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[Page 49]

Memories From My Birth Town

By Max Novomisky of Argentina

Translated by Madeline and Max Shiffman

Edited by Jerrold Landau

We hear this name very seldom now, and yet when we remind ourselves of this name, we get a pang in our heart. Maytchet is my birthplace and the place where all Maytcheters throughout the entire world were born. We were raised, and we breathed the good spirit from the old Jewish homes, the fresh air from the local river and the wide areas of cultivated soil. For hundreds of years, the small town of Maytchet was located in the midst of this G-d blessed natural setting. It hosted a traditional Jewish way of life with Torah observant, traditional Jews, as well as honorable, hard working people.

The town's river was called Molczadka. The river flows into the River Nieman, and forms a testimony to the very beginnings of the town. In the ledgers of the Council of the State of Lithuania, Maytchet is mentioned several times in connection with the tax rolls. From this, we can assume that, in the year 1765, there already existed a Jewish settlement. The question remains, who were the first Jewish inhabitants of Maytchet.

Besides the natural uses of the river, such as bathing in the summer and chopping ice in the winter, the Molczadka was used as a site for two mills, one at the very beginning of the river, and the other a few kilometers away. A bridge was built, with a small dam to hold the water in order to create energy to move the stones and rollers in order to grind the flour and press cloth. These two mills were built by a Jew whose name was Meyrim [Boretsky], who came to Maytchet and requested from the town nobleman, Mosziewski, to allow him to utilize the river. At that time, the very young nobleman allowed himself to be convinced, and the mills were constructed. In the one mill, Meyrim placed his older son, Moshe Aaron. Meyrim placed his younger son Itzele in the second mill, where as able to grind and sift flour, as well as to press cloth.

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Yaakov Dvorzecky's Pharmacy

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Thus, it was possible for Maytchet and the surrounding area to eat freshly milled and baked bread. The same nobleman, Mosziewski also allowed the construction of a row of stalls in the market place, from which they sold products of the mill and other goods, for which the Jews paid an annual fee. In addition, a large inn was also built nearby so that the farmers who came to the market could have food and drink.

From the last years I remember the only pharmacist in the village was Jacob Dvorzecky. And I also remember a dry good store owned by Iser Bilas and his family. There was a seltzer factory that sold cold drinks and juices during the hot summer months. One could also purchase ice that was prepared in the winter for the summer. All of the youth of Maytchet would come to the seltzer factory on Sabbaths to drink cold seltzer after eating their cholent. There was no money exchanged on the Sabbath, but notes were prepared in advance with names and charges, which were entered in a ledger. Many of the young people immediately went into the Chassidic shteibl (small synagogue), where they would peel seeds and then vandalize the prayer stands of the wealthy people. Many of the boys and girls would go to the woods, where everything around smelled magical. They would stroll back and forth, thinking of a better world. Unfortunately, very few of these youth had the opportunity to studying in a middle school or a high school, which was the road to intellectual professions. Very few were lucky enough to leave Maytchet and grasp something better. Many of those that did, eventually ended up in America, Argentina and Israel.

The Jewish population of Maytchet throughout that time remained middle class and provincial. They did nothing to conceal their Jewishness, and were hard workers -- they were tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, stuffers, furriers, and blacksmiths but most of them were involved in business. They worked hard all week at their meager livelihood, but on the Sabbath, each Jew became a king. Moshe Barishinski would stand in the middle of the market place and announce the advent of the Sabbath by shouting at the top of his voice, two or three times, “Women, it is candle lighting time!” Immediately the row of shops in the market would close, and the Sabbath candles would twinkle in each house. The Sabbath presence would glow over the Maytcheter women's faces. The Jews would enter the synagogue, some to the cold large main synagogue, and some into the Chassidic shteibl. The prominent Jews took their places at the front of the synagogue:

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Yichael Yitzchak, Yoseph the butcher, Rubichevsky, Leibe Yehoshua's and others. Yoseph Shimon stood in front of the ark and we would sing the “Lechu Naronona,” beginning the service of the welcoming of the Sabbath. When they discussed the upcoming festivals, there was much joy with men as well as women. Even the little ones were happy because they did not have to go to cheder. The shtetl became still and they absorbed the heavenly happiness that one could only absorb during the festivals.

Moshe Aaron's Flour Mill

Leibe, son of Yehoshua was a Torah scholar, and also knowledgeable in worldly literature. He could lead the prayer services and also read the Torah. He was an outstanding person with wonderful virtues. He used to frequent the Rabbi's house often and he helped him answer people's questions. He was able to straighten out disagreements people had. He would teach Gemara, Yoreh Deah [a section of the Code of Jewish Law], and Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed twice a week. At the end of every year, he would celebrate the conclusion of the learning with a festive meal.

Leibe Yehoshua's was a Hassid of the Slonimer Rebbe and he would go to him and participate in the Shabbos meal together with many other Chassidim. Many non-Jews appreciated him and many

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learned Christians were happy to talk to him about important world questions, because he excelled with his sharp answers. In general he was an outstanding Jew with a very deep religious feeling to G-d as well as being warm and good natured. He passed away at an old age but he did suffer a great deal during the years of the First World War.

David Zvi Novimisky (Hershl the mohel)

Hirshke Leibe Yehoshua's was the bright personality of my father. In his early years he was a partner in the large mill. His father-in-law Itsele wanted him to continue to be a

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mohel. He was appreciated by all because of his swift technique and he was asked to go to the nearby small towns and villages. Understand, he did this for the sake of mitzvah and he did not take any money. Because of the work of the mill we lived a nice life. The house was open to everyone, whoever went to Dvorzec, Zhetl and further towns used to stop off in the mill where they would receive a place to sleep and eat. Just before the First World War the nobleman sold the land to my Uncle Moshe Aaron. My father together with his brother-in-law Yitzchak Akivah built a windmill which was a wonder in Maytchet. But to our sorrow the mill did not last long. A very strong wind tore off the wings and the rudder and the windmill ceased to operate.

In those early years the town was immersed in their small problems of income and very seldom did they have an opportunity to enjoy social and cultural things. I remember one time a cantor came to Maytchet to daven (lead the prayer service). The whole town – men, women, and children -- came to the large, cold synagogue to hear this cantor. They sold tickets to the rich people and any tickets left they gave to those who could not afford to pay for a ticket. They did this at Chanukah, when there was a Purim play, and sometimes even for a theater performance.

The young people were always energetic and they would organize from time to time a speaker or a reading evening. After the Balfour Declaration there arose a national feeling when some of the studying youth would speak about Zionism. I remind myself that in my youth I had a friend by the name Wolf Rabinovitch who used to speak every Sabbath evening in the home of Abramovski about the return to Zion. Wolf and I studied together in the Minsk Technical School where we absorbed the national idea and when we came home for vacation we shared these ideas that we had learned in the big city with the youth of Maytchet.

Maytchet as well as the entire area suffered a great deal during the First World War and as soon as the Polish government took over, the majority of the young generation left Maytchet. Thanks to that they were saved from the horrible events of the Second World War. I left Maytchet in the year 1922. This was for me a colossal change in my life. Young and full of hope to establish a better home for myself, I went to the far-off Argentina. My warm letters describing my new land where people are not hungry

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Descendants of Mohel from Maytchet in Argentina

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and were content, encouraged other young people to leave Maytchet. Thereby a lot of Jewish people were saved, including my family.

Right in the beginning when there were many Jews from Maytchet in Argentina, they organized a Maytcheter Landsleit group. From time to time there are meetings when families come together from near and far. Many young people of Maytchet met and married members from other cities and towns. The Lansdleit group organizes receptions for guests who come from America, Africa and Israel. At these receptions they reminisce about their old home -- the various experiences and episodes and mainly the hard life that they and their parents experienced because of the horrible regimes.

The Maytchet Landsleit holds an annual get together at the cemetery in the Tablada district of Buenos Aires, at the monument for the six million martyrs where we recite the Yizkor for our own families who perished at the impure hands of the accursed Nazis and their murderous assistants.

These lines written for the Maytchet Yizkor Book which will serve as a memorial in words for the martyrs, as well as for the future generations, who should read it with pride and learn where they came from.

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My town Maytchet
(Memories of a Grieving Heart)

By Nahum Margolin

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

A memorial candle in memory
Of my father R' Yehuda-Yitzhak
And my mother Badana née Yorzkovski,
May G-d avenge them

How grieving and bitter is the heart for all the Jews who were annihilated during the Holocaust that befell so many cities and towns, but much more so does the heart mourn over Maytchet, the town where I was born and grew up together with my brothers and sisters, the second and third generations in Maytchet. I lived the life of the community together with all the Jews in the town and collectively we yearned for the promised land of our forefathers, but they weren't privileged to see its comfort due to the terrible destruction that befell Bet Yisrael (the “House of Israel,” the Jews). May these words, carved from a grieving heart, be a worthy remembrance to their pure souls, and a tribute to their holy memory.

The Jews of Maytchet weren't distinguished by great famous persons, or very wealthy men but, on the other hand, it was blessed with honest, good-hearted, hospitable and kindly persons and most importantly Jews loyal to the venerable tradition of our fathers and sages passed on from generation to generation. Who among us doesn't remember the great ideal of hospitality to the poor who would often stop in our town and ask for a place to sleep. For this purpose a committee was established, called The Committee for Hospitality, that was responsible for the hospitality of guests and fulfilled the holy Jewish tradition, “No one should have to sleep outside.” Among the last members were, Yosef the teacher Shkolnikovitz, Heikl Izralvitz, and Eliezer Reznik, the butcher. An apartment was allocated for the guests and a special supervisor was appointed to oversee its administration. The last supervisor was R' Nachum Kovenski, who lived nearby. I remember how the members of the committee, with the help of the sextons of the synagogue, arranged meals for the guests in private homes of the Jews of Maytchet whether it was a weekday or Shabbat meal. It never happened that a Jewish guest didn't have a place to eat.

And who doesn't remember how the Jews of Maytchet kindly received the magidim (preachers) and shda”rim (fundraising emissaries from Eretz Yisrael) who would come to town to give sermons in the Bet Midrash between the prayers minha and maariv, and after maariv would put a ke'ara (bowl) near the door and each one that passed through

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placed a donation. On most of the Shabbats during the year these emissaries and famous preachers visited our town and stayed in private homes or in the hostel of R' Avraham Shmulovitz. On Shabbat afternoons, after the people had their Shabbat nap and the Tehillim group finished saying Psalms, the preacher gave his speech standing near the Holy Ark until it was time for minha, the afternoon prayer. The next day several householders went around to collect donations from among the residents for the preacher.

The market place
On the right can be seen the hostel of Avraham Shmulovitz

I remember one interesting event. When I was 13 - 14 years old I studied in the Yeshiva Bet Yosef in Lechowitz and as was the custom in those days I ate at the home of one of the better off residents, R' Leib Rozovski, a bank manager and one of the important personages in town. The daughter of R' Leib married a yeshiva student from Klecak, and after his marriage the groom began to work in the bank. Before each holiday it was common that the former students remained faithful to their yeshivas and went to towns in the area to raise funds for their yeshivas. So it happened that this student came for Shabbat to Maytchet, to give a homily or speech for his yeshiva. He lodged at the hostel of R' Shmulovitz but had his meals in our home. On Shabbat afternoon he gave his sermon and the next day, Sunday, they went to collect donations. That night there was a train to Baranovichi and from there he had to continue to Lechowitz. Because there was no electricity in the streets, I accompanied him to the train station with a torchlight. On the way I asked him a number of questions, one of them asking how much his lodging cost him

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at R' Avraham's hostel. He answered that R' Avraham didn't charge him for the two nights he spent there and that asked that the cost should be considered his donation to the yeshiva.

Also cantors and prayer leaders would come to Maytchet and they led the evening prayers in the Bet Midrash (study and prayer hall) and afterward put out a bowl for donations. Sometimes when a famous cantor or wonder child singer came to town they would charge an entrance fee.

The virtue of hospitality was even more prominent in our town during World War II, during the German invasion of Poland in 1939. As is known the war erupted on September 1, 1939. Immediately a stream of Jewish refugees began; many people who had been uprooted from their homes near the German border moved toward the East. Also many Jews from all the areas of the German invasion flooded to the part that was under Russian control. On their way East many refugees arrived in Maytchet where they found refuge and shelter among the local Jews. No Jew refused to help and all the refugees were welcomed with brotherly love; and there was one destiny for all, resident or stranger.

Yosef Shkolkikovitz (the teacher)   Yeshaya-Aharon Lazovski

Maytchet also excelled in the love of Jews in general and especially the love of Zion. All the Jews of Maytchet who kept the Jewish tradition and prayed three times a day “and our eyes will see the merciful return to Zion” and as upright and honest Jews they believed this with all their hearts but didn't know how to fulfill that wish. At that time the entry to Eretz Yisrael was closed and only very few were able to realize the dream of generations and come to the land of their forefathers to build it and be rebuilt by it. Especially notable were the elders of the town: R' Yeshaya-Aharon Lisovski,

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A row of stores

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and R' Yisral-Zalman Shlovski, z”l. Both of them settled in Jerusalem and I was even privileged to meet with them in Jerusalem in 1941 shortly after I made aliya to Eretz Yisrael.

Most of the Jews of the town were ardent believers in Zionism and aliya but lacked the means to fulfill this wish. However, all they could do was take part in activities for Eretz Yisrael by collecting funds for the Keren Kayemet, Keren Hayesod, Keren Eretz Yisrael of the Mizrahi and later for the Settlement Fund for Agudat Yisrael. Since the attitude of the Jews of Maytchet was purely nationalistic no one checked which factions or political parties stood behind these funds; everyone donated to all the funds. Due to this same attitude of pure nationalism all the youth, including religious and traditional, belonged to the local branch of the youth group, “HaShomer HaZta'ir” which began operating before the other parties. Later some of the youth joined training groups, to be able possibly to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, among the few from Maytchet who remained after the holocaust, were the members who went through the long track from “HeHalutz” through the training groups until they reached Eretz Yisrael.

The Jews of Maytchet, who were distant from the large concentration of the Jews of Poland, didn't see the leaders of the Polish Jews except at the times of elections to the Polish parliament or the Zionist congresses, or when the leaders visited for fundraising, etc. Every visit of someone from the big cities was a great event that drew the town out of its daily routine and brought life and interest to Jewish public life; they exhibited a large measure of respect and admiration for the important guests, as is said, “and your eyes shall see your teachers.” It was natural that Maytchet, as other small towns far from the large Jewish centers, itself became a center and maintained branches of all the large institutions and organizations.

About the way of life of the Jews in the town and especially the amicable relations between the people and the deep sense of responsibility for others, as in “All the Jews are responsible for each other.” A number of interesting facts heard from trustworthy people should be noted. R' Azriel Korn z”l, the uncle of Moshe Korn, lived in America for sixty-three years. In old age, at 84, he made aliya in the spring of 1968, to settle there. Unfortunately he wasn't privileged to live long in Israel and on the following Rosh Hashana he passed away, may his memory be a blessing.

In his early days in Israel I sat with him in the home of Moshe Korn and heard many stories about life in Maytchet in the past; here is one story that characterizes all the good virtues of the Jews of Maytchet.

It happened about the year 1902. R' Azriel z”l who was then 17 - 18 returned to Maytchet for the vacation from the Slonim Yeshiva where he learned. A rumor reached the town that in the village of Mickiewicz, 4 kilometers away, some gentiles attacked the few Jews who lived there and their lives were in danger. Immediately, a group of Jews from Maytchet organized and went to the aid of their brethren in trouble. Among them were Azriel's father, R' Yitzhak Korn z”l. He hitched his horse to his wagon and together with a few others they urgently left

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on the road to the village. Azriel, who was strong and muscular, wanted to join the rescue convoy, but his father prevented him due to his young age. However, young Azriel didn't give up his right to defend Jews in danger, and so he ran all the way to Mickiewicz and arrived before the convoy. When he reached the town he started to fight with the gentile attackers, hitting and beating them until they fell. When his father arrived with the convoy, he came out to them and told them that he already had finished the job and the troublemakers were lying helpless on the ground. There was nothing left for the Jews of Maytchet to do but to put them on the wagons and bring them to the local police.

Here is another example of feelings of responsibility and devotion on the part of the Jews of Maytchet in a later period. I happened to see a notice about a lecture by Dr. M. Dvorzetski on the subject “Self-defense in the History of the Jews.” I went to hear the lecture both because the subject was important to me and because the lecturer was almost a native of our town. The lecture mentioned times, dates and places of Jewish self-defense among which he noted 1917. He said that before the end of the First World War, he happened to visit a small town named Maytchet and saw how the Jews practiced at night in cellars on how to use weapons, to defend the lives of the Jews from the dangers of rioters and murderers who were swarming the country in those days.

I heard from Yehezkel Ravitz another story, this one from recent times, that shows the exemplary devotion of the heads of Maytchet towards the public good. Although all those who lived in Maytchet know Yehezkel Ravitz, yet for the sake of future generations we should describe here some details of the life of this man and his family.

He lived with his extended family in a group of buildings around a courtyard at the edge of the road. In addition to the routine agricultural work, the family also owned a grain/grout mill and a straw and hay cutter. Despite his many private occupations, Ravitz was surely a clear public activist and his hands were full of work in every public institution in town. He was an officer in the fire department, was active in the drama society where his major function was as prompter, was a member of the administrations of relief and economic institutions. In addition, he was a member of the town council, and later he and Shlomo Shnitzki were representatives of the town in the regional community committee in Baranovichi. Therefore it was natural that when the Germans invaded the area and the Judenrat was organized in Maytchet, Hezkel Ravitz was a member.

Yehezkel Ravitz passed through many places on his travels from Maytchet until he reached the United States where he lives today. As all the other refugees he also went through much suffering and travails until he reached a safe haven. In 1964 he came to Israel for a few months to visit his nephew Moshe Ravitz and his family and other Maytchet natives living there. We met with him several times, and spoke with him personally when I asked him the real truth about the activities of the Judenrat in Maytchet after there were rumors and gossip about the integrity of the various Judenrats in various towns. Yehezkel told me that everything was done in complete sureness that all the members of the Judenrat which consisted of local Jews

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and refugees who lived in Maytchet, behaved in good faith and with devotion to every Jew. They didn't save any work or effort and sometimes even endangered themselves to help all the Jews. They all shared only one view and that was to get through as best as possible the time of the occupation and to hope for better times. Full of this awareness they didn't withhold any effort to save Jews and make somewhat easier their difficult life and help them to survive until the terrible time passed. The members of the Judenrat won the complete trust of the Jews of Maytchet who appreciated their devoted work and sacrifice.

Such was the town of Maytchet and such were her Jews, and the heart grieves over the merciless destruction and murder of men, women, old and young. Even during the worst time, the community heads volunteered to perform these activities with their heart and soul, although they were especially in danger. And to the bleeding heart, the head of a person joins in and asks, How did this happen? How were pure and innocent annihilated? How was this abomination done in under the sun, and the heavens didn't come down to earth, and the world wasn't outraged and didn't collapse?!

My heart, my heart goes out to you, Jewish Maytchet with the other holy communities that were lost and are gone. Is there a consolation? Is there any recompense for the pure blood that was spilled?!

R' Azriel Korn


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