Seated: Moishe Mirsky, Mineh Shiluvsky
Standing: Hinde Mirsky, Yisreol Goldberg, Sholem Lisagursky
Seated from right to left: Fraydl Berman, Dvoyre Shkolnik, Borukh Kaplinsky, Yekhiel Kuznietsky, Yehuda Ostrovsky, Abba Levenbuk
Standing: Mayrim Lusky, Alteh Kuznietsky, Yosef Berman, Yitzkhak Yalon, Shabtai Mayevsky, Arye Cohen
Translated by Judy Montel
Dzyatlava may still exist, but Jewish Zhetl is gone. The Pomereika may still overflow its banks before the Passover holiday, but no Jewish possessions are damaged by the stormy waters.
It may be that in the summer, children still flock with hammocks in their hands to the grove of the Christian cemetery to breathe fresh air, but they do not chat together in Yiddish.
The firemen may still practice in the streets of Zhetl, rolling barrels of water, climbing roofs that aren't burning, but Chayim Meir the fireman doesn't rally them with his bugle.
Jewish Zhetl found its rest in two cemeteries after 450 years of creation and struggle. However, in the larger world, many offshoots survived from the town. We will mention them briefly.
For many years before its destruction many of the children of Zhetl sensed the end that was drawing near. Hundreds took up a wanderer's staff, set off on the seven seas and reached all five parts of the world. Where can they not be found today? They make up the settlements of Zhetl in the larger world.
The largest settlement of Zhetl descendants can be found in the United States. According to the reckoning of Ephraim Pesoff, some 600 families from Zhetl made their new home there. The pioneers of this settlement arrived in the United States already in the 1870s and 1880s. In 1890 they organized and founded a synagogue called: Chevre Mishkan Israel People of Zhetl. In 1904 they created the Organization for Extending Aid to Zhetl and its Institutions. In the 30s they founded the Organization of Women of Zhetl.
The organizations were successful in strengthening the ties among the Zhetlers in the United States and in sending aid to Zhetl institutions until 1939.
In Israel, some 250 families from Zhetl integrated into the fabric of life. When did the first people from Zhetl arrive in Israel? We don't know. We assume that in all the generations and all of the times. Five gravestones on the Mt of Olives testify to people from Zhetl who lived in the Land of Israel in the second half of the 19th century and perhaps even in the first half.
With the first Aliya (wave of immigration) to the Land of Israel, R' Elimelech Izraelit arrived, one of the founders of Kastinia. In 1884 Shaina Michla Moshkovski arrived in Israel from Zhetl, and she died in 1936 in Ekron. In 1886, R' Gershon Shlomo Kaplinsky arrived from Zhetl. His grandson is R' Shmuel Zakif, head of Magdiel. In 1887, R' Yehoshua Eizenshtat-Barzilai arrived from Zhetl, one of the founders of Bnei Moshe and an activist who did much in the country. In 1895 R' Moshe Eizik Ostrovsky arrived. His daughter and her husband founded a business for building materials known as L. Glikman.
Many people from Zhetl arrived with the second Aliya and the third Aliya up to the survivors of the Sho'ah who arrived between 1945 and 1950.
In 1943 the Organization of Olim from Zhetl in Israel was founded and in 1951 a Charity Fund. Over time 1500 trees were donated to the forest in memory of the martyrs of Zhetl.
A third settlement of people from Zhetl, some 70 families, is in Argentina. The first immigrants arrived in Argentina from Zhetl after the first World War. Today, there is a busy Organization of People from Zhetl in Argentina which has done much for the members of our town who survived the Sho'ah.
In Canada, some 40 families from Zhetl found a home. Dozens of families built their homes in England, France, Australia and South Africa. In total, around the world over a thousand families from Zhetl found homes, who number at the very least 4000 people.
Such a number of Jews never lived in Zhetl. The Jewish population of Zhetl ranged between 3000 to 3500 souls. It turns out that in fact, the settlements have a greater population than Zhetl, their place of origin.
Let us cultivate the emotional connection between the children of our town in every place they are found, strengthen it and bind it so that the embers of Zhetl around the world stays alight.
by Efraim Pasaf (New York)
Translated by Janie Respitz
It is not known when the first Jews from Zhetl walked on American soil as no registration from those days remain. I believe it was at the end of the 70s or early 80s of the last century.
Many small town Jews, suffering from poverty were forced to wander into the new big world, some from Zhetl among them. By 1890 there were so many Zhetl Jews in America they felt the need to establish a Zhetl Society and a synagogue which was called Chevra Mishkan Yisroel Anshei Zhetl.
For the early arrivals that were religious and found everything so foreign and non Jewish, the synagogue was a treasure. They prayed together, distributed honours and studied Mishna. They attempted to create a familiar Zhetl atmosphere in a small corner of the new world.
Even the non religious, the Enlightened, looked at the synagogue as a safe haven where they could meet with their townsfolk, receive regards from home and ease the longing for their loved ones they left behind in their old home.
In fact, membership in the synagogue grew. On Saturdays and holidays the synagogue was packed. Apparently loneliness brought these two groups together despite their differences.
For the religious this was a synagogue in the true sense of the word, a place to pray and learn. For the non-religious, it served as a club where they gathered to enjoy themselves in familiar surroundings.
In 1902 -1903 a younger group arrived from Zhetl, driven away from the old home due to hardship. Some of them were absorbed in the revolutionary spirit, belonged to revolutionary parties and ran away from the old home because they were being persecuted by the Russian police. For them, joining the synagogue was out of the question.
A large portion of these young people came from families of shop owners and businessmen. They did not have a trade. Even those who did have a trade could not put it to use, for example, scribes.
Wanting to chase away their loneliness, they would gather in the homes of older Zhetler, who already climbed the economic ladder, and poured out their hearts. They would debate political and social issues of the day and sometimes play cards.
What was characteristic in those years was the devotion and connection they all felt to one another, not taking into account their parentage, or social standing back home. As soon as they learned someone arrived from Zhetl, the townsfolk were ready to help, first and foremost with lodging, and the next day, take him the factory, and teach him a trade so he could support himself. Until this happened they were prepared to share their last morsel.
Slowly, every immigrant found work, the majority in the women's clothing industry, which was then almost entirely run by Jews. The gathering of Zhetl Jews was happening more often and now, was better organized.
In 1904 they had the idea to establish the Zhetl Society with the long name: Independent Zhetl Young Men's Benevolent Association, which still exits today.
At first the organization had more of a social and communal character, but slowly it was more focused on financial support for needy members. The members were constantly concerned about the difficulties of daily life and worried about the future.
We must remember this happened in the time of the Sweat Shops, when people slaved twelve to fifteen hours a day. The shops were dark holes, barely letting in a ray of sun, the walls dripped and many workers contracted illnesses under these conditions, particular tuberculosis. Salaries were pitiful, barely enough to live off. No one was ever sure of his job, and in times of unemployment people would starve. There was no one to turn to for help, as friends and relatives
First row from right to left: Volf Kravetz, Efraim Pasaf, Moishe Mendl Leyzerovitch, Dovod Sovitsky
Second row standing: Mikhl Kivelevitch, Yisroel Shilovitsky, Aron Leyzerovitch, Ezriel Shilovitsky, Zavl Mordkovsky
were on the other side of the ocean. Therefore, the Society was the most important institution to help a brother in need, to support him in the event of illness and provide for his wife and children in the event of a tragedy.
Right after the First World War in 1918 the local Jews from Zhetl set up a Relief Fund to support the needy in Zhetl. They collected money and sent a delegate to Zhetl to distribute the funds. Between the two World Wars the Relief sent money to support various institutions like the Talmud Torah, the Tarbut School, the Yiddish School, the Interest Free Loan Society and the Fire Department. Every year they sent Matzah for Passover for the poor and so on. In the 1930s the Zhetl Women's Organization was established to help in this work. This work continued during the Second World War.
I do not know how many Zhetl Jews are living in America. I believe around 600 families because in the mid 1930s the Society had 400 members, the Zhetl synagogue had 100 and approximately 100 Zhetl families did not belong to any of our organizations.
Unfortunately, the Zhetl family in America is becoming smaller and smaller. The older generation is slowly disappearing. The tragedy is even greater because they have not left heirs to take their places, as the younger generation, those born in America have assimilated, not merely with language but also spiritually and belong to other organizations. They don't know and don't want to know about Zhetl and it people. The doors of America are locked for new immigrants and slowly, 70 years of the history of Zhetl Jews in America is being obliterated.
by Moishe Man (Buenos Aires)
Translated by Janie Respitz
By the time the First World War broke out there were 4-5 Zhetl families in Argentina.
A larger immigration began after the First World War. A few families arrived in 1922, many more in 1923 and it continued like this until the outbreak of the Second World War.
The first immigrants arrived without trades or prepetition and endured difficult times as labourers and slaughterers. However they soon began to take on various trades. Tailors left unskilled jobs. People without trades began to work in carpentry and worked their way up. Others became peddlers, starting off by selling on installments and ended up doing well.
Today there are close to 70 families from Zhetl in Argentina.
The Zhetl Townsmen's Society was established in the 1920s. It attracted people who were needy and lonely. When you get together with people you know loneliness is not as bad.
I do not know how long the society existed. It was dissolved shortly after and no archive has remained.
In 1937 the society was re-established. At first we were very active and even created an Interest Free Loan Society. Every member received an interest free loan of 100 pesos. That was a substantial amount at the time for the lonely, sick and needy.
We also sent financial aid to the rabbi's address in Zhetl for the: Yiddish School, the Tarbut School, the Talmud Torah and other institutions. The secretary of our society was Feyvl Bielitzky.
During the war our work gradually decreased until it totally stopped.
In 1945, at my initiative, a general meeting was called. We elected a new board. I was elected secretary and kept in touch with the Zhetl Society in Israel and with their instructions on how to help survivors who were in Austria and Italy.
At first we sent cash to Italy. At the time it was the only way we could help, but without success. We never received any receipts. It appeared that whoever in the camp took the envelope with the money, kept it for himself. When we learned of this we stopped sending money and began to send packages to
Seated from right to left: Hirshl Sovitsky, Shloyme Lusky, Avrom Levit, Khaim Velvl Sovitsky, Moishe Man
Standing: Moishe Lusky, Hirshl Shilovitsky, Ozer Kaplan, Izik Epshteyn, Pinkhas Medvedsky, Berl Kravetz, Eliezer Lusky
Austria and Italy. Unfortunately, the same thing occurred.
After these failures we decided to send aid to Israel and allow them to distribute it according to their discretion.
We began to send large sums of money but when it was forbidden to send money out of Argentina we started to send packages of food according to instructions from the committee in Israel.
We decided to do this in order not to create a recommendation system which unfortunately exists in many institutions and societies.
We found kind people who would find friends and offer heaven and earth. But when it came time to send something they would turn to the Society and ask them to do it. These were people who could have done it on their own.
In order to stop this, we decided, only as per instructions from Israel, to send packages and continue to do it this way.
We sent everything in a respectable manner. We sent things out of moral obligation and not, God forbid, as alms.
Here as well, locally, we help our townspeople morally and financially, although thank God, no one needs financial help.
At this time we learned of the date of the mass extermination of Zhetl's Jews, the 25th of Av. We mark the anniversary and remember our nearest and dearest who were so brutally murdered.
We also have a tradition of holding a banquet every year for everyone from Zhetl. In the first years we would enforce a contribution, but over the last few years we stopped as there is always left over money after the banquet.
For the past five years we have been organizing a quorum for prayer. On the High Holidays everyone comes and remembers the old synagogue back home while at the same time, strengthening our community. The banquet and the prayer quorum have created a homelike atmosphere for the Jews from Zhetl. We must stress that many townsmen societies cannot boast like this.
The Jews from Zhetl are not especially involved in other organizations, but when called upon by the Zhetl Society, they respond immediately, both for happy and, God forbid, sad occasions. We serve as an example for others.
Almost all Zhetl Jews in Argentina live in Bueno Aires, where we have planted deep roots with our children and grandchildren.
Seated right to left: Moishe Man, Hirshl Sovitsky, Shmuel Shilovitsky, Yekhiel Sovitsky, Moishe Lusky
Standing: Yosef Sovitsky, Ozer Kaplan, Eliezer Lusky, Hirshl Shilovitsky,Yehoshua Lusky, Izik Epshteyn
by Borukh Kaplinsky (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
When did Jews from Zhetl arrive in the Land of Israel?
I believe in all generations, at all times and in all manners. Unfortunately there are very meagre written sources. We were successful in finding traces of Jews from Zhetl in the Land of Israel from the 19th century.
In the book The Zoning Registrar by Asher Leyb Brisk there is a list of tombstones on the Mount of Olives. Among the thousands of tombstones we found 5 belonging to Jews from Zhetl.
Here is a chronological list:
Reb Yitzkhak Ben Asher from Zhetl, died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, 1860.
Reb Yisroel Zuber Bar Mordkhai from Zhetl, died in 1879.
Itkeh Bat Yisroel Katz from Zhetl, widow of Reb Mordkhai Lufler, died in 1886.
Libe Gitl Bat Duber from Zhetl (widow of Reb Berl from Zhetl), died in 1892.
Thanks to Rabbi Yakov Glubshteyn form the Burial Society we received a list of Jews from Zhetl buried in Jerusalem:
Reb Yisreol Bar Shmaya, died on the 12th of Elul, 1907.
Rabbi Eliezer Bar Moishe Papeh, died on the 23rd of Iyar, 1909.
Reb Yitzkhak Zelik Bar Eliezer Dvoretzky, died on the 13th of Tishrei, 1910.
Reb Asher Yunigster and Reb Alter Shub sent the following list of Jews from Zhetl who received aid from the Society of Vilna Jews: Reb Yerakhmiel Nager, Rabbi Gershon Shloyme Bar Yehuda HaKohen, and Reb Khaim Nager who was shot by Arabs and his place of burial is unknown, and Reb Yekhiel Nager.
The above mentioned Jews from Zhetl lived in Jerusalem but unfortunately we do not know what they did in Zhetl, when they immigrated, how they earned a living and if they left behind children here.
Zhetl Jews Who Arrived in The Land of Israel with the First Aliya (Immigration)
Many Jews from Zhetl came to the Land of Israel with the First Aliya. We only know about a few. One Jew form Zhetl who arrived here in the 1880s was Reb Elimeylekh Izraelit. He was one of the founders of Castina (Be'er Tuvyia). He devoted himself to agriculture. He died in Rehovot in the 1930s. His grandchildren live in Haifa.
Shayna Mikhle Moshkovsky arrived from Zhetl in 1884. She married and lived in Ekron. Her husband was a farmer and she helped out. She died in 1936. Her two sons Shmuel and Noakh Shedshevsky live in Ekron.
In 1887 the well known Lover of Zion activist, Reb Yehoshua Eyznshtat Barzilay came from Zhetl to the Land of Israel. He was born in Kletzk but married a woman from Zhetl. His father in law was the Zhetl businessman Reb Leyzer Fraydkes. He died in 1918 in Genf on his way to Germany to help work for a German Balfour Declaration.
His daughter Shifra was born in Zhetl in 1880. She married Reb Yisroel Tzurba in the Land of Israel and died in the 1930s.
Reb Yehoshua Eyznshtat Barzilay, who has a street named for him in Tel Aviv (Barzilay Street near Kikar Hamoshavot),visited Zhetl in 1898 and gave passionate speeches which resulted in the organizational revival of the Lovers of Zion movement. (See Hameilitz vol. 232, 1898).
In the 1880s Reb Yekhiel Nakhman Bar Zvi Alpert escaped from exile to the Land of Israel. He was a carpenter from Zhetl, the grandfather of Avrom Levit of Argentina. Reb Yekhiel died in 1920 in Jerusalem. His daughter Masha Peres lives in Ekron.
In 1895 Reb Moishe Izik Bar Yosef Yoyne Ostrovsky came from Zhetl to the Land of Israel and settled with his family in Jerusalem. His daughter Miriam married Yehuda Leyb Glikman and in 1918 they opened a business in Jaffa which developed quickly and is known today as Building Materials L. Glikman.
Reb Moishe Izik died in Jerusalem on the 20th of Iyar 1901.
Reb Gershon Shloyme Bar Yehuda Hakohen Kaplinsky came to the Land of Israel with his wife in 1886. He died in Jerusalem in 1902. His daughters: Rokhl and Mikhle, the mother of Shmuel Zhukhovitsky (General Magdiel), supported him. His grandchildren are: Diyun Hinde (Haifa), Rokhl Tzirl (Tel Aviv) and Shmuel Zhulhovitsky, (Tel Aviv).
His great grandchildren: Yaffa Grushevsky (Kiryat Amal), and Gdalya Zakif (Tel Aviv). Reb Gershon lived in Old Jerusalem on Chabad Street, in the building belonging to Yeshayahu Salant. The House of Study he learned in was there as well.
Jews Form Zhetl Who Arrived with the Second Aliya
In 1906 Reb Avrom Yakov Mirsky the scribe arrived with his son Zalman Mirsky. Reb Zalman wrote about the reasons they came in his article in this book.
The Mirsky family arrived on the same boat as our former foreign minister Moshe Sharett. At first the Mirsky family settled in Jaffa, but then they moved to Jerusalem. They could not adapt to the Jerusalem climate and after half a year returned to Jaffa. Reb Avrom Yakov Mirsky opened a store but still continued his work as a scribe. Among other things, he wrote the tfilin (phylacteries) for Rabbi Kook.
Before the First World War, around 1909 three Jews arrived in the Land of Israel from Zhetl: Reb Yidl Lusky, the prayer leader from the old House of study Reb Berl Zhizhayker, and Reb Yisroel Dvoshkes.
Reb Yidl Lusky lived in Jaffa for nine months, his wife Zlate lived in Kfar Saba and died during the First World War.
In 1913 Miriam Kovesnky arrived. She was the daughter of Reb Meir Kovensky and the wife of Khaim Ariab, of blessed memory who was a member of Knesset.
That same year Sonia Feyge Dzhenchelsky also arrived. She is the daughter of Naftali Dzhenchelsky and lives in Moshav Tel Adashim.
Zhetl Jews that Arrived with the Third Aliya
The First World War, followed by the Polish Bolshevik war put a stop to immigration to the Land of Israel. However by 1920 three pioneers left Zhetl: Avrom Shepetnisky and the brothers Moishe and Nekhemia Aminoach (Rovovsky).
They all came to the Land of Israel through Vilna, Kovno, Konigsberg, Berlin, Munich and Trieste. At first they were unemployed but eventually found work with farmers in Rishon Letzion.
After two years in Rishon they moved to Kfar Uriah where they worked for four years. After leaving Kfar Uriah, Avrom Shepetnitsky went to Kfar Khasisidim and Moishe and Nekhemia moved to the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
That same year, 1921 the first female pioneer from the Grodno region arrived, Hadassah Vernikovsky, today, Zaks. At her farewell banquet organized by Zhetl Zionists, her father, Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky said the following:
Today is the happiest day of life. Now I can die in peace.
Avrom Ivenitsky said:
Hadassah, I'm envious of two things. One, you are realizing your ideal and two, that your parents are going with you, hand in hand.
Mayrim Epshteyn said:
I want to be the coachman that drives the first female pioneer from the Grodno region to the Land of Israel.
Dr. Shapiro said:
It is crazy to allow a 19 year old girl to travel to the Land of Israel.
Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky smiled and with a smile answered the question posed to him:
We understand a man risking his life to immigrate, but a woman? Is that possible?
I have no sons replied Reb Menakhem, so my daughter is going.
Hadassah Vernikovsky missed her train in Egypt and as a result arrived in Jaffa after the tragic events of 1921. At first she lived with the Ostoshinsky family in Rishon Letzion. However, Ostoshinsky wrote to Reb Menakhem Vernilovsky in Zhetl telling him his daughter was a communist. Hadassah then moved to Tel Aviv where she worked with a donkey transporting sand to straighten the Rothschild roads.
After the Yefuar events when the workers left Hadassah Hospital, Hadassah Vernikovsky was hired at the hospital. At first she worked as a cleaner but later as a manager.
Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky was proud of his daughter, and when Jews in the House of Study would ask him what his daughter was doing, he would reply: She's working in place of Arabs.
Yekhiel Kuznyetsky arrived in 1922. The first Jews from Zhetl he met in Tel Aviv were the Aminoach brothers and Avrom Shepetnitsky. They took Kuznyetsky into their room which they rented from a Yeminite Jew. Besides all these people their donkey also slept in their room. During the day the donkey would help transport gravel from the sea.
At first Yekhiel Kuznyetsky worked in the carpentry shop of the Zeliviansky brothers and later for the mayor of Ramat Gan, A. Krinitsky. Later he opened his own carpentry workshop on the road Tel Aviv Jaffa.
In 1922 Solomon Lubtchansky's family arrived. At first he worked as a teacher in the Shulamit conservatory. In 1924 he opened a musical instrument store.
Yehuda Ostrovsky arrived in 1923. He lived in Gdera for his first year at Moishe Kaplinsky's and worked in the groves. Later he found work as a teacher. In 1924 he came to Tel Aviv and worked for the firm L. Glikman.
That same year the following arrived: Shmuel Dunetz of blessed memory, and Nokhem Cohen, may he live long. They both left Zhetl in 1920 travelling through Vilna, Kovno and Vienna and arrived in the Land of Israel in 1923.
Shmuel Dunetz began working in construction
but later went to work in the Argoz factory where he was killed in a tragic accident.
Nokhem Cohen first went to Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha, then worked for two years in construction and then moved to Moshav Herut where he lived and worked for more than 20 years.
Shloyme Zalman Dunetz arrived in 1924. Even here he continued to fight for Zionism. Thanks to the help from a few Zhetl families, he moved into an old age home in Jerusalem and died there in 1933.
In 1925 Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky arrived. Together with Rabbi Aronson he taught Talmud in the old peoples' home where he donated his vast library. He died in Tel Aviv in 1930.
Miriam Droyshevitch arrived that same year and works today in Moshav Herut.
Arye Cohen arrived in 1926. At first he worked in construction, later on a kibbutz, then worked as a carpenter for a short time in Tel Aviv, delivered gas and today is an agent for Delek.
The following arrived that same year: Abba Levenbuk, Henye Pekelny, Tzvi Lusky who is now a sergeant in the port of Tel Aviv, Arye Leybovitch, an employee in the municipality of Tel Aviv.
The following arrived in 1933: Shmuel Rabinovitch. His profession was porger, one who removes veins from meat to make it kosher. He lives in Herzliya. Ruven Mirsky is a farmer in Ramat Hasharon.
Rokhl Rabinovitch arrived in 1934. She lives in Tel Aviv and is a seamstress.
The following arrived in 1935:
Rivka Rabinovitch, today Zaks, from the founders of the large textile factory Mashi Zaks, Yitzkhak Rabinovitch who lives in Haifa in Kiryat Eliezer, and works at the Nur factory. Sorhe Epshteyn Shoer, lives in Natanya and works at Yachin Hakal.
The following arrived in 1936: Arye Zelikovitch, a bookkeeper at Yachin Hakal and lives in Natanya. Ahuva Yoselevitch Pomerantz, a seamstress by profession and lives in Rishon Letzion, and Moshe Rabinovitch, an officer in the IDF.
Right after the Second World War, in 1945, Basia Rbinovitch arrived. She lives in Tel Aviv and works as a bookkeeper at Bank Leumi.
The following arrived in 1946: Shabsai Lipsky, a carpenter in Even Yehuda, Khane Mayevsky who lives in Holon, Yosef Kravetz who lives in Tel Aviv, founder of Taxi Atid, Eliezer Sovitsky who lives in Givatayim,
and is an upholsterer, Berta Sovitsky, lives in Givatayim and is a nurse, Khane Epshteyn, lives in Hadera and is a teacher, Dovid Zakroysky, lives in B'nai B'rak and works in the port of Tel Aviv, Khaye Alpert, lives on Kibbutz Yifat and works as a bookkeeper.
The following arrived in 1947: Khaim Vaynshteyn, a carpenter in Ramat Gan, Dvoyre Gorodaysky Shkolnik, lives in Kfar Saba, Eliezer Senderovsky, is a member of Kibbutz Kinneret, Pesieh Mayevsky Nadel, a bookkeeper, lives in Petach - Tikva, Aron Gertzovsky a carpenter in Givatayim, Magid Khaya and Avrom, an upholsterer in Givatayim.
The following arrived in 1948: Borukh Kaplinsky, lives in Tel Aviv, an employee at the community centre, his mother Layeh Kaplinsky, Yitzkhak Mankovitch who lives in B'nai B'rak and is a glazier, Miriam Shepelevitch Rozvosky, lives in Bat Yam, Khane Alpert, lives in Kfar Saba, Lusky Yehuda, works at the cooperative shop in Natanya and Yehuda Gafanovitch, lives in Ramat Gan, and works for the Ministry of Labour.
The following arrived in 1949: Dr. Avrom Alpert, lives in Ramat Gan, and works as a doctor in Kupat Holim, Avrom Alpert, lives in Hadera, works in cement production, Bushlin, Yokeved and Mordkhai, live in Zichron Yakov, he works as a blacksmith, Shaul Rozovsky, a bookkeeper in Solel Boneh, lives in Kfar Saba, Efraim Shepshelevitch, works at the post office, lives in Bat Yam, Levit Yosef, a construction worker, Rozovsky Zelda and Shloyme a worker, live in Kfar Saba, Miriam Rozovsky, lives in Kfar Saba.
Yisroel Kapel arrived in 1950 and works as a bookkeeper in Kupat Holim in Raanana.
No one from Zhetl has arrived in Israel since 1950.
The Organization of the Association of Zhetl Jews in Israel
Moishe Rabinovitch was one of the first to organize the Association of Zhetl Jews in Israel. The first meeting took place in 1943 in a room at the National Bank, the following were elected onto the committee: Yehuda Ostrovsky, Yekhiel Kuznyetsky, Abba Levenbuk amd Moishe Rabinovitch.
At that meeting it was decided to collect items and money for refugees from Zhetl.
In 1944 the association received its first letter from Zhetl written by Sasha Zabelinsky, about 13 Jews from Zhetl that had survived. The association immediately sent things. Packages were also sent to Jews from Zhetl who spent the war years in Russia.
The third general meeting of the Zhetl Association took place during the interim days of Sukkot, 1945. Rabbi Zalman Saratzkin participated as well as the first person to arrive from Zhetl after the war, Basia Rabinovitch.
Three Areas of Activity of the Zhetl Association in Israel:
1) Interest Free Loan Society; 2) the Zhetl Memorial Book; 3) the Forest in Memory of Zhetl's Martyrs.
The Interest Free Loan Society of the Zhetl Association was created in 1951. Today its capital has reached 8,000 pounds. They distribute loans of up to 200 pounds.
The Zhetl Memorial Book is the second accomplishment of the association of Jews from Zhetl. Just as in the Interest Free Loan Society, Zhetl Jews in the United States, Argentina and Canada provided help to publish this Memorial Book.
The Forest in Memory of Zhetl's Martyrs was the third accomplishment of the association. So far, there have been 1,500 trees planted in memory Zhetl's martyrs.
Occupations of Jews from Zhetl in the Land of Israel
There are 240 families registered in the Association of Zhetl Jews in Israel. We are interested in their occupations but unfortunately we do not have all the information. We have succeeded in collecting the information on 215 families.
|Merchants and small businesses||35 families||16%|
We learn from these statistics that more than a third of Zhetl families were employees and labourers, almost two thirds were independent working in various areas: handicrafts, small industry, agriculture and professionals.
by Shabtai Mayevsky (B'nai B'rak)
Translated by Janie Respitz
It was 1943 when we began to receive terrible news about the slaughter abroad. A group of Zhetl Jews, among them: Yehuda Ostrovsky, Yosef and Fraydl Berman, Yitzkhak Yalon, Arye Cohen, Soreh Lev Leybovitch, Efraim Klin and Moishe Rabinovitch met at Yekhiel Kuznyetsky's and decided to create a committee to help survivors from Zhetl. Right after a meeting was called of all Zhetl Jews in Israel and everyone was asked for a monthly contribution of membership fees. We also turned to our townspeople in America and Argentina for help.
Jews from Zhetl in Israel and other countries responded warmly.
In 1944 we received the first letter from Zhetl informing us of a few Jews from Zhetl who were saved. We immediately sent clothing and food.
In 1946 a few Jews from Zhetl succeeded in breaking through the blockade and arrived illegally in the Land of Israel. The Zhetl committee helped them with long term loans.
However, not everyone succeeded in breaking through the British blockade and were sent by the British to Cypress. We sent them clothing and food.
Refugees from Zhetl began to stream in from 1948-1950. They came from Cypress, Germany, Italy and Poland. Almost all of them turned to the committee which helped everyone with loans.
In 1951 a few members of the committee felt our work was over. The Jews from Zhetl who came were now settled and there was no reason to continue with this work. Opposing this were the members: Y. Yalon, Y. Berman and H. Khabibi who felt the work should continue and an Interest Free Loan Society should be created.
H. Khabibi was at that time visiting America and our townspeople there suggested the creation of the Interest Free Loan Society in Israel and offered financial help. It was then decided to create the fund.
In August 1951, during the meeting to observe the anniversary of the deaths, a temporary committee was chosen: Y. Kuznyetsky chairman, P. Berman vice chairman, Yalon treasurer, and Sh. Mayevsky secretary. Members: H. Khabibi, Y. Ostrovsky, D. Shkolnika and A. Levenbuk. They also worked out a statute for the Interest Free Loan Society. Here are a few points from the statute:
In 1953, 1954 and 1955 the annual meeting of the fund took place on the same day as the memorial evening, on the 25th of Av.
During its five years of existence the Interest Free Loan Society gave out 250 loans at the sum of 35,000 pounds.
The capital of the fund now stands at 7,500 pounds. This money comes from membership fees and donations from Zhetl Jews in America, Argentina and Israel and the paid back loans from previous years. The amount is not enough to meet all the requests of our townspeople who sometimes have to wait a long time to receive a loan.
It is worthwhile mentioning that our townspeople are punctual with paying their promissory notes, except for a few individual cases, when we had to apply a bit of pressure to get the money.
At the last general meeting it was decided to turn to Jews from Zhetl all over the world to become involved in the Interest Free Loan Society.
by Yehuda Ostrovsky (Tel-Aviv)
Translated by Judy Montel
The first activity of the Organization of Olim from Zhetl in Israel was sending food and clothing to the survivors of the Sho'ah in Zhetl. When the survivors of the Sho'ah moved to Israel in the years 1945-1950, we began the second activity, which was to offer them aid and help to ease their integration in the country.
Simultaneously with these two activities, we began the third activity: creating a memorial for our town and to perpetuate the people of Zhetl who had been wiped out.
To this end we set up the Zhetl Charity Fund, whose goal was to give loans to those of our town who needed it. Later on, we announced the publication of the Zhetl Book, that would reflect the life of the town and perpetuate its social, cultural and economic character for future generations.
However, we did not stop with these activities. We felt we were obligated to create an endeavor that would join the incredible work that was being done in Israel in bringing the wilderness to life, that would also perpetuate the memory of our town. In order to achieve this idea, we decided to plant the Zhetl Forest.
On the 23 of Adar, 5710 [March 12, 1950], we obtained agreement to this proposal from the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael and we began to collect donations for the trees.
The members of our town in Israel and all over the world donated hundreds of trees and thus we were able to create a memorial for our town. However, to this day we have not collected enough donations that would allow us to begin to plant the forest and we have a long way ahead of us before we reach our goal.
With the foundation of the two important endeavors: The Zhetl Charity Fund and the Zhetl Book, we are commanded to devote all of our strength to realize the third endeavor: Zhetl Forest.
Every family event can be marked by planting trees in the Zhetl Forest and thus it will become a tradition for our children. They too will continue this important endeavor and our town will not be forgotten by the coming generations.
Also, we must mark the anniversary of the destruction of Zhetl by planting trees in the names of the members of our families who died.
The trees in the Zhetl Forest will grow and perpetuate the memories of our fellow townspeople, who dreamed of the Land of Israel but never reached it.
We will increase the donations of trees and the Zhetl Forest will be planted in the entry to Jerusalem.
Keren Kayemet LeYisrael
The Local Committee in Tel-Aviv
23 Adar, 5710
To: The Organization of Olim from Zhetl in Israel
To H' Yehuda Ostrovski
29 Gedud HaIvry Street
We confirm receipt of your letter from 19 Adar and welcome your decision to plant the Zhetl Forest in memory of the victims of your town.
We will willingly record all of the trees that will be planted by your organization and its members to the account of Zhetl Forest and will provide certificates for them.
We wish to emphasize that it is customary to complete the collection of donations for special plantations within two years, however, considering the goal of this plantation, to memorialize a Jewish community, we have agreed that you will fulfill the quota of 10,000 in a period of five years.
We wish you success with your endeavors.
The Local Committee of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael
At these gatherings we feel the specific familiarity with the others from Zhetl: the joy of seeing one another after a long time; the common sadness of our losses. All have sadly lost those near to them and come together to honour their memory.
And meanwhile, until everyone arrives and until the cantor begins chanting the memorial prayer, everyone stands outside and greets old friends with whom they experienced so much. Slowly, everyone arrives. We meet acquaintances who we thought were lost, remembering past days and years, the quiet days of our past as well as the bitter years of the cruel Hitler bandits.
Slowly all the survivors from our town gather and we are ready to begin the memorial ceremony for our holy martyrs.
Black candles are lit. The lights in the hall are turned off. Everyone covers their head and the cantor chants in a heart rending crying voice the El Maleh Rachamim (The prayer for the souls of the departed).
The hall is dark. There is a dead silence. A shiver goes through the crowd. You can hear people crying softly and sighing deeply.
Our thoughts take us far away and it seems all those who were tortured, burned and buried alive have gathered together. The hall becomes filled with their souls and they appear before our closed eyes as if they are alive.
Here they are, the women and children, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, in life and death, not separated.
And the voice of the cantor wails: "May they rest in heaven".
All of our friends soar before our eyes, our almost forgotten neighbours who had the good fortune to die normally before the wild animal Hitler, may his name be blotted out, arrived. Every one of them is now in this hall, standing before our eyes and filling our hearts with grief. Everyone is afraid to move because if we move, they will disappear.
We are only a few families that have remained and are witnesses of the great tragedy. We must memorialize these martyrs at least once a year and eternally see them alive through spiritual eyes.
The cantor concludes with a few chapters from the Book of Psalms.
The light in the hall is switched on. We open our eyes. The holy souls have disappeared. The words of the Kaddish (memorial prayer) recited in the hall ring in our ears.
Life continues, but the pain in our hearts remains. Many are standing with red teary eyes. The dream disappears and daily life returns.
by Pesiye Mayovsky (Petach Tikva)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Summer 1945. There is peace in blood-stained Europe. Wagons are crossing the Polish plains carrying remnants of murdered Polish Jewry. The Jews of Zhetl lie slaughtered in two mass graves on either side of Zhetl.
In Novolenyie, at the train station, there are long lines of military transport trains. The graves shout: Remain! The transport trains shout: Come, go out into the world, join your people!
Everyone took with him the last cry of their parents, the last moans of sisters and brothers. They absorbed the blood shed in the forests, in the swamps, and set out to cities and villages, countries and borders, individuals from large families, setting off on their wandering.
When the autumn night extinguishes
One star after another,
When quiet shadows of dawn
Crawl out of earth,
I lay still with blinded eyes
And look far away.
I hear the night barely whispering;
You are alone…alone….
Alone… my voice whispered
Alone…my heart trembled
Alone… my heart wrapped in my sorrow
In the depths of the night's darkness.
A misfortunate mother searched for her child, her husband, a lonely girl searched for her sister, her friend, wanting to find comfort. Strangers became family, hugging each other. No one asked another: Where are you from? A closeness from a shared tragedy.
Oh, don't cry my sister, don't cry so bitterly
Your sadness rips out my heart, poisons my blood,
Lift your head, your dark beautiful eyes
And look at me with belief and courage.
Lay your head on my lap, I'll kiss you,
I will kiss away your anguish and suffering,
I will whisper words to you, gentle and loving
And awaken in you a quiet joy.
The wagon wheels are noisy. The ground runs away under them. Here is Lodz, drawing in the survivors of Polish Jewry. Notices from Mordkhai Khaim Rumkovsky still hang on the ghetto houses, to the Jews of Lodz whose ashes have been spread over the fields of Auschwitz. In Lodz we search for family.
The Folk! is the Jewish promise.
Kibbutz Dror at 18 Poludnyove Street. Shalom! Enjoy yourselves tired survivors, the Kibbutz welcomes you. So many Jewish children, so many youths! The bloodied heart strengthens, beams with delight. Courage is increasing.
I chase away the cutting sharp pain
Far away from my heart,
The phantom disappears
Let my fear disappear!
In the black abyss of suffering
I will search for sunshine,
We will pick flowers in the fields
And braid a wreath…
And trains continue to take illegal wanderers to the borders. It is crowded in the train cars, dark. You can see in many eyes the fear of those death trains. Now they are taking us to a new life.
The Polish Czech border. They take us as Greek repatriates. While travelling we repeat the Greek names, we try to learn Greek, which means passages from the bible and the Prophets.
Strange people say the Polish border guards shrugging as they search for hidden diamonds, dollars and pieces of gold, throwing around our meager knapsacks which are exuding laughter about our poverty.
Hearts are pounding! These survivors do not have any gold, but someone hid a partisan certificate, a medal for heroism.
We cross the Polish Czech border safely, red roofed houses, spread out, growing like mushrooms in the Czech fields. The wheels are noisy…hearts are pounding…
Prague, the city of the legendary Maharal that formed
the Golem! Here is the Prague synagogue and the old cemetery.
Carlsbad. In an abandoned Jewish villa where the Germans murdered the homeowner, we lay down our tired heads to rest. Once again our packs on our backs, more inspections, fear.
The Czech German border. We wander in the dark without stopping, long unending kilometres, holding hands. Someone holds onto an old man, who can hardly take a step in the darkness. A young man offers his hand to a pale girl who is exhausted.
Quietly, I hold my breath, we look for each other in the darkness and whisper:
Are you here? Is everyone here?
The night is gone and our tired feet walk upon the ritually unclean German soil. Trains, trains, a stampede, a rush over the fields.
Here is Landsberg, the city where Hitler, may his name be blotted out, wrote Mein Kampf. Grey housing blocks, military barracks and beer cellars have been transformed into housing for uprooted, displaced persons. (D.P)
The children, survivors, hug each other. Young boys and girls who have never experienced happiness in their lives. Men and women who lost everything, with young faces wrinkled from worry and strands of silver hair webbed through their temples. There are very few old people who were miraculously saved. Everyone has large black eyes from the terrifying years they have just experienced.
Young Kibbutzim are growing, they cheer us up and call for a new life. Young people sit at the long tables with radiant faces, and bright eyes. It seems they are growing wings, as a powerful song emerges from the breast;
Do you hear the noise, drumming in the air?
Do you hear that powerful song? -
We sing about your land, the new life,
The proud, courageous cheerful Jew!
Bringing in the Sabbath on the Kibbutz. Sabbath candles are burning in their candle sticks, eyes of Jewish boys and girls light up, twinkle, there is great hope. It is still worthwhile to live, for something and someone…
But where is the crying coming from? Who is moaning like that, who is writhing in agony? Souls flutter around…somewhere violins are crying, strings are quivering…where is the music coming from? An orchestra of concentration camp inmates, wearing striped clothing is performing a concert in the Landsberg camp:
Play the fiddle and cry out
The songs of the concentration camp,
Corpses dance, soaring about,
In a death ballet…
The saxophone dies out
In the space of sounds; -
The heart yearns to be free
Through the barbed wire.
An orchestra of Jews plays -
Corpses come to sing;
May the wails from the graves
Ring throughout the world.
But the world is deaf and mute. They do not hear the screams of the remnants of the Jewish people, who must continue to sit confined in camps and tread on the unclean German soil.
There is peace in land of murder of the Germans, the snow is melting. Everything comes alive, as if nothing ever happened; the fields are sown with bread which children will eat.
It's spring in Germany
The Birds are singing,
The sky is smiling,
Its blue is so clean,
The trees are adorned with
All types of blossoms
And blend with the whiteness
Of human bones…
The cursed German soil burns under our feet. It is cramped here for the Children of Israel, where everything is soaked in Jewish blood. They need to leave here as soon as possible.
We continue to wander at night. Once again a stampede, a rush, during hot days and dark nights. We ride in overfilled trucks over the snowy Alps near the Swiss border toward France.
Here is French soil. The city of Marseilles. The sea is a marvelous blue framed by a mountain chain. Again we sit for months in preparation camps waiting for our turn to leave. The back packs become smaller, they are measured and weighed as not to encumber the sea trip.
Broken little boats, like canoes, wait for the immigrants. In the dark of night we sneak to the boats, facing the stormy sea…we surrender to the foamy waves trembling in their laps, without fear, without a quiver, but with immense faith in the truth to which we are striving.
On stormy nights and cloudy days, the caravan of ships take us home…home…
The sea is stormy and angry,
Spilling snow white foam.
Oh sea, be calm and quiet
Let me spin my dreams.
Clouds are spreading over and
Are being carried by the wind,
Where are you, my only sister,
Where is your boat now rocking?
If you are free and proud
In your own sunny land,
Wait for me in the quiet morning
Prepare to squeeze my hand.
The journey to the Land of Israel is far and filled with pitfalls. We are chased by pirate ships. The Imperial naval fleet of His Majesty, the King of England persecutes the child survivors, the immigrants to the Land of Israel. The snouts of the battle ships cut into the stomach of the groaning immigrant ship. It falls to the side, the English throw tear gas. Everyone cries. Our eyes close but our hearts open. Spontaneously a song tears from our throats, a song filled with hope.
From a distance we can see the houses winking from Haifa. Jews are lying on the roofs and watching. Tired feet walk along the longshore but the soldiers from the British Imperial army tear away the immigrants from the Land of Israel and drag them to expulsion ships that will take them to Cypress. From a distance we see the contours of the island and the walls of the old fortress.
The sun had not set
From the blue sky,
It has not covered its face from the shame
Of those past days.
They chase us wildly away
From the yearning shores
Walls of barbed wire,
Blocking our way.
Oh, your black wires
With the sharp bent nails
While still in the ghetto
You poked out my eyes with these wires.
Blindly we take each other's hands and descend on to the island of exile. But where is the fear? There is no sign of despair. Everything is like a sad fantasy children's story.
Searches, refugee camp. A forest of canvas tents. We break out in song: How lovely are your tents, O Jacob Can our love of freedom be shackled? Can our impulse to live be confined by wire? We continue to dream about freedom in these canvas tents.
At night, when the light of projector burns and pierces our hearts like needles, the pain of being persecuted and chased awakens and the old unanswered question hangs in the air:
Why? And how much longer?
Why has spring once again been delayed
It has forgotten to come to my garden,
The garden bed is withering and deserted.
Without sprouting grass or blooming flowers.
My heart has been plowed, with sadness,
I plant in it happy songs like flowers
And stand like a guard by the empty flower bed
And wait for the golden spring to arrive.
Purified in the fires of hell from inhumane suffering, with hearts longing for joy and happiness, the refugees face new suffering. The sharp twisted nails of the barbed wire pierce our hearts and remind us: you are once again a prisoner, confined like a criminal on a far off island.
It is winter on Cypress. Rainstorms are raging, fiery lightning tears through the sky. The tents are falling down. But we are far away in thought, not present. Far off behind the mountains lies the Land of Israel we long for. We are carried off to the plowed fields where bread grows, sowed by Jewish hands. It seems the wire disappears and we dream we are free, free…
The fields are inundated with flowers
The golden sun shines on the slim cypresses
A heavenly song hums in my ear;
Be happy for a moment, forget, forget!
I throw myself on the grass, and sink into the meadow,
I hug myself like a child sitting on a lap,
I close my eyes and choke from pleasure
Oh, today I feel good, my joy is great!
But the guard opened the gate,
A harsh grating sound, like a spider on the wire.
The jingling of keys, the scraping of a bolt
The joy flows away like the foam of the sea…
One ship arrives after another. There are many refugees. The Jewish settlement calls to us. The British proclaim a blockade. The rebellious refugees go on a hunger strike. It continues day after day.
Revolt! Revolt! Enough sitting behind fences. Let us have our long awaited freedom. The British tents are burning. The British shoot, one falls dead, many are wounded.
A Hellish red flame
Burns the bent poles of the wire fences,
Smokey souls are flung to the sky-
The sun is wrapped in fire and flames.
The last hours. Is this really the last journey? The ship slides over the smooth backs of the waves.
Adieu Cypress! One by one the tents disappear, the last guard tower. We can see the contours of the shores of Israel.
But there is still a long way to go for our yearning for freedom. The gates of Atlit open and devour us again. Large sad barracks, made of wood with bed bugs. Once again barbed wire and English, Arab and Jewish police.
Like a spider crawling in a dusty spider web,
Rocked by the shadow of the guard, back and forth
And every heavy step he takes, so blunt,
Tears a wound through my heart, bloody and pinched…
Long difficult months of anguish and suffering. It is a thousand times worse to be confined in your land. The road from Atlit goes to Kiryat Shmuel. Jewish guards. Although they are Jews, they are still guards, guarding behind barbed wire.
The day arrived for true redemption. The last gates are opened. The road to our country is open. For the last time, we put our knapsacks on our backs.
We are standing at the threshold of our new life. Somewhere deep in our hearts is our longing for our dear ones which fidgets with the pain of our lost joy. With sorrow filled, but bright eyes, these child survivors walk into a new life. Their lips are whispering a prayer for the Land of Israel:
Flood my soul with light and sun,
Let your juices run through my veins,
May your springs which extinguish the desert red glow
Refresh my weak heart…
Petach Tikva. Groves are soaked in greens and gold, wide green fields. Orange trees grow in my little garden. The aroma is intoxicating. My little girl, a Sabra, born in Israel sits on my lap and I tell her:
There once was a small Jewish town, my little daughter, a town called Zhetl, with narrow streets, low houses, with kind Jews and happy little children. It was, and is no longer!
Over 100 families from Zhetl survived the war and made their home in Israel.
By Mordecai Dunetz, Flint United States
Translated by Janie Respitz
Canons are no longer resounding in the fields,
The sword is resting after the bloody battle.
Graves are overgrown with hills and forests,
Spring has covered the world with its beauty.
Children are no longer screaming in Auschwitz,
The earth is irradiated with bright white sun luster,
Shrubs whisper on hills and in valleys,
The streets are noisy with human sounds,
The nights carry terrifying screams,
They awaken people with patched skulls,
On roads soaked with sacrificial blood,
Mothers could not rest in the places,
Trenches and fences could not stop us,
A memorial for our dearest, beloved,
Eternally we will, with honour and quiver
Greeting from Mireh Volpovsky Gontchorovsky
Translated by Janie Respitz
You asked me to write a few details about our last visit to Zhetl. I am doing it gladly. Please send it over to the Memorial Book.
On April 4th 1957, before we left Grodno on our way to Poland we stopped in Zhetl in order to say our goodbyes to those alive and dead in our destroyed home town.
The sadness and emptiness in Zhetl instill a horrific sense of fear and mourning. It immediately opens the unhealed wounds and your broken heart breaks even more.
At the end of Novoredker Street you can see the old bent houses that stand hunched like war invalids. It seems to me familiar faces of Zhetl Jews are looking out the windows. Unfortunately it is just a mirage. You meet nothing more than unfriendly gentile stares.
Here stands Ben Tzion Poskovsky's house, across is Tzalye Vinorsky's, near the highway and an empty lot where Munakhme Lusky's house once stood.
I pass some houses where I stop for a while trying to remember who lived there. All along Novoredker Street I do not see one familiar face. Close to the marketplace I meet Borukh Leybovitch (Pertchikh's son in law). He has a wife and two children. Shaul Yoselevitch lives in his old house.
On the small street of the head of the Yeshiva Hertzke lives with his daughter Henieh Kaminsky who married Gdalye Krulevetsky.
On that same street a new house was built by Yoel Novogrudsky (Avrom Moishe the shoemaker's son) and Moishe Alpershteyn (Petrikier) and their families.
Rivele Levit (from Nakrishkok) lives in Leyzer Elye's house with her husband and two children.
A little further down Novoredker Street is Mariashke's house where Shmulik Niselevitch (formerly Pinkhas Lusky's son in law) lives with his wife Feygl Kaplinsky, their three daughters and the old man Yisroel Yenkl Kaplinsky.
Elye Shmulevitch Kanapka lives in Yasha Leybke's house with his wife and three daughters.
Shmuel the shoemaker lives on Dvortzer Street.
Aron Leyb Kovensky lives in Yenkl Kaplan's house. Zhamke's half a house was bought by a Christian and he and his daughter moved to Minsk. Bayle Barishansky lives in her own house with her husband and two children.
When I passed the spot where our house stood I saw the entire destruction. Even the Pomerayke has dried up. I remain standing and the cobblestones become wet from my tears. There is no sign left at the place that used to be our home, where my parents lived for so many years with their family. At the spot where our large brick house once stood and Yisroel Lusky's house, there is now a large beautiful orchard. In the middle stands my sister Zelda's house like a castle that shines in the spring sunshine. My heart is torn from pain and longing.
Leah Gitl Tzalye the blacksmith's daughter lives on Slonimer Street in Izik Hirshl's house with her family. Hodl, Itche the butcher's daughter lives in the same house with her family.
Moishe Aron Zernitsky lives with his wife and three daughters in Khaim Levit's house.
Yoel Dovid's (Dunetz) house has not aged. They dug a well in the yard with flowers growing all around.
Dovid Epshteyn lives in Sholem the blacksmith's house.
Yisroel Kaplinsky (the bird) lives in Yudl Levit's house at the very top of the street.
Hillel Zhukhovitsky built a house on Lipaver Street.
These are the people who remained from Zhetl Jewry and are suffering today in Zhetl.
The mass graves of the second slaughter are at the large cemetery and are under the supervision of Hertzke who has taken the position of official gravedigger chosen by the Soviet authorities.
There is a terrifying scene in the Kurfish forest at the graves from the first slaughter. There are still today scoundrels and beasts who come at night and dig through the graves looking for gold teeth or a ring on a dried out finger. When we were there the graves were covered. The thought that our martyrs have no rest destroyed me.
The Jews of Zhetl turned to the local authorities to take interest in the graves. Bayle Barishansky made a particular effort.
My friend Borukh!
Today in Zhetl there are 20 Jewish families originally from Zhetl and 9 families that came from other towns. Financially, the Jews in Zhetl live well but they have no spiritual satisfaction. There is no communal Jewish cultural life.
What are the professions of the Jewish families in Zhetl?
4 families are government employees.
3 families live off shoemaking.
3 families from carpentry.
3 families from smithy.
2 families from tailoring.
All the Houses of Study and small prayer houses were destroyed. Only the new House of Study has remained. Of course no one prays there. The building was taken over by the Zhetl Fire department.
The building of the Tarbut School was destroyed. The old Yiddish School is now a cinema. Rashkin's house is now the Russian School. The post office is in Rabinovitch's hotel and Berl Dvoretzky's house is a bank. The hospital is in the palace, the saw mill works but the steam mill was burned.
The majority of Jewish homes were burned. The houses that remained are inhabited by Christians or Jews or have been transformed into government institutions. Rarely has a destroyed house been rebuilt by a Christian.
Market days take place now only on Sunday. The marketplace is now at Glovotsky Place across Levashke's former mill. There is no city administration in Zhetl.
On the anniversary of the murders all the Jews of Zhetl gather at the graves for a memorial.
The Jews of Zhetl know about the memorial book Zhetl Jews around the world are preparing. They also received the prospect sent to them by the book committee in Israel.
We were all astounded by the prospect and I came to Zhetl from Grodno especially to see it with my own eyes. We were all curious to hear some news from Israel.
I have a favour to ask. When the book will be published please send me a few copies. I will mail you as much as it costs.
Recently, a few Zhetl families came to Poland. I will list them here:
Henyie Zaltzshteyn and her husband Meir Alpershteyn and a child.
Veveh Zaltzshteyn and his wife Rivka Medvedsky and two children.
Leyb Zalzshteyn with his wife and child.
Masheh Zaltzshteyn with her husband and child.
Henyie Kaminsky and her husband.
Gdalyeh Krulevitzky and two children.
How Many Jews From Zhetl Live In the World?
600 Zhetl families live in the United States
250 Zhetl families live in Israel
70 Zhetl families live in Argentina
40 Zhetl families live in Canada
Dozens of families are spread out throughout Australia, South Africa, South and Central America, England, Soviet Russia, France, Poland and other countries.
by Baruch Kaplinsky (Tel-Aviv)
Translated by Judy Montel
At the crossroads, between Novogrudok and Slonim, in the heart of White Russia [Belorussia], there was Zhetl.
Zhetl was surrounded by forests and it sat in the heart of a plain. We were born in its houses. In its streets we spent our childhoods. There we were educated and grew up. Some in the cheder of Yossele Mendes, some in the Talmud Torah with Yudel the Shochet and some in the study hall of Noach Ellis. In later years, we learned in the Folks-Schule guided by Yiddishists and in the Tarbut school run by Zionists.
In this town we took our first steps in public life, some in the Keren Kayemet committee, some in the school committee, some in TOZ and some in the Cooperative Credit Bank.
In this town we were also stifled by a lack of perspective, and this was the worthwhile side for those who studied with Yossele Mendes and at the Folk-Schule, to those active in the Shomer HaTza'ir [Young Guard], Freiheit and Beitar.
And from this town we also moved to the Land of Israel. Some in the thirties with certificates of the Land of Israel Office and some in the forties with a number from Auschwitz carved into their arms, some from the partisans in the Lipichan forests and some from the distant Siberian exile. Some via Romania and Italy and some via Cypress.
And thus, we gathered in Israel, embers snatched from Zhetl, the praiseworthy, to tell you, and the following generations, the history and hardships of a town of Israel.
When you were traveling to Zhetl, from a distance of several kilometers from the town, the cross of the Catholic church could be seen. However, this cross did not rule Zhetl and the town did not dwell under its wings. It also didn't determine its character and tendencies.
The character of the town was determined by the Schulhof, (the courtyard of the synagogues) with three study halls, the Talmud Torah and the Chassidarnia (Hasidic prayer house), the character of the town was determined by the three schools and they were purely national [Jewish].
This truth you quickly learned when you got off the bus that arrived from Novoyielnya (the train station before Zhetl). You would be immediately surrounded by the quick people of Zhetl who would take your pulse: Who are you? Are you of the Tarbut people or the Folks-Schule people?
If you were of the Tarbut people, they would put you into Berl Rabinowitz's inn. There they would house you in a nice room and before you had a chance to rest, the heads of the Tarbut in Zhetl would arrive to engage you in conversation.
The first to arrive: The elderly, learned and honorable R' Herz Leib Kaplinsky, a grandfather who had much to discuss with sons and grandsons.
Here he stands in front of my eyes, his face overflowing with splendor. He walks erect, doesn't lean on his stick, despite his age. This grandfather takes off his hat, sits bareheaded, rubs his bald head and begins a philosophical discussion about elevated matters.
After him, my father, R' Sha'ul Kaplinsky, loyal Zionist and lover of the language of the past, a man of stature who faithfully does much community work.
With him, R' Feivel Epstein would arrive, the youngest of the group and loyal to the movement. He was an educated man and generous to every Zionist activity and institution.
Who doesn't remember Chaim Levit? The chair of the commercial association, a young man full of energy and initiative, calling meetings, reaching authorities and pleading the case of his people.
And here is Avraham Langbort, the Keren Kayemet representative in Zhetl, a Torah student, educated and Zionist, sunk head and shoulders into matters of funds and Aliya to the Land of Israel and living the life of Zionism with all of its victories and failures.
And here stands the image of Yo'el Cheplovodsky, the youth representative, a man of the Hitachdut, an entrepreneur and eager for every Zionist enterprise.
And how could I not mention Betzalel Moshkovski, David Sendrovski, Moshe Reuven Mordkovski and dozens of martyrs of the evil kingdom, who devoted their time, money and hearts to Zionist, to Aliya and to Hebrew culture.
Before they could begin a conversation, here on the doorstep stands Yisrael Ozer Brishensky. Thin and faded was the man, but his heart shone with love, his mind with cleverness and all his being spoke of energy and initiative that positively overflowed. It was he who built the power station and he who absorbed the curses of the women over every problem in the electrical system. It was he who built the Talmud Torah and who aided in building the Tarbut school. It was he who took care of the bath-house and mikveh, the women who gave birth and the widows, the elderly and, in case of a catastrophe, when one needed to be driven to Vilna for treatment. It was he who delayed the Torah Reading in the study hall, in order to add to the salaries of the Rabbi, the Shochet [ritual slaughterer] and the doctor. It was he who went house to house to gather funds for this one, who's horse collapsed. He, who was called in daily life Yisrael Leizerkeh, was a symbol of community work for its own sake.
However, it happened sometimes that one of the great activists of the Folks-Schule arrived in town. Then an entirely different scene unfolded.
To the inn Avraham Moshe Brishenski, Shaikeh Ovsivitz, Chayim Ganozovitz, Gedalyahu Shevdesky would arrive as well as dozens of other townspeople.
They were our rivals. For decades they fought us, wrestled with us. This struggle created a lot of bitterness, but it was conducted in accordance with beliefs and opinions and innocently. They were the dreamers and fighters who believed in the diaspora and not in Zion. They preferred Yiddish and turned their backs to Hebrew. They championed socialism as a solution to the national question and denied the value of Jews gathering in the Land of Israel. From here came their battles against Aliya, the national funds, against Zionism and the pioneers.
Yet even if our methods differed, we were united in one goal: to move our lives forward. And even though their path was proven false and ours was proven true, there is no denying that they were pioneers in several endeavors.
They were the first to form a theater and a secular school in Zhetl. They were also well-known for their solidarity and care for one another.
However, at times both sides were sorely disappointed. The guest, who came to the inn, was neither an activist for Tarbut nor for the Folks-Schule, but a simple agent for linen stockings from Lodz.
Yet even this disappointment did not cool off the spirits of the rivals. The battle of the schools was the main battle in Zhetl, which divided the town in two and whose arrows hit all areas of life. When the Folks-Schule built a beautiful building near Tcherna's flour mill, immediately the Tarbut activists rolled up their sleeves and built a no less beautiful building near the old-age home. A successful bazaar was held by the Keren Kayemet LeYisra'el in the Tarbut school, immediately the people of the Follk-Schule organized and held a splendid production of Mirele Efros.
These were the faces of the daily battle in Zhetl. Behind it stood two contradictory viewpoints about the life of the people of Israel: Zionism on the one hand supporters of the diaspora on the other.
All these battles were scattered by the wind. The nailed boot of the enemy trampled, destroyed and wiped them out. It had no mercy on the elderly, on women, or on youth. And of all the battles only graves were left in reality and precious memories in our hearts.
These memories flutter, beseech and give us no rest. They cry out for expression, for memorialization. Can we deny them, hide them, condemn them to be forgotten?
Here they rise from behind the fog. Images of the youth march first. They have just finished the Friday night meal, and they are already filling the streets of the town with noise and tumult. Thus, they make their way, arm in arm, to the castle that is called Palatz. On the way they eat sunflower seeds, drink soda in the basement of Alter Gertzovski and lift their voices in song.
Sometimes this youth is seized by the dance craze, and then all of Zhetl dances. Sometimes this youth is seized by political fervor, and then all of Zhetl danced the hora and went to house meetings. Sometimes this youth is seized by the football craze, and then all of Zhetl kicked a soccer ball in the horse-market square. Sometimes this youth was seized by the Hachshara craze, and then they attended programs to prepare for the life of a pioneer, chopping wood and drawing water in Klosova and in Shachariya. Sometimes this youth was seized by the craze of Aliyah, and then dozens and hundreds of them made Aliya to the land of Israel. This youth was noteworthy also in the forests and as partisans, there they amazed with the fierceness of their spirit and the courage of their hearts. They were famed in command and campaigns, taking revenge and their hands still ready for more. These children did not let down their parents with their love of Israel and their dedication.
And the mutual aid in Zhetl? Can we forget that? It was indeed somewhat primitive in form, but how wonderful were its intentions? It was not based on taxes, requirements, the government or authority. These were missing from the life of a Jewish town in White Russia, but as a candle to their feet they were guided by: generosity, volunteering, care for others.
Do you remember the hospital, the Visiting the Sick, the Aid to the Sick, the Support for the Needy, the Charity for Brides, the Old-Age home and the Orphan Aid societies? Each organization and its goals, each group and its mission.
And how can we not put to paper the mothers and the fathers, who collected and saved one penny and another in their red kerchiefs for those who give birth, for the brides, for the orphans and the widows, for those burnt out and for those cursed by fate.
This on the one hand. The traditional institutions that the Jewish diaspora created in Eastern Europe. And on the other hand, the modern institutions for mutual aid like: the TOZ, for keeping one's health, the Cooperative Credit Bank, and the Commercial Associations and the Artisans Guild.
Who can count all the ways our ancestors and parents endeavored in order to encourage mutual aid in all of its forms and goals?
One sheaf of memories. Shabbat in Zhetl.
It began with Shabbat evening. The sun is making its way down the sky. The shops are closed and locked up. Columns of dust rise up from the paved road (bruck in Yiddish), one can already see men, women and children all scrubbed and ironed, wearing holiday clothing and hurrying to receive the Shabbat Queen.
From the Kleizl (small prayer-house) on the banks of the Zhetlka, the hoarse voice of R' Hershl the Blacksmith can be heard, grappling with his god and asking for mercy for the people of Zhetl who barely earn their livelihood. Yudl the Shochet [ritual slaughterer] is leading prayers in the Chassidarnia (Chassidic synagogue). In the plosh (the synagogue corridor), children gather and show off their Shabbat clothes. They call one another names that can be heard in the air: Trembos (Tarbut) and Klakshuleh (a name for the Folks-Schule), an echo of the parents' struggle in the mouths of babes.
It has become dark and the Shabbat Queen has spread her wings over Jewish Zhetl. Every home receives the Angels of Peace, the Angels of Service.
And here the song of the angels is over and your ear hears the clatter of plates, forks and spoons. Zhetl is eating its Shabbat meal.
Those who are quick and always early can be found in the streets of the town. They eat sunflower seeds, sip soda, gather on the balconies (briklech in Yiddish) and discuss the events of the town so: wos darfstu mer, ch'vell dir dertzeylen a bessereh maiseh (why do you need more, let me tell you a better story). And from the conversations the rolling laughter of the youth can be heard, as they make their way to the castle or in the direction of the sawmill.
The following day: The holy Shabbat. The entire town gathers in the synagogue. They have just reached the reading of the Torah and from some distant corner the figure of Yisrael Ozer pops up. He slaps the stender [where the prayer leader usually sets their prayer book] and announces a delay in the reading. Sometimes he delays the Torah-reading and demands a raise in the price of yeast by 2-3 pennies a loyt (a unit of weight) so that the local rabbi can have an honorable living and not a meager one. On another Shabbat he rallies public opinion against the butchers, who don't want to pay karavke fees at the agreed upon amount. At times he inflames the congregation in the matter of the doctor who receives the poor according to a note, and demands additional payment from his customers. Another time he arouses mercy for an unfortunate family, who must be taken to Vilna for medical treatment and can't afford it.
To begin with, the congregation listens intently, but has only grasped the matter and is all unsettled when, from a distant corner a hand is raised and the cry rings out: Yungatsh (ruffian), desecration of god's name, get out! The respectable people and the moderate ones try to calm the passionate spirits and meanwhile, Yisrael Ozer continues with his persuasive talents towards a solution. Will he not achieve it?
The congregation has been standing in the silent prayer of Musaf for a while, but Yisrael Ozer is still arguing with his rivals in the plosh. The battle has not ended for the rabbi, for the ritual slaughterer, for the doctor or for those whom fate has stricken with illnesses.
After the midday Shabbat meal, the committee meetings begin, in Tarbut, and in the school, the committees sit. In the Talmud Torah the gabbaim [deacons] meet. The committee that sets the salary of the doctor sits separately and the debates and arguments continue until the third meal.
Do you remember the fundraising bazaars for the Keren Kayemet, Tarbut and for the Yiddish school? Zhetl prepared for them for months. Hundreds of women sewed and embroidered in the evenings. Dozens of girls ran about, getting donations, carrying baskets full of all good things.
In the home of R' Avrabam Langbort the committee is meeting and considering how to raise the status of the event. Telegrams and letters come and go urgently to centers in Warsaw and Vilna saying, more or less: For heaven's sake, send us the important speaker, So and So.
And when the day arrives, set for the opening of the bazaar, the hall is full and crowded. It overflows with abundance and a selection of excellent things, the fruit of donations from hundreds of donors and collectors. The bustle is great and there is no end to the joy.
And here, decorated and ironed Zhetl flocks to the large hall. Who can't you see there? From the crème-de-la-crème of Zhetl, the respectable people and the simple folk. Even the rivals haven't overcome their curiosity and they come to witness the reality and to dance joyfully.
But the main members of this event are, of course, the children. They crowd through the doors and the windows. They are inside and outside. You can chase them away, but they come back. The pennies are jingling in their pockets, pennies they drew from every possible source, in order to win the raffle or a small pocket knife that they've been yearning after for ages.
On the stage, the important speaker stands, the representative of the center in Warsaw. His speech is impressive and exciting and thrills the crowd. He describes the situation generally and particularly, uses foreign words and makes a great impression. Next to him the organizers are sitting and enjoying this. The fruit of their handiwork is glorious. They beam with joy and are delighted by the hall full of people, the celebratory event and especially, the hoped-for income.
And here, the official part has ended. The buying and selling are at their height. The payment register is crowded, there is a lot of activity in the cafeteria and the teens are excited: when will the dancing finally begin?
This great celebration continues all the days of chol hamo'ed Pesach [interim days of the Passover holiday] and chol hamo'ed Succot. Every evening Zhetl celebrated and was joyful and with them the respectable activists most of whose worries were about the new and old deficits their institutions were facing, institutions they were honored to run, and for them the bazaar was a lifeline.
This is a modest paragraph, taken from the daily life of the vibrant Zhetl of 20 or 30 years past, and offered to our sons and daughters who are growing up in the free and independent state of Israel.
And even though the minister of the nation has compensated us for our losses, and new youth has arisen and new charity organizations, new battles and problem, that are of greater importance, more dynamic and of greater breadth, even so, the heart aches, longing for what is past, and is unable to be comforted.
And it seems to me, that with this aching heart we will pass on to the netherworld and no one will understand the nature of the wound, which didn't heal.
Life is hard with the memory of graves and in the shadow of the destruction. And therefore, it is natural that the days of horror are gradually forgotten, and in their stead new life is formed.
In this new life, you, our sons and daughters, who did not know Zhetl and its life, have a central role. For you the future and happiness. But also, in moments of happiness and success, listen, let us sit together for just a moment, let us together recall a chapter from the struggle of the diaspora and observe the commandment: And you shall teach [your children]!
With all that is dear that surrounds us in the independent state of Israel, let us leave a hidden corner sacred to the diaspora, and nourish it with the pages of this volume.
With our joint efforts, we will be diligent in building new lives without horrors and without terrors. For here, we see that the words of the verse are taking shape: Bricks have fallen we will rebuild with hewn stone.
Remember 450 years of creativity of our ancestors in the town of Zhetl!
Remember generations that educated your parents to Torah and to deeds!
Remember the tragic death of our loved ones in Zhetl!
Remember and don't forget!
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