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[Page 419]

With Fellow Kremenetsers in Argentina

By Iser Kaminski

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

I myself am not a Kremenetser, but I married a daughter of the city, and from the day of my arrival in Argentina I have had a close relationship with the Kremenetsers. My wife is Feyge Roytblat, daughter of Hersh–Volf and Risel, the owners of a large clothing business, and whom people knew by the name of Risel “the Lithuanian.” Feyge's father, a modest Jew, impressed one with his stately appearance, his tidiness, and his dignity toward others. It was a greatly respected family that had been brought up, like most of Volhynia's Jews, in Jewish schools and cared about community affairs and higher education.

My life's companion, like many young people from our Volhynian town who could not immigrate to Israel because of the government's certification system, made the decision when still young to depart for a distant, unknown land; and thanks to the family of R' Duvid Shikhman, of blessed memory, who were then traveling to see their son Yudel, my wife traveled with them. And thanks to this family and a family that had settled earlier from Kremenets, the Teytelboyms, she arrived in Buenos Aires.

In those years, the 1920s, there was great risk for a solitary young woman to get off the ship. Thanks to chance, my wife is the only survivor of the many–branched Roytblat family.

With the greatest respect, let me sketch the Teytelboym family. The head of the family was deceased, but he had done so much for the first immigrants. Their house was a meeting place for whoever arrived.

The first family where I met Kremenetsers was in the house of R' Duvid Shikhman, of blessed memory, and his dear, lovely wife, the wife and mother of the family. Although they had to struggle bitterly to earn an income, their home was meeting place for many Kremenetsers where one could get lunch or dinner or drink a cup of tea. Whoever came in those years understands what it meant to have enough for lunch. The Shikhmans' house was a traditional Jewish home that reminded us of the homes we had left behind.

This was in the years 1924, 1925, and 1926, when Buenos Aires' Jewish streets were astir with different ideologies. Most of our young people came with a Zionist outlook, learned in our little towns' pioneer and scout organizations. When we encountered the daily struggle to live and became working people, we joined the professional unions. There was also a struggle between the socialists and communists for control of the professional unions, and we, true to our Zionist ideas, did not want to give up. We used to have long discussions. Many of us went along with the tide, but years later they found their way back–to the Zionist ideas of their youth–although they had no influence on their children, because they had raised them that way. And not one regrets it.

[Page 420]

In the Shikhmans' home we also met the young lady whom we all to this day call Esterke, the sister of an important activist named Tsipe. Thanks to Esterke's arrival, she decided to show around her sister who had been rescued from death. At the Shikhmans' I also met Chayimke Ginzburg; Music, Red, Garland we used to call him because he was so small. Today he lives in Montevideo and is active in Zionist circles.

One of the welcoming families was that of Leon Aronov, may peace be upon him, and his wife Malke, long years to her. Leon himself was not a Kremenetser. He came from deep within Russia. When he served in the army in Kremenets, he married Malke and together the two of them came to Argentina. It was not long before Liove [Leon] had gotten himself and his beautiful home in order. For us, for whoever came, it was a second home where we could come and pass our free time in a cozy, friendly environment. Malke, like a cordial hostess, always with a smile, true to the tradition of her working–class parents, treated us with respect. And he, our beloved Liove, may peace be upon him, who identified with the Kremenetsers, displayed a cordial and friendly appearance, ready to aid each of us in any way. He was even active in the Kremenets organization for a little while. Sadly, he is no longer among the living. May his name be remembered for good.

At that time, we also knew Pinye and Katya Tshudnovski. Sadly, cheerful Pinye, who was always full of memories, is also no longer alive. So, too, his beloved wife Katya, my wife's friend from the old home.

 

On a holiday–Kremenetsers, Vyshgorodokers, and Pochayevers

[Page 421]

Soon after Katya came to Pinye and they created their home, we also got a house, where we used to gather and recall memories from the not too distant past

I will also describe the home of Tevel and Dvosye. Tevel, may peace be upon him, and to Dvosye, long years. When Dvosye became Tevel's bride, we gathered together. And when they set up their own home, there was a new place where we supportive couples, always smiling, could gather. We always gathered in a friendly environment, quenching our nostalgia for home. Later, when we got our own home in shape, it also became a place where the Kremenetsers would visit us and we, out of our deep nostalgia, would sing and talk about our not–too–distant past.

I remember how we young men would fight with the Polish youth; how they would station their people near Jewish businesses and not allow in the customers dressed in Jewish clothes, and they would shout, “Keep to your own.” I will never forget the blows we exchanged with the Polish college students in the sports locales when there was a soccer game between the Maccabees or Hasmoneans and a Polish team. When the Jewish team won, the contest ended with a shoving match. And I must boast about our Jewish–Polish young men that we never let them spit in our faces.

I am telling all of this to illustrate for all time how we lived. For this we yearned wherever we were, and we spoke of the “old home” even though we knew that for many of us it was not our home.

 

Part of the crowd at the memorial service in the synagogue in Paso on the 30th day after the burial of R' Duvid Shikhman, may peace be upon him, in December 1964, in Buenos Aires

[Page 422]

There were some who had the material wherewithal to go back. And many of us–if we had had the wherewithal, who knows if we would still be among the living; we would surely have suffered the fate of those who went back.

Returning to my original theme, from which I have wandered a bit, in the thirties arrived the scholarly family, that is, Azriel Tsukerman and Fanye his wife, along with Isak. Shike had come earlier, and some years later Nyakhe came. Although we strongly differed from them in ideology, that did not prevent us from being friends, and they were our guests. Even then we took care of them in every way. We used to visit them. It was always pleasant to be in their family circle, where we had long, intense discussions, though they never interfered with our friendship. Their home, once they got it in order, was also a meeting spot for many of our fellow townspeople. Quite special was our friendship with Ukel and Musi Benderski, two dear, beloved people, highly cultured and tireless workers for the Kremenetsers' organization.

I also want to describe our friends Mordekhay and Tsipe Katz, who helped convey the good reputation of the Kremenetsers in our settlement.

It is not possible to enumerate all the friends we made.

 

Cultural gathering of the Kremenets organization on behalf of their Yizkor Book, with the participation of Dr. L. Zhitnitski as lecturer. Leading the gathering: Mordekhay Katz (standing)

[Page 423]

I have recalled only selected families. But I want to stress that it is a matter of conscious cultural belonging together that they brought their fine traditions here from their hometown and brought them to life in their new home, but always with a nostalgia for the place where they were born.

I should also write about the Berenshteyn family, who live today in Israel; my friend and companion Moshe Kamensheyn; Fanye Garber; the brothers Yudel, Barukh, Bentsion, may peace be with him; the sisters Manye, Chanele, and Feygele, may peace be with her, Shikhman, and her husband Yashe Yadeshliver.

With my modest ability, I have tried to eternalize the Kremenetsers of whom we have so many fine memories and with whom we survived difficult lives in our new dwelling place.

 

Group of Kremenetsers in Israel

 

[Page 424]

Birth of the Kremenets Society in North America

By Henekh Gelernt (New York)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

A Yiddish proverb says that one remembers in death, but one cannot be certain in life. Apparently, since people remember important things in life, they feel their value, and also the body should not lie around uselessly after death. Just as in life, people enjoy rest, so after death the body should have rest in its own four cubits.

One of the first Kremenets Jews who sought a better fate in life, Shmuel Pak, set out for America at the end of the 19th century. We guess that he was the first such person who, instead of sitting by the Torah and holy work, instead of becoming a rabbi, and against his father's will, chose to find pleasure as a worker.

He was born and raised in a religious household. His father, Itsik Pak, had many children. In addition to daughters, he brought into the world a total of nine sons. In broad walls made of red bricks, they knitted articles for the village peasants. The father and his sons would travel to all the local fairs to peddle their merchandise. The whole family was like a workers' collective for production. Itsik Pak even served the Master of the Universe in his own little corner. Within those walls, he had his own minyan.

Of all his children, Shmuel was the most successful. When he was still a child, his teacher said that he had a “good head.” His father “kept an eye” on him and pampered him with Torah. As he grew up, he was a successful young man, and his father wanted nothing else than that his Shmuel should be an outstanding rabbi in Israel. The son, however, had tasted another world. He had already secretly sought out the taste of enlightenment through the books of his fellow townsman, Yitschak Ber Levinson. He preferred the idea that “Torah is good along with worldly knowledge” to thinking of Torah as a profession. It happened that one day he, with his two brothers, Yosel and Srul (Yisrael), decided to “escape” here, to that country where one could live one's life as one wanted, America.

On arriving in America, the brothers, like all immigrants at that time, felt lonely as a stone. But the skill that they had learned at home turned out to bring them luck in the hellish workshop (sweatshop). They were accustomed to working with the needle for 12 hours a day in more crowded conditions from their early life. Even with staying up all night like before a holiday…They were even happy with that, since for the first time they had a coin in their pocket that did not come from their father. And five dollars a week made up for the bitter feelings of such hard work.

Shmuel Pak, with his “good head,” could not live in his new home thinking only about his stomach. He was drawn to higher things. After work he would take his brothers to gatherings where people heard new teachings from anarchist speakers, social–democrats, and from time to time, even old–style sermons from religious speakers. Shmuel's “good head” was attracted to the “torah” of the social democrats. This doctrine spoke to his heart and mind. Justice, social justice combined with the dignity of work and wages, captured him, and he became a member of the De Leon Party [a Marxist organization].

[Page 425]

But Shmuel was “his father's child.” He was not one to “exchange a rag for a hand towel,” as they used to say in Kremenets. Not only the boss should profit from hard work, completely different from his father in the old home…. His agile mind quickly adjusted to the new situation. He understood that he was not a horse, that he could also be a human being, a boss like anyone else. Thought and done. One day he set up for himself and became self–employed. He succeeded, and soon he lacked assistants.

Although it went against his convictions, his common sense prevailed, and he took on workers. Brains and luck came together, and Shmuel prospered. But he did not abandon his new Torah study. On the contrary, with a freer mind, he was able to immerse himself in social–democratic ideology. He began to feel oppressed that he was dishonoring the ideal by employing workers. His old youthful belief that one studied Torah for its own sake gnawed at him after every meeting. He felt a conflict in his conscience. One day he decided to make things right with his conscience, so he liquidated his business.

The ships that reached American shores from Europe week in and week out would offload crowds of living merchandise. Among the thousands of people who fled Russia, there were a number from Kremenets. Shmuel had understood well the feeling of loneliness when he arrived in America. He very much wanted to help, to provide a warm welcome to the new arrivals. But since he had liquidated his business, he had had a run of bad luck. He often went hungry. Even when he earned some money, he barely survived on a piece of bread with cheese. He greatly regretted that he, the older resident, could not serve his hometown guests. He often had to overcome the feeling of asking for a friend's kindness. He would borrow money from his friends to do good deeds and provide for his guests, his Kremenetsers. He provided them with train tickets so they could go somewhere besides New York, where there was the possibility of settling down.

In America, Shmuel never lost the moral qualities that he had brought with him from the Old World. What one borrowed, one had to return. Shmuel was not flustered, and he became a dealer in rags, which he bought from a wholesaler. From such lucrative work he earned a whole 16 cents a day. With some of those cents he would buy his food, bread and cheese, and with the rest he paid off Kremenetsers' debts.

The colony of Kremenets natives grew. One of them, Shimon Bernshteyn, Mordekhay the wood carver's son, along with Shmuel tried to organize the Kremenetsers into their own association, using the name “Beis Avraham.” They used this name to indicate a beginning from Avraham Our Father…. But the association did not last long. They imposed weekly dues of 10 cents per person. That did not hold up.

But the desire to stay together did not abate. A second person stepped forward, Y. Mints, who back home had been a coppersmith. He had a smooth tongue. He had already developed the ability to speak on the street corners of New York like a native. He tried to revive the association. But again it did not last long, because of the burdensome expense. People indeed felt a spiritual need to attend lectures, discussions, and entertainment, but the dues were unsuccessful.

At that time, from 1903 until 1905, Shmuel Pak disappeared from view. After asking after him for a long time and looking for him in public areas, it appeared that the one who always worried about relieving others' burdens of loneliness and need had himself departed the world alone, lost and abandoned. His poverty had driven him into his grave.

[Page 426]

He was even buried without a shroud in a strange land without the kindness of truth. Even his burial place was not assured, an eternal resting place, because no one had paid for it.

When Y. Mints and the immigrant carpenter Bene Barshap heard about this, they were very upset. They recognized the truthful lesson of such a death, that one cannot be sure of his own life.

Shmuel's tragic death of and his being unlocatable after his death so that his remains could find no rest gave impetus to the two men mentioned above and the remaining Kremenetsers to unite under the banner of their place of origin. Thus was born the organization naturally called “the Kremenets–Volin Benevolent Society,” the Kremenets compatriot society that has lasted for more than 40 years.

The society, incorporating the old hometown ways of living and the spirit of new times and ideas, embodies the partnership between Yiddishkeit and worldliness. In its early years, people lived in Yiddish words and sounds, through literary and musical undertakings. People collectively and truly enjoyed Jewish celebrations and Jewish holidays. Truly, for God and for the people.

 

Leadership committee of the Kremenets Society in New York

 

[Page 427]

Yisgadal Veyiskadash, Kremenets
– United in Need, Suffering, and Struggle

By Yitschak Shikhman

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

You exist no more, Kremenets! …

Through pillars of smoke and fire, through the blood of our brothers and sisters have you been murdered!

No more your Great Synagogue, the pride of your religious Jews!

Deadly quiet are your hills. The courageous songs of your young people no longer resound on them.

No more the Hasidic prayer houses, the lively study fall, the “Tarbut High School,” the library, the professional unions, the sport clubs, the theaters, the choirs …

No more the people, the streets, the houses, only ash! Gray ash and communal graves!

No more your medieval streets with barbers, knitters, the impoverished, tailors, crowded with factory workers–the life of the Jewish masses.

No more the city gates, the highways, the country houses; only charred bricks, mounds of ash and dirt. The tired earth of Kremenets, soaked with blood, with our blood! …

Over centuries our grandparents shaped you, and in an instant were you destroyed;

For generations we created your spirit with love, and our enemy erased it in a minute!

But we make no lamentation!

No sighs, no moans!

 

Part of the crowd near the monument to the six million martyrs in Tablada, on the yahrzeit of the 14,000 martyrs from Kremenets and the surrounding area.
In the center stands R' Duvid Shikhman, of blessed memory.

[Page 428]

We are more than a thousand miles away from you, but we are your people, Kremenets!

We are the ash of your murdered ones; the clay of your bricks; the boulders of your hills; the trees of your forests, planted at a distance; but in our roots you will always live, Kremenets!

We were born under your spell.

No lamentation but songs of praise burst forth from our tears.

Praise to you, religious Jews of Kremenets! Together with your great souls, you have gone up in flames. With Torah scrolls in your hands, you have gone to encounter the dead. Together with the sacred parchments blazed your Jewish faith, your proud confidence that “the rule of the wicked will pass from the earth.” And the kingdom of evil, the accursed fascism, will be crushed.

Praise to you, Yuni Berenshteyn, courageous partisan leader, fighter for social justice! The enemy put a price of 100,000 marks on your heroic head, but you fell in battle! Forever will the woods of Pochayev tell the legend of your heroism.

Praise to you, Leyb the ritual slaughterer's son–in–law! You carried out the people's sentence on Henker Miler! With your own kosher, idealistic hands you tightened the rope around his neck. In your mind you saw your murdered children, everyone's tortured children, and you extinguished his accursed life.

Praise to you, Vitya Kremen! For three days you held them off with a machine gun. For three days they were frightened and embarrassed because of your youthful Jewish courage.

Honor to you, Jewish soldiers of Kremenets. You were on the undying road–Stalingrad–Berlin–to human freedom, paved with your blood and sweat. You saw our desolated city, and one desire, day and night, jumped from your heart to the tip of your bayonet.

Yisgadal veyiskadash, Kremenets!

Kaddish for those of you in communal graves;

For those of you incinerated in the flames of the Great Synagogue;

For those of you who were hanged on the Gestapo's gallows;

For those of you who died with weapons in your hands!

Honor to your ashes!

Yisgadal veyiskadash, Kremenets!

Magnified and sanctified, may your memory live in our souls!

Magnified and sanctified, may your memory purify our tears

Magnified and sanctified, may our awareness of you animate and call to us, make demands on us–

Until we rise again;

Until we create a powerful Jewish will;

Until we master the petty quarrels, the complex differences, the fruitless hatreds, the narrow partisanship, the small–hearted localism;

Until we forge a stubborn and heartfelt unity–

Then will you rise from the dead, Kremenets!

Then will you be triumphant!

Then will the wind spread the ashes of your matters across the world and refresh the whole earth.

Yisgadal veyiskadash, Kremenets!

 

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