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[Page 671]

The Story of the Book of Minsk

by Shlomo Even-Shoshan

Translated by Jerrold Landau

This article is a duty of honor that falls upon the editor – who succeeded after three years of work in bringing the first volume of the Book of Minsk to print – in memory of the innumerable people of Minsk who dreamt of this book, who wove it, whose souls were expended on its pages – and did not merit to see the end result. It is an honorable duty also in the name and memory of those individual people who preceded him in preparing the book, who gathered the heaps of material from which the dough of the book was kneaded, who thought about the idea, who toiled in body and spirit, and who for the most part died before the work was completed.

The writer of these lines, the editor of the book, did not find everything prepared, yet he also did not see everything in disarray. Extensive detailed work of many years' duration preceded him. Despite the fact that it did not bear its own fruit, its raw materials were not lost. This volume with its 700 pages, and its seeds that were planted decades previously, looks backward. It is fitting for the dreams and aims of this book that their work not be lost. It is also fitting that the newly born book of Minsk recognize and know who stood over its cradle.

The birth pangs of this book are very, very sad, and buried on the sides of its path. There was no continuity in the process of its production. Gulfs of time and geographical distance separated its conception from its birth. When I come now to survey the story of the book, I have to peruse hundreds of letters and pages that are worn from age, intermixed with the Minsk archives of Daniel Persky, Yehuda Gordon, Dr. Moshe Kalyutch, David Cohen, all of blessed memory, and to try to reconstruct through innuendoes the difficulties and obstacles in the publication of the book.

Most of the memorial books of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe were published after the destruction, after the Holocaust. The strong desire to establish a memorial and monument to the communities that were destroyed caused them to flourish. However, the spiritual destruction of the Jewish communities in the U. S. S. R. preceded the physical destruction of Diaspora Jewry by the Nazis. It should be no surprise, therefore that the idea of a memorial book to the community of Minsk preceded the Second World War and the Holocaust.

The conceivers of this idea were in the United States, where hundreds of Minskers, natives of the city of Minsk or the region of Minsk, gathered together from the beginning of the century. Both groups were anxious to maintain their personal connection to their native town.

Before me I have a postcard from April 20, 1938 to Daniel Persky in New York, inviting 20 Minsk natives to sit down together over a cup of tea – reporters and communal activists – with regard to a most important cultural and historical endeavor: the publication of an anthology by the name of “Minsk”, or “Minsker Pinkos”, compiled by three well-known natives of Minsk: A. Liessin, Saul Ginsberg, and A. Litwin. The meeting would take place in New York on April 26 “in the home of the native of our town Charles Zunser.” This was signed by A. Liessin, A. Litwin, Ch. Zunser.

A half a year later, on October 12, 1938 [1], there was a large popular gathering in New York of all of the Minskers and their organizations regarding the managing and editing of the “Minsker Pinkos”. Daniel Persky relates in “Hadoar”: “The initiating committee (the lawyer Charles the son of the jester Elyakum Zunser, and the writer A. Litwin) issued a lengthy call to explain the value of such a pinkos: to gather material about the history of the Jews in Minsk and the region of Minsk from the time that Jews settled in White Russia in general and in Minsk in particular, until this time. In the past hundred years, the Jews of Russia played the most important role in the history of Jews the world over – and in the history of the Jews of Russia, Vilna and Minsk play the chief role. We have in America, especially in New York, a full complement

[Page 672]

of journalists, scientists and communal activists who are natives of Minsk and its environs. We in New York have approximately 100 landsmanchafts (native city organizations) from the area of Minsk. – – – An editorial committee has been formed; whose members include the historian Saul Ginsberg (chief editor), the poet Abraham Liessin, the journalists A. Litwin and Dr. Herman Frank. The following have promised to participate: S. Niger, B. Vladeck, Y. Baskin, N. Chanin, Avraham Reizen, B. Botwinik, M. Evensky, Dr. L Fogelman, H. Leivick, B. Shelvin, Professor Morris Rafael Cohen, Judge Chana M. Kross, Daniel Persky, and others. The following people have been chosen as directors: Charles Zunser – chairman, A. Litwin – secretary, Dr. Abraham Duker – recording secretary, Jacob Bashein – treasurer. Aside from the aforementioned, the following people are part of the active committee: the actors Jacob Ben Ami and Lazar Fried, Reuben Guskin, Ephraim Jeshurin, and others.”

The first page of the letter about the meeting for the “Pinkos Minsk”.



Editors: Saul Ginsberg, A. Litwin, Dr. Herman Frank, Abraham Liessin
Jos. Baskin, N. Chanin, Contributors to the “Minsker Pinkos”

Office: Educational Alliance, 197 East Broadway, New York

Provisional Committee in Formation

Charles Zunser, Chairman
A. Litwin Secretary
Abraham G. Ducker, Rec. Secretary
Jacob Bashein, Treasurer

Jacob Ben Ami
B. Botwinik
M. Bogdanoff
Prof. Morris Raphael Cohen
M. Evensky
Dr. S. Fogelman
Lazar Fried
Reuben Guskin
Ephim Jeshurin
Judge Anna M. Kross
H. Leivick
I. J. Lesser
H. Mishkin
S. Niger
Daniel Perski [2]
Abraham Reizen
C. Shelvin
D. B. Charney Vladeck

Minsker Independent Benevolent Society
Herman Davidoff
Julius Margolin
Abraham J. Herrick
Moses Napelbaum

First Minsker Young Men's Society
L. Keen

Minsker Young Men's Commercial Aid Soc.

Minsker Branch 99, Workmen's Circle
P. Maslow
H. Fine
M. Marshak

Dear members and fellow natives

A group of Minsker journalists and societal activists in New York have some time ago decided to publish an anthology book called “Minsker Pinkos”. Its purpose will be: to collect material about the history of Jews in Minsk and the Minsker region from the time that Jews had settled in White Russia in general, and in Minsk and the Minsker region in particular, until our day.

We are not the first to have commenced such a task. Jews from Vilna in New York, with the chief participation of the Vilna Branch of the Workmen's Circle, under the editorship of Ephim Jeshurin, have already published such a work about Vilna. Bialystock, Pinsk and other cities are also collecting material about the Jews in their locales. The Jewish Publication Society has published in recent years in English a complete set of books – the history of Jews in the largest and best-known cities of Germany.

These facts demonstrate that, despite the very difficult experiences of the Jewish people in almost the entire world, we are not lost. We are an ancient historical people. We have a rich history. The history records and illuminates our experiences in various times and lands. Our history is our guide.

In the previous and present century, as is known, the Jews of Russia played the most important role for Jews throughout the entire world. Furthermore, in the history of Russian Jewry, Minsk and Vilna play the chief role. We believe that the history of Jews in Minsk will be an important part of the history of Jews in Russia, and in general Jewish history.

[Page 673]

Daniel Persky writes about the responsibility of this task: “Meetings and sessions have been called – and the matter has begun to take form, however the Satan intervened and destroyed everything. The Second World War broke out, and all four of the members of the editorial board have passed away. As well, most of the members of the active committee have died one by one.”

In his articles in “Hadoar”, Daniel Persky never ceased to publicize the disgrace of the community of Minsk, particularly after the war and the Holocaust, when “Several hundred chronicles of destruction describe the history and activity of Jewish communities that were extinguished by the Holocaust. – – – However Minsk, which during its lifetime and splendor was first and foremost in any national and communal activity – has not yet merited to have a paper monument and a memorial candle in the shrine of our literature.”

Persky, who was “consumed by the obsession for his native city of Minsk”, published “to the extent that he was able”. He himself published in “Hadoar” more than twenty feuilletons on the Minsk that was – its events, experiences, and people of note. He also asked that the residents of Minsk who live in America send him their memories of their native city. Before us, we have dozens of letters to him about “the topic of Minsk”. Parts of many of them were included in his articles in “Hadoar”.

The writer Daniel Charney also joined with his honorable friends who were natives of his city, H. Leivick and Daniel Persky in pointing out to the landsmanschafts of the region of Minsk that they had not yet published even one memorial book.

From a crumbling piece of paper, without any bibliographic information in the archives (apparently, from “Daily Morning Journal” from the first half of 1944), I read the emotional plea of Daniel Charney, in a large article entitled “A forgotten region that was of great value to our people”. Not the shortage of money, not the shortage of editors, and not for lack of fitting personalities to perpetuate – claims Charney – prevent the publication of the book. Charney enumerates more than 160 Hebrew and Jewish writers from the former area of Minsk that are mentioned in the four volumes of the Lexicon of Zalman Reizen. That Lexicon was published more than thirty years previously. In his article, Charney himself mentions more than 80 names of writers, artists, activists, revolutionaries, Zionists, rabbis, etc. – a splendid gallery of personalities whose influence was significant in the history of our people. He demands that something be done to expedite the appearance of a yizkor book for the region of Minsk that was destroyed.

On the 18th of Tevet 5715 (1955), David Zakai writes to Daniel Persky: “Persky, why do you delay, why do you not do something for the memory of Minsk? With you, you have Sh. Niger, Dr. Abraham Duker, and others. Here, there are preparations to do something, but I doubt that anything can be done without help from there, from you. We are put to shame by small, remote towns that have succeeded in publishing memorial books, while an important Jewish city, Minsk, has not. Do you not realize that after us, there will not be anyone who will do this...”

Persky relates further in his article “In Memory of Minsk”, that “My friend the teacher, the native of Minsk, Menachem Itzkovitz, has been working for some time to memorialize our community, and already several years ago, he announced the action for the memorial book in newspapers.

The first Israeli memorial for the natives of Minsk and its suburbs took place in the “Beit Hamoreh” hall in Tel Aviv on the 4th of Shvat, 5715 (January 27, 1955). The following people participated in that memorial: Zalman Shazar, David Zakai, Rabbi Asher Kershtein, Cantor Moshe Levinson, the teacher Menachem Halevi (Itzkovitz), and others. The second gathering took place on the 10th of Tevet 5616 (December 25, 1955), with the participation of Gutman Minkow (Gershon Mann), Chana Rubina, Dov Malchin, Yehuda Gordon, Herzl Berger, and Yisrael Ritov. Immediately after the gathering, a letter was sent to the natives of Minsk and its region, asking them to lend a hand to the publication to the book of Minsk. The following people were included in the leadership of the committee of the book: Chana Rubina, Zalman Shazar, Menachem Halevi (Itzkovitz), Bilha Weisman, David

[Page 674]

Zakai, Yisrael Ritov, Nachum L. Lifschitz, Michael Kaplan, Herzl Berger, Zvi Rosenstein, Chemda Nofech-Moses, Gutman Minkow, Moshe Tesman. The secretaries of the committee of the book were Mordechai Berger, Yehuda Gordon, and David Kosovsky.

After several meetings with the writer Nachum Chinitz, with the participation of N. L. Lifschitz, Mordechai Berger, Yehuda Gordon, David Zakai, Yisrael Ritov, and Zvi Rosenstein from the committee of the Book of Minsk, a memorandum was signed on May 15, 1956 with Nachum Chinitz regarding his work in the preparation of a book on the Jewry of Minsk and its suburbs: the collection of relevant material toward the first edition, the recording of memories from people, etc. “Mr. Chinitz will be appointed by the secretariat of the editorial committee, to which until now, the following people have agreed to be included: D. Zakai, D. B. Malkin, Z. Rosenstein, and M. Kalyutch.” The following people signed the memorandum and the accompanying letter: G. Minkow, Moshe Kalyutch, Yehuda Gordon, David Kosovsky, and Mordechai Berger.

Slowly but surely with the work of gathering material, a correspondence by mail was reestablished on this topic with people in the Unites States. Yehuda Gordon and Moshe Kalyutch particularly participated in this. In a letter signed by both of them on November 10, 1957 to Daniel Persky, the following is stated among other things: “In the year that past, the dear friend Nachum Chanin from the Forward [3] was in Israel. The poet H. Leivick visited him this year. Both of them talked with David Zakai, and they promised their assistance to our workers.”

Daniel Persky, who was dedicated to this matter with his heart and soul, expressed his request in Hadoar in 1955: “We hope that this time, the last remnants (of the editorial committee of 1938) will awaken – Zunser, Chanin, Niger, Fogelman, Leivick, Duker, Nachum Kantorowicz and others – and will dedicate themselves to the work of establishing a memorial candle to one of the most blessed and fruitful cities that there ever was in the journey of our Diaspora.”

In a letter of December 27, 1957 to Yehuda Gordon in Tel Aviv, Shmuel Lesnick of New York tells that he met in his home with the late Sh. Niger, H. Leivick, Daniel Persky, A. Duker, Nachum Kantorowicz and others, and they formed a committee to publish the Book of Minsk. The participation of Sh. Niger (who died in December 1955) indicates that the meeting took place in 1955. From the printed header of a later letter, from June 30, 1961 from Gregory Aronson of New York to Daniel Persky of New York, we learn that a committee for the publication of a “Minsker Yizkor Book” was established in New York. The honorary president was the poet H. Leivick, the president Nachum Chanin, the vice president Daniel Persky, the treasurer Shmuel Lesnik, and the secretaries Nachum Kantorowicz and Gregory Aronson. Among the others, the members of the committee included Dr. A. Duker, Dr. Sh. Grayzel, the poet Efraim Lisicki, the writer Sara Reisin, Hiller Rogoff, Charles Zunser, and others.

Shmuel Lesnik, Nachum Kantorowicz and Gregory Aronson were particularly active on the committee. An endless exchange of letters took place between the three of them and the Minskers in the Land, particularly Moshe Kalyutch and Yehuda Gordon. In front of us we have dozens of letters from Tel Aviv to New York and from New York to Tel Aviv, all regarding the assurance of a Book of Minsk, materially and spiritually. The activities – determining the contents of the book, inviting articles, financial concerns, etc. – were conducted in a joint and coordinated fashion. Dr. Moshe Kalyutch and Yehuda Gordon from the one side, and Nachum Kantorowicz and Gregory Aronson from the other side, were particularly involved in this.

However, this time as well, matters did not work out. In 1964, the activity ceased both in the Land and in the United States, whether because the boundless magnitude of the task overwhelmed the doers, or because of financial difficulties. The large volume of material that was collected by Nachum Chinitz, that indeed was not all fitting for its purpose, as well as the few articles that were written by invitation from Dr. Moshe Kalyutch and the material in Yiddish that was collected in the United States were left in place like a stone with nobody to turn it over. Death also visited here and there, and weakened the hand of the living.

{The page break between 674 and 676 occurs in the middle of the next paragraph – however to avoid interrupting the flow of the paragraph, the letter that occupies the entirety of 675 is brought down here.}

Minsker Yizkor Book
(Committee for the Yizkor Book of Minsk and Vicinity)

June 30, 1961

H. Leivick, Honorary Chairman
N. Chanin, Chairman,
Workmen's Circle
175 East Broadway N.Y., 2, N.Y.
Tel OR 4-3400
E. Persky, Co-chairman
S. Lesnik, Treasurer
250 West 94th St., N.Y. 25, N. Y.
Tel RI 9-1474
N. Kantorowicz, Secretary
G. Aronson, Secretary


H. Berger (Philadelphia, Pa.)
R. Block
S. Chesnin (Lincoln, Neb.)
N. Chaet
I. Dinerstein
S. Drazen
Dr. A. Ducker (Chicago, Ill.) [4]
E. Eberill
M. Elkin
Dr. L. Fogelman
N. Goldin
D. Golman
Dr. S. Grayzel (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Mrs. E. Kreindel
M. A. Lehman
E. Lisicki (New Orleans)
H. Markovitch (Boston, Mass.)
P. Maslow
D. Platt
Sara Reisin
H. Rogoff
M. Schapiro (Philadelphia, Pa.)
J. Zuckerman
Ch. Zunser


Gregory Aronson
352 West 110 St. N.Y. 25, N.Y.
Tel . MO 2-6397
Nachum Kantorowicz
Daniel Persky

To my dear friend Daniel Persky, greetings and blessings!

Yesterday we were in touch with our friend N. Chanin, and decided that it would be expedient to have a short and practical meeting regarding our matter – the Book of Minsk. Only the members of the presidium and the editors, 6-7 people, will be invited. Of course, it is appropriate that you, esteemed friend, will come to the meeting:

Thursday, July 6, 5:00 p.m. in the office of N. Chanin (Workmen's Circle, 8th floor).

I will present an accounting of editorial matters. I have not yet organized the distribution of the important topics. It has not yet been decided who in Israel will deal with the topics of Zionism and the religious situation in Minsk. Dr. A. Shevital writes to me that he is deeply occupied with work on other issues, and has great doubts whether he can become involved with the work about the Jewish community in Minsk… Despite this, there have been a few positive developments in our preparatory work, about which I will relate at the meeting.

With the hope of seeing you in the near future, I extend to you my best wishes.


Gregory Aronson

The letter of the secretary of the committee for the publication of the Book of Minsk, Gregory Aronson, to Daniel Persky about matters of the book.

In the mid-1960s, David Cohen, a Minsk native and a resident of Ein Harod (Haichud) [5] became involved in the task. With unparalleled dedication and conviction, he took upon himself the burden of action, and carried it through to its conclusion. Slowly but surely, with the fruitful and broad work of the Committee of Natives of Minsk and its Environs – with the organization of meetings and consultations, the setting of plans, meeting immigrants, and concern for the strengthening of the community of Minsk at schools – work was being done on the book with enthusiasm, zeal and unflinching stubbornness. The existing material was obtained, and the task was commenced toward the end. Lessons were heard from the professors of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Dozens of ideas were organized for the compilation of the contents from veteran natives of Minsk as well as

[Page 676]

from new immigrants. Efforts were coordinated with the Department of Oral Documentation of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It especially dedicated itself to the topic of “Byelorussian Jewry during the Holocaust”, and did comprehensive work for the book. It was concerned with collecting photographs to present valuable archival material. Simultaneously, efforts were expended to raise money and to commission comprehensive historical research for the book.

On the 18th of Iyar 5629 (May 7, 1969) a consultation regarding the plans for the Book of Minsk took place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at the initiative of David Cohen. Professor Shmuel Ettinger, Professor Chaim Hillel Ben-Sasson and Dr. Mordechai Nadav participated from the university, and David Cohen, Yisrael Rituv, Chaim Libshai, Mordechai Berger, and Chemda Moses-Nofech participated from the Minskers. The general principals for the organization of the book were set at this meeting, and fundamental topics that must be illuminated were noted.

In the middle of 1971, David Cohen set out for the United States regarding matters of the Books of Minsk, and regarding collaboration with the Organization of the Research of the Jewish Diaspora in Jerusalem. On this trip, David Cohen met with the remnants of the Minskers, and searched for additional documents and archival material for the Book of Minsk.

Throughout all the years, David Cohen maintained connection in person and by letter with many people regarding the Book of Minsk. He received great support from President Zalman Shazar, David Zakai, Aryeh Dulchin, Gideon Hausner [6] and others.

David Cohen convened meetings from time to time to discuss means of expediting the production of the book. People who were close to the matter and who were concerned about the book participated in these meetings in various roles. These people included: David Zakai, Avraham Even-Shoshan, Shlomo Even-Shoshan, Mordechai Berger, Leo Goldberg, Aliza Goldberg, Reuven Goldberg, Sara Goldberg, Dov Ginsburg, Moshe Dulchin, Professor Shmuel Horwitz, Yitzchak Zwiren, Shmuel Zwiren, Mordechai Chaimovsky, Moshe Tesman, Sara Kfari, Malka Lachovsky, Chaim Lavshai, Sinai Leichter, Michael Minkow, Nechemia Maccabee, Gershon Mann (Minkow), Betzalel Perlman, Shneur Tzuri, Avraham Kaplan, Yisrael Ritov, Aryeh Ram, and others.

With his constant efforts to actualize the endeavor, David Cohen searched for an editor of the book. The list of candidates grew and shrank. The collected materials and ideas were given to Pinchas Oren of Jerusalem for a first pass. Sinai Leichter worked with a portion of the gathered material, and added to it his general, comprehensive review.

A the beginning of 1972, representatives of the Organization of Minsk Natives – David Cohen, Avraham Even-Shoshan, and Mordechai Chaimovsky, with the publishers of the Kibbutz Hameuchad – agreed that the writers of these lines, a publisher, a member of Kibbutz Sde Nachum, would take upon himself the task of editing the book.

As the material was being edited, it became clear that the publication of the entire book in one volume would compromise the appearance of the pre-Soviet material, which naturally had less material. Therefore, at a large meeting in October 1972, it was decided to publish the book in two volumes, and to accelerate the publication of Volume I, which would cover the Minsk community from its inception until 1917.

At the beginning of 1973, parts of the material started to be submitted for publication. David Cohen assisted the editor with all issues relating to the collection of missing material, and bringing the book to publication.

However the bitter fate that overtook many of those who dreamt of the Book of Minsk did not pass over David Cohen. On March 5, 1973, when he was still in the midst of this work, David Cohen was killed in a traffic accident.

With the burial of the dreamer – the dream was not destroyed. The image and memory of David Cohen – the bearer of the flag of the community of Minsk and its book – encouraged the continuation of the work.

In the final stages of the work, the following dreamers and participants of the book when along their final journey – Leo Goldberg, Yaakov Kassel, Mordechai Rabinovich, Michael Minkow, Reuven Goldberg, Rabbi Zeev Broide, Dr. Moshe Kalyutch. May their memories all be blessed.

Now, with the conclusion of the first volume of the Book of Minsk – we include in the joy of completion all of those to whom this was a precious dream, their ideal – and who did not merit to see the end result. It seems that from their remains, their lips move, the lips of those who repose, with a blessing on the conclusion.

Sde Nachum, 20-21 Tammuz, 5734

Translator's Footnotes:
1 It is interesting to note that both of these dates were on Chol Hamoed, April 20, 1938 being Chol Hamoed Pesach, and October 12, 1938 being Chol Hamoed Sukkot. Return
2In the second letter, below, the name is spelled Persky, which is the spelling that I used throughout. Return
3The “Forward” or “Forverts” was the main Yiddish daily newspaper in the United States. Return
4In the two letters, the name is spelled Ducker. However, I have verified with A. Duker's niece, Jonina Duker (the coordinator of the Minsk Yizkor Book translation), that this family branch chose to spell the name without the 'c'. Consequently, I spelled the name as 'Duker' in the text, but as 'Ducker' in the transcription of the names of the two letters. Return
5Haichud identifies the Kibbutz (Ein Harod) with one of several Kibbutz organizations. Another Kibbutz organization mentioned later in this article is “Hameuchad”, which also runs a publishing house, mentioned in this article. Return
6Gideon Hausner (1915-1990) was a member of Knesset, the director of Yad Vashem, and the chief prosecutor at the Adolf Eichmann trial. Return

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