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[Page 361]

Yitzchak Pinchuk, of Blessed Memory

by L. Sirota

He was born in Kobrin in 1902 to the family of Pinchuk-Margolis that had many branches and was respected in town. He was his parents' only child. In the home they lived according to the Jewish tradition and the middle class, which allowed receiving a general education and finishing the gymnasium of Shlivinski and also to continue in studies. But Itche came back from Berlin and gave up the continuation of his studies and dedicated himself to the socialist and Zionist movement.

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He went through the ranks of “Hechalutz”, the Zion Youth, T. S. The Labor Zionist, The Right, and he became one of the instructors and guides of the party in Kobrin. He was alert and active in all phases of public life. During the day he worked hard with his father in the tannery and in the evening in the party club he worked in educating the working and studying youth with evening lessons and folk university. He was the living spirit in the library that, thanks to him, became the main library in town. He was a man of the book and culture with a refined sense of humor. He excelled in debates because of his healthy way of thinking and his great knowledge.

He was in the central and cultural institutions of the movement. He was very well recognized and appreciated. He participated in the assemblies of the parties and he played a great part in its development and in the development and flourishing of the party in general and in Kobrin in particular. Thanks to him the party work in Kobrin achieved the high cultural level that it did. He was a good and respected friend, beloved by all his friends and his students who valued his limitless dedication to the party and everything that was connected to it.

He did not live to see the state of Israel reborn, a project to which he dedicated all his cultural and literary energy. I'm sorry, so sorry that my heart trembles and so does my hand as I write these words about a dear and good friend. It seems like a nightmare. Where are those beloved dear and good friends among whom you stand out, Itche. You are holy among our many holies. In my memory, in the memory of your friends your students and your colleagues who are scattered around the world, especially here in Israel, we will remember with holiness and with trembling. Let your memory be blessed.

Benzion Pantol, of Blessed Memory

He was born in 1993 in Kobrin. His father, Berl Pantol, of blessed memory, a Zionist from the days of Herzl, was one of the first organizers of the Zionist movement in Kobrin and so he gave his son the name Benzion, and this son did not disappoint his name. One brother was an active communist. He was tortured to death in the prison in Bialystok. The other one served his allegiance to the communist underground in four years of prison in Shedlitz; Benzi in all his youthful fervor dedicated himself to the movement of labor Palestine, in all its various movements, and especially to the workers of Zion.

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From the gymnasium bench of Shlivinski in Kobrin through the Technion in Vilna he gave up the continuation of his studies, returned to Kobrin and dedicated himself to the movement for social Zionism. He was always happy, always smiling, although inside of him was a great sadness, the suffering from a family tragedy that tied him to his home. He wanted in all his soul to go to Palestine to build there his home, his family. He envied all those who he accompanied on their way to Palestine. His last words when we parted at midnight on May 16, 1939 were, “I will come after you.”

He loved people, company, and he was beloved by everybody. It seems as if he did not have an enemy aside from the Polish regime, which from time to time caused him trouble. He was a wonderful organization man. He would bring honor to the movement in all his appearances, from the appearances on the stage of the labor Zionist up to the combined stage of all the Zionist movements and generally the public work in the municipality of Kobrin. He was respected by the Goyim with whom he sat in the municipality, they appreciated his talents, although most of his suggestions were to do something about the social situation in town, a suggestion that they opposed.

Thanks to him the party especially and the movement for labor Palestine and the Zionist activity in general in Kobrin reached a high level. Not once came the demand from the center of the movement to him to move to Warsaw. There were important duties that awaited him but fate wanted differently. He did not see the awakening of the land of Israel to whom he dedicated his best energy and his life and where he could be among the builders. From the day of his appearance until the destruction of the Jewry of Kobrin, he stood on guard for the movement as a director and an instructor.

As I write these lines my hand is trembling and my heart is bleeding. Dear friend and my soul-mate, where are you? Where did you find you last rest? Did the defiled Nazis touch you? Did fate give you the same bitter end as all our relatives? In my memory and the memory of your friends, your students and your colleagues around the world, especially here in the land of Israel, you are alive and may your memory be blessed.

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A few words on the writer of these memories

R' Joseph Zeev Vilenski who wrote these memories was born in Kobrin more than eighty years ago. He lived on Naradnicas Street close to the house of the teacher R' Isaac Yosl Yachas. He immigrated to the United States in 1907 and settled in the city of Augusta, Georgia. After the First World War his whole family came to him and only his oldest son Shraga Feivel remained in Kobrin. Shraga Feivel died in Kobrin together with all his family in the Holocaust. Only his son Dr. Mordechi Vilenski survived.

R' Joseph Zeev, despite living in a town that had 150 Jewish families, far from a Jewish Center, remained the same Kobriner Jew and fulfilled the saying, “I lived with strangers, but I kept the 613 Mitzvot”. He studied the Torah in every free hour, and in his last fifteen years after he left his business, he occupied himself in the Torah and in charity day and night. He was the head treasurer of the Torah Institutions in Israel and in America for more than thirty years, and there wasn't an emissary or messenger from Israel who passed through the community of Augusta who was not helped by him. On the request of his grandson. Dr. Mordechi Vilenski, who lives now in the United States the writer is putting these memoirs about Kobrin on paper.


by J. Z. Vilenski

The truth should be told. I'm not a great author and I did not try to write especially for a Hebrew audience that lives in the Holy Land. But my grandchildren's request moves me – the son of my oldest son, of blessed memory, Dr. Mordechi Vilenski – and I will try to put in writing the memories from the life of the opponents and the Hasidim in Kobrin to which I was a witness during my youth and my adolescence. I will also try to tell about the Torah study in the synagogue “Chaye Adam” where the sound of the Torah would come out day and night, and the little that I know came from that synagogue where I sat studying the Torah and working, doing my other lessons. Oh, how sad it is that this mighty community has been cut down and on the Day of Judgment it was not helped because of the right of its great people, its sages and its leaders, that served this holy congregation.

kob364.jpg [30 KB] - A party of friends with Baruch Tzukerman on the occasion of his visit to Kobrin
A party of friends with Baruch Tzukerman
on the occasion of his visit to Kobrin

*  *

There was a tradition in Kobrin in the generations before I was born and through the first decade of my life that the rabbis and the ritual slaughterers were from among the Hasidim despite the fact that most of the people of the congregations were opponents.

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The rabbi from the Libashev had a concession on the seat of the Rabbinate in Kobrin and he would stay in our town one month a year only to see to it that that concession was not wrestled away from him. During his stay in town he used to appoint judges and slaughterers according to his will.

After the passing away of the old rabbi of Libashev, the concession went to his inheritor, his son, R' Asher, who was not a great scholar. R' Asher wanted to treat the town as did his father because his father had a letter of Rabbinate from heads of Kobrin to him and to his seed for generations. But R' Asher encountered a position from the home owners in Kobrin who where scholars in the Torah. One of the main opponents in town stood in front of him and told him in clear language that Kobrin wanted a rabbi who would be a sage in the Torah and who would sit in Kobrin permanently.

R' Asher agreed to give up the Rabbinate in town and Rabbi R' Moshe Palevski (the Rabbi of Kobrin) immediately wrote to his nephew, Rabbi Meir Marim, to come to Kobrin and to accept the seat of the Rabbinate. The Hasidim of Libashev in Kobrin did not agree with it and they chased the new Rabbi Meir Marim. Two hot tempered Hasidim, one a hatmaker and one a painter, threw stones at the window of the Rabbi. The homeowners of Kobrin asked the rabbi to punish the two hoodlums, but the Rabbi refused, saying that he forgave for his own honor but he had no permission to forgive for the honor of the Torah that was desecrated. When that happened I was a young boy, but I remember well that these two Jews who threw stones at the window of the Rabbi lost their minds later on in years.

R' Meir Marim was a distinguished scholar who composed the book “Hanir” known to the students of Torah as an interpretation of the Jerusalem Talmud. It is told of R' Meir Marim that once he came to visit Slonim, to visit R' Izel Charif. He was known for his dismissal of all the greats of the generation but to the rabbi of Kobrin he gave great honor and he introduced him to the important people of Slonim, saying, “Ha! Here is a Jerusalem sage.”

When R' Moshe Polevski, the Rabbi of Kobrin, died and his son did not seem adequate to take his place, the Hasidim approached R' Meir Marim to agree to be also their Rabbi, but he refused. A student of R' Meir Marim, R' Avraham, who was called Avramale Slonimer, was crowned as the rabbi of the Hasidim of Kobrin. R' Avraham was an enthusiastic Chassid and a great pauper. He served before the head of the Yeshiva in Slonim but after he became the rabbi he started living lavishly and rode in a carriage with four horses. When this was told to R' Izel Charif, he answered that one should not wonder because it says, “a lie has no legs”.

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R' Izel also wrote R' Avraham and asked him, “What is happening?” R' Avraham answered, “The wheat after the donor tithes for donation becomes holy.” Then R' Izel answered him, “The deaf, the idiot and the minor who donated their donation is not a donation.”

*  *

After the death of R' Meir Marim there came to the seat of the Rabbinate R' Eliyahu Shik (he was called R' Elinka). In the first year of his Rabbinate there came an order from the Russian Czar that every twenty-one year old had to be conscripted into the military. Before that order came the people in Kobrin, like other congregations in Russia, used to have certain quotas and the rich people of Israel succeeded in avoiding serving in the military by sending the sons of the poor. But this order of the Czar brought to an end the story of the kidnappers. Now every youngster had to go before a committee where his age would be estimated because we did not have any birth certificates. R' Eliyahu Shik demanded in the synagogue and asked the members of his congregation not to fool the authorities and to tell their true ages because the rule that comes from the kingdom is the rule that should prevail. But R' Eliyahu remained on the seat of the Rabbinate in Kobrin only eight months and passed away suddenly.

I remember the day of his passing away exactly. It was two weeks before Rosh Hashana. The group of Ein Yaakov of the synagogue Chaye Adam celebrated the ending customarily once in three years. My father, of blessed memory, was a member of Ein Yaakov and took me, a child of six, to participate in the ceremony of the ending. R' Eliyahu Shik had a sermon and in his sermon suddenly he felt bad and was taken to his house. Before he left, he asked the congregation, the assembled people, to continue with the meal, but before the meal was over some messengers came to announce that the Rabbi's soul had left in purity.

His son R' Pinchas (R' Pinanka) was asked to take his father's place, but he refused. He was not asked again because he did not know how to conduct a sermon. He was appointed to be a judge in town. I remember every time when R' Pinchas would preach it was hard to understand him because he would cry, “My father, my father.”

*  *

In Zamochevitz there was an important homeowner named R' Moshe Dantziger. His son-in-law, R' Nachumke, was among the great Hasidim of Slonim and the Rabbi Avramele praised him greatly in front of the Hasidim of Kobrin. He would say about him that- R' Nachumke not only prays as a Jew but also eats and sleeps as a Jew. He would study eighteen hours a day and eat at the table of his father-in-law. People would whisper that after the passing away of Rabbi R' Avramele, R' Nachum would inherit his place and even during the life of the Rabbi he would “prepare table” for the Hasidim of Slonim in Zamochevitz some would say that the Rabbi was angry about that and hinted to R' Nachum to emigrate to the land of Israel.

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In 1877 R' Avramele died close to the Holiday of Hanukkah. The Hasidim of Slonim in Kobrin came to R' Nachumke and asked him to travel with them to Slonim to elect a new rabbi since the son of R' Avramele was not adequate to inherit his place. R' Nachumke refused, saying that he was afraid of the cold. Only when the Hasidim had left for Slonim did there come to R' Nachumke about twenty of the Hasidim of Slonim who crowned him their rabbi. When the rumor spread that R' Nachumke was crowned the rabbi, many opponents came and asked to join his Hasidim. Even many Hasidim who were not happy with the new rabbi who had been elected in Slonim, R' Shmulke, the grandson of R' Avramele, joined R' Nachumke.

I remember very well the way R' Nachumke did his holy work, especially on the nights of Hanukkah when he would light the menorah with olive oil and sing enthusiastically. The veteran Hasidim would teach the work to the new Hasidim. N' Nachumke stayed in his job in Kobrin for ten years and then he moved to Bialystok and gained a lot of fame as the rabbi of Bialystok.

The Synagogue “Chaye Adam”

The synagogue “Chaye Adam” was not famous as the synagogue of the greatest of scholars in Kobrin. On the contrary, many of the artisans in town prayed there. But the sound of the Torah would come out of there day and night. My house was close to the synagogue and there I prayed and I studied. I think that it is appropriate to include in my memories also something about this synagogue and to honor the memory of the Jews who studied Torah, loved the Torah and gave honor to the wise students.

In this synagogue there was a group of artisans that was called “Chevrot Chaye Adam” (the group of Chaye Adam) who had their own rabbi, R' Yosel Yachas. He studied with the group everyday between Mincha and Maariv and on the Shabbat between five and seven, early in the morning the psalms and in the afternoon the Chumash with Rashi.

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The deputy sexton, R' Shlomo, even in the worst winter days got up at three in the morning and went out to awaken the homeowners, the members of the Chevrot Chaye Adam. Aside from that, the Rabbi taught everyday after the morning prayer a chapter of Mishnaiot with individuals who would pay him one ruble. R' Elimelech Kozak, who was among the famous tailors in town, would not leave the study of the Mishnaiot, even if his sons would come to call him because the nobleman would wait for him at home with something that had to do with his work. R' Elimelech had three sons. Two of them continued in their father's work and the third one seized the seat of the Rabbinate in a small town near Kobrin.

This synagogue was filled with books and interpreters, books of morals and investigation and there was in that synagogue a tailor who every Friday cancelled his work and went from house to house to collect money to buy books and bind them. Aside from that there would be in this synagogue studying more than ten young men from other towns. From the age of thirteen I studied there and if I found some difficulty I asked the older youngsters who studied there. Among those who studied there was also R' Dov, the son of R' Zalman Sender, of blessed memory, who later became famous as the rabbi of Kovna.

Arie Polonski, of Blessed Memory

Arie Polonski, of blessed memory, was born in the year 1910 in Kobrin near Brisk to Zionist parents. When he was about six he already knew the alphabet by heart. When he studied in the cheder, his Rabbi praised him and was very proud of him. When he was about ten or twelve he knew the Tanach. He was especially captured by the story of King Saul who was removed from his office by the prophet Samuel because the king took pity on the best of the flock of Amalek and its King, Agag. He had pitied the first King of Israel whose end turned out so bitter. He thought about it a lot and tried to defend him.

From his youth he stood by the weak one and took pity on every poor and oppressed person. From this to the general picture, he would condemn the Goyim who oppressed Israel. In the history of our people by Dubnov he read a lot about the troubles of the Jews and from that reading he concluded that the Jews needed a homeland. To accomplish this himself, he entered the movement „Hashomer Hatzair" at the age of fourteen. He became an active member in the movement and beloved by all of his friends. Later he was elected to the secretary of the branch and he fulfilled his duty with sincerity and with excellent precision.

The house of Polonski was a house of assembly for Zionists of all parties. During discussions about Zionist projects in town, Lebele would listen and express his opinion. His mother, who was an enthusiastic Zionist, would instruct her children in Zionism. She was the one who caused them to emigrate at a very young age despite her love for her children whose emigration separated her from them.

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At the early age of fourteen to fifteen, Lebele began to prepare himself for emigration. One time he told his parents that he wanted to study carpentry. He stopped studies in the government school because he did not see in it any benefit to his emigration. The parents were surprised by his proposal and they accepted it, knowing that if he decided something there was no way they could push him off his track. The parents did deliver him to a carpenter and according to the agreement they would have to pay him fifteen dollars as tuition. When the day of payment came, the carpenter refused to receive his fee saying that the boy had grasped quickly the job and that he helped him in his work. The apprenticeship was for emigration to the land of Israel and he did not want to accept money for that.

Altogether the youth was quite talented. Everything that he took hold of he grasped and understood from all sides. When he knew the occupation, he went to study more in the kibbutz. When he became after a year confirmed for emigration, the riots of the year 1929 started and he was then eighteen years old, a strong adolescent. He felt confined in town because his wish was great to emigrate to the land of Israel and after the Holiday of Succoth of 1930, his wish came true. At first he worked in Petach Tikva in the orchards and on the roads. His situation was not too good. The parents wanted to help him with money but he objected to it absolutely. After he had been in the country for two years, they received a letter from him that he had decided to join the police. This announcement surprised them very much. His mother opposed it. She said, “How is it my son Lebele that I sent to build the country in the end will become a policeman?” Immediately she dispatched a letter to him in the name of the parents that they do not agree to that idea. After a while they received a large letter from him, written front and back, and in his letter he explains pleasantly that the work of the police is needed for the existence of this community no less than any other building work. “The security of the community is in the hands of the police. It is forbidden for us to neglect this honorable service.” So he had decided and there was no way to change it. Having no choice, his parents remained silent and he continued in his duty as a policeman.

In one of his letters to his parents he complained much about the Jewish policemen who leave work in the police and go to other lines of work that bring them more money in the days of prosperity and he – a lion (Arie), as he was called here – did not move from his position and stood on guard all his days despite the poor salary. After a while he entered the work of a political policeman, here he found a wide field for his work and he worked a lot for the security of the settlement.

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He did many favors for people. Never did he turn away the person who asked for his help. With pleasure and happiness he did everything he could for others as if he paid back a holy debt, a human debt. He had many friends who appreciated the contribution of his pure heart.

On the deeds and the great benefit that he brought to the community, I have a story that still has not been told. We will go back in time. Once in the height of the riots in the year 1938 when he visited his parents, he was very angry although he always showed them a happy face. When they asked him what was happening he said, nodding his head, “A situation is very bad and one can get crazy.” He didn't say any more; he became sad. All his days he was a faithful member in the labor federation and a dear son to his people. After he worked for five years in the police and the parents saw that he was endangering himself, they implored him to leave that position. He could very easily have found another job because he knew all three official languages in the country and he almost promised to fulfill the request of his parents. After a while he came and told them that despite his wish he could not respond to their request, that he was not permitted to leave. It had been requested that he stay and he was going to stay.

He was a lovely son to his parents and a good and pleasant friend to all who knew him and all his acquaintances. If he were living with us today he would definitely bring still a lot of benefit to the community, but there came the wicked ones and murdered him at the height of his life, may his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life. He Is Kept Alive.

(From a pamphlet that was published in his memory)

Various Personalities

by Y. Ch. Biltzki

Ben-Zion Pantol

Ben-Zion Pantol spent days and nights teaching and working for Israel and the Jewish Movement. He was a central character in every major event. Everybody loved him in Kobrin. I still recall the lamentations you gave on the memorials for Borochov, Arlozorov and Sirkin. On every holiday you were the major speaker on behalf of the pioneers in the city. Every immigrant who went to Israel received your blessings. And you wanted to join them but you were needed here. You were the shining light for the youth. You were a great debater against the Bund and the communists, and all those who wanted to stay in the Diaspora.

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Now that you are gone, the world is not the same and the pain is terrible. You are gone and we feel close to you.

Etshaleh Pinchuk

Etshaleh Pinchuk was a scholar with great knowledge and he affected many Jewish aspects in our life. He was a representative of the Jewish intelligentsia, a man of the book. He was blessed with a wonderful humor and was a dedicated Borochov follower. He was an introvert. In the midst of the Borochov controversy, Etshaleh passed away.

Moshe Zaritsky

He was my rabbi and my teacher. He was an intellectual and had great impact on me. He was a mathematician and a literary figure.

kob371.jpg [15 KB] - Moshe Zaritsky
Moshe Zaritsky

He was blessed with an analytical mind. After every meeting with him you ended up adding to your knowledge. He had very set ideas about major Jewish events at that time. He dealt with them sensibly although he was a warm, kind human being. It's unfortunate that he died before he was able to accomplish all his dreams.

Abrasha Herman

It seemed at the beginning that he was going to be one of our people, meaning the working “Israel,” but he enthusiastically became one of us. He was a kind debater and a very bright man.

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He foresaw the horrible future that was awaiting our people. Witnesses of the Holocaust tell us that he and his wife Hansha fought back against the Germans. He met the Germans with fire which did not surprise us since we knew him as a man of integrity. He was determined to live in Israel, the country of our people, where he could live free.

Dr. Lieberman

Dr. Lieberman was a quiet man but he and his wife were known as very friendly people. When I visited Kobrin right before the Holocaust, I had a long conversation with him. He seemed tired and extremely worried about the Jewish people.

He was an excellent doctor – kind, dedicated – and he inspired the very sick with optimism. He was not involved in the politics of our town, but cared deeply about the state of Jews and Jewish affairs. We lament this noble person, Dr. Lieberman.

Pintsche Lifshitz

He was a laborer who worked with his hands. He and his family always seemed happy and content. During the holidays, their home was always open with plenty of food, music and dancing. You could meet many well-known people in Kobrin, including from "Poalei Zion." He hailed from the Chassidic families. He was very involved in Jewish life. He and his family were killed by the Germans.

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