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Translator's Note

The 17th of Av. 5741 is the fortieth anniversary of the destruction of the Jews of David-Horodok. On that day in 1941, 3000 Jewish men were murdered and their women and children were driven out, most of them dying within the year.

For many of the survivors who were wise enough or fortunate enough to escape the holocaust, the painful memory has dimmed. For their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, there is no memory – only the name of a town from where the old folks came – impossible to find on the map.

The Memorial Book of David-Horodok was published in Hebrew and Yiddish in 1957. This translation has a double purpose: to teach the English-speaking descendants of the David-Horodokers about their roots and to revive the memory of the tragic martyrdom of our relatives and friends.

Many authors contributed to the book. None were professional writers. This, coupled with my own amateur status as a translator, accounts for the uneven quality of this translation. I apologize for the many inaccurate and inconsistent phonetic translations of proper names. This was in part due to the multi-authorship. Most of the insertions in parentheses are mine. I am afraid that some of these comments will insult the intelligence of the reader.

Much of the Hebrew original is duplicated in Yiddish. However, some is not and this has not been translated – a project for the future, perhaps for another descendant of David-Horodok.

Norman Helman. August, 17, 1981


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Fortunate is he and blessed shall he be,
Who will perpetuate your tears?
Holy, two thousand year old tears.
(H.N. Bialik. I Wish to Cry)

O that my head were waters,
And my eyes a fountain of tears,
That I might weep day and night
For the slain of the daughter of my people.
(Jeremiah 8:23)

Forward

In this book we are together with the holy memory of our dear David-Horodok sisters and brothers who were cruelly murdered by the Nazi.

Let this book serve as a holy permanent memorial for the lives that were cut-off without mercy. At the same time, let this book be an unforgettable mark of Cain on the brows of those who, like wild beasts, spilled the innocent blood of men, women, children, the aged and the sick – peaceful and defenceless Jews.

* * *

In this book we have aimed an attempt to revive and relive the town's business and work-activities as well as to give a picture of the effervescent and sparkling life in all its forms and in all its epochs.

Future generations will find in this book as well as in all memorial books a reflection of Jewish life in the eastern European diaspora in the period before the terrible Holocaust.

This book does not pretend to reflect the entire many-sided colourful Jewish life in David-Horodok. In fact, it contains only a small part of the original David-Horodok reality.

Our town was not uniquely different from all other Jewish towns in pre-war Poland but for those who were born in David-Horodok and for those who spent their youth and a great part of their lives there, this town is an inexhaustible source of unforgettable experiences, of memories and stories. What once was, is now gone forever.

* * *

We want to sufficiently emphasize that our town is one of the few communities whose chief murderers amongst the indigenous Belorussian population, the Horodtchukas, were arrested and imprisoned thanks to the untiring and self-sacrificing efforts of our compatriot Aharon Dov Moravtchik.

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Fifteen years have passed since the tragic and horrible day of the 17th of Av. 571, the day of the mass murder in our town. The wound has not healed nor will it ever be healed.

The only thing that we could do to perpetuate the memory of the martyrs was to write this memorial. Therefore, let this memorial send its heart-rending cry to the heavens for all generations.

This memorial books is a product of collective efforts of our survivors in Israel and the various countries of the diaspora. The descriptions were written by Jews who never were and do not pretend to be writers. That is the special merit of this book which is an expression of unassuming simplicity.

Congratulations to all in Israel and elsewhere who wrote their recollections, gathered documents and photographs, devoted time, energy and effort, obtained the necessary funds and helped the editors fulfil the holy mission imposed on them.

The Editor's

* * *

We extend our gratitude and acknowledge all those who helped us publish the memorial book to commemorate the martyrs of David-Horodok and vicinity.

Let this accomplishment, this book to commemorate the David-Horodoker martyrs, represent a permanent memorial until the last generation.

Committee for David-Horodok and Vicinity in Israel


The History of David-Horodok

Forward

I have been assigned the task to write a narrative history and give a picture of our town, David-Horodok in general and of its Jewish population in particular.

I am not a writer and certainly not a historian. I have no pretensions to either. Therefore, I do not know how successfully I can describe the historical facts correctly and in their proper order.

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For this book, I have used the materials from the YIVO Letters, the History of Lithuanian Jews by S.A. Bershadski, The Settling of Jews in Lithuania and Poland in the Past, Until the End of the Eighteenth century by I. Shipair and the anthology 1000 Years of Pinsk.

Unfortunately, we were separated from the materials and archives which would have given us a more accurate and clearer picture of David-Horodok.

The history of the town in the last 70-80 years was derived from the recollections of our town elders, supported by my own memories and also from all those who could add and contribute something.

I have attempted, as much as possible, to report only facts and data, avoiding judgments. I have also attempted to verify these facts.

I am certain that this work is not an exhaustive one. Possibly certain important events will not be reflected in this work. It could be that certain moments should have been described in greater detail and others abridged. For these flaws, I beg the pardon of my dear readers and compatriots.

I have written this work with reverence and a trembling heart. I consider it my holy duty to perpetuate on paper the history of our town; how our ancestors lived for hundreds of years, built their homes, raised their families, practiced their customs and habits, experienced times of joy and sorrow, and finally, tragically perished along with the great majority of European Jewry at the blood-soaked hands of the murderous Nazi.

I believe that I would not commit the sin of local patriotism if I venture to say that David-Horodok was an unusual town, distinct from surrounding cities and towns.

It was a town in which the Jews were pious but not fanatic and were concerned with both Jewish and general education. The Jews were not ashamed to do any sort of work but they considered it a disgrace to be ignorant.

It was a town that was Zionistic throughout, with an organized and productive youth who studied and aspired to education and knowledge.

It was the only town in the entire diaspora where, in the pre-war years, the youth spoke Hebrew exclusively between themselves, with adults and even with the gentile servants.

It was a town that possessed one of the best Tarbus (culture) schools in Poland, many cultural institutions and organizations and libraries with avid readers. All public readings and lectures were presented at fully packed halls.

It is painful to write of all this in the past tense knowing that it has all disappeared and perished in such a tragic manner.

Therefore, my dear compatriots let me offer you this work as a small and modest memorial to our martyrs.

* * *

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The General History of David-Horodok

We have no clear idea as to when or how the town was established or when the Jewish community began. This chapter will deal with what little historical data is available, with the geography of the region and with the naming of the town as based on current evidence.

David-Horodok is in the heart of Polesye by the Horin River, 10km before the Horin spills into the Pripyet River. The Pripyet River is 570km long and it connects Volhynia with Polesye. As a result, Volhynia and Polesye are linked with the Ukraine on one side and Lithuania on the other side.

Returning to the question as to when David-Horodok was founded, we must get help from the general history of Polesye which will enlighten us a little. The first historical reference to Polesye is in the year 988. The Chronicles of Sudzdaler Farayaslov describes the portion of Russia that was divided between the sons of Vladimir the Great. It says that one of his sons, Sviatafolk acquired Pinsk, Turov and their surrounding villages.

In 1005, a church centre was established in Turov and vicinity. Pinsk was included in this Turov diocese.

In those days, all Russian towns were periodically attacked by the Tatars. In 1185, one such Tatar attack so completely destroyed Turov that it never regained its former eminence.

In 1240, the Tatars devastated the entire region to the east of the Horin and the Pripyet. All of the inhabitants fled to the other side of the river and gathered mainly at Pinsk where Michael the Tchernikov duke concentrated the remnants of his army together with the dukes of Volhynia.

The Tatars stayed in Polesye for a long period of time. They developed the area and they were responsible for the establishment of David-Horodok. They also built the hill by the riverside which served as a fortress. In later years, a Greek Orthodox Church was built on this hill. That this was indeed an artificial hill was proven by excavations in 1936-37 which found a variety of implements and graves under the hill.

Where does the name David Horodok come from? There are numerous legends. One says that it is the name of a duke's child, David. The second legend, a Polish one – that the Roman Ovidius was exiled to the region of the Black Sea and the town where he died was named after him. A third legend says that the name David is widespread among the Tatars and that they gave it the name David-Horodok[1]

To this day, there is a remnant of the Tatar race amongst the inhabitants of David-Horodok who are called 'Horodtchukas'. They are distinguished from the neighbouring gentiles by their broad Tataric nose, their clear brown colouration and by their body-build.

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David-Horodok was established and developed by the Tatars at the end of the 11th century or the beginning of the 12th century.

The first historical reference to David-Horodok is from the year 1400 in regard to the treaty between the ruler and the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vitos who became recognized as the independent ruler of Lithuania. In the treaty papers, it mentions that Pinsk, David-Horodok and Lidmir (Vladimir Volinsk) were transferred from Vitos to the Staradubian Duke, Sigimund Kastutovitch.

This shows that in those days David-Horodok was an important town. From then on, David-Horodok was linked to the Pinsk duchy which in that time included all of Polesye.

In the 15th century, David-Horodok went over to Duke Uri Samionovitch Alshanski who was the governor of the Lithuanian grand duchy for the Polish King Cassimer Yogalo.

After the death of Duke Uri, the governor of the grand duchy became Ivan Sviatoslovitch and after his death, the Pinsk duchy reverted for a short time to the Polish crown.

In 1427, Duchess Marya became the ruler of the Pinsk duchy. She ruled with her son Vasily until 1495. After Vasily's death, his sister Alena ruled with her husband Fyodor.

In 1521, Baron Fyodor died and the Pinsk duchy then went over to King Sigiamund I. On October 8, 1523, this king gave his wife, Vana Sfartza, the Pinsk region including Klatzk, David-Horodok and Rahatchan.

During the era of Vana Sfartza, she developed Polesye. She brought in Polish colonists and gave them free land to settle. She cleaned out the rivers and dug canals. She levied a special tax on the inhabitants of Pinsk for the purpose of creating a permanent communication link between Pinsk, Novel and David-Horodok.

In 1556, Queen Vana Sfartza left Poland ending her rule over the Pinsk duchy.

The Polish king and the Lithuanian grand-duke Sigismund August took over the region abolished the Pinsk duchy which then became united with Komek, Zjob and Boroditch and they were annexed to the Lithuanian duchy.

1569 was a turning point in the affairs between Poland and Lithuania. In that year, during the reign of the Lublin National Assembly, a loose confederation was created between Poland and Lithuania. This union opened the doors for Polish immigration into Lithuania. Polish culture, especially the Catholic clergy, permeated the entire area. There was a two-fold purpose: to Polonize the Russian region and to convert them into the Roman Catholic faith.

With the support of the Roman Catholic King Sigismund III, the Catholic clergy took to their task with great fervour. Nothing kept them from their work. They destroyed Greek orthodox churches and monasteries. They let all the people know that as Roman Catholics they could do anything but as Greek Orthodox, they would have no rest or safety.

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In order to ease the conversion of the Greek Orthodox people to Catholicism, the so-called Uniate Church was created which was supposed to be a bridge between the two churches. The Uniates allowed the Greek Orthodox Church to use their own ceremonies, their own language and many of their own rites and most important, they recognized the pope as the head of their church. As an example that vividly illustrates the fight between the two churches, take the story of the marketplace and shops in David-Horodok. It is a fact that in the spot where the marketplace and its shops stood, there was once a Greek orthodox cemetery. So how did there come to be a marketplace with shops? Who permitted this? It is only understandable within the context of the fight between the two churches; it being permitted through the Catholic authority in order to wipe out the traces of the Greek orthodox property.

When the energetic priest Yokniavitch came to David-Horodok, he immediately began to repair the injustice which had been done to the Greek Orthodox Church and, in the middle of the marketplace, he built a church which stands to this day.

The fight between the Greek Orthodox Church, one the one hand and the Roman Catholics on the other hand, was very bitter and it remained strongly ingrained in the memories of both sides.

We felt the remnants of this even in most recent times. After World War I, when David-Horodok had gone over to Poland, once again the Uniate was brought up which hadn't been heard of during the Czar's times. The Greek Orthodox priests began to feel less secure both in their rule over the masses and with this possessions. Quietly, the war between the churches resumed.

This was would have taken sharper forms had the Poles not been afraid that this would be oil for the wheels of the communist propagandists in the vicinity. At this time, David-Horodok was 30km from the Polish-Soviet border.

Interesting to note that in the religious controversy between the Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches, the Jews quietly supported the latter.

The era of the Lublin Union brought great changes in Polesye in political, religious and economic life.

In 1648, there were great and bloody happenings in the region of Polesye. The Cossack uprising under the leadership of Bogden Chmielnitzki did not overlook Polesye.

The Polish Kingdom never had full control over its eastern provinces. The reasons for this are many and varied; for example: the character of the colonists that were brought there. For the most part, those who came had left their homes for political, social or religious refuge; or they were seeking an easy livelihood or were simply criminals.

The rebels were not alone in their fight. They were joined by the oppressed peasant masses who wanted to throw off the yoke of the hated nobility. This rebellion was taken up in Polesye.

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The years of the Cossack rebellion were inscribed with bloody letters in Jewish history. The years 1648 and 1649 were years of destruction and devastation for eastern European Jewry.

There is no clear knowledge as to how the Jewish community of David-Horodok survived the destruction. There is, however, evidence that the David-Horodok community took a loan in order to rebuild the devastated town institutions.

Concerning this, there is some accurate information regarding the part played by the David-Horodoker Christians in the Cossack uprising. In the history of Pinsk, it is told that the greatest destruction occurred with the attack of the Cossacks, Tatars and the peasants from David-Horodok and Turov. Three times, it is told, Pinsk suffered from the Cossack uprising, but the greatest destruction occurred when the David-Horodok Christians participated. The Jewish community in Pinsk was almost extinguished completely.

In 1707, the Swedes appeared in Polesye. However, because of difficulties with lines of communication, they did not stay very long in Polesye. They even began building bridges over the rivers but quickly stopped and left the area.

The elders of David-Horodok tell the following story: Once, three Swedish soldiers came to David-Horodok on patrol. They went into a whiskey distillery and began drinking from the huge casks that were standing there. One of them became so drunk that he fell into a cask of whiskey and drowned. The local people were afraid of the vengeance of the Swedish army and they hid in the surrounding forest for three months. The Swedes, however, did not come because they soon left Polesye altogether.

In 1793, Poland was divided a second time and David-Horodok remained part of Russia until 1920. From 1920 to September 1939, David-Horodok belonged to Poland. The Red army entered David-Horodok on September 19th, 1939. In July 1941, David-Horodok was taken by Hitler's armies and in 1944, David-Horodok was reunited with Russia.

 

The Christian Population

As previously mentioned, the David-Horodok Christians, the so-called Horodtchukas, were exceptional in all of Polesye.

The typical person from Polesye had a mild character, phlegmatic and pessimistic comportment. In contrast, the Horodtchuk was far from mild, feisty and energetic, more sturdily built and taller. The Christians of the nearby village of Alpin also had a reputation, having stemmed from Lithuanian forebears and never having assimilated with the surrounding people.

The narrow-mindedness and hatred that the Horodtchukas had for the surrounding peasants was no less than they had for the Jews. It is interesting to note that they never married outsiders. They went on business throughout the country but for marriage, they came home to David-Horodok. Because of this and for years, they did no assimilate and remained the direct descendants of the founders of David-Horodok with Cossack-Tatar blood flowing in their veins.

Their Cossack-Tatar heritage was also noted in the way they made a living. They were not farmers and had no desire for working the land. The gardens

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which their women worked were for personal use only. IF there was any surplus, the wife would sell the produce at the market and the money would belong to her. In general, the Horodtchuas, with the exception of a small numbers of merchants and artisans, had no stable occupation. They did everything. For the most part, their occupation depended on the season of the year. They were fishermen. They were great experts in forestry. Winter they spent finishing wood products and in spring, they prepared and hauled the wood that they had worked on during the winter in the surrounding forests to the river banks. They were experts on water, good navigators of steamships, berlinas (a type of riverboat) and rafts which they would take from Danzig all the way to the other end of the Dnieper River.

In the last years prior to World War II, as the surrounding forests became smaller, they worked farther away. In David-Horodok, there were special brokers who interceded between the lumber dealers and the boatmen and they would assign the workers to the merchants.

They were good builders, painters, masons, ship-builders of various sizes and especially good shoemakers. They were also skilled merchants.

Most of the Horodtchuas in spring would travel to fairs selling seeds; in summer they would sell ice-cream throughout the land; in autumn they would deal in red berries, mushrooms and boots and in winter they were occupied at home with shoemaking.

It is noteworthy that they always avoided dealing with middlemen. In shoemaking, they would prepare their own raw material and in the worst case, they would purchase their materials from the first hand. They would also go to the fairs throughout Poland to sell their own wares.

The same is true in the meat and wurst business. They went to the local villages to buy meat, prepared it themselves and sold it themselves. The Horodtchukas had the wurst business in all the larger train stations in Poland.

This was a specific people. They wandered throughout Russia before World War I and between the two wars, throughout Poland. Nowhere did they assimilate. One could recognize them anywhere because of their unique clothing, speech and mannerism.

Since the time of Czarist Russia, they had a higher social-political status than the neighbouring peasants and this enabled them to improve themselves somewhat. They were strongly given over to Czarist Russia and were called monarchists.

After the 1905 revolution, there was a Black Hundred organization founded. It was a reactionary terrorist group which had the responsibility of supporting the Czar against the revolution. They also established a strong and tight Black Hundred organization in David-Horodok and it existed until 1917. On a certain Sunday, they even attempted a pogrom. Thanks to the self-defence organization of the Jewish youth in particular, and the entire Jewish population in general, and also because of the opposition of the magistrate, Avtchinkov who had business dealings with Jews, they came through with only a few wounded.

Their monarchist reputation remained with the Horodtchukas even after the 1917 revolution. A portrait of the Czar continued to hang in many houses. They were lukewarm to Kerenski's uprising and they were outspoken opponents

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of the Bolshevik revolution.

At the first opportunity, they set up an armed resistance against the Red army. At that time the Jews also helped and they paid dearly for it, as will be described in a later chapter. In the district headquarters of the Bolshevik authorities, the Christian people of David-Horodok were considered a counter-revolutionary element.

During the 20 year reign of the Polish power in David-Horodok (1920-1939), the Horodtchuka economy was strengthened but this did not drive them to assimilation despite the fact that the Polish authorities did not allow them to open a Russian school and their children were compelled to learn in Polish schools. However, they kept their Belorussian language and Greek Orthodox faith. They would teach their children the Russian alphabet in their homes. When the Bolsheviks returned to David-Horodok on September 19, 1939 they were met with the hateful looks and enmity of the Horodtchukas. With few exceptions, they did not become members of the communist party and did not take part in political life. They were very disappointed that instead of the nearby Nazi regime, the Bolsheviks had taken over.

Once more, as the Bolshevik regime became established and began requisitioning and nationalizing everything, their hate for the regime grew and they waited for Hitler even more. This was demonstrated at the election which occurred in western Belorussia for the national assembly which was supposed to confirm the annexation of western Belorussia to eastern Belorussia. They threw slips into the ballot boxes with the following written on them: “Death to the communists and Jews”. “Down with the Bolsheviks” and “Long live Hitler”.

More than once, they threatened the Jews that when Hitler would come, they would settle accounts with them.

They kept their word. In the beginning of July, 1941, when the Bolsheviks retreated from David-Horodok and Hitler's forces marched into town, the Horodtchukas were the first in all of Europe to assist the Germans in undertaking an “action”. On the 17th of Av.5710, they murdered all of the men in the town.

The entire time of the German occupation, they served Hitler faithfully and they in turn enjoyed the full trust of the Nazi authorities.

When in 1944 the Red army freed David-Horodok from the murderous Nazi occupation, they found not a single living Jew in the town. They also did not find any of the gentile leaders of the town. They had left with the retreating German army.

* * *

The Jewish Community in David-Horodok

It is difficult to answer the question as to when the Jewish community of David-Horodok was founded. There is not a single remaining historical document that would clarify the question. The records of the community,

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even if they had survived, would not have enlightened us much because it was only 200 years old and there exists much prior knowledge of the Jewish community in David-Horodok.

To establish approximately when a Jewish community was founded in our vicinity, we must consult the history of the Jews of Lithuania and follow the settling of the Jewish communities.

In S.A. Berahadaki's overview of 'The history of Lithuanian Jewry' which was published in 1883 in Petersburg, and in I. Shapiro's 'History of the Jews of Poland until the end of the 18th Century', published in 1914 in Moscow[2], it shows that the years 1500-1550 were a period of growth for the Jewish community in Lithuania. In those days, many new communities were founded and the existing ones were expanded.

The stream of Jewish immigration was from west to east. Thus, the first Jewish communities were in the western part of Lithuania. It is clear that, for example, Grodno, Brisk, Lotzek and Vladimir-Volinsk came before David-Norodok, Luniniatz, Staline and others.

It should be noted that the community of Vladimir-Volinsk was established in 1388 and David-Horodok, together with Vladimir-Volinsk were part of the Steradubian Duchy in those days. It is not definite that there was a Jewish community in David-Horodok at that time.

The immigration stream to Lithuania was even stronger at the beginning of the 16th century due to the flight of the Jews from Germany.

The new Jewish communities in Lithuania were founded in the following manner. Around each larger community, there would rise smaller settlements. In such fashion, the Jews pressed ever further into Lithuania. Jewish historians are of the opinion that if you look at a map of old Lithuania, you can pinpoint which Jewish settlements were older. The older settlements are in western Lithuania and the younger settlements are in eastern Lithuania.

In conclusion, we cannot reckon on an organized Jewish community in David-Horodok before there was one in Pinsk.

An organized Jewish community was created in Pinsk in 1506. That would mean that an organized Jewish community in David-Horodok came later. That does not rule out the possibility of some isolated Jews in David-Horodok before that time.

In those days, Jews would drive through the entire land on business. Besides this, they leased monopolies for whiskey making, salt merchandizing, inn keeping and tax collecting. It is possible, therefore, that in David-Horodok, which had all the modern conveniences since 1190, Jews lived there long before the establishment of an organized Jewish community.

The first accurate historical knowledge concerning the David-Horodok

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Jewish community is from 1667. In that year, the Pinsk community took a loan from the Lahishin Church for its own needs and for the needs of the surrounding communities. As collateral for the loan, they collected goods from the surrounding Jewish communities amongst which is mentioned David-Horodok.

This occurred after Bogden Chmielnitzki's uprising which destroyed the entire Jewish community of Eastern Europe. Those who had fled returned to their destroyed homes. The poverty and distress was great. Everything had to be set up anew and there was no available money-broker. They, therefore, had to go to their gentile neighbours for help. The gentiles came to the Jews and loaned them money, not out of charitable feelings but rather out of pure commercial calculation. They made very good business from these loans. They took as guarantee the study-houses, the bath-houses and even the cemeteries. More than once, for not paying the interest on time, they would tear apart the study-house or not allow a burial in the cemetery. Besides that, the law assured the rights of the lender. For not paying a debt, there were severe penalties, even death.

In the Lithuanian court records of those times, there are a great number of death sentences given to individuals, to groups and even to entire Jewish communities. This shows the great poverty of the Jewish communities in those times. In truth, the death sentences often remained on paper because there was a large gap between the handing out of a death sentence and its execution. The Polish authority in those days was riddled with anarchy. Its power to act was paralyzed and rebellion against the authorities was a daily occurrence. The Jews also did this but only as individuals. The community debts had to be paid.

In the realm of these debts, there was great friction and controversy between the small communities and the large communities. They could never agree among themselves as to how much each community had to pay. There were religious court suits at the “Council of the Four Lands”, and the disputes even resounded in the government courts. This situation changed abruptly with the Cossack uprising. The prestige of the central government authority was greatly diminished. The hardship of the small towns was immense and they were in no position to contribute their share to the central communities since they didn't even have the ability to rebuild their own ruined communities.

Then the fight intensified between the small communities against the large communities with the purpose of getting rid of their guardianship. In the vicinity of Pinsk, the following communities began to fight: David-Horodok, Turov, Staline, Slotzik and Drahitzin.

The controversy was prolonged and very severe. The central government stood on the side of the large communities because it wanted to be paid in a centralized manner. The Lithuanian war minister gave an order that the military should aid the large communities in collecting taxes from recalcitrant small communities. However, the soldiers were of no help. The frequent religious court decisions were also of no avail because of the weakness of the central power which was caused by the separatist strivings of the Polish nobility and especially because of the new confederation adopted by the central assembly in 1764 which cancelled the general tax on Jewish communities and replaced it with an individual tax of two gulden per head (beginning with one year-old children). Thus,

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the large communities lost the battle and the small communities became independent.

Concerning the new tax system in Poland-Lithuania, there was a census taken of the Jewish people, giving us some idea of the number of Jews at that time. The census was taken in 1766 and here are the results (excluding children less than one year of age) in the following towns:

David-Horodok 408 people
Turov 316
Haradne 109
Staline 408
Yanave 422
Drahitzin 510

We must accept these numbers with some reservation because, for purposes of taxation, the number is not entirely correct. Either the Jews gave smaller numbers in order to pay less tax or the officials gave larger numbers in order to collect more tax. To show that the tally was not correct, we can use the second census which was taken in 1784. The second census gives us a completely different picture:

David-Horodok 386
Turov 319
Haradne 47
Staline 207
Yanave 261
Drahitzin 248

It is unlikely that the number of Jewish people in all the towns would decline in a span of 18 years. This is an indication of the incipient decline of the Polish kingdom and the officials did not carry out their jobs carefully, not believing themselves in the usefulness of the census.

In general, the last years of the Polish reign were difficult for the Jews of Lithuania. The central authority was weak and demoralized; the taxes great; the local noblemen dominated, each in his own way; the Jewish communities tore at each other and rivalries arose between Jewish merchants. All of this impoverished the masses and the distress was great.

In that time, two things occurred that had a great influence on the lives of Lithuanian Jews. The first occurrence was of a general political character which had an indirect effect on the lives of Lithuanian Jews, namely that in 1793, Poland was divided a second time and the region went over to Russia. This brought a tremendous change in the economic and cultural life of the Jews in Lithuania. The second occurrence was of inner Jewish-religious significance: - the founding of the Hasidic movement.

The Hasidic movement began to develop strongly at the end of the 18th century. It embraced great masses. It came as a result of the poverty of the Jewish masses on the one side and from the inner Jewish reaction from the other. This was also a protest against the severe hand of the community ring-leaders and the powerful.

The new Torah resonated in the hearts of the poor village Jews, tenant workers and merchants.

It is interesting that the Hasidic movement did not have a great influence in

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David-Horodok. David Horodok was not affected by the nearness of Pinsk wherein Rabbi Levi Itzhak (of Berditchev) resided for a while as well as the eminent Rabbi Aharon the Great, of blessed memory. Pinsk was the scene of a controversy between the Hasidim and the Misnagedim (rationalists). David-Horodok did not participate in the controversy.

Staline, Sjalbin and Dambrovitz came to help the Hasidim of Pinsk in the fight against Rabbi Avigdor who stood at the forefront of the battle against the Hasidim. They forbade Rabbi Avigdor to visit their communities. David-Horodok did not forbid him.

It seems that David-Horodok was strongly under the influence of the Vilna Gaon who stood at the head of the fight against the Hasidim. In David-Horodok, even in modern times, the religious would observe the anniversary of the death of the Vilna Gaon and many had his picture hanging in their homes.

In general, David-Horodok was greatly influenced by Lithuanian Jewry and the struggle concerning the rabbis was greater in David-Horodok than in all the surrounding towns.

From this, one should not conclude that there were no Hasidim at all in David-Horodok. There were also Hasidim there. Of the five study-houses in David-Horodok, one was Hasidic – the so-called shtibel. The relative number was not great and they did not have a great influence.

* * *

The Economic Structure of Jewish David-Horodok

We have no certain knowledge of the economic structure of the David-Horodok Jews in the first years of the Jewish settlement there. In order to clarify the question, we must use the material of the surrounding towns and from the general economic structure of Lithuanian Jewry. We must remember that the Lithuanian government opened the gates for Jewish immigration from Germany, not out of humane feelings, but because this accorded with their policy which visualized in the Jewish immigration an element that would revitalize and activate the stagnant economy of the country.

They, therefore, gave the Jews many rights. Jews were considered free men (not royal servants such as the peasants) along with the nobility and the landowners. For killing or wounding a Jew, the penalty was death. One could not interfere with their prayers, call them to court or make them pay debts on the Sabbath. They were allowed to deal in whatever they wanted and they were free to move throughout Lithuania.

In old Lithuania, the government did not collect its own taxes. They gave the job to tax farmers. Understandably, Jews were the tax farmers.

In almost every town and village, Jews leased the following functions: collecting taxes, whiskey monopoly, bear and mead – both wholesale and retail, salt monopoly, the official weights, inns and toll booths.

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This last one was a tax which each merchant had to pay before he could sell his goods. This tax was called mita. The merchants had to drive along the roads where the toll booths were. That was how the Jews of that era made a living. In all likelihood, this is also how the David–Horodok Jews subsisted.

David–Horodok Jews also had probably begun dealing in wooden articles such as joinery, material for ship building, potash and tar which were plentiful in the region.

Jews also took to farming and cattle raising. Until modern times, David–Horodok Jews were accustomed to keeping one or more cows. Jews also took up gardening.

Because of the strong restrictions by the ruling guilds as well as their strict religious character, there were no Jewish artisans in those days. It was only after the Cossack rebellion when a large part of the land was destroyed and that there was a great shortage of craftsmen did King John Kasimir permit the Jews in 1669 to organize their own guild. Then, for the first time, the Jews who had been ruined by the Cossack rebellion began to learn crafts.

It should be mentioned that the standard of living was very low in those days. They were poorly clothed. Boots were only worn on the Sabbath and in winter. In summer, they went barefoot. They would go through mud in sacks. The clothing was made of canvas. Meat was only eaten on the Sabbath and sometimes, not even then.

Business in the 19th century until World War I

After the Napoleonic war there was an improvement in economic development for Polesye. Victorious Russia became the great power in Europe and began gradually rebuilding the land especially South Russia. The Ukraine developed a great movement to build new colonies, a fleet of ships for the Black Sea and railroad lines. The nearest source of timber for all this construction was Polesye. A broad–based business developed with the Ukraine. This, of course, affected David–Horodok which lay by the Horin River and in the centre of the forest region. In the second half of the 19th century, a merchant class developed in David–Horodok for lumber production and so–called watermen.

The David–Horodok lumber merchants were, with few exceptions, not wealthy but they and the so–called watermen

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together caused a marked improvement in the merchant business. Lumber dealing was not simple. It required much knowledge and skill. Buying the raw material required expert examination of the quality and making a precise calculation of how to work the wood, transportation, etc.

The watermen used the so–called berlinas or berlinchikas which were the chief means of communication on water. In by–gone days, they used badiaks which were wide and heavy boats. However, they were not very convenient and by the middle of the 19th century they were no longer in use. They were replaced by barges and berlinas.

The barges were usually open and had the following dimensions: 15–19 sajen (one sajen equals 7ft) long; 7–8 arshins (one arshin equals about 1m) wide and 24–28 virshak (one virshak equals almost 3”) high. They carried a load of about 4–5000 pood (1 pood equals about 36lbs), that is 80 tons. The barges were mostly used for carrying firewood and boards.

The berlinas were covered and large: 17–20 sajin long x 3 sajin wide x 2 arshins high. They were divided into three or four sections in which they transported a variety of goods. Such a berlina required as many as 18 workers plus a captain.

In spring, they were mostly loaded with firewood or other wood material and went downstream as far as Kiev and in recent times, as far as Yakaterinoslav. A trip from David–Horodok to Kiev would take, in normal circumstances, two weeks. In the summer, the berlinas would work at the banks of the Dnieper for hauling various loads from one point to another.

In the fall, they would load up with a variety of food items from the rich Ukraine or with salt and go upstream to David–Horodok. The return trip would take about 40 days. Not uncommonly, winter would come early and they would be forced to remain somewhere along the route. In such a case, they were understandably far from their source of income.

This was not an easy business. One was separated from home for 8–9 months of the year. One was dependent on weather conditions such as winds, water depth in the rivers, etc. The business required great skill and knowledge.

Until World War I, this business was a major source of income for the towns along the banks of the rivers. This was a multi–faceted business with brokers, agents and warehouses.

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The larger merchants bought the material and sold the products while smaller businessmen earned their income through transport.

In this regards, it is worth mentioning the Bregman family of David–Horodok which had, at the end of the 19th century, a large business. The Bregmans owned many of their own berlinas and from time–to–time would make deals with outsiders to transport merchandize for them. They had warehouses in many places. Later, they had their own steamship called the Montefiore. They had agents all along the way from Pinsk to Yakaterinoslav who would buy and sell for them, hire workers, procure food for the workers and also determine the prices of produce, sugar, salt, etc. They would also investigate the condition of wood reserves in the Ukraine.

This was a large firm with wide–ranging interests and thereby enjoying boundless credit and trust.

The water business created a shipbuilding industry in David–Horodok from which many Jews and Christians earned their livelihood.

The class of wood merchants and watermen had a strong effect on the development of the town and especially for the youth. The elders endeavoured to give their children not only a Jewish education but also a broad secular education as was required for their businesses.

As a result of the extension and development of the water commerce and the lumber business in Polesye in general and in David–Horodok specifically, a Jewish community was founded in Nirtcha at the beginning of the 19th century.

Nirtcha is situated at the confluence of the Horin and Pripyet Rivers and is 12km from David–Horodok. The water communication between David–Horodok and the Ukraine, between Pinsk and the Ukraine, between Pinsk and David–Horodok as well as the water link on the return trips, had to pass this particular point. In those days, when business between Polesye and the Ukraine began to develop and water was the cheapest and sole means of communication, Nirtcha became important from a commercial point of view. It was a place that could give a large number of family's sustenance.

Just after Napoleon's defeat in 1812, when Russia began to heal the wounds of war, when they began feverishly building and developing and when commerce began to develop, the Jewish community of Nircha was founded in those days.

It was a unique community. It was begun by the one family of Joseph Maravtchik and in the scarcely 100 years of the existence of the Nirtcha community, it expanded and attained

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a population of 100 at the time of the dissolution of the Jewish community. These included sons and daughters, daughters–in–laws, sons–in–laws, grandchildren and great–grandchildren of the same Yosel Maravtchik.

The Maravtchicks ran a unique business in Nirtcha, employing both peasants and merchants. Their existence was based on horticulture which they worked themselves, fishing, raising cattle and especially dealing in lumber and wooden articles. They themselves would haul firewood by transport–ships to Kiev. They would provide food for the workers on the steamships, rafts and berlinas. They also prepared food for travellers on passenger steamships.

The inhabitants of Nirtcha were examples of hardy and plain folks. They had daily contact with the Jews of David–Horodok and thanks to contact with a variety of business people, they were not ignorant villagers. They brought the very best teachers for the children who, incidentally, were quite willing to go there.

The land which they occupied and worked belonged to the Duke Radziwell. They paid him rent. As mentioned, the community of Nirtcha existed for almost 100 years. In 1906, the community was liquidated and all the inhabitants of Nirtcha moved to David–Horodok. The cause of the liquidation of the Jewish community of Nirtcha is as follows: Duke Radziwell chose this place to build a saw–mill. He was certain that, at such an important communication point, he would make a good business. The extraordinary efforts of the Nirtcha Jews to annul the decree were to no avail. They received compensation from the Duke and with great bitterness left the place where they had lived and earned a respectable livelihood for almost 100 years.

At first it was a great tragedy for these Jews. They had to start building anew in the town, seeking a means of existence. Later, they were very pleased with the change. They became involved in the town. They bought houses with the compensation money. In 1914 when World War I broke out, they would have had to flee anyway, out of necessity, and naturally without compensation.

The duke had not made a good exchange because the saw–mill did not develop and he had to close it.

Shops were an important part of David–Horodok life. Having a Christian population which purchased everything it needed (the Horodtchukas were mostly merchants and labourers), and having a large number of surrounding villages, there was room for many shops in the town. In time, a large shop–

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keeper class developed in town. In truth, few became rich and without the help of the bank and credit unions, most would have not have been able to exist.

The competition between the shops was considerable. In such a manner they persevered, more or less.

Many families in David–Horodok earned a living in the meat business. The town was surrounded by farm country, many grassy meadows for pasture and the vicinity was rich in herds of cattle and oxen. The butchers of David–Horodok would buy these cows and oxen both for the town's needs as well as for export, especially to Warsaw.

Amongst the David–Horodok butchers were some bigger merchants who would travel to the Ukraine, mainly in the Paltav region, purchase shipments of cattle and send them to Warsaw. It is of interest that these shipments along with their attendants went the entire way on foot.

This was a risky business because there were no standardized prices. The prices depended on the supply and the bidding of the Warsaw merchants. Not infrequently the profit on half the transport sold on a certain day would barely cover the loss on the sale of the second half of the transport on the following day.

The great majority of the butchers were not involved in business dealings. They earned their bread with great difficulty. Three to four days a week, they would go around the local villages to try and buy something. Bringing it home was also not easy and selling it involved intense rivalry between the butchers and not infrequently an animal was found to be unclean.

The meat business brought much money and contributed greatly to the economy of the area and especially for the peasants. It also created the basis for the tanning industry which bought the great quantities of hides in the region. From the processed hides, the shoemakers of David–Horodok produced boots for the entire region.

The meat business also produced tallow which was used to manufacture soap and candles.

The fish industry was very important in David–Horodok. It was a source of income both for the Christians who were the fishermen and for the merchants. In this regards, it is noteworthy that the fish merchants did not bother with selling fish on the spot. The fish merchants would buy up the surplus of fish which the town was not capable of consuming and then sent it to Warsaw.

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There were six or seven merchants who would bargain for the right to purchase fish from Radziwell's lakes. The Christians would catch the fish there and the Jewish merchants would send them to Warsaw. This was not an easy business but it was profitable.

In David–Horodok there were a large group of drivers who would go throughout the land with their wagons from Daivd–Horodok to Pinsk, Minsk, Vilna, Brody and Odessa.

As in other towns, they were organized in David–Horodok into a “company” and they worked in partnerships. Along with other Polesye teamsters, they participated in the fast which they decreed at the opening of the Polesye railroad line in 1888.

Incidentally, it is important to emphasize that the development of the railroads by–passed David–Horodok to this day. To this day, the town has no rail connection. The nearest train station is at Lakve on one side, 25km from David–Horodok and on the other side, Horin–Staline, over 30km from David–Horodok.

In 1898, a group of five drivers organized and purchased a small steamboat called “Vienna” which shuttled back and forth between David–Horodok and Nirtcha, delivering David–Horodok passengers to the large steamships that shuttled between Pinsk and Kiev. Not all the drivers were trustworthy enough for this business and most of them abandoned the partnership. The first years, the drivers purchased the steamboat continued to work with horses in the winter. Gradually the business developed. They sent another steamboat to Staline and Gorine and they completely abandoned their previous vocation. Later, Pinsk Jews joined the partnership and a steamboat link was established between Pinsk and David–Horodok.

World War I did not disturb the steam boaters and afterwards when David–Horodok went over to Poland, they succeeded in returning the steamboats which were left in the Russian rivers.

After the war when Ukraine was shut–off due to the new Soviet–Polish border, the development possibilities became somewhat reduced and there remained only the cruise routes of David–Horodok–Staline and David–Horodok and Pinsk. The existence of the steam boaters was secured by these two routes.

After the world war, as automotive transportation developed, a larger group of teamsters organized, purchased an auto and began plying over the route between David–Horodok and Gorine. This time, however, the venture was unsuccessful.

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The two reasons for this were the rapid deterioration of the auto because of the poor Polesye roads and the huge taxes imposed by the government.

The David–Horodok teamsters were well organized. They were divided into two groups. One group, which worked in the town, transported the wares arriving on the steamboats to the businesses and warehouses, and the second group would travel to the train stations at Lakve and Staline and in the winter, they would also travel to Pinsk. They all worked in partnership and they would divide their earnings each week.

It was not an easy way to earn a living but, with a few exceptions, it was a respectable trade and a few of them were well–to–do.

 

Craftsmen

David–Horodok was a town with many craftsmen who worked independently. There was no special item produced that was characteristic of David–Horodok. However, having a population of 10,000 and many surrounding villages, there was room for a variety of tradesmen who earned a respectable livelihood working for the populace.

The major trades of the David–Horodok craftsmen were as follows:

Tailors who were divided into two categories: those who worked for the Christian population on order or prepared finished products for shipment to the fairs in the town and nearby villages; and those who fashioned finer things for the Jewish population.

Shoemakers worked only for the Jews and for a few Christians. The Christian populace was provided with boots chiefly by Christian shoemakers who sold their products not only to the local Christians but also throughout the entire land.

Blacksmith and locksmith worked mainly for the peasant farmers. They would repair wagons, forge ploughs and axes and make a variety of other tools for construction work in the town.

The greatest number of craftsmen was in construction work. These were: architects, carpenters, bricklayers, glaziers, painters and roofers.

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Jews also found work in ship building. However, the majority of shipbuilders were Christian.

There were a few who had two trades; one in summer and one in winter. These were the trades in David–Horodok until the outbreak of World War I.

There were a number of strata amongst the tradesmen. There were some who were quite well–to–do, others who barely had enough to exist and the great majority who led a modest but secure and respectable living.

 

The Villages around David–Horodok

David–Horodok was surrounded by many villages populated by Jews until World War I. These Jews existed from working and dealing with the local peasant populace. It is not certain how long these villages were in existence. We have historical knowledge concerning only two of these villages, that is: Alshon which was founded by Duke Uri Alshanski who ruled in Pinsk from 1447–1492 and Alpin which was named after a Lithuanian boyer (aristocratic landowner) who ruled in Polesye in 1341.

Jews began to settle in these villages after the freeing of the peasants. In general, the village Jews led an unassuming life. Their living standards were not much higher than the local peasant populace. The Jews' main concern was to satisfy the religious and educational needs of their children. Even with the smallest number of families, the village Jews would make every effort to keep a teacher for the children.

Some sent their children to learn in town. For a time before the outbreak of World War I, the number of Jews in the villages began to diminish. The youth did not want to remain in the village. They were impressed by the town. The outbreak of World War I accelerated the tempo of migration of Jews from village to town.

The Jewish population was completely dissolved in the following villages: Nirtcha, Chvarsk, Holatz, Liadetz, Bekaisk, Great Arli and Viallamitch. Jews remained in the following villages: Alshon, Ramla, Karamsk, Little Arli, Samihostitch, Tarablitch, Azdamitch, Malishav, Karatitch, Talmatchav, Ludka, Kalk and Kapun. Understandably, their number was somewhat diminished after World War I.

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There was hardly any change in the number of Jews in Alpin which was considered a suburb of David–Horodok. The village Rublye had a Jewish population like that of a small town. Just before World War I, there were 80 families with a rabbi and two study houses. There was an organized and Zionistic youth movement. The Pioneer Organization was very strong and the first Pioneer Organization convention in Polesye was held in Rublye in 1924. The youth, seeing no future in the village, began to leave. The largest number made Aliyah to Israel. Thanks to this, there is now in Israel a reasonably large number of Rublye Jews.

The above description of the economic structure of David–Horodok until World War I shows us that the town did not have any really wealthy men among the merchants or any really poor among the labourers. In general, living standards were not high and their demands not very great.

Summer in the town was quiet. The majority of the Christians were occupied in the fields and the Jewish merchants were on the rivers. The tradesmen would work in the villages. In such a manner, the town was at a stand–still in the summer.

In the fall, things began to liven up. The fairs would begin. The peasants would bring their surplus produce into the town and purchase their needs for the winter. The berlinas would arrive from the Ukraine with flour, salt and a variety of food articles which they sold in and around the town. The lumber merchants and watermen would arrive in order to confirm the arrangements of prior years and to acquire new business. The Christian people would also come before winter and buy supplies. Winter was for them the season of marriage. All of this revived the town and its business. If the winter was normal and the by–ways (both water and land) established in the right time, the lumber industry would be strongly revived and it was a great source of income for the town.

That is the way David–Horodok carried on a normal existence until the outbreak of World War I which shook up the well–established living patterns.

 

David–Horodok in the Years of World War I

The outbreak of World War I had an unusually severe effect on the town. The mobilization which called up a large part of the population, the cry of those families separated by the mobilization, the new martial laws, and the requisitioning of numerous wagons and horses for the war needs were all indications that it was taking on an ominous character. 'Experts' were predicting that the war would not last more than two or three months, but everyone was nevertheless upset.

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The effect was particularly oppressive because, since the times of Chmielnitzki, the town could remember no war. The Swedish by–assed David Horodok. Napoleon's armies never saw David–Horodok, people in the town scarcely heard of the Russian–Turkish war and the same is true in the time of the Russian–Japanese war.

At first, after those mobilized had gone off for military training, the town did not feel the effect of war so strongly. Only later when the Russians had begun wreaking destruction on the Galician front was the entire horror of war felt.

The head commander, Nikolai Nikoliovitch, gave an order that the Jews in the provinces of Suvalik, Lblin and Helm must leave their homes in 24 hours. Hungry, naked and unfortunate refugees fled through David–Horodok. Looking on helplessly at the Jewish refugees had a shocking effect on the David–Horodok Jews. Understandably, an assistance committee was immediately organized and the entire Jewish population received the refugees wholeheartedly. They accommodated them in schools and private houses and provided them with clothing and food.

At the same time, evacuated Germans began passing through David–Horodok from the region of Volin. These had been driven back by military force. They came to David–Horodok with their own wagons and from there, they took boats on the river deeper into Russia. Waiting for the boats, they loitered on the banks of the river in the town. This resulted in epidemics of disease which spread to the townspeople.

People began to show up who were fleeing from Brisk and Pinsk. Some David–Horodok Jews began looking around for evacuation routes. The Slonimer Rebbe and a few other families actually left. Many families bought horses and wagons from retreating Germans and prepared for departure. Others drove to Pinsk with the purposeful intention of staying with the Germans so as to avoid being mobilized into the military.

The front came even closer. Panic increased. Cossacks appeared in the town. They took down the bells from the churches so that they wouldn't fall into the hands of the Germans. At night, cannon shelling could be heard. However, the Germans, having taken Pinsk on September 16, 1916, stayed there. Subsequently, almost a month passed and the front had not moved. As the fall rains and mud came, they began to realize in David–Horodok that the front would not move during the winter and they gradually began to adjust to the situation.

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This was not greeted happily by the David–Horodok evacuees. These Jews who had bought horses and wagons from the German refugees in order to have something to evacuate with, sold them back. They became accustomed to the nearness of the front. The presence of military garrisons in the town gave a fresh source of income. They had profitable dealings with them and the economic situation improved considerably.

This situation continued for over a year until early 1917 when the Kerenski revolution broke out.

Even the remote areas far from the centre of David–Horodok felt the new refreshing winds that began blowing in distant Petersburg. From mouth–to–mouth, in the stillness and with eyes gleaming expectantly, rumours were spread that the hated czarist regime was toppling. Jews silently prayed that it should be true. Then came the information that some duke had poisoned Rasputin in Petersburg and that the royal court was turbulent. One waited from day–to–day for fresh news. No one yet believed that the dream would come true. Was it possible that czarism that had been entrenched for hundreds of years could come apart? Was this not an empty dream?

Then came surprising news. The uncensored Russian newspaper which came to town reported that Czar Nicolai had abdicated his throne in favour of his son.

It was not believed. One was afraid to talk of it aloud for fear that it might turn out to be a lie. Then something happened in town which showed everyone that the previous information was correct. The royal representative in town, Avtchenikov, went out into the market place and, in front of everyone, tore off the epaulets from his uniform.

It is impossible to describe the great joy that encompassed all of Russia. Understandably, the rejoicing was even more among the Jews who freely opened the gates of their towns and offices to all citizens. The first honeymoon of the Russian revolution in the beginning of 1917 gave reason to believe that they were standing on the threshold of a new epoch of equality, friendship and brotherliness between the common people and the landowners and that, under the wings of this revolution, there could freely develop in greater Russian the economies and cultures of the numerous national minorities.

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There was a great enthusiasm and tremendous rejoicing as they waited to celebrate the international workers holiday - May 1 in David–Horodok.

 

May 1, 1917 in David–Horodok

The preparations for the holiday were in full swing. A first of May committee was established jointly between the Jews and the Christians. A special delegation was sent out to the Hussar cavalry regiment which was stationed not far from David–Horodok, in order to invite them with their orchestra for the holiday. The plan envisioned that the orchestra would play 'La Marseillaise' and 'Hatikvah' at the celebration. However, it turned out that the orchestra did not have the music for either of the two hymns. The musician, Velvel Krapal came to the rescue. He wrote out the notes for Hatikvah. Thanks to the help of the old 1905 revolutionaries, the notes of La Marseillaise were also put together. In truth, that which the orchestra then played was not very similar to La Marseillaise. However, the proper feeling was there and everyone understood that it was supposed to be La Marseillaise.

The day of the first of May was a full holiday in town and everyone participated.

The first demonstration occurred in church. Jews, who would usually pass the hill on which the church stood with a certain anxiety, went inside freely with red flags. There the ceremony was led by a Christian, Misha Tukin. Thanks to the revolution, he was freed from prison where he was serving a fifteen–year term.

On leaving the church, a small incident occurred. An old peasant woman stood on the small bridge leading to the church and screamed: “Enjoy yourselves; enjoy yourselves as you will yet seek and beg our father Nikolai that he come and restore order for you”. Needless to say, they quickly took her away and had a good laugh.

From the church, they went on to the synagogue. There the demonstration encountered Rabbi Ravinski with torah scrolls. He invited the general and the officers inside. The orchestra played La Marseillaise and Hatikvah. The rabbi gave a sermon and pledged, among other things and in the name of the Jewish people, that together with all the peoples of Russia, they would wage war against the outside enemy until final victory. He added that all

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youth who had not volunteered to serve in the military of Nikolai's regime would now willingly go into the army.

After the street demonstration there followed a reception for the officers. They prepared lunch and, after eating, there was dancing to the sound of the military orchestra.

For the first time in the history of David–Horodok, Jewish girls danced with Russian officers.

In the evening there was a solemn convocation. In the name of the Jews, Anshel Zeitchik appeared. He was not a David–Horodoker but he happened to be there as a guest of his relatives. He gave an inspired talk concerning the great friendship and brotherliness between the peoples which the revolution had engendered. He then kissed the gentile Yasif Anashka who stood next to him. This made a tremendous impression on all the on–lookers. Many people wept with joy.

May 1st, 1917 was the happiest day in the entire history for the Jewish community of David–Horodok. The dream was being realized that “the wolf would dwell with the lamb” - actually the time of the Messiah.

Who would have believed then that 25years later, in the early autumn of 1941, the same Yasif Anashka and all the Horodtchukas who were onlookers at that meeting would take sadistic joy and pleasure in sending to the slaughter their Jewish neighbours with whom they had lived for hundreds of years?

In those days there was a strong development of Zionistic and communal activities in David–Horodok. This will be described in another chapter. It should be mentioned that economic conditions had improved somewhat. Jews could move about freely and there were no job shortages.

The honeymoon of the revolution quickly passed and grey reality arrived. The front had not moved. The war had become sickening and ugly. All of Kerenski's offensives had failed. The people were tired and wanted no more war. The army was becoming increasingly demoralized. Soldiers appeared in town and began selling revolvers, rifles and even machine guns. The Bolsheviks drove out the constituent assembly and seized power.

The situation in the town became unstable. There was no firm power in David–Horodok and, in the meantime, everything was done by the system of the prior regime.

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In the autumn of 1918, the Germans entered the town. They united David–Horodok to the Ukraine. This did not cause any significant change in the economy of David–Horodok because the town was already economically bound to Kiev and the Ukraine. They felt a little more secure with the Germans and they began to do business with them making some good deals. The German rule over David–Horodok did not last long. A revolution had broken out in Germany and the German military began to leave the Ukraine.

In the Ukraine there appeared Patlura and his bands and pogroms began against the Jews. However, the Patluravians by–passed David–Horodok. Indeed, one day a group of Dombrovitz gentiles, who called themselves Patluravians, showed up in town but then they quickly left.

The town remained without governing authority. Train communication became irregular and dangerous. Many David–Horodokers were stranded in various Ukrainian towns and were unable to return home. All business came to a standstill and there was no available work.

Lakve, on one side, was occupied by the Germans. Staline on the other side was occupied by the Patluravians. Only David–Horodok was without a government. The town affairs were managed at the municipal court with the aid of several policemen.

It should be noted that there were no assaults or thefts in the town. The municipal affairs were concerned with straightening out land disputes between the peasants, recording land sales, giving out birth certificates, marriage contracts or divorce decrees for the Christians. The Jews took care of all these formalities with the rabbi.

Characteristic of the times was an original punishment which the court authority of those days imposed on a David–Horodoker Jew named Berl Eisenberg for not obeying the law. They caught him driving illegal whiskey. In those unsettled times even that law was obeyed in David–Horodok. The punishment was as follows: They hung the kettles in which he distilled the whiskey on his shoulders and a town gentile named Adam Pavuk went in front beating on a drum as they led him through all the streets of the town to the laughter of all the residents.

In this manner, the town led a quiet existence, a calm island in a stormy sea of war. The affairs between Jews and Christians in the town were peaceful and normal.

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This calm did not last long. The Bolshevik military forces captured Lachve and Luniniatz and then something occurred that shocked and interrupted the idyll of David–Horodok. The leaders of the town, both Christian and Jewish, then made a blunder for which the town paid dearly both in human and material sacrifices.

 

The Punishment Expedition

The Bolshevik military detachment in Luniniatz sent out a group of soldiers into the surrounding area to requisition food for the troops. They also came to David–Horodok. In Visake, four kilometres from David–Horodok, there were herds of cattle belonging to the landlords which the Bolsheviks wanted to requisition. Until today, it is impossible to understand what provoked the Horodtchukas to set up resistance against the Bolsheviks and, even more unbelievable, why the Jews then stood alongside the resistance.

It is, however, a fact that they organized a defence. They went to the priest and convinced him that he should ring the church bells and persuade the gentiles to join the resistance and not allow the removal of the cattle herds from the town.

The rationale for the resistance was as follows: if they would allow the removal of the landlord's cattle today, then tomorrow, private cattle would also be taken.

The Jews, and especially the youth, helped organize the resistance. With join effort, they actually succeeded in their opposition and prevented the removal of the cattle. Some shots were exchanged by the two sides and, as a result, one of the Christian members from Ravkom, named Dennis, was killed and one soldier was wounded.

They foresaw that the Bolshevik military power would react on learning the events. There was a war–like mood. They removed the bridge on the road to Chuvarsk, erected barricades and then waited for the enemy. At the same time, they sent a delegation to Staline where the Patlurovians were stationed and asked them for help. However, the Patlurovians could give no help since they themselves were preparing to retreat.

The author of this chapter and his brother were in Luniniatz at the time, running a restaurant. They were acquainted with the staff that had sent the squad of soldiers to requisition the cattle. The staff knew that the brothers

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were from David–Horodok and they came to inquire as to what sort of town it was.

They could not understand what reason the Jews had to oppose the Bolsheviks. In those days it really was madness. Indeed, the Bolsheviks had ruined the economy of the Jewish middle class, but they were also the only ones who fought against anti–Semitism and against all the gangs that carried out anti–Jewish pogroms. In those days, there were thousands of Jews who joined the Red Army in order to fight against these gangs.

The staff in Luniniatz was manned by some very competent students from Great Russia who had no feelings of anti–Semitism. There were also Jews on the staff. Thanks to these Jews, the town came out reasonably well. Under the circumstances, there could have been many more casualties.

They sent a strong disciplinary detachment of soldiers with cannon to David–Horodok. Understandably, the town quickly surrendered and the youth fled. The punitive expedition entered the city. The soldiers were given free rein to take anything they wanted except, naturally, not to lay hands on the people. That was the exclusive right of the commandant and the political commissar who happened to be a Jew.

Three David–Horodoker residents were executed by the punitive expedition in proportion to the population – two Christians and one Jew, Baytzl Yudovitch. Besides this, they emptied out the town. They took out everything that was movable. At that time there were large food reserves in town that had been brought in from the Ukraine over the summer. This was all requisitioned. They even took good shoes right off people's feet. The David–Horodoker people were forced to take all their requisitioned things themselves to the trains at Lakve and Luniniatz.

The destruction was great especially the needless sacrifices of B. Yudovitch who was a well–known personage, the victim of a foolish and poorly conceived action which was not in the interest of the Jews.

The death sentence was carried out in the Christian cemetery and that is where they buried B. Yudovitch. A few weeks later, in Luniniatz, the author extracted permission from the military to buy the martyr in a Jewish cemetery.

This is how David–Horodok paid for trying to resist the authorities. After this episode, the town was put on the blacklist of the Bolsheviks and the Horodtchukas became the deadly enemies of the Bolshevik regime.

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The Bolshevik authority was strengthened in the region. However, the economic situation deteriorated. The town was impoverished. There were no business opportunities and no work. People began to suffer from hunger. They went out to the villages to swap clothing for food. The peasants would accept only gold as currency. A pood of grain was acquired with the greatest of difficulty.

At that time, they began to organize cooperatives. They acquired parcels of land and they planted it themselves with rye and potatoes. There was no lack of land.

The Bolshevik authority then declared a mobilization. It was rumoured that the Poles were not far away and, therefore, no one wanted to be far from home. In order not to go into the military one could volunteer for forest labour in Siankavitch. This work freed one from military service. Hundreds of David–Horodockers' youth volunteered for this work in which they produced firewood for the trains.

However, in one month, the Bolsheviks evacuated and the Poles entered David–Horodok.

 

1920–1921. David–Horodok passes from hand–to–hand

With feelings of dread and fear, the David–Horodok Jews received the Poles. Rumours regarding the behaviour of the Polish military, particularly the Holertchikas towards the Jews and the prior reports of a pogrom in Lemberg, gave them reason to be very worried. The sad and shocking news arrived that the Poles had without reason, shot 35 innocent young Jews in Pinsk. Even though under the Bolsheviks life was very difficult and they were half–starved, they looked toward their new future with dread.

The Poles entered David–Horodok. The Jews could barely look up at them. The regime of the town was very harsh. First of all, they condemned to death a Jew named Krapivkin who was the head of the town's professional union under the Bolsheviks. People were seized for forced labour. Organizational and Zionist activities ceased. Fear enveloped the entire town.

A little later, the regime became somewhat milder. They had begun to receive protests from America regarding the persecution of Jews. Morgenthau came to Pinsk on a fact–finding mission and an investigating commission arrived. The persecution diminished for a while.

David–Horodokers began to accustom themselves to the new life. The frontier was more distant – as far as Kiev. It became possible to communicate with Pinsk. They slowly began to do business. The chief item of trade was salt. With this item,

[Page 31]

They determined the worth of all other articles of trade. One pood of salt was exchanged for three poods of rye.

A link was established with America. Delegates came with help. The “giant” became active. An American committee was formed which distributed goods and clothing to the poor. Prior to Pesach, the committee received flour for making matzo and the matzo was then distributed to the people. The schools were opened. Organizational life began to develop. An orphanage was established. However, this did not last for long. In the early summer of 1921, the air was once again filled with powder. The Poles suffered a stunning defeat near Kiev and began a rapid retreat.

Then began nightmare–filled days for the Jews of David–Horodok. Day and night, for two consecutive weeks, retreating groups of Polish soldiers passed through the town. People were afraid to go into the street. Eventually, the Poles burnt down the bridge and were left on the other side of the river. That was the worst day. In the course of that day, the Polish soldiers would cross over the river to loot the houses. Things finally quietened down at nightfall. The Bolsheviks had arrived at the outskirts of town and they entered David–Horodok the following morning.

The Jewish population greeted the new authority with mixed feelings. On the one hand they were glad to be rid of the Polish authority which had revealed its anti–Semitic character in the short span of its rule. They were particularly pleased that the tension of the past month had finally ended. However, on the other hand, the advent of the Red Army meant that David–Horodok was now cut–off from the rest of the world. The link to America was broken and the way was blocked to Eretz Israel where many of the youth had planned to immigrate.

Food provisions which had been sufficient under the Polish rule seemed to disappear overnight. The situation became difficult. Business came to a stand–still and there was no work available. Authority was in military hands. They began organizing cooperatives but, in the meantime, most of the time was spent in meetings, assemblies and concerts. What would they say in David–Horodok? “They are poor and happy”.

However, before long and before one could look around, there came news of the Red Army defeat near Warsaw. Things again became unsettled. The Red Army began a rapid retreat. There was tremendous chaos.

The Jewish populace became terrified when they heard that among the first detachments of the advancing Polish army were the Balakovtzes. This was a Russian military group from the “white” army under the leadership of General Bulak Balakovtch which fought alongside the Polish military against the Red Army.

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Retreating with Polish military from Kiev, they became infamous for the terrible massacres which they committed on the Jewish population of Volin.

The Bolsheviks retreated from David–Horodok during the intermediate days of Succos 1921 and a detachment of Bulak Balakovitch's troops entered the town on the night of Hoshana Rabba.

There was great error. The youngsters and particularly the women hid themselves and no one wanted to go out in the street. A few of the bolder ones who tried to go outside quickly returned indoors terrified. The Balakovtzes were adorned with plumed hats embroidered with death–heads, and they ran about the streets like greedy beasts. The first ones to be assaulted were Rabbi Dudle and Motle, the shopkeeper who had gone early Shmini Atzeres morning to pray at the synagogue. Afterwards they began to pillage the houses and beat up the Jews.

By noon, a larger number of troops had arrived in town and they were quartered in Jewish homes. The Jews catered to them hoping that they would prevent the other soldiers from entering and looting them. In many houses this was the case. There were other homes, however, where the soldier would initially look around to see what was in the house and, on departure, he would either himself or send other soldiers to remove all the valuables.

The last night that they were in town before going to the front was particularly severe. There were many casualties that night. Several women were raped and many Jewish homes pillaged.

The few weeks with the Balakovtzes in town were a terrible nightmare for the Jewish populace. They tried to associate themselves with the Polish military authority but the few Polish officers in town would either not help or could not help.

In those weeks the situation would change from time–to–time. Several times military detachments passed through David–Horodok who were former Red army soldiers that had been captured by the Poles. They had willingly enlisted in Balakavitch's army for the sole purpose of returning home. These detachments were well behaved.

The staff of Balakavitch's army with Bulak Balakavitch at the head passed through David–Horodok. When the David–Horodoker Jews complained to him about the behaviour of his soldiers, he replied that he had ordered that civilians should not be harmed but that he could not be held responsible in this town where there were many Jewish communists who were the foes of the soldiers.

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When the last remnants of Balakavitch's army left town and the Polish troops were supposed to enter, they thought that the nightmare was over. Unfortunately, it was destined that the David–Horodoker Jews would have to endure a death threat which they would commute by paying a large ransom.

When the last of Balakavitch's army left David–Horodok, a small detachment of their cavalry returned, rode over to Rabbi Ravinski and arrested him along with several more Jews. They demanded a payment of 100,000 rubbles within two hours. If not, they would shoot everyone. The rabbi was freed so that he could collect the money and valuables.

It was horrible to see how the rabbi had to go over the streets with two sacks hanging from either side and pleading with tears that everyone should give as much as he could. The Jews began bringing golden rings, chains, watches and whatever they had. With this, they were ransomed from the hands of the bandits.

The David–Horodoker Jews later experienced a special boost in their morale. The Balakavtzes, having advanced further, suffered a defeat and were forced to retreat. However, at that time the Riga peace treaty was signed and the Polish–Soviet border was established between Turov and David–Horodok. At the border the Poles disarmed the retreating Balakavtzes. Without weapons they passed through David–Horodok on the way to the concentration camps. The Jews went out into the streets especially to laugh and mock at those bandits.

With that, ended the sorrowful chapter of that gang which had caused hundreds of Jewish casualties and had economically ruined thousands of Jewish families.

 

Under Polish Rule (1921–1939)

After the Riga treaty David–Horodok was situated within the borders of Poland. The border passed through the town of Malishov, 20km from town. The economic situation was very difficult. The town had been pillaged by the Balakovtzes and had been impoverished by the war. The Poles instituted a severe martial law in the town. No one was allowed on the streets after eight o'clock in the evening. It was forbidden to leave town without a special permit. Because of the newness of the border, the movements of the people were restricted. The town had been torn away from the Ukraine with which it was economically bound. Because of the conditions of martial law, it was difficult to adapt to the new life.

[Page 34]

After about half a year the regime became more lenient and life became somewhat easier. They could move more freely and it was easier to get about. The “giant” began its relief activities. Delegates came from America who, among other things, brought help from American relatives for David–Horodoker inhabitants. They also helped in the immigration process for those families whose fathers and husbands had already preceded them to America.

There began a great stream of immigration. After surviving the horrors of the war, they did not want to remain in David–Horodok. At first, the immigration stream went to America. Afterwards, when it was more difficult to get into America, they went to Canada, Cuba and Argentina. They went wherever they were allowed. A pioneer group was also formed to immigrate to Eretz Israel. However, because of the events in Eretz Israel in 1921, Aliya was halted and the group remained in David–Horodok.

The economic situation gradually began to improve. The Polish mark became devaluated and goods became more expensive from day–to–day. Almost everyone began business dealings, shops grew like mushrooms after a rain. They began to earn “millions”.

This is how things were until there was stabilization of the Polish currency. The worthless marks could not be exchanged for full–valued Polish zlotys. The orgy was over. All the new merchants were forced out of business and it became difficult to earn a groschen. To this was added the well–known tax system of the then Polish finance minister, Grobski who levied on the Jewish merchants and craftsmen an impossibly high tax which impoverished the Jews.

In the meantime, organizational and political life developed in the town. They established political parties, youth movements, cultural societies and charitable institutions. The Jewish people of David–Horodok and especially the youth threw themselves into these tasks with fiery zeal and exceptional devotion. They established a Hebrew Tarbus (culture) public school which in time became one of the best in Poland. They established banks such as the Public Bank and the Merchant's Bank. They developed an excellent orphan committee which gave rise to multi–facet activities. They founded libraries, sports clubs, drama circles, etc. However, we will not dwell anymore on all these institutions as we will describe them in more detail in later chapters.

After the Pilsudski upheaval, conditions began to stabilize. The Jews led a more or less quiet existence. They could earn a livelihood from commerce and handicrafts. However, life was monotonous and uninteresting.

[Page 35]

Hitler's coming to power in Germany served to intensify the anti–Semitism in Poland. In Polish towns, there were pogroms against Jews. They began beating Jewish students. There was instituted the new infamous ‘avashem’ politics (boycott policy) in economic life. This policy was to boycott Jewish businessmen, shops, handcrafts men and factories. In David–Horodok, several Poles were imported to open up shops and compete with the Jews. The air was saturated with primitive anti–Semitism. Yet, this anti–Semitism was not expressed in as vivid a form in David–Horodok as it was in other Polish towns. This is explained by the fact that the Poles constituted only 5–10 percent of the population in David–Horodok while the remaining 90–95 percent were Jews and Byelorussians and the Horodtchukas who also felt abused by the Polish authority. Despite the calm in the town, the Jews felt quite alarmed.

The conditions of the youth seemed particularly hopeless. Those who could took every possible way out of town. Most of them made Aliya to Eretz Israel. The majority of the town's youth could not make Aliya because of immigration restrictions and they saw no way to get themselves out.

The Jews waited for better times, not knowing and not believing that they would ever come. They were embittered and full of hate for the anti–Semitic Polish authority.

Meanwhile, the danger of a Polish–German war approached with giant steps. After Hitler's friendship gesture towards Poland and with his poisoning the atmosphere in Poland with the spirit of anti–Semitism, he diverted the attention of the Poles away from the true danger that was approaching them. He then began to make his territorial demands to Poland.

The danger of war came closer day–by–day, hour–by–hour and minute–by–minute. The Jews felt like they were living under a black cloud. They forgot their previous score with the Poles. They put themselves in the service of the Polish government in order to fight hand–in–hand against the common enemy.

On September 1, 1939, Friday morning, Hitler's troops invaded Poland. The Jewish people of Poland, amongst them the Jews of David–Horodok, stood and fought the Nazi enemy.

The sad ending of the Jewish community in David–Horodok approached.

We will now interrupt the chronologic narrative of events in David–Horodok and take it up again at the end of this work. Now we will return to describing the political, organization and cultural institutions in the town during the time between the two World Wars.

 


Translator's footnotes

  1. The author assumes that we know that Gorodk or Horodok means 'small town' in Russian. Return
  2. A current reference source in English is: The Jews of Poland by Bernard D. Weinryb, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1973. Return

 

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