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[Page 80]

Stoliner Hasidism in Mlynov

by Sylvia Barditch – Goldberg

Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah Bereliner Fischthal, PhD

Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD

©

 

Reb Yitskhok Staroste[1]

As is known, Jews from Volhynia used to be Hasidim. They voted Hasidic because Hasidism ruled Volhynia.

In the town of Mlynov, the Hasidim followed a few rebbes. The rebbes would come on occasion to visit the shtetl, and the Hasidim would regularly travel to their rebbes. The largest number of Hasidim in Mlynov were drawn to the Stoliner – Karliner Tsadik.[2] Among them was my grandfather, Reb Yitskhok Staroste,[3] as he was called in Mlynov. A handsome, erudite Jew, and an expert in music, he was one of the distinguished members of the community in the last century in Mlynov. He was also known and respected in the surrounding areas.

 

Mly080.jpg
Reb Yitskhok Staroste

[Page 81]

Reb Yitskhok was a strongly passionate Stoliner Hasid. Even when he was a father of six children, he would travel to the rebbe in Stolin for holidays, leaving his family alone. Returning home, Reb Yitskhok would relate stories about his rebbe, about the miracles he had performed, and about the rebbe's celebrations. He would talk for a long time about his stay in the rebbe's court. Hasidim listened to Reb Yitskhok and copied him; they also traveled to the rebbe to drink knowledge from the righteous source.

Reb Yitskhok was additionally blessed with an additional gift of a wondrous voice and the ability to share emotion in prayer; his audience loved it when he would lead them in the prayer service. From Lutsk and Mizoch he would be invited to lead during the Days of Awe[4] as an intercessor for the community. Reb Yitskhok, with all his energy and feelings, prayed for the people and sang the melodies of Rebbe Arele Karliner and his son, of blessed memory.[5]

That is how Reb Yitskhok lived in his Mlynov: quietly, Chasidic, and satisfied with his God – given blessings.

When Reb Yitskhok married off his oldest daughter Basye,[6] he took his son–in–law Yekhiel to his home to live. He took him to the Stolin shtibl,[7] and afterwards he also took him along to his rebbe for the holiday.

Reb Yekhiel was strongly inspired by the Stoliner rebbe and became one of his devoted Chasidim for all of his years.[8]

 

Reb Arele Karliner's yortsayt[9] in Mlynov

Mlynov had the honor of having the gravesite where the bones of the famous Tsadik Reb Aharon rested. His name was Reb Arele from Karlin,[10] the grandson of Reb Aharon the Great, who was one of the students of the Magid[11] Reb Dov – Ber from Mezritsh and Rovne. On his grave was an ohel,[12] a grave for a tsadik, which drew thousands of Hasidim every year so that they could be inspired by and be alone with the remains of their tsadik – – until the Nazi extermination. The old Hasidim Reb Avrom Holtse's and Reb Yitskhok Leyb took care that the ner – tomid[13] was never extinguished.

From my grandfather Reb Yitskok, I heard what righteous old men related about his passing:

[Page 82]

Once, after Shevuos, the tsadik came to Mlynov, and as usual, stayed with Reb Chaim Leml's. The rebbe spent about a week in the shtetl. He greeted the Hasidim, who came to welcome him and have the honor of his blessing. The Hasidim would incidentally pay money according to their circumstances, as it was done. In the shtetl there was a great excitement from the many Hasidim who came and stayed in practically all the houses because of the Tsadik's visit.

When the rebbe was ready to depart from the shtetl, he ordered his carriage harness. As soon as he went out of the room – the sky became cloudy. The tsadik turned back, calling out, “My sky became cloudy; the time has come.” He prayed, confessed his sins, and went to bed. It did not take long until he was taken away to God and his angels. A commotion followed immediately, and the shtetl was wrapped in mourning. Telegrams were quickly dispatched to the rebbe's court and his family. A large funeral was ordered with a memorial speech.

Many legends are told by the Karlin – Stolin Hasidim about this funeral.

I remember my visit as a child to my grandfather Reb Yitskhok in the days of Reb Arele's yahrzeit[14], which falls on the 17th day of the month of Sivan. The young rebbe from Stolin arrived with God's angels; they stayed in my grandfather's house. At sunrise we started to go to the grave of the tsadik. We sang psalms, and we wrote notes, in which we expressed requests and pitiful appeals. Among the mourners were also Jewish mothers who cried and prayed. People came and people left the shtetl. We sat, telling stories about signs and wonders of the tsadik, which were true. The belief and faith among the Hasidim was so huge, that even non – Jews were affected and influenced by the Jewish tsadik.

While talking, they would drink a little liquor and have a bite to eat. Afterwards they went again to the ohel until it was time to go back home. All departed with the certainty that the honor of the tsadik would be helpful, and that their requests would be realized.

Is the ohel still on the tsadik's grave? – – Who knows!

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Reb is a form of address, similar to Mr., used with a first name. Reb Yitskhok has the honored Russian title of “Staroste [старосте].” According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine, “In the Russian Empire the village starosta was the head of … the village community. He was for three years by the village assembly.” see http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com – HBF Return
  2. A righteous, holy man – HBF Also a term for a Hasidic rebbe who had a court. – HS Return
  3. Sylvia is writing about her grandfather, Icik Ferteybaum, whom she used to visit in Mlynov. See Sylvia's other essay in this volume, “A Wedding in Mlynov,” describing one such visit to her grandparents during the festival of Shavuot. The family name Ferteybaum became Teitelbaum in the US when the family migrated. See https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/documents/The_Story_of_Sylvia_Barditch_Goldberg.pdf – HS Return
  4. The 10 holy days between Rosh Hashona and Yom Kipur, when Jews pray for forgiveness and the blessings of a new year. – HBF Return
  5. To enjoy hearing an audio clip of a Stoliner nigun [melody], see https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Karlin – Stolin_Hasidic_Dynasty. Click on “See Media Related to this Article.” Return
  6. Basia is Sylvia's mother. Return
  7. Hasidic house of prayer – HBF Return
  8. Sylvia's father, Yekhiel Borodocz, immigrated to Baltimore in 1910 where he became Isidore Barditch. – – HS Return
  9. The anniversary of someone's death – – HBF Return
  10. Aharon II Perlov of Karlin (1802 – 1872). During his rule, Karlin – Stolin Chasidism experienced the “height of its growth and popularity” in Lithuania and Volynia. Nadler, Allan. “Karlin – Stolin Hasidic Dynasty.” YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe 17 August 2010. 16 July 2020 see https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Karlin – Stolin_Hasidic_Dynasty. Return
  11. Preacher; Dov – Ber was “the foremost leader within Hasidic circles after the death of the Ba'al Shem Tov …in 1760.” Green, Arthur. “Dov Ber of Mezritsh.” YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. October 27, 2010, 15 July 2020 see https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Dov_Ber_of_Mezritsh. Return
  12. A structure, usually a small building, on an important person's gravesite – – HBF Return
  13. Eternal light – HBF Return
  14. The annual ritual after the loss of loved ones to remember and commemorate them. Return

 

[Page 83]

Selected Poems

by Yitzhak Lamdan[1]

Edited and translated by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD with Hanina Epstein

©

Internal Turmoil[2]

You grew exceedingly old and slowed down,
good father, how deep in you is the poignant sadness of plowing season, but you are mute about it!
My throat is choked up, no word is on my tongue,
but I make my face merry, against its will, ha, I make it smile.

My eyes are clouded with tears and my lips are forbidden to smile,
Because of this I know: after years of much suffering,
minimizing reconciliation, downplaying the countenance of fate,
the father looks forward in his heart to the coming visit of his son

In the end, I merited [a visit][3]…. [after] twelve years and more….
Now tell, my son, every little discrete detail…
Your letters were always short: “Praise God, hello”- and that's it …
Now let me merit hearing everything at length.

Tell me about your life in Eretz Yisrael there
Is it really good to you and are you happy in your portion?[4]
And I become talkative, I tell him the following:
“It is good for me there, Abba. It is good for me, very good!”

How could I do otherwise for father, loaded with grief,
expecting now, from his son, relief and consolation?
Will I expound on the part of our life, that is hard and very bitter?
That is not dripping with honey and not spread with butter.[5]

Should I say that the doorpost of this journey
has confined and restrained me
with wretched love, even great despair?
Because like a stumbling gazelle, I was caught in the brambles of the scenery
whose sky is copper and whose earth is ablaze

Shall I speak of the appointed wagon, weighted with the burden of the generations,
which near the edge the abyss advances with a heavy burden?
Should I speak about my homeland, lacking the loving caress of a mother,
who gives her child a breast depressed and lonely.

[Should I speak] of the small number of fists, closed tightly with anger and bitterness,
which knock on the locked gate, sealed for a long time[6]
or the gloomy cavern of life, full of fear and darkness-
the dwelling of alchemists with a vision of a daring rebellion?[7]

Should I speak of the great daydream that was a swamp
that swarms with little fish that crisscross with much yearning?
About the murky waters of dispute, with no sail or mast,
the rocky disputes that shatter the hopes of babes?

Should I speak of the lack of rest that follows me like a shadow
and that my path was thwarted as I came and went,
past the concealed threat (which I will always see![8])
the tearing of the silver screen,[9] between all that is there and here?

Am I able to tell of it all, to rip away the mask of a smile
To shout out[10] a man's truth, embarrassed in the middle of his way:
“How great is the burden on his back, the burden of your son,
I am not able to carry it, my father, nor do I dare remove it!”

My father's look cleaves to me, thirsty for a bit of illumination.
I know: to lighten his burden, my depressed father expects me to say something
And my face restrained with a smile, my lips forced to speak,
“My situation is good, my father, things are good with me, very good.”

[Page 84]

In A Boat Torn To Pieces[11]

Father,
Given that you don't know, ha, you don't know
where the boat of your son was flung, on the frenzied waves
if you only knew ….

[Page 85]

The sea didn't guard your blessing which you delegated to me.
since I forgot the prayer for a journey which you taught me
and now –
Broken are my oars which cause trouble at the opening to the sea route
and with uncooperative hands shaking opposite the shore: “Not this, Not this”– –
The sails are torn which were spread
before the sky's four winds
I blessed my ship which is torn to pieces, I will kneel
but I won't pray,[12]
Because it is all the same, whether sea or dry land–
The arm of the mast is broken, reduced to nothingness
Next to my despairing eyes ¬– – –

Lost Diamond[13]

The diamond of your devoted tears, father,
that you set in my heart at separation,
as a good luck charm for me along the way
Alas, even this is lost!
Because the waves consumed my entire heart
along with your diamond tears – –
And where, father, will your diamond go and land,
will the depths of the sea
dredge it up?
There are no fishermen by the shore anymore. The storm made them flee…
The markets are empty on the eve of the Sabbath,
And the others who honor the Sabbath
they too have to take up a collection
and who from the deep waters of the sea, will dredge up the diamond?
Whither will it go and reach,
if your son doesn't know how to protect it?

Without Shabbat[14]

In palaces[15] destroyed,
the hand of charity has disappeared,
The details of the past harps are hidden,
And music was stolen from my ears –
The music of your playing:
“Peace be upon you (“shalom aleichem”), angels of the Sabbath, angels of peace![16]
Father, Father, the angels of peace have not visited my home.
The claws of the profane tear through the window of my holy pupils:
Sabbath candles– –
From dark holes they watch over the world of orphans[17]
thirsty for rest, and dressed in rags[18]
Like me, orphans of the world, like me,
And will the angels of peace bring me baskets of rest
And a gift of mercy to an orphan?
Where is a mother who will light the Sabbath candles for him,
wash his head of unkempt hair,
And change his filthy garments?
Along their paths, convoys are wandering lost
and seeking the Sabbath:
Where, oh, where is the mother of mercy who gathers the wanderers of night
to a dwelling of rest?
Where is that purple robe of her kingdom[19] whose edges covers
our nakedness shivering from the cold?
There is no answer to the night wanderers and no gathering,[20]
And I will advance in their steps[21]
On my neck – arms always bent
and its[22] Kiddush[23] [sanctification] on my mouth–
for the Sabbath that is assembled – –

[Page 86]

My Days and My Nights

And how do the days and nights pass for you, my son?
In the words of your letters, I read
Alas, father, come let me tell you
My days and my nights –
The wounds in the body of the afflicted generation
Open wide their mouths and spit out blood with a roar
when there is no cure– –

[Page 87]

With cloth flags I bandaged myself and new synagogue curtains
And it was made into a bandage to heal
The greats of the generation have been weakened with pain
And the future problems have been dripped on them
But there is no healing for them––
And with what, father, shall we close up the opening to these wounds
without screaming?
I was drugged by the moments of youth, and the youth–
a gleaning dropped on the ground and its mercy to the poor who go upon her,–[24]
before me a caravan is rolling and behind me a fence is found[25]
(from a small charitable penny to the distant dinar
the delight of a woman) – –[26]
one by one I will gather the scattered youth
and their open wounds I will close up
and their roar will cease for a moment, and afterwards –
with spitting bunches will be discharged with contempt for their despicable healing
And they will be ashes of a blaze a roaring that arises anew– –

* * *

And what father, can you fix for my days and nights
The wounds in this body of the afflicted generation
Which open wide their mouths and spit out blood with a roar
for which there is no cure? – –

For Forgiveness[27]

And where, father, have I gone, alas, where am I
Is the path to God, is it to the house of prayer
Behold you know!–
The hand of night is heavy, and the threat is pressing my eyes,
And I forgot how to say Shema…[28]
And the fingers of Tishei[29] knock on my window
And I am alone and impoverished, without a mezuzah[30]
Father, father, give your lamp to me–
I will get up and go to Selichot[31]– – –

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Yithak Lamdan was born “Itzik Yehuda Lubes” in Mlynov in 1899. After the civil wars that followed WWI, when his parents' home was destroyed and his brother killed , Lamdan made aliyah to Palestine in 1920 where he became a well-known poet, particularly for his poem, “Masada.” The source and date of the selections published here is not provided. However, all of them speak from a place of anguish and lost hope and appear to recall the difficult early years when the Lamdan was living in Palestine. Touching in particular is the imagined conversation with his father whom he has left back in Mlynov and whom he had finally come to visit. The translators want to acknowledge that this poetry is particularly difficult to translate with its metaphoric nature and built in ambiguity.--HS Return
  2. This poem is about a boy who returns to see his father and his dilemma about how revealing and honest he should be in answer to his father's questions. We know the author, Yitzhak Lamdan, went back to his hometown Mlynov and saw his father in 1932. This visit is described in the essay in this volume by Moshe Teitelman called “In the presence of Yitzhak Lamdan in Mlynov,” pp. 32-37. It is possible to read this poem of Lamdan as a reflection on that visit.--HS Return
  3. According to the Teitelman's essay about Lamdan's visit, Lamdan was not able to come back to Mlynov for a period of time because Mlynov had been part of Russia when he left and had become part of Poland when he wanted to return. Polish authorities would not issue a passport or visa for a period of time.--HS Return
  4. The expression “happy in your portion” has traditional resonances and is a possible allusion to Pirke Avot 4:1, which says “Who is rich? One who rejoices in his portion.” --HS Return
  5. An allusion to Exodus 3.8 which describes the land as one of “milk and honey.”--HS Return
  6. Possible reference to the British reducing the flow of immigration to Palestine in the 1930s.--HS Return
  7. Possible reference to thoughts about rebelling against the British.--HS Return
  8. Possibly an allusion to his brother's death during WWI. Return
  9. Possible reference to a large movie screen and the ripping up of the beautiful images of life in Palestine on the big screen. Return
  10. The Hebrew term here is not recognized in this form and may be the poet's creation from the Hebrew word sa'ak meaning to shout. Return
  11. Like the first poem, this poem probably also alludes to the hardship Lamdan suffered making his way to Palestine or his early years there. The torn apart ship represents his aliya or the hardship of living in Palestine in the period he arrived. Return
  12. The poem ironically contrasts the blessing which his father gave him and he forgot, with the blessing he is uttering here to save his life. Though he kneels, he won't pray indicating he has lost faith in traditional devotion. Return
  13. The lost diamond appears to be a metaphor for the keepsake given by a parent to a child and may allude to the tradition of Judaism itself that is handed from a father to a son. Return
  14. Lamdan is here reflecting on the absence and loss of Sabbath from his life in the secular, non-religious life he is living in Palestine. The poem alludes to a person coming home from the synagogue on the Sabbath eve, when the poem Shalom Aleichem is sung, the words of which welcome the angels who accompany a person home. The liturgical poem was written by mystics. Return
  15. A possible allusion to the mystical concept of the palaces of the King of Kings who is alluded to in the Shalom Aleichem poem. Return
  16. A partial quote from the poem Shalom Aleichem. The words have been altered slightly. A number of other words from the liturgical poem appear throughout this poem which despairs about getting help from the angels of peace who accompany a person home on the Sabbath. Return
  17. Lamdan thinks of himself and his generation as orphans since he and they left parents behind in the shtetl. Return
  18. A description of what life is like without the day of rest, the Sabbath. Return
  19. Using royal imagery for the Sabbath, the queen. Return
  20. Night wanderers are those who don't have the light from the Sabbath candles and appears to refer to those in the Yishuv. Return
  21. Possible allusion to the stems of goblets used for drinking wine on the Sabbath. The word for stem and legs is the same. Return
  22. The masculine possessive “his sanctification” makes it appear that the blessing is not for the Sabbath which is gendered feminine. What is being sanctified is ambiguous, perhaps intentionally so. Return
  23. Kiddush is the name of the blessing over wine said before the Sabbath meal. Return
  24. Apparent reference to the custom that the gleanings that fall from a reaper's hand or sickle should be left for the poor, as described in the Mishnah Tractate Pe'ah. An analogy seems to be with the days of youth. Return
  25. The sentence seems to imply he is following or being pulled forward by those ahead of him and there is no turning back to life in the shtetl from which he came. Return
  26. The intent seems to be that the poet doesn't have money but he has the love of a woman. Return
  27. The Hebrew word for forgiveness is Selichot, the same word used as the name of such prayers of forgiveness said during the Days of Awe. Return
  28. The prayer “Hear O Israel” which is a centerpiece of the evening and morning prayers. Return
  29. The month in which fall the Jewish Days of Awe including the Day of Atonement. Return
  30. Here referring to a mezuzah that traditional Jews affix to the doorposts of their house to commemorate God's activity in Egypt. Return
  31. Communal prayers for forgiveness said during High Holidays and Jewish fast days. Traditionally they are said between midnight and dawn. Return

 

[Page 88]

Impressions and Memories

by Moshe Iskiewicz (Isakovich), Haifa[1]

Translated from the Yiddish by

Edited and translated by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD with Hannah Bereliner Fischthal, PhD

©

 

To the memory of my dear parents, who were tragically killed in the Shoah in Mlynov.

I remember in our tiny town the impoverished residents and houses; every path and every garden are inscribed in my memory in spite of my being barely a lad. The images of their faces are engraved in my memory, as I saw them with my own eyes through the windows of our house which faced the narrow alley, “Hagasel.”[2] I used to watch how most of the Jews of the town would lace up their legs with cumbersome boots [on the way] to the study house, during the early morning hours of cloudy days, full of cold and snow, some walking hastily because time was pressing, others walking at a relaxed pace and even with a certain indifference. Every one of them had a gloomy and sad look on their face, their livelihoods being the main worry on their minds. There were also some, whom I called “righteous ones” (tzaddikim) or “the 36ers” (the lamed vav [niks]),[3] who had almost no interest in what was around them. They would walk in early morning to the worship of the Creator with a joyful countenance. They were calm and all their thoughts were directed to matters of the above.

I also remember how those Jews would in fact change their appearance on the Sabbath and holidays, as if they unloaded the burden of the world and an atmosphere of festivity and joy encompassed them. But after the “three meals” of the Sabbath, and the Havdalah,[4] a changed feeling returned to them. A new week began and again the same worries and problems. Today all this belongs to the distant past. The final solution came and all was destroyed. There are no Jews any longer in Mlynov, only the mass grave remains in the valley of death, along the way to Mervits.

I remember also the youth before WWII, the days of their childhood and adulthood. My dear boyfriends and girlfriends were killed in the midst of their lives. Remember their advancement in educational “ulpanim”[5] of our shtetl, a place they spent most of their time, and perhaps all their time, where they began the cheder[6] of Rabbi Neta which took place in the kitchen, around the thick stove, sitting on low benches. We absorbed the aleph-bet (the Hebrew ABCs), admist the daily arguments with his wife Perel, may she rest in Eden.

I remember too in the autumn days, when the streets of Mlynov were covered with a swampy mud, we would be carried on the back of the teacher's assistant (“bayhelfer”)[7] and he would transport us across the mud in his giant boots.

And from the cheder [we transferred] to our rabbi, Ben Tzion [Meren],[8] z”l, to learn Talmud.

[Page 89]

We did not easily digest the endless debate with no end between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, and the misdeeds of the ox of Shimon and Rueben.[9] And the Rabbi did not excel in pampering his students much and more than once we felt the slap of his hand. All of this was after we returned from our studies in the Polish school, where the teachers did not excel at sympathy for their Jewish students; there were also many disputes between us and especially the Ukrainian students.

I will point out also the names of the teachers with whom the students felt enjoyment studying. They were our teacher Motel Chizik (Tzizik),[10] z”l, and the teacher and educator Ben Tzion Gruber, z”l.[11] The first excelled in teaching Tanach, and he was the first who implanted the yearning and love for our land in us through his interesting explanations. I would say, we were “like dreamers”[12] for all knowledge that came out of his mouth about our great past and all its manifestations. I remember him – his short stature, with a cigarette in his mouth, he would smoke, and smoke and…cough.

And last but not least, our teacher and educator, Ben Tzion Gruber, z”l, from Mervits, who roamed to far-off Odessa to learn in a well-known Hebrew high school (gymnasium). He was not only a great teacher, but also, in essence, an outstanding educator to his students, whom they totally venerated. I remember he dressed meticulously, walking stooped with his walking stick and all of him evoking honor.

 

Mly089.jpg
Winter in the shtetl
From the photos of A. Harari

And we, the youth, reached adulthood. Suddenly we stood at the crossroads. Each and every one of us began to seek his path in life, some turned to handicrafts, others to commerce, and some continued their studies. And then, like thunder on a clear day, the Shoah came and severed the branches of the tree. Our tiny town is still there, but most of her Jewish residents were slaughtered. A few returned after the suffering and hardships from [their hiding places in] the forests, from the bunkers and the Russian wilderness. A few isolated brands of wood remained [after the fire],[13] and no one to console us.

And perhaps our sole consolation is that we were fortunate to establish the State of Israel.

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Moshe Iskiewicz (also spelled Isakovich) was one of four children born to Eliezer and Chaya / Faiga Iskiewicz and the only one of his family who was not killed in the Shoah. The four siblings were: Shlomo (1921–1942), Raizel (1927–1942), Szeindel (1935–1940), and Moshe, the author of this essay. Two photos of the family appear on p. 464 of this volume and another of his father "Leazar" on 477. According to the list of martyrs in this volume (p. 431), his brother Shlomo was missing after the battle of Stanlingrad in August 1942. The Yad Vashem records filled out by Moshe provide some additional information. Moshe's father, Eliezer, born in 1896, was the son of Sheindel and Shlomo Iskiewicz and was a textile merchant. Moshe's mother, Chaya Faiga, was also born in 1896, part of the large Grin family in Mlynov. Her parents were Leib and Dvorah Grin. It is unknown at the time of this writing when or how Moshe made aliyah.--HS Return
  2. “Hagasel” means small street in Yiddish and was apparently the name they use for the alley he is looking at through the window.--HS Return
  3. The Hebrew letters Lamed Vav equal 36 and has come to represent the traditional Jewish idea that there are 36 righteous men in every generation whose lives justify the purpose of humankind in the eyes of God. Jewish tradition holds that their identities are unknown to each other and that, if one of them comes to a realization of their true purpose, they would never admit it.--HS Return
  4. It is traditional to eat three meals on the Sabbath and the Havdalah is the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath.--HS Return
  5. Ulpanim (plural for) ulpan comes to mean a school or institute for the intensive study of Hebrew. Return
  6. Traditional elementary school in which Hebrew and traditional knowledge is taught. Return
  7. Using a Yiddish word here. Return
  8. Probably Ben Tzion Meren, father of Boruch Meren, a contributor to this volume. See Boruch's essay about his revered father later in this volume. Return
  9. Alludes to the Talmudic discussions about what to do when one man's ox gored another's. This section of the Talmud is often the first that students learn. For example, Talmud Baba Kama 33a. Return
  10. Motel Chizik (or Tzizik) (1909–1959) made aliyah in the 1930s where he married Rosa Berger from Mlynov. He later died of a poisonous snake bite in 1959. Return
  11. Ben Tzion Gruber was one of the brothers of Rachel (Gruber) Teitelman and Sonia (Gruber) Teitelman, the latter one of the prominent contributors to this volume. Ben Tzion died with his wife, Gitel (Margulis), and daughter Yehudit in the Mlynov liquidation. Return
  12. An allusion to Psalm 126:1 a passage that also became part of the blessing after meals, called Shir HaMaalot. Return
  13. An allusion to the verse, “For this is a brand plucked from the fire” [Zechariah 3.2] referring to a high priest who was saved from Satan. Return

 

[Page 90]

People in a Shtetl

Sonia and Mendel Teitelman (“SMT”)[1]

Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah Bereliner Fischthal, PhD

Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD

©

 

At the shores of the Ikva and Styr, in the part of Polish Volhynia among the cities Kremenets, Rivne, and Dubno on one side; and Lutsk, Kowal [Kovel], and Volodymyr-Volynskyi[2] on the other side; were found shtetlekh [plural of shtetl] which belonged to the Mlynov kehilla, like Mervits, Trovits,[3] Ostrozhets, Boromel, and Demidovka. The principal one was Mlynov, near Dubno. In addition, the small number of Jews who lived in the villages outside of the shtetlekh also belonged to the Mlynov kehilla. The Rabbi from Trovits, Horav[4] Akerman, z”l,[5] was the Rabbi of the kehilla. The president was Yoysef Berger,[6] z”l. He passed on before he finished his term of office. After him, Chayim-Yitskhok Kipergluz, z”l, took over the position as president. He served until the beginning of the Second World War. At the marching in of the Soviet troops in our neighborhood 17 September 1939, he collapsed.

I, Mendel Teitelman, son of Avrohom-Leyb and Rivke, and my wife Sonia, daughter of Yoysef and Shifre,[7] were born the beginning of 1900 in the shtetele Mervits, which was separated from Mlynov by a narrow stream and an unpaved highway of about one kilometer. Mervits and Mlynov also were divided by a macadamized highway, which stretched from Rivne to Berestechka, through Demidovka, in the direction of Brody, which was, until the end of the first World War, an Austrian city.

 

A Glance at Mervits

In the small shtetele Mervits, in which I went to cheder and in which I was brought up, there were no official buildings like a post-office, community center, church, and so on, because all these were found in nearby Mlynov. Yet it still had a character of a shtetl. Until the First World War, there were three study houses, a bathhouse with a mikva,[8] two kosher slaughterers, a Rabbi and all other clergy, a voluntary burial society, and a Jewish cemetery. And although the shtetl was very small (about 400 Jewish souls), there was still a marketplace in which the main stores were concentrated.

[Page 91]

Every couple of weeks fairs would take place there. They were a principal source of income for a larger part of the Jewish population.

The Jewish population of the shtetl was divided into two groups of Chassidim – Trisker and Olyker. The larger and the so-called richer part of the local Jews belonged to the Trisker Hasidim; the smaller part to the Olyker. There were many conflicts, which more than once led to serious fights and even to beatings, over the styles of praying, and so on, until a nice morning in 1903, when the general large synagogue, famous for its beautiful structure, burned down from a fire in a neighbor's house. That led the Trisker Hasidim to build a separate chapel, and from then on peace reigned in the shtetl. There were now a Trisker synagogue, an Olyker synagogue, and also a small synagogue, on the place of the burned large, beautiful synagogue.

Income for the local Jewish population came from various sources. Some people had various stores, for example iron, or manufactured or colonial goods, for the local population and other villagers. A small number sold grain, cows, and various other village products. About half of the population lived from construction work, which was only seasonal (summer). A very small number were home manufacturers (shoemakers, tailors), and there were a few who worked on the earth. There was no professional intelligentsia. The Mlynov medical doctor Vislotski served the local population together with the entire surrounding village population. In the shtetl there was only a healer, Reb Zaylik Rufa, who, for his trade, also had to be a barber. His daughter Chana helped him in order to increase his income.

[Page 92]

The great poverty that ruled most of the shtetl did not prevent some important young people from growing up and making a reputation in the world, as, for example, Aharon Firer, z”l, and Sender Shokhet's son and his brothers, my friends, Shmarye, Arye and Yoyne. Aharon and Shmarye were murdered in Denikin's pogroms[9] in Moscow and in Kiev, and the last – from followers of Hitler, may his name be blotted out. Also growing up were my brother-in-law Ben-Zion Gruber, z”l, a student of Bialik; and Mayerke Kubilensky, z”l; Kahat Gekhtman, Melekh Zider, and Hirsh-Leyb Margolis, z”l; and also others whose names, unfortunately, I no longer remember.

The school system was on a very low level. Until the first World War, the only student who attended the elementary school in Dubno was Hirsh-Leyb Margolis; others had to learn on a small scale. But the main subject and education was strictly Orthodox, held in the cheders by the local teachers, and in the yeshivas in the outside world. I attended them with my brother Nachman, z”l, and with my other friends. We did not reach a higher and more worldly education and upbringing, which had been the desire of our parents. Yet even though thick poverty ruled in the shtetl, the mood was happy for the most part, especially when celebrating engagements, weddings, circumcisions, high holy days, and Shabbat.

There also were several organizations dedicated to charities, for example, an organization that loaned money without interest, organizations for Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes's pushke[10] for the Land of Israel, organizations providing lodging for the homeless and sick, organizations providing brides with wedding dresses, and organizations who purchased holy books. All this led to a friendly brotherhood, and very often friends would celebrate good deeds.

I also want to mention the industry that was found in the shtetl at that time: the so-called oil presses, driven by horses. The largest oil press was Zeylig Vortsel's[11], z”l. The next largest presses were owned by the brothers Tali and Gedalye Helman, z”l, Yankev Ranis, z”l, and Yankev Khorwits, z”l. Pinkhas Matis, z”l, also attempted to work such a press, but without success and for a short time. Moyshe Shchna's, z”l, dealt in wool. There also were a few kosher butchers, who did their butchering in the local stalls and then sold the meat in the houses.

[Page 93]

There were a few horse and buggy drivers; they never could earn a living with their work and they always had to search for additional jobs, which varied.

 

During the First World War

In 1914, the beginning of the First World War, I was in the yeshiva in Baranovitsh.[12] I was very young, but that did not prevent me from having been sent very far from home, learning two years in other yeshivas in Rovno[13] and in Stolptsy.[14] My beautiful childhood years in Rovno and Stolptsy I will never forget for my entire life, because they are always fresh in my memory. Clearly my parents, may they rest in peace, were then comparatively well off. By an order from the Trisker Rebbe, I was the first in the shtetl to be given specified eating “days” with the well-to-do in the town, the way it was practiced in all Jewish communities at that time.

In the early years of the First World War, when I was in Baranovitsh attending the yeshiva, I was captured by the Germans in Kaiser Wilhelm's Army. The German army had established itself in the Baranovitsh neighborhood, on the length of the White Russian neighborhood. The occupation encumbered the movements of the civil population. Because of security and concerns about espionage, the military power, in agreement with the civil power, decided to evacuate a considerable part of the population into further areas which they had earlier occupied, like, for example, Poland. As usual, the first scapegoats were the weak and the lonely. I fell into that category together with my friend Simcha Zutelman,[15] now in Russia. After wandering for two days and travelling in cold freight trains, we were brought, on 1 January 1916, half-frozen from the cold, to Ostrów-Mazowiecka, near Warsaw, and we were quartered in the abandoned barracks of the Russian army in Kamarab near Ostrub.

The poor food we received from the military power led to various sicknesses, like typhus, pox, and so on.

[Page 94]

This lasted about 6 months. One early morning all of us who had been deported were taken to the train. We were divided, 15 men in a group, and sent to the nobility in the area to work on their estates.

The nobleman managed our work. At the same time, he allotted us rations from the poor food for nourishment. We faced a new time of hunger and need and hard work; but still we did despair, knowing that our day would come when we would be free. My friend Simkha Zutelman and I were the youngest in the group, and we had to suffer through the hunger the same as the older men. This lasted until 1918, until after the Russian Revolution. Then we started to think about turning back home to Mervits, which had undergone difficult metamorphoses during our time away, when the ruling powers had changed every Monday and Thursday. We came into our shtetl Mervits, which, after the war, had only three Jewish houses left…

 

After the War

My parents, may they rest in peace, barely survived to see me after despairing of it. In addition to the fact that the war had completely ruined them, it also happened that my younger brother Note, z”l, had drowned while bathing in the Ikvo. When they saw me, they hugged me hard, with tears in their eyes, and without words; the celebration was indescribable. My friend Simkha Zatelman [Zutelman] found his two brothers Peysakh and Efrayim (now in Baltimore, United States)[16] and also several family members in Mlynov. Mlynov was barely harmed by the war. Almost all the houses there remained standing. The shtetl, except for all the experiences deriving from the constant change of power among Petliura the Hetman, Bolsheviks, and Poles,[17] remained in quite a good situation regarding livelihoods. It can be said that from that time on Mlynov became the center of the surrounding shtetlekh, and especially of Mervits. Mervits, which had been entirely erased from the map during the war, had to rebuild itself from the beginning. It was entirely dependent on Mlynov. Mervits rebuilt itself on a small scale. It had already two Zionist parties, a left and a right, two synagogues, a Rabbi, and a ritual slaughterer. These lasted until the Second World War.

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However, Mervits no longer had all the important qualities of a real shtetl; everything, everything went to Mlynov. The school, the post office, not even talking about official state positions and livelihoods – everything was in Mlynov. Therefore, there were few families in Mervits with incomes; the larger part had incomes that were tied to Mlynov. Mlynov itself also started to rebuild itself from new in the time of the Polish normal rule, which first began in 1921.

* * *

Until that very year there had been no scarcity of evil decrees and fear. There had been no scarcity of attacks by local groups who very often robbed and murdered. The same was also true of the not yet regular Polish army, who always found the Jew, and mostly the Jew from the small, unprotected shtetl, as its victim. From that year started the so-called, alas, good time. Actually a very few Jewish businessmen and artisans did well.

My parents, may they rest in peace, had built an oil press, although they were never suited for this kind of work. Their lives were ruined, but as though the press had been inherited from successful businessmen, they prospered and started to change to the modern industry: namely, a mill with an oil press driven by the energy of a motor. That flourished at first, but, as I noted earlier, because they were not appropriate people for this, the entire business started to go downhill. Afterwards the business was divided up, and a part was carried to Ostrozhets… In addition, the anti-Semitic [Polish] government started to strongly oppress the Jews with the high taxes, from which the entire Jewish population in Poland suffered so much. The miserable personality Finance Minister Grabsky was not affected by the pain. And because the small incomes of many Jewish merchants ended, whoever had saved a little money put it into investments, and mostly into mills. For example, in Mervits, Zelig Vortsel,[18] z”l, constructed a mill with his partners.

[Page 96]

The Fisher brothers, z”l, also. In Mlynov, Yoysef Gelberg, z”l, deserves to be complimented. In addition to his oil press, which had prospered well, he also put up a mill. Because he and his son, Gershon, were so efficient, they prospered in a big way, better than any of the others in the entire area. At first, they build a wooden building on the place of the oil press. In a short time, they had built out a four-story, large, beautiful building, in which they established a large, beautiful mill, as well as a beautiful house in which to live next to it. And the mill truly prospered more and more every day.

 

Economic Blossoming and Ruin Politics of the Government

This mill was the first to give electrical lighting for the shtetl. A few Jews had, in a certain measure, trade ties with the mill. The family Gelberg with their son-in-law Shike Goldseker, z”l, prospered very much, but at the same time, the small mills lost most of their value. As much as life was beginning to normalize, all the more difficult it became for the Jewish population to earn livings. There certainly were differences from family to family. For example, the family of Chaim Nakunyetsnik (Chaim Dants's) prospered very nicely with their wooden warehouse, which had, after the ruinous war, generated nice profits from building materials. The family of Noach-Moyshe Shekhman,[19] headed by his son Shimeon, z”l, also did well. After his marriage to Pesi Ranis, he himself built out nice walls for living and for his oil press. I especially want to mention that he was also a local businessman with social welfare interests from the Joint Bank; he helped voluntarily, and not in order to receive a reward. I will also mention that such a Joint Assistance Bank existed in Mervits too, under the leadership of Israel Vortsel, Shammai Parizshak, Chaim Neyshtayn, and Mendl Lumer, everyone z”l. (I also took part in it.) It all fell apart with the coming of the Soviets. Shimeon Shekhman was also a Zionist adviser. I still remember when he came to me with Yudl Matoyk to cash in the foundation money, because the Jewish National Fund was also in Mervits, and I was permitted to help until the Second World War.

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This way a few businessmen prospered, like, for example, Avrohom Gelman (Avrohom Batye's), z”l, with his son-in-law Dovid, z”l; Yankev Goldseker, z”l, with his children; and Moyshe Goldseker (Moyshe Yoyal's), z”l, with his soda factory; Beynish Shvarts, z”l; Chaim Geler Rabinovitch, z”l; Mayer Kwasgalter; and a few more, like Shloyme Morer, Chaim Goldseker, sons of Wulach, sons of Lipe Halperin, and so on. A medical doctor moved to Mlynov then, Dr. Fink, z”l, from Sanek, and led a nice life. In addition, there were smaller businessmen and artisans from various classes; some were a little better situated materialistically, and some worse.

But there was no lack of poor people who very often were supported by loans from the so-called American Bank which was in Mlynov. My brother-in-law Nokhum Teitelman[20] Shikhaye (today in Israel) was its President. They also received some Help for the Needy. There was even a certain time in which the bus was a Jewish possession of the Fisher Brothers. By the urging of the strangers, the Polish Osadniks,[21] it was torn out of Jewish hands, and it became owned solely by an Osadnik with the name Shidlovsky, who had, by the way, a Jewish wife from Ostroh.[22] He was befriended by the Jewish population in the shtetl, but it did not improve the mood of the local Jews. When the anti-Semitic decrees from the Endecja[23] power grew more virulent, his relationship with Jews helped very little. The closer it came to 1939, when Hitler, may his name be blotted out, had already put his paws on the Western countries of Europe, the Jews in Mervits and Mlynov felt it more and more.

There was no lack of anti-Semitic provocations against Jews, which always ended fatally for the Jewish population. The situation of the Jewish businessman became very oppressed on at least two fronts. On one side was the government with its “owszem” politics,[24] which with the help of executors extracted not only the gains from the businessman, but actually the last possibilities of existence, so that in a short time, people were ruined. From another side came the terrible anti-Semitic treatment on the part of the Christians.

[Page 98]

So, for example my brother Shike, z”l, was ruined and he had to leave Mervits. Also my brother Nakhman, z”l, became similarly ruined. In addition to his own horrible experiences from a tragedy that had happened to him, he was further bankrupted by the ruling power with its tax-system. My uncle Chaim-Mayer and his sons, z”l, were entirely ruined by the taxes. The same situation took hold in Mlynov and in the entire surrounding area. The only people in Mervits who still supposedly were doing well, were Shamay Parizshak, z”l, Shloyme Sherman, z”l, jubilee couple Getsl and Mendl Shtaynberg,[25] and also myself. A few other numbered individuals in Mervits and in Mlynov, if not for the oncoming war in 1939, would anyway have been bankrupted, some earlier and some later, because of the decrees from the ruling power regarding Jews.

The politics of ruin took on a mass character regarding the Jews in all of Poland. Terrible ideas came from every corner of the country. It was said everywhere that Jews were forbidden to continue their livelihoods, and sometimes they received horrible beatings and were further oppressed. And if this were not enough, Mrs. Fristor[26] decreed a ban on kosher slaughter. In Kartoz-Breza[27] a concentration camp was established which was arranged practically solely for Jews. The Jewish situation colossally worsened from day to day, and the depressed mood sunk lower and lower.

The Ukrainian population, although itself in a certain measure oppressed by the Polish powers, became a willing partner in harming the Jews. They sat with crossed arms while the recent bruises of Petliura[28] were still on our bodies. The panic took hold until the sad, famous date 1 September 1939, when the war with Poland started through Hitler's troops, may his name be blotted out. The idiotic anti-Semitic politicians did not want Jews to take part in the resistance against the German beast. Even in the last days of Poland's destruction, we heard the foolish sounds of anti-Semitism: “Not with Jewish help for Poland,” until the hugely disastrous Polish anti-Semitic politics descended together with the destruction of the Jewish population.

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Poland was smashed and occupied by the Hitlerite troops, may his name be blotted out, in just a few days.[29] For the Jewish population, true hell started, which I am not in a position to describe.

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. On Sonia and Mendel's background, see https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/Mlynov-Yizkor-Book-16-24.html – HS Return
  2. Ludmir in Yiddish – HBF Return
  3. Torhovytsia, Ukraine – HBF Return
  4. [the Rabbi] title preceding the name of a respected Orthodox Rabbi – HBF Return
  5. May his memory be blessed – HBF Return
  6. Also known as Yosef Gelberg. On his background, see the Gelberg family story. https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/families.html#threebrothers – HS Return
  7. Yoysef (Yosef) Gruber married Shifre Teitelman – HS Return
  8. Jewish Ritual bath – HBF Return
  9. Anton Denikin was Deputy Supreme Ruler of Russia during the Russian Civil War of 1917-1922. His army carried out the White Terror, which included pogroms against the Jews, as well as mass executions and plunder. – HBF Return
  10. Well known charities in memory of the Jewish sage (139-163). Observant women place coins into the tin can alms box (pushke) before lighting Sabbath candles. – HBF Return
  11. Alternative spelling, Wurtzel. – HS Return
  12. Today Baranavichy, Belarus – HBF Return
  13. Today Rivne, Ukraine – HBF Return
  14. Today Stowbtsy, Belarus – HBF Return
  15. The family name variations in English include Zutelman and Settleman. – HS Return
  16. Pesach Zutelman immigrated to America with the Mlynov Shulman family in 1921, married Sarah Shulman and became Paul Shulman in Baltimore. His brother followed via Buenos Aires and became Frank Settleman – HS Return
  17. Symon Petliura was head of the Ukrainian General Army Committee from 1917. The Hetman was chief of the Cossacks. The Ukrainians, Cossacks, Bolsheviks, and Poles were deadly enemies and battled constantly. – HBF Return
  18. Another variation of the family name is Wurtzel, who married into the Steinberg family. Return
  19. Schuchman, Schechman or Schichman is a variation. Return
  20. Also known as Nahum Teitelman. Return
  21. Veterans of the Polish army who were given land on which they settled in Belarus and Western Ukraine – HBF Return
  22. Town in Ukraine – HBF Return
  23. Right-wing, anti-Semitic, populist party in Poland – HBF Return
  24. “Yes, by all means; why not?” was the Polish government's well-known response to Polish boycotts and other transgressions against Jews. – HBF Return
  25. Refers to Getzel and Mendel Steinberg both survivors of the Shoah – HS Return
  26. Fristor was a representative to the Polish sejm who demanded an end to kosher slaughter – HBF Return
  27. Today Byaroza, Belarus – HBF Return
  28. Szymon Petliura was President of the Ukrainian People's Republic 1918-1921. Under his command, close to 500 deadly pogroms against the Jews were carried out, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. – HBF Return
  29. In 1939, when WWII started, Mlynov was in the area occupied by the Russians, per the agreement with Germany. The Germans broke their non-aggression pact with Russia in June 22, 1941. Mlynov was occupied by Germans immediately. Return

 

Different Times in the Shtetl

S.M.T.[1]

Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah Bereliner Fischthal, PhD

Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD

 

In the Old Days

The total number of Jewish men, women, and children in the shtetl Mervits near Mlynov, in the district of Dubno, was about 350-400. While births and deaths were recorded in larger cities by the civil authorities, in Mervits it was different. Mervits never had an independent administration. It never had a Jewish kehilla; and after the First World War, Mervits became tied to Mlynov. Actually, both became one town.

Sender Shoykhet[2] was ordered to report the births of newborn boys every month according to the date of the Parsha of the week. Crown[3] Rabbi Margulis entered this information into his official books according to the civil date. Because of that, the authorities knew when the boys would need to fulfill their military duty. This happened, understandably, regarding sons. It was different for the births of girls; they did not have military responsibilities, so therefore nobody registered them. Similarly, deaths of the elderly, people without military duties, were not required to be registered; only young men were listed.

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These procedures held until about 1914-1915; twenty years earlier, as much as I can remember, practices were entirely different. Until that time, there was a kind of merging of Jewish shtetlekh into the larger towns. So, for example, Mervits belonged to Olik,[4] 25 kilometers from Mervits. And when people needed birth certificates, they turned to the civil authority in Olik.

It was different, again, after 1920, when the Poles ruled. Then all legal procedures were carried out by the community in Mlynov, with the help of the village magistrate, who now had to report both genders, births of both boys and girls, and deaths of people regardless of age, without exceptions. The magistrate in Mervits was, until the Second World War, my brother Yankev-Yoysef, z”l.[5] He had full responsibility for everything that was done in the shtetl in connection with the ruling power, like taxes, birth certificates, and so on. The local authorities even demanded that the magistrates wear uniforms (caps), but almost nobody wore them. They were used only during official parades. The magistrate also received a minimum wage. I still remember the same functioning Jews in our shtetl during Tsarist rule, Noyach-Staroste[6] and Shloyme-Koval[7]-Staroste.

 

After the War

The new generation, which grew up after the first world war in our shtetlekh, breathed more progressive air, which affected both their outside appearances and their inner contents. That came about during wartime, when they were refugees in large Tsarist Russia, acquiring from other places the atmosphere that influenced Jews from the small villages. Practically all of our shtetl inhabitants were refugees. Returning home after the First World War, the Jews, unfortunately, saw that not a trace remained of our shtetl Mervits.

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There were only trenches the length of the River Ikva and reserve trenches a little further from the river. All the houses in the shtetl had been used by the military as protective ditches; therefore, the entire shtetl had been erased from the map.

My parents,[8] may they rest in peace, in 1918, after the war, began to think about rebuilding. The Mlynov general population was already back in their homes because their houses had not been ruined. But my parents did not think of building in Mlynov. There were many reasons for that and maybe the most important-they did what the Rebbe ordered. What he said was holy and dear to my parents, and as he actually told them to search for what they had lost, they did not ask why. An historical reminder of how far the belief in the Rebbe's words extended: My parents had buried a large sum of gold coins before they ran away from Mervits. Coming back, the first thing they did was to search for the treasure-cache. After much searching, it was not found. They turned to the Rebbe, who lived then in Rivne. After a prayer enabling them to find the treasure, he assured them their search would be successful. They returned back, renewed the search, and found it. Understandably, the Rebbe secured his redemption money, and the experience left a strong impression on my parents to rebuild in the ruins of Mervits.

And if the town's wealthiest man rebuilds on its ruins, it is a sign that it is a good idea. So little by little others started to copy my father. Among the first to build was my brother Yankev-Yoysef, z”l, with his then small family, and my uncle Mordkhe, z”l with his famiy, and Note Raykhman, z”l, with his family. There were oppositions by local anti-Semitic Christian neighbors, our enemies, against the rebuilding of the Jewish community. But the power of strong will and good promises from the Rebbe conquered everything. Little by little, more and more former residents of Mervits started to build houses in their former hometown.

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All who resettled in Mervits had to deal with assorted troubles and difficulties more than once. The assorted post war diseases, like typhus with its rash and accompanying stomach pains, was epidemic in all countries after the war. It did not wipe out Mervits, but it tore away dear victims, like Arky Tsvik, Asher Sherman, and others. Practically everyone suffered through the diseases, some slightly and others with more difficulty.

The change of power to the Poles, which in our neighborhood changed all the time from Bolsheviks, Petliura, and Poles, started to stabilize by 1920, lasting until the beginning of the Second World War. Health and income situations also began to stabilize. My parents, for example, made an oiler, which later turned into a motor mill. In the end it was entirely shut down, and my parents found themselves in a critical situation their last few years.

It must be noted that the oppressed economic situation, existing in Mervits with few exceptions from the Jewish population, became a deciding factor in having to remain in Mervits until the extermination. Effective people like my cousin Ben-Zion Gruber,[9] may he rest in peace, and others–if they had not been blocked with the obstacle of not having even the slightest financial possibilities to leave, would surely have thrown everything away and gone out into the wide world. Instead, the best and most honorable people were rubbed out as though between mill stones.

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Abbreviation for Sonia and Mendel Teitelman. Return
  2. A shoychet (also spelled shochet) is a ritual slaughterer, an esteemed profession which requires specific knowledge of anatomy – HBF Return
  3. The Crown Rabbi was a position in the Russian Empire given to a member of a Jewish community appointed to act as an intermediary between his community and the Imperial government, to perform certain civil duties such as registering births, marriages, and divorces. Because the main job qualification was fluency in Russian, crown rabbis were often considered agents of the state by members of their own communities, not true rabbis, and they often had no education in or knowledge of Jewish law. – HS Return
  4. Today Olyka, Ukraine – HBF Return
  5. Mendel Teitelman is speaking here about his brother and appears to be the one speaking in the first person throughout the essay. – HS Return
  6. A staroste was the chief of the village – HBF Return
  7. A koval is a blacksmith – HBF Return
  8. It appears that the Mendel, not Sonia, is the one speaking in the first person. – HS Return
  9. It appears that Mendel is speaking in the first person here. Ben-Zion Gruber was Sonia's brother. He was also a first cousin of Mendel. – HS Return

 

[Page 102]

Sources of Our Existence

S.M.T.[1]

Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah Bereliner Fischthal, PhD

Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD

©

 

We want to give an overview of the sources of our spiritual and physical strength. As everyone knows that “if there is no flour, there is no Torah,”[2] we will try to describe the origins of our physical nourishment, which were the bases of our spiritual strength.

[Page 103]

In our small shtetlekh, almost without exception, were the same ways of life. As usual, not everyone was in the same situation, but the sources–practically the same. Those were commerce and skilled handiwork; agriculture played a very small part. Here I must add that farming was not a main source of income, but a supplemental income. The Jews were not born farmers; their possessions came mostly from industriousness and diligence.

 

Commerce

The majority of Jews in our shtetlekh lived from other sources, mostly from trade. Out of everybody from the Mlynov kehilla, there were just a numbered few, and I stress few, of whom it could be said that they were making a living. While there were many who did earn a living, life was not easy and it was full of uncertainties. There were also Jews who, after all their suffering, were still without an income.

As we are speaking about the source of income from trade, we will here point out some of the differences. Later we will describe the skilled artisans and the farmers. The differences among the three classes of traders was almost in all areas. The main reason was the competition which was so large that even today I do not understand how even the so-called stronger businessmen could exist. It was only with the secret of various combinations, because logically I absolutely cannot fathom how the Jewish population at that time had any income at all.

Take for example the grain business, which was the largest source of income in our neighborhood. I remember that the merchants should have made only large deficits, but there was always a complicated approach. The local grain merchant, for goods that were worth 100 zloty, paid 110, and so on. And where he left room for profit I do not remember today. For all the days of his life, any profits came like miracles. And that was after hard labor with his entire family, day and night, which nobody today could endure.

[Page 104]

And more than once a merchant would say that he was sure that his neighbor had a loss, and the neighbor's loss was profit for him.

All merchants, without exception, had a large partner, a merciless tax.

 

Heavy Taxation and Expulsion Politics

Taxes on capital were etched into the body and soul of the Jewish merchant. There were not only taxes on profits, which was understandable, but also on possessions and on sales. The Jewish merchant was in competition with all factors, both with his friends and with the anti-Semitic government, whose goal consisted mainly of a desire to ruin the Jewish businessman. So with the competitive rush the Jewish merchant had to work hard and earn little. The government had more motivation to take more sales tax, because if the Jew made large sales, it was a sign that his income was also large. So was there was a bigger motive for a Jew to sell more, so the government could extract the very last bit of marrow from his Jewish bones?

The Christian merchant was not treated like that. He was treated completely differently. The government supported him. There were no picket signs put at his stores. He was, instead, supported in all directions. From this alone, one can see how hard the Jewish merchant's situation was in general, and how hard it was for the Jewish merchant from the small shtetl in particular. Only through miracles could the Jewish businessman survive. We are not talking about the end of the 1930s, when the war was already on the threshold, and Hitlerite agents, may their names be blotted out, had already poisoned all of Europe with their venom, and especially in Poland. The situation simply became without a way out. The general Jewish population felt it, and the Jewish merchant felt it even more.

It was like that in other areas, too, as, for example, in iron manufacturing. The anti-Semitic government gave concessions of all kinds of iron and lead to the Christian employees, and thus robbed the Jewish merchant of his bread. The situation became intolerable. Jewish merchants throughout the country felt this. Spiritual and physical oppression hit the general Jewish population in that time, and especially the Jewish merchant.

[Page 105]

The situation of the Jewish skilled artisan was no better. The Jewish artisan was little by little pushed out of his positions. There were constantly more and more Christian artisans in all professions, and in all places, in the city and in the village, with the intentions of pushing the Jew out of his livelihood. Usually the Jewish artisan was not pushed out as quickly as the Jewish businessman, but neither one was excluded from the anti-Semitic treatment.

I want to add another thing that was a factor in a certain measure for competition, and that was the market fair. The fairs in Mlynov, which were famous far and wide from the first years after the First World War, provided Jews work and livelihoods. Those opportunities also had shrunk for the Jews. It went so far that the Christians could already make fairs without Jews. Christian businessmen grew like mushrooms after a rain, in all fields. We are not even talking about horse and cow merchants, the majority of whom were lately Christians.

 

Evil Edicts

The evil edicts did not suddenly grow and pour themselves onto Jewish heads; in truth, they started to come in the first years of this century. They surely came more slowly and with periods of interruption, which gave the impression that these were very nice times. The truth is that the nice times were short, and, for the most part, they were dark degradations, in various shades, since the entire Christian population was not yet in charge. We had a mixed population of Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Czechs, and Poles. Because there was strong antagonism among them, in the confusion it was possible to find a good friend, perhaps not because of love for Mordechai, but because of hatred for Haman.

[Page 106]

The friction between the Ukrainians and the Poles was very frequent. The Ukrainians, as the overwhelming majority, always looked at the Poles as foreign occupants, and until the end Ukrainians did not agree to their ruling over them. As the rule is, where two are fighting, the third one benefits. In this case the Jews benefitted somewhat, and perhaps it helped our possibilities to exist, since, according to all details, it was a mystery how the Jewish businessman and artisan could have existed altogether.

I remarked in the beginning, that there were exceptions, although very few. For example, there was a mill owner. Even though there were Christian mills, around the shtetlekh Jewish mills were still the leaders, and as a matter of course contacts were created.

Also there were Jews with larger funds, which the Christian population needed more than once. We will here note that Jews loaned Christians money with interest, which enabled them to buy fields and forests from the larger property owners, and to make weddings for their children, and to build houses. In the end, the Jewish bread-givers remained with all the poverty. In the beginning of the 1930s, a kind of commission was created, meaning a prolonged and on-going commission, for debts for farmers. The anti-Semitic goal was to target the Jew, and to free the poor farmer, who had so many heavy debts due to dealing with many fields, forests, and so on. The aim of the commission was to unburden the farmer of his heavy yoke, and thereby impoverish the Jew, and that was accomplished. When a Jew had IOU notes from a Christian for a debt, the Christian merely had to announce that he had been given such IOU notes to sign, and then nobody could help the Jew collect his money.

A flood of evil decrees and rulings poured over the heads of the Jewish population, and that included the largest part of Jewish population, which was impoverished after the decrees.

[Page 107]

There were even instances in which the debtor demanded punishment or a refund for the interest that he had given the Jewish moneylender. He did not have to certify this with witnesses or other proofs; it was enough to slander a Jew with a few warm appealing words for help, and the verdict was already in his favor. And thus the edicts strengthened from day to day through various ways.

In the year 1939 the situation worsened every day, and then we did not talk anymore about earning a living, because we had already seen worse things than not having an income… And how this ended is unnecessary to repeat here.

In addition, the few Jews who had little pieces of land could not earn any money from them, apart from the fact that there were not many. In Mlynov was the family Kolton, the tinsmith farmers, sons of Fayvl Kritser, and the farmer sons of Nakanyetsnik. In Mervits: Shmuel Lokrits, a tiny bit of land, his brother-in-law's, z”l, small pieces [of land], Getsl Steinberg,[3] a small piece of land in the perished village, the Shpiros a piece of ground, Ayzik Volf a larger possession, and a few others, whose names I do not remember, but that was not their main source of income, just a supplement. Not to be forgotten as farmers, Fayvl Berger[4] z”l, Avram Grin z”l, Beynish Shvarts[5] z”l, and also the sons of the perished villages, Smardive,[6] Notshicz, Fiyna, and so on.

And so the jewels of the crown of the Jewish population in our shtetlekh lived their entire lives primitively and with illusions, and they were mostly satisfied, even though their sources of income seldom had a healthy basis. And how these people raised children, who with their abilities and little knowledge, did not stand lower than others, is still a puzzle to us. From what roots have these people sucked, outside of the house of worship, and from the Gomorra [the Talmud]?

They took the secret of existence with them when they were sent so tragically from the world. And as their lives were bad and hard, so their ends were also tragic and hard.

[Page 108]

The angry, murderous hand had no mercy on the precious flowers of our people, who were raised with such difficulty, and in the end, shone so beautifully…

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Sonia and Mendel Teitelman – HS Return
  2. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Ancestors) 3.21 – HS Return
  3. Getzel Steinberg and his family survived the Shoah and their story is written about in A Struggle to Survive, by Bunia (Steinberg) Upstein. https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/documents/A_Struggle_to_Survive.pdf Return
  4. Aaron (Berger) Harari, in his essay in this volume, on Jewish Farmers, tells how his uncle Faivel Berger was a farmer with Aaron's father Wolf Berger and how he asked Aaron for help making aliyah but the opportunity never arose. Faivel and his family was killed in the Mlynov liquidation. On the Faivel Berger and the Bergers family from Mlyniv, see https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/Berger-Family-Story.html. Return
  5. A photo of Beynish Shvarts appears on page 478 of the Mlynov Memorial Book. The exact relationship to the Schwartz family from Mlynov is not known. See https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/families.html#Schwartz Return
  6. Probably the village of Smordva. The other village names are not identified. Return

 

Community Buildings in Mervits

Sonia and Mendel Teitelman (“SMT”)[1]

Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah Bereliner Fischthal, PhD

Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD

©

 

How, in normal times, did one construct a building for the community in Mervits? This portrayal and description will surely surprise many people, even former residents, who still remember the hidden tales about our hometown. This subject can only be discussed from the first years of the present century up until 1939, the beginning of the Second World War. With the start of the war, nobody thought about public things. All levels of the population were already restless, and everyone felt that something was coming in the near future.

First and foremost, Jews aspired to build a synagogue, and after that other holy places. They could not concern themselves with cultural institutions because of the inappropriately high expenses involved, which they could not afford. In addition, they would just suffer more obstacles from the antisemitic government, which would certainly have put rocks on the way with an assortment of excuses, sometimes supposedly humanitarian, and sometimes supposedly sanitary. In short, they could not think about these things. So what could they do? The main thing was to construct a synagogue! The antisemitic government had already announced the opinion that religious people are those who are praying for the well-being of the government officials. So are better people needed? Is a person with culture needed? And Jews yet[2]

[Page 109]

It was good to focus on building holy shrines. Mlynov, which had not been totally ruined in the first World War, just needed to make small repairs on public buildings.

Mervits, in contrast, which had been entirely erased from the map in the First World War, had to rebuild from new. While Jews were building their houses, they also started to erect a synagogue. Although the opportunities were very small, Jews felt great pressure and a need for it, because in that time a synagogue was not only a place of worship, it was also an important location in which to meet; a place where, between prayers, one could talk a little bit about everyday concerns. There was no better club than a synagogue at that time; in addition, our parents had made it holy with their praying and learning. The first of those who wandered back after the war started to realize this thirst for a synagogue, and they took steps towards reaching their goal despite their limited resources.

The kind of buildings were not like those today in the wide world; they were more primitive. Private apartments were primitive, and public buildings were primitive. The first task was to clean up the base of the remains of the old, burned synagogue, and to lay the foundation for the so-called floors, and then to build. Heads of households at that time numbered six, but more came over to help. They really did everything with their own strength. They dug, carried, smeared, everything. We took Ivan Tsarik to help. He had been recommended by Moishe Fishman, leader of the road workers. Moishe knew him, and he praised him as a person who does the work of three. And actually, he worked well and honestly, and helped us in our hard work until the poor building was such that we could gather under its roof and pray. On Rosh Hashana we already prayed in the synagogue with a closed roof over our heads, although the sanitary improvements were still missing.

It took quite a bit of time until the entrance was a little fixed.

[Page 110]

That was the first community building. A small group of people built it with few resources and opportunities.

In time, the former inhabitants of Mervits, as in other shtetlekh after the First World War, started to return to their old homes after being wanderers during the war. They built small huts, and Mervits once again had the appearance of a shtetl. As usual, the growing population started to concern itself with a second synagogue, because the first was already too crowded, and there simply was not enough air to breathe. . .

As is known, our shtetl had many types of Chassidim. Being in such a tight place created so-called differences more than once, due to various Chassidic traditions, until, through the initiative of a smaller group, a decision was accepted to take steps to build a second synagogue. Said and done. Jews threw themselves with enthusiasm into the job and conquered all the financial and physical difficulties, and the synagogue building was constructed. (This was in addition to the first, which the few families, like my father, Reb Avraham Aryeh Teitelman z”l[3], my uncles, Reb Chayim Mayer Teitelman z”l, Reb Mordkhe Teitelman z”l, Reb Yoysef Gruber z”l[4], my brother Yankev-Yoysef Teitelman z”l, and Note Raykhman z”l, had built earlier). Many of the worshippers surpassed their own efforts and abilities to complete it.

The entire shtetl took part in helping, and the worshippers there did more than what was possible. I remember a Jew, Yoysef Shamash z”l. That Jew used superhuman strength in order for that little synagogue to exist. Trisker Hasidim and Olyker Hasidim already had their own synagogues in the shtetl. Among all the other worshippers, I remember the local prayer chanter Reb Moti Fines z”l, a concrete worker who labored hard for an income for his entire family. But he chanted the prayers and the psalms for the community with such a sweetness, that I still feel it and cannot get it out of my thoughts. There were others who outdid themselves there at that time.

* * *

[Page 111]

One more community building was to be built in Mervits, and with great sacrifices—that was a bathhouse. A bathhouse, for the sake of sanitary and Jewish ritualistic reasons, existed in Mervits until the First World War, after which it was destroyed together with all other buildings. Wanting to establish for the shtetl a bath, in order to not be dependent on Mlynov in that regard, Mervits searched for a source for building expenses, and found it. Near the former bath was quite a bit of property which belonged to the kehilla. Moyshe Shvartsman z”l, had grabbed up part of it for free. The congregation decided to take back part of the property from Moyshe, and to sell it. And so it was done. A piece of Moyshe's garden was reclaimed and sold to Mendl Vayner z”l; he paid full price for it. Unfortunately, he could not even use it, because of various stumbling blocks. The money, which had been taken from Mendl Vayner, was not used either. An antisemitic hand was preventing the establishment of the bath. The government employed sanitary excuses, but the real reason was plain antisemitism. The poor shtetl of Mervits was not strong enough to meet 100% of the standards, and all the expenses that had been paid with difficulty were for nothing.

This is how poor Jewish shtetlekh lived and suffered. Seldom did the light shine in the Jewish houses. One could not even think about youth clubs. Sometimes young people used the synagogues for meetings. There we got together in larger groups, and there we discussed various issues. Zionist meetings, too, usually took place in the synagogues.

This was the life in the poor shtetele Mervits, as it was in many small shtetlekh throughout Ukraine and Poland.

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Sonia and Mendel Teitelman--HS Return
  2. The intent of these questions is not entirely clear. The language seems to suggest that nobody (neither Jews nor the Tsar) had a need for cultural institutional buildings.--HS Return
  3. z”l is an acronym for “zikhroynu livrokho,” may his memory be blessed.--HBF Return
  4. Yosef Gruber was Sonia Teitelman's father.--HS Return

 

[Page 112]

Song

By Alef Katz, New York

Translated by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD

Song,
Boil!
Scream—don't be silent.
Sing with every letter and limb.
Cry, and sing your melody.

You must cry, all is lost,
A curse is sown in you:
The bitterness of ten times 600,000
Burns in your intestines.

Ten times 600,000 roots
Call, remind: “Do not forget!”
Wrap them up in your flames,
In the lines of your miracle.

You have inherited the calls—
Carry the screams in front.
Give the sounds—words, souls,
Carry the pains in front.

You are a relative of prophets,
In your catastrophe comfort is blossoming—
Cry the cry, but sing of continuity,
Because that is what was created, song.


October, 1945


[Note: The Yiddish poem was written in ABAB rhyme-scheme. The Zohar says there are 600,000 letters in the Torah, corresponding to 600,000 Jewish souls. – HBF]

 

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