By Shmuel Friedman (Ashdod)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
In my sunset years I feel in my heart the desire to bring forth facts, episodes, experiences and emotions from our past world, which is now gone. I, Shmerl, son of Aharon and Bat Sheva, was born in Dolhinov in the first year of this century and want to recount what I know and remember from old Dolhinov.
My parents were workers and lived life as it went sometimes with the buttered side up and sometimes down. However our house was always open. Close neighbours as well as poor people travelling from surrounding towns would be our guests. Stories were told about events in town and around about righteous men and Hasidim, Rabbis and heads of Yeshivas in the former Yeshiva in Dolhinov. I learned in my childhood that our town was older than the surrounding towns. Witness to this were the old, rubbed out, erased tombstones in the old cemetery. A very beautiful tombstone stands out in my memory; already worn out and practically erased. My father told me that lying there in his eternal rest was a very wellknown rabbi Reb Moishe Zeev Yaski of blessed memory. He came to us from Minsk. Some said he arrived during Napoleon's time, others claimed he came earlier during the Swedish Polish war.
An important event happened in our town long before I came into this world. It took place with the scribe who was losing his eyesight. It was during the 1890s, of the previous century: he had to travel to a wellknown eye doctor in Riga for treatment.
Returning, the scribe told about Riga, especially the Choir Synagogue. Later, during my time our teacher Feldvorm sang a song about this trip.
Life in our town in my early years was calm and peaceful. People worked hard to earn a living. Even when angry winds blew in from afar with the waves from the revolution of 1905, only the top levels of the Jewish in town were afraid. I remember as a child the elderly were scared the pogroms of the 1890s would return, but luckily nothing happened. True, a few of the young Bundists had to take refuge in America. There were those who were happy to move to the Golden Land called America. The majority just talked about it, how they travelled and illegally crossed borders;
After the Germans retreated from Myadel, the Russians came to town for a short time until the Germans chased them out, then the Russians again. After, came the murderers and bandits, the Bolsheviks after the revolution in 1917 (February and October) and the Polish Army. In 1918 an independent Poland was founded that strove to become bigger. At the same time a White Russian People's Republic was founded in Minsk. It was weak and did not last long. Meanwhile, 1919 arrived. The Soviet republic was strengthening and spreading practically through all of Russia. Once again a Soviet Lithuanian White Russian republic was founded called Litbel. In a short time the new republic was ruling the entire Vilna province including our town and its surroundings.
In April of 1919 the war between Poland and the Soviet Union began. The Polish army with the famous Haller division began with great victories. The Soviet counter offensive reached the Vistla and stood at the gates of Warsaw. The Soviets had to retreat, chased away by Polish forces. By the end of October 1920 Poland again regained all of White Russia. The Riga peace pact from March 1921 ratified the borders western White Russia and western Ukraine remained under Polish rule; eastern White Russia and eastern Ukraine fell under Soviet authority.
The first twenty years of Polish rule claimed Jewish victims from our town: Khaim Katzavitch and Yeshayahu Pressman were shot at the border attempting to transport goods to the Soviet side. Leyb Lieberman was only wounded. There were other Jewish casualties; I don't remember them all. Among them I only remember a young victim Leyb KhayaKhaya Feyge's (Rubin) who tried to change they grey reality.
Not all had the opportunity to travel and remained in town. It was like this until the outbreak of the First World War.
The First World War
1914 saw the storm of the outbreak of the war; the German army settled into our town within the first few months of the war. My brother Borukh was mobilized in a wagon train of loaded carts formation; he spent only a few days in the barracks. He returned home with a horse. During the first days of the German invasion we had to leave town temporarily; from time to time Cossacks would attack the town but the Germans chased them away. My parents and other families decided to leave. We spent a short time in Krivitch; later we moved on to Malinovke where there were other Jewish families from Dolhinov this is how we lived for a few months. There was not enough to eat; for food and essential products we had to pay a lot and not everyone would sell. From time to time we had to pick our own food and carry vegetables and fruit from gardens and orchards.
By the end of 1914 our town had changed hands numerous times. The Germans now controlled the whole area, furthering the front lines. We returned to our town that was almost completely burned. Luckily our house remained intact. Everyone began to rebuild their lives. Stores reopened and middlemen and artisans resumed wandering among the villages. The Germans remained in our town for two years, until the new Russian offensive: they ceded to the Narach Lake and Myadel. Life in our town continued sometimes easier sometimes more difficult. By the end of the World War times became uneasy and tumultuous; the town and vicinity remained ungoverned. Governments change;
tortured by the Haller gangs to death.
Cultural Social Life
In my day, there was no longer a Yeshiva in town. Before the war the Yeshiva slowly declined. There was an effort to
bring back a Yeshiva in the 1920s, in a much smaller form, by Reb Shmeryahu Smorgansky and Reb Khaim Reb Mendl Ber Shakhnovitch's soninlaw. It didn't materialize and the Yeshiva remained closed until the end of the 1920s.
From the teachers and students I remember the above mentioned rabbi Reb Mendl Ber Shakhnovitch, may the memory of this righteous man be a blessing a great scholar with a sharp mind but an extremely poor Jew. I see before my eyes his soninlaw Reb Khaim who was taken from this world at a young age. Should I not mention the great personality of Reb Shmeryahu Smorgansky, may the memory of this righteous man be a blessing? He was a wellknown scholar with a great understanding of Jewish and world problems. He was the unofficial leader of the unofficial and nonlegalized Jewish community. And where are Reb Zalman Ber the ritual slaughterer and Sholem Meisel came to our town from Haydutzishok after the death of Reb ZalmanBer. (Eliyahu, Meisel's son lives in Israel). His father, a great scholar was a good Jew. Together with his whole community he walked the last bloody path. Now I see before my eyes Reb Gedalia Vilner the last of our great teachers. He too had to share the same bloody fate with his family. He was among the first Jewish victims.
I cannot forget to mention the benevolent aid institutions in Dolhinov such as the Jewish People's Bank, a charity treasury, the organization to visit the sick, and the aid for poor brides and more All you needed was a man or a woman to begin a new institution! Khana Shprayregn(Shprayer) was the chief initiator of the fund to help poor brides. Even today I can picture her running around collecting clothes and worthy items for a poor bride in need. Raizl Broynshteyn the widow was always volunteering in any way she could. This woman spent her long life going from Dolhinov all the way to central Asia, then back to Sarachinsk, then back over
all of Russia and Poland to Israel where she died of old age with her children grandchildren and survivors from Dolhinov by her side.
Yakov Mendl Shulman founded the Jewish People's Bank in order to help merchants and salesmen and to hand out loans. The aid for the poor society was run by Hirshl Shreibman, Velvl Mindl, Hirshl Rapson and others. And what about caring for the sick? Where are the help organization that provided medicines for destitute families? All was done voluntarily by those better off. Where are these benevolent organizations that organized evening and shows, literary programs and cultural events to help the needy? Where are the youth movements that partook in all community work? Unfortunately all was sunken and drowned in the flood of blood and fire all that remains are memories.
This is How My Town Died
Suddenly, unexpectedly, our destruction began. By the end of 1941 the Nazis infiltrated our town and surroundings and began their executioner's work of arrests, kidnapping people from work and shooting innocent people…between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur my brother and his son escaped to us in Dolhinov from Pleshtzenitz (where he lived since his wedding). We offered this advice; in our town things were still quiet. However we remained uneasy with regard to coming days and weeks. Horrifying news about slaughter in surrounding towns robbed us of our rest. Murders were already taking place in Vileyke, Kurenitz and Ilia, and we knew this was our fate as well.
March 1942, the 3rd of Nisan our father Reb Aharon Friedman died. He was lucky, He died a natural death. We sat Shiva (seven days of mourning) at his house and mourned our bitter angry days. This lasted until
the first mass action on the 12th of Nisan, March 28th, 1942.We felt what awaited us and we hid in a prearranged hiding place. My wife Esther (Eynbinder) managed to run to her parents to find out how they were doing and returned. In the hiding place, together with my wife and daughter Rokhele were my brother Borukh, his wife and their nineteen year old son. After sitting there for two full days we exited and tried to find out if we could escape to another place. My brother Borukh and his family tried to go east. We, meaning me, my wife and little daughter left for a farmhouse in Zhizivner about 3 kilometres from Dolhinov in the direction toward Pleshtzenitz. We remained there for 2 3 days in a village hut, and then we asked the woman to go to town to find out what was going on. She agreed and went. She returned to tell us that Jews were once again walking in the streets. No knowing what to do, we returned to town. The next day the German took me to work; Jews were now busy collecting corpses from Nazi operations. We gathered 400 corpses and brought them for burial in the Jewish cemetery near the Sartzisa River. We built a fire to defrost the frozen ground and dug a mass grave for our brothers. This lasted until nightfall and in the morning we had to complete our tragic work of providing a proper Jewish burial for these martyrs. We found some of the corpses completely naked. Later they sent us to collect ashes and remains from other victims. There we found ash and body parts such as heads, burned limbs, hair, feet and other parts to bury. We could not find or identify corpses of friends and family.
Soon there was a new command; we all had to move into the ghetto. At the same time the Judenrat was ordered to send 60 people men and women to work in Kniahinin labour camp.
I was ordered to go. This is how I survived. We remained in Kniahinin for a few weeks until the end of May 1942. I don't remember exactly how long. It was there we learned about the second mass slaughter on April 29th and 30th and May 1st 1942. Not long after we heard about the liquidation of the ghetto on May 21st 1942. This is how our town was turned to ash.
The Jews in Kniahinin collected some money and sent a Gentile to bring news from town. We asked to bring a note from any Jew he meets. He left and returned with a note from Layzer Fine. He told us we should save ourselves as there are no longer any Jews in Dolhinov except for twelve who will soon be leaving. Together with my friend Hirshl Katz I went to the liquidated Dolhinov ghetto to Feygl Katzavitch Isaac's mother. We remained a few hours and then went to the Catholic priest in the orchard. There we broke through the boards and came out on the road near the forest. Besides me and my friend were Feygl and her daughter Simka and her brother Dovid Lieberman. We crossed the Startzista and entered the forest. Dovid Lieberman changed his mind and returned to the ghetto looking for death. He was killed.
We met partisans in the forest. They told us that all the Jews from Kniahinin were in the forest and all will soon go on towards the front lines, in the far regions of Soviet Russia. That is what happened: by summer they sent us all away. Yes! No doubt; the trip was long from the forests near Dolhinov to Novosibirsk and Tabki and even further to the Land of Israel.
All that was is no more. I thank God for watching over me the entire long journey until today! It was my fate to live out my last years under the skies and bright sun of Israel.
Do you remember Todros what the scribe recounted?
He was in Riga;
He went to cure his eyes
And he saw everything
A synagogue as tall as a tower,
Built like a church, pardon the comparison!
Today is it lit on the Sabbath
Of course two hours before Hamavdil (the prayer ending Shabbat)…
A cantor stands on the Bimah
Like a Chazan in old times;
Gentile girls sing in the choir
And the organ is played on the Sabbath.
Someone is standing in the middle
And with his hands gestures Oyoyoy!
And hits his teeth with a fork
Apparently this is what the Gentiles do…
This song was sung in all the towns of the Vilna region for many years, according to the brochure. Return
By Mirke Godon Friedman, Ramat Gan
Translated by Janie Respitz
Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
I, Mirke, the daughter of Mikhl and Soreh Rokhl Friedman, may they rest in peace and sister to my brothers: Avrom Yitzhok, Yosef and Yakov Meir feel the need and calling to recount in the columns of our community records and Memorial Book, memories of escapes and uprooted lives of our people (each one a world unto himself), shadows of the past in blood and fire, drowned and in ash transformed worlds.
Dark Childhood and Sorrowful Youth
My hometown passes through my eyes like a film. I see the market place with its shops, streets and courtyards, houses more village style than town. Here and there a few trees people are bustling and worried they run around trying to earn a living. Here people swim past my eyes, elderly, young householders, girls and children…tell me people and dear God! Where did they all disappear? No answer and no response, not even an echo: erased and disappeared without a trace, without a grave or a shadow…their ashes blown away in the wind and spread over fields and forests a bitter sorrowful end of a difficult life, even in earlier times, a destitute town without any wealthy people. A town like all other towns, some smaller, some larger, in the large wide space between Minsk and Vilna with illness and plagues, with fires, and from the beginning of the century with suffering and problems.
Way before their time in 1915 or 1918 our parents died of a plague. We were left as orphans. Still children our older brother Avrom Yitzkhok was barely 14 years old: the second Yosef was maybe 12 and Yakov Meir was only 7. I, Mirke was a child of three years. What I'm telling you now is not from my memory: it was told to me by my only surviving brother Yosef (today he is in Israel with his family), already an old man. So early in our lives we tasted the bitter fate and felt what it was like to be alone surrounded by four walls running from tragedy and troubles that chased us…and a second tragedy befell us. The two houses we inherited burned down in the big town fire. We were left without a roof over our heads, lonely and strangers to all: we did not belong to anyone and I don't know if anyone took interest in us.
Our wealthy uncle in America wrote to us to say we should sell the land of one house and rebuild the second house. He also sent some money. My brothers began to look for a buyer for the lot. There was no one to turn to for advice.
My brothers faced many difficulties until they were able to sell the land. The story went like this: Sholem (Khaim Berl's) Dokshitsky and his wife Rivka lived on our street she was the daughter of Leyzer and Basha Tuzlik the aunt and uncle of Shmuel Alperovitch. The same Dokshitskys agreed to buy the lot when my brothers approached them. In those years to close a deal one went to a Rabbi or a Talmud scholar for advice. Sometimes the advisor showed interest in the deal and stepped in or annulled the transaction.
This is what happened: The Dokshitskys went to ask the rabbi for advice. I don't remember if it was Reb Wolf Ber of blessed memory of Gedalia Vilensky who was one of the first Nazi victims.
The advisor (religious leader) lived on Vileker Street (I don't know whose house). He asked the Dokshitskys all the details of the deal. In the end he told them not to buy our lot: due to the young ages of my brothers, afraid of wrongdoings, God forbid…they left with nothing from the advisor unwilling to even talk to my brothers about the offer. My brothers still wanted to follow our uncle's advice and they too went to ask advice: he said he himself was interested in buying the lot and began to offer prices…I guess he forgot he was dealing with minors, who can God forbid should do something wrong… he offered them much less than the Dokshitskys were prepared to pay. The advisor kept them for a long time and they returned at dawn tired, worn out, with nothing.
With tears in their eyes my brothers told the Dokshitskys what the rabbi did. Sholem and Rivka Dokshitsky came to us and said they are no longer afraid to do business with the small guys. They were now willing to buy our lot, and they did. This is how we managed to build a new house and life returned to normal.
The Blind Yakov Meir
After three four years we experienced another bad fate. Our brother Yakov Meir suddenly went blind as a result of a post Typhus complication. We had no idea how to help him deal with such a difficult problem at such a young age.
Will he never see the sun shine again? A painfully bitter occurrence! There was no one to turn to for advice or for comfort. Understandably we told our uncle in America. And he our Merciful Angel never stopped helping us his whole life. He sent us money so we could save him by visiting wellknown eye specialists.
In Bialystok there was a wellknown eye doctor, a specialist Professor Pines, known in Poland and elsewhere. He saved many people, young and old from this fate, also children. Truth be told he took a lot of money but it was worth it, it was life saving! My then very young brother Yosef travelled to Bialystok with Yakov Meir. Coincidentally a mother and her small child from Dolhinov were travelling to see the professor on that same day. He received the mother and child immediately and helped them: due to his help the little girl was saved from blindness. He refused to see my brothers. Without even looking he assumed if they were without a responsible adult they were destitute…
The woman and her little daughter happily returned home: she did not even have the good sense to tell the professor about my brothers, that they had brought money with them. Perhaps that would have helped perhaps he would have seen them…unfortunately it did not happen this way. My brothers returned hopeless. Yakov Meir was condemned to remain blind. He remained blind all his life, an unfortunate victim until his tragic death at the hands of Nazi murderers like all the Jews of our hometown.
Reflections From a Child's Eyes
This is how months and years passed:
We grew up until we were able to hold our own and continue with our lives. Now mature adults, tangled up in complexities of responsibility and obligation. Our difficult sad childhood always remained deeply engraved in our hearts and memories.
Truthfully, we did not suffer from poverty or hunger: we always had enough to eat bread and more our uncle from the other side of the ocean took care of that. We were however lonely and alone. Our doors never opened and we never knocked on other people's doors…this hurt us. We missed being loved by another, friendship. Every Shabbat and holiday we longed for a homey atmosphere. How can I not tell you about the loneliness and sadness of our holidays?
Until today I cannot fully comprehend the substance of it. Was it primitive and narrow mindedness? It is difficult to answer. We always ran our own Passover Seder. No one ever invited us and no one ever even asked: where are you going for the Seder? Who invited you children to their Seder? Also in later years I sat with blind Yakov Meir alone at the Seder table, knowing that in other families it was joyful and filled with light. We were complete strangers to them…
Should I not recount the two days of Rosh Hashanah? The streets were filled with Jews, young and old, men and women, teens and small children all going to Tashlikh (to the river to shake out their pockets and symbolically cast away their sins) at the Sartziste River, dressed in their holiday best in a joyful mood. Even I and my blind brother drowning in loneliness and sadness were infected by the general atmosphere of the two holy days.
Shadows of Personalities and Characters
Swimming before my eyes is the memory of shadows of the personalities and characters from the blood drenched world. I can see the established men of our town, beadles and influential men, beggars and paupers, local and not an entire pleiad of persons and personalities.
Three of our neighbours are peeking out at our house: Yakov Mendl Shulman, Reb Idl Dokshitzky, may he rest in peace, and Yakov (Heshe's) Shpreyregn(Shprayer). Even today I can see them sitting every Saturday morning on Yakov Mendl's porch before leaving for the morning prayers at the synagogue. They would sit for a while and talk quietly. I did not know what they talked about: Politics? Business? Perhaps question the Torah? Perhaps Reb Idl recited a page of Gomorrah? This is what I saw: Yakov Mendl, broad shouldered with a bit of white hair and tall. Reb Idl Dokshitzky dark, not very tall with a pair of mischievous clever warm eyes. Yakov (Heshe's) Shreyregn was short, with short sidelocks and a thin pointy beard. He was our rich man but I don't know if he ever helped anyone.
Can I neglect to mention such admirable and shining figures like Reb Shmeryahu Smorgansky, may his righteous memory be a blessing?!
He was our great scholar and community worker: our beloved Torah reader with his loud resounding charming voice and sweet melodies. Until today I remember fondly his Kol Nidre and other prayers. The entire synagogue rang and resounded from his voice and melodies. Should I not mention the choir from Choirboys led by Reb Avrom Smorgansky the brother of Reb Shmeryahu? What happened in the evil terrifying days to the Dolhinov Jewish community?! (Reb Avrom's son Shloimeh and daughter Khana Heller as well as Feygl and Peshe wishing them a long life live in Israel).
Reb Shmeryahu was lucky: he died in the 1930s and did not witness the tragic fate that befell his beloved community.
I now see through my childlike or by now youthful eyes the guests that came to our town, beggars and paupers from Polish cities and towns large families with many children, travelling around with a skinny horse harnessed to a wagon covered in torn rags. On every wagon hung two moss covered wooden buckets, one for the horse and one for the family. Upon arrival in town for temporary settlement they would set out begging for alms…their wives had treasures of curses and seas of swearwords and abuses and only one blessing…happy with a larger handout they wished the giver: help should come to you quickly! I cannot say if they actually disturbed anyone. In time they picked up and went on their way…
We cannot forget that our town had its own poor people: they did not go about begging for alms. They suffered greatly, and to the best of their ability… they tried to conceal their situation and therefore suffered from hardship and hunger. There were families who did not have enough for the Sabbath…I don't know and I'm not sure, but perhaps quietly they were helped without their knowing I was too young and did not know everything that went on.
Another personality stands before eyes, an original character: the big Moishe a tall man with a long white beard dressed in rags with a metrelong collar on his neck. Every day he would go from house to house begging for alms, less in the summer, mainly in the winter
(He was a poor man from our town and until today I don't know how he came to us). Storekeepers gave him pennies. However the best charity you could give him was a piece of bread. He came to us every day, and I, still a small child, took on the burden of giving him food. What was his food? Cereal grains with potatoes and a bowl of boiled water. When he came to eat on a winter day he would remove his long high collar and icicles would hang from his patched clothing.
After serving him food I would fill his copper container with two litres of hot water. He would break small pieces of bread into the water. He would spread his long arms over the table and eat slowly. After eating, he remained seated and stroked his long beard.
He slept on a bench in the synagogue or on the upper bench in the steam bath. He never cursed. He always said one must never curse anyone, especially small children, God forbid! Once, my brother Yosef told me that mischievous children apparently stole from him in the synagogue. He did not get angry and did not curse, God forbid: he only cried and worried he would not have enough for later…who knows, perhaps he was in fact a great righteous man, one of the thirtysix righteous men. I thought about this many times. Even today I think and continue to believe that my life with my husband and children is protected and defended because we opened our doors to strangers.
Parting Words and a Memorial
I stand today and look out with astonishment and a warm heart on my birth town, on my Jewish hometown of Dolhinov which no longer exists…
There are no longer the well bread or the simple Jews. There are no longer the weekly profane or the holiday spirited Jews. There are no longer the Yakov Mendls and the Reb Idls with the Yakov Heshe's Shpreyregns: there is no longer Reb Shmaryahu the Torah reader and community worker. There are no longer the rich men or the poor people local and foreigners There is no longer Hirshl Berke's and his accomplishments…unfortunately there are no longer the Kosher golden souls of Khune the tinsmith and his wife Mariasha Khana's and the Saturday nights, end of the Sabbath with the hot humming Samovar and hot pot of milk that were available for the public…Where is Khana (Khane Kapl's) Ekman? Such a gentle and hard working woman her entire life always good and charitable (the mother of Meir Aharon and Shifra, may they live long lives!) There is no longer Yoshke Shinyuk with his gun the protector of his street when drunken gentiles wanted to stage a pogrom against the Jews in the 1930s. There are no longer the Leyb Dimentshteyns, the Leyb Furmans with all the bold youths who were not afraid to fight and chase away the Christian boys and the provocative peasants from the surrounding villages and did not allow them to bother us. There is no longer Reykhl Hirshl Berke's who lived with us during the last years, before I left town. This woman was an angel, so good! She was our source of comfort when I was left alone with the unlucky Yakov Meir. They are all no longer with us…My brothers Avrom Yitzkhak (killed in Ponar) and my blind brother Yakov Meir killed with all the Jews of Dolhinov, may God revenge their blood!
All, all must be mentioned in the columns of our memorial book! This is our holy obligation for them and their final last respects. Let us all together be attentive to the quiet memorial prayer floating in the air, in memory of an entire community, shadows of those drowned in the blood of a forgotten world metamorphosed in fire and ash all of them, all of our victims, pray for their departed souls!!
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