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[Pages 85]

From There to Now

by David Motosov, son of Leib

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

As I journey through memories of Kurenets, my beloved town, I will arrive at the year 1912. At that point we lived outside the town, at a distance of about 7 km, at the edge of the big forest. My father Leib of blessed memory owned a factory that processed turpentine, tar, and coal. The name of the place was Palita. I lived in a world filled with wonders and excitement. The deep forest with all its secrets was my playground. I was enveloped by the love of my parents since I was their only male child. And as a youth I had absolutely no responsibilities, I lived a care free life. Once in a while we would travel to Kurenets to pay a visit and occasionally we would have Jews from Kurenets visit us. But the rootstock of my life and its springing point was the Palita, in the forest.

One day I was called by my father and he announced to me, “It is time for you, my son, to enter the world of the Torah.” I was close to the age of 7 at that point, and already the next morning they handed a few belongings to me and we traveled to Kurenets. They hired for me a “kasset” at the house of Moshe der Shaffer, and my father entrusted my education to the best rabbi in town. It was Reb Ben-Zion Meirovich. In town they told with awe that he would receive newspapers in the Hebrew language, amongst them “Hatzfirah” and “Hamelitz” on a regular basis. His cheder was located at that point in Myadel Street in the house of Hinda Leah. My father said to Reb Ben-Zion, “I hand you this `jewel in the rough and hope that you will make him a respectable person, educate him to have good manners and do good deeds. He has a good head but he is very, very wild.”

The rabbi smiled at me and patted my shoulder and told my father, “Your son is already a decent person and I hope that you will take much pride in him.”

I remember some of my comrades in the cheder, amongst them Yakov Alperovich, Eliyau den Limanadniks [his family made lemonade, after his parents and sister died he settled in the US], Meir the son of Baruch Mordechai Gurevich [later settled in Israel in Mushav Bitzaron], Levik Alperovich [later settled in Israel], Leib Potropos-Z”l [died in Germany after the war], Zalman son of Itzhak Mikhail Alperovich the Butcher [who later became a well known Chabad Hasid], Shimon Kelman Shulman. It must be that the years in the forest made me very unlike the Jewish kids of the shtetl and deeply influenced my mannerism. The Yiddish I spoke was filled with Russian expressions, and the “R” was very pronounced. The other children in the cheder came from the town, and were very happy to see a strange character like me, and jumped on me as if they had found a treasure for jokes and pranks. They nicknamed me The Goy and The Yeshuvnik [the hick], but I did not sit quietly, and I knew how to fight back, sometimes physically and sometimes by returning their insults and antics.

During Shabbat, my father would take me back to the Palita, and every Sunday we would return to Kurenets. I remember that in one instance I returned to the cheder on Monday instead of Sunday. Obviously the rabbi asked me where I was the day before, so I answered him in immaculate Russian, “Ibaz ednava zidok, kramesh ni budyat?”, meaning “Without one Jew there's no market day?”

Everyone started chuckling. The rabbi and the other students all laughed together, and my response became a celebrated adage in town, and this saying would chase me wherever I went.

Slowly I became acclimated to life in the shtetl and rooted amongst my school friends. I started studying Hebrew (only in Hebrew) Hebrew grammar, and discussion about Jewish history, and I also took a great part in the social lives of my friends. We had many so-called “problems” engage. ourselves with We collected decorative covers of candies. We collected lights made from special shiny paper that we used to light the way back from the cheder during nights.

kur085.jpg [48 KB]
Kurenets circa 1918

We also had fights, fights with children from other cheders and other groups. I remember that one of my most bitter enemies was Yosef Zimmerman-Z”l Yoshka Itzha's as he was named in town, who lived near the bridge on Myadel Street. One very rainy day he hid, waiting to ambush me, and when I returned from the cheder he jumped on me and took one of my shoes and ran with his treasure. I was humiliated and had to return home wearing only one shoe. But luck was with me. On the way I met with Yankeleh Itzhak Pyeshka's, who was the “champion” of the town, and all the children were scared of him. “What happened to you, David?” he asked me. I told him with a voice shaking from crying the awful deed, about how I was jumped on from the back, so he offered in exchange for a little knife that I had, to return my shoe that was taken. I Don't know how he was able to accomplish it, however it didn't take but a few minutes and he returned with my shoe and added to it the hat of Yosef.

I embark on reminiscences of these years and it seems like they were the most beautiful years of my life until the year 1914 arrived and World War I started. The Russians begun retreating from our area and the Germans kept advancing. By 1915, the shots could be clearly heard near the town and all the Jews left their homes and escaped to the village Borodina near Kurenets. Why choose Borodina of all places? To this day I don't know. But the fact is, the next day we returned to town all healthy, and now we were under the eclipse of the wings of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and this surely proved that strategically we were right, even if there was no answer to why.

After about three weeks, the Germans left Kurenets and again the Russians returned. It became a battlefield, and there was even a German plane that arrived and dropped a bomb that killed a Russian soldier that was riding a horse on Smorgon Street. Everyone saw in it the excellent technology of the Germans. My family, joined by other families from Kurenets, left town to go deep into Russia where we lived for seven years, and we only returned to Kurenets in 1922. I left the town when I was still a child and returned as a man of 18. I experienced much during the years and I was very different from the child who left the town seven years prior, but Kurenets also didn't stand still. There was a great change. I found youths filled with enlightenment and erudition. They were contemporary in their attitude. Most of them were members of Zionist organizations. There was a big library and a Tarbut school. There was a headquarters of a Keren Kayemet LeIsrael, which was a funding organization to collect money for Israel. At the head of this organization stood the loyal Gershon Eiyishiski Z”l. Sometimes I think that it was as if I had gone in a full circle and returned to my childhood in a little different sense. I was brought by my father from the Palita to the very different environment of cheder studies of Ben Zion as well as life in a shtetl., and now fate brought me from the depths of the very secular and “goyish” Soviet Russia to the Zionist Kurenets where Hebrew was spoken everywhere, and the dream of Zion whispered from every field, spreading to Vileyka St. to Dolhinov St. to the gardens of Kulik. Kurenets was dreaming and adorning the dreams with beautiful tunes that had just arrived from Israel. To such a Kurenets I arrived, and I was as goy-like as I was in the days of my youth. I could hardly speak Yiddish never mind any Hebrew! But it didn't take long and I became deeply involved in this new environment. I became a pillar of the public service and Zionist spirit.

kur086.jpg [27 KB]
Creators of Tarbut School in Kurenets 1922.
Holding the picture: (left to right) 1. Shimon Kelman Shulman, 2. David Motosov
Second row from bottom: 1. Unknown, 2. The teacher Shmariahu Dardak; 3. Zalman Gvint, 4. Natan son of Mordechai and Farada Gurevitz, 5. The teacher Berl Dardak, 6. The son of Zalman Mendel Zipilavitz, 7. Gershon Eisheski.
Third row from bottom: first two unrecognized, 3. Yosef Shimon Kramnik, 4. ?(Went to Argentina) 5. Malka Kremer, 6. Ze'ev Shulman, 7. from the Charnas family.
Top row: 1. Son of Mendel Alperovitz, 2. Chaim Kremer, 3. Levik son of Mendel Alperovitz, 5. Meir, son of Mordechai and Farada Gurevitz, 6. Unrecognized

At the end of 1923 we funded a branch of Ha'Chalutz in Kurenets. We established it on Smorgon St., at the house of Moshe Leib Schkalia, Z”L. To be more exact, the house of Chaia Itka. The first committee, contained the following members: Yosef Alperovich son of Mendel son of Yehezkel [Yosef Alperovich perished in the Holocaust], Batia Gurevich [later Batia Bender died in Kibbutz Einat in Israel], Etel Alperovich [died in Israel], Avraham Aharon Alperovich [also died in Israel], and me. With much energy and dedication we opened evening classes for Hebrew instruction, geography of Eretz Israel, and the history of Zionism. Each evening all the members would meet. That year there were about 30 members and we would spend time discussing various topics. We read and sang to bring some more liveliness and to fund the operation, once a month we would sponsor a big dance. The party had certain traditions. We had a band of string instruments, at the head was Ben Zion the Hameraked [Person who makes people dance]. With him were the musicians Yehoshua Alperovich, Itzka son of Netta, and Eliezer son of Racha Rasha, The band would play and the members would dance and everyone would have a great time. One of the highlights of this party was an awards ceremony at the end where each girl would receive secret letters, and the girl who received the most secret letters would win a prize. To send those secret letters, the guys had to pay. So, clearly if someone wanted to express his affection or to get attention from a certain girl would buy as many letters as he could for that specific girl, and then would send these letters by a certain committee to the girl he cared about. And everyone felt good about it because the guy who sent those secret letters had some hope that the girl would return his affection, and the girl felt very special as if she were the queen of the party. And we had some more funds to run our operation.

After a short time we opened a branch of Ha'Chalutz Ha'Zair in Kosita Street, in the house of three sisters whose last names, I'm very sorry to say, don't remember. I was for a long time the head of Ha'Chalutz Ha'Zair, and I would especially like to point out the very dedicated activities of Aharon [perished in the Holocaust] son of Mendel son of Yehezkel son of Binya Alperovich. I would like to tell about the carpentry shop that we opened as a branch of the Ha'Chalutz in Kurenets. This took place sometime after the headquarters of the Ha'Chalutz in Poland announced that new places of preparing the Jewish youth to work as pioneers in Eretz Israel were being established throughout Poland. Places like agricultural settlements, carpentry shops, and blacksmith shops were being created. Our decision to open such a shop was very courageous in some ways since we needed to do something from nothing. We had no funds to open such a place, but with a very creative spirit that engulfed us and the energy and freshness that a few of our friends were blessed with, we were able to overcome the obstacles and a carpentry shop was established. Reb Mendel Z”L,( perished in the Holocaust) son of Reb Yehezkel son of Binya Alperovich had an empty apartment in the yard of his home in the alley. We ogled this apartment and decided that we should rent it. At first we were very hesitant. We were worried that our request would receive only laughter in response. Should we go to Reb Mendel Alperovich or shouldn't we? At the end we became brave enough. I remember that I decided to use the good name of Gershon Eiyishiski [perished in the Holocaust] who was a very respected person. I asked him to join us in our request. So we went to Reb Mendel and asked him to let us rent the apartment to be used as a carpentry workshop. Mendel Alperovich was a Jew with strong character and keen intelligence, and loved to make everything simple and clear. At first he said that he was surprised and unclear about what we were offering. What was the purpose of such a carpentry shop? Who would be the carpenters? And what kind of insurance against any fires or other possible disasters would we give him? After a short discussion, however, he said, “Children, take the apartment and start working, and we will come to some agreement.”

The next day we took the place. The instructor became Ostrovsky, who I think later on immigrated to Argentina. Immediately we established a fund to pay for the upkeep and here it was the Jews of Kurenets and nearby towns like Ilia, Dolhinov, Kriviczi, and Vileyka that we were able to turn to for donations for all the tools and materials we needed. So we were able to open the carpentry shop. And these are the people who studied carpentry in our establishment: Chaim son of Mendel Levin [Perished in the Holocaust], Zaev Shulman [later immigrated to Israel], David Kopilovich from Kriviczi, Natan Shulmn from Vileyka, and a guy from Ilia whose name I Cannot remember. The girls who were responsible for other activities were Chana the daughter of Naftali Alperovich [later immigrated to Israel], and Tsertl nee Alperovich the daughter of Chaim Avraham.(perished in 1942) Our duties as heads of this enterprise were to get tools, raw materials, and food supplies. We also arranged for cultural and educational instructions here.

The first project was to construct a large bureau, which was sold to the Levin family. We had a big party that day. IT was a spontaneous party, filled with humor and a roast-like atmosphere, where Mendel Alperovich was so excited by our deed that we didn't have to pay any rent. At one point I was sent to prepare for the emigration to Israel in the forest of Magenetza near town Vishnevo. When I returned home after the big fire of 1925, I found that there was a big kibbutz of trainees of the Chalutz in town. Most of them worked on rebuilding the town that had been destroyed in the fire. The first Chalutz (pioneer) who spent full-time in the preparation, which took almost two years, was trained in Solodny near Vilna, was Avraham Aharon Alperovich. He received a certificate to immigrate to Eretz Israel. After he left there was a long list of immigrants, first from Ha'Chalutz then from Hashomer Ha'Zair and so on and so on until our evil enemy, may his name be erased from memory, annihilated all that was most dear to us.

From days of my early childhood, standing in front of me is the lively image of your pure face, my father. Your blue eyes. But at the gates of death, where you stood for many months, I didn't join you. When the killers came near our town, I beg you, that you will run away with me to the Soviet Union, but you said you couldn't leave your daughters, you couldn't leave Chaia, Henia, and Duba and their families, and you stayed in the valley of death. Even today I hear the exciting timbre of your deep voice, its musical quality. I can still feel your hand that held mine when you first took me to the cheder. You made me feel safe and you walked with me through paths of pain and happiness. From all that I heard of you on the days of horror, your image comes to me in a miraculous light that I haven't experienced before. This splendid light must have been hidden in you, and only came out when life became darkened. The Germans were not able to trick you. You had no illusions, as many of the survivors told. Although you were an old man at that point, every day you tried to awaken the hearts. You told them, “You must not sit here aimlessly. You must go to the forest, to fight.” And in the day of the annihilation, before the killers were able to touch you with their bullets, you took charge and jumped into the fire and you gave glory to the name of God in every essence of your being. Many, many years passed since you whispered to me the blessing of a safe voyage when I escaped from Kureents. But every day your image will come to my eyes and I am humbled, filled with holy fear and spiritual joy. In my eyes I repeat the torturous occurrence and your last minutes in the day of the awful slaughter, and my lips will whisper, “Avi avi. Rechav Israel Uparashav.” And my shut eyes will see you enveloped in a tallit, jumping into the fire…Your soul rising up from the flames…

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