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[Page 37]

The Towns as They Were
in Their Time and Place


The Beginning of Kamen-Kashirskiy

Y. Krost / A.M. Orzhitse

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The precise founding-date of Kamen-Kashirskiy is unknown to us; neither do we know when and how the Jewish community first developed there. We introduce here a few details from various sources, what has been written about the town.

From the book, Ancient Poland:

“In bygone centuries this was almost certainly a fortress, or an important settlement for another reason, since Kazimir the Great retained for himself complete rights in it at the time that he signed a peace agreement with the Princes in the year 1366.”

The Lubartowicz family – Sanguszko had owned the estate [Sanguszko-Koszyrski line]. One of the family sons, Michal, who lived at the beginning of the 12th century, began to sign himself under the name of Prince Koshyrski; the last of that dynasty of princes, Adam Aleksander voivode Wołyński, died in 1656 [1653]. He was known for his religious orthodoxy and his generosity to houses of prayer and was responsible for erecting the Dominican monastery in Kamin. His sister (Anna Sanguszko), who was married to Jerzy Krashicki, brought to the marriage the Koszyr estate. Their son, who lived about 1776, was Antoni M. Krashicki, Choronzi.

The village is small and poor, there are the remains of a fortress and a deep moat separates the wooden palace from the garden.”

(Michael Balinski, Ancient Poland, Warsaw 1845).

We do know that in the years 1648/9, at the time of the infamous decrees and the pogroms and destruction of the Jewish settlement in the Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania by the gangs of Bogdan Khmelnitzki, there was already a notable Jewish settlement in Kamin.

Dr. S. Barnfeld, in his book “The Book of Tears”, volume 3, published by 'Eshcol', Berlin in the year 5686 (1926), page 141, rows 11-12, quotes from a book by Shmuel-Feibush, the son of Rabbi Nathan Feitel of Vienna, a detailed account of 744 Jewish communities that were destroyed during the two years 1648/9 and over 650,000 Jews put to death. In the account Kamin-Koszyrski is mentioned as having 100 established Jewish householders of whom virtually all were killed, while in Kovel at that time there were 400 householders all of whom were slain.

The Great Soviet Russian Encyclopedia says of Kamen-Kashirskiy: “Kamen-Kashirskiy is on the river Zyr, a tributary of the River Pripet [or Prypiat]: the town was known already at the beginning of the 12th. Century. Situated in Wolyn.”

The Encyclopedia Judaica also comments on Kamen-Kashirskiy: Kamen-Kashirskiy, a small town in Poland, the county of Polesia. In 1847 there were 862 Jews living there; in 1897 there were 1189 Jews (in a total of 1220 residents); in 1921 – 716 Jews.

The gangs of Hetman Bulak-Balachovitz raided the community in the 1920 pogrom and burnt 20 Torah Scrolls out of a total of thirty belonging to the community.

(Encyclopedia Judaica)

Many years ago Kamen-Kashirskiy was tributary to the large town Kovel. The towns and villages round about were obliged to pay taxes to Kovel. In the book Kovel p. 24 it says that in 1700 Kovel collected taxes from Kamen-Kashirskiy as well. But in 1764, in the same book on p. 26 many towns are mentioned as paying taxes to Kovel but the name of Kamen-Kashirskiy is missing. The explanation being that Kamen-Kashirskiy was no longer a tributary and had become independent.

Rabbis of Kamin-Kashirskiy

In the religious sector, Kamen-Kashirskiy was in the care of Kovel's Rabbi Ya'acov Arieh. The Rabbi of Kovel, about 150 years ago, had two sons and two daughters. One of the sons served as the Rabbi of Stobykhva, while the second, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, served as Rabbi to Kamen-Kashirskiy.

Later Rabbis who officiated in Kamen-Kashirskiy were: 1). Rabbi Gimpel; 2). Rabbi Yisrael, who emigrated to Eretz Israel.

The Rabbi Moishe, the son of Rabbi Shmuel Goldschmidt of Righteous Memory, was born in the year 5632 (1871/2). A renowned Rabbi was the genius Rabbi Noach Shachor of Righteous Memory, from Byale (Beloye) who was the father-in-law of the illustrious teacher and Rabbi from Gor. In the year 5657 (1896), he was installed as the rabbi of Kamen-Kashirskiy. Before that he had served as teacher and instructor in Kobrin, the district of Grodno, in the house of his father-in-law, who was the Rabbi the Righteous Gaon Rabbi Pinhas Schick of Righteous Memory, son of the illustrious Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu Schick of Righteous Memory, who had been Rabbi of the Derechin, Zager and Kobrin communities.

The Rabbi Pessach Aharon, son of the Rabbi Ari Leib Weissman, was born in 5620 (1820/1). In 5643 (1843/4), he was installed as Rabbi of the town of Ozeryany in the district of Ludmir, then afterwards in Kamen-Kashirskiy.

(Beoahli Shem, Toldot Rabbanim, appeared in 5672 (1872).)

Kamin-Kashirskiy was well known throughout the entire area. Over forty small Jewish village communities in the vicinity clung to it – it became a prosperous town. There were Rabbis, Dayans, ritual slaughterers and their families. Nearly the entire town was known for its Zionism. Many were active in the Jewish National Fund and the Keren Hayesod.

Life went on between pogroms, struggles and self-defense. The town was Jewish, warmly endearing and pleasant.

Later – slaughter and destruction: the epitome of suffering and torture in the forests. Kamen-Kashirskiy is no more………………….

The Jewish history of the last fifty years of Kamen-Kashirskiy is found in this book. The children of the Jewish People of Kamen-Kashirskiy tell their stories.

(Y. Krost & A.M. Orzhitzer)

[Page 39]

An Exemplary and Glorious Community

Baruch Melamed

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Israelite community in the town of Kamien-Koszyrski, in the district of Polesia, Poland - my eyes shed tears over your destruction, my heart aches over what the Czar and the enemy did to you, my poor pen is inadequate to tell of your life; I will try to put into a few words your memorial.

I first knew you with the end of the First World War.

The first to injure you and suck your blood, were the soldiers of Kaiser Wilhelm. After them came others in their place – all sorts of gangs and armies, that widened and deepened your suffering, until there came as robbers the gangs of the murderer Bulak-Balakhovich, who outdid by far in their destruction all who had come before them.

More than a hundred victims, pure martyrs from among your children were killed and incinerated that same Rosh Hashanah 5681 (1881/2), lost to unconstrained robbery and murder at the hands of those blood-thirsty wild men, and you – wretched, pillaged, long-suffering then, after everything, the events that beset you during those six years of war.

With my coming, to shelter in your shadow and to educate your sons as head of your Hebrew school, I still found among your ruins, injured, robbed, oppressed and confined, three or four families in each poor hovel, in the few houses that survived, after all that had befallen you in those terrible years of anger.

Even so, your grip was not weakened nor your vigor abated within you, and with your wounds still unhealed and the fear of pogroms not yet forgotten, there arose from within you a group of youngsters to organize anew your social, cultural and national life. A Hebrew school came into existence, a Hebrew library opened and branches of the Zionist movements and youth clubs opened in which was laid the foundation of your children's education, for pioneering, for the war of the resurgence of the people from its poverty and its humiliation, and for the building of the future in its historic homeland.

At the first call to renew the activities of Keren Hayesod, arose the finest of your sons – young and old alike. The first treasurer of your branch of the Keren Hayesod, Yitzhak Friedman, is remembered with much respect and honor. Every Erev Shabbat, in holy reverence and grace and with a beating heart, he would receive from the writer of these few lines, all the money donated during the week from each and every one of your children, rich and poor alike, artisan and businessman – in order to forward the sum on Sunday to the central office of Keren Hayesod.

He once said concerning the donations: – Every single donation represents a stone, a brick in the recreation of our longed-for homeland. It is also an expression of the ambition and desire of the people for salvation. (The same desire spoken of by our wise man when he said there is nothing which stands before you –“If you so desire, if you will, it is no fairytale.”)

Yes! Jews like these you nurtured. O community of Israelites of Kamien-Koszyrski! I am doubtful if there are other communities, among the other Jewish communities in the Diaspora who can compete with your contributions to the Jewish National Fund for Israel. There was not one family that did not contribute to the National Fund.

Continuing the activities in the field for the revival and training for a life of work in the homeland, a training kibbutz was created. Tens of youngsters, who joined other groups that prepared them for practical realization of Aliyah, succeeded in emigrating to Eretz Israel and to put down roots there, to be among its builders and its defenders.

In the field of economics, too, you were active: A Chamber of Commerce was brought into being, an Association of Artisans, a cooperative bank, and so on.

In all these activities, Jews from all levels took part. The following businessmen will be remembered: Shabtai Zafran, Arieh Goldstein, Mordecai Lehrman, Zerach Kimmel, Tzvi Weissman, Gershon Eisenberg, Arieh Burshtein, David Klurman, and last but not least, the founding Zionist group, which conquered the task, the first in a Zionist activity, carriers of the yoke, constant, modest and busy for the sake of Zionism and its needs. They fought for the merest trifle of the law and paid with their souls, their time, their lives and all their efforts, with everything they had, with a pure faith and a pure heart and without thought of reward. Lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: Yitzhak Berenholtz, Arieh Lev, Nachman and Sosia Geller, Shlomo Klurman, Avraham Rotenstein, Ya'acov Yaffe, Haim-Asher Wowk, Yosef Eisenberg, Meyer Friedman, Zalman Lehrman, Yosef Bakalchuk, Shoshana and Esther Wasserman, Esther and Hinda Kozak, Leah and Chava Kimmel and many, many more – may G-d avenge them.

An example to other Jewish communities around you, on more than one occasion I heard you praised in meetings, in committees of the various funds, from many who visited you and emissaries who enjoyed the sight of your activities and your dedicated work.

[Page 43]

My Town – Kamien-Koszyrski

Shmuel Aba Klurman

Translated by Selwyn Rose

In the eyes of the historians you, Kamen-Kashirskiy, are a typical little town, somewhere between Russia and Poland, between Volyn and Polesia; between a wide-gauge railway and a narrow one; between an impassable dust-bowl in summer and impassable marshes in autumn; between the government of Poland, Russia and Germany, and all sorts of thugs and murderers – white, green, red – whatever. But in my eyes you were, and will remain “The Town” with the emphasis on the definite article “The”.

The town in which I grew up and was educated, like my fathers and forefathers before me; the town in which our eyes first began to see, our ears to hear, our mouths to wail and our brains to think.

For us, you are the town in which we saw life, dreamed dreams, planned plans and were also witnesses to the extinction of that life within you and its destruction.

Kamen, as I remember you: a large market, with shops around it. And from the market, streets and alleyways spreading out, the streets full of houses, the houses thrumming with life.

Jews – artisans, traders, each one with his family and its members – wife and children; all of them with their individual ambitions and longings.

With all the typical poverty that existed, there were within you Jews, vibrant with life and activity, who did much for you, for their people, and dreamed of future generations to come – until it all stopped.

Will the Hatchiya [Renaissance] school ever be forgotten? What a wonderful establishment that was, founded, with all their poverty, by your citizens. Hundreds of babies suckled from it their love of their people and its language.

Will the pleasure and delight that illuminated the eyes of your inhabitants at the school children's performances ever be forgotten?

Will the headmasters, teachers, the laughter of the children ever be forgotten?

And the great hall in which public meetings took place and in which great public figures who came to visit, spoke and delivered their speeches?

If ever a man of worldwide experience, who had been witness to the elections of parliaments and presidents, as I have, had been in town during the elections to the Zionist Congress – I am sure he would agree with me that he had never seen such excitement in his life.

And the wonderful Shabbat and its innocence;

Passover with its special qualities; the children and their new clothes;

The fear and dread of the Days of Awe;

The synagogues overflowing with their praying congregations;

Rabbi Perlin in his prime. Even non-Jews accompanied him on his last journey, gave him their respect and paid him tribute.

And the youth groups; the youthful enthusiasm with which they were imbued; the endless arguments and debates on the important issues of the day.

And Hapoel [Worker] the football games, the victories of the team over the goyim that were something of a compensation for our feelings of inferiority.

And the loan- and savings-funds – and the rest of the charitable institutions that the inhabitants created.

The weddings, circumcisions and funerals, in which nearly everyone participated.

We, the survivors, will remember these things forever.

After I left you during the days of the Nazi terror, I came back to see you before leaving forever the fields of blood.

My parents' house still stood but there was within not the meerest sign of life – not even furniture. I spent an entire night there, sitting on the stairs and recalling all that had happened, all those who had gone.

It all started while still under the Polish government, immediately after the pogrom in Brisk. It was the first pogrom I had ever seen. Neighbors went wild and attacked neighbors, pillaging and killing. And the worst tragedy of all was that those who defended themselves were punished for doing so.

The Jews didn't recognize the warning signs inherent in the situation.

And later, under the Nazi rule it began with a few murders and ending with the murder of everyone. Your Jewish inhabitants were systematically liquidated. Even so, you were witness to their spiritual greatness at the time of the destruction, the help given freely to each other; the struggle of mothers to find potato peelings to feed their young ones; the distribution to everyone of what little remained.

The pure souls and their survivors will never forget and never forgive the crimes perpetrated within your borders. Many little islands within you will be forever holy in our eyes, for therein lie the bodies of our dear ones sanctified by them forever. And you, Kamin, damned forever, damned.

[Page 45]

Childhood in the Shadow of Pogroms

Bracha Gazit (Gisis)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

I was born on the eve of World War One and my first steps were taken in an unsettled world, shaken and stormy. To our great sorrow and humiliation, most of the blows, the suffering and the torment fell on us the Jews. Throughout all the generations up until the present day, we have drunk copiously of the cup of bitterness to the very last drop. Our little town, well-versed in suffering, that had passed all the most difficult and bitter of tests during decades of disturbances and pogroms, of burnings and assassinations, had withstood them all, thanks to the awareness and will to live and to survive in spite of all. She nurtured within her a type of Jew, loyal and proud until she was subdued in the Second World War, such as other magnificent Jewish towns and communities, by the black forces of Nazism.

I remember my town, its streets and lanes and especially its people, for we were so close to each other – like one big family. However, I will dwell here on the things that happened to me one week, during the pogroms that were visited upon us in those days, as they are unforgettably etched into my memory – and will remain so to my dying day.

I was a little girl then, about six years old and the days were days of riots against the Jews under the leadership of Batko Balachovich. They fell upon us and attacked us, robbed, burned, raped and murdered, young and old. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur about 150 families lost dear ones – husbands, mothers and children. The number of widows and orphans who remained from that slaughter laid a shadow on the town that stayed a long time, and the wounds never healed.

On one such autumn morning, we were awakened to the sound of loud knocking on the door. When my father opened the door, he saw before him three armed rioters who pointed their rifles at him, demanding money. My father stood before them and explained that there was no money, nor anything else of value, because others had been already and taken what there was. They didn't believe him, of course, and began searching. Two of them guarded father while the third started grubbing around all over, turning the house upside down and slashing the pillows and chairs with his sword. Our belongings and household goods were strewn all over the floor and feathers filled the house like a snowstorm. Enraged at not finding anything of value they started hitting my father with their rifle butts, cursing and abusing him and finally leaving us alone.

When my father recovered a bit he and my mother began to discuss what to do. My mother was for running and hiding but my father coolly and in a calm and considered fashion, explained that there was nowhere to run, since the hooligans were everywhere; there were already dead and wounded and we had nothing with which to defend ourselves, no weapon – nothing. Only with the help of heaven would we be saved.

My mother could not stay at home in that situation and dressing my little brother and me we went out. My father stayed at home. When we arrived at my grandfather's house – later our house – and went in, we were shocked. The house was in a far worse state than ours. Fear and confusion was everywhere. The doors and windows were smashed, the contents of the cupboards and bedding strewn over the floor. The air was full of a sea of flying feathers covering, as they settled, the torn books littering the floor. My grandfather, wrapped in his prayer shawl, was down on his knees trying to gather together the pages of the holy books from the confusion on the floor.

At the side of the room lay a dead person face down. Apparently shot in the back, he had fallen forwards onto his face. At this horrible sight my brother and I just wanted to get out, to leave our grandfather's house, so we grabbed our mother's hand and dragged her outside. From each and every house, every courtyard, frightened and worried faces looked out at us, sad eyed with the helplessness that was the lot of every Jew during the dreadful riots.

We walked in the direction of our lane and entered the homes of our neighbours. In every house we saw the same picture of destruction and fright, timidity and fear. But it was mainly fear that showed in the eyes of everyone, young and old alike.

However, a different sight met our eyes when we entered the home of Pesl Fugatch, who had a very sick, bed-ridden sister. The rioters, it seems, found nothing of value and left it untouched. Compared to the other houses we had seen it was a veritable Garden of Eden. I asked our mother to let me stay there with Pesl, and I would come home alone later. In this way, I separated from my mother and brother, and remained in that house with the woman and her sick sister. But we were not left in peace for long. That same day, in the afternoon, the rioters came and with shouts and blows, forced us from the house and drove us in the direction of Eli the tailor's house where they had gathered hundreds of other Jews, men women and children. When the house had been absolutely jammed full of people, with no possibility of forcing one more soul through the doors, they closed and locked the doors with a lock and bolted it, placing armed guards outside to make sure no one escaped. Their intention became clear very quickly: they demanded from us an exorbitant sum of money and threatened they would kill us one by one if we didn't give it to them, or burn us all together by setting the house on fire. The people cried and begged for their lives, throwing everything of value they had on them, like cash, watches or rings but nothing seemed to satisfy them and they demanded more and more – threatening the whole time to kill us.

Three long days and nights laden with the fear of death the people spent, without a morsel of food to eat. The overcrowding was so, that some people were even unable to stand any longer because of weakness and lay on the floors, one on top of the other. Adults prayed, children cried and screamed and the entire sight was shocking. I stuck close to the only “guardian” I had and tortured myself with the thought that all this had come upon me because I had left my mother and brother. The woman under whose care I was, pleaded with their leader to let me leave the house, for what benefit would they get by killing me as well. She explained that I was not her daughter and that it was my last request to see my mother before I died.

To this day I have no idea what it was that influenced him more – the pleas of the desperate woman, or the helpless face of a little girl. Whatever it was he let me go and even said he would take me himself to my mother. Perhaps he thought he would get some ransom or other benefit from my mother? In any event, he took me by the hand and walked me home and my joy knew no bounds at the thought of seeing my loved ones again. I ran with all my strength while he, the tall man in the Cossack's hat and long sword swinging at his thigh, ran alongside grasping my hand until I got to my grandfather's house and stood stock still. I didn't know whether to enter his house first or our own. And my appalling shock when I saw, in the barn separating our two houses, a man's body hanging…………………

It was my father, hanging there on a length of wire, snorting his last breaths…… I don't think I shouted, because there was no strength left in me to shout, I only freed myself from the hand that held me and clung to my father's legs, silently whispering, “Daddy…” The man, who stood next to me, laid his rifle at my father's feet and lowered my father to the ground.

My father, for a change, clasped me to him and asked me where I had just come from and where had I been all the time. With legs that could barely hold us, we entered my grandfather's house. The house was full of people – alive and dead. On the floor the bodies of the murdered were strewn about and on the bed lay a wounded man with a severe head injury. My aunt was trying to staunch the bleeding with bread. In the meantime another group of hooligans entered, looking for some youngsters to torment and vent their anger on. And again they took my father and two others: Shimon the builder and his only son. They led them to our barn, stood them in a row and told them to count to three and walk forwards.

They shot Shimon's son in the back and he fell forward on his face like a felled tree in the forest. He was such a good-looking boy, sturdy and tall. His heartbroken father knelt down to pick him up but the murderers started kicking him and told him to start running if he wanted to live – and left them. My father and Shimon dragged the dead body into the house and laid it together with the other dead. My father went into our house that had been broken into and was now deserted, removed a board from the ceiling and climbed up to the attic where about 60 people had been hiding for a number of days, most of them youngsters. The ladder, by which gave access to the attic, had been removed entirely from its fixture; thus they thought that they could save themselves, and their hiding place not be discovered. Through a small aperture in the eaves, they could see everything that occurred outside in the street.

One day, when a few of the hooligans were still running around like poisoned rats, seeking adventure, especially youngsters whom they could bully, three of them climbed up to the attic of our house, the entrance to which was blocked with bales of hay.

When my father sensed they were near, he quickly told those hiding there and one after the other they jumped from the roof to the mud-covered ground at the front of the house. The last to jump was my father, who blocked the entry of the hooligans to the attic with his body. Exactly at that time, the leader of the gangs gave the order to cease the killing and rioting and warned that anyone disobeying his order would be killed. They didn't stop their 'devil's dance' immediately however. They still went wild here and there, setting fire to houses, robbing and raping. I don't remember when it all stopped because as soon as I saw the faces of the people who had jumped from the roof, all covered and filthy in mud and blood, I started to run from that place. I arrived at the house of Itcha Berenholtz, where there were also many Jews concentrated, among them my mother.

I fell into her arms and fainted, since I was completely at the point of exhaustion and for a few days I was unconscious, fluttering between life and death.

[Page 49]

Childhood and Youth in the Town

Bat-Sheva Rabiner

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The earliest memories of childhood days of Kamen children are connected with the balcony of the school.

For me – coming from the gymnasium at Kovel – I found the admiration of the Kamin children for their school strange and wonderful. That wonderment would capture me too, and drag me into that same, elated atmosphere which would never be forgotten.

Now – after 40 years – when I try to analyze that atmosphere, I can only find its reason in that the teachers Tartkovsky, Shapira, Porizchky, Melamed and Rosenberg were not just teachers but educators in the fullest sense of the word and were friends and companions as well.

For those reasons the school became a center. The teachers who came from Russia soaked up there the idealism of the new education, there, too, was forged into their awareness Zionism and pioneering. Therefore they planned the school as a new home for the students and themselves – and the true measurement of its standard and achievements is not to be seen only in the quantity of knowledge acquired there.

I recall the songs we sang there in those days, before my eyes appear the shows we produced and put on, and withal – the excitement and enthusiasm in the preparation, the make-up and the costumes. A theatre in our little town of nowhere – wasn't that some kind of new red-letter day, earthshaking and heady?

It was a healthy seed sown in fertile ground. The schoolchildren came from all walks of life, all sectors of the population. Children of the rich and poor alike studied at the Tarbut School, and there was no sign of status. Responsibility and dedication – those were the important things.

It is not surprising that from out of this body of children came the founders of Hechaluts Hatzair, Hashomer Hatzair, Freiheit – they all sought a way and meaning to life.

Members of the Zionist pioneering and political parties movements, were the center of the social and cultural life of the town, the foundation for the realization of pioneering and emigration to Eretz Israel.

I, who was born and studied in a larger town, found myself, apparently because of that, connected by strong ties of affection to provincial Kamen. Free days and festivals that I passed in Kamen were sublime days and days of an elevated spirit because in that town the social life hummed and advanced.

Every adult perceived it as his responsibility to assist in the education of the young. I recall when Ya'acov Plot gave me the first book in Yiddish (I learned Russian and afterwards Polish alone). He was the town librarian and in charge of the reading room that he himself created and developed until it became the center of cultural and social life of Kamin. And he, Ya'acov Plot, explained and instructed and taught how to search and find in literature a new way of life, and afterwards pushed me to a life of fulfillment in Eretz Israel. Etched into my memory is the moment he placed upon me the job of collecting the donations for the Keren Kayemet.

And with how much affection and enthusiasm did Yitzhak Berenholtz introduce me to Zionist activity. I can see him now standing before me as if alive today, looking at me with his blue eyes. He it was who instilled within me the faith in my youthful powers.

And when I was already an adult, free and independent, Melamed invited me to a conversation and explained to me that I, the town delegate of the Keren Kayemet was to be sent to Eretz Israel, and I was instructed to beware – even if it caused me personal discomfort – of entering into arguments with the communists (I would have done that as part of my search for “Answers to Questions of Life”). But I overcame it and accepted it lovingly as part of the job.

In 1927, I became a permanent resident of Kamen. At that same time there were students from Tarbut now teachers in that same school. Many had studied at the Kovel gymnasium and others learned a trade. The meetings were in the Zionist reading room.

We used to meet and go on hikes and excursions out of town to Jaklashtor, in the woods and forests and the fields. On Friday evenings songs of yearning and longing for Zion could be heard from there, carried on high.

There were arguments and discussions between people with differing opinions but everything was conducted in a serious fashion, permeated with ambition and dreams.

And when I was already deeply immersed in the pioneering movement, I did not lose spiritual contact with my different friends and acquaintances from the town. Today, encounters with the survivors and the refugees from the destruction, pinches and hurts my heart that so few managed to realize their dreams.

[Page 53]

Memories of Kamen-Kashirskiy

Mina Karsh-Soloveitchik

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Thick forests surrounded our town, Kamen-Koszyrski. In the area were the villages of Christian farmers and a few Jewish villages. Most of the houses in the town were built of wood and round each one was a garden. The majority of the Jews in the village were engaged in trade, a few were artisans and the rest professionals. There were two synagogues in the town, the shtibel of the Trysker Rabbi's disciples, a Beit Midrash, a Hebrew school and Talmud Torah, a library and a Bikur Holim. Among the public enterprises were: evening classes, a pioneering Zionist movement, Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir and various other organizations.

Among the Trysker disciples were my father, Shalom Karsh, Dov Gortenshtein, Ya'acov-Yitzhak Klurman, Yitzhak Friedman and others. My father was much occupied with studying the Torah. He initiated the opening of the Talmud Torah and the Bikur Holim. He was a public figure, known for his generosity. With the creation of the “Redemption Fund”, he was the first to donate to the collection five gold rubles, thereby acting as an example for others. Nothing stood in the way of his determination to teach his children Torah. At the time of the German conquest of 1915, there was no school in the town, only the Rabbi Yitzhak-Wolf (z”l) stayed in town and taught the Talmud. My father asked him to teach his son the Torah but he refused to accept payment in cash asking only that he be guaranteed wheat for matzoth. My father accordingly walked the 10 kilometres to the village of Nuyno and brought the wheat back. He was graced with a nobility of spirit; good-hearted, compassionate, welcoming guests in an exemplary fashion. He educated his children with chalutzim [pioneer] fervor. Our mother, Rivka, too, was graced with many qualities and was a benefactor to many of the righteous and open hearted. Whoever entered the house hungry went out sated.

Teachers in Kamin

The first teacher in the town to acquire the Hebrew language was Davidyuk. After him, came at a later period, came Rabbi Ginzburg from Bialystok with his two sons – Eliezer and Eliyahu. They opened a Hebrew school and were among the organizers of the Zionist movement.

The War that Descended Upon Our Town

In 1914, with the First World War, the Cossacks descended upon out town, pillaging, and robbing whoever and whatever fell into their hands. One of the worst disasters was the deportation of the Jews from the town. Some of the Jews escaped to the forests near Huta [Huta-Kamenska] and some to the forest of Moshe Plot. We were in the forests eight days. On occasion the Cossacks would find us even there, robbing us and frightening us by shooting in the air. The farmers would use the opportunity to rob all the local Jewish villages.

During the rioting, Herschel Yussman befriended the Russian commander, who liked Herschel, and persuaded him to tell the Jews to go home and promised that there would be peace and quiet in the town.

Just a few days later, after our return, the Germans came and conquered. At the same time an epidemic broke out – possibly because of the lack of salt and sugar – and Shalom Karsh traveled to Kovel to bring some supplies back. On the way, the Germans threw him from the wagon and he traveled the rest of the way on foot. The salt and sugar he brought back were distributed among the population. Very quickly the Germans also began robbing the Jews of their cattle and horses, while the youngsters were taken for forced labor. Martial Law was declared in Kamin and many families were deported by the Germans, many of them to the town of Rozin.

During the German occupation the Mayor was Moshe Plot. A Jew of strong character, a timber merchant who owned surrounding forests. As Mayor he instilled fear in the local Christian farmers and under pressure from him they returned part of the livestock and property they had stolen. He helped the Jews and greatly reduced the number of families deported and prevented the youngsters from being sent out of town for forced labor entirely.

In 1918, the Germans retreated from the town at the end of the war and the hooligans of Balakhovich and afterwards the Russians came, chasing after them.

After a short while, the Communists left Kamen and Kamen remained without any authority. Again the local farmers began robbing, so a self-defense group was formed by the local Kamin youth and led by the excellent organizer Avish Klurman. He came from Russia and was put in charge of security. He gained a lot of experience in Russia; his energy and dedication were invaluable to us. Here was even an incident when he put a few Jews in prison for selling liquor.

All the Kamen youth took some part inn the self-defense. They guarded the town with determination so saving it from further depredations from the farmers in the area.

And again the Balakhoviches started, starting riots and murdering more than a hundred Jews, among them my father, members of the Zuckerman family, Rabbi Yitzhak-Wolf and his son, Ya'acov Yitzhak Klurman's son with his wife and daughter, Ya'acov Rozen, Yitzhak Davidowitz, Herschel Weissman's mother, and others.

Following the riots, the number of orphans grew but they were absorbed by the women of the town, on the initiative of Raichie Levin, from Kovel. The orphans received dedicated care. The women who took part in this were: the present writer, Tziporah and Chaya Gortenstein, Chaya Kimmel, Raizel Perchik, Gittel Lehrman and Rivka Lehrman.

When the Poles conquered Pinsk, deportation of the Jews began. Many families who arrived in Kamen-Koszyrski with nothing stood around in the market place. My father, Shalom Karsh, mobilized many Jews, among them Mordecai Lehrman, Kimmel, Asher Ehrlich, Dov Gortenstein, Leibish Goldstein and Meir Wasserman, all of whom absorbed the refugees into their homes, provided all their missing needs and afterwards found them work. As the riots grew, the thought began to gnaw at one's mind: Why are they beating the Jews? The first explanation I received from my father (z”l), who said it was because we were a special people, the people chosen by G-d from all other peoples. But I thought somewhat differently: The Jewish people lack a homeland and are dispersed all over the place and because of this we are thought of as ownerless, a scapegoat. The only solution that will save the life of the Jew is immigration to the Land of Israel, abandoning the diaspora, which had brought only disaster. We must immigrate – if only with a stick in one's hand and a bag of belongings on the shoulder.

Zionist Activities

The initiators of the Zionist Movement in Kamin were: Karsh, Ya'acov Plot, Berenholz, Lehrman, Kimmel, Gortenstein, Raizel Perchik and others.

The main activity in the beginning was – spreading the Hebrew language among the youth via evening classes. Leibush Plot dedicated his heart several hours an evening. We also made collections for the Keren Kayemet and Foundation Fund. We put on shows and the income was earmarked for the library and the collections. Even at weddings we made collections for the Keren Kayemet.

From Kamin, many pioneers emigrated to Eretz Israel among them my sister Fruma and myself. I made Aliya in 1926 and fulfilled my ambition. Eliezer Shapira together with his family, the first family from Kamin to put down roots in Eretz Israel.

[Page 55]

The Uniqueness of Our Town

Yosef Ganani (Gortenstein)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

A town like any other town was Kamien-Koszyrski - and yet, like none other.

The people of Kamien-Koszyrski were different from the people of other towns in temperament, by their behaviour and by their life-style. They were simple people, concerned with the day-to-day hard struggle for existence and yet they knew how to be happy - and most important to help one another in times of trouble. I remember people who had long-standing arguments with each other for years on end and yet when some serious trouble struck one of them, the difference and the quarrel were forgotten and they rushed to help one another.

I recall, when I was a small child at the outbreak of World War I, that the Jews of Kamin absorbed the refugees from near and far and looked after them with touching dedication, sharing their homes and in many cases their last morsels of food.

I remember, too, when half the town went up in flames at the time of the great fire and people found themselves without a roof over their heads, all their belongings gone; and those people of Kamin, whose homes had been spared, instantly and without delay, welcomed them into their homes as brothers, clothing and feeding them until their new homes were built. All this was done without any thought of reward or payment.

The same thing occurred at the time of the Balakhovich riots, carried out under the tacit approval of the Polish authorities.

I also recall the noble stature of my uncle, Itzchak Friedman, whose entire mission in life was to build and establish schools for the children, to care for the orphans and the widows. And if there were a family without the means to sustain itself, he would provide for it during the week and especially on festivals, seeing to their needs and ensuring in good time, that they did not have to demean themselves by personally seeking charity.

Our people were well-versed in the lessons of suffering and riots, robbery, fires and their consequences, which forged their characters and taught them to endure it all with fortitude and honour, as occurred during the days of the Revolution, thanks to which they were saved many times from destruction.

May their memories be blessed.

Traces of Heroism

The blacksmith, Burstein, an enthusiastic Zionist his entire life, straightforward and honest. He was always arguing with those opposed to Zionism. The man worked so hard to sustain his family, yet his hand was always open to donate to Zionist funds.

And here, the old Avruch, who went up on the roof of his house, alongside the river, with his sons and, with a German machine gun, prevented the Balakhoviches from entering the town for one whole night, knowing full well what fate awaited him.

The son of Avraham-David Avruch, the first to emigrate from Kamin to Eretz Israel in the 'twenties with his family. However, because of the extreme difficulties in Eretz Israel at that period, was forced to leave and move to Argentina.

Yitzhak Eisenberg, who, in the face of a horde of Gentiles, ejected the hooligan General Balakhovich from the very veranda of his house, and who came to Kamin several years later to speak just before the elections to the Polish Seym.

Old Kopchik, who snatched the pistol of a thug who had come to murder him during a riot, and escaped, thus undoubtedly saving himself from certain death.

It is worth mentioning at this time, the Jews of Yezerki

near Kamen. These Jewish farmers received their lands during the reign of Czar Alexander II, worked the land and sustained themselves from it, until murdered by the Nazi Beast.

[Page 57]

The Zionist Movement in Our Town

Yaakov Plot

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Even before World War I, the Zionist Council for the resettlement of Eretz Israel, in Odessa, sent circulars and pamphlets asking us to place collection boxes in the synagogues. In them we placed our donations for the resettlement of Eretz Israel and the acquisition of the Holy Places.

Similarly, the Zionist idea penetrated the hearts of the youngsters via Moshe Dadiuk's school, where he taught the pupils Hebrew and Hebrew songs and encouraged the children to read Hebrew magazines.

But the general public remained somewhat passive to the Zionist idea until after the Balfour Declaration, until after they had suffered the torment of riots and disturbances. In the beginning it was the Russian soldiers, the Cossacks, the Circassians and the local Ukrainian farmers who troubled the Jews, plundered their property and burned their houses. Afterwards the Germans conquered the city.

An eviction order was given and most of the families were exiled to Domacheva, Leplevka and Radzin (Rudnya or Radezh?), a place in which they suffered until the end of the war from sickness and hunger. Those who remained alive returned home, slowly recovered from their wounds awakening back to life.

At the end of 1918, I myself returned from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, the center of all the Jews of Russia who had flown from the face of the Bolsheviks. I contacted B. Kimmel and A. Ginzburg and together we founded the Zionist Society which included virtually all the youngsters in our town.

At the General Meeting, held at Benjamin Kimmel's school, people from all sections of the community took part and a temporary committee was elected made up of David Yangel, Yitzhak Berenholz, Chaya Ehrlich (Rozen), Gershon Zuckerman, Shmuel Milstein and Eizenman. B. Kimmel was secretary of the committee, Eliezer Ginzburg, treasurer. Y. Plot chairman.

The Committee took upon itself the presentation of the Zionist ideology and the introduction of additional members. B. Kimmel's school was used as a base of operations. The place was used for meetings, lectures and discussions on Zionist topics. One of the rooms of the school was used a repository and reading room for many books.

At the second meeting, a permanent committee was elected and its members were: Zerach Kimmel, Eliezer Ginzburg, Shmuel Kimmel, Haani Gortenstein (Katzman), Aharon Schuster, Hirsch-Leib Plus, Mordechai Kattan. The secretary was B. Kimmel, treasurer: A. Ginzburg, Chairman: Yaacov Plot. Also elected were an organizing committee, a cultural committee and a Keren Kayemet committee. The chairman of the committee functioned as delegate.

From the day of the foundation in 1918 of the Keren Kayemet, until it ceased to exist in 1939 – it was always very active. Its members collected money night and day and united all, irrespective of political inclinations, for one purpose: the redemption of the land of Israel. There was not a house in our town that did not have its KKL collection box; neither was there any festivity that did not collect money for the planting of the Herzl Forest. The committee organized dances, markets and other different events to the benefit of the KKL. The incomes were so successful that the Central Committee in Poland praised us publicly. All the delegated from Eretz Israel, who visited the big Polish towns, and centers came to visit us also. I especially remember well Gur Arieh, Yaakov Melamed (z”l), Dr. Bernstein and Attorney Bonfeld (z”l).

The members and friends who were so active for the benefit of the KKL and who were lost in the Holocaust at the hands of the German and Ukrainian murderers were: Yitzhak Berenholz, Shlomo Klurman, Leibush Lev, Avraham Rotenstein, Yitzhak Verba, Yaacov Yaffe, Haim Radnionsky, Chava and Leah Kimmel, Chaim Asher Wowk, Elke and Moshe Altwarg, Sassi and Nachman Geller, Esther Kozak, Zalman Lehrman and Tzippa Plot.

The women, who were magnificent in arranging dances for the benefit of the KKL, were: Pesia Gortenstein, Freida Weissman, Chaya Rozen, Dr. Steinberg, Chaya Klurman, Menucha Klurman, Etke Gilbert, Maani Sarah Dekter, Puah Rubinstein.

At the same time as the KKL committee was formed, the “Redemption Fund” committee was also organized. Mr. Blachman, from Polish central, came to our town and made speeches in the Beit Ha-Midrash and the Rabbi's Court and as a result – a lot of money was raised for the “Redemption Fund”, whose name, later, was changed to the Foundation Fund.

Every year a delegate came to our town from the Central Committee in Poland and made speeches in the synagogues. The Haredim orthodox community gathered there while in the cinema the general Jewish public gathered to listen. The delegate, together with his entourage, habitually made the rounds of shops and homes, raising money for the Foundation Fund. The people of our town willingly answered with generous donations of cash, shares and monthly payments.

The members of the Foundation Fund Committee were: Rabbi Yitzhak Freidman, Rabbi Shabtai Zafran, Rabbi Mordechai Lehrman, Baruch Melamed, Yitzhak Berenholz, Shlomo Klurman, Avraham Rotenstein, Gedalia Grimptlich and the writer of these words. From the day of its foundation until 1939, the committee exhibited lively and effervescent activity.

The Hatchiya School

When we founded the Zionist Society, we decided to open a Hebrew school, but the technical and financial difficulties compelled us to delay the program. After the Balachowitz pogroms (may his very name perish), we found ourselves without teachers. Eliyahu Ginzburg had been murdered; his brother, Eliezer, went to Bialystock and Benjamin Kimmel went to the United States. We got in touch with Tarbut in Kovel, who recommended the teacher Tratkovski, who was selected as head teacher. Eventually, with the help of the Culture Committee in our town – whose members were Zerach Kimmel, Yitzhak Berenholz and Y. Plot, the Hatchiya School was opened. Tratkovski was an excellent educator and pedagogue, who placed the school on a high standard and did much to help us in our Zionist and public work.

The pupils of the school became the kernel of the Zionist movement. And from the moment the school was founded, in 1920 until our town was conquered by the Russians, in 1939, all the teachers, who were graduates of various Tarbut seminaries and other institutes of higher learning in Poland, proved themselves to be excellent educators.

During the period of the Soviet administration, the language of instruction was Yiddish and Russian. The teaching staff didn't change, except that they were joined by a communist teacher from Odessa, whose task it was to ensure that the curriculum would be pure communism.

The End of the Zionist Movement in Our Town

In 1920, when the Zionist Society was already a big influence in our town and its members were the founders and activists of the other institutions, from the Chamber of Commerce to the Factory Owners' Society, a split was discovered in its ranks. Most of the youngsters organized themselves into the Mifleget Poalei Tzion (Z.S.) [Young Zionists Party] and the others into the Itachdut Hatzionim Haklaliim [General Association of Zionists], although the split did not prevent cooperation in cultural, educational, immigration, and the KKL and Foundation Fund activities. Everything functioned to the good of the Zionist idea and dedicated itself heart and soul. The activists dedicated themselves earnestly to imbue the Zionist idea to all levels of our town. They also did everything they could to forward the pioneering idea. The information,, the activities, the dedication of members of the committee of the Zionist federation bore fruit and the Zionist Movement in our town grew and flourished.

Parties in our Town in the Latter Years

  1. Histadrut Hatzionim Haradikalim , Al Hamishmar, Et Livnot [The Radical Zionist Federation, On Guard and Time to Build]

  2. Poalei Tzion (Z.S.) [Young Zionists]

  3. Mizrach, Hachalutz Hamizrachi [Mizrachi , Mizrachi Pioneer]

  4. Haitachdut (Z.M.) [The Federation]

  5. Brit HaTzHa”R (Revisionim) [Treaty of the Revisionist Zionists]

List of the Youth Movements

  1. Hashomer Hatzair [The Young Guardsman]

  2. Hachalutz [The Pioneer]

  3. Freiheit

  4. Hachalutz Hatzair [The Young Pioneer]

  5. Beita”r [The Revisionists]

  6. Hashomer Hadati [The Religious Guard]

  7. Hanoar Hatzioni [The Zionist Youth]

  8. Haoved [The Workers]

[Editorial gratitude to Benjamin Goren]

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