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Memories of Solomon, son of Orchik Alperovich

Jewish Life in Kurenets After the Holocaust

Written in English by Shlomo Alperovich

Edited by Sandra Krisch

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Shlomo Alperovich near the memorial for the
1050 Jewish people from Myadel street, Kurenetz (2001)

I was born in “shtetel” Kurenets (Belarus) in 1948, and I wish to share my own memories and stories that I heard and remember from Jewish natives about Jewish life in Kurenets and its surroundings.

After the liberation of Belarus (including Kurenets) in 1944, Jewish people started returning to the area. Kurenets was almost completely destroyed and burned by the retreating German Army. Only a few houses were left standing. Most of the surviving Jews immigrated to Palestine and the United States in the next few years.

My father, Alperovich Aaron Abramovich (Orchik son of Abram, grandson of Chaim Isar; born in 1896, died in 1974) returned home to Kurenets from Saransk (Mordovia), where he had been sent in 1939 (when the Soviets came to the area). He was sent there by decision of Stalin's court for 5 years of hard labor. When he returned he found neither home nor family. His wife Mirel and 3 of his children (Chaim Isar, another son, and a daughter) had been murdered.

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Kurenets (1945)
Miron Meckler and Aaron Alperovich

From local residents and Jews who returned from the forest, he found out that his older son Yakov (Yankel) joined the partisans during the war. He was informed that he was recruited to Belpolk – a Red Army unit that was supposed to search and clean the Belarus forests of Nazi soldiers and local collaborators (politzais) who were now replacing the Jews and hiding there. Father finally found Yakov near Minsk. He was very skinny and very tired. He learned from him that Yankel's sister and brother, his daughter Lisa, and his son Shmuil survived, and that during the war they also joined the partisans' ranks.

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In the Red Army
Above: Benjamin-Yosef Sosensky, Yakov Alperovich (from Kurenets).
Sitting: Levi Koton and Dov, son of Chykel (lives in Minsk)

Yankel Orchik's story is well known and told in many books. On Simchat Torah of 1941 his family was taken to be killed. His mother was able to escape with the younger children while they walked to the forest. Yankel and his brother Chaim Isar were taken with the other Jewish men. The men were put in groups of ten and killed, while many of the local population were watching. Just before it was Yankel's turn to be killed, he said that Yente (nee Dinerstein) Rodanski was let go by the Germans and was told to never marry a communist again (they had just killed her husband, Velvel Rodanski). Yankel realized that all are not equal, and he demanded to speak before he was killed. The German officer let him talk. Yankel said in broken German “Before I am to be killed I would like to know if my sin is being a Jew or being a communist.” The officer answered, “Clearly, being a communist.” Yankel said, while turning to the local people, “They could all tell you that my father Orchik was sent to Siberia for being an enemy of the Soviet people; why would I then become a communist?” The officer liked what he [Yankel] said, and maybe it was the broken German that made him laugh–he told him to stand to the side. Yankel said that his sick brother should be let go first, and they let Chaim Isar go.

Yankel did not trust the Germans, and together with the sons of Pinia Alperovitz he escaped to the woods. They [the others] were killed. Yankel survived and later joined the partisans and saved many many Jews from Kurenets and Myadel and also his brother Shmuil.

In 1944 my mother, Botwinnik Evgeniya Samuilovna (Zelda daughter of Shmuil Botwinnik, born in 1920 in Rakov) came to Kurenets. After her release from the partisans she looked for her relatives. She found out that all of her family was killed in Rakov. She moved to Kurenets, following some of her Jewish friends from the partisans. And that is how two lonely people met each other and established a family. At first they lived in the house of Aaron's brother Hirsh, who was killed with his entire family (wife and two children). Here, in August of 1946, their first son, Abram, was born. At that time Arye Leibe (Lior's grandfather), the brother of Aaron [Orchik Alperovich] returned from evacuation to Russia; their two sisters, Hava and Feiga, also returned after being partisans during the war. They all married and started their own families. My father moved to a new house of his own, which he built with his own hands; he left the old house to his brother Leibe and sister Hava.

In July of 1948, in the new house, a new citizen of Kurenets was born – that was I. About my birth I will tell you the following story: My mother felt that she was about to give birth, so my father took her to the Vileyka's hospital, which was 8 km away, riding on a horse. However it was too early, and after one day in the hospital she asked to be taken home because she had a lot of work to do there. And so my father brought her back. A few days later he had to set the horse again to take mother to the hospital. This time she was left there for several days, while my father had to return home to take care of the housekeeping chores. A few days passed and then a fellow Kurenets resident by the name of Nikolay met my father and told him, “Vorchik, I've visited my wife in the hospital and saw your Zelda. You have a boy.” Father took a horse and went to meet us. Mother asked to go home right away, so father took off his jacket, put me inside, and brought me home. That is how my life in Kurenets began.

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Alperovich family – Kurenets, 1959

At that time almost every Jewish family in Kurenets had a newborn. About 15 Jewish families remained in Kurenets after the war. On Saturdays and at Jewish holidays Jewish people gathered at the old Leizer Shulman house. There they had their prayers, and after the religious ceremony they were drinking L'chaim. We kids played outside the house and never forgot that Leizer had an apple orchard. We, all the Jewish kids, were raised together among the other gentile kids – together we went to the river and to the forest. Sometimes we had our fights. During the winter we would build snow forts and have snowball battles. Starting at the age of 7, every kid in Kurenets would attend school; there we met with new duties and challenges and made new friends.

In 1955-56, many Jewish Kurenetsers started moving to Poland in order to continue on their way to Israel. Since Kurenets was part of Poland before 1939, the Soviets let the old Polish citizens cross the border to Poland. The first family to take that step was my father's sister Hava and her husband Boris, with their 5 children. The oldest child was 7 years old and the youngest, Sholom, less than a year. I still remember his brit milah ceremony: all the Jews of Kurenets gathered together in the small room and then came the rabbi. All the Jews raised the money to pay for his services. That is how the last Jewish child was born In Kurenets, and that happened in 1955.

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Surviving Jews from the area of Vileyka meet in Naarch'

Many families followed that path, moving directly to Poland or to the larger cities in order to arrange the needed papers and then move to Poland. So in 1958 only two Jewish families were left in Kurenets: Levin's and ours. But Jewish life didn't stand still. At every holiday the older children of my father would visit us with their children. Also we kept in touch with the Jews in nearby villages: Dolginovo (4 families), Lyuban (7 families) and Vileyka (about 15 families). The spiritual leader of the remaining Jews was Mironovich (Finkelshteyn-Tewel) the head of the Lyuban sovhoz [state farm].

In 1958 a new school director arrived in Kurenets – Catznelson. He lived in Kurenets till 1963. The head doctor of the Kurenets regional hospital was Dr. Nasis. He lived in Kurenets from 1960 till 1966. They both had children younger than school age.

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Alperovich family in grandfather's house (1960)

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