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[Page 89]

Memories Of The Town Where I Was Born

Shoshana Tschuhman – Draizin

Translated by Irene Emodi

The town of Dokshitz where I was born and spent the best years of my life, my childhood and youth, is deeply engraved on my memory. I remember its streets, alleys, houses, institutions, mountains, rivers and above all the people, who were so nice and kind. I loved to climb the hill near our home, where the Russian church was situated, and to look at all the surrounding area from there. I loved to wander along the boulevard lined with birch trees, named after Catherine the Great, and to stop near an old birch tree trunk underneath which there was a spring. This spring was the source of the Berezina river. The waters flowing through the narrow, long passage were beautiful to behold. The further away I got from the spring &emdash; the broader and deeper became the river. In summer, when it was hot, we loved to go down to the river to bathe and refresh in its water.

Dokshitz, which was under Russian rule until World War I, was considered a district town with a large and developed Jewish population. We made our living, as in the other towns in the Diaspora countries in that period, from trade, industry, crafts, and a few families from agriculture. There were no welfare institutions then with social-governmental assistance, as are to be found today in every cultural country. On the other hand, there were all sorts of associations among the Jews for mutual assistance to the needy. Among these we must mention the assistance to the sick, aiming at helping poor families if one of those supporting them fell ill.

As the population was mixed, there was quite some anti-semitism, particularly when the gentile youngsters in the area would come for a medical check-up towards their army recruitment. Those who were accepted as recruits thought it necessary to poke fun at the Jews, and if they would run into a Jew in a narrow alley, they would beat him up and tear his beard.

At the end of World War I Poland once again became an independent state. It was the town's destiny to fall under Polish rule, and it became a border town with Russia. As a result, it lost many sources of income, and this had an adverse effect on the economic situation of the Jews. On one hand, trade deteriorated, on the other hand the Polish government imposed a heavy burden of new taxes. This resulted in a movement to leave the town.

The first to leave town were the well- to- do tradesmen. They did not want to wait until they would be totally ruined and left Dokshitz immediately for Vilna, to find their luck there. Other groups, especially the young, also looked for a way to emigrate to another country, some to north or south America, and a few who were lucky enough to obtain a certificate, went to Israel.

A branch of the "Histadrut Hatzionit" (Zionist Federation) had existed in Dokshitz for a long time, but was not active. At that time the branch became active and started to play an important role in town. A branch of "Hehalutz" was also opened in Dokshitz, it became active mainly after the Balfour Declaration, when the United Nations decided in Geneva to set up a Jewish homeland in Eretz Jisrael. The decision to grant Great Britain the mandate over the country gave rise to false hope that the gates of the land would be open to all Jews. Unfortunately, reality proved to be different. The British closed the gates of the land and granted but a few certificates.

Our family was among the few Jewish families in Dokshitz to make a living from farming. We lived on a little side- street behind the town called "Podgorna" in the period of Polish rule, i.e. "under the mountain". This name referred to the fact that it was at the foot of the hill on which the Russian church was situated.

The first to settle here was my grandfather on mother's side, the late Joshua Selig Kabakov, soon joined by his son Shmuel Kabakov and his son in law, Menahem Mendel Shalom Chuchman, our father. All the members of the family mainly made a living from growing vegetables.

Grandfather was a staunch lover of Zion. He wanted to organize a group to go on aliya on foot to Eretz Jisrael and settle there, but this did not materialize. They did not own the land they tilled, for in the period of the Russian-Czarist rule, there was a law forbidding Jews from owning land. For hundreds of years the land had been concentrated in the hands of a few called "Pritzim". A "Paritz" called Proshinski owned huge areas of land around Dokshitz. He himself would lease them and my relatives were among those who leased his land.

Committee of Keren Kayemet LeYisrael in Dokshitz
11th day of Adar Bet, 1935

Once a year the Paritz would appear in a splendid carriage drawn by mighty horses. He would arrive at the leaser's home and without descending from the carriage would call the Jew (Jid), who would come outside and pay his dues. When the Jew appeared, the Paritz would order him to take off his hat as a sign of honor.

Our father built a factory for hides processing (borsika), in addition to the area of land we tilled. This factory was a cause of anger to the local Russian priest, who protested against the smells emanating from the borsika. He turned to court so as to remove my father's enterprise, but my father won the case. The priest was furious at this and took out his anger at the children who played on the hill near the Russian church.

Not far from our home stood a beer brewery belonging to the Gordon brothers. We children often used this proximity to visit the brewery to taste the fresh beer.

When the Bolshevik revolution in Russia broke out the Czarist rule came to an end, and the "Pritzim", Proshinski among them, understood that they would not be able to concentrate huge areas of land under the new regime, so they started to sell their lands. Ownership was mainly transferred to Jews. The Gordon brothers were the first to grasp this, and they immediately approached Proshinski and asked him to sell them the land we tilled. My father soon learned of this and he managed to prevent their scheme.

When my father appeared before the Paritz to reach an agreement regarding the sale of the land, the Paritz treated my father courteously. He proposed my father buy the land he leased and even the adjacent areas. My father told the Paritz he was unable to buy the adjacent plots, and then the Paritz suggested my father chose his own neighbors. My father started to promote the purchase of land from the Paritz.

That is how a Jewish agricultural neighborhood was established on both sides of the main road to Plotzak. The neighborhood was pretty and its inhabitants took care of it as best they could. We did not manage to hold on to our status of farmers for a long time because of the problems caused to the Jews by the Polish government. A lively movement of emigration started, and we too became part of it.

Our grandfather, the late Rabbi Joshua Selig Kabakov, did not have the good fortune to realize his dream of going on aliya to Eretz Jisrael, but his grandsons and his son Shmuel did. The first to go was our brother Zvi and then our brother Mordechai. Once these two had settled in Eretz Jisrael they brought over their sisters Hadassa, Ada and I. Two years later they also brought over our father, his sister Malka and our mother.

In Israel we made a living from farming. Our brother Zvi is at Kfar Hassidim. The family of my sister Hadassa and my own family are at Sde Yacov. Thus we realized the dream of our grandfather not only to go to Eretz Jisrael but also to be farmers there.

In conclusion, I would like to dwell on the day when we left Dokshitz, and our emotions when we took leave of our many friends and acquaintances. Although everything had been packed and was ready for departure, I could not believe that we were actually leaving Dokshitz forever. Only the sound of the carriage of coach-man Joseph-Itzhak made it clear to me that the miraculous moment for which we had waited for so may years had come.

Our best friends gathered then to accompany us on our way. I shall never forget the hundreds of eyes looking at us with both affection and envy. When we reached the bridge, the group burst into song and started to dance the "Hora". With calls of "See you in Eretz Jisrael" we took leave of our townspeople. Who would have thought that this was farewell forever and that we would never see those wonderful Jews again. I am overwhelmed by anguish when I remember that our little town was erased and that those lovely people now lie somewhere in a mass grave. Blessed be their memory!

[Page 92]

Memories of My Childhood

Shekhna Kantorovitsh / New York

When my family left Dokshitz in 1921 to travel to America I was barely 12 years old. We endured all seven fires of hell brought with World War I. It is, however, in the nature of man to remember the good in life and forget the bad that one has endured. Those times of war when the various armies chased one another out of the shtetl, were very bitter times. But looking back with childlike eyes, I see only the good and happy times.

The memories that remain of Dokshitz bring me spiritual refreshment, a longing, which even 45 years have not succeeded in erasing. Something always bloomed in the shtetl, especially on Slovoder Street. Behind every house was a garden, full of cucumbers, onions, beans, grains and other vegetables. How nice the gardens looked when they started to bloom. Behind the gardens was a green field with thick grass. When the field began to green it was covered in a sort of golden blanket. Oh, how we children used to love to roll in the soft grass, or lie on our backs among the little yellow flowers and watch the blue sky. How beautiful God's world looked from that spotÉ

[Page 93]

I remember the cry of the sexton, "Jews to the bath-house," or Friday evening, "Jews, close your stores, it is almost candle-lighting time!" In the week before Rosh Hashanah, the sexton would rap on the shutters in early morning and call out: "Slichos, slichos." He also announced all other community news.

But more than anything, certain curiosities that could take place only in such a nice Jewish shtetl as Dokshitz, are impressed upon my memory.

When I began going to kheyder, my mother used to give me a piece of dark bread for lunch, sometimes with cheese, sometimes without. Many a time this was the last piece of bread in the house. The other boys used to bring a roll or white bread. I used to wonder how it was that they got a roll and I got black bread. It didn't take long to discover the answer. Not far from our kheyder lived Sholem the bagel-baker. A little further, by the bridge, Libeh-Frumeh had a store where she sold cakes. Midday, the boys from my kheyder used to go to Sholem's or Libeh-Frumeh's. I also went along. They went to make purchases, and I did as well. But I was different in one way. I didn't understand that one had to pay. And so it went a long while until my mother heard about it. The baker and the shopkeeper never once asked me for money or refused me. Such dear people, they didn't want to embarrass a small child...

Other things that I remember: I must have been eight years old when this happened on a Saturday in the Slovoder synagogue. Although I was not yet bar mitzvah age, I was given the honor of maftir [the last person who is called to say the blessing over the Torah reading who then may proceed to chant the Haftorah] quite often. I would prepare to say maftir before Shabbes. It happened that Itshe, a son of the bath-keeper (I believe his name was Yoshe) wrote Tnoyim [the official Jewish engagement document] that week, so people wanted to give him the honor of maftir. In grief about the fact that I was not going to be called, I went off into a corner and had a sobbing fit. Yoshe noticed this and came over to me, gave me a hug and said: "Shekhnele, don't cry, I will let you say maftir." And so it was. He made the blessings. I chanted the Haftorah.

In the front of our house, we had a dirt patio with a bench. Across from our house lived Khaya-Tsishe. She dealt in all types of wares. She was a widow for many years. Later on she married a nice man, a scholar. His name was Shimon-Arye. He used to sit at home and study and Khaya-Tsishe continued with her sales and

[Page 94]

supported him. His Gemorah-nign [Gemorah - Talmud, nign - melody, melody to which he would study Gemorah], which was a pleasure to listen to, would travel to our patio. Women from neighboring homes would come sit on our patio to listen to Shimon-Arye studying. The women would talk and say that Khaya-Tsishe got a well-deserved reward in getting such a good man.

For today's generation, these vignettes will perhaps be no more than little shtetl stories. But I believe that they reflect the character of the general person from Dokshitz that I remember. The nice qualities that they had - not wanting to pain anyone or shame them.

May this all be recorded in the memory book of Dokshitz. May the children and grandchildren of the one-time Dokshitz Jews know from what kind of shtetl they come. When the historians of the future one day research the history of our time, they should know that there was once a shtetl like Dokshitz, where Jewish life bloomed, until the murderer, Hitler, came and annihilated everything. However, in the hearts of those who knew the shtetl, it will live eternally.

[Page 94]

The Jewish Youth In Our Town

David Kopelewitz / Kibbutz Ruhama

Translated by Irene Emodi

Dokshitz, a typical little town in the Diaspora. The majority of its inhabitants were Jewish and their lives were guided by Jewish tradition.The Jews were religious, but not fanatical. They were divided into two rival camps: the Lubavitz Hasidim and the Mitnagdim (opponents). A young generation of proud, active and lively Jewish youth grew up this way.

Many years passed since I last saw my little town. I left it about a year before the outbreak of the War and the Holocaust. When I try to remember life in town, I see Dokshitz as a quiet and peaceful little town, far from the busy main road, hidden in a quiet corner. The faces of the people who lived there carried an expression of peace and quiet. In spite of the many problems of making a living and the hostile environment, the constant awareness of the surrounding hatred and anti-Semitism, everyone tried to create the illusion of security in his own peaceful home.

That is how our parents lived, as did the generations before them. I did not witness the Holocaust which also arrived at Dokshitz, and that is why the town remains in my memory just as it was in previous years and I can't visualize it any other way.

I remember its main streets, densely populated by Jews, each house close to the next, each yard close to the next. The gentile population was pushed towards the distant corners at the outskirts of town. I remember Market Street with its many Jewish shops "full of goodies". On weekdays not many came to buy there, but on Tuesday, market day, the place was full of people. From the early hours of the morning rows of carriages drawn by horses would ride towards town from all the villages in the area. The quiet atmosphere turned into commotion, turmoil and cries filled the main streets &emdash; the local anti-Semitic youngsters contributing their share.

As in the other towns of Poland at the time of the Pilsodski government and the "Andatzia", in Dokshitz too there was fierce incitement against Jews, and only because they formed the majority in Dokshitz, the gentiles were prevented from carrying out progroms. On market days the gentiles grew bolder and they tried to provoke a fight, sparing no means. Fistfights often broke out, but the Jewish youth, together with the "common people" retaliated. In most cases the Jews had the upper hand and the hooligans were chased away, however fears of tomorrow always persisted.

In this period, a few years before the outbreak of the War, incitement against Jews increased in all the large cities and many agitators were sent to the small border towns. As a result, anti-Semitism in Dokshitz increased, and the Jews slowly started to be pushed out of their well-established economic situation. The situation deteriorated. The future became clouded and all hearts were filled with apprehension. At the same time the general lack of security grew.

Such was the situation of the Jewish population in Dokshitz on the eve of the World War. I would like to go on and dwell on the essence of the Jewish youth, its activities and situation in those days.

The Jewish youngsters in Dokshitz started to get organized in the twenties at a time of relative quiet. The monotonous life did not satisfy the ambitions and aspirations of the local youth. They started to rise up against accepted norms, against their parents, against the existing order.

There was no significant class distinction in town, although there were both rich and poor among us. There were but a few industrial enterprises, and Jews did not work there as laborers, merely as clerks &emdash; therefore there was no background for the creation of different classes. The situation was not the same among the young. Here clear distinctions were developing, mainly for Helachic reasons.

New ideas and conceptions started to infiltrate the town. The majority of the well-to-do youth left for the large cities, once they had graduated from the "Tarbut" elementary school, in order to obtain a high school education. These youngsters, who spent the year in surroundings that were different from what they were accustomed to, started to absorb new ideas and made a clear class distinction. They formed the first nucleus for a change of atmosphere among the Jewish youth in Dokshitz, and when they returned to town they brought along new ideas and different outlooks. They inspired their friends with these new ideas and this caused a great deal of agitation. The quest for knowledge and general education grew. The municipal library turned into a regular meeting place for the many youngsters of Dokshitz. Naturally, they all started to read the books closest to their heart and status.

The agitation among the youngsters finally led to a clear development of youth movements and parties. The young people in town lived within narrow boundaries and wanted to develop into new and different directions, from the extreme left to the extreme right.

The largest and most important part started to organize into the Zionist frameworks. Youngsters of all ages and levels gathered at the local cell of "Hashomer Hatzair". Although the movement was semi-legal and its activities had to be hidden from the eyes of the authorities, this did not prevent the youngsters from joining the ranks of the movement and participate in all its activities. The youngsters went on outings in the framework of "Hashomer Hatzair" , to summer and work camps. Robert Baden Powell's scout's movement on the one hand, and the positive activity on behalf of Jewish funds such as "Keren Hakayemet", "Keren Hayesod" on the other hand, were at the center of the daily life of "Hashomer Hatzair" in those days.

A Group of Jewish Youth in the City

The main nucleus of the founders of this movement and most of its members came from among the educated young. It was considered a free, non-political movement.

Together with "Hashomer Hatzair" the "Hehalutz" movement was founded, which mainly included older, working youngsters, who decided to go on alyah to Eretz Jisrael. Here too there was a lot of propaganda activity. Work for the national funds, preparations for going to the movement's training kibbutzim and &emdash;finally- alyah to Eretz Jisrael. The older members of "Hashomer Hatzair" also joined "Hehalutz" as an independent body, mainly for training which was organized by "Hehalutz". The "League for Labor Israel" was formed in those days and this incorporated all the Zionist-socialist parties and movements.

In the framework of the "League" there were many joint activities, such as the distribution of "Sheqalim" for the Zionist Congress, wide-ranging propaganda towards the elections and various collections for working Eretz Jisrael.

A cell of the "Beitar" movement was also formed, however it's impact was not felt on the Jewish street. Another influential part of the youngsters turned the wheel into an anti-Zionist direction. This was the Yiddishist youth which was in favor of integration in the life of the Diaspora and adhering to the values acquired by the Jews in their places of living, encouraging the Yiddish language as our mother tongue and fighting an all out war against the Zionist idea. Some of the youngsters were attracted by this idea. This ideology did not in fact require great sacrifice or any revolutionary changes in the way of life. It was enough to join these ranks as a member, pay the dues and agree with the existing situation. Their program was cultural activity &emdash; literary "tea evenings" with lectures abounding with rhetoric, and above all reading Yiddish literature.

The Yiddishist youth partly came from a working background and partly from the intelligentsia. Some of them were inclined towards the leftist movements, the communist party, and slowly abandoned the Jewish nationalist identity. Many communists decided to implement the doctrine and moved to the Soviet Union.

Meeting of the Group of Hechalutz and Shomer Hatzair

The border with the Soviet Union was merely a few kms. away from Dokshitz and these youngsters were attracted to it. There was a time when they would stealthily cross the border each night. An example of this was the crossing of the Russian border by the orchestra which remained there. Although not everyone managed to cross the border and some were even caught, the very act indicates the atmosphere that existed in those days.

We also had youngsters called "Golden Youth" &emdash; mainly educated youngsters who decided not to join any of the existing parties. Their only ideology was a lack of ideology, they wanted to be part of the existing order of life and have proper relations with the Jewish public and to a certain extent also with the Polish population. These youngsters also adhered to certain values. They conducted cultural activities, but their general activity was without any ideological trend.

This picture of Dokshitz and its youth is engraved on my mind and I keep the memory to this very day. It is very hard to imagine that all this was destroyed in one stroke and no longer exists, as if it was an idle dream. May this article serve as a commemoration and eternal candle to the population of annihilated Dokshitz, to our parents who perished and to all the young people who lived there and are no more.

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