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[Pages 369-371]

The Death of Devorele

by Zadie Chodaker

Translated by Sandy Bloom

Notes: The given name of the author of this chapter is not known; he just uses the Yiddish word for “grandfather.” The Chodak family was related by marriage to the family of Devorah Silberberg, the subject of this chapter. Devorah's sister Charna was married to Asher Chodak. Also, a village near Shumsk was called Chodak. This chapter was originally written in Yiddish and was translated to Hebrew by Dr. Gita Gluskin, then to English by Sandy Bloom with assistance from Rachel Karni.

I was born and grew up in Shumsk. My family was among the poor families of the town.

I studied in the cheder (school) and lived in the house of the rebbi (teacher) and his wife. In payment I had to help in the house: to remove the slop water, to watch the children of the rebbi and his wife, and shop for the family at Haim Aharon's store on the hill. The rebbi didn't spare his rod and he hit me with his leather belt while insulting and shouting at me. So I didn't have an easy life.

I also attended a Russian school in which the teacher seemed to enjoy hitting us, with his ruler or bare hands, for every small infraction. He especially hit the Jewish children if he found that someone wrote Yiddish songs in his notebook, or carried Hebrew-language books.

By the time I was 15, I was rather educated and knowledgeable for my generation. As “proof” of this my father hired me out to Mrs. Golda[1] from the Obych village near Shumsk, who employed me to teach her children for a salary of 25 rubles a term. I was a real modern teacher and taught the children to read Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian too. I also taught them Chumash with Rashi, Tanach, how to recite the prayers, how to say the blessings and recite the Shema, and other subjects which I wanted to know more about. In addition I had my chores: to take out the slop water, prepare feed for the cow and walk through the entire length of the village with a basket to buy eggs and other staples for business.

I was very happy when the Communist Revolution broke out in 1917. I was so happy that my heart almost leapt with joy. Everything in the hands of the common people! Everyone equal, no more privileged classes! No differences between Jews and non-Jews! We would all walk hand in hand to create a new world full of light, happiness and wealth. I marched together with all the others, holding hands in a huge demonstration with red flags, overjoyed and beaming with happiness. I sang the anthem so loudly that I became hoarse.

No more Czar! No more property owners! No more slaves, no more differences between Jew and non-Jew, and no more “cursed Jews.” All are equal! Very quickly I understood that I must not watch from afar; instead, my place was with the revolutionary army. With great enthusiasm I found myself among the ranks of the revolutionaries as a volunteer deep in Russian territory in the large commercial city of Saratov, on the banks of the Volga.

For family reasons I was allowed to return home to Shumsk. In the meantime the pogroms against the Jews had begun so I remained in my hometown. I was a member of a small weak self-defense organization in the town, headed by someone called Sender Millman. This organization was sometimes able to help in situations that were not really dangerous. We, a group of dozens of young men who were able to bear arms, would gather together to protect the Jews. One day I saw Avraham, a relative of ours, run out of his house half-naked to protect Jews near the dam. His beautiful dark-haired 18-year-old daughter Devorah ran after him shouting sadly, “Father, I beg you, come back! Don't make us miserable!” But Avraham, the son of Yoel-Zelig, ran to save people; he didn't realize how dangerous it was.

At the same time, a man on horseback wearing a strange-looking fur hat could be seen on the road near the house of Yisroel-Avraham Kotler. The man aimed his gun at Devorele and shouted in a drunken voice, “Shut up, little Jew-girl.” Devorele seemed to obey the man and was silent, but then she stumbled and fell to the ground. I ran to her and saw a pool of blood around her. She looked at me silently with her large brown eyes. I will never forget the strange expression on her face. “Help me get up,” she said, but blood spurted from her mouth and nose when I took her in my arms, brought her into the house and lay her on the bed. Then the blood burst even more powerfully from her mouth and nose and flowed on her body. The bed was wet with her blood.

The elderly doctor, Dr. Jakobson, determined that the bullet had penetrated her left breast and exited through her shoulder. There was nothing he could do to save her.


Dr. Jakobson of blessed memory


It is hard to describe the terrible scene that took place in the house of my relative. Devorele's mother, who was herself ill, kept fainting and screaming, “Save my daughter! Oh, G-d don't take my Devorele!” Devorele answered her in a weak voice, “Mother, forget me! Imagine that I never existed!”

The most tragic moment was when her father returned home and saw what was going on. He beat his head with his strong hands and screamed, “Lord of the Universe, I am the murderer of my child!” He kneeled near her bed with anguished cries. These were most tragic moments. It is doubtful if even a great playwright could present such tragedy on the stage.

But G-d did not listen to their cries. Devorele's condition weakened and became critical. She placed her pale hand on her father's head and in a weak voice she comforted him and said he should forget that he had a daughter named Devorah. She struggled with death and tried to sit upright but a blood clot choked her and burst from her mouth. Her head fell back on the bloodstained pillow and a terrible sigh tore from her chest. She shook a number of times. Her beautiful brown eyes opened wide and stared at some far-off place in another world. Her eyes did not move again.

Outside the sun was just rising.

Translator's Footnote

  1. Possibly this Golda was a daughter-in-law of Kovke and Edis Berensztejn. Their son Yisroel was married to Golda (Rabinowitz). For more information about the Berensztejn family, see the chapter “My Hometown Shumsk,” beginning on page 347 of this yizkor book, and its endnotes, as well as “Remembering Life in Lanovits” on the JewishGen.org KehilaLinks page for Lanovtsy. Return

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