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Vasilishki portion of Shchuchin Yizkor Book (cont.)

Translated by Robert Moretsky

[Page 156]

The Popular Jewish Bank

        The bank was founded after the First World War to initiate the Joint and to support their finances, as it was the spokesman for the cities and many villages in Poland, Lita and others.

        The bank gave small loans to business people that it aided and apparently not just a little to the humble. Particular help was given to those trapped and overcome with weariness on Market Day, those whose subsistence each Tuesday of the week was affected because of bad luck caused by hot temperature, bad weather, or other reasons.

Also, the bank was composed of fair-minded town leaders, who were able to meet once per week with tea found in the samovar at the end of the table and while enjoying a glass of vodka.

        In the photograph taken in the mid 1920's that appears on page 157 of the members of the bank committee are(Left to right) Shmuel GLEMBOTSKY, Ya'acov Lieb FOSHTER, Nota YONAS, Shmuel YESINOVSKY, Getsal SHVARTZ, Reb Aryeh FEIGUS, Mayer ONAZOVSKY, Reuven Yona RUBINOVITZ bank manager, later came----Yidel PEIKOVSKY.


The Amateur Drama Circle

They will come with the solemn blessing from their initiatives and great energy expended each day of our innocence; this Yizkor Book will see light and will be immortalized through all the established culture performers in this Drama Circle.

        This will be my compensation, as I review that wonderful period, if only in a small way to honor the spirit of those happy young men and women, who carried with them cultural assets and drama to the town and its vicinity.

        It is a great privilege for me to tell about the Circle's history and the activities of its members and not because it [sic] was considered among the wider audience to be a Prima Donna. Therefore, I was extremely happy for the opportunities I was given. I will try in these pages to remember those forgotten individuals. They will not perish from your thoughts and will live from this Yizkor Book happily to remain in the future with other Jewish documents as a witness to the Nazi destruction of the culture and life of our little town, Vasilishki

        The Dramatic Circle in Vasilishki was the organization attracting the greatest number of supporters. The residents cheered each one of the shows and followed closely with interest each performance. Actually, we in the Circle were in the pursuit of those, who welcomed us as symbolic of active leadership of the youth. The first theater performance was after the First World War.

[Page 157]

Picture of the Bank Directors

[Page 158]

This period was dominated by a fragmented economy that was in ruins prior to the post-war recovery. A small number of girls volunteered to act, to help inexpensively. This was stated expressly as assistance for the neediest families and as tea, hot cocoa and bread-rolls distribution -- in the schools. These actions were conducted under "Vad Ezra" (Help Committee) supervision from the town dignitaries and the charitable women's relief organizations.

        With the situation improving, we turned to those volunteer girls for wider intellectual activity, to broaden horizons. To establish a discerning budget to result in establishment of the Circle, their strength told them to arrange a meeting first.

        Our house on Belitzka Street was behind the church opposite the Circle's club. In this secular house was significant activity. My sister, the blessed Henya, of blessed memory, was involved with the youth and until becoming a mother was the most famous name near and far. Indeed she was talented. The audience, filled with admiration, was privileged to see the show. The privilege arose from acts that went to the core, penetrating community consciousness. Proceeds went to fund the library and the firemen.

        From mouth to ear, we will state that in the VOLOCHINSKY house was found a dwelling for volunteers for active public service, where everyone was free to join and to explore their talent, ability, and intelligence. The first meeting included the following members: Henya VOLOCHINSKY (FOSHTER) Mola FOSHTER, Chazel PUPKO, Yitzhak KOPELMAN, Kalman VISELESKY, Breinah ORLANSKY, Liza GORDON (KOIFMAN) and Mendel MASHEVSKY.

        We were approached vigorously to support their programs [difficult learning conditions] in a dilapidated shack (later used by future firemen). From a planked stage, they performed the first play "Shelter That Orphan", and later " Di Tzebrachene Hertzer" [That Broken Heart] and " Der Vilder Mentch" [The Wild Gentleman]. In the latter play, my sister Nataleh had the principle role and was dressed as a man (in the absence of men needed to rise above the stage. [sic]) Its brief success had been under-estimated; enthusiasm was universal and applause unrestrained.

        Encouraged from the experience, we vigorously approached others to work with intensity. They joined as the new members of the Circle, enlarging and adding new strength to the production. Most were sad that she [Nataleh] was not their sister, not more than a partner to them, when her sudden death ended the liveliness of the youngsters. On behalf of the Circle, she was, from a smitten grave, a guide to them on the beginning of their route; she was taken from us, sacrificing ability and daring, without an apology. On her tombstone, I placed an inscription promising to continue donating to the community and not to stop supporting the Circle in its work.

        LATER YEARS: Slowly, they sprouted as we grew a generation as a field of splendid flowers, as we collected took up honey and the reward of plants being used. A youthful rebel generation with a rich, contented imagination was approached gradually to establish the public institutions and the instruction. Everywhere, we were recognized for our influence, and not in vain, since we were seen as a town with an intense purpose and contentment. Only with that force needed to hasten the decay of the public institutions [sic] and to snare a cultural advantage and expose the action of the carefree residents. However, they established the Fire Brigade; the battalion chief was Yitzhak PUPKO, of blessed memory. They founded an orchestra for special festivals and performed in our shows, becoming integral to them. They also composed music for the theater intermission. We arrived in the timed race to train, running the hundred yards as early members, happy that their energy and our ability would energize all of us to the later dramatic performance of "War Battles." (These were the first duties of director and the writer.)

[Page 159]

        We continuously presented plays by GOLDFADEN, SHALOM ALEICHEM, PERETS and MANSKY. To lessen the pride we were given, in 1926, we shortened the greatly successful show “The Dybbuk” and “Tsepka Piyar” as they presented the title Diaspora.

        The enthusiastic and encouraging reaction from the audience gave us strength and the devotion for all our power to work artistically and raise standards. Whenever an evening began in the VOLOCHINSKY house, it contained all the devoted members with lofty ideals. When they stayed continuously until the late hours of the night, unrecognizable in front of them was the fearful hardship of their weariness to delay a work day, in restoring freshness and force for their wonderful new production.

        These were amateurs. You were obligated to neither the town establishments nor a known boundary. The group revenues were important to the Tarbut workers and education, etc. This was the Dramatic Circle from which we derived the institutions for its great assistance and its development, as they were a blessing.

        My father, of blessed memory, built confidence in us and protected us in our home. He headed the new committee that selected all of the members: Ya'acov GLEMBOTSKY, Yitzhak FINKELSTEIN, Shmuel MESHVESKY, Yosef MEDLINSKY and more.

        Yehoshua BOYARSKY, the banker, managed the technical work. The finance minister was Yosef MEDLINSKY, known for his expertise in selling the expensive tickets initially and his diligent positive strength in budgeting and his ability to unite.
The regular prompters were Mordechai BAS, Gedalia SHEVETSKY and Aidal VOLPINSKY.

        Remembered here were the acting crew and member workers that contributed so much to the community life. Honorable members were, Asha Aiteh GLEMBOTSKY, Chaya DOLINSKY, Chana GOLOMEV, Yehuda KOPELMAN, Yitzhak FINKELSTEIN, Herman SENDIK, Israel GORDON, Mattel STOLER, Shmuel MESHVESKY, Gedalia SHEVETSKY, Yosef MEDLINSKY, Nachum Yosef TABLITSKY, Ya'acov GLEMBOTSKY, Miplov Mordechai BAS and Aidel VOLPINSKY. Those distinguish for long life from within our Circle were Rosa MEDLINSKY (GEFEN), Shtarna BOYARSKY (BARKOVITZ), Lizeh VOLOCHINSKY (HOCHSTEIN), Yehoshua BOYARSKY, and Yosef SHVETSKY.

        The soloists in the chorus were children of the GLEMBOTSKY family (under the direction of Yankil, Asha Aiteh and Tevelieh Rachal) Menucha TZETLER, Groneh STANETSKY of blessed memory and Chaya KREVITZ (ALPERT), the Chaya from within the group. This chorus gave sound to the ear in the evening. Without trembling from the memory of these angelic pioneer daughters, we heard the orchestra resonate after the curtains. Still today, after 35 years, I hear, as if from space their singing and musical instruments. What once survived for us was a desire for the lullaby of the youth.

Sentimental memories, that turns to eternal sadness.


[Page 160]

From the Near Past

Vasilishki. In every town there was a main street, but only once a week was this street filled with people, Tuesday, the weekly market day. From the entire rural vicinity came loaded wagons of produce, and we young boys found suitable opportunities to be a little “independent” and do all that that we desired or go to other areas. We escaped the work that our parents were busy with; and we were not engaged with them.

        The central street route was not only used on market day, but was also used by the youth for nationalistic Zionist parades when it became filled with walkers and on weekdays was used for playing games. I was between them. I played next to the homes that stood in the neighborhood. These were the homes of Reb Muteh-Ber POPKA, of blessed memory, and of Reb Svi Chaim Yehoshua TABLITSKY, of blessed memory. From our games, we were sometimes a little persuaded to go away until we returned to the stores. I remember the store of Chenen KREVITZ of blessed memory, because that was where I received candy.

        With the arrival of my Uncle Hershel TABLITSKY, of blessed memory, from Lida (a large town) with merchandise for the shops, I loved to take advantage of him by riding a very short distant on his wagon. I was given five Grashim; and immediately, I bought a hot bagel at Fieve the Baker of blessed memory. Then, I was 9 years old.

        My memories are exceedingly poor from those days. I do not remember much happiness in my youth. There were seven children in my family; and we barely made a living from the earnings of my father, of blessed memory.

        My father did not only belong to me. He was the possession of many, many children in Vasilishki and from him, they received knowledge and a foundation for their elementary learning. Who did not learn from him? Who did not remember and mention respect for the name of Yitzhak der Lerer (Yitzhak the Teacher)?


Picture at bottom of the page: Teacher and Students.

[Page 161]

        Beloved were his pupils, those many children from Vasilishki who studied with him and today are scattered throughout the wide world, Yitzhak the Teacher-------a source of education and study together for the benefit of Judaism and Zionism.

        With special admiration, our strength in my father's house was to honor us as we received the health and his feelings.

         My father did not have a job as a teacher at the Tarbut or the Yavna schools and was compelled to make his livelihood away from there. Ami TZEVIA, of blessed memory, died nearby during the war. My father was murdered in the town Rozanka on the first day of the entry of the Germans.

        As mentioned, students of Yitzhak DEM were scattered throughout the world as well as whole families, Baruch Hershel, the first born son, found shelter in Grodna. Later, he was shot in the gruesome slaughter and was taken from there to Treblinka to be incinerated. Yisraelik GOYIS joined the Red Army in 1940 and has not been heard of since. Saralah, Minalah Meshalah found death in the giant grave in Vasilishki together with the other residents.

        My sister Chaya'le and I are living witnesses. We now live in the land of Israel.

        Dov KOZNIETZ

Departing the Town

It was 1924 when a chapter of the “Chalutz” was founded in Vasilishski, as one of the active chapters. In accepting chapter activities, I belonged to the group “HaKovesh,” then in Vilna.

        A year later, in 1925, I received a message that permitted me to travel to Ha'Aretz-Yisrael after a “certificate” was delivered to me in my name only without any changes in the desired document, although everyone who received one was required to arrange false marriage documents. Not in each case were the results of a marriage oath especially happy.

        I remember the difficulty of my immigration and my heartfelt feeling toward departing the town, from members, from the chapter and from dear friends that helped me so much, even though they envied me. Here, I am a clerk in Israel with Ziedel PIEKOVSKY and Tanchum GORDON, content and not lacking effort as they traveled one time to Vilna to prepare the paper work.

        A person needed departure preparation from the chapter. Congratulations and wishes to many, generally without forgetting my last moments, before I left them; and I wandered across the sea. I took every opportunity for an extra look at the town as if I wanted to memorialize all aspects and to inscribe my heartfelt memories about my youth. Rachal DOLINSKY (KREVITZ) traveled with me. It is up to us as it was said in Yiddish, “Beyde Rokhl'ekh forn keyn eretz-yisroyl.” The two Rachals travel to Israel.

        My yearning for the town and for the endearing people, overcame all that kept me from her. Many memories, and especially pleasant ones, accompany me until today. I dream about a visit one more time. Uplifting my soul----and not one more time----to raise my eyes and to provide a view of the town bestowed and consecrated and to look again into their faces and to again meet dear ones and friends. To pass the market again and meet them up close, those that came from my surrounding village, with their loaded wagons of agricultural produce, such as: Shalaova, Lavyatka, Miseovits, Pelyasa and more.

        We hid our dreams; and they were not realized.


[Page 162]

To the Memory of Dr. Mark Lifshitz

Mark LIFSHITZ was known and liked by all. He was active in “Ztairi Ztion” (Young Zionists). Although the family moved to Grodno in 1920, he kept in touch and often visited Vasilishki. In Grodno, he was active in the Aretz Yisrael office, helping us with paper work for aliyah, although unsuccessful, since the British stopped aliyah.

Picture of Dr. Mark LIFSHITZ, of blessed memory.

[Page 163]

I stayed in Grodno and worked in the same office with Mark. His heart's desire was to make Aliyah. After finishing his medical training in the university in Germany, he joined the staff of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

        When the war atrocities became known, he went to Tel Aviv to meet with others from Vasilishki to try to help those who remained there.

        After the war, he went to the America to meet people from Vasilishki. I met Mark while he was in New York.

        He returned to Israel and became ill. He joked, “The doctors want to convince me that I am sick.” The doctors were right; and he died shortly thereafter.

        May his memory be blessed.


A Memorial to Dear People

        Dear Vasilishki! I came from Vilna to this small town, small but full of life. A main street was also the market square, with its little houses full of life. The local merchants, the out-of-towners, the Shaliach and the “Betar” members who defied the “Socialists.”

[Page 164]

It was here that “HaChalutz” branch had two small rooms in an old house, full of life. Most of the young people in town came to hear lectures, readings, recruitment, etc.

        In the “Tarbut” school, the children learned Hebrew and Zionist values. The Orthodox Jews had a school of their own and also taught Hebrew. The town was divided with each school having its following that caused tempers to run high at times.

Picture: the students of the “Betar” school 1937.

One day, I went to Rabbi Eliyahu EIZENBUD'S house; and he received me warmly. He pointed to a bookshelf and said, “The Torah is deeper and wider than the sea.” From time to time, I would visit with his daughter; and we would talk.

[Page 165]

I knew Reb Abba KOPELMAN because his daughter was my classmate in the Vilna “Tarbut” seminary. He came to visit her; and we had discussions about religion versus socialism. When I moved to Vasilishki, he treated me like an old friend. He had a difficult life, since his wife died and left him with five young children. He eventually moved, sold his store and house, and moved to a small village. However, he never complained.

        The “Tarbut” school's committee chairman Reb Israel SHAPIRA was happily burdened with the existence of the Hebrew school.

        There was the “Ken” (clubhouse) of “HaShomer HaTzair.” The members were young and energetic in those days before Hitler. There was also a “Ken” of “Betar.” Those that studied in the “Tarbut” joined “HaShomer HaTzair.”

        The religious people accused us teachers of the “Tarbut” of infusing socialism and influencing the students. “Tarbut” and “HaTzair” cooperated as I did while teaching in the years 1932-1935.

[Page 166]

One of the founders of the “KEN” was Moshe STANETSKY. We called him “Meishke Chave's,” because his mother dominated the family. She was active in the “BUND” and he turned to active Zionism and the Chalutz movement in Vasilishki. He was a student in Vilna, but quit school and came back to Vasilishki and founded the “Ken.” Slowly and patiently, he built up the organization, while managing the conflict with parents and not letting anything deter him.

Picture of the organization “HaShomer HaTsair”

[Page 167]

Moshe managed to rent an empty house for the “Ken,” paying the rent out of his own pocket. When someone hinted to the police that the “Ken” did not have a permit for the house, he applied and received one.

Many youngsters went through the legal processes and made Aliyah. Moshe did not make it. He died with rest of the people in the town.


The Martyrs of Birkenau-Auschwitz

        There were sleepless nights, remembering friends and relatives who went to a world without evil. At last, I fell asleep after a day of starvation, hard labor and murder in front of my eyes by Hitler's thugs. In my dreams, I am with my family; and together, we remember yesterday, how they crawled on hands and knees to their death, shot as they embraced. In my dreams, it is over; the evil world is no more; and only chaos rules.

        Suddenly, I am awake, again in this shed with bags of bones, who were once human. The "Stubedinst," cursing, clubs us down from the sleeping shelves to go to morning roll call.

        What? It is day again? The sun is shining? Is there morning light in Hell, too? For whom? For the demons to commit their crimes, murdering the aged and babies, young and old? The residents of Sodom and Gomorrah were angels compared to these murderers. In Sodom the sun stood still and the stars dimmed.

Reflections of My Youth

In my mind's eye, I see the village as it was, although many years have passed. I see the houses and the families that lived in them, the surrounding villages, the forests and the streams. They all talk to me. There was no market square, only one main street. It was the economic and political center of the town. Except for Tuesday, market day, not much business was carried on, leaving time for talking about things, reading books and newspapers.

[Page 168]

The religious people studied the Torah as they were immersed in their own world. In most stores women were knitting stockings or one-fingered gloves.

Picture: Beginning of Grodno Street

From time to time, someone would go and read a poster advertising a Hazan performing, a magician, and a strong man breaking a chain or a troupe of acrobats (this would take place on blankets spread out on the street by the water pump-"Pompe").

[Page 169]

The young people went to school by day and in the evening prepared for Aliyah. Many did not succeed.

Saturday was different. Everyone dressed in his or her best clothes in order to go the synagogue. The streets were quiet. Only in the afternoon did people go out to meet friends and talk. At sundown, they were back in their homes for "Havdala" and prepared for the new week.

[Page 170]

       Tourists did not come to Vasilishki, except for an odd few who returned from America to visit a family grave. There was nothing to attract tourists. There were no museums or galleries and no historical sites.

Picture: two buildings and wagons

Today, the only things seen are the ruins left from the war. Thus, Vasilishki joins the other slaughtered Jewish communities of Europe.


[Page 171]

A Special Person

Before the First World War, the Dramatic Circle was formed with all the income going to the needy. One of the active participants was Henya FOSHTER-VOLOCHINSKY. She was the symbol of modesty and did whatever had to be done for a worthwhile purpose.

Picture of Henya VOLOCHINSKY


Yosef Bier (Boyarsky)

Picture of Yosef BIER

Honest, modest, teacher and noble soul.

       From his youth he was attracted to Zionism and was a champion of Hebrew renewal. Many of his students are found in America and Israel.

[Page 172]

During his entire life, he devoted himself to public work, helping the needy with his own money and with contributions from his friends at home and in America. He also helped the children with their studies, often without payment. The children adored him.

When it was decided to commemorate Vasilishki in a book, he volunteered enthusiastically, ignoring his own poor health. His illness finally defeated him, ending his hopes.

He was a good friend and that is how we will remember him.

Blessed be his memory.


Under Soviet Rule

       In September of 1939, the Soviet army crossed the border close to Vasilishki. The Polish authority fell apart. The officials dispersed, leaving their families behind.

There was fear among the villagers. They stopped working, as they were worried about what the future would hold.

On Yom Kippur, 1939, the first Russian soldiers entered Vasilishki. They were greeted with joy. They showed interest in our way of life, but told us of the Russian "Heaven," one not lacking in anything including salt and matches.

A few weeks later, the civil authority was organized. The central mission was nationalization of the stores and elimination of private enterprise. The economic structure fell apart. Stores closed because of lack of merchandise since farmers refused to sell for money, only for cloth, leather, etc. The political parties disappeared. Instead, we had the "Comsomol" and the communists.

[Page 173]

The schools were taught in Russian or Byelo-Russian. There was no more Shabbat observance. Public opinion meant nothing. There were no jobs. The wealthy people were exiled to far off Siberia. Among the exiled were Leizer KUSHNER, Ya'acov PORTNOY, Ziska KABETZNIK and Pinchas PEKOVSKY, who were tried in court for illegal trading. The artisans organized in cartels and lived quietly.

The authorities built a cinema, a communist center, a hospital with a maternity ward and started free evening classes for the underprivileged.

So it went until the spring of 1941. On June 22nd, Molotov announced on the radio that the Germans had crossed the border of White Russia. A general mobilization was called, but the Germans struck destroying everything that the Russians had built. The Russians retreated east leaving the village to the mercy of the Nazi animals.


The Martyrs of Birkenau-Auschwitz

        There were sleepless nights, remembering friends and relatives, who went to a world without evil. At last, I fell asleep after a day of starvation, hard labor and murder in front of my eyes by Hitler's thugs. In my dreams, I am with my family and together we remember yesterday, how they crawled on hands and knees to their death, shot as they embraced. In my dreams, it is over, the evil world is no more, and only chaos rules.

        Suddenly, I am awake, again in this shed with bags of bones that were once human. The "Stubedinst," cursing, clubbing us down from the sleeping shelves to go to morning roll call.

        What? It is day again? The sun is shining? Is there morning light in Hell too? For whom? For the demons to commit their crimes murdering the aged and babies, young and old? The residents of Sodom and Gomorrah were angels compared to these murderers. In Sodom the sun stood still and the stars dimmed.

[Page 174]

A dark day, waiting for hours for the S.S. officer to send us to work. The "Brokfuhrer" arrived, but still we waited. There is one missing. He is found under the shelf, died during the night.

        Work? What work? There is no creative work in Birkenau, just hard labor, in order to starve, to tire and to break people physically and mentally. That is the purpose of Goethe's and Kant's heirs. When they succeed in making him a "Mussulman," they move him to the gas chambers. That is the situation and the daily agenda in Birkenau, carried out in German precision.

        On this day, waiting to go to work, an announcement: no Jews were to go out today. Something terrible is to happen, such as another "selection." One of those carried out by the notorious Dr. Mengele, a modern man, who took the Hippocratic oath when he received his medical degree and then used his medical knowledge to destroy part of humanity.

        But why today? Oh, yes, the high holidays are coming; and he likes to conduct human sacrifices on the holidays. I was lucky again that I was not selected.

        On the eve of this black day, all those picked by Mengele will gather in one shed. After lights out, I sneak over to spend the night with them, about 150 newly arrived from the Lodz ghetto. They were middle-aged, but not emaciated. We sat and cried together.

[Page 175]

        I told them, "You are going to a martyr's death. When you get to the next world, gather our forefathers and all the power and go to HIS seat and beg HIM to be merciful to HIS people." I also said, "Take revenge on our murderers, strangle them in the crematorium and as you die sing "Hatikva" as you go through the camp." They did.

        Their request was that I ask the S.S. officer to commute their sentence, because they were still strong and could still work. I promised that I would try. The answer from the S.S. officer was "We don't need Jews or their work."

        After that dark night, I walked around the camp like a sleepwalker. I could not recover from that awful tragedy that befell a whole people.


Moishe'le Foshter the Avenger

        His name became a symbol of heroism in fighting the Nazis. He was born in 1922 to Henia and Shmuel. His mother died when he was very young. He was educated in the "Tarbut" school.

         During the war, the Nazis hunted Jews all over Europe. When it was Vasilishki's turn, Moishe'le decided to fight back. Pursued by armed soldiers on motorcycles, he managed to escape and found shelter with a farmer friend, but not for long.

Picture of Moishe'le FOSHTER

        He persuaded the farmer to go to town for news. I sent word to him via the farmer to come to the ghetto and join us, the two hundred Jews. "I am not going back to the ghetto," he declared. He asked me to send him a suit of cloths that he sold and bought a rifle and joined the partisans.

[Page 176]

        He fit in easily with his new way of life, initiating attacks on the Nazis. He urged other Jews from the Ghetto to join him in fighting the enemy.

        He was appointed a leader of a mixed Jewish and Russian platoon. They destroyed arms and food caravans and killed policemen and collaborators. He was tireless in his battles; and his heroic deeds were known all over the region.

        On New Year's eve 1943, he was sent to Zablotz to blow up dairies that supplied the Germans. The operation was successful, but on the way back, they were ambushed; and Moishe"le was killed.

        In his letters before the war, he said that his dream was to go to Eretz Yisrael. The dream ended somewhere on the field of battle.


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