept in isolation, and those who had not yet fallen ill kept their distance from others.

The only one who went from bed to bed, without fear or weariness, was Dr. Jakobson. In spite of his age and his poor health he visited each sick person — at any hour of the day or night. In this time of despair Dr. Jakobson was a beacon of hope and succor. Everyone believed that his touch would bring salvation.

On rainy cold nights, during freezing stormy days, he would wend his way in the heavy mud and reach each and every corner of the town.

On dark nights his young son Ilya would accompany him. Ilya would walk ahead of his father, holding a kerosene lamp or a candle and light the way. This went on for many, many nights.

With us, the young volunteers, he behaved as if he were our friend. He would give us instructions for the care of the patients and rely on us — or at least he made us believe that he was relying on us.

One night I had been appointed by him to stay with two patients who were lying in the same room. It was already very late. I noticed that one of the patients was losing consciousness; his face had changed and he was exhibiting very worrisome signs. I knew that the hour was very late and Dr. Jakobson had just left an hour earlier for his home. But the responsibility for the matter spurred me on and I reached him, running all the way.

He was already sleeping. I awoke him and entered his office. He listened to what I told him, exuding both worry and trust in my words. He gave me a prescription with a special order to the pharmacist, and told me to remain awake all the night, to watch the patient carefully and to sit next to him. He told me to continually change the ice bags on his head — and if I did this — he calmed me — the crisis would pass and the patient would recover.

Four hours later — after a short night of rest — Dr. Jakobson was at the home of this patient in order to hear about his condition.

When he found that the patient had improved, a rare smile spread over his face, it seems to me the first time I had ever seen him smile. He shook my hand and thanked me warmly and said, “We have saved another Jewish soul.”

I will never forget Dr. Jakobson3, a great Jew and a profound human being.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. World War I. Return
  2. A typhus epidemic struck Russia, Poland and Romania from 1918 to 1922, causing millions of deaths. Shumsk was probably hardest hit in 1918-19, when Pesach Lerner was 17 or 18 years old. Return
  3. Irma Benyaminov, the granddaughter of Dr. Herman Jakobson, provided the following information about Dr. Jakobson and his family.
    Herman Jakobson was born in 1882. He studied at a yeshiva and was ordained as a rabbi but then decided to study medicine. He completed his medical studies in Riga in 1911 and worked as a physician in Shumsk until his premature death in 1934. As a young man he had joined the Narodniks, a political group in Russia that believed in living close to nature and serving the ordinary man and the peasants. This belief is what motivated him to go to Shumsk and to remain there. As this chapter attests, he was beloved and deeply respected by the people of Shumsk.
    Dr. Jakobson and his family resided in a very large apartment in Shumsk. His home served as a meeting place for the intellectuals of the town. After his death, his widow, Esther, who was not well, moved to Rovno to live with her daughter Dora and son-in-law. When the Germans entered Shumsk the Jakobson home in Shumsk was confiscated to serve as the Gestapo headquarters (see "This is How It Began" by Wolf Berenstejn on page 21 of this yizkor book).
    Dr. Jakobson's wife was killed in the massacre of the Rovno Jewish community in 1942. His oldest son, Yoseph (also known as Iozo), who had studied medicine, perished in a typhus epidemic in Buchara, where he had fled from his home in Rovno. Yoseph's wife and daughter survived the war and went to Israel. Chuna, the husband of his daughter Dora, was murdered in a mass grave in Kostopol, where the Jews of Rovno who were arrested in the third German action in Rovno were deported. Dora and her daughter, who had fled to the Soviet Union at the outset of the German invasion of the area, survived the war and went to Israel.
    Dr. Jakobson's daughter Raya, who was a trained nurse, lived in Warsaw. She worked as a nurse in the Warsaw Ghetto and at the end of the uprising in the ghetto escaped to the Aryan side, was hidden by an acquaintance and succeeded in obtaining false papers with an Aryan identity. She lived and worked as a nurse in Warsaw in this guise until the end of the war and later emigrated to Israel.
    Ilya, Dr. Jakobson's youngest son (who is referred to in this chapter), was an engineer in 1940, living with his wife and daughter in Lvov. He had a senior position in a large industrial firm. Shortly after the Russians entered the area as a result of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, the Russians demanded that Ilya serve as an informer. He was tortured in an NKVD (Russian secret police) interrogation and died shortly thereafter. His wife, Matia, and 4-year-old daughter, Irma Hermina, perished in the Nazi massacre of the Jews of Lvov. Return


[Pages 201 - 203]

Zecharaya Schreiber (Roichman)

by Bella Tzoref

Translated by Sandy Bloom

 

 

He was what we called a “moreh–melamed” (both these words should be pronounced with the accent on the next–to–last or penultimate syllable).1

He taught us everything. Anyone who wanted to give his children a more advanced education than that in the cheder (elementary school), yet wanted to cleave to tradition and not have others suspect him of apikorsus (heresy), would send his children to Zecharya Roichman or, as they called him, Zecharya Schreiber.2

He always rented a place to live and he had no apartment of his own. He didn't talk much and it was hard to get him to reveal personal details about himself. In fact, he tried to avoid any conversation about himself, I guess it just didn't interest him. However, I do remember that once I was with him when I was 12 years old and asked him how it happened that he married the woman who was his wife. For a moment he was silent, but when his amazement at my question subsided, he opened his mouth and started talking; the words streamed from his mouth, on and on. And the things he said in that monologue were very characteristic of that time period.

It turned out that his grandfather was born in Shumsk. Yet he, the grandson, lived –– for some inexplicable reason –– in Odessa. It is likely that his father had migrated to Odessa, the “city of enlightenment,” at some point in his life, so his son remained there too. There Zecharya was educated, there he studied, grew up and completed his education, which evidently was home–based and not in schools. It was only when he reached the age of army draft that they found that he was listed as a Shumsk resident with no permit to live in Odessa, thus deserving of a severe punishment.

After many efforts and much difficulty, Zecharya managed to be sent to Shumsk. The town tried to figure out how to save the fellow from the draft and then one of the town's influential leaders (named Akiva Shimons) suggested a plan: to marry Zecharya to a Shumsk young lady, who “by coincidence” was a relative of his. This way, two evil decrees could be averted simultaneously: The fellow could evade the draft and also avoid expulsion to some even more desolate place. Thus, the wedding took place.

So Zecharya began to put down roots in Shumsk. Since he had no profession, no money and no money–making talents, he began to teach children.

Within a short time, everyone liked the new fellow, respected him, and gave their children to him willingly. They especially liked the fact that Zecharya also taught Russian, which was a very useful language. He taught Tanach (Bible) and modern Hebrew.

Zecharya had no classroom of his own, so he would spend hours going from one home to another to teach. The students liked him because even though Zecharya himself was a very devout Jew, he was not strict with his charges. He told them jokes, his classes were high spirited, and he knew how to be lenient.

He opened up new vistas for the children when he talked to them. The children grasped that there were other worlds beyond Shumsk, worlds with different lifestyles and spheres of knowledge. When we were in his company, we rose to magical and enjoyable heights of imagination.

During the First World War period in 1914, Shumsk was under siege and most of all, its future was uncertain. The town was often cut off from its Jewish neighbors and disconnected from sources of livelihood. But Zecharya continued to teach, without taking money from his pupils. In exchange for his hours of work, he asked only for foodstuffs: flour, groats, salt, sugar, legumes and the like. When asked why he did this, he would launch into a long, tireless explanation for acting as he did, occasionally repeating himself. The following is an approximate summary of his beliefs:

“The world is undergoing renewal, and changing its ways. Communism will change human relationships for the better. Money will be wiped out and instead, humanity will return to barter: Each person will receive what he needs from his compatriots, and the reverse. Each person will be forced to create his own necessities/consumer goods, which he will use as payment for his needs. Hoarding will not be possible. There will be no accumulation of capital. People will not know what the day will bring, what will happen on the morrow. The result? The world will be full of hard work and creativity; there will be no class distinctions between those who accumulate and hoard assets and those who don't; human beings will be delivered from wars, etc. etc.”

He explained that he formulated this view as a proposed rectification of communist ideology, and which he personally sent to Leib Trotsky, “member of our own faith, one of ours.” The hope was that Trotsky would accept this proposal for tikun olam (repairing the world) by equality, based on Jewish foundations of righteousness.

The letter never attained its goal. Communism did not redeem humanity according the dictates of Reb Zecharya Schreiber. But to the Shumsk residents, sunk in their small world of small, binding conventions, his words proclaimed “everything could be different” and encouraged people to think. The youths thought of alternatives, though not exactly in this direction. To the young people, Zecharya's words and theories gave them license to think differently, as well.

In later years, Reb Zecharya lived near us in rented rooms, and would shore up his meager livelihood by giving lessons in the villages in our area to children in Jewish families living among non–Jews.

The years were 1917–1918, terrible years when bloodthirsty Petlura's gangs3 roamed the villages. Mortal danger hovered above any Jew who they happened to encounter on the roads. The only one who was not afraid was Zecharya. He alone went back and forth to the villages, forced to do so for his meager livelihood even though this put him in very dangerous positions. Everyone warned him, again and again.

But Reb Zecharya did not understand them. Why should he worry – why would anyone want to harm him? Why?

We will never know if Reb Zecharya was, indeed, terrorized before his death. But one Shabbat morning, a bright summer day, a wide–stepping non–Jew appeared alone on the empty streets of the Jewish village, and asked for the rabbi's house. “Where is the rabbi? I have a pressing matter for him.”

At first the Jews did not allow him to see the rabbi, Rabbi Beirinyo. Perhaps, they thought, he was sent by the Petlura gang to extort money. But he told them that a Jew had been killed in the village and, since Judaism was the victim's faith, he wanted to inform the rabbi so that the victim could be buried properly.

Indeed, the day after Shabbat they went to the village and the slain Jew was none other than Reb Zecharya Schreiber. They found him wrapped up in his tallit, stretched out on his stomach, covered with blood. Meanwhile, the blood had congealed around the gaunt body.

The non–Jews said the following about Zecharya's last moments:

“The Jew was holy and as such, we walked with him. We wanted to save his life, that he should not die. We went to him, we warned him, we said, ‘We take responsibility for [the non–Jewish] members of our village. No one of ours will harm you, but what can we do: Demons and foreigners frequent our village, and these want only to kill. From us, they will take our bread, they will slaughter our cows, but from the Jew – they will be satisfied with nothing else but life itself.’

“But Reb Zecharya did not believe us: He covered himself in a tallit, stood for hours in prayer, and when the Petlura people came, those robbers who came from the outside, he went to them and explained: ‘Most important of all is the human soul,’ and ‘Human life is holy and there is no greater pleasure than maintaining human life.’ He explained to them other, similar ideas.

“They listened to him attentively. We calmed down; we thought, perhaps they will let him live. And I walked home,” continued the non–Jew, bearer of the news. “At home I told my wife, my family, of the magical influence of the holy man, of his great words. But after a short time I heard about two–three, maybe four, shots ring out. And my heart told me, that they killed him.

“I was afraid to return to the house where the holy man lived. But something pulled me there. I thought, perhaps he's still alive, perhaps I can still save him.

“I found him there lying, dead, wrapped up in a blood–stained tallit, lifeless. The unfortunate soul had died as a holy man.”


Translator's Footnotes

  1. In Hebrew, melamed means teacher and connotes a teacher of young pupils, and moreh indicates a teacher of older pupils as well. The author specifies the Ashkenazic pronunciation used in Europe, as opposed to the Sfardic pronunciation used in Israel with emphasis on the last syllable. Return
  2. Schreiber means writer. 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). During the revolution and ensuing civil war, armed forces and nationalist groups carried out hundreds of anti–Jewish pogroms, or violent attacks and other crimes against Jews and their property. By some accounts, Petlura himself condemned anti–Semitic pogroms but failed or lacked authority to intervene. Petlura was assassinated in Paris in 1926. The name is also commonly spelled Petliura or Petlyura. Return


[Pages 207-210]

Efroim Goldenberg

by Chaim Rabin

Translated by Shulamit Berman

Notes: Chaim Rabin (1910-1990) was editor of the Shumsk Yizkor Book and many others. See the biographical note with the Editor's Foreword at page 345. He was one of the many grandchildren of Yaakov “Kovka” Berensztejn, a wealthy grain merchant in Shumsk. Chaim and his parents, Dina (Goldenberg) and Uziel Rabin, lived in Lanovets (now Lanivtsi), but during World War I when there were battles in the Lanovets area, Chaim and three other Berensztejn grandchildren were sent from Lanovets to live in their grandparents' home in Shumsk. Thus Chaim Rabin got to know his grandfather's accountant, close friend and daily Talmud study partner, Efroim Goldenberg. Chaim Rabin's parents perished in Lanovets in the Holocaust. For more about the Berensztejn family, see “My Hometown Shumsk” by Sarka Berensztejn-Fiks beginning on page 347 of this yizkor book. Efroim Goldenberg's daughter Rivka (Goldenberg) Ehrlich contributed the chapter “From Shumsk to Tel Aviv” beginning on page 415 of this yizkor book.

Efroim Goldenberg1 never managed to turn his vast intelligence to his advantage. He was obliged to make it available to others in order to earn a living. However, seeing that intelligence is not rare, especially among Jews, his salary was poor, despite the excessive knowledge he was endowed with.

It was only with Kovka Berensztejn, a talmid chacham (scholar) who happened to be the wealthiest man in town, that Efroim managed to strike a pretty good bargain.2 For Kovka it was heaven-sent, because while he was blessed with initiative, Efroim was the brains of the operation. Kovka had only to give the slightest hint for Efroim to do what was needed; he laid the groundwork for the structure drawn up by Kovka.

The two were close friends. They took their mutual esteem for granted. Efroim would often stay in Kovka's home to fill in when then latter was away on his numerous and extensive business trips. Not only would Efroim attend to the business matters, he also made sure the children did not skip their lessons; and he saw to it that the daughter in Lanovets remained virtuous by sending her letters or postcards in which he hinted obliquely that she should return to the home of her parents, Kovka and his wife, not because of any danger or sickness, God forbid, but because it was a more seemly course of action. Everything was merely hinted at, in order to avoid causing pain or alarm, but always with the emphasis on what was most pressing and desirable. This is also how he managed his own home and family.3

At first he instilled fear in us [Berensztejn's grandchildren] because of his hooked eagle nose and the slanted, close-set green eyes through which he peered from under the thickets of his eyebrows. We were scared to approach him or speak to him. His hoarse voice, which could clearly be heard when he spoke to Grandmother in the kitchen, terrified us. It sounded like the growling of beasts.

But one day it happened that Efroim decided to stop being harsh with us. Our grandfather vented his rage on us whenever we disturbed his deep contemplation of business or his deliberations about a page of gemara which he planned to tackle in the evening. Efroim decided to change the atmosphere.

We grandkids spotted the change immediately. We realized that he was always thinking about us; we were the apple of his eye, worthy of warmth and affection.

Since that time he would hold us on his lap, rock us and tickle us until we roared with laughter, and he enjoyed it just as much as we did. Efroim suddenly changed from a wicked, child-hating tyrant into our closest friend who, had he not needed time for himself, would have been plagued by us morning, noon, and night. Such was the power of Efroim, who had the ability to set boundaries to ensure that nobody came closer than the permitted distance at the permitted time. And so it was with us kids as well.

As we grew older we were astonished at this mixture of practical, pedantic wisdom and unfettered geniality intertwined in this one man. We tried unsuccessfully to solve the riddle through psychology; there was no basis for his behavior in any of the sciences. But finally we realized that it was a combination of bitter, Jewish depressive reality that sucks the dirt from the soul, dries it out, and transforms it into a fierce intelligence. It served as a barrier against the harm that could come from loving one's family and children, as well as a barrier against the historical harm that comes from being a Jew. Not only was this combination possible, it was one and the same thing, and in his mind there was no contradiction.

Thus he was the archetype of the Jew, in command of his destiny yet surrendering to it, inviting trouble yet impervious to it, able to bear the bitter burdens of the present by virtue of the glorious past in the face of a future shrouded in uncertainty, but destined to dissolve and vanish.

On the face of it he occupied himself with day-to-day matters, but in truth eternity was enfolded in these everyday activities – the eternity of Israel, destined to emerge through Israel's day-to-day survival. It was essential to make the effort, to survive, because the purpose of this survival was crucial both for man and the world as a whole.

Efroim was a man of challenges. Not only the challenges he faced when he was threatened, but those he deliberately sought in order to prevail over them.

Each meeting with a landowner was an encounter between a forsaken, orphaned Jew and a nobleman, planted firmly in the ground that was the foundation of his strength. In each encounter Jewish victory was in doubt, but nevertheless Efroim prevailed in all their many meetings.

It once came about that Efroim Goldenberg went to visit a landowner to help broker a very lucrative deal for Kovka, worth thousands. He was carrying with him 3,000 rubles, which in those days was the equivalent of $3,000 or maybe more. The landowner received him warmly and consented to all the conditions, which, according to the custom of the time, were made verbally. Within an hour the deal was done. Efroim handed over the agreed-upon sum. Then something shocking happened. The landowner, wanting for once to taste victory over the formidably clever Jew, extended his right hand to Efroim in parting, with his left hand clutching the money deep in his pocket, and said: “Dear Reb Efroim, I am delighted with the deal. I understand that tomorrow you will bring the 3,000 rubles so we can finalize it.”

Apparently the gentile was exploiting the fact that they were alone without witnesses to deny that he hadn't received the money. How could Efroim prove it and get the money back? Kovka's money and Efroim's honor were at stake.

For a moment he was so shocked that his wits deserted him. Then he rose from his chair, apparently in agreement, thanked the man profusely for all his goodness, and departed with every appearance of happiness and good cheer. The nobleman was elated, if somewhat surprised by his easy victory, but before he could recover Efroim was back. He had left his walking stick behind and came to retrieve it. “And by the way,” he added, “May I remind his honor to send a receipt for the 5,000 rubles you received.”

“What do you mean, 5,000 rubles!!! You yourself counted out 3,000 rubles!” The enraged nobleman pulled the money out of his pocket, threw it on the table and ordered Efroim to count it again.

“Count it, swindling Jew, and don't tell me there are 5,000 rubles when there are only 3,000.”

That's all Efroim needed. He gathered up the money without counting it, put it his pocket and left.

The deal with the nobleman didn't go through. Efroim returned the money to its owner, and all the man's appeals to renegotiate fell on deaf ears. He burned his bridges the moment he tried to go up against Efroim Goldenberg.

There isn't enough room to list all the achievements of Efroim, this powerhouse of wisdom and ingenuity, but one more incident will be related, because it can serve as an example for future generations.

Some “true friends,” the kind who always seem to be looking out for others yet whose altruism conceals an element of spite, came to inform him that one of his daughters had been seen near the river in immodest clothing. Her neck and back were exposed, as were her arms and her knees.

The “friends” hoped to make him angry, but Efroim refused to be provoked. He pointed his eagle nose at them and casually said, “Nu, what can be done.” But he didn't forget.

That evening he called his family together as usual. In the course of conversation he said to his daughter, “Chavaleh, I want to ask you a riddle. What do you think I'm holding in my fist?”

Chava tried to guess. “A gold coin for our mother? No – a diamond. A wristwatch for me?”

Finally she asked her father to open his hand and show her the treasure. To her astonishment there was only a crumpled, worthless scrap of paper.

She was very disappointed. What was the point of this prank? Efroim laughed. His laughter spread to his green eyes and thick eyebrows, his hooked nose, the corners of his mouth, and his cheeks, hidden beneath his abundant beard.

“That's how it is – if something's wrapped and concealed, people think it's a treasure – gold or diamonds. But when it's revealed, the world sees that it's only a scrap of paper and of no value at all.”

He paused for a moment before continuing.

“So why am I telling you this? It's all about exposure. It's not clever or useful. The strength of a modest Jewish daughter lies in concealment, Chavale. It's your own business what you do, but do it wisely.”

Just a small example of his wisdom. There's no room here for more.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The author used the surname Goldberg but descendants say it was Goldenberg. One or two of Efroim's children, however, did use the name Goldberg. Return
  2. Efroim Goldenberg and his wife, Krintche (Krizelman) Goldenberg, moved from Belozerka to Shumsk because Kovka Berensztejn offered Efroim a job as his accountant. Return
  3. Krintche and Efroim Goldenberg had 12 children. Five of them married into other Shumsk families: Wilskier, Krakowiak, Chusyd, and Geler. Most of them came to Palestine but five perished in the Holocaust. According to a family tree supplied by a grandchild, those who perished were Zvi Hirsh Goldenberg (born in 1890), along with his wife, Gitel (Wilskier), and their six children, Miriam, Pesia, Shlomo, Lipa, Malka, and Frida, as well as Miriam's husband, Yosef Chusyd, and Pesia's husband, Yaakov Chusyd; Briena (Goldenberg) Geler (born in 1895), along with two of her three children, David and Natan; twins Tsherni and Leah (born in 1912); and Mika (born in 1897), along with Mika's husband, Benyamin “Buzi” Krakowiak, and their children Reuven, Tzvia, and Zipora. The other children of Krintche and Efroim Goldenberg were Bat-Sheva (Goldenberg) Zamir (1909-1988), Max Goldberg (1892-1990), Malka (Goldenberg) Chiger (1907-1990), Rivka (Goldenberg) Ehrlich (1908-2008), Chava (Goldenberg) Gertner (1903-2013), Zioma Goldberg (1899-1977), and Sarah (Goldenberg) Zucker (1902-1982). Return


[Pages 211-213]

Yisrael Sudman

by Yitzhak Geler

Translated by Sandy Bloom

Note: In this chapter Yitzchak Geler tells about the manifold activities of Yisrael Sudman in both Shumsk and in Eretz Yisrael, especially in helping other people from Shumsk who arrived after the Holocaust. Sudman himself wrote about his arrival in Shumsk and his life and activities there, on pages 129-135 of this yizkor book.

 

szu211.JPG
Yisrael Sudman

 

I knew Yisrael Sudman when I was still a child. My father1 used to take me with him to prayers on Shabbat and holidays in the Oliker Kloyz shul, where my grandfather Matisyahu davened, as did my cousins Hersh and Yoel.

We enjoyed going to this synagogue because of its warm, supportive atmosphere that allowed children to attend even if they were occasionally noisy during the prayers or Torah-reading. I have particularly fond memories of the High Holidays: the Rosh Hashanah prayers, Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur eve, blowing of the shofar, and the other festivals too. To us children, Simchat Torah and its dancing was most special of all. Sudman was the one who led the dancing and organized the young people to sing Zionist Hebrew songs, while dancing the traditional dances, until the late hours of the night. This was not done in the other synagogues in the vicinity.

I came in contact with Yisrael Sudman a bit later when he worked as bookkeeper in the Shumsk bank. At that point in time, I had to work to help pay for my tuition in the Tarbut school. So, after school was over, I worked in Mottel Chazan's pharmacy and as part of my duties I was sent to the bank, where I used to see Yisrael (he worked together with Yehiel Kanfer). I was a bit jealous of Yisrael's work.

Yisrael Sudman was known for his love for Eretz Yisrael. He was committed to any and all projects connected to national, Zionist, Jewish causes, including Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod.2 I myself was a member of the Hechalutz Hatzair youth movement.3 Sometimes I would accompany my older cousins - Dov, Moshe, and Motel Geler,4 members of Hechalutz - in their visits to the Sudman family. The Sudman home acted as a magnet for people to gather, hear words of Torah, enjoy cultural and Zionist activities and work on projects to raise money for the Keren Kayemet or Keren Hayesod.

I left Shumsk long before World War II broke out, went to Warsaw to study in the Teachers' Seminary, and from there to a Hachshara training program in Grochov.5 That was followed by the terrible Holocaust years. I finally reached Eretz Israel in the summer of 1947.6

It was very important to me, first of all, to visit relatives, friends, even acquaintances. One day I went to visit the Lerner family; I had kept in contact with them through letters over the years. They received me warmly, and relieved my loneliness as an oleh chadash (new Israeli citizen) who was just starting to adjust myself to life in Eretz Israel. It was there, in the Lerner house, that I also met Yisrael Sudman again.7

Yisrael had aged and now looked older than his years. He was greatly distressed over the fate of his family that had been torn apart during the Holocaust, and of the Jews who had remained in Shumsk and were murdered by the Nazis. Yisrael, who had always held himself erectly, was now slumped over, as if accepting defeat. His once-happy eyes were now sunken, and emitted pain and sadness. Premature old age had taken its toll on him.

But Yisrael was very happy to see me, and would often ask me to tell him about the years that had passed during the war; who was left, who remained alive? And would they come, would they make aliyah,8 and when? I paid many visits to the modest Sudman home, on Gedera Street at the corner of Allenby in Tel Aviv. Yisrael spent much time helping me with my studies in economics and mathematics. At the time, I worked in the Finance and Accounts Division of Neve Oved near the Agricultural Center, and I needed professional instruction -- which I received from Mr. Sudman. He even provided me with appropriate textbooks, so that I would be able to function appropriately at work. Meanwhile his wife, Sarah, would serve us tea and all kinds of delicious homemade baked goods.

I would also visit him in his place of work, in the Central Bank Ha-Poalim on Montefiore Street in Tel Aviv, which was also close to my place of work. There I would find him bent over a pile of accounts of customers of the bank, rapidly making interest calculations in his head. He was faster than the younger workers who used newfangled, speedy calculators.

I was always amazed to see how sharp he was at work. He also had many wonderful character traits; at work he was thorough and in-depth, meticulous and devoted, honest and faithful.

We often talked about the situation in the country. He was heartsick over the situation in Israel at the time: the multiplicity of political parties and the divisiveness, instead of the unity and love of Israel that should have prevailed after the Holocaust.

In our conversations, I learned to respect his personality, his opinions, his strong faith and his beliefs. He hoped to continue his various activities for the unity of Israel. This included his own home, which he built in Tel Baruch with a space for a synagogue. Yisrael hung a sign at the entrance gate to the synagogue that said Kol Yisrael Haverim (All Jews are friends).

Yisrael was active in founding an organization of Shumsk people in Israel. He was also one of the initiators of a benevolence fund for this group. All these gave him much satisfaction and a much-needed break from his ordinary work in the bank. He guarded very penny of the fund, and ran it strictly. I recall that at one of the meetings, I was elected (together with Shraga Weissman) to the inspection committee of the Gemach (free loan) fund. We inspected the account and I was amazed at the way that Yisrael insisted on listing the account activities in a simple notebook. We tried to convince him to buy better and bigger notebooks, but he did not agree with us. It was against his worldview and ethics.

Yisrael corresponded with my father, who remained in Russia. The two of them had been friends back in Shumsk; they shared memories of the shul. I used to forward Yisrael's letters to my father, who was happy to receive them and were a source of encouragement to him in a foreign country.

My father wanted to make aliyah to Israel. After many requests and repeated efforts, the Soviet authorities allowed my father to leave the country on May 12, 1965, and move to Israel. When Father arrived, he inquired into the fate of the other Shumsk survivors in Israel and especially of Yisrael Sudman and his wife. He was very sad to hear that Sudman was no longer alive.

On May 25, there was a memorial ceremony for Sudman. Father implored me to accompany him to the ceremony in Kiryat Shaul. There, in that cemetery, Father recited the Kaddish for the ascent of Sudman's soul.

May his memory be for a blessing.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yitzhak Geler's father was Chaim Geler, who wrote “How My Son and I Survived,” pages 365-368 in this Yizkor Book. Return
  2. Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod were national funds for rebuilding a Jewish homeland. Return
  3. Hechalutz (Heb.) -- Literally, youth pioneers. It 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
  4. More about the Geler family is in the translator's footnotes to “The Zionist Underground in Soviet Shumsk,” pages 117-122 in this Yizkor Book. Moshe and Motel Geler are in photographs in that chapter. Yitzhak Geler's brother Yaakov Geler wrote “Shumsk at Her End,” pages 66-79 in this Yizkor Book. Return
  5. Grochuv was located in a suburb of Warsaw, Poland. Return
  6. Letters that Yitzhak Geler wrote to Shumskers in Palestine about his experiences before, during and after World War II are found in the Shumsk Yizkor Book, pages 329-342. As of the time of this chapter translation, the letters have not been translated to English. Return
  7. Yisrael Sudman's daughter Esther was married to Pesach Lerner. Return
  8. Aliyah (Heb.) -- Literally, ascent; used to refer to immigration to Israel from the Diaspora. Return


[Pages 214-216]

Yisrael Sudman

by Yaakov Viner

Translated by Shulamit Berman

Note: The author of this article, Yaakov Viner, spent just one week in Shumsk, in the summer of 1934 on a mission for a branch of the Zionist Organization. Clearly he was impressed by the people of Shumsk, especially Yisrael Sudman, who immigrated to Palestine not long afterward. Yisrael Sudman (1881-1964) is also described by Yitzhak Geler on pages 211-213 of this yizkor book, and his picture appears there. Sudman himself wrote about his life in Shumsk on pages 129-135.

 

As secretary-general of HeHalutz HaKlal Zioni (General Zionist Pioneers) in 1933-34 I traveled the length and breadth of Poland. When the time came for me to visit Volhynia, I also had the opportunity to spend a week in Shumsk.

I found a quiet town with many shops awaiting customers. It was clear that there were not many wealthy people here. Material hardship was everywhere in evidence. Yet at the same time, there was a general sense that Shumsk was a town of Zionists. Many of the young people were attending hachshara1 preparatory to making aliyah.2 The town's Zionist organization was well developed and included youth movements –and what really won my heart was the large number of Hebrew speakers in the town.

Another thing: the Diaspora had not left its mark on this little town. Whereas in other places alien influences had poisoned local Jewish life, here I found a warm Jewish atmosphere in the synagogue, in the school, and in the organized activities for the national funds. Despite the fact that Jewish suffering could clearly be felt, there was growing Zionist awareness. The new spirit of Eretz Israel hovered above people's thoughts and actions.

 

szu214.jpg
The kibbutz and members of the branch, before the Zionist Congress elections, Shumsk, July 22, '38

 

I remember one evening at the local branch of HeHalutz HaKlal Zioni when people of all ages gathered together and sang in Hebrew that their yearning for a beautiful future was pouring forth like ancient wine when a bottle is uncorked. I beheld a powerful group of dreamers/fighters aspiring to a better future, mighty in their justness, willingness, and desire, albeit small in number.

In the heart of Shumsk, amidst the gentiles, their strong desire burst forth: “We will go up to Zion …”

* * *

I happened to meet Yisrael Sudman and spent a few unforgettable days enjoying his hospitality and basking in the Zionist atmosphere of his home.

The year was 1934. The summer was glorious, the days were bright, and the sun spread its warmth over the land.

Yisrael Sudman was a humble man, modest, quiet, and withdrawn, yet he radiated serenity and kindness. At the same time, he was energetic, alert, and swift. He had many virtues, served as cantor in the synagogue and fulfilled every task with fervor.

Sudman was exemplary in his zeal for justice and charity. He was dedicated to the needs of the community. He was known to be completely honest in all his business dealings. He was devoted to Zion and Zionism with every fiber of his being, and for many years he headed the public Zionist activities in Shumsk.

His home, like that of our forefather Abraham, was open to all, offering lodgings to anyone who earned his esteem through love of Zion. He was especially honored to host emissaries from Eretz Israel, making every effort to make their stay pleasant and to extol them in public.

He labored tirelessly to supply every need. He worked for every educational institution, yeshiva, and charity organization in Shumsk. His pure Jewish heart overflowed with love for humanity.

He was blessed with a noble character, sincerity and common sense. He was popular with everyone. He set aside time for Torah study.

All his life he aspired to be among the builders of the homeland and indeed, he merited to achieve his dream.

* * *

Upon his arrival in Eretz Israel [in 1934] he opened his warm heart to the generations who were paving the way for a great and independent land. He lifted his gaze to the horizon; his spirit embraced its timelessness.

He exulted in the inner freedom of the homeland he had yearned for, the freedom of a traditional lifestyle, the people who were free in spirit and soul to withstand the trials of time and struggle.

Sudman's heart rejoiced to see the dream of generations being fulfilled before his eyes, yet he never abandoned his concern for others. Unlike most of the businessmen who stopped working for those from their hometown when they arrived in Eretz Israel, Sudman continued to assist everyone from Shumsk, believing that “whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” He was instrumental in initiating the organization of Shumskers in Eretz Israel. He established a charity organization for Shumsk survivors after the Holocaust and was also active in the international organization of those from Volhynia.

* * *

Yisrael Sudman worked as a bookkeeper. However, he elevated the profession by relating to it not merely as a matter of adding numbers and balancing accounts, but as a science governed by specific laws, invented by trustworthy Jews to ensure that honesty would be safeguarded.

Like everyone else, he endured the trials and tribulations attendant upon making aliyah, but eventually he found his place in Bank Hapoalim and nobody could have been happier.

From the outset he was popular with his colleagues. His modesty, honesty, painstaking attention to work, and efficiency set an example for others.

He was relatively old when he began working at the bank but when the question of his tenure came up, it was unanimously approved. He was granted tenure with the full benefits usually only offered to younger employees. In his case the management and workers committee deviated from the norm. They did not judge him by his age. This was truly a mark of respect.

Yisrael Sudman was one of the modest people who generally walk at the side of the road and yet illuminate brightly by virtue of their shining personalities. There are so few such people in our materialistic world. He was like the last of the Mohicans of Eretz Israel's romantic period, which is lost forever. With his clarity of thought and his sentimental soul he represented the earliest members of the Zionist movement. His eyes, glowing softly with pleasure, and the aura that surrounded him, testified that Sudman had a beautiful soul.

He was humble and modest, yet lively, animated, and very active.

He had a Jewish heart – a heart that understood and felt the pain of others.

This is how I, a visitor to Shumsk, saw him when I stayed in his home, observing him and his many good deeds. This is how I saw him here in Eretz Israel.

Yisrael Sudman deserves to be remembered as a beautiful man.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Hachshara (Heb.) Literally, preparation. The term refers to training activities, and the special farms where they took place, that hechalutz (pioneers) undertook to prepare themselves for the life they would live after emigrating to the Land of Israel. Return
  2. Aliyah (Heb.) Literally, ascent; to make aliyah is to immigrate to Israel from the Diaspora. Return


[Pages 217-218]

Alter Yukelson

by Dvorah Schneider Sachish

Translated by Shulamit Berman

 

Szu217.jpg

 

Notes: Dvorah (Shneider) Sachich was born January 1, 1921, in Kremenets, then in the newly established Polish Republic. Her father, Moshe Shneider, was a forester and lumber merchant and a prominent member of the Jewish community in Kremenets.

Dvorah's mother, Tzipporah (Chazen), was the sister of Mordechai Chazen, the president of the Jewish Community of Shumsk. The Shneider family home in Kremenets was located in a large courtyard that included additional homes of the extended family. Among them was the home of Dvorah's paternal uncle Tzvi Shneider, who at an early age immigrated with his family to Eretz Yisrael and settled in Afula. Dvorah was the youngest of three daughters. Her sister Sonya married, immigrated to Eretz Yisrael and was the first kindergarten teacher in Afula. Her sister Freida followed. All three sisters were members of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement in Kremenets.

Their parents planned to make aliyah after their daughters were settled in Eretz Yisrael, and they sent Dvorah to Palestine in 1939. She reached the port of Haifa just before the Soviet army entered Poland and all the borders were closed. Dvorah never saw her parents again, and for the rest of her life she carried the pain of their fate.

In the early 1920s Dvorah's father had donated a building in the courtyard of his home in Kremenets for the use of the local Tarbut School. Before she was old enough to attend elementary school, Dvorah insisted on being allowed to sit in the classroom. She was fluent in Hebrew when she immigrated to Eretz Ysrael. She completed her studies at Meshek Poalot, the agricultural high school in Tel Aviv, but unlike classmates who left the city to join a kibbutz, she stayed in Tel Aviv. She worked odd jobs and was an active member of the small, persecuted Communist Party. Soon she volunteered for the British Armed Forces and served three years in the Egyptian desert as an airplane technician in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. Her sister Freida was a truck driver in the British transport force of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

In 1944 during a furlough from the military, Dvorah married Zev/Walter Sachish, who had immigrated from Germany. Shortly before their wedding, Dvorah discovered that as a boy Zev had spent a few years at the home of Dvorah's grandmother in Kremenets. In the 1950s Dvorah studied social work and worked in the Hatikva neighborhood. In the 1970s she established a department for volunteers helping Tel Aviv welfare clients, and she headed the department until she retired. In 1971 she was appointed a member of a special government committee, headed by Dr. Yisrael Katz, to investigate poverty in Israel. The committee was established as a result of public outcry about poverty and the ensuing movement of the Black Panthers.

Dvorah died in July 1917 at age 96; she maintained outstanding clarity of mind until the end. The memory of her murdered family and the sights and life of her youth in Shumsk and Kremenets accompanied her until her last days.

Ever since I can remember, he fascinated me, and even today in my mind's eye I see him clearly, lively and endearing as ever.

My uncle Alter Yukelson stood out among the other interesting people in town because of his dynamic personality, which was expressed in his diverse activities on behalf of the town's many institutions. Since he was well-versed in the customs and laws of Judaism, he was often called upon to arbitrate in disputes. He was recognized as an authority on literary works that had been translated into Russian, as well as Russian literature. He was as knowledgeable about the modern world as he was about religious tradition. As far as he was concerned, religion and tradition merged in the simple philosophy that constituted the message of Hasidut, and nothing spearheaded true movements of the people like Hasidut. He was imbued with universal moral concepts. He understood people and he loved all God's creatures.

Even when his sight began to fail he continued to take an interest in literature. Sometimes it was religious jurisprudence, ethics and legends, other times it was Hebrew books dealing with thorny issues in the Jewish world, then it was Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian novels. My uncle always had a book with him, whether he was eating or sitting in his small haberdashery shop. It happened on more than one occasion that a customer who entered the shop while he was reading failed to distract him from his book. The customer would express his surprise at the Jew who valued his book more than his livelihood. His wife Bayla1 never scolded him, out of her deep respect for him.

Under the czar he served as a lance corporal in the Caucasus region. Since Alter was the only soldier in the entire regiment who could read and write in Russian, he was appointed official reader of the czar's orders for the whole five years that he served in the army, as was customary at the time.

He was very good at composing poetic descriptions and he expressed his feelings in his letters, so much so that each letter was a kind of literary composition. Destitute people begged him to describe their travails in letters to their generous relatives in prosperous America. It often happened that men and women would sob as they poured out their sufferings. They would mumble through their tears that until they began the letter they themselves had not realized the true extent of their suffering. The letters bore fruit, and people heaped blessings on my uncle's head for the help they obtained through him.

My uncle was active in public affairs, but he did not do so for profit, whether as chairman of the local branch of the Zionist Organization,2 head of the Zionist foundations, or manager of the Gemilut Hasadim and Linat Hatzedek charity funds. He invested limitless energy and initiative in every endeavor.

Motel Chazen was in charge of the charity organizations, and my uncle was his senior advisor.

You could see them sitting for hours in Chazen's pharmacy, quietly discussing ways to succor the destitute. My uncle often served as cantor in the synagogue and also lobbied for the town's needs. He once traveled to Warsaw and met with T. Prelucki, the Jewish activist, asking him to intercede with the authorities who had issued an edict to tear down the shops in the marketplace. The fact that he succeeded became a byword in Shumsk. Private petitioners also asked for his help with various issues. By dint of his vast understanding and personal charm he was able to obtain a positive outcome for many people.

Alter Yukelson was very popular, an easy-going conversationist who enjoyed a good joke. He was equally loved by young and old; when he walked down the street he was usually surrounded by a cluster of people who would burst out laughing from time to time as he threw out a lively quip or a witty remark.

He was a considerate man with no personal flaws. He was a lover of truth, which endeared him to everyone in town.

He was a methodical and progressive teacher. Even as a child I valued the moral and human virtues that guided him.

The two major events in his life were his emigration to America in 1906 and his return in 1912, followed by his leaving Soviet Russia in 1920 and returning to Shumsk.

He explained his return from America by saying that it was very hard for him to adapt to the constant pursuit of money and profit, and the materialistic atmosphere of America. As an idealist, it was hard for him to tolerate the attainments of American society at the time. His instinctive opposition to these values drove him back to ailing Europe, which was full of spiritual values and human aspirations.

He explained his return from the Soviet Union with a well-known joke: If Barefoot Luzhka (Bosiak) is mayor of Odessa, there is nothing for Alter Yukelson to do in Russia. He predicted the collapse of the regime long before many others anticipated it.

My uncle was spared from witnessing the end of the Jewish community. He passed away before the catastrophe of Passover 1940, while Shumsk was still part of Russia after the treaty with Germany.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Bayla, born in 1884 to Sara and Yaakov Chazen, perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. She owned a grocery store. Return
  2. In a document dated 1934, prepared for and submitted to the Polish police, Alter Jukelson is listed on the page of officers of the Zionist Organization of Shumsk as the previous president. His birth date is givcn there as 1872. The president at that time was Srul Sudman, who was born in 1881, and the other officers in 1934 were born in the 1890s and 1900s. Return


[Page 219]

Nachman Milman

By Zvi Ravitz (son-in-law), Ra'anana

Translated by Shulamit Berman

 

szu219.JPG

 

Notes: Nachman Milman was born to Enja (Presser) and Yosef Milman in 1866 in the town of Oleksinets. He moved to Shumsk in 1895. He married Etil Glinik (also called Eta), and the births of three of their children are recorded: Yaakov Hersh or Hertz, also called Hertzik, born on March 12, 1900; Rachel, born January 8, 1902; and Etil, born March 27, 1903, and named for her mother, who died in childbirth.

They called him Nachman the Wise, because that's what he was – amazingly shrewd and clever. Whenever there was a dispute between two parties in Shumsk, they would appeal to Nachman to arbitrate, and his decision was always accepted.

As a rule, the Shumsk rabbi would only tackle a complicated din Torah1 between two partners if Nachman Milman was at his side.

In his private life Nachman Milman was sorely put to the test. He had to rebuild his house three times.2 When his three daughters made aliyah3 he wanted to follow them, and in 1937 I sent an entry permit for him and his wife. However, when it became clear that his beloved son Hertzik would be unable to accompany him, he postponed his journey until Hertzik could join them.

By this time the Holocaust was upon them. He was killed, along with the entire Shumsk community, and his beloved son died with him.

May his memory be for a blessing!


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Din Torah: (Hebrew) legal dispute before a Jewish court or rabbinical jurisdiction. Return
  2. By this the author means that Nachman Milman was widowed and then remarried three times. Return
  3. Aliyah: (Hebrew) Literally, ascent. The term is used for the immigration of Jews from the Diaspora to the promised land, the Land of Israel. “Making Aliyah” by moving to Israel is a basic tenet of Zionism. Return


[Page 220]

Hertz (Hertzik) Milman

By Zvi Ravitz (brother-in-law), Ra'anana

Translated by Shulamit Berman

 

Notes: Yaakov Hertz Milman, also called Hertzl or Hertzik, was born in Shumsk in 1900 to Etil (Glinik) – also called Eta – and Nachman Milman. Especially beloved and admired by the youth of the town, he was a member of the Zionist Organization of Shumsk.

We cannot speak about Shumsk without mentioning Hertzik [Milman]. He wasn't a prominent activist, but he was involved in every Zionist activity, whether it was the Funds, Hechalutz (Pioneers), culture, or in fact anything in public life. No general assembly in Shumsk could be held without Hertzik either opening it or making a speech. He was always working behind the scenes, while taking care not to give offense to the town's Zionist leaders.

Everyone admired him. Even his political adversaries were always careful to speak of him with admiration and respect.

Every home, every crowd, was enhanced by his presence. Prominent people would have been honored to have him marry their daughters, if Hertzik had so desired.

 

szu220.JPG

 

There are not enough words to write his entire biography. In stoic silence he bore his private misgivings and suffering, sharing them with no one. When he finally began to think of establishing a family, he was swept up in the war and the Holocaust.

We, his family here [in Israel], hoped he would manage to escape. When the war ended and those from Shumsk who were plucked from the fire began to arrive, we hoped that Hertzik would be among them. But alas, the dreaded tidings arrived swiftly – Hertzik had perished along with the holy community of Shumsk, and we were bereft.

His memory will always dwell in our hearts and in the hearts of all those who knew him.

 

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