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[Pages 53-65 - Yiddish] [Pages 245-251 - Hebrew]

Our Small Town Ratchev
(Rohachiv, Ukraine)

50°25' 27°43'

by Hirsh Rosenfeld

Donated by Brian Ferstman

Situated on the downward slope of the west bank of the Slutch river, between Zwhil and Baranovka, our small town Ratchev was surrounded by fields of corn, wheat, and buckwheat. On the other side of the river a continuous pine forest stretched as far as Kamenny Brod. On the west side, as far as the eye could see, there were small bushes in the “Haliavets”, the rich landlord's estate, with every kind of tall tree and a small lake in the middle.

The town's main street ran from south to north, and had two names: the northern end, in the direction of Zwhil, was called Zwhiler street; the southern part leading towards Baranovka, was called “Baranovker Street”. On the east, parallel to the main street was the side street. On the west side of the town perpendicular to the main street there were another two small streets, the Smoldyraver street and the New Street. The market square sat majestically smack in the centre, a ring of stalls and small stores – about twenty -- were built into the front of some of the buildings.

Not far from the market, on Baranovker Street, stood the synagogue, an old stone edifice with thick walls and with heavy iron-clad doors. When I was a youngster of seven or eight (over sixty years ago) the Makarover chapel, with two blue lions over its entrance, was built on Makarover street. Somewhat later they added the Trisker shtibel in the corner of the market.

Adjacent to the main synagogue there was a small shul where the town's tradesmen prayed on the Sabbath and holidays only. It was actually a part of the large synagogue.

The cemetery was on the Zwhiler Street, on the edge of town. But in Ratchev there used to be an older cemetery, smack in the centre of the town, not far from Braver [brewery] Street. In my youth, all that remained on this street were ruins [of an old brewery] and it was dangerous to approach it: a balcony or a wall could tumble down without warning. A few steps further down was the old cemetery surrounded by a tall fence. Age had already blackened some of its boards, and in some places they were rotting. The tombstones were felled, broken and the inscriptions erased. I had no idea how old this cemetery was. Sometime later the fence collapsed; it wasn't replaced. The Braver ruins were removed, and in its place a large building was erected. The area of the old cemetery was overgrown with stinging nettle and other weeds.

Not far from the synagogue stood the bathhouse. This was an important institution in our town and the livelihood for old Yankel, the sexton (shamas) of the shul. Devout Jews went there every day at dawn to dip in the Mikveh (ritual bath). The water was heated only on Fridays. Friday afternoons almost everyone used to go there to cleanse in honour of the Sabbath. The town's gentiles also used the bathhouse, but on Friday nights.

There were over 100 Jewish homes in Ratchev, with about 120 families living there. I estimate that there were about four or five hundred souls. About 20 families made their living from trading in the stalls and small stores: there were also about ten teachers (melamdim), a Rabbi, three ritual slaughterers that were also cantors, three sextons, a few butchers, a tax collector, and a candle maker. There were also several tailors, shoe repairmen, house painters, carpenters, cabinet makers, glaziers and one architect, a tall emaciated Jew with a red face, the result of being constantly in the sun. There were also: a tinsmith, a boiler maker, a horse smith, a few weavers, a tanner, a barber, a doctor and a pharmacist. There were two small tanneries, and a while later a steam-powered grain mill. One Jew owned a brick factory where a gentile couple was employed. The rest of the Jews worked in a cigarette factory and in a china workshop in Kamenny Brod.

Kamenny Brod was situated about 8 kilometres from Ratchev and the paper plant was about 2 kilometres from this village. About 40 young Jewish girls worked there. The men went to work in Kamenny Brod. There were two divisions in the paper plant: the rag department, where the dust was removed from the dirty rags by rubbing them on some blunt scythes. The air there was so full of dust that it seemed that one could cut it with a knife. The girls wore kerchiefs on their heads so that the dust should not penetrate into their hair. They also covered their mouths with cloths in order not to breathe in the dust. The windows were boarded up.

The second department was the packing area. This is where large sheets of paper were cut into small sizes and stacked into reams. This department was situated in another building on the second floor, where there were windows on all sides. This place was warm and well lit. The wages paid were even worse than the working conditions. However, the wages in the packing department were slightly better.

The girls had to appear at their work punctually at six in the morning. They worked until 6:00 p.m. with one-half hour for lunch. In summer and winter, in the worst storms the girls dragged themselves to work daily two kilometres each way. At that time they earned eight guilden (one ruble and twenty copeks) per week. This was considered a lot of money at that time.

The Jews who worked in Kamenny Brod were not much better off than the girls who worked in the paper place. Every Sunday, early in the morning, the Jews from Ratchev left in groups for their jobs in Kamenny Brod, carrying bundles with food over their shoulders. Friday afternoon they returned home for Shabbos. There were 10-12 year-olds among the adult workers. They were lodged during the weekdays in the homes of their co-workers in Kamenny Brod.

The stores on Kantar street were a source of sustenance for some Jews in Ratchev. But this was for only a small part of the population. The rich ones, the Volovniks (owners of the paper factory) lived in opulence. Also some merchants and tradespeople were well off. All the others lived from hand to mouth. There were some Jews (albeit a minority) that had to be helped out discretely. Otherwise they would have starved.

It is therefore not surprising that young children (aged 10-12) had to seek work in Kamenny Brod or hire themselves out as apprentices to some tradesmen, in order to help with the family's livelihood. These children could hardly read Yiddish. There were also some young men who left their homes, going to larger cities to look for work or to acquire an education. Indeed, some of them achieved their goals by becoming well-educated or by acquiring marketable skills.

In my youth Ratchev was a strictly religious town. But there were also some Jews known for their erudition, and who knew the modern Hebrew language well. These people delved already into more scholarly books like the “Guide For The Perplexed” (Maimonides), “The Kuzari” (Yehuda Halevi) and other half-philosophic Hebrew works. They were already reading the “Kenesset” and the “Hashachar” (Warsaw Hebrew newspapers). Books like “The Sins of Youth” (Lilenblum) and “Religion and Life” (Broides). Someone owned the “Memoirs of the House of David” and the “Mysteries of Paris” that everyone was reading.

All these groups considered themselves to be the “lovers of Zion”. They often spoke modern Hebrew among themselves. The young ones taught themselves some Hebrew songs. They sang these with much feeling. Their parents listened in silence and quickly hummed along with them. Of course, the older generation, the learned ones, kept going to prayers and sometimes “swallowing” a page or two from the Talmud.

Besides those mentioned above, came the young men and the older Jews who were learning “full time” in the synagogue. Among them was Shmuel-Leib-Mendel, the shochet's son together with his brother-in-law Shmuel Langer. Both were considered to be the biggest learners in town. Shmuel Leib (whose family name was Ostrowski), (his son, Borukh Ostrowski became the mayor of Raananah in Israel) was famous in this part of the country for his knowledge and keen intellect. He was also an artist (painter), and knew how to blend his own mixtures and hues. He used this talent to paint images that were hung on the eastern (mizrach) wall of the synagogue. He drew delicate lines, his drawings were full of life and the colours were subtle and gentle. But, above everything else, he was a man with “qualities” (midot).

Among the older ones who came to study in the synagogue were Meyer the son of Nussi and Itzi the elder. The latter was known as having studied the entire Talmud ten times over. Younger scholars used to approach him for an explanation about a hard passage in the Talmud. Meyer, the son of Nussi, always came to the synagogue in the early hours of the morning. He had his permanent seat in a corner of the eastern wall. He then lit the lamp that the shamash Yankel prepared him for the previous evening, before leaving for home. He walked over to the large bookcase, took out a volume of the Talmud and brought it to his lectern. While opening it he took out his tobacco pouch, cut in half a sheet of cigarette paper, rolled a cigarette and lit it. He inhaled deeply the first few puffs, smoke billowed through his thick moustache. He then started humming the Talmudic incantation (Nigun). No one would dare to approach him or ask him any question. He was rather an angry Jew.

But he listened attentively to everyone. He knew everything that was going on in the synagogue: who is a serious student and who is pulling the wool over people's eyes, who is indeed knowledgeable and who is cheating.

This old and angry man started to look at me with disapproval when I started to learn Russian. Naturally, he avoided me, and I avoided him. I simply did not wish to aggravate him. It turned out later that he knew everything about my activities. This I learned later when I was arrested in the synagogue. This happened on Simchat Torah of 1904, after the Torah reading. An officer with gendarmes came over to the shul, two of the guards led me out. The officer asked me if I prefered to walk home (because of the holiday) or if I preferred to ride in his coach. I chose the latter. I did not wish to be seen walking surrounded by guards. Pandemonium then broke out in shul. Half of the congregants came out to see what was going to happen to me. But this was soon over. I climbed into the coach with the officer and the gendarmes. We took off. I was released after our home was thoroughly searched and nothing of interest to them was found. Later on, my father told me what happened in the synagogue after my arrest. Most of the Jews felt sorrow that I was arrested. They all felt that I was going to be sent away for life, doing hard labour. Some feared that I was going to be dropped through a pipe in jail into the river Dniepr, that's the way they disposed of rebels. Only one person, Chaim, the son of Leibish, entered the shul, raising his hands to God and loudly exclaimed: Thank you God for ridding us of this “heretic”.

The old Meyer the son of Nussi happened to pass by at that moment. Hearing the above, he became very angry. His face ashen, he cried out to Chaim: You Jewish degenerate, how do you dare to speak this way about Hirsh! He risked his life so that the Jews of Kamenenbrad should have it easier and that they wouldn't have to slave so hard. You, what did you accomplish in your life? The old Meyer the son of Nussi, gave him (Chaim) a real hard time. For some reason, I had always thought that Meyer Nussis hated me.

As poor as the people of Ratchev were, they nevertheless managed to give charity to the local poor and to the itinerant beggers. There was a group that took it upon themselves to go door to door (on the eve of the Sabbath) to collect money for the needy, who themselves could not do it because of illness or because they were too proud to solicit for themselves.

We had in town a “Psalm Society”. The majority of its members were the tradesmen. They used to come at dawn every Sabbath to the little shul to recite Psalms. One of them was Leib, the son of Boruch, a house painter, who with his beautiful tenor voice used to awaken the people to come and recite the Psalms. In the biggest frosts, in snow and rain, Leib Boruch's used to walk through the town singing:

Israel, you holy people
Arise, oh, Arise
To work for God,
Since this is the reason for
Which you were created.
Leibe Boruch's (i.e. Leib the son of Boruch) awoke everyone except Mates the tailor. Actually he only mended old clothes. He used to put patches on the overcoats of the peasants from the surrounding villages. On Sundays in the mornings he used to venture into a village to find work. He returned home on Friday afternoons. Being a very pious man, all he ate during the week was toast that the peasant women prepared for him, baked potatoes and sour milk, week in, week out.

When you looked at him there was in front of you a rather short broad-shouldered Jew, very lean and emaciated. You would think that just by blowing at this frail man, he would fall off his feet. But this Jew possessed extraordinary strength. Being a humble man he nevertheless demonstrated his strength not in physical altercations, God forbid, but in a quiet way. Thus sometimes after Havdalah, in order to dissipate the weekly gloom that started to take hold in the ill-lit room he would put two 7-8 year-old children into a pail and then lift the pail with one hand or with his teeth carrying them around the room, with the neighbours gathering to admire his strength. They were in awe of the antics that he demonstrated. It never happened that Mates raised a hand to anyone, even when being provoked. He feared that with one blow of his hand he could kill a person.

Saturday mornings, even before Leibe Boruch's woke the men to recite Psalms, Mates used to get up and start reciting Psalms in such a sweet, yet sad, tone, that his melody penetrated and melted every part of one's body, come summer or winter.

The majority of the young tradesmen were already starting to shave off their beards. Zeligl the shoemaker, Shmuel Zidl's and his brother Leizerl, Michael, the son of Aaron and their friends, they were all shaving their beards, not even leaving a trace of their peyot (payes), in spite of the fact that their fathers were pious Jews. One of these men with whom I did not want to associate (because of religious reasons) was Levi Sasis, a carpenter's apprentice about 19-20 years old. He used to come to shul for prayers together with his father and younger brothers, freshly shaven by the barber “in honour of the Sabbath”. Of course I wouldn't even look at his face.

Once, on Simchat Torah, there came to Ratchev a party of men who were hauling wrapping paper to the railway station in Falane. These gentiles from Sisla were often coming into our town with goods to Falane and once here, they camped in the market place near the inn in order to feed their horses and consume snacks while drinking vodka. But this was a holiday and there were no bakers in the market to sell them bread and rolls. The inn was also closed on that day. These men knocked on several doors. No one was willing to sell them anything. They stoppped a few Jews in the street and started arguing with them. From words there ensued a fight. The men from Sisla started to break windows and beat up some Jews whom they succeeded to catch.

Soon the alarm was spread that the Sisler gentiles were breaking windows and beating up Jews. Everyone was running toward the market, myself included. When I got there I saw a group of people engaged in a free-for-all, and heard horrifying cries. Some of these peasants broke open the locks of stores, others kept breaking window panes in some homes. There were too few Jews there to overcome them. Suddenly from a corner appeared Levi Sasis who came running towards a group of these peasants. He ran, holding in his hand a wooden table leg. He started to smash them left and right. These hooligans saw blood oozing from their bodies and they became scared and confused. They started running toward their wagons. But Levi didn't stop there. The ones that didn't manage to escape were beaten badly by him. A few minutes later all of them disappeared.

Since that day I became enamoured of Levi Sasis and whenever I saw him I looked at him with admiration. I did not notice anymore his shaven face. To me he was a great hero, like Samson, who saved our town from a slaughter. Until today, I cannot forget this.

Dr. David Masayevitch Torgovetz: In the nineties of the last century this young Jewish doctor settled in our town. He was a tall, wide-shouldered person with blond soft and slightly curled hair with a blond trimmed beard and an open and friendly face. He came together with his wife, Sophia Konstantinovna and their three small children, a boy and two pretty blond girls. It did not take long for him to be recognized by everyone in town as being a good doctor and a good person, ready to help anyone who needed help. It was rumoured that not only did he not charge poor patients, but that he also left them money to buy medication.

But this doctor was not satisfied with being charitable to the poor. He also undertook to instill in the young people of our town a desire for knowledge, for worldly education and also knowledge about the national interests of the Jewish people, the will to get acquainted with the modern Jewish and world literature. In the beginning he attracted the better qualified teachers, the ones that knew well the Hebrew Bible and grammar. He adopted one of the young boys, who happened to become my father later on. Together with these teachers he made plans to establish a modern cheder, a Talmud Torah, where Hebrew and Russian would be taught, just like in big cities.

This project came into being promptly. A large and nice location was rented. It was furnished with small desks and benches with a large black board on the wall. Textbooks were purchased, Jewish and Russian. Bibles and Torahs also. Two of the “Hebraic” teachers were hired and 30 or 40 students started to learn in the modern method, “Hebrew in Hebrew”.

Dr. Torgovetz (“Dr. T”) was in charge. He organized funds to cover the deficit. Children of parents who could afford to pay tuition also sent their children to his school. For the children of poor families, the doctor somehow managed to obtain funds. Of course there were other cheders functioning as well in town. In order to remain competitive they had to change their curriculum by hiring teachers of the Russian language, 2-3 hours per day.

Thanks to Dr. Torgovetz, the number of teachers increased in Ratchev. This is how he went about it: Dr. Torgovetz knew all the young men who studied full time in the synagogue. He waited until they married and while being supported fully by their in-laws for a period of 2-5 years, they were working as tutors to younger students (Kondicia). Dr. T. attracted these young men and persuaded them to study seriously in order to get accepted into university.

In this way he managed to persuade Moishe Novomaiski, who later on became known in the Jewish press under the name M. Algin. At that time Mr. Novomaiski was a tutor in the neighbouring village of Smoldarov. Dr. T got to know him when he returned very sick from his tutoring and the doctor started to treat him.

The Novomaiski family were new-comers in Ratchev. They came from Buki in the Kiev province. His father worked in a forestry business (I think as a bookkeeper). The forest belonged to an out-of-town Jew who purchased it from a Ratchev landowner. He had a younger brother and several sisters. The father did not provide enough for the family's needs. Therefore Moishe had to earn some money. This is why he started tutoring.

While treating Moishe, Dr. T. talked him into remaining in Ratchev and embarking on serious studying. When Moishe recovered, he rented an attic from the widow Pearl-Nechame and started to study. At the same time, he organized a class for a few men, his juniors. He spent no more than 2-3 hours a day with these students. In all his spare time he studied alone. Suffice it to say that Dr. T was very much of help to him in his studies. He guided him in his studies, recommended the right textbooks and corrected his essays.

Dr. T's brother-in-law Hirsh Gorshtain was also studying at that time for his matriculation. Dr. T paired them up. Hirsh had private tutors as well. Thus Ratchev gradually acquired a tendency toward “worldly Torah”. Its students became teachers in turn. These students who just finished studying Russian grammar textbooks, started to learn other subjects. All of a sudden Ratchev became famous in this part of the country. Young people from Baranovka, Falana and other neighbouring villages flocked to Ratchev to acquire knowledge. Some of them had private tutors, others studied intensively while walking around hungry. Even some of the young men who worked in Kamenny Brod and some girls from the paper factory started to learn Russian.

Being the owner of many books, Dr. T established a library in his house. Anyone could come and borrow books. Many took advantage of this opportunity. One could also get newspapers and journals there. Suddenly Ratchev lit up. There developed a trend to shorten the long garments, cut the peyos, speak Russian and sing Russian and Ukrainian songs, openly. Some started to smoke cigarettes on the Sabbath.

Half of the town became somewhat emancipated -- young people studied and read books. Jewish books appeared: “Yom-Tov sheets” by Perets, “The Jade” by Mendele, the works of Sholom Aleichem that everyone enjoyed very much. However all this did not satisfy Dr. T. There still remained in Ratchev a significant number of working people who couldn't even read Yiddish. Dr. T decided to help these people. He didn't rest until he organized evening classes for adult workers who hadn't had the opportunity to study in their youth.

Ratchev now became a study centre for the whole countryside. Some towns tried to emulate Ratchev. One of them was Kamenny Brod. Some of the young men of Ratchev, ex-students of M. Novomaiski, saw an opportunity to get tutoring jobs and yet to remain close to Ratchev. This is why they went there and indeed started tutoring the young workers. This relationship turned out to be helpful later on when the “Bund” was established.

In 1897 Dr. T went abroad in order to specialize in some new branch of medicine. While he was abroad, there took place the First Zionist Congress in Basel [Switzerland]. Since he was involved in nationalist matters, having been associated with the “Chovevei Zion” organization, he attended this Congress as a guest. I do not recall these events exactly. It is quite possible that he planned his “medical” trip to coincide with the Zionist Congress meeting in order to represent our district. Anyway, Russian Zionists were not officially considered to be delegates for fear of the Russian authorities. Therefore Dr. T was considered there to be a “guest” only. On his return he was very enthusiastic about the Congress activities. His enthusiasm rubbed off on some of his friends from the “Chovevei Zion” group who by now had become Zionists.

It goes without saying that Dr. T and his friends did their utmost to spread the Zionist ideals. I remember a special meeting about Zionism that Dr. T and his group organized in the Makarov shul. There were two speakers: my father and Dr. T. I do not recall my father's speech. Dr. T opened his speech as follows: My people! My poor and unfortunate people! Arise! Arise and break off your chains!... The way Dr. T accentuated his speech caused me to get goose pimples in my body. I was only a youngster at the time. I do not remember anything more of these speeches.

However Dr. T did not give much more of his time to Zionism. A much stronger movement flared up in those days in the towns and villages of Volhynia. I have in mind the workers' movement that was led by the Jewish workers' “Bund” in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia. This movement reached us earlier by accident, but later by direct guidance of the Bund organization.

The first information about the Bund was communicated to us by Ansheles, a student of the Kiev University. He was the son-in-law of our rich citizen, Yankele Volovnik, the owner of the cigarette factory. He used to visit Ratchev as a guest.

Naturally, he was associated with Dr. T and with Novomaiski and also with some of his students. Whenever he came into town he used to visit Dr. T in his house, where they discussed Socialism, Zionism, Marxism and Revolution until the early hours of the morning. It was Ansheles who brought Novomaiski into the Bund when he enrolled in the Kiev University.

At that time Ratchev -- I mean its intelligentsia headed by Dr. T -- started to pay attention to the revolutionary movement. But these were only words. Real action for the Bund was started by Gershon Ravrabi. He was a Talmudic scholar from Falane who spent several years in Zhitomir as an extern. He got involved wholeheartedly in the movement. He became a senior activist in the movement, gave up his studies. When Novomaiski left for Kiev, Ravrabi came to Ratchev to take his place as teacher. After settling in Ratchev and obtaining the best positions as a private tutor, he organized a group that studied political economics of Bogdanov and Zhelezniak and also the Communist Manifesto. This group consisted of a few members, but he was trying to find ways and means to organize the workers of Kamenny Brod as well.

It was my fate to be appointed organizer of the first group in Kamenny Brod, since I lived a period of time there as a teacher and knew many of the workers in the china factory. I left for Kamenny Brod and gathered a group of about a dozen young workers. Unfortunately, I do not remember their names. The Zhitomir committee of the Bund supplied us with some illegal brochures. Ravrabi and I made a special trip to Zhitomir to get this literature. While there, we also obtained some Russian brochures. Things started to roll.

In the summer the world opened up to us: we started going to Kamenny Brod. We did not enter the town. The workers came toward us and we met a few kilometres from Kamenny Brod. Ravrabi was the speaker. The few workers kept bringing with them more and more of their friends until we were already several hundred. We met in silence and sat on the soft grass. When the last of the workers arrived we called the look-out men to join us and Ravrabi started his speech. The quiet movement of the trees, the shining stars and the soft voice of the speaker, all intermingled with the breathing of the crowd and took us away into another world, a world of freedom and equality. The crowd burst into applause when Ravrabi finished his speech and started to shout loudly slogans that were pertinent to that time. It seemed that the trees in the forest were participating in that ruckus.

We parted while singing songs. The workers went back to Kamenny Brod and we to Ratchev. Occasionally one heard rumours about a forthcoming strike. Fate had it that I and Ravrabi were absent from Ratchev during the strike. We were in Berdichev then. The Bund committee in Zhitomir sent an experienced organizer to lead the strikers. That was Chaskl Lichtmacher, an old revolutionary who already spent six years in the Butirki prison [in Moscow].

When the strike broke out, its leaders were arrested. I think that these were: Kafke, Zimering, Berel and one or two more. I cannot recall their names. They were detained a short time in the big Zwhil jail and then they were released. Some time later they arrested Chaskl Lichtmacher in our house and he was taken to the Zwhil jail.

The strike somewhat improved the workers' lot and this encouraged other workers in that district to strike for better working conditions. In Ratchev the girls in the cigarette factory were getting ready to strike. Myself and Arl Main, a youngster from a well-off family, undertook and worked intensively to organize the girls who worked in the factory. I do not know what became of Arl Main. I felt that he was going to become an outstanding orator in our movement. We succeeded in organizing these girls and getting them ready to strike. Luck, however, was not on my side because I was arrested and could not be present when they were striking.

When I returned home I was told that one Jew, Levi Itzi Sondelson, forced his two daughters to go to work during the strike, even though the local non-Jewish girls participated in the strike. Levi Itzi was my father's friend and he knew me well. I was friends with his son Israelik. We were both the same age. When, after my release, I met Levi Itzi he greeted me and congratulated me on my release. I, however, turned away from him in anger, calling him “you strike breaker!” to his face:

Lev Itzi was a supervisor in the rag warehouse of the factory. He had a large family to feed. The factory administrators requested that he bring at least two of his children to work: otherwise, he'd be fired. As a small town Jew who never knew what a strike was all about, he did not realize that strikers can force the administration to reinstate him in his job.

I think that the most qualified person to write about this group of intellectuals, writers and Zionist activists, is everyone's beloved writer, s.c. Zetser. Here I just wish to write about the group of socialists, except Abraham and Buzia Cheskis who lived in Zwhil during my time there.

The group of socialists who were part of the Bund consisted of about ten young workers and a few girls who came from the upper class homes - two sisters of Abraham Cheskis, also Chisia, Ethel and Pnina. Among the young men there were Isaac Weiss, Abramtchik and Anshel the bench makers, Shalom Hecht, Shaike the smith, Alter Winarik, David Perlman and several others. I am not mentioning here Isaac Shlein and Eli Rotenberg because they were revolutionaries in other towns. There was also an older Polish student, Ostrowski, who socialized with us.

We, the Ratchev people, used to go to Zwhil quite often, bringing illegal literature and spending two to three days at a time with the Zwhil crowd. Also the Zwhil men used to visit us in Ratchev. After the pogrom in Zhitomir we became very depressed. We feared that the same would happen in our area.

I happened to be in Zwhil one Saturday afternoon when rumours spread that tomorrow, Sunday, there would be a pogrom in Sisla. They were already arming themselves for this purpose. We gathered to decide what to do about this. We had no arms. Arms were available in Zhitomir only. Going there and back would take two nights, so we would get arms Monday morning, after the pogrom. As we were deliberating what to do, Szajke the smith came up with an idea: let us make some big daggers. With these one could resist a small pogrom. I immediately went to the workshop and started to prepare them. Someone said that we would need about 25 of these daggers. Shaike said that he could have them ready by the following morning. He worked all Saturday afternoon and the following night. At dawn on Monday we already had enough daggers to distribute to all our members who joined the self-defence group.

We gathered at Rabin's small synagogue. I think all the daggers were brought there. I recall that when I was given the dagger, my world fell apart. How could I stab a hooligan with this weapon and then pull it back out. After all, he's also a human being… Will I be able to do this? Nevertheless I took it and went out to patrol the streets.

I felt very ill at ease, and I was frightened. Not so much for my own life that was in danger now, but for the eventuality that I would have to kill a human being… Luckily the day passed peacefully. The men from Sisla did not even dream to attack us. We met Sunday evening and with relief in our heart put aside these frightening daggers.

I wish to point out here one more thing. When I was arrested and placed in the Zwhil jail, everyone in our town immediately knew it. Soon after, my comrades came to visit me in the detention centre where I was placed in the beginning. They brought plenty of food and tobacco with them. At the time I didn't know who had prepared these goodies for me. It was only later that I found out. It was Yente Perlmutter who told me. Her grandfather and my great uncle, Simcha Boynim, the shochet, brought from the butcher shop meat, especially for me and had it cooked and asked that it be delivered to me in jail. “At least he shouldn't be hungry”, he said to his household, worrying about my fate. He was aware that I was a heretic. But I was dear to him because I stood up for Jews and did everything that I could to improve their hard life. He had similar feelings toward other socialists.

When speaking of socialists from Zwhil one should mention particularly Yehoshua Idelman and Ezra Brachman. The latter, when coming home on a visit from Odessa, used to come to Dr. T's house. I'll never forget how wonderful were his speeches and how deeply he used to delve into a matter. Everyone who listened to him there, including myself, were fascinated by his speech and no one ever interrupted him. One cannot forget his beautiful and delicate face. What became of him under the Bolshevik regime? He was probably liquidated during the purges there… who knows?

I had no contact with Yehoshua Idelman after 1906, when I left for America. But he was a faithful socialist. He used to come to Ratchev and spend several days there. It was always a pleasure to be in his company (at Dr. T's house) and listen to what he was saying. We used to take advantage of his presence and have meetings with our comrades from Kamenny Brod. What became of Idelman and Eli Rotenberg?

 

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