Translated from the Yiddish by Sol Krongelb
Translator's note: This translation essentially follows the author's original style and structure. Some Russian and Yiddish words have been carried over without translation to help convey the flavor of the original. In many cases, the original text provides the definition; when deemed necessary, a translation has been added in brackets.Hlusk was part of the Bobruisk Uyezd [district]. The shtetele  had no means of communicating with the outside world except through the wagon-drivers, of which there were two kinds: lomovikes , i.e. those who transported the heavy cargoes and leygkovikes those who carried passengers in their coaches. The lomovikes carted their loads twice a week to and from Bobruisk, and the others would take passengers three times a week. They would cram people into their carriages like herring into a barrel, and, if one emerged intact from such a trip, it was appropriate to bentch gomel.  The lomovikes earned a hard living. The way to the highway, about 45 kilometers, was sandy, and they were barely able to make their way with their heavy loads. There were two routes. The shorter way to the highway passed through Horodok. There they made a rest stop for the horses and also went into Abadanye's inn for a plate of cooked beans with meat and a samovar of tea. In the summer months they used the second route --through Ladvike, and came out to the highway at Bagoshovke.
Where I was able to, I have added explanatory footnotes for some of the customs which may not be familiar to the contemporary English reader. I was particularly fortunate to have been able to share this article in 1980 with my mother's cousin, Ruth Flax, while she was still alive. Ruth Flax (nee Brum) was born in Glussk around 1905 and lived there until she left for the U.S. in 1923. Although this article seems to describe Glussk as it existed slightly before Ruth Flax's time, she did recall many of the individuals and settings in the article and gave a running commentary as we read the text. The initials R.F. in a footnote indicate that the explanation is derived from my notes of Ruth Flax's comments.
December 6, 1999
There was no industry in Hlusk. [Some of] the populace engaged in gardening and in renting orchards. There were [also] peddlers, carpenters, tailors, brick layers, horse traders and butchers among the Hlusker . Each Sunday they would all head out to the dorfer [surrounding hamlets] and would return just in time for Shabbat. However, the majority of Hlusker Jews were shopkeepers.
In the center of Hlusk was a marketplace with four rows of small shops. There were also wholesale stores on one side of the market which sold merchandise to the small shopkeepers. The small shopkeepers would sit a whole week without earning a penny and wait for Sunday, when peasants would come to the shtetl to go to the church, which stood on the most beautiful spot in Hlusk encircled by a hill and a pretty fence. The church had a fine organ, and the poritzim [land owners] of the surrounding area brought in one of the best organists from Poland. The Jews had no interest in the Catholic liturgical music; nevertheless, they would often listen to the beautiful melodies which emanated from the church.
On Sunday, the peasants brought their products to sell (wood, poultry, calves, flax, dried pelts` from all sorts of animals, cheese, butter, etc.) and bought all their household needs from the town's storekeepers. With any leftover money, they would stop into a tavern, order a platter of taranes  and tea, and top it off with a flask of whiskey. Quite often, they would become drunk and make a little pogrom in the market place. Then the storekeepers would close up their shops, and, out of nowhere, there would suddenly appear our esteemed butchers Pinyeh Tamara's, Motel Elyeh Nakhum's, Mayer Noah Lapate's along with a couple of Hlusker konyokhes [horse traders]. And if these men were not sufficient to quiet the drunkards, Motke Ayzer's the konyokh would also be called. And this Motkeh, a broad-boned, tall, fine Jewish giant of a man, before whom the whole neighborhood shuddered, would come with his studded whipstick, give a shout razoydis! [be gone!], and start cracking skulls. The gentiles would quickly harness their horses, and in ten minutes there was not a trace left of them. A story about Motkeh's prowess needs to be told. He was a quiet person. At one sitting, he could eat a small goose with a pound of griven  along with a loaf of bread and a quart of whiskey and also drink down the contents of a samovar holding twenty-two glasses of tea. He dealt in horses, would carry sums of cash as he traveled alone at night from hamlet to hamlet, and no one bothered him. Once he came to a poritz [landowner], Dashkevitch, to buy horses. When the poritz saw Motkeh, he said to him, I'm not selling any horses. However, I have a Belgian workhorse. You are reputed to be a strong person, so if you will lift up the horse, I'll give him to you free. A lot of peasants and farm-hands happened to be standing around. Motkeh thought a moment, went over to the horse, put his head between the horse's forelegs, gave a grunt and lifted up the horse. The poritz kept his word and gave him the horse. However, Motkeh had ruptured himself and wound up with a hernia, [but] no one knew of this. The entire countryside feared him.
A river flowed through Hlusk a small river, but for Hlusk it was enough. Nearly all the Hlusker knew how to swim. On Friday practically the whole town came out to the river to bathe. The wagon drivers would even bring their horses and bathe themselves together with the horses. There was also a bathhouse in Hlusk. The bathhouse attendants were Itsche der beder [literally, Itsche, the bathhouse attendant] and his brother Motel, a Jew with a straggly beard. Every Friday, the entire town went to the bathhouse to wash away the week's accumulation of dirt. The bathhouse was a primitive one with a single oven, which consisted of piled up stones. Hot water would be poured on the stones. A thick steam would rise up, and people would sit on the floor and brush themselves, or one would brush the other, accompanied by shouts, moans and groans.
Hlusk was known for its two klezmer bands. One band consisted of Maishkeh the klezmer, who was himself a good violinist, along with three or four more musicians who played with him. The ordinary people would hire Maishkeh because he was more available and less expensive. The other band was Reb Yoshke the klezmer. His family were also klezmer.
Reb Yoshke's band was renowned throughout the entire region from Hlusk to Bobruisk and to Slutsk. People spoke of his playing with reverence. He did not simply play to provide music his playing was heavenly. He composed a melody, Tkiot, which he would play before music connoisseurs at weddings. Even today, I cannot help but be amazed how a person, who did not graduate from a conservatory, could attain the ability to play with such power and sweetness. My father, who was a first-class baal tefilah [one skilled in leading the prayer service] and a good singer, called him the great Yiddish Paganini. He had complete mastery of his instrument and could bring out tones such as few musicians could achieve. He was a small, thin Jew with a little beard and with a growth on his forehead which was covered with hair. He lived on the old dirt road in a small, old house. His first wife died young and left him with five or six children. He also had four or five children with his second wife, so that altogether they were a family of ten to twelve people. It should be understood that he was desperately poor despite the fact that he had many students and his wife had small store. He was concerned, however, that his children should become educated. His son Hirsh-Laib graduated from a conservatory in Warsaw and was taken on as first violin in the Warsaw Philharmonia. A second son, a world renowned trombonist, went to America, where he had a great career. A third, Shlomkeh, was a first class violoncellist in Warsaw. During the war he returned to Hlusk and was first violin in a cavalry orchestra; he was killed in the war.
Reb Yoshke's band consisted of Reb Yoshke himself, first violin; his son Itche, second violin; his son Shlomkeh, violoncello; his son Shneur, trombone and coronet; Laizer the bagel baker, flute; Mendel the tailor, clarinet; and Reb Avraham the wagon driver, double base and drum. This same Reb Avraham also filled in as badkhn [a jocular entertainer at a wedding]. He would call to the dobridziens [welcoming of the guests], to the first dance, to the blessing of the groom before the ceremony. During the playing at the evening meal, he was the one who asked the assembled guests to be quiet and so on.
Reb Avraham the drummer, a wagon driver, with a thick beard and blind in the right eye, was blessed with perfect pitch and had a good feel for the music. One nod from Yoshke was enough for him to know when to play forte or pianissimo. When he was playing his double bass at a poritz's ball to accompany the waltz Na Sopki Manchuria , (On the Hills of Manchuria) he did not take his eyes off Yoshkeh. And if all went well without any disapproving glances, a smile of satisfaction would spread across his face.
A wedding in Hlusk was an important event. In keeping with the custom, the wedding ceremony took place in the synagogue yard, and the bride and groom were escorted with music to and from the wedding canopy. Everyone in the town, young and old, would trail after. Before the ceremony, when they would play a dobridzien [a welcoming musical selection] for the bride and for the groom, Reb Avraham would close his one eye and would call out, A beautiful dobridzien for our dear bride with the dear in-laws, relatives and neighbors! Klezmer, take the instruments in your hands, and sound forth! And here the klezmer would play forth with a beautiful volachel [a kind of dance] which warmed the heart. Warm tears would overwhelm the bride as well as the mothers of the bride and the groom; even the fathers with strong nerves would inconspicuously wipe away a tear. The main attraction, however, came during the wedding meal. If Yoshke knew that there was a music connoisseur among the attendees, he would let his long, thin fingers dance over the strings and began to bring forth touchingly warm tones. The violin would begin to cry and speak compassionately to the heart. All held their breath as they listened to the trills, which were far more beautiful than a nightingale's. I don't think that any bird could emulate his playing. It is said that this plain Jew and great artist was left without any means to support himself in his old age. His children later brought him to America, where he died.
Hlusk was not blessed like other towns with many fairs. However, one fair did take place during the year on a Friday before Shavuot which lasted, all told, a half day. This annual market was called Piatzinkeh and would assemble five viorst  from the town beyond Slabodeh. Preparation for the fair would go on during the whole year. Peasants from the region and also from Hlusk would arrive on Thursday evening to set up their tents and to sleep the night there because the trading would begin before daybreak. People would begin to leave by midday because of the Shabbat.
It's important to mention the military conscripts from Hlusk. Each year after Succoth all the recruits in Hlusk had to come to the volost in Hlusk to stand before a committee which determined if they were fit for military service. In one respect, it [the military conscription] was good. There would be revenue from the novobrantzes  , but often they would instigate a little pogrom and help themselves to something from the shops. Then the Jewish conscripts would step up to the job With special, thick sticks they would crack a few Gentile heads, order would be restored [and] the Gentile novobrantzes would be afraid to even stick forth their noses. The Jewish conscripts engaged in another activity besides restoring order. They would go to the rejected recruits who happened to receive white slips and demand money from them for liquor under the pretext that they [the conscripts] were serving in the Czar's army in place of this one or that one [of the rejected recruits]. They would drink away the accumulated money at [the place of] Reb Itche Fishman the matchmaker's daughter-in-law, Liebe the widow. She used to have good roast goose, stuffed derma, gizzards and other delicacies. It was a private home, but one could always get a good supply of liquor.
The horse-traders from Hlusk were a unique group. They could be spotted a mile away long hair down to the neck, like the Russian peasants, and clean-shaven. A horse trader always carried a whip with a good, oaken whip handle (useful in case of any trouble.)
All week, except for Sunday, they would go around without any work, and the trading was at the inn of Liebe die kop.  There they got a drink of whiskey along with a portion of fish and a good, fresh roll. They also played cards there. Liebe would extend credit and would write it down in the ledger.
The horse-traders' language was comprehensible only to them: an old woman, an eagle, a bridegroom, a bride these were categories of horses. The trading was done with the peasants from the surrounding region. Every Sunday the peasants would come to trade horses, and in the exchange, the peasant would always pay a few rubles, and these few rubles were pure profit. Peasants love to trade horses. Indeed, it would very often happen that after five or six exchanges, the peasant would end up with his own horse.
The traders were great experts in preparing the horses for sale: dressing them up, washing them spotless, braiding the tail in a knot and tying it fast with a cord, combing out the mane and weaving in pieces of red material, washing the eyes with vinegar mixed with water. The main task was to make the teeth look right, for the teeth in an old horse had already become worn down and smooth. When an expert comes to evaluate a horse, he pulls out the tongue from the horse's mouth and feels the teeth with his finger. If he finds that the teeth are smooth, it's a sign that the horse is old. But the horse traders had a partner the mufker [literally, an immoral person] or as they called him, the tooth-doctor. The mufker would take a small, triangular file which is used to sharpen a saw and would make notches in the horse's teeth such that one could not distinguish between the altered teeth and genuine teeth. The poor horse would be so beaten under his belly with the whip-stick (so that the signs of his age would not be apparent), that he would jump out of his battered skin. In addition, they would pour a flask of whiskey into the water to intoxicate the horse. Then, when he was brought to the market, the horse trader would hold his bridle with the left hand and give him a couple of good jabs from time to time with the right hand so that, at the time of evaluation, the horse would really fly like an arrow from a bow, and the deal would be completed in ten minutes. Only when the peasant returned home did he first see what a bargain he snared. A few weeks later, the peasant returned to the market and approached the horse trader: Hey , konyokh, davai pobitaiem konyi, i.e., Hey, horse trader, let's trade horses again.
Translated by Dr. Steven Maron The small village of Cholui is found by a lake in the vicinity of the Svislotch River, that drains into the Berezina. It is found in the northern part of the Bobruisk district, near the village of Svislotch. According to family tradition, the area on which the village was later built was leased indefinitely to Nasheh Maron at the end of the 18th century. Nasheh's four sons: Joshua, Aaron, Pesach, and Isaiah divided the area into four portions and built a separate well on each portion. They also designated portions of land to the Christian inhabitants of the village and collected a tenant's tax from all inhabitants of the village. Two other old families lived in the town: the Hordas family, and the Luria family. By the time of the Holocaust there lived in Cholui the fourth and fifth generation of the Marons, who mixed with the members of the Luria and Hordas families. The tenant's tax custom continued until the rise of the Soviet government, which forbade private ownership of land.
A large street went down the middle of the town. There was a large marketplace, and at one end a church and the home of the priest. Most non-Jews worked on the estate of Count Osovski, which was next to the town.
Among the Rabbis of Cholui, those known to the authors include Rabbi Nathan Rubin, who in the year 1878 was called upon to become the Rabbi of the Beit Midrash (House of Study) of the wealthy Haim-Boaz Rabinovitch in Bobruisk. After him Mosheh-Aaron Alufin assumed the Rabbinate. He had previously been the Rabbi of Lapitch, the author of a book (Tzor Teudah Warsaw, 1878), as well as the author of The Valley of Halakhah (Warsaw, 1891). He received his Rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Eliahu Goldberg, the Rabbi of Bobruisk, was a supporter of the Hibat Zion movement, and died on the 27th of Sivan 1897. The last Rabbi of Cholui was Rabbi Dov-Ber Goldstein, a Bobruisk native, and graduate of the Wolozyn Yeshivah.
In 1897 there were 532 inhabitants in Cholui, among them 461 Jews, 87% of the total population.
Just as the people of the surrounding villages, the people of Cholui made their living from the forest. In addition, there were quite a few travelling peddlers. A typical peddler would leave home on Sunday, carrying on his back from ten to fifteen different types of merchandise: fabrics, kitchen utensils, and ironware. The peddler would go from village to village sleep in the villages, and return home on Sabbath eve. Usually the peddler was accompanied by a craftsman, usually a tailor, and sometimes a tinsmith or glazier. The tailor would sometimes sew a garment from the fabric sold by the peddler. There were in Cholui a number of Vozhakes-wagon drivers who took long logs to the sawmill or to the river. The logs were often as long as twenty or thirty meters, with a circumference of one or two meters. Expertise was required in loading them up, and special caution to avoid slipping in the winter.
The education of the children of thevillage was handed over to three teachers. One of them was Mendel Der Geller (Mendel the Yellow)-an erect man of noble countenance, who was strict but much loved by his pupils. A second-Haim-Heshel Margolin (who went to Palestine) .The third was Joseph Goldberg (the son of Mendel Der Geller), who was a bit of an educational innovator. He used the Hebrew in Hebrew system in his classroom, and read to his pupils from the Lubavitcher journal Ha'ach (The Brother). The influence of these educators became especially clear in the first years of Soviet rule, when the youngsters educated by them found an affinity for the Hebrew language and Zionism, and desired to make aliyah to Palestine.
Five or six pupils studied in the Gymnasium in Svislotch. They would leave for their place of study on foot every Sunday, loaded up with bread, potatoes, and gawmulkes (baked cheese)-provisions for the entire week. In Svislotch they would sleep with relatives or in the Kahal-Shtiebel (little chapel) by the synagogue. On Friday they would return home on foot.
During the first Russian revolution, the local youth expressed their revolutionary fervor by getting together in one of their homes to sing songs of the revolution. One of the authors of this article, Joshua Ze'ev Hordas, tells that the Uriadnik (constable), was sympathetic, and would choose to not see this activity in exchange for a bottle of brandy. During the period of rioting that accompanied the revolution, a disturbance broke out in the marketplace, which was quelled in timely fashion by the constable and some of the local youngsters.
Cholui went through difficult times during the civil unrest. Typical of the time is a letter published in the Zionist journal Faren Folk, that came out in Minsk (edition from May 13, 1920). It reads:
The Cholui Kehila calls upon all Cholui countrymen in America with a request to help her in her great emergency, since the town has become very impoverished, especially now, when the majority of the inhabitants are simply going hungry, and it is not possible for the Kehila to support them in their great need. Therefore the Kehila calls upon its countrymen with a request: send money for the needy population in hardship. The Kehila especially calls upon the men and children whose wives and parents are still in Cholui, they should have mercy on them and send them help. --In the name of the Kehila--Yirkhmiel Khurgin.
With the founding of the Soviet government the name of the town was changed because it was distasteful. In Russian and Belorussian Cholui is a derogatory term for a coarse, groveling servant. The name was changed to Lippen. When the land of the estate was divided up most of the Jews received tracts of land. They worked the land, growing potatoes and vegetables, and in this way sustained themselves during a time of hunger and privation. In 1926 the population of Cholui was 762, with only 441 Jews (58% of the total population).
During the early years of Soviet rule the Zionist movement gained momentum, especially among the youth. There was a youth organization called Kadima (Forward), under the direction of Meir Sillman, now living in Jerusalem. The government severely restricted Zionist activity and therefore it was necessary to camouflage the activities under the guise of sport and drama clubs, etc. With the expansion of the Z.S. movement, connections were made with the center in Minsk. Educational pamphlets came to Cholui and were distributed from there to the neighboring towns. Members of the Zionist underground were required to participate in Soviet public activities: agricultural committees, sports clubs, fire departments, land distribution committees, cooperatives built on drained swamps, local elections, etc.
In 1923, the first arrests began, and these are attributed to the informer Noah the son of the Rabbi. He acted, it seems, out of fear, and informed on many in Cholui and Bobruisk. Most of those arrested were released after signing a document in which they promised to cease their Zionist activities.
Among those who went for agricultural training in the Crimea (Tel Hai Farm) and in Leningrad, some were arrested at their training sites. Most of the Zionist youth group members went to Palestine in the years 1924-1925. According to the popular rumor, the government allowed the Zionists to leave after David Ben Gurion and Levi Eshkol visited Russia. Some of those arrested were released and went to Palestine towards the end of the 1920's.
Until the Nazi invasion of Belorussia (1941), the Jews of Cholui knew nothing of what was taking place in the areas conquered by Germany. It is said the Lipah Maron and his son-in-law Joseph Kanterovitch went among the Jews and convinced them to stay, pointing out that during WWI the Germans had treated the Jews well, and their economic status had been stable. One day several Nazis on horseback appeared from the direction of Osipovitch, and with the assistance of Christians from the town brought all the Jews to the shore of the lake. The Jews were shot to death, their bodies falling into the water. Some Jews succeeded in escaping and finding refuge in the forest.
Rabbis of Lapichi known to us included Moshe Aharon Alufin who served in the rabbinate between 1867 and 1879 and who moved to Chaloi. Rabbi Chanoch Hendel Friedland succeeded him as rabbi of Lapichi from 1880 to 1895, and was one of the first rabbis who joined the Hibat Zion [Lovers of Zion] movement. Rabbi Hendel's son, Pesach Friedland, studied in the yeshiva of Volozhin and was one of the founders of the Nes Ziona secret association in the yeshiva. In 1886, with the approval of his father, the rabbi of Lapichi, Pesach was one of the founders of the Hovevei Zion Association in Lapichi.
During the period between 1900 and 1917, Rabbi Chaim Zvi Shapiro was the rabbi of Lapichi. Rabbi Shapiro, the son of Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Shapiro, the rabbi of Bobruisk in those days, became rabbi of Bobruisk upon the death of his father.
The last rabbi of Lapichi was Rabbi Isser Shapiro, son of Rafael Shapiro. During the period of the Soviet regime the economy of Lapichi began to deteriorate. In 1926 there were still 821 residents including 709 Jews. In 1931 the number of residents in Lapichi fell to 582, including 490 Jews.
Translated by David Goldman With the help of G-d who dwells in Zion, an association named Lovers of Zion for Settlement in the Land of Israel [Hovevei Zion Le-Yishuv Eretz Yisrael] was established last year in Lapichi during the intermediate days of Sukkot. I thank G-d that my efforts enabled me to firmly establish it. My father, may he live and be well, wrote a lengthy approval in the ledger and was full of praise about this subject. He encouraged his community to become involved and participate in this marvelous project. Almost all the members of the community, both chassidim and non-chassidim, became involved in the association. The amount of money collected has been more than 75 pieces of silver a year, a huge amount for a small community like ours. The organization became much more firmly established than had been hoped. After the holiday, one of the members of our organization traveled to his parents' home in the small nearby town of Cholui to form an association there as well. He carried with him the approval of my father and others and was very successful. The rabbi of Cholui (an educated man who wrote an article, Gey Chizayon [Valley of Visions] printed in Hamelitz) wrote his approval in the ledger of Cholui. Our influence has spread to the other communities in our area. It won't be too long before they also start associations dedicated to settling the Land of Israel as soon as they see the approval of the rabbis, etc.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Bobruisk, Belarus Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 09 Jul 2014 by JH