« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 382]


By Moshe Eliyaswhkevitsh of Bnei Brak

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Revised by Mr. H. Mendelson

Lightly edited by Jerrold Landau

Zabrezhe [Zabzhezie – in Polish] is situated on the way to the railroad station, thirteen kilometers from Volozhin. It is a small village on the Berezina (Bierioza) River shore. The Berezina flows to the Nieman River. The village is located among fields and forests, from which the Zabrezhe inhabitants made their living. The local Jews raised rye, barley, potatoes and wheat in those fields.

Approximately twenty Jewish families inhabited this village; three of them lived in the Volozhin railroad station [Horocki], about three kilometers from Zabrezhe. Those families were: Yosef Berman, Chuna Berman and the seamstress widow,

[Page 383]

Temka. Yosef Berman practiced as an agent. He used to receive the goods on the station and move them in horse-carts to the merchants of Volozhin. Chune Berman owned an inn, and Temka made her living by sewing.

Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Levin (Shadal), born in Bobruysk, was the prominent inhabitant of the village. Reb Avraham Moshe Bunimovitsh brought him to Zabrezhe to become his son-in-law. Rabbi Shadal used to study Torah day and night. He did not practice as the shtetl's rabbi. Bunimovitsh was a wealthy man, a Jewish Poretz (land owner). He owned large tracts of land and a spacious house, which was located inside a big, beautiful courtyard. Reb Avraham Moshe was blessed with a special merit; he lived a long life to see great-grand children.

Reb Zecharya Berman and his brother Reb Menahem [Mendel] were also considered as the village's elite.

The majority of the Zabrezhe Jews supported themselves by farming, and the minority by commerce and trades. Aharon Dovidman owned a shoe and leather shop, Duba Berman possessed a cloth shop, and Yehoshua Berman was a flax merchant.

Some of the Jewish farmers cultivated their own fields; the others were land leasers who tilled the land of nearby landlords. They were veritable farmers that worked the soil and made a living from the earth. It would be of interest to mention the estate owner, Mrs. Baranowska. She, her husband, and their son the physician, were considered as righteous gentiles. Mr. Baranowski was friendly with the local Jews, and as I remember that he contributed material to build the Kleizl in Zabrezhe.

The Kleizl was the village spiritual center, where the Jewish civic and cultural life took place. Reb Zecharia Berman performed the Gabbai (synagogue manager) functions. He did not behave like an important personality. On Fridays, personally with his own hands, he used to sweep the floor, dust the tables and benches, arrange the candles, and polish the candelabra, Before Yom Kippur, he would hire a gentile, with his own money, to look from time to time after the burning candles. Three Torah scrolls were kept in the Holy Ark. There was a novel thing, even the books of the early and latter Prophets were written on parchments and set up on scrolls, like the Torah scrolls. The shtetl children used to participate in the Simchas Torah Hakafot with these “Torah scrolls.” The local householders served as prayer leaders. Reb Yechezkel Yahas served as the Torah reader. He died in the winter of 5696 [1936] and was buried in Volozhin.

Even though there were not many Jews in Zabrezhe, the parents used to hire the best teachers to educate their children. Of course, there was a Polish public school, to which the Jewish children were obligated to learn in accordance with the law of compulsory education. The parents were not satisfied with only secular studies. The children studied in the school in the morning and learned Hebrew language and subjects from the Jewish teachers in the afternoons.

Teachers were brought in from nearby towns. They served in this holy task in return for room, board, and a symbolic salary. Whom among them dreamt at that time of salary, and who of the teachers dared to think of a strike to improve the working conditions? The main thing was the dissemination of Torah – the salary was a side point. They did not stay in private apartments; they used to wander from room to room in the houses of their pupils. The teachers that I am able to recall were Reb Zvi from Volozhin,

[Page 384]

Reb Aryeh Leib Grinhoyz from Lebediev (died in Israel in the winter of 5725 [1965]), and Reb Yechiel Segalovitch from Rubazevitsh. The last teacher was Rabbi Kalman Stolir from Vishnevo.

The studies took place in the Kleizl. During the long winter nights, we used to learn by the light of kerosene lamps, the shade of which was heavier than their light. Each student, in turn, would bring from home a bottle of kerosene for the lamps. I must single out for praise the unforgettable teacher Reb Aryeh Leib Grinhoyz. He was a graduate of the Vilna-Hebrew-Teachers Seminary. He taught us Hebrew and the concepts of history and geography of the Land of Israel. His teaching of Bible was very interesting. Hie explanations excelled in their clarity. He brought the Land of Israel alive and palpable before our eyes. We were expert in the landscape of the Land, and we knew the roles that the historical places served during the Biblical period.

Reb Aryeh Leib was a devoted Zionist. He organized the Zionist youth movement in the town. Approximately ten boys and girls participated. These youths were connected with the Zionist movement of Volozhin. He founded a Hebrew library in his home. He himself paid for the first thirty books. This library served as a place of spiritual enjoyment for the students. This teacher loved his students. At the end of classes on winter nights, he would accompany each of us back to our homes.

It has been said that Volozhin and Zabrezhe were like a room and an anteroom. Zabrezhe seemed to be torn from Volozhin and stuck on the main road. The Zabrezhe Jews were bound to Volozhin in every way. They purchased their food and clothing in Volozhin. They buried their dead in Volozhin. There were also connections regarding medical aid. There was no local physician in Zabrezhe, just a medic named Hardinietz from the village of Losk. If someone became ill, they would summon a doctor from Volozhin.

Across the river (i.e. in Zabrezhe), our ancestors lived from ancient times. They lived there for generation after generation and considered their way of life to be dictated by the world order – until the terrible deluge came that wiped out everything. Temka (living in Volozhin) and Yehudit Ginsburg (living in the United States) were among the survivors. The slaughter took place on the first day of Chanukah of 1942. The Paszkowski brothers, who tortured the Jews mercilessly, excelled in perpetrating atrocities.

Our dear ones and their stories will be engraved in our memories, and .their images will flutter before our eyes forever.


Jews who lived in predominantly
gentile villages neighboring Volozhin

By M.Porat

Edited by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Jewish peasants lived in the midst of gentiles in several villages and estates near Volozhin. The Yizkor Book describes some of them: Zabrezhe on page 382, Mizheyki, Goroditshtshe, Koniushtshina and Dubin on page 385, Belokorets on page 317, Youzefpol on page 386.

Jewish families labored in the fields and farmed in those locations for many years.

I remember two such families who lived all isolated from the Jewish community; Berman who resided and was employed by the rail station in Horod'k and Mrs Matke, her husband and their handsome son who dwelled in Rudnik.

I must record a few words from my own recollections of Matke and the Jewish farm in Rudnik, as it was not mentioned in the Yizkor book. Matke with her family lived in out-of-the-way Rudnik, three Km from town. We used to go there by foot; we would pass near the graveyard and then by Bialik's Mount and most of the path would go by the shore of the Volozhinka brook.

The family lived in a spacious house. They also owned a barn and a stable. Cows, geese, poultry and horses surrounded their house. Additionally, the family possessed a vast meadow and a small pine grove.

The entire student body that attended our school, guided by the teachers, would turn up in Rudnik's Grooves every spring for our traditional Lag-Baomer picnic by the bonfires.

The Volozhin region's Zionist youth camps took place on Matke's Rudnik-meadow. I remember that on one occasion mother walked with my sister Sonitshka and I, for a visit with father's cousins; the beautiful Tsherne and Blume Efron from the near by shtetl of Vishnievo. They camped in tents amongst many other young members of “HaShomer Hatzir” youth movement. They “took over” Matke's green meadow in Rudnik.

During summer time the house would turn into a “holiday hostel”. Many of the Volozhin kids spent a few weeks in the inn. They came to breathe in some fresh air. They were sent there with their parent's hopes that they would add a few healthy pounds, since they drank fresh milk right from the cows, and ate fresh eggs straight from the hens.

The gentile peasants did not make any effort to spare their Jewish colleagues and neighbors' life. Not even one of the Jews from the Volozhin vicinity villages survived the Holocaust.

[Page 385]

Mijeyki (village)

By Barukh Tsivony (Farberman) – Haifa

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Further edited by Jerrold Landau

Eight Jewish farming families inhabited the village. The Jews lived there for many generations, earning their bread by the sweat of their brow. Eight large estates owned by Polish nobles, who were also farmers, were located about 300 meters from the Jewish homes. The cultivated land belonged to the settlers. The Jewish plots of land were intermixed between the gentile plots. The Jews of the village were also involved in various trades.

Due to its geographic location, the village served as a crossroads amidst the nearby settlements. Travelers who went from Volozhin to the nearby villages stopped first in Mijkeki. The Jews of Rakov, Krasno, and Horodok would also spend the night in the village and eat there on their way to Volozhin. There was a small inn in the town, run by Malka Kaminstein, the wife of the teacher (we will speak of him further on). She owned a spacious stable , where they brought the horses to rest from the journey. The travelers feasted on a light meal.

The village was tied to Volozhin with strong links. Not even a single shop existed in the village. The inhabitants used purchase food and clothing in the city. The relations were reciprocal. The village supplied the city with all of its milk, eggs, and poultry, for the Jews refrained from purchasing milk and dairy products from the gentiles out due to kashruth concerns. The village specialized in fattening geese for the Jews of Volozhin, for fat for frying for Chanukah and Passover.

Among the village's tradesmen was the well-known tailor Velvel Kaganovitch, who learned his trade in Odessa. He brought back from there his wife (a midwife) who barely had any work, for there were very few births due to the small population. Velvel used to sew primarily for the “high windows” [i.e. prominent people] – the Starosta and senior officials. The affluent residents of Volozhin also had their clothes made by him, for he had golden hands, and each piece of clothing he made as a masterpiece. His fees were high, so only people of means could order a suit from him. He was the father of three daughters, all of whom studied in Vilna. Their father spent beyond his means for them. He went into many debts, with his only intention being that they become educated and learned. His father, Shimon Kaganovitch was a scholarly man, who served as the rebbe [teacher] for the students of the village, and also as the Torah reader.

Another renowned tradesman in Mijeyki was my father “Moshe der Shuster” (Moshe the Shoemaker). He reached the very advanced age of hundred and ten years. He never got sick. He never rested, and he worked day and night. Nevertheless, he lived in a meager fashion, for his income was small. He would serve as the prayer leader even after he became blind, for he knew the prayers by heart. Even though our house was small, my father was very particular about

[Page 386]

hosting guest. At times, several itinerant beggars were hosted in or house. My father would feed them and provide them with a straw mattress on the floor.

The primary concern of the Mijeyki Jews was their children's education. For this purpose, they invited an excellent pedagogue, a Hebrew expert - the teacher Kaminstein from Białystok. He married a native of the village. All the village children were taught Hebrew by him and were very successful in their studies. Kaminstein was the father of four boys, all native to the village. As the boys grew up, they abandoned their father's teaching, the doctrine of Hebrew and national revival. They became known as devoted Communists. Two of them left their village for Russia during the February 1917 revolution. The senior brother became known as a unit commander during the war of the Bolsheviks against Poland in 1919. The unit spent some time in the village. The son spent some time with his father, and then set out in the direction of Warsaw. The second son served as a well-known commissar in the revolutionary committee. He took his mother and two remaining brothers out of the village. Out of fear that their lands might fall into gentile hands, the Jews of the village made a special effort, and each family obtained one eighth of the plot.

A synagogue was built in the village prior to World War One. The Russians destroyed it during the war, and only the skeleton remained. The synagogue was rebuilt in 1921. It was repaired and renovated, and it once again became a fitting house of prayer. Jews of the nearby villages of Godoroicha (in which three Jewish families lived), and Koniushchina, which also had three families also worshipped there. The village of Godroicha was only two kilometers away. Therefore, its Jews came with their children for services every Sabbath. The Jews of the village of Koniushchina, which was six kilometers from the village, only came to worship with us on the High Holy Days. The village of Dubin had only one Jew, a smith. He also came to us with his family for the High Holidays. The Holocaust uprooted all these “children of the earth” from their roots. No trace of them remains.

The Jozefpol Estate

by Benyamin Kutshevitski (Kiryat Motskin)

Translated by M. Porat

Edited by Judy Montel

Further edited by Jerrold Landau

The estate belonged to the Polish landowner Mokaszicki. He was a nobleman, who had inherited these lands. Boruch Kuchevitski[1] and Meir Shif, friends of each other, bought a part of them.

The area was wonderfully beautiful. Two beautiful avenues “The Love Avenue” and “The Parting Avenue” adorned it. In the center there was a lovely fruit orchard that gave off a pleasant aroma. There was a beautiful lawn, with a giant tree in the center. This place served as a place for friendly gatherings.

Springs a distance of 200 meters away provided water. They provided

[Page 387]

clear, cool water for people and animals. They also provided energy for the gristmill and the sawmill. Puddles of water collected on rainy days, and deep quicksand was formed. One could not cross the street without boots.

Two families set up the sawmill and the gristmill on the estate. The noise of the engines could be heard throughout all the hours of the day, for the sawmill operated constantly for export purposes. It was built in 1921. Forty full time employees worked there. Several hundred temporary laborers worked there during the busy seasons. The sawmill served as a place of work and Hachshara [aliya preparation] for Hechalutz and Beitar of Volozhin and the area. The Hachshara members lived in the nearby villages, and some lived in the house of the landowner.

The closest railway station was seven kilometers from the estate, in Horocki. (That station later became the Volozhin station). Mail was sent to Zabrezhe every day through a messenger. The connection with Zabrezhe encompassed the entire spiritual life of the local Jews. When a question regarding kashruth or treif arose, a messenger was sent with the chicken to Rabbi Shadal (Shlomo David Levin) of Zabrezhe. On Saturday mornings, they would go there to worship and return after the survices. We would also go back and forth on Rosh Hashanah. We remained in Zabrezhe on Kol Nidre night and throughout Yom Kippur. After the Maariv [evening] prayer and a quick bite to break the fast, Mikitka the sawmill-guard would come with a wagon to take us home. The two families at the post fast meal together. At the end, they would immediately prepare to build the common Sukka. We celebrated Simchat Torah in the village and not in Zabrezhe. The joy was very great.

The two families took care for the children's Hebrew and nationalist education. A kindergarten teacher was brought in from Vilna or Olshan. When they students got older, they received their education from the Hebrew schools of Volozhin, Vilna, and Ashmiany.

The medical care was primitive. It was the job of the local “feldscher,” a gentile who was always drunk. Even though he was not a certified physician, we relied on the drugs that he prescribed.

The feldscher provided first aid only. In serious cases the sick person would be transferred to Volozhin. Once, a girl from the Hachshara group contracted appendicitis. Thy put her on a wagon and rushed her to Volozhin. The journey on he poor, potholed road caused her appendix to rupture. She reached Volozhin in critical condition, and she survived by miracle. However, another case ended in death. There was a land lessee in the neighboring village of Ozelevich named Avraham Itshe Lewin. His son stepped on a rusty nail and contracted blood poisoning. He died in the home of Menachem Yoel Potshenik (a relative of Avraham Itshe).


Translator's footnotes:
  1. We lived on the estate as if in the Garden of Eden. We loved the rich nature and the beauty of life. The families were firmly established from an economic perspective, and therefore did not lack anything. We thought that this “Garden of Eden” would not be affected by the vicissitudes of the times. However, the war broke out, and the Soviets occupied the area. When they entered the estate, they nationalized the gristmill and sawmill. Thus was my boyhood nest destroyed and lost forever.
    Buruch Kudevidski was the father of Bunia/Basia Kudevitski who married David Yavnovitch/Jawnowich from Kobylnik, murdered in the Shoah with their 2 sons Baruch and Leibel [Friday November 5,1942 in old Vileika] see Kobylnik Yizkor Book [uncle and aunt of Anita Frishman Gabbay-coordinator of this Yizkor book.] Return

[Page 388]

Volozhin Stories

By Benyamin Shafir (Shishko)

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay


The Complaint of a Jew Hater in Volozhin

The two hotels that were found in Volozhin belonged to men named Brodna, Shved was the Mayor of the town, and Polack was the owner of the flour mill and the power generating plant.

One of the Jew–haters in Volozhin once commented: What a poor town is Volozhin. The two hotels are dirty (“brodni” in Polish means dirty), the Mayor is Swedish and the Polack (meaning a Polish person) is Jewish.


A Story about disciple of the NATZIV and a Rural Jew

A very rich Jewish villager asked the NATZIV to pick one of his more intelligent students as a prospective husband for his daughter. The young man came for an interview and the father wanted to test his knowledge of the Torah. He asked (in Yiddish) “How do you say ‘Dinstag’ in Hebrew?” The young man answered, “Dinstag is Tuesday in Hebrew.”

The father rejected the candidate. He returned to the Rabbi and this time asked for his very smartest students, however, all of them still failed the test.

One of the students, who truly liked the beautiful daughter, befriended her. He entrusted her to ask her father for the answer. The father told her that Dinstag in Hebrew is “support”. The young man passed the test and married the daughter.

Later he asked his father–in–law “I learned Torah so I know the Dinstag in Hebrew is ‘support’, but you did not study Torah. How do you know?” “Listen young man. Every day I pray the “Eighteen Prayers” and it says ‘support and kitchen to the righteous’ [the word ‘kitchen’ was a mistake he made by transposing two letters, Bet & Tav. Actually the text is MISHAN and MIVTACH (protection and support). In Yiddish MITVACH is Wednesday, in Hebrew MITBACH is kitchen].”

He continued: “Everyone knows that Tuesday comes before Wednesday and, therefore, Dinstag in Hebrew is ‘support’”.


Sweep the Floor with a Broom

It is a known fact that the NATZIV promoted simple interpretations of Jewish rules and laws.

[Page 389]

Once he entered the Yeshiva and asked the students “how do you sweep the floor?” and left. The students started to discuss his hidden intentions and their possible meanings. They all agreed that he did not ask about something trivial. After a few hours, he returned to see what they were arguing about and told them: “Young men, you sweep the floor of the house with a broom.”


A Volozhin “Revolutionary”

Feytel the shoemaker was a religious man who prayed three times a day and followed all the rules of Judaism. However, in 1905 he became a “revolutionary”. This is how he expressed his aversion to the Tsar. He stood in front of the statue of the Tsar, checked that there were no police officers around, put his hand in his pocket and “gave the Tsar a finger”.


Why Jews Do not Have Their Own State

Shlomo Chaim Brodna, the son of the owner of the hotel, was an educated man. He was the Manager of the Cooperative Bank and attended the meetings of the Jewish Cooperation Organizations in Poland.

He used to explain why the Jews did not have their own State. When the Christians want to elect a committee, they assemble in the pub on a Sunday and drink Vodka “for good luck”. Then they go to Church and later they gather in the church's yard and elect a Chairman for the meeting. The Chairman proposes candidates and asks, “Who votes for Ivan Ivanovich?” Everyone shouts “Dobry” (good) – everyone agrees. Then, “Who votes for Stepan Stepanovich?” Everyone shouts “Dobry” – everyone agrees. They elect the committee in one minute!

It is a different story when it comes to Jews. The old caretaker of the synagogue died. What was his job? His job was to sweep the floor, wash the towels and distribute prayer books. However, electing a new caretaker is a complicated endeavor! When someone proposed Eliyahu, son of Yaakov, someone else opposed him because his grandmother had a sister who lived in a faraway village and she had a daughter who had married a Christian.

[Page 390]

They proposed someone else and he was rejected because he was suspected of having an improper relationship with a woman. In short – it is impossible to find a proper candidate for even the lowly position of caretaker.

Now you can understand why the Jews do not have their own State.


Torah Judgement in Volozhin

Rabbi Chaim Baxter was a well–to–do and Torah–educated man who lived in a small town between Iwye and Volozhin. Shmuel Gimpel Shishko was a farmer in the village of Rabawa and he too was a Torah–educated man.

Many poor Jews were wandering among the different towns of Belarus and Rabbi Chaim Baxter was happy to invite travelers to stay with him. Shmuel Gimpel Shishko, too, wanted to show his generosity, but only a few travelers passed near his village. He drove his horse to the main road, and collected travelers and hosted them.

Chaim Bakster realized that the number of his guests was rapidly diminishing and investigated. When he found out that Shmuel Gimpel Shishko was “kidnapping” his guests, he sued him in the Volozhin Jews Court.

The judges listened to both parties, discussed the situation and decided: “those people walking from Volozhin to Iwye would stay with Rabbi Shmuel Gimpel Shishko and those people walking from Iwye to Volozhin would stay with Rabbi Chaim”.


Volozhin's Version of Austerity

There was a blacksmith in Volozhin who became rich, very rich. Some people wondered how an artisan could become so rich. Others said he had “good hands” so it is no wonder he became rich. The man, however, kept his simple lifestyle. He ate black bread rather than white bread and drank sour milk rather than cream.

When people asked him why he was not using his wealth to live like rich people, he replied that it was a good practice to know how to live modestly. Sometimes things change and the rich may become poor and would not be able to live under their new circumstances.

The source of his wealth was eventually discovered. He was making copper coins and gold plating them. He then sold them as pure gold. His deception was uncovered and he was tried and sentenced to jail in Siberia.

When he was taken to the train station, many residents came to the police station to say goodbye. While they lamented his destiny, he turned to them and said, “As I told you, it was a good practice to know how to live in modesty. In Siberia, I will have the same black bread and sour milk I am accustomed to.”


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Valozhyn, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 24 Jul 2023 by JH