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[Page 246]

(Kapyl, Belarus)

53°09' 27°06'

Translated by Jerrold Landau

This place was populated from early times. Implements of stone and bone were found there. Kopyl was designated as a city in the 14th century. Along with Slutsk, Kopyl was a unique duchy during the period of Lithuanian rule. It passed to Duke Radziwil at the beginning of the 17th century.

The town has 338 residents, 41 courtyards, a Christian church, a Catholic church, a Reformed church, two Jewish houses of prayer, an elementary school, two Beis Midrashes, a brewery, two water mills, and six stores.


From the Brokhaus Encyclopedia – Efron

The area of Kopyl is a civic settlement, 12 kilometers from the Timkovichi railway line (on the Osipovichi Baranovichi line, 186 kilometers from Bobriusk). Kopyl had a factory for the production of butter and cheese. In 1952, there were two high schools (Russian and White Russian), a library, and a movie theater. Various types of agricultural activities take place in the area, including potato cultivation, and the raising of chickens and cattle. It also had 2 sovkhoizes [state farms], 3 stations for machinery and tractors, 2 alcohol stills, a brick kiln, and 7 electrical stations.

According to the Soviet Encyclopedia

* * *

From the Newspapers

[Map at the bottom of page 246 – a hand drawn map of the area of Slutsk. Borders are pre World War II.]

On April 11th, a fire broke out in one barn and consumed the city. Approximately 300 houses, 4 Beis Midrashes and the Great Synagogue that had been standing for about 300 years and had been recently renovated were all consumed by the fire within two hours. The residents were not able to save the treasures and valuables from the Beis Midrashes and the synagogues. Thirty-seven Torah scrolls were burnt in the Great Synagogue, over and above the Torah scrolls and the many books and other items that were consumed in the Beis Midrashes. Kopyl became a ruin. Only 20 houses in the higher points of the city remained. On April 13th, the fire returned to consume that which remained. It destroyed fifteen of the remaining houses, including one Jewish house. We are hereby publicizing our great sorrow to the public, and requesting assistance and kindness from the neighboring towns, that they should have mercy upon the poor people of Kopyl, and offer them support so that they can rebuild, and a city among the Jewish people shall not be wiped out.

An upright man, a resident of Kopyl. From “Hakarmel,” Volume 8, Tammuz 2, 5626 – 1866.

* * *

On Sunday 28th of Iyar, a fire broke out in the house of one person, and speedily became a conflagration. Approximately 100 houses, including large storehouses filled with grain and other foods, as well as many lumberyards, went up in flames. In addition, all of the property that was in those houses was consumed by fire. The damage was great.

Ben Zion Kalman Rubinok, “Hamelitz,” 110, May 20th, 1887.

* * *

Yitzchak Berger, the principal of the private Jewish school in our town, was murdered with a block of wood by unknown murderers.

Der Yud,” Number 33, 1902.

* * *

Rabbis of Kopyl

The Gaon Rabbi Yomtov Lipman, the author of “Kiddush Yom Tov” was a friend of the Gra [Acronym for the Gaon Rabbi Eliahu, known as the Gaon of Vilna] and the friend of Reb Chaim of Volozhin and Rabbi Yitzchak Davidovitz. He died in Karelitz.

Rabbi Avraham Yudelevitz, who died in New York. He was the author of books on homiletics and Jewish law.

Rabbi Yaakov Meir Krabchinski. He was the father of Rabbi Zeev Gold (the Mizrachi leader), and Dr. Rafael Gold, the son-in-law of Rabbi Dov Katz, the author of the “Mussar Movement” and the director of the office of the rabbinate in Israel [unclear if 'son-in-law' is referring to the rabbi who is the subject of the paragraph, or his son].

Afterwards, the rabbinate was divided, and two rabbis served there: Rabbi Shimon Rozovski and Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov, the son of Rabbi Chaim Yosef Lider. Both of these rabbis served in the rabbinate of Kopyl until the year 5684 or 5685 (1924-1925). They can be numbered among the final rabbis of Kopyl.

Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel [The ordering of the rabbis here does not seem to be chronological, as from the context, it would seem that Rabbi Davidson was from an earlier period than those previously mentioned. Incidentally, Rabbi Eliahu of Pruzhan is the maternal grandfather of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, the head of Yeshiva University in New York who died a few years ago, as well the uncle of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the leading sages of the past generation of American Orthodox Jewry], the son-in-law of Rabbi Eliahu Feinstein of Pruzhan. He was the son of Rabbi Yissachar Davidson, the head of the rabbinical court of Kopyl. He was the fourth generation (son after son) on the rabbinate in Kopyl. He was the great grandfather of the famous doctor Yehuda Davidson.

Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel was the great-grandfather of the poet Yitzchak Katznelson, may G-d avenge his blood, who was named after him.

The father of the poet was Yitzchak Binyamin Katznelson, a genius at the Yeshiva of Volozhin.

There was a communal administrator (parnas) in Kopyl whose name was Isser. He was very rich, strongly opinionated, and would give harsh retorts. During the controversy between the rabbi and the community, Isser said about the rabbi: It appears that our rabbi has no stature in our community, for if he did, we would be spitting in front of him…”

Reb Eliahu Moshe Karan. He was a Torah oriented person, one of the Jewish benefactors in east New York. He was a native of Kopyl. He supported Torah institutions with a generous hand. He studied Torah on a regular basis. He died on the 12th of Sivan 5688 (1928) at the age of 80.


Writers who were Natives of Kopyl

Reb Yehuda Leib Davidson. He was born in Kopyl into a rabbinic family. Four consecutive generations sat on the rabbinic seat of Kopyl. His father Reb Ber Kopylier excelled in the depth of his delving into Divine knowledge, in the area of the philosophy of Maimonides, and in the fields of mathematics and astronomy. His father had an extensive library, including modern works.

Reb Yehuda studied with a teacher (melamed) who was knowledgeable in the fields of grammar and bible with commentaries. The teacher was a thoroughly European person by the name of Shmurk who came from Kiev and spoke a clear Russian. This man was expert in Russian and Hebrew literature. He was a sharp orator and critic. His words made a deep impression on Yehuda Leib. When Yehuda was twelve years old, he went to the Yeshiva of Mir, later to Karelitz, and to then Minsk, whose noisy life had an impact on him. His first article “Before the Face of Evil” was published in four installments in “Hakol.” Afterwards, he moved to Warsaw in order to earn his livelihood from giving Hebrew lessons. During the two and a half years there, he passed his exam and received his certificate of matriculation.

He was accepted to the faculty of medicine in university. In accordance with the advice of the Polish writer, Kalmanis Junosza, he translated the Third Travels of Benjamin [famous medieval Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela], and called it by the name of Don Kiszut the Hebrew. His translations were not pleasing to the Poles. These books were sold, and distributed to the public. This served as his source of livelihood. In the meantime, he completed his course of studies and graduated as a doctor.

Reb Avraham Yaakov Zinger. He was born in the year 5624 (1864) in Kopyl. He studied in the Yeshiva of the Gaon Rabbi Ben-Zion Katznelson of Kopyl. He also studied in the Yeshivas of Slutsk and Minsk. He participated in “Hamelitz” in the year 5645 (1885), in “Knesset Yisrael” and in “Haasif.”

He published a long story in “Hamelitz” called “The Trouble of the Daughter”.

He settled in Warsaw in the year 5648 (1888).

Reb Avraham Yaakov Papirna. He was born on Elul 2nd 5600 (1840) in Kopyl. He studied Talmud and the halachic decisors. He went to the Rabbinical Beis Midrash of Zhitomir in 5623 (1863). He participated in “Hakarmel” and “Hamelitz” by publishing poems and investigative works. He served as a teacher in the city of Zakracyn and later in Plock. His books on education included the following:

  1. “The Teacher of Russian Language” (Warsaw, 5629 – 1859);
  2. “Pathways of Teaching for Males” with Russian Translation (5631 – 1871), in six volumes;
  3. A Short Hebrew Grammar in Russian (5633–1873);
  4. Merotz Agarot” [“Course of Collections”] in Hebrew and Russian (5635 – 1875);
  5. Lehrbuch der russischen Sprache” [Textbook of the Russian Language], according to Olendorf's method (5636 – 1876);
  6. Vollständiger Jüdischer Briefensteller” [“Complete Collection of Short Works”];
  7. On the Cheders in general and the Cheders of Slutsk (1884). He participated in the newspapers “Dyen”, “Knesset Yisrael,” and “Haasif.”
The Poet M. Frankel. The Jewish American poet and researcher Michael Frankel died at the age of 62. He was the grandson of Mendele Mocher Seforim.

He was born in Kopyl (Lithuania) [in broad sense of the term], and immigrated to the United States at the beginning of the century. He toured the world a great deal, and in 1926, he lived in Paris for a period of time. There, he encouraged Henry Miller, who was taking his first steps in writing, to devote all of his energies to writing. Together with Miller, he published a book on the philosophical meanderings of Hamlet. He moved to London after the Second World War. He visited Israel a few times. His widow is the French educator Dafna Moshos.


From “Those Days” by Mendele Mocher Seforim

The Decree of the Schools

The town of Kopyl was perplexed, and the Jews there were in deep mourning: they were disturbed by one of the maskilim, named Valilnatel, who along with his friends was the cause of this evil. This person would go around, at the behest of the king and his ministers, to all the cities with a Jewish population. He would gather crowds together and preach to them about the benefits of the school [a modern school]. The Jews of Kopyl would curse him, as did their brethren in all other places. They took council together to decide what to do. They decided to decree a public fast upon the community, to recite Psalms, and to implore the dead in their graves to request mercy on their behalf. The faces of the melamdim [teachers] were blackened like the bottom of a pot, for they were worried to the depths of their souls. These schools would destroy their livelihood, and if there were no salvation and respite coming to them from the Blessed G-d, they would become bloated with hunger, and would go to their graves before their time. From here you can learn why the melamdim were so concerned, and why they complained so vociferously against that decree. The townsfolk were standing in prayer, fasting, and reciting chapters of Psalms in the synagogues. The women were prostrating themselves upon graves, and were shedding rivers of tears in the synagogues. Even the schoolchildren were fasting. Shlomole fasted for the first time in his life during this fast of the schools.

The entire summer was a time of mourning and lamentation, and even the few gentiles in town looked like mourners. The gentile and Jewish residents of the town earned their livelihoods together and lived in peace. Everyone participated in the grief and joys of each other. If there was a wedding feast in a Jewish home, the gentile acquaintances would send gifts: this one a fattened chick, and that one a few dozen eggs, this one a loaf of bread, and that one a loaf of honey, fruit and vegetables, each according to his means. The Jews did the same to them. Therefore, the weeping of the Jews at that time affected the hearts of their gentile neighbors. They wondered, why and to what end is this weeping?

The Jews, even though they were fasting and tearing open the heavens in prayer and supplication, did not rely on a miracle. Until such time as the merit of their forbears would have effect and G-d would have mercy upon them, they did what they could and married off their young children – and the time was a time of great “confusion!” The shadchans (marriage brokers), emissaries of G-d, labored on behalf of the Children of Israel with love, and made haste to bring the young boys and girls to the marriage canopy. Why all this? So that, if Heaven forbid, the decree of the schools should be fulfilled, there would not be found even one child among all of the Jews, for everyone would be married, all of the “young Jews!” To insure that the dowry of the young girls would not be inflated, a rumor was spread in the city that the young girls would be taken away for work in far off colonies.


The Kopyl Fair

Here is the fair! The marketplace, which was quiet on all the days of the year, took on a different appearance and nature during the time of the summer fairs. At such times, the marketplace was teaming with people. New people, and various characters and faces came from villages and towns, all types of noses could be seen – elongated, out of place, sharp, witty, crooked, and peaked. Wild heads of hair were seen, as were various locks of hair, thick beards, thin beards, and people wearing headdresses, caps and frightening hats. There were people wearing linen cloaks, skin coats, wide cloth pants and pantaloons. There were people with laft1 shoes, and nailed sandals. There were people covered with tar and smelling of kerosene. These were the villagers. They came with their wives. The “ugly” wives, with outstretched arms and bare chests, with necklaces of glass and coral around their necks, wearing embroidered and woven linen dresses. They would be sitting on wagons filled with bunches of onions and baskets of eggs. At their feet would be a young two-week-old calf, with all four legs tied up, fainting from thirst for its mother's milk. The spotted cow would be tied to the back of the wagon by its horns, waiting to be sold along with its child – she for milk and the child for slaughter, woe unto both of them.

From the valley, from below the mountain, a camp of horses with rolled back tails and straight manes, approach with a noisy, angry gallop, as they bump into each other in the crowd. Their drivers goad them on with a whip and foot, as they urge them on with a roaring call and a scream towards the horse marketplace, and line them up there! Immediately, the merchants come one after another, testing and examining the teeth of each horse, evaluating their beauty, debating the price, slapping the horse on the back, and passing their hand over the hindquarter. And could it be possible to have a fair without a gypsy? – He too, Grishka, the gypsy, was there! His face was flushed and sweaty from overwork, his hat was tilted to the back of his head. His quiver and his utensils, a knife, pins and iron hooks were attached to his belt. Grishka would walk along, and a tall horse, led by a halter, would go along with him, its skin smooth, with torch-like eyes – it appeared literally like a lion! Leizer Hirsch, the town water drawer, saw the horse in all its beauty and was astonished. He sighed and said to himself: “Oh miser, do not covet what you cannot afford.” But his desires got the better of him, and he opened up his mouth and said: “Oh Grishka, what is the price?” They would converse, and the gypsy would continue with the conversation as he rode easily on the horse, running to and fro. The buyer and seller would haggle, one zuz 2, two zuzim. Both would plead with each other, literally in a weeping voice, take oaths, shake hands, and each one would take hold of the corner of his cloak and bring it to the nose of the other to consummate the deal. Finally, the deal would be established, and they would congratulate each other and share a drink, as was customary! Leizer Hirsch got a bargain. He took hold of the horse and led it home, joyous and glad of heart!

Large crowds of people, young men and women, mothers and children together, would gather together and come. There would be the sound of laughter and the sound of conversation as the eyes were raised upwards. The circus tent was there in the market, with amazing pictures posted on the outside. There were pictures of man-eating beings 3, frightening pictures of animals, flying dragons and various winged beings, photographs of magicians and sorceresses, as well as images of demons, and wild haired, naked spirits. On top of them, on the roof of the tent stood the clown, like one of the nonsensical 4 clowns of the world, a renowned clown, with large multi-colored curls on his hair, dressed in colored clothes with sparkling glaze. He would toot a trumpet, play around, and take a bow before the mothers and girls, daughters of the uncircumcised 5, whose mouths would be filled with laughter. He would continue to clown around, as he enticed them to come into the tent to see the performance.

Music could be heard from all corners of the land. One man, who considered himself to be a musician, would turn the organ 6 wheel with his hand, as it played a song to the audience by itself. A young girl, wearing boys cloths and pants, would dance and leap with all her might through the round opening of a barrel. Next to her, a sickly young boy would do gymnastics, spreading himself out completely, and standing on his head with his feet in the ear. The loud noise of the crowd could be heard on the opposite side of the marketplace, as people were gathering in confusion and with the sounds of strife. Leizer Hirsch and Grishka were fighting in the middle of the crowd and arguing as a horse stood in front of the gypsy, annoying him. The horse was old and weak, without stature and without splendor. The gypsy cheated me!” shouted Leizer Hirsch, as he turned over his case to the crowd – this cheater, may his spirit be crushed, inflated his horse under its skin in order that it should look like an inflated ball, and he even fixed up its teeth with a mouth file. He had given it a wine and spirit spiked potion to drink, so it became drunk, and was able to display the strength of an eagle and run like a deer! The crowd accused the evil gypsy, knocked him down, and beat him profusely in accordance with his evil.


Sources of Livelihood in Kopyl

The largest source of livelihood of the Kopyl community, which gave it fame in all of the towns of Lithuania, was a form of textile for women's headdresses. Astrakhan was a thick cloth, colored dark green, rolled up and folded into many pleats and served as clothing for the poor. The cloth of the headdresses was thin and ironed, with the dimensions of a napkin. The weavers of the town made both types of cloth. The women would put this white headdress on the hairnets atop their heads and position it so that its two ends flow down their back like two heart shaped droplets. Each one had a small, short heart on its side. A kerchief would surround the hatted head, round like the opening of a jar. The ends of the kerchief would be tied up in one knot, and each loose end would go over the side towards the ear, and be hidden there. The older, more modest women would have this knot in the front between their eyes, while the younger women would place it more towards the back. The wives of the rich people would wear a silk, Arab or Turkish style kerchief on Sabbaths and festivals. Each kerchief had an embossed, colored design on it.

The parents on the groom's side would send as gifts to the bride a Turkish kerchief and an embossed kerchief. The bride's family would send a streimel for the Sabbath to the groom. The mothers would be very careful to ensure that the headdress was always clean, ironed and smooth. Two women, homeowners, who were partners in this enterprise and supported themselves, did the smoothing of the headdress. The smoothing was done as follows: these two women would stand opposite each other at the distance equivalent to the length of the headdress. Each one would stand in her place, holding the widthwise edges of the headdress in her two hands. In this manner, the headdress would be stretched out between them in the shape of a gutter. They would place a large stone, glass or iron ball into the trough. One would raise her arms slightly, and the ball would roll from her towards her partner. Immediately, the partner would raise her arms, and the ball would roll back. Thus did the ball roll back and forth in the headdress until it was very smooth.

The gentile weavers in the town would weave these headdresses in their homes, and local Jewish travelling merchants would purchase them with money and with balls of thread that were needed by the weavers. The merchants of Kopyl were for the most part young married men being supported by their fathers-in-law, who were not yet penniless. Even the married sons of Reb Chaim engaged in this business. The headdresses would be passed over to large-scale merchants, who would distribute them throughout the cities of Lithuania. The headdresses of Kopyl were well known in the world, and many purchasers jumped upon them. Livelihood was found in the town, and many people were supported by the headdress business. This business was passed down from father to child.


Partisans in the Kopyl Region

From among the partisans of the Kopyl region, the following were well known: Glichik, a Jewish commander by the name of Zhokov (Brigadier Chapayev, of the brigade of General Major Kapustin).

After the slaughters in Kopyl, Nesvizh, Kletsk, Lyakhovichi, and Stolbtsy, many Jews went out to the surrounding forests. Many of them were unfit for battle. Kapustin ordered Glichik to round up all of those Jews and to set up a special Jewish brigade. The biggest problem was the lack of arms. Bozhanka (this was the real name of Kapustin) did not distribute arms to the Jews, but he rather imposed upon them to acquire arms themselves. The brigade, consisting of sixty people, had in total two guns, four bullets, and had a single aim. After some time, the brigade numbered approximately 200 people – 130 Jews and 70 Christians.

Glichik acted diligently in obtaining arms. He obtained arms in a variety of ways, and in January 1943, the brigade owned 11 machine guns, 23 automatic guns, and 130 guns. The “Zhokov” brigade suffered greatly from the persecutions and searches that the Germans conducted in that area. However Glichik, a native of Kopyl, was astute, and was able to lead his brigade safely through the danger. Only a very small number of members went missing.

* * *

During a hunt that the Germans conducted in the forests of Staritsa in the region of Kopyl on November 7th, 1942, Glichik's brigade excelled in its bravery and successful activities.

For the attack on the Khominka-Hancewicze train that transported railway ties and building materials to the front, Glichik chose 40 armed partisans, under the command of Wiener. He commanded them to bring back the weapons of the killed Germans. The partisans waited in ambush for the train to appear. As soon as the train arrived at the trap that was set, the partisans opened up with deadly fire upon it.

* * *

Prior to the war, the Jew Glichik served as the director of Zagotskot (a government economic agency for the provision of meat) in Kopyl. At the outbreak of the war, he fled to the forest of Rayovski and joined a small group of Russian partisans and Soviet activists from Kopyl. Later, he served as captain of the Jewish Zhokov brigade (the Chapayev brigade, the brigade of Maior Kapustin).

There were also many Jews who did not enter the Ghettos, but rather went out to the forests at the time of the invasion of the Nazi soldiers, or hid with farmers that they knew. For the most part, these were the rural Jews, who lived in villages that did not obey the order of the Germans to concentrate the Jews in regional cities, as if they suspected the impending disaster. These also included Jews who worked in the Soviet administration and the Communist party, who knew what was awaiting them at the hands of the cruel invader.

* * *

The brigade of General Maior Bozhanka also took along several light cannons and battalion mortars during its operations of incursion from the Kopyl region to the Grodno and Bialystok areas.

Zhokov's brigade, headed by Glichik, disbanded the end of 1943. The Jewish partisans separated into smaller groups among the Russian brigades that operated in the Kopyl region.

* * *

Commander Glichik, who was very familiar with the area for he had lived there for several decades, knew that the Germans, upon their entry to Kopyl, took out many Russian prisoners to be killed, and buried them with their arms (near the town of Staritsa). Along with the group of partisans, he removed the rusty arms from the communal grave, and thereby obtained 33 guns, 4 machine guns, and thousands of bullets. Afterwards, the brigade conducted an attack upon the families of guards that were on German service, confiscated their property and purchased arms with the help of farmers with whom they were acquainted.

Eight Jews from the above mentioned brigade, who worked in the armament storehouse in Stolbtsy prior to their flight into the forest and remembered the building plan and its passageways, went there in the darkness of the night and removed 12 guns and 200 bullets from the attic of the storehouse. Thanks to the arms that they obtained, they were able to accept additional young people into the brigade, who were trained for battle.

(From “The Book of Jewish Partisans” and the story of M. Kahanovitch.)

[Photo page 250, Leiwik Peker and his wife Roza.]

  1. I am not sure of the meaning of this. Return
  2. A zuz is a Talmudic term for a coin of a certain value. It is best known from the Chad Gadya song at the end of the Passover Haggadah “One kid, which father bought for two zuzim”. Return
  3. The Hebrew is Lodaim. I am not sure of the meaning. Return
  4. The term here is 'bokin mokin'. I am not sure of the meaning of this expression. Return
  5. A derogatory term for gentiles. Return
  6. The term here is Katrina, which is apparently a reference to some sort of musical device. Return

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