by Dr. Avrom Alpert (Ramat Gan)
Translated by Janie Respitz
I know very little about medical help in Zhetl before the First World War. I could not learn a lot from speaking to people who lived in Zhetl at that time. They did tell me that until the First World War Zhetl had a doctor, sometimes two. This would happen when the Jewish community was divided in two due to disputes over communal matters. There were no lack of arguments on the Jewish street. In a dispute, the doctor, a central figure in town, would support one side. The other side would declare a boycott on him and bring in a second doctor. Y. Gibor, who left Zhetl fifty years ago recounted the following story. In a dispute between the artisans and wealthy men led by the rabbi broke out. The doctor at the time, Hirshkop, fought on the side of the artisans. The wealthier men plotted against him and brought Dr. Ram from Vilna with great propaganda.
The main medical help was received by unqualified or half qualified people, medics who received their training in the army.
A Russian doctor, Ivanov, worked at the hospital on Lisagure Street, then, Dr. Shapiro of blessed memory and the medic Velvl, on Novoredker Street.
The Russian authorities supported the hospital which was used mainly by peasants from the surrounding villages. Jews would go there very seldom.
As for trained midwives or nurses, there is nothing to talk about. Grandmothers took care of this. By the way, during the First World War there were no Jewish doctors in Zhetl. Dr. Shapiro was mobilized by the Russians at the beginning of the war and medical help was given by military doctors from the local garrison. The very sick were brought to neighbouring, larger cities.
Dr. Shapiro and His Family
In 1918 Dr. Shapiro and his family returned from Russia. His wife Aneh was a trained midwife and assisted her husband with his work. For many years, Dr. Shapiro, of blessed memory, was the only Jewish doctor in Zhetl. He was not well liked by the Jewish population because of his use of the Russian language. By the way he was not accessible and could not get used to living among the Jewish masses. People would often joke about him repeating his medical demands in a Yiddish mixed with Russian expressions.
He worked very hard in order to run a modest house while at the same time educating his daughter Mania, and son Ilyusha, of blessed memory, who were both medical students. His daughter Mania lives in Russia and works as a neurologist. His son, after high school became a communist activist. In 1937 he quit his studies at the university, left Poland and through France arrived in Spain in order to join the liberation struggle of the Spanish people. As it has been told, he was the editor for the front newspaper of the International Brigade, and for active propaganda. He was killed in battle. Far from his small hometown of Zhetl, his bones were scattered in the land of the Pyrenees in a battle for freedom against the Fascist hordes of General Franco.
His father, Dr. Shapiro, fell victim to his hard work. It can be said he died at his post. His health was affected by his hard work. While he was visiting a very sick patient, he dropped dead of a heart attack.
Dr. Shapiro did not leave an inheritance for his wife Aneh and two children who were still studying. Life was difficult for them.
During Dr. Shapiro's time there were a few medics working in Zhetl. We must mention Velvl the Medic from Novoredker Street. Women said he was an expert in children's diseases. He died very old (I think his family name was Savitsky).
Another medic we must mention is Berl, who was an expert in all sorts of wounds.
He was the main specialist in Zhetl. The peasants respected him and every Tuesday there was a lineup of wagons with sick people outside his house.
Besides them there was the medic Aron Grin, Zalmen the blacksmith's son. He was a trained medic with a lot of experience which he received at the Jewish hospital in Vilna. He had a huge practice with Jews and Christians. People said he really understood the illnesses. He also took great interest in the volunteer fire company and served as chairman for many years. He was killed together with his family in the second big slaughter in 1942.
After Dr. Shapiro died many different doctors came to Zhetl. First, Dr. Kivelevitch, who besides his medical work, was involved with social medicine. He was active on the board of TOZ (Society For Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish Population) in Zhetl.
Dr. Vapner also worked as a doctor for a few years. I do not know his fate after he left Zhetl.
Dr. Kru worked during the few years before the war. He was a partisan in the Nolibaker Forest and remained in Russia as a devoted communist.
Dr. Vinik from Novogrudok worked in Zhetl before the war. During the Soviet occupation he worked as director of the birthing department in the hospital. Dr. Vinik was killed in Zhetl during the second slaughter. He had a chance to survive: however he did not want to leave his sister.
At the same time, Dr. Fraydzan, a refugee from Mezritch also worked in Zhetl. He was killed in Novogrudok after the liquidation of the Zhetl ghetto.
Before the Soviets, Dr. Kagan practiced in Zhetl. He was a well known community activist, and was also active in the Poalei Zion movement in Baranovitch. He was killed trying to escape from the workshops in Novogrudok through a tunnel which they dug for this purpose. He did not manage to escape because he limped. While they were shooting he became disoriented and returned to the workshops.
Doctors Born in Zhetl
From the doctors born in Zhetl I would like to mention my cousin, Noyakh Alpert, of blessed memory. He spent the difficult years of the German occupation in Mezritch, worked as a doctor with great success and survived many military operations which took place there. He was killed with his wife and child in the last extermination operation in Mezritch. We were told he and his wife were hidden by a Christian who turned them over to the Germans.
The writer of these lines is one of the few from Zhetl (4 in total) who graduated medical school right before the outbreak of the war, survived the difficult years of the German occupation in the ghettos of Vasilishok, Shtushin, then sent to a labour camp in Lide. Together with my wife and small son, we escaped from the camp in 1943 and joined the partisans, first in the region of Lide near the Nieman, and from July 1943 until liberation in 1944 I was sent to the Bulak brigade where I served as brigade doctor until we were liberated by the Red Army. In 1945 I left Russia and wandered throughout Europe with a longer stop in Italy. With the large immigration current in 1949, I arrived in Israel with my family.
From among the medical personnel that worked in Zhetl I would like to mention Peshke Langbart. She was not a trained nurse however she carried out her work with perfection. She dedicated a lot of time to communal work, particularly the Zhetl Orphan Committee. She was called the mother of the orphans. She was the wife of the well known Zionist activist Avrom Langbart.
From among the younger nurses I have to mention Shifra Dunetz, a graduate of the TOZ Nursing School in Vilna. She was a trained nurse and worked for the Soviets in the Zhetl hospital. She was killed with the first 120 after she was handed over to the Germans for her socialist convictions.
From the Zhetl midwives I would like to mention Raykhl from Lisagure Street and Aneh Shapiro who died before the German occupation. From the younger generation we must remember Dvoyre Rashkin who graduated from the Warsaw State Midwife School and later worked in Zhetl. She survived the partisans and now lives in Australia. Hindke Mirsky also worked as a nurse during the Soviet occupation and later in the forest.
From among the dentists in Zhetl I want to mention the Kuperman sisters, who worked until the last days and died after the last slaughter. After the First World War many dentists worked in Zhetl, among them were Lotvin, who actually was an assistant, but knew the work very well and attracted the largest number of patients. A large number of tooth technicians also fixed teeth. Among the technicians were: Nakhman Breskin, who is now in America, Avrom Rashkin who was killed as a partisan in an ambush in the village Savitch, Mayrim Lusky, who lives in Israel, Yosef Levit who was killed in one of the slaughters in Zhetl.
I want to make special mention of the Zhetl dentist Gdalyahu Shvedsky who was active in the community, was one of the most important workers in Zhetl's TOZ, and an active member of the Zhetl Secular Yiddish School. He was killed in Oygustov where he had been living during the last years.
I would also like to mention the pharmacists and half pharmacists, meaning those who worked in the pharmacy stores. They learned how to prepare medications and would give medical advice and even make diagnoses.
The pharmacy, as far as I remember, was owned by Christians, however the pharmacists were Jews. Belonging to the older group of druggists were: Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky, of blessed memory, a well known Zionist from the early Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion). He died in Israel. Khaim Koyfman and his son Berl, Hendl Dvoretsky, Yudelevitch, Hinde Mirsky, Mania Rabinovitch, Pesia Levit and others.
The most important social medicine institution in Zhetl belonged to the TOZ division in Zhetl.
TOZ in Zhetl was first organized by the Yiddishists, meaning those communal activists from the Yiddish Secular School like: Etl Ovseyevitch, Lize Kovensky, Yehoshua Lusky, Yosef Senderovsky, Khayke Ovseyevitch, Herman Frenkel and Khane Malke Shvedsky. After the Zionists revolted, they chose a new board of directors including the following: Aron Alpert chairman, Volf Farfl vice chairman, Dr. Y. Kivelevitch, Berl Dvoretsky, Dvoyre Gorodaysky, Rivke Lusky, Etl Ovseyevitch and Gdalyahu Shvedsky. Dr. Kru and Dr. Vinil were also very active in TOZ.
The activities of TOZ were diverse. They ran summer camps in Novyelnia and half summer camps in Zhetl. The prophylactic work consisted of: healing various parasite diseases, especially diseases in children's hair. Children with this disease would be sent to Bialystok for xrays.
Besides this, Toz looked after children who
suffered from tuberculosis and would send them to the tuberculosis sanatorium in Novoyelnia. They would manage the sanitary condition of poor houses and provide a warm meal in school for poor children.
First row: Khaye Busel. Nekhama Roznov, Babel Lusky, Mushe Levit, Leah Kovesnky, Grunie Vernikovsky, Khane Lifshitz
Second row: Mendl Mirsky, Avrom Langbart, Leyb Lusky, Peshke Izraelit. Yisroel Moishe Ivenitsky, unknown, Yehoshua Lusky
Third row: Soreh Libe Shatzky, Minke Zayontchek, Mirl Lusky, Shayndl Butkovsky, Zvia Kovensky, Yudis Mirsky, Rivke Rayzl Vaynshteyn
Fourth row: Khaye Belsky, Soreh Rabinovitch, Libe Belsky, Etl Vilner, Mashe Leybovitch, Mayte Savitsky. Mere Savitsky
Doctors would visit the schools and examine the children in order to discover parasites and especially tuberculosis.
Institutions and Activists
It is worthwhile to mention the blessed activity of the Medical Aid Society in Zhetl. They mainly worked in healing the sick poor. Dr. Shapiro would receive them at the hospital on Lisagure Street and the Medical Aid Society would pay. They would also receive medication free of charge as well as physiotherapy, quartz radio therapy and the like.
Among the volunteers in the Medical Aid Society were: Moishe Ruven Mordkovsky the well known Zionist activist in Zhetl. It is worthwhile dedicating an entire chapter to him. Avrom Moishe Barishansky, Rivke Lusky, Yoel Tcheplovodsky, Avrom Savitsky (now living in Israel), Yehoshua Lusky, Leyb Lusky the former mayor, Avrom and Pesiye Langbart, Khaim Itzkovitch now in Israel and many others.
Among others it is worthwhile to mention those active in the Society to Spend the Night with the Sick: Shmuel Shvedsky, Aron the shoe leather cutter, Avrom Savitsky and Moishe Ruven Mordkovsky.
The Orphan Committee worked energetically. Its main activist was Peshke Langbart. She supplied clothing and made sure to find places for children in the orphanage.
In Zhetl there were many institutions which
helped in an emergency and provided the first steps in the direction of prophylactic medicine. In the photographs of the Medical Aid Society and Society to Spend the Night with the Sick that we published here, the activists, the ones I mentioned and did not mention, of all the institutions will be remembered eternally. Let their heartfelt and varied communal work sanctify their names. Honour their memory!
From right to left: Mordkhai Sokolovsky, Mosihe Ruven Mordkovsky, Mahse Leybovitch, Avrom Savitsky, Philip Zabitz
Seated: Dentist A. Barukhin, M.Sh. Glikman, Lyuba Leybovitch
Standing: A. Savitsky, Yakov Pilnik, Sh. Kalmanovsky, Sh. Vilensky, A. Smayevsky, V. Eliyovitch
From right to left seated: Khineke Lusky, Khaya Bielitzky, Frume Shalkovitch, Moishe Ruven Mordkovsky, Zelik Berman, Yisroel Ozer Barishansky, Yiosroel Elkahanan Piekelny, Yosef the painter, Yakov Abelevitch
Standing: Sholem Reznitsky, Soreh Rabinovitch, Noyakh Mikulitsky, Sonia Shilovitsky, Tzfira Raytzer, Yokhe Mordkovsky, Shmuel Shvedsky, Aron Kontzevik, Leyzer Eli Slutsky, Khanie
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