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[Page 192]

(Minkovtsy, Ukraine)
48°51' 27°06'

by Moshe Berman

Translated by Marlene Zakai

The town of Mikovitz was located between the mountains and the forests near the district town of Ushitza. The main road that ran through Minkovitz led to Ushitza's town center. The Jewish residents were merchants and craftsmen. The Jewish population grew to 5000. There were 2 rabbis, 5 synagogues, a credit union, a fire station, and a Bikur Holim Society.

[Page 193]

The town of Minkovitz (in the Ushitza district) was located about 12 kilometers from the town of Ushitza, between the mountains and the mouth of Ushitza River. Jews lived in the town center, where there were about 2000 apartments, each housing 5–6 residents. All together there were about 5000 Jews. According to tradition, the town was founded by a Jew by the name of Brenen who was accompanied by Hefritz from Galicia. There were rows of houses and a main street with a cattle and sow market in the center. The big, annual fair took place during the Christian holy days. During this time many came to the town to buy and sell goods.

The Jews were merchants, grocers, and craftsmen. The principal commerce was buying and selling field crops. There were also wood traders, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, tinsmiths and furriers.

Every Sunday and Wednesday, there was a town fair. Villagers from the surrounding areas would come to town to buy goods and sell their harvest.

There was no post office in town so mail would be brought from Novo–Ushitza.

There were two rabbis in the town, and 5 synagogues. The wooden synagogue was the biggest. It was built around the time of the founding of the town. Especially noteworthy was the ark curtain decorated with 12 signs of the Zodiac. The ark was beautifully decorated. The craftsmen prayed n this synagogue. There was a special place for names to be inscribed.

The second synagogue was white and was built by my grandfather Berman. Lubavitchers were engaged in communal work and ran most of the town's affairs for many years.

The third was known as the “red” synagogue. The fourth was the Rabbi Levis Kloiz (a Yiddish word for small synagogue). The fifth was Rabbi Heimel's Beit Midrash (house of study).

Near the bath house was the “Kodesh,” a hostel for poor and homeless people. There were public institutions in the town, for example, a fire station, a Bikur Holim (care for the sick) Society, a weigh house, a society to welcome guests, and burial society. There was a credit union to help residents of the town with loans on comfortable terms.

There were 2 medics and a doctor that cared for sick residents. Among the townspeople there were Maskilim (those who adhered to the Enlightenment movement) and Hasidim, Hovevei Zion and Zionists. An event that created upheaval in the city was when the Zionists wanted to arrange a memorial service for Herzl at the Beit Midrash, and the pious Jews objected. After this there were many arguments in the town. In some of the chederim (schools) the teachers punished the children who were studying Torah by hitting them. Some of the children received a secular education in the nearby town of

[Page 194]

Novo Ushitza. With the end of World War I, when regiments of soldiers began to return from the front, pogroms were expected. In preparation, the young people organized to defend the town.

Some young people prepared for Aliyah and eventually went and settled in the Palestine. The rest of the Jewish Community was completed destroyed in the Holocaust. We remember them forever, in a special Kupat Holim Building (Israel's Medical Insurance) that was built with funds from Minkovitz' Jews living in America.

Memories of My Town

by Haim Drukman

Translated by Marlene Zakai

I will not attempt to write my memories of Jews in the Ukraine during the period of 1917–1920. The Jews lived under malicious and wicked reign that changed hands frequently. There was looting, rapes and murder. Even for the small town of Minkovitz I cannot write about it. The best way is to just say “Amen.” Instead I will describe a personal story that I will never forget.

It happened in 1919 on the eve of Shavuot as the sun was coming up. I had just started to fall asleep because at that time, as a 17 year old, I was doing guard duty, wearing clothes that hadn't been changed in weeks. Tired from lack of sleep, hungry and afraid, I closed my eyes and suddenly something awakened me. Panicked and fearful, I jumped. When I opened my eyes, before me stood “Geidemak.” He had a wild look, had an acne scarred face, reddened eyes, was fat, healthy, decorated in the uniform of the Petlyura. He wore wide trousers with red stripes, an embroidered shirt, his hair was cut in the fashion known as “herring.” He carried arms of all kinds. In short, a true “Geidemak.”

“Get up, despicable Jew,” he said to me. I got up and went, because I didn't have a choice. I walked in front, and he was behind me with a rifle in my back.

My mother ran after him, howling and screaming. “Gevalt, save his life, they are going to shoot him!” I don't know where my mother had the strength to run to the Jewish elder/official and ask for help, as if he could help. Wasn't his life as worthless as all of ours? My little sisters, scared to death, kissed the hands of the murderer and begged, “Leave our brother, he is now also our father.” (My father was by then in America.) “Leave me alone, pitiful worms, before I shoot you like puppies” said the Cossack.

My aunt was in late stage pregnancy. She begged, stroked and kissed the murderer's boots. All this was for naught. He sat on his horse, with me to his right just a few steps from him, with his rifle at my head. In this way, we arrived at the road from Minkovitz to Novo Ushitza. “Why are you taking me, honored master?” “Because you are a Jew, and all the Jews are Bolsheviks and we need to shoot all of them like puppies,” he answered. “Where are you taking me?” I asked. “To the headquarters,” he replied. “Where is the headquarters?” I asked. He answered, “ in the forest, Jew.”

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In those days, Jews were expendable. A murderer did not have to account for a murder of Jew. The forest meant certain death. He was on the horse, and I was to his right. Thus we moved along to the new bridge, where we could see the forest up ahead. I spoke to him, I begged, but I did not shed a tear. I will never forget my words or my begging. Suddenly he told me, “ Go, Jew, tomorrow I will come to get you.” I thanked him and began to take a few steps away from him. He commanded me to return. The game of cat and mouse continued, “Go! Return!” It was not enough to kill but they also had to torture us. He was on his horse, I by his side. We arrived at the Jewish cemetery with the forest getting closer and closer. Again I beg, and again I ask for mercy and again he says, for the fifth or sixth time, “ Go! But I am coming back for you!” Again I thank him and I walk away very slowly. I do not run. My instinct told me to be very careful, not to run. Any minute I expected a bullet in my back, but something unbelievable happened. My mother's howling, my sisters' tears, my Aunt Sarah's fainting seemed to have done their work. The murderer allowed me to return to my loved ones.


Mass grave of the victims of Petlyura


Jews of Minkovitz and the Royal Court

Translated by Marlene Zakai

Echoes of the 1905 revolution did not reach Minkovitz until 1907. Among the youth it was popular to find illegal literature. Speakers from the big cities appeared in town. They led workers demonstrations made up of about 70 people each from all of the professions. They would gather secretly in the surrounding towns, in the ravines and in the hallways of the old synagogue.

[Page 196]

This synagogue was the ideal place for these sorts of gatherings because there was a popular tale among both Jews and non-Jews, that the dead gathered there for prayers at night. Therefore, people avoided going there at night. The agitators and the revolutionaries demanded labor strikes in order to gain a 12 hour work day, which included 4 hours of study. The goal of the study was to create equality between the working youth and the proletariat, and between the sons and daughters of those in charge.

The laborers organized under the heading of the Bund but it was not clear if they wrote it with a “Tet” which meant “revolt or revolution” or if they wrote it with a “Dalet” which meant “connection with others.”

The demonstration organizer of the surrounding towns was a young man from Minkovitz whose name was Neska. When this became known to the Czar, arrests and imprisonments began, which were carried out by the local police. They managed to free the prisoners by offering bribes and the “prisoners” escaped to America. A few did not really understand what this game was about. Other young men tried to extract large sums of money from their mothers, or to save their coins from their lunches to spend at the Red Synagogue to hear a modern “magid” who gave Zionist sermons peppered with Biblical references that they understood, instead of the sermons of the old "magiddim" that didn't appeal to them. How excited and filled with holy awe they were when they contributed their coins to the Keren Kayemet box! And here is another picture: A young boy with tfillin wrapped under his arm, running to the Beit Midrash on the 20th of Tammuz (a day observed by Jews- the day that the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem), the day that Dr. Herzl died. I was so jealous of those young men who put on tfillin that was part of the redemption of Eretz Yisrael, to eliminate the diaspora and to look forward to a generation that was completely worthy. I envied them as they ran to pray for the memory of a man who would liberate his people and build the glory of Israel. If this was connected to politics, we didn't really know, not us or our parents.

When the district ruler appeared and brought Jews to vote in the Starosta elections for chief administrator, even then we did not connect this to politics. It was a game and an event in the boring life of the town. On that day they would sit with the administrator himself and then they voted for whoever promised more wine for Kiddush.

The Jews of the town were very interested in life in the royal court; weddings, births, funeral, sickness and healing. For each of these events a decree would appear that cancelled taxes or fines. There were many fines: lack of permit to sell herring, or to teach children, for dumping and splashing water in the street, for playing cards, etc.

Births, weddings and deaths in the town were reported to the registrar, the Rav Mitm. He was a merchant that spent most of his time on business trips to fairs and markets. One of his family members would be delegated to take down the registration of the births and there were many mistakes. Instead of Chaya, they wrote Haim, instead of “shlemah” (complete) they wrote “Shlomo.” And when a girl became 21 sometimes a family would receive a draft notice for the army, and when a boy died and the registrar forgot to record it, it was not unusual for a family to receive a draft notice for the deceased youth!

Many fled the country to evade military service. The parents of the draft dodger were fined 300 rubels. Of course they didn't pay, because who among the Jews of Minkovitz had that sum of money?

[Page 197]

Those who had resources transferred their estates to another name. There were others who tried to get the debt removed from the area registers. They would annoy the authorities non-stop. The debt could only be forgiven by the Royal Court. Perhaps this helps you understand the entanglement and interest of the Jews in the Royal Court.


At the grave of the holy victims of the pogroms


Minkovitz in My Youth

by Aaron Elman

Translated by Marlene Zakai

Minkovitz excelled in its wise and learned, especially among the youth. No small deal- those Minkovitz youth! Anyone interested in study did not work, did not engage in commerce. They expected a good shidduch (arranged marriage) with a respectable dowry. In order to accomplish this, one needed to be very learned, and in order to be learned, a young man would study and then engage in endless Talmudic and religious debates. To this goal the library in Minkovitz had many Yiddish, Hebrew and even Russian books.

[Page 198]

Even when out walking with girls on one of the famous bridges of Minkovitz, then they did not refrain from debates on books and authors.

In the town there were six oil manufacturing facilities, as well as tanneries. There was also dried fruit manufacturing, especially plums. These manufactured products were sent to inner Russia. Jews also dealt in the harvest, mainly lumber. Only one or two of Jews dealt in lumber but there were many other Jews whose businesses were connected. One was a broker or middle man, another dealt in real estate. However, lumber was a main topic of conversation in Minkovitz.

There were disagreements among the Jews in town. I remember one big argument that started between the Zinkov Hasidim and the Husatin Hasidim when the Husatin Hasidim decided to build themselves a separate yeshiva…


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