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From Childhood Years
– David Horodok 50 Years Ago

by Motl Slotzki, New York

It is difficult to say how David-Horodok differed much from other small towns, stuck in the deep marshes of Polesye. They had the same style houses, streets, schools, shops, market place and the same livelihoods, troubles, cares and sorrows.

David-Horodok produced no famous men by whose merit a permanent light could be kindled in the history of Belorussian Jewry. Kaidonov was renowned for the Kaidonover Rebbe – Avraham Reizin. Staline had acquired a reputation with the Staliner Rebbe. However, David-Horodok had no such luck. But, for those born and raised in David-Horodoker, the town had a permanent charm. The miatchinas would say: “Horodok solodok” – a sweet town.

Even having departed as a youth, as did mot David-Horodokers who now live in America, one still carries a longing in his heart for the old home. No matter what different memories and impressions that each David-Horodoker brought with him from his childhood years, everyone carried an exceptional love and memory for the Horin River which flowed through the middle of town.

Not Ydovitch's wall, not the market place, the Olshoner Street, the marshes, the Alpiner Street, the Valamitcher Street, the school yard or the various streets and by-ways round about, not the hill but only the river will be the subject of the first encounter and greeting: “from which side of the river did you come from?”

Wherever destiny takes you, whether to hot desert sands or to the shores of the Pacific or Atlantic, if you were born and raised in David-Horodok, the river will follow you wherever you go the rest of your life and take a prominent place in your memories.

The Horin River is the true “woman of valour”. She is the nourisher and supplier of almost the entire town. She makes many rich and others poor. For one, it tears up his yard and cattle stall, and for another on the opposite shore, it deposits soil for an orchard and garden. The river carries ships, barges, rafts and steamers. It fills the fishermen's nets with the finest fish. It breeds flocks of geese whose meat and fat feed the town's inhabitants and whose down softens their bed covers.

How beautiful the river is in the summer time. On its shores there is ceaseless activity, both day and night.

Here they build the magnificent ships. Piles of lumber go on ships to distant Prussia. The two small steamers: Viun and Strakaza are going – one to Nirtcha and the other to Vidivar-Staline. The steamers are the pleasant intermediaries between David-Horodok and the outside world.

In the summer, we swim and play in and around the river. We walk along the large wooden bridge. We run to greet the incoming steamer even if there is no one that we are waiting for.

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At night, the town's youngsters strolled along the riverbank behind Mordechai Selig's orchard in Tchipovski Street, from there around the church hill, along the dirt path to the Kvuarsker windmill and on to the marshes.

We remember the town in its prosperous times. Famous for their wealth were such affluent men as: Ydovitch, the Bragmans, Lipman Lodatzki, Aharon-Leib of Arli, Leibke Grushkin, Pesah Yashkes and many more. They were the 'eastern wall' Jews of the 'great' and rich man's' synagogues.

The greatest imprint on David-Horodok was left by Yudovitch. He had done much traveling in the outside world and he brought back European fashion to David-Horodok. He was less concerned with Europeanizing David-Horodok, as for example Peter the Great with Moscow, as he was interested in making improvements in the town.

I see before my eyes the two things that he built. Yudovitch's two-story brick building with the spread-eagle wings on both sides contained walled shops on half the street, the Amalia Hotel and a large orchard surrounded by a brick wall which gave the building the appearance of a medieval baron's castle. A small bridge behind the orchard led to Zladayavka. Yudovitch also built the Great Synagogue in the school yard with great style and taste. It would have suited a German city rather than a town in the Polesye marshes. Yudovitch's masonry on the Alpiner Road produced bricks impressed with the letters “YU”. The beautiful idyllic water mill, called the Alpiner mill, was an ideal model for a landscape painter. Lastly, there was Yudovitch himself, a tall-frame and a well-fed belly; his stern and lordly face with cold sharp grey eyes. He had pointed and thinly twisted whiskers which reminded people of the Baron Hirsch Ginsberg with his top-hat and thick cane with a staghorn handle.

Yudovitch's time faded away and the Bragmans emerged on the scene with the berlina business. The berlinas transported products from Polesye and Belorussia to the Ukraine and Great Russia and from the banks of the Dnieper back to Polesye.

The Bragmans built their warehouses from David-Horodok to Kramantchug and Yakaterinoslov. The berlinas transported wheat flour from Kiev, Poltova and Karkov; sugar, salt, barley grain, oil, coal and many other products over the waters of the Pripyet and Dnieper until their very ends.

Their tugboat steamer 'Montefiore' would visit the town once a year. In the fall, before winter froze the river, the steamboat would tow a long line of high-bellied berlinas and leave them for the winter on the banks of the Horin River opposite Mache Rimar's dock where they were built.

With the berlinas came the owners, Yosel, Yankel and Motel Bragman. Their expensive skunk furs line with cat skin gave a special dignity to the eastern wall of the Great Synagogue. Even the Slonimer rabbi

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with his long, red beard, in his nook next to the ark, acquired a certain distinction with the arrival of the Bragmans. Their time also passed and quickly faded. All that remained of them was the glory of Yosel Bragman's beautiful daughters: Gold Rayne, Shifra Sarke and the prettiest of them all, Rivkele Bragman.

The subsequent tycoons who followed theYudovitchs and the Bragmans, such as Leibke Grushkin, Pesah Yashkes, Lipman Liadetzki and a few lesser people, were already Jews whose possessions were no longer as lavish as their predecessors.

New winds began blowing over Russia and they were also felt in our out-of-the-way town.

* * *

The turbulent months of the 1905 revolutionary upheaval pass through my mind like a kaleidoscope. The almost unlimited power of the wealthy disappeared. One then had to deal with the Eseravtzes, Iskravtzes and Bundavtzes.

After a while when the youth realized that they would never attain the right of direct and secret ballot, they resolved to leave the town. They began the great mass immigration to America after the Russian-Japanese war.

Except for Mordecai Loptshavon who would on no account, leave David-Horodok, all the other 'brothers and sisters' began to leave the town. The town became impoverished and, if not for the help of the sons and daughters in far-off America, they would have starved to death.

No longer were the songs and laughter of the Jewish youth heard along the banks of the river on summer nights. The orphaned ships stood tied up at the river docks. As a boy or a girl grows up, they go off to America.

An echo of the horrible pogroms which had raged through the length and breadth of the Jewish cities and towns in Russia also reached David-Horodok. A Horodoker miatchene named Zuchter murdered with an axe an entire Jewish family of seven souls in the nearby village of Arli. The murder was carried out at night when everyone was asleep. Terror fell on the town and the surrounding villages. Everyone prepared for pogroms and the horrible murder was regarded as a 'down-payment'.

I remember as though it were now, the frightful funeral; the wagons with the massacred bodies and the blood-soaked bed clothes. That tragic night with the wagons and bodies is engraved in my memory to this day, like a horrible nightmare.

* * *

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David-Horodok had many labourers, butchers, teamsters and, of course, peddlers, shopkeepers, fishmongers, brokers and religious article dealers.

In those days, the butcher carts stood in the middle of the market place where the church now stands. The sticks fastened to the edges of the stands on which hung the carts made the market place similar to a garden of babbling.

I can hear even now the clamour, cursing, screaming, the dull clang of the cleavers in the butcher stalls and the wild skirmishing of the dogs for a bone, a piece of meat or for a first claim at the butcher stall.

The butchers would come into our house for the evening prayers. Instead of a towel or handkerchief, they would use the window curtains to wipe their hands. After they had finished praying and left the house, the curtains remained hanging like pressed-together horses tails. However, we couldn't complain too much because had they wished to wipe themselves on the lapels of their kaftans or on the sleeves of their jackets, they would on no account have succeeded. Their hands, covered with fat and blood would slide off their clothing and remain as wet as ever.

Saturday night they would come to our house in order to settle up the jointly-owned merchandize that they would purchase and slaughter during the week. The large black table in the dining room was covered with chalk marks of lines and circles. The corner of a half-circle was erased with a finger and a cat's ear placed above it. Such was the arithmetic which only the butchers understood. Often there would be a sudden shouting and dispute which would end in a fist fight. When they fought, they were not joking. They would try to hit each other on the full body and more than one butcher came away with a bruised chest and a nasty cough.

My father would buy the hides and the un-kosher meat from the butchers and sent it to the regiment for the soldiers. Teamsters were frequent visitors in our house. They would transport the hides and the meat to the ships, steamboats and the train at Lakve.

The teamsters were divided into groups. Each group had a monopoly on a certain route. Thus there were: 'Lakver' teamsters; 'Staliner', 'Turover' and 'Pinsker' teamsters. One group would not trespass in another's territory. Besides these, there were 'market teamsters'. They would make deliveries from the wholesalers to the shops such as a sack of flour or a cask of gasoline, or they would transport a Jew to a neighbouring village.

The town's butchers and teamsters were not what you would call 'eastern wall sitters'. For that reason, they were the only ones who were respected by the town and village gentiles.

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If a gentile became drunk and unruly towards a Jew, whether in a tavern or in the market place, it was enough for Exra, the butcher, to come over and lay his huge butcher hand on the nape of the gentile's neck and all became quiet and peaceful.

At the time when they anticipated pogroms in town, the butchers and teamsters comprised the greatest part of the self-defence organization. The teamsters prepared themselves with cleavers, revolvers and lead pipes. They had resolved that in case of a pogrom, the gentiles would pay dearly for such an endeavour and they would no longer start up with the Jews. The end result was that, despite the incitement of the priests, the gentiles did not venture to start a fight.

David-Horodok was rich in smiths who were divided into various categories. There were smiths who worked in ship-building at Mahe Rimar's dock. They made skobkes, zhobkes, yarshes with heads like loaves of bread and shvaranes for the rudders. There were those who made bells for the horses, knives for the gentiles, knives for the house, cleavers, door handles, hinges and iron doors for walled stores and cellars. There were smiths who only worked with copper. I remember one of them, Eizel the smith. Besides his work at the forge, he was an outstanding bal tefilla (prayer leader). There were other smiths who would also belong to the burial society and catch a drink of whiskey at a burial, which was almost a daily event in town. Even in normal times, the town had more funerals than marriages. Fortunately, David-Horodoker women understood the situation and tried to compensate for the losses. A David-Horodoker woman who had no more than half-dozen children was considered barren.

The town carpenters would work with copperware. They would travel on the roads and sell the copper work and chests to the peasants. However, most of the carpenters produced furniture, doors, windows and other household items.

In normal times, drillers and sawyers worked at Mahe Rimar's dock building barges. Other than this, they usually worked for the town only after a fire. Fires were frequent occurrences in our town and, if occasionally a fire was a little delayed, there were those who would 'invite' this 'guest'.

Cobblers worked both for high-style and for second-rate. There were those fancy shoemakers who worked with very expensive leathers and other who worked with cowhide.

The tailors were also divided into categories. There were tailors for the wealthy and for the poor. There even were those who hardly earned the grain to put in the water for barley soup. The poor tailors earned their livelihood by remaking the clothing of older people for youngsters, from women's garments to men's, etc.

There were hat makers who sewed caps, one of whom I cannot forget to this day. Besides being a hat maker, he served as the 'town clock'. When one heard Moshe the hat maker's coughing as he came from the market place even before the cock had crowed, you knew that it was time for Jews to get

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up for the first minyon.

The only Jewish packer in town was Elye, son of Aharon Moshe the doctor. The old father Aharon also helped work in the yard. They would make various containers including long barrels in which they would pack red raspberries which the peasants would gather by the thousands of pounds in the forests of Polesye each fall season.

Masons and some cobblers had extra jobs to supplement their incomes. Thus, several cobblers were at the same time the town musicians. The “musician of musicians” had to supplement his income by working as a barber and photographer. The clarinettist of the band was a mason. The small trumpet, the large trumpet and the drummer would make the shoes for the bride and groom before playing at their wedding. The drummer also helped to carry shalak mones (Purim gifts), act as caller, etc.

The watchmaker also occupied with the production of galoshes. Once he was almost burnt to death when the gasoline suddenly ignited.

David-Horodok was rich in rabbis and ritual slaughterers, almost as many as Mazir or even Pinsk. No town was more renowned than David-Horodok for starving so many rabbis. Why the rabbis picked just this town to conduct their fasts, God only knows!

Two of the ritual slaughterers were also cantors. The synagogue cantor, Reb Shmarel, prayed in the large Choir Synagogue with a choir that he trained and Reb Leibe was the cantor at the Great Synagogue.

* * *

David-Horodok had its own dynasty of “good Jews” (euphemism for Hasidic rabbis). This was the family of the Alter Rav, Rabbi Israel Yoseph who had come from Volin, from Koretz.

The street around the Alter Rav's study house was occupied by his sons and daughters. They lived in want but warmed themselves under the broad but cooling rays of the bygone star of their grandfather, the Alter Rav.

In contrast, there was joy and liveliness in the Staliner shtibel. They still talk about when the Staliner Rebbe visited. Then, even the Misnagedim (scholastics who were anti-Hasidic) would go into their study houses on the side streets and stick close to the walls in fear of receiving a smack in the neck and throat from a tipsy Staliner Hasid. At that time the Alter Rav's Hasidim felt particularly abased and dejected.

David-Horodok was the capital for Rav Israel Yosef just as Staline was the capital for Rav Avralan.

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Rev Baruchl had his own study house and his own Hasidim. Rav Baruchl's Hasidim were not rich Jews. They were small shop owners and labourers, but they did not let their rabbi down. Indeed, looking at the stateliness of Rab Baruchl, his beautiful long grey beard, his intelligent large deep eyes and his patriarchal Abraham-like appearance, no town would have allowed such a personage to go hungry all seven days of the week.

* * *

Between Minha (afternoon prayer service) and Maariv (evening prayer service) in the Great Synagogue, the shadows would lengthen and darkness settled in. One hardly notices the man standing at the podium. Only his voice is heard with its own peculiar sad-sweet sounds filtering through the twilight. It is Yosl the butcher singing the Psalms.

Later, after the Maariv service, Berl the sexton teaches a portion of Talmud for the public. Then the eastern wall loses its privileged status. The wealthy, the merchants and the labourers mix together. Honour belongs to the one who can learn.

Indeed, they all sat together hand-in-hand; the aristocratic looking and affluent Pesah Yashkes, Yenkl Shashe Gitls, Velvl Ester Hayes, Moshe Noah Leibs, along with the butchers Hertzl Pravik, Izik Leibeles, Getzl and the Jewish teamsters such as the two brothers Volf and Alter Artchiks.

It is summer. The Pinsk teamsters drive to Pinsk with their sleighs only in the winter time when the steamboats are idle. The brothers Volf and Alter earn their summer livelihood pulling lumber out of the river at Shloma Feigele's dock where ships are built. The most they earn is 20 kopecks a day. In truth, this suffices only for sandy black bread, perhaps for a little barley to make soup or a piece of kishka. It was really a difficult and poor livelihood but all was forgotten in the evening at the Talmud lesson, for then, one was learning Torah!

The town of Slutzik took away Berl the sexton who became their yeshiva headmaster and Rabbi Dudl took over the job of giving the public Talmud lessons. Noah Pinhas taught Ein Yakov (a collection of legends in the Talmud) at the Alter Rav's study house. The school teacher studied Bible and Rashi (biblical commentary) with the Jews at the culture school. Only in the Staliner shtibel did they revel, sing and dance because they “did not believe in sadness”.

Soon the summer is over and the High Holy Days approach. The sexton knocks at dawn summoning people to rise and say Selihos (penitential prayers). I go with my father to the Nagid (rich man) Synagogue. At the podium Yenkl Yeshia's stands. His hoarse and tearful voice begs, demands and pleads. The congregants repeat after him with tears pouring from their eyes. I look at the Holy Ark and it seems

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to me that the cover flutters as the Holy Spirit in the Ark cries and bewails the bitter lot of the people of Israel.

* * *

A very good Jew arrived in town from abroad. He was dressed aristocratically with a cape, a soft hat and a cane in his hand. His handsome face was encircled by a broad black beard and his black eyes made him look like Dr. Herzl. This was Yashi Adler. He came from Krinki in the province of Grodno and he opened a school in David-Horodok where he taught the children Hebrew-in-Hebrew. Instead of the old familiar children's teacher with his whip, Adler typified the modern instructor who organized the school in the modern style – clean, neat and disciplined.

After a while there arrived in town the 'lame elephant' – Halfont. That was the real name given to the man who later became famous under his literary pseudonym, A. Litvak.

With Halfont, the Bund arrived in town. Thanks to the Bund, David-Horodoker boys and girls became 'brothers and sisters'. Students arrived in town to deliver speeches. They organized an illegal library, conspirator gatherings and rifts developed between the various doctrines of socialistic and nationalistic thought. In one word, things became very lively in our sleepy Polesyan town. Those were the years of the 1905 revolution.

On a cold and wintry Sabbath, Halfont was taken away from us by sleigh accompanied by a strong police guard to a distant prison or Siberia.

* * *

It is difficult to leave the town where one was born and raised. It is especially difficult to leave the beautiful river. This is where we played, bathed, floated in boats, slid on ice, played pranks with friends for which we were spanked and poked at by our fathers and teachers and beaten by the gentiles in the daily wars that we waged with them.

It is still deeply engraved in our hearts for an entire lifetime.


Sabbath Evening
(Pictures of a Town)

by Berl Neuman

The clock strikes twelve. The day is half gone. The sun is in mid-sky. The aroma of the pletzlach (flat rolls) and fresh bulkas (baked rolls) has long since dissipated with the wind.

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A new odour now emanates from the chimneys. Like the music of a stringed instrument, the aroma rises to the sky and the heavenly servants carry the 'burnt offering' aloft on their wings to the Master of the World as a Sabbath gift. Thus the industrious housewives let the outside world taste the aroma of their cholent and noodle kugel.

Noah the blacksmith (he was a righteous Jew) had long since closed up his shop and walked home at a rapid pace lest he be tardy in welcoming the Sabbath queen (as it says in the verse: “delay the end of the Sabbath and hasten its coming”.

In the market place clanging of locks and bolts can be heard. At half-closed doors, the shopkeepers stand around glancing up and down the empty market place and one after another unhurriedly (perhaps another customer might come at the last moment) close up the shops.

When Nishka the proprietor begins to close her shop, Lipa the driver rubs his back on the wagon past, shrugs his shoulders to conclude his back-scratching, gives a broad and resounding yawn, slowly climbs off the wagon and his white and skinny little horse, blind in one eye, barely drags its feet. “Neigh” says he and the horse seems to understand that the day of rest is also arriving for him and he joyfully plods along.

First Lipa and then Izik 'the goat' on one side, “the brilliant” and his son Itzel (both in one wagon) on the other side, overworked Jews with hunched shoulders and formalized outfits, separate themselves one from the other. This is the way teamsters part, separating at the brick wall of the church on the way home for Sabbath.

On the other side of the market place hear Koplinski's apothecary, the esteemed drivers returning from their trip to Lakve begin to gather. They represent an entirely different world. The horses are healthy, well-fed and large. The wagons are tall with containers in the rear and filled with fragrant hay. They were outfitted with padded and comfortable covered seats for the convenience of their passengers. Arriving from the road, they stop to grab a quick chat.

Shaike, 'the kaiser' begins to tell of the “wonders” of his trip as he pulls hard on the reigns of his horse which at that moment begins to whine as if it understands the conversation.

“With my horse I don't have to be ashamed”, says Benjamin the driver with a quiet voice, giving his horse a tickle under the belly with his whip. It appears that the horse is pleased with his owner's compliment and he rears up and industriously digs a hole in the ground with his hind legs.

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Asherke “the deaf” with his black and playful horse, “Pupike” which was tied with a rope, jumps down while holding up his pants. He does not hear the conversation but pokes his way into the middle staring with a pair of jovial, sparkling bright eyes. He shrugs his shoulders, pulls his right ear to the side and asks quietly, wanting to participate in the conversation: “Well? What? Are you talking about something?” “Nothing, nothing” says Yosl the blond with a muffled voice, “Leibke doesn't mean you, he means the horse”.

The resounding laughter of the drivers reverberates through the half-deserted market place. However, Asherke is not dismayed. He twists around, cracks his whip in the air and laughs good-naturedly together with all the others.

The old David Tchesnok, who is a little late, comes along the road. He stops his horse and wagon awhile and, without getting down from his wagon, he says with dignity: “Jews, it is already late. There is no time. It is already Sabbath eve. We must give our horses some oats and drive home”.

Meanwhile, his horse takes advantage of the opportunity, raises his tail and empties his bowls. He swishes his tail right and left driving away the flies and he is ready to go into his stall for the Sabbath.

The drivers decide that it is definitely time to drive home when they see from a distance Shlomo Pinhas hurrying to the bath house with a pack of white linen under his arm.

There was a certain charm about the David-Horodoker bath house. I can see before my eyes the long building with red bricks and the high narrow windows with small square bracketed panes.

In the first ante-room, a pile of branches lay prepared. The oven was heating up so as to warm the water in the steam boiler which would convey the hot water through pipes into the two large casks which stood on high iron railings near the ceiling.

The dark corridor led into the first wardrobe room where, on the left side, stood a closet containing cubicles for the clothing. On the opposite side there were wooden benches for resting. From there, a door led to the “thrashing bath”.

The “thrashing bath” or, as other called it, the “sweat bath”, constituted another world. The door opened with great difficulty because of two heavy stones bound to it with rope which held it back.

Not everyone could go in there because some could not tolerate the heat. Every once in a while, someone would pass out and they would

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pour a cask of cold water on him and lead him by hand into the cold room where they would lay him on the cool concrete bench until he came to himself.

It is really no wonder. The thick steam was intermingled with the stench of dirty underwear hanging from sticks inserted in the overlying rafters. Not every heart could endure it. Indeed, this is the reason that such a frail Jew as Baruch “the planter” never experienced the zest of being steamed-out in the Jewish David-Horodoker “sweat-bath”.

The only one who felt better there than at home was Moshe Mordechai Zelik's “the fat”. The heat was never enough for him. When he got together with Maier Hershlin the butcher, things then really were spirited. First Maier Hershl would shout in his husky voice: “throw on another bucket!” To pour a bucket of water on the boiling hot stone in the oven required great skill and Moshe “the fat” was an expert.

One bucket after another and the heat increased. The steam could be cut with a knife as it was thick enough to simply choke a person. At this point they both climbed up to the highest step and their work began. They raised and lowered their branches to clear away the steam on all sides. One thrash and then another, a third, a fifth and a tenth.

“Ah, ah, ah” cried one of them with great pleasure – “a little higher…there, there, there…harder….even harder…good…good…ah”! Now the other one lies down and the first one gives him a double measure. Thus the two beaten Jews leave the “sweat-bath” to the mikve (ritual bath). In the mikve room it was a little quieter. Only the screaming of the small children disturbed the silence. They had the polluted water.

From the mikve room a door led to another room which contained a row of white tubs intended for the gentry.

And now we see a tall broad-boned Jew enter the mikve room. This is Mordehai Leib 'the general'. He confidently descends step-by-step until he remains standing in the middle of the mikve with the water reaching his chest. He puts his hands on his head, bends down, turn right and left in order to make circlets of waves which draw off the leaves still stuck to his body after the sweat-bath. He immerses himself three times then gets up and stretches his entire length and straightens his long yellow beard.

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After him comes the old Rabbi Wolf Hillel's with careful steps, bent over almost to the ground. Before he descends the last step, he covers his ears, nose and eyes with the fingers of both hands. When he leaves the last step, he stands in the water with his head barely visible. He is immersed as he stands. Nevertheless, he bends three times and, barely catching his breath, he comes out cautiously wiping his face with one hand.

The day doesn't linger. Time flies. The bathhouse empties. The streets become filled with the Sabbath spirit. Through the windows the gleam of the brass candlesticks can be seen and the covered hallahs on the clean, white tablecloths.

Washed and outfitted with shining shoes, the small children wander about the streets peeling kernels which their mothers have put in their pockets in honour of the Sabbath. Girls with braided pigtails on their radiantly shampooed heads, show off to each other their pretty Sabbath clothes.

With white-pressed shawls on their heads, the grandmothers go out on the porch to wait for Velvel Raishke's who walks along the streets with a stick in his hand knocking on the shutters and announcing that it is time to bless the candles.

The sun begins to set. The day departs giving away for the town's heartfelt Friday evening. From the synagogues one can hear the melody of “Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout with joy to the Rock of our salvation…”


My Grandmother Told Me
(Memories)

by Berl Neuman

Long Teves (December-January) evenings. Outside, the frost was burning cold. The window panes sprouted various snow-capped mountains and thick, deep birch forests through which you could barely see the street.

In the house by a small flickering kerosene lamp which three shadows on the walls that children were afraid to look at because grandmother had said that one must not play with shadows because demons can give them nightmares, on such an evening, grandmother sat on a short foot-stool next to the stove, surrounded by her grandchildren and looked into the fire which danced cheerfully, throwing tongues of fire into the black soot-filled chimney. From time to time, grandmother threw a long thin piece of kindling into the fire, causing it to crackles, throwing sparks onto the wooden floor which was grooved with shadows.

From time-to-time the scraping of feet on the white,

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Frozen snow could be heard, slowly receding into the stillness of the night.

In such a dark and idyllic silence, grandmother Bashe told her grandchildren that once…a long time ago…her grandmother had told her…that the Horin River had been far..very far away from town…and year-in and year-out, the river with its ice flows slowly cut the banks and, with the slow pace of generations, it neared the town.

And the grandchildren swallowed the enchanting tale word-by-word from grandmother's mouth, and little children's heads could not understand how the river could move.

The rectangular clock with its ancient flowered dial and long brass chains with heavy weights which propelled the shiny pendulum back-and-forth with its never tardy tick-tock, tick-tock, put the children to sleep in grandmother's lap, dreaming sweet dreams of water fairies and with the question: “how could it be..?”on their lips.

* * *

The years fly and children grow up in naïve, content and quietly dignified simplicity. They grow up in streets where the puddles never dry out during the entire year, not having a chance to look even through the smallest window at the wide-world and not knowing what is going on out there.

It is really no wonder that we grown up children could not imagine a taller person than Itzik of Nirtcha, a richer Jew than Mahe and a more feeble man than Moltchik.

Could there possibly be a better shmura-matza baker than Shmerl Beizes? And where could you find such a hearty singer, psalm-reciter and hakofes-distributor than Avraham Yossel?

What town in the entire world possesses a better cantor and choirboys than Shmerl Lanski and his choir?

And who can compare to the piety of Malahel who never complained, enduring the torments of Job with a constant smile?

What Jewish community was blessed with such a saint as Rabbi Dudl?

Who else had the honour to taste the pleasure of a Hasidic melody on a Sabbath afternoon at the rebbe's table when Yossl Kalouzshni would roll his eyes upward and, with a thin voice, would fill the air of the Hassidic shtibl with Sabbath songs?

Who else could dance with such fervour at the rebbe's table than Shia?

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Or does there exist anywhere a cleverer cobbler than Aizle “Tchuptchik” and a better tailor than Yossel “Pudrik?”

And more….and many, many more Jews, of blessed memory!....

That is how 'far' children looked and how very much they understood…, happy, naïve, hearty childhood years.

* * *

On spring days when the sun would emerge from its wintry mantle of clouds and warm up the winter-long cake of ice which had reached the open mouth of the street well, when the yellow icicles hanging from the straw roofs which were shaped by the winter into various artistic forms would begin dripping rapid drops into the container which would also serve as a sitting stool on summer nights – on such spring days, children with happy, smiling faces would go out to the Horin River and watch how the river outgrows the banks and, with immense force, pulls hunks of ice which are split with a frightening noise and are drawn into a pile, one on top of another, to later slide off and disappear into the deep abyss only to be propelled later to the surface where they are eventually sliced by the ice-cutters which protect the bridge from destruction.

Also torn along by the powerful current were bones from the graves of the old cemetery and wooden beams which were ripped out from the foundations of houses along “Egypt Street”, leaving the houses precariously close to toppling into the water.

The river tears at the high bank making deeper and deeper inroads and then the children understood Grandmother Bashes' story of the past.. that once…a very long time ago…the river was far away … very far.

* * *

Were it not for the dark black Hitler clouds which covered the skies of the Jewish communities, wiping them off the surface without leaving even a memory, then grandchildren in David-Horodok would still be telling their children today that once… a very long time ago… there was…

May G-d remember their sacred souls!

* * *

Berl Neuman

Would you like to become acquainted with our town? Would you like to get some its flavour?

In the books of Shalom Aleichem and Mendele-Mocher-Seforim, you will find a large part of what our town possessed.

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After all, what didn't our town possess? Poor people, sextons, synagogue trustees and ordinary community workers; money-lenders, providers of orphans and ordinary benefactors; a poor-house, a bath house, a ritual bath and above all…mud! A sea of mud! It seemed as if there was no spot in the entire world that was free of mud. Mud in the street, in the yard, on the sidewalk and mud right up to the house.

What wasn't done to try and get rid of the mud? In my time, I recall that they fixed the streets three times. And who doesn't remember how the gentiles would lay a thick cover of gravel along the length of the street and then overlay it with dirt? Do you think that it really helped? Forget it! (literally: A yesterday day!).

After all the gravel and dirt laying, when one had to cross the street, for example near Moshe Yude Lipshitz or Yudl Shatzki or Shimon Laichtman, it was truly deadly dangerous!.

And if one of the residents was good-hearted enough to lay a couple of boards across the street, do you think it was already an easy matter (literally: torah noodles)? Now you cross with dry feet. That is not the way it begins and that is not the way it ends? As soon as you put a foot on a board, it slides forward and sinks into the mud as the other end of the board rises up into the air and you remain stuck in the mud with your shoes. You lose your composure, no longer regarding the presence or absence of a board and you wad in the mud to get to the other side as quickly as possible. When you finally get to the other side, you look around to be sure that no one is looking and you anguish over your shoes and long trousers which are now covered with mud up to your knees.        

Around Gittel Yonah's house, it was true chaos! If you recall, her house was next to the market place. There, at the market place, all the David-Horodoker Jews ran in the morning and there was real reason to run.

There were plenty of good things in the market place: pokers, water troughs, kneading troughs, shovels, tubs, pails, soaking dishes, shoes and boots – ask what not!

Today, who talks about food? Whatever the mouth could desire! As for example, Eizl 'Lubitsch' loved big fish… Mendl the 'Brotzker' would also only indulge himself with small flat cakes so he also ran to grab a pile of flat cakes.

Very early, at dawn, the two brothers Izak Beroshes and Shmuel Michl are already walking on the street. They are coming from the first minyon with their prayer shawls under their arms. Where do you suppose they are going? To the market place!

One buys a bundle of hay for his cow and the other purchases a ball of plain thread to sew the clothing of the peasants.

Many Jews would often love to go to the market place and observe what

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was being bought and sold and perhaps they too would grab a bit of a bargain!

Just an example, Moshe'le 'twitch-lip' simply loved to go out with his cane and derive pleasure from everything; he always had plenty of time, blessed be the Name. Berl 'pistol' also didn't mind such pleasures. In fact, when they met each other at the market place with empty stomachs, they would pick out a convenient and strategic spot and trade witticisms, laughing at the world.

In such a manner, the entire town was there, some running and some walking.

Haye Leah Shmaiha's ran to sell fried goose skin and fat; Shashke Korman ran to sell fresh bagels; Nahe Sarinka's ran with a wagon of apples and Nahe Katz went with quick steps perhaps to buy some boar bristles.

Just as in my father's vineyard, there flourished Simha the 'Japanese'. A broad shouldered and big-footed man with a pair of fisherman boots pulled up to the armpits, a rope tied around his coat from which hung two ends on either side like a hasid's gertl (belt worn during prayer) – he would whirl around the market place looking for a livelihood. It seems that he had large lips while his nose was always a bit swollen and his speech was a little slurred. However, this didn't prevent him from carrying a sack of potatoes on his shoulders for someone, or Fagel Baytzl's basket into her house. In truth, he was cut out to be a teamster but he had never acquired a horse.

* * *

God forbid. I am not consumed with jealousy but the women had it better than everyone. First of all, a Horodoker Jew loved his wife and secondly, she did not work hard.

A sack of potatoes, a cask of cabbage and berries and a keg of sour pickles with dill were stored in the cellar. Millet, beans, barley, and buckwheat groats – everyone kept a supply. A kneading trough of bread was good for an entire week. Milk? What David-Horodoker Jew did not have is own cow in a stall? Well, besides bringing in an armload of wood, heating up the oven, warming up the food and sweeping the house, there was nothing to do.
There was plenty of time to stand at the window and look at who was passing by in the street.

Mother stands at one window, daughter stands at another and they gossip about the street. If the cantor passes with a few people, daughter says: “You see mother, someone is probably having a bris”. Yossel the smith with his patched eye passes by: - “Mother, who died?” If they saw a policeman approaching from a distance, they both disappeared – mother and daughter, quickly away

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from the windows, rushing out through the back door with brooms in hand and they begin, whether they need to or not, sweeping the street because they are sure that he is coming to give them a citation.

There passes Elia Yafa's with a charity box, shivering from the cold. Israel 'the lazy' a hat-maker by trade carries a pair of hides to cut out warm jackets for the gentiles for the winter. He drags himself along, bent over like a barrel. Moshe'l Lazer's springs along continually shrugging his shoulders. He snorts and spit and talks to himself. Velvel Kushner strides along with his long legs, raising his head high. He hardly says good morning to anyone. He carries his fiddle along and goes to entertain Rivele Yudovitch with a concert.

Then Sarah-Leah “the bride” passes by with a large pack under her shawl. She walks carefully, step-by-step, as if she were counting her footsteps. He son Zelig follows her. He walks straight as a string on a violin, as though he had swallowed a stick. He doesn't bend at all. You could put a glass of water on his head.

And so they pass, young and old, men and women, idlers and workmen. Moshele Menahem's with a tool box and a saw in his hands; Shlomke Ben-Zion's carries a suit to take measurements on someone. David Beilke's hurries to the steamboat and the old 'boy' has already put on his black winter overcoat with the yellow, worn-out skunk skin collar which dates back to Chmielnitzski's times, sidling along with his hands pushed into his sleeves and shaking his head.

Understandably, there was something to say about each one: Haim Yankl 'the honey strainer' is too short; Issur Gurvitch is too tall; Abrahaml Levine is too fat and Shmuel 'the patch maker' is too think.

It was a unique and beloved occupation to stand at the window and it wasn't bad even standing there for hours. Occasionally the window-watchers would be saddened by the sight of Dr. Shalkaver running past with hurried strides. Probably someone is good and sick.

In all, we had only one doctor in town. What do you think? We had enough. First of all, God had bestowed him with strong legs so he was always running in order to satisfy everyone and secondly, everyone knew what to do for their sick.

If one of us became sick, we knew that the first thing was to withhold food. If he became weaker and feverish, the second step was to place an ice bag on his head.

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As the patient became even weaker from hunger and properly chilled from the ice cap, the neighbours would then mix in with their advice – step number three was to apply leeches.

After the leeches had sucked up the last drop of blood and the angel of death was already standing at the head of the bed, we would then run to the synagogue and knock on the Holy Ark and beg for mercy. Afterwards, they would run to the doctor and ask him to save the moribund patient.

Nevertheless, Horodoker Jews were generally healthy and satisfied. Most of the illness was caused by the 'evil eye'. We had a special 'doctor' for this – Feigl the blacksmith. She would continually talk and spit, snort and spit and her incantations really helped. Not only that but if someone had a swelling on the eye, a sty or some other such sore, Feigl the blacksmith would lick it with her tongue and her lick would really help. Nowadays, who talks about exorcising a rose? For that, there was no one like her! Whether it helped or not, the important thing is that they believed it would help. Horodoker Jews were believers!

Did not Horodoker mothers believe that there was a kind-hearted Sarah sent down by heaven to protect the Jewish woman in childbirth and her new-born infant? And really, why should one not believe it? It is clearly written in the Yiddish bible!

And one also believed in the devils' camp – Heaven protect us that would try by various means and tricks to entrap the child in sin. Indeed, there were Horodoker Jewish mothers who would routinely distribute goodies to small school children in order to encourage them to say their nightly prayers without fail. In addition, they would hang placards containing psalms on each window and door in order to prevent the entrance of imps and evil spirits.

Horodoker Jews believed in everything except one thing! They did not believe that there could come a time when beasts in the form of people would rise up against them and ruthlessly murder them.

Good-natured, naïve, friendly Jewish mothers and fathers, children and old folk, merchants, aritsans, labourers and toilers! With: “I believe” on their lips, they were led to the mass-slaughter.

How great is the calamity when we must write about them in the past tense!


David-Horodok until the War

by Itzhak Nahamnovitch

David-Horodok was a small town, a small island of culture in the black and remote sea of Polesye? Near to God and far from people

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getting there was no easy matter. With the wagon from the train station, it was a 25km journey over muddy roads, or with the steamboat from Pinsk in the summer, it was a 14-18 hour voyage through the wild dream-like forests and swamps of Polesye.

A new arrival would notice nothing special. Small houses cling to the mother earth as if they want to unite with her. Incidentally, there was a street popularly called “Egypt Street” where the houses were sunk halfway into the ground.

Outwardly, the town had nothing to recommend it. But when one of its own people looked at it, an inhabitant would had experienced the local way of life, the sweet kernel under the external grey husk, the life of the small houses with their cares and joys appealed to him with a special zest.

In general, David-Horodok was a unique and interesting town. There were about 18,000 inhabitants of which about 7000-8000 were Jews and the remainder were Belorussian with a small number of Poles.

A hundred years would go by with many assaults and battles with various gangs who would pass, and the life of the town did not change. In general, the relationship between the inhabitants was not bad. During World War I, when Balakavitch and his band entered the town, the Belarusians saved the Jews from death by hiding them in their own homes. The solidarity of the people was also demonstrated when the Red army arrived and wanted to requisition the cattle of the Polish landowners. The Jews and the Belarusians opposed this and they set up armed resistance. The town was then visited by a punishment expedition which shot to death the most distinguished people in town. This is how Baitzl Yudovitch, of blessed memory, was killed. Later, when the first Poles came into town, also 'fine young men', the Polish inhabitants hid many Jews.

Thus, many years passed. Lands were wiped out; regimes changed but in David-Horodok, life flowed on without alteration. Calm reigned – a pleasant calm. Even the “gods” lived at ease…next to the church stood the Jewish synagogues and study-houses and all was normal.

If there were positive qualities in Jewish community life, these were to be found in David-Horodok.

Politically active but with ethical content, all parties and organizations were permeated with feelings of brotherhood. The Mizrahist and the Communist would meet in the synagogue on Yom Kipur. There were not great 'leaders' – all were equal; young and old stuck to their jobs. Everyone knew his place. It is truly a shame that Shalom Aleichem was never there because he could have found as many original folk themes as in Kasrilevke (Shalom Aleichem's fictional prototype of a shtetl). Each and every individual was unique. Each one was a living Noah Pandre (heroic fictional character penned by Zalman Schneour) with many similar examples such as Abraml 'the bastard',

[Page 84]

Shia 'the emperor', David 'the brilliant', Yud 'the scholar', etc.

Simple, unassuming, poor but always cheerful, each with its own wit and mannerisms, one could write a book about them.

One cannot over-emphasize their uniqueness and modesty; the most pious wore no ear-locks or kaftan; the most intelligent spoke the mother-tongue. There were two valuable libraries with the newest books which were read after a hard day's work. Work and culture went hand-in-hand.

An exemplary youth was brought up in the well-organized Tarbus School – all in the Hebrew language. After the eight classes of school, many of the graduates went elsewhere for higher education. In Pinsk and Vilna, some 100 David-Horodoker youth went to intermediate and high schools. That is the way it was until the war.


3. Rabbis & Community Leaders

The Horodoker Dynasty from the book on Hassidism by Dr. Rabinovitz (to be published)

At about the beginning of the nineteenth century, an independent Hassidic dynasty was founded in David-Horodok which is near Pinsk and even nearer to Staline. Its adherents were known in the vicinity of Pinsk as “Horodoker Hassidim” (to distinguish them from those of Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Vitebsk who went by the same name). This was the smallest branch of the Hassidic dynasties in Polesye and it had a small circle of Hassidim in David-Horodok, Lakve, Luniniatz, Pinsk and Kozanhorodok. Just as the Labashier Hassidim found their place west of Pinsk, between Pinsk and Kobrin, so did the small group of Horodoker Hassidim, east of Pinsk between Pinsk and Lakve. The founder of the dynasty was Rav Wolf who was called by his Hassidim name: Rav Wolftsi (Ginsburg), a son of the tsaddik Rav Shmuel Halevi of Kashivke, a town in Volin not far from the well-known Hassidic centre of Nasvizh.

Rav Schmuel was a close friend of the renowned tsaddik of Volin, Rav Mordehai of Nasvizh. This can be seen from a letter written by Rav Asher of Staline sometime between 1802 and 1826 indicating that both tzadikim were on friendly terms and were in-laws.

There is no information as to how Rav Wolf founded an independent dynasty in the centre of the Karlin realm. The only Hassidic source that mentions Rav Wolf refers to him as Av Bet Din (head of the rabbinic court). It is also popularly believed that Rav Wolf was first designated as a rabbi in David-Horodok and later, probably because of his lineage, he became a rebbe (Hassidic designation of their rabbi). Details of his personality, life and the exact year of his death are unknown. There are various popular legends regarding his death which testify to his popularity and authority. The legacy of his rabbinical seat went to his son, Rav David. It appears that he had no great influence. For example, Rav David is not mentioned in the short family biography kept by Hassidic sources. Subsequently,

[Page 85]

Rav David's son, Rav Israel Yosef Halevi, became a central figure in the small Hassidic branch, and he was their rebbe until the end of the nineteenth century. He was a renowned scholar and he led his small congregation of Jews autocratically. Both his fellow townsmen and those from surrounding areas regarded him with great respect. In contrast to the Barazner Hassidim who were mostly common rabble, his Hassidim included many aristocrats, even some from misnagid (rationalists who were usually antagonists of Hassidim) homes. For example: when he would journey to the Horodoker synagogue in Pinsk, his 'table' would be visited by the then Hashuber rebbe, Rav Motis, the community heads, cultural leaders and others.

Rav Israel Yosef had personal dealings with the renowned tsaddik of Volin, Rav Itzhak of Nasvizh. From the letters which Rav Israel Yosef wrote to him (in 1856, 1861 and 1864), one can see his spiritual dependence on Rav Itzhak of Nasvizh. With the expression: “I pray and implore that his holiness (Rav Itzhak) not forget us in the future…so that I may rest peacefully in my house…” He refers undoubtedly to the controversy between his Hassidim and the Staliner Hassidim who regarded the Horodoker Hassidim as inferior.

The liturgical melodies in his Horodok synagogue was called “the rebbe's study-house” were similar to the liturgy in Volin. Rav Israel Yosef died in 1899 and a common tomb enclosed his grave along with the graves of his father and grandfather in the Horodoker cemetery. His descendants had certain renown such as his grandson Rav Itzhak who died in 1908. Rav Itzhak's grandson, Rav Aharon, belonged to the last generation of the dynasty. He occupied the position of rebbe in the neighbouring town of Luniniatz. A second grandson, the last Horodoker rebbe, Rav Moshe was a student at the yeshivas of Volozhin and Lida and a gifted preacher. He was close to the Zionist movement and was held in great esteem by all. He died a martyr at the hands of the Nazi.

Of the writings of the Horodoker tzadikim, nothing remains except the few letters mentioned above. The establishment of a dynasty probably resulted from choosing the son of a Hassidic tzadik as a rabbi who then became both rabbi and rebbe together. This is similar to the manner in which the Libasheier dynasty was established. The small branch of Horodoker Hassidim were bound together solely by the personalities of the tzadikim Rav Wolf and Rav Israel Yosef who enlarged the small number of Hassidim in that narrow corner of Polesye. They remained the only disciples of the Hassidic movement.

Itzhak Leib Zager

There stands in from of my eyes the small study-house on the “synagogue court” in which I.L. Zager was raised and lived.

A loving warmth would permeate you as you entered this little house. His simple parents would receive you with a permanent smile on their lips.

The peacefulness, quiet and cleanliness; the love of the people would make you forget that you were in a small lowly house. You would get the feeling of spaciousness.

[Page 86]

His father, a blacksmith, was a scholar like many other labourers in David-Horodok, and he sent his only son to the yeshivah.

He became instilled with the Zionist ideal along with his fellow yeshivah students such as P. Nuvak, S. Reznick and others. When they organized the first group of the Ze'irei Zion movement in David-Horodok, I.L. Zager proceeded to join them. His boundless devotion and enthusiastic activities soon put him at the head of the movement which he led until the last day of his life.

I.L. Zager's activities in town were not limited only to the idealistic Ze'irei Zion movement and later the Poslei Zion party. There was hardly a social institution in the town in which he was not an active leader. In such manner, he devoted much time and energy to the public library named after I.L. Peretz of which he was one of the founders. The Keren Kayemes fund, the charity boxes and especially the orphans committees were able to exist until the last moment thanks to his ties with America and the trust they had in him.

I.L. Zager did his communal work with no expectation of reward. His honesty was renowned throughout the town. Characteristically, in all the institutions where he was active, they gave him the office of treasurer. Everyone had complete trust in his notebook where he would inscribe with tiny Rashi script (biblical commentator who invented his own Hebrew script) the revenues and debits of those institutions.

I.L. Zager knew everyone in town and everyone knew him. People would confide in him and they would come to ask him for help. He would manage the free loan funds and he was always ready to help when he was convinced that the involved individual was in a critical situation. He always knew who was really needy and who not. He was not a talker but a doer.

When in 1938 there was a local election in town, the natural candidate for community leader was I.L. Zager. The Poalei Zion party and the artisans went to the polls with a joint list at the top of which was I.L. Zager. His popularity in town insured the victory of that list in the balloting. Everyone wanted to see him head of the community. Unfortunately, certain circles paid off the proper people and the list was invalidated on the basis of the infamous paragraph 20 with the resultant embitterment and displeasure of the great majority of the Jewish population.

In the last years, he worked on steamships as agent of his brother-in-law in America. Even here he was the treasurer to the great satisfaction of the partners.

He died at his work. He drowned while swimming in Nirtcha on Sabbath, August 1, 1939. His death caused great sadness throughout the town. A funeral committee was immediately organized by all the political parties and communal institutions. The funeral took place on the next day – Sunday, August 2 with a large procession composed of the entire

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Jewish population of the town. At the synagogue court, eulogies were given by representatives of all the parties and communal institutions. His grave was in the same section as all the departed greats of that generation in our town.

The organizational funeral committee selected three people who devised a plan to perpetuate his name by building in his name a house for the orphans' committee and the I.L. Peretz public library. At the end of the thirty-day mourning period, on September 2, 1939, they proclaimed the campaign to accomplish this goal. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939 nullified all their plans and they were not even able to erect a stone over his grave.

Perhaps it is symbolic that such a pure and honest soul was not contaminated by the murderous Nazi and local criminal hands.

I.Lipshitz and S. Zazik


4. Eve of the War

by M. Rappaport

I had a great longing to see my town again; visit my parents, relatives and friends, to stroll the streets and byways in the town of my birth and to meet face-to-face all those with whom I was raised, educated and worked many long years.

I had the opportunity just before the outbreak of World War II when I was visiting Poland. It was at the end of August, 1939. All of Europe was permeated with terror and fear of the approaching war. Polish Jewry was especially filled with anxiety and dread. No one knew what the next day would bring. The military censors were very strict and the Jewish press was barely able to inform with hints between the lines what might happen. No one's heart could have predicted how near the holocaust was and how complete the calamity that was approaching.

We obtained more details at the English consulate in Warsaw including a stern warning that we must leave Poland within 24 hours. These instructions came as an unexpected blow. I asked myself what to do – return without seeing my home, my parents, my friends and acquaintances or to go the dangerous path and realize my dream to see all those that I loved and treasured.

I decided on the perilous course and I ventured to spend a

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few hours at home. It was dark when I arrived in David-Horodok. I left before dawn.

I will never forget those few hours when my parents' house suddenly became the focal point for all the David-Horodoker Jews. Some came to greet a relative or friend; others came to hear news of the land (Israel). We all felt as if the floor was burning under our feet and a bitter lament was heard from all assembled: what next? How does one escape and where?

I recall how every face beamed when hearing a living greeting from the land concerning our efforts and struggles, concerning the light and shadows that go along together, concerning ambitious construction work – everything that was being created in our land. In my conversation, there was a touch of reproach to all those whose place should have been with us in our land but who, unfortunately, had made short-sighted mis-calculations which decided their fate.

It was a night of watching. Everyone talked and everyone asked, beginning with Rabbi Shpira of blessed memory, a devoted and faithful Zionist worker who lived to see the land and ending with many others. Every little detail interested them: the economic situation, current events, etc.

It was very difficult for me to answer all the questions. The excitement finally subsided when I promised to take part in a meeting the following day when I would discuss all the questions in greater breadth and depth. Unfortunately, this meeting did not take place just as the best dreams and aspirations of my dear countrymen were never realized. The meeting did not occur because I received a telegramme at that moment from my wife and from my home authority which said briefly and simply: “because of the strained situation, return immediately”.

* * *

There is no solace or compensation for the great calamity, for the killing of all these industrious people, toilers, people of religion and culture, of initiative and boundless devotion to Judaism and Zionism. They were cut off like young twigs by the foreign murderous hands.

The only consolation is the living monument which was established in our land – in Israel – the hundreds of families of David-Horodoker Jews who were saved with their wives and children and who well up in full-blooded life in all the corners of our land. They work, create and serve together with all Israeli citizens, like a living sturdy wall for the renewed state.


My Last Days in David-Horodok

by M. Shuri Ami

The Soviet occupation force had divided the inhabitants into three

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classes:

  1. The trustworthy class. Ex-communists in who there were found no deviations and those others who openly declared their sympathy for the Bolshevik authority with no one denouncing them.
  2. The enemies of the regime, the wealthy and the Zionist activists.
  3. Ordinary inhabitants who would require prolonged re-education with the hope that they would become future citizens of the Soviet Union.
The majority of the David-Horodoker population belonged to the second and third categories. People in the second category who had not been denounced and had not been the subject of an official or unofficial complaint, were automatically transferred to the third category.

In the months of March and April, 1941, hundreds of young people were mobilized into “work battalions” and most were sent to construct evacuation centres near the borders of Belorussia, as for example in Kabrin and Bialystok. I belonged to the Kabrin group.

On June 20, a Jewish lad happened to stand watch at one o'clock at night. He was five minutes late. The Commander of the detachment, a Soviet citizen named Gur, quickly alerted the entire detachment and rebuked the lad publicly: “Traitor! If the war broke out tomorrow would you still be sleeping? In three days you will stand trial”.

In 48 hours, the German-Russian War flared up.

Air raids and artillery shelling accompanied us on our way back home. I tried to always be with other David-Horodokers. The confusion was great. We were given contradictory orders. Wherever we turned, there were Germans. We could not retreat during daylight and we were forced to lay in the forests and swamps and run at night. We only had one goal: home!

On June 26, 1941, Friday evening, I arrived in David-Horodok with my unforgettable friend, Moshe Shecter, David's son and Volf the newspaper salesman's grandson. I did not recognize the town. What David-Horodoker does not recall the hours before the Sabbath? The shopkeepers rush to close their shops and the labourers end their work. The Sabbath candles are lit on all sides and everyone goes to the prayer house with the children. And now it is like the eve of Tisha B'Av. It is pitch black in the streets and on the face of every Jew is the dread of the approaching Germans.

We were soon surrounded by familiar faces and before we could change our filthy clothes, we had to answer all of their questions. They had thought that the entire mobilized group had fallen. The following day, on the Sabbath, others began arriving.

My family was no longer at home. It turned out that they had fled

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to the Russian border along with a few dozen other families. The following day, on Saturday night, they returned because they were forbidden to cross the border.

The town filled up with refugees from surrounding towns. The fear was intense. The gentiles taunted us: “Jews, your time has passed! The Soviets are leaving here”.

Confusion reigned everywhere. One day, the masses were mobilized and the next day, they were all set free because of a lack of communication. The last mobilized group was sent to Minsk on June 28.

We friends met to decide on where to go next and the opinions were divided. Moshe Shecter was among those who decided to stay. Itzhak Galman and I decided to go. We informed our families and our former companions of the Zionist youth whose attitudes had not been swayed. The majority refused to go.

On July 6, the last Soviet officials left town. With no pre-arrangement, we 20 boys and girls found ourselves on Alshiner Street. Along the way, we met several other youth who did not want to join us, saying that “the Germans are no worse than the Russians. We will also adjust to the new regime”.

When we reached the border the guards refused to let us pass. No argument would help. Several became demoralized. Itzhak Galman, Miriam Frenkl, Zirel Bagun and Shoshana Eizenberg returned home.

One of our group who was born in a border village agreed to lead us by back-roads and cross the border at night. Barely men, we went to the south of Malishov. At night, we encountered an armed patrol which happened to contain former officials from our town. The patrol commander was Raklin who had been the communist party secretary in David-Horodok. He wanted us to understand that he would agree to give us a place near his camp and he promised that he would give us a solution in the morning if he could get weapons for us.

It was a night of horror. We could see fires in our town in the distance. The Germans had already been there and had begun plundering.

In the morning, the droshke returned from Turov with the partisans. We were soon called to the commander. “I could not get any weapons”, he said “but you may pass. The matter has been arranged with the commander of the border guards”.

We rushed forward and did not encounter a single living soldier.

Hearing the German advance, they had all run away. Within sight of Turov, we could see a truck coming towards us at a distance, loaded with soldiers and machine guns. We did not know if they were Russians or Germans. There was a cemetery to the left. We hid amongst the grave stones. After the truck had passed, we set forward again. By nightfall, we had arrived in Turov on genuine Soviet soil.

 

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