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Jewish Life in Kremenets

A Look Back at Kremenets

By Yitschak Roykhel (Israel)

Translated by Tina Lunson

Who will rake up the earth of your ruins, Kremenets, town of my birth? Where are you now, dear Jews, relatives, friends, and sons of the town? Are you still alive, or have you vanished along with all the Jews from those places of ours? I am distanced from you, Kremenets Jews, I have struck deep roots in the Land of Israel and have nearly broken off ties with you, children of my town and origin of my life. It is painful. So I have thought: Our era is difficult and empty. I will therefore in a few skimpy lines denote memories about the life of that town of mine and the era of my youth. May they be a spiritual light on our past and on the old Jewish community, which was erased by murderous hands.

 

The Town and Its Environment

Kremenets is located in the southwestern part of the former Volhynia province, in a valley surrounded by mountains, which appear to be a continuation of the Carpathians. The town was seen as a local center for the surrounding villages and small towns. Before World War I, Kremenets numbered about 30,000 souls, 10,000 to 12,000 of them Jews. The non–Jewish residents–Ukrainians, Russians, Poles–lived around the edges of the town and in the hills, while the Jewish settlement was concentrated in the middle of town and around two gates: the Vishnevets gate and the Dubno gate. People who visited Kremenets had the impression that the town was overwhelmingly occupied by Jews, because the Jewish settlement in the central streets was so compact and without other residents. However, the residents of the side streets were very mixed: a Jewish house stood as a neighbor to a Russian or Polish house. A small part of the town's area was taken up by the priests' seminary, with its huge buildings and large park, which reached to the foot of Mount Vidomka. That institution gave the town a certain religious, Christian character. The second educational institution–also located in a park that reached to the foot of Mount Vidomka–was High School of Commerce, in which more than half of the students were Jews. Relative to the size of the most important establishments in town, one must realize that that the lots in Kremenets were not measured with the Polish ell or the Russian arshin, replaced by the desiatin, because many of the Jewish houses on the side streets also extended over several desiatines each. But in the center of town, the crowding was remarkable, as was the custom in Jewish towns. Kremenets was narrow and long. One long street stretched from one end of the town to the other. The street began at the Vishnevets gate, ran through the center of town, and from there ran through the Dubno gate to the train station. That street was certainly narrow enough, but for some kind of caprice or joke, people called Broad Street. Side streets and little lanes led off the main street, which tangled and spread out among the hills. In general, the town was hilly on every side. The one that overlooked the entire town was Mount Bona.

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There were several legends about the history of that mountain: about the ruined fortress whose remains stand to this day, and also many stories about the deep pit at the top of the mountain. Among the Jews it was called the death–penalty pit. According to legend, fortress soldiers who had sinned and were sentenced to the death penalty were condemned to burial in that pit. In our times, that mountain served as a lookout point for fires. A watchman was posted in the tower there day and night, and whenever there was a fire, he blew a trumpet (there were not yet telephones in our town then) to call the firefighters.

The mountain was connected to the town by a paved road. On the Sabbath, it served as a place for strolling. On their Sabbath walks, young people sometimes reached the peak of the mountain. The older people made their way more leisurely, and on only part of the road. Opposite Mount Bona, the broad Mount Vidomka spread out, with parks and summerhouses located in its clefts and on its slopes. Well–to–do families spent the hot months in those summerhouses. Also, many guests came from elsewhere. Illegal meetings took place there during the year of the revolution. The same thing happened in the parks on Mount Vidomka. And the Zionist youth used to go there to gather on the Sabbath.

 

A General View of Kremenets, Ringed by the Mountains

 

Among the other mountains in Kremenets, Mount Krestova was famous. It was called that because of the cross on its peak. The Mountain of the Virgins was also popular. There is no doubt that the mountainous environs made their mark on the residents; they were peaceful and dreamy. There was no river in the town, just a narrow and muddy rivulet. Since long ago, it had murmured at the foot of Mount Bona. In summer, the stream dried out, and in winter it filled up. The Kremenets folk called the rivulet der Potok, and in homey Yiddish, potik. People in Kremenets got divorce decrees at the point of that doubtful river.

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Indeed, this is what it says in the divorce contract: “the town of the residents near the River Potik”; and these are the 12 district towns around Kremenets: 1) Radzivilov; 2) Berezhtsy; 3) Belokrinitsa; 4) Pochayev; 5.) Vishnevets; 6) Shumsk; 7) Vyshgorodok; 8) Lanovtsy; 9) Belozirka; 10) Yampol; 11) Katerburg; 12) Oleksinets.

 

Economic Life

How did the Kremenets Jews make a living? No statistical research was ever conducted about Jewish economics in our town. The little that I offer here is built on this resident's general observations.

The environment was an agricultural one, and every first day of the week, a “fair” or market day was set up in Kremenets. Many village gentiles from the area traveled to town on that day to meet and carry out all kinds of commercial exchanges. Commerce was almost entirely in Jewish hands, in all its forms–retail, wholesale, shops, and warehouses–and all its categories–grain, wood, iron, foodstuffs, manufacture, cattle, horses, and so on. One can add that half of the town's Jews were devoted to commerce. Twenty percent held to various types of artisanry, with their own small workshops or as wage earners, and the others were involved in other professions. It must be noted that artisanry included only certain trades, and in other trades there were generally no Jewish craftsmen at all. Thus, there were no Jewish bricklayers, no stone workers, no wood builders, and no caulkers, but there were a lot of Jewish tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, woodcutters, tinsmiths, seamstresses, and bakers. Transportation in the town (passengers and freight) was almost totally in Jewish hands, and all the porters were Jews.

There was generally no industry in the modern sense in Kremenets. The one exception was a large iron foundry that belonged to Jews, though the workers were not Jews. For a long time, there was also a match factory. After a few years it closed. There was also a large brick factory near the town, where they baked bricks to build the big barracks on that side. The factory still existed after the barracks were completed. There, too, the owners were Jews, and the workers were non–Jews. Kremenets was not a big town for trade in export and foreign connections. Commerce was concentrated only within the borders of that area and for its needs. Because of that, there were no very wealthy people, but also no hopelessly poor people either. It was a subsistence town. Her Jews had an economic base for their existence. There were no industrial undertakings in the area except for those that were in some way connected to agriculture: mills for grain and whisky breweries. The latter belonged to the landowners, Russians or Poles. Mostly they were leased to Jews. The leasing of rivers for fishing was also in Jewish hands.

 

Community Life

What did the Kremenets Jews' community life look like in the era before World War I? The was no organized Jewish community board in the town, as there should have been. There were only a few community institutions and a group of devoted and hard–working organizational leaders. It is worth noting:

1) Care for the Sick, which people also referred to as hekdesh, a kind of community hospital designated for poor people. The sick were treated there free of charge. It had around 30 beds, and the doctors were volunteers. In later years, the hospital had its own building. It was served by two Jewish doctors, Dr. Landesberg and Dr. Litvak.

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For a long time, the leaders of that institution were R' Mikhael Shumski and Yisrael Margulis, supporters from the stratum of acquitters–the assimilated. Other activists were also aligned with them.

2) Talmud Torah. This institution also was designated for poor children and was directed in a strictly observant spirit. The Talmud Torah had times of growth and decline. For a long time, the institution was led by R' Duvid Leyb Segal, the grandson of the former rabbi, R' Velvele. In the last years before the war, much energy was put into the Talmud Torah by R' Moshe Roykhel, a solid merchant in good standing and an observant Jew, who succeeded in strengthening the Talmud Torah materially and raised it up from a difficult condition.

 

Committee for the Great Synagogue in 5689 [1928-1929]

First row, sitting, right to left: Cantor Shteynboym, Cantor Efraim Burd, Professor Eydis, Dr. M. Litvak, Yukl Tsvik (beadle), Cantor Yekl Kusevitski
Standing, right to left: Peysi the Sexton, Y. Shtern, Tovye Shpigl, Chayim-Leyzer Lempel, Munye Barats, Leybel Rozental, Barshap, Zamberg, Itse Tshatski, and Yenkel the Sexton

 

Holding an honored place in the life of the community were the matters of rabbis, ritual slaughterers, synagogues, and the burial society, and it was a “private initiative” in community matters, especially in matters of charity, the micro loan society, burial of the dead, support for the ill, an inn for the poor who were sick, welcoming guests, and others.

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The activist Yakov Shafir–now in Tel Aviv–protected the “statutes” of the micro loan society group, which for some reason, was called Halavoes chen. It is worthwhile to take two characteristic paragraphs from those statutes:

“It is forbidden for the group to have craftsmen as members.” And a second paragraph on “the last feast that the group is bound to give its members” listed 2 dishes on the menu. The one that bears consideration is that “in the statutes, it is also stressed by the author Yitschak Ber Levinson, who was, as is known, among the practitioners of craft among Jews,” could nevertheless not disassociate himself from the influence of certain matters in his environment and signed off on the statutes in which the artisan was seen as a person of low station in the community. And by the way, Town Jews' spirit of generosity toward community needs and charity should be noted. A good Jew who came to stay in the town for a few days did not leave empty–handed: they gratified him with generous gifts. Philanthropy and communal work, envoys, and couriers from far–away Lithuanian yeshivas visited the town and collected contributions.

Sometimes the town was seized by a hot desire for a certain kind of communal work and stirred up the urge for generosity. I recall that when the new bathhouse was built, several people gave donations of 1,000 rubles each. During the rabbinic disputes in Kremenets, each side held out for the retention of his rabbi with honor. And so I mention an episode that characterized the spirit that beat in the hearts of the activists and their relation to their “own interests” in community affairs. Once there was a newly designated chief of police who had a reputation for honesty. Two community leaders came to greet him, their acquaintance, and happened to remark that it was not fitting for the town to have its chief travel around in an old carriage.

The police chief gave them to understand that a government official who did not take bribes had limited material circumstances and could not indulge himself in a fine carriage. The town leaders dared to present him with a new carriage as a gift. The police chief began to refuse, but in the end agreed to accept the gift–the carriage–as a sign of gratitude from the Jewish community. But going forward, he would not change his conduct and accept a bribe. After they left the police chief, one of the two Jewish representatives suggested that they prepare a bill to tax the wealthy townspeople to pay for the gift–the carriage–as a sign of gratitude from the Jewish community. Heavens, he said to the other, you and I will pay the carriage with our own money. And actually they bought the carriage with their own money and sent it to the police chief in the name of the community. That helped establish good relations between the new chief and the town's Jews, and the matter was not publicized. Outwardly, the community representative, were in fact from the assimilated circles. Their language was Russian, and they were in close daily contact with the Russian intelligentsia and officials. Among them were the rising merchants in good standing Mikhael son of Duvid Shumski and Yisrael Margulis. Their work was mostly a partnership, as the town Jews had the habit of mentioning their names in one breath: Shumski and Margulis. Also, the two were members of the city council. Generally, one looked to them as the Jewish representatives, recognized by the authorities, although no one would state clearly whether they were elected or took the position under the pressure of circumstances. Shumski and Margulis were also among the founders of the High School for Commerce and long–term members of the school management. Shumski was crowned by the authorities with the title “Esteemed Citizen for the Ages.”

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As in all towns and villages, relations with the authorities did not always result in Jewish rights, new “court representatives.” In private affairs as in community ones, the currency was bribery and personal influence. From time to time, a partnering negotiation with the authorities was carried out by some of the observant Jews, which was made possible by their personal status and strong character, and also their stubbornness.

 

A Chapter on the Dispute

A sharp dispute about rabbis persisted in Kremenets for about 10 years. Rabbi Velvele Menashe from Novograd Volynskiy was rabbi of the Kremenets congregation for about 25 years: from 5641 [1880–1881] until his death in 5666 [1905–1906. He was a Jewish scholar and in awe of heaven, but excitable and angry. He had no respect for influential people or community leaders, so he was not beloved by activists. When the rabbi's son–in–law, R' Duvid–Leyb Segal, settled in the town, he took the essential institutions out from under the influence of the town leaders–the burial society, the Talmud Torah, and so on, and put them under the wing of the rabbi's court, and as long as the rabbi lived, open opposition did not break out. But the town leaders harbored their wrath in their hearts. When R' Velvele passed away, Rabbi Senderovitsh was brought into town by his intimates from Petrikov. With the election, people wanted to protect the influence of the rabbi's court on community affairs. Another group of powerful leaders opposed the election of the Petrikov rabbi and brought a rabbi of their own into Kremenets: R' Yitschak Heler, from Kurilovtsy. A dispute was ignited between the Petrikov rabbi's followers and those of the Kurilovtsy rabbi; it went on for about 10 years. It was a dispute with only negative consequences. It even went to insults on the account of the opposing rabbi; they did not even stop at openly questioning the rabbi's intelligence in teaching and doubting the validity of his ordination. Meanwhile, they played all kinds of tricks, they fought at the Torah readings on the Sabbath, and they came to heated blows. In praise of the saints, it must be said that it did not extend to outright denouncements, although in general our town was not clean of that plague. In short, it was a very sad chapter of dispute. It was in the last era of the Kremenets Jewish community council, and it brought about deep heartbreak and unwarranted hatred. Of course, this was all to the detriment of the important issues of community life.

I must add that the two rabbis suffered most from the dispute. And it is very possible that they did not get mixed up in the actual dispute at all. Also, they were forbidden to express themselves in public. Both were great scholars. One of them, R' Heler, had written several books of Responsa: Isaac Acceded, The Offering of Isaac, and others. I still remember a sermon he gave at a bar mitzvah celebration. The theme was “Tefillin for the Head and Tefillin That Is in the Head.” The main drivers of the warring factions were Aba Tsukerman, the protégé of the Petrikov rabbi, and Hirsh–Mendil Roykhel for the Kurilovtsy rabbi's side. During the war years, the dispute was less virulent. The Kurilovtsy rabbi left town along with the stream of refugees and settled in Odessa.

 

Torah and the Awe of Heaven

Was Kremenets a town of strong scholars and those knowledgeable in Torah? Absolutely. In general, the town's character in most areas was medium, no very wealthy people and also no terribly poor people. It was a town where there was a livelihood for everyone; not a town of zealous Hasidim and also not of sharp Mitnagdim. There were mutually tolerant relations among them, no extremely religious people and no spiteful heretics.

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That is to say with regard to scholarship. There were no great scholars in town, but no coarse ignoramuses either. The majority of the town's Jews knew a page of Torah; they could read a section of the Pentateuch with Rashi's commentary; between the afternoon and evening services they studied a chapter of Mishna and sometimes also a page of Talmud. In the synagogues and study halls there were standing groups who studied the Mishna and Ein Yakov. From time to time, they celebrated the end of a study section, when they drank a glass of whisky and had cookies, but there were also individual scholars. A few that must be mentioned are old Shlome Alinkes, a Talmud teacher; Chayim Leyb Volf's; and Moshe Velis. I don't remember their family names, and maybe I just never knew them.

The shrewdest of these was Moshe Velis, who because of his wisdom served as a standard arbitrator in money matters. There was no great yeshiva in town. Individuals with a desire to study migrated to other towns, to the Lithuanian yeshivas. A small yeshiva existed in Kremenets for only a few years, directed by a yeshiva head from Novograd–Volinskiy. Among the geniuses that he brought with him was Avraham Mekher, who today is well known in Israel.

The majority of Kremenets Jews were observant. The general lifestyle was rooted in Jewish tradition. On the Sabbath, the shops were closed. The town rested. The synagogues were full of people praying. The Jewish holidays were strictly observed. One did not travel on the Sabbath, and Jewish transgressors did their deeds under cover, they did not dare to come into town riding or on foot.

The older Jews and those of middle age wore long kapotas, especially on the Sabbath and holidays. The majority of the youth shaved their beards, went out in public with bare heads, and sometimes spoke in Russian. But “even the sinning Jews were as full of commandments as a pomegranate is full of seeds.” In the end, the younger generation also stood with both feet within the limits of Jewish tradition. To honor their parents, they also came to synagogue on the Sabbath, observed the dietary laws, and observed other Jewish customs. Bridle–breakers–heretics–were few. The High School of Commerce (founded in 1906 or 1907) had a disturbing effect on the traditional way of life in that its students desecrated the Sabbath from their earliest years on and pursued that hurtful custom in their parents' homes and in their circles. A second cause of disturbance to the traditional ways was the revolutionary movement, which enchanted a considerable part of the town's youth. World War I accelerated the pace of secularism even more and in that sense marked a sharp turn.

 

Relations with Neighbors

There were few Jews in the villages around Kremenets. In truth, there were single Jews in the villages, due to a law that required them to settle in a village. But in the surrounding towns and in the town itself, in Kremenets, Jews were a conspicuous portion of the residents. At least, the impression of the proportion of Jewish residents was greater than its actual proportion relative to the general population. That is demonstrated by the fact that the Jew was not thought of as “a guest who has just stopped to spend the night.” He felt like a deep–rooted citizen, literally like an integral part of the town's mixed population And that is how people from the other national groups regarded the Jews. Certainly, there was antisemitic propaganda going around, and it also bore fruit here and there. In everyday life, though, the hatred of Jews was not known. In practical life, relations were well established and tolerant. Kremenets did not experience any pogroms on Jews. Except for during Petliura's rule, when there were murderous attacks on village Jews.

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Rather, from a legal point of view, the Jews were of lower status, underprivileged.

As such, the Jews were not involved in the state or town leadership. Thus, every government order or demand on the part of Jews was taken as a decree and a persecution against the Jewish race. And as for decrees–one must endeavor to annul them through a well–placed representative, or through bribery or other means.

The reciprocal connections between the Jews and the Ukrainians and Poles were in essence trade and work connections, and in a very small measure education connections and joint community activities. The merchants in good standing and the intelligentsia, the Russian–speakers, considered it an honor to be members of a community club that was called “The Salon of High Society,” a place where one spent the evening playing cards or dominoes in the company of officials and Russian intelligentsia. There were also other forms of mutual closeness, but in general (before World War I) the Kremenets community was crystallized with an independent inner life and a national style with bright and shadowy sides. Because of that, it was protected from the danger of mixing with gentile neighbors. And if a mixed wedding occurred, or if there was a conversion, Jewish folk reacted to it. Even relatives of the heretics were repudiated.

 

The Zionist Movement

Was the Zionist movement visible in Kremenets? Such a question is self–evident. It is painful to report that the majority of the sons of our town were indifferent to Zionism; there was also denial, many even displayed open opposition. The everyday Jew, the merchant and the artisan, young and old, looked on the phenomenon of Zionism as a bunch of impractical people, as people from another world. In general, Zionists were swimming against the current. And there were times–for example, in the revolutionary days of 1917 or during a general election–when it seemed that Jews' social impulse turned toward Zionism, but the enthusiasm soon died out, and the Zionist organization was shoved into the shadows again and the practical man turned back to his own affairs. From time to time, a Zionist speaker came to our town. He would openly show up in the study hall between the afternoon and evening prayers, wrapped in a prayer shawl. At times it seemed that he awakened trembling feelings for Zion and for living in the Holy Land, but in truth that was not so. The Second Immigration included almost no Kremenets community leaders. Observant or freethinking, they had not turned from Zionism like the Hasidim. The observant were even against Zionism thought because they looked poorly on gatherings in which men and women took part equally and people sat with bare heads and spoke Russian. The truth is that in the first era of Zionism, many people in the meetings spoke Russian, although the majority of Zionists belonged to the folk class.

For the observant, the Zionist movement was intertwined with heresy. That position later changed, and in 1921 they were already active in Kremenets. In addition to the veteran Zionists, there were the Young Zionists, the Labor Zionists, and the Bund, and an agricultural collective of pioneers had immigrated to the Land of Israel. At the beginning of 1921, the Zionist Organization fought for positions of leadership in Jewish community institutions. The Zionists mostly grouped themselves around the youth leaders, mostly youth from well–to–do homes and a small number from other classes. There were very few people of a ripe old age. There were no clear differences among the various shades of Zionism in that era. The Zionist Organization was like the Young Zionists, but without any special program, only as an active youth sector of the Zionist Organization.

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As for the older Zionists, although they were few in number, they were passionate in their Zionist work: each one of them was an effective personality. They were Attorney Dr. Binyamin Landesberg, Yakov Shafir, Meir Goldring, Aharon Shimon Shpal, Moshe Eydelman, Getsi Klorfayn, Aharon Fridman, Munye Dobromil, Meshulem Katz, and others. All of them cleared a path for Zionist work and a multibranched education network in the era between the two world wars. And they prepared for a large–scale pioneer immigration.

That was a rich era, the last 25 years of Jewish life in Kremenets. Important events and large national deeds were accomplished in our hometown's Jewish community.

 

Education

It is no less important to take a look at how the children of our town were educated. Of course, we lack figures here too–the science of statistics was not popular among us. But it is assumed that about half of the Jewish children of Kremenets were educated in cheders, and the other half in schools. Also, the children who went to the cheders later attended Jewish or mixed schools. One must remember that in Kremenets, there were several dozen cheders and in each cheder, from 20 to 40 pupils. There were three schools in town, and in all three the language of instruction was Russian: 1) a Jewish primary school, 2) a city (primary) school, and 3) the High School of Commerce.

For a short time, there was a private high school for girls, an institute for Jews and non–Jews run by Madame Aleksina. Those institutes of learning educated 500 to 600 children. Middle–class children studied in the first two schools; in the High School of Commerce, because of the high tuition and specialized courses, there were mostly children of rich parents. A large part of those who grew up in that school went to larger towns for higher education: to Kiev, Odessa, Petersburg, and Moscow. When they graduated and became doctors, they settled in other towns. Very few of them returned to the town of their birth.

 

Personalities

It is worth mentioning a few very esteemed people who were born in Kremenets. Some of them were active in the town itself, and others dedicated their energies to outside centers. First of all, R' Yitschak Ber Levinzon (RYB”L), one of the first writers of the Enlightenment era. The town elders remembered him and used to tell about his manner and customs. According to their understanding, he was not much beloved by the people of the town. He was often pushed aside and isolated.

Dr. Tovye Hindes was one of the first Lovers of Zion, a doctor and community activist. He lived all his adult life in Warsaw, nevertheless keeping in contact with his hometown and often visiting with his family. He was in the Land of Israel for a time and was active in his profession as a doctor of medicine, and later returned to Russia and continued his community work. His son, Matisyahu Hindes, was one of the first in the union of Zionist students and a well–known Zionist social worker (who to this day directs a department of the Bank Anglo–Palestine in Hadar HaCarmel). His second son died in 1914, when he was visiting the Land of Israel. His wife died in Tel Aviv in 1943.

Tsvi Prilutski was also one of the first Lovers of Zion members and a founder of Yiddish newspapers. He was known as the publisher of Moment in Warsaw. He was the father of the linguist Noyech Prilutski, whom the Nazis murdered in the Vilna ghetto.

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Dr. Meir Litvak, a community activist and passionate Zionist, did much for his community and devoted his best energies and time to Zionist thought. His great activism is known through the community institutions in the town and for the national funds: a folks–mentsh and a man of letters.

Meshulem Katz, the righteous kohen, was among the first members of Lovers of Zion during his years in Kremenets, and an enlightened person and writer. He was a delegate to several Zionist Congresses. His literary pseudonym was Maze son of Maze. He was the father of Dr. Ben–tsion Katz (Benik), who was director of the Tarbut high school in Kremenets until the last era.

Dr. Arye Landesberg, a medical doctor, was one of the old Lovers of Zion. He lived his whole life in Kremenets and was delegate to several Zionist Congresses. A nephew of Dr. Avigdor Mandelberg, he brought up his son, Dr. Binyamin (Buzi) Landesberg, as a Zionist. He was a Zionist of deep belief, a typical representative of the first generation of Zionists and Lovers of Zion. A few years before World War I, he visited the Land of Israel, and when he returned, he inspired his listeners with his stories about life in the Land of Israel.

Aharon Shimon Shpal was a Hebrew teacher and blazing activist for the Zionist movement and Hebrew. His son was the first child in Kremenets whose mother tongue was Hebrew. He was an idealistic teacher, and he saw in his trade, in teaching, a respected national mission. And indeed, hundreds of his students grew up to be Zionists and good Jews. But he did not merit to see the land with his own eyes. He immigrated with his family to America and died outside the promised land.

And last, last–Moshe Eydelman. Who of the Kremenets Zionists does not recognize the beloved figure of Moshe Eydelman, who remained young in strength and spirit until his final days? His red beard and flash in his eyes completed his inner fire. For him, Zionism was the point, and a private life was secondary. He sanctified all his time and the best holidays for Zionism. He was a delegate to several Zionist Congresses for the Lovers of Zion. In his old age, he immigrated to the Land of Israel to join his son and lived for 10 years in Tel Aviv. He died in 5704 [1943–1944].

There were wise men and great rabbis over the course of many generations in Kremenets. They belong to a completely different chapter, however.

There was one Kremenets resident who hid four Jews, but such people were few. The entire Christian population that resided and lived together with the Jews is standing on their blood, and those neighbors did exactly the same work for the Germans, because the Germans in Kremenets, as in other towns, were few in number. The strength and the spirit of Jewish pogrom was in them, the locals. The non–Jews' houses to this day are stuffed with Jewish possessions that they stole, and that says enough about the horrible story about the end of the Kremenets Jews to anyone who will hear it.


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My Kremenets Album

By Duvid Rapoport (New York)

English Translation by Mindle Gross and Murray Kaplan

To me, the dearest town in the world is my own town–Kremenets.

 

1.

There in the Dubno suburb, not slain but still alive, my brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, brothers– and sisters–in–law, cousins, nephews and nieces, and friends were buried–my entire great, beautiful town, Kremenets.

They say that the earth rocked for two whole days and nights from the trembling of my Kremenets Jews who were not yet dead, lying in a covered–over mass grave,.

Our monument is a living victim.

Kremenets Jews are scattered and spread across all parts of the world, with worries, livings to earn, life's problems, movements, ambitions, and needs. But the yearning of our shared blood unites all of our hearts and desires in undying nostalgia for the eternal Kremenets.

Kremenets lives in every Kremenets Jew.

***

I look back on the days of my youth in Kremenets in a glance back as if through a blue veil. They're filled with joy and sorrow, with fantasy and belief, and with the bittersweet songs of my mother's lullabies on the bloodied Ukrainian earth, destroyed by the Khmelnitskys[1], Petliuras, Poles, and murdering German beasts.

Now, when all the wells of blood and tears have dried up, my town awakens in me like youthful love. Its physical appearance shines for me–mountains, fields and forests, people, heroes and martyrs, personalities. Like suns, they rise on the burnt skies of my world.

Along with my mother's milk, I drank in the aroma of a town that pulsed with ambitions and moved toward humanism, education, and great worldliness.

In my confused memory, young people who were shaken by war, revolution, pogroms, and bloody struggles for release also live–young people with wings. But only a portion flew away; some were brought down at the first attempt, but the greater majority did not even have the chance to spread their wings. Still alive, they were thrust into the mass grave.

Kremenets, the town in the valley, in the hollow, was surrounded by a chain of mountains; the sun rose and set from behind them. As a child, I loved to climb up the back of Mount Bona, look at the town from its peak, and fill myself up with the appearance of her streets, shops, markets, synagogues, and, in contrast, churches, with the entire beauty of Volyn.

It wasn't easy to be a child in Kremenets.

There wasn't enough free time to satisfy a child's enthusiasm.

More than anything else, children were busy. The day was never long enough for a child's work, so they'd also have to work at least half the night.

I'd get up with the morning star, recite my prayers quickly, grab my breakfast and books, and run to the Kretshmar School. From there, I went to Rabbi Berish's cheder near the river. I returned home by lantern. Then we had to sit down to do homework, write “proverbs,” Pushkin, lermantov, and Frug, and learn them by heart.

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Our house was the Vishnevets hostel, so it was always busy, boiling like a samovar. Jews from Katerburg, Lanovtsy, Pochayev, Vishnevets, and neighboring towns and villages were horse traders, also trading in grain, pelts, wool, linen, dry goods, sugar, flour, and herring. While they sold, they also held discussions of world matters and gestured with their thumbs about matters of Torah so loud that the ceiling almost lifted.

They were good, well–meaning Jews, these arrivals for a night's lodging at our welcome house–travelers bundled up with icicles woven into their uncombed, knotted hair. They were kind people. Some of them even sprinkled some humor into their clever conversation, and although their beards made them look older, they were young, most of them in their 30s and early 40s.

But of all of them, the portrait of Yone from Katerburg, who had one eye, remained distinctly in my memory. His other eye was shut. He always looked like a peasant, with a face like a plowed field, but wisdom came from his mouth–the mouth of a philosopher horse trader.

His stories about the Dubno magid[2] excited people's imaginations and enthralled them with their cleverness. His anecdotes caused rollicking laughter–he was a true Hershele of Ostropol. People were attracted to the blind Yone, who never lacked for an audience. People's weariness and daily worries left them. They were transported to faraway worlds when Yone told stories at night, and he would do so for whole nights on end.

The air in the house was filled with tobacco. The non–Jews slept on the floor, snoring hoarsely. I would stay awake until late, working hard on algebra problems, discovering countries and oceans, and learning about the czars, until, exhausted, I fell asleep at the table. When my mother woke me–“Dudel, undress, go to bed”–I'd scratch my head and, with sleepy eyes, run outside to see if there were still stars in the sky–“Oh, I haven't said the evening prayer yet.”

My beloved Uncle Meir would often take me out of my warm bed, wrap me in quilts, and carry me to his bed to sleep.

Uncle Meir was a handsome young man of about 21, with a round face and laughing blue eyes. He was tall and proud, and he wore a long shirt buttoned at the neck and tied with a tassel.

He had a small shop in the market where he sold smoked herring, carob beans, and dates, and he would give us–the little children–sweets with a generous hand. He and his mother, my grandmother Blume, lived with us in a side room in our house.

My grandmother Blume–small and wrinkled, with deep crevices on her pretty face–was a good soul. She lived for everyone else. She made sure the poor of Kremenets had challah for the Sabbath. God probably loved the poor, because if not, He wouldn't have created them in such great numbers. But the Kremenets poor loved my grandmother Blume. For them, she was the town's goodness.

Every Friday, wrapped in a colored shawl and often wearing patched shoes in the worst mud, snow, and storms, she went around to the homes of the more fortunate to gather challahs for the poor. She went without her own deserved rest for the sake of people who needed to stretch out their hands for help.

It was hard to be poor and even more difficult to be a beggar, especially for people who were proud. My good grandmother took on the task of bringing the holy Sabbath to the poor Kremenets homes without embarrassment or shame. On Sabbath eve, before candle lighting, they'd already come to her quietly for the Sabbath challah. There were, however, also some poor people who were ashamed to come even to her for their portion of challah. That was when she'd ask me to bring it to them. I had to put the challahs in a place where nobody would see them.

[Page 97]

Well, they managed the entire week with a dry crust, but for a Jewish home not to have challah on the Sabbath was a great tragedy for my grandmother Blume. This caused her aggravation.

(By the way, let it be noted here that for more than 40 years, my aunt Chaye Rapoport in New York was like grandmother Blume in Kremenets. Her entire life between the two world wars was devoted to Kremenets Relief–she was a human being, an angel. She was truly the mother, the sister, and the heart and soul of Kremenetsers in the United States. Until her final moment, she lived for those who suffered and for needy Kremenetsers scattered across the world. She passed away on 20 Elul 5709 (1949). Honor her memory!

 

2.

August 1914

Like a dark cloud, reservists descended upon our town. From the mountains, fields, villages, and neighboring towns, they arrived in wagons, on horseback, and on foot, Christian and Jewish men, with packs on their backs. They had come to enlist in the military. They were accompanied by crying fathers and mothers as well as wives and children, who accompanied them sadly to the station to go off to war.

This first wave of mobilization also swallowed my good Uncle Meir, with his sweet, laughing eyes. I accompanied him to the station in the Dubno suburb, and when the train departed, I remained there for a long, long time and looked for him in the shiny rims of the wheels. I couldn't go home. I cried constantly because my nine–year old child's heart told me that I'd never see him again. He wrote letters saying that he'd become a musician in his regiment in Poltava. He played the trumpet, but before long his regiment left for the front. The first German bullet near Lublin took him away from us forever.

Later, when my father was mobilized, he hid for a couple of weeks somewhere in a peasant's stable. When they caught him, he was put into the jail in the Dubno suburb. We brought him hot food every day. Many times, they wouldn't let him have the food. So, frozen, we waited late into the night and then returned home, brokenhearted, with a cold pot. The prisoners would look out at us from behind the barricaded jail windows on a top floor.

My mother, sisters, and brothers would shout up to them to send our father over to the window, but the young, strong ones wouldn't let him get near the window. We could only see him when an armed guard led him into the jail yard.

One time, an excited Jew came running up to us, shouting, “They're taking your father to the orchard!”

Groups of people stood on both sides of the street, looking at the gendarmes on horseback with their unsheathed shiny swords, leading a prisoner in chains: our father. How odd, my father, with his thick, long, black beard, walking proudly and dressed in a gray cape that reached his shoes. He looked taller, my father, like a giant in chains.

The clanging of chains filled the air. When he saw us, he broke down. In a choked voice he said to us, “Children, go home,” and burst into tears.

For the first time in my life, I saw my father cry, and all of Kremenets along with him.

The gendarmes on horseback began to wave their swords and shout, and they chased the people out of Sheroka Street into the surrounding side streets.

After being held in jail, he was sent to be a soldier.

[Page 98]

Dressed in tall boots, with a long, patriotic black beard, a gray fur hat on his head, and a rifle on his shoulders, he looked as if he had marched out of the of “1,001 Nights” stories.

Coming home from the “service,” he would be quite smug about his importance to the army. He told us how he had stopped a general in a carriage and demanded a “permit” from him.

Once he was guarding a bridge across a road when, suddenly, out of nowhere, a carriage pulled by four horses appeared. He pointed his rifle, prepared to shoot, and shouted “Halt!” Out of the carriage jumped a general bedecked with medals; he introduced himself. The general was so pleased with my father's attention to his post that he called out, “Well done, old man!” and rewarded him with another ribbon.

War and suffering had a particularly bad effect on young women. The men had been taken away from them, and they didn't see them for years. We called them the “soldier women.”

Women without men are contentious. Often, they would pour out their anguish about everything that was in their hearts to the head official at the magistrate's, where they received minimal government help.

The front was far from Kremenets: in the Carpathian Mountains of Galicia. Day and night, sometimes for weeks and months, entire regiments, corps, and armies passed through our town, all headed to the front. During the day, the soldiers invaded the stores and bakeries and bought all the rolls, cakes, sausages, and every other kind of food. During the long, dark nights with their cold autumn rains, the town seemed dead. We slept restlessly behind closed doors and windows, prepared to run to the cellars or attics at any sound to hide from the Angel of Death.

Soldiers marched in the streets in the deep mud; those on foot and those on wagons were soaked to their undershirts.

Often, the ones on their way to the front would meet others who were returning from the front. The return march of the bloodied, wounded, bandaged, tattered, and demoralized men was a path to destruction. The encounters were heartrending.

I spent the entire night lying next to a small opening in the shutters and looking with childish feelings of empathy at the sorry chain of humanity outside. I would often hear moans, cursing, and soldierly prayers for their black lot. And they continued, continued, continued to walk with no end in sight, people and animals, exactly the way the sky and sand stretch out in the desert.

On a starry night when the armies were not roaming through the streets, a soldier–a German–suddenly came galloping in on a horse like a star from the sky and began banging on our door with his pistol grip, almost breaking the door down.

Frightened, we all got out of bed and prepared to make a run to the cellar or attic to hide from the danger.

“Who's there?” My mother asked.

“Lend me a pail,” the rider answered, “to fill with water from the well to help my horse.”

Gathering up my courage, I took two kettles and went out into the starlit night to draw water for the thirsty animal. Steam rose from the horse's hide. The rider's silhouette was reflected in the full moon. His fur cap frightened me. My hands trembled as I tied the pail to the handle. My teeth chattered. I was afraid the soldier would throw me into the well. From the darkened house, tens of eyes watched through the cracks in the windowpanes.

[Page 99]

Oh, how frightened I was of the well near our house.

At that moment, an episode involving Efraim Kugel's family swam into my thoughts.

Many years ago, when the well was being dug, all the neighbors contributed to the expense. One Christian family got stubborn and didn't want to contribute their share, so someone from Kugel's family said that they wouldn't be allowed to draw water from the well.

Late at night, when everybody in the Kugel home was sleeping, Ivan, the one–legged son of the Christian who didn't want to contribute his portion to dig the well, went into the Jewish house with a sharp axe and murdered the sleeping family in their beds. They arrested the murderer and sentenced him to 20 years in Siberia, and a couple of years later the Czar had an amnesty and he was released. He returned to the town, the one–legged murderer, with a wooden crutch and bloodshot eyes, and the Jews were afraid of this Christian–afraid of his gaze, which froze their hearts.

***

In the spring, the Potek swelled with yellow running water.

The melting snows would carry yellow–gold lime with them and, with great energy, streamed into the river like a truly large river.

We children were filled with joy. We would paddle around in the stormy waves with little boats and boards. Barefoot, with long sticks in our hands, we chased our floating boats, ran to free a boat if it got caught on something, and sang out together in ecstasy, “Ay, ay, ay, the Potek brings, the Potek brings, the Potek brings.”

The happy holiday of Purim, from which Jewish children derived so much pleasure, arrived before spring, with gifts, hamentaschen, and noisemakers. I especially liked to take gifts to my aunts and uncles and get a little money from them.

I loved all my relatives, but I gave special respect to my beautiful Aunt Sime and her husband, Mordekhay Vinokur. Aunt Sime, my mother's youngest sister, was the prettiest in the family–blonde, with a shining face, and always well dressed. She looked like an aristocratic dame. Her husband, Mordekhay, was a refined young man with a nicely groomed red beard and clever, good–natured eyes. He was a learned Jew, a wise man, the son of the Shumsk rabbi, a clean, neat person who always dressed in a black frock coat. He had a secondhand clothing store for the village people. The store was in a stone building near the market. The building looked like a fortress. They had two beautiful and talented children–Freyde and Duvid, who resembled their mother and father.

My Aunt Peril had a tavern at the market. The smell of whiskey and sausages filled the air in her house. Her five children, unwashed, wandered about in the unclean rooms behind the tavern, where my Aunt Peril was the only bartender.

Her husband, Yisrael Lande, was sickly, with sunken cheeks. He was always coughing and choking. When he choked, they were always afraid that at any moment it would be his end. Anger peered out from his parchment–yellow face and two deeply sunken eyes.

Aunt Peril suffered quietly from him. I pitied her.

My Uncle Fishel Fishman was a tragic person–wives and children didn't last long with him.

His little daughter, Manye, was adopted by my good aunt Chaye–Rivke. Manye is now with her lovely extended family in Winnipeg, Canada. Aunt Chaye–Rivke didn't have any children of her own, so she gave her brother's daughter the best and finest, and dressed her beautifully in Kremenets.

[Page 100]

My father's sister, Brayndil, was a Cossack (a bold woman), a businesswoman with a nice ruddy face. She could put many men to shame when it came to the legalities of trade. Her husband was Yosil Halperin, a merchant, a cold fellow with a sparse little brown beard and green, restless eyes. He traveled in the world of trade and risk–taking.

A Jew who was a scholar, a Hasid, and a human being with fantasies, he actually became very rich during the war, building on the Shumsker road. They themselves lived on a dark street where the sun never reached. He dealt in pelts, and the smell of the dried pelts emanated from their house. Their three sons followed in their father's footsteps– Yankel, Yisrael Asher, and Arke. Arke the Red was my best friend growing up.

Two of the four daughters live in Israel: Slove in a kibbutz and Chaye–Feyge in Haifa. I liked to bring them all presents at Purim.

In the summertime, on vacation, all the students from the big cities came to spend time with their families in Kremenets, the place to which everyone was drawn.

During the cool evenings, we took walks along the Shumsk road to Mount Bona and Mount Vidomka, sang romantic Russian songs, and lost ourselves in a dreamlike world.

Sometimes there would be a theater performance or a ball, for which everyone prepared for weeks with anxious hearts.

To this day, I can still experience the taste of one of those spectacles – Goldfaden's “Kaldunye.” Like bright stars, the lovely Kremenets girls lit up the town with their innocent romanticism.

We valued education. Young people burned with a boundless curiosity to know. The desire to learn existed in everyone. However, not everyone had the opportunity to quench that thirst–for the poor, it was a luxury. But Kremenets Jews took away from their businesses and sent a child to learn. Jews in the neighboring little towns and villages did the same.

As a child, I fell in love with the teacher–the beautiful Roze Raykes, my eldest sister Rivke's friend. She had large, black eyes, a genteelly sculpted face, passionate lips, and the tall, flexible figure of a ballet dancer.

From behind our neighboring fence, we boys from the Kretshmar School pelted the girls from the Alekseyev High School with snowballs.

***

A lot of refugees from Radzivilov fled to Kremenets to escape the fire of war. They also came from Berestechko, Brod, and Pshemishl, Jewish refugees seeking protection and warmth in Jewish Kremenets.

They arrived in wagons full of children and bedding, on rundown horses, dragging themselves from the fire until they found a resting place in Kremenets.

The Kremenets Jews accepted them with open arms and took them into their homes–anyone who volunteered an attic, an alcove, a kitchen–so that Jews should not have to wander about the streets and suffer hunger and cold. The Kremenets Jews also welcomed Jewish soldiers who found themselves in and around town on the Sabbath and holidays. Jews took a soldier or two home with them as guests at their Sabbath and holiday tables.

Once, a policeman rode into town leading a crying little boy by the hand. From the boy's appearance, you could see that he had already been on the road for days and nights, miserable, without strength, hungry, and tattered. He looked like a piece of wrung–out cloth near a river. It had rained, and he was also soaked. On seeing this unfortunate boy, the Kremenets Jews began to talk: “Oh, a Jewish child ….” “Don't speak to him–he's crazy, a prisoner,” the policeman said.

[Page 101]

It wasn't long before the guard found himself in the mud. He was very drunk from the quart of vodka with which our Jews had greeted him. The boy was fed, washed at a ritual bath, and taken to services at the Kozatske Study Hall. The crazy guard was arrested.

By the way, I liked to listen to the elderly Moshe Chayim Chazan praying in the Kozatske Study Hall. He had a broad, white beard and a heavy step. In his very late years, he lost his voice, but he still wanted to be a service leader, so he stood at the dais more crying than speaking– the tragedy of old age….

 

3.

February 1917

When the Revolution, sounding like an earthquake, overthrew the reign of Czar Nicholas, the echo of that event was heard all the way to Kremenets. Like a hurricane, the wave of masses flew on wings of freedom.

In those heady days, people expressed themselves through conventions, demonstrations, and meetings. Flags, banners, and revolutionary slogans marched out at a steady pace.

Everything happening throughout the world happened in miniature in Kremenets. Political parties; societies; unions; cultural groups; and national, religious, and cosmopolitan movements, with rules and representatives, grew in the same milieu. All parties and sections of Kremenets Jewry took part.

The central point for these freedom parades was the house of the world–renowned Jewish genius, Yitschak Ber Levinson.

Although many of his contemporaries abandoned him because of his writings against the wealthy and the social hierarchy, and because of his heretical activities, 20th–century Kremenetsers remembered him with loving warmth. On every holiday, people marching through the Kremenets streets would stop at the old one–story cottage near the hospital at the Vishnevets city gate where the immortal Y. B. Levinson had lived and written his works. The wooden cottage with its stone steps stood dingy and dark, without a ray of sunlight. In the back rooms, mold and dampness reigned. A little window looked down shamefacedly from the attic in which Y. B. Levinson had worked day and night. The floor was earthen.

Before my time, a poor Jewish family lived there, and when a holiday approached, they would wonder how to spruce up the exterior of their wretched little dwelling; how to hang banners and flowers and placards, like the intelligentsia and the best city orators bring out for the masses, while they had only their heavily trodden stone steps.

In the days of the Revolution, this house was celebrated in song by the Marseillaise, Hatikvah, and the Bundist promise.

Steeped in dreams and Jewish history, these stone steps, pathetic walls, and scary exterior windows took on the happiness and torment of the new times and themselves, like mortgaged secrets–secrets of oncoming storms and catastrophes.

***

The revolutionary fervor did not last long.

The first flush of freedom was drowned in rivers of blood from civil war, revolutions, and counterrevolutions. Governments changed overnight. Everyone lived in fear and panic.

In 1919, the Bolsheviks took over, and the Jews welcomed them with open arms. In the huge electioneering meetings, many Kremenets young people willingly joined the Red Army.

Students, laborers, sons of small business people, religious school students, and the unemployed, who saw no future for themselves, joined up.

[Page 102]

In a very short time, a Kremenets brigade was formed, with Gletshteyn, a student, as commissar.

Gletshteyn, a talented student in university courses, was a fiery orator.

In their passion for their new ideology, even the sons of the well–to–do dragged their elderly fathers and mothers, the capitalists, to wash the floors of the administrative offices of “Revcom,” the revolutionary committee rooms. To the world at large, this brought out feelings of distaste and resentment, but they took comfort in the old adage: it is the children's disease of the Revolution.

***

An alarming event once took over the city: the village peasants living near Vishnevets were rebelling against the Soviets. To pacify them, “Revcom” sent out the Kremenets brigade, which consisted mostly of our boys.

I can see them now before my eyes, these Kremenets fighters, barefoot, in tattered clothing, in civilian rags; this one with a torn sleeve on his jacket, this one with a torn shirt; this one with a student's cap with a shiny visor, and this one with a thick head of hair blowing in the spring wind. With faith in their hearts and in an intoxicated fervor, they went off to meet the rebellious village peasants, never to return, with red bands on their arms, rusty rifles on their shoulders, and a song on their lips.

Not well trained in fighting, not well led, naïve in their belief in their cause, they lost their young lives at the hands of those they came to pacify.

Arriving at the village, they began to reason with the peasants.

They left their weapons in the middle of the field and called the peasants to a meeting near a hill. The village people stood in the background.

When Gletshteyn, the orator, began to speak, an elderly gentile stepped out of the village crowd and yelled, “Hey, guys, this snot–nosed Jew has come here to teach you a lesson!”

Nothing more was needed. The peasants grabbed the unattended rifles in the field and slaughtered the whole Jewish brigade from Kremenets.

On a hot summer night, a young gentile, disheveled and sweating, ran into town and broadcast the news that everyone had been killed.

In many Kremenets homes, the mood turned to Tisha B' Av[3]. Candles were lit; mothers and fathers mourned their young children.

Our neighbors were among the dead: Yochanan and Freyde Bresler's son and my school chum, Yoshke. There were two brothers, Yoshke and Khatskele. Both were killed before they reached their 20th birthdays.

Yoshke was the younger and taller one. The kid was a giant, with a swarthy complexion and a shock of sandy brown hair. He was as tall as a cornstalk at harvest time. By enlisting in the Red Army, he obviously gave up his young life.

Khatskele, the older one, was much shorter, with a sunken chest. He walked bent over as though he were a hunchback. He looked like a scared rabbit. His fear would make him look to the rear. Without turning to look back, he always knew what was going on behind him.

I was standing on the sidewalk when the “barefoot gang” (the Bolsheviks) passed through the Vishnevets city gate. They then left and went over to the rebels. In the front marched their commander––the student Gletshteyn.

Among the crowd, I recognized my school chum, Yoshke. In a greasy green jacket with a tattered collar, his head held high and his rifle on his shoulder, he motioned to me with his hand.

[Page 103]

“Leave! Get out of here!” At that point in time, who could be compared to him?!

After the slaughter of the Jewish brigade, the Bolsheviks left Kremenets. The Poles took over the city.

How Khatskele survived the peasant's slaughter, I do not know. I do know that when the Bolsheviks retreated in panic, he remained in the city. He hid in his parent's attic. His parents dealt in linen and wool. So for some time he lay in darkness up in the attic, covered over with bales of wool. He lay there until Gurski––the Monopolizer's youngster–found out about his hiding place, and they brought in collaborators, who then summarily shot him to death.

And that is how Yochanan, the good and pious man, the reader of the Torah in the synagogue, and his goodhearted wife, Freyde, lost both their sons. Lost on the sacrificial altar of the Russian Revolution.

***

Kremenets was renowned for its great personalities, who found their final resting places in its two cemeteries.

Its gravestones are a chapter containing more than 500 years of Jewish history that has yet to be researched.

The story that I wish to tell here and now is about a Jewish grave on Mount Bona, on which the Poles took revenge.

In 1919, when the renowned Bolshevist regiment called Tarashtshantses marched through Kremenets, they left us their greatest commissar as a souvenir. He was a young Jewish man from deepest Russia. A giant[4] of a young man–a man like a mountain! He was big and tall like the King of Bashan. His Red Army buddies called him “Uncle” even though he was in his late twenties. Friendly to all and loved by all, he treated our young ladies like a hero out of romance novels would.

Once, while walking with a lady friend on Mount Bona, he became so enamored by the intoxicating panorama that he made a wish that he wanted to be buried on this mountain when he died.

A couple of weeks later, he was killed fighting near Lemberg. He was brought back to the city ceremoniously, his casket drawn by eight black horses… A military band played Chopin's March for the mourners. People sang dirges. The whole city filled the streets to watch the funeral procession. His body was already deteriorating, and a stench emanated from the casket. Soldiers were applying disinfectant, and the hero's will was done. He was buried on Mount Bona.

Later, when the Poles captured the city, they disinterred his bones and scattered them to the winds.

***

In 1921, my older brother Yankel and I left Kremenets. At that time, we walked along the paved streets, drinking in with our eyes our last view of the city that was so dear to our hearts. The city looked tearful as we bid her goodbye.

I, too, felt like crying, but my tear ducts were blocked. We walked around the station for a long time waiting for the train, taking in long, soulful breaths that poured out of our hearts like strong cries, to give an idea of the mood we were in. Yet I could see envy in everyone's eyes. The youth of the city shivered like a bird in a cage, trying to be free and fly away! But there were no possibilities.

I left my beautiful, dark–eyed sister Gitil in the hands of the killers. Later she married a good man, Shmuel Shapiro from Shumsk, and they had four dear children: Meir, Duvid, Avraham, and Sheyndele.

[Page 104]

My quiet, innocent sister Yakhed, along with her husband Nachum Raykhman and little son, Dudel, as well as my two younger brothers, Itsik and Leybush, were slaughtered.

But go cry in protest when all the countries of the world closed their doors and refused to grant visas so that people could live on God's earth.

We were only able to rescue our dear parents and our little sister, Sheyndele, who now live in New York. My sister Rivke and her husband Shmuel Markovetski, from Korets, departed for Buenos Aires, where they have bloomed into a fine, honorable family.

Looking back, painful thoughts come to mind. What a fine congregation of Jews there was in Kremenets, and it is no more.

If the cobblestones on the streets, the walls on the houses, and the earth on the mountain could speak, they could relate a lot more than human imagination can depict.

The light and shadows of Kremenets convulse in my blood and in the depths of the earth and in the heavenly veils. I offer a prayer to the Creator of the world and say, I cry from the “depth of my being”!

Maybe there is still a Kremenets somewhere, but in the same way that I cannot imagine an ocean without water, a desert without sand, or a heaven without God, so I cannot imagine a Kremenets without Jews….

 

Rapoport Family of Kremenets

 


Translation Editor's Notes

  1. Bogdan Khmelnitsky led the Cossack and peasant uprising against Polish rule in the Ukraine in 1648, which resulted in the destruction of hundreds of Jewish communities. Simon Petliura led Ukraine's struggle for independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917. Return
  2. The Dubno magid (preacher), Yakov ben Volf Kranz (1741–1804), was born in and preached throughout Poand, finally settling in Dubno. Hershel of Ostropol is a prominent figure in Jewish humor. He is based on a historic figure in Ukraine during the late 18th or early 19th century. Return
  3. Tisha B'Av (literally, “the ninth of Av”) is an annual fast day in that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel, as well as other tragedies that occurred on the same day. Return
  4. In the Bible, Og (meaning “gigantic” in Hebrew) was an Amorite king of Bashan. Return

 

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