In this way continued the golden chain of existence of the Jewish people. This
issue occupies a distinguished place in our historical registers. It was like
this from the beginning of my childhood. I was in almost all chadarim schools,
night classes and later I was became a faculty member of the Yavneh cultural
school, and therefore I feel obligated to write for posterity these pages in
our symbolic stone.
I remember a case in point: At one time a policeman with a book under his arm
entered the cheder for a matter related to tax payment. The rebe talked to him
in Russian mixed with Yiddish and said, "Mr. Police, sit down in the
He also owned a printing [picture of the czar]. In spite of being slightly assimilated, the teacher Girashov went twice a year to synagogue on Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur. He prayed for two hours wrapped in a silk talit. When he talked with his best students, he expressed his critical thoughts as for example: "Jews don't come to temple to pray, but to talk among them". Or he asked: them how they would interpret the paragraph "You must have conscience in front of whom you are." The cycle in his school lasted three years, and I made it in two. It is interesting to note that in spite of his Russian patriotic behavior, he was a Jew with deep national feelings.
The following event demonstrates his czarist Russian patriotism. One day, when we were in his classroom, policeman Krilchuk suddenly entered, who was a tall gentile of wide back. He was sent by police chief Timinsky for a routine issue. The policeman forgot to take his cap off. The teacher screamed with fury "Take off your cap" and pointed out the Czar's and Czarina's picture. The confused policeman asked to be forgiven, and stayed firm. Teacher Girashov showed him the door and the policeman left the classroom embarrassed. Did the teacher perhaps want in this way to retaliate on the gentile?
This teacher was a mathematician and wrote a mathematics study book. He published it. The book had great success in its time and was widely recognized all over Russia. Their two children, Nioma and Fima, both students, were also proud of their Judaism in front of gentile friends. After the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, and after the beginning of WWI, their destiny was tragic. They escaped toward deep Russia fearing the Germans, and left everything behind. After the revolution they returned to Kartuz Bereza, but the Polish regime did not give them citizenship and they were sent to the Soviet border. The Soviets, on the other hand, didn't receive them because of their having been faithful to the Czar and the opponents of the revolution.
Finally after many request and efforts by the Jewish Community to government
authorities, they were granted temporary status until they had the opportunity
to travel to the land of Israel. To get the certificate was a very difficult
task. Meanwhile they lived in poverty and deprivation in a gentile's house.
They stayed but with difficulty, thanks to the support of their admirers' from
the past. When we left Bereza in 1925 and traveled to Argentina, they were
still there. What was their destiny? I do not know.
Teacher Vainshtein was a young man, of delicate manners, and had a cowlick of
gray hair, possibly for the pogroms that suffered in Russia and other difficult
situations during czarist domain.
Today I still remember my childhood, when my father took me on Saturday winter
nights to the old Bet Medresh [academy of Jewish religious studies], which was
well heated, to listen to judge Aizik's classes. The room was illuminated with
a chandelier brought by his assistant Michl. In a dimly lit corner, dominated
by shades, children brought blocks of ice that were taken out of Yanke ben
Ytshe's basement. The ice melted from the heat, and the next day the Bet
Medresh was filled with water children's pranks. For me it was a mystery
how the water came to the Bet Medresh.
They repaired the public bathrooms building, which was made of stones in Cemetery St., and, transformed it into a modern school. In this school were gathered the group of idealistic fighters, and among them activists such as Shloimke Vainshtein, Meir Fodostroitza, and Director Yoine Reznik, educator, with a degree of Grodno famous courses. With them worked a team of seven to eight teachers. They occupied all the classrooms of the new building, and left only two for Tarbut .
Tarbut got two additional classrooms in the building in which the Talmud Torah was located. The ideological distance between the two groups hindered the school's development. Only after the Balfour Declaration, with the bloom of political Zionism, was the Yavney school enlarged and Hebrew dominated. It was directed by Zionist activists Yshaia Zaltsman, Leib Dantzig, Ythak Shtuker and others. They also formed a young Zionist group that attended night courses.
Two groups of youths, the Yiddish's and the Hebrew's, held meetings to discuss
actions to carry out and to prepare cultural nights. Then a Hebrew Corner was
founded in which classes in Hebrew were held, chats and discussions under the
direction of Manievitz who was a fanatic of Hebrew language. He was from
Lemberg and his instruction and culture was acquired as a student in Moscow.
Teachers at the Yavneh school were Portnoy, Parpeliutshik and Puterman, who
were from Baranovitch and had studied in Vilna Hebrew Teachers Seminary. The
Polish teacher was Mrs. Shulgin from Warsaw. At various times teachers Vais,
Rabinovitsh, Kogan, Rosenfeld, Himelfarb and others worked there. Thanks to
competition among groups, there began cultural discussions. Each group brought
its speakers, and each one wanted to overtake the other one.
As for teachers of tanach, there were the distinguished young Yosel Brainsky and in later years Moishe Cheshes (I believe he is now in US). This group called themselves tiferet bachurim [flowered youth], and was created by a maguid [preacher] who from time to time came to our city.
To conclude this chapter in which I told about educational and cultural institutions, and about individuals that were active in this field, I want to acknowledge other teachers and, in general, good Jews, responsible for offering their support in favor of education for the young generation of Kartuz Bereza. During my time, and although I personally didn't study with them, they were:
Shmuel Bam; teacher, brown young man, of black beard and mustaches, expert in tanach and grammar.
Faivel Baidatz (Tzekernik): religious teacher, emigrated to US before WWI.
Nima ha"Melamed": religious teacher, also a couples matchmaker, emigrated to the US before WWI.
Mordechai Gedalia y Nuska: both religious teachers in the Talmud Torah.
Henoch Rabinovitz: famous teacher of tanach and erudite in grammar. Was considered as one of the best adolescent teachers. Not all had the privilege of studying with him; only children of rich families could study with him. At the beginning he gave private classes, then he taught in the Talmud Torah.
Moishe Elie Meir: taught beginners.
Arke The Teacher: Teacher of previous times prototype. Taught letter writing in Yiddish to maids, cooks, poor children, and cart drivers' children. He was very accepted by women whose husbands were in America. Wrote letters to their husbands and read to them the answers they received.
Mendel Rishes; The judge, tall Jew, long and white as snow beard. His aspect
was severe, huffy, and detailed. Was known as follower of Bet Shamai [orthodox
very severe tendency]. Constantly tried to interpret, according to Moses' laws,
all type of problems and social discussions. As Aizik the judge mentioned
above, was serene, and contrary to previous comment, he was as pious as the
followers of Bet Hillel [school of permissive moderate tendency].
Another veteran activist in Bereza was Sheike Berkovitz who was a fervent Jew, full of life. Many times he appeared and read interesting speeches filled with Zionist content and mentioned words of our chazal [wise men of blessed memory]. In his youth he was a yeshiva boy, and later become a partner of Mr. Goldstein, proprietor of the steam engine flour mill, and the sawmill that was the most important in town, inherited from his father-in-law Shamai Berezovtzky.
Goldstein came from the city of Pruzhany. He was an affectionate man and great supporter of Jewish causes. He always was among the first for any purpose, and he was a model for other Jews. His contributions to KKL consisted of high amounts. His hand was also open for all town needs.
With the Balfour Declaration, the Zionist movement was reinforced in all fields. One of the personalities that occupied an important function in the diffusion of Zionist thought and Hebrew language among Bereza youth, was Guzalka (today Goraly in Israel). Among other things, he opened up night courses for youth, and was founded KKL group which maintained an intense activity.
Until the last day when I left my native city, I had the position of KKL Secretary. I want to remember fellow activists: Rabnitzky, Velvel Minkovitz (student of the Seminary Mizrahi in Vilna, today in US), Fodostroitza (in Israel), Tuchman, Grosman, Eidlsberg, Etl Schwartz (I believe he is now in Canada).
Fellow Plotdkovksy and I traveled as delegates to the Ushishkin Congress that
was held in Warsaw in 1924. Zionist groups were very active in all fields.
Already being in Argentina, we heard about settlement of collective farms
(those that prepare pioneer immigrant to Israel) in Kartuz Bereza, and also in
the nearby small village of Bluden.
During disorders and in occasions of attacks on Jews, these strong and skillful youths were in charge. The anti-Semitic bands that threatened to harm and damage Jews, received more than once strong punishments. One especially stood out one of them, and he was nicknamed Meilech Pap. His occupation was horse merchant. He was really "a teacher to give them back". It was said of him that when he hit someone, no hair ever again grew in the place that was hit. More than once it happened that he intervened before the police arrived when Jews were attacked in the market, since it is obvious that the police were slow to arrived when called upon to defend Jews from anti-Semitic bandits groups.
If some revolt broke out in any place, Meilech immediately appeared and in his hand he had his famous gnarled stick. Bandits were prisoners of terror, quickly mounted their horses and carts, and returned to their villages.
During national feasts and official ceremonies, as for example May 3rd, firemen were invited to participate in the parade, headed by Yankel Seletzky, the Jewish fire chief. They dressed in their elegant uniforms, and with strong and spread step he introduced his unit to the military commandant.
Many of the Jewish firemen fulfilled their function with respect and pride, as for example Itzl Karolitzky, the siblings Yablonovsky (two of them are living today in Rosario, Argentina), and from my memory I recall the valiant Chanoch Liskovsky who was the firemen's commandant for a time. During the czarist regime, the commandant was a gentile, Adam Posniak. I also remember the Jew Berel Katsher who, during a dispute, opened Posniak's head and he abandonded Bereza for many years.
Frequently the firemen held drills of simulated fire situations. For example they declared that a certain house was catching fire, climbed to the roof, and threw water on neighboring houses so that fire wouldn't spread. This was like a dress rehearsal, because fires occurred frequently, as most of houses were wooden. Our firemen demonstrated agility and efficiency in their work. In later times they founded a wind instruments orchestra. They also bought modern water bombs.
In honor of our trip to Argentina which involved seven families (an
insignificant number considering the total population of the city), the firemen
prepared a ceremony of festival farewell and accompanied us to the train
station with their orchestra, because among the travelers were some firemen.
Our railroad station Bluden (during the czarist regime it was called Fagadina) was five kilometers from the city, and many families made their living transporting merchandise to and from the station. This work was often passed down from father to son. They also had carts that transported heavy items such as horses and cattle.
Cart drivers were right and simple Jews. They were distinguished for their courage and force when it was necessary to make use of it. I want to tell about two outstanding men among our cart drivers. The Mayor family I was told that their last name had its origin in the following episode: during the first German conquest an official of the German army with the title of Mayor died in Bereza. The ceremony was impressive, they buried him with his elegant uniform, his gold watch, and with all rings that he wore in life. I was told that a family opened the coffin, and removed all elements of value from the dead body. In town it was rumored that this act was done by this family, and from then on they were known by that last name of Mayor.
The family head was Shloime Mayor, a fat, tall Jew with wide back, small white beard, a cowlick of gray hair, and two red-as-fire cheeks. He was our neighbor on Kantzelaria Kostziol St.. The wooden passageway trembled when he stepped on it, loaded with packages to celebrate Saturday, full with fish and vegetables. The tchont [traditional meal of beans, potatoes, chicken and animal fat that was made on Friday evening and was cooked until Saturday lunch when it was eaten] of Mayor was very famous. The tchont was closed in an oven until Saturday noon, when the family returned from synagogue. But the boys opened it the on Saturday morning because they were impatient, and they sometimes eat the whole tchont before the family returned.
In bad times, when it was necessary to defend the Jews, Shloime demonstrated his force. If a gentile attacked a Jew, he gave him many blows so as to remember many times. All who were not circumcised spoke of him with respect because of his physical force.
It is convenient to refresh our memory with the stories of my grandfather Shaul
In a certain village lived a Jew that leased land for milk production, in particular butter and cheese. One day some gentiles got drunk and vandalized the Jew's house. What could a small Jew do in front of a crowd of uncircumcised? At that moment a big cart stopped in front of the inn. It was Shloime Mayor (who during his youth used to wander through villages, buying clothes from peasants, and selling them tapes, bellboys, combs, etc.). He stood in front of the inn's entrance and screamed:Many times gentiles trembled when they saw this brave man, and they respected him much.
- What's the matter here Reb Shaul? The whole inn is full of smoke and there are so many drunk people!
- Shaul answered him: "G-d sends you" exclaimed the stunned the inn owner
- Immediately, Immediately, wait a minute. I will order immediately, answered Shloime
He then went over to the first two gentiles, lifted them in the air in such a way that they were given a kiss one to other, and then threw them outside as if they were two match sticks. In the same way he treated two others, and the remaining ones no longer waited their turn and they dispersed afraid. The inn got clean.
The head of our cart drivers was "Yasha the cart driver". Before leaving Bereza he was already 60 years old. His beard was blond, and he constantly had a pipe in his mouth. Everyone respected him very much. When youths fought, it was enough if Yasha lifted his cane, and quickly order and silence returned.
During Simchat Tora he used to drink a toast. Then he ran out into the streets of the town surrounded by groups of children. He exclaimed "Sacred flock" and children answered him "Baa", and he joined them. Then he took off his boots, took off his clothes, and continued running nude until some neighbor pitied him and took him into his house.
About cart drivers behavior, the following story is a testimony: He worked in the steam engine flour mill of Berkovitz-Goldshtein company, and would stay until the group of cart drivers discharged wheat boxcars, and brought bags to the mill. Sholem, brother of the mill owner Seike Berkovitz inspected the empty carts, and found in Reb Yasha's cart a small wheat bag, maybe five or six kilograms. Sholem broke out angry and screamed "Thieves! Bandits! Does a Jew take these things? It is a shame!" Yasha the cart driver exclaimed "Don't scream this way, Reb Sholem. You are mistaken, it is not a robbery! It is a very old habit for many generations. Ask anybody". And he took the bag of wheat from Sholem's hands and added "This is the cart drivers tithe. It is for our kohen"
Certainly, nobody could oppose this habit of "cart drivers tithe".
After a long letters exchange with JCA representatives in Warsaw and Paris, after navigating 32 days in the ship of the French flag "Ceylon", six families from Bereza arrived in Argentina in March of 1927. In Warsaw we were joined with other families from the Brest and Galitzia areas, and we were all called "Brisker families". From Kartuz Bereza these families traveled to Argentina: Yakov Sokottzky and his family, Aaron Gloz and his family, Eliahu Vorodovsky and family, Biniomin Shtuker and family, Ytzhak Goldfand and family, Yeshayahu Sokotzky and family. Later came Note Gloz and Moishe Gloz. Note Gloz is now in Buenos Aires.
We were taken to Montefiore colony. In the beginning, JCA gave us only 75 hectares of land, and later they increased up to 112 and by the end to 150 hectares and the livestock. Many of those who stayed in the colony bought land with their own money. Others abandoned the place for various reasons, such as climate and nature. For 30 years the colony passed thorough different setbacks. Some left to the cities, either for the children or for desire of looking for a better life.
I should point out that the colony had a brilliant past. There were times when the number of settlers was 250 families. When we arrived there, the colony already had 28 families, and during our stay, the number increased to 120. It was a growth time for the colony. Nowadays there are 60 to 70 families. Another dozen live in a near town, and are owners of their fields.
Today there are few adults. First generation diminishes and youths occupy their place. We should mention with pride that the group of settlers that arrived from Bereza still persists in Montefiore. The Litvaks [as opposed to the Galitzianers] are growing roots more than any other group, and watching that we second generationers do not betray our parents' ideals, as mine, my mother and others who were faithful earth workers in our old home, in our native city Bereza.
From generation to generation, we opposed ourselves to easy economic
sustenance, we highlight Baron Hirsch's vision and we exalt his memory.
During the first 20 years in this role, Rybak didn't have any special problems. His work consisted of issuing passports and of inspecting shepherding fields and collecting special taxes to Jews, as for example meat tax and candles tax. Together with four people, of whom two were gentiles, he forced the population to pay official taxes. The rabbis of Kartuz Bereza didn't intervene in city matters. This was because of rivalry existing between the rabbis the difficulty they had talking with each other.
In 1905 new winds began to blow and, as in other towns, turbulent groups arose in Kartuz Bereza. The police used to come to the City Council to watch the behavior and places where suspects inhabited. It was evident that when they suspected somebody, nothing good was waiting for him. The Town Council was located in Rybak's house and every time a policeman came to receive details about a suspicious Jew from a gentile, they immediatley brought the gentile an appetizing meal and a bottle of alcohol. The genteil ate and drank, and meanwhile somebody of Rybak's family ran to warn the suspect, who already knew what he should do.
The chief of police in Kartuz Bereza received a fixed bribe as annual compensation, so that nothing bad would happen to the Jews of the town.
Of the 1905 events, I remember one related to a Jewish soldier by the name of Horwitz who was stationed in Kartuz Bereza. He was detained by mistake and he was going to be very severely punished. The case came to the attention of youth's that formed the town revolutionary movement, and they decided to free him. They knew the detainee would be transported by the main road. At a preset hour, they left in a sled, and came face-to-face with those that took the detainee. One of youths stopped the guards to ask them something. When they stopped to answer him, he threw tobacco in their eyes. In that moment Horwitz escaped by getting onto the revolutionaries' sled.
The military began to look for the detainee. The revolutionaries arrived at Rybak's house and asked him to help them hide the Jew. Rybak had a brilliant idea: his house abutted the chief of police's house and a door separated the attics of both houses. They hid Horwitz in the police chief's attic! He was hidden there for two weeks, and when the military inspected each car that left the town, they didn't find him. When the military action subsided, Horwitz escaped to a nearby town, and then he left in a train to the German border. After a while, a letter arrived from him in the US.
Shimshon Dovid Shapira, intelligent man, Rybak's son-in-law, helped his father-in-law in complicated cases. With the help of Shapira and with money from Israel Grinberg (one of richest Jews of town), a Jewish state mixed school was founded in 1905, where Russian was taught. About 120 Jewish students studied there. Until 1915 it was directed by teacher Girashov.
With the help of both Shapira and Grinberg, the first Savings and Loan Fund was founded in 1909.
The Library had books in Russian, German and Yiddish, and was directed by Shapira. Many youths gathered there to read.
In February 1919, the Poles conquered Kartuz Bereza. The above-mentioned Naftaly Levinson, was named Mayor. The son-in-law of Shapria, Yechiel Nisan Zakheim was named Vice Mayor. He served for about ten years was in this position until he resigned. He was a studious and arrogant Jew, who defended interests of Jews with great effort. He offer them great support for Jewish institutions.
In 1939 Zakheim returned to Kartuz Bereza. He participated in community life,
and during the Nazi conquest he tried alleviating Jews suffering in ghettos. He
predicted the tragic end of Jews, and together with his wife Libe Shapiro (a
dentist) and other activists, he committed suicide the night before the
ghetto's liquidation. Their two children survived; both are outstanding
engineers who were active in the secret French Jewish movements, and they
fought with courage from there.
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