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[English page 9]

The Old Home



by Abraham Schudroff

A memorial to our destroyed home town

Soon after the end of World War II, we set up a relief committee. We discovered the tragic fact that there was hardly anybody left whom we could help. No one will ever know exactly, but according to all reports, it is believed that all Jewish families in Kamenetz-Litvosk and its vicinity were put to death.

We could not rest, however. If it was not given to us to give material help, we decided to start a movement amongst our fellow-townsmen in America and in Israel to perpetuate the memory of the martyrs of Kamenetz-Litovsk by means of a Memorial Book.

Though there exists a synagogue in New-York, bearing the name of our town, and there are a number of “Landsmanschaft” organizations, unfortunately no initiative was taken to organize Memorial Assemblies or other meetings of similar character.

But this could not continue in such a manner and we, a closely-knit group of several fellow townsmen, took it upon ourselves to initiate the creation of a Committee for the Perpetuation of the Memory of the Martyrs of our town. Several attempts failed, but at the end of December 1960, when I was sent as delegate to the 25th Zionist Congress, I had a meeting with an active group of fellow-townsmen in the State of Israel.

During the reception which they organized in my honor, upon my arrival, and later on, at the Memorial Assembly to the memory of the Martyrs of our town, we talked over and elaborated the plan to publish a Memorial Book by the townsmen of Kamentz-Litovsk, which should consist of various memoirs, descriptions and pictures, reflecting the Jewish life in Kamenetz-Litovsk in the past and its destruction, and thus serving as a spiritual monument to our hallowed martyrs.

The above mentioned plan was brought to America and the first meeting of the Memorial Book Committee took place at my home. An executive committee was formed. At the first meeting there participated: Mrs. Sarah Horowitz, Secretary of the Committee, with many years of active work amongst the townsmen of Kamenetz-Litovsk behind her and her children Mr. and Mrs. Iser Goldberg; Mr. and Mrs. Haim Mendelson; Mr. and Mrs. Chatzkel Kagan; Mr. and Mrs. Itzhak Schoenfeld; Mr. Haim Rubin; Mr. and Mrs. Velvel Kustin; Mr. and Mrs. Harry Gers; Mr. and Mrs. Leizer Lifshitz; Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Post; Mr. and Mrs. Meyer Wisotzky; Mr. J. Jaffe; Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Tendler; Mr. and Mrs. David Schudroff; Mr. and Mrs. Morris Siegel; Mr. and Mrs. Eli Chait; Mr. and Mrs. Golomb; Mr. and Mrs. Louis Horowitz; Mr. Alex Schudroff and Mr. M. Morgan.

In connection with the Memorial Book, I met together with the following fellow-townsmen in Israel: Y. Rimon, Simha Dubiner, Pinhas Rabi, Hayka Cracovsky, Mr. and Mrs. Alony, Yehudith Kostakevich, Pinhas Rabid-Rudnitsky and others.

We wish to note with great pride the fact that the fellow-townsmen in America responded very warmly to our undertaking. It was my lot to become the Chairman of the Kamenetz-Litovsk Memorial Committee, and to accomplish the project of creating the Memorial Book, together withmy faithful collaborators, and in cooperation with all Kamenetz-Litovsk organizations that raised the financial contribution for this purpose.

We also introduced the custom of arranging, on the 27th day of Nisan, a yearly Commemorative Assembly to the memory of the hallowed martyrs of Kamenetz-Litovsk, with the participation of well known rabbis, writers and people active in community affairs. A touching Memorial Meeting takes place, six candles to commemorate six million hallowed martyrs are kindled. All present recite publicly “Kaddish” Prayer for the Dead.

All of us should feel proud of having fulfilled our duty and of having erected a spiritual monument to our dearest and beloved, the Jewish men, women and children of the historic Jewish Community of Kamenetz-Litovsk, near Brest-Litovsk. I thank the Almighty God for having given me the physical and spiritual strength to build the bridge which united our fellow-townsmen in America and Israel and to publish this Memorial Book.

May our children and our children's children not forget the memory of the hallowed martyrs.

Blessed be their memory!

  Abraham Schudroff
President and Initiator of
“Kamenetz-Litovsk Memorial Book
Committee in America”

[English page 12]

The Beginning of Jewish Settlement in Kamenetz

(till the middle of the 18th century)

by Leybl Goldberg (Sarid)
To the Memory of My Martyred Parents – Kalmen and Rachel Lea.
My Innocent Brothers Noah and Israel Itshack.

My Pure Sisters – the Hallowed Martyrs Shifra, Rivka and Brakha.
Who were put to death by the abominable murderers.

God will avenge their blood.

I walked on the roads of the places which will be mentioned later on; I was in the villages whose history will be told. I grew up in the town of Kamenetz. I was brought up there and I brought up others. Therefore everything, is so close to my heart – and so heart-breaking.

It is not easy to write the history of Jewish settlement in our town. It is made difficult by the lack of Jewish documentary sources, with the exception of several lines in Dubnov's “Notebook of the Council of Communities in Lithuania”. I have not found any document about those distant years. It is a depressing fact that we are cut off from the sources and treasures including also Jewish documents, that can be found in the archives of Brest, Grodno and others, from which we are barred. Therefore, there was no other possibility, but to write the history of the Jewish settlement according to non-Jewish documents, mainly those belonging to Polish State institutions here.

Those documents throw very little light on Jewish life in those distant years. Informations about Jewish settlements in our region appear only at the end of the 14th Century.

As it had already been told, the Jews of Brest were, in 1388, granted a privilege by Witold, the Duke of Lithuania; but it may be assumed that Jewish settlement in Brest had existed earlier too. We have clear information about the region only from the end of the 15th century. But even in this case it is to be assumed that Jewish settlements had existed earlier. Kobryn appears as an organized community at the beginning of the 16th Century. It should be stressed that Jews were expelled from Lithuania in 1495, during the rule of the Lithuanian Duke and Crown Prince Alexander. However, after he had been crowned King of Poland, he allowed them to return in 1503 – and returned them their houses and property in exchange for an annual tax.

Thus it can be taken for granted that the Jewish settlement in Kamenetz began very early.

The Jews were for the first time mentioned in a document from the year 1525. We can conjecture that during the process of establishment of towns in backward Lithuania, when the Jews had the possibility not only to deal in trade and money but also to acquire land property and to exercise all professions, they lived in an important town, situated on a highway and close to such a big town as Brest-Litovsk.

In a collection of Lithuanian documents, published by the historian G. Bershadsky, the Kamenetz Jews are described as tavern-keepers. However, the above document is shrouded in obscurity and we do not know whether it referred to a Jewish population center in the town or to a few tavern-keepers. We may therefore assume that some Jews lived there; even if their number was not large, it reached at least ten men – the number prescribed for community prayer.

From this follows that there had been Jews in Kamenetz even before that date. The aforementioned document includes the following statement:

On February 26th 1525 the town Kamenetz received the rights of “Wojtowstwo” (administrative unit) in addition to the Magdeburg Rights (rights granted to newly established towns) of the “Starostwo” (district) of Kamenetz. The Christian townspeople received also licenses for keeping taverns, which had previously been leased by the Jews. The development of towns in Lithuania caused — just like in other countries —  the growth of an urban class. The growth of the urban class in Lithuania, however, was slower than in other parts of Poland. At the beginning they were granted the status of a “Wojtowstwo”, including a town-court headed by a “Wojt” (in German “Vogt”). The Starostwo of Kamenetz had received the Magdeburg Rights at an even earlier date. We may suppose that in the same period the Magdeburg Rights were also given to other towns in Lithuania such as: Brest, Grodno, Lutsk, Polotsk, Minsk etc. (1546). But it is interesting to note that the rights to lease the taverns were transferred to the Christian townsmen. The taking away of the taverns from the Jews was connected with granting the particular rights pertaining to the status of “Wojtowstwo” to the town's Christian inhabitants. It does not seem likely that the Jews had given up their means of livelihood of their own accord. Presumably, this came about as a result of the struggle of the town's Christian population against the Jewish inhabitants.

The Jewish settlement in Kamenetz and vicinity existed throughout the entire 16th century. A document from 1565, drawn up for the purpose of levying taxes in the region of the “Starostwo” of Kamenetz imposes the following taxes upon the Jews of Sarowka: Eliezer (Leyzer) —3 Zlotys; Nahum  — 3 Zlotys; Bitschko — 3 Zlotys; Pesah — 2 Zlotys; Stopka — 3 Zlotys; altogether 14 Zlotys

We learn from the aforementioned document that Jews lived not only in Kamenetz but also in the townlets of the region.

The Kamenetz Jews were for the first time mentioned in Jewish documents when the Council of Lithuania was established. It had split from the all-Polish “Council of the Four Lands”. In 1623 the Lithuanian Jews were required to pay a fixed sum of tax-money to the Lithuanian Treasury. This resulted in the establishment of the Lithuanian Council. At the beginning three communities and their surroundings were represented:  Brest (the principal community), Grodno, and Minsk. Kamenetz belonged to the communities of the Brest region. Kamenetz did not attain the honor shared by its neighbors — Wysokie and Pruzhany — where the Council held its meetings. We read in the Register of the Lithuanian Communities that the Council, which met in 1670 at Seltz, imposed upon the Community of Kamenetz the tax of 600 Polish Zlotys to be paid to the landowner Yuditsky.

The historic document, dated December 11, 1635, and granting basic rights to the Jews of Kamenetz, was given to them by King Ladislaus (Wladyslaw) IV; it was ratified by his brother Yan Casimir (Jan Kazimierz) in 1661 and confirmed once again, for the third time, by King Michael Wisniowiecki in 1670. The above privilege included several advantageous additions:

1. One additional market day, except Saturday.
2. Permission to build a synagogue, subject to the condition that it should not be taller and more beautiful than the local Christian churches.
3. Permission to build a ritual bath on a plot belonging to the town.
4. Permission to establish a cemetery in the town or outside it.
5. Permission to engage in commerce and trade without limitations, as well as to buy real estate in the town and to build houses.

The Christian townsfolk were warned not to disturb the life and activities of the Jews, should the latter want to take advantage of the rights given to them in the royal privilege. Furthermore, says the privilege, if they do disturb them, they will be held responsible for it and have to pay fines. We must add that the scroll of King Michael Wisniowiecki's privilege specifies the amount to be paid as fine by the Christian townsfolk, in case they would cause damages to the Jews. Noting the decree of Wladyslaw IV, it includes a sentence missing in the text of Jan Kazimierz (Jan Casimir):

“Should the townspeople have the audacity to disturb the Jews, they will be fined 5000 Zlotys, which will be divided between the claimant and the Government.”

The privilege is also based on the royal laws concerning the rights of the Lithuanian Jews. We may take it for granted that the reference was made here to the rights bestowed upon the Lithuanian Jews in 1629, according to which they were allowed to engage in crafts without belonging to the Christian guilds, and all this in addition to their commercial rights and permission to sell alcoholic drinks. Quite interesting is the discriminatory measure taken by Wladyslaw (Ladislaus) IV, whose friendly attitude towards the Jews was known: in 1633 he restricted the Jewish tailors to sew clothes for Jewish customers only; he permitted them to deal freely in ready-made clothes only and to engage solely in such trades in which the Christian craftsmen were not represented by an organization.

Therefore, attention should be drawn to the fact that Jewish craftsmen in Kamenetz were the first ones in Lithuania who received the privilege of unrestricted activity in trade at the same time when Jewish craftsmen in other Lithuanian townlets were limited in their rights.

The chapter on the relations between the Jews and the Christian inhabitants of Kamenetz brings to light the sentiments of hatred and jealousy felt by the Gentile townspeople towards the Jews. The Christian inhabitants of Kamenetz were arrogant and contemptuous and led a struggle against both the nobility and the Jews.

Just like in other towns of Poland and Lithuania, so did the Jews of Kamenetz enjoy the support of the nobility.

We had already taken note of the first document from 1525, which decreed that the Jewish taverns be transferred to the Christian inhabitants of the town. Let us pay attention to the sharp tone used by Ladislaus IV in the privilege granted by him in 1635:

"We let it be known by our Starosta in Kamenetz and other municipal offices: we declare that it is our desire to confirm the validity of everything put down in the privilege and we order not to disturb (in Latin: inviolabiter) the freedom of the Jews which had been given to them by us."

The disappearance, in the privilege of Jan Casimir, of the fine-clause, with which the townspeople had been threatened in case they would sabotage the rights of the Jews, bears witness to the sharp struggle of the Christians in the town against the Jews. It ought to be understood that the sentence appearing in the decree of King Michael Wisniowiecki bears witness to the obstacles put by the townspeople in the way of realizing the privilege. They doubtlessly fought with all their strength against the fulfilment of the terms of the privilege.

At the end of the 17th century (1693) a protest, signed by 40 citizens, was lodged by the Kamenetz Town Council, against the Councillor Andrej Piablewicz who had leased the tax on alcoholic drinks to the Jews, without having previously consulted the other Councillors and the entire town-council. It must be stressed that under the rule of King Jan Sobieski, in the years 1670-1696, the policy of the Central Government supported the Jews just like in the previous years. And so we see the Finance Minister Sapieha lease the taxes in Kamenetz to the Jews Isaac (Ajzyk) Nojgmowicz and Yeshayahu Jakubowicz.

At that time Kamenetz was still a district capital with a customs house to deal with the transit of goods from the Region of Brest to the Region of Podlasie.

Kamenetz was mentioned in the above document among the important towns Brest, Pinsk and Yalovo to which belonged a number of adjoining townlets. One of the townlets subordinate to Kamenetz was Mlitsytch.

The townspeople did not rest and, throughout the entire reign of Sobieski, they sought all conceivable pretexts to act against the privilege given to the Jews of the town. In 1684, the chief town official requests that the privilege granted to Kamenetz by King Jan III (Sobieski) be registered in the Book of Documents in Vilna, upon the request of the town-Council. In this document the King confirms the rights which the town has received from Alexander, Sigismund I (Zygmunt), Sigismund III and others. In the document notice is taken, too, of the accusation levelled by the Kamenetz Christians against the Wojewoda (Provincial Governor) Ostap Tyszkiewicz, owner of the villages Klepiez and Pasieki. The accusation had already been dealt with in 1631 and was concerned with privileges which had been granted long ago. Jan III confirms the rights of the town-council and orders the Jews to accept its authority and jurisdiction. In this decree, Sobieski compels the Jews to obey the municipal instances and fulfil all duties imposed upon every citizen of the town.

All this should not mislead us. From the lines of the aforementioned documents we learn about good relations between the Jews and their neighbours. The Jews lived in Kamenetz and its vicinity and presumably also in the villages. In documents from 1733 we read about Jews from the villages Holoborek as well as about a Jew dwelling in a church estate.

From the wills included among the documents deposited in the archives of the Kamenetz municipality we learn about commercial relations and negotiations between Christians and Jews.

Landlords and estate-owners from the surrounding area traded mainly with the Jews and there were no limits to the transactions. The Christians townsmen could not bear it.

At the beginning of the 18th century, during the rule of August II, King of Saxony, we already perceive a change in the conditions. The importance of Kamenetz decreases. Another “Starostwo” (administrative unit) exists beside it; it is located at Klacze, which was Tyskiewicz's property, and its authority extends over the entire region adjoining the Bialowieza Forest.

Hard times arrived for the Jews of Poland and Lithuania.

Blood-libels and other concocted charges became a frequent occurrence. The political reaction, headed by the clergy, spread all kinds of prejudices among the people who became afraid of Jewish witches who allegedly had made a pact with evil spirits. Anti-Jewish persecutions became a daily occurrence. Simple people were frightened by stories about the Jews casting an “evil eye” on crops in the fields. An echo of this period reaches us from Kamenetz too. A document from June 17th, 1718, tells us the following story: “Two Jewesses charged with witchcraft were arrested at Kamenetz. Hayka Shmulikha concealed in garbage a pot with strange objects, for example: flour, moon, eggs, oats etc. Hayka claimed she had done it upon the request of another Jewess Yospa. Yospa declared that she had hidden the objects in order to heal her daughter. The same Yospa, a musician's wife, cried and said she had visited a wise woman who had ordered her to prepare the mixture and hide it in order to protect it from an evil eye and the view of wicked people. Both of them were taken under guard to the fortress.

We know the end of the story of the two Jewesses, but this libel conforms to the false accusations spread about the Jews in Brest and its vicinity, who were flooded with blood libels and charged with having aided the Swedes in 1703 during their invasion.

Finally the struggle led by the townspeople against the Jews achieved its aim. The townspeople complain to King August II that in addition to the privilege from 1670 the Kamenetz Jews live comfortably, sell spirits, honey, beer and other drinks, trade quite freely, open shops in the market and in the town itself, buy and sell houses and property belonging to the nobility and the church, sell textile-wares at retail and at wholesale as well as haberdashery of various kinds, dump merchandise in the Old Town, cut down the prices of the houses, and with all this cause suffering to the citizens of Kamenetz”.

King August II of Saxony replies to these accusations by an order which forbids the Jews to build flats in the courtyards, and to deal in alcoholic drinks. He also orders the “Starosta” to impose limitations upon the Jewish trade and shops. The above complaint of the townspeople is based on the privilege which the town received from Michael Wisniowiecki – the same king who had confirmed the old rights of the Kamenetz Jews and added to them new ones. We have already noted that in 1684 the townspeople lodged a complaint against giving the Jews priority rights, and they did so on the basis of the privilege granted to the town inhabitants.

The whole thing is somewhat puzzling. But the problem looks different when we investigate the manner in which the Jews in Lithuania received privileges from the Polish kings. The Jews used to obtain the privileges with great efforts and large amounts of money. Therefore they used to be called at that time: “hens that lay golden eggs", since every confirmation of a privilege or granting of a new one was connected with a delivery of “golden eggs” to the king, to his chancellery, to the provincial (voyvodship) authority and others.

We are familiar with the situation which arose in this manner. General and particular privileges were granted in addition to previous ones, given to the townspeople by the king and the principal aim of which was to restrict Jewish activity of a competitive character. Both sides would often reach agreement. The townsmen, however, could not abide by the terms of the agreement, for the life reality proved to be more powerful and so they used to apply for intervention of the authorities; and the Jews, in exchange for money, would procure new privileges. We learn from the above complaint that Kamenetz was divided into two parts – the Old Town and the New Town. It is easy to understand that the western part constituted the Old Town which included the Litevska Street and its neighbourhood. The Jewish Quarter was located in the center of Kamenetz and comprised all the lanes around the Great Synagogue, besides Leszno with the religious school (Talmud-Torah), and the ritual bath.

The Municipality of Kamenetz was a powerful and active institution which displayed remarkable arrogance, refused even to receive orders from the provincial governor(Wojwoda) and often appealed directly to the king. This explains the hard struggle for existence led by the Kamenetz Jews. It is easy to understand that the citizens fought against the Jews and Jewish peddlers who hawked in the villages, estates and in Kamentez itself without permission.

The taverns which were a source of livelihood for the Jews, galled the Christian inhabitants. The aforementioned documents re-echo the accusations brought forth by Polish anti-Semites, such as the well-known Jew baiter Stanislaw Macinski and others.

The Jewish population in Kamenetz reached the number of several hundred souls. We learn this from a document dated 1705:

"The Treasurer of the Synagogue, Shimon from the Community of Brest delivered a budget of the – head-tax imposed upon the Jewish Communities and townlets in the region of Brest. At the meeting the sum of 11084 Zlotys was imposed on Brest, on Kobryn – 315 Zlotys, on Pruzhany 485 Zlotys, on Kamenetz – 50 Zlotys, on Meltsch – 100 Zlotys etc.

At the beginning of the 18th century, during the period of the Central Jewish Autonomy, the Lithuanian Jews paid an annual head-tax amounting to 60.000 Zlotys. But after the autonomy had been abolished in 1764 the communities had to pay 2 Zlotys head-tax for every Jew over one year old.

Therefore it may be taken for granted that during the period of the counting the tax amounted to one Zloty per person. The Lithuanian Jews paid 60.000 Zlotys at that time. Hence, we shall not make an error if we estimate the number of Jews in Kamenetz, at the beginning of 18th century at 200 persons whose age exceeded one year. It follows that Kamenetz was a small Jewish center, but according to the standards of those times such a center was considered important.

The history of Jews in Kamenetz has not yet been written. As it had already been told the documents concerning the internal life of the community, its cultural life, its economic struggle, its rabbis and sages learned in the Law, were not in possession of the writer of this outline. But even these few lines expose to view a Jewish Community in its historic struggle for existence.

Translation of the Royal Privilege granted in 1661 by Jan Kazimierz, King of Poland, to the Jews of Kamenetz

Sixteen hundred and sixty years after the birth of Christ, the twentieth day in January, in the office of the Court of the Town of Brest, before the standard-bearer and under-Starosta Hieronim Casimir Olenski, with those who represent the Jews of Brest, Berek and Barukla, the heads of the Jews in Kamenetz. The Letter of His Grace Royal Excellency.

Letter of His Grace the Royal Excellency which is a privilege written on parchment in the Little Chancellery of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and which is given to the Jews in Kamenetz and is being copied in the books of the town of Brest, and this is its worded content:

Jan Kazimierz, King of Poland, with God's Grace etc. We announce in this letter: In order to bolster up and increase the prosperity and welfare of our subjects, we are concerned that our towns should have control not only over population but also over ramified trade. For this purpose markets have been set up in the towns.

Therefore we take the advice of our officials in the Royal Court who are together with us, and who have advised us that in conformity with the needs of people of religious and secular status, and also in conformity with the needs of our Jewish subjects who live in Kamenetz, we declare: In addition to the market-day which in our town Kamenetz, falls on every Saturday, every Tuesday in every week will be a market day, too, so that henceforth two market-days will be held in our town Kamenetz and so it will remain forever, without causing any damage to the adjoining towns.

Desiring to show our royal favour to the Jews in Kamenetz, and following the example of other towns and townlets in our Kingdom, we permit them to construct a synagogue and a Jewish religious School on the plot belonging to the Jew Baruch Szporzakowicz which is situated near the plot belonging to the citizen Chrustkowski, or in a different place, owned by a different man, but it should not equal in height and splendour the churches and mosques in town.

We also permit them to build a bath on a municipal plot of land, which has already been acquired by Jacob Kushnir whose name is famous and praiseworthy.

They are also entitled to establish a cemetery within or outside the town-limits. And finally, we grant them all freedoms to open shops, taverns and to engage in every trade and to acquire property and plots of land in the town.

And in order that they should not thereby sustain hardship and damages (praeditiones in Latin) at the hand of our townspeople, we impose a fine, in accordance with the letter of our brother, Wladyslaw IV whose memory we hallow, of the eleventh of December sixteen hundred and thirty five of our era. We declare and stress it again with all our strength and notify about it our citizen the Starosta, now and in the future; we also notify the town authorities and order them to protect the freedoms which we had conferred upon the abovementioned Jews and the rights of the Jews of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, without any disturbance whatsoever.

Given in Warsaw in elected Crown Sejm (Parliament) on the sixteenth day in the month of June, in the year sixteen hundred and sixty-one, in the thirteenth year of the reign of our Polish and Swedish Lord King Jan Kazimierz.
Signed with my own hand
Jan Kazimierz

The Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania brought this letter to be recorded in the books of the town Brest.


The historical “White Tower” of Kamenetz,
erected in 13th Century

[English page 26]

A Short History of Kamenentz Litovsk

by Leybl Goldberg (Sarid)

Kamenetz was founded in the Middle Ages, in the 13th century and its history has been eventful and stormy.

We, the last generation of its Jewish inhabitants, dispersed all over the world, know very little about its past. We remember the old dilapidated little houses, the long rows of miserable looking shops, but are unaware of the resplendent past, when kings and princes used to shape the town's history.

Kamenetz lies near Brest-Litovsk, which has always been an important crossroads. Roads joining all regions of the united Polish-Lithuanian monarchy met there. Merchants and other travellers used to stop there.

Kamentez-Litovsk was situated on the main highway which led from Vilno to Lvov and already in the Middle Ages was one of the most important routes.

According to the Chronicles, Kamenetz was established in 1276 by the Volhynian Prince Vladimir Vasilevich. He was motivated by his desire to protect Brest-Litovsk against the Tartars and Kamenetz was to serve as a fortified outpost.

A fortress was built on the banks of the Lesna river on elevated ground and its remnants can still be seen today. The fortress was called the White Tower (Biala Wieza in Polish) and gave its name to the adjoining gigantic forest (Puszcza Bialowieska).

Because of its important location Kamenetz was a bone of contention between the Princes of Little Russia, Lithuania and Masovia; at the beginning of the 14th century it came under the rule of Lithuanian Princes. At that time it was the central town of a large region (Starostwo) stretching as far as Kobryn, Siemiatycze and Pruzhany.

Later on Kamenetz was attacked by the Teutonic Knights but though they caused heavy damages their occupation was of short duration.

Janusz the Prince of Masovia captured Kamenetz, but the future Polish-Lithuanian King Jagiello recaptured it after a successful siege. From that time onwards Kamenetz belonged to Lithuania; hence its name Litovsk. Polish kings were frequent guests at Kamenetz. They came there to attend joint councils of the United Kingdom and to hunt in the adjoining forests. Some of the rulers resided at Kamenetz for shorter or longer periods; one of the reasons why they chose Kamenetz was its location which made it an ideal meeting place between the Polish and Lithuanian “Szlachta” (nobility). The “Starostwo”” was considered as royal property.

In 1525 new Privileges were conferred upon the town, it possessed its own municipal-council headed by a burgomaster, and its own municipal courts headed by a “Woft”. Its jurisdiction extended over the neighbouring localities.

Some of the famous noble families, which left their imprint upon the history of Poland, lived in the vicinity of or were connected with Kamenetz. They include the influential families Tyszkiewicz. Paczewicz, Radziwill and Sapieha. One of the local families belonging to lower nobility became very famous in the 18th century. It was the Kosciuszko family whose most important representative Tadeusz fought in the American Revolutionary War and later on led the unsuccessful Polish uprising of 1794.

From the documents collected by the Vilna Historical Commission we know about the bitter competition between the powerful nobility and the townspeople of Kamenetz.

The royal decrees and privileges had freed the town from various obligations and it enjoyed a large measure of independence as well as the rights to fell timber in the adjoining forests. No wonder that it gave rise to constant friction with the powerful “Szlachta” which considered itself as the ruling class. The above mentioned documents bring to light the numerous conflicts between the litigants – the townspeople supported by the royal decrees and the nobility jealously guarding its privileges.

In the 17th century, during the Cossack and Swedish wars, the town suffered considerable damages. Therefore, it was exempted from paying certain taxes for the period of 4 years. The Jews, too, were exempted. Customs duties and taxes on the sale of alcoholic drinks, however, which were the main source of the state revenue, were not included in the decree. It may be noted that the rights to collect the taxes were leased to the Jews.

In the 18th century the glorious period of Kamenetz ended. It loses its royal status and becomes the possession of a magnate, Wielhorski. Many noblemen sold their property and left Kamenetz. Its importance decreased after the partitions of Poland and it became a typical little town. In 1878 there were 6885 inhabitants in Kamenetz and the adjoining villages; 5900 (90%) of them were Jews.

[English page 29] [Hebrew page 39] [Yiddish page 376]

My Reminiscences

By Yehezkel Kotik

Chapter I

My native townlet, Kamenetz, is known for its old historical tower-like building. Its origins are unknown. Apparently it is a remnant of an ancient fortress. This aforementioned structure is quite tall, it has thick bricked walls and openings through which it was possible to shoot with guns and rifles. Cannon balls weighing ten pounds could still be found there in my grandfather's time; it was a sure sign that shots had once been fired through the openings.

The bricks of the tower are so strong that it is impossible to break away a piece of the wall. People in Kamenetz say that egg-whites had been used as mortar during the construction of the fortress, and for this reason it is so strong. When Tsar Alexander the Second, accompanied by European princes, went hunting in the Bialowieza Forest, which is seven miles away from Kamenetz, all the ministers and generals came to the townlet to see the historic tower.

I purposely mentioned the tower first, because whenever I recall my small town, at once the memory of the ancient building surges up, like a sign or a symbol of unknown meaning.

And now I can turn to the townlet itself. About sixty years ago, the starting point of my memoirs, Kamenetz consisted of two hundred and fifty little old, blackened, houses, covered with steep roofs, and the number of “souls” that is inhabitants appearing in the Russian Government Register, was four hundred and fifty. At this point a logical question comes to mind. Two hundred and fifty houses as compared with only four hundred and fifty souls? How is that possible? The answer is very simple. Before 1874, when the new recruiting law came into force, two thirds of the Jews were not registered. The Government, which had in fact known about it all the time, did not intervene and remained silent on the matter. Only in 1874, after the Tsar had decreed that those who were not inscribed would not be punished if they registered, did all the “missing” begin to register. Government commissions travelled all over the country, from one townlet and village to another, and they registered the missing.

It is interesting how, in those bygone years, the inscribed four hundred and fifty “Souls” of my townlet provided the prescribed number of recruits for military service.

Four miles away from Kamenetz there lies a small town Wysokie. It had about five hundred and fifty “souls” listed in the official Register. All the time, Wysokie and Kamenetz jointly mustered the recruits. But soldiers are called up in accordance with a certain ratio, let us say one soldier to a thousand inhabitants. Since that was the Population of Wysokie and Kamenetz joined together, both townlets has to provide Tsar Nicolas the First with one soldier only. The share of Kamenetz however, amounted to less than half a soldier, and that of Wysokie which is larger, to somewhat more than half a soldier.

This provided the authorities with a hard nut to crack. Finally the matter was settled in the following mater: Kamenetz provided the recruit one year and Wysokie the other year. One year in ten, though, Kamenetz was exempt. The reckoning was simple and account was taken of the difference in the number of inhabitants in the two townlets. In such a manner, after mutual agreement had been reached, soldiers used to be recruited as the years passed.

As it is customary two rows of stores stood in the market. A lane stretched between the rows, and it was so narrow that a horse-drawn cart could hardly pass. Three or four stores sold textiles of better quality. Their customers were Jews and estate owners from the vicinity of the town; three or four storekeepers sold aprons, kerchiefs, drapery etc.; the remaining ones were haberdashers, merchants of tar, pitch and others.

Only women and young, girls and maids ran the stores. All these women used to sit opposite one another, excited and flushed. Of course there were helpers around, girls or married women who dragged and pulled the prospective customers, mostly a villager or a peasant woman, to the shop, or call them in a loud voice.

But the “high class” customers, the Jews and the estate-owners had their own particular shopkeeper, and no one dared to pull, forcibly like a herring, such a customer to one's own store. Perhaps quietly, such a customer was accompanied by a curse which was addressed also at the merchant-woman who sold him the merchandise.

Actually, the turnover was very low, except on Sundays, because on other days the peasants hardly came to town. Therefore, the women used to sit idly in front of the shops. Sundays, however, were market days with the villagers coming in large numbers. They crowded and jostled near the doors of the shops like buzzing flies on a window pane covered with powdered sugar.

Inns were also among the more important establishments in town. They were quite numerous. The peasants could find a bite there: cheese, herring and cucumbers. But there was plenty of liquor, too. Only members of the gentry (“Szlachta”) or at least small estate-owners could offer themselves such a treat. After they had a drink, they would not be satisfied, like the peasants, with a bit of cheese or herring, but ate a piece of goose-meat or fish. These inns, just like the shops, were also run by women. Only on Sundays, when business was brisk, and the turnover large, the menfolk helped out too.

This being so, what was the occupation of the men? They did not sit with folded hands either. In the vicinity of Kamenetz there were several hundred estate-owners. Each of them had several hundred or even more serfs. These serfs toiled and sweated by day and by night and were penniless; on the other hand the land owners, quite obviously, had to enjoy life. Each of the estate-owners had dealings with one or two Jews in the townlet, who profited from them to a lesser or greater degree.

If the noble man had two Jews in his entourage, one of them had to be a “nice Jew” and a respectable merchant, whereas the other one was less outstanding as regards both the outward appearance and the respectability of his commercial dealings. Both Jews were the estate owner's factotums. The “nice Jew” served him more with advice, the other one was more of a Jack-of-all-trades, whose occupations were of the shadier sort. Both of them, however, lived in great fear of their patron. Though they derived part of their livelihood from him, and he acted like a protecting Tsar in their dealings with the authorities, nevertheless we ought to praise God ten times a day hat this kind of relationship with the estate owners has disappeared from the scene of history.

If the squire fancied so, he might beat severely his Jew and then say to him “if you keep silent, you will stay with me, if not I shall give your job to another Jew”. Just the same you will not be able to do anything to me, because both the magistrate and the police-chief are friends of mine.”

The Jew kept silent thinking to himself “well, I got beaten. That is why he is a squire. But on the other hand, I eat my piece of bread thanks to him, and when I close my eyes forever my child will gain his livelihood from him.”

His reasoning was quite correct. When a Jew serving a land-owner died, the squire took in his place the factotum's son or son-in-law, whomever he liked more. This was not unlike a marriage contract, and the Jew received the squire as a sort of inheritance. Perhaps it is worthwhile to mention here that the estate owner also had his own artisan in the townlet, to whom he would give all his work. There were numerous artisans in the townlet – cobblers, tailors, tinsmiths etc.

It is understandable that they found it more difficult to earn a living than the shopkeepers. Even though the rents were low and one had to pay only ten to twelve rubels a year for a flat, they could not afford to live by themselves in an apartment and the lodgings in a little house were shared by two or three families.

In those days the assessor and the district police-chief were the real rulers in the town. When a quarrel broke out between two Jews, they at once brought their case to the assessor. They appeared before him accompanied by their wives, children, helpful assistants, good friends and relatives. The assessor ruled in favour of the one who had bribed him with a larger sum or who had evoked greater sympathy in him. And if one of the litigants was daring enough to challenge the verdict and lodged a complaint, with the district police officer in Brest, against the assessor, it was seldom effective. On the contrary, the bold fellow was not worth a half penny afterwards, because the assessor tormented and persecuted him, as much as he could, and went as far as to beat and arrest the victim. As a rule the district police officer went hand in glove with the assessor.

At that time, the district police officer exercised full authority in the region. The notions people had about the provincial Governor were indeed strange. He was regarded as being on the same level as the Tsar, and nobody would ever conceive the idea of involving him in Jewish affairs.

The squire had a Jewish factotum who lived in his country estate. He also had a lease-holder, usually a Jew, and when he possessed several estates and several villages, a Jewish factotum and a Jewish lease-holder lived there too. It can be understood that such Jews trembled with fear before the squire.

At that time, when it was a mere trifle for the landowner to lash his peasants, men and women, young and old alike, what weight could such a little Jew carry?

One can imagine how the factotum, the lease-holder and their children lived in deadly fear of the estate-owner. If, God forbid, they had good-looking daughters, this was regarded as a terrible calamity. One had to fear lest the daughters should attract the squire's attention, because he had power to do whatever he fancied.

Pretty girls of the village-Jews were always dirty, unwashed, covered with soot and grime so that their good looks might remain unnoticed. Only when the girls went to town, and after they scrubbed and washed themselves with soap, did the people know that the village-Jew, had a pretty daughter.

The squire employed his Jews to handle most of his affairs, since he believed the Jew was a clever being, cunning but nevertheless honest. Every estate-owner regarded only his own Jews as honest, but the others were, in his opinion, swindlers and thieves.

He used to send his Jews on missions to his colleagues, the other land-owners. Though he had a Christian steward running the whole estate and giving orders to the peasants, he preferred to deal with the Jews. The squire who believed that a Jew could accomplish his task in a more skilful manner did not lift a finger without his “Moshke” and “Shmulke”.

The majority of the estate owners who lived around Kamenetz were not very rich. The soil of the Kamenetz region is sandy and not particularly fertile.

The crop from one “morga” of land (two thirds acre) amounted to no more than four shocks of sheaves; each shock yielded about five-six wagon loads of corn. Not much wheat grows in the region of Kamenetz. Only here and there a patch of fertile land occupies several square miles and there the yield per acre amounts to eighteen to twenty shocks of sheaves.

The land owners, who lived two or three miles away from one another, arranged frequent balls, each time at the residence of another squire. These feasts were grandiose, with the best wines stored up for the occasion.

In fact, these balls drove quite a number of the estate-owners into financial straits, so that they were constantly short of money.

The Jews used to buy grain, alcohol and wool. The payments, which amounted to large sums of money, were made in advance. Often they exceeded the value of the bought goods.

Also merchants were not lacking, who would run to the estate-owner and try to cut the price offered by the steady buyer. Yet whatever the squire needed for himself, was bought from his “exclusive” Jews, with whom no one could compete.

As was fashionable at that time, the estate-owners were fond of dogs. Each squire had different sorts of dogs. There were hounds and beasts that would silently, without barking, fall upon a stranger and almost tear him to pieces. There was a third kind too – dogs that would only bark but not bite; but there was a fourth kind as well – dogs that barked and bit at the same time. Each estate-owner kept all these kinds of dogs in his courtyard, and the torments the Jews, who were on their way to the squire, had to suffer from them could fill quite an important page of the history of Jewish dispersion.

A Jew, who was on his way to the squire's residence, would first of all stop his horse-cart near the gate to the estate and wait till he saw a peasant man or a peasant woman. The man or woman would take him to the factotum, who usually sat in some corner, and from there someone would accompany him to the squire.

When the Jew had to leave, the estate-owner would send a servant to take the Jew to the front entrance. This applied only in case the Jew merited the honour of leaving through the front entrance.

If he did not possess this privilege, however, the Jew had to walk in deadly fear from the palace to the Jewish factotum, so that the latter might accompany him to the gate.

But not until he reached the gate was the Jew secure from the bad dogs. Should the estate-owner bear the slightest grudge against the Jew, the latter's life was not worth a dime. In such a case the Jew was left without an escort and had to undergo the methodically applied tortures of mockery and pain.

At first the squire sent out several dogs of the barking-but not biting kind. They were soon followed by the other kind and finally came the real “biters”. The whole pack fell upon the Jew, not letting him budge from the spot; at the same time he received a considerable portion of bites.

While the cries of the Jew rent the air and he was frightened to death, the squire with all his family was standing on the porch and laughing heartily.

Sometimes, a land owner, to whom the Jew had caused the slightest displeasure, would tell a servant to accompany the Jew to the gate, at first, and then to have him alone in the Jew to the gate, at first, and then to have him alone in “privileged” one, would receive the same treatment as an ordinary Jew.

We cannot generalize however, and say that all squires acted in such a manner. There were others, more decent ones whose attitude toward the Jews was different.

The Jew was half dead when he returned home and many became sick as a result of the fright. The wife and particularly the children, who saw their father as he arrived tottering and pale, burst out crying and it seemed as if Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) had arrived. But it often happened that, after a couple of days, the estate owner again sent for the Jew to come, because he, the squire, needed him urgently. And the Jew, to be sure – ran at once at full speed to the estate owner, because what will a Jew not do for title sake of gaining a livelihood?

The Jew used to console his wife constantly that basically the squire was not a bad fellow and that one could earn money from him; only when the “evil moment” overcame him things were bad – apparently all this comes from God. Nothing in the world happens without God's will. When God squire's head. May this expiation put an end to my troubles, and may God continue to protect me from the bad dogs.

[Yiddish page 380]


By Yeḥezkel Kotik

Translated by Allen Flusberg

Note from translator: This Yiddish article was already translated into English in the original Yizkor Book, in the article “My Reminiscences” appearing on pp. 29-37 of the English section of the Yizkor Book. However, the following section of the Yiddish article is absent in that English translation. The Hebrew version of the Yiddish article, which appears on pp. 39-43 of this Yizkor Book, does include this section. Differences between the Hebrew and Yiddish articles are indicated in the footnotes below.

The Yiddish version also incorporates the photograph below of Yeḥezkel Kotik.



Melamdim [Schoolteachers]

The melamdim [schoolteachers of religious studies] were the main educators of the town. The one who taught the youngest children was Yakov-Ber the melamed, whom nearly all the children of the town were taught by first. A child of age three, or even younger, would begin to learn the aleph-bays [Hebrew alphabet] with him, and he would continue to study with him for about two years, until he could daven [read the prayers out loud] well and rapidly. After that the children were handed over to the melamdim of ḥumesh [Pentateuch] and beginners' Gemoro [Talmud], the latter consisting of easy Mishnas[2] specifically selected for children, referred to as Lekaḥ Tov. The children were transferred from melamdim of this type to higher-level and still higher-level melamdim, until they reached the most advanced teachers who taught the adolescent boys—both unmarried and married.

There were two such highest-level melamdim in the town, both of whom had vicious tempers. They used to beat the children severely, give them lashes, and put them in the “pekl”. The “pekl” was the worst punishment of all. The melamed would lower the boy's trousers and tuck the boy's shirt up over his jacket, folding or tying them into a pekl [bundle]. In that state the boy would begin reading and explaining the Gemoro section out loud, as the rebbe [teacher] would stand over him, holding a sturdy rod or leather strap in his hand. And if the boy came to something that he couldn't explain, the rebbe would deliver a powerful lash that immediately left a black-and-blue mark on his flesh. In this manner the boy would continue to read and explain for an entire hour. This test always took place on a Thursday, the day it was the boys' turns to orally explain the Gemoro themselves—the section the rebbe had been teaching them all week—because on Shabbes [Saturday] the melamed would have to go with each boy to the boy's father, to have the father hear the boy read and explain the Gemoro. A father who was not knowledgeable enough himself would already have asked a learned person to be there, so that the latter could hear the boy out as he explained the Gemoro. And if the boy didn't do a good job, the father would not hesitate to blame the melamed. Not taking this well, the melamed would channel all his ire onto that unmentionable part of the boy's anatomy.

[Yiddish page 381]

Of these two vile-tempered melamdim, one was called “Matted-Hair” Dovid, nicknamed after the full head of koltenes [matted, plaited hair][3] that he had. He also had a terrible temper, and—simply put—he was always beating the boys black-and-blue. Sometimes he would lift a boy up [and throw him down onto the floor in a rage].[4] And one time a boy actually died as a result. After this child's funeral, it did not even occur to his parents to challenge R. Dovid[5] and ask why he had killed their son. They thought it had probably been God's will that the rebbe should kill him—perhaps preordained. Nor did it occur to anyone else in the town that “Matted-Hair” Dovid had actually committed a murder. Even M.S. Zun, who was always seeking to expose crimes in the town to foment intrigue and division, was also silent in this case, and “Matted-Hair” Dovid continued on as usual in his profession. He was teaching young unmarried and married boys, and all of them were damaged by the time they left his class.

The other high-level melamed, called “Blind” Dovid because he was blind in one eye, was an even more advanced teacher than “Matted-Hair” Dovid. Many of his students emerged from under his tutelage well-educated in Talmud. But he had an outrageous temper and was always mercilessly beating and lashing the children. It was this very melamed that I, too, studied under—but more about that later.

As I said, both boys and girls used to get married very young: that is, from ages thirteen to seventeen. While they were still in school learning. the boys would get a dowry ranging from two hundred to a thousand rubles,[6] and the father-in-law contributed kest [board]. In the tenoyim [engagement agreement], the parents would stipulate that either the father-in-law or the father would have to pay for a melamed for the young married boy. And when the boy actually did get married and was receiving kest at the father's house, he would continue to study with the same melamed who had been teaching him before the wedding. Thus, the rebbe would still be lashing the groom after the wedding, just as he had before.

In my times it was no longer in fashion for the boys to continue studying in ḥayder [classrooms of the melamdim[7]] after the wedding. And my rebbe, “Blind” Dovid, was indeed pining away for those good old days, when he was still able to lash the married boys. He used to tell stories about specific incidents. For example, a student's mother once dropped by the ḥayder to congratulate her son on the birth of his newborn son; the birth had just taken place. But she couldn't get into the ḥayder, whose door had been barred while lashings were being administered. “At that time,” recounted the rebbe, “the mother was tapping on the windowpane shouting mazel tov [congratulations] to her son, and I was congratulating him with the rod. Each time I struck him I said: 'Mazel tov on your newborn boy! You shaygetz![8] Mazel tov on your a newborn boy!'”[9]

[Yiddish page 382]

In all of Kamenetz there were no writing teachers. The same melamdim used to teach us how to write Yiddish.

The only real subject was Gemoro with its commentaries. They taught ḥumesh [Pentateuch], as well, but not the entire weekly section [read in synagogue on the Sabbath]—only half of it. As far as Bible [beyond the Pentateuch] was concerned, only one melamed, called Motke Melamed, taught it. He was teaching the nine- and ten-year olds Gemoro with a bit of Toisfois[10], and he would devote one hour a day to Bible and another hour to stories about wonders and miracles of the Geonim [7th-11th century scholars of Babylon]. He also described Gehenna so picturesquely that he brought it to life (but apparently he had barely any knowledge of Paradise). He even drew a picture of Gehenna on a sheet of paper, indicating what its dimensions were and on which side the door was located. But unfortunately he did not know the dimensions of Paradise or where its door was. And with respect to Bible, he didn't teach anything beyond First Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel I and II, Kings I and II—and nothing more. But the other melamdim, who were teaching the bigger boys Gemoro with Toisfois and all the other commentaries, didn't teach any Bible at all. Teaching Bible was considered a kind of apikorsus [heresy].

A melamed typically earned between sixty and one hundred rubles from his students' tuition every school-term. A melamed who made just under four rubles a week could consider himself a wealthy melamed.[11]

The lowest-level melamdim, who taught the little children aleph-bays [Hebrew alphabet], had between sixty and eighty little boys in their class. The tuition for these little ones was one ruble per school-term. The wealthy paid ten gilden[12] per term. When a boy reached the age of five, he was transferred to a ḥumesh melamed, who had twenty to thirty boys in his class, for whom tuition was three rubles per term.

When a boy began studying ḥumesh, the fathers would make a party for the melamed and for all the boys who attended the ḥayder; and their families would also come. Each of the fathers decided for himself—based on his wealth—how elaborate to make the ḥumesh party. For example, my grandfather, Aharon-Layzer, would have a small calf slaughtered for such a party to honor one of his children or grandchildren. And for drinks there was wine served with expensive dishes.

[Yiddish page 383]

The little boys learned ḥumesh for a year or two: that is, the first subsection or at most three subsections of the sidra [the weekly section of the Pentateuch, read each week in synagogue]. And after that they would be transferred to the melamdim who taught beginners' Gemoro; these had fifteen to twenty boys in a class. The tuition was four rubles per term; the wealthy paid five.

There were also some melamdim who taught both ḥumesh and beginners' Gemoro. They would begin to teach Lekaḥ Tov to the better ḥumesh students.

Once a boy had studied under a melamed who taught beginners' Gemoro for two or three years, his father would transfer him to a more advanced melamed who would teach the boys a page of Gemoro in the first term, and two pages in the second term. Such a melamed would have twelve boys in his class, for each of whom the tuition was six or seven rubles per term. After studying for three terms, the child was transferred to a more advanced melamed, who taught Gemoro with Toisfois. Such a melamed had about ten students in his class, each of whom brought in a tuition of eight rubles per term, etc.

Each melamed taught the children a different Talmudic maseches [volume] without asking the students which volumes they had already studied with other melamdim. Hence there was obviously no well-defined order in which the various volumes of Gemoro were studied. And since each melamed would switch volumes from one year to the next, or even more often, learning was discontinuous and fragmented.

Less capable students would continue studying in one ḥayder for a long time. However, less capable children of the more prominent townspeople were transferred to more advanced melamdim together with the better students. The father of a less capable student would ask the more advanced melamed to teach his son something he could fathom, rather than the material that he was teaching the better students. The prominent fathers were embarrassed to have their sons, bigger boys, continue to study with more elementary melamdim. In each ḥayder there were thus less capable, coarser boys, studying together with the better students. Nevertheless, no one embarrassed the bigger boys, for most of the better students came from the lower class, and so yichus [pedigree] wound up as the equalizer among these children. The good students didn't brag about their capability, and the bigger boys didn't brag about their pedigree. And as a result, it all balanced out.[13]

The children were in school from 9 AM until 2 PM, at which time everyone went home for an hour to eat lunch. At exactly 3 PM every boy had to be back in ḥayder, or else be delivered terrible blows, slaps, or even lashes.

Studies resumed at 3 PM. In summer they continued until sunset, when the melamdim had to leave to attend minḥa [afternoon prayer service] in the bays medresh [study house that doubled as a prayer hall]. During winter the younger boys were in school until 8 PM and the older ones until 9 PM. In the winter the melamdim would recite the minḥa and maariv [evening] services in the ḥayder together with their students. This was the schedule for the entire week, except for Friday. On Fridays the boys studied until 2 PM in the winter and until 3 or 4 PM in the summer.

Even on the Sabbaths the boys didn't get any respite from studies. First, each boy was tested orally by the melamed in front of either his father or someone else who was knowledgeable. In this oral test, the boy had to repeat whatever he had learned that week. And after that, he had to go to the ḥayder to study Perek [Ethics of the Fathers] or Medresh [Midrash = homiletical interpretation of the Bible].

The boys never had any free time, except on the holidays: Purim, Passover, Shevuos [Pentecost], Rosh Hashana [New Year], Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] and Sukkes [Tabernacles]—all together twenty-six days a year.

And this was the regimen of life and education in my native town, Kamenetz-Litowsk, during my youth.[14]

(Excerpted from his book, My Reminiscences)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. From Kamenetz-Litovsk, Zastavije and Colonies Memorial Book, edited by S. Eisenstadt and M. Galbert, published by the Israel and America Committee of Kamenetz Litovsk and Zastavya, (Orly, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1970), pp. 376-385. Return
  2. The Mishna is the core text of the Talmud, composed around 200 CE. The Gemoro (Gemara) of the Babylonian Talmud, completed around 500 CE, is an analysis of the Mishna and other early traditions. The Talmud incorporates both. Return
  3. On koltenes in Poland see the following link (retrieved December, 2020): Return
  4. These words [in brackets] are missing in the Yiddish version because of a printing error (a line from further below is substituted for the missing line, and that same line is printed again in its proper place further below). The words in brackets are translated from the Hebrew version. Return
  5. R. stands for Reb, an honorific similar to English "Mr." Return
  6. A ruble could be exchanged for US $0.78 in 1899, which in 2020 would be equivalent to US $24 after taking inflation into account. (The exchange rate was about the same in the 1880s, the period referred to in this article.) The average textile worker earned about 15 rubles per month. See the following links (retrieved July 2020):, Return
  7. A classroom was often located in the melamed's home. Return
  8. In this context, shaygetz connotes rascal. Return
  9. This entire paragraph is missing in the Hebrew version of this article. Return
  10. Toisfois (Tosafot), a 12th-century commentary on the Talmud is printed in the margin of the Talmud pages. It is a relatively difficult commentary that often brings up and attempts to resolve apparent contradictions between different volumes of the Talmud. Return
  11. See Footnote 6 above. Return
  12. Ten gilden = 1.5 rubles. There were 100 kopecks in a ruble, and the 15-kopeck coin was called a gilden (A. Harkavy, Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary, 1925, Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, National Yiddish Book Center, Amhurst MA). Return
  13. This entire paragraph was omitted in the Hebrew version of this article. Return
  14. This sentence appears in the Hebrew version but is not present in the Yiddish version of this article. Return

[English page 38] [Yiddish page 384]

Yehezkel Kotik

Author of “My Reminiscences”

Yehezkel Kotik was born in April, 1847 in Kamentz-Litovsk in the Province of Grodno. His father was a Hassidic Jew. Yehezkel learned the Talmud until the age of 17. Then he married and was a lease-holder of estates in various villages for about two years. Later on he settled in Kiev. The anti-Jews pogroms which took place there made him move to Warsaw, where for many years he owned a coffeehouse in Nalewki Street. This coffee-house was a meeting place for Yiddish writers as well as for activists of the Jewish Labour Movement. Kotik was known in public affairs. He founded a number of philanthropic societies and institutions. He also published various pamphlets in Hebrew and Yiddish, and a book of Jewish stories. But he gained world fame thanks to his memoirs published in two volumes under the name “Meyne Zikhroynes”.

Particular interest was evoked by the first volume where the author gives us a bright picture of Jewish life in Russia in the middle of the 19th century.

In this volumes Kotik depicts the social, economic and cultural conditions of that period. He drew a picture of the people who lived there and the struggle between the “Hassidim” and the “Mitnagdim”,etc.

Except for its cultural-historical value, “Meyne Zikhroynes” has also purely literary values. The personages appearing on its pages are very vividly described.

Kotik died in Warsaw in 1921.
From “The Eternal Source”
(Morgen Journal New York)

[English page 39] [Yiddish page 386]

Sholom-Aleichem’s Letter to Yehezkel Kotik

Lausanne (Switzerland), 10.1.1913

Very respected and unfortunately unknown colleague, Yehezkel Kotik!

At the same time that I wrote to you, I wrote to Nicrer that we should exchange the books. It turns out that you had sent to Niger the copy dedicated to the poet Abraham Reisin - and Reisin is now in no other place but in New York, in America! If this had happened a few years ago, when Sholom Aleichem was still light-footed, it would have been child's play for me to get up and take a trip to America. But since right now this is a bit more difficult, what was I do if I was dying to read your “Reminiscences?” I put the entire blame on you for committing the transgression, cut open Niger's copy and I feel no regrets. I began reading your “Reminiscences” and what shall I say? I do not remember a year when I experienced such great pleasure, such enjoyment – real spiritual enjoyment! That is not a book – that is a treasure, a garden, a paradise, full of flowers and singing of birds. It reminded me of my youth, my family, my “heder”,my holidays, my dreams, my types. No! Compared with you, I, with my bunch of types and pictures, many of which I had known and many of which I had invented - I am a poor little boy and a beggar, and I say it without any flattery or false modesty.

If I had your experiences and family I would by now have flooded the world with them. For Heaven's sale, where have you been till now? A man possesses so many brilliant diamonds and pearls and nothing happens! A Jew “collects precious coins”,as the pious ones from your hometown would say – without even mentioning to anyone that he possesses such a treasure.

I began to read and was unable to tear myself away from your book. It almost drove me crazy! Who is that Kotik? I had heard about someone whose name, I believe, is A. Kotik and who is a young man - and you are a Jew with a grey beard. What enchanted me in your book is the sacred, simple truth, unadulterated simpleness. And now the language! No, you are not only a good, honest, faithful watchman of a rich, an enormously rich treasure you have a talent blessed by God and an artist's soul which has no self-knowledge. There were not few Jews in your Kamenetz and in Zastavye, not few relatives in your noisy – as you call it – family. But why has none of them collected such reminiscences as you have? Why has none of them displayed anything like your imagination which flames?

I somehow feel that your family is my family, and every reader probably feels the same. I know your grandfather Aharon-Leyzer, and your grandmother Beyle-Rashe, and your father, the Hassid Moyshe, and all your uncles and aunts, and even the district police officer and the assessor, with all the estate owners, the good ones and the bad ones, and the religious teachers (“Melamdim”), and the Hassidic Jews with their opponents, the “Mitnagdim”, and the doctors, and the rabbi, and that sceptical atheist, the writer from Brest, willing to write for a rubel, and both Israels, and Aharon-Leybele, and Hatzkele, and Moshke, and Berel-Bernt, the steward and just all of them! They are all alive. I know them all and I share the joys and sorrows of all of them. After all some force is necessary to make me not only laugh (there are spots in your book when I burst out in a side-splitting laughter), but also to extract tears from my eyes. I swear upon my word of honor that I was crying together with all of you, when your grandfather gave his blessing to you all, before the Day of Atonement, and when your pious and righteous Grandmother was lying, dead on the floor and your grand-father fainted a hundred times. Let us rejoice as much in a speedy deliverance of Israel as I shed my tears, and Oh Almighty God, I did not do it because a human being died. How many people are dying every day, at any time and at any hour!

But I was crying because your grandmother and your grandfather - they are mine, mine, mine! And because they are living, golden-hearted people, whom you had cherished and snuggled in your soul and whom you had invested with your entire fiery truth. I am really filled with pride that we possess such people, such Jews like you to whom we owe it that the “small coins”,thrown aside and neglected – in nay opinion many of them are still lying around – have not been lost for our people. I am really proud that our still young Yiddish folk-literature has been enriched by such a book like your “Reminiscences”.

Will you continue writing, your “Reminiscences”? Will they be as rich and as masterful as the first volume? Masterful? I am sure they will be. But rich? I do not know; I am afraid their contents will be poorer, thinner. Those Jews are no longer! It means they are, but not so much in the foreground; they are like a drop in the ocean, in particular in large towns.


Today, on a mountain called Leson, which is 4,500 feet high and tops Lausanne, I accidentally met a writer Izbicki (Michalowicz). I told him how much admiration was aroused in me by a book of a respectable Jew, Y. Kotik, which moved me to tears. It turned out that Izbicki knows you very well, that you are A. Kotik's father, that you are the owner of the coffee house on Nalewki Street and that everyone has known for a long time about some “Reminiscences” of yours. One must ask: “Where have they been all the time, the idiots?” Why did they keep silent, if they knew about it? And where was I, an idiot myself? Was I not myself in the Nalewki Street and did hot I drink coffee there - with Spector, I believe. Why was I unaware where I was and at whose place I had a coffee? Why is our book market being flooded with the worst of trash, at a time when treasures like yours are lying around in a crate, in a drawer or under a mattress. Murderous hatred rises up in me against our critics whenever I recall to mind how they praise every young scribbler who produces an obscenity taken from the “Goyim”. I boil with indignation while reading the digested and spitted out obscenity of Artzibashev and similar filth, which enrage the good humorist – as I am called – and deprive me of the desire to write. I become a vicious criminal; do not imagine that it lasts long – I am just like the proverbial “Jewish robber”.

Well, I have been chatting too much about myself. If you have time, answer this question, please. Are you still writing your “Reminiscences” and what period and what circles are you dealing with? Is it going as smoothly as previously? Are you dealing with the family? There are persons and characters whose stories you must carry on and on.

Live long, be healthy and cheerful and write! Your thankful reader, friend and pupil,


[English page 43]

Yearning and Mourning for My Home Town

By Abraham Shudroff

Almost every one of us yearns for the small town or the “shtetl” where we were born. Wherever we may be, our hearts and minds are often drawn to it, and great is our longing for this place across the seas where our cradles once stood. It is of little importance that half a century or more has elapsed since we left it. Although we all know well that perhaps there is nothing to long for, the spell of the native land is so powerful that we cannot help feeling nostalgic about it. Perhaps it is the yearning for the bygone years of childhood and youth that makes us unceasingly discuss and reminisce, write and read about those points on the map with which our personal experiences are linked forever. This homesickness is made stronger by our knowledge that our own parents and forefathers lived for generations in those Central and East European towns and townlets and created a rich and complete Jewish life. Seldom in the history of Jewish wanderings on various continents has there been anything resembling it. After the First World War, when I was sixteen years old, I left Kamenetz for the United States. Though over forty years have gone by since then, I still have a clear picture before my eyes of my home town and its inhabitants. The town was neither large nor rich. Its Jews were poor but lovable and friendly. A considerable number of them were shopkeepers and small merchants. But the majority were independent craftsmen and tradesmen, shoemakers, tailors, furriers, etc. There were also a few rich men, according to the standards of that time. The overwhelming majority were religious, God-fearing Jews, many of them learned in the Law. They were all, without exception, devoted to their families and to their children. There were numerous parents, deeply rooted and long settled in Kamenetz, who, in the first decade of the 20th century, grieved deeply when they had to accompany their children to the railway station. The children set out on their way to the “Land of Columbus” and most of the parents knew that they would never see them again. Quite soon, however, they derived satisfaction when the sons and daughters, who settled down and established themselves in the faraway land, began sending material aid to their fathers and mothers to support them in their old age.

I was a little boy attending “heder”,the traditional religious school, when the First World War broke out. A year later, in 1915, the German and Austro-Hungarian armies occupied Kamenetz-Litovsk. Difficult times full of hardships and sufferings began.

A fine generation of Jewish youth grew up in Kamenetz after World War I. Many of them emigrated, but a considerable part remained at home. Schools, libraries, and many educational circles were established. But on the whole, the Jews suffered under the anti-Semitic Polish administration.

The year 1939 came. The Second World War broke out and we were cut off from the townlet. And then came the accursed Hitler, the worst oppressor and enemy of our people in all times:

In 1941, when the Nazi murderers entered Kamenetz-Litovsk, they immediately shot the leaders of the Jewish community and locked all Jews in a ghetto. Later on the entire Jewish community, headed by the Rabbis Reuven Burstein and the Yeshivah-Principal, Hayim Garfinkel of blessed memory perished in the gas chambers and death camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz. The Jews of Kamenetz shared the tragic fate of their six million martyred Jewish brethren.


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