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[Page 155]

Kremenets, Where My Cradle Stood

By Dr. Teresa Bik (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Tina Lunson

 

Images

I was young, very young, almost still a child, when I left Kremenets, my little birthplace, when Fate tore me from my town and brought me to Argentina, where I have experienced many winter storms and had little summery sun, but the images of my old home, the events that played out before my childlike eyes and very often touched my young little heart– I will never forget those images of my childhood in my birth town.

When I look back at the distant past of my childhood, I see as if through a thick fog, the complete poverty from which such greatness arose, a kind of sacred mercifulness and self–sacrifice that captivate my heart.

 

A. Synagogue, Poorhouse and Old–Age Home

Perhaps it is a little odd that I do not depict the children of my time, but only the synagogue and the old–age home of the hometown which I left so young.

But so it is. We lived by the Pontshakh right across from the synagogue, near which were the old–age home and the primitive hospital for the poor. The image of the old men and women, the sick people in the hospital, and the poorhouse folk were the only interesting experiences that filled my young life and the life of the friends that I played with there, so close to Jewish poverty.

I write today “we played”–in fact I want to write, “We starved along with them,” because this was in the middle of the great hunger after the great war and revolution. The want was enormous then, and however hungry we children were, it did not prevent us from stealing a potato from home and taking it to the hospital or the old–age home. Our joy was great when we saw how old, bony hands stroked the potato and looked on it with such love and at us with such gratitude.

During that difficult time, many other towns brought their old and sick and those suffering from hunger to Kremenets. Among them were many refugees who had no one who could sew on a button for them or wash a shirt. Religious, God–fearing women in those days forgot about their own children and helped those people with whatever they could.

I will never forget the quiet woman Gitil, who lay for years in the hospital, a cripple. She quietly accepted her suffering and tormenting hunger; nor will I forget the mute stranger who wandered around the poorhouse and could not speak, while his black eyes silently screamed out his hunger. When I once brought him a small piece of cornbread, I saw tears in his eyes. Those tears still burn me today.

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The administration and the home for the aged

Among them the “well–known” characters Moshe “Hipsh,” cabinetmaker, and Chaye Freyde (the wife of the Great Synagogue sexton)

 

B. Pillar of Light in Jewish Poverty

From the time that I remember in Kremenets, there were a lot of Jews from other places; they filled the buildings of the old–age home, the hospital, and the poorhouse and even the houses of the poor, who made a place for the starving and homeless.

The crowding, the unhygienic conditions, and mainly the hunger opened the way for various contagious diseases, of which the most terrifying was typhus: spotted typhus and hunger typhus.

My mother, may she rest in peace, did not consider the threatening danger of contagion. She went around among the sick, and she did get infected and fell victim to it, as did a woman she had tended and from her, her whole family. The epidemic gnashed its teeth as if to devour the entire town, and it appeared that not one of us would live.

But the warm heart of Dr. Landesberg watched over the town's poor. For poor Kremenets Jews, Dr. Landesberg was like a pillar of light from which everyone drew light and life.

Dr. Landesberg was also the one whom I have to thank for–if not my life, at least the fact that I can walk on my own two feet. After a year–long treatment, he healed me from a childhood paralysis, and many others like me in Kremenets got their lives back thanks to Dr. Landesberg.

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C. The Angel Rafael

During my childhood, Dr. Landesberg was already quite elderly, but he never considered his age when he had to go save a patient.

I saw the grey–haired old doctor every day, not just walking, but running past with his little case, in which he had packed an entire pharmacy.

When I look at modern times and modern doctors, young or old, I ask myself: What has the whole rise of 20th–century culture given to us? What have thousands and thousands of new books given us? Yes, they cannot protect against a simple maniac destroying the world; they cannot contain the Nazi beast in its gruesomeness; but they have not created a lot of idealists like Dr. Landesberg.

He flew around with his little case from one poor street to another, visiting the houses where the epidemics were rampant. Here he placed cupping glasses, there he injected serum, and almost everywhere, instead of taking payment for his visit and for placing his life in the nest of typhus, he just left some medicine that he himself had prepared and brought with him in his satchel.

 

An Operation with Medical Personnel from the Kremenets Jewish Hospital.
Surgeon: Female Doctor Polanska

 

He was not one of the doctors who prescribed chicken soup in a poor home, where there was not even a piece of dry bread; he considered the patient's circumstances, and Kremenets blessed him and crowned him with the name “Angel Rafael,” who can heal not only the body but also the soul.

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Wherever he went, he left behind a healing of spirit and body for the poor.

In later years, Jewish Kremenets was proud that Dr. Landesberg's son became the first deputy from our Volhynia province in the Polish Parliament, and now we would be very happy if these words could be forwarded to the children and relatives of Dr. Landesberg, may he rest in peace, so that they know that their great father Dr. Landesberg's name remains in the Kremenets Jews' memory forever.

If one of Dr. Landesberg's children and relatives who live in Israel today would receive the honor of being a deputy in the Knesset, he would certainly have a better fate than Dr. Landesberg's son when he was deputy in the Polish Parliament. And I would not wish for any Jewish child to see what my childish blue eyes saw in the Kremenets old–age home, hospital, and poorhouse, with the homeless refugees and their hunger and pain.

 

Golde “the Reciter” as she reads psalms at a gravestone in the Kremenets Cemetery

 

D. About the Cemetery in the Kremenets Synagogue

And, through a thick fog, I see the Sabbath evenings in Kremenets, when we waited until the reciting of “Got fun Avraham.”[1] Meanwhile, we told various stories, and how many times did I hear the legend about the cemetery located in the Kremenets synagogue?

Once, already long ago, in olden times, there was a great misfortune in the synagogue.

A wedding took place, and people were dancing, and all was merry, and suddenly a big storm broke out and the synagogue collapsed, burying the bride, groom, the in–laws, and guests. When the town rebuilt the synagogue, they fenced off a little cemetery in memory of the wedding party.

Of course, young people and little imps, who were not so well liked in Kremenets, did not make much of the legend. They took the thing as they found it, and one jokester, a rich man's son, wrapped himself in a white sheet and sprang out from behind the synagogue, frightening the women. And the rich man's son frightened the women for so long that a few of the heavier women laid in wait for him and grabbed him as he sprang out in his white sheet. They roughed him up, so that he was warned not to dress up like the dead any more.


Translation Editor's Note:

  1. Got fun Avraham (God of Avraham) is a prayer recited before Havdalah, the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath. Return


[Page 159]

Unforgettable Personalities

By Barukh Zaytler (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Tina Lunson

Working people lived along Kravetska Street. Tailors occupied a prominent place among the craftsmen. Clothes menders and hatmakers worked from before dawn and into the night, and a few times a week they transformed themselves into merchants who traveled to fairs in the surrounding towns, selling the results of their labors: jackets, peasant coats, quilted trousers, caps, and fur and fleece caps. They had taught themselves how to sell, and when settling on the cost, they slapped the peasant's palm until it was swollen.

In the early years, when the trade was new, Kravetska Street's lathe operators, or turners, used to travel to Odessa to buy their supplies, the pieces of wood and round cigar–shapes they worked from. The street took them into account, and they became some of the best earners.

I remember that during World War I, my little brother became sick. My parents called in a military doctor who happened to be in Kremenets to look at him. Given that a doctor speaks gentile, they brought in Kopel–Leyb the turner to translate Russian for the doctor. And Kopel–Leyb–my mother said–used to travel to Odessa to buy merchandise, so shouldn't he know some Russian? Of course, Kopel–Leyb did not need to use his expertise in Russian, because once the doctor crossed the threshold, he reached his hand out to my father with a hearty shalom aleichem. In my father's surprise, he forgot to reply with aleichem shalom, and the poor Russian speaker Kopel–Leyb sighed, Here I had a chance to show what a good Odessa Russian I am, and the doctor has to be a Jew!

Mentioning Kopel–Leyb brings to mind an episode from 1918. When the first intelligence units from the Red Army came to our Kremenets, the people ran joyfully to meet them. Sheroka Street was jammed. A detail: our “proletariat power.” Seeing the first Red Army “swallows,” Kopel–Leyb started shrieking [in Russian], “Hoorah! Hoorah–ah–ah! Welcome, comrades!” And in his enthusiasm, he took off his hat (a thing he would never have done) and waved it in the air like a flag. The White followers then made the blessing for lightning, and the older members said that it was not for nothing that Kopel–Leyb was Chaykel “the Kaiser's” brother.

Yanke–Fide the tailor was of another cut–a unique tailor in tailor–land. Because of his work's characteristics, tailoring and sewing, a saying went around town that Yanke–Fide was like a baking oven where you put fabric in and take out ready–to–wear clothing. So his clients did not rush to him, because what was the rush? Yanke–Fide could sew a suit even one hour before Passover! We also knew that if an item of clothing resembled another that he had made, it was not his fault, because a miracle happens only once in a blue moon.

If we talk about a tailor, an artist, this one is no relation! Now we are talking about Vizel, who sewed only priest cassocks and took the measurements down on a piece of paper. And when he had readied a piece of work, he was sure that the priest would not abandon it.

Another type of tailor was Mordekhay–Hersh, a Jew like a pine tree, a polished person.

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He always went around in the street with a walking stick and leather gloves. Really a tailor and son of a tailor, he was something to look at! His father, on the other hand, was a stocky little Jew with a broad beard and always had a sniff of tobacco; he was very welcoming to everyone: so. His son Mordekhay–Hersh therefore did not sew for Jews–only for landowners and important proprietors.

 

Mekhel the woodcarver, Kremenets 1905

 

Kuni Segal was another one from that gallery. A ladies' tailor, he was always careful to make a special effort. A broad, compact little Jew, he walked with petite little steps. A walking stick with a silver head always accompanied his stately gait. A golden watch with a chain stretched generously across his honorable belly. He presented himself as a wealthy man, with a fine apartment, modern furniture, and long curtains at the windows; there were large, long mirrors, and his dressing room was tended by the women who sewed for him and visited by the rich landowners' wives, as though they were Kremenets royalty. Wives of well–placed Russian functionaries were his clients, and he, Kuni Segal, spoke with them in Polish like a real gentleman, like from a book. He could also dip and bow elegantly for the ladies, and he kissed them on the hand.

Sore–Beyle the instructor and her husband, Chayim–Yankel the cabinetmaker, were of another type entirely. She, Sore–Beyle, a religious Jew who was also knowledgeable in the small points, read Yiddish like water, so well that a group of women were envious of her. Each year she wept bitter tears when she read the story of the sale of Joseph by his brothers. Then she argued with the Master of the Universe as if with an equal. Sore–Beyle also had a talent for keeping company with the sick, whoever they were. If anyone in the family fell ill, they sent for Auntie Sore–Beyle right away. Not much to describe, she set cupping glasses, rubbed a back, gave a quinine powder, and was an expert at incanting a “good eye.” She could measure a fever. People said she was very knowledgeable in doctoring! If a child fell ill somewhere, she promptly took the other siblings into her home so that they would not, God forbid, become infected. She sent them to cheder, washed their hair, bathed them in a deep tub, and even fed them. On Sabbath eve, I recall, she gave me a kopek for Sabbath fruits, extracting a promise not to use the money to buy any candies from Silke–Bine, because first of all too much sugar ruins your teeth and, second, she was concerned that I not become a glutton or a drunkard. For Hanukkah money, she gave me 10 kopeks on the condition that I buy a new prayer book. Perhaps–she maintained–you will pray more fervently from a new siddur.

Her husband, Chayim Yankel the cabinetmaker, was a mediocre artisan. He could not produce any proper piece of work. He was a weakling, small with a sparse little goat beard. When he spoke, his little beard shook. He was not a scholar. He could pray and recite psalms. His psalms–my aunt maintained–opened the gates of mercy. A fine Jew, and honest!

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Chayim Yankel the carpenter also merited dying before the Hitler decrees and was buried in a Jewish grave. His wife, Sore–Beyle, lived into deep old age, though not all her years were good ones. She worked hard from dawn until late night mending laundry. She was saddled with a sick son. The women used to say that the sick son was the same as a beggar who stood near the church. When she was pregnant, Sore–Beyle looked at that beggar, stumbled, and, may it never happen to us. And that broke her heart even more. She was destined to drink from that bitter cup to the end. She was killed by the Nazi murderers, may their names be blotted out.

Carpenters were of a fixed type in Kremenets: Jews with strong hands like oak boards. The smells of oak and pine wafted out of their workshops. Who does not remember Mendel Bas or how people called him “rise and go” because, besides being a carpenter, he was also sexton at the Hasidic small synagogue. He was a third–generation sexton. His grandfather, Peysi, was sexton for many years in the Hasidic synagogue. His grandfather, no great wise man, was blind in one eye. Youngsters had no respect for him and loved to play jokes on him, like unscrewing the bulbs on the lights, turning the lamps around so the glass would crack, pulling out the plug from the water barrel, hiding the hand towels, and other mischief. More than once, Peysi ran after the scamps with a stick, wanting to beat them black and blue. He rarely caught anyone, but woe to those he did catch.

Peysi the sexton lived into old age. He lay ill for a long time before he died. His children moved heaven and earth so that he would not die. When it was mentioned that he would have to give up his soul to the Master of the Universe, his daughters and sons–in–law began shouting in wild voices, running around the cemetery, tearing at graves, going to the Hasidic synagogue with alarms, and opening the holy ark and raising as much ruckus as they could. The elders had to obey them. He breathed lightly. In the end, Peysi the sexton played a little joke on them: he selected a Sabbath–when one is forbidden to cry–and packed himself off.

Peysi's son Berel became sexton in the Bedrik kloyz. His nickname was “bass” because, besides being sexton, he was a professional singer. On the Days of Awe, he sang as a choir member in that same kloyz.

Berel's son Mendel, or “rise and go,” also protected the family's right of possession, and was a sexton and carpenter. In 1926, when the first carpentry workers' strike took place in Kremenets–a strike for an eight–hour workday–Mendel complained to the carpentry workers, “I'm crying foul! What will I do when I finish the eight hours? I'll go crazy with nothing to do!” Unable to persuade him with sensible talk, they helped him “comprehend” with their strong hands.

Avraham and Shayele. The first was a hunchback, angry, always grumbling and cursing, who never answered a “good morning.” He wore boots with cuffs that came up over his knees, boots like harmonicas with a lot of notches in them. People were afraid of him. If you encountered him in the morning with his empty pails, they were a sign that it was going to be bad. Woe to those who tried to run away from him when he was walking with empty pails. Avraham the watercarrier would then open the entire lexicon of curses and oaths that he knew! Sholom Aleichem's stepmother would certainly be red with shame if she heard them….

The other watercarrier, Shayele, was quiet and modest, always returning everyone's good morning. He had a wife, named Toybele, who was also kindhearted. She helped him earn a living: she kneaded dough in the kneading trough and helped serve at weddings and circumcisions. She could talk for 10 people. She not only talked–she was a mill of talk. On Fridays, she worked in other people's homes doing laundry, cleaning, cooking, and running her mouth.

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About Toybele, Shaye the watercarrier's wife, it was known that she danced at all celebrations and wept at all funerals. And she had a talent for lamenting and crying, and to offer a compliment–she was great, literally an artist in her skill.

***

Yes, and there were Jews from other branches of our town. Teachers, educators, and so on. But the truth is, to be a teacher, one always needs an education and a love of the profession. For us in Kremenets, it was a little different. Anyone who could hold a pointer in his hand became a teacher of little Jewish children. There were several such teachers in Kremenets: teachers of children who employed helpers to carry little ones to cheder on their shoulders; and teachers who taught the Pentateuch with Rashi's commentaries, and there were also Talmud teachers.

An example: who can forget Avraham–Leyb the teacher, or Avraham–Leyb “Pipek” [bellybutton]. Of him one could truly say, his name suits him. A wealthy Jew, broad shouldered, a red face, a thick neck, and a big belly. Both winter and summer he wrapped his neck in a big shawl. He taught some 60 children in his cheder. The air in the room was thick; you could cut it with a knife. The youngsters' voices could be heard on the main street; and his intonation of “Say it, boys, aleph with a komets is O” or “and the Lord said” accompanied the big market days.

Avraham–Leyb used to say, “For the Torah that I am teaching them to get into their heads, it is necessary for me to hit them on their backsides with a whip.” And that is what he did. Whipping a child was his great pleasure! Once a child had studied with such a teacher for two terms, he moved over to Elye the teacher. This was a Jew with a long beard, thick eyebrows, and broad shoulders, nothing like a weak or sickly teacher. His father was a teacher, too. It was said that he had been small as a boy and a big joker. He himself used to crack jokes at his own expense: “To me, the smallest kopek is large, and the largest drink of whisky is small.”

During World War I, the children strongly felt the effects of war psychosis. The children began to mimic the adults and march around like soldiers, with one company attacking another. After the revolution, the children began to conduct meetings, singing revolutionary songs and so on. For one teacher who had to teach such big “gentiles”–as he himself expressed it–the students once went out after study and held an “assembly” where the residents of Kravetska Street dumped their garbage. One youth got up on another's shoulders, like an orator, and began to speak against God, the teacher, and all religious people.

As with every conspiracy, here, too, someone reported what had happened, and I remember how the same youths who had yesterday been such heroes stood bowed before the rabbi the next morning, begging for mercy, so that he might pardon them. The rabbi was not so kindhearted; he served up each “conspirator” with his portion of the stick. Afterward, they found a new taste for study, and the rebels were happy that the rabbi had promised not to tell their parents….

Since we are talking about teachers, we must also mention the “writers” Dodye and Manele. They did not write any poems or novels, but people called them writers. They taught children to read and write Yiddish, Russian, and German. They taught both boys and girls, instructing them from a handbook of sample letters. They taught a boy to write a commercial letter, or a letter to a proposed bride or an in–law, and a girl to write to a proposed husband, from a son–in–law to a father– and mother–in–law. They used a great many Germanic terms, because with more “diezens” and “dozens,” the Yiddish appeared more intellectual, as they described it. They taught the most basic Russian and German. The best student could write an address in Russian. To write and speak Russian like a real Russian, one would have to study with the three sisters Sasha, Genye, and Reveka.

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Children of wealthy families studied with them to prepare for secondary school. The first two sisters gave private lessons in their home. The third sister, Reveka, had a permit from the Russian government to open a government school to instruct Jewish children and make them complete Russians. She organized a school in her house, with school benches and a blackboard. On the walls hung portraits of the czar and czarina. The children in the class were forbidden to speak one word of Yiddish. As they were discussing Russification, it was not relevant.

The teacher Reveka had a son, Sasha. He came to Kremenets during vacations to see his mother. He studied in Odessa and wore a student uniform with gold buttons and epaulets, and not one Jewish boy was jealous of him, because he looked like a person from another world.

Reveka did not have a husband. It was said that she got married once, on a Yom Kippur, and on the second day the man disappeared from Kremenets and was never seen again.

Rabbi Shlomele Avraham–Leyb's was a Jew of medium build with narrow shoulders, a handsome beard divided in two, and a typical Jewish nose that ended with a hook. He was very nearsighted. When he prayed, he held the prayer book so close to his eyes that he put his whole face into the book and his nose served as a pointer. He kept himself very clean. Every morning before praying, he went to the ritual bath. When he walked along the street, he kept his eyes on the ground so as not to fall into temptation. Once Shlomele went from praying onto Sheroka Street, and a Catholic procession with church banners was approaching. He was standing up to the test of meeting the procession face to face, so he started to go faster, almost running, as if trying to save himself from a fire. He got to the first Jewish house and started knocking on the door with all his might. They soon let him in, and he blocked his ears with both hands so he would not hear the singing of the Catholic prayers.

If you asked in Kremenets with what livelihood R' Shlomele supported his household, anyone would answer–none. But he did earn something. Himself a Talmud scholar, he studied with Jews who had studied in their youth and in their adult years were busy all day with business, but wanted the merit of R' Shlomele studying with them in their free time. And so they supported him generously. Nevertheless, the main family support was his wife, Seyrel. She delivered milk to religious Jewish houses. A true saint, very unusual, she spoke quietly and helped bear the yoke of the home, so that her husband could have time to study all day and serve the Creator of the world heart and soul.

R' Shlomele prayed at the Bedrik kloyz on the weekdays, and on the Sabbath and holidays, at the Hasidic small synagogue. His place was near the oven, across from the shelves of holy books. He usually arrived late because before he went to the ritual bath, he prayed by himself at home and only then went to pray in public. He usually prayed from a prayer book because he did not want to rely on his memory. Those who stood near him could hear that he sometimes repeated a lot of verses, ostensibly because it seemed to him that he did not enunciate them with proper intent. He stood longer than anyone else for the silent Eighteen Blessings, counting the words. The congregation often became impatient, since the cantor could not start chanting the Eighteen Blessings aloud until he finished, but no one dared dishonor him. Some members of the congregation said he was arguing with God, or struggling with a bad angel, but they counted on Shlomele to overcome it. They called him to read the Torah on the third aliya, and he recited the blessing with great intent. He was the last to go home from praying. Others had already finished their Sabbath meal at home.

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When everyone had left the little synagogue, he kept praying, or studying. It appeared that R' Shlomele could not take his leave from God, as it seemed to him that there was always something else he could do to please the One who lives forever.

During World War I, there was a shortage of whisky, and more than one Jew made the blessing over challah (if he even had that). In the Hasidic prayer room, they introduced a custom that R' Shlomele would make kiddush after prayers so that all of the congregation could have the opportunity of hearing kiddush over whisky. There were several wine cups of varying sizes in the synagogue. When the sexton brought him a small cup to make kiddush, he examined the cup and soon declared it unsuitable because it, according to his interpretation, was not of the proper measure. They would need to bring R' Shlomele the big cup. He poured it full to the brim, closed his eyes, and with intent began to make kiddush. He finished, took a sip, and set the cup aside, laying his hands over it as if the whisky might, heaven forbid, evaporate, and began to teach Torah. He ended with the verse “there came from Zion,” and the congregants answered with “Amen!” Then, with great concentration, he drank down the remaining whisky. So they repeated the ritual every Sabbath and holiday.

Last, but not least. Now we will write a few words about the Guard member Sunye Keselman. Tall, slender, always with a smile on his lips, reticent, and very bashful, he would turn red up to his ears when he heard someone tell a salty anecdote. He was beloved for his simplicity and his loyalty to the Youth Guard movement.

The Guards in Kremenets were conscious youths who could conduct polemic discussions with an opponent and also among themselves. Each group met with its group leader and dealt with an actual question. There were also meetings of all the groups at the local club or in the field around a campfire. Then the discussions would go on into the night, and for all the problems the world leaders had not yet provided any solution, the Guards found the “solutions” around the fire. Only one did not have the desire to solve all the problems–that was Sunye Keselman. He would sit as if at a stranger's wedding and not take part in the discussions that whirled around such large problems.

The Guards knew that the reticent Sunye did indeed have an understanding of all the questions dealt with; he had a proper approach, but he would express it only in an intimate group. In general, he hated to speak and loved to do. Why talk and chatter so much, the point was to go to preparatory training and then move to the Land of Israel and help build the land.

And when the Nazi fascist forces attacked the unarmed Spanish people with the most modern weapons, of course Sunye Keselman had the urge to travel to Spain and help the Spanish people fight against the Hitler–Nazi beast that wanted to enslave the whole world.

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In his Yiddish novel The Hotel That Doesn't Exist, the writer H. Ayalti wrote that the novel was dedicated to two friends who had fallen in Spain, and one was our Kremenetser Sunye Keselman. H. Ayalti wrote:

“You, Sunye, remember how we met that last time in the Madrid sanatorium? You were coming from a 60–day battle around Brunete, where the red–haired brickmaker from Tel Aviv fell beside you, where son of Ari and zif–zif–leader Siomke was left wounded between the battle lines, where your threesome defended a sector for a whole day, which some of our generation call pathetic: the line of freedom against barbarism. In that last conversation you told me that you would write about Spain, and write the whole truth! People would understand you! It doesn't matter, you will write the truth!

“And as we said goodbye, you shyly murmured, ‘I will fall one day, so you should write a few words about me.’ I did not even write about you then, and not in a novel where I barely mentioned your name. What can one say about you.

“In our group we called you simple, a Yehoshue. You were tall, slender, and pale, weak, and you wanted to go work in the swamp instead of pulling corn, as was appropriate for your health. You always shared to the last bite. You went off to Spain, although you were generally not so sharp politically. And you were always in the front lines among the ordinary folk.

“It is too much for a person in life and too little for a hero of a novel. In any case, my hand is not adequate to depict the personification of human goodness that you were. None of us would suspect that you were such a sober, wise man.”

In the novel, a military man, a Bulgarian, relates how Sunye fought the fascists during the attack on Pina, on the Aragon front:

“After a long battle, we had driven the fascists off. We had taken the first houses in a village and were setting up barricades in every corner. But hidden fascists shot at us from roofs and windows. Sunye Keselman was in the front, at the head of a small troop in order to clear the narrow street. He strode out first. I saw him–he was beaming with the joy of victory–and then he fell. Three days earlier, he had been nominated as sergeant.

Sunye was so beloved by the Spanish fighters that they gave up their leave time and begged to go back to the front to take revenge on the vicious dogs who had murdered Sunye.”

We Kremenetsers are proud of such a freedom fighter as our Sunye Keselman, who already in 1936–1937 understood that one cannot stand at a distance when a people is fighting for its freedom, and he left the Land of Israel to help the Spanish people win their freedom and at the same time the freedom of all peoples.

Our Sunye bore his portion in the fight against Nazism, which a few years later bestially murdered six million Jews, among them our mothers, brothers, sisters, and all our loved ones.

May his name, and the names of all the Kremenetsers who fought with weapons in their hands, and all of our martyrs who were murdered by the Nazis, be immortalized. Let us always speak of them and remember them from generation to generation!


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At a Memorial Event in Buenos Aires

By Tsipe Roytberg–Katz (Buenos Aires)

English translation by Tina Lunson

Every year since World War II, all our fellow townspeople gather at the general monument at Tablada in August to remember and honor the 14,000 martyrs from Kremenets, our hometown.

Once, traveling on the bus specially hired by the townspeople society's administration–I myself do not know how I became drawn into the current of the long–departed life–events, activities arose in me as if resurrected from the grave and took possession of all my senses and thoughts: now I arrive at the station. A big crowd, including me, descends from the cars. I recognize the merchants' clerks running around on the platform: Sh. Margules, his son–in–law Samet, Goldenberg, Beynish Direktor, Adler (from Lemberg)–dear, honest people, and that did not keep them from making a very fine livelihood–from exporting and importing merchandise for the merchants to and from other large states. I go along to the other side of the station, where the coachmen are, some with a better, some with a more handsomely harnessed horse in “livery,” some purchased from us in my father's own trade shop. A few coachmen make good–humored jokes at my expense, inviting me into their carriages.

Traveling along the way to the Dubno gate, I recall an episode from 1925. We are two wagons full of messengers traveling to meet a messenger from the capital city, who has come for the campaign for the Foundation Fund. We are a youth group with beaming faces. We sing and we shout into every passerby's face, “The people Israel lives!” as if we could literally make it so.

A few years later, we, the same young folks, were travelling on the same road but coming from the local kibbutz.

I was still quite young, but how can one forget the Jewish mass demonstration on that same Sheroka Street to celebrate the Balfour Declaration. The Polish population marched on that same Sheroka Street every May 3, celebrating Poland's autonomy.

August 1932. The arrest of 62 people for Communist activities. They were all led along that same street to the prison at the Dubno gate. Eighteen months later, the same people were led to the court, which was also located on Sheroka Street (in the Grand Hotel). I recall how agitated the population was during the two–week trial. Every day, the crowd awaited the arrival of the closed wagons carrying the arrestees. Every Christian and Jew, without differentiation, wanted to catch a glimpse of a friend or, even more, a relative. After the painful days of the trial came the sentence, to lose one's freedom for three to eight years.

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And the three springs I contributed to the beautiful dream of building a new, free world without racial hatred … that last item was strengthened in us the moment we saw our own members and friends, for whom we felt a deep longing, taken away. Yet we were calmed by the thought that we were fighting for a finer, larger future.

Who among us could have believed that we would be so bitterly fooled.

I wander like that with my thoughts over the Kremenets streets in the middle of the same street where I left Kremenets in December 1936. In those days, we were already hearing about Hitler's persecutions. Protests took place–but that did not get in the way of frequent visits from German ministers. We had already heard about ghetto–benches in the universities in Lemberg, Warsaw, and other cities. The economic pressure was so severe that one forgot the black political clouds that darkened Jewish life more and more.

Now I am wandering over my ruined town with its lovely natural setting, the high hills that encircle it. If they could talk, they would tell of a beautiful spiritual Jewish life, of stormy days, deep moments experienced, made tragic by the dear young fighters for and in the wars. The same hills would tell us a lot about the destruction of our nearest and dearest.

The wandering with my thoughts over my ruined town is interrupted when we arrive at the Tablada gate.

The Tablada monument was encircled by Jews from various cities and towns where Jews had woven their lovely dreams. Now all bewailed the great Jewish destruction.

Our oldest resident, Duvid Shikhman, recites “God full of mercy,” and the secretary of the society says a few words of consolation, which are tied to the struggle and development of the Jewish state.

With a heavy heart and a wish for peace for the whole world, we turn back to our day–to–day life.

 

A swimming venue outside Kremenets, where swimming competitions took place

 


[Page 168]

A Little Memoir about Kremenets Jewish Schools
and Cultural Organizations

By Brayndel Skulski–Zaydel (Buenos Aires)

English translation by Tina Lunson

As fate would have it, the emergence of the Jewish school system in Kremenets coincided with my arrival in the town as a so–called refugee, fleeing from the small town of Radzivilov during the World War I years of 1915–1916.

And indeed, the increase in abandoned families with children in town raised concerns about the arriving children, and at the same time some of their own street children, to gather them and give them a little food and education.

That is how the first Jewish school was founded, which was called “The Refugee School” and was located in the old, unfinished Talmud Torah building, on Direktorska Street. The teachers were Shpats and Katz. That school quickly moved to Tsukerman's Courtyard and later to Sheroka Street. The teaching staff increased, with the addition of Ch. Kibelbank, Hokhgelernter, Rozenblit, Fishman, and others.

The school was an elementary school with three grades, where Yiddish reading and writing, Russian, Hebrew, Jewish history, and arithmetic were taught. Besides the refugee children, many Kremenets children attended and so received their first education.

It is worthwhile to remark that until then, besides a number of private cheders, Kremenets had a town Talmud Torah and a higher elementary school for Jewish children–the Jewish Primary School. The language of instruction was Russian, but with an hour of religion, Jewish history, and Hebrew.

A string of other schools existed in Kremenets, such as the Gogolevsky, the high school, the school of commerce, and later the teachers' seminary at the Lyceum. But those were teaching institutes for which one must have had previous preparatory education or else pay a certain fee. So they were educational institutions for the more prosperous classes.

Therefore, I must emphasize the role played by the so–called “refugee” elementary school, which was the first step to the higher schools.

At the same time, schools for children from three to six were established: two kindergartens, one named Dinezon, in Shpigel's house, and the other, “Y. L. Perets,” in Perlmuter's courtyard. Others came from Vilna and other cities to contribute to this goal, such as Anye, the eventual wife of H. Hokhgelernter, Liube, Ester, and Motel. There was also a children's club directed by Sioma Baron.

In those stormy years of the revolution and civil war, when Kremenets, like other towns, passed from one power to another, the schools' language of instruction also changed, through Russian, Yiddish, Ukrainian, and finally Polish.

The Polish authorities turned the school into a Polish government elementary school for Jewish children. And thus the Jewish school no longer existed, but the kindergartens–although they later decreased from two down to one–existed the whole time. It was affiliated with TSYSHO[1]. It was directed by Polya, Gubelbank's wife, and by Pesye Zamberg, and I was also involved to a small extent.

There was an elders' committee for the kindergarten, consisting of Ditun, Karsh, Fingerhut, and later others.

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One must also mention the female Dr. Shklovin, who faithfully served the organization as both a medical professional and an advisor to the elders' committee.

When the specific Yiddish school ceased to exist, the “Tarbut” Hebrew school was founded, as well as a Hebrew kindergarten, and one of the finest projects established was the ORT school, with its own building named after Y. B. Levenzon.

And a few other school organizations: kindergartens, summer play sites (in Tivoli), a children's club, with their teachers, assistants, and activists, established deep roots in the cultural development of children and youth.

There was a lot of singing in Kremenets, too, because the hills and natural beauty inspired one to sing; that was the singing of individuals or groups of strolling youths. The school created an organized chorus, at first in the school of commerce, led by Litvak, son of Dr. Litvak, and later by M. Lemberski. The same M. Lemberski was a talented musician, as were his brothers and sister. Besides the school chorus, he founded a general town choir, Hazemer, through the Zionist organization then located in Tsukerman's house. The choir's activities were disrupted when Lemberski left, although later the choir was reorganized and gave concerts to great success.

There were also two large, beautiful libraries in Kremenets: one at the Zionist organization and one at the professional unions.

The youth were organized, either in the ranks of the Zionists or in the workers' parties. There were drama circles. People thirsted after culture; people read a great deal; people gave up their last groshen to hear a lecture, hear a paper read, or see a good theater presentation. And afterward, one could see the same youth from the various groups strolling in the late hours along Sheroka Street, discussing what they had heard and seen.

So indeed, they were united, the youth of Kremenets, to stand against the Nazi beast.

Greetings reached us from heroes, partisans of various stripes, even from the so–called assimilated youth; we did not hear from traitors.

May their fine, respectable lives and tragic murders be a lesson and an example for our children.


Translation Editor's Note

  1. Di Tsentrale Yidishe Shul–Organizatsye (Central Yiddish School Organization), commonly known as TSYSHO or CYSHO, was established in Warsaw in June 1921 to create a network of secular Yiddish schools under socialist auspices. Return


[Page 170]

Kremenets as I Recall Her

By Nute Zaydel (Buenos Aires)

English translation by Tina Lunson

 

Places and Institutions

The Talmud Torah where I studied as a child received certain rights in 1912 and bought its own building on Direktorska Street, behind Shumski. That year was exactly the 100th anniversary of the victory over Napoleon, and we dressed up in real uniforms and marched at the head with our teacher contingent, Baytler and Shpal, and the “subalterns” Moshe Rokhel and Vaynberg. We sang and declaimed and directed ourselves in a theater play. We pieced together a production of “Samson the Strong” and rehearsed for a whole week; the dress rehearsal was supposed to take place in Yosel Plotke the carpenter's workshop–but when we arrived, we were sent into the kitchen, as the workshop was occupied with the “big people.” Instead of a rehearsal, we spied on what was going on with the big people. It was the first time we heard the Bundist hymn “The Oath” sung, and there was something incomprehensible about the words. That was the first underground movement in Kremenets, in which the Fishbeyns, Fingerhuts, Barshaps, and others took part.

Kremenets–encircled by gorgeous landscapes–was made an exceedingly beautiful town by nature, but my pen is too insufficient to depict that natural beauty. But what I do want to mention are the types and characters of our hometown, such as Moshe “Hipsh,” who was a kind of walking radio and shouted out in the streets all the propaganda he heard on it; Duvid “the Lame,” who awoke Jews to recite psalms with his sweet melodies. When Sh. Ansky came to Kremenets to collect Jewish folklore, he took down several of his melodies, which were immortalized in The Dybuk. I recall Shimon–Chayim Mulyer, a hard–working Jew, a master in his craft, with a very inventive mind. An enthusiastic Zionist, he reared his sons as builders so they could build our own land when the time came.

I recall our folksy, hardworking Jews, like the butchers on their Butcher Shop Street and in their own small synagogue. They worked the whole week, and on the Sabbath they gathered and got into arguments ending in fisticuffs. But when the cantor cried out “and when the Ark traveled,” they all settled down. After services, they went to a kiddush. Among the butchers, Meir Kapetine was singled out as pious and observant, and trusted by the rabbis and slaughterers. His sons, healthy as oaks, although not as religious as their father, worked honestly and faithfully. One became an artisan and was a “blemish on the family.” One went to North America and Argentina. The youngest, Moshe Shive, was a youth like a giant, but he limped. Once, while he was driving cattle for the butchers, a cow stepped on his foot, and he was left a cripple. But he was very strong and unflappable, and was known for his bravery. I am reminded of when in Kiev, in the most difficult times, he brought us a full sack of meat for Leyb Atiets's children, where we lived. When we asked him if the Cossacks had attacked him, he answered us in his typical style, “People don't bother Moshe,” and he held up his strong hands.

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I can see him now in the time of the Nazis, as Moshe did not allow anyone to “bother” him and let the murderers have the taste of those strong hands.

I can see the Kadushke family even now: the old one with the yoke over his shoulders and the buckets walking in front, and the two sons behind him. When one of them ran and caught up to the father, he would scold him. His wife, Sore, had her own livelihood: she sold apples and baked rolls. On Sabbath eve, she would collect challah for the poor. I still remember the melody with which she lamented her husband after he died at the Jewish hospital. No Kremenetser who heard it could ever forget it.

There was a military tailor in Kremenets, Moshe Vaytsman was his name. He was from Feodosia and came to Kremenets with a regiment of dragoons and stayed there permanently. He was a master of his trade, and all the officers and princes respected him because of his mastery. When World War I broke out, he was the first Jewish victim. He was denounced as a spy by some prince and transported deep into Russia.

Of the old, long–established Kremenets families, I will mention the Tshudnovski family–they were “frontier guards,” as they were called. They had the privilege of being village elders, and until 1905 they held the office for many years. I will mention various institutions in Kremenets, such as the guest hostel, where traveling Jews could go for a meal and to spend the night. That place also hosted a Passover seder for the Jewish soldiers in units stationed in Kremenets. The Talmud Torah, where children studied and where the women Nadye Shumski and Sore Kremenietski distinguished themselves; the orphanage at Sore Kremenietski's, where Leybke Rozental faithfully worked; the “OZE,” [1] with its secretary, Chayim Gibelbank, who was also one of the best teachers; the pallbearers' group, where all Jews were accepted, with its manager Kadish Gorenfeld, and other members. I dedicate these few memories to my parents, who were murdered along with the six million martyrs.

 

The Workers' Movement

Kremenets was a town of artisans and laboring Jews. After the1917 revolution, certain political parties, like the Bund and the Labor Zionists, created the first professional unions, of tailors and carpenters, led by members Barshap, Fingerhut, and others from the Bund. The leather workers and trade employees were directed by members Korniets, Piditun, and others from the Labor Zionists. They first introduced the eight–hour workday, took part in the elections to the town council, and later, when national autonomy was introduced, held elections to the Jewish Council. Evening courses in Yiddish were introduced, which involved the best teachers, such as Krusman, L. Grinberg, Henekh Hokhgelernter, Chait, and Leviatin, and the first children's homes were created. During the civil war, after the Bolsheviks occupied the town, the parties began to split, and the professional unions created their own council, established a consumer–cooperative managed by Liubkin, and supported both Jewish children's homes with products that it was impossible to get. When the Poles took the town, the professional unions' work was destroyed, and most of the activists evacuated.

The professional unions renewed their activity only in 1925, when they were in contact with the centers in Warsaw, receiving instructions about how to legalize them. When we tried to organize the first gatherings, no one wanted to rent us a venue out of fear of chicanery from the authorities. We held the meeting in Hertse Pekar's little prayer house, and an outsider took the minutes since none of us knew any Polish. In time, the work was broadened; the carpentry workers, leather trade, and trade employees were organized, and practical work began.

[Page 172]

The work was not easy under the circumstances. Besides the difficulties created by the authorities, there were differences of opinion among the various ideological movements. A large role in organizing the workers' movement was played by the young Yunke Berenshteyn, who died heroically during the Nazi occupation. At that time in Kremenets, great cultural work was going on, with a library and courses. One must mention in passing that that work was going on under very difficult circumstances, on account of provocations by the authorities, and often our activities had to be carried out illegally. But that did not hold us back, as the work was enthusiastic and idealistic. In that sense, I can mention May 1, 1927, when the professional unions decided to celebrate, openly, with police permission. So when rumors spread that fascist students from the Lyceum intended to attack the celebration, the Jewish youth organized to protect the celebration venue, and the fascists lost their desire to provoke us. The celebration came off with great success.

A great deal of cultural activity went on at that time. Well–known speakers were brought from Warsaw, and their lectures were accompanied by stormy debates and discussions. I especially recall a visit by Y. Zerubbabel, who was taken in with great love by the youth; they took him all around the area and showed him the beautiful landscape. There was also intense activity in the social arena with the various movements and ideologies. All that now lies under the ruins of our dear, destroyed hometown Kremenets, which we can never forget.

 

Panorama of Kremenets; in the background, the Lyceum building

 


Translation Editor's Note

  1. OZE stands for Obshchestvo okhraneniia zdorov'ia evreiskogo naseleniia (Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jewish Population). Return


[Page 173]

The Jews on the Kremenets Town Council
(Memoirs)

By Chayim Rozenberg (Buenos Aires)

English translation by Tina Lunson

Mr. Chayim Rozenberg, who has lived here in this country since 1930, was a member of the Kremenets Town Council between 1927 and 1930, when he left his hometown and immigrated to Argentina. In a conversation we had with him, he communicated several episodes from the period when he participated in the town council as a representative of the Kremenets professional unions. From the dates that we have from other sources, we know that Jews that made up a large majority of Kremenets, and some had always taken part in the town's management as early as tsarist times, although they were not allowed to rise to high or directorial offices. Under all the regime changes, the Jews, who were an important component of the population, cannot be ignored, not only for their numbers but also for their economic influence. And even before World War I, under the czarist regime, there were three Jewish representatives in the town's administration: Yosef Bitker, Yisrael Margolis, and Mikhael Shumski. During World War I, a Jew–Azriel Kremenetski–was vice mayor of the town, and for a time he held the office of mayor.

 

Town Council building in Kremenets

 

Mr. Chayim Rozenberg's memoirs extend to the period when the Kremenets Town Council was selected in free, democratic elections, in which Jews made up a full half of the council members.

[Page 174]

Between 1927 and 1930, when he was a council member, the body consisted of 22 members. Of that number, 10 were Jews who represented various parties and social strata, such as Zionists, artisans, merchants, small dealers, and those of no political party. Five council members were Polish, and five, Ukrainian. The two who represented the professional unions were Jews: Chayim Rozenberg and Aba Lisi. Officially, they were not representatives of the Jews but of so–called class interests, but in certain cases they did use the power of their votes for the good of Jews, mostly when dealing with social or humanitarian matters.

According to what Mr. Rozenberg told us, the character of their representation was the following: the five professional unions–the carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, traders, and office employees–created a central bureau that sent its representatives to the town council. “You must know,” he said, “that the Jews represented the absolute majority in several trades, like carpentry and tailoring, and a large majority in others. We represented, so to speak, the workers' class interests, and we were in an uncomfortable position when we had to vote against the issues of the town's Jewish delegates. But then we always had to be the trigger that tipped the scale when the Ukrainians and Poles showed their antisemitic tendencies when dealing with purely Jewish matters.”

As an example of such dealings, Mr. Rozenberg brought up the episode of the Jewish children's home in Kremenets. The children's home was left without means and had been closed for two years. About 50 Jewish children were being maintained in that “home,” children whose poor mothers had to work or who were orphans. The Jewish councilmen introduced a proposal that the children's home be given a subsidy, but the non–Jewish side opposed it. As representatives of the professional unions, we could have remained neutral, but we voted for it, and the proposal for a subsidy was accepted. The discussion around the issue was not without scandals and was distinguished by the attacks of one councilman, Shlapak, a professor at the Lyceum and a well–known anti–Semite. From the other side, the town mayor, Jan Beaupré, a Pole, was a liberal person and consistently had consideration for the needs of the town's Jewish population.

A similar situation occurred when the Jewish representatives demanded a subsidy for the Jewish hospital and the non–Jewish councilmen opposed it. The two Jewish representatives from the professional unions outweighed them, and the proposal was passed. From a union standpoint, the two Jewish representatives convinced them that the workers should be paid for a “13th” month, what we here call aginado, a thing that was a great achievement in those days. Another scandal erupted when they did not want to pay the Jewish owner of the town's electrical generator any compensation when the town installed a generator and his was closed. They did compensate him, but it was far from the amount that was his due.

In general, advised Mr. Rozenberg, Jewish representation on the town council was of a different character than that of the non–Jewish population. The background of the Polish and Ukrainian representation was nationalistic; conversely, the Jewish representation fulfilled a social function and was interested in the town's well–being and its specific problems. Kremenets had a large Jewish population, with its own arrangements, and from the Jewish population, the Jewish representatives on the town council demanded the right to speak out as necessary on general matters.

[Page 175]

The Jewish representatives from the professional unions, although they represented general interests, always stood on the Jewish side when the non–Jewish side showed ill–willed, antisemitic intentions. Then–said Mr. Rozenberg–“we showed that we could ‘sin’ against our proletariat standards with such purely Jewish dealings. Today I regret that I did not do more in that sense.”

According to Mr. Rozenberg's experiences, the following were the representatives of the Jewish population during that time: Meir Goldring, Dr. Zalman Sheynberg, and Zeyde Perlmuter from the Zionists; Yitschak–Yosef Alterman, Maystelman, Chayim Bekimer, and Shaul Brodski from the merchants; Duvid Goldemberg [sic] from the artisans; Chayim Rozenberg and Aba Lisi from the professional unions; Moshe Gershteyn from the small dealers; and Mikhael Shumski of no party. During the Polish period, there were also two Jews in the town administration: Azriel Kremenetski and Shlome Fingerhut.

 

The Kremenets professional union's drama circle in 1929.
The director was Duvid Vinik (sitting in the middle).

 


[Page 176]

Our Decimated Kremenets)
(A Bundle of Memories

By Berel Kiperman (Buenos Aires)

English translation by Tina Lunson

Although Kremenets was reckoned as one of the smallest towns in the Volhynia district, in cultural terms and in social activity it was distinguished as a Jewish community of major cultural importance in Volhynia, beginning with various Zionist organizations like Youth Guard, Pioneer, and others, and later with professional unions, libraries, and sports clubs.

Writing these lines with painful longing awakes scenes in my memory of bidding farewell to the first “guard” on his departure for the Land of Israel. The guard was my friend Eliezer Dabekirer, leader of Youth Guard. All of us guards had gathered in the Sosnov forest near the high ladder that was a marker, a symbol of the war of 1914–1918, when the ladder served as an assembly point. At that very act of farewell, Misha Rabinovitsh took over the leadership of Youth Guard.

It is hard to forget the interesting and impactful life that we guards led. Gathering together after our work on Mount Krestova, we sat around the small fire and chatted and discussed communal, collective, and worldly topics, and for a moment threw off the yoke of the day–to–day raw struggle for a piece of bread. We felt uplifted to the point of possessing an extra soul and did not notice how time raced on or even how the rooster was already crowing…

Another image still lives in my memory of friends, guards from my agricultural collective, when we traveled to the Land of Israel. They were Aharon Gletshteyn and Leyb Yospe. On Sabbath afternoon, our whole troop of guards went up to the historic hill of our Kremenets, up to Mount Bona, and celebrated almost the entire night, dancing a hora by the light of the moon and stars.

Having always lived by my own labor, from my earliest youth until this day, and having countless times taken an active part in economic struggles and conflicts between workers and their employers, I feel it necessary to note several dates and events in the Jewish workers movement in our Kremenets. The first professional union was founded in 1925. That was the tailors' professional union. The needle trade counted–by numbers–as the largest trade. Soon after came the tanners, carpenters, office employees, bookkeepers, and bank clerks. And when the ORT school in Kremenets graduated its first class, a group of tradesmen soon created a metals union. The porters also unionized. And in a short time, the professional movement included all trades and their workers. The years 1926–1927 must be noted as the beginning of the organization of Jewish workers in Kremenets.

In 1926, the men's section of the needle trades presented a demand for an eight–hour workday. That was the first test–shot of the professional movement. They met with powerful resistance from the proprietors, who were also organized into the handworkers' union, and as a means to break the unity of the needle trades and make the strike collapse, they declared a “lockout” for the entire trade and also kept the ladies' section from working.

[Page 177]

In that situation, with solidarity from the other professional unions, a cooperative of ladies and men's tailors was founded as a means to force the proprietors to begin negotiations, and after a short struggle, an arbitration commission was chosen from both sides, and the conflict was resolved to the benefit of the needle trade workers.

That strike, fought for and won by the tailors, stimulated the woodworkers to fight for an eight–hour workday, which they won after great difficulties and material sacrifice. Those trades were the avant garde, the banner carriers in the economic struggle for better living conditions. But shortly, for many reasons and because of difficulties in prewar, Pilsudski Poland, the workers had to retreat and lose many of their hard–won positions, and went back to working 10– and 12–hour days.

At that time, the idea that “man does not live by bread alone” was ripe; that is, not only the fight for a bigger piece of bread would satisfy the worker, and so the professional unions would not weaken after losing some of their fought–for positions, the leaders voted to give the workers something higher, inspiring; something that would encourage, awaken, and elevate; so they decided to celebrate May 1. But since the Polish government would not grant permission, they advised themselves: each managing member would take 10 members with him and go off to the mines. That is how we celebrated May 1 for the first time, albeit illegally.

Drawing conclusions from the May celebration and the reverberation of the political–cultural activities, an interunion commission, composed of two members of each professional union, was created, which arranged for a reading room in a library with modern reading materials. They introduced evening courses, presented lectures on various topics, held discussion groups and checkers evenings, and published periodical wall newspapers; the reading groups were notable, and later a drama circle was created, which saw great success not only among the workers but among the general Jewish population, which attended the various plays successfully presented by the drama circle.

All this was gratifying to the adult and older workers, but the young people were not satisfied; they did not have a place the spend their young, fermenting energy, so they considered building a sports club in which the workers could perform gymnastic and physical exercises.

But first I must tell about a specific episode that in my mind is the kernel of all sports–from scrappers to self–defense and later partisans. This was the restrained Jewish pluck that sought an outlet, straining to be free.

All Kremenetsers know that our town was divided administratively into three parts. In case of a fire, the assigned observer stationed on Mount Bona let it be known what part of town the fire was in through familiar modes and trumpet calls to the firefighters. Kremenets young people were also divided into three groups. And just as in evenings and especially on the Sabbath after lunch, they did not have much to do: they had no desire to go recite psalms, so they played soldiers. The times, the war had provided enough material for such games. As I said, there were three groups. The first was called the Moshkovtsys. They used to meet by Tanchum's orchard, across from the Intimen Theater, with nicknames, near the narrow bridge. That group was passive; they did not hit one another but just did various exercises and other games, and spent the time in a primitive way.

[Page 178]

The second group was “from Tailor Street.” It had a leader named Velvel Meshumed. The third group was from Butcher Street. No leader, no king; it was a democratic group. People just called them “Butcher Street.” The second two groups played war games. From time to time they sent an “ultimatum,” and the next Sabbath afternoon, the “war” was conducted with all details and art of war in one of these places: on Mount Krestova, near the school of commerce, or behind the Russian hospital.

I once walked by such a “war,” which was very sadly interesting. On Sabbath afternoon, the two “armies” came together. They brought along small wagons of stones–they had bullets, even “cannons”–large stones, doctors, stretchers. As soon as the armies were in place, the battle directors, the generals, conferred and designated a time, the battle boundaries, and so on. And the war began. Stones began to fly from both sides. One of the soldiers crossed the designated line, the border, and he fell captive. Someone was hit with a stone, and he was, of course, wounded. Such a war went on for an hour and sometimes even more. After the war, they went back and exchanged prisoners, and as for the stones, if someone had really been hit by one of them, they took him to the hospital to recover.

But thanks to all the fighting brigades, the youth taught themselves how to mount a resistance, when a mean gentile boy bothered him, calling him to fight. They not only defended themselves but delivered good blows, in case they wanted to start up with them again.

That episode of our murdered youth's fermenting energy is always tied together in my memory with the organizing and founding of the workers' sports club. When all the preparations for the founding were ready, the Central in Warsaw was contacted, and a worker department called “Morningstar” was quickly created, a sports club where workers could go after work to play various sports and reach out and call up other departments, or be called out for a competition. And thanks to all this cultural and sports activity, the workers' movement grew and consolidated so much that the town had to reckon with them, and for the town council elections in 1928–1929, the workers put forward their own slate and elected two council members, Aba Lisi and Chayim Rozenberg.

Those are my memories of our decimated, beloved Kremenets and her residents–our blood and flesh who experienced–along with our six million martyrs–a tormented and agonizing path until death redeemed and freed them. But all of us Kremenetsers, wherever we are, will extend the chain of struggle and tradition for a better life and a just world in which such slaughter and plagues are not possible, and in which we will always think of them and make sure our children hold sacred the memory of Kremenets, our one–time home, and our near and dear buried in the huge common grave.


[Page 179]

The Kremenets Yeshiva
(Memories of a Vyshgorodoker)

By Y. Arbit (Buenos Aires)

English translation by Tina Lunson

Around 1910, the Orthodox–observant part of the Jewish community founded a yeshiva named Gate of Torah in the large closed courtyard where R' Moshkele also had his residence, in the last building near the Potek, at the beginning of Mount Bona.

The base, the foundation, of the yeshiva was provided by the great Zvihil, Novograd Volynskij yeshiva, where the “Poltava genius,” the famous yeshiva head, was located. Two leaders came: one older, R' Efraim, with his household, and the younger, R' Motel Skhizher, still young and unmarried. The elder, R' Efraim, was the head of the yeshiva, and the other was his assistant–both were very knowledgeable in Talmud.

A number of young men who had studied there and did not want to leave their teacher and educator came with them. The yeshiva was promptly publicized in many small towns around Kremenets, and many young men of 15 or 16 began knocking on the yeshiva's doors, coming from Verba, Vishnevets, and Vyshgorodok.

The group from Vyshgorodok consisted of these boys: Chayim–Nachum, Melamed, Yosi Shlums, Rakhmiel–Tshuk, Dudik Moshe Shuchts, Samber, Yosi Chaye's, a grandson of Chayim Shmuel Shuchts, and myself, Itse Arbit, son of Yechiel the carpenter. We studied in the yeshiva among strangers who traveled from other places as well as local children, about 80 pupils, divided into two levels: older than 15 years, under the supervision of R' Efraim, head of the yeshiva, and the younger ones, under the supervision of R' Motel Skhizher. The study was exclusively Talmud.

At the beginning of each term–after Passover and after Sukkot–we began a tractate, and at the end of the term we finished it. The head of the yeshiva used to teach us a lesson, a page of Talmud or more depending on the difficulty of the chapter, which we studied and repeated the whole day, until late at night. Both teachers walked among us all day clarifying the difficult passages.

On Thursdays, all the pupils stayed up the entire night observing a “watch,” to review the whole week's lessons, because there was no lesson on Friday; but we had to answer questions posed by the head of the yeshiva, and thus he could tell who were the good pupils and sharp minds and who was falling behind or was generally too weak to grasp Talmud study.

The out–of–town boys were maintained by the town with “eating days.” Each yeshiva pupil was allocated seven local “tables” scattered in different parts of town. We used to share impressions of various notions of providing food. It was a hardship for more than one pupil to go to eat a on certain “day” where he choked on the food, noticing how unpleasant and forced were those who gave him a small amount. Many preferred to fast on such a “day” or manage with purchased bread, if only not to suffer such an insult.

There were also those who chronically lacked a day or two in the week. For those, one of the managers or supervisors of the town–I even remember the name, R' Yosel of the yeast (he lived on Sheroka Street) distributed 15 kopeks, a gulden for each missed day.

[Page 180]

At that time, a boy could live on those few cents.

But for a number of boys with sprouting beards, it was a dishonor to go to eating days, and collective tables were arranged for them at the yeshiva itself. Every morning, several boys were sent out to the butchers and grocery shops and brought back meat, beans, grains, potatoes, and bread, and the rabbi's wife–a good soul–cooked up something every day for those several pupils.

The head of the yeshiva himself looked askance at that. He would refer to a verse where it says specifically that one who wants to study must love eating “days”: “The Chofets Chayim–lover of days–says that if one wants “life,” which means Torah, then love “days”–it says days….” But a verse is just a verse, and you cannot wipe away shame with your hand. And if a boy told him that he was missing a couple of days a week, he would say in a fatherly and good–humored way, “Why such a big fuss over food! Let's make an accounting: Sunday if you don't eat, it is not so terrible; you are still full from the Sabbath; Monday and Thursday are little Yom Kippurs; you have to fast; Friday is already the eve of Sabbath, you are forbidden to eat too much, you must prepare to welcome the Sabbath, and the Sabbath feast; Sabbath itself you have already, although you eat a fig, there are still two days left, Tuesday and Wednesday. Nu, if a yeshiva boy fasts a few days a week, what's wrong with that?”

 

A group of Kremenets Talmud Torah pupils and yeshiva administration and teachers

 

A frequent guest at the yeshiva was the Petrikov rabbi, whose son also studied at the yeshiva. He used to come to examine the boys. Of the local children. I also remember one of Yankel Yashpe's sons and one of Simche Krivine's sons.

[Page 181]

As far as sleeping, the out–of–towners slept in the yeshiva itself on small beds set out for them. It was not very warm, so you could try to grab a room somewhere or warm up by shaking yourself and singing a drawn–out “the rabbis taught,” or immerse yourself in a dispute between the House of Hillel and the House of Shamay with a juicy contradiction of opinion–and forget about the cold.

That is how I came to eat “days” for three terms and learn three tractates: Sabbath, Baba kama, and Chulin. Each time, at the end of the term, when we would travel home for Passover or the Days of Awe, the head of the yeshiva would give us encouraging testimonial letters for our parents. To this day, I have two of those letters in my residence.

Looking retrospectively at that past time, an established fact for 40 years, and analyzing critically what sort of practical use it gave me, it is hard to answer. Because although it had no practical, material use, those years of study left deep tracks in the long–term path of my life, and I have gone many times to the depths of that source to extract ideas for my social work.

 

The Jewish Primary School of Kremenets and its teacher, Shpal (in the center)

 

My “days” in Kremenets left warm feelings for Simche Ayzik the teacher and his wife, Ester–Malke, etched in my memory and my heart. They did not have any children. Very pleasant people, especially Ester–Malke; she was like my own mother, and she always thought it a pity that parents sent their children, even young ones, out to roam around the world and eat at strangers' tables, where they were not always happy. There in that house, every boy who found himself eating a “day” felt that he was at home.

I also had a good “day” with a man who made curved canes and cigar holders, not far from the old bathhouse. I do not remember his name; it was simply a good “day,” without ceremony; but he put his whole heart into his beehives for the market. On Sabbath I happened to eat with the Bibermans on Koznatsheystve Street, a little farther away.

In 1912, I traveled home and did not travel back. In truth, I was tired of “eating” days. But since that time, the name of Kremenets has been dear, like a part of my “self,” inseparable.


[Page 182]

A Bundle of Memories

By Lifshe Zaydel Shniperman (Holon, Israel)

English translation by Tina Lunson

With the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, and much to our regret, our town Kremenets was presented with a “great honor”: the Polish Sanacja government, which had been bombed out by its former good friends, the German Hitlerites, took refuge in the Lyceum. We, the town's population, understood that the moment the Germans learned the government–in–hiding's new address, it would be no picnic for us and our town, and residents lived in fear of bombardment and destruction.

In the evening, late at night, we youngsters who lived near Golde Barshap on Levinzon Street gathered there in secret to listen to the German news, since she had a radio. And so we listened that night as it was announced that the Polish government was in Kremenets. Terror fell on all of us now that we could not avoid our misfortune. Truly, we had not imagined that it would happen so quickly. When I went back to my house, I was amazed to see my parents awake, sitting upright in their beds and looking at me, asking with terror–filled eyes–so, what? Not wanting to make their fear worse, I calmed them down and explained that a war never brings anything good, but that we should be prepared for anything.

The morning presented a fine, a magnificent day. The sun beamed down over the mountains around the town. Mount Bona seemed to reflect it with delight. The dew twinkled like diamonds set into the plants and flowers, which intoxicated the surroundings with their aroma. It was one of the most splendid mornings that anyone could see in our town Kremenets, which was encircled with gorgeous, multihued landscapes. It was exactly Wednesday, the week's market day, so there was a lot of tumult and a strong showing of peasants who had traveled into town. We were standing at the stalls of baked goods that we had at the market. At that moment, my mother and Chayke Kiperman's mother (“Chane the redhead,” we used to call her) came to help us sell them. Meanwhile, I had grabbed up the baked goods and left them at the stalls.

And then, at ten o'clock in the morning, when the market was going full steam and was full of people, cooking with life and activity as if it were a big fair, Hitler's blackbirds appeared in the sky and began to sow death.

Even now, after 25 years, the voices and death screams, the cries for help, echo in my ears. Before my eyes float the death struggles and the mix of human and animal parts. Horses with their bellies ripped open smash into wounded people with torn limbs, who run around in the agony of death, crying for help, and falling down dead. Children shrieking in the chaos, crying Mommy, Daddy! And in the whirlpool, I see Pole Gibelbank running and holding her son by the hand, screaming in bloodcurdling cries, and then the dead hand of the peasant woman who had reached out to receive her change lands on them. I am forced to leap into Sorke Drobni's shop because the bombardment has caught up with me, but then I keep on running. Right after, me a peasant woman sets foot into the shop to protect herself, but just then her body falls into the shop without her head.

[Page 183]

Full of fear, I run to the stall where I left my mother, calling her name. But it all goes black before my eyes–my mother is not here. And now I hear her voice choking in desperation and spot her lying trampled under a stampede of people stronger than she, because my mother was running between the nonkosher butcher shops, it was the only exit, the other exits were clogged with sod and ripped–out electrical wires that must certainly have been the death of many who ran into them. I drag my mother away, bloodied and maimed by the tin roofs that have fallen from the houses destroyed by the bombs, and lead her into the Bezpoyasnik's (Kerpsel) home and bind up her wounds. At that moment, in rushes Chane Kuperman with a wail: Tell me, where is my Chayke? Fortunately, Chayke was soon found, but the unfortunate Chane arrived home to find her son Neshke dead.

I run home by way of various detours to search for my father. Our house on Levinzon Street–still whole–is full of neighbors whose homes are destroyed. They are holding onto my father, not allowing him to go out to look for us. I calmed him down and brought my mother home. Our relative Shaye Ginzberg came in with a cry, begging us to save his daughter Feygele, who was gushing blood from a wound she received from a bomb fragment. I run the whole length of Levinzon Street to them, and this side of the street is engulfed in flames, started by incendiary bombs. I want to go to the other side, but I am drawn to the flames. Luckily, a firefighter came along and simply carried me to the other side, and I made it to the Ginzbergs'. From a distance I can see that a carriage is driving down the hill from the Russian hospital carrying wounded patients. I run up to it and ask the driver to come and take her to the hospital. He flatly refuses. Then I stood in front of the horse, hanging on to the wagon shaft, and did not let them move. (To this day, I do not know where I found such strength.) And so I forced him to take her to the hospital. But unfortunately, my effort was useless because within a few hours, the young life of Shaye Ginzberg's daughter was extinguished. Until late that night, using the last of my strength, I had to help salvage what was left after the raging fire. The same day as the heavy bombardment of Kremenets, the Polish Sanacja government left Poland, abandoning the country and her citizens to chaos.

In the morning, almost the entire population of the town fled to the mountains, afraid of further bombardments. My parents, and our neighbors Katsner, Barshap, Feldman, and the Broyners, stayed in town in our houses, because they had the advantage of two exits in case of that need. All the parents told us children to go to the mountains, but we did not want to leave them alone and stayed together, living in fear in those terrifying days.

When the Dubno gate was bombed, the arrestees escaped from the jail, and the town youth came out to meet them, they went together to the armory, took the weapons from the arms magazine there, and promptly divided up into patrols to protect the town against Ukrainian pogromists. Luckily, we did not have to live through that terror for long, because the Soviet authorities arrived.

My father's weak heart could not bear the torment of the horrible experiences of that time. He was very ill for two weeks. Some managed to visit him while he was ill: Nunye and Dobe Fishman, Malke–Chaye and Yehoshue, Meir Vodenos, and Feyge and Ruven Shumer, and he had the merit to die a dignified death and be interred in a Jewish grave, being at peace with the thought that our troubles were over. My dear mother, poor thing, was envious of him, saying at her farewell to him, “You have someone to mourn you, but who knows whether there will be anyone to mourn my death.”

[Page 184]

And she stated a prophecy, because my unfortunate mother remained alone, and died herself at the murderous hands of the German persecutors, along with all our Kremenets martyrs. Honor their memory!

Thus may these memoirs written in pain and blood be a gravestone for my honorable mother, Chane–Rachel, may her memory be for a blessing, and let us never forgive the criminals and murderers who are still at liberty today! This is everyone's sacred duty for our martyrs' souls.

 

A group of Kremenetsers in Israel

Adela Pulturak, Avraham Shapiro, Yankel Shapiro (son), R. Biberman, Y. Miler, Akiva Zeyger's wife, Akiva Zeyger, A. Gokun, Y. Kaufman (Shikhman), Hadasa Rubin, Yisrael Otiker, Rachel Otiker and her husband

 

[Page 185]

Itsik Trastinetski's Martyrdom

By Lifshe Zaydel (Israel)

English translation by Tina Lunson

In 1937, Poland was in the thrall of a political reaction. Those who held power in Poland revealed their fascist faces with no veil whatsoever. Jew–hatred, political persecution, became the order of the day. The rulers displayed a passionate attention to Jewish activists. The waves of arrests carried out throughout the whole land did not spare our Kremenets, either. That was a result of treachery within the ranks of the Communist Party of Poland group.

On a cold Friday dawn in February, they unexpectedly arrested 36 of our people. Among them was our faithful Itsik Trastinetski. After torturing the detainees for several days in the so–called “depot” (the political police), they took them all to jail. Although we all knew exactly what an investigation meant in Sanacja Poland, we did not imagine that our friends' interrogation in this case would be by such savage methods. We found out a few days later. We heard about the particulars of the tortures carried out on Itsik Trastinetski's body from the man himself, in the last hours of his martyred life.

It was with great trouble and effort that we succeeded in penetrating the depths of the formidable prison. There we saw that Itsik lay there sick in the prison. We used every means to have medications sent to him, but without success. The murderers were invested in having their victim suffer more and longer. That is how he was tormented until spring 1938. One Thursday evening, reviving a little, Itsik was brought to the town hospital still locked in chains. His body was emaciated, his strength gone, so we were allowed to see him on his sickbed. We saw that death was already very close.

Then he told us how the torturers had also broken his morale. Seeing that physically he was entirely broken so that further torture was superfluous, the murderers tortured his closest friends within his sight.: Zaytler, Berele Kotler (Shalom Peyke's son), and others. But Itsik surmounted that. With his last bit of strength in the hospital, he held forth with whole speeches for the patients around him. People hurried from every ward to listen to the heated speech of a person on the edge of his grave. The doctors could not offer any advice about the patient Itsik Trastinetski; they were forced to close the windows so he could not be heard in the other pavilions. They did everything, but they could not close Itsik's mouth. Rather, Itsik laughed sarcastically: “See, my hands and my feet are bound in chains, but you cannot close my mouth…. I am dying, but the idea of human freedom will live and also outlive you.”

And just so, with the call “Long live freedom!” he gave up his spirit. Given that it was six o'clock on a Friday evening, when Jewish custom does not permit burial of a person, we managed with great difficulty to get them to let us take the body to the Jewish hospital. That is how we snatched Itsik–already dead–from the hands of his torturers. We placed the first spring blossoms on the body, but not on his shaggy face, which the police dogs had not allowed him to shave; our dead friend made the impression of someone living, standing at the tribune, holding forth in intelligent talk and whom the masses had covered with flowers.

[Page 186]

His beautiful black eyes were now also, after death, open, and they smiled. We wanted to make a last photographic reception with him, so we put together posters and ribbons and tried to get permission to hold Itsik's funeral on Sunday. They did not promise permission, but on Sabbath morning the police confiscated everything, sealed off the print shop, and arrested the print workers. Also, the hospital was surrounded with a heavy guard, and the assembled crowd was driven away.

The police chased away the people, drove them off, so as not to have any witnesses to their theft of the dead Jewish body: they wanted to steal the dead body and quietly bury him. Meanwhile they contacted the shroud–sewers, Shalom Bak and Maskaboynik, taking them to the hospital, and with their help did everything. We found out right away, and then we would not leave the hospital. At the same time, we mobilized all the young people, and they watched all the roads, even the one leading to the Volover mountains. Among that population at that point was someone who was surprised by that movement and felt sympathy for the pursued, since the authorities became alarmed and brought in the mounted police. All Sabbath day and into the night, they kept driving away people who gathered around the hospital, and they did not spare any blows.

At four o'clock, as dawn began, the police brought out the casket with our heroic friend's dead body and went off with him in toward the Volavitse. We, the crowd, who in life had followed in Itsik Trastinetski's footsteps, did not leave him after death. We were already spread over all the roads, some by Shiroka Street, some by Forena–all in search of the traces of the friend who had gone his last way. By the fire station, we pushed through ragged police cordon. We tore through it, and behind us the whole huge mass that was in life and death bound with love and devotion to Itsik Trastinetski poured like lava.

His memory will always remain with us.

 

General view of Kremenets
[written on the photo is “Kremenets Lyceum”]

 

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