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[Page 376]

A Sole Survivor from an Entire Family

by Eliezer Schwartzblatt

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

At the outbreak of the German-Russian War, I lived in Sarny and worked as a manager in a military unit and as such I received a train car – for me, for my two workers and our families. My family included myself, my wife and three little children. Our youngest daughter was then three months old.

Friday evening on the 4th of July, the Russian forces left Sarny, and I went with them. The family – parents, sisters and brothers-in-law (my younger brother, Israel, came with us) – accompanied us to the station and took their farewell. Who could have imagined, that we said farewell for eternity… We believed that we were going for two weeks to Kiev and will return. However, upon coming to Kiev, the city

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was evacuated and we continued on our way, during the cold nights, in an open car, because the one that we had received in Sarny had been confiscated. We traveled for an entire month, until we reached the Caucasus, where we remained until October. When the Germans approached, we continued our journey, to Uzbekistan. There we endured difficult times, but the hope that the war will soon end and we will return to our dear parents, sisters, brothers and friends – gave us the strength and the courage to withstand the difficulties.

However, how sad and bitter were the news: After Sarny and Rafalovka were freed by the Soviets, I hurried to write letters to our beloved in the two places, but the answer came not from them, but from a friend, Yona Glueck, who wrote that nobody was alive any more. Hearing the most horrible news that we could have imagined, I froze and my great pain cannot be described.


In 1933 I was married in Sarny. My parents continued to live in Rudke, and I had the great pleasure to visit them there. It was on the holiday of Purim, and I traveled with my father z”l to Bielskovolie, to pray with a Minyan [a quorum of 10 Jewish adults who can pray together]; the prayer was conducted in Yakov Freiman's home. This event is well etched in my memory, because during my childhood we would walk, during Holidays and almost every Sabbath to Bielskovolie, to pray in a Minyan. On Rosh Hashana [Jewish New Year] and Yom Kippur we went there by carriage, on the eve of the Holy Days. The visits are eternally kept in my memory.

In 1945 we arrived in Sarny again, but we found only three large mass-graves, over which we cried bitterly. To Rafalovka we couldn't even go to cry, because the bands were roaming the forests and it was still dangerous.

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I am the sole survivor of my family and I mourn every year remembering those who perished. The Memorial Day is on the 16th of the Jewish month of Elul. May we all remember in the coming generations, the tragic day when our dear and beloved perished for the Sanctification of the Holy Name.


My parents: Mendel son of Yitzhak-Yakov, born1882; Tzipa daughter of Yosef and Rivka, born 1888.
My sisters: Rachel (born 1904) and her husband Baruch-Bintche (born 1900) and their four children; Meve (born 1912) with her husband Israel Hodshi and 2 children; Ester, born 1914; Pesia, born 1930.
My brothers: Nechemia, born 1926; Yehuda, born 1928.

The Chaim Goz Family from Rafalovka

by Arie (Leibl) Goz

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The Chaim Goz Family from Rafalovka consisted of six brothers and one sister. Chaim Goz passed away on 4 Nissan 1936. The oldest son, Yankel Goz, had a wife and four children. He was a forest merchant. When the war between the Germans and the Russians broke out, he hid in Zavelotz, at the Christian Skiptchik's home. When the Christian informed the Germans about him, he was taken to the Sochovol Mountain and murdered. The other brother, Simcha Goz, lived in Dombrovitch with his wife and one child. He also came to Rafalovka, and while walking from the Rafalovka Station to Old Rafalovka, he was caught and handed over to the Germans. He was also killed on the Mountain. And the third brother, Kalman Goz, was murdered on the same mountain, with his wife and child. The mother, nee Rivka Wachs, with the brother Yehoshua Goz and the sister Sara Goz – were taken out of the cellar where they were hidden, brought to the Bachov Mountain and killed by the murderers. Only one brother, Sheftel Goz, managed to hide in the Ostrow village. Four days before the end of the war, the Cossacks came and murdered him, and buried him on a hill below Ostrow.

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I, Arie Goz, am the lone survivor in the entire family. In 1956 and 1958 I was in Rafalovka and I was told the story of each family that perished by the Nazi murderers.

[Reported by the only brother Leibl Goz]

Almost a Last-Will-and-Testament
from my Mother z”l

(Jewish Children in a Polish School)

by Penina Besserglick

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

My mother Rachel Manin, may she rest in peace, passed away on 20 August 1974 (20 Av 5734) at the age of 56 years. Several years earlier, as she hoped that a Yizkor Book will be published to perpetuate the memory of the shtetl Rafalovka, she wrote the following, which became almost a last will:

I, Rachel nee Zhuk, today Manin, request that the following should be included in the Memory Book of our Shtetl Rafalovka. I am proud to tell this, here in our land, where our children and grandchildren will not have to taste the bitter taste of exile. We have our own schools, where Jewish children are not called “Zhid.”

I would like to relate several things that I remember at times. Friends from Rafalovka visit me and often they talk about the founding of the Hebrew School “Tarbut” and the Jewish children who learned there.

Those people don't know, and have never known, about the many children who did not have the chance to go to the “Tarbut” school, although they were as talented as other children. They begged their parents to enroll them in the Hebrew School, but to no avail. My father, for example, would say that boys must go to “Tarbut” in order to learn Hebrew, and girls can go to the Polish school. My father insisted, and my brother Avraham indeed began to study at “Tarbut.”

I and my younger sister Chana had no choice, and we were enrolled in the Polish School, because in the Hebrew school we had to pay tuition. Together with other children, whose parents were not able to pay, I went to the

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Polish school. This sad phenomenon in the shtetl was never questioned, a fact that hurts me to this day. When I will have the privilege to become a grandmother, I shall tell my grandchildren what had happened to me, as it did to all Jewish children in those times. Unfortunately, there are in Israel former Rafalovka residents, who are ashamed to tell the story.

Well, we went to the school that was located far, and there was a long walk. The school was located on the road to the nearest village Sochovolye. After such a long walk we arrived in school with our hands frozen and our entire body cold. More than once, gentile boys would attack us and beat us, over the ears as well, which hurt very much. Already as young children, we heard the word “zhid” many times a day; and later, when we reached grade four and five, we felt the anti-Semitism everywhere.

One day, the Principal and the teachers requested that next day we bring 20 Groshen “for building the School.” Next day, the children brought the money and the teacher gave out receipts – cards on which the head of Marshall Pilsudski was printed. I put my card in my schoolbag and during recess I went out to play, as did all the pupils. Suddenly I was called by the Principal:

- Just come here…
Frightened, I approached the Principal – and what had happened? One of the Polish pupils had made holes on my card, in the eyes of Pilsudki's picture and told the Principal that I had done it. I burst in tears, hurt by the lie and slander, and I declared that this was done by one of the anti-Semitic pupils, who hated Jewish children.

Who had done this ugly piece of work? I don't know that – to this day…

These are the words written by my mother Rachel z”l – May her Memory be Blessed!

Jews from Old Rafalovka

by Arie Yadoshlivi

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

It seemed as if God Himself has taken a few houses and thrown them here to the ground – so looked the shtetele in the eyes of someone who came from the East, from the side of the mountain. On the West, the Stir River flowed majestically, on its way from Lutzk to Pinsk. And between the mountain and the river, lived the working, solid Jewish population with its craftsmen, shopkeepers, villagers, who were all “well-liked by man and God.” They were loyal to their fellow men and trusted each other. Their word was more precious than money.

This was how life went for many years – until it was cut-off by the German murderers.


The Old Dayan [judge in a Jewish religious court] from Old Rafalovka

Among the spiritual leaders of the shtetl, whom I remember, I see in front of my eyes the figure of the old Dayan, a short Jew, speaking with a Lithuanian accent, a black hat on his head that was full of Torah. He would always walk with his walking-stick in his hand – because of his old age – from his home to the Libishayer synagogue, where he would sit on his “East-Wall” seat with a large Gemara [Talmud] open in front of him, and study.[1]

He would not preach long sermons, because – the truth should be told – there was very little that he had to call to the attention of the public. Every Jew in the little shtetl prayed every day and Shabat was rigorously kept by everyone. The moral status of the Jewish population was high and there was no need to preach morals in front of the Jewish community.

Only on Shabat at twilight, at the Se'uda Shelishit [the “third meal” of Shabat], when there was almost dark in the synagogue and the Neshama Yetera [the “special, extra” soul of Shabat] would still cling to the holiness of the Shabat, not wanting to enter the weekdays [“the six days of work”] – then would the Dayan sit with a group of people and teach the Torah.

My memory still preserves the beginning: “King David says – Happy is the man who fears always” (Proverbs 28:14)… As if a spark of the Holy Spirit was lit in him, and years before the shtetl was cut off from life, he knew that the “constant fear” was, and should always be, present.

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He was content with little – even according to the concepts of those times. His economic sustenance came from selling to the housewives a few packages of yeast for baking the Sabbath Challah.

Because of the river, which flowed in Old-Rafalovka, the Dayan arranged divorces for the entire region. It was told, that a man from Olizark once came with his wife to be divorced, and the Dayan asked, as was customary, 10 Zloti. The man said: “Rabbi, be careful with the price, and from time to time you will receive from me similar payment…”

In the year 1933 he passed away peacefully (lit. “died by a kiss”). Saturday morning he was at the synagogue, there he fainted and was taken home. At the end of the Sabbath he recited Havdala [which marks the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the weekdays], lay down and never got up.

May his merits protect us.


R'Chaim Goldman (“The Staroste”)

He was called Chaim the Staroste, because once, at the time of the Czars in Russia, he was writing for the “Volost” (administration). His neat, calligraphic handwriting was found on all documents issued by the Volost. But this was not enough to provide sustenance, so he was also a melamed [Torah teacher of young children]. Every Jew in Old-Rafalovka could testify that he had learned with Chaim the Staroste. I was part of the last generation of little boys, who studied Torah with Chaim. He was strict with his pupils – many of us had the “privilege” to feel the taste of his Kantchik [a special whip, used by the melamed to punish the pupils].

He was also the cantor in the Stefiner Shul during the “Days of Awe” [New Year and Yom Kippur], and all former residents of Old Rafalovka remember, how in the afternoon of Simchat-Torah the people would gather near the Stefiner Shul and R'Chaim, an old man in his eighties, would climb the ladder to the roof and then another ladder to the higher roof

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until he reached the chimney. Standing by the chimney, he began to recite Yitgadal Veyitkadash and the entire community would stand outside the Shul and pray Mincha with him.

At the end of Simchat-Torah, one of the wealthy members of the community would stand in the center of the shul and announce the “deals” for the next year: 1 Zloti – a few pieces of wood; 3 Zloti – hay; half a Zloti – a measure of rye and so on. This symbolized the hope that the produce that year would be plentiful and cheap.

How R'Chaim the Staroste ruled his pupils, I heard from Alter Schneider the blacksmith. He was then 45 years old, and Chaim the Staroste was 80. The blacksmith said:

- Believe me, that when I see today the Staroste, my teeth begin to shake in my mouth.
He died before the great tragedy, in his own bed. As he lay sick, we came to visit him, and he would teach us “Words of the Torah”:
- We find in the Torah, in the Prophets and in the Writings, that bread sustains the heart. So I am asking, how do I endure, if for a whole week I have not tasted a piece of bread? The answer comes from the pasuk [verse in the Torah]: “God shall support me on the bed of illness,” and this is the power that keeps me alive…”
R'Leib the Shochet (ritual slaughterer)

As if through a fog, I remember the quarrel between Yosef the shochet and Leib the shochet. This quarrel has divided the shtetl into two camps. But during the last few years, the slaughtering was in the hands of R'Leibl. A third shochet, R'Zalman, came as well, but that was already a very short time before the destruction of the shtetl.

R'Leib, a learned Jew, would every week walk 8 kilometers to the Jews in Bilskovolie. There lived a Jewish estate owner, by the name of Gottesman, who conducted a big woods business and owned a sawmill. Every week, R'Leibl Shochet came

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to slaughter for his families. On this occasion, he also emptied the JNF [Keren Kayemet] boxes that were placed in the homes of the Gottesman families and brought the money to Rafalovka to the JNF representative, who resided in the shtetl. We were all amazed at the large sum of money collected – 100 Zloti and sometimes more. After the Gottesman family liquidated their businesses and made Aliya to Eretz Israel, he would receive every year, before the holiday of Sukkot, an Etrog [citrus fruit] from the Gottesman's – which for us was a fresh, sweet-smelling, greetings from Eretz Israel.


The Blacksmiths

Alter and Yankel Schneider had their workshop not far from the mountain and the brothers Shlomo and Moshe Kushnier had their workshops near the river. In the center of town there were the workshops of Leizer Goldberg the blacksmith and of Mendel and Itzik Kushnier.

At the beginning of the winter, as well as during the days of snow and frost, there was also a large store open near the workshops. The farmers from the neighboring villages would come in the middle of the night to iron the animals, especially the horses. At three or four in the morning, one could hear the noise of the hammers, beating on the iron and hardening it. During the long winter nights, lying in bed under the warm blankets, the noise of the hammers of the Jewish blacksmiths gave everybody a feeling of security – the night was quiet, because Jewish craftsmen did not sleep, they were awake.

It was the same during the summer. The Christian farmers would come with the sickles and scythes to repair and sharpen them before the harvest. The work was an art. We, the boys, would stand and watch them work at the hot, glowing metal, melting and fusing the irons together, and listen to the strong blows of the hammers on the hot iron, before it cooled off. Then we would remember what we had learned in the I Samuel Book, that the Philistines chased out the Jewish craftsmen, so that they would not make weapons for the Jewish fighters. We considered our blacksmiths the great-great-grandsons of those Jewish craftsmen, who knew indeed how to make weapons.

There were also times, when the Ukrainian youth began behaving aggressively toward the Jewish population,

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and our friend Yitzhak Kushnier, who had “golden hands” in the iron craftsmanship, made a kind of gloves which we carried with us, thus when there was an attack, we could reply properly.

As compensation for their work, the blacksmiths received money or money's worth – chicken, eggs, fruits or the like. They worked hard all week long, and Friday, at mid-day they washed, put on their Sabbath clothes and went to shul, to receive the Holy Sabbath.

Together with their families, they were transferred to the ghetto in the Station. Mendel the blacksmith was in Old-Rafalovka, when the Ukrainian police assembled all Jews and took them to the Station, before the liquidation. He went back to the Station and joined his family, not even trying to save himself, as some of the others did.


Binyamin Reznik and Yosef Dik, the Carpenters.

Almost all of the Old-Rafalovka youth went through the Carpenters Course, with one of the two carpenters in town. During the summer they worked in the villages, repairing houses, as well as schools and their furniture for the pupils who would come in the fall. The time of work was not exactly 8 hours, and during the winter evenings, the lights in the carpentries were seen quite late.

In the years 1937-1938, the JOINT organized productive work for the Jewish population, as planting fruit-trees, keeping bee-hives etc. Yosef the carpenter was the first to install a modern bee-hive in his yard and his attic. Besides the honey that he received from the bees, he received also, from time to time, the “gift” of a poisonous sting, as compensation for his devoted work…

Binyamin Reznik perished in the ghetto. Yosef the carpenter fled from the ghetto and remained in hiding at Christian acquaintances in Warsaw. At the end he was reported by the Polish teacher Kokoshinska to the murderers; she lived in the home of the Christian and thought that if the Jew were not around, she would inherit his property.

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The two Threshing Floors in Old-Rafalovka

As one entered the shtetl from the side of the mountain, one came upon the threshing floor of the brothers Yidl, Yankel and Yehoshua Brick. Their father Leizer z”l had been the owner of the threshing equipment, which, in his time, worked in a primitive way. With his feet he would put the entire apparatus in motion. As boys, we would look on and wonder, how the elderly man was standing on the little platform and with the movement of his body and legs moved the stones that tore out the groats from the kernels. His beard was full of chaff of barley and oats. In later years, the threshing floor underwent improvements, and was activated by horses.

The Brick family was connected with the Kanonitch family from Vladimiretz, since two brothers of the family took as wives two sisters of the other family.

The other threshing floor was in the center of the shtetl and it belonged to Hershel-Shaye Gloz. He owned a big building, with smaller ones added on the sides. Often we would see someone carrying some logs into the courtyard - and we would know that a new little building or hut was added. In general, the whole thing was almost an industrial enterprise, where they worked with several kinds of grains. These went through many sieves, until they were “clean.” There was also a machine that prepared food for the animals – this was moved by horses, walking all day-long on a big wheel, which moved the entire enterprise.

On Friday at around mid-day, work stopped and he freed the horses. They lay on the ground for a while, then got up and neighed loudly, as if announcing the end of the six working days.

I remember one episode. Once, one of Hershel-Shaye's horses died. As it was lying on the floor of the stall, the officer was called to write out the proper document. He was a Ukrainian in his 50-es, who knew how to sign his

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name, but not much more than that. So we stood around the dead horse, and the officer did not know what to do. Just then, Itzik the lime-maker passed on his way to the shul, with his prayer-shawl under his arm. When he saw the people standing around the dead horse and the Ukrainian at a loss, he said: “He doesn't know what to write, let him write sus met [Hebrew for a horse died].”

When the children grew up a little, they began to manage the business, and the father would watch from the side and see that everything was in order. If there was some misunderstanding between the farmers and the Jewish population, Hershel-Shaye would always know how to patch-up things with a bottle of brandy, as the custom has been for generations.

Hershel-Shaye, his wife and his children met the fate of all the others who perished.

Some of his children survived and live in Canada.

Translator's footnote

  1. The margins of the book were always sprinkled with his remarks concerning the commentaries of RASHI and the TOSAFOT. Return

The Village-Jews Around Old-Rafalovka

by Arie Yadoshlivi

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The village of Bilskovolie was situated 8 kilometers from Old-Rafalovka. Quite a few Jewish families lived in the village; they formed a community of their own, with their own minyan. The shochet [ritual slaughterer] from Old-Rafalovka would come once a week to perform his services to the members of the Jewish community. At times, one could meet in our shtetl a Jew from Bilskovolie – of the Freiman family or R'Meir Kushnier. That was usually for the reason of matchmaking [shiduch] or plain business. Before the holiday of Sukkot, we could also meet Bilskovolie Jews looking for an Etrog [citrus-fruit for the special blessing during the Holiday], or people would come to visit the rabbi for a chat about the events of the day.

Several Jewish families lived in the village Multshitz, but since it was far from our shtetl – about 18 km. – Jewish villagers would seldom come, except during fairs or special market days, occurring several times a year. Some would come from the village to town for business matters.

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Multshitz was a rich village, and the local Jews earned a good livelihood. But the Gentiles in the village were known in the neighborhood as robbers – and quite a few Jews were destroyed by them, during so-called “quiet years.” I still remember one morning in 1936: Yosef Morik, a Jew of about 80 years had been robbed and killed during the night and in the morning he was brought to the shtetl, in order to give him a Jewish burial.

The Jews from the Sopatchov village had a good relationship with the Jews in Old-Rafalovka. Never a day passed, without meeting in Old-Rafalovka Jews from Sopatchov. They would come for their trade, or to buy a calf and slaughter it for the Sabbath, or get some pig's hair, berries, or other matters concerning Jewish livelihood.

During 1932-1933, a “kibbutz” of the BEITAR movement was active in Bilskovolie; it enlivened the entire shtetl.

During the winter they used sleighs. The owner of the sleigh tied the horse to the telephone pole and entered the shop to do his shopping. As boys, we were waiting and when nobody was around to see, we would untie the horse and ride the sleigh a little. Returning, we could hear from afar the shouts: “Where is the sleigh and the horse?” we jumped off the sleigh and the horses would go back to their rightful owners.

During Holidays, since the Sopatchov Jews did not have a quorum of ten adult men for prayer [minyan], they would be hosted for the day by people in our shtetl. I remember: once, on the holiday of Purim, Yona Weissblatt came early in the morning to hear the reciting of the Megillah. The gentile driver of the carriage put his horses at the fence, near the Libisheyer Synagogue. The horses were very nervous, probably tired, and every time Haman was “beaten” during the reading [according to the custom that every time the name of Haman was mentioned in the Megillah the listeners would make noise with their gragers or other means – to “kill” Haman] they tried to run. The driver did not understand the reason for the big racket inside, and decided to investigate. When he saw inside all the little children with sticks and other “arms” In their hands ready to “beat Haman” he fled, full of fear.

On the eve of the “Days of Awe” [New-Year and Yom Kippur] some of the Sopatchov Jews moved to Rafalovka and resided with relatives, in order to spend the Holy Days among Jews.

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At the end of Yom Kippur, in the evening, a gentile would come with his carriage to drive them back home. He would come at about three in the afternoon, park his carriage near the synagogue and go in, to wait. After the evening prayer he would take the Jews home.

Several Jewish families lived in the village Kolodi across the Stir River. In order to come to the shtetl, they would have to cross the river.

One of the Jews, Loozer, knew by heart many passages from the Holiday Prayerbook. Another special figure was Menashe from Kolodi, a simple, short Jew. After finishing the last of the Yom Kippur prayers, the prayer of Ne'ila [closing] when everybody shouted the words “Leshana Haba'a Birushalayim” [next year in Jerusalem] he would say, jokingly, “Yea, next year in Kolodi.”

I remember another Jew as well: he was called “Aba from Ostrovetz,” was very good looking and he was one of the guests who came to the shtetl for the Holiday.

The Rudi Family from Olizarka
(Olizarka before the Great Destruction)

by Baruch Smali

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

A colony of Jewish farmers, craftsmen and various other occupations, Olizarka, existed for years before the great tragedy of the Polish Jewry.

At the outskirts of the settlement lived a Gentile, who served the Jews on Sabbath and holidays, doing for them

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work that the Jews are not allowed to do on those days. He spoke fluent Yiddish. Some 14 kilometers separated between Olizarka and Vladimiretz. Olizarka was a unique place on the map of the Rovno region. Even the local dialect was very different from other dialects, for example those of Vladimiretz or Sarna.

The main quality that made the Olizarka Jews different and specific was their occupation. They earned their sustenance by farming – were farmer in the full meaning of the word. By their existence they denied the argument of the anti-Semites, that the Jews were not fit for working the land, and they avoid it because it is hard work.

Olizarka was a small island in the great sea of anti-Semitism in Poland.

Olizarka was also a market for good, qualified craftsmen, who, during winter, would go to the surrounding towns and find work. Olizarka was renowned by its house-painters, who embellished houses and ovens.

There were also other craftsmen, like shoemakers, tailors and an ironsmith, a descendant of the famous dynasty Baril in Vladimiretz and also a few merchants, some peddlers and some chicken merchants.

My uncle Rudi was a resident of Olizarka, and thanks to him I remember the place with respect, particularly my uncle Baruch Rudi and his family.

My uncle Baruch had three children – two sons and a daughter, all married. The daughter lived in Zalucek. The younger son, Yidl, lived in the village Sopatchov. The elder, Zishe, left Olizarka with his family and made Aliya to Eretz Israel, and settled in Kiryat Motzkin.

My uncle would go to Vladimiretz to visit the graves of his parents and he would visit us as well. He had a farm. In 1934, when entire Vladimiretz was burned by the great fire, he came and helped us rebuild the house. I replied with a visit.

My uncle was already at the “Golden Age,” yet his step was lively and energetic. His silver beard presented a portrait of a land worker, a farmer. I traveled with him on his wagon, helped

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collecting hay and loading the wagon. He honored me with holding the whip, and the horse took us home.

A good lunch was waiting for us. During the meal, his son Zishe disclosed, that he obtained a “certificate” to go to Eretz Israel.

My uncle received the news tragically. Zishe, the oldest son, was his crown, his love. During years they have plowed, sown and built together. My uncle Baruch was a wise Jew, and he understood that they separated forever. Unfortunately, this is what happened. His kind smile disappeared from his face.

Zishe settled well in Eretz Israel, and always dreamt that he would bring over his entire family. But WWII broke out, bringing the destruction of Jewry and an end to his dreams. The shtetel Olizarka shared the fate of the Jews of all Europe.

Soon after the beginning of the war, the Nazis began the annihilation of the Olizarka Jews, robbing and violating the craftsmen's shtetel.

According to the order of the Germans, the Olizarka Jews left their homes, went to the Rafalovka Station and then were transferred to the ghetto together with all the Jews in the neighborhood. In August 1942, the Nazis and their Ukrainian partners chased the Jews out of their homes in the ghetto and drove them on foot, young and old, on the Death March. Grandfathers carried in their arms frightened grandchildren who cried bitterly, and so they were brought to their formerly dug graves not far from Suchovolie. They were forced to undress and as they stood at the edge of the grave they were shot dead. Zishe mourned his home, his family. All his dreams came to an end.

In our country, after the proclamation of the Jewish State, another war broke out. Seven Arab states attacked the little country Israel. Zishe was recruited to the army. Then an unexpected tragedy struck: as he was transporting, in 1948, food for the besieged population in Jerusalem, he fell in battle.

Like a thunder, the tragedy struck the entire family. So was the lively Rudi family from Olizarka extinguished.

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My Small Town Olizarka
(How it looked and how we lived)

by Esther Mazur

Translated by Miriam Leberstein


My little town Olizarka was very small, having only 70 houses. The houses were laid out in two rows with a broad unpaved road between them. At almost the very end of the street was a small side street with a few houses; I lived on that side street.

The houses were single-storied with straw roofs, mostly in poor condition and bulging in the middle. One rarely saw a new house because whoever could afford to build a house would move to Rafalovka station, because it was more of a town. The majority of houses in Olizarka consisted of one large room and a kitchen. Some had a separate bedroom and some even had a second bedroom meant for the children. But they would rent the second bedroom to a young couple and in that way make a little money. The floors were made of clay, which was always crumbling and had to be repaired. The windows were small, with pretty little panes and white curtains. They had a large oven in the Russian style for baking bread and challah and for cooking. In winter people would sleep on the oven, which was always warm. There was also a separate stove for heating the houses in winter.

Every house had almost the same furniture: a large table, two couches, a long bench, two beds with a lot of bedding, a large chest on wheels to hold clothing. The young couples were already buying cupboards and a table with six chairs. In the kitchen stood two large tables – one for dairy foods and one for meat, and a cupboard to hold the dishes, milk and meat separately. The cooking area of the oven was whitewashed and had a pretty little curtain. On a bench stood a large basin with clean water. Under it, on a piece of wood, was a large pail for holding dirty water.

The houses were white-washed both inside and outside, either white or light blue. The women would do the white-washing themselves.

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The majority of the housewives kept their houses very clean. On the walls hung large family photos and an embroidered mizrekh [wall decoration on the eastern or mizrekh wall] following the custom of the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. Its purpose was to indicate to visitors the direction in which they should face when praying.

On the Sabbath and holidays, they would spread clay on the floor and then sprinkle it with red sand or with crushed brick, which they gathered from the crumbling walls of the nobles' estates. The courtyard was sprinkled with white sand. There were a few people whose houses had a wood floor and a roof covered in shingles. People envied them, first, because they didn't have to put up a suke [on Sukkot] and second, because they didn't have to prepare clay and sand for winter, which entailed a lot of physical effort.

Near every house was a stable for the cows, a storehouse for grain and a chamber to keep potatoes, sour pickles, and sauerkraut – all in barrels – and other food. Some people also had a cellar and those who didn't had to keep their potatoes under the bed or half buried in the ground so they would be clean for Passover.

There were five wells in the entire town from which people drew water and carried it home in two big buckets. The water was clean, clear and cold. In winter the well and the area around it was so frozen it was dangerous to stand there.

The town stood in a hollow, surrounded by low hills, forests and fields, and meadows with grass and flowers. In spring, when the trees and the grain were in bloom, their aroma filled the houses. In addition, each house had a little orchard of fruit trees and a garden with greenery. In spring the town appeared as in a beautiful romantic dream: the sky blue, the trees white with blossoms, the gardens green, the white-washed houses decorated with blue flowers, white fences and orchard railings, the courtyards covered in green grass with paths sprinkled with white sand. It was splendid.

Along the houses of the town a small river flowed quietly and peacefully

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through a long narrow canal, directly into the Styr river, 9 kilometers away. We bathed in this small river – men and women separately of course, since there were no swimsuits like we have today. So people were careful that no passersby could see them. People also washed clothes in that small river. There was a large stone on which the women would beat the wash with a wooden beater and then rinse it. By the time you saw the wash hanging on the fences, it was thoroughly clean.

The town was surrounded by villages on all four sides: on the east Liske; on the west Tshudlie; on the north Sukhovole; and on the south Libana.


The Relationship Between Jews and Christians

In general, the Jews lived peacefully with the Christian peasants. The Jews would buy goods from the peasants and sell them various kinds of merchandise. Every Sunday the peasants from the surrounding villages would flood into the town, gather in and around Jewish businesses as well as in private homes to drink, and get drunk and carouse. We children liked that very much. But when they started to quarrel or beat each other up, we would disappear, because there were no police in town and we knew that when drunks get into a fight it's better to leave.

We especially liked the shabes-goy [non-Jew who performs tasks Jews cannot perform on Sabbath] Arditshuk and his wife Paraska. Every Friday he would extinguish the lights in the synagogue, clean it up, see to it that everything was in order, and heat it in winter. And Paraska would milk the cow and heat up the stoves.

There was another peasant, Pavlo, whom we very much respected. He would carry out all kinds of tasks for Jews and would often help older people by chopping wood and carrying buckets of water from the well. For this he would be rewarded with a glass of whiskey. So he was always drunk. We would call him “Pavlo the tipsy” and he would toss candies to us.

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Economic Life

The economy of the town was not bad. The majority of Jews were agricultural workers. They owned their own fields, meadows, woods, cows, chickens, geese, turkey and ducks. Everyone in the family worked in order to have enough to eat; they made their own bread, grew their own potatoes, vegetables and fruit. In addition the men worked as masons. After Passover they would travel to the cities to work on brick buildings. They would return home only on holidays bringing money and gifts for the women and children.

Life was very hard for the women. They got up before dawn, milked the cows, and turned them over to the shepherd who would collect about 50 cows and take them to pasture. The women would then run to the fields, plant potatoes, plant and cultivate their gardens, cut grain, dig up potatoes, feed the poultry, clean the house, feed the children, send them to kheder [religious school for young children] and provide food for the child and for the teacher in return for teaching. They would also run to the field to pick berries and other plants, and in season, gather blossoms to make herbal remedies and gather and sell herbs.

What about the people who didn't own their own fields? There were several families like that. They would rent a piece of land from a peasant for two or three years and would pay with their labor – cleaning the peasant's stables, plowing fields, planting grain, etc. They also had to work the land they rented. There was no difference between those who owned and those who rented.

There were also retailers – men who purchased agricultural products in the villages and sold them in town; shopkeepers; a butcher who provided meat to the town; and of course a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] and dayan [religious judge; rabbi].

What did the young people do to make a living? The majority worked as masons. Others owned horses and worked at transporting wood from the forests, for which the wood merchants paid a good price. Some dealt in cattle and oxen. The girls, as noted,

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worked in the field, went to the forest to gather berries and other things, worked as milliners. But all the young people received a rigorous religious education. Everyone, including girls, knew Chumash and Rashi [first level of religious studies]. The majority of the boys knew Talmud. They also read books and newspapers. People got together to enjoy socializing, flirting , etc. They also had serious romantic relationships.

There were also Hasidic young men like Zakharie Drakh, Yitskhak Beyer, Yisroel Lisak and Yehoyshue Leshtsh (lives in Israel). These four would spend entire nights in the synagogue studying. When a Hasidic rebe would come to town they would organize evenings of Torah study with dancing and singing. These four were the leading lights of the town. But in addition to religious life, the young people also knew well how to read and write Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, Polish and more.


A Wedding in Town

Daily life in Olizarka proceeded quietly and peacefully, even monotonously. As a result, the townspeople lived together in harmony. They were devoted to each other, like an extended family. If someone married off a child, everyone celebrated. If, God forbid, someone died, everyone mourned.

A wedding was a great event. The majority of weddings were held on Tuesday evening, because they believed that Tuesday is a lucky day. A week before the wedding, they would call in Khasie the caterer, to bake and cook. And Khasie's baked goods – her cakes and strudels – and her special golden broth with soup nuts were fit for a king. They weren't stingy with the meat or fish; there was enough for everyone, even in poor households. The Sabbath before the wedding, the married women gathered to lead the bride's mother-in-law into the synagogue.

The male householders led the groom to the aufruf ceremony, where he was called to read the Torah. Then there was a kiddush blessing at home with cake and whiskey.

A day before the wedding two girls went door to door to collect dishes, spoons, forks, and pots. Another

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pair of girls went house to house to collect money to pay for the wedding. It wasn't necessary to issue invitations. To escort the bride to the bath [prior to the wedding] was a mitzve, and what woman didn't want a mitzve! And again, there was a celebration with cake and whiskey.

If the groom was from another town, it was necessary to travel to meet and greet him. Often, the groom arrived with several family members in several wagons, the horses bedecked with ribbons of many colors. The groom's party would stop outside town, one of the drivers would take a horse and ride to town to announce the groom's arrival. Then the bride's party would drive out in several wagons to meet the groom. Musicians also drove out, playing beautiful Hasidic melodies. The streets were merry.

Until the wedding the groom and his family had to keep separate from the bride and her family. A reception for the bride was held in a large room with long tables and chairs (usually brought in from the women's section in the synagogue.) The tables were covered with clean white tablecloths, set with large brass trays holding cake, pancakes, strudels and other baked goods There was also a large platter of fruit, candies and peanuts, and whiskey, homemade kvass [a fermented drink], lemonade and other drinks. The musicians played “mazl tov.” They got paid a few groshen and they enjoyed themselves.

The guests sit down, drink a lechaim and wish people, “Soon by you,” and “Soon with your children,” if speaking to parents. On a large upholstered chair with cushions and covered with a white sheet sits the bride, in a white wedding dress. On her head, she wears a garland with a pretty flower. She glows with happiness. Her friends, all dressed up, sit near her. On the table are large braided havdole candles [used for closing ceremony of the Sabbath] and lovely brass candlesticks.

After eating, they dance. Finally the shames [sexton] enters and announces that it's time for the ceremony of bazetsn [seating the bride on the bridal chair]. It's late and the couple is still fasting. Two rows of people line up on either side of the bride's chair holding colored candles. The groom's mother comes in, kisses the bride, extends her wishes, and gives her a nice gift. There's a cry, “The mekhiteniste is here.” A couple of minutes later the groom comes in, covers the bride's face with a veil and leave, as people sprinkle him with tiny pieces of cut-up paper.

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His suit turns white as if covered with snow. The shames cries, “Old women, bless the groom.” All answer, “May God bless him, may he never need to call on others for [financial] aid!” People watch closely to see how the groom leaves the room. If he leaves the same way he came in, {i.e. facing the bride] he is an intelligent fellow. If he turns his back to the bride he is a crude fellow.

Then Yisrolik the badkhen [wedding jester] enters and recites rhymes. Two girls walk around with pale blue flowers which they distribute in return for a donation to charitable causes, including the Jewish National Fund. When the badkhen performs, he reminds the bride that today is her Day of Judgment; that her fate will be sealed for her entire life. The musicians play sad music, the bride cries and everyone else cries, too, especially if the bride is an orphan. There's a general lamentation ending with a wish for good luck, and a call to proceed to the khupe [wedding canopy]. The bride is escorted to the khupe at the synagogue. The groom and his family are already waiting there.

The ceremony follows. The groom doesn't need help in reciting the words of his vows; he knows it by heart. The rabbi or shoykhet conducts the ceremony. The groom breaks a dish. Everyone shouts “mazl tov” and they return to the house. Both mothers dance opposite the couple with large challahs in their hands as they proceed. The orchestra plays a lovely march.

Torches are burning and it is bright and merry. Approaching the houses boys and girls are standing on a bench holding a malkes breytl (a tort with cream.) One of the girls congratulates the bride, then everyone enters the house. People kiss, exchange good wishes, and go eat. Bride and groom sit at the place of honor. Near them are their parents, rabbi, shoykhet and others. People eat, drink and rejoice

After the golden broth and the roasts have been eaten, the shames stands up and calls out, “droshe geshenk” [gifts for the couple.] Everyone comes up to the table, puts down what he has brought, the shames announces what this or that one gave. It happens that someone approaches and asks that they announce a fine gift to be delivered the next day, but that next day never comes. Occasionally, there's a quarrel over the failure of the bride's family to deliver the dowry before the wedding. But they settle things quickly because after all the wedding has already taken place. It also happens

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that the wedding has to be postponed because the bride's father hasn't turned over the complete amount of the dowry and the groom refuses to get married. A scandal looms. The groom threatens to run away, the bride cries. All hell breaks loose. Finally a friend steps forward to lend some money and the matter is settled.

After the gift-giving, there is dancing until dawn. First, the town's householders dance with the bride, then the mothers-in-laws with their long wide dresses, silk scarves tied in front. Then the young people dance all night. At dawn, the bride and broom go to their room to rest. Before breakfast the two mothers go to inspect the bed to see if the bride was a virgin. Then there is a nice breakfast for all the guests and people go home.

Friday night they perform the sheve brokhe [seven blessings] ceremony. People eat and drink and sing congratulations to the couple. The same occurs on Saturday afternoon and evening. On Saturday morning all the women get together to escort the bride to synagogue. Her aunt tells her to step over the threshold with her right foot first, that will bring luck, and she follows the advice. After prayers, everyone comes to the bride's home, and they eat drink and sing.


A Birth

When a woman is about to give birth, they immediately notify Bobe Tsifre. She arrives, examines the mother to be, smears her belly with camphor oil and directs her to lie down. She puts a prayer book under the women's head and tells the father to leave. Labor takes a long time and the cries of the woman in labor are terrible. Bobe Tsifre summons the husband and tells him to tell the shames in synagogue that Psalms must be said. The shames runs from house to house, shouting, “Help! Jews! So and so is about to give birth. Come to the synagogue to recite Psalms.”

Men grab their books of Psalms and run to the synagogue, where they recite the psalms with great fervor. Women run to the Torah Ark and plead for mercy. They donate money for charity. And God in fact does help. The child comes into the world without a problem. Who needs a doctor? And if it turns out that the mother does not survive, although that was very seldom, it is after all

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God's will, what can you do? You don't argue with God, you don't criticize him.

The birth of a daughter was a quiet event. On Sabbath in synagogue they gave the child a name, called the father up to the Torah, served cake and whiskey. With a boy it was completely different. The birth of a boy set off a to-do. First, they set up a vakh [watch over the child]. They drink a lechaim. Second, on Friday night they eat compote and dried berries and broad beans; they drink whiskey and snack on pancakes with raisins. It's merry. Later they say the Shma Yisroel prayer. The rebe [teacher in kheder] comes with all of his pupils. They recite the prayer, they congratulate each other and they hand out stale beans, pumpkin seeds and sometime peanuts. The children grab handfuls and shout, “Good Night” to mother and child, and leave.

Then comes the bris. Many men and women gather. Reb Borekh, the shoykhet, is the mohel. They drink lechaim, there is no lack of wine and whiskey. They serve egg cookies and reshetke (a kind of dry matzo). There's a lunch for the relatives and friends. And if both parents are Israelites (i.e. not Cohens or Levis) they make a pidyen haben [symbolic ransom of first born son].Then it's even more joyful because the entire town participates. There is no greater mitsve than to taste a piece of reshetke at a pidyen haben. And who doesn't want a free mitsve?



When anyone fell ill, the cause was immediately known; it was because they hadn't attended synagogue on the Sabbath. This raised quite a stir; the news spread quickly that someone was, sadly, ill. People began to visit the sick person to see how they were feeling and if they needed anything. The first to visit were the wives of the gabes [administrators of synagogue, etc.], elderly women. They offered up remedies. One says you have to apply a sock soaked in urine to the throat. Another says you have to apply leeches, they draw out the bad blood and you're soon cured. A third says you have to apply bankes [cups heated to create a vacuum]; everyone knows that without bankes you won't get better. Another says you have to administer an enema, because the most important thing is to clean out the bowels. And so they cleaned the bowels; applied leeches, bankes, a urine-soaked sock; drank castor oil, and held a lit piece of paper to the ear,

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And if the pain was in one's back, a young man had to tread on the place on the back where the pain was as the patient lay prone on the floor, which caused even greater pain, to the point of fainting. In addition, in all cases, one had to employ a charm or invocation to ward off the evil eye. Chane Sosie was called on to do this and she warded off the evil eye. Why wouldn't she? It was a mitsve to help someone.

After they had tried all these remedies to no avail, they would bring in the doctor from Rafalevke. He would first administer an injection. It often happened that the patient died on the spot. If not, the doctor gave him a referral to the hospital, which was in Vladimerets, 15 kilometers from Olizarka. To get there you had to take a horse and wagon and after all the shaking from the trip, the patient emerged either dead or barely alive. If God permitted and the patient did enter the hospital, the diagnosis would come too late and the patient “went to sleep.” You had to be very lucky to return home from the hospital.


A Funeral

When someone died, a very frequent occurrence, the whole town wept and mourned. Big and small, young and old participated in the funeral. The town had no cemetery so the corpse had to be brought to Rafalevke or Vlademerets. Usually, they carried the body to a place outside the town where a wagon waited to take it to the cemetery.

First, everyone assembled at the house of the deceased. The shames banged on the collection tin and called for charitable donations for the burial. People tossed in coins and wept. They carry the corpse to the synagogue where there is a eulogy and continue on to the place outside town where the wagon is waiting. They lay the corpse in the wagon, the family gets on, and the others return home. The town is full of sadness. Everyone feels the pain. The family returns home and sits shive for a week. They pray two times a day in the home of the deceased. People visit to comfort the mourners.

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The Holy Place [synagogue]

The synagogue stood in the middle of town on the right side coming from Rafalovka. It was the spiritual center of Olizarka, a large, beautiful building with a shingled roof. It had a corridor, off of which was an anteroom as well as a small room where Reb Zalman the shames lived. The women's section was upstairs. There were many large windows, many beautiful lamps. The largest lamp hung from the middle of the ceiling. It was as bright as an electric lamp. It had been brought from Rovne and was very expensive.

On the eastern wall was the Torah Ark, hung with a lovely velvet curtain bordered in silk. The Ark held many Torah scrolls with silver crowns and beautiful silk coverings made of the most precious material, with gold and silver trimmings, and embroidered with Stars of David. On the Ark were chandeliers holding candles, and a beautiful crown with little birds, the way it was in the Temple in Jerusalem. The balamer [platform from which Torah is read] stood in the middle of the synagogue. There was table, covered with white cloth and illuminated. On the side were two cupboards holding many religious books. There were many benches and reading desks where each person had his place. There was a big table with long benches where men gathered to study the religious texts. The synagogue was the central gathering place where people would chat after prayers.

The synagogue was at its most beautiful on Sabbath and the holidays. When you entered it on Simchat Torah you didn't want to leave; it was as if the shekhine [holy spirit] was there. The women's section was also clean and well lit. It had tables with long benches, and windows with white curtains. The townspeople loved the synagogue and took care of it better than their own homes.

This holy place was orphaned. By 1945 it was in ruins, empty and abandoned. No more books, bookshelves, or Torah scrolls. Everything destroyed. No more dear, beloved Jews who were once so numerous. The German bests had killed everything, the place, houses, fields and woods. Everything now belongs to the Ukrainian bandits, who killed as many people as the Germans. May their names be obliterated.

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Since we are on the topic of the synagogue, we must also mention the bath house. The bath house was a short distance from the synagogue. It was a large building with a big boiler. They had to heat the oven all day in order for the water in the boiler to get warm. Since people didn't have bathtubs at home, the bath was always crowded on Friday, as they prepared for the Sabbath. There were several wooden tubs, as well as long benches on which people would lay, pouring scoops of water over themselves and beating themselves with a small broom.

There was also a mikvah [special bath for ritual immersion as prescribed by religious law]; every shtetl must have a mikvah. The women immersed themselves as required. Some men also immersed themselves in the mikvah. These included the shoykhet, the soyfer [religious scribe] (Reb Hershl Spivak from Zoludzk who was writing a Torah scroll), and others who were very observant.


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