I remember my hometown when times were better and lovelier. Almost every young person strove to make something of himself. Whenever possible, people left to study in a larger city. Some went to gymnasia high school, while others went to technical schools. Later on there was a four grade high school in Telekhany, and the children pushed themselves to study. A library was opened containing Yiddish and Russian books. There were also reading groups, and people got together to read aloud in Russian and Yiddish. Also, people started to dress well and go for evening walks along the batshovnik, singing songs and going boatriding.
Superficially, it appears that goodness doesn’t carry power. However, there are exceptions where a person’s goodness converts into a kind of power that may even be stronger than any other type of power.
Yisraelik Rosenbaum was a living example of the power of goodness. When I met Yisraelik he was 10-11 years old. At that time he had just arrived in Brisk from a small town, Telekhany. He was an orphan and was brought up by his sister. We first met each other in the Tsisha [acronym] synagogue.
He was very handsome, slender and strong, with blond hair, and most important, with a friendly smile that never left his face. Whenever there was a problem, a challenge or a difficulty presented itself, Yisraelik stood out, ready to help anyone.
He had no anger or hatred in his heart. His nature was to be friendly to others, and whoever knew Yisraelik realized that he was as happy for another person’s good fortune as he was for his own. He was this way as a child, and remained this way until we were separated from each other.
In 1946, after not seeing each other for twenty years, I met Yisraelik again, this time in Israel. Since then I have seen him very often, almost daily. I saw him at his home with his wife and child, and saw him at community activities, in the party and the Histadruth. He was the same old Yisraelik, filled with faith and optimism, devoted and loyal to friends, colleagues and everyone else.
Yisraelik’s first years in Israel were very difficult. The country didn’t greet him with plenty of milk and honey. Just like other immigrants in those days, in the early 1930s, Yisraelik lived through cold and warm situations until he developed roots in the country. He faced more than one disappointment and more than one challenge. The suffering and challenges didn’t control his morale, but confirmed that he remained unaffected by the fiery tests of life because of his ethics. In general he understood Israel, knew the land, and accepted it joyfully. He knew that just as a person struggles in life, the country also struggles. Any person who loves the country should help it to attain its perfection.
He had already joined the Poalei Zion party in Brisk, when he was still a young teenager. In the youth organization he excelled in his devotion and limitless desire to do anything that was needed. He had the same attitude in the party and other community activities as he had had in the Poalei Zion.
I saw Yisraelik’s activities in Israel close up. Usually it was after a hard day’s work, but was not difficult for him. He loved the country, the party, the work, and therefore didn’t notice the difficulties.
During the Knesset election campaign he wasn’t in good health, and his illness had spread to his spinal cord. But Yisraelik didn’t give in or talk about it so that he could continue total devotion to his work – something that was characteristic of him.
He felt that he was departing the world in the prime of his life, around the age of fifty. However, he never talked about it so as not to cause anyone pain. He never let a smile leave his face, and was never any different than he had been in his childhood.
Actually, he remained a big child his whole life, and more precisely, a person who kept the symbol of childhood: naivété and authenticity, faith and love of his fellow man. If I had to characterize Yisraelik in one sentence, I would say that he had many talents, but his greatest talent was his rare goodness and love of others. This is where his strength, self and essence lay.
Tell me, O Telekhany, in your orphaned gloom
Do you still have any birds that can fly?
Or trees that can bloom?
Or stars that still sparkle in heaven?
Does the little water well in the forest
Still make noise and echo?
Does the river still flow mischievously?
And the pond, the alleys, that enticed my generation
With closed eyes, I can see you so clearly.
Suddenly I hear a voice, an awful voice, like from a wounded lion;
Everything is turned into dust and ashes;
How can birds fly and trees bloom?
How can stars in heaven shine?
A heaven that saw, and that was silent
When the Nazi beasts strangled Jewish children in cribs
And shot fathers, mothers, gray-haired old people in mass graves
The earth is ashamed, covered in blood.
In far away lands, across borders and seas,
O Telekhany, your roots and stems sprouted, and
We, the blood of your blood, bone of your bone, swear
On the holy names of our martyrs, yes we do swear,
Never to be still until the Nazi beasts are annihilated, destroyed.
Through stormy days, and dark nights,
I returned to my little town of Telekhany,
That was once a place of natural beauty,
Here the children played and laughed in poor streets.
The houses I have known since a long time ago
Have locked windows and doors,
Fear grieves behind walls
The doorsteps lead to mass graves.
Death and devastation lie everywhere
In our birthplace, Telekhany.
Under a red setting sun, I walk and I walk
It is hard to walk across roads with overgrown weeds
Jewish hammers and saws stand silent.
I double over facing the graves of our martyrs;
And feel hot and cold,
My heart writhes in pain, and
The sun has hidden its face in shame.
On some early morning
Far into the future
New generations will come
And adorn the mass graves
With fragrant flowers.
You smile, my town, with charm and with sadness
You call me, you tempt your fortune.
Your silence murmurs quietly around and saddens:
My child! You came home!
Back like before, with wounded glances,
You embrace the abandoned earth.
It wants to embrace and squeeze you.
You drew and lived here,
I walk once again over yellow sand,
With proud and sure steps.
Together with me, like a whole musical band,
Children make noise and transport me away.
They take me away to the forest and trenches,
And warn me to sit down,
And then sing for us a song about the Oginski Canal,
About green and sunny beaches,
About grass like velvet, bright skies
And the dark twilight.
Oh, take us away to the haunted house,
Filled with secrets and deep mysteries.
Grandmas used to tell us that ghosts
Rage there freely.
They tear doors off, and break windows off,
And then don’t let them be rebuilt.
Someone carried over the bright red bricks,
and try to build a house.
But every child knows in an orphaned crib
How high is the price.
At night the ghosts will make merry,
And will never get tired.
Only frightened children will hold tight to each other,
And ask, “So sing your song!”
Somewhere near the Oginski Canal,
There is a town called Telekhany.
Boys over there dreamed about schools,
And girls dream about dowries.
But there are the grandfathers, the important grandfathers,
Sitting over the Talmud and studying.
And fathers would think that
The world was personified in the town,
And calmly the town would sink into sleep,
Lulled to sleep with prayer and calm.
Then something disturbed the village silence,
And someone called where….
Someone called the young colts,
Far away on the wide road.
Nearby the lake warmly wept and laughed today,
And those little village cabin doors
Quietly scraped and then closed,
Awakened children then disappeared
Far away, somewhere in the dark night.
A town of struggle! The gray of my youth is planted
On the unsettled canvas.
Even though I am far from you, from the haunted house.
Not dishonored, I have your sacred chain.
Chrysanthemums on the Mass Grave
My little daughter - a Song of Songs,
A butterfly, delicate and deft.
I kiss all her limbs.
How nice and sweet you are, my child!
Let her gently put down her brows
And with a grieving tone:
Say why there are black clouds
coming over the gray sky?
And why only us, only both of us?
Does my child shake like a leaf?
Oh, where is my grandmother, my grandfather?
Did I ever have them?
Oh, sing and tell me about your homeland,
Are there any Jews still alive there?
Your songs sound painful
And your glance squirts fire.
On the wings of my sadness
Let’s fly, let’s fly!
Even in a bright blue sky
black clouds are appearing, appearing
Chrysanthemums, dead flowers
I bring them to my friends, my intimates.
My child! They perished
Because of hordes of wild Hitler beasts!
Oh, hear: The dawn is weeping
And is afraid, calling ghosts.
Who draws water from those nearby wells?
Who looks at it through the window?
Maybe my sister? I am seized by a shudder,
and every bone in my body is trembling.
And maybe my father? I think he is calling me,
He calls me from the mass grave:
Come, my child! Come my child,
From far far away,
And sit down here!
With longing celebrate days gone by,
And bring your brothers back to life!
Oh, take them out of the mass graves,
The sisters, the mothers, the children.
And take them back to their own homes,
Your longing can do wonders.
No field in bloom,
No green meadows,
My heart is always green like a meadow.
Somewhere, among villages and towns
There is a town called Telekhany.
Brimming with magic and charm,
How the young people there struggle
For better days.
Here is a forest, there is a beach,
Deep sand on the road,
And a well sputters and flows
But can you be, then, well, as pleasing as before,
I should be able to greet you warmly
When you looked on indifferently and saw how
My friends were being led away to be shot?
How should I warmly greet the forest?
The forest was then a guard
That muffled the screams, the painful violence
And the trees looked on indifferently.
Oh, well, I want to convert your water into poison.
My hate could poison your water.
I want to go light a fire in the forest
And exterminate the anger down to the tree trunks!
And in the meantime, a reminder,
A yahrzeit of death
Only holy names remained;
Mass graves with flowers planted
With snow-white chrysanthemums.
Our hearts are filled with endless pain, suffering and anger whenever we recall what our hometown of Telekhany once was. Our dear and unforgettable parents and siblings perished in a murderous and savage manner. There is no longer any signs or memories of them; not even any gravestones of those who died before the War. In its place the Soviet regime built an oil storage facility.
The rich and colorful Jewish life of a toiling community was cruelly and tragically destroyed, lost forever. Jewish Telekhany, just like all other large communities, had a brief history. After World War I, Jews returned to town, and without noticing the ruins they encountered, they started rebuilding a brand new life, and despite the young age of the town, it began blooming with cultural and community activities.
The little town of Telekhany had a Jewish school, beginning with the study of the alphabet with the unforgettable and beloved teacher, R. Chaim Yeshayahu Shneidman, to the establishment of the higher grades with our dear teacher, Hershel Rudkovsky. Although it wasn't in the form of a gymnasia high school, we enjoyed studying there. There was also a Polish school, a library and a reading room. There was a free loan fund, a hospice for the poor and a Jewish bank, which assisted artisans and small businessmen. This is the way toiling Telekhany lived and worked.
Jews formed a small part of town, but their creative life was felt throughout the region. There were merchants, craftsmen and wagon-drivers – there was everything in Telekhany. The Oginsky Canal, which had tree-lined streets (the so-called alleys) on both sides, was always filled with young people. A hundred meters beyond the Canal stood the empty brick house that had a long history of stories of demons and other fairy tales.
That bubbly Jewish life was extinguished and destroyed forever. Jewish Telekhany ceased to exist. We speak of our destroyed hometown with great awe, and want to memorialize the martyrs of Telekhany, who are engraved in our hearts forever. With our Yizkor Book we want to memorialize in history the rich cultural activity and tragic end of the Jewish community of Telekhany. May the Yizkor Book serve as a gravestone for the unmarked mass graved of our dear community of Telekhany.
Telekhany made its meager living from surrounding villages, the Belarusian villages built on the poor Polesian earth, which couldn't sufficiently sustain the peasants, even when the sweating peasants toiled heavily from sunrise to sunset. Therefore, the peasants were forced to look for work beyond their fields, chopping wood in the forest, fishing in the local lake, and producing wood and clay vessels. In order to save money, the family members of the peasant had to produce most of the household items themselves – clothes, shoes and dishes.
They would bring a portion of the goods they produced to Telekhany for sale or barter, and would get what they needed – some food, tools for work, some fabric for clothes, etc. This type of interaction made up the pinnacle of economic life in Telekhany.
The poverty of Telekhany depended on the poverty of the villages. Whenever the peasants were impoverished, so was the town. Telekhany was a town that was similar to many other such Jewish communities that were spread out across the marshes of Polesia. Only the “scenic” walk along the Canal, the “ditch” along the edge of the forest, and the area of the forests surrounding Telekhany offered the town a special charm.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, new winds blew into the sleepy town. The younger generation noticed the poverty in town, and was dissatisfied with an impoverished existence. The youth aspired to change, and looked for a different way. Some sought their aspirations through emigration overseas; others organized political movements that sought extensive social change.
In the meantime, World War I broke out, and Telekhany experienced the horrors of war. Eventually Telekhany was at the battlefront, and most of the homes in town were consumed by fire as the residents fled.
There was no change in the region, and Telekhany sank into poverty just like before. New technology didn't reach the cut-off region, and never found its way to town. There were no cars, no paved roads, no agricultural machinery, and of course no electricity. The peasants and their families made do with their primitive methods of working their small piece of land from sunup to sunset, and the earth responded meagerly to their toiling.
The artisans toiled together with their young apprentices for twelve hours a day. Income was meager, and could barely support the artisans' families. The older people lived with these oppressive conditions, but not the young people. Many of them decided to join youth movements. A few joined the Socialist-Zionist movement with others joining the other leftwing ones.
Many sought training as pioneers for emigration to Palestine. However, what united all the movements was the desire to change society, which didn't allow for a possibility of getting out from under the mournful conditions of poverty in Telekhany.
The Polish authorities didn't approve of these activities. The members of the Communist Party were mercilessly persecuted, and were imprisoned and sent away to the Kartuz-Bereza camps that were unfortunately near Telekhany.
All elements and movements within the local Jewish population were proud of those comrades, and viewed them as an example of dedicated fighters willing to sacrifice themselves for their precious goals. Many of the Zionist-Socialist youth movements joined the pioneer training camps, and upon completion departed for Palestine.
Approximately eighty families from Telekhany are in Israel. Many of them arrived before World War II, and have settled all over the country, both in towns and cities. They participated together with the rest of the Jews in the struggle for the right of independence. They fought in the War of Liberation and secured the arrival of others from home who survived who were warmly welcomed by the Telekhany families.
Survivors of Telekhany maintain strong ties. They share celebrations and sorrows, and retain the customs of their parents, as well as their ordinary traditions, in love and work, with sincerity. Former residents of Telekhany are still proud of their hometown, and hold an annual memorial for the martyrs who perished during World War II. Our Telekhany was worthy of its name, and it should be memorialized in a book. Let us exalt the images of our people of Telekhany and our dear families with love and respect.
May the book be a sacred memorial to a typical Jewish town in its struggle to exist, and in its observance of the eternal traditions of the Jewish People, and that was destroyed together with other Jewish towns under the accursed Nazis.
When we read chapters of the book to our children, the source of their origin shouldn't seem strange to them, and the memory of our parents should be retained from generation to generation.
Mordechai Gurstal's son was the late Yaakov Gurstal. His daughter and her husband Zelig Zelikovitch lived in Israel. Zelig was a military officer during the War of Liberation. Likewise, the children of the late Reuven Gurstal also live in Israel. They also participated in developing the country, and the children of the late Shimon Peretz Gurstal were also accomplished individuals. They all arrived in Palestine, and finally he too arrived in Palestine with his wife in 1925.
Until the present the entire family is concentrated in Israel: the parents, three sons and two daughters. Shimon Peretz and his wife Sarah died in 1952 in the Geva kevutsa [agricultural group]. Two sons, Yosef and Shlomo, and the eldest daughter Chana are also in the Geva kevutsa . One son, Yaakov, is in the Geva kevutsa named after the martyrs of Pinsk. The second daughter, Yehudit, lives in Haifa.
The children of Nissel Gurstal, who was also known as Nissel the Shipper, also live in Israel. One son, Asher and his son Binyamin, as well as Mendel, the son of Reuven Gurstal, are in Israel as well. The son of Shimon Peretz Gurstal changed his name to Gurion, and everyone else in the family, according to the branches, also took the name Gurion.
This gives some idea of the town of Telekhany that contributed much to the honor of its residents, especially the image of the late Yosef Gurion, who contributed significantly to the development of Israel. After his premature death, his Geva kevutsa published a book called Yosef Gurion, His Life, Words and Accomplishments.
Yosef Gurion was born in Pinsk in 1898. He studied in the local school in town and joined a Zionist youth group. In February, 1914 at the age of 16, he traveled with a group from Pinsk to Palestine to study at the Petach Tikvah Agricultural School. When World War I broke out, he was forced to go to work. He and his friends leased some land in a settlement and began cultivating vegetables. After he finished his agricultural course, he decided to join the Be'er Tuviah kevutsa, which was one of the first kevutsas in Palestine.
Gurion joined the first Jewish Legion, and when the Legion was dissolved, he returned to the kevutsa and became one of the most active entrepreneurs in the kevutsa and the moshav. For various reasons, the Be'er Tuvia kevutsa didn't work out, and broke up. In the meantime, Yosef got married and joined the Geva kevutsa in the Jezreel Valley. In 1924 he and his wife were admitted as members, and he remained there until his death.
Over the years, Yosef was involved in a variety of activities and community undertakings. He was always a member of the agricultural workers' council, a member of the Regional Cooperative Bank, and a founding board member of the milk company Tnuva .
In 1942-43, Yosef ran the Haifa branch of Tnuva, and thereafter of the Jerusalem branch. He served as a member of the board of the company Nir ,as well as on the Kupat Holim Health Fund.
In 1936-37 he traveled to the United States on behalf of the Histadruth Labor Federation, and in 1938-39 he managed Kofer Hayishuv. In 1944-47 he served as a representative of the Jewish Agency department concerned with settling soldiers, and visited a brigade and other Jewish military units in Egypt and Italy. Yosef was a leading member of the organization that resettled people liberated in the war. He was also a leading member of Otsar Hachayal [Soldier Fund].
At the end of the War of Liberation he was hired by the Ministry of Defense to administer the department for the rehabilitation of soldiers and the wounded. He devoted all his energies for that work. Shortly thereafter he served in the Development Authority of the State of Israel.
When he finished his work for the government he went back to work at kevutsa Geva. However, he wasn't allowed to stay long, and was soon asked to become the secretary of the Federation of Kevutsot and Kibbutzim. When he returned home after completing his work in poor health, he was then asked to run a sugar factory in Afula.
He worked very strenuously, and after he completed his work for the period for which he was hired, he returned home ill and weak. He worked around home for a few moths, and then passed away on 19 Shvat 5717 [corresponds to English date January 21, 1957, not 1955] suddenly for a heart attack. May he be remembered for a blessing.
Telekhany was situated among forests, fields, rivers and lakes, and among the famous ten locks of the large Oginsky Canal. Therefore, its location in such an area, its beautiful natural environment with its alleys for strolling, and its empty brick house made Telekhany popular.
Many people would stroll in the forest to the glassworks and the Hutner Forest; it was very popular because of the fact that hundreds of families would earn their living from it, and because their husbands, wives and children worked in the large glass factory that was called the glassworks.
There were hundreds of people who would come to stay in cottages in the Hutner Forest to relax in the good climate and dry weather. In the turpentine area people would extract the sap from the pine trees and make turpentine out of it. Spending time around the pine trees would make weak and weary people feel better after spending 10-14 hours a day at work.
There were 300-350 Jewish families in Telekhany, in addition to the non-Jewish residents. The Jewish population lived in a chassidic environment, especially on the Sabbath and holy days. Suffering and joys were forgotten, and the melodies and songs of the chassidim would fill the streets and alleys of town. The beautiful chassidic melodies provided charm and a feeling of brotherhood and warmth: always be joyful; forget your problems, and live with hope that everything will pass and things will turn out alright; forget your worries and troubles.
Not far from us there was a Jewish community – a settlement in a small town named Sventa Volya. The people there were different from us. Whenever they spoke, they sang. It was a different way of speaking, a different dialect. However, we lived together with them, raised our children with them, and conducted a community life together with them. This was the case also with the Jewish community in the town of Lohishen. All the residents in the nearby towns shared a Jewish life together. At times they got together at election time and to improve our economic situation and cultural needs.
Most of the people were killed, and many of them emigrated to various countries, including Israel, where many currently live. We remember those who died every year – they were our dear and beloved parents and siblings who perished so tragically.
When the Soviets were arriving in Telekhany, the residents were impatiently awaiting them. At that time, the Poles, who had been in control of the government fled, leaving us without a local government, and without any assistance or protection.
The peasants of the nearby villages were ready to rob the community. The government was taken over by communists Leibel and Ephraim Ber Klitenick and a few Christians. There was also Leibel Minkes, Yisraelik Bernstein and others. Though the Poles had left town, they were in the forests, and would occasionally come back to town. On one occasion when they left, they took with them fifteen young boys. I believe that their screaming reached the heavens until the decree was revoked and we were able to save them.
The courageous among us, almost the majority of the community, decided to go over to the Red Army and ask them to come into Telekhany as soon and as fast as possible. The army was then located in the town of Hontsevich.
When the Jewish community was attending synagogue at noon on Yom Kippur, the first soldiers arrived, accompanied by an airplane. Everybody went outside and thought it was a nalosh, and we were now overjoyed. None of us was afraid any longer, and everyone relaxed. We all now suddenly fell asleep, since the community had not slept out of worry of an order to kill us.
A “revolutionary committee” was immediately set up, and Leibel Klitenick was
appointed “commander.” The situation now settled down, became calm and
normalized. The local talented and important members of the Communist Party took
over the government and the revolutionary committee until Russia sent in other
officials. The local communists eventually started filling various positions and
work in town:
The situation was worse when the village council had to provide lists of young boys of 1617 years of age who were sent to study in trade schools. The children and their parents would curse me mercilessly because of my being involved with them. The mothers didn't appreciate the idea and the decree that we had to prepare the younger generation so they would study and thereby be saved from death. I believe that had they known this, they would have acted differently and supported the decree and the work we were doing.
My sister Yehudit was appointed as secretary of the regional agricultural department, and Zadok, the son of Chaytsha Chana Pesha, was also elected secretary of the Krolevitch village council. Almost all the Jews got positions in various places. The shoemaker and tailor moved to the workshops, and the police were housed at first in Avramel's brick house. All the positions were located at the estate, and at one point the police moved to the building of the former municipality.
When the Soviet army arrived, of course, they organized courses for learning Russian. At Yoshchemka's house, beyond the river, a hospital was set up. I requested that my younger brother Yisrael and my cousin Molya, the son of Chaytsha Chana Pesha, not go to trade school. Unfortunately, they were killed by the Germans in the hospital.
The economic situation was poor; people suffered, and many of them were in constant hunger. It was awful just to be able to obtain a loaf of bread every day because there were very long lines to get into the stores, shops and businesses, but unfortunately the stores and businesses were empty. If any products arrived in town to fill up the stores, the wives of the recently arrived commissars would take it. Eventually the storekeepers Isaac Shalom Yudel's son, whose shop was in Asher Nissel's house; my uncle Moshe Chaim Ziss worked in the store's warehouse to make sure that no one stole anything in the store.
The bakery was in the house of Nachman the baker. Nachman was arrested and expelled to Brisk. After serving 7-8 months in Brest-Litovsk he was released. The Soviet army and communist activists reformed our socialist foundations, creating an active cultural life so that our children and youth would study. Temporarily, during war and breaks in fighting, our lives slowly got back to normal, we lived under such circumstances from 1939 to June 22, 1941, when the Germans, the Nazis and their savage army attacked Russian territory.
At that time I was hired to mobilize people into the Soviet Red Army. I would devote almost 24 hours to this task without any rest, and increase manpower for the Red Army so we could defend ourselves in case we were attacked, and so that if the Red Army ordered us to engage in war, we would be ready to attack and assault the hatred.
My mother was in Motele, the hometown of Dr. Professor Chaim Weizman, staying with my sister who had gotten married in 1939. On the night of June 23-24 the civilian population and the Red Army were shuddering when the weapons warehouses in the large city of Pinsk were dynamited, and we could even see the flames in Telekhany. Of course, this created panic and chaos, and the mobilized soldiers of the Russian Soviet Army ran to Pinsk, but unfortunately, didn't get there. All the residents of the town had fled, and each person looked for somewhere to hide for a while until things calmed down. Everyone looked for help and ways to protect themselves. The panic worsened when the authorities in town fled. Of course, without any governmental authorities there was panic and anarchy. It was terrible to see how people plundered and pillaged, robbing the stores and warehouses. The bakeries were attacked, and people stole hot bread, getting in there through the bars over the windows. All the women were wailing and crying, and the young just fled the town.
That evening my mother returned. In the morning hours I can home from the village council, and when I saw my own mother, I was surprised and overjoyed to know that she was still in Telekhany and among the living. Her instinct was correct when she told me to leave town, and I survived because I listened to her. It was hard for me to have to leave all my loved ones, including my own mother.
A Christian named Khmielevska approached me on the street, and asked why I wasn't leaving. She knew what I was involved in, and started gushing forth, “You never did anything bad to anyone, but simply felt your human obligation and task; if the Germans get here, they'll hang you up on the first tree. Get going!” This is how the Christian woman spoke to me. When I started on my way, and got to Asher Nissel's house, I saw Shamshel Alter Bashes who said that he wasn't going anywhere since things wouldn't be worse for him under Hitler than they were under Stalin.
I decided to flee, and called Sima Asher Nissels Gurstal, but she didn't want to leave her mother Chana alone. I made the suggestion to Sarah Chana Stolyar as well as to Dina Gittelman, the daughter of Nachman the packer. They decided not to go with me, and refused my proposal. When I left I took along my only sister Yehudit, as well as Zadok Chaitsha Chana Peshas. We went alone because everyone else had already left earlier. When we approached Vihonoshetz we met Shlomka of Bobrovitch, the husband of Machlia Zadok. When he recognized us, he turned to Zadok and said, “Where are you going? Come back! If you've already decided to go, then take along the horse in the stall.” When Zadok heard this, he went back with him. I never saw him again. My sister Yehudit was tired and had large calluses on her feet. She couldn't walk any further.
Not far from Hontsevitch I met a large group of Jews from Telekhany, including Motel Meidelov and his wife, Isaac Zavel's children and many others. My sister decided to go back together with this group, even though it pained and disappointed her to do so. However, in such circumstances it is very difficult to tell someone what to do. I went on a long journey deep into Russia all alone, without being helped or part of any group of wanderers. When I got past Vihonoshetz, I met many young people from Telekhany who had been employed there: the judge, police official, NKVD official and others. They were going further and stopped to tell us that it was incorrect and a lie that the Germans were approaching. They asked us to go to Vihonoshetz and tell the gentiles to come with wagons, meaning they should harness up the horses and take the Jews back to Telekhany. I understood that they wanted to get away from us. I was against it, while others believed them and went to Vihonoshetz.
Seeing that the young Jews listened to them and left, the gentiles departed in the direction of Russia. Watching the Christians, I left with them, stayed at a distance from them, and didn't join them in the refugee camp. I never saw or heard about the young people who left for Vihonoshetz again. I don't know whether they got to Vihonoshetz or were killed by the gentiles there. Berl Meltzer, the young son of Moshe the barber, left his things with me and asked me to watch them until he returned from Vihonoshetz, but I never saw him again.
Along the way we found out that the Russian border guards wouldn't let anyone from the new regions (“westerners”) across the border. We continued on our way, and through a large marshland, until we got to the town of Hontsevich. There were no longer any border guards when we crossed over the border. Their barracks were empty, and the first town on the other side of the border crossing was Krasnaya Sloboda, not far from Bobruisk. I met there many people from Telekhany: Moshka Roshchintzer and the children of Feibel Chasha Leah; Gittel Izuk and her husband Yeshayahu and their children; Chaya Leah of Kolonsk and her brother Yankel; Yisrael David Kagan (Gershons) and many others such as Yehudit and Chaitsha Chana Peshas.
When the latter recognized me, she started to cry and told me that she fled in the morning with Feivel's children, but now they were being chased away because they had nothing to eat. I had a few buns that I had exchanged for some possessions that Berl Moshe the son of the barber had left behind before going to Vihonoshetz. I was thinking that if I survived, I would have to make an accounting and pay for it.
I took along my cousin Yehudit, and told her that we both would live and eat the same thing. As we went further away from town, we met Gittel Yuzuk [sic], who started crying and demanding that we return home. She told Yehudit that wherever she goes, she could return home. After this sermonizing and explanation, she suddenly started saying that she wanted to go home. I didn't know what to advise her under the circumstances, but I didn't let her go, but she insisted on returning home. I didn't want to convince her otherwise, since I didn't want her to blame me in case anything happened on our journey.
She returned home with an entire group of refugees, however I don't know whether they ever got there, and I proceeded on my own all alone. In Krasnaya Slaboda I met Chaytsha Lutsky (Freidels) and the children, as well as Feigel Minkes. They told me that they couldn't go any further because Chaytsha was on the verge of giving birth, and their husbands, Hershel and Yisrael Bernstein had gone on ahead. So Chaytsha Lutsky, Feigel Minkes and their children were killed in Krasnaya Slaboda.
I continued on my journey the journey of a hapless Jew walking with his walking stick and people he didn't know. Behind the town of Starobin in the forest, I met Gronya the wife of Chaim the bathhouse attendant, who had swollen feet, as well as the Telekhany teacher Melech Asher and his wife. Gronya began to say that her husband Chaim and their child, as well as Ephraim Ber Klitenick, Bracha Dinhan and Asher Godiner had gone on ahead, and she stayed behind because she couldn't continue. We remained together for a few hours, but the German armored troops soon arrived in Starobin. They were the first soldiers who came to inspect the area as a strategic location.
Hunger soon prevailed, and it was difficult just to buy bread. I left immediately, leaving everyone who had been with me behind. I went by foot in an unknown direction. The road I was on was unknown to me because it was my first time there.
In 1941 I ended up in Kazakhstan, and being among the living, I found out that among those people were the following people from Telekhany: Asher and Naomi Gurstal, Leibel Eisenberg, Minkes, Feivel Rubacha's children, Moshele Kamadiyeev (Avraham Chaim's), Shlomo Landman and Gronya.
In 1943 in the city of Swerdlovsk I happened to meet Ephraim Ber Klitenick, who informed me that his wife Bracha Dina, Asher Godiner, Mashka Roshchnitzer and a few other Telekhany Jews were still alive. Sometimes I would write letters to Palestine to my cousin Michael Ziss (Chana Peshas) who now lives in Kefar Yehoshua not far from Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley on the way to Haifa. I found out from his letters about other people from Telekhany who would write letters to friends and relatives in Palestine.
Several times I have mentioned the Red Army, which was approaching our area. When I found out about it, I immediately started writing letters to my relatives in Telekhany. Even now it's hard to believe that the Germans killed everyone.
I wrote to my mother and aunt Chana Pesha, Henoch Stolyar and others. I also wrote to my sister in Motele. Unfortunately, all my letters were returned, with the statement that the Germans had killed all the Jews. I wrote to the Telekhany village council and received a response saying that all the Jews had been killed by the Germans on August 67, 1941. I received the same answer from the Motele village council. My sister and her husband and child lived there for ten months.
In August 1946 I arrived in Telekhany to visit my hometown and those who remained alive after the great catastrophe and the Great War. When I got off the airplane at the Telekhany airfield and went to the estate near the river, I found a terrible situation. The river had dried up and was filled with weeds. The locks were gone, and only the empty brick house and the well remained. I went to the place where our house had been built, and it pained me to see what happened and what remained. Only the lilac bush that my father had planted for the bar-mitzvah of my brother Alter remained. The trees and the bush had become overgrown, and there were pieces of paper between the branches. I thought I might find something written on those papers from my relatives, and with their handwriting. I went further among the trees and bushes and picked up various pieces of paper, but unfortunately they were pieces strewn around by the wind.
When I stood there deep in thought, and looked at what happened, looking among the branches, I suddenly noticed a figure of a woman, a Christian, who started to cry profusely. While I was staying with our neighbor, Voit Kovolevsky, I started to feel frightened, and my heart hurt from everything that occurred. I wouldn't go out onto the street it was really frightening, like a solitary person who finds himself in a large forest among wild animals. I was frightened to look through the window; it seemed as if I could see Henoch and Chana through the window.
The Stolin and Lubisher synagogues of the chassidim were burned down and destroyed. The alley where my aunt Chana Pesha lived was destroyed and erased from the face of the earth; only the earth and the houses remained where Berel Tchernomertzes, Bashes, and our family had lived. Everything was destroyed, even the fences. There were only the fields and a few lonely houses. Where you used to see Jewish faces, all you saw now were the faces of old gentile women of the villages of Babrovitch and Viada who had moved to Telekhany due to the fact that the Germans had burned down the houses and villages. After the murder of the Jews, the Germans brought in people from deep inside Russia, from the Smolensk region.
Our large glassworks factory, where hundreds of men and women worked, was destroyed. It had provided sustenance for the community and its development, and attracted new residents. At one time to come to the factory was a long trip, and now it was faster to get there. I had then met Yossel Grushko, the wagon driver.
We went together to the mass graves, where our loved ones were buried people who were torn away from us too early. The graves are located at Salomka's fields, not far from Vasilev's forests. There are three large graves of men, women and children in those fields. My heart turned to stone as I stood there, since I couldn't cry. The description of the massacre is awful. They were shot in their underwear, and with a burst of machine-gun fire, they fell over into the large open graves. Many were buried alive, including Reuven Rubinstein's wife from Babrovitch. They repeatedly shot Feigel, the wife of the gravedigger (Avraham David), but the bullet didn't work. They wanted to take away her child, but she refused, so they shot her and the child, a newborn. I was told that my aunt Chana Pesha was shot while lying in bed because she wouldn't go. Her grandchild, Zadok Chaytsha's, hid out for a while. After the massacre, he was lost and ended up not far from Kraglevitch. A gentile woman who he knew gave him food. The gentile police of Kraglevitch caught him, brought him to the commander who shot him at the estate of the Pole Koszciol, where he was buried.
In 1946, while I was in Telekhany, we told the gentiles that I had wanted to transfer him to the Jewish cemetery, but no one knew where he was buried. The local priest, who knew, had left for Poland. The bodies of the people were never reburied in a Jewish cemetery, but remained around in fields and forests. This included all my friends, my mother and younger brother in Telekhany, my sister Rachel and her husband in Motele, my sister Yehudit along the way between Telekhany and Hantsevitch.
The local Jews suffered greatly from the gentiles and neighboring villages. When the Red Army left, and the Germans had not yet arrived in Telekhany, the local gentiles would surround the town after sundown every day with horses and wagons, and break tires, rob and beat all the Jews. They would have pogroms like in the time of Khmelnitski and Petlura.
Jews would hide wherever they could. My mother and brother looked for protection, as did Henoch, Chana and Sarah Stolyar, with our neighbor Kovalyevsky. Yudel Nissels and his family, and Chana Asher's Gurstal and her children would seek refuge in the loft in Radek's stable, where he stored hay and straw. Each person in town looked for somewhere to hide.
As soon as the Germans arrived, they prohibited the gentiles from rampaging. This didn't last long, and shortly thereafter all the Jews were killed. They were taken to the glassworks, and on the road stood Krutchenka, the sister of the priest. She saw how my mother was being led away for the last time, and she said, “Be well, who knows whether we'll see each other again.” Soon people heard shooting. The screaming and crying could be heard far away until there was silence again.
There was the case where they captured Yenta Potrebnick (a grandchild of Avraham David). She told the German not to shoot her because she was so beautiful. The German didn't shoot her; instead a gentile policeman shot her on the spot.
I left the mass graves and went to the cemetery, where my father and older brother Alter are buried. Unfortunately, I couldn't find their graves, and only a few complete gravestones remained. The rest were erased. There were also Christian graves with crosses.
At the end of 1946 I left Kazakhstan for Pinsk. There are no Jews today in Telekhany, nor in the neighboring towns. I visited Telekhany a few times; when I went there the Christians would tell me how they had helped to save Jews.
I once went to Telekhany with Aharon Natan Matuskis and Motya Reuven Gurstels, and we entered their home. There is today a store in Reuven's house. The walls dividing the rooms were removed. When we arrived in Telekhany, all the non-Jews surrounded us because they all knew me. They asked about Motya, and whether he was also from Telekhany. We answered no, because Motya was registered under the name of a family outside of town.
I couldn't watch Motya's pain as I relived with him the pain of the situation we were in, and what happened to us after we lost our best and most devoted. In Malka Reuven's the storekeeper's store, we saw an old gentile woman from a village selling produce. I visited Telekhany more often, and looked at everything and the orphaned houses, how the gentiles turned windows into doors and doors into windows. Everything was renovated. The cemetery was totally destroyed, and in its place they built a warehouse for kerosene.
The non-chassidic synagogue was now used to store rye and wheat, and turned into a huge granary. Asher Nissel's house was turned into a dairy, and Yitzchak Landman's house was turned into a court. Sklyar's house became the prosecutor's office, and Isaac's Zavel's house an army, police and NKVD headquarters, and Avrahamel's brick house, the bank. Alter Crystal's house became the village council, and Aharon Landman's house the financial administration. The barracks were turned into the regional executive offices.
Telekhany Jews who remained in Russia, and whom I know about, are: Moshel Komodyov in Leningrad; Berl Feivel Rubacha's and Moshka Roshtsintser in Kiev; Aharon Feivels in Tashkent; Hershel Bernstein and Gedaliah Kortshmer in Russia.
In Pinsk there remained Hershele Tuvias Terepolsky; in the town of Summi, Shimon Bresky, the grandson of David the bathhouse attendant; Malchiel Itskovitch left Pinsk via Poland and went to Palestine. The following families went to Poland: Aharon Begun Natans, Leibel Klitenick and Gronya, Ephraim Ber Klitenick and Bracha Dina.
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