Our little town of Telekhany is only a mere dot on the immense geographical area where the murderers slaughtered, butchered and gassed our brothers and sisters. It is important, however, that our holy martyrs be memorialized in the Book of Remembrance, which in the future will be compiled.
Those of us who are from that generation and who lived through and survived the
Holocaust (about which even the Prophet Jeremiah would have no words to
describe) are too close to that tragedy to be able to properly evaluate it.
Future generations will be amazed at the mystery of how a civilized world could
have produced such monsters and their mobs of savage collaborators. In
addition, no one will be able to understand how the world could let such a
thing happen. However, future generations will be better able to make sense out
of the juxtaposition of the decisions and antagonisms existing between the
adversaries, and to objectively evaluate how such a catastrophe befell the
world in general, and our People in particular.
Therefore, it is essential not to minimize any issue. Every settlement and town should have a detailed description of its own relationship to what occurred in the Holocaust. Although there already exists extensive Holocaust literature, much more is yet to be done. Nevertheless, everything we know, and think we know, isn't even a drop in the sea of what actually took place.
We are therefore adding our own contribution to the "Scroll of Fire" with our Telekhany Yizkor Book.
We ask our dear fellow émigrés from Telekhany to forgive us for any omissions or errors, since they are inevitable under the circumstances in which the book was compiled and published.
This touched the right chord in our grieving hearts, and we immediately established a Telekhany Yizkor Book Committee, and started to collect contributions and appeal to other former residents of Telekhany to assist us in our holy mission. Unfortunately, that appeal wasn't very successful; because of limited financial resources we had to greatly reduce the size of the Yizkor Book.
Thus, we decided, for financial reasons, to do most of the revisions and editing of the material for the Yizkor Book ourselves. The following individuals were appointed to the editorial committee: Golde and Gershon Gurshtel, Esther Miller, Sara Rubinstein, and this writer. Most of us were educated in an old fashioned religious school ( kheder) , as was then the tradition among religious Jews in Russia. Our deep emotional pain provided us with the courage to be able to carry out the Yizkor Book project, even with the baggage of our limited education. Later on, we realized the value of using a professional editor, and our respected friend, S. Sekuler, became the official editor of the Yizkor Book.
Although I left Telekhany 65 years ago,I vividly remember the good traits of the Jewish population, the way they celebrated the Sabbath and holy days with beauty and holiness, and how their lives were filled with acts of goodness. I am sure that Bilaam would have also admired them when he uttered the historical words in the Book of Exodus, "How good are your tents O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel."
And yet on August 14, 1941 this venerable community was so brutally destroyed by German murderers for the sole "sin" of not being Christians. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that the Jews' gentile neighbors also took part in the destruction because their eternal hatred of the Eternal People "sanctified" the murders they committed.
Now the book is being published; it has not been an easy task. The group of former residents of Telekhany now living in Los Angeles took charge of it and endured its birth pangs. It is therefore entirely appropriate to thank and pay tribute to them for their accomplishments.
First and foremost we wish to acknowledge our respected fellow émigré, Asher Gurshtel from Tel-Aviv, who initiated the book and wrote the manuscript. We would also like to acknowledge the following people: our dear and tireless friend, Herschel Eisenberg, for abridging the manuscript, and for corresponding with many people on behalf of the book; our sincere friend, Gershon Gurshtel, who left no stone unturned, even while ill and bedridden, and who wrote 3-4 letters to the same individual until he received a contribution; dear Esther Miller for her literary contributions, and for hosting most of the committee meetings in her home; cheerful Jenny Blumberg and her husband for inspiring some of our former fellow residents of Telekhany in Chicago to make substantial donations. We also wish to express our immeasurable appreciation to our devoted and wise secretary, Sarah Rubenstein, who is married to a former resident of Telekhany, and to the rest of the committee members in Los Angeles and Israel. May you all be blessed for what you have done to make the Telekhany Yizkor Book a reality.
I now dip my pen into the blood of our martyrs to record the birth of our shtetl, and how it was tragically destroyed
According to what previous generations have transmitted to us, the shtetl of Telekhany was founded approximately at the end of the fifteenth century, during the period when the so-called Tatar Hordes occupied Ukraine, Poland and parts of Russia, including our area. In those days, much of the territory around our area belonged a benevolent owner, Count Oginsky. Naturally, the area included a tavern that was leased to a Jewish family. It is also worth mentioning how Telekhany got its name. In Hebrew, the name can sound like the words Tel-Chen the Charming Hill. However, the name Telekhany is derived from two words, one Russian and the other Tatar.
The story is like this: during the battles between the local inhabitants and the Tatar Hordes, one of the leaders of the Tatar army was called a khan. After his defeat, the Tatars didn't know where to find his body. They searched for it throughout the entire area. Wherever they looked, they asked whether anyone had seen their khan, either dead or alive. In Russian, the word tyelo means "body;" it was combined with the Tatar word, khan to produce the name of the town, Telekhany.
Life was hard for Jewish families, especially due to their isolation among their hostile neighbors and the capricious behavior of the landowners, which frequently jeopardized the Jews' meager livelihood and even their physical existence. As ignorant and alienated as the village Jews were from Judaism, they always preferred living among other Jews. Gradually, Jews began leaving the villages and their isolated lives, and settled near the old tavern leased to a Jew by Count Oginsky. Thus, a Jewish community began to develop and eventually grew into the shtetl of Telekhany.
Count Oginsky, who owned all the land around the tavern, owned huge tracts of land and dense forests. He was more than happy to have a Jewish settlement on his estates. He believed that the Jews would increase his revenue through their business activity. The Count, therefore, was glad to assist the Jews to settle around the tavern, and even provided lumber for them to build their own homes, which included large gardens that they could cultivate to help them get through the harsh winters.
This is how the community gradually developed. The local peasants started arriving in town to shop for items they needed. Most business between Jews and peasants were based on what economists call a barter relationship. The peasant obtained services from the shoemaker, tailor or other craftsman, and paid with the fruits of his labor agricultural produce.
Gradually, stores started offering merchandise brought in from Pinsk. In the barter exchange of agricultural products and labor, the artisans accumulated surpluses of agricultural products, which the artisan sold on the market. Thus, a small-scale business with a market among the shops developed, together with new small side streets around the market. The result was the growth of Telekhany.
Count Oginski contributed a great deal to Telekhany's growth. He was a talented man, blessed with energy and was an entrepreneurial person. He undertook to dig a canal, which was named after him, to unite the two rivers Pripet (near Pinsk) and Shchara (near Slonim). His goal was to increase deliveries of his lumber to Germany. The Count owned huge forests and he wanted to increase his profits on the lumber shipped to Germany.
In order to built the canal, and enable the lumber to float down the Shchara, and from there to the Niemen River and on to Germany, it was necessary, however, to build locks in the canal. Since modern machinery was not yet available, the heavy manual labor was performed by human hands. Since the Count owned all the land, with thousands of peasants as his slaves, this "small" undertaking to create a canal did not present a problem to him.
The work was especially hard because the Pripet River covered a very flat, low area, while the Shchara River was much higher. The locks had to be built so that each lock would be higher than the previous one, meaning that the second lock would be higher than the first, the third would be higher than the second, etc. It is difficult to conceive of how difficult and complicated this work was, but the peasant-slaves had to do all the work themselves.
The project took fifty years to complete, and thousands of farmer-slaves lost their lives in the process. The construction of the canal began in 1776, and became ready for use in 1826. During these years, Telekhany was a hub of activity and greatly benefited from the canal construction. Jewish carpenters earned considerable income performing the complicated work around the locks, and were experts in this work. The peasant-slaves, although very poor, also benefited from time to time, as did the engineers, contractors. Various businessmen provided a living for the artisans, shopkeepers and small merchants of Telekhany .
As the city continued to grow, more Jews from the village were attracted to it, and Telekhany became a nice place for Jewish families (cobblers, shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths, businessmen, shopkeepers and lumber and grain merchants). When the canal opened and navigation began, some Jews became ship owners. They had their own small boats that transported cargo and passengers from Telekhany to Pinsk and back, bringing back merchandise with them. The first ship owners were the Gurshtel brothers. When the first steam ships arrived with passengers, its whistle announced its arrival; the Jews were extremely pleased, and thanked G-d.
Our little town of Telekhany was blessed by nature: it was surrounded by hills full of tall pine trees as well as valleys seeming to grow out of the earth. The beauty of the environment and the healthy climate created by the pine forest, made Telekhany a beautiful resort place. Many people from the larger cities came to our little Telekhany to enjoy the fresh climate and divine beauty, and provided a source of income for Telekhany.
Years went by, and the canal's use for transporting goods and people expanded Telekhany's economy. Many offices with clerks, contractors, and engineers brought a new type of Jew to Telekhany, a more worldly Jew. In one office there was a Jewish engineer from Pinsk who worked on the Sabbath. Although this created a problem with deeply religious Jews, people considered it as a sign of newer trends, and no one seemed to object to the change. The main representative of the general contractor for the canal was a Jew named Leib Tureck, who inherited the job from his father-in-law, Joshua Eisenstadt, who in turn inherited it from the previous generation. Leib Tureck was also a great scholar, and he owned the entire Talmud and many other religious books. Although he was a Lubash chassid, and prayed in the Lubash synagogue, he was involved in the city issues, and was a very generous and worldly man. Among many religious books in his home, one could find all types of books of modern Hebrew literature representing the Enlightenment.
The people in the shtetl lived like one big family: where there was happiness, everyone was happy; when (God forbid) there was sorrow, everyone shared that also. Intellectual life in Telekhany developed with kheder schools for children, where they studied everything from the alphabet to the commentaries of Rashi and the Tosefot on the Talmud. Eventually, modern Hebrew schools were started, and used the modern way of teaching. Our little town of Telekhany also acquired a rabbi, a great scholar: Rabbi Eleazar Olivitsky, who served in his position at the highest level, and was much appreciated by all classes of Jews.
There were also study groups in town, such as groups that studied the Talmud together, the Mishnah, the Eyn Yaakov compendium or the Bible with the Rashi commentary. The simple Jews had their own group for reciting Psalms, and on Saturday afternoons in the summer, people studied Ethics of the Fathers. All these studies maintained a Jewish spirit, and gave the Jews enough strength and courage to withstand life's difficulties and the gruesome decrees of the dark Czarist regime and the landowners.
And so the people of our little town, like their counterparts in so many other towns in Western Russia, Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine and Galicia, lived and worked hard to earn a meager living. In Telekhany, as elsewhere, there were a handful of well-to-do families, but the majority were poor craftsmen, merchants and just plain poor folks who worked hard the whole week, barely living from hand to mouth to be able to have extra for the Sabbath.
As long as our shtetl existed, life focused on the religious/cultural sphere, with its assorted religious functionaries, synagogue caretakers, superstitions, with its chassidim and opponents of chassidism just like in other towns. There were a number of "battles" between a rabbi's supporters and others, and between the chassidim and their opponents. People in Telekhany bickered about ritual slaughterers, cantors, and rabbis' assistants. Since we had three different chassidic synagogues one each for the Lubash, Stolin and Yanov chassidim - and one for the non-chassidim, there were different sides of various issues. However, as mentioned earlier, life was oriented to culture and religion. Any Jews that could spare time would go into a synagogue or house of study to hear religious words or to open a religious book. The materialistic life was not primary. A Jew would manage to get along on very little. His main concern was his spiritual life.
So years went by and generation after generation carried on the same way, and people assumed that this was the way the world was created and that's the way it will remain.
The Telekhany Jewish population came to life. The Jews couldn't figure out what was happening. Every Jew developed strength and encouragement, and saw the factory as the end of poverty. In 1895 the construction of the factory was completed, and began a new page in the history of Telekhany.
Let us now evaluate what influence the factory, with its various types of Jews who settled in and around town had on the cultural, social and political life in Telekhany, and how the cultural and community life started to be transformed from a lifestyle from the Middle Ages, and started creating new groups among the Jews who came to town because of the people who arrived from the outside world, and who settled in Telekhany because of the glass factory.
In the latter part of the 19th century, two new movements appeared in Jewish life: political Zionism and the Bund. Under the influence of anti-Semitic pressure in France brought on by the sad Dreyfus trial, a large part of the assimilated Jewish intelligentsia in Western Europe suddenly realized that assimilation was not the way to solve Jewish problems. Nationalism dominated a large part of the Jewish intelligentsia in Europe, and through the work of Dr. Herzl political Zionism was born.
In Russia, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, the battle against the Czar's reactionary regime became more intense. The working class organization began to challenge the despotic and capitalistic exploitation of the Czarist regime. Influenced by the freedom movement, the Jewish labor movement organized the Bund. These two new Jewish movements stirred and aroused the Jews to engage in cultural and social activity in the heavily religious cities and towns. These two elements Zionist and the Bund would have sooner or later found their way to Telekhany, but the people from the outside world who came to work in and around the glassworks factory had an impact on our community, and especially on our youth, a little earlier than elsewhere.
The Telekhany Jewish youth came to life because of these new ideas that came to town. The Jewish youth organized groups to study Yiddish and Hebrew literature, and Jewish history. A library was opened. They even organized a defense unit to protect themselves against pogroms.
At first the youths were impressed by the Zionist ideal. Meetings were held, and the Jewish flag was always present. Shekels were sold to raise funds for the Jewish National Fund, and Zionist activity was quite prominent. The main leaders of the Zionist movement were Hershel Rosenberg and myself. But since the Czarist regime was always on the alert to organized activities, it also started persecuting the Zionist movement. Hershel Rosenberg was sent from Pinsk to Czenstechow, and worked there as an assistant to Dr. Aharon Singalovsky.
The Bund, however, slowly began to have an impact on the youth, especially the poor working youth, and thus became the strongest movement in town.
Telekhany became divided into various ideological camps. The religious community consisting of chassidim and non-chassidim continued to retain the older generation. The youth, however, were divided between two ideological camps: Zionism and the Bund. Zionism stressed Zion, and maintained that, in the diaspora, Jews could expect only persecution and pogroms. Therefore, the Jews should concentrate on securing a homeland and state in the land of Israel, and thus there was no need to join other freedom-loving organizations to fight the Czarist regime. The socialist Bund, which considered itself a part of the Russian working class, emphasized the struggle for a free and democratic Russia, which would release the entire working class from the yoke of capitalism, and introduce socialism.
In the first few years after 1897, when both political Zionism and the Bund were created, Zionism was a monolithic organization. With the beginning of the 20th century, however, the Zionist movement began to divide into different factions. Due to the influence of the general Russian freedom movement, the Jewish proletariat element wanted a synthesis between Zionist ideology of the ingathering of the diaspora and the Marxist proletariat ideology. This was the Poalei Zion [Workers of Zion] orientation, which acknowledged the struggle for freedom in the countries of the diaspora. This is how a third movement developed among the youth.
This is how life was in the shtetl. The older generation stuck to its previous lifestyle, but quietly complained about their children's new directions. This led to constant arguments between parents and children. The parents were in constant fear of their children being dragged into the revolutionary movement and eventually falling into the hands of the Czar's police, something which did happen to some young people.
The older generation concentrated its life around the synagogue; praying, and studying Judaism in the synagogues. During the day they were busy earning a livelihood. In the evenings they forgot about their problems when they opened religious books. Many Jews in town were devoted to their religious studies and didn't work, their valiant wives worked instead, being glad that their husbands could sit and study while the wives could look forward to being their husbands' footstools in Paradise. The younger generation, a large portion of whom worked in the factory twelve to fourteen hours a day for low pay, spent the evenings discussing political, cultural and social problems. They also spent time in the library reading and studying until late at night. They were hungry for knowledge.
The gentile population, inflamed by propaganda, and seeing unprotected Jewish property, plundered, beat up and attacked the Jews. There were many agitators and hucksters who had been waiting a long time for an opportunity to fabricate all kinds of lies about the Jews in town. For instance, they claimed that Jews sent all their gold, silver and copper to the Germans. In one case, they sent a peasant to buy something from a Jewish shopkeeper; the peasant wanted change for a large bill. The shopkeeper didn't have change for such a large amount of money, which "proved" to the agitators that the Jew had sent his money off to a German. This gave them what they needed to attack Jews.
The worst came along, however, when they set fire to Telekhany from all sides, and the Jews were forced to flee, or more correctly, were chased into the nearby forest. It takes a lot of effort and talent to describe the heartbreaking scenes: Jews fled into the forest and watched their property, which took years of hard work to accumulate, be horribly ravaged and go up in flames. When nightfall arrived the Jews were standing in the forest with their children under the open sky, and the crying of the parents reached the heavens. Having survived, they realized it was the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, and a day of forgiveness and atonement, and yet here were the Jews of Telekhany in the wild woods of a world gone mad, among people gone mad. The sun isn't a sun anymore, and the sky isn't a sky anymore; the earth is a huge fire burning under every Jew's feet. Prayer was impossible; one man hugs a tree instead of his Yom Kippur prayer book and cries out: "God in heaven, where are you? Why are you silent?" The man holds onto the tree and talks to it. "You've got it good. You live with the other trees in peace, while men destroy each other for no rhyme or reason." The man said to himself, "Wouldn't it be great to be a tree?" The man was Josef the Ritual Slaughterer.
When the Germans occupied our area, a few Telekhany Jews immediately moved to locations near Telekhany. Some families from Telekhany settled in the village of Motele, approximately three miles from Telekhany. They moved into the homes of peasants who fled from the Germans deeper inside Russia, while the Jews took over their abandoned farmland. At that time the Germans prohibited Jews from engaging in business, and permitted them only to engage in agriculture to earn a livelihood.
Many Jews from Telekhany and neighboring cities and towns moved to Russia. This is how the first destruction of our hometown of Telekhany ended during World War I.
The story was as follows: a group of the most eminent Jews in Pinsk gathered to decide on a plan how best to distribute the aid from the American committee to the needy Jews in Pinsk and nearby communities. Somebody reported them to the Polish authorities in Pinsk, accusing them of holding a meeting of Bolsheviks. Without any evidence or information, the Poles surrounded the meeting place, arrested the participants, took them to the large monastery and shot them all. Asher Gurshtel reported on the impact, fear and wickedness of the event, which was impossible to describe.
Asher Gurshtel did manage to meet the committee, and brought back some financial assistance for the Jews of Telekhany. Despite the deep sorrow and despair of the Jews in Telekhany when they found out about the misfortune that occurred in Pinsk, the small amount of assistance that Gurshtel brought with him lifted their spirits, and they realized that their Jewish community was not abandoned, that there were Jews abroad who didn't abandon their brethren.
After that, however, the real problems began. The government administrations changed every other Monday and Thursday: first the Poles were in charge, and the next day the Bolsheviks kicked them out and took over, and thereafter the debtors took over and threw out the Bolsheviks. Whenever the Poles or the debtors took over, there was either a larger or smaller pogrom against the Jews, and following the pogroms new decrees were issued, each worse than the previous one, and which gave no respite to the survivors. Whenever the Bolsheviks took over, there were no pogroms, but Jews were classified as businessmen and self-employed artisans. If an artisan had an assistant, he was, from the days of the Bund, considered to be a member of the "petty bourgeois," and the Bolsheviks arbitrarily confiscated anything and everything. Thus, the situation of the Jews in town was very bitter, but at least their lives were spared.
A tragic-comic situation developed among the non-Jewish population. Whenever the Soviet authorities decided to confiscate property for the new administration and for the needs of the army, they did so indiscriminately, confiscating from Jews and gentiles alike. The poor peasants couldn't understand what was going on, and considered the Soviet regime to be very strange, since the regime expropriated equally from everyone. The peasants had been used to the idea that only Jewish could be robbed and plundered, and yet now the Soviets did it to everyone equally.
People were more or less content with the Soviet administration as long as the Red Army was in the area. The officers were self-conscious about their status, and they knew the rules of the game. They knew whom they should confiscate from, whom they should leave alone, and whom they should keep their eyes on. In other words, there was law and order. However, as soon as the army left Telekhany and installed inexperienced local authorities and unqualified individuals who had questionable reputations but who were devoted to the so-called struggle for proletarian justice, they started their sadistic work. Pretending to look for spies, they searched homes everywhere, grabbing whatever they liked: watches, rings, cushions and blankets. They were even satisfied with taking any type of merchandise they could find.
Even this was bearable, but the worst tragedy was the mistrust among people, the suspicion, and there were already people whose hands were dirty. If someone bumped up against someone else, he was simply reported to the authorities, complaining just about anything. The procedure was that all complaints had to be resolved locally, so people got sent to Siberia, thrown in jail, or many times just "put up against the wall."
It was like Sodom and Gomorrah between Jews and gentiles in town. Property was confiscated in the name of nationalization, and punishments were decreed in the name of strengthening the "class struggle." Rightfully or not, all local leaders and Zionists were deemed "enemies of the People." When there was a decree, the Jew suffered more than anybody.
After the changes of the various authorities during the chaotic period, the Polish regime finally took hold, and life in Telekhany began to more or less return to normal. Half-ruined houses and the chassidic synagogues (of the chassidim of Lubash, Stolin as well as the non-chassidic one) were rebuilt. The Polish authorities allowed the Oginsky Canal to reopen and operate as before. Count Paslovsky, who inherited Count Oginsky's estate, built a sawmill at the location of the glassworks to process timber from his forests, and the mill was equipped with the newest machinery. He also built a power plant, providing the town with electric lighting.
With the assistance received from the American Jews an apartment building was built that provided 16 apartments for impoverished Jewish families. The young people got a library, and a firehouse, concert/theater auditorium were also built in Telekhany. A new public bath and ritual bath [mikvah] with running water were constructed. The community also provided a hostel for poor out-of-town visitors and a doctor for sick poor people free of charge. The town survived, and even the tiny railroad built by the Germans during their occupation, began operating between Telekhany and Pinsk.
Jews who fled Telekhany during the war returned to town. Among the returnees was Yosef the Ritual Slaughterer, who resumed his position as community slaughterer, and since there wasn't a Rabbi in town yet, he also served as the town rabbi.
People wanted to forget past troubles, and hoped for a brighter future. The Polish authorities made it mandatory for Jewish children to attend Polish public schools every day until noon. From the rest of the day they were free to attend the Jewish kheder school. This wasn't such a bad regulation. People gradually started making a better living. The Polish authorities re-organized the Jewish community in an open democratic manner. It looked as if everything was getting back to normal, and you could start seeing a smile on Jewish faces; people felt safer.
However, as the saying goes, "Jews have no lucky star." [Trans. comment: The Yiddish author uses a pun on a talmudic saying that expresses the idea that the fate and fortune of every nation in the world is governed by a planet, except for the Jews, who are overseen directly by G-d himself and not by the astrological signs. The writer's pun is to wryly interpret the saying to simply mean that Jews have no lucky star and are therefore unlucky.] An economic crisis hit Poland that put an abrupt end to Jewish livelihoods. The Polish currency, the zloty, lost its value. It didn't take long for hunger to show up again in Jewish homes. Young people started asking the old question: "What will be? What can we expect?" In a flood the young people started leaving Telekhany, some to America, others to the land of Israel. The Polish authorities now started showing their sneaky anti-Semitic faces. Anti-Semitism became so thick you could cut it with a knife. They started pulling out the last piece of bread from Jewish mouths.
It's worth describing one case where the Telekhany Jews taught the Poles a good lesson. During those difficult days the arrogant Polish administration decided to build a few locks over the Oginsky Canal. The Jews were overjoyed because it would create a few jobs. The anti-Semites totally ignored the Jewish workers of Telekhany, who for generations were experts in building locks. The Polish authorities didn't want to employ any Jews, and held a parade for the engineers and workers they brought in, together with all kinds of machinery, and began construction.
However, neither the engineers nor the workers that the Poles brought in were qualified to do the job. They built the locks, and then had to take them down again. They tried a second and a third time, and were still unsuccessful. Finally the Poles realized their error, and pleaded with the Jewish carpenters to take over the job. When the Jewish carpenters went to work, they built the locks perfectly, without engineers and officials with fancy epaulets. The most amazing thing was that the supervisor of the construction project, a Jew named Shlomo Blumberg, could hardly sign his own name. However, he was an outstanding artisan. The Jewish carpenters were almost all great master craftsmen in the construction of canal locks. They inherited this from their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, who built the first locks in the eighteenth century.
It should be noted that there were Jewish casualties during the construction of the locks. Shimon Gurshtel, father of Nissel the boatsman, was crushed to death by a falling gate during the repair of a lock. There were Jewish casualties here and in other cases in Poland, and yet Jews remained strangers.
And now? And now? The Jewish "now"? The greatest danger for the Jews of Telekhany suddenly arrived when Telekhany was born a few times and then died a few times. In 1939, Hitler arrived in Poland with sadistic Germans, who were full of hate for the Jewish People, and who immediately started to bully, rob, shoot and dispossess Jews using their guard dogs. Numerous Jews were torn to pieces on the roads by the guard dogs. The Nazis were able to carry out their extermination work better in the ghettos.
Even before the Germans came to our area, and even before they declared war against the Soviets, the savage Nazi treatment of the Jews began. Jews fled to the forests, and along the way, some peasants took Jews in their homes at a good price, of course. However, as soon as the Jew no longer had any money to give them, the peasants sent the Jews back off into the forest, and it was impossible to go back. The Germans closed off the roads around Telekhany, and most Jews stayed in town. The Jews who remained in Telekhany hoped that the Germans wouldn't consider them to be a dangerous element. Since among the Jews there were enemies of the Soviets, the Jews assumed that the Germans wouldn't do them any harm or persecute them.
At first things were pretty quiet. The Germans didn't harm anyone, and they even left Telekhany for a short time. However, as soon as the peasants found out that the Germans had left, the local gentiles, together with peasants from surrounding villages came into town and robbed whatever they could. It looked as if a fire had spread through town, with people carrying as many household possessions out of the houses as they could. According to those who lived through those events, the savagery of the peasants could not even be described. Peasants who had lived with Jews for many years were now unrecognizable. They beat people, broke open locks, doors and gates. The savagery went so far as to even throw a child out of a crib and steal the crib. The Nazis, who had retreated for a short time from Telekhany, had told the peasants through their collaborators among the local population that as far as Jewish property and life was concerned, it was open season. Life became so bitter that people hoped the Germans would come back. The situation continued this way for six weeks. People hoped for the return of the Germans, and indeed they did return and start going about their thievery.
The Germans put all Jewish men women and children on the road to the glassworks heading towards the village of Voulka. They then dug three deep pits, and with their guns and hands, they forced the Jews to undress and sit on their knees facing the pits, so that after being shot, they would fall straight into the pits. If someone tried to escape, the peasants chased him down, shot him, and made off with his clothes and anything else they could find.
Future generations should know that the peasants from town and surrounding villages stood around watching what was going to happen to the Jews. Some went to search for dead and living Jews in the forests to take from them anything they could find.
Our beloved and dear brothers and sisters had to live among such wild animals in human form. Why did they have to be exterminated? Why?
Our Telekhany martyrs were covered over in three large mass graves. They were covered over with dirt and sand that turned red from their blood. From reports of people who were in hiding and watching from a distance, the earth remained over the graves for a long time. Many of the martyrs didn't die immediately from the bullets, but were buried alive. Only when they breathed their last, did the ground fall silent.
This was what happened to our dear and beloved shtetl of Telekhany, which met the same fate as all Jewish communities where the accursed Nazis passed through.
In 1944, when Poland was already liberated by the Soviets who chased the Nazis out of Poland, Shlomo Landman and I, both of whom had escaped to Russia, decided that we should go back to Telekhany, even without waiting for the Soviets to send us back as Polish citizens to Poland in transports. We didn't think too long, and went off to the Polish border. We didn't have much money with us, but the desire to see Telekhany with our own eyes was more valuable than money. We decided to travel to Lvov/Lemberg; we knew that from there we could get to the center of Poland much more easily. Both Shlomo Landman and I arrived in Lvov at the end of January, 1945.
In Lvov we found out that in order to travel to Telekhany we had to receive special permits, and we learned that the trains weren't operating normally. We were exhausted from our difficult trip, and I wanted to give up the visit to Telekhany, but when my friend Shlomo told me that he knew where his parents were killed by the Vyhanochsh peasants, he wanted to go to bring their remains to the cemetery in Telekhany. I found the courage to go along with him.
We started on our way; it was a harsh winter, with snowstorms and blizzards. We had to travel by foot; we walked, stopping to rest, and then continued on. We were dreaming of getting to Telekhany. We figured that it would take us more than a week; in fact, it took us sixteen days to get to Pinsk. We were out of money, and continued walking to Telekhany as we conjured up pictures of our old hometown and its wonderful people. For a brief moment we breathed easier, but it was only for a brief moment, since we were once again seized by all sorts of thoughts. We continued. A wagon or car came by and took us for a couple of kilometers, and we then continued by foot.
We finally got to the village of Ozoritz, and a peasant took us by wagon to Telekhany. No words could possibly describe our state of mind when we arrived at the Telekhany bridges. I suddenly started shaking uncontrollably, and my friend Shlomo couldn't make me stop. We then came into town. The electric lights were on, including in some houses, but for us it was total darkness. All the houses were still standing; we were traveling and traveling, and yet had nowhere to go. We were strangers in our own town. Our wagon driver understood that we had nowhere to go, so he decided to take us to his brother-in-law, Kolia Sinevitz, who lived in the forest beyond the Polish cemetery on the way to Voulka and Bobrovetz. We knew the brother-in-law, and went into the forest to see him.
As the driver continued, we didn't realize that on the road we were on we would come across the three large mass graves of our Telekhany brothers and sisters and their children.
We spent six days six mournful and dark days in Telekhany, and morning and night we stood by the holy graves, saying the mourner's kaddish prayer in a flood of tears. During those six days that we spent in Telekhany, we searched for information about everything that happened, but no one wanted to tell us anything. They remained silent. I went to my own house, a house I built myself, but I couldn't go inside. My feet wouldn't move; they dug into the ground and wouldn't move.
Now we come to the horrific picture we saw: three huge mass graves one for men, one for women, and the third one for the dear children. Each group was shot separately. The graves are located on the side of the glassworks in the direction of Voulka, across from the Polish cemetery. At the very edge of the road is the grave of the men. The little trees that the German bullets shot through still stand there. The trees tremble, as if they wanted to tell us something. About a hundred and fifty kilometers [sic probably meant meters] are two mass graves close to each other. One was for the women, and the other for the children. We wanted to find out which was for the women, and which was for the children. However, none of the residents wanted to tell us; they were afraid to be implicated in the massacre.
We also found a large number of individual graves of Jews who escaped the Germans, and who were subsequently captured and killed on the road. Many who managed to escape were captured by peasants of the surrounding villages and shot. It was very difficult to find out who were buried in the individual graves. In one case we were able to find out who was buried in a particular grave: not far from the sawmill and the glassworks, over the canal where the small railway used to go through, is the grave of Yisrael Schwartzberg and his wife.
Filled with sadness about our terrible catastrophe, we decided to visit the large village of Vyhanoshts. We walked there, looking at the ground soaked with the blood of our sisters and brothers. We arrived in Vyhanoshts and started looking around to determine the fate of Shlomo's family. There were no Jews in the village; we started asking people about the grave of Shlomo's parents who were killed by the peasants, who stole their property. No one wanted to say anything. We went into a house, and Shlomo recognized his mother's candlesticks, but we had to keep quiet. We bit our lips so hard and kept quiet that our lips started bleeding. After several inquiries, one of our old acquaintances showed us where the location of Shlomo's parents was. We opened the grave and removed the martyrs; we took them to Telekhany and buried them in the Jewish cemetery.
Upon our return to Telekhany we decided to pay a visit to the local Christian priest in Telekhany. When we arrived at his house, Shlomo immediately recognized his beautiful buffet table. He recognized it right away. The priest noticed Shlomo, and started stammering that he had bought the buffet from the Germans. The priest offered to pay for the buffet, and spent several hundred Soviet rubles on it.
It should be mentioned that our arrival in Telekhany created a storm among the peasant population in town and in the nearby villages. First, they didn't believe that there were still any living Jews, because they were sure that Hitler had already killed all the Jews. Secondly, they were terrified that the Soviet authorities would punish them for collaborating with Hitler's devils in the massacres. They were sure that we had arrived with the assistance of the new authorities, to search houses for anything that had been stolen from Jews.
Peasants arrived from surrounding villages to find out if it was true that two Jews had suddenly appeared in Telekhany. Shocking events took place when the peasants saw us. A few even started kissing us, screaming in Ukrainian, "Who do I see?" But we tossed back at them in their faces, "A demon should possess your fathers! You are crying now? If the Germans were here now, you would certainly turn us in to them to be murdered, the way you did it earlier with our brothers and sisters.!"
A few peasants swore that they had never done that, but how could they be believed? The horrific murder was so gruesome and heartless, that they had become wild beasts. There were most certainly some peasants who hadn't been directly involved with the horrific murders. However, they were so few, that it wouldn't even be worth considering that all of them weren't involved in the murderous activities.
Finally, I would like to briefly describe what happened to our your beautiful town of Telekhany. Total destruction hovered over the houses that stood like orphans, covered in black, darkness, and which burned out the eyes of those who had lived there before. Such dear parents, grandparents and children, in a place where everyone lived together like one big family, and who shared their joys and sorrows. The Germans destroyed it all. We must always remember the "verse" of "Remember that which Hitler did unto you .!" [This is a pun on the Jewish tradition of remembering what the Amalekites did to the Israelites in the biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt. The verse states "Remember what Amalek did unto you during your departure from Egypt."]
Almost all houses were still standing; only about ten were missing. Some were burned down, and others stand in disarray, without doors or windows. A large number of houses were taken over by the Soviet authorities for institutions, offices and stores. Nothing remained of the Stolin and Lyubash synagogues. The Germans took them down, and built protective trenches in their place. The non-chassidic synagogue was spared, and the Germans used it as a warehouse for grain that they brought from the villages. Now the Soviets are using the synagogue for the same purpose. On the other hand, the Christian church and the kostsholl were left untouched, as if there had been no war. The Jewish cemetery was in total shambles, and here we could see the effects of the wild animals. The destruction was so great, that we wanted to scream out, "Woe, happened to the Jewish dead who had to suffer a second death?!"
The fence around the cemetery was in disrepair; none of it was still standing. The brick grave structure that had stood for years was completely taken down, and not a single brick remained. The graves and gravestones were in such condition that it was grievously heart-breaking to see just what the evildoers were capable of doing to Jewish graves and the dead.
The graves were dug up by the evildoers as they looked for Jewish gold. They thought that the Jews were burying their gold. They also took the gravestones home, and some of the stones were used as sharpeners to sharpen their scythes and knives. Other stones were used for milling wheat and rye evildoers milling their bread using the gravestones of holy Jews who never harmed a fly, not shedding a tear as they ground their bread!
We stood at the cemetery filled with sorrow, pain and rage, asking G-d in heaven where his judgment, justice and truth was. We bowed our heads to the martyrs and went further. What did we see? Bones and limbs of the dead were thrown about like pieces of wood; we only wished that we had been blinded before seeing such things.
We went to the Soviet authorities in Telekhany to request a fence to be placed around the mass graves of our murdered martyrs located on the road to Voulka. We told him that if they wanted to do that, we would remain in Telekhany to help with the work. They responded that we were a hundred percent correct and that they were willing to do it. However, since all the men were still in the army, this work could not be done yet. As soon as the men returned, they would proceed to build the fence.
This is what our beloved and dear town of Telekhany was like, the place where the dearest and most beloved people any person can have remained in death. Our parents, our grandparents, our brothers and sisters, children, friends and neighbors. We'll never join them in their place of rest.
We should all now recite the prayer, G-d of Mercy, and swear that we always remember the "verse": "Remember what the Germans did unto you ."
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Tsyelyakhany, Belarus Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 13 Aug 2003 by LA