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[Page 495]

My Grandfather Reb Menahem Mendl Potashnik

By Hayim Ashlagi (Kfar Vitkin)

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Judy Montel

 

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Our Potashnik family business was glass production. It was produced mainly from potassium, which was found abundantly in Volozhin vicinity. It was the reason for our family's name.

Reb Menahem Mendl was a much honored citizen. He used to pray in the Klayzl Shool. If it happened and he was late to Shakhriss [the morning prayer] the congregation awaited him and did not begin the prayers till he arrived.

A committee, nominated by the town-Rabbi, existed during the Tsar's regime. Grandfather was a member there. He functioned also as deputy chairman of the Jewish Communities Committee during the Polish rule. He was among the founders of “Jewish Public Bank” and served as member of its management until the day he was murdered.

Our brothers from the other side of the ocean used to help our impoverished post-war congregation. They would send the money to assist the poor at Grandfather's address, because they trusted him, knowing his honesty and blamelessness.

Grandmother Groonia excelled in her goodness of heart and altruism. She dealt with charity and anonymous donation. She cared for wedding ceremonies and if there were not enough means she would mortgage her own ornaments.

Grandfather managed his house in a patriarchal way. He was firm and not compromising in traditional matters. But as a wise man, he knew when to be flexible. He was tolerant of the desire of his daughter-in-law and agreed to send his granddaughters to study at the Russian High School in Minsk. But he never consented to permit his grandsons to behave in such a way. He insisted on educating them in orthodox schools. His firstborn grandson was sent to study in the Vilcomir Yeshiva.

Grandfather was not a Zionist as we understand its meaning now; he was a “Lover of Zion”.

Reb Menahem Mendl Potashnik was robbed and murdered by bandits on his way to work in the early thirties. He was sorry at my decision to make Aliya.


[Page 496]

Doctor Avrum Zart
His personality and deeds

By Shoshana Nishri (Berkovitz), (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Naomi Gal

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

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Avrum Zart, who our citizens called “The Doctor” was not a real doctor. He acquired his medical education in a military school for feldshers (medics) which he finished in 1912. But the patients did not check his credentials and treated him as a well–known doctor, since he accumulated rich experience in healing the sick and was an expert in diagnosing illnesses. He inherited his medical gift from his father “R. Aaron (“Erka”) der feldsher”.

Avrom Zart was a very talented man, his talent – to quote Bialik – “was dripping from his ten fingers”. In addition, he was a handsome man and well–mannered. For many years he represented the Volozhin Jewish community in all governmental events and celebrations such as Independence Day. In these occasions he gave brilliant, well–tempered speeches in impeccable Polish.

His first speech was given in front of a large crowd in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. He went up to the tribunal (a stage) and spoke at meetings for the many soldiers who stationed then in Volozhin and had different opinions on diverse subjects. With his rhetorical gift and his power of persuasion Avrum Zart calmed the listeners and was able to mediate between opponents.

Due to his rich education and spoken skills Avrum Zart was elected as Volozhin's vice mayor. It was a great achievement because Jews were not allowed to take part in municipal affairs.

His wife, Zvia, was the only midwife in Volozhin. She was always busy. When a woman was about to give birth Zvia was immediately summoned (in these years, the thirties, women gave birth at home). Zvia was also active with community needs, she used to raise money for charity, no one ever said no to her.

Avrum Zart's gift as a speaker played against him. When the Soviets entered Volozhin during World War Two, they invited him to speak to a large audience in the local playhouse, Later, when the Germans came to Volozhin they reminded him of his “crime”, his pro–soviet speech and he was one of the first to be executed. His daughter and wife perished, too, during the Shoah.


[Page 497]

Memories of Avrum Zart

By Shoshana Nishri (Berkovitz)

Translated by Naomi Gal

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

In 1933 I befriended Nehama, Avrum Zart's only daughter. Due to that friendship, I had the privilege of listening to the radio in their apartment (in those days there were only two radios in Volozhin. The other one was in the house of Yaakov (“Yani”) Garber). Once, the young group convened in Avrum Zart's house to listen to the opera “Tosca”. All of a sudden, we heard whispering noise from the outside. We made our way through the tall Ficus trees that reached the ceiling and covered the windows. We saw a big crowd around the house listening to the music – some for pleasure and some out of curiosity, wanting to see the “magic box”. Avrum Zart went out to the crowd and expressed his regret that he could not accommodate them all in his house.

Connected to Avrum Zart was the visit of professor Fishel Schneorson[Shneerson], who came to Volozhin to collect material for writing the second volume of his book “Haim Gravitzer”, consecrated to Volozhin. The home of Avrum Zart was the most suitable to receive an honorable guest like professor Schneroson. We spent a pleasant evening with the professor, who was a like a fountainhead of Jewish anecdotes, which I fondly remember to this day.

The epitome of memories about Avrum Zart was the organizing of Purim Ball. While Avrum Zart served as the vice mayor we got the permission to use the big hall of the municipality that was in Perlman House on Vilna Street, for the Purim Ball. The feeling, that this year we will not have the ball in the fire–department hall, whose walls were exposed and sad, but instead, in a nice and clean building, full of light and air – made us feel that this time the ball is going to be extraordinary.

Our house became a workshop to all kind of paper–chains, confetti and cotilions (tiny hats). Remarkable in their work preparing for the ball were Emma Apfel, Pessia Rogovin, Nehama Zart and Rachel Shebah (a kindergarten teacher not originally from Volozhin), she was the lively spirit in all the ball's preparations.

And then there was the commotion, renting ball gowns, only few had such dresses. Somehow, we made it, and the ball was successful, the youth had free entry. Among the families that participated, I remember the Parezki, Pollak, Weisbord, Brodna, Kaganovitz, teacher Lipsitz, Rachel Meltzer (Kivilvitz) and others.

The mood was great, everybody danced and the “flying Posta” worked relentlessly. What is this “Posta”? – the participants got numbers, which served as addresses to letters written to them that evening. The content of the letters was mostly comical and entertaining. In some cases, they were allowed to read the letter publicly – to the crowd's enjoyment. This “post” was for a fee and the revenue was for JNF.

We remembered that ball for many years, which was organized thanks to Avrum Zart's cordial help, who gave us access to the municipality hall.


[Page 498]

Shneur Kivilevitsh

By Reuven Rogovin

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Eilat Gordin Levitan and Judy Feinsilver Montel

 

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I recall the Kivilevitsh family with much warmth. The family was renowned for their dedication and self-sacrificing nature during the First World War. And this was their story. At the outbreak of the war, two Yeshiva-students were stranded in Volozhin. They could not reach their hometowns since the Germans already occupied their towns at that point. Even worse, they were at an age in which the Russian authorities could draft them for service in the war, but they refused to serve in the Tsar's army. The Kivilevitshes took an enormous risk and concealed the young men in the family's apartment for three years (from 1915 until 1918). They knew that hiding “deserters” greatly endangered them: if they were caught they would receive very severe punishment, possibly even capital punishment.

The Yeshiva students returned home after war and told their parents about the kindness of the Kivilevitsh family. Their parents sent a thankful letter to Volozhin. The letter was very emotional and often brings its readers to tears. I've read this letter and I too, shed a tear while reading it.

The family's mother, Sima Kivilevitsh (nee Shriro) was born in Molodetshno. She lived in Yatskevo after marriage. She had a generous heart. Her donations to poor people were distributed largely and secretly, so as not to shame the needy.

The honoring of his mother was the cause of my first encounter with Shneur. The members of the Volozhin Khevre Kadishe (Interment Society) were the ones responsible for deciding the burial place and its price.

When his mother died, Shneur went to the Khevre Kadishe and pronounced these words: “All of you know who my mother was, and the good deeds she has done, you also know. Therefore choose the best place to which she can be brought to eternal peace and I will pay full price for it.”

He would say Kadish not like a member of the enlightened circle, but as would be done by a simple Jew, at Shakharis (Morning Prayer), at Minkha (Midday Prayer) and Maariv (Evening Prayer), every day and without fail. He did this without missing one single day during the Mourning Year. As it's written “the Fathers' is their sons' glory”. Shneur had seen his glory and honor in the image of his mother. He might be an example in honoring mother and father for the children of our generation.

We prayed with Shneur in the same Klayzl. Both of us had places at the East Wall (facing Jerusalem). He inherited this place from his father Moshe. His father, who was a sage scholar, had bought the place at the honored wall before the First World War. Prior to his demise he donated his extensive Judaic library to the Klayzl.

I remember an event from Shneur's life that showed his national pride and readiness to passionately defend Jewish honor. The son of Vartman (the Volozhin district governor -Starosta) was a high school student in Warsaw. After lunch on Saturdays, Jewish families would take a walk in Count Tishkevitsh's park. The high school student, who was an ardent anti-Semite, came back to Volozhin during his vacations and took sadistic pleasure in taking his father's horse and bursting into peacefully walking groups to create dismay among them, on more than one occasion hurting or wounding someone.

 

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Vilna Street - Volozhin (Nineteen thirties)
The first house at left is the Kivilevitsh's

 

One day Shneur met me and said, “Reuven we must end this maltreatment of our Jewish inhabitants.” We decided to put an end to the Volozhin Hooligan's mini-pogroms. And this is what happened. Once when the Starosta's offspring entered the park on horseback, we stopped him, we pulled the rider from his horse and we beat him severely. When the high school student lay down, Shneur made movements as if he were photographing him and said, “If you complain to your father and tell him of this event, we'll send the pictures to your High School director in Warsaw to show him and your classmates how you were beaten by Jews and how you lay ashamed on the soil.”

Our exercise worked, and he never said a word to his father or anyone else. He never again attempted his horse riding escapades, to the great relief of the Volozhin Jews.

Shneur reached the summit of his noble essence during the time of the Shoah. He loved his shtetl's inhabitants, and as the head of his local Judenrat, he did all that was conceivable to support them and to save their lives.

Shneur had the opportunity to save his life. However, he could not and did not want to abandon his wife Rachel and their son Yigal whom he loved more than his own life. He also knew that his escape would have brought instantaneous catastrophe to the Jews imprisoned in Ghetto.

Shneur was always encouraging the Ghetto captives to construct hideouts, the so-called “Malinas”. He suggested that they hide there as much as they could since it was clear that the day of the massacre would soon arrive. Some Ghetto dwellers survived the mass slaughters inside Malinas, and when the slaughter was over they escaped to the forest.

One day Shneur was led away by the Ghetto Politsay and murdered en route to Molodetshno.

Shneur bravely carried out his tragic duty until the very end. He went stoically to his death, knowing that he would not return from this trip.

Shneur's death was the death of a saint and he was bestowed the crown of a good name. It is known that this crown is more important than the crown of Torah and than the crown of royalty.

Shneur's wife Rachel Kivilevitsh (nee Melzer) was a born Volozhiner. She taught Hebrew and natural sciences at the Volozhin Tarbut School.

Rachel spoke with her students only in Hebrew, avoiding Yiddish even during the breaks while the children in other classes spoke Yiddish. She was the sole Jewish teacher in the Polish High (Evening) School. Rachel graduated from a Russian high school and the Hebrew Seminar for teachers.

Translator's note: Rachel with their little son Yigal were exterminated in the hamlet of Zabrezhe (ten Kilometers from Volozhin). Her name appears on the martyrs list of Zabrezhe in the “Pamiat – Memory” book (page 262), published by the Volozhin Region authorities (1996).

Rachel Kivilevitsh, Moyshe Meltser's daughter – her name is written in the “Pamiat' book among the Zabrezhe victims of the Fascist terror, in the Belarus language, in Cyrillic characters.

“Meltser Rakhilya Moyshawna, born 1909”


[Page 500]

Grand Father Rabbi Aharon Rapoport

(Named in error Rosenberg in the Yizkor Book- corrected by Ms. Miriam Levitan)

by Miriam Levitan (Rosenberg)

Translated by Moshe Porat

Edited by Judy Montel

 

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My grandfather was born in Volozhin on 1853. He was very wealthy. He spent most of his time on torah study. He had rabbinical certification and his house was filled with ancient books. In his last years he became blind. But he continued to learn and to teach a page of Talmud every day to the inhabitants of Volozhin. Despite his blindness, he managed to find his own way to the synagogue.

Grandpa possessed many tar mills. There were many wood roots in Count Tyshkevitch's forests from which turpentine, tar, and charcoal were produced. Near one of these mills he built his house. He also established a big house in Volozhin in which running water was installed for the first time in our shtetl.

Grandfather was so rich that he could equip his each one of his five children with a tar mill as a very generous dowry. His son Moyshe Rapoport lived in the house, which was equipped with running water. In association with Mr. Yosef Perlman he established a sawmill and gristmill on the bank of the Volozhinka in Volozhin.

The count when visiting his forests stopped once to take a rest at the isolated house in the woods. Grandpa was immersed in a serious Talmudic subject, but seeing the count he stood up to honor his sudden guest. The count, looking at the heavy loaded bookshelves, asked the old man “Who's studying all this wisdom?” “Its me” answered Grandfather. “And do you understand what is in these writings”, “Yes, your Honor.” was the answer. The count remained on his feet, asked the old Jew to sit and said: “I should be honored to stay before a person skilled in the mysteries of ancient writings”.

Grandfather occupied himself with charity and benevolence. He assisted poor brides to marry and helped them later in hardship. Every one who was in distress could find support in his house.

Grandpa Aharon Rapoport passed away at the age of 88. He was brought to rest on the day the Nazis occupied Volozhin.

 

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