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[ Page 79 ]

Yisrael Baruch Warshavsky (New York)
[Photo: Yisrael Baruch Warshavsky (Warsaw)]


My Memoirs
Written at the end of World War I

        I am going to start my memoirs with the events we lived through in the World War (1914). As of this writing, the war has been going on for 4 years, and we still don't know where things are at, whether we are at the end of the war, or just in the beginning. We hope that the war is coming to an end, but in the meantime we are living through an extremely critical period. Nobody knows whether we'll be able to get through it. Therefore, I am writing my memoirs for my children, who are living through this awful time together with us; they are, however, still too small to be able to appreciate what is going on around them.


The situation of the Jews in Russia before the War

After the reactionary Czarist regime put down the Revolution of 1905 in a river of blood, it started oppressing the Jews. Decrees after decrees were issued to embitter Jewish life, and whoever oppressed the Jews more was rewarded with a higher position from the Czarist regime.

        The reactionary press thundered against the Jews, and the regime had its black undercover agents, the "Black Magnikas," in all gangs and bands that were involved in theft and murder. There were bloody pogroms in Kishinev, Gomel, Bialistock and many other cities. The Jews increasingly lived in fear of their lives!

        In Drohitchin we also lived through this fear and the pogroms. Once there was a rumor in town that the peasants were preparing to carry out a pogrom against the Jews, and the local gentiles in town already had their share in Jewish homes and property. The pogrom was supposed to take place on a market day. The Jews, however, found about the danger, and paid off the local police chief and the district policeman. The entire police force of the district [uyezd] were called to the market fair, and arrived with loaded guns. The peasants, who came to the fair with bags and hatchets, were disappointed and left the fair with empty sacks. It was the police chief and policeman who made out the best at the fair. As far as they were concerned, Drohitchin was a milk cow, and they had a personal interest in preventing pogroms in town.


The outbreak of World War I

        While the Russian government was involved with the Jews, and did so energetically, Germany was making its plans to dominate the world, and especially Russia. It had to happen sooner or later. The murder of the Austrian crown prince in Sarajevo was the first spark in the worldwide blaze. This happened in the summer of 1914. Austria's move against Serbia served as a sign of bloody things to come. Soon thereafter, Russia mobilized, and the world started flowing with blood.

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        We heard about the first announcement of the mobilization on Friday, July 31, 1915 [this is an error, and should be 1914]. It's impossible to describe how we felt on that Sabbath, when many young men suddenly had to leave their families and go to war. On Sunday morning, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, we mournfully accompanied the unfortunate boys; we all walked along, weeping and sobbing silently, wiping our eyes. We then hugged and kissed each other, fainted and said goodbye to the poor boys. They then left for the train, and their relatives departed like mourners, returning to the synagogue to recite the laments for the fast day.

        [Photo:] Seated, from right: David Epstein, Yosef Feldman, Velvel Mishovsky and Meir Meyerovich as students in the Russian high school.

        Shortly thereafter, we heard a rumor that the Germans had gone on and taken Kalisch and Tchenstechov. The turmoil in Poland got stronger, and new families arrived every day to stay with their relatives in Drohitchin, while others traveled further on. There was alot of movement, and our hearts and minds were only absorbed in the war; we would get up early in the morning just to hear the news from new arrivals. As soon as a train arrived, people would surround the cars from all sides, asking questions about everything happening in other places. Afterwards, people would congregate in the House of Study to talk about the political situation. People offered various opinions and assessments about the Germans' intentions and plans. Some people were amazed at the Germans, while others believed that the Germans were very good to the Jews; they referred to Kaiser Wilhelm as "R. Velvel," and that he was good to the Jews, and would therefore be successful. It was argued that life would become unbearable if the Germans didn't arrive.

        Everywhere two people stood together, and as soon as shopkeepers closed their stores, crowds congregated to talk about what the Blatt newspaper was saying, and what travelers were reporting. If the paper wrote about great victories by the Russians, people had doubts, thinking this wasn't true. When they read about the cruelty of the Germans, no one believed it. No one believed this about a "civilized people" like the Germans. Throughout the winter, the Russians pushed back the Germans and marched into Galicia and eastern Prussia.


The fall of the Czarist army

        We felt the same about the fall of the Czarist army as we did about the fall of the Russian reactionary regime. The more frequent the failures of the Czarist army, the quicker the end of the Russian reactionary regime was expected to come. The first summer wasn't very good for the Russians. The Germans were able to route the Russians from Galicia and East Prussia, which was followed by a series of Russian retreats. The Germans got progressively stronger, and marched on, while the Russians put up little resistance; the population of Poland was evacuated, and more of them became homeless. Thousands of families of German settlers were expelled from the Chelm and Lublin gubernias. Some traveled on peasant wagons, while others traveled on their own wagons. Kettles of hot tea and bread were provided to the refugees, while many of them died along the way. The wave of homeless refugees kept growing, like birds flying ahead of a storm. This is how they were fleeing eastward; they included wealthy people, bureaucrats, and Russian peasants.

        There was no shortage of Jewish suffering at the hands of the reactionaries, who provoked the killing of many Jews. The Russian regime spread false rumors that the Jews were responsible for their failures, and that the Jews were collaborating with the Germans. The Russian newspapers spread lies and slander that the Jews were shipping off their gold to German in stuffed geese. Such stories and lies about the Jews were used by the Black Magnikas to deflect the people's anger at their own failures.

        Considered a dangerous element, thousands of Jews were evacuated from the war fronts. They were ruined and became totally dependent on the rest of the Jews. The Jews, in fact, played a major role in the war, both with money and manpower, for the benefit of the Russians.

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