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[Page 119]

Wlodawka

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Jeannette Gelman

The Bug River, that separated Wlodowka from Wlodowa, gave each city its individual complexion without which one could not imagine either the Wlodowka or the Wlodowa residents. Mostly, the waters of the Bug flowed calmly, politely, almost in a Jewish manner. Even children were able to bathe in the river. That's how it looked all year round, but with the onset of spring, huge torrents of water flooded into the river from the mountains and they churned around mercilessly. At that time, the wild waves threw themselves onto Wlodowka that stood at the lower part of the shore.

The Jewish-like Bug River, suddenly became overfilled and poured into the houses in Wlodowka. With dramatic tension and with fear in their eyes, they looked down from Wlodowa that stood on the mountain. The residents of Wlodowa, who were bound up and connected to Wlodowka, which would likely have been one city if not for the Bug, which actually separated them, watched with deep concern and fear at how the roiling waves of the river wiped away complete parts of the town.

The flooding was likely one of the reasons that the population of Wlodowka did not increase or did not evolve as the population of Wlodowa, but remained a small town. It was also the train station in Wlodowka that attracted a significant number of Wlodowka residents because this was an important business source. The Wlodowka Jews played a large role in …

[Page 120]

… establishment of Tomaszowka, the town at the train station.

Wlodowka was primarily a Jewish town, had Jewish magistrates. The first, that one remembers, was Berish Erlich. Later, his son Motel became town magistrate. In later times, until World War Two, Motel's son Avremele Erlich was the magistrate.

Leyb Fishman, of the first Kotzker chassidim [those who followed the Rebbe of Kotzk], was the treasurer- rabbi, and his son Binyomin, or as they used to call him Binyomin Leyb's, was a great scholar and a respected man of means.

The treasurer-rabbis, just as the town magistrates, did many helpful things for the Jewish residents, especially for the Jews who were refugees, by writing up or acquiring birth certificates or passports.

History says that Wlodowka was once a large town that governed over the surrounding areas. The Pinkus [record book] of the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society] bears witness to this, as they began keeping records in the Pinkus five hundred years ago. Wlodowka had its own cemetery that was near the village of Russian-Orchev. During World War Two, this cemetery was destroyed. The farmers from the neighboring village broke down the tombstones and used them to plaster the walkways to their houses. Only a few tombstones were left – only old ones.

In Wlodowka, there were grand annual fairs that stretched endlessly for several days, and …

[Page 121]

… were famous all over the entire Poland. Merchants and farmers from far and near would come to the fairs.

Jews in Wlodowka ran a wood business on a grand scale. They even had customers outside of the country. A significant source of income were the brickyards. Many Jews dealt with handiwork and also with land work. Fields, orchards, and forests surrounded the town on all sides, and everything was witness to the perpetual connection between city and village, between man and nature.

In Wlodowka there was a large Beis Medrash [study hall] and a few small Chassidic synagogues. This small Jewish community was proud of its scholarly rabbis' reputations, and they were also of prominent ancestry. These names are remembered:

Harav Shmuel Zak, who was called the Bialer Rav.

Harav Nechemye, born in Wlodowka and studied with the Rav and writer Zvi Teumim, was also a writer of important religious texts. Harav Nechemye is mentioned in the sefer [religious book] Ezras Yisroel [Helping the Jewish People]. He also published the religious text Torah Mitzion [Torah of Zion].

He died in Wlodowka on the 14th day of Adar, 5696 [1935]. His grave is in the Wlodowka cemetery.

After he died, his son Reb Yonah'le took over the rabbinic seat.

Other rabbis in Wlodowka were: Reb Gershon Yidel Liberman, Reb Leibele, who later became the Rav in Wlodowa; Reb Motele, who was called the Trisker Rebbe, and his brick house stood until the Second World War.

The last Rav in Wlodowka was Reb Mendele Morgenstern, the eldest son of the Lukower Rebbe, Reb Moshe Boruch Morgenstern, who was a grandson of the first Kotzker Rebbe, Reb Mendele.

At the beginning of 1939, Reb Mendele took over the rabbinic seat in Wlodowa, but did not resign from the position in Wlodowka, where he would come several times a week.

Among the respectable residents who were involved with city and philanthropic issues in Wlodowka, were: Izek Izenberg, Yisroel Holtzman, Hersh-Ber Fuks, Feivel Altusky, Mintz, the brickyard owner Yakov Fridman, Kunye Neuman, the gabbai [beadle, caretaker] of the Chevra Kadisha [Jewish Burial Society] Shloime Lederer (called: Shloime of the mast). His sons: Melech and Mendel were of the leading Zionists in Wlodowka; Nisele Rabower and his son Yosef; Eliyahu Rubenstajn, who would ferry people across the river in his own boats; Shloime Leyb and his son Aron Holczman, Hershel Farber, Reuven Hersh Vinograd, Meshel Neuman, Moshe Fregel, and so on.

The shochtim [ritual slaughterers] in Wlodowka were well known for their pious work, their scholarship, and their lineage. Moshe and his son Meyer belonged to this esteemed group.

The melamdim [teachers] were fine, devout Jews who excelled with their devotion in teaching the children. These are the ones remembered: Eliezer Pesach Biale and his son Itzel, Avremele the chazan's [cantor's], Yakov Velvel, and so on. Wlodowka also had many pious women who helped poor people and particularly those who needed to receive help in a discreet manner. These women were: Esther Basya Fuks, Shifra bas-Aharon Biale, Yocheved Biale, Esther Holczman, Gele Minz, Baila Shneiderman, Shosha Holczman, Lieba Pietrushka, and so on.

In the year 1905, the Wlodowka youth actively began taking part in revolutionary activities and the rebellion against Russian Czarism. Some of these youths were sent away to distant Siberia. Their leader, Mendel Minz, who was freed in the year 1917, later became a respected political activist in the Russian city of Tula, where his family lives until today.

Part of the revolutionary youth, who were called “the Strikers,” fled to America.

The small town of Wlodowka, during a list of different time periods, found itself on the border and played a role in the strategies of various military headquarters. When Poland found itself under Russian occupation, Wlodowka was allocated to the Grodno territories. After that, Wlodowka belonged to the Siedlice territories. After World War One, when Poland once again became independent, Wlodowka belonged to Brest Litovsk, and Wlodowa to the Lublin county. At the beginning of the Second World War, at the time of the German invasion, the Bug River was the borderline and Wlodowka remained under the Russians. After that, Wlodowa belonged to Germany.

[Page 123]

After the Second World War, once again the Bug River became the border between Russia and Poland.

During the Second World War, the Russians evacuated all the residents to Tomaszowka, and Wlodowka disappeared off the map, and was converted into a border station that was guarded by the Russians with all their rigidity, and it was not accessible to the civilian population.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Jews in Wlodowka were exceptional in their intensive activity in saving Jews who had fled from occupied Poland.

The Germans, who governed in Wlodowa, did not guard the border at the Bug with particular stringency as the Russians had done on the other side of the border in Wlodowka. The Russians patrolled the Bug on the other side of the border without any breaks, particularly just opposite Wlodowa. The Jews who wanted to save themselves from the German occupation were arrested and sent away by the Russians. The Wlodowka Jews who lived near the Bug River, would watch the Russian soldiers, and when they were a distance from the town, these Jews would send signals to the Jews on the other side of the Bug by lighting matches, that the coast was clear and they could cross the river.

This was winter 1939 and 1940. The Wlodowka Jews would take the refugees into their homes and give them food and lodging for the night. Stealing across the border would happen mainly at night when they would cross the river in boats or swim across. At dawn, they would send the refugees to Tomaszowka, sending along work utensils with them so that it would appear that they were residents of Wlodowka who were going to work in Tomaszowka, and there they would mingle into the local population.

For hundreds of years, the Jews of Wlodowka lived peaceful, calm lives, kept up the Jewish traditions and lifestyles. Each person was a complete world, quiet souls who never missed afternoon [mincha] or evening prayers [maariv], either with a quorum or alone, and everyone's greatest pleasure was to sit down and study a page of the gemara or a chapter of the Talmud, each according to his own level, and with that, everyone, all the Jews of the town, felt himself connected and joined …

[Page 124]

… as they did in distant generations until the last days of the expulsion and then annihilation.


Tomaszowka

by Ben Matisyahu

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Jeannette Gelman

The huge wooded area with the tall pine trees that surrounded the Wlodowa train station, four kilometers from the city, on the other side of the Bug River, was the train line Brisk-Chelm. There were many factories there, but in the Czarist times, Jews were not allowed to settle there. The only ones who lived there required special permission – the so-called “Living Permit.”

The reason the Jews were not allowed to live there was because of the Kaiser's sanatorium “Alexandrov,” where people from the Czar's court and ministry would come to be healed. Many of them had psychiatric illnesses, and no one was allowed to approach the sanatorium so that no one would know of the sicknesses of these prestigious people.

Only after World War One, when the Polish rule was established, did Jews begin to settle there. The last earl of the Zamojskis, who owned the entire area around the train station, began to sell pieces of land to build the settlement that was called Tomaszowka, named after his father the earl Tomasz Zamojski. The Jews from Wlodowka, from Wlodowa, and from the surrounding villages bought land and began building houses, mainly wooden ones. Within several years, the settlement of Tomaszowka acquired the appearance of a fine town. The streets were lined with tall pine trees and within a short time one hundred families already lived there, ninety percent of which was Jewish.

From the Wlodowa train station in Tomaszowka, large transports would leave with merchandise within the …

[Page 125]

… country and outside. Primarily, the transports consisted of wood materials, grains, and meat. In Tomaszowka, there was the large Polish-Belgian enterprise that manufactured railroad ties [sleepers], telephone poles, and so on. There were also several sawmills and factories for burning pitch, in which many residents from the area were employed.

 

wlo125.jpg
Tomaszowka Rav, Reb Hershel Gefen

 

Thanks to the fine, dry air, the area was a country and resting place. Many guests would come in the summertime. Many penziones [small hotels] were built, and also many private residents would rent their rooms to guest. That's how the Jewish town of Tomaszowka grew and from day to day became fuller.

Reb Yankel Holczman, a wealthy forest merchant and pious Jew, built a large Beis Medrash [study hall] near his house in the center of town, had several Torah scrolls written, and then hired the great scholar Reb Hershel Leizer Moishe's (Hershel Gefen) as the Rav. He would sit day and night and study in the Biale-Mezryzcer shtiebel [small synagogue], and also held a Torah class with the chassidim in the shtiebel. His wife Ruchele, ran a leather store which she gave up when her husband became the Tomaszowka Rav.

Yankel Holczman was a great philanthropist and also built several houses for the poor and for friends, which he helped set up, and then he also helped them with their livelihoods.

Of the Tomaszowka residents, we also remember the esteemed Radzyn genius, Yisroel Czesner, a son-in-law of the Holczmans, and his wife Yehudis; Eliezer Neuman, who made the first food store in the new town; Yehoshua Pietrushka and his wife Lieba, who built the first bakery; Yisroel Vinograd, a distinguished philanthropist and active in the community and his wife Lieba, whose house was always open to the needy; Moishe Ljos, a Pilau chassid and owner of a sawmill, who, together with his wife Kreindel was involved with helping the needy; Tuvia and Esther Lichtenberg, Getzel Epel, an owner of a pitch burning factory; his brother-in-law Kleiner – of the initial residents; Avrohom Leyb Zukerman, Moishe Vaks, Moishe Sosna, Dudcze Lederer, Itzel Biale, Yisroel Kagan, Aharon Holczman – all these were from the first settlers in Tomaszowka. Along with these distinguished families were also: Moishe Zelczer, Yehoshua Wasernys, Chaim Pinchus Neuman, Alergant, Friedman, Moishe Pietrushka, Etel Sherman with her son and daughter Pola, Yona Rotenberg, Oselka, Kramozh, Moshe Richtman, and so on.

Of the Zionist activists, there were: Yankel Nisenboim and his wife Soro Yenta, the Sherman brothers, Avrohom Rozen and his wife Soro Baila, Chaim Yisroel Ljos, the Zanwil brothers and Yakov Chaim Pietrushka, Yisroel Zukerman, and Fonja. They established a culture group, a library, and ran warm Zionist activities, set up the Hachshara [training farms for those preparing to immigrate to Israel, Palestine at the time] places in Tomaszowka, and got work for the Chalutzim [pioneers preparing to immigrate to Israel, Palestine at the time].

Gradually, the town grew on all sides, until the outbreak of World War II. Tomaszowka was on the other side of the Bug River and was taken over by the Soviets. The Germans were in Wlodowa. The Bug River was the border that also divided the newly built Jewish settlements.

Until June of 1941, the Russians ruled over Tomaszowka.

[Page 127]

Many Jews were sent away. Others had to leave the town and live one hundred kilometers farther. Only the poor working people and such remained, of whom there would be no suspicion of belonging to a party. Also, Jews from Wlodowa came, as they crossed the border, and Jews from the surrounding villages.

In June 1941, the Germans crossed the Bug River and began to set up their murderous regime in Tomaszowka against the Jews. On Yom Kippur 1942, the Germans evacuated all the Jews two kilometers behind the town and ordered them to dig ditches. The Jews from Tomaszowka, Wlodowka, and from the surrounding villages were all shot on that day and buried in those ditches that they themselves had dug. The Rav, Reb Hershel Gefen, went down with his people, wearing…

[Page 128]

… his tallis [prayer shawl], and he died with all the other Jews. A small number of Jewish youth were successful in escaping into the woods, and only very few of them survived.

Shortly before Hitler's defeat, before leaving Tomaszowka, the Gestapo brought digging machines and all the dead martyrs' bodies were taken from ditches and burned. The ditches were then closed up, and the earth was ploughed and seeded so that no one would know or see even a trace of the German murderers' acts on that Yom Kippur of 1942.

That's how the young and beautiful Jewish town was destroyed. That's how the martyrs died, those who led a pious, Jewish life.

Ben Matisyahu


Poems

by Yitzhak Katzenelson/Yitzchok Kunczman

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Jeannette Gelman

Wlodowa the town – and the light of Radzin!
The honey so aromatic, and where is the bee?
Can the Holy Spirit rest and be somewhere
And God – not have been there?

Does a light fall from Heaven, down and so free
And the golden sun, can it not be there?
Great joy is floating there, paired up with great fear,
It's not really visible, but visible it is so.

The Rebbe who stands up for Wlodowa,
As if he has always been in Wlodowa.
Everything praises his name so quietly, everything lives in his merit,
All know and it is not known to anyone.

Yitzchok Kunczman

 

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