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[Page 226]

Pages From The Depths Of Recollections

By Shmuel Alperovich

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

When we endeavor the recording of the commemoration for the community of Dolhinov and her Jews that perished, it's not surprising that one gets the urge to bring up images and characters of the well-known people of Dolhinov as well as the heads of households, and the histories of families who were eradicated from the world of the living. These lives are like a body that was drowned in the deepest hole of oblivion. The reminisces of these individuals ought to be the foundation of a building for recalling the layers of a life that was taken over in a deluge of fire and blood.

But first I would like to start with my own ancestry, which is the combination of two heads of families that were very dominant, my two grandfathers, Shmuel Simha Alperovich (whom I am named for), on my father's side, and Chaim Bar Dokshitsky, my mother's father. From this renowned family tree, only two small branches remain, my brother Perez and I. Like two lonely sprouts that were uprooted, refugees from the fire and the sword, we were all that survived from our huge family….

The house of my uncle, Ozer Bar Alperovich, who was brutally murdered—was located on Borisov Street., or as it was known during the Polish years, “The Bridge St.” (Mostava). It was the house that my grandfather Shmuel Simha Alperovich built. I regret to say that there is not much I can tell about my grandfather, but from conversations and stories I was told, it had an revolving door policy.

I know that this house was always open to the poor and the needy, and many people came there for business and also for social and spiritual support, as well as financial help an donations. My grandfather was very involved in the public life of the town, and he didn't do it for any material rewards. He, and all his sons, Yosef Chaim his oldest, my father Avraham Moshe, Zalman Israel who perished in Lithuania, and Ozer Bar were all successful businessmen. Their specialty was meat products.

People would say that my grandfather was a public enterprise all on his own. His sons, and especially Ozer Bar who was the partner of my father, went even farther with the business, extending its reach beyond the region of our town. They also developed their cattle and livestock business, and they were the suppliers for the Polish Army until the war started in 1939. My uncle Ozer Bar was particularly enterprising and he also had another business with his partner Chaim Shreibman, selling cattle feed, which was extremely successful. He continued the philosophy of my grandfather with regards to both his entrepreneurial skills and his involvement with civic activities, as well as his donations to individuals and institutions.

Unofficially he supported many people, and all his days he was the Gabay in the Chabad synagogue. He represented the best of public institutions, doing work out of his good nature, not for any personal gain.

Even when he was very busy with his business, he never let go of his public involvement. He traveled a lot amongst the big landowners in the area, and also to the villages and neighboring towns during the large fairs, where he would buy sometimes dozens, and hundreds of heads of cattle. He would take care of their feed, and he would lease ranches from the local nobleman to house them.

From that you can get that most of his business took him outside of Dolhinov, since he had to be the in constant contact with the representatives of the Polish Army with regards to the food supply business. Since he was so busy with his business and public life, he could never sit in the slaughterhouse, and he was like the foreign minister of the business.

On the other hand, my father was the interior minister of the business. He was always sitting in the shop, and was responsible for managing the daily, routine activities, which included supplying the buyers with their orders, and also receiving the supplies from the slaughterhouse and dividing them between the different branches of the business. This did not take away from the devotion my father had for the education of his sons. He thought greatly about our education, and made sure that we would be exposed to the best teachers he could find. Not only did he care about education, but he also cared about our moral instruction and our respect, and made sure that we would be both respectful and respected.

I did study with the best melameds, and first and foremost I studied with Idel Doshitsky, the prime of all the melameds in the cheders. Originally he was very much a traditionalist, but in time he became a teacher very much in the spirit of the times, and he was a father to sons who were also renowned teachers. Amongst them was his son Yosef, Z”L, who will be eternally remembered by me, and his son Zelig,Z”L. Zelig originally immigrated to Eretz Israel and was a teacher in the first Hebrew town, Tel Aviv. He returned to Dolhinov in order to marry his beloved, and then return with her to Eretz Israel. But this was not to be sometime after he returned, the war started. When the Germans took over the town, he and his wife escaped and eventually arrived deep into the Soviet Union, where he traveled to the land of famine, in the Asian part of the Soviet Union. After the war, he returned but passed away in Vilna before he had a chance to return to Israel. Shalom to his dust in the cemetery, in the town that was known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

My dear mother was responsible for the daily care of the house, and her children, and also managed the store. She was a very hard worker, very diligent and clever. My uncle Ozer Bar and my aunt Nachamka were known all over the region as benefactors. You never saw them turn down anyone who needed help, and you would often encounter orphans, and widows and poor brides who needed a dowry, when you visited their home. Even the poor and the beggars of neighboring towns were received with an open heart and with respect. The issue of dowries with poor brides was the specialty of my aunt Nachamka. She gave all her soul to this. Her kindness and her dedication were even larger than her husband's, who had to divide his time between so many other public and personal enterprises.

My father and his oldest brother, Yosef Chaim, who had a separate slaughterhouse, also contributed a lot to the public donations, and the commandment to help your brother was the motto of the entire family.

My dear friend Herzl Bentov Gitelzon, who was taken from us too soon, to our sorrow, truly cared about memorializing the community of Dolhinov and put all the fire of his soul to publish the book for the memory of our town. He would tell me tales that touched my heart about my uncle Ozer Bar, stories that I had never heard before. For the respect to his memory, I feel an obligation to bring them exactly as he told me.

Ozer Bar was a proud Jew, but not arrogant or conceited. He always was honorable, both as a Jew and as a humanitarian. That's the way he was constantly, even when he talked to the nobleman who owned the land who sold him cattle and leased him ranches. The custom was to sign a very detailed document with regards to the leasing and the buying and the conditions of payment. I was told that during the 30s, when the anti-Semitic propaganda was flourishing, and the policy was to boycott Jewish businesses, one time he made a contract with a Polish nobleman (Paritz). The Paritz wrote in the contract “the Jew Barak Alperovich” instead of a more respectful and “(Pan) Mr. Barak Alperovich”. After he made the contract with these conditions, Ozer Bar insisted that this document should be re-written because he didn't use the word “Pan”. (Mr. ) Although the nobleman kept insisting that all the conditions were met, my uncle refused to sign it. The nobleman was furious, but he had no choice but to re-write the document adding the respectful title. This was Ozer Bar. He demanded that a Jew get respect.

I would like to continue with the business of the family. During the market days, which were every Thursday, it was necessary to bring the meat to the butcher shop. Earlier in the day we needed to buy the cattle for slaughtering. This was not simple, since there were times when my uncles and father didn't have enough cash to do it, so they needed to borrow money on Wednesday and return it on Friday. This was not always simple. Many times the different family members were sent to repay the funds. I was also sent many times, and in the small town of Dolhinov, with its limitations, it was hard to receive large amounts of money from Gmilut Chesed, even if it was for one or two days. I must commend Mendel Haifetz and his wife Chana, as well as Itzhak (Isaac)Grosbein and his wife Peshya, who helped us many times by loaning us the money.

As for myself, I had no desire to be involved with the cattle business and the different products, and I felt a distance between the business and me. In spite of this, when the business had difficulty, and my uncle and father encountered obstacles, I would help them as needed. There were times when I complained to my father and uncle with regards to their accounting practices. I questioned them why they didn't balance their books, but they didn't take me seriously and they dismissed my comments. My uncle Ozer Bar once said to me, “This is the way we've run the business forever, and we have never had any complaints. Maybe others run the business differently and maybe my father-in-law [my grandfather on my mother's side] has entirely different practices in business and is very exact in recording every financial detail. What is the difference? Is there any disaster that is about to occur?” So that is the way that they ran the business, my uncle and my father.

Times of Difficulty

Years passed and the situation became worse. The 30s were times of financial crisis in Poland. Especially in the more isolated parts of Poland's eastern border. The media (prompted by the government) circulated propaganda filled with hate of the Jews which was received without any objections by the public. Hostile elements in the Polish society succeeded in setting up boycotts of Jewish businesses. The situation became worse and worse every day. It became clear to anyone who had a brain that a war was coming, and in September of 1939, the war started. As for the agreement between Ribbentropp and Molotov, Poland was divided. Our area, that was near the Soviet border, became part of the Soviet Union.

During the first weeks of the new rule, nothing seemed to change. This was typical behavior of the new rulers. First they wanted to do some investigations and find out who had property or businesses. Even the private enterprises seemed to run without interruption, and Polish money was at first allowed to be used. Then a day came when they started confiscating property, both land and livestock. All the livestock was sold to the authorities, and from then on they forbade any private enterprise. They ordered everyone to sell all their belongings and all their supplies to the Soviet authorities, and the compensation was in Polish money. Whoever remembers this time probably remembers that shortly before the war, the Polish ministry of finance printed a lot of new money, including the 2-zloti denomination. This was done very cheaply, and the paper that this money was printed on was so inferior, that it deteriorated quickly, looking very old after only a few uses.

Clearly, all the landowners and the entrepreneurs got big sacks filled with such bills, and then the authorities announced that all these bills were illegal, and everyone lost everything. What could be done? This was a horrible financial disaster.

My well-to-do uncle, Ozer Bar, with his open-hand policy to donations now became a pauper. This greatly hurt him, and he lost all ability to function. My father also became paralyzed by this, so now I was forced, in my 17th year, to do something to save the situation. I was young and full of energy. Despite the fact that I was totally uninterested in the business of meat, as I told you before, I kept coming to the doors of all the bureaucrats of the Soviet authorities in Vileyka,. due to of the help of Milikovski, a Jewish guy from Budslav, I succeeded in getting a contract to supply meat to the Soviet government. I was very enterprising, and in all sorts of ways I succeeded in getting livestock for these enterprises. Because of that, I helped greatly in improving the dire situation in both my house and in my uncle's house.

During daylight hours I was busy with looking for meat to sell, and in the evenings I was busy making the final meat products; salami, etc. I remember how my mother would bring me food to eat during the middle of the night. I would say that as time passed, my uncle and father regained their energy and they became more involved again.

My grandfather, Chaim Bar Dokshistsky

It is my duty to include another ancestor in my family tree, the character of my grandfather Chaim Bar Dokshitsky. A Jew filled with intelligence and spirit, he was also a respected and honorable businessman renowned in the entire area, and his name preceded him all the way to Vilna.

How shall I describe the character of my grandfather? I worry I will exaggerate. I hesitate to embellish … My extreme love and respect for him might give me difficulty in giving a truly accurate account of him. My soul was so connected with him. I was so filled with admiration. He was the ultimate authority in my life. He exuded love and respect to all who came into contact with him. I grew up in his house. I was the first male grandchild. He loved me so much and wanted to take care of my education. He saw it as his calling in life. Since I fear that I will exaggerate, and in my exaggeration do him injustice, I will only supply a sketch of his beloved face from my childhood.

He was of average height. He had a very welcoming face, with a high forehead. His eyes were filled with intelligence, and he would observe the world with a serious expression, but never a harshly critical one. He had Peyes (traditional side burns) that were white, and a full, short, gray beard. The sparkle in his eyes was so pronounced that you felt as if he could read your soul. He had a deep expression in his eyes that reflected on everyone he talked to, and immediately he would be recognize as a man of intelligence and a distinguished individual. When he was pleased with someone his eyes would smile and have a happy expression, but when he was suspicious, his eyes would have an expression as if the person he was talking to was trying to cheat him. When the person would only tell him a half-truth, his eyes were filled with a sense of irony, as if he was saying, “I know what is deep down in your soul. With a stubborn person you will go around in circles, and with someone who hides the truth you will try to scrutinize…”

I couldn't say he was strict in the way he treated people. I remember him as trying to do his best to be easygoing, but still in all his communications he was very careful to be truthful and decent, without any manipulation, he would get straight to the point. He never looked to control others, but he always demanded respect in business.

In both his business practices and his public activities, he would make only verbal agreements and shake hands, never setting written contracts. His business was in textiles, and he was a partner with all his sons. They never separated. I don't remember if there were other enterprises. From what I remember, they would buy from the farmers and the owners of the ranches all the raw materials that they needed, and they would store it in the yard in a special warehouse. They processed the materials there, and then sent the products (hundreds of tons) to the merchants. Their main merchant was Serbrenik in Vilna.

What was typical for my grandfather's house and business was the fact that it was very organized and well-functioning. Everyone and everything was in its place. There was no carnival atmosphere; everything functioned like a clock. The crowd who came to the house/ business knew when it was time to leave. The accounting was diligently registered and every expense, minute as well as large, was immediately registered, and the same treatment was given to all income. Very diligent accounting, and my grandfather was the extreme authority.

This was the extreme opposite of my other grandfather's legacy in his business, and particularly the way in which my uncle Ozer Bar and my father organized their business. Theirs was like a constant carnival; the cash register was always open and no one seemed to be minding it.

Grandfather Chaim Bar Dokshitsky had five sons and two daughters. His sons Yitzhak, Shalom, Yehudah, Shmuel and Yosef. The daughters were my mother Marka and her sister;Marisha. All the sons except for Shmuel stayed in town. Shmuel crossed the border to the Soviet Union and there he married a woman. He is the only sibling who survived. Later he came to Israel and died there. Marisha, the sister of my mother, died at an early age due to tuberculosis, which at that time had no cure or effective treatment. I have no doubt that my grandfather was very respected in town and particularly in the Jewish community, and even more so among the family members, especially the many in-laws. As far as I am concerned, he treated me as it was written in the Bible, “If you don't hit/discipline your son, you hate him.” When I deserved punishment, he punished me with no delay. Even today I remember the sounds of the slaps that were only given to me when I was completely misbehaving. Despite that, he loved me very much and was very generous with me. He was very interested in my education and notwithstanding the fact that my father was very involved, my grandfather would still go to all my teachers on a regular basis to get a report on my academic advancement. I could never be late for prayer in the synagogue—never mind not showing up. He sat in a place where he could see everyone who was coming and going. He was interested not only in my academic career, but also in my professional training, for business.

As I wrote before, I had no interest in the other business of the family, the meat business. But on the other hand, I was very interested in the textile business. During the days when merchants would come to his house, he would let me sit in the room and tell me, “Sit down and listen carefully, but don't say anything.” He kept repeating this to me, and because of that, I had a great education about the way the textile business was run. My grandfather was very clear about the fact that after my bar mitzvah I would go to a yeshiva since I would be much too young to enter the business world. He was very forceful about this and my parents sent me to study in the yeshiva. They chose Yeshiva of Rabbi Myles in Vilna. I studied there about two years, and I returned to town at the end of 1937. I would feel very guilty if I did not mention the packages that were filled with many treats that my grandfather would send me regularly while I was in Vilna. Also, my mother sent me wonderful packages, and I needed nothing else, especially not in the days spent in the homes of the respectable Jews (this was the common practice, where well to do -Jews would welcome the students of the Yeshivas into their homes).

So like this the days of my youth passed, and I felt that my college education passed in the home of my grandfather. My grandfather's aim was that after I was done with my studies I would be brought into his business as his partner. As I returned I started to get involved with the business. I helped with the buying and the selling, and was responsible for loading the supplies into the freight cars.

I remember the cold winter during the last year before the war in town. There were days that the farmers couldn't bring the raw materials to us. There was only one very wealthy farmer who had a large supply of the materials who was willing to sell to us, but he wanted a huge sum of money, which caused us to pay more than we could sell it for. At that point we had a contract for a very large order, and we couldn't get all the materials that were required. One of the relatives came to me as I was weighing the materials and whispered to me, suggesting that I falsify the weight. I accepted suggestion and attempted to do it, but all of a sudden I felt a huge slap that came to me from behind. I was in shock and was afraid to look back. I imagined that it was my grandfather saw me, but all of a sudden I heard the voice of my uncle Yehudah, “No one has ever done that in our family and you shouldn't do it. You must never do it again. We have many customers and the reason we have so many customers is that we are decent and honest.”

        “But this other relative,” I whispered, “told me to do it.”

        He replied, “That relative said so? He should do it and not you. It's very good that father didn't see it. You brought shame to our business.”

I realized there was a big danger in what I had been attempting to do. It was very easy to detect the falsification in our records. This was a time when the Jews were already encountering much trouble from the Christians, and here if they found out, they would say, “The Jews are lying and cheating.”

I wrote about that to emphasize how honesty and decency in the business relations was the motto in the home of my grandfather and his sons. This was the life in the days of my grandfather until the time came for him to join the Yeshiva of Heaven, sometime near the entrance of the Soviets in 1939 maybe it was a divine intervention that he did not experience the horrors that would soon come. All his sons sat shiva (the 7 days of mourning), during which time they could not do any business., they could have used this as an excuse to not deliver their order. But this was not their habit, so they used me and sent me to do all the business. So here I was barely 17 and I had to be responsible for the business. My heart breaks and my blood rushed through my veins when I think of all my dear relatives who perished. I am a small remnant, an uprooted, lonely, crying remnant, weak and lost.

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