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[Page 87]

Memories of the “Chalutz” Society

by Shalom Rosenblum

Translation by Rabbi Israel Rubin

Our house was in the neighborhood of “Patzlof” near the flour depot. We lived in one part of the house, and rented the other part to the parents of Yakov Chasman (Yankel the blacksmith). They lived in our home for 28 years. My mother's name was Menucha, and my father was Tzvi, her second husband. My father died in WWI and the burden was placed on my mother to raise the orphans.

My first teacher was Kalman Shepsal (the father of Tzvi Krizovsky). We, the students, would sit around the table, and he would wear the tallis–katan, holding the pointer–stick in his hand while conducting the children. After I grew up a little, I studied tailoring. At first I worked for Nasan the tailor, and afterward I went to work for Groinam the tailor.

When the “Chalutz” (“Pioneer”) started, I enlisted as a member and was sent (in 1925) to “preparation” (preparatory farming study done in anticipation of farming the land of Israel) in the area of Sventzion. We worked there on all kinds of back–breaking labor and were often subjected to starvation. After half a year I sent in a request to make aliyah to Israel and was sent to Warsaw for a fitness examination. There they had a pressure machine to measure my tendons and overall strength…to my good fortune, the instrument was flawed, and after all this I was authorized to make aliyah.

From Warsaw to Constanta we traveled by train, and from there by the Roman boat [named] “Datsia” to Israel. In Kolonie Lvovo something unpleasant occurred to me. I hired a porter to bring my bag through a tunnel. He hid the number and wanted to run away, so I grabbed the bag from him by force and continued on my way.

When I arrived in Israel, I was sent to the Kibbutz HaCovesh in Petach–Tikva. There I worked in the orchard, I dug holes for new plants, and pruned and fertilized the orchard. There I learned what menial handiwork was. One time we needed to carry the fertilizer on our shoulders, and my shirt tore. I, understandably, continued to carry my sack of fertilizer until evening. When I got home, I felt terrible burns on my back from the heat and fertilizer. I was unable to eat or sleep for three days as a result of my wounds.

After 1929, when the German aliyah began, the situation improved and I began regular (permanent) work as a tailor.

I visited Divenishok in 1938, after being away for 12 years. The youth were very reclusive. I searched hard for good, lively youth with an awareness of Zionism that were ready to make aliyah to Israel. While they were ready for aliyah, the gates of Israel were closed.

I became especially friendly with Yekusiel Zhizhemski, who wanted to experience the atmosphere of the Jewish Land, and to learn the proper Sephardic pronunciation. I loved Zhizhemski. He was a wondrous young man, pleasant, brilliant, and an excellent teacher. I really miss him. After several months I left Divenishok and returned to Israel full of impressions.


 

[Page 90]

The Revival Period in Divenishok

Dov Ben Shalom (Popisko)

Translation by Meir Bulman

I was born in Eshishuk, and arrived in Divenishok before Purim of 1923. The story goes like this: as the Poles entered the town, I joined the army. I bought a fake passport in Lida, which stated I was older, and so I had to serve on reserve duty only half the time.

When I returned home on vacation, a Polish police officer ratted me out and I had to escape to Divenishok, where my sister, who was married to Eliahu Melamed the tailor, lived. They had seven children. My sister Chava was in Divenishok as well, as she had married Eliyahu's brother Grunem. They all perished in Voronova.

I resided in Divenishok for two years. I worked as a tailor with my brother–in–law Eliyahu Melamed. On my first month living there, I met my wife Reyzl (Shoshana). I was registered with HaKhalutz at the end of the seventh month by Eliahu Itskovitsh (Netaneli), who was the branch chairman.

I should note that a revival period began in our town with the establishment of HaKhalutz. The youth sprang into activity and were influenced by the pioneering Zionism.

We met weekly, mostly in the women's section in the synagogue, and occasionally in private homes. At the start of the meeting we would read the correspondence from the regional Khalutz headquarters. Then we would discuss current events or conduct a public debate on a book that members had read prior to the discussion.

I remember a debate on Di Goldene Keyt, the Golden Chain, by I. L. Peretz. Eliahu Itskovitsh was taken by Hassidic enthusiasm and lectured on the topic for three hours. To this day the concluding remarks of the speech ring in my ears: “the golden chain continues and will continue until we reach the renewed Land of Israel.”

Occasionally, guest speakers would appear. I remember Yhoshua Manoah from Dganya, who was a gifted speaker, Bardichevski from Yagur, who was very active in the HaKhalutz organization in the Vilne district. They were both sent from Palestine to organize the Vilne district branch.

The gatherings were attended by large crowds and conducted in the spirit of pioneering. Especially uplifting were the new songs of the Land of Israel that the delegates would bring. I visited HaKhalutz in Eshishuk and other towns, but the Divenishok branch excelled with its organizational and cultural activities.

I must make note of the teachers in Divenishok, especially Mr. Engel, who was director of Zionist and cultural activity at HaKhalutz. He also traveled with me to Mr. Tiktniski at the “Zion Youngsters” (Tz'eerey Zion) in Vilne and helped me get an immigration certificate to Palestine. It was quite an accomplishment for me, since only 400 such certificates were issued in the whole of Poland that year, and only 15 in the Vilne region.

I arrived in this land in 1925 with my wife Shoshana. I did not want to continue working as a tailor, but to be an actual pioneer and literally participate in developing the land–– but due to the harsh conditions I had to quickly return to tailoring.

Since my Aliyah 50 years ago I have lived in Haifa. In this city I established a family. I have three children who established their own homes. My wife was a great companion in life, but died two years ago, unfortunately for me. That is how I lost my most loyal and closest life friend.


[Page 92]

HeHalutz Organization in Our Town

by Eliahu Netaneli (Itskovitsh)

Translation by Meir Bulman

I was born in 1906 in Divenishok to my parents Natan, son of Dov, and Khiene. My father was a Voronova native, and my mother was from the family of Avraham Eliezer Levine, an ancient Divenishok family. I know of four generations because on the prayer book in my father's house it said, “This prayer book is the property of Avraham Eliezer son of Meir son of Yitzchak.”

 

About my family

I do not remember my grandfather, but the memory of my grandmother Miriam is etched deep in my consciousness, perhaps due to her unique personality. I remember that every Thursday at dawn my grandmother would gather many vegetables into a basket with her quick hands and disappear into the morning mist. I followed her once out of curiosity and saw her rushing with the basket towards one of the homes, climbing rapidly, almost floating, onto a balcony of a neighbor in need - and then disappear. Her actions were a well-kept secret even among members of her family so as to fulfill the mitzvah of matan b'seter[1] without a single flaw.

My mother, despite being the daughter of a poor tailor, strived for Torah and knowledge. She was the only girl in town to complete art, embroidery, and design studies, with honors, in Vilne in 1903, and receive a diploma.

My father was good-natured man and liked helping his fellows. He had a majestic appearance, with a permanent smile. He was a kind man and involved himself with those around him. He was among the leaders of the community in town and devoted much of his time to public activism.

I remember that once while we sat down for Friday lunch, Meir Rogol entered the home and told father that Leyzer the coachman's horse had fallen. Father moved aside the beef stew with challah bread and left the house. An hour or two passed, and father returned with a smile on his face and said, “Moshe Leyzer already has a horse,” and returned to eating calmly.

Father was faithfully devoted to community matters for many a day, from when he married my mother to the day he died. I remember a number of episodes which were typical of my father from my childhood, the era of the Tsar.

In the time of the Tsar, a special judge was appointed to handle Divenishok and the surrounding area. The residence of the judge was by Malinovke, on Giranyoon Street. I would fill with pride when I saw the judge pull up to our home on a coach harnessed to two horses. The judge would enter, shut himself in the room with my father, and consult with him regarding complex legal matters. As my father told it, the judge would accept his advice and make rulings accordingly.

I remember another event, in the 1920s, when the Poles occupied the town. As was their custom, they appointed a city commander, who in this case was an anti-Semitic commander from Galicia. He entered our home on a Saturday and announced that the Jews must immediately go out and clean the marketplace. “But today is the Sabbath,” my father replied. “This is an order,” the commander said. I do not know from where my father drew the courage, but he angrily approached the commander and told him, “When you speak to me, nobody can hear. But when I begin talking to you the whole town will hear. Sabbath is holy to us and we will not work today.” The commander left.

Father was very talented and influential. Had he studied, he certainly would have been a successful lawyer, but in his youth he did not have the opportunity to study at school and had to help his parents with tailoring. He took advantage of his talents for community work in town, which brought him satisfaction and was of much help to the residents. Our town was without change for decades; its life proceeded peacefully without fateful events. The source for the news we received about events occurring out in the big world was Arye Leyb Rogol, the pharmacist who was subscribed to two Warsaw newspapers: Haynt and Moment. Later on the newspapers were also in my parents' home. My rabbi and teacher Rabbi Leib Aharon Engle, the well-known lecturer, was subscribed to HaZfira.

Out in the world events were taking place that drastically altered human history. During WWI our territory exchanged hands many times. The February Revolution erupted, and then the Bolshevik Revolution, which was rooted in ideals of freedom for humanity, and independence and freedom for small weakened states.

And in the Jewish world – The Balfour Declaration, in which many Jews saw 'Athalta D'Geula'[2], prayed for British victory over the Turkish, but many were not satisfied with hopes and prayers alone, and these got involved in helping the British in their war. The message of redemption intoxicated the Jewish community. Vilne, a leading Jewish city, celebrated the start of a new era in the life of the Jewish people magnificently. Parades by all Zionist organizations took place. In Vilne I saw the joy and abundant faith which overtook the whole of Jewry. I, the cheder student, saw in that declaration the fruition of the prayer, “May our eyes witness Your return to Zion in compassion.” I wept with tears of happiness and joy. I conceived an idea of establishing a Zionist organization in our town, to take action for aliyah and put an end to life in exile.

I poured my heart and ideas out to my father. We stood on our balcony and saw Lithuanian cavalry approaching the market place from Dowichitzki Street, passing by on their horses with expressions of glee and happiness on their faces. I was very envious and told my father, “Look, that small faltering nation is fortunate to have its own military, why should we not make Aliyah to fight for our freedom?” My father was not influenced by my enthusiasm.

After some time, I returned to my studies in Vilne. My young spirit was attached to the Zionist movement, to HaHalutz. And with my youthful passion I made up my mind: HaHalutz will be established in Divenishok! I decided to discuss the issue and consult with Zionist leaders. The goal I set for myself gave me wings. I dared and approached the important leader Dr. Yakov Vigudski. He greeted me warmly, listened to me and directed me to Mr. Bankover, the driving force behind HaHalutz in Vilne, who was the representative from Israel to organize the HaHalutz movement in Poland.

 

The 4 clauses

When I returned home, I was equipped with guidance and materials I received from Mr. Bankover. The HaHalutz plan focused on four main objectives:

  1. HaHalutz must be subject to the World Zionist Organization and fulfill the roles to which its members are appointed.
  2. The study of the Hebrew language, its literature, and Zionist doctrine.
  3. Publicizing the Zionist idea, and professional and agricultural training.
  4. Aliyah

I brought with me various documents and newspapers in Hebrew, among them the HaHalutz paper HaAtid [Tr. Note: the future] which was published in Warsaw. In Divenishok I discussed matters with my good and close friend Dov Zandman (who fell at Mount Scopus with his envoy), along with Avraham Kartshmer, Nakhum Movshovitsh, son of the town rabbi. We decided to establish a HaHalutz organizational chapter. Our town residents were feeling energized and in our vision we saw the dream of an independent Israel taking shape. In our mind's eye we were already in Eretz Israel.

Then 1921 arrived. From Israel came stunning news: about the Tel Hai incidents-- of the death of a man with a hero's stature, Yosef Trumpeldor. It was also the time of awful news concerning a massacre of Jews in the Ukraine, and the flurry of emotion in the Jewish street had not yet quieted. We, the youth, compared the helplessness of the Jews in exile with the heroic standing of Jews in Israel.

The initial group gathered around us more youth. Few days went by before we were a group of dozens, imbued with the spirit of Zionism. We did not have a permanent place to convene. We would gather in one of the yards, or at times in the large garden of the elderly Kaplan family, or on Saturdays while hiking through the woods. I read them correspondence and newspapers in Hebrew, still with Ashkenazic pronunciation. Our parents and town elders treated us dismissively: “What? Where? Eretz Israel? Parched Palestine? The Geula has not yet come… you… you who have not left your fathers' home to enter the vast world, you, the children, will establish a state? (You, the people of my town who will read these words – I swear I am not writing out of boastfulness but for the sake of historic accuracy alone.) I was the first founder of HaHalutz and its main activist in town. I would lecture in front of my friends for hours on end. I passed to them my great love for Hebrew literature which fed into the love of country. The Keren Kayemet collection box was holy to us. The movement began to take shape. My family's stable financial situation helped me carry on with my Zionist activism. With the allowance I got I could afford writing utensils, rubber stamps, and more. After a while an administration was elected and I was appointed its chairman. The secretary was Y. Satkolshtsik and the treasurer Mordechai Abramovitsh. HaHalutz became an organization recognized by the authorities. We corresponded with Israel and envoys from Israel began visiting us. I still remember some of them: Yehoshua Manoakh from Dganya, Aharon Bardichevski and others.

After a while, Rabbi Movshovitsh – the sympathetic and friendly rabbi – allowed us to conduct our meetings at the women's section in the New Synagogue. It was very good to gather on a summer or winter night for information and culture sessions, games and sing-a-longs, etc.

I served as chairman for four years, until I made Aliyah in 1925. We busied ourselves with various activities, especially devoting ourselves to establishing a quite large library. From the income of 10-20 grush[3], we purchased books in Hebrew and Yiddish. Later we also purchased books from funds provided by the town's first Zionist Arye Leyb Rogol.

From funds sent for constructive purposes by former residents of our town living in America, a portion was budgeted for the library.

Within three years approximately fifty youths joined us and to this day I do not understand from where I took the strength and mental capacity to break down conservative walls to establish HaHalutz in our town and turn it into an influential factor in the town's life. Later, when Kibbutz HaKovesh,[4] consisting of pioneers from Vilne and the surrounding area, made Aliyah, a few people from our town joined them.

At the time of the Mandate, in the days of the Aliyah suspension, and the unemployment in Israel, the first of our townfolks, made Aliyah and served as the bedrock for the future Divenishok alumni in Israel.

In 1903 and 1905, various revolutionary organizations were established in our town, like the Bund and others. But they did not last long and were destroyed by the Tsarist regime. Most of their members emigrated to the United States, where they established an organization of former Divenishok residents. But HaHaluz presented to them with the question, “And now when shall I provide for my own house also?” [Gen. 30: 30] and the answer was clear, “The time has come to act for our country, the land of Zion and Jerusalem!”

 

My Aliyah

After I established HaHalutz and became one of its chief spokespersons, I was smitten by the fire of Zionist activism and decided to not only say but also to do as I was saying. In 1925 I left a well-established, wealthy home to make Aliyah. Here I suffered want and hunger, struggled hard for each work day; with my frail body I had to do back-breaking labor, so I would not trail behind friends, and I struggled daily for survival.

Father rained letters on me, “Dear son! My eldest son, return home, you will lack nothing, you are physically weak, you cannot withstand the immense effort.” But I, a fire blazing in my heart, was tired of exile and humiliation, and the striving to reconstruct the homeland was the center of my life. I suffered and was burning out, yet I withstood temptation and did not return to Poland.

After years of difficult physical labor, I had to transfer to teaching and was fortunate to educate the younger generation with a love of nation and land, until I retired for health reasons.

In Israel I met my wife Khaya, who became a loyal friend through the twists and turns of my life. Despite the harsh conditions, she kept my sister Bilkhe with us and encouraged her to not return to the diaspora, and thanks to her, she remained in Israel and was fortunate to establish a new generation.

Despite all I endured, my heart is full with praises of God, who has blessed me to live in our free country, who blessed me in seeing its renewal, and blessed me with starting home in it.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. anonymous charity Return
  2. Aramaic for: beginning of redemption Return
  3. an obsolete Israeli currency Return
  4. literally, 'the conqueror' Return

[Page 97]

Trivia From Our Town

Moshe Mintz

Translation by Martin Jacobs

My parents lived in the “magazin” (warehouse) on Geranion Street. It got its name of magazin from the large granaries a kilometer away. In the days of the Czar there was also a courthouse there. In the First World War the Germans burnt down the storehouses and the courthouse.

*

The cemetery was behind our house. Our lands were separated from the cemetery by the lands of the farmers of Subotnik Street. There were two cemeteries in the town, the old one, on which a beautiful pine grove grew, and the new one, purchased in 1928. It took much effort to acquire this land, since the farmers knew that the Jews would pay any price they asked so as to have the plot for this use. They refused to sell for less than triple its value.

When the Jews finally succeeded in acquiring the land there was much joy in the town and the burial society hosted a dinner in honor of the event. To this day I remember how large wooden posts were brought, smeared with pitch, and passed through a fire, so that they would not decompose in the ground, and a high wire fence was put up all around.

It was always the practice in the town to carry the deceased to the cemetery on a stretcher. With the purchase of the new cemetery a new practice was put into effect: the burial society purchased a cart on which a black wooden coffin was set out, and the deceased was placed into it. A horse was harnessed to the cart and the coffin and horse were covered with a velvet covering embroidered with a white Star of David and verses from the Psalms.

I remember an interesting episode in connection with the cart. Members of the burial society had difficulty deciding what length to make the coffin. On the one hand, it had to fit every body, on the other, it had to have an aesthetic form. Itza Binyamin the Blacksmith, a member of the burial society himself, lay down so that they could measure him for the coffin – as he said, there is no man taller in the town – and his measurements were accepted.

I learned reading and writing from Shaul the Dyer. He was a strict man in whose hand an oak ruler was always at the ready – and when he hit “no grass would grow in that place”. The pupils were dreadfully afraid of him, but he devoted himself more to the dying business, which his wife managed, than to teaching.

After that I went on to the school which opened in the town. I recall that for a while the school was in Chaim Gershowitz's house and then in the house of Abba the Shoemaker.

*

I joined Hekhaluts when I was 16 years old. In 1923 I went to a pioneer training camp near Wiszniewo. There my task was to chop down trees and prepare them for shipment to Germany. Although my brother sent me papers for travel to America I chose to go to Palestine, since I wanted to participate in building the land.

I arrived in Palestine at the beginning of 1926, before Rosh Hashana. The economic conditions there were not good. I barely got work with Kantrowitz, the orange grower, in Petach-Tikva. For digging a pit I got a piaster and a mil per meter. I dug twenty pits a day.

Once when I had been there a year I met David Lipka Berkowitz on the street. He had arrived in Palestine a year before me. To my great surprise he said to me: “Do you know what? I have decided to return home.” I went with him to buy a present for my mother and sister. Suddenly I was overcome with longing to see my family and the city of my birth. I said to David Lipka, “Have a good trip. Give my regards to my family and tell them that I too will soon be going home.” And so it was: I went to Jerusalem, got a six-week visa, and in spring of 1928 I returned to Divenishok.

*

In the town they were then building the Hebrew school and Zionist activity was quite strong. I myself joined the Zionist labor circle and we were beginning to set up a Hebrew library after the Yiddishists had gained control of the municipal library. We collected money and went to Vilna, where we bought as many as 500 books with cash and on credit. We organized appeals at all festive occasions and arranged question and answer evenings, with a guest lecturer. We organized raffles and we emptied Jewish National Fund collection boxes. The teachers of the school did their utmost for all cultural and Zionist activities.

Because of my family situation I put off my return to Palestine from day to day, until the visa expired. To this day I cannot forgive myself for the two serious mistakes I made in my life, that I left Palestine, and, more seriously, that I did not return in the time specified. Several years later I tried to return, but unsuccessfully. I even went to the commune in Glubok, where I stayed for three and a half years, but all my efforts to return to Palestine came to naught.

I paid very dearly for my mistakes. For seventeen years I endured countless troubles and hardships. Not just once did I face death. Only in 1956, broken and crushed, did I succeed in reaching Palestine. Here I needed to start all over again, and with God's help I was able to get on with my life.


[Page 100 – Hebrew] [Page 439 – Yiddish]

The Torah Reading Was Stopped

by Eliahu Itskovtish

Translation by Leybl Botwinik

Stopping the Torah reading was one of the best and quickest ways to achieve what one wished for according to law, when an injustice had been done to someone. A person who saw himself discriminated against would come to shul [Tr. Note: Synagogue] on shabes [Tr. note: Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest] morning during the shakharis [Tr. note: Morning prayer] service, and place himself directly in front of the orn koydesh [Tr. note: Holy ark where the Torah scrolls are kept, usually on a raised platform or stage] and not let anyone take the Torah out for the reading – until the Rabbi, the community leader and the rest of the congregation heard out his complaints and claims, and promised to carry out his requests. Then he would descend from the stage.

This system was also often used by swindlers and informers that wanted to force the community to give them money.

During the Czarist reign, every able-bodied male who reached the age of 21 had to join the army, and if someone did not report for duty or ran away, then his family would be fined 300 Rubles.

One shabes, as the shakharis prayer ended and the words “veyehi binsoya ho-oroyn” [Tr. note: Prayer said while the Torah ark is being opened] were being said by the khazn [Tr. note: Cantor who leads the prayer], there was heard a sudden outcry. The worshipers were alarmed. Within moments, two young scholars appeared and argued the following: “In two months' time, we are to be enlisted into the army. We have decided to travel to America. Our desire is that you will give us funds for our fare and 600 Rubles, the fine that will be put on our parents.”

The brazen pair shouted that they wanted to reach an agreement immediately, even before the reading of the Torah – and if not, they would inform on the Rabbi and on other community leaders to the authorities, that they are plotting against the regime – and other such false charges.

The delay in the reading of the Torah depressed and embittered my father greatly, but did not shake him. He went up onto the stage, and in a beautiful speech explained to them that they had no right to demand the monies. If they would speak honorably, it would be seen what could be done about their voyage to America. Tactfully and with words that spoke to the heart, he pointed out that the two young scholars were yet innocents. The worshippers in the shul were satisfied with his words and the young men left the house of worship with downcast eyes.


[Page 101]

In the Service of the Jewish Homeland

by Natan Kaplan, son of Mordechai and Khasye

Translation by Meir Bulman

I was born in Divenishok, a small town in the Vilne area. My father Mordechai and my mother Khasye excelled in their pleasant traits and good deeds, like all residents in our town. My mother and father, may they rest in peace, were near and dear to my heart and I loved them very much.

My father was a gabbai at the synagogue, and with the rest of the members of the community worked to improve his financial state. The main basis for livelihood in town was market day and Sunday. On those days, the residents of nearby villages would bring their merchandise to town, and with the money they earned, bought various goods at the Jewish-owned stores.

At a young age, my father sent me to study in Vilne. I studied there, along with my friends from town, at the “knowledge disseminating” schools, and then later at the Gymnasia Realit.

In Vilne we devoted ourselves also to boxing, soccer and other sports. We also apprenticed in firefighting so that later we could be accepted as volunteers at the firehouse. Each year during summer vacation, we returned to our town and there too we busied ourselves with sports. We played teams from nearby towns: Oshmene, Olshan, Voronova, Lida, and Ivia. We also trained in swimming in the river. I dedicated a few hours a week to singing. I sang in Vilne with the Slepp choir, and with a religious chorus at the Old Synagogue, in the days of Cantor Hershman. On evenings we gathered sometimes in my room and spent a number of hours singing – and I accompanied the singing by strumming the mandolin.

I was very pleased with my studies in Vilne, but there was one think I could not accept– that my teachers and counselors were members of the Yiddishist movement, and strived to establish a Jewish Yiddish center within the Polish borders. Most of them rejected Zionism while my heart was drawn only towards Zionist youth movements.

*

By 1942, Vilne had become a large Zionist and Hebrew center. The HeKhalutz movement was established while at the same time many of my friends continued studying there and also left for the university towns in Europe. I joined HeKhalutz and burned behind me my contacts with teachers and counselors who opposed Zionism.

In 1925, HaKovesh was established. Hundreds of members, including me, organized the Aliyah kibbutz with HeKhalutz, whose role it was to arrange for emigration to Israel and to oversee labor in the colonies.

In September of 1925 I reached the land with the first platoon of HaKovesh, now the Ramat Hakovesh kibbutz, which had only twenty members, and began work in Petah Tikvah. By the end of the year in which I reached Israel, HaKovesh established a foothold also in Kfar Saba, which began rebuilding from the ruins of the war as well as the 1921 Jaffa riots. HaKovesh, and I among them, dealt with public matters regarding labor in Kfar Saba, establishing a blueprint for organized Hebrew labor in Kfar Saba and the area.

At the beginning of 1927 I enlisted in the police, pursuant to an order from the highest institutions, headed by Mr. Ben Zvi. I knew neither tiring nor fear. I was always optimistic. If I fell down I did not despair: I got up again and prevailed. I did not disdain any role assigned to me-- if it was for the good of the Jewish people and their state.

The collection of memoirs which I wrote encompasses 22 years of working as a commander in the British Mandate police, at a time when the regime was clearly pro-Arab and hostile towards us. I handled a whirlwind of events in the land, until our State was established with blood and flames.

*

I was a member of HaGana, commanding units, participating in its actions, and being always willing to risk my life for HaGana and for the entire nation. I gave the full extent of my support to organizations which worked to penetrate every industry in the economy. I also assisted Keren Kayemet in redeeming the land. When I search my conscience I can assess with confidence that I gave exemplary service to my nation and my land. In the places where I served as an officer no one was ever court-martialed, even if caught with an illegal weapon. I was alert night and day ensuring that no illegal weapons be seized.

On thirteen occasions I assisted HaGana in the unloading of illegal olim from illegal ships at Shfayim beach, helping them reach internal territory. When an illegal ship approached I pulled the British policemen far from shore with various excuses, so the beach would be free for action. (Those matters were published in The Hebrew Policeman in the Time of the Mandate, where details appear of my bold actions during the war against gangs of Arab belligerents).

On this occasion I would like to also mention several valuable actions I took during that fateful period. Before the “Black Sabbath” in 1946, I was commander of the police station on Yehuda HaLevi Street in Tel Aviv. I became aware that the Brits were about to arrest the leaders of the Yishuv and to search for illegal weapons. I immediately notified those in charge and efforts were made to thwart the plan. Another time, a group of Jews who had been brought illegally by men of The Jewish Brigade feared they would be deported, since they had no documents. I immediately approached the district commander Mr. Gobernik, who had once assisted me in a similar instance. A group of Jewish soldiers who reached Israel with the Polish military from Russia, among them a resident of my town, Zvi, left the Polish army and wanted to settle in Israel. I then approached Mr. Gobernik, and after I signed that I have known them for over five ears, I received identification documents for them.

*

When the War of Independence began and the suburbs of Tel Aviv were attacked, I went out with the policemen and HaGana for a counter-attack. We managed to counter the Arab attacks from mostly Jordanian legionnaires and Syrian soldiers. After that we established 23 defense posts in the suburbs of Tel Aviv in the Mnashye area. It was a war of the few against the many until we occupied Jaffa, and I had the good fortune of entering Jaffa among those who liberated the city from a foreign invader and blood thirsty gangs.

*

To my delight I achieved my wish when in 1937 I brought my parents and brother Yosef from Divenishok to Israel and prepared a home for them in the Ma'as Village near Petah Tikva. But, unfortunately, I was unable to bring my three married sisters with their husbands and children from Divenishok, and they were executed by Hitler's men, damn them. I should note that I had prepared a passport, had arranged for time off, and had intended to travel to Divenishok to bring them to Israel illegally. As bad luck would have it, the war erupted, the British cancelled my vacation, and did not permit me to leave the country.

*

In the State of Israel, I was a high-ranking police official. I am happy because I was able to see the fruition of the vision of the State of Israel. I always adhered to the principle of “the job comes first,” while maintaining good and fair relationships with the public at large without exception. It seems to me that public security roles were the spice of my life, every day and every hour. I think I never felt any weakness nor was I fatigued by the burden of care that rests on a policeman dealing with national security. I should note that we succeeded not only in bringing security to the Israeli public, but also in maintaining the moral integrity of the police force.

On July 1, 1969 I retired and parted with my commanding officers who remained by the wheel, and I am certain they will ensure the national stability and the fairness of public relations.


[Page 105]

Memories from Two World Wars

by Aryeh Olkanitski

Translation by Meir Bulman

In my youth, my grandfather Leyb was the owner of a glassmaking workshop in Soletchnik. After Jews were forbidden to live in the villages, he relocated to Divenishok and purchased a large home on the corner of Geranion and Subotnik, which was used as a motel for passers-by. It was there that grandfather and grandmother passed away.

My mother Zippa, of the Sharashevski family from Kovne, died in the prime of her life in 1912, and we small children were left behind. In order to stop my eldest brother from being enlisted in the Tsarist military, my father sold a horse and a cow, and sent him to England.

Next in line was my sister Khayeh whom married Yitzhak Levin. After her, Shifra, married Avraham Kotler. After her, my brother Yosef who married Radke Moshe Aharon's, and I, the youngest in the home, married Zemakh Masukutnik's daughter.

I learned the alphabet by Kalman Shepsel, Zvi Krizovski's father. Later I studied with Shaul “the Varnish,” and later I transferred to more modern teachers who acquired a reputation in town: Yitzach, Sarah Disya's; Shmuel “Kesele's” (Shmuel Kramer), Slava “Kesele's” brother. Shmuel Kramer's father arrived in Divenishok after the big fire and built a two-story brick home. It was the only two-story home in Divenishok. He later returned to America.

During WWI, Yitzach and Shmuel established a school in that home, where they taught Hebrew and History.

In WWI we suffered much at the hands of the Germans. There were times when there was literally not even a piece of bread in the house. To gain something for the orphans, my father traveled to Lida, purchased matches, and then brought them to Divenishok. The Germans captured him on the road, and led him to Zakrevtsizne, near Geranion. Berl, who was a warm-hearted Jew, took pity on my father and bought the matches from the Germans, and payed them heftily, so that they would release my father. By the way, a monument should be built in memory of Berl, who was murdered by the Count of Zakrevtsizne, from whom Berl leased the flour-mill. Berl had many promissory notes from the Count and his three brothers. He was buried as a martyr in the Divenishok cemetery. He was succeeded by two daughters who traveled to America.

Many changes occurred with the entrance of the Russians to town during WWII. Trade, which was the town's main source of income, was completely frozen, and the state of affairs for Jews worsened considerably. Merchants still attempted to trade with gentiles, but did so in secret because it was an offense that carried with it a lengthy prison sentence. My brother Yosef was caught on his way from Lida with some merchandise, and was jailed for a month. We barely managed to release him. Had the matter reached court he would have certainly been tried as a profiteer and sentenced to five years in prison.

When the Germans entered I encountered many troubles. I escaped home, hid in the woods, and worked in various labor camps until liberation.

From my entire family remain only myself and my brother Shaul, who now resides in England. All of them perished in the Voronova ghetto, aside from my brother Yosef, who perished in the Lida ghetto.


[Page 107]

The Youth Was Imbued
With A Zionist Consciousness

by Esther Gordon

Translation by Meir Bulman

I visited Divenishok in 1937, after I married my husband Syoma Gordon, when he came from Eretz Israel to visit his family. I was very impressed by the alert and excited youth, who were imbued with a deep Zionist consciousness. I was surprised by the friendship and harmony that existed within the youth, and was especially impressed by the social and Zionist activities.

Syoma's appearance in his white suit was an attraction in the town and everyone accepted us with admiration and excitement. All the youth crowded around us to breathe and enjoy the atmosphere of the Land of Israel.

The Zionist youth organized parties in our honor. I remember one party in Sara-Disya's home. Sara-Disya's two granddaughters, Shime-Etke and Yehudit, threw us a party, and Syoma sang new Hebrew songs from Eretz Israel. The atmosphere in town was electrifying and everyone envied us for being able to travel to Eretz Israel. That was unsurprising since the state of Jewry was terrible then, anti-Semitism increased with each passing day, and the youth was depressed, hopeless for the future. The gates of the Land were shut, but the youth desired, if not to make Aliyah, than at least to hear a word about the Land and enjoy its spirit.


[Page 108]

The Theater in the Town

Binyamin Dubinski

Translation by Martin Jacobs

Our town was a small one, but the Jewish youth there eagerly took an interest in culture and in various ways tried to satisfy their hunger for art and culture. There was no cinema in the town and no other place of entertainment, and so they had to find entertainment in original ways through the town's theatrical life. For this purpose they organized a group of theater lovers, which included all the talented youth, no matter what their viewpoint or political party. It was a necessity of life that the few dramatic resources not be fragmented and that attention be given, from an economic point of view, for what performances were desirable.

Neither the “Zionists” nor the “leftists” were capable, by themselves, of staging any performances whatsoever, and the main principle was to insure that performances would be successful economically. The profits were divided among the parties in accordance with the power of the performance.

Despite the fact that none of the youths in the town was qualified in stagecraft or make-up, resourceful and talented young people could always be found to stage plays, to apply make-up, and to create suitable scenery. Performances were very successful because these youths put all their enthusiasm into them. So it is no surprise that the townspeople were very excited about the actors and each event became the talk of the day in every home.

Among those who stood out in the area of staging we must mention with distinction Avraham Kartshmer, Moshe Stul, Avraham Aloni, Shmuel Dubkin, and Sholem Sonnenson. But excelling all others in this field was Tsvi Kryzovski, who was the major force behind most of the performances: as director, stage-manager, and producer.

Ten productions, all in Yiddish, were successfully staged during these years, including “Der Batlen” [Tr. Note: The Idler], “Di Makhsheyfe” [Tr. Note: The Witch], “Khoshe di Yesoyme” [Tr. Note: Khoshe The Orphan Girl], “Der Vilder Mentsh” [Tr. Note: The Wild Man], “Di Puste Kretshme” [Tr. Note: The Empty Inn], “Got Mentsh un Tayvl” [Tr. Note: God, Man, and Devil], “Foter un Zun” [Tr. Note: Father and Son], “Der Foter” [Tr. Note: The Father], “Ye Khasene Hobn, nit Khasene Hobn” [Tr. Note: To Marry or Not to Marry], and more.

One of the classic performances which was staged in Divenishok was “The Selling of Joseph,” with Peyshe the cobbler in the role of Jacob, Yosele the builder's son as Joseph, and Yankel the blacksmith as Reuben. Outstanding in other performances were Fayvke (Shraga Blyakher), Bilke Itskovitsh, Ester-Rokhke Shkolnik, Kheynke Blyakher, Nekhemke Katsev, Shtirke Leybe the boilermaker's son, Shloymke Levine (“The Prodigy”), Gotlib Shkolnik, and others. Fayvke, who played the lead in the performances and was the principal actor, was renowned in the town for his impressive acting. And so when a Jewish troupe called “Yidishe Trupe” arrived in town and one of its actors, who played the role of the father in “Di Rumenishe Khasene” [Tr. Note: The Romanian Wedding], suddenly became ill, Fayvke was recommended to them as a substitute. This was just one day before the performance and Fayvke had doubts about accepting the role without any preparation. The director calmed him down, encouraged him, and as for the text – he was told to follow the prompter. Fayvke scored a great success and was rewarded by the director.

There was no hall suitable for theatrical performances in the town, so they used to rent the barn next to Felix in Subotnik Street. Afterwards they performed in Shmuel Alkanitski's tavern, at the corner of Subotnik and Geranion Streets. After the firehouse was built they put on their performances there permanently.

The many long rehearsals forced rivals from different parties to meet with each other and forge bonds of friendship and camaraderie. This was an especially positive influence on social relations in the town. The animosity and the sharp debates between Zionists and Yiddishists ceased almost completely, and certainly did not lead to sharp exchanges as in other towns. Travelers visiting our town expressed surprise at the friendly and amicable relations found among our youth. We see this in the story of the traveler from Erets-Yisrael. He saw young men walking together in friendship, one wearing the tie of HaShomer HaTsair [Ed. Note: one of several Zionist youth organizations], a second with the cap of Betar [Ed. Note: one of several Zionist youth organizations], a third in the red shirt of Vilbig [Ed. Note: 'Vilner Yidisher Bildungs Gezelshaft', a Yiddishist youth organization]. He couldn't believe his eyes, and didn't move from the spot until he had taken photographs of the sight.

Reports of the performances also reached the Poles. Most days they too flocked to the performances. Some of them understood Yiddish, the rest came out of sheer curiosity. This of course encouraged the producers in their activity, filled them with pride, and spurred them on to continue their wonderful work.

The purpose of this article is to commemorate the talented and courageous young people who devoted countless hours of their time to theater in the town and worked hard and with a sincere will to raise the level of Jewish culture in our town. This they did voluntarily, without receiving any compensation, just from love of culture and of art for its own sake and from the joy of creation.


[Page 111]

Revolutionary Activity Against the Czar

by D. Binyamin

Translation by Meir Bulman

Our town was naturally tranquil, conservative, and adhered to Jewish values. There were no large factories or workshops in it and so a special class of laborers formed and organized.

Nonetheless, there is testimony that the revolutionary tide which flooded Russia since the events in 1905 did not skip our town. Indeed, no protests or violent outbreaks against the Czarist regime took place in our town, but the youth was organized in the revolutionary Bund organization, which conducted cultural and organizational activities among the youth. Those activities were quiet, civilized, and polite. There are many testimonials of the organization's activity.

Rachel Zuvitshki testified that seventy years ago, in 1905, she was a member of the Bund and the leader of Bund was Bezalel the Hasid's son.

Another witness, Zalmen Bernstein, said that his beautiful sister, Tsira-Leah (Lyke), was active in the Bund in those days. At one of the meetings held in the woods, while Lyke was lecturing, Russian Okhrana men appeared and began hitting indiscriminately. Lyke panicked and became ill with epilepsy, spent a few months on her deathbed, and then passed.

From the above testimonies, and others, we can learn that there indeed was a revolutionary uprising against the Czar in our town at the start of the Twentieth Century.

One of the Bund leaders in town, near the time of WWII, was the teacher Moshe Stutski, from the nearby town of Ivia. In the Yizkor Book about his town of Ivia the following words can be found: “Moshe Stutski, who was then a teacher in Divenishok, got up on a table at Wednesday market day and gave a passionate speech against Russian Czar Nikolai. He instructed the peasants to go chop wood in the rich men's forests. The peasants asked him for a license, and he, as if the owner of the woods said, 'No need for license, I'm responsible.' ”

Stutski the teacher was a passionate revolutionary, conducted intensive propaganda against the Czarist regimes among the town's youth, and preached for the toppling of the regime.

My mother told me with nostalgia of those days, when Stutski the teacher gathered the youth in the woods on Saturdays, would lecture, and then they all sang revolutionary songs, among them the French ‘La Marseillaise’.

Menukha, Zvi Krizovski's daughter, said that her father's sister Shayne was also a revolutionary and conducted propaganda against Czar Nikolai and his regime. In 1905 she was imprisoned and charged with revolutionary activity. At that time it was custom to beat prisoners and she also was quite so unfortunate. She was a member in the R.S.D. revolutionary movement, where she met her husband Avraham Moisevitsh, and in 1917 when the Russians retreated from Vilne, she joined them with her husband, and her whereabouts since are unknown.

Though there were few impressive or influential revolutionary movements in the area, there was organizational activity by the youth, which desired freedom and release from the oppressive Czarist regime. The eyes of the youth were raised to the big towns where a persistent bloody struggle took place against the Czarist regime, which especially excelled in its hatred of Jews.


[Page 115]

With Love and Nostalgia

by Khayeh Garviye (Khayeh Broine's)

Translation by Meir Bulman

My family resided in a small wooden home on Subotnik Street. My father, Broine Levine, my mother Feigeh, my grandfather Eliahu Levine, my brother Yosef Yehuda, and my beautiful sister Liba made staying in that house pleasant. I remember the long winter nights when we sat by the warm fireplace and asked grandfather to tell us his life stories, to which he responded positively by sailing away into tales of the past. My great-grandfather, Meir Levin, was a humble school teacher, whose livelihood was difficult, like the splitting of the sea was difficult for the Israelites, because he was “rich” in offspring: eight sons and three daughters.

The branches of our family tree spread throughout town, and of the descendants of my great-grandfather I should mention Peysakh Levine (Peyse the shoemaker); Shmuel Yakov Levin and his son Alter; Eliyahu Chaim Shkolnik; Shoshe-Yente, Eliahu and Michel Mazeh's mother, Moshe Leyser Kartshmer, Motl Kartshmer's father, and others.

In his youth, my grandfather attended the Rammyles Yeshiva in Vilne. When the Enlightenment period began and my great-grandfather became aware of the “tragedy” of his son Eliahu learning Russian, he traveled hastily to Vilne, returned his “lost” son home and married him to my grandmother. Because two sons of my great-grandfather married two sisters, and there was another girl left in the home, there was no issue: my grandfather was married to her. My grandfather, the youngest of the family, was 18 when he married.

At the wedding my great-grandfather Meir did not feel well. He called over his children and in-laws and commanded them to keep dancing, and instructed the musicians to continue playing, because it is not permitted to disrupt Jewish festivities. He went home, where he then died, and in the morning he was eulogized.

My grandfather also told us that his brother Velvel (Ze'ev) was kidnapped for the Russian military when he was 12. As is common knowledge, that was the time of the Cantonists, and a kidnapped child had to serve in the Czarist military for 25 years. After a ransom was payed to the kidnapers, he was released, and in order to avoid the recurrence of that event he had to be married immediately. On the Sabbath when he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, his wedding also took place.

My grandfather said jokingly that when his brother, the young married man, would walk with his tallit and tefillin to the synagogue and saw children his age playing falankas and fikers[1], he quickly abandoned the prayer, tallit and tefillin, and joined the games. His young wife had to search for him and return him from the world of childhood to the company of family men.

Life in town until the outbreak of WWI progressed with tranquility. As the war erupted, my father was enlisted in the Russian army, and we relocated to live with my mother's family in Vishneva. Unfortunately, fierce battles between the Russians and Germans took place in the Vishneva area. Because it was on the front, we suffered starvation, and had to escape town into the woods more than once.

After the Germans retreated my father was released from German captivity and returned us to Divenishok. In the town we got a new lease on life after the Polish regime stabilized. Life went back to its normal course and the population began breathing a sigh of relief. My father, as a merchant, earned a nice living for his family, and we, the children, grew up, developed, and attended school.

In our town a wonderful younger generation was raised, who were cultural, and aspired for a better world, and love of our fellow man and humanity, but we were especially imbued with a Zionist–pioneering spirit and longing for the homeland.

I joined the Herut U'Tnua[2] organization, which was organized by Pethovski[e] the teacher, and recived an immigration certificate through HaHalutz; in 1925 I made Aliyah along wth David Leybke Berkovitsh, Michael Mazeh, a young woman from Traby, Dov Zandman, and Shifra Blyakher.

When I arrived in Israel I went to work in Acre. We were a group of girls who worked at the Noor match factory, and at Gan Ha'Memshala[3]. I then relocated to Tel Aviv where I worked paving roads and mining gravel on Ben Yehuda Street. From Tel Aviv I moved to Jerusalem, and there I married Yehuda Garviye, a pioneer from Russia, who arrived in Israel after the Bolshevik revolution, and worked with me in guiding Hebrew labor. In Jerusalem I trained as a pharmacist and worked at the Sha'are Zedek hospital, where I also had my eldest son Uri. We returned from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and our daughter Sophia was born there. My son currently works as an aeronautics engineer in the United States, and my daughter Sophia also lives there, married to an engineer and raising her two children.

I missed my children very much, and in 1962 I joined them in the United States, where I befriended Rohkl Leah Movshovitsh, the rabbi's wife, a righteous, wise, and kind woman. I liked spending my spare time with her, because she brought back memories of life in our town. I discovered at her home a notebook detailing life in town, where it was written that my father contributed 100 Zlotys for community needs.

From time to time she would raise figures from town and describe them with much creativity, love, and admiration. “Consider Moshe Leizer, Mordechai Kartshmer's father, for example. Do you know who he was?” That is how she would begin her descriptive stories. “He was a righteous man, showed great respect for his father. For the eight years his father was paralyzed, he took him to the bathhouse every Friday to wash him, and even Moshe's wife cared for her father-in-law with love and devotion.” She also described and praised Barukh Leyb “the Beard” (Berkowitz), an ordinary man, but secretly righteous. He founded the bathhouse with his own money, and gathered firewood all year for the bathhouse and the rabbi's home.

And: Shoshe Yente (Eliyahu and Michael Mazeh's mother), a widow who raised her two sons in the ways of the Torah and good deeds. She was a seamstress and made a living with difficulty, but was a kind woman. A poor girl who married in town would receive a wedding dress which Shoshe Yente purchased and would pay for on installment. It was anonymous charity which no one knew about.

I liked visiting Rokhl Leah often and listening to her wise stories, her humor, and the love of life in her descriptions. After every visit my longing for my town, which exists no longer, would reemerge, and I would cling to the past with love and nostalgia: I remembered the image of my father, who once returned home barefoot, because he gave away his boots to a poor Jewish man whose legs were swollen from the cold; the image of my dear mother, whom every Friday would send me to the poor neighbors to check on the situation and send me to give them challah and milk for the Sabbath; the images of my brother Yudel and my sister Liba, sitting around the festive sabbath table and giggling about the guest eating the soup and even the compote with challah. The heart aches for the beautiful and good thing which was lost and is no more.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. literally, politicians and fishermen; a children's game of some type Return
  2. literally, 'Freedom and Movement' Return
  3. the 'Government Garden' Return

Editor's Footnote

  1. also spelled Pethukovski elsewhere in this book Return


[Page 118]

The Mitzvah of Linat Zedek

by Miriam Herman

Translation by Meir Bulman

The Linat HaZedek[1] institution was established in our town with the purpose of assisting families in need with caring for a patient who was bedridden for a prolonged period-- by providing care at night.

Before I made aliyah I wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of Linat HaZedek, so that God would bless my journey. I was sent along with Leyzer the Miller to Berl the Cobbler, whose wife Feigeh Reyzl was bedridden for a long time, and he, the tired elderly man, cared for her to the best of his abilities.

My eyes turned dark at the sight of Feigeh Reyzl who lay paralyzed in bed, sighing bitterly. Berl stood helpless, crying about his misfortune and bitter fate. The sanitary conditions were intolerable.

I was deeply saddened by what was occurring and decided to do my best to help them. Leyzer and I worked non-stop through the night; we changed the bedding, I bathed Feigeh Reyzl and changed her robe. After that we thoroughly cleaned the house. I went out to the yard and cleaned around the house and the yard. After that, I went to the well at the marketplace and filled a water barrel for them. I didn't complete my work until 6 in the morning. Berl was beside himself with joy; he just stood there and cried. His wife, who did not know me, mumbled the whole time, “Who are you? You are so kind! Who are you?”

When I arrived by Natan Itskovitsh's house for work at 7, all were surprised by my quickness, and praised me for the good deed I had done.

*

My sister Zilpeh's aliyah intensified the desire in our home to make aliyah, but it was impossible, because the gates to the Land were shut.

One day, in the well-known daily Yiddish newspaper Moment, published in Warsaw, we read about the organizing of a group of tourists for a tour in Israel. I feared missing such a rare opportunity, and my mother sold a lot she owned and with the money funded my registration for the trip. I was 22.

The trip, dubbed Excursion Moment, aroused great interest throughout Poland. Jewish youth, always searching for ways to make aliyah, found in the trip a onetime opportunity to fulfill their desires. It was thought by everyone that those entered the Land were sure not to be expelled by the British.

My brother Shraga accompanied me to Warsaw where we parted ways. I traveled by train to the port of Trieste where I boarded a ship that sailed to Israel. 600 tourists from all over Poland boarded the ship, most of whom intended to stay in Israel.

My sister Zilpeh waited for me in Haifa and took me to her home in Tel Aviv. At that time, my future husband, Dov, arrived at my sister's, and a friendship formed between us the result of which was our marriage, after two months.

After the wedding our home was open to any former Divenishok resident who arrived in Israel, who we would supply food and shelter until on their feet.


Translator's Footnote

  1. literally, Slumber of Justice Return

[Page 119]

From Divenishok to Eretz-Israel

by Khenye Harari

Translation by Meir Bulman

My Family

My father, Yitzach Binyamin, or as he was known in town, Itshe Binyamin, was a blacksmith and worked hard to provide a living for his large family. My mother, Rivkeh, was his second wife, with whom he had four girls. The eldest, Beileh, perished with her husband and children at the Voronova Ghetto. Pesye also perished in Voronova, and her husband Gedalye was murdered by Polish rioters. The third daughter, Malkeh, married in Lida, and perished there with her husband and children. And I, Khenye, am the fourth.

 

My father's brave deed

My kind-hearted father loved doing acts of kindness unto his fellow man, with money or action. I remember a very unique instance when my father saved the town from a literal pogrom. In 1918, with the retreat of the Bolsheviks and the Poles' entrance into town, a peasant from the Duvitsishuk[1] sat at Naftali Delatyshki's tavern and drank to intoxication. Suddenly he fell and died as a result of a heart attack.

A fear arose of a pogrom. The infamous Poles of general Heller's army were in town cutting beards and mercilessly assaulting, and would of course pounce on the incident to exploit a riot. The Jews hastily approached my father to devise a plan.

My father did not hesitate long. He got a horse from Leyzer Kartshmer the coachman, loaded the deceased on horseback, sat behind the body and held on to it. He galloped quickly to the Christian cemetery, threw the body in the ditch, and returned to town by 1 am. It was a hard winter: snow covered the footsteps. The Jewish residents breathed a sigh of relief.

 

Aliyah

In my youth I was a member of the HeKhalutz organization, and as a devoted Zionist, participated in all its activities. After the passing of my father in 1932, I traveled to a kibbutz in Bialystok, and after staying there for a year got a certificate and made aliyah. We traveled as a group of hundreds of Polish pioneers and were very happy. Every time we danced the Hora on deck, the passengers from first class came down to watch us and draw inspiration.

We arrived in Eretz Israel shortly before Passover. The World Zionist Organization held a Passover Seder at the Mograbi Theater, and after that I transferred to Bet HaHalutzot, where I stayed for two weeks before going to work.

After a while, I married my Husband Eliezer, and we had three children: Rina, Khanita, and the son, Binyamin, and I had the good fortune of having and enjoying my grandchildren.


Editor's Footnote

  1. the location of this place has yet to be determined; in the original text the name is spelled: daled-vov-veyz (or beyz)-yud-tsadek-yud-shin-vov-kuf Return

[Page 121]

How I Reached Israel

by Dvora Rakhl

Translation by Meir Bulman

All my life, I aspired to reach Israel. My brother Yehuda, who was already in Israel, sent me a Yemeni man to fictitiously marry and then bring me to Israel as his “wife.” The British council was not stupid and did not grant me an entrance permit.

With the arrival of the Russians in September of 1939, I submitted a request to the authorities to make aliyah. I was naïve and did not understand that that action carried with it a risk of imprisonment. The Soviets rejected my request and began surveilling me. I felt like the ground was burning under my feet and looked for a way to sneak across the border to Vilne, which was under Lithuanian control. From there the roads to the free world were still open.

Meir Dubinski encouraged me to cross the border towards Stashiles, where his uncle Yonah Tenner resided, and he would ensure that I reach Vilne.

On a dark night, I crossed the border to Lithuania with a smuggler and reached Yonah Tenner's house exhausted. Yonah Tenner and his wife Alta treated me very well and provided me guidance on how to board the train and get to Vilne.

I boarded the train and an undercover policeman sat next to me trying to get me to talk. I was scared to death that the Lithuanians would discover me and hand me to the Russians, whereupon I would arrive in Siberia instead of Israel. I wrapped myself in a scarf as if I had a toothache and did not respond to him. From time to time I gestured towards my teeth, meaning “they hurt very much and I cannot speak, I'm rushing to the dentist.” That is how I arrived in Vilne, shaking.

In Vilne, a certificate from my brother awaited me. I then approached the Jewish Council and requested funding for my journey to Israel. A man from the Israel Affairs Office named Less helped me. He also brought me to the train and sat me in the correct train car, the one designated for travelers to Israel. I left Lithuania at the last minute, immediately before it was declared a Soviet Republic.

And so after wandering and fear, I arrived in Israel satiated by troubles. Here I married and was fortunate to get some rest and happiness, and was blessed with two children; the eldest, Shoshana, and a son, Avraham.

*

My father was known in Divenishok by his name, “David the Cobbler.” His parents were not from Divenishok, they relocated to that town from a different town. My paternal grandfather was known as Leyb Katz. My maternal grandfather was Yakov Kagan.

During the days of Bolshevik control, in 1918, my father was chair of the Revcom (Revolutionary Committee.) I was nevertheless a devoted member of HaShomer HaTzair. Despite his nickname David the Shoemaker, my father worked processing wooden roofing tiles. The forest guard from Zhizimi Village, with whom he had connections, helped him gather materials for that purpose.

My father was an ordinary man, but with great talents. He excelled in spinning stories and anecdotes about everything that happened – or did not happen - or had ever been recounted in our town or the world over. When David the Cobbler would begin one of his famous stories, Jews gathered around, mouths agape, listening carefully so they did to miss a single word that left his mouth.

One of my father's interesting stories remains in my memory:

There was a couple who were without a child. Gypsies came and promised them children by witchcraft. One gypsy, who presented himself as group leader, told the woman, “Put your head through the chimney and you will start having children.” What won't parents do to have children? The innocent woman stuck her head in the chimney and waited! And waited! And did not get permission from the gypsy to take out her head. After she waited in vain for a while, she took out her head. It is unknown if the woman was ever blessed with offspring! But one thing was clear: the gypsies disappeared from her house – and with them all the gold and silver utensils from the home.


[Page 123]

My Contribution to the Building of the Country

by Elimelech Rudnik

Translation by Meir Bulman

I was born in 1895 in Divenishok. I remember my grandfather, Shmuel Aaron, as if in a dream. He lived in Kosholova, near Navaredok, and was a property owner and merchant.

My father married a Divenishok woman by the name of Sarah Malkeh Bernshtayn and moved to Divenishok. He bought lands on Oshmene Street, established a home, and built a smithy where he worked for the rest of his life.

Five children were born from the marriage of my parents: Yehoshua, the oldest who married in Olshan and perished there with his family, Sheineh Yokhl Bernstein who married, and perished with her family, the third daughter, Khasyeh, lives in New York, the fourth daughter, Freidel - Yakov Bloch's mother who perished in Voronova, and I, Elimelech Rudnik, live in Giv'atayim .

A year after the outbreak of the WWI, following a bloody battle, the frontline was situated between Russia and Germany on the Berezina River, near Vishneva. To strengthen the front, the Germans enlisted thousands of Jews into forced labor along the frontline. For the first time these Jews heard the term “Fonye Battalion” as in “Fonye, come work at the battalion.”[1]

Those enlisted were held in poor conditions. The work was exhausting, accompanied by curses and assaults, a hostile attitude, and food rations which consisted of roasted barley and 200 grams of bread for breakfast and dinner, and a watered-down bean soup for lunch. Lodging was in temporary, terribly crowded huts.

I worked for two years in the Fonye Battalion, and would have died of starvation and the backbreaking labor, as thousands of others did, if not for my father who brought me food packages. With me worked Yekusiel Lubetski, and Dovke- Meir Zalman's. The camp was fenced and every morning an attendance formation was conducted. In my camp there were 250 people and escape was difficult. I still managed to escape five times and each time I was returned. Matters continued like that until the Polish entered our town in 1918.

A battle between the Poles and the Bolsheviks took place on our street, where the Bolsheviks were on the right bank of the Gavia river which passed near our house, and the Poles attacked from the direction of the town. My father was at home at the time and busied himself by cutting tobacco for cigarettes. A bullet shot from the Russian side penetrated the wall and exited through the window, right by my father's nose. The Poles, who stormed our home, saw me wearing a Russian shirt and wanted to shoot me, thinking I was a Bolshevik, but a Polish neighbor prevented them from doing so.

After the war, I married my wife Khaye and moved to live in her parents' home in Oshmene. I worked hard at her father's smithy and earned my living with dignity. With Hitler's rise to power in 1933, things changed for the worse: in Poland anti-Semitism rose significantly and Poles began rioting against Jews. On market day in the nearby town of Ostrovits, a riot took place and Poles flipped all the stands owned by Jews, and began hitting them indiscriminately. I barley managed to escape. After I witnessed that, I made up my mind that I must make aliyah no matter what. I approached my Zionist friends and they obtained a certificate for me, and in 1934 I made aliyah. Times were tough: riots, unemployment, competition with cheap Arab labor, but we overcame despite all that.

During all my years in Israel I labored productively and installed machines in water wells at kibbutzim and villages. I did my work with love and devotion, feeling that I was contributing to building the Land.

In Israel I had three children, and was also blessed with grandchildren.


Editor's Footnote

  1. The word 'fonye' is believed to be a derogatory term in Yiddish for 'Russians', derived from the nickname Vanye, for Ivan (see, Ribak, Gil. Gentile New York: The Images of Non-Jews among Jewish Immigrants, p. 24, Rutgers University Press, 2012); the use of 'fonye' in this context may have been a recruitment tactic employed by the Germans. Return

[Page 125]

The Monument in Divenishok
Honoring the Unknown Soldier

by Boris Rabinovitsh (Painter and Sculptor from Smorgon)

Translation by Meir Bulman

In 1928, the district-city of Oshmene held a conference for all district mayors. On that occasion, Divenishok mayor Shaul Mashkeivitsh asked the mayor of Smorgon if he knew a sculptor who would be willing to sculpt a statue to be stationed at City Hall, in memory of the unknown soldiers who fell in the years 1918-1920 while liberating Poland from the burden of the foreigners. The mayor of Smorgon recommended me and so I was invited to Divenishok.

After signing a contract wherein City Hall committed to paying me 700 Zlotys for completing the task, I stayed in Divenishok until I finished sculpting the monument.

There was much historical value to the stones that decorated the edges of the monument. They were round stones, in bright-red colors, etched with great skill, and left a great impression on the viewer. They were found by a peasant as he plowed his field, located a kilometer from town. Their purpose and origin were shrouded in mystery, but they were [likely] used as ballistic objects canons by the Swedish, who arrived in Divenishok in the second half of the 17th century. Those claims were based on the fact that the stones were composed from a granite made up of hard quartz, feldspar, and mica, such as is abundant in the Swedish mountains.

The stones were of two different sizes: some were 20 centimeters in diameter, some 30. The corners of the monument were decorated with the smaller stones, and the eagle, symbol of Poland which adorned the top, stood on a stone 30 centimeters in diameter. A special compartment was built at the base of the monument in which the founding document was placed, signed by Polish officials and Jewish town luminaries, among them Rabbi Rudnik and Rabbi Tayts.

The square surrounding the monument was used as a gathering place for every national and public event. It was also the spot where the finish line for festive parades was placed. To this day I keep in my heart the good days when Poles and the Jews coexisted in harmony, harmony which was expressed by the unveiling of the monument.

I clearly remember the few months I spent in pleasant and kind Divenishok, which left an unforgettable mark on me.

 

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