« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 36]

Political, Cultural and Organizational
Institutions in David–Horodok

1. The Zionist Movement

David–Horodok was pro–Zionist since the times of the Hoveve Zion (Lovers of Zion). As mentioned previously, the town was under the influence of Lithuanian Jewry. The Haskala (enlightenment) movement came to David–Horodok from there at the end of the 19th century. The Zionist movement also came from there.

Peretz Smolenskin's ‘Wanderer Through Life’ and Abraham Mapu's ‘Love of Zion’ and ‘The Guild of Samaria’ adorned the shelves of David–Horodoker households alongside the Talmud.

They read the Hebrew press in David–Horodok. They collected and bound ‘The Dawn’. Nahum Sokolov's Friday evening articles were not only read but also studied. They also tried to educate the younger generation in the spirit of Zionism. For that purpose, they brought the best teachers to David–Horodok who introduced classes where they taught Hebrew by speaking Hebrew. After World War I, there were youth circles in which they spoke Hebrew exclusively. In 1915, the youth of David–Horodok took the initiative and arranged an illegal memorial service for Dr. Herzl.

Keren Kayemes (Jewish National Fund) stamps were sold at David–Horodok weddings as soon as they came out. Shimon Laichtman and Shlomo Razman would come to every wedding and sell these stamps.

The eve of Yom Kippur, they would sit in every synagogue with a collection plate for the National Fund. Whoever donated 25 kopecks had his name inscribed in a special book. The Slonimer Rebbe used to donate a rubble.

Because of the war and the czarist regime, it was difficult to develop diversified Zionist activities. However, under various pretexts, they would hold assemblies and celebrations on a variety of Zionist themes.

Vigorous Zionistic activity began after the Kerenski revolution in February 1917. It was as if they had been in a lethargic sleep of latent energy and they wanted to make up for the lost years of inactivity by throwing themselves into Zionist activities with wholehearted zeal and energy, filled with the hope and belief in the great possibilities that the Russian revolution promised for the Jewish people. The entire population of the town became involved in organizational and political activity. It was a disgrace not to be associated with a party. It was as if they forgot their worries about livelihood and existence in their preoccupation with party work.

[Page 37]

With all their zeal, they threw themselves into the election campaign for the constituent assembly that was taking place in Russia. They set up the Jewish communal organization, opened a large Hebrew school, founded a library, established cooperatives and were active in every realm of town and community life.

Organizational life quieted down when the Bolsheviks seized power. However, as soon as the Germans entered David–Horodok, Zionist activities resumed. At that time, news arrived of the Balfour Declaration which encouraged Zionist activities even more.

However, this did not last long. The Germans retreated; the Bolsheviks re–entered and once again, all the Zionist work came to a halt.

Following the stormy period of the Polish–Bolshevik war and after a civil government was installed, there was renewed intensification of Zionist activities.

The first visit from Keren Hayesod (Foundation Fund of the Zionist Organization) representative, Dr. Haimzun in 1923, was transformed into a magnificent demonstration for Zionism. The campaign for the Keren Hayesod was conducted by the entire Jewish population of David–Horodok. There was not a single Jewish family, even the poorest, which did not support the Keren Hayesod.

The visit by the Jewish National Fund representative, Y. Manuch from Degania made an even stronger impression. The town was ruled by a complete holiday atmosphere. No small thing – a delegate from Israel! People were curious to have a look at him. They wanted to see what a real Jewish farmer looked like. An extraordinary enthusiasm had seized the inhabitants of the town. The Jews in David–Horodok were then simply breathing in the air of Israel. The visit of Y. Manuch had strengthened the Jewish spirit and consciousness. This was the first direct contact with a Jewish farmer from Israel and it gave feelings of courage, national pride and self–worth to the Jews of David–Horodok.

Through the visit of Y. Manuch, a ‘troop’ of the Keren Kayemes was organized in town. It existed until the outbreak of World War II and it conducted widely ramified activities for the Keren Kayemes. They gathered Zionists from all directions, young and old.

At that time, they had begun Aliya to Israel. The pioneers that left David–Horodok included entire families such as: A.Y. Shafer, Noah Granadier, A. Turkenitch, A. Shostokovski, L. Dushnik, D. Rimar, A. Lakovski, S. Mastair, Z. Pyne and others.

With the onset of normal organizational life in David–Horodok, the political parties became active in the town. The first to renew their activity were the General Zionists and Ze'irei Zion (young Zionists). These were the principal parties in town during the entire span between the two wars. They were the most influential, had the largest memberships and were the most active.

When the General Zionists renewed their activity, they zealously threw themselves into multi–faceted enlightenment activities. They worked for the Keren Hayesod and the Keren Kayemes. They opened a new library which was not used during the Polish–Bolshevik war. They held frequent meetings and lectures. They assisted in the rise of the Tarbus schools in David–Horodok and later also founded their youth movement, Hashomer Hale'umi (National Watchmen) later called “Hano'ar Hazioni (The Zionist Youth). The General Zionists took an active part in the various election campaigns in town such as: election for the Sejm, town council election, Jewish community council election, Zionist congress election, etc. For a short period of time there was a training kibbutz of the Hano'ar Hazioni in the town. This was run by a youth group from outside David–Horodok who had to spend their training period in David–Horodok. This training kibbutz did not last long, scarcely a year in 1934, because of a job shortage in the town. The youth from this kibbutz went away to train in kibbutzim in other towns and there they waited for approval to make Aliya.

The General Zionists recruited mainly the well–to–do homeowners. The artisans, handcrafts men, labourers and especially the youth constituted the bulk of Ze'irei Zion party.

The Ze'irei Zion just as the General Zionists renewed their activities and regained their feet once normal living conditions were established.

The Ze'irei Zion was a party of the youth right from the onset, that is, its activists as well as its general membership were all young people between 18 and 25 years of age. This gave their work a dynamism which was felt in every campaign.

Full of youthful zeal and temperament, full of self–confidence and youthful idealism, they threw themselves into party work and they strove to encompass ever widening circles, not allowing any real of organization life to pass without their influence and involvement.

Lectures, assemblies, elections, night classes, Keren Kayemes work, conferences, etc. were their daily bread. The local was filled every evening with members who were ready to do any sort of work that they were given. The Ze'irei Zion really developed a nice and diversified group for all realms of organizational life.

[Page 39]

The Ze'irei Zion had great success in conducting a ‘tool’ campaign in David–Horodok. This was the first great demonstration on behalf of the workers of Israel and all gladly gave tools for the labourers of Israel.

An especially selected commission of Ze'irei Zion took on the task of helping the pioneers who came out of the Soviet Union.

Through the initiative of the Ze'irei Zion, the activities of the orphans' committee were renewed.

In 1923, the Ze'irei Zion founded the Hahalutz (Pioneer) and in 1924 they established a training kibbutz in Lisavitch.

In 1925, the Po'alei Zion (Zionist Workers) founded a library named after I.L. Peretz which developed very well both in numbers of worthwhile books and in the number of readers. In the last few years before World War II, it was the only active library in the town.

The youth organization of the Po'alei Zion was Freiheit (Freedom). It was established by the party in 1926 and it developed a nice educational function for the youth, helping to teach vocational trades. At the same time, they brought many of the youth to Aliya.

In 1931, the party organized the town handcrafts men into a group called ‘Ha'oved’ (The Worker). Many members of Ha'oved made Aliya to Israel.

Unfortunately, the activities of the Po'alei Zion were sharply curtailed in the few years before the onset of World War II because of the current reactionary fascist government. As an example, in the last kehila (Jewish assembly) election in 1937, the list of Po'alei Zion candidates was cancelled.

The most important Zionist work amongst the religious people of David–Horodok was done through the Mizrachi (or Merkaz Ruhani or Spiritual Centre) and the Hapo'el Hamizrachi (Workers of the Spiritual Centre). In 1925 the Hapo'el Hamizrachi founded a training kibbutz in Dabrin and most of the members made Aliya to Israel. Mizrachi and Hapo'el Hamizrachi took an active part in working for the Keren Kayemes and the Keren Hayesod.

In 1935, a party called Hatachad (The Union) was established in David–Horodok. However, with the Aliya of its founding fathers to Israel, the group ceased to exist.

Besides the above–mentioned youth movements of Freiheit and Hano'ar Hazioni, there were two other active Zionist youth movements in David–Horodok: Hashomer Hatzair (Young Watchman) and Betar (abbreviation for Berit Trumpeldor or Covenant of Trumpeldor, the Revisionist Youth Movement).

[Page 40]

The Hashomer Hatzair was established in the town in 1927. They did a good job of educating the youth of the town. At the same time, they were active in all aspects of Keren Kayemes work. They were involved in the League of Workers for Eretz Israel and they took part in all of its activities. The Hashomer Hatzair sent many members for training and most of them succeeded in making Aliya.

Betar was founded in David–Horodok in 1929. They also sent their members for training and most of them made Aliya.

As already mentioned, David–Horodok was an absolutely Zionist town. There was no Bund (General Jewish Workers Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia) in the town during the period between the two world wars.

As a result of the reactionary and anti–Semitic policies of the Polish regime and the bad economic and helpless situation of the Jewish youth, there developed a small group of communists in David–Horodok. Their number probably never even reached ten. They had no influence in town. The group was completely dissolved after a few of them were arrested. Some of those who were freed from jail later went to Eretz Israel. The others remained in David–Horodok but refrained completely from communistic activities. When the Soviets first came into David–Horodok in 1939, they became involved again as communist activists and they caused considerable trouble for the Zionist concerns. As a result of their denunciations to the N.K.G.B., many of the town Zionists were arrested.

 

2. The Socialist Movement in David–Horodok in 1905

Unfortunately we have no material to enlighten us about the year 1905 in David–Horodok. We have no alternative but to draw on the memories of people who had not even taken an active part in the happenings of that stormy epoch.

From these memoirs, we learn that in 1905, a small group of the Bund was organized in David–Horodok under the leadership of the well–known A. Litvak, a Bundist who was rumoured to have been banished to David–Horodok.

There was also a group of Socialist Territorialists. Concerning this group, we even have a historical reference. In the American Forvairts (The Jewish American Forward) a picture was printed of 20 members of the David–Horodoker Socialist Territorialists (the picture is printed in our memorial book). The Po'alei Zion party also existed in David–Horodok at that time.

[Page 41]

According to these stories, all of these socialistic movements were embraced by a great number of the youth. For a certain period, they were the rulers of the town. They had developed a self–defence organization and had weapons. They demanded a 12–hour work day. The labourers themselves did not want that ‘little’ work but the revolutionaries would come and force them away from their work. There were cases where the children revolutionaries would come to their employer parents and take away the last workers. Aside from this, the revolutionaries were occupied with education and self–instruction.

With the downfall of the revolution, all these organizations dissipated in David–Horodok. Some individuals were arrested and sent away. Many fled to America. The remainder left town during the period of danger.

In reference to this, it should be noted that after the Kerenski revolution of 1917, left–over members of Po'alei Zion re–established their organization. All the old revolutionaries again became very active and devotedly participated in the work. They tried to organize all the workers and sympathizers and they were very active.

Their activity was widely diversified: organizing readings, night classes, drama circles, a library, cooperatives and managing professional movement.

In those days the town was divided in two: the General Zionists and the Po'alei Zion. At the election of the constituent assembly in Russia, the General Zionists received 120 more votes than the Po'alei Zion – 740 to 620.

With the turnover of David–Horodok to the Bolsheviks, the situation changed. A few of the Po'alei Zion leaders joined the Bolsheviks. The great majority of the leaders along with the entire membership did not follow them. They died off politically. From the entire powerful Po'alei Zion organization of those days, there remain only memories.

 

3. Cultural Institutions

As indicated in a previous chapter, David–Horodok was culturally under the influence of Lithuanian Jewry. The Haskalah (enlightenment) movement had permeated the town in the last century through the boys who had gone to Lithuanian yeshivas and especially through the Jewish merchants of David–Horodok who encountered in their travels the new winds blowing in the larger Jewish centres. They were also the ones who felt that their practices required that they give their children a broader and more general education that that given by the cheders and yeshivas.

[Page 42]

To that purpose, I, Shaffer I. Lipschitz and others brought the renowned I.S. Adler to teach in David-Horodok. He introduced a new instructional system and he laid the foundation for a modern and Zionistic education.

The other teachers in town attempted to adapt to the new times and they began to teach Hebrew in Hebrew. These included S. Laichtman, S. Zagaradski and Y. Begun who were not the most eminent of the Jewish instructors but they were teachers who felt that they had a nationalistic and Zionist mission to educate a new Jewish generation. They were the carriers of Zionism in those days.

The elders also tried to open a high school in town. This was eventually opened as a government school. That was the town school in the Russian language which did a good job in helping the youth get into the intermediate and higher institutions and thereby acquire a higher education.

After the February revolution in 1917, a Hebrew school was opened in David-Horodok under the directorship of the teacher Maniavitch. With the assistance of teachers I. Zaldin, R. Shaffer, I. Kashtan and I. Margolin, the school was established at a very high level. The school fulfilled a double purpose. It taught the children and, at the same time, it was a centre for Zionist activities and national consciousness.

The Hebrew school existed until 1920. During the stormy war-years when David-Horodok was passed from hand-to-hand, it was impossible to carry on a normal educational system.

After the Polish-Bolshevik war, when normal life was restored in the town, the first concern was to set up the school. In 1924, a Hebrew Tarbus (culture) school was founded anew under the direction of R. Mishalov.

There is not enough space in this book to detail in full the blessed activities of this Tarbus School in David-Horodok. It started with three classes and in time, it became a seven-class folk school and one of the best in Poland. Until its closing in 1940, there were eleven ceremonies which graduated hundreds of children.

It was not easy to strengthen the Tarbus School to a point where it could stand safely on its own feet. The school did not get any subsidy from the government or the municipal agencies. The various expenses of the school as such were laid on the shoulders of the parents of the students. The teaching personnel existed only on their wages from tuition. Remembering the grave poverty which ruled the town, we then begin to understand the great difficulties with which the school struggled every moment. It was a credit to the remarkable commitment of a group of concerned individuals in the town to the loyalty of the teaching staff and to the national consciousness of the parents.

[Page 43]

The parents were almost 100% in sending their children to the Tarbus School despite the fact that they had to pay tuition when, at the town Polish government school, they would not have had to pay a groschen. These three factors; the concerned group, the teaching staff and the parents, are responsible for the existence and the thriving of the Tarbus School.

The second director of the school, the teacher Avresha Olshanski, elevated the school to such a high level that it became one of the best Tarbus Schools in all of Poland. After finishing the Tarbus seminar in Vilna, he first, as a teacher and later as director, devoted his entire energy and time to the school, leading it from year-to-year higher and higher. He was the one who, in 1931, founded the Bnei Yehudah (Sons of Judah) of David-Horodok, the Hebrew speaking youth of Poland.

Afterwards, the movement spread to other cities and towns in Poland but nowhere was it treated more earnestly than in David-Horodok.

It is worthwhile dwelling briefly on the Bnei Yehudah movement in David-Horodok. It began through the initiative of the director of the school, Avresha Olshanski. He persuaded several school children that pupils of a Hebrew school who planned Aliya to Erets Israel ought to speak Hebrew not only in class but also at home and in the streets among themselves, with their parents, brothers, sisters, neighbours, friends and, in a word, with everyone. From a small group of children, the movement spread to all the school children.

A child who had joined the Bnei Yehudah movement was obligated to speak only Hebrew at home, in the street or in the shop where he would buy a note pad or a book. A Bnei Yehudah would always speak Hebrew to a Jewish companion. Understandably, at first, it was very difficult for the parents who did not understand Hebrew and it would often tax their interest long before the parents, the shopkeepers and the grown-ups in the street began not only to understand Hebrew but also began to answer in Hebrew.

Christian servants in Jewish homes also began to understand and speak Hebrew. New-born children were taught Hebrew from the beginning.

Once David-Horodok was visited by Yosef Baratz. Before he came to town, he had heard the wonder of the “Tel-Aviv of Polesye” as David-Horodok was called because of the spoken Hebrew. He could not believe that it was really true. To demonstrate to him that it was true, they took him out into the street. When he happened to meet a child, he would address the child in Yiddish expecting the reply would also be in Yiddish. No matter how many children he met, everyone replied in Hebrew.

[Page 44]

A child who belonged to Bnei Yehudah always got a “5” (very good) for his grade in Hebrew class no matter how bright he was.

At first, the children organized a special intelligence unit whose task it was to verify that the new members of the Bnei Yehudah were keeping to their oaths to speak Hebrew exclusively. The intelligence officer would sneak into the new member's home and lay under a bed for hours in order to ascertain that the member was keeping his oath.

The Tarbus School existed until the onset of World War II. When the soviets entered David-Horodok at the end of September, instruction in the school began once again but the language was Yiddish and not Hebrew.

An unforgettable moment occurred at the beginning of that school-year. The director, Abrasha Olshanski was forced, under the dictate of a communist activist who himself was a graduate of that school, to assemble all of the children. Sobbing spasmodically, he announced that the school would no longer teach Hebrew but only Yiddish. The communist activist then gave a lecture that the children had been duped in the past. He wanted to convince them that their Hebrew language was the language of the Jewish counter-revolutionaries.

Abrasha Olshanski, until then, had been the devoted and faithful father of the school but now he could no longer bear teaching there. He could not ethically tolerate the change. He and his wife, who was also a teacher, moved to Bialystok. He, his wife and children met their death at the hands of the Nazi murderers.

Through the initiative of the same A. Olshanski, a course in Tanach (bible) was initiated. It went under the title of 'Every Day a Chapter of Tanach'. This course was intended for the grown-ups in David-Horodok. These lectures were extremely popular. The course was attended mostly by the grown-up youth and the adults. The lectures would pack the large hall in the school. The people who attended the lectures were from all social levels and from all political directions, both religious and free-thinkers.

Teachers with a variety of beliefs taught the Tanach. A rabbi would teach and give an overall religious interpretation in his lecture. A maskil (adherent of the Haskalah) would lecture, explain the chapter with the use of the new exegetical methods. There was a lecture from a member of the free atheistic circles who interpreted the Tanach from a purely historical-cultural viewpoint.

It was most interesting that each lecturer's special point of view was listened to with tolerance and patience.

[Page 45]

These lectures began in 1937 and continued until the beginning of World War II.

* * *

In 1927, the Mizrachi initiated a religious Yavne folk-school. This school did not exist for long having closed after only two years.

* * *

Besides the folk-schools, there existed well-organized libraries in David-Horodok.

The teacher, S. Zagarodski organized a library for children and school youngsters even before 1905

In 1917, the Zionist organization in town founded a library which developed well. Unfortunately it was not active during World War I.

Following World War I, the libraries in David-Horodok developed vigorously. In 1925, the Po'alei Zion founded a library named for I.L. Peretz. In the last years prior to World War II, this was the only active library for adults in the town. There was a large library for the students at the Tarbus School. Publications with Zionist and literary themes always had a wide audience. There were also self-education groups in town sponsored by the various parties and youth movements.

*

David-Horodok also had a long-standing amateur drama group which would give performances from time-to-time. There had long been an inclination towards theatre and acting in David-Horodok. Even in the time of the 1905 revolution, such amateurs as I. Afiganden, I. Gottlieb and Helman would excel in readings from the masterpieces of Shalom Aleichem, Peretz, Bialik, Frishman, etc.

Later, a group of amateur artists were trained and they gave two or three performances each year for the Jewish populace.

After the 1917 Russian revolution and later after the Polish-Russian war, the drama circle developed somewhat further. Fresh forces arrived and they would give a serious performance from time-to-time. The proceeds of the performances were for various charitable purposes. At times, they would use a percentage of the revenues for a variety of purposes.

[Page 46]

In praise of the drama circle, it must be said that the amateurs had little interest in how to divide the money. They were only interested in artistic success.

In 1936, another youthful amateur group was founded. They gave several successful performances. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II ended the activities of both drama groups. It should also be mentioned that the children of the Tarbus School would give a successful annual performance under the leadership of their teacher.

* * *

David-Horodok also had a sport club, Hako'ah (The Strong) which developed a very good football team. The football team competed for a couple of years but it was disbanded after their best players made Aliya to Eretz Israel.

 

4. The Orphanage

David-Horodok was ruined and impoverished after World War I. The 'giant' which had begun its aide activity throughout Poland, also opened a branch in David-Horodok. One of the 'giant's' most important accomplishments was the founding of an orphanage in the town.

There were many orphans in town. There were 32 orphaned children up to the age of 14 who were kept in the orphanage which was founded in a comfortable dwelling with three bedrooms, a large dining room which doubled as a lecture hall and a large courtyard where the children played a variety of games. The orphanage was supplied with a good inventory such as comfortable beds, good bedcovers and a sufficient quantity of food and clothing. The food was good and the children were well fed and appeared healthy.

The entire maintenance of this house was paid for by the 'giant'. The local people could be of no assistance except for supplying teachers who worked without pay.

That was the situation until the Bolsheviks recaptured David-Horodok during the Polish-Bolshevik war. Then there was a radical change. The management of the orphanage was transferred to a branch of the social service organization of Revkom. They gave much advice but little practical help. There were no food reserves in town. The children became hungry and began to scatter.

When the Bolsheviks left town, they evacuated the entire inventory of the orphanage despite the protests of the David-Horodoker Jews.

[Page 47]

After the Polish-Bolshevik war, all efforts to re-establish the orphanage were unfortunately unsuccessful. Instead, an orphans' committee was founded which undertook to place the orphans in homes.

The chief priority was to enable them to learn a trade. Through the committee's efforts, the orphans were well cared for in private homes.

The money to support the work of the committee was raised by selling flowers (“flower days”), special campaigns and proceeds from performances of the drama circle. The main reason that the committee was able to exist was due to the support it received from the David-Horodoker Women's Committee of Detroit.

This support was achieved through Itzhak-Leib Zager who had personal family ties with America. Thanks to his concern, the committee received regular support from America throughout its existence.

The orphans' committee existed throughout the period of Polish rule in David-Horodok. In 1939, when David-Horodok was taken by the Bolsheviks, the orphans committee was closed along with all other institutions.

 

5. Bank and Credit Institutions

In David-Horodok as in all other Jewish communities, credit was a common problem. There were always Jews who needed cash for business purposes, for a child's wedding, to build a house or because of misfortune.

In by-gone days, there were the so-called usurers (The Yiddish word is vachernik because payment was due each week) who would loan money on a pledge and for considerable interest. Each Friday, the debtor would have to bring the usurer both the principal and the interest. The usurer was usually an influential Jew with considerable authority in the community. If the principal and interest were not paid on time, he would not hesitate to keep a pledge which might have been as much as ten times more valuable than the borrowed money. Understandably, going to the usurer was a last resort when there was no other way out.

When loan and savings offices began developing in Russia, one such office opened in David-Horodok and later, a second office as well. These two offices had the same purpose but had different names. One was named after the bookkeeper, Shlomo Razman's Office and the other was named after the bookkeeper, Pinye Sheinboim's Office. Many merchants had accounts in both offices.

[Page 48]

The offices enjoyed the complete faith of the populace and were entrusted with their savings. As a result, the offices had enough cash for loans to those needing them.

In 1909, the larger businessmen in David-Horodok founded a Merchants Bank under the management of Noah Grushkin. The bookkeeper was Meir Alpiner. The bank developed very well.

With the outbreak of World War I, all the financial institutions failed.

After World War I when David-Horodok went over to the Poles and normal life had resumed, another Merchants Bank was formed in 1923 under the management of M. Kviatni, and a Peoples' Bank was founded in 1924 under the management of S. Papish.

These banks developed very well and they were a significant factor in the economic life of the town. There was also a charity office in David-Horodok which gave free loans to small businessmen and hand-workers.

The charity office was managed by a committee headed by I. Gottlieb. This committee would control the requests and set the amounts of the loans.

 

6. Fire-fighters

One of the most useful institutions in town was the fire department which was 99% Jewish. David-Horodok, like all small towns, was composed of houses built out of wood and with thatched roofs. These often fell prey to fires. Fire, the unbidden and undesired guest, would pay a visit almost every summer and cause considerable distress. Homes were burnt as a result of a variety of mishaps: carelessness with fires, setting out a hot pressing iron, going out at night to the stable with a torch, throwing away unextinguished cigarettes, children playing with fire and arson.

Fire was a nightmare for the masses. Summer was the most beautiful and the most interesting time in the life of the town. However, it was often spoiled by the frequent fires. In many homes, they would pack up the valuables in summer and carry them away to one of the town's few brick houses which were fire-proof. An alternative was to keep the valuables at home in packs which would be easy to remove in case of fire.

In order to fight this plague and even in former times, a fire-fighters' brigade was established. The town administration then built a large station to hold the equipment and the

[Page 49]

water buckets. The town administrator levied a special chimney tax with which to finance the building of the station. The insurance companies also helped pay the expenditures.

Almost all the Jewish youth were enrolled in the fire-fighters brigade. They considered it a civic obligation to belong to the fire-fighters. Even though the Christian populace was in the greatest danger because of their thatched roof houses, only three or four were enrolled as fire-fighters.

In summertime, the fire-fighters would periodically hold drills. In the olden days, this was quite an event in the life of the town. Masai, the station watchman, would go around all the streets with a special bugle to signal that the fire-fighters should come out for the drill. The fire-fighters would put on their special uniforms and gather at the station which was in the centre of the town. After a few callisthenic exercises, one of them was secretly sent out into the streets to pick out a house which was supposedly burning. He would then give a signal and they would begin to “extinguish” the house. The fire-fighters would pick the house of someone against whom they bore a grudge. After the drill, the fire-fighters would have a beer.

After World War I, the fire-fighters brigade expanded. The town council allocated more money to enlarge the inventory and to teach the fire-fighters better techniques of extinguishing and especially containing the spread of fires. However, when a fire broke out during a wind or in the vicinity of thatched roofs, the fire-fighters were unable to localize the fire. That is what happened in 1936 when a fire broke out in mid-day in the Christian part of town. One third of the town, along with the Greek Orthodox Church on the hill, burnt down.

In the last years before World War II, the town administration directed the fire-fighters. The management remained in the hands of Jews. The most active managers were I. Yudovitch and M. Rimar.

 

7. The Municipal Government

The David-Horodok populace had the status of town citizens (called miatchonas with more political rights than the typical peasants) since the time of the Czars. They would vote every three years for a town council consisting of three persons: an elder (starosta) and two assistants. One of the assistants was a Jew. The election would take place as follows: each street voted for a representative and the street representatives would then vote for the elder and his two assistants.

This election process was far from democratic and those who wanted to be elected took advantage of family ties, neighbours

[Page 50]

8. The Kehilla

Unfortunately, we have no reference sources on the activities of the Jewish Kehilla in David-Horodok. There are no remaining books or documents either from the past or from the last years before the holocaust.

There was an organized Jewish kehilla in David-Horodok just as in all Polish-Lithuanian cities and towns. Until the last partition of Poland, the David-Horodok kehilla was linked to the Pinsk Great kehilla and they paid taxes to Pinsk.

We do not know how the kehilla was organized and when it became independent under the czarist authority. We know only of certain sources of revenue for the kehilla, for example: the karavka (a special tax) on meat; the selling of yeast which the kehilla gave as an exclusive concession to the rabbis and the hevrei-kedisha (burial society) which was supervised by the kehilla. The hevrei-kedisha was a well-organized and closed institution in which membership would pass by inheritance from father to son.

The First World War abolished everything and the various kehilla affairs were taken over haphazardly by individuals. One would take care of the bath-house and the mikve (ritual bath); another with the poorhouse and yet another with the cemetery.

The old cemetery lay at the edge of the Horin River and the water would often wash away parts of this cemetery. Every year, they would have to spend money to repair the holy ground. The expenses were covered by the hevrei-kedisha who had their own special source of revenue.

There was no official town rabbi in David-Horodok. There were several rabbis in town, about four or five in number, each supported by its own circle which had given it its rabbinical chair. From time-to-time, there were conflicts between the various sides especially when it came to dividing rabbinical funds which flowed in from general sources.

In 1917, after the Kerenski revolution, the first democratic election to the Jewish kehilla was held in David-Horodok through the initiative of the Zionist organizations. However, this kehilla could not accomplish anything because of the Bolshevik revolution and the disruptive transfer from power-to-power in war time.

In the first years of the Polish reign in David-Horodok, after the Polish-Bolshevik war, there was no Jewish kehilla in the town. The nominated town-council representatives served as semi-official agents of the kehilla. These were: Moshe Lachovski, Shlomo Katzman and Moshe-Yehuda Lipshitz.

[Page 51]

and good friends, with the Christians, a little whiskey helped. That is the way things were until the revolution of February, 1917. Then the town council was enlarged. However, as a result of the stormy revolutionary times and the frequent change-over of ruling powers, these elections were also not very democratic. When the Bolsheviks appeared in town they appointed a revolutionary committee (revkom) and the Poles appointed the town council. During the entire period that the Poles appointed the town council, the Jewish representatives were always the same: M. Lokovski, M.I. Lipshitz and S. Katzman.

The appointed town council managed the town until 1928. In that year, elections for town council were held throughout Poland and naturally in David-Horodok as well.

That was the very first democratic election for town council in the history of David-Horodok. The Jews took an active part in the election and it was a vigorously fought campaign. Eight Jews were elected representing 40% of the town council. They were: Dr. Schalkver, M.I. Lipshitz, M. Lokovski, I. Yudovitch, R. Mishalov, S. Reznick, H. Tsipin and I. Lipshitz.

The Jews' hope that they could use the town treasury to support the Jewish institutions was shattered. Every proposal suggested by the Jews to give financial aid to the Tarbus School, the Jewish libraries or even the orphan committee, were rejected by the Christian representatives and the one Pole who was the chief representative.

The only Jewish operated institution that received a subsidy from the town council was the fire department. This was because it served the Christian populace as well.

The town council did finance the Polish public schools in town, paved the main road and built the power station in 1929, providing light in the houses until 12hr midnight.

When the term of office ended for the town council, new elections were not held. The reactionary movement had strengthened in Poland and the government was not interested in new elections. The result was that an agreement was reached without an election and a new town council took office with only six Jews: Dr. Schalkver, I. Yudovitch, M. Kviatni, D. Riemar, M. Lokovski and S. Mishalov.

By then, the town council had no power because the actual town authority was the district administrator in Staline.

During the scant two years (end of 1939 to June, 1941) of the Soviet rule in David-Horodok, there was no elected town council. It was run by appointed Bolsheviks sent by the communist party.

[Page 52]

As a result of a Polish government decree, elections were held for the Jewish kehillas in 1928. However, the election ordinances were quite reactionary. Only those over the age of 25 had voting rights and those over 30 only had a passive right. Women had no voice at all. The jurisdiction of the kehilla was severely restricted so that it had no responsibilities except for rabbinical matters, the bath-house and the cemetery.


Years of Turbulence and Death

1. The Eve of War

What will be? Will the efforts of the world's statesmen avert war? Will the great world powers such as England, the Soviet Union, America and France not succeed in curbing the Hitleristic appetite nor will the world really be flung into a dreadful slaughter? These questions travelled from mouth-to-mouth in the early summer months of 1939. The tension grew from day-to-day. The situation became more strained from minute-to-minute. The air smelled of gun powder. Here and there shines a ray of hope and everyone walks around with optimistic smiles on their faces; and just as suddenly, the sky clouds over and the people walk around worried and gloomy all over again.

What will be? So the David-Horodokers ask one another. They listen to the radio day and night, clasping at information from the entire world. They search for a ray of hope but the next day invariably demonstrates the increasing hopelessness of the situation.

Presently, there is a breakdown in the talks between the Soviet Union and the western powers and then comes the astounding information with regards the Ribbentrof-Molotov treaty.

[Page 53]

A mobilization was declared in Poland. The question that occupied people's minds was not whether there would be a war, of that they were sure, but they asked only when it would break out! One waited with fear and dread of that unfortunate day. Who know what that day would bring with it?

 

2. The Polish-German War

Friday, September 1, 1939. The announcement came over the radio like thunder. At dawn, the Nazi military forces had crossed the German-Polish border and attacked Poland without a prior declaration of war.

David-Horodoker Jews could not sit still in their homes. Wherever one turned, there were groups of people with questioning looks and worried faces, talking about the great misfortune. Intuition predicted that the outcome would not be good. Who knows? Who knows how it will end?

The town was proclaimed on war status. At night, all windows were to be shaded so that no light could be seen from the outside. The electric street lamps were no longer lit. Darkness ruled the streets in the evenings, just like the darkness in Jewish hearts, both night and day.

Economic life in the town died down immediately. They soon began to have shortages of products, the first being salt and matches.

One day passed and then another. There was no pleasing news from the front. The Polish army was retreating. Entire armies were surrounded by the German military forces. Rumours spread of betrayal by Polish military leaders. There were reports of extraordinary espionage involving highly-placed Polish personalities. Despite the boasting on the Polish radio, one felt that the decayed demoralized card-house was collapsing.

One sought a ray of hope, waiting impatiently for England and France to honour their pledges and come to the aid of the Polish army.

September 3, 1939. Everyone's face lightens. A ray of light and hope appears. England and France declare war against Germany. Everyone imagines that now the situation will change. From now on, the German military will suffer defeats. Unfortunately, these hopes vanish. The murderous Nazi hordes advance and the Polish military is crushed. Soon, Warsaw is surrounded; then the Germans are in Bialystok, Grodno and Brisk. Hundreds of Jewish refugees begin to arrive in town. They describe the horrors of the war. They fear the day when the Germans will enter David-Horodok. The heart portends evil.

[Page 54]

What will be? From where will salvation come? How can we save ourselves? September 17, 1939. Rumours begin circulating that the Red army has crossed the Soviet-Polish border in order to free the western region of White Russia and the Ukraine.

Is this really true or is it, perish the thought, only a rumour? Every Jew wants with his entire being for the news to be true. They were afraid to talk about it too loudly while the Polish authority was still in town. They waited impatiently for the day that the Red army would march into David-Horodok.

No small matter. They would, at the same time, be rid of the hated anti-Semitic fascist Polish government as well as avert the great danger of a certain death under the rule of the Nazi murderers.

The Poles began leaving David-Horodok, retreating towards the west, certain that the Red army was advancing from the east. On the night of September 10 to the 19th, the Polish military detachments that were stationed at the Polish-Soviet border began to withdraw.

The Jews of David-Horodok did not sleep the entire night. They were afraid of acts of vengeance by the Polish detachments on the Jewish population. Fortunately, the Poles retreated without causing any harm to the Jews.

At dawn on September 19, after all their detachments had crossed the Horin River which divided the town in two, the Poles tore down the bridge and they set up barricades on the other side of the river. Right behind them came the assault forces of the Red army. At the river there was a brief exchange of fire between the two sides. One Red army man was shot to death and another wounded. The Poles quickly retreated. A Soviet sapper detachment quickly set up a pontoon bridge over the river and the Red army troops continued on their way.

 

3. Under Soviet Rule (September 1939 to June 1941)

Without question, September 19, 1939 was the happiest day in the lives of the David-Horodoker Jews in the course of the last several years. After the shooting between the Poles and the Red army detachments had ended, the entire Jewish population (and not only the Jews) came out into the streets with happy smiling faces and they received the Red army detachments that had unceasingly attacked from east to west.

Young and old, small and large, man and wife – all stood on the sidewalks of the main street through which the army troops passed. With smiling faces and waving hands, they greeted the Red army men. The Red army men, in turn, greeted the inhabitants in a friendly manner. [Page 55]

One is reminded of how a high officer, who was at the head of a detachment, noticed the elderly Velvel Raishkes who stood with the others on the sidewalk. He called to him with the following: “Nada zhit staritchak, nada zhit!” (we must live old man, we must live).

What an enthusiastic response these few words brought. That day, everyone was simply intoxicated with joy and happiness.

In the afternoon, a meeting was held under the free sky and the representatives of the Red army made speeches in which they pledged a free and blissful life for the inhabitants of the freed regions of West White Russia and West Ukraine. “Oppression, people-hatred and poverty will no longer be the destiny of the freed brotherly people of West Ukraine and West White Russia. Henceforth, they will work under status, freedom, brotherhood and love and they will work under the rays of the sun of the greater folk-leader, comrade Stalin”. That was the quintessence of the speeches which were held at that meeting.

Understandably, the chief celebrants who acted as if they were the hosts were the few Jewish Communists in town who were joined by several miatchanes of David-Horodok.

All day and until late at night, everyone stayed in the streets conversing with the Red army men about how the Poles had suppressed the national minorities and especially the Jews.

They were astonished at the approachability and simplicity of the Red army men. They were impressed by their thoughtfulness and sympathetic expressions and they were thus even more encouraged by their promises and reassurances that from then on, the Jews would no longer know of such trouble.

On the night of September 19, 1939, the Jews of David-Horodok slept peacefully, blissfully and full of hope for a brighter future.

The first weeks of life under the Soviet authority began in David-Horodok. By edit, all the businesses were re-opened and people began besieging them trying to stock up on clothing, footwear, produce, etc. Especially conspicuous was the attitude of the vastatshnikas which was the name given to the arriving Soviet citizens. They went from shop-to-shop buying everything they laid their eyes on, paying whatever price was asked. They would come away from the shops with large bundles.

[Page 56]

At first, it was thought that they didn't bargain because they were accustomed to the fixed prices of the government stores. However, no one could understand why they bought so much. Gradually, it became apparent that they could not obtain these things at home. This brought on an even greater buying spree.

The Polish zloty became of equal value to the Soviet rubble so that the zloty was not annulled and remained as currency. The town authority was in the hands of local communist activists. The Soviets allowed them to run things in the first few months. About 6-7 Jewish and 3-4 Christian communist activists dominated the town during the course of the first few months.

These few communist activists inscribed a sad chapter in the history of the town: on the one hand, because of their denunciation to the NKGB (Soviet security organization) and subsequent arrest of the majority of the Zionist workers in town, and on the other hand, because of their inciting the majority of the Horodtchukas against the entire Jewish population.

In the meantime there were many meetings, entertainment evenings and theatre performances and the youth did not have a bad time. As a result of the large stream of refugees from greater Poland, the Jewish population of the town swelled, reaching some 7-8000.

Slowly the holiday mood dissipated and people began to think about a livelihood especially since the reserve of supplies was depleted prematurely. There were no fixed Soviet undertakings or bureaus as yet and there were no jobs either. So people began bartering.. Both Jews and Christians began trading. Everything was an item of trade: salt, cigarettes, matches, produce, clothing, shoes, etc.

There was a unique trade in Polish zloty. Inasmuch as the zloty was also currency in the part of Poland occupied by the Germans and was then worth more than the rubble, here they would exchange two or three rubbles for each zloty on the black-market and then, they would smuggle the zloty to the German side. The refugees from greater Poland were particularly adept at this business. They would, themselves, smuggle back and forth across the Soviet-German border.

[Page 57]

The situation of almost free trade existed until the end of 1939. In the meantime, the Soviets arrested and exiled several Polish families who had not escaped in time with the Polish army. A Jewish family from a border village was also exiled and a, till-then, Christian communist activist was arrested.

Over ten Jewish youngsters from town secretly left David-Horodok and reached Vilna which the Soviets had ceded to Lithuania. Their goal was to go from there to Eretz Israel.

In November 1939, there were two conferences in Bialystok and Lemberg attended by elected deputies of west-Belorussia and west Ukraine. They decided to turn to the Vairkavni-Soviet (the highest chamber of deputies) with the request to officially annex the regions of west-Belorussia and west Ukraine to the Soviet Union.

They prepared for over a month to arrange these elections with meetings, assemblies and entertainment evenings. Special propagandists taught the people the Soviet constitution. The elections arrived with great pomp and a holiday atmosphere.

David-Horodok elected two deputies to the Bialystok (Belorussia) conference, a Jew and a Christian. Understandably, they were communist activists who were appointed by the Soviet authority.

These were the first elections in David-Horodok during the Soviet reign. Already at these elections, one saw the enmity of the Horodtchukas for the communist authorities and the wild and blind hatred for the Jewish populace of David-Horodok.

Counting the ballots later, they found notes with the following inscriptions: “Down with the Soviet rule”, “Death to the Bolsheviks and the Jews” and “Long live Hitler”, etc.

Gradually the Soviets began to arrange and organize a normal life in the Soviet manner. All the local communist activists who had run the town until then were replaced by imported Soviet citizens.

The town president, the police chief, the leaders of the various economic, cultural and social institutions were all replaced by vastatchnikas. Also, the other, more-or-less, responsible posts were occupied by Soviet citizens.

The heretofore local communist town leaders were then employed in second rank posts and they were used by the NKGB to give information about each and every inhabitant.

These local communist activists willingly took on this “honourable” mission, transforming into simple informers, devising false accusations against their victims.

[Page 58]

The first result of their calumny was the dismissal of certain people from their posts because of their social origin. Naturally, the Jews were the first in line to be affected along with a few rich Horodtchukas who were not overlooked. This action was called “nationalization”. The larger businesses and enterprises such as tanneries, sawmill, flour mills, etc., were nationalized. The finat diel (financial department) took these over and the Jewish communist activists managed the work with great zeal.

Understandably the nationalized Hordotchukas figured that the Jews were most to blame for this and hate for the Jews grew from day-to-day. They would say that a day would come when they would “pay back” the Jews in full.

However, life in town began to normalize. All three tanneries in town united and a single, large tannery was created employing over one hundred workers. Next to the tannery, a shoe factory was founded which employed over one hundred and fifty shoe workers.

The saw mill with its building enterprises which previously had belonged to Mocha Rimar, was enlarged and employed over 400 workers. Various cooperatives were organized. All the various Soviet organizations and institutions began to function. A full-blooded and intensive life began to pulse in the economic domain.

There was also an intensification of work in the field of culture. The schools resumed their classes. Instead of the two previous Polish public schools, two intermediate schools were organized; one in the Belorussian language and the other in Russian. The Hebrew Tarbus School was transformed into a Yiddish-speaking school.

All the existing libraries in David-Horodok were united following which, all exceptional books were confiscated and replaced solely by Soviet publications in Russian, Belorussian and a few in the Yiddish language.

For the first time in the history of David-Horodok, a hospital was established with a special maternity ward. Women no longer had to give birth at home but instead, had a well-organized hospital with careful medical supervision.

For the first time in the history of David-Horodok, there was a permanent movie theatre established in which the newest films were shown each evening. Needless to say, the theatre was packed every night.

They were proceeding to build a large, modern-designed culture house with halls for lectures, performances, recreation, etc.

[Page 59]

The majority of the David-Horodoker inhabitants settled down to work. A bare minimum took to speculation.

In order to frighten speculators, they arranged a show trial for the David-Horodoker, Herzl Zipin, who was caught speculating with wurst and he was sentenced to four years in prison. This sentence made a strong impression on the town's inhabitants.

However, life flowed on as the Jews began to adapt to the new regime, not looking at the shortages in produce, clothing and footwear. The situation was calm and more or less normal until summer of 1940 when there was a political arrest.

Yosef Yudovitch was arrested. He was the son of Baytzl Yudovitch who was shot along with two Christian citizens at the time of the Bolshevik revolution during the punishment expedition. This first political arrest shook up the Jewish population of David-Horodok and its forecast of eventual further arrests.

Many people were then called up by the NKGB for “a talk”. Later, these people never said what the conversation was about. Shortly after the detention of Yosef Yudovitch, Lazar Rankin was also arrested. He was the owner of a tannery that was nationalized by the Soviet government. Immediately after him, they arrested Yanye (Yosef) Baruhin, a revisionist worker.

The mood of the Jews was very depressed. They understood that the NKGB used not only the local communist activists but also other disguised local agents and informants who gave them information concerning every single town inhabitant.

In reality, there were those in town, including also upstanding and elderly Jews who worked along with the NKGB, giving them information and carrying out their assignments.

In order to solicit these informants, the NKGB used the following device: They would call in someone who was above suspicion, who was subject to become an informer, reckon up his former sins and propose that he be rehabilitated by working with them for a period of time. In case of refusal, he was told that he must suffer for his sins and be arrested. Understandably, without thinking of the outcome of this conversation, the summoned individual would have to sign an oath that no one, not even his closest, must know about what the NKGB had discussed with him.

Unfortunately, there were those who surrendered to the threats and accepted the proposed “work”. Thus, there were amongst the informers, people of various ages, political hues and social strata. No one knew for sure who was working with the NKGB and, therefore, everyone was suspect at being a possible agent. This mutual suspicion resulted in the fear of speaking a word in front of others.

[Page 60]

The culmination of these political arrests came on the night of February 10, 1941 when ten workers were arrested. They were: Haim Barantchuk, Yasha Yudovitch, Berl Rimar and Shia Cantor who were leaders of the General Zionists: Schmuel Tchatchik, Arke Lipshitz, Kapl Moravtchik and Berl Kaftan, one of the most capable Po'alei Zion workers, and Berl Kaftan, one of the most capable of the, till-then, communist activists who was charged with working for the Polish security organization.

These arrests had a shocking effect on the David-Horodoker Jews. No one was sure of his safety. The still-free Zionist workers anticipated further arrests and waited fearfully for their turn. There was a mood of panic in town. People would avoid passing the building containing the NKGB bureaus. This building cast terror on the inhabitants. Who knew how many more victims it would swallow up?

Gloom and dread befell everyone. Several Zionist workers left the town and moved to other places where no one knew them. People stopped attending organizations. Everyone spent the after-work time in the narrow circle of their family.

During this time, several Horodtchukas were also arrested.

The outcome of the political arrests of the thirteen David-Horodoker Jews is as follows: Five men: Shmuel Tchatchik, Yosef Yudevitch, Artchik Moravtchik, Mandl Kravtchick and Kapl Moravtchich (now Yakov Moor) are now in Israel. Shia Cantor is in Poland and Kaftan is in America. Lazar Rankin escaped from the prisoner transport deep in Russia. He returned to David-Horodok where he was killed with all the David-Horodoker Jews. Five men: Haim Barantchuk, Yanye Baruhin, Yashe Yudovitch, Arke Pipshitz and Berl Rimar starved to death in the various Soviet prison camps. Honour their memory!

* * *

Despite the fear and dread, there were no further political arrests or exiles until just before the German-Soviet war. As things began to quieten down, a new mood of alarm emerged, far more horrible than detention by the NKGB. Rumours began to spread about the eventual possibility of war between Germany and the Soviet Union. The fear of this eventuality was unusually intense. The town's Christian population, the Horodtchukas, became self-confident and waited impatiently for the day when the Germans would march into town. It became apparent that they were preparing for vengeance.

Then there began the movement of large Red army detachments from east to west, giving the impression that war was approaching at giant steps. Just before the outbreak of war, several Jewish families were arrested and exiled.

On June 22, 1941, Hitler's hordes treacherously attacked the Soviet Union without a declaration of war and thereby began the sad and horrible end of the Jews of David-Horodok.


Destruction and Holocaust

by I. Lipshitz

There was great panic. The Jews were frightened to death. The Horodtchukas were confident. The Soviet authorities in town were agitated.

The town's youth were quickly mobilized. However, not everyone was taken into the army. Those who had unacceptable social status were later released.

German airplanes appeared over the town and although they dropped no bombs, they created a terrible panic. The German troops continued onward with immense power. The Red army retreated in disarray and confusion. The Soviet town leaders began evacuating.

Hundreds of Jewish youth and entire families fled to the previous Soviet-Polish border with the aim of evacuating to Russia in order to escape the murderous hands of the Nazi. Unfortunately, they encountered a strong Soviet guard at the old border that only let those with special permits to pass. The remainder were not allowed to cross over and they were forced to return to David-Horodok. The Soviet town authorities were also sent back with orders to remain until the last minute.

The Germans had already captured Pinsk, Luniniatz, Lakve and Mikoshavitch but they had not yet entered David-Horodok. The town was in fact without a government. David-Horodok was not captured because it was not near a railroad line or a highway. The Horodtchukas could not wait until the German came and on their own accord, they sent a delegation led by the feldsher (medical worker) Maraiko to the German military authority in Pinsk, requesting that the Germans speed up their arrival in the town. They thereby declared the willingness of the Horodtchukas to work alongside with the Germans. They wished to make a quick end to the Jewish population of David-Horodok.

[Page 62]

The delegation returned please with the “positive” results which they had achieved. After the return of the delegation, the rumour was spread that the Red army had begun assaulting and repelling the Germans. The delegation was terrified and they fled back to Pinsk. Unfortunately, in a couple of days, the news was proven false and the delegation returned to the town accompanied by the Germans.

That same day, the Horodtchukas, led by the above-mentioned Maraiko, the brother Tonio and Liovo Kosorev, Kulogo, Yavplov and others, arranged a meeting under the open sky in honour of the “great historical day”. The Germans gave over the civil authority into the hands of the Horodtchukas, appointing Maraiko as town mayor and Liovo Kosorev as commander of the civil police. The Jews were ordered to wear the Star of David.

On the 16th of Av, 5701, an order was delivered that a six o'clock the next morning, all Jewish men over the age of 14 were to gather at the market place opposite the Catholic Church, taking shovels with them. It was implied that they would take them to work.

Early the next morning, the Jews began assembling at the market place which was surrounded by armed German SS troops and many Horodtchukas. After all had gathered, the Horodtchukas spread around town checking for hold-outs.

The brothers Issur and Hershl Gurvitch, who were found in a hiding place, had their eyes gouged out while being taken to the market place.

All those gathered at the market place were led away on foot by a strongly armed SS detachment, accompanied by hundreds of Horodtchukas to Hinavsk, a village seven kilometres from David-Horodok. There, the graves had already been prepared.

Surrounded on all sides by artillery and machine guns, every single man was shot to death. The cries and the screams of the unfortunate victims carried through the air and reached as far as David-Horodok.

The gathered Horodtchukas had fulfilled a triple mission: they made sure that no one fled from the field; they removed the gold rings, watches, clothing, shoes, and boots and even tore out gold teeth. Finally, they carried out the job of throwing the victims into the graves, not looking to see if they were really dead or still half alive.

[Page 63]

Only two children succeeded in escaping unnoticed from that frightful slaughter. Wandering through the fields, they joined a partisan group and thus survived.

* * *

In town, the second part of the frightful tragedy took place. After the men were led out of town to the slaughter, the women and small children were ordered to leave David-Horodok within an hour.

The few men who had succeeded in hiding out and did not go out to the “work”, among them Rabbi Moshele, Haim Moravtchik and others, changed into women's clothing and they went along with all the women and children. However, there were Horodtchukas at the bridge checking for disguised men among the women. All the disguised men were recognized by the Horodtchukas. They were brutally beaten and then thrown from the bridge into the river. Thus a group of several thousand women and children set out on a horrible path of wandering, not knowing where to go.

They wandered for two weeks over fields, roads and trails. Not one town would take them in despite the efforts of the local Jews. Only a few dozen women and children succeeded in getting accommodations with relatives in the surrounding towns of Lakve, Staline and Luniniatz. The remainder kept wandering for two weeks, suffering hunger, cold and the hatred of the peasants who would beat and rape them.

During those two weeks, all the deserted Jewish homes with their possessions were pillaged. Many Jewish houses were dismantled by peasants from surrounding villages, bringing them back in pieces to their own villages. The Horodtchukas moved into many of the houses.

After two weeks of wandering, the women and children returned to the gates of David-Horodok which “deigned” to receive them. It was understood that they were no longer permitted in their own homes and a ghetto was created for them on a few streets where there were gentile hovels. This ghetto existed for a year. In the course of that year, more than half died from epidemics, 'accidental homicides' and starvation. Officially the ghetto inhabitants received 100grs of bread per person per day, but, in fact, no bread at all was distributed at least two days a week.

After a year of extraordinary suffering and frightful existence, all those women and children still alive, including three or four grown men such as Z.B. Velvl Kushner, whom the Germans spared from the slaughter of the men because he was an expert in the repair of new machines, were led out on a certain day (unfortunately the date is unknown) to the same place where the men had been murdered the previous year, and they too were shot to death.

[Page 64]

Thus ended the close to 500 year existence of the Jewish community of David-Horodok.

* * *

During the three-year Nazi occupation of David-Horodok, a partisan group paid almost daily 'visits' to David-Horodok causing such damage to the Germans and many headaches to the Horodtchukas.

The partisans burnt almost all the Jewish houses in town so that the Horodtchukas would not benefit from Jewish possessions. They blew up the town's power station. From time-to-time, they raided the town, killing both Germans and Horodtchukas. They kept the town under tension throughout the entire period.

In this partisan group, there was a Jewish girl (whose name and fate are unfortunately not known), who was distinguished by her extraordinary courage and dare. In every partisan raid, she was always the first to go in and the last to withdraw. With her heroic deeds, she threw terror into the Germans and the Horodtchukas and at the same time gave courage to her partisan comrades.

* * *

In 1944, the Red army freed David-Horodok of the murderous Nazi occupation. Unfortunately, there was no longer a living Jew in the town. A few dozen leaders of the Horodtchukas fled along with the German army.

Several of the Jews were saved because they were in the Soviet Union during the war: Hershl Korman and his two sons, Nita and Motas, now in Israel; Itzl Nahmanovitch, now in the U.S.A.; Mandl Krovtchik, now in Israel and after the liberation visited David-Horodok encountering a ravaged and scorched town without one living Jew and an immense common grave where the tortured David-Horodok Jews rested.

In every Horodtchuka house, they found Jewish furniture and possessions. In the market place, the Horodtchukas sold Jewish clothing with kaftans. The Horodtchuka women wore kerchiefs made of Jewish prayer shawls.

However, they all had nothing to say. They laid the entire guilt on the Germans and the escaped leaders of the Hordotchukas. They themselves “know nothing”, “regretful”, “was not in the town at the time”, “also suffered from the Germans” and in a word: entirely innocent sheep – almost martyrs!

* * *

Today, there is not one Jew in David-Horodok. The saving remnant is mostly in Israel. Several remained in the Soviet Union, some in Poland and a few immigrated to America.

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Davyd-Haradok, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2022 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 6 Nov 2015 by MGH