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By Abraham Jablons M.D.
Executive Director, American Committee
Edited by Judy Montel
It cannot be said that the publication of this Volozhin Commemoration Book is like any others because its contents embody in three languages Hebrew, Yiddish and English important factual data, which, like a golden chain, give the glowing and fascinating history of orthodox Jewry in the nineteenth and twentieth century in the city of Volozhin, which it is meant to memorialize.
The very name of Volozhin conjures up an academy of Talmudic learning which became famous throughout Europe and other parts of the world. This Academy The Yeshiva of Volozhin founded in the year 1803 by Rabbi Khayim, of blessed memory, flourished for close 160 years, then, due to the devastation of the Nazi Holocaust of the Second World War, the Yeshiva, bearing the name of Volozhin, was reconstituted in Israel.
The transplant of Volozhiners who voluntarily immigrated to the United States, pioneered the establishment of a Khevra; and those who by grace of G-d, escaped the Nazi onslaught, finally to reach Israel, subsequently formed the Irgun (Society) of Volozhiners. These subjects are dramatically covered in the text.
The sole purpose of the Yeshiva was to foster Torah-true Judaism. From the Yeshiva ordained Rabbis and scholars went forth who adhered strictly to the prescribed tenets in observing and disseminating the Judaic faith.
The importance of this volume is that posterity may learn of the trials and triumphs of Volozhiners and their contribution throughout the Diaspora in perpetuating the religious heritage of what was the city of Volozhin.
It is with a profound sense of gratitude to those who were actively engaged in having the English section included in this publication that they are thankfully mentioned.
Space does not permit listing the many names of those who contributed
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toward the book; therefore sincere credit is extended, in their behalf, to the congregation Ets Khayim Anshei Volozhin and the American Committee for the memorial (Yizkor) Volume of Volozhin.
A great debt of thanks is due to the individuals named below, not only for their tireless endeavors in connection with the book, but also for activating the interest and assistance of Volozhiners in America:
To both the assistant directors: Rabbi Mendel Potashnik for initiating the project in the United States, and Julius Kotler, who on his return from a visit in Israel persistently worked to the very end of the undertaking,
To Irvin Bunim, honorary chairman; for his veneration for Volozhin and for his assistance in every possible way,
To Ezra Shapiro of Cleveland, Ohio, for his interest and ready response,
To the Honorary Presidents of the Congregation E.C.A.W; Albert Kirshner, Irve Rubin, Harry Silverman and Benjamin Wolper for their participation and devoted support,
To Pesah Berman, who acted as a liaison between the United States and Israel on his frequent visits to Israel, and was of tremendous help in the furtherance of this book.
Finally for me as editor of Volozhiners in America indulgence is asked of all who read this historical narrative, should any omission or error unwittingly be committed. It is with pardonable pride that I submit this labor of love.
|Volozhiners in America
|And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the Earth
|Genesis, Ch. 48, v. 16
From the shtetl of Volozhin, historically famous throughout World Jewry because of its Yeshiva, to the cosmopolitan city of New York, is a distance of approximately 5000 miles over land rails and the Atlantic Ocean.
This narrative, which covers a span of close to 90 years (written in 1970), cannot state with precision the date of the first arrival of the landsleit of Volozhin but the year 1881 can be accepted as the year of departure from the Yeshiva City of the earliest immigrants to our shores.
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Before departing from their birthplace these pioneer travelers bade farewell to the venerable Gaon Rabbi Naftoli Zvi Berlin (then Rosh Yeshiva) for his rabbinical blessing. The scholarly and sagacious Rabbi, with a smiling countenance on his holy face - to lessen the sad and serious of their visit - gave them his holy blessing for a safe and healthy trip and his only fatherly request of them was that they should always keep in mind that they are Jews.
In retrospect, we see our travelers departing from their wives, children, friends and acquaintances, with the prayer shawl and phylacteries (talith and tefilim) in one hand and a small sack of hard tack in the other for sustenance of the journey.
With a final glance at the homeland of their youth and adult life, and with heaviness of heart, they knew little of the hardships and difficulties of crossing the land borders, confronting the steamship agencies and discomfort of travel in steerage of three weeks over the stormy Atlantic Ocean to the land of freedom in which they staked their future.
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
|Inscription of pedestal of Statue of Liberty
Despite of the uncertainty of their lot in this land, the vanguard of Volozhiners, with fortitude and steadfastness in trust of the Ever-Living G-d, and instilled with love and adherence to Torah-true Judaism, endured the hardship and inconveniences of the journey and landed safely ashore at Castle Garden (Battery) New York.
It can readily been understood that the first arrivals to the new country missed the comfort and conveniences of family life, and as newcomers had to become boarders with strangers; whereas in the old country they had their own homes and family entourages. In order to overcome their saddened loneliness, which at first was somewhat embittered, they sought the companionship of comrades and friends of Volozhin. This led to the gathering of Volozhiners on Saturdays and Holidays where a Minyan or more assembled for religious services.
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These get-togethers offered exchanges of news and developments in their homeland based upon letters that were received by individuals amongst the group.
This arrangement continued for about five years until the death of a Volozhiner landsman, by the name of Yochanan Halevy, which occurred on the final day of Passover in 1885. The decedent was the brother of Abraham Samuel Levy and the father of Trustee Joseph Rudensky. Fifteen of the Landsleit came together in order to arrange for the burial and not having burial grounds of their own, obtained a grave from the Radushkevitsher Congregation.
Realizing the need for burial grounds, the group took steps to form an Organization (Khevra), and not long thereafter, purchased grounds in Washington cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y. The Organization became a fait accompli on October 13, 1886, on which date the Charter was granted by the Sovereign State of New York. Included in the designation of the Congregation, in honor of the founder of the Yeshiva, was that of (Reb) Khayim, who made Volozhin the great citadel of Talmudic learning. The initial officers of the Congregation Etz KHAYIM Anshei Volozhin, as it was officially named, were: Moses Pierson, President; Jacob Hurvitz, Vice-President; Treasurer Herman Rogovin; Secretary Jacob J. Jablons; Trustees Samuel Bunimovitz, Moses Chafetz and Isac Meltzer.
The meager earnings of the membership permitted them only a rented space for the holding of Religious Services and meetings. The first of several rented places was 36 Eldridge Street. The group subsequently moved to 101 Hester Street and thence to 20 Orchard Street. At the later location, a diversity of opinion occurred regarding how to conduct the Congregation's affairs and as a result, a small number of members resigned to form their own group. They held services at 21 Bowery and were known as the 21'ers. This splintering did not last long and at a later date a reconciliation took place.
The treatment accorded the Congregation by the Landlord of the Hall at 20 Orchard Street was so offensive that it was imperative to move again the third move- this time to a 2nd floor at 16 Ludlow Street. From then on, progress and growth of the Congregation was evident. Services were held every day of the year. They were held previously only on Saturdays and Holidays. The new sign literally translated read - A Place to Worship Mornings and Evenings and Every Day of the Year.
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An epochal event took place on June 8, 1891, which to this very day attests to the zeal and fervor of the young Congregation. The group, while only in existence for five years, undertook to purchase the structure at 209 Madison Street. This property was previously owned by missionaries who, because of the changing neighborhood, with no candidates to proselyte, were compelled to place the property on sale.
(Between Rutgers and Jefferson sts.)
New York, N. Y.
The emblematic Six-pointed star the Mogen David adorns the top most part or pinnacle of the structure to this very day replacing the crucifix that had been there prior to the acquisition of the building. In connection with this event a sad occurrence took place at that time in the untimely and accidental tragic passing of one of the members, Mordekhai Yonah, an iron worker who, in his zeal to remove the crucifix, fell to his death.
In less than a decade, to be exact, eight years from the time the building was purchased, the organization has advanced to a stage where it became necessary to have a set of rules governing its affairs in accordance with parliamentary procedure. A booklet was printed bearing the caption CONSTITUTION dated 1899. Also fascinating reading, space does not permit of more than the PREAMBLE its unique wording translated as follows:
As we are immigrants in this country, and as is our custom, we, being G-d fearing, therefore have subscribed to establish a Khevra with its holy name: EITZ KHAYIM ANSHEI VOLOZHIN
In brotherly bond to serve G-d with prayer and Torah, a bond in friendship, a bond to assist one another when unfortunately there is a need, when there unfortunately is an illness, or when unfortunately, G-d forbid, a death occurs, to extend consolation, to help with advice and deed, and also to provide for widows and orphans.
Being signers (to the Constitution) it is our duty to abide by the laws in a strong bond for all times; and in this meritorious undertaking, the Almighty will help us in our ways to protect us from all evil, and Peace to be with us and to all Israelites. Amen.
With the acquisition of the building, the members were enthusiastically aroused to active efforts in altering the building to conform to a house of worship (Synagogue) wherein the religious services were held as was the custom (minhag) in the Yeshiva-city of Volozhin.
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By the time the 21'ers returned, and the Volozhiner Verein was formed, the membership increased to more than several hundred.
The coalition of the three separate factions into a unified organization so strengthened the Khevra which was afford the engagement of an eminent Rabbi as spiritual leader, and from time to time, distinguished cantors were contracted to lead in the services.
Worthy to mention in this narrative is the assiduous assistance given by the womenfolk who gave unstintingly of their time and effort along with the male members in furnishing the many holy ritual objects that make for a Hebrew sanctuary. One of the first donations, as evidence of their devotion, was that of a holy scroll (Sefer Torah).
As time does not stand still but marches on, so the number of deceased members increased during the period 1886-1926. Among the spiritual leaders who held the Rabbinate seat were: Rabbis Abraham Youdelovitz, Mordekhai Klatzko, Burak, Dameshek, Ralbag, Charlip who through our Congregation became renowned throughout American Jewry.
Deserving of mention is Abraham Isaac Meltzer for his record of 28 years of devoted service as Sexton (Shamesh), Reader of the Torah (Baal koyre) and blower of the Shofar (Baal Tkia).
In their lifetime the pioneering members established a House of Worship with all that pertains to Torah-true regimen. In addition they instituted a free loan found -Gmilos Khessed a sick benefit fund known as Bikur Kholim and purchased additional burial grounds.
By 1926, the Organization having made substantial progress, with a membership of 268, it was deemed of sufficient importance by the officers and members to mark the four decades since the charter was granted (1886-1926) with a celebration called an Anniversary Banquet.
On Sunday March 21, 1926 at Beethoven Hall, 210 East 5th Street, New York, the 40th Anniversary Banquet was held, Many of the Old Timers had lived to participate in this millstone occasion. It was a heart-warming scene to behold the gathering of those who came and greet life long landsleit. The toastmaster of the evenings' affair was Isidore Jablons a son of Jacob Jablons and grandson of Samuel Banovitsh , both of whom were founders of the Congregation.
Rabbi Meyer Berlin (Bar Ilan) graced the dais as the Guest of Honor. He was a native born Volozhiner, and while distinguished in his own right, was the descendant of a line of renowned Rabbis who were
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Rosh (head of) the Volozhiner Yeshiva. Within the memory of those who attended the banquet, the highlight of the evening was his stirring address of the glory of Volozhins' contribution through the Diaspora (Centers of Judaism) and an interesting account of the renowned Rabbinical leaders and scholars who emanated from the Yeshiva. At the conclusion of his address, he was given a standing ovation.
The officers of the Congregation at this time were: Jacob Joshua Jablons, President; Moses Banovitsh, Treasurer; Barnett Harisson, Vice president; Harris Rudnick, Secretary; Trusties Louis Henkind, Abraham Garellick, Eli Solof, Joseph Rudin; Gabais Isaac Bunimovitsh and Eliezer Khayim Rabinovitsh.
The Jubilee journal, printed on this occasion, is of special interest in that most of its contents are printed in Yiddish with Hebrew characters in the traditional order from right to left.
Two items of special interest appear in the journal , the first item: a photograph of twenty six Old Timers pioneers of the Khevra.
The second item was a fascinating history of the Congregation covering the span of 40 years from the inception of the Volozhin Congregation in the United States.
The 50th Anniversary of the Congregation was celebrated with a banquet in a festive spirit befitting the golden millstone of its existence. It took place on Sunday, March 1, 1936 at the Broadway Center Hotel. The chairman of the celebration was Benjamin Wolper and together with his committee, made it an outstanding success. In the fall he was elected President in recognition for his devoted services to the Congregation. The synagogue was completely renovated and Dedication Ceremonies were held at which the prominent Rabbis A.D. Burack, B.L. Rosenbloom and B.D. Ruditski addressed the capacity gathering that filled all the seats of the Synagogue.
Samuel Rudin and his family rendered valuable know-how to renovate the entire interior of the synagogue to a most attractive and inviting structure for worship and praying.
In 1941, Moses Banovitsh was elected President, by acclamation,
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succeeding Benjamin Wolper. He was born in Volozhin, son of one of the founders Samuel Banovitsh. After three years of presidency he served as Gabai than as Treasurer of the Loan fund. The marble pillars on the Volozhiner burial ground, Beyt David Cemetery in Elmont Long Island, were his donation.
The 55th Anniversary Celebration was held on March 1941 at the River Side Plaza Hotel (3rd gala).
During the World War II years (1942-1945), the sons of many members served in the US Army. By the grace of Almighty G-d, none were lost.
Due to the 2nd and 3rd generations the Congregation members increased to 215.
The 60th Anniversary Celebration was held on November 24, 1946 at the River Side Plaza Hotel. At this 4th gala the attendance was overflowing.
In the several years that followed, the Congregation lost the last of the founders in the passing of Victor Klein one of the early Presidents. Shortly thereafter Moses Banovitsh, a recent President, passed on, as well as Isaac Bunimovitsh, affectionately called Reb Itsele. The membership was greatly saddened by their passing.
The Congregation memorialized the name of Moses Banovitsh by establishing The Moses Banovitsh Memorial Welfare Fund, which is under the Directorship of his nephew Dr. Abraham Jablons. The fund continues to perform the many charitable services that his uncle had administered.
It was in the evening of Armistice Day (of WWI) November 11, 1951 that the Congregation celebrated its 65th Anniversary the fifth in the series of these events.
In its 45 page souvenir journal a number of young officers, offspring's of the older members, is listed: Albert Kirshner, born in Volozhin was elevated to the presidency in 1952. Assisting Vice Presidents were Harry Silverman,
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Morris Heiklin and Charles Skloot; Tresurer A. Brookman; Trustees- Jack Kornberg, Abe Rogovin and Ruby Rogovin.
On Benjamin Wolper the distinction of Honorary President, was conferred after Jacob J. Jablons having been the first honored.
On the 18th November 1956 the 70th Anniversary (6th one) took place. Of historical significance highlighting this Banquet was the symbolical burning of the mortgage which lifted the encumbrance of 63 years from the property.
Harry Silverman, son of Samuel Silverman a founder and early President served as presiding officer for the 195-1959 years. He was assisted by Jack Kronenberg, Morris Helckin, Abe Rogovin, and Jack Stark. His gracious manner and soft spoken words made harmony and comradeship amongst the members. Rabbi Natan Rothstein's services as spiritual leader were and are still held in great esteem.
In 1959 Irve Rubin assumed the duties of the Presidency.
The Diamond, 75th Anniversary (7th in the series) was held on November 13, 1966. The ceremonies master was Isidore Jablons. Irve Rubin, the President delivered a very interesting history of Volozhin (which is published in the Volozhin Yizkor Book page 26). The honorary President, Benjamin Wolper rendered an account of the splendid achievements of the Congregation for the many years during he was its member and officer.
President Irve Rubin in greeting the assembled stated: Our congregation has withstood the changes of time and customs in its steadfast adherence and observation of Torah-true Judaism for which special thanks is due to Rabbi Nathan Rotshtein for his spiritual guidance and supervision of the ritual and Talmud Study in our Synagogue.
It is hoped this narrative will be an incentive for others to devote time and effort for a more extensive dissertation on Volozhiners in America.
It can truly be said that be of the lineage of a Volozhiner, bears the hallmark of distinction.
|The American committee of the congregation Eytz Hayim Anshey Volozhin
When publishing the Volozhin Yizkor Book
The book of the city and of the Eytz Hayim Yeshiva
Dr Ahil L. Aison, Chicago
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I left Volozhin in 1910 at the age of 9. Born and brought up in the central life of this small, peaceful, lovable and very human ghetto town, I look back with nostalgic memories of my Shtetel.
It was a small locality and topographically divided into two parts: one which was on a hill and called Arufzu. There was the aristocratic Wilner Gass, the Mark, the Kleisel of the Wilner Gass and the world-renowned Yeshiva and the Beis Medrash to the left of the Mark. The other part of the shtetel was down the hill and was called Aropzu. There was a small lake in Wilner Gass and a small river after Aropzu setting the boundary of Volozhin. It was a township in the state of Wilno, county of Oszmiana. The government officials were the Pristoff, the Uradnik and the Baron. The Graff had had estates to the right of the Mark. He very rarely was seen or heard of except that he permitted the residents of Volozhin to take pleasure walks through his estate.
The centre of life and portance was the Yeshiva, worldly renowned and officially titled Yeshiva Eitz Chaim of Volozhin. This was the first Yeshiva of Higher Learning established in Lithuania and it was the mother Yeshiva of the many great citadels of Torah that enriched Lithuania, and in fact, the entire Torah world. It was established in 1802 by the great scholar, Saint and Sage, Reb Chaim Volozhyner, the disciple of the great Gaon of Wilno. This Yeshiva was later headed by Rabbi Yoshe der Soloveichik, Reb Naphtaly Zvi Yehuda (Hirsh LEIB) Berlin and by Rabbi Raphael Shapiro. Thousands of great scholars owed their Torah learning to Volozyn, among them, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and Yibodel L'Chaim Rabbi Isser Yehuda Untermann, former and present Chief Rabbi of Israel.
The community was poor. A few families, the richer ones found their income from clerical work and management of the lumbering that was done in the vicinity of Volozhin. The rest of the township lived from commercial enterprises, buying and selling their wares from and to the peasants that lived in the Bondras, the boundaries of Volozhin. Yes, there was a watchmaker, a barber, a shochet, a butcher, an innkeeper,
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a baker, a Scribe who wrote Sifrei Torah and Tfillin, a dyer of woollens, several tailors and several shoemakers, and of course Melamdim.
With that economy, the community supported the students of the Yeshiva, named Yeshiva leit (not Yeshiva Bochurim). The Yeshiva paid for the lodging of the students but the meals were supplied by the residents of the town. These young men used to eat Tag a day here and a day there. Let it be said to the credit of the Baalebostas of Volozhin that the meals so offered and given were on a much higher standard than the housewife gave her own husband and children. It was a holiday meal and several Kopeks stealthily put into the pocket of the Yeshiva man. Of course, there were some affluent Yeshiva leit who were supported from home and a goodly number received scholarship maintenance from the great philanthropist, Brodsky, a sugar manufacturer from Petersburg. They were the Gvirim, the rich ones. The Yeshiva leit were very friendly with the local people and there was a mutual convivial spirit among them. Several of the Yeshiva leit married local girls and the residents of Volozhin picked up the phraseology, the Torah expressions, the Torah spirit that permeated the very air of Volozhin.
Like every other Jewish Community, it had its public bathhouse, the Mikvah, the Linath Hatzedek, Bikur Cholim, a miniature perambulating nursing service, a charity chest, etc. There are a few very interesting moments in the life of Volozhin that give it local colour. I should like to dwell upon them briefly.
Almost all the houses were of wooden structures except the Yeshiva and a few brick buildings, single or two-floored on the Mark. Every so often, the Goyim from the neighbouring villages used to put fire to one or two houses and almost the whole town would burn down. So, Volozhin established a volunteer fire department, the Paziarna Komanda and each night, several young men used to walk the streets and side paths of the town as vigilantes against the arsonists. When a fire broke out, all residents came with pails of water, water hoses pumping water from the river, the Yeshiva leit with their long jackets and yarmulkes trying to chop down the wood that was burning to keep the fire from spreading.
For Passover, the affluent citizens used to join four or five families, kosher a house and the stove for Passover and bake the Matzos necessary for the Holiday. Of course, they consumed much more Matzos than we do here today, because the other parts of the menu were much more
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expensive and Volozhin did not count calories. Then, one large house was Koshered and the community chest contributed the necessary money for flour. The sons and daughters of the richer families were the labourers to knead, to reddle, to bake and to wrap the Matzos for the poor. This was called the Padrat, (the contract).
Friday was a busy day for the housewife. After the chicken was slaughtered by the schochet, she had to pick the feathers, singe the small feathers, examine the chicken if it had no Shaylo (a physical defect that might render it treif), soak, salt it and of course, cook it. She baked her own Chalah and Kuchen and cake. She made her Tzimes, her Tscholent, set the Samovar, fed the geese and the chickens then cleaned the house and set her candlesticks, the white tablecloth and linens for Shabbos. One could tell the menu by the fragrance that came forth from each house.
Some houses had no wooden floors so the housewife would sprinkle a generous quantity of yellow sand on the ground in honour of Shabbos.
If a resident went to the schochet to slaughter a chicken in the middle of the week, it was a case of either the chicken was sick or the master was sick.
There was a doctor in Volozhin, intermittently. Well, one day, an epidemic of diphtheria broke out and no doctor was in town. The Pristoff was cold to the danger of Jewish life and did nothing to relieve the situation. Papa notified the Gubernator in Wilno and he sent down a commission to study the situation. The Pristoff, afraid of being held for negligence, sent a policeman around town, ordering the parents to take their sick children out of bed and set them at a table around the house. The Commission found no cases of diphtheria and if it were not for Reb Raphael's intercession, sad results might have followed for papa.
The pogrom reports came in almost daily from Odessa and other big cities. The Russo-Japanese War of 1905 was a catastrophic failure for Czar Nicholas and he had to divert the minds and attention of the Russian people. He blamed the Jews and set off a series of murderous pogroms. Schools and colleges were closed to the Jewish boys and girls. Manufacturing and commerce on a broad scale was forbidden. A Jew could not reside in a large city across Russia without a special permit. The horizon was indeed very small and low. The more alert and progressive citizens of Volozhin saw the handwriting on the wall and emigration of one or more families was a daily event. It was, of course, coupled with great hardship; to leave parents and relatives; to travel
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into space, where? to seek a trade for the bread-winner and a healthy religious atmosphere for the children; to get the necessary funds for travelling expenses, etc. etc.
Of course, we had family names and given names. There were a number of popular family names such as Bunimowitz, Persky, Rogovin, Potashnik, Berman, Kotler, Jablon, etc. But nobody was known by his family name except for the draft (sluzba) or the post office. People were known either by their calling, their parents or by the nickname. I can remember the following: Simcha der Kneiper; Chaim Meier, Hirshel Neches, Avram Chaim die grosse kop; Shlomo der Chassid; Moshe der steiptzer; Schmerl der Melamed; Monya der Zeigermacher; Mendel der Pochter; Icha Tana der wasser treger.
The Yeshiva leit were also known by the town which they came from Der Raduner, Der Pruziner, etc.
There was ample humour, boyish pranks, a cast of amateur players that performed Mechiras Joseph. Everybody attended everybody else's Simcha, invitations were announced by the Shames in schul. The Shames had other duties. Friday approaching sunset, he would go up and down the mark calling In shul arein, and all the stores closed. During the High Holy Day season, he went from house-to-house before dawn, knocked on the windows and with his melodious voice, he would cry out: Shteht Uf Yisroel Am Kidoshim, Shteht Uf l'Avodas Haboireh.
Half the emigrants went to Eretz Israel and the others to America. Volozhin had indeed reason to be proud of its children that she had sent to Eretz Israel. Some of the leading men in political, economic and military life in Israel are Volozhyner, and America certainly owes a debt of gratitude to Volozhin for the fine productive citizens, doctors, lawyers, Rabbis, philanthropists and industrialists that Volozhin sent forth to enrich the American community.
Volozhyner of America and Israel never forgot the poor of the shtetel that they left behind. Regularly and steadily the widow, the orphan, the handicapped, were remembered. For half a century, money was sent to the needy, privately and through organized effort by the Congregation Anshei Volozhin, 209 Madison St., New York. The Yeshiva was remembered regularly. As of today, the Congregation Anshei Volozhin continues to subsidize the Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, bearing the name of Eitz Chaim Yeshiva of Volozhin.
This was Volozhin, and the murderous Huns cruelly wiped out such a beautiful segment of Noble humanity.
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Mendel Wolkowitch, Natania
The Germans entered Wolozhin on 1st Tammuz 5701 (25th July, 1941). Before their entry, they bombarded the city with artillery and bombed it from the air. When they entered, they engaged in a small-scale massacre of Jews. Those murdered included Alter Berman, Pesach Mazeh, Eliahu Perski and Alter Shimshelewitz.
A fortnight later, a Judenrat or Jewish Council was appointed by order of the Gestapo. It had twelve members and was headed by Jacob (Yani) Garber. The purpose of the Judenrat was to carry out the orders of the Gestapo, i.e., to conscript people for work and to supply money, jewellery, furs and cloth to the authorities.
The non-Jews welcome the Germans joyously and at once said that they would collaborate with them. Advocate Stanislaw Torski, a notorious Endek (the Endeks or National Democrats were the most anti-Semitic political group in Poland), returned to Wolozhin from the Concentration Camp at Kartoz-Braza. His time had come at last. He contacted the local Jew-haters, the barber Baranski and others and they began to conduct atrocity propaganda against the Jews. Advocate Torski was appointed mayor. On his second day in office, he sent to prison the popular physician, Abraham Zart with his daughter Nehama, Hayyim Zirolnik, Aaron Galperin, Simeon Lavit, Lippa Zimmerman and Hasia Leah Perski. The next day, they were all executed. The local police were made up of worthless wretches who were brought from the neighbouring villages and placed under the orders of the S.S. men. These policemen used to attack the Jews and beat them murderously. One of them, Minkowitch, first broke the hands of Freidel Rosen and afterwards, shot and killed her. Rosa Berman and Shachna Partzki were savagely beaten and killed.
In the month of Av that year (August 1941), the Ghetto was established in Aroptzu within the Krummer Gass (crooked street), Dubinski Street and Minsk Street. Some 3500 people were crowded together in a few dozen houses. They included the Jews of Zolozhin and the Jewish refugees from the small neighbouring towns of Wizhniewa, Olshan and Oshmina.
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We went out to forced labour together. We had to clean the streets, dig pits and sweep away the snow in winter. I worked in the Yatzkeve Forest near Bielokortz, in a group of about eighty Jews. We lived in a miserable little cabin where we were all crushed and crowded together, broken and depressed. Everything saddened us and lowered our spirits. No food was given to us. We had a few belongings in return for which the gentiles gave us bread.
While we were working on the road that leads to Minsk, we saw some dreadful sights. We saw the Germans maltreating Soviet prisoners of war in a horrible way. While their blood was flowing, the torturers made them sing the song Katiusha. They were starving and naked. The Germans were seated on a cart carrying grass and spring onions. From time-to-time they flung the prisoners some of the grass as though they were animals. The unfortunate men fell on it and crazily swallowed it.
On the Sabbath, they permitted us to return to Wolozhin. Before entering the Ghetto, we were very carefully searched and woe to the man who had with him a piece of bread or a bottle of milk. He was beaten murderously and the food was taken from him. Sometimes, a Christian who felt sorry for the imprisoned Jews would approach the Ghetto fence with a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk. He was savagely beaten by the police and a few of these kind hearted people paid with their lives. Koppel Rogowin received a little food in return for kerosine from a non-Jew who went and denounced him. When Rogowin learnt of this, he ran away to the Yatzkeve Forest. We were all lined up there and Koppel was taken out of the line. The murderers beat him so cruelly that he begged them to kill him, but they did not do him that favour at once. They put him on a waggon and brought him, almost dead, to the Priest's Hill where they executed him.
On 7th Heshvan 5702 (28th October, 1941) Moka, of the Gestapo, entered the Ghetto and demanded a large supply of boot soles at once. They gave him the soles assuming that they had done their duty with that gift. But he turned up again at the Judenrat accompanied by several S.S. men. He ordered all the Jews in the Ghetto to be summoned to a meeting in order to listen to an interesting lecture by him. The members of the Judenrat hurried out and passed on the word of the ruler. Not everybody responded. My little daughter, Shulamit, begged
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me: Daddy, don't go to the meeting! The child's heart forewarned her. I listened to her and did not go to the meeting.
When a large number had assembled, Moka sent most of them back to the Ghetto. He imprisoned the rest in the cinema hall. From there, he took out groups of ten people at a time, conducted them to the neighbouring sports ground and killed them. In this action, more than 200 Jews were killed including Jacob (Yani) Garber, head of the Judenrat.
Jacob Finger, Tzapin and Zacharia Beikilin succeeded in escaping from this action. They returned to the Ghetto and told what they had seen. When it was immediately, the White Russian police came with the peasants of the neighbourhood, stripped the clothes off the corpses, took away any rings and jewellery and pulled their gold teeth out of their mouths. Then a group of Jews were brought and ordered to bury the dead.
Life in the Ghetto grew harder and harder. One day, several S.S. men entered the house which served as a House of Prayer. They took a Torah scroll, spread it out on the ground, made several dozen Jews lie down on the sheets and killed them.
The 23rd Iyyar 5702 (10th May 1942) arrived and marked the destruction of the Wolozhin community. A few days earlier, three Germans had been found dead between Wolozhin and Zadzhezha. Gestapo men arrived from Wileika and visited several places in town. It later became known that they had come to select a suitable place for general slaughter.
I was told by a very reliable source what was being planned. My daughter was ill and had a very high temperature. I hastened to summon Dr. Faminski, a friend of the Jews. While treating the child and giving medical instructions, he informed me that the time to exterminate the Jews was approaching. He used to come and go among the heads of the Gestapo and knew their plans for the Jews. So, the information he gave me was absolutely reliable.
After I had heard what the doctor had to say, I fell fast asleep but a nightmare woke me up. In my dream I saw that they had surrounded the Ghetto. The murderers entered our house and killed everybody. I was very much worried by the dream and told it to Rachel Leveiner,
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my brother's sister-in-law. She listened to me but did not believe my words and quietly went out into the courtyard to bring something into the house. But she came back at once with her face as red as fire, trembling as she said to me: There is something terrible all around they are banging and yelling and shooting.
I looked out of the window and saw that the murderers were driving the Jews out of their houses. When they approached our house, I said to Malka (my first wife): The murderers are coming. Let's take the child and run away. She did not listen to me but stayed where she was because she saw nowhere to escape to. When I saw the police and the S.S. men approaching our house and mounting the stairs, I called my father-in-law, Sana (Nathaniel) Lavit and my brother-in-law Leiba, and we slipped out through the back door into the barn. We then climbed up into the attic.
On 23rd Iyyar 5702 (10th May, 1942) at 5 a.m. the Ghetto was cordoned off by S.S. men and Polish and White Russian police. First, they killed Yohanan Klein and Isaac Naroshevitz, the two Jewish policemen standing at the entrance to the Ghetto. They then began shooting at Jews and many fell. They led the prisoners towards the smithy which the Russians had built in Moszczitzki Street, not far from the synagogue, and there they imprisoned many Jews in the building. Opposite the building they placed chairs and a table which was set out with all kinds of liquor. Around it sat policemen and S.S. men, bright and cheerful with machine guns next to them. Between one drink and the next, they shot into the building in order to silence the weeping of the children and the outcry of the adults.
Among the prisoners was Rabbi Reuben Hadash, the Rabbi of Olshan. He appealed to the people not to go like sheep to the slaughter, and called on the prisoners to destroy the stoves and ovens. Let each one take a brick, a stone or an iron bar in his hands, break down the doors and attack the murderers. But Rabbi Israel Lonim opposed this quoting: Even when a sharp sword is pressed against a man's throat, let him not cease to hope for mercy.
The chief of the gendarmerie summoned Aaron Kamenietzki, a member of the Judenrat, and ordered him to polish his knee boots. As soon as Kamenietzki bent down, the chief shot him. When the prisoners saw this murder, a deadly commotion began and they started to break
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out through the roof. The murderers shot them but still a few succeeded in escaping, Mordechai Malot among them.
On that dreadful and hot day, they kept the people crowded together from five in the morning until five in the afternoon. They then took them out in groups children separately and men and women separately. A few Jews went to their deaths in their prayer shawls and phylacteries. They conducted the Jews of set purpose through the streets of the Christians in order that the later might rejoice at the fall of their Jewish enemies. A gang of young men and women came out of the houses with their mouth organs and played and sang cheerful songs and began dancing. They gathered around us and mocked us.
Those who were being led to death were taken to the House of Bulowa next to the Jewish graveyard where they were killed with automatic weapons. After the murders, they set the house on fire and the Jews of Wolozhin went up to heaven in flames. On that day, many other Jews were killed having been shot in attics and other hiding places. When these corpses were taken for burial, the gentiles flung dead cats, dogs and all kinds of rubbish on to them.
After the slaughter, the gentiles entered the Ghetto with their carts and looted whatever they saw. One woman raised her hands high and shouted joyously: Father in Heaven, I thank thee for having purified us of this Jewish filth. It should be added that her husband was a decent and upright man who treated us kindly. He very much grieved at the bitter fate of the Jews which broke his heart.
When the sun set, we left the barn and crept towards our house. We came near the stable. The doors were open. Is there anybody here? we asked in a whisper and heard a whisper back: I am here! It was the voice of my brother-in-law Hershel Perski. We then heard the voices of Hershel and Zivia Lonim. Under cover of darkness, we set out for the forest near Volozhin. I went with Nathaniel (Sana) Lavit, my brother-in-law Leiba Lavit and Hersh Rogowin. We reached the forest where we found a couple of dozen Jews. It was a marshy spot. Weary and hungry, we asked on another where our help could come from?
Hunger and thirst distressed us very much. We decided to go and look for food and water and were firmly resolved to defend ourselves
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if we were attacked. We set out wearing peasant clothes. We crossed the river Berezina and reached a village where we went to the home of a peasant whom we knew. He gave us bread, salt and cheese. His wife warned us to be careful because there were police wandering around who had killed several Jews the day before.
We stayed fourteen days at the village. When the food gave out, Sana Lavit said to us that there was no choice but to go back to Wolozhin. It was not easy for the roads and paths were patrolled day and night by police and S.S. men. Still, we reached Wolozhin where we found Mottel Chaiklin in a house. I asked him whether any of my family were alive? He answered that peasants had told him that my brother Munia (Samuel) was Zabzhezha. I went there and found him in a peasant's home. One leg was swollen. Although it was hard for him to walk, he accompanied me and we reached Volozhin together.
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