By Aharon Gofer
It is hard to forget the town where I was born and passed my youth. This is where I went to Jewish school and spent days in joy and sadness. it is hard to forget the town in which I lived and where cruelly died my dearest and beloved. This is where there were small houses, sandy streets, and where the inhabitants perished.
I was away from Antopol for five years, war years in which the anti-Semite Hitler and his bandits murdered millions of innocent people, only because they were Jews. With them died the Jews of Antopol.
Then I returned to Antopol for a five-day vacation. I traveled from Breslau, Germany, living with hope that a miracle had happened and that Antopol remained everything it once had been. Only when I got to town did I realize I had been living an illusion. For a long while, I stood by the house of Aharon Shemuel, the hunchback. My heart filled with blood, and my eyes with bloody tears. While I was still standing there, a wagon drove up and a gentile climbed down.
He came up to me and said, Aren't you Hyayim, the shoemaker's son? And before I could answer him, he told me the news. The Germans had killed all the Jews of Antopol, including my parents, sisters, brothers, the entire family. Only Vigdor Dviniets remained, and he offered to take me to him.
Sitting on the wagon and traveling along Pinsk Street, I saw on the steps of Hayyim Betsalel Moses' house, Shoshke, the miller's daughter. I recognized her and she me. I jumped down from the wagon, and we ran to each other and embraced. We cried for our nearest and dearest loved ones.
By Y. Varsha and M. L. Ben David
Everyone in Antopol reckoned years and events according to the fires that took place. People would say, That happened before the first fire. That happened after the second fire. And so forth.
In the years between 1870 and 1885, our town survived two big fires. In the first fire, half the town burned down, with the loss of one person's life.
On a pretty summer day, the big fire began at the house of Gedalya, the sexton, which was in the north part of town. The sexton's house was next to the Hasidic prayer house. Despite the fact the prayer house had a straw roof, the fire stopped without harming it.
On that day, it seemed, the lord of fire made a partnership with the lord of wind, and it led him to the south of town. There it seized the house of Yenkel Kovel, whose second name was Terah. One of his children saw that the house was on fire and was so frightened that he hid under the bed. When h i s parents could not find him, they thought that he had fled with the other children to the cornfields near the house. They always told the children to flee to the fields when they saw fire.
Afterwards, they found the child in the ashes of the house, burnt as black as coal in the place where the bed had been. Imagine the sadness and grief that overcame the parents. The father, a pious man, began to prepare a memorial, collecting money to buy a Torah scroll. Every Friday he collected money for that holy purpose. He would take with him one of the seminary students to write down the donations.
Getting back to the great fire, the wind led the fire to the south side, to the market. The house of Sender Moses, the cap maker, went up in flames. Then the fire burned the entire east side of the market and burned the whole stretch of Pinsk Street on which the study hall was located. Later, on the site of the study hall, they built a new bigger building, and they called it the brick study hall.
Our little town, Antopol, survived a second fire 15 years later. However, in many details, this fire was different from the first. For one thing, fire broke out
several times that summer, always in the morning.
What caused these fires? It seemed that someone was trying to get revenge against a man who was rich and respectable. Everywhere this particular man moved, his apartment was set on fire. Many innocent people suffered. The first time his house was set on fire was a hot July morning. Early that morning, when some men were driving cows to pasture, they suddenly saw black smoke coming from Abraham's house. A cry for help and a shout, Fire! It's burning! rang out.
Abraham's house was located on the west side of the market. Soon nearby houses caught fire. People began crawling out of windows, escaping with their lives in their nightclothes.
To add to the confusion, everyone in town, young and old, jumped out of bed and rushed to the fire brigade house in the middle of the market. Here was found the equipment with which to put out the fire: barrels of water on wheels which people harnessed to themselves or to horses and ran to the burning houses. There were also pumps to pump water from wells.
However, all the equipment was useless because of the wind. It blew pieces of burning wood around like rocketten. The fire was blown to the house of the black-bearded Hebrew teacher and then to Zanivier Street where the houses had roofs of straw.
Fleeing to safety, women wheeled trunks and bundles of bedclothes from the burning houses out to the open fields. Little children, gasping for breath, held on to their mothers' clothes in fear; some older children cried, begging their mother to take along the cat and small kittens. The mothers shouted to the children to keep close to them and not run off.
Then Yosl Shemuel Rosel's house caught fire. Here our experienced fire fighters the Osipovitses, Aryeh and his brother, Shelomoh, the painter threw themselves like lions on the house. These men were never afraid of fire! Each belted his clothes, stuck a hatchet on one side and a spear on the other, took a long sack soaked in water and covered his head like a prayer shawl, and went up on the burning roof. They dug in, chopped and cut to shreds the burning straw, and with other wet sacks put our the flames. When unburned pieces of straw fell off, the men threw water on them so they would not catch fire. Finally, they saved the house, and by much effort, prevented the fire from spreading farther.
After the fire, the burned-out Jews moved into the home of Hayyim Zelig, the carpenter, on Pinsk Street. This house was set on fire a short time later. Once again, our experienced fire fighters fell on the house from all sides and did not let the fire burn it.
However, the fires were set again. The city's rabbi, R. Duvid'l of blessed memory, spoke out and called for a kind of religious ban. He said that whoever knew something suspicious about the disasters should speak out and that those who set the fires would be punished by God.
At length, everything was rebuilt. Better houses and brick houses were built. First the bathhouse and the ritual bath were rebuilt because these related to modesty and family purity. An individual, a man who had returned from America and who had money, had been located. His name was Moshe, the tailor. He gave money to rebuild the bathhouse, and he became the bath keeper.
Antopol, or as the Jews used to call it Antopolie, is located seven kilometers from Horodets and 32 kilometers from Drohitshin in the Kobrin District in the Province of Grodno.
The town is part of Polesye, which is famous for its marshes and forests. Richly reflective of its geographic region, Antopolye had not without cause the nickname mud. About 60 years ago, west of town on the road to Kobrin, was a thick pine forest, which stretched to Horodets. To the south, on the road to the village of Rusheve, was also a pine forest. The forests were not lacking in wolves, bears, and
snakes. Apparently, the old town of Antopolye began at the edge of the forest at the Kobrin road and ended at the old cemetery, since religious laws decreed that a cemetery could not be inside town limits.
When was Antopolye founded? When did the Jewish settlement begin there? Reliable historical documents are few, so we know little about how the town began. We assume that the Jewish settlement was founded around 1640. Polish documents, for Antopolye then was part of Poland, mention the town in connection with the building of a church in 1718. According to the documents, a rich landowner, the lady Antonina Zamoiska, founded the church and called the town Antopol in her name, that is the town of Antonina, pol or polis meaning town in Greek.
These facts are further documented by inscriptions on monuments in the old cemetery and by tablets in the synagogue bearing the date the synagogue was built, according to Y.A. Shulruf 's AntopolyeIts Name and Age, Antopolye Aid Society, Fifteenth Yearly Jubilee Book. Shulruf discredits the belief held by some that the name Antopol comes from the fact that the town had many poplars (polye) in contrast with the surrounding fields.
The region of Polesie experienced various political changes and shake-ups. The Lithuanian Grand Prince Gedimin (elsewhere, Archduke Gdimin) conquered Polesie and ruled it from 1315-1341. Later, in 1385, Lithuania was united with Poland. The Lithuanian Grand Principality opened the doors to Polish culture and its institutions, especially the Roman Catholic Church.
The Church used all its means to extend its influence to every branch of life and was successful in this effort. Little by little, the entire region of Polesie was Polonized. This aroused the anger of the Cossacks, which resulted in the famous Chmelnitski Rebellion of 1648. The oppressed peasant masses joined the Cossacks who were in revolt for about two years. Not a little Jewish blood was spilled in Polesie before the Polish government put down the Cossacks.
In the spring of 1706, the Swedes under the leadership of Karl XII began a war against the Polish government. Thanks to the swamps of Polesie, however, the war was short-lived, and the Swedes withdrew from Poland the same year. We do not know the fate of the Jews of Antopol in those years. History is silent about this. But among the Jews of Antopol, there remained the saying, He remembers the Swedes, used in reference to something that happened a long time ago.
Poland was saved and remained intact until 1772 when it was divided for the first time. Between 1793-1795, Russia annexed the provinces of Minsk, Vilna, and Grodno. In Grodno were eight subdistricts: Grodno, Lide, Novogorodek, Slonim, Volkovisk, Pruzshani, Brisk, and Kobrin. Antopol was part of the Kobrin subdistrict.
During the 1812 Franco-Russian War, it did not take long for Napoleon Bonaparte to attack Russia, and Antopolye was not excluded. During battles in the town, the inhabitants suffered much and the Jews most of all.
The Poles in the region were not happy under Russian rule and tried to rebel twice, in 1830 and in 1863. These rebellions or pavstanyes were harmful to the Jewish inhabitants, who suffered at the hands of both sides. Many Jews of Antopol supported the Poles, providing them with food and shelter. However, even when the Jews helped the Poles hide from the Russians, the Poles mistreated them. For example, when a Jew hid some Poles in the chicken coop with the hens, the Poles remembered to shout at their savior, Filthy Jew, take off your hat! Later the Russians did not forgive the Jews for harboring the Poles, and more than one Jew was severely punished. In Czarist Russia, punishing Jews was part
of life, and all the decrees and persecutions the Russians devised for the Jews were faced by those in Antopol.
In those days, the land in Antopol and the surrounding region belonged to the noblemen, and the Jews paid platsove, land tax. In 1904, they paid taxes to the noblewoman Sofia Dmitirevna Voytash who owned 4,500 acres of good land and 100 acres of poorer land. Lady Voytash did many good things for the Antopol Jews through her manager, Mordekhai Shaynboym, and the town and surroundings were free of war for about 100 years. Then, on April 9, 1914, World War I broke out and lasted until November 1918.
At the end of the summer of 1915, the Germans took Antopol, and a great many Jewish houses were burnt. The Jews settled in the houses of gentiles who had fled to Russia. The few Jews who remained in town began to organize and resume their daily lives; however, the German rule was extremely harsh, especially for the youth. Young men were seized and sent to work camps in other regions or enslaved in the town itself.
The Germans required their language in the elementary school, and Antopol Jews, young and old, began to study German and to try to fit into the German order. German rule lasted until November 1918 when the Germans began to withdraw. During the last days of 1918, anarchy spread in the town and terrorists took over. In the end, Antopol was integrated into the new Polish government. Then terror was legalized by the Polish government, which even protected the looters and murderers. The Pozniantshikes rebelled everywhere, tore Jewish beards, and established widespread pogroms.
Soon Antopol became a war zone in the conflict between the Russians and Poles. In 1919, the Bolsheviks arrived in Antopol and introduced their new order. Their rule did not last long, and the Polish legions returned to Antopol. Upon their arrival, much Jewish blood was shed and possessions and goods were confiscated.
Then, after a period of peace and recovery in the region, the Polish-Bolshevik war broke out in July 1920. In the beginning, the Russians were the victors and arrived at the gates of Warsaw. However, the wheel of fortune turned, and the Polish forces began to drive out the Russian army. Meanwhile, the volunteer army of General Belkhovitsh, the leader of the White Guard, undertook to help the Poles. The union of the White Russians and the Poles wrote a new period of blood and tears in Jewish history.
In 1921, a peace agreement was signed in Riga between Poland and the Soviet Union, and Antopol was declared a part of Poland. The Polish government imposed strict laws of cleanliness, mainly aimed at the Jews, and introduced compulsory education in Polish schools and general military service. Although the Jews resisted joining the Polish army, some who served distinguished themselves.
Then in September 1939, World War II broke out, and the Bolsheviks took over Antopol and the entire region. Conflicting reports exist about the years of Soviet rule in the town. Some state that the Russian army brought complete spiritual and material renewal. Other reports, written in disguised fashion, describe the Russian paradise as a hell. For better or worse, the Bolsheviks ruled until June 1941 when the Germans attacked the Russians and entirely occupied Poland and the Ukraine, advancing almost to the gates of Leningrad and Moscow.
Antopol came into the grip of the Nazis. The Jews of Antopol were enslaved, tortured, and put into a ghetto, and yet they did not give up. They rebelled, participated in sabotage, and fled to the partisans in the forests who gave the Germans a dose of their own medicine. However, Hitler, may his name be cursed, was stronger. He destroyed everything and everyone. The German murders of the bloody years from June 1941 to July 1944 will never be forgotten! We will always remember the bestiality that wiped out hundreds of Jewish communities, among them our beloved Antopol.
In July 1944, Antopol was integrated into the District of Kobrin in Soviet Russia. Today a mist hangs over it. We know little about it and its inhabitants. Rarely breaks through a light from the Jewish town of Antopol, which had existed almost 300 years.
We don't know much about the economic condition of Antopol in its early years of existence. In addition, we don't know much about the Jewish population during those years but we guess that it was increasing. We do know that over 200 years ago, in 1847, the Jewish population of the town consisted of 1,108 souls. It took only 13 more years for the Jewish population to reach 1,259; the total population was 1,563. During those 13 years, a number of great fires impoverished many Jews, and they left Antopol. Yet the Jewish population grew. In 1847, the Jews were a minority. However, 50 years later, in 1897, the Jews comprised the majority of the population. They numbered 3,137 souls out of 3,867. In 1904, Antopol had a total population of 5,235, with an estimated half of the inhabitants Jewish. At that time, as Antopol grew, Pinsk Street stretched almost to Prishikhvast and the side streets were full of Jews.
What did the Antopol Jews do? How did they earn a living? What brought them to spread out the length and breadth of the town? We can answer the first question. The Antopol Jews were farmers. They planted potatoes, onions, beetroots, cucumbers, radishes, etc. These Jews were called Margavnikes, and they farmed the land in back of their houses, mainly on Kobrin and Pinsk Streets. They either worked the land themselves or hired gentile help and took their vegetables to surrounding towns to sell. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, a great trade developed for selling cucumbers in Warsaw and other cities. To keep the cucumbers fresh, the farmers laid them in barrels and then lowered the barrels down into deep wells. This kept the cucumbers from freezing in the winter. Until the outbreak of World War I, the cucumber business provided a livelihood to many Antopol households.
The second major business was the raising of geese, which Antopol Jews began in the 1890s. The geese, which were brought from deep inside Russia, were large and heavy and had long necks and a hump on their beaks. These qualities led to rabbis mentioning the geese in their response. The great rabbi Ben-Tsiyon Shternfeld devoted 18 pages to the Antopol geese.
The geese were raised in special buildings called Fasharnies where they were stuffed with oats and millet.When they became fat, they were sent to Vilna or Germany. According to the popular saying, A goose should not live to hear the reading of the Scroll of Esther. Merchants from other towns came to Antopol, and geese merchants from Antopol traveled to Vilna, typically spending the Jewish New Year's and Day of Atonement there. They had their own prayer quorum in Vilna, and yellow-haired Hershel was their cantor.
A number of other businesses provided livelihood for the Jews of Antopol. For example, there were presses used to press oil and horse-driven and wind-driven mills to grind rye. In addition, masons at a brick factory made bricks for Antopol and the surrounding region. Another factory turned out Dutch tiles for ovens. An important business was provided by a linen press, which was used to smooth linen brought by the gentiles. The first person to establish a linen press was Efrayim Volyusher. The press was well known in the region, especially because of its factory whistle.
In the middle of town, between Kobrin and Pinsk Streets, was a market with a row of stores in the middle. In 1890, Jews sold wares from 42 stores to city and village customers. On Sundays, gentiles from the villages brought their products to the market and
sold them to the Jews. With the money, the gentiles bought kerosene, salt, calico for clothing, etc. The largest sales to gentiles were made during the yearly fairs, Desiatikha and Traytse. Desiatrikha (from the word for ten) fell on Friday 10 weeks after Passover. During the Polish government, a fair was also held on the first day of each month of the civil calendar. The fairs were well known throughout the region. Out-of-town merchants came to Antopol to shop and Jews from surrounding towns came to trade and find bargains. During the fairs, Antopol was like a beehive, so bustling and noisy one could hardly walk through the market.
In 1840, the digging of the Royal Canal from Pinsk to Horodets played an important role in the economic structure of Antopol. A local Jewish contractor, Yankel Shmulevitsh, supplied workers for the project. Later, in the 1880s, the building of the railroad between Zshabinke and Pinsk provided employment for many Antopol Jews and Christians. The Antopol forest merchants, the Lifshitses, provided the wood for the railroad ties. Another large construction job was the highway built between Horodets and Antopol during 1908-1910. The highway made life easier for cart drivers who used to go to the Horodets railway station to pick up passengers and merchandise.
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Antopol had a savings and loan bank, which made it possible for Antopol storekeepers to get loans without interest. The bank was located in Avigdor Sirota's house, and Perets Gurvits, who later became a dentist, was the bookkeeper. When World War I broke out, the bank ceased to function. In 1921, as the town began to recover, the bank was reopened, and by 1924 it had 190 members. Between the First and Second World Wars, a Free Loan Association was founded, thanks to Mrs. Esther Kornblum, a visitor from the United States. The Association did much to improve the economic situation of the Antopol Jews at that time.
Little by little Antopol began to recover from World War I. A train stop was built where trains stopped briefly and mail was delivered, instead of at Horodets. Around 1928, buses began to run between Kobrin and Antopol. These changes improved the commercial businesses in Antopol. Then, in 1935, the family Pomeraniets from Yaneve installed an electric generator, which gave Antopol electric light and provided electricity for the mill to grind groats.
Before World War I, the United States was a major source of income for Antopol. Many men who were working in the US sent their wives US dollars, which doubled in value when exchanged for rubles. Also parents, who had grown children in the States, often received a few rubles from them. After World War I, support from the US increased as those Jews who could escape Antopol immigrated. Under Economic Minister Grabski, the Polish authorities had begun to dry up sources of income for Jews.
However, where could a Jew flee? The United States had shut itself off from immigration. A stream of immigration began to the Land of Israel and a second stream to South American countries such as Argentina and Brazil and to Cuba, Mexico, etc. Thanks to these two streams of immigration, the Jews of Antopol survived to help build the countries to which they moved, especially the Land of Israel. The Antopol Jews in the Diaspora gave with an open hand to the rebuilding of the Jewish State. Those who saved themselves in Israel took an active part in the building and defense of the country.
Life in Antopol, as in other Jewish towns of Polesia, was dominated by the Jewish religion with the rabbis setting the tone for every walk of life and the Code of Jewish Law directing how one should live. Although it was often difficult to identify the specific text of the Code, the Jews of Antopol did not fail to live up to the letter of the law. For exam-
ple, one story tells of how, over 100 years ago, the Jews of Antopol fulfilled religious law by cooperating with those of Drohotshin in the purchase of a piece of citron to celebrate the holiday of Tabernacles. Perhaps the Jews of Antopol did not have enough money to buy a citron for themselves. Every other day during the Tabernacles holiday, a horse and wagon were dispatched to take the citron to Drohotshin, a distance of 28 kilometers.
Nevertheless, here and there were young people who rebelled and refused the yoke of religious law. One was, precisely, the rabbi's son, R. Mosheh Hirsh, who became a Berliner, a follower of Moses Mendelsohn. Years later there was the well-known Dr. Israel Mikhal Rabinovits, one of the first members of the Lovers of Zion.
A thirst for enlightenment began to penetrate Jewish culture. The public began to demand that special teachers be assigned to Jewish elementary schools to teach Hebrew, Russian, and mathematics, because, according to one report, without these skills, a modern person cannot find his existence.
People began to study Hebrew, grammar, and also Russian, a fact substantiated by the abundant correspondence printed in the newspaper, ha-Melits in the 1880s. The newspaper was frequently found in Antopol homes. Prosperous families in Antopol also subscribed to the newspaper ha-Tsefirah. By 1905, Antopol even had a special agent for ha-Zeman. In addition to these Hebrew newspapers, Yiddish and Russian newspapers and other periodicals were delivered in Antopol.
The social movements of the Russian Revolution had a strong influence in Antopol. People of the town talked about Fradel Stavski, a woman who organized subversive activities in the town and was sent to Siberia.
The Bund was also active, as well as the Socialists.
Naturally, the Lovers of Zion movement and later the Zionist World Organization had a strong presence in Antopol. However, that is a chapter in itself.
Antopol boys and girls began to study Russian in the Russian school. They continued their studies in the gymnasiums of Brisk and other cities and went on to the universities, coming out as doctors and other educated professionals.
Mainly, the Jews of Antopol focused on Jewish studies. Boys studied in various rabbinical seminaries, the older more intelligent studying with the rabbi of the city or in the study hall by themselves. As a result, a number of these boys became renowned rabbis. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a small rabbinical seminary in Antopol was led by R. Benjamin (Shevelevits), Professor of Talmud. Boys from other towns as well as those from Antopol studied there.
Winds of educational reform reached Antopol, and the townsperson R. Aharon Lifshits established a reformed elementary school. The school existed for several years, succeeded by Israel's elementary school (Israel Volevelski-Wal), which had special class benches for the students and a teacher for Russian.
In those days, Antopol also had a private girls school led by Taibe Frume. Private teachers for Hebrew, Russian, German, and general sciences became the rule. Thus Antopol became a town known for its educational facilities, including a library containing books in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian.
The thirst for education increased after World War I. A Tarbut school was organized where boys and girls studied the Hebrew language. There was also a library known as the Y. L. Perets Library. Jewish elementary schools and rabbinical seminaries also opened in Antopol. The sound of Torah was heard in the streets, until it was silenced by Soviet orders to close the Jewish cultural institutions.
Then came the Nazis (may their memory be blotted out), who obliterated our brethren in Antopol. May God revenge their blood!
Jews from Antopol had a strong presence in the cities of Russia and Poland. As early as the 1880s, there were Jews from Antopol in Kishinev, Bessarabia. They had social relations in all fields and even had their own study hall.
Our brethren were present in Warsaw, especially in literary circles, where our townsperson, the Hebrew and Yiddish writer Mosheh Stavski (Satui), lived from 1905-1911. The Antopol geese merchants and pickle makers used to go to Warsaw.
An important center of immigration was the United States. It was a long haul to get there. One had to have a passport, to cross the border and be disinfected. Then one was aboard a ship for two to three weeks. In addition, America was not a kosher place for Jews. Judaism could not be observed there like in our native country. However, an American dollar was worth two rubles in Antopol!
People began to travel to New York and Chicago. These were the two big cities where one could earn a living and have a family. Brownsville in New York City was the former Jerusalem of the U.S. Jews from Antopol colonized it. Together with people from Kobrin and Horodets, they established their own synagogue. They named it the Society for Good Deeds of the Union of Brethren of Kobrin, Horodets, and Antopol.
One Jew from Antopol brought over a second. However, not all felt at home in the new country. Many returned to Antopol and rebuilt their new lives. Those who remained in the U.S. became citizens and contributed to the progress of the country. They established Associations and helped their brethren remaining in Antopol.
Many persons from Antopol, such as the Farber family (Farberware) and Shelomoh Margalit (oil and gasoline stations), were represented in US industry.
In the field of music, our brethren played an important part. Hazan David Futerman was one of the country's best cantors and was president of the Cantor's Union of the United States. Also, Roberta Peters, a member of the Futerman family, was a star of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
The Jewish writer, Shmuel Dayksel, was the son of a Jew from Antopol who had a large tailoring firm in Kishinev.
In science, Jews from Antopol were well represented. Our beloved townsperson Dr. Feitel Berman, of blessed memory, was the administrator of the largest hospital in the world, located in Pasadena, California. Also, Dr. Meir Kletski was for many years the chief dentist of the Arbeyter Ring (Workmen's Circle) and wrote scientific articles about dentistry.
A Jew from Antopol, Professor L. Anderson (Aranovski), played an important part in the development of the atomic bomb, which brought an end to World War II.
The Antopol Jews in Chicago established a good niche for themselves, founding Associations and other institutions. The Antopol synagogue in Chicago was well known in town. Thanks to another Antopol Jew, Rabbi Jacob Grinberg of blessed memory, the rabbinical seminary Bet ha-Midrash la-Torah was established. He was a Professor of Talmud there until his death. In addition to teaching Torah in the seminary, Rabbi Grinberg wrote articles related to Jewish studies.
In addition to establishing themselves and Jewish institutions in other U.S. cities, Jews from Antopol were well known in Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires. They were among the first Jews who settled in that country.
A significant chapter of Antopol Jewry is written in the building and creation of the State of Israel. Israel had a special place in the hearts of the Jews from Antopol, who were not content with the prayer, And to Zion comes a redeemer, and the like. They had already contributed to the building of the Land of Israel 200 years ago.
In 1808 (the Hebrew year 5569), an immigration began of the pupils of R. Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, to Israel. They settled in Tsefat, then ideal for the Gaon's pupils. There were not a lot of Hasidim in Tsefat. There were many more in Tiberias, for the Hasidim there had the upper hand over their opponents.
Travel to Israel took months; however, this did not keep them from going. Also, immigrants went to Israel from Pinsk and the area surrounding Drohitshin.
Jews from Antopol took part in that immigration. For example, R. Mosheh b. R. Akavia (Akiva?), escaped a pogrom in 1834 by fleeing to Tsefat. Changing his name to R. Mosheh Neeman, he settled in Jerusalem and participated in the public life of the city. R. Tsevi Montopoli was also active in the life of Jerusalem at that time. The immigration included entire families, evidenced by tombstones of small children whose parents were from Antopol.
In the 1880s, a Jew from Antopol with the family name Yahalom settled in Israel. One member of this family, R. Benjamin, was a founder of the town En Ganim, which was next to Petah Tikvah. R. Benjamin Yahalom was active in the community until the War for Independence.
Mosheh Yaakov Benjamin, or as he was called in Jerusalem, Alter of Antopol, holds a special place in the history of Israel. When he moved to Israel with his parents in 1863, he was quite young, just seven years old. Years later he was among the first builders of Meah Shearim, individuals who risked their lives to protect the community from Arab attackers. Alter of Antopol was also known as the first person to import herring from abroad to sell in Israel.
Renowned in the rabbinical world was R. Netanel Hayyim Pope, of blessed memory, who immigrated to Israel in 1891 with his wife and son, Yitshak Mosheh.
In 1902, the highly respected R. Yehezkel Saharov, of blessed memory, and his wife, Hayah Etel, and son, Yitshak Mordekhai, moved to Israel. Also, Yitshak Mordekha, of blessed memory, was prominent in the social life of Israel, and his children played an important part in the building of our land.
Thus numerous members of the Antopol Jewish community moved to Israel before the early Zionist leader Herzl. Later, other Antopol Jews responded to Herzl's appeal, and another immigration to Israel began, which is itself another chapter in history.
In 1960, our dear townsperson Dr. Feitel Berman, of blessed memory, wrote a letter to the elder in charge of Antopol. He wanted to hear news of his town of birth. He wanted to know how many Jews remain, what sort of life they lead, and so forth. Finally, two years later, he got an answer. It was not a private, direct reply. Instead, it was a public answer, printed in the White Russian journal Galas Radzimi that is published in Minsk, the capital city of White Russia to which Antopol belongs.
The case is this. The elder of Antopol, it seems, was afraid to take the responsibility to answer the letter. So he sent the letter to Minsk. From Minsk, a correspondent of Galas Radzimi went to Antopol. He wrote an article on the town and accompanied it with photographs. It is as if he said, Have a look and judge for yourself how good it is to live in Soviet Russia.
And what did the correspondent see? A certain Isaac Berkovitsh Zaks, who seems to be a Jew, told him that the people in Antopol had suffered from the Nazis. They were White Russians, Jews, and Poles. Certainly, the reporter admits that only Jews were killed and no others. He continues writing that the people of Antopol fled into the forests. They were partisans. Even the elder in charge of the town became a partisan. Is this true?
The reporter is happy that the White Russians returned to Antopol and began to lead a progressive life, full of lectures and concerts. Things are really lively! The people of Antopol now study and read
newspapers and journals.
There are three schools in Antopol: a school where children study for 11 years (probably an elementary school with a gymnasium), a school with a dormitory (probably for the children of villagers not living in the city), and an evening school for workers.
The reporter also visited the town's library where he found 26,000 books and 30 different newspapers and journals in the reading room. There is also a bookstore that sells books in different languages, Russian language books, and translations into Russian from English, Polish, French, and German. However, what about books in Hebrew and Yiddish? You would not find such books, because there is no Jew living in Antopol.
In general, the cultural situation in Antopol is a happy one. There is a theater and distribution of two weekly journals that are published in Kobrin.
The reporter does not forget to mention that there is a church in Antopol. However, what about the Jewish study halls? What happened to them? The reporter is quiet about this.
He tells of the town's pride in its hospital. It has 14 doctors and 32 assistants. The hospital has three buildings, and treatment is free. When patients are in a dangerous condition, an airplane takes them to Brisk.
Antopol has a population of over 4,000, and 19 buses connect it with Minsk, Brisk, and Kobrin.
However, what about Dr. Berman's questions about the Jewish population? The elder in charge of Antopol and the reporter filled their mouths with water and were silent. The Jewish town of Antopol, which existed for 300 years is no more! And we Jews of Antopol, wherever we live, incline our heads to the ground and with a cry say the kaddish: May God's name be extolled and sanctified.
Who of us from Antopol does not remember the fence in the courtyard of the great Cold Synagogue? We remember when, after World War I, the synagogue, all five study halls, and more than half of the houses in Antopol burned down. After the fire, only the brick fence posts, around which grew grasses and nettles, remained in the synagogue courtyard. Of the study halls, only the walls of the two brick study halls remained.
In the 1920s when a new study hall was built, workers took down two of the six fence posts and used the bricks in the new construction. However, thanks to the protests of more thoughtful individuals, four of the posts were left as a memorial to the old synagogue courtyard. A new wooden fence was built, incorporating the old brick posts. Now pigs couldn't wander in, as they had done in the past.
Today, our town is only a happy memory for those of us who left at the right time for the big world, for Israel, America, Argentina, and other countries. But we who remain are the fence posts, the saving remnant of our hometown. We are left as reminders of our characteristic Jewish settlement, of our town, which bubbled and spurted with the goodness of home life and Judaism.
We are left to remember the Jews of Antopol over the years who truly had big hearts, who had hands open to give, and who had trust in one another. For example, we remember the Free Loan Association where every needy person could borrow without paying interest. My father, R. Motl Fernik, of blessed memory, served without pay as the Association's secretary during its whole existence. Some 450 families, 95 percent of all the Jewish families of the town, benefited from the benevolent Association. Prior to World War I, a similar institution had been founded with the money of R. Akiva Fishl Lifshits. My grandfather Hersh Leib, of blessed memory, was its trustee. Another benevolent institution was the orphanage. Under the devoted leadership of R.
Hirsh Nitsberg, of blessed memory, numerous orphans were raised and taught trades. They came out true and fine youths and were a pride of the town.
Because Antopol had no hospital, a medical supply society led by Nahum Volinets and his wife, Henia, of blessed memory, was active day and night. Even in the middle of the night, people could borrow medical supplies necessary for the care of the sick. Likewise, a burial society had members who went forth without compensation at any time to give rites to the dead. Also, a Passover supply fund provided every needy person enough to make Passover.
To my memory, no visiting preacher, poor man, or Rabbi failed to find at least two people to go out and collect money for him. And when misfortune may it not happen to us! fell upon someone, there were those who collected money to help. No one knew for whom the money was collected so as not to embarrass the needy person.
Larger settlements than Antopol could have been proud of the cultural institutions we had, both secular and purely Jewish. These included the study halls, a Hasidic prayer hall, a religious elementary school with 150 boys enrolled, a Tarbut school where 250 boys and girls studied, as well as two general Polish schools which were tuition free. Also, the Y.L. Perets Library had thousands of books in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish, and the Shomer ha-tsair had a Hebrew library.
And what about our organizations? The great he-Haluts organization had over 110 members. The Shomer ha-tsair, Poyle Tsien, Freyheyt group, and General Zionists were almost always active. The Jewish National Funds, Keren Kayyemet and Keren ha-yesod, and the League for working Erets Yisroel also functioned.
We have our organizations to thank for the fact that we survived to remember our town. It was there in the clubs of he-Haluts and ha-Shomer ha-tsair that we youth were encouraged to make our way into the world. And now we are able to raise up a literary memorial to our destroyed but never-to-be forgotten town, which was called Antopol, so that all the perished martyrs our dear parents, relatives, and friends shall always have a memory in our hearts!
By Morris Asif
There were two streets in Antopol. One, Pinsk Street, stretched from the marketplace to the cultivated acres of land outside of town. The other, Kobrin Street, ran from the marketplace to the edge of town closest to Kobrin. The two streets were like chains with a ring, the marketplace, in the middle which held them together.
The marketplace was a large area with attractive stores in the middle and pretty houses all around. It was more times empty than full. Only on Sundays and on market days, and on fair days when gentiles came to sell and buy, was it crowded. At those time, it was a busy, happy place where Jews tried to earn money for the week and for Sabbath.
Like the main street in a small American town, together Pinsk and Kobrin formed the backbone of the town. Snaking out from the backbone were narrow, crooked streets with small houses, each with low windows and an earthen seat around the house. Altogether, the two main streets with their houses, orchards, and gardens and the narrow streets with their smaller houses formed the whole of Antopol.
Winter came early to Antopol, with snowstorms and winds and such a cold that mothers did not let the children out of the house until after Passover. Families spent long winter nights huddled around the stove. Snow stayed on the frozen ground until after Passover when it finally melted, leaving the town knee deep in mud.
Everything sprouted and bloomed in summer, and the birds returned.
In Antopol lived good people the old and
middle-aged and children, residing in the large and small houses. In the town were poor people who did not know how they would earn a living from day to day. There were workers, peddlers, brokers, and merchants. There was a small group of people who had a comfortable life.
Everyone lived side by side with each other. On Pinsk Street was a house with a pretty orchard. On one side lived the wealthy Mordekhai Sheinboim. On the other side lived the carpenter Avraham Yitshak.
There, by the orchard, also lived my father, Aryeh Yozef 's of blessed memory, with his family. On the other side lived his brother, my uncle Israel of blessed memory, and his family. (They later moved to America with their children.) If the soot in a chimney caught fire, my father and uncle poured water on the flames to put them out. If there was a wedding, they served as waiters. If, God forbid, someone died, they were among the first to pay their respects. If someone had to teach manners to a gentile, they were the ones who stood up to him, with soft talk or with firmness.
My father was always prepared to help someone. If the person needed advice, material assistance, help in straightening out a misunderstanding, that person came to my father, Aryeh. God gave him another skill, that of a chiropractor. He could move a limb back in the right place. If a cripple could not turn his head, foot, or hand, Aryeh made the adjustment, and the person went away with a blessing on his or her lips. He considered such treatment a good deed and wouldn't accept money, even from gentiles who came to him from surrounding villages. Later, people use to bring him gifts such as sacks of groats, buckwheat, beans, and peas from their fields.
My father and my uncle worked hard. However, they were happy and waited like all Jews of Antopol for the Sabbath to rest and to thank His dear name.
On Friday, our dear true mother of blessed memory would get up when it was still dark to heat the oven and bake bread white bread for the Sabbath, as well as cake, piroshkes, and later cholent. When the oven was hot, she prepared a pot of grated potatoes for a baked pudding. (I can still taste its flavor!)
My father would arise early on Friday, as on all days, and go to the Study Hall to pray. He would come home from prayers, eat breakfast, and go to his workshop to work until noon. Then he closed up. After lunch, he went for a sweat in the bathhouse. This was his greatest pleasure. Coming home, father would have something to eat and then lie down on the sofa for a nap. When he got up, he put on his Sabbath clothes and went back to the Study Hall to receive the dear guest, the Sabbath. He liked to pray at the cantor's desk. After prayers, he would come home, sanctify the Sabbath over wine, eat supper, and say grace. Then he was tired and would go to bed. On Saturday, he would arise early, drink tea with sugar, go to the Hasidic prayer hall to pray, come back around noon, wash up ritually, and eat. Mother would take out the cholent after the regular meal and then a good noodle pie. After he ate, father would sleep and then go to the prayer hall. When he came home, he separated the Sabbath and the weekday over fire, and then went to his shop to work. Thus things went until the next Sabbath.
This is how the people of Antopol spent their days, Sabbaths and Festivals, those who were better off and those who fared worse.
May the beloved souls of all our parents and of our sisters, brothers, and all members of the community not be forgotten.
By Dobe Zisuk
My parents were not rich, but they had a good name and they earned it by giving help to unfortunate people who were poor or sick. Whatever they lacked for Passover matzoh, wine, meat, and the like my parents provided, not entirely with their
own money. They persuaded others to give and saw to it that the needy were not ashamed.
My mother, of blessed memory, was a woman of valor, and she guided her 10 children admirably. The youngsters studied with the best teachers, with even the girls learning to pray and to write.
I was the oldest of the children, and now I am the grandmother of grown-up American grandchildren. Still I cannot forget the pleasure of Passover eve in the old country. Two weeks before Passover my mother used to hire a gentile woman to whitewash the room and wash the bed sheets. Afterwards, as the room was already prepared for Passover, we had to eat from trays and watch out lest a piece of leavened bread should fall some place. To keep the sheets clean, we slept on hay or straw. The beds were not used until Passover. The table, benches, and everything had to be washed and scoured. Everything was washed piece by piece and put into the street. The room was left empty. After a hard day's work, it would have been nice to sleep on clean sheets, and certainly a good mattress would have been appreciated.
Several weeks before Passover, we would buy three pood (120 Russian pounds) of flour to bake matzoh in the first oven because my father and mother were very pious. When all the sheets of matzoh had been prepared, one sheet was left to grind up into matzoh meal for dumplings. We would bring out the mortar, sieve, and sifter from the attic. I, as the oldest girl, and my brother, two years younger, would go to work grinding, sifting, and pouring the meal into sacks. Often we lent the mortar and sieve to neighbors on our street. To this day, I can still smell the fresh aroma of matzoh.
To search for leaven, my mother used to take from a high shelf a wooden spoon that she had put there when there was a question with its being ritually clean. Then she would show father where pieces of bread were lying. He would carry his prayer book together with the wooden spoon and a feather and say with great concentration the blessing concerning the search for leaven. All of us children would say the amen after the blessing.
Concerning the seder, mother would place the cushions on the chairs for us to sit on, and father, in his white gown, would make a beautiful sanctification of the wine. After that my brothers sanctified the wine. Then the four questions were asked. All my brothers had to explain the haggadah, word for word. The seder lasted until midnight.
The old country doesn't exist any more, and one cannot expect these types of preparations to take place in the new country. However, I can tell you, dear people, that I carried on the traditions of Passover with my husband, of blessed memory, and my children no differently than my parents did, even though I was here in America. And even now I carry on just as we did in the old country. I wish that all Jews would carry out tradition here as in we did in the old country. The fear that Judaism is going under would not be so great if the younger generations were raised in pure Jewish spirit. Then they would remain, like us, Jewish in practice.
By Y. A. Shulruf
Our town was not distinguished with richness and great commerce. As it was far from river ways and railways, the town's possibilities for commerce were quite small. However, the inhabitants were rich spiritually. The main thing was that they lived in contentment. The spirit of pious Judaism was in the air everywhere. Toiling and hard working, the Jews used to pray in public and listen to a lesson in a chapter of Mishnah, En Yaakov, or Hayye Adam. From the windows of the study halls, you could hear the reading of the Talmud. Work everything stopped on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, one could even think that the grass and the trees ceased growing. The atmosphere was created by the rabbis of the time.
In my childhood years, the big cold synagogue and the two study halls, the old and the new, were the centers of my life. Our town was wrapped in awe and holiness, concentrated around the aged Rabbi, the Nabozshni Rabbin, a genius and a righteous man. His divine image called forth respect, not only among the Jews but also among the gentiles. As I grew up, I heard many stories associated with him. His name was known far and wide. He was a righteous man who traced his genealogy way back and who sat on the rabbi's chair.
Who was the congregation and support of the rabbi? Craftsmen, storekeepers, and a merchants who could not allow themselves luxury without providing luxury to the rabbi. But he did not ask for such things. The townspeople asked the rabbi, as a righteous man, for advice and sought his blessings. The rabbi, a thin man, a man short in stature, led a great seminary with pupils for whom he arranged room and board and also taught them their lessons. In addition, he gave advice and cured their illnesses. Not only Jews came to him, but also Christians believed that the Nabozshni Rabbin could help and heal them.
One such case was as follows: A healthy smith had complained that straw was in his stomach and grimaced in pain. However, the rabbi told him to go home and he would be well. The smith said that he felt already like a newborn. And another Jew, someone called Joshua, said that he was on the point of divorcing his wife because she could not give him a child. However, the rabbi told him not to do that and blessed him. At the end of the year, as the rabbi said, Joshua's wife Lane bore him a girl.
The rabbi himself did not believe that he could help anyone. However, since people said that he could, he gave blessings so they could calm down. The rabbi's wife, however, was not happy that people bothered the rabbi. Pintshe, go eat. The groats will get cold, she called to him. To strangers she shouted, Go home, what do you want from him?!
When a woman giving birth was having a hard time and the midwife could not help, people went to the rabbi, and he said that God would help and they should place a shawl under the head of the woman giving birth. After such a birth, the rabbi held the baby at circumcision. If the circumcision took place on the Day of Atonement, it was a happy event. The scene is hard to put into words. The rabbi with his white patriarchal beard, his white robe, his white skullcap, and his white socks looked like an angel. Like a young man full of love, he covered the baby. However, when the ritual circumciser sang the scabrous tune In your blood, live, a cloud drew over the face of the rabbi who sat on the chair of Elijah and a tear fell down his white beard.
Another story was told of Yavdokhe, the daughter of Tikhon, who had birth pains. The rabbi's wife was leaving her house with a sack in hand, heard the cries, and quickly ran to the rabbi in the study hall. It was just before Shavuous when the trees were in full bloom and the elder trees spread their aroma. Yavdokhe's cries were a dissonant note to the pleasant outdoors scene. The rabbi, who felt good, told his wife to take her shawl and put it under the head of Yavdokhe. In addition, he told her that he would be the person who would hold the child at the circumcision absolutely. And she should, for the sake of God, not forget that.
The rabbi's wife smiled. Aye, aye, Pintshe, she said. Do you want to be the person who would hold the illegitimate child of the gentile Yavdokhe at the circumcision?
The rabbi fell into deep thought. Probably. He asked God that the messiah should come and that Knowledge would cover the earth like the water covers the sea and all the gentiles would believe in the true God.
Our town does not exist anymore. The Nazis and the White Russian bandits destroyed it. Near the Frishikhvos dam lie buried our dear and beloved (who did not even receive a Jewish burial or grave) in a mass grave. And together with them lie also buried our youthful dreams.
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