In 1561 the city received the Magdeburg law. After the conclusion of the Union of Lublin in 1569 and the establishment of a union state with Lithuania named Rzeczpospolita, Rechitsa remained in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was the main city in a powiat of the same name in Minsk wojewodstvo . After the second partition of Poland in 1793, Rechitsa was incorporated into the Russian Empire . In subsequent years, its administrative affiliation changed. In 1796 Rechitsa was a starostwo and then an uyezd city of the Chernigov namestnichestvo [region ruled by a governor general]. A year later it was annexed to Minsk Gubernia, and in 1802 was elevated to the status of uyezd city. During the Patriotic War of 1812, the main warehouse and temporary residence of the Minsk governor were located there. After annexation to Russia, the border moved to the west and Rechitsa lost its strategic importance . At the same time, in early 20th Century, water transport retained its significance in Rechitsa. Freight and steamship piers operated along the Mogilev-Kiev route. Nineteen additional cities in Belorussia had piers, whereas rivers of other cities were no longer navigable. In 1886 a permanent way was built and the Luninets-Gomel station of the Polesye railroad was opened. The 60-km railroad trip from Rechitsa to Gomel took 2 hours. A significant segment of the population was engaged in timber logging. There were two wine distilleries, several mills, a zemstvo [elective district council in pre-revolutionary Russia] hospital, a clinic, a post office, an uyezd council, a treasury, a prison castle, a voluntary fire society, a technical school, parochial schools, and private educational institutions. The following tables give an idea of the growth of the population and its occupations:
Rechitsa Population in 1863-1913
Distribution of the Rechitsa Population According to Basic Types of Activities in 1897, in Percent
|Types of Employment||Number of Employees|
|Transport and communication||9.8|
|Agriculture and forestry||16.7|
There were several synagogues in Rechitsa. The first was on the corner of Aleksandrovskaya (now Kalinin) and Sapozhnitskaya (now Proletarskaya) streets. The second synagogue with a yeshiva belonged to the chasids of Shalom Dov-Ber Shneerson. Its building is still standing on the even-number side of Lenin Street (formerly Preobrazhenskaya Street) opposite the city executive committee. The third one stood at the intersection of Uspenskaya (now Sovetskaya) and Proletarskaya streets. The fourth (the Tall) one was located between Sovetskaya and Naberezhnaya streets. The fifth (the Horn) synagogue was at the intersection of Andreyevskaya (now Lunacharskiy) and Lenin streets. The sixth one was adjacent to the Horn Synagogue on Andreyevskaya Street. The seventh one was located on the corner of Vladimirskaya (now Uritskiy) and Preobrazhenskaya streets. This was the beautiful two-story Merchants' Synagogue. Later it was torn down and an unsightly one-story building for the city prosecutor's office was erected. Besides the synagogues, there was a Russian people's school for boys, two private Jewish schools (for boys and girls), and a Talmud-Tora .
Rechitsa was a one-story wooden city. Only well-to-do people had brick houses. The stone buildings on Kazarmennaya (later Kooperativnaya and now Konev) Street belonged to Beyla Shklovskaya, Freyda Agranovich, and Abram Sheyndlin. On Preobrazhenskaya Street there were houses owned by Khaya Shklovskaya (now 38 Lenin Street), and a one-and-a-half-story house with a high foundation belonging to Leyb Lifshits (it no longer exists). After the 1917 Revolution, the two-story stone building with a balcony housed the executive committee of the Rechitsa City Soviet (47 Lenin Street). Interesting people lived in Rechitsa. Rabbi Tyshler enjoyed everyone's confidence. Rabbi Reynin had a beautiful daughter, Manya. After high school, she continued her education in Paris, where she won a prize at a beauty contest. It was rumored that the Marshal of the Rechitsa Assembly of the Gentry courted her. Palu, a Jewish woman who converted to Christianity, taught Russian literature at the high school for girls. Her husband used to address her with no other words than my Yid. In the end, Palu could not stand it any longer and took poison. Naum Betsalel Frenkel lived in Rechitsa until 1905. After the pogroms, he went to Palestine with his wife, Gnissa Ginzburg, and his sons. He had a bookstore in Yaffo. In 1914 the Turks deported the family, because they had come from Russia. The family found shelter in Egypt .
Then came the short-lived NEP [New Economic Policy] with the subsequent refined elimination of all its results, Stalin prewar five-year plans, and witch-hunting of dissidents. Soviet leaders believed that the solution to the Jewish problem was possible within the framework of the revolutionary transformation of society. In reality, everything boiled down to putting the poor and the petty bourgeoisie to work at a lathe and a wooden plough, and opponents, against a wall. Zionist organizations were accused of bourgeois nationalism and chauvinism, although many key points in their programs were not at variance with the principles of the Soviet State. Zionist clubs, libraries, and schools were shut down, arrests were made, and people were exiled . Beginning in the mid-1920s, synagogues were being closed and converted into clubs, production shops, dwelling quarters, a nursing school, and even a skin and venereal disease outpatient clinic. The Low Synagogue on Sovetskaya Street was converted into the city's gym, and the Tall Synagogue (near the Kalinin Motion Picture Theater), into the Builders Club. The synagogue on Proletarskaya Street (near the bath-house) became a pioneer club, the synagogue on Lunacharskiy Street, a shoemaking cooperative, and the synagogue on Vokzalnaya Street, a dwelling house. The synagogue buildings were falling into decay and gradually were demolished. Despite this, the believers continued to observe the tradition. Shneerson was the rabbi. There was a visiting mohel and, in his absence, shoykhets Zalman Pinskiy and Gershl Tsivlin performed his duties. There were some minyanim in Rechitsa. The authorities viewed them with hostility, tried to ban them, and imposed taxes on those who participated in them. The largest minyanim took place at the homes of Khaim Gumenik, Gershl Rogachevskiy, Mojshe Olbinskiy, Grigoriy Ovetskiy, and others.
Jews who accepted the postulates of socialism could move up the career ladder . In 1921 the Rechitsa Power Plant was put into operation. In 1923 the Dnieper Match Factory and a plywood plant were commissioned. Then a tanning extract plant, a bakery, a wine distillery, and a shipyard were built. Shoemaking and cart-and-wheel making cooperatives, small food enterprises, timber mills, and tar works met the needs of the city and the rayon. In the prewar decade, Rechitsa's Jewish population hardly changed: 7,386 in 1926  and 7,237, or 24 percent of the total number of Rechitsa residents, on the eve of World War II . The situation of Rechitsa Jews remained stable. They were well-off, had prestige, and held appropriate social positions. Jews were teachers, physicians, lawyers, engineers, agronomists, blue-collar workers, craftsmen, and members of cooperatives, which were still permitted. Zholkver headed Rechitsa's sanitary and hygienic service. Pediatrician Sara Shaykevich was held in great respect. Dveyra Ber was director of the city library. Jews engaged in party, Komsomol, trade-union, and administrative work. Krupetskiy, a Jew, was the first chairman of the Rechitsa Soviet. Sofia Finkelberg, Natan Varvatik, Grigoriy Roginskiy, and Iosif Resin were the first Komsomol members. Shneyerov was manager of the Rechitsa branch of the State Bank, Lelchuk was secretary of the Komsomol City Committee, and Glezina, director of the Rechitsa Machine and Tractor Station.
Before 1939, Rechitsa had Yiddish elementary and secondary general educational schools. Moyshe Parkhovnik was director of the elementary school and Yerenburg, of the secondary school. Sara Bychkova was the principal. Samuil Chakhotskiy taught Hebrew language and literature; Rakhil Chakhotskaya, chemistry and biology; Karl Sorkin, physics and mathematics; Girsh Marshak and Iosif Byalyy, history; Revekka Nodelman and Bela Kunina, Russian language and literature. Ginda Glukhovskaya, Miryam Olbinskaya, Nekhama Ginzburg, Skakalskaya, Iosif Byalyy, Masha (Meira) Kaganovich, Pesya Strugach, and others were teachers of lower classes. After Jewish schools had been transformed into Belorussian ones, Tsimberg became the director. His wife, Riva Finkelberg, headed preschool institutions in the Rechitsa Department of Public Education. On the eve of the war, they were sent to Brest to organize the Soviet system of education in Western Belorussia. Jewish students and teachers were distributed throughout Soviet schools with instruction in Russian and Belorussian. By the beginning of the war, in Rechitsa there were 13 elementary and secondary schools (5,874 students and 206 teachers), a pedagogical school, and a medical school. Two Jewish children's homes were also transformed into Belorussian ones and the newspapers Der Emes and Der Yunger Leninets stopped arriving .
Together with other citizens, the Jews suffered from unfounded repressions by the OGPU-NKVD [Unified State Political Administration -- People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs]. In 1937 Abram Arotsker, chief engineer of the Gomel Power Plant, was arrested and shot. Nikifor Yanchenko was arrested and exiled to Magadan, where he spent 17 years in prison. When his wife, Tsilya, protested and tried to have the sentence reversed, she was taken to Minsk and shot at the NKVD prison. Rechitsa residents were subjected to repressions even when they left their native city. After Zelda Ginzburg got married, she moved to Minsk where she held a responsible position at the Republic Red Cross Society. In 1938 she moved to Moscow to join her husband Abram Rozin, who worked at the People's Commissariat of the Timber Industry. Soon afterwards Abram was arrested and Zelda spent 16 years in prison and exile. The materials of the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Belorussian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) at the National Archive of the Republic of Belarus mention a Memorandum by Lavrentiy Tsanava, BSSR People's Commissar of Internal Affairs, concerning the case of the former leadership of Rechitsa Rayon of 22 February 1940 .
Lelchuk, secretary of the rayon party committee, was in charge of the evacuation. Vasiliy Kostroma, chairman of the executive committee of the Rechitsa Soviet of Deputies, Dobrushkin, member of the rayon soviet, and Sara Rabinovich, chairman of the city committee of the educational workers' union went to homes and urged people to leave immediately, explaining that the Germans, first of all, would shoot Jews. At that time, the word genocide was not known, but it was rumored that Jews were being killed one after another. There was also another point of view. Gurevich lived on Tyuremnaya Street (it no longer exists). As a former NEP-man [supporter of the New Economic Policy], he did not like the Soviet regime. He was an office employee, a knowledgeable and sensible person, and people listened to him. When asked whether one should remain under the occupation, Gurevich answered that Germans were civilized people and there was no need to fear them. During the imperialist and civil wars, Germans maintained order and protected the peaceful population against pogroms. If they took something, they paid for it. Who robbed and killed? asked Gurevich, and he answered: Bandits, Bulakhovich's men, and nationalists.
However, many left. The Kaganovich family (father, mother, an older daughter with two children aged 1 year and 8 months, and a younger daughter with a 5-month old baby) left Rechitsa on July 2, 1941. They sailed for 12 days on an open barge to Dnepropetrovsk. There they waited for railroad coal cars to travel further in the direction of Kuybyshev. Suddenly German bombers swooped down on them. A shock wave turned the barge upside down, but the Kaganoviches miraculously survived. Their relatives lived in Dnepropetrovsk. One of the daughters had a document stating that her husband was in the army, and on this basis the military commandant issued her a temporary certificate and permit for further evacuation. They continued their journey in railroad cement cars. After 10 days, they reached Kurgan Oblast where, in one of the rayons, they found a bookkeeping job. They were the only Jewish family on the Oktyabr Kolkhoz. Tatyana Kaganovich was elected secretary of the Komsomol organization. She organized the collection of money for the defense fund. They were treated very well. The landlady of the house where the family lived said that people were frightened when they heard that Jews were coming, but then she concluded: You are better than us! .
The following were organized in Rechitsa: the Gestapo; SD [German: Sicherheitsdienst] (Security Service); Russian Security Police; local civilian police; Secret Field Police [German: Geheimfeldpolizei] (GFP); Field Gendarmerie; Schutzpolizei (Protection Police); Wachkompanie (a guard detail at the military headquarters); an SS troop detachment . The police precinct was in Doctor Zholkver's former home on Vokzalnaya Street. Korzhevskiy, former bookkeeper at the bakery, became the police chief. The police board was housed in the former building of the rayon executive committee on Sovetskaya Street. Chalovskiy was appointed assistant to the burgomaster .
First of all, representatives of the party and Soviet aktiv and their family members were subjected to repressions. The daily report on the Rechitsa garrison of September 25, 1941, stated that patrol No. 1 shot two teachers, a male and a female, who were known as communists and kept weapons at their home. Patrol No. 2 shot three people who maintained contacts with partisans . The occupiers executed Rechitsa's peaceful population without any reason whatsoever. In September 1941, Leva Atamanchuk was fishing in the Dnieper. At that time, in a city park located on a hill, a German soldier was trying to flirt with a Belorussian girl. When he saw the fisherman in the water, the soldier asked the people around to assess his abilities as a marksman. He raised his rifle, took aim, and fired. The 15-year old adolescent fell in a dead faint on the bottom of the canoe. An old man named Atlas was forced to carry water, and for insubordination was shot .
Soon the Hitlerites turned to anti-Jewish actions. They ordered Jews to sew yellow six-pointed stars on the front and back of their clothes and stop all relations with non-Jews. The survey of trophy documents sent to Malinin, chief of the Special Administration of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), revealed that the Nazis ordered the administration of the occupied oblasts to round up the remnants of the Jewish population into special blocks or ghettos, which had to be subjected to numerous repeated searches. Order No. 8 concerning the SS cavalry brigade of September 28, 1941, made a temporary exception with regard to Jewish specialists: It goes without saying that craftsmen can be spared. The order concerning the 221st division for the protection of the German rear of September 21, 1941, reiterated that Jewish blocks must be combed more often ).
In November 1941, melamed Malenkovich was ordered to make lists of the Jews that remained in the city. A ghetto was set up in a two-story building in the factory district on Frunze Street beyond the city prison. Some houses with no less than 785 families were fenced off by barbed wire and guarded. In October-November 1941, a network of ghettos (15,000 prisoners) was established in Gomel Oblast. There were four ghettos in Gomel, two in Zhlobin, and one in each of the cities of Rogachev, Bragin, Khoyniki, Rechitsa, and some other places . The prisoners were kept under intolerable conditions. They were beaten up, humiliated, starved, and forced to do hard work and give up their valuables .
The Nazis did not hide their intentions, but merely to kill Jews did not seem enough for them. Yudka Levikovich Smilovitsky (a brother of Motel, Leonid Smilovitsky's uncle), a shock worker at the Rechitsa Desyat let Oktyabrya Factory, was very fond of horses. The Germans gave an order to harness him to a sledge (not even to a cart -- L.S.), instead of a horse, and made his wife, Khaya Khatskelevna, whip her husband. When she refused, they shot uncle Yudka before his family's eyes. Khaya herself was sent to the Rechitsa prison. The next day, when their five-year old son, Levushka, tried to hand over a small bundle of food through the fence to his mother, an armed guard shot him from the tower. The Nazis pushed Basya Aronovna Smilovitskaya -- born in 1872 (Leonid Smilovitsky's great grandmother) -- alive into the cellar of a house on Komsomolskaya Street and for several days observed how she was dying . They tied Khana Shpilevskaya to a motorcycle and forced her to run behind it. When the woman had no strength left and fell, they dragged her on the ground for some time, while soldiers and policemen roared with laughter, and then shot her .
At the end of November 1941, a new commandant arrived in Rechitsa and declared that he would not accept the city from his predecessor so long as Yids and communists remained alive. On November 25, 1941, in the afternoon, seven covered trucks drove up to the ghetto gate. Leyba Ryabenkiy, who was paralyzed and could not climb into the truck on his own, was thrown into it with a pitchfork. Each truck transported 30 to 35 people in the direction of military camps, where there was an anti-tank ditch (now it is the area of the bone tuberculosis sanatorium -- L.S.). When they were led to execution by a firing squad, many cursed the Nazis. Khava-Seyna Rudnitskaya shouted: Stalin will win! People were unloaded, driven to a ditch 15 to 20 at a time, placed in a row, and fired at with submachine guns. By 4 p.m., members of punitive detachments completed their work . According to the testimony of eyewitnesses, the soldiers who were shooting were in a drunken state. At the moment of execution, eight-year old Boris Smilovitsky shouted: Bandits, fascists, you are shedding our blood, but the Red Army will win and avenge us! .
In Lev Smilovitsky's opinion, most likely, it was not the eight-year old Boris who shouted, which was difficult to expect from a child of such an age, but Zinoviy Smilovitsky, his 15-year old cousin. Not without reason did Zyama have the reputation of being a tough guy and a bully. He loved to play cops and robbers and was a patriot. He remained in Rechitsa not through his own fault. It was he, no other, who was capable of cursing at the moment of execution. More than 3,000 Rechitsa Jews were killed in such a way. At about the same time, 4,000 Jews were killed in Gomel, 3,500 in Rogachev, 1,200 in Zhlobin, and so forth .
Quarantine stations for the civilian population released from German concentration camps by the Russian Army -- 10,324 people -- were set up in Rechitsa in the spring of 1944. By March, there were 1,250 particularly emaciated people en route to Rechitsa hospitals. Such stations were opened in Kalinkovichi (2,285 people), Vasilevichi (5,757 people), Narovlya (1,500 people), and Khoyniki (2,652 people). Infectious diseases in the liberated regions were one of the consequences of the occupation [38a].
The German occupation had an impact on the attitude of part of the population toward Jews. On the one hand, there were examples of courage by Belorussians who were rescuing their Jewish neighbors despite mortal danger to themselves. Belorussian friends hid Gita Shustina during all three years of occupation. The entire village of Zhmurovka in Rechitsa Rayon protected Girsh Slavin. Teacher Olga Anishchenko was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations and her name was inscribed in the Yad Vashem Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, and so forth. On the other hand, Jews returning home were met with hostility. In August 1945, Mariya Rubinchik (Mera Grayfer), who had been evacuated to Kurgan Oblast, was summoned to Rechitsa by a government telegram from the Belorussian SSR People's Commissariat of Education. At the railroad station in Minsk, she and her children tried to get settled in a mother-and-child room, but were turned down. She was told that young Jewish women were the first prostitutes under the Germans, that all Jews were cowards who ran away to the East earlier than others, that they did not fight the enemy, but went to the slaughter like sheep. Rubinchik-Grayfer was forced to spend the night on a cold floor under the staircase. As a result, her nine-month old daughter, Galina, got pneumonia. The Rudnitskiy family, from Nagornyy Karabakh, to where it had been evacuated, made an inquiry at the Rechitsa City Executive Committee about its home on Sovetskaya Street across from the branch of the State Bank and received an answer that it was intact. When they came to Rechitsa in August 1944, they saw only the walls of the house. There was no floor, no window frames, no doors, and no furnace. Iser and Sheyna with their three children had to go to the forest and drag logs, which they sawed into boards, thus rebuilding their house .
Those who returned to Rechitsa during the postwar years included not only Jews who had been evacuated and demobilized from the Red Army and partisan detachments, but also Jews from neighboring villages, small towns, and rayon centers where, in connection with the genocide, the number of Jewish families was reduced to a minimum: Loyev, Gorval, Buda-Koshelev, Dvortsy, Vasilevichi, Khoyniki, Ozarichi, Narovlya, and other places. In 1946, on Khaim Gumenik's initiative, the relatives of the executed Jews reburied the remains of the victims in the city's Jewish cemetery. With the modest funds that people collected, they put up a simple brick monument with Magen David. They did not ask permission from the authorities, because they expected no help from them. Moreover, this seemed a natural step, just a year after the war ended. The inscription on the monument reads:
Jews formed a large group of Rechitsa teachers, who during the postwar years worked in ten secondary schools, two boarding schools, and pedagogical, medical, and agricultural technical schools. They included the following: Raisa Khavina, Lyubov Braginskaya, Lyubov Levit, Lyubov Ovshteyn, Lyubov Basina, Yevgeniya Kagan, Leonid Kolem, Nina Zilber, Aleksandr Lifshits, Rimma Khazanovskaya, Raisa Ioffe, Raisa Erenburg, Raisa Dolinskaya, Bronislav Spevak, Tatyana Braginskaya (Boytsova), Mikhail Gektin, Esfir Balte, Mayya Kaplan, Svetlana Kaplan, Nina Kaplan, Raisa Kaplan, Sima Wolfson, Nina Dubova, Sarra Levina, Zinaida Roginskaya, Klara Karasik, Sofya Maydel, Pasha Modina, Bella Gorovaya, Bella Ryabkina, Bella Uretskaya, Bella Shifrina, Mariya Rubinchik, Mariya Beskina, Mariya Olbinskaya, Mariya Bolotina, Mariya Kofman, Abram Kofman, Ilya Krupetskiy, Vladimir Ryabkin, Roman Gurevich, Rimma Freydina, Sofya Fradlina, Sofya Portnaya, Sofya Ovshteyn, Sofya Plotkina, Boris Plotkin, Yevgeniya Belkina, Anna Portnaya, Basya Shapiro, Sarra Vayner, Tsilya Sapozhnikova, Yevgeniya Vassershtrom, Mikhail Biss, Mikhail Vassershtrom, Mikhail Bukhman, Boris Bukhman, Faina Bukhman, Isaak Bukhman, Naum Bukhman, Naum Milyavskiy, Naum Komissarov, Naum Maylis, David Ioffe, Arkadiy Boksiner, Bronya Kurtser, Bronya Libshits, Bronya Pinskaya, Anna Vaksman, and Faina Kobrinskaya. Belorussian SSR Honored Teacher Pyetr Golod was director of Boarding School No. 1. Nikolay Yudashkin was director of Rechitsa Secondary School No. 3 (he now lives in the city of Katsrin in Israel). David Pesin was director of Secondary School No. 4 (he now lives in San Francisco in the United States). Yakov Grayfer was principal of the Rechitsa School for Children with Physical Disabilities. Naum Zhitomirskiy was principal of Secondary School No 6., and others.
Rechitsa residents remembered those who devoted their energies to the sphere of culture: Lev Babin and Grigoriy Gomon, heads of the cultural department in the Rechitsa City Executive Committee; Irina Shafir, director of the city's Museum of Local Folklore; Anis Finkelberg, director of the city's House of Culture and of a choral group; Moisey Blankman, director of a drama group; Lev Kofman, director of the city's string orchestra; Roman Levin, head of a club at the furniture factory; instructors in the city's music school Maya Dubova (violin), Marlen Lifshits (accordion), and Vera Azarova, Bronya Zubritskaya (Babushkina), and Emiliya Shafran (piano). Boris Grubman was an amateur poet. Levik Frenkel-Mayzlik, an amateur composer, was very popular. A watchmaker by occupation, he devoted all his free time to song writing. He wrote about 40 songs. Later Levuk headed a club at the suburban X let Oktyabrya State Farm and established an amateur group, which went on tours to Gomel, Minsk, and Leningrad. When he came to Israel in the early 1990s, he did not stop creating and wrote twelve songs, both in Russian and Hebrew. People in Rechitsa speak with pride about their fellow townsmen -- painter Isaak Zakharovich Kopelyan and his brother Yefim (Khaim) Zakharovich Kopelyan (1912-1975), USSR people's artist, actor at the Bolshoy Drama Theater in Leningrad, where since 1943 he has played about 50 roles. Kopelyan became even more famous when he began to appear in films (since 1932). In Rechitsa people think that the Jewish family named Etush, whose house is located on the corner of Karl Marx Street (former Mikhaylovskaya) and Kalinin Street, is related to USSR People's Artist Vladimir Abramovich Etush, an actor at the Vakhtangov Theater (since 1945), professor, and rector of the Shchukin Theater School in Moscow. They say that Russia's People's Artist Valentin Iosifovich Gaft is also from Rechitsa, and his relatives, the Gafts, used to live on 30 Lenin Street. On Naberezhnaya Street resided the parents of Leonid Mendelevich Levin -- one of the leading architects of present-day Belarus, one of the creators of the Khatyn Memorial Complex (1970 Lenin Prize), academician, and president of the Belorussian Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (since 1993).
The following Jewish physicians in Rechitsa enjoyed deserved respect: Pyetr Ratnev, chief physician at the Rechitsa Rayon Hospital and, at the same time, head of the department of surgery; surgeons Emma Ignatenko, Boris Mirkin, Zinaida Chechik; internists Sofya Gorelik, Sara and Gita Kobrinskiy, and Mikhail Balte; infectious disease specialist Anna Slavina; pediatricians Rimma Zabrodina, Galina Zeldovich, Ida Shukman, and Shmidov; eye doctor Zinaida Latukh; gynecologist Polina Soboleva; stomatologist Boris Grubman; venereal disease specialists Goder and Marina Shcherbova; nurse Sofya Yezerskaya; dental technicians Raya Golod, Mikhail Chechik, Igor Rubin, Mikhail Baranochnik, Isaak Babitskiy, and others.
The following became honorary citizens of Rechitsa: Captain 1st Rank Mikhail Kaganovich; shipbuilding engineer Aleksandr Moskalik, who was awarded the Lenin Prize for the development of hydrofoil (air cushion) ships; Makar Turchinskiy, organizer of Voroshilov and Frunze partisan detachments during the war years; Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Pedagogical Sciences Arkadiy Pinskiy, and others.
Officer Samuil Rozhavskiy returned to Rechitsa in 1950 after demobilization from the army, where he had served seven years. He immediately experienced difficulties with employment. He was turned down wherever he applied -- the construction administration, the Dubitel Plant, and the plywood factory. Only with the help of the rayon party committee was he promised a job as a turner's apprentice at the hardware plant. However, after he had filled in the questionnaire, the personnel department told him that the job was taken. After long searches, Rozhavskiy was hired as a warehouse worker at the wine distillery. However, even there he had no peace, the pretext being that the Jew, for sure, is stealing. His army service was also questioned, because Jews did not fight -- they only hid in the rear. Samuil was forced to go to the city of Verkhnaya Salda in the Urals, where he got a job as a turner at a military plant. Later he graduated from the Ural Polytechnical Institute .
The doctors' affair did not bypass Rechitsa. On January 13, 1953, a crowd gathered at the bus station near Rechitsa's public garden. A robust red-faced man was yelling at the top of his lungs all over Sovetskaya Street: Beat the Yids! They created total chaos in the Kremlin! In 1953 Rechitsa resident Yakov Faynshmid graduated from the Minsk State Medical Institute with distinction and was recommended for residency. Instead, however, he was drafted into the army. During January, February, and March 1953, all Rechitsa Jews kept quiet as a mouse. When on April 6 TASS reported on the rehabilitation of the arrested doctors, they felt as if a load was lifted off their shoulders. Jews greeted one another, although in whispers, and Jewish women teachers kissed each other. Many saw Stalin's death as their personal loss and they wept. Beriya's arrest was unexpected but, as the saying goes, criminal deeds cannot go on forever!. Khrushchev's report at the 20th CPSU Congress was stunning and the information on the cult of personality was beyond comprehension. But gradually memories were stirred by images of the enemies of the people: Solomon Mikhoels, Perets Markish, David Gofshteyn, David Bergelson... There were important and ordinary people among them, such as student Lida Girina and shoemaker Feliks Misyun, who left behind eight orphans. So, this was all true, true! -- it pounded in one's ears.
Some city residents endured remarkable fates connected with the establishment of the State of Israel. The couple Falchuk lived in Rechitsa from 1950 to 1980. By that time, Khatskel Falchuk had gone through a real odyssey. In 1929 he left Pinsk and went to Argentina, escaping persecutions by Polish authorities for his pro-USSR sympathies. In Buenos Aires he became an activist in the Jewish community and participated in the publication of a Yiddish newspaper. At the outset of World War II, he joined the Jewish voluntary corps of the British Armed Forces. Not far from the border with Belgium, Khatskel's tank was crippled and he himself was wounded. Khatskel was evacuated to England, where he was treated in a hospital for a year. In 1948 he arrived in Palestine, participated in the War of Independence, and joined the Kibbutz Maale Hakhamisha. At that time, many Jews in Israel believed that brotherhood and equality had come to the Soviet Union. Sharing this sentiment, in 1956 Khatskel came to Pinsk to search for his relatives who had remained there, but he no longer could go back to Israel. The reality disappointed him. According to his wife's testimony, he said: I had to go back to the USSR to stop believing in communism. The couple moved to Rechitsa, where Falchuk found, with difficulty, a job at a repair office. Some time later, they received a visit from a correspondent (a Jew) of the newspaper Sovetskaya Belorussiya, who asked them about Palestine. Soon an article appeared, which ascribed to Khaskel critical comments on the system in Israel and described the hard life of the repatriates, racism, and nationalism. No one reacted to Falchuk's indignant protests .
After Stalin's death, his successors did not change their attitude toward the Jewish question and did not give up their principles. Seeing no way out, many Jews began to hide their nationality. With Jewish first and last names, it was more difficult to live, study, find a job, and advance in one's profession. Sima Uretskaya and Raya Grayfer were denied admission to higher pedagogical courses at the Gertsen Pedagogical Institute in Leningrad; Susanna Grayfer, to the Faculty of Literature and Music at the Gorkiy Pedagogical Institute in Minsk; Iosif Ovetskiy, to the Faculty of History at the Gomel Pedagogical Institute; Alla Frenkel, to the Faculty of History and English at Gomel State University. The following people in Rechitsa changed their nationality: Tamara G., Yasha Kh., Leva S., Sveta B., Mila V., Misha D., Klara P., Grisha R., and Boris V. Unfortunately, many such examples can be cited. Despite the saying you get kicked because of your face, damn the passport!, a change in the fifth paragraph in questionnaire data often worked. People received prestigious jobs and became like everyone else. However, they felt constant discomfort in their hearts. From time to time, one could hear: You are a good man (worker, specialist), even though you are a Jew. The Rechitsa City Party Committee rejected Mariya Rubinchik's candidacy for the title of BSSR Honored Teacher. It explained to the school director that, first of all, Belorussian national cadres must be nominated for this title. And this despite the fact that Rubinchik, a mother of five daughters, received medals For Valiant Labor During the Great Patriotic War, numerous honorary certificates and diplomas, and messages of appreciation from the BSSR Ministry of Education, and that during her 50 years of work at the school she taught half of Rechitsa. The committee refused to place the portrait of Mariya Mendelevna Olbinskaya on the honorary stand for holders of the Order of Lenin in the center of the city. The situation became even more difficult after the departure of the first Rechitsa families to Israel. This especially affected children: Do not play with him -- he is a Jew. In the school restaurant: Give up your place! Your place is in Israel. And in the corridor and in the yard: There goes Israel! What could a Jewish mother answer when her child asked: Why do they call me an aggressor?
For a long time, on Saturdays some elderly Jews used to tie handkerchiefs around their wrists so as not to put their hands into their pockets even to get money or keys. Ester-Frada on Kalinin Street and some others baked matsot. Despite the fact that this was done secretly, every year the Rechitsa City Party Committee received the lists of their clients. Few people were buried according to the Jewish tradition: Gershl Pinskiy, a shoykhet; Izrail Chechik, a former melamed; Gershl Rogachevskiy, a glazier, and his wife, Zelda; Motel Smilovitsky, a carrier; Leya Faynshmid, a midwife; Aron Vayner, a stove maker; Zakhar Kopelyan, a timber procurement official; Khaim Gumenik, the Khasin couple, Iser Rudnitskiy, Sofa Arotsker, and others. The last meeting of the Jewish group in Rechitsa was held during the Jewish holidays in the fall of 1986. All this accelerated the pace of assimilation. Young Jewish people, seeing no prospects for themselves, were leaving their native city.
In 1964 deposits of oil were found in Rechitsa, and in 1970 its industrial development began. The oil reserves were not large, but for Belorussia, which is poor in natural resources, this became an event. Modern, large, new enterprises appeared. A furniture combine and a chip board plant were built. A former semi-finished nail works was converted into a hardware plant of all-Union significance, the Dubitel Plant was transformed, and an enterprise for butter and dry milk production was opened. A modern weaving factory grew out of the primitive rope making cooperative founded by Pinya (Pinkhus) Gorevodskiy before the war. The Ritm Plant became known for radio electronic products. Apart from them, brick and ceramic plants, a reinforced concrete product enterprise, and the Termoplast Factory operated.
Rechitsa's internal, distinctive world, which had already begun to show signs of cracking in the 1940s and 1950s, was collapsing rapidly. Rechitsa was changing both internally and externally. New blocks appeared, their standard architecture spoiling the charm of the former city. Rechitsa residents aptly called them stony tenements [kamenki]. To accommodate them, perennial fruit orchards in the so-called private sector were cut down and historical streets were altered. Large sums of money were spent to cover the embankment of the Dnieper with concrete, but this did not make the river deeper or cleaner. Conversely, the river contained less and less fish and more and more waste and refuse. The Chernobyl disaster erupted in April 1986 -- Rechitsa was in the zone of radioactive contamination. True, its situation was not as disastrous as that of neighboring Vetka, Khoyniki, or Bragin, but is it really possible to fence oneself off from a common misfortune? The picturesque surroundings, the water of the Vedrich and Dnieper rivers, and agricultural products became unsafe. The changes in the demographic balance became even more striking. Entire families, not only Jewish, were leaving. According to the 1989 census, of the 69,366 people who lived in the city, barely 1,904, or 2.7 percent, were Jews. In the Rechitsa rural rayon, there were only a few Jews -- 36 out of 53,302 people. In the early 1990s, Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of perestroyka conclusively shattered the foundations of state socialism. All the achievements of previous years were declared erroneous. As is usual in such cases, a search for the guilty began. And Jews, once again, felt the sidelong glances of those around them. These and other reasons forced Jews to leave Rechitsa.
Nowadays the Ami society engages in cultural and educational activity. Its members study Hebrew and Yiddish, hold meetings devoted to memorable dates of Jewish history and the Jewish calendar, help select children for the NAALE-16 program, and conduct registration for Jewish Agency children's camps. The Jewish Veterans' Organization has 59 members. Much is being done for charitable purposes: A patronage service has been organized and help is provided to the indigent, sick, and the neediest (free meals and packages of food and clothing). What future awaits Rechitsa Jews? The size of the Jewish population has changed strikingly in the last 100 years:
Jewish Population in the City of Rechitsa, 1897-1997
|Years||Total Population||Including Jews||Jews in %|
Today 450 Jews live in Rechitsa, no less than 300 of whom are pensioners. Unfortunately, the most visible trace remains at the local cemetery and in the memory of old residents. The cemetery is large, but few prewar graves have been preserved. Mainly those who have not yet left Rechitsa are taking care of it. After the Ami Jewish cultural society applied to the city soviet, the latter agreed to install an enclosure and a gate and make a road. Despite this, local anti-Semites, from time to time, disturb the peace of the dead. On the night of February 15, 1999, 24 monuments were damaged at the Jewish cemetery in Rechitsa. The obelisk to the victims of Nazi genocide was broken into pieces. This was the fifth act of vandalism in six years. Two of these occurred at Russian Orthodox Church cemeteries, but mostly Jewish graves were vandalized . Jewish Rechitsa virtually no longer exists. The postwar restoration of the city forced out those who for centuries were its pride and glory, those who multiplied its successes and transmitted the accumulated wisdom to new generations. In this respect, Rechitsa residents have repeated the fate of their fellow countrymen from other Belorussian towns, which have forever lost their Jewish traces.
1. Yu. A. Yegorov, Gradostroitelstvo V Belorussii [Urban Development in Belorussia], (Moscow, 1954), p. 283; Ocherki po arkheologii Belorussii [Essays on the Archeology of Belorussia], Part 2 (Minsk, 1972). Return
2. Zbor pomnikaw gistoryi i kultury Belarusi Gomelskaya voblast [Collection of Historical and Cultural Monuments in Belarus, Gomel Oblast], (1985), p. 313. Return
3. Belorusskaya SSR. Gomelskaya Oblast [Belorussian SSR. Gomel Oblast], (Minsk, 1968), pp. 12-14. Return
4. Belaruskaya savetskaya entsyklapedyya 12 tamakh [Belarusian Soviet Encyclopedia in 12 Volumes], Volume IX, (Minsk, 1973), p. 278. Return
5. B.I. Umetskiy, Rechitsa. Kratkiy Istoriko-ekonomicheskiy ocherk [Rechitsa. A Brief Historical and Economic Essay], (Minsk, 1963), p. 8. Return
6. Akty Vilenskoy Tsentralnoy Arkheograficheskoy komissii, kn. 3633 [Acts of the Vilno Central Archeographic Commission, book 3633] (Bershadskiy's papers). Return
7. F.A. Brokhaus and I.A. Efron, Yevreyskaya Entsiklopediya [Jewish Encyclopedia], (Saint Petersburg), Vol. 13, p.755. Return
8. F.A. Brokhaus and I.A. Efron, Entsiklopedicheskiy slovar[Encyclopedic Dictionary], (Saint Petersburg, 1899), half-volume 54, pp. 488-489. Return
9. Frenkel and his four sons were artists. From 1929 to 1932 they made furniture. In 1936 their products were awarded the Gold Medal of the International Handicrafts and Industries Exhibition in Cairo and they became the official suppliers of Egypt's King Farouk. After 1935 they began making animated cartoons and produced the first sound animated cartoon film in Arabic. During 1936-1964 they released 30 animated cartoon films. After Israel's War of Independence in 1948, Naum Frenkel was persecuted by the Egyptian authorities and left for France, where he lived until 1964 -- Mishpokha, No. 5, 1999, p. 113. Return
10. For details, see L. Smilovitsky, Pogrom in Rechitsa, October 1905, Shvut, No. 5(21), 1997, pp. 65-80. Return
11. Byulleten Gomelskogo gubernskogo statisticheskogo byuro, RSFSR TsSU [Central Statistical Administration] Publishing House, No. 1, (Moscow, 1923), pp. 13-15. Return
12. J. Miller, Soviet Theory on the Jews. The Jews in the Soviet Russia since 1917. Edited by Leonel Kochan. Third Edition, Oxford University Press (London-New York, 1978), pp. 46-64. Return
13. Ivan S. Lubachko, Belorussia under Soviet Rule: 1917- 1957, the University Press of Kentucky (1972), pp. 37, 67-70, 77-78. Return
14. Where Once We Walked. A Guide to the Jewish Communities, Destroyed in the Holocaust. Edited by Garry Mokotoff and Sallyann Amdur Sack (New Jersey, 1991), p. 283. Return
15. Distribution of the Jewish population of the USSR, 1939. Edited by Mordechai Altshuler. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Center for Research and Documentation of East-European Jewry (Jerusalem, 1993), p. 40. Return
16. Author's archive. Letter by Mikhail Balte and Sara Ber from Rechitsa, January 12, 2000. Return
17. Author's archive. Letters by Moisey Gorelik from Ashdod, December 11, 2000, and by Faina Rudnitskaya from Hadera, January 7, 2001. National Archive of the Republic of Belarus (NARB), fond [collection] 4, opis [inventory] 36, delo [file] 926, list [folio] 73. Return
18. I. P. Kozhar and Ye. I. Barykin, Nezabyvayemyye Dni Partizanskoy Borby na Gomelshchine [Unforgettable Days of the Partisan Struggle in the Gomel Area]. In the book: Nepokorennaya Belorussiya. Vospominaniya i stati o Vsenarodnom partizanskom dvizhenii v Belorussii v gody Velikoy Otechestvennoy voyny, 1941-1945 [Unsubdued Belorussia. Recollections and Articles on the National Partisan Movement in Belorussia During the Years of the Great Patriotic War, 1941-1945 (Moscow, 1963), pp. 119-140; Skrytaya pravda voyny: 1941. Neizvestnyye dokumenty [Hidden Truth of the War: 1941. Unknown Documents]. Compiler K.P. Knyshevskiy et al., (Moscow, 1992). Return
19. Author's archive. Letter by Tatyana Kaganovich from Jerusalem, January 26, 1999. Return
20. NARB, fond 4, opis 3, delo 1225, list 45. Return
21. State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), fond 7021, opis 85, delo 217, list 14. Return
22. Author's archive. Letter by Mikhail Balte and Sara Ber from Rechitsa, January 12, 2000. Return
23. Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Most Recent History (RTsKhIDNI), fond 69, opis 1, delo 818, list 142. Return
24. Author's archive. Letter by L.I. Kozlovskaya from Minsk, May 12, 1993. Return
25. RTSkhIDNI, fond 69, opis 1, delo 818, list 142. Return
26. GARF, fond 7021, opis 85, delo 413, list 15; Natsistskaya politika genotsida i vyzhzhennoy zemli v Belorussii: 1941-1944. Sbornik dokumentov i materialov [Nazi Genocide and Scorched-Earth Policy in Belorussia: 1941-1944. Collection of Documents and Materials (Minsk, 1984); R.A. Chernoglazova (editor), Tragediya yevreyskogo naroda v Belorussii, 1941-1944 [Tragedy of the Jewish People in Belorussia, 1941-1944] (Minsk, 1992). Return
27. Yad Vashem Archives (YVA), Jerusalem, collection M-33/476, p.18. Return
28. Author's archive. Letter by F.L. Zayenchik from Moscow, June 7, 1994. Return
29. YVA, M-33/476, p.19. Return
30. Prestupleniya Nemetsko-Fashistskikh Okkupantov v Belorussii, 1941-1944 gg. Dokumenty i materialy [Crimes of the German Fascist Occupiers in Belorussia, 1941-1944. Documents and Materials], (Minsk, 1963), pp. 270-271. Return
31. YVA, M-33/476, p.19. Return
32. Ibid, M-33/481, p.6. Return
33. GARF, fond 7021, opis 85, delo 217, list 14. Return
34. Distribution of the Jewish Population of the USSR, 1939, p. 40. Return
35. YVA, M-33/476, p. 2. Return
36. Ibid, p. 9. Return
37. Central Archive of Russia's Ministry of Defense, opis 977520, delo 104, list 155. Return
38. A. Rosenbloom, Pamyat na krovi [Memory Sealed in Blood], (Petah-Tiqwa, 1998), p. 110. Return
38a. Zalozhniki vermakhta. Dokumenty i materialy [Wehrmacht Hostages. Documents and Materials], (Minsk, 1999), pp. 43, 177. Return
39. Author's archive. Letter by Faina Rozhavskaya from Hadera, January 7, 2001. Return
40. Author's archive. Letter by Vladimir Vasilevskiy from New York, January 5, 2001. Return
41. Author's archive. Letter by Isaak Wolfson from Beer-Sheva, June 30, 1999. Return
42. Author's archive. Letter by Samuil Rozhavskiy from Hadera, December 31, 2000. Return
43. The Falchuk family left for Israel in 1980. Author's archive. Letter by Tatyana Yudelevna Kaganovich from Jerusalem, January 26, 1999. Return
43a. Author's archive. Letter by Lev Levin from Brooklyn, March 5, 2001. Return
44. Marat Botvinnik, Pamyatniki genotsida yevreyev Belarusi [Monuments of Genocide Against the Jews of Belarus], (Minsk, 2000), p. 225. Return
45. Author's archive. Letter by Alla Shkop from Rechitsa, May 10, 2000. Return
46. Thirty Jewish tombstones were damaged in 1998. Rechitsa's local authorities made up for the damage. See: Aviv, No. 2/1999. Return
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