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[Page 28]

My Town - Mazceiv

By Yisrael Katz

Translated by Selwyn Rose

“I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth..” my little village, the peacefulness and the serenity; frozen in time but bubbling with warmth and the innocence of youth. Still echoing in my ears are the songs of Israel that were sung in your streets by the youth of Mazceiv, that youth who yearned so much for Zion, but knew not how to achieve the dream. The youth that soaked your ground with its blood; blood which turned the village into a large graveyard for its Jewish inhabitants.

Oh, my little village, I would not know to relate your history. Neither did my father (ZAL) tell me about your past. But, the years that we lived in you – those I shall remember. I remember one time, just after Pessach, my father wrapped me in his talit and took me to the “cheder” of Rabbi Leibushke. The Rabbi, slightly stooped, one eye closed and with his talit-katan exposed. And so – Sit my boy; open the “siddur”, say “Alef”, again and again, “What is 'Alef'? – Good my boy.” After the lesson, the Rabbi raised two large walnuts in his hand and laid them on the desk, turned to me and said: “You see my son, these walnuts the Angel Michael sent to you so that you study well.” Thus I recall my first Rabbi, my first teacher of Hebrew. We would all sit in the Rabbi's room, while slowly and noisily he drank endless cups of tea; little Jewish boys, in fear and trembling, watching his every move. He would call every one of us to him, sit us on the bench next to him and we would study the Torah. Thus Rabbi Leibushke drummed into our heads the beginnings of Hebrew. It was the first “station” on the road of my life. This is how I remember all the Rabbis I knew: Baruch-Leib Melamed, an old man, full of years, adorned with a beard, G-d-fearing, teaching his pupils the fear of the Lord. For years I soaked up the “Light of the Torah”. “Die Rassener Rebbe” – that's what they called him. And indeed he was the one I most liked. A pleasant man, radiating pleasantness around him; pleasing manners and always elegantly attired. I loved him and admired him. I remember how much I missed that Rabbi when he died. Rabbi Haim Baruch Melamed – educated, who knew the Tanach down to its finest detail; knew how to imbue his pupils with the love of Torah. Rabbi Damtah, Rabbi Schachnah Tzernick Master of “Mishmeret-Shalom” an outstanding and brilliant scholar, a well of knowledge that never forgot a thing. His specialization was the Six Books of the Mishnah his interpretations won for him fame throughout Poland. We were witnesses, the residents of Mazceiv, to the invitations he received this “Mishmeret Shalom”, to travel throughout Poland and interpret the Torah and Halakha.

I was a visitor to his home, a friend of his nephew Mordecai. I shall not forget his benevolence towards me, how he would turn from his own studies and teach me, Mordecai and my dear friend Yisrael Levine, Talmud, wanting to instill in us deeper knowledge of the early literature of Israel.

I recall him in the Great Synagogue, on Rosh Hashanah, before the sounding of the Shofar, the Rav Damtah would go onto the Bemah. Silence would fall. The congregation, wrapped in Talitot stands waiting, expectant. A gentle voice is heard, a little tearful, speaking with his Creator, as if saying: “I delight in Thy promise, like one who attains great wealth.” – The prayer said prior to sounding the Shofar. So many years have passed and yet I still have etched in my soul a picture of the Rabbi in the synagogue before the Blowing of the Shofar! My Rabbi and Teacher, the Town Rabbi, a Great Light were you to your townspeople, spiritual shepherd to your congregation in Mazceiv – a gross understatement. With your tremendous personality, with your name proceeding before you, you adorned and elevated the name of the town on high. In my eyes you were one of the geniuses of Israel, you and Shalom Schachnah “Mishmeret Hashlom”. And still more images that decorated the face of the town float before me, for who among us can forget the enchanting and magnificent Rabbi Moisheleh Hani Rivess. His prayers, his entreaties to the Master of the Universe split the skies and rose up to the heavens. Unique and rare was he, for none was like unto him, one of the 36 Righteous of the world.

You, my town, living within you men of pure soul and bold expression, differing people, people of toil and labour, who, by virtue of exhausting work and the sweat of their brow earned their daily bread, each in his own way; whether by trade, or by manual labour. All together constituting the community of Mazceiv. Year after year, you built and produced and thus many years flew by and Mazceiv the town continued its conservative life. A few emigrated to Israel; many went to the United States and the remainder stayed behind in town and lived their daily, grey lives, purposeless and uselessly. The young people used to dance the nights away uncaring for the bells pealing out the freedom of Israel and chose not to give a hand in the building of the country. And the enemy came in the guise of a cruel beast, liquidating its victims. The congregation of Mazceiv, its people and babies became prey. Its love of life and its glory concealed and sunk into oblivion.

Photo: The three tombstones erected on the three mass graves of martyrs in Mazceiv

[Page 34]

The Township of Kamin-Korzcirsk and its Surroundings

By Avraham Biber

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The town of Kamin-Korzcirsk borders on the Polesia marshlands to the northwest. The township typifies Jewish life as it had been in that area of the country for countless generations. According to the Soviet-Russian Encyclopedia, the town is situated on the banks of the river Zyr, a tributary of the river Prypiet and known already in the 12th Century as Wolyn.

It is known that in the time of the infamous Decrees of 1648 and 1649 and the ensuing Khmelnitskyi Riots, a Jewish community already existed in Kamin, numbering 100 house owners, all of whom were murdered.

The town was connected by a standard-gauge railway to Kovel in the south and by a narrow gauge railway to Lovishna-Yanov-Pinsk in the north.

More than 40 Jewish communities, in small villages and towns, were spread through the province during the period of Polish dominion, all belonging to the regional capital – Kamin-Korzcirsk.

At the outbreak of the First World War the town was under the Czarist regime in the Pale of Settlement and during the war the Russian army retreated and the Austro-German Army controlled the area.

In 1917, with the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution and the retreat of the German forces from the area, there was an outbreak of anti-Jewish activities. At that time the Jews defended themselves by creating their own self-defense (Samoobrona) organization.

During the terrible days of 1917, gangs of rioters known as Balakhovniks, after their leader, murdered about 120 Jews from the town and several more from the surrounding area.

With the stabilization of Polish rule (1920), the situation improved somewhat for the Jews. They occupied themselves in small trading, peddling and mainly in all the trades and professions that the local, non-Jewish population was in need of, such as: carpentry, tinsmiths, blacksmiths, shoemaking and repairs, tailoring, etc. There was virtually no trade that did not have its Jewish artisan.

Once a week on Tuesday (twice if things were good), there was a fair to which all the farmers in the area would come to sell their produce and purchase their needs, such as salt, kerosene, clothes, boots, sheepskins, work tools, etc. This fair was the main source of sustenance for the Jewish traders.

In 1937 with the rise of Hitler in Germany and the blossoming of anti-Semitism in Poland, a pogrom was organized against Jewish property, especially against the business center of Klurman Family & Partners. Two Jews, who resisted the rioters, were jailed and heavily fined.

Virtually all the youth of the town were Zionists, learned Hebrew and aspiring to emigrate to Palestine, although it was at the time little more than a dream. The following youth movements were in existence: Hashomer Hatza'ir, The Young Pioneer, The Pioneer, Freiheit, Betar, The Young Zionist, and more. A number of the young people went on training and preparation courses and some even managed to emigrate to Palestine before the war.

There was a Polish school providing seven years' schooling and a Hebrew school “Revival” which constituted a central factor in the social and cultural life of the town. There were two synagogues in town – Die Trisker Shul and Die Staffeneuer Shul, and one Rabbi an outstanding scholar - Rabbi Farlein.

Among the community institutions that the Jews founded were Leinat Tsedek, the Talmud Torah, the Burial Society, Companions of the Mishna'ot, the Psalms Society, and Meot Chettim. In spite of all the economic difficulties it can be said that there was no hunger in the town, although there was a handful of regular beggars.

With the invasion of Poland on September 1 1939, the Jewish community numbered over 2000 souls.

The Period of Soviet Rule (1939-1941)

On 1st September, Germany invaded Poland and with that act precipitated World War Two. Young Jews were drafted into the Polish Army, fell prisoner and were later murdered in Majdanek.

On 17th September we learned that the Red Army had entered eastern Poland in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement of 23rd August for the division of Poland.

A few days afterwards, soldiers of the Red Army arrived in the town and immediately set up a Soviet government with the help of local communists and their supporters. For the Jews there was a respite; we were saved from the German conquerors and their atrocities and became equal citizens in all things. A secondary school opened in the town and it was possible to obtain posts and assignments that had earlier been barred to Jews and Ukrainians. The youth seemed satisfied and we saw some kind of a future ahead of us. For the older generation the main hardship was the denial of our religion in being forced to work on the Sabbath. We saw it as something we would have to live with. Obviously all the Jewish and community institutions were closed and involvement in their activities, Zionist or otherwise became dangerous.

The Nazi Conquest and the Holocaust

On 22nd June 1941 at 04:00 a.m. we were awakened by the sound of explosions in the town and were unable to find an explanation for them. Only after a number of hours were we informed by the radio that the Nazi army had invaded Soviet territory. Youngsters were drafted into the Red Army and sent eastwards.

On the fourth day, the Soviet authorities retreated from the town. A stream of farmers from the surrounding villages immediately began looting government stores and thereafter commenced a pogrom of looting Jewish property. Leading them were those opposed to Soviet rule (Horokim). During the disturbances the rioters murdered two Jews.

The Ukrainians established a town administration and designated Shmuel Verble (ZAL) as the representative for Jewish affairs. We were obliged to submit to forced labor and other various edicts, such as wearing the “yellow star”, restriction of movement, food rationing, etc. On Friday 1st August 1941 (Shabbat 8 Av 5701), a platoon of German soldiers arrived in the town and on the following day (9 Av), 8 Jews were taken away and executed; they were the first of the town's victims. An Einsatzgruppen arrived. They arrested all males between the ages 16-60 and at dawn the following day (23 August 1942) led them about 2 ½ miles out of town and murdered them alongside a grave they had been forced to dig with their own hands. At that time between 80-100 men were killed, among them the Jewish representative Shmuel Verble.

As the Ten Days of Penitence (5702) approached, some Germans arrived and at their head the notorious Gabitzkomissar Fritz Michaels. They controlled the areas of Morodno, Liubeshev and Kamin-Korzcirsk and continued to lay down new decrees from day to day. They insisted on the creation of a Judenrat, which was responsible to them for enforcing the instructions. The situation gradually worsened. The Judenrat did what it could to ease the suffering.

At the end of May 1942 the order went out that from the 1st June the Jews had to confine themselves to a ghetto of one street – Kovel Street. The ghetto was fenced round with a hoarding two meters high (on top of which was a barbed wire addition of ½ meter). Conditions were cramped to an intolerable degree. While it was summer it was at least possible to sleep outside. The entry to the ghetto was through one gate that was guarded by Ukrainians police 24 hour a day. All the Jews from the surrounding villages and communities were brought in until the number of people confined was about 3,000 souls.

On Sunday 9th August 1942, the Judenrat told us that no one was going to work the following day; there was to be an inspection outside the ghetto. Everyone had to go, the old the young, the lame and the sick. We felt in our hearts that all was not well although we were promised that everyone who worked had nothing to worry about; it was just a work-inspection.

Monday morning we formed up in a long line and were marched outside the ghetto towards the Jewish cemetery (about 4 km). Ukrainian police and Germans guarded us on all sides. The rest (the women and the sick) were transported on carts. After a march of a couple of hours we arrived at a fenced-off area facing the cemetery. The day was very hot and the sun burning. We waited. In the afternoon, the Gabitzkomissar arrived. (It appears that he had just completed “liquidating” the Liubeshev ghetto). The distribution of scheine – travel passes began. It was clear that there were no passes for the children (under the age of 16) and none for people over the age of 60. Children were separated from their parents and parents from their children. Confusion began and shouts and cries were heard all over the area reaching up to the heavens. The Ukrainian police acted with great cruelty. The distribution of passes stopped and everyone who had managed to obtain one was led at a run to some sheds close by and locked in. We had no idea what was happening outside.

Quiet did not descend until the evening and we were released. The area was deserted. Everyone had been ordered to strip naked and then led beyond the cemetery where they were murdered in graves prepared beforehand. Thus, on that day, 28th Av 5702 (10th August 1942), about 2,500 Jews were murdered. About 600 souls – widows, orphans and grieving parents were left. We knew our respite was only temporary and that a similar end awaited us.

We were returned to the reduced ghetto where we were obliged to continue with our daily lives.

A few groups began to organize themselves and go into the forests seeking contact with Partisans who were rumoured to be in the area. In this way these groups and s few individuals managed to escape the ghetto with weapons. One group was made up of the brothers Dvubel together with Abba Klurman. Dov Amit (Darog) formed a group with Yossele Segal, David Lehrmann and his wife escaped to the marshlands of Vedart. A few individuals joined them. The ghetto endangered itself by implication but no one informed on us to the Germans, although there were one or two collaborators. We built much hope on the escapees since they represented a way out and the possibility of a struggle – to fight and perhaps even to survive.

To our sorrow our hopes were dashed. The escapees encountered disorganized Partisans who simply robbed them of their weapons. A few of them were even murdered and the rest escaped. Only Zwivel's group managed to acquire weapons and make contact with the Kruk Partisans and join up with them. Eventually it became a fighting unit made up of Jews from Miniwitz, Kamin-Korzcirsk and other villages in the region. In the ghetto we prepared ourselves for the end although a decision had coalesced not to surrender meekly but to escape. And so it was.

On Monday 2nd November 1942 (22 Marcheshvan 5703), it became clear to us that the end was coming. About 400 of the 600 people escaped from the ghetto and their work places. Those who remained were taken the following day to the cemetery and executed.

It was already winter, cold, and the snow had begun to fall. Most of the escapees made their way in the direction of the Navir Forest (about 22 miles from Kamin). To our great sorrow these, too, fell foul of a hostile population who turned them over to the Germans, or murdered them. The local Partisans also took part in this, killing them and taking their weapons and clothes. We remained only about 100 Jews, a few of whom were Partisans in Ukraine and a few in White Russia.

With the liberation of the area by the Red Army in the spring 1944, they were mobilized or volunteered for the army where some of them fell during the later stages of the war.

The 27th Av has been named as the Memorial Day and day of Kaddish for those who fell from our town and its area.

[Page 36]

The History of Rokytne

By The Committee

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Rokytne was a small village in Wohlyn. It was established under the name of Okhotnikhov close to the twin cities of Sarni-Rovno and was a mere village until the beginning of the 17th Century. The development of the timber trade, the building of a glass factory and the laying of the rail line Kiev-Kovel, turned it into an urban settlement.

An idyllic tale of a large Jewish settlement existed in that place – and was laid waste in the riots of 1648 and 1649 (the Khmelnitzky pogroms of the 17th Century). The evidence is to be found in the ancient Jewish graveyard close to Rokytne.

Young Jewish families arrived at Rokytne at the beginning of the 20th Century, mainly from the surrounding areas. Mr. Rosenberg, the owner of the glass factory, built accommodation for his workers, created a large public park and built for himself a winter palace. The Rokytne Jews integrated into the economic fabric of the developing township and occupied themselves honorably in trade and in the provision of services to the workers.

Two hotels were built; Jewish community leaders known for their support of small traders, workshop owners and those of little means, instituted a charitable pension fund. With time it became a “People's Bank” of sorts.

Within a few years the Jewish community in the town became organized and its population, which was mainly young, absorbed the modern life of western culture. The community was the cultural and spiritual center of the area. Rabbi Aharon Schaaps officiated as Town Rabbi and the daily life of the Jews was centered all the year round in the old synagogue, Magen Avraham.

A school, “Culture”, was opened and hundreds of pupils learned there. In 1934 an “Association of Hebrew Speakers” was created under the auspices of the school. Next door was a public library and a regular newspaper appeared. Also active was a drama group and an orchestra which appeared at community events and festivals. The Zionist movement began to develop in Rokytne and had a great influence of the youth. In 1924 a branch of Hechalutz was established and opened a local training center. In 1926 Hashomer Hatza'ir, opened a cell and obliged all its members to take a training course and immigrate to Palestine. In 1928 the Betar movement opened a branch active in the field of education and in 1933 Brit Hachayal was founded for military and physical training.

In 1939 there were close to 3,500 Jews in Rokytne and the surrounding area.

The Holocaust

Following the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement signed between Germany and Russia in August 1939, parts of eastern Poland were ceded to Russia. The Red Army entered Rokytne in the middle of September 1939. The Jewish population integrated into the new regime but all the Jewish institutions were closed down. With the outbreak of war between Germany and Russia (22nd June 1941), there were 2,500 living in the town. The Germans conquered the area quite quickly and immediately on entering town began harassing and harming the Jews. A Judenrat was established and in April 1942 a ghetto and Jewish police force came into being. The Germans turned the new synagogue building into a workshop for their own needs employing Jewish artisans. There was a pervasive hunger in the ghetto most of the time.

On 26th August 1942 (13 Elul 5702), an Aktsia was carried out in the ghetto. 1,631 Jews were concentrated in the market square facing the new synagogue. Rifle fire was opened up on them and about 300 were killed. 400 were loaded onto railway wagons and taken to Sarni where they were shot in previously prepared pits, together with other Jews from the area. The rest of the Jews escaped from the square into the forests; most were caught and murdered by the Ukrainians. Others joined Russian partisans and fought the Nazis and their supporters until the end of the war.

Jews from Rokytne, who escaped at the beginning of the war with the retreating Russians, joined the ranks of the Red Army. Most of the remnants and refugees of the Jewish community of Rokytne immigrated to Israel after the war.

[Page 73]

The Visit to Kamen-Kashirskiy on Memorial Day 1997

By Shoshi Peleg (nee Donitz)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

I felt a special obligation to stand here before you today, you survivors of Kamen-Kashirskiy and its surroundings, to look you in the eyes – eyes that have seen everything – and to give expression to my feelings in a few words.

The feelings of the daughter of Yehuda Donitz (ZAL), from Stobykhva and my dear mother Chaya (née Bresch) of Kamen-Kashirskiy, who was destined to be singled out for a long and good life. The feelings of a “second generation” daughter who only in the last few years began to sense just what they had passed through – these heroes and survivors.

I have heard for years all the stories, taken part in some of the ceremonies but for some reason a feeling was created within me – a daughter of the second generation - a substance, that perhaps filled a central role in protecting me - as it does the rest of my brothers and sisters of the second generation – and enabled us to grow and develop, in spite of everything.

As I said, in recent years a previously hidden spark has been ignited in our hearts that has pushed Dov, my husband, and me to set out and try to touch our roots. Thus Dov and I decided to visit Kamen-Kashirskiy and its surroundings. The journey began in Kiev and a visit to Babi Yar, the “Vale of Tears” of the Jewish people whose fate resembled the fate of other Jews in Kamen-Kashirskiy and tens of other towns and villages in north Ukraine and Poland. From there we traveled by train to Kovel and continued on to Kamen.

In Kamen we wandered round the streets, sensing and seeing everything, the school “Culture”, where you studied, and the remains of the hotel on Kovel Street. We visited the synagogue that remains in the ghetto, used today as a grocery store and the synagogue in the town center now used as a kindergarten. We visited the cultural center that the Soviets erected in the center of the square that was used as a trading center for the Jews. We rambled along the banks of the Zyr River and even located my mother's house on Pilsudski Street next to the windmill. We traveled to the beaches at Yezerki, used by the kids of Kamen for pleasure and even went far into the forests along the marshlands as far as Stobykhva, the village where my father, Yehuda Donitz, was born. There are still Poles and Ukrainians living there who remember my family well.

But if the walls and the trees could tell what their eyes have seen the ground would shake. And thus, shaken to the roots of our being, we stood with our heads lowered alongside the “killing-pits” in the forest close to the cemetery of Kamen. We stood while before our eyes passed again mental pictures of all the stories the “aktions”, the bullying and beatings, the hair-curling stories of destruction of the Jews of Kamen-Kashirskiy. There we stood and understood, that in spite of everything and because of the survivors, we won. We won by virtue of the spirit that was preserved by those who were led to their death, and by virtue of the spirit of those who succeeded in fleeing to the forests and surviving. By the very fact that we stood there, Dov and I, perhaps as representatives of the “Second Generation” – we won. And it is our obligation to ensure that the victory is preserved here, in this, our own good land forever.

I ask from all of you forgiveness. From you, the survivors, from you mother, for the years we listened and understood not. For we could not understand all the years we heard and didn't feel – because we couldn't feel. But from now everything is different because we have been there and we have seen; we have been there and we have felt; we have been there and we have touched the “holy places”, touched the roots of those who remained there…….

From now on we all continue together forever.

I wish you all good health and long lives and hope to see you all here next year.

Kamen-Kashirskiy – The Stone-setting ceremony in the cemetery, 1992.

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