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In memory of our Families


In their memory

Twenty years have passed since the Shoah. I shall try to put down on paper what is engraved in my heart and in my memory concerning my home in Vysotsk, the shtetl of my birth, and in doing this erect a memorial to my dear ones, my family, victims of the Shoah, buried in a large mass grave somewhere outside the shtetl, a grave abandoned, overgrown with thorns and thistles, perhaps ploughed and sown, the fruits of which are enjoyed by enemies of the Jews.

For more than twenty years I lived within the confines of the shtetl, rolled about in its dirt, had fun running around in its puddles, trampling in its marshes, enjoying it in its full glory when it was covered in its white coat. Snowballs provided me with my first target practice. It was here that my character was formed, the character of a daughter born of a vibrant Jewish shtetl.

Vysotsk was one of the small shtetls scattered throughout the length and breadth of Poland where Jewish life with a traditional culture flourished, where there was also a young generation of pioneering Zionists, a Tarbut[379] school, synagogues and public prayers during the holidays and throughout the whole year. A shtetl – in fact it's doubtful if it can be described as a shtetl or just a large village - a shtetl bordered by the banks of the Horyn on the eastern side and on the west by four rivers and the bridges above them. When the snow thawed, the water rose and the floods came the shtetl seemed like an island in an expanse of water.

The railway station was seven kilometres away from the shtetl. On the way there and back we had to cross the Horyn on a raft. In order to cross the river the people were always reliant on the goodwill of the Goy 'raftsman' who was sunk in a deep slumber for most of the time. It was not easy to rouse him from his sleep. The main contact with the nearby shtetls – Dombrovitza and Stolin – was by horse and cart in summer and by horse-drawn sledge in winter. The whole shtetl was surrounded by 'Goy' villages, Jew-haters. Much of the time these villages were used as nests by all sorts of gangs.

As a result of changes of regime our shtetl was also affected by political and economic changes. But despite everything Jews of Vysotsk put down roots in the place and found their livelihood in petty trade and craft – tailors, cobblers, carpenters and so on.


The family

Our extended family lived in the community of Vysotsk. Grandfather Asher son of Reb Gershon Nafkhan ('Asher–Gershns') and Grandmother Tsipora had four girls and two boys. One of them was my father, Isroel, whose wife was Rakhel, daughter of Rebbe Eliezer Fikman from Dombrovitze. My two brothers were Leybele and Gershele (the name of the elder brother was Yosef Leyb and the name of the younger brother Gershon). Then there were my younger sister Sara Minke and myself. My uncle Chaim Aaron Nafkhan and his wife Blume emigrated to America with their sons Leybush and Dovid and the girls Rivke and Miriam. Aunt Pesya, her husband

Minka and Gershon Nafkhan

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Shleyme Kolodny and her seven daughters and only son Gershon lived in their house in the same street opposite us. My other aunt, Malka, and her husband, Nakhman Perl, who had six sons and one daughter, Rivele, also lived in the same street, three doors away from us. My aunt Mindl bless her soul (whom I did not know), her husband, Hershil Sheynboym, their son Chaim and their daughter Rivtse, both married with children, lived in the house next door to us. My aunt Miriam, the youngest of my grandmother's daughters, her husband, Meir Katzman, and their three children lived with us. They are now in Israel. All of them made their living through trade; one had a clothes shop and another a grocery shop. My grandfather had a sister in the shtetl, Dvoyre, and her husband, Yeshiyahu Feldlayt, and their children. Then there were also Grandmother's cousins. All in all an extended family with its joys and sorrows, home visits, gossip and also family arguments, as is normal.

The glory of the family was the 'young guard', the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren. Active and full of energy, strict in their observance of every detail of tradition. They were delighted to go out and collect Hannukah[380] donations, counting the petty change and accumulating money. Who was there to equal them? They would exchange Purim[381] gifts reverently, earnestly collect Pessach nuts and enthusiastically philosophise over the 'stealing' (finding) of the unleavened bread (Afikumin) on the eve of Seder[382]. They were ready for everything. They certainly did not pass by the opportunity to eat the sweetmeats, Hannukah pancakes with masses of goose fat, oznei haman[383] and all the other spices, stuffed pastries (kreplakh) belonging to festival days etc.

On the night a festival was celebrated, whether the Yamim Noraim[384], Rosh HaShana[385] and Yom Kippur[386], Sukkot[387], Simkhat Torah[388] or Pessach, I loved to see everybody polished and spruced up, wearing new festive clothes, as they walked to the synagogue proudly, side by side with their fathers, with a feeling of security, not once teasing the girls who were not allowed to take part in the procession.

Chaya Fikman-Nafkhan and Minka


When my father of blessed memory took my two brothers with him he would kiss me and my sister. He would greet us with a joyful blessing for the New Year and a Happy Holiday before leaving us on his way to the synagogue. We would stand in reverence by the entrance to the house. Our eyes would follow them all the way, envying our brothers who were going to the synagogue with Father. It was our lucky day when, on the holiday of Simkhat Torah, girls were also allowed into the synagogue.

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The House

Our house was large, built of wood. Two ante-rooms were used as shops. In one was a grocery shop under the name of my father Isroel Nafkhan. In the other was a clothes shop run by my uncle Katzman. Later on, when my uncle bought his own flat, this house was rented by Yekhiel Borovyk and family, and in place of the sign of a clothes shop there appeared the sign sklip zhelizny (iron shop)[389]. Later, with the death of my father of blessed memory, part of the house was inherited by my older brother Leybele. He made it his family home and established a clothes shop. Again there was a new sign: sklip manifakturny[390]. My brother Gershele inherited the second half of the house together with the grocery shop.

The main thing that characterised the house was the roof, a tin roof, almost the only one in the whole shtetl. All the other roofs were covered with wooden shingles (shindlakh [Yidd.]) and a large number of the roofs were covered with straw. Our beautifully painted roof gave a special hue to the street with its grey background of wooden and straw roofs. From time to time the colour of the paint was changed. One time it was green, then it was red. At least every few years it was necessary to repair the roof because the rust constantly ate away at it. Despite that it showed its strength, particularly on those nights when flames would consume the Jewish homes (mostly malicious acts ) and a fire – the nightmare of all residents of the shtetl – would break out. Then our roof would whisper to us: 'Those sparks will not consume me, they will not catch hold of me!'

Malka and Nakhman Perl


Around the house there was a large vegetable garden, arranged in rows, mainly sown with potatoes and a few cucumbers, large and small radishes and sweet-corn. There was even a row of tobacco plants. With the arrival of tomatoes in our shtetl there also came publicity regarding the important vitamins tomatoes contain. Tomatoes were also grown in our garden. A row of potatoes adorned with stalks of corn was set aside for every daughter (that is to say my father’s sisters), as there was no ground for a garden next to their houses. And so the whole family was able to enjoy the benefits of the garden. Our cowshed was situated some tens of metres away from the house. In it was our cow, a special specimen that we bred ourselves. Her colour was a light red with a white patch in the shape of a heart on her forehead. Her offspring were all similar to her. We also reared domestic chickens and fattened up geese. These supplied us with goose fat throughout the year. It goes without saying that there was no shortage of milk and meat in the house. We made butter, cream, soft and hard cheese ourselves by hand. Everything was produced in the most primitive fashion without any mechanization. In those days the cellar served as the 'fridge'. This is where milk products were preserved in the summer and also potatoes in the winter.

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Inside, in one half of the house there were two bedrooms and a large dining room. In the second half there were two large rooms and a kitchen shared by the two households. The furniture – wooden beds, polished in a clear brown colour, a table and chairs in the bedroom, a large table, a sofa, a bench and chairs and a bookcase in the dining room. In the bookcase were all the tractates, prayer books, Torah[391] and prophets, volumes of the Mishnah[392] and the Zohar[393] etc. Our two chests of clothes ('kufertim' [Yidd: kufert]), polished in the same colour as the beds, as an alternative to the clothes chest, stood on wheels and were easily moveable, thus enabling changes to be made in the bedroom. There were no pictures in our house because 'Thou shalt not make any likeness…'[394] The special objects that adorned the dining room were the large flowerpots: houseplants, cactuses and so on. The floor was made of wood. The colours merged beautifully against the background of the clear greenish paint, the green

Itzhok Petrukh, his brothers Meir, Avigdor and Sander Perl


flowerpots, the brown colour of the furniture, the white tablecloth spread on the table and, on Sabbath eve, our silver candlesticks and Grandmother's copper candlesticks. Everything gleaming bright. How pleasing it all was to the eye.


Grandfather and Grandmother

Grandfather Asher, son of Reb Gershon, spent a lot of time studying the Torah and praying. He was a strict Jew. The grandchildren shied away from approaching him out of fear and reverence towards him. For many years he suffered from a wound in his leg that did not heal for the rest of his life. Treatment at that time was primitive, without x-ray or any electrical means or antibiotics. He suffered great pain, enduring his sufferings in silence ('I shall be tormented by pain in this world, then straight to the Garden of Eden in the world to come'). Grandmother, Tzipora, tiny, who ruled the nest, was full of energy and common sense, helped in the shop, convincing her women customers. The grandchildren clung to her and she gave us sweets. She was like a second mother to us.


Orphanhood, war, thunder (as told by Father)

The year 5674 [1914]. On the 27th day of Tammuz [July] my mother of blessed memory died in the vacation town of Otwock, near Warsaw[395], hundreds of kilometres away from us. This was the year when the First World War broke out. A state of emergency, chaos, impassable roads. My father has difficulty getting there and doesn't arrive in time for the funeral. He returns home and clings to his young children. My sister Sara Minke is only six months old and I am close to four. My brother Gershele is seven and my brother Leybele is ten. My father doesn't abandon

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us. Together with Grandmother he takes on the burden of bringing up his children; day and night he looks after us. There is no describing in words his love for Mother. He always told us about her, describing her as very beautiful (no pictures remained of her), noble, kind-hearted and sensitive. With all his heart and in the purity of his love he instilled in us her noble image, her concern for us and her love for us. When he became a widower Father was still young, a man of thirty. But he did not marry a second time. 'I could not find a replacement for her and I did not want a stepmother bringing you up' he once told us. He lived in solitude for the last 22 years of his life, giving everything to us, his children.

In 1918-19 came the end of the war and there was hunger at home. Rumours of pogroms and a change of regime. Refugees are hiding in our shtetl. We receive hostile visits by gangs, sometimes by Petlyura's[396] people and sometimes Belkhovtzy. Terror and fear dominate everything. One doesn't know what the day will bring. My aunt's daughters, certainly other young women in the shtetl, disguise themselves as 'Goys' and hide with 'Goys'. We, the children, dread what is to come. It is rumoured that the Poles are supposed to come; indeed one night they appear in our house. My grandfather, who knew Polish, goes out to them. They ask for food and something for the horses. They collected what there was to collect and went on their way. After some days a group of Belkhovtzy suddenly appear. Everyone is trembling with fear because for some time news of their atrocities and of their dirty tricks had been spreading in the shtetl. A delegation goes out to meet them. They order such and such amount of money, food and fodder for the horses, going from house to house to collect what there was to be collected. There is no haggling with them. The main thing is to see the back of them. At dawn that morning my father also went out to take the cow to pasture. In the Goy street which he passed he met one of the Belkhovtzy soldiers on his horse. He calls Father, ordering him to run in front of the horse. He gallops after him (and we at home are pleased that at last Father has gone out of the house). Suddenly we see Father running through the vegetable garden, very pale and out of breath. We call out to him to return quickly and hide with the 'Goys'. Father tells us everything that had happened to him, how he was saved by a miracle, when the Belkhovtzy soldier was stopped suddenly by one of the Polish girls who was looking out of the window. Father continued running and disappeared from the Belkhovtzy's sight. Of course on that Sabbath there was a 'thanksgiving' blessing. 1920-30. The regime becomes more stable. Our shtetl is in the hands of the Poles. Food, including hot meals, is distributed to children and adults on behalf of the Joint[397]. Help starts to arrive from America from my uncle Chaim Aaron and his family. Life begins to return to normal. Father begins again in commerce, opening a grocery store. My two brothers also come to help him. In our free hours and after studies both my sister and I take on the burden of cooking and housework. Grandfather and Grandmother are also with us. The rays of the sun break through in the skies of our shtetl and in our family circle. Three of my aunt Pesya's daughters get married. Grandfather and Grandmother have great-grandsons and greatgranddaughters. Also more grandchildren are born. New branches of the extended family grow.

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I remember once at Shavuot[398] (I think it was in 1930 ) the whole family, approximately fifty people, came in to eat strudels and puterkukhin[399]. How the old people's faces glow then, both of them in old age (nearly 90), especially Grandmother ('A joy to be a mother of sons'), the noise, the singing, the clinking of glasses with the blessing of Lechaim ['Cheers'] and the old couple in the centre. How beautiful a picture it was to behold, the mountains of food. Will I be able to immortalise it with these words?

We also knew years of sorrow. Within a year the family grieved the death of my aunt Miriam, the youngest of Grandmother's daughters. After that Grandmother died. At the end of that year Grandfather passed away, as did Ravtsia, the daughter of my


My brother goes off to study

Gershele went to a yeshiva[400] in Luninetz[401] and Leybele went to a Talmud Torah[402] in Stolin[403]. Those not paying school fees had to stay with distant relatives, 'Essen-teg'[404], that is to say every day they would go to eat with a different family, about seven families would support the yeshiva-bokher[405]. Of course every day such food was necessarily dependent on the housewife, on whether or not she was mean or did things properly and was clean. And so on. For Gershele at any rate it was very painful to speak about those times, but when he did he gave vivid descriptions of the housewives with whom he came into contact and on whose generosity he depended. Sometimes he would talk about it in a cheerful manner, making us all laugh. But apart from the inner humiliation caused by this way of life they also knew days of real hunger. Homesickness was very strong. Leybele couldn't take it at all and came home after a month. Gershele, it seems to me, continued for half a year, perhaps to the end of the year.


Our house - open to all

A fresh wind was blowing in our shtetl: national awakening, Zionism. In the light of events in Tel Chai[406] a branch of HeKhalutz is organised. My brothers are enrolled as members of the general Zionist organisation, but Leybele the soltys[407] is responsible for registering the HeKhalutz. They talk about aliyah and going off for training. There are even some who carry out the command. My father belongs to the Karlin Chassidim sect. I make my first steps in the HeKhalutz HaTzair movement. For all of them our house was open. More than once it would happen, particularly in the winter evenings, that a number of Chassidim, friends of Father or simply neighbours,

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would gather for a cup of hot tea. The samovar is on the table, and the conversation revolves around the miracles and wonders that the rebbe has performed. This was precisely at the time when, at the court of the rebbe of Stolin, a deep division opened up as to who would inherit the rabbinical throne on the death of the esteemed rebbe, the gaon[408] Reb Isroelke Perlov of blessed memory. They spoke tearfully of the irreplaceable loss. As is well known, a major dispute flared up among Stolin Chassidim which ended in the schism between the followers of rebbe Moyshele and the followers of rebbe Melekhke. This schism did not bypass our shtetl. As a result it was divided into two in a bitter civil war, with each sect having its own butcher and kosher inspector and imposing a complete ban on the other sect's butcher.

The rov of the shtetl was the rov Abelson. He was loyal to both sides. My father belonged to the Karlin Chassidim. I remember with what devotion they would talk about and interpret the will that Reb Isroelke of blessed memory had left. They knew all its paragraphs by heart, and any hint in the will was passed from one to another, such as 'The king shall rule'[409]. From that they drew an explicit hint that his son rebbe Melekhke should inherit the rabbinical throne.

I also remember a story concerning the greatness of the vision of Rebbe Isroelke of blessed memory. This was still in the days of Tsar Nicholas. A certain Jew, who was in great danger, appeared in court on a charge with which he had been smeared. The danger of death or life imprisonment awaited him. Of course they would go to the rebbe in prayers and entreaties. He was supposed to help them. On one occasion when the rebbe was standing, listening to the court proceedings, he turned to the window and wrote on the windowpane which was covered with warm condensation: Sud bezposredstvu[410] (that is to say, a verdict without consequences). But indeed who could see into the future, if not the rebbe? We, the children and also members of the HeKhalutz HaTzair, listen more than once to these stories, intoxicated by devotion and a strong belief in the omnipotence of the man.

When the rebbes visited the shtetl the young people would join as loyal participants in the ecstatic dancing of the Chassidim. With the same enthusiasm and devotion we, the young ones, continued to 'raise the spirit', dancing the Horah[411] in the clubhouse of the HeKhalutz HaTzair every single evening. Every Sabbath morning, when my father and brothers were in the synagogue, my girl friends, from my class, would come to drink a cup of tzikoria[412] and taste yeast cakes, after which we would also steal into the synagogue to hear in turn the eighteen benedictions of the Amidah[413]. Of course no Sabbath passed without a guest dining at our table ; a public emissary passing through our shtetl or somebody collecting alms would always find a place to sleep in our house. And when the first representatives from the HeKhalutz HaTzair centre arrived they also would dine and sleep in our house. My dear father knew how to open his heart to all our wishes. He always liked to have visitors and always made sure to bring a 'guest for Sabbath'.

By the way, I remember a prank my friends played on Grandfather while he was still alive. It was already getting dark outside. They lit a torch, placed it on the kitchen floor, covered it with sawdust and shouted to Grandfather: 'There's a fire in the kitchen!' My grandfather rushed into the kitchen and at once threw water on the spot. The children burst out laughing. Grandfather's wrath was difficult to assuage.

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My two brothers

Both of them were handsome. Leybele was active as the soltys[414], representing the concerns of the shtetl to the authorities, always busy with the affairs of the community, alert to all sorts of questions, discussing and arguing. But he read little and did not go deeply into things, not passing the annual examinations in written studies of Gemara[415]. In contrast to him Gershele does not neglect the tractates and reads non-religious texts in secret. He was greatly influenced by 'A Wanderer on the Path of Life' by Smolenskin[416] and 'Concerning Paths' by Ahad HaAm[417]. He was a thinker, struggling hard, looking for a solution. He was innocence and purity itself, with blue eyes and curly fair hair, a pleasant lad, devoted, responsible and caring towards us all. He was harnessed to the yoke of earning a living, helping Father in the shop a lot. Although I was three years younger than him, a special friendship formed between us. He would exchange opinions with me on all sorts of subjects and problems. He also understood my mood. At that time I was all enthused by the pioneering idea and on the threshold of departure for training. Against Father's 'No' he was on my side. For some reason my sister was not attracted to the affairs of the movement and turned into a real housewife.

The newspapers that came to our house were: the Haynt[418] and all the pamphlets of the HeKhalutz[419] – the HaAtid[420] and so on. During mealtimes conversations and arguments continue concerning the pioneer movement. My father joins in everything. He tries to understand us. His spiritual world is not only the world of the Gemara, the Mishnah and the prayers. In his boyhood he read HaTsfira[421]. By the way, copies of HaTsfira were still kept in the loft, arranged according to the date of issue. Father was affected in his younger days by the atmosphere of the movement of national renewal. It seems to me that he turned to Chassidism after the disaster of the death of my mother, his beloved. And so he would guide and lead us, instilling in us confidence in the direction of life we chose. He hoped and believed we would not shame him in whatever we turned to.

The day of my aliyah occurred on 9 of Av [July] 5694 (1934). I part from those dear to my heart. Who could tell that I would not see them again? My dear father returns from his morning prayer pale and agitated. Saying farewell is very difficult for him. Perhaps the malignant illness is already taking hold of his body? The letters I have kept are all full of a fierce longing for me. 'If only I could see you one more time it would make it easier for me', he wrote to me once. The condition of his health was deteriorating completely, but he only hinted at it. He was anxious not to make me sad. He notes the devotion and care they are giving him. In particular he was worried about my sister Minkele who was caring for him day and night. On the 7th day of Adar 5696 [February 1936] he passed away. He was only 52.

Life makes new demands. People recover from the catastrophe. Each of the children builds himself a family nest. Leybele and his wife Freydl had a daughter whose name was Tirtzele. Gershele marries Chaya Fikman, the daughter of our uncle from Sarny. Minkele married Avroml Goltzman from Stolin. To all of them sons are

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born bearing the name of my father of blessed memory. I also have a daughter and her name is Israela. All of us keep alive the name of our dear father. It seemed as though our family had found some repose and a little of that longed-for happiness. But then the war breaks out.

The date of the last letter that I received was 1941, under Soviet rule. A few words saying all of them are in good health and an announcement from Gershele that they had lost their son of seven months. Later a card to say that a daughter had been born with the name of my mother Rakhel. From then on - complete silence.

Up till now the civilised world has not been shocked by the evil they did to you. But the sole survivor of our family bears witness to the memory of our dear ones. In my imagination I see you in days of joy, in days of sorrow, sadness and fear under the rule of the Russian saviours, when you were on a list of wealthy people, your wealth a source of blackmail and threats. I shall forever see you imprisoned in a ghetto under the rule of the murderous Nazi regime – marching in a group to an open mass grave, with your babes in arms. I see your contorted faces and I hear your cries.

Or perhaps you went towards death in a quiet prayer of Kiddush HaShem[422]?

My saints! How shall I raise the elegy and who will hear it? From afar my tears saturate the abandoned grave.

May your souls be gathered in eternal life.

  Rivka Nafkhan-Dan


  1. ‘Culture’, a network of Hebrew-language educational institutions founded in 1922 return
  2. The 8-day Festival of Lights starting on the 25th day of Kislev (December) to mark the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following the successful uprising of the Maccabees return
  3. A festival that takes place on either the 14th or 15th day of the month of Adar (usually late March), marking the victory of the Jews over their Persian oppressors (see Book of Esther) return
  4. Hebrew: 'order' or 'arrangement', a ritual feast marking the start of Passover return
  5. ‘Haman’s ears’, triangular biscuits filled with poppy seeds (or alternatives) traditionally eaten at Purim (see Book of Esther) return
  6. ‘Days of Awe’, the period between the New Year and the Day of Atonement return
  7. New Year return
  8. Day of Atonement return
  9. The 7-day Feast of Tabernacles (between late September and late October) when Jews eat (and sometimes sleep) in temporary structures partially open to the sky, recalling the forty years in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt return
  10. 'Rejoicing in the Torah', a festival marking the completion of the annual cycle of Torah readings return
  11. Standard Polish: sklep żelazny return
  12. Standard Polish: sklep manufakturny: textiles shop return
  13. Five books of Moses, Pentateuch return
  14. The 'oral law' handed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai and not included in the Bible return
  15. Hebrew: 'Splendour', written in Aramaic, it is the basic work of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah return
  16. Exodus chapter 20, verse 4 return
  17. 24 km south-east of Warsaw return
  18. Symon Petlura (Petlyura), born in 1879, a Ukrainian nationalist who became head of the government of the short-lived Ukrainian National Republic (1919-1921). Jews held him responsible for the wave of pogroms in 1919. He was assassinated in Paris in 1926. return
  19. American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, founded in 1914 to assist desperate Jewish communities in Palestine, the JDC was the main source of external funding for Jews in eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union, between the wars. During the Second World War the JDC saved many thousands of Jews and assisted displaced Jews following the war. return
  20. A holiday on the 6th day of the month of Sivan (May/June) commemorating the day God gave the Torah to Moses return
  21. Yiddish: butter cakes return
  22. Religious studies colleges return
  23. Now the administrative centre of the Luninetz district of Brest province in southern Belarus, Luninetz was under Polish rule from 1540 until 1793 and again from 1920 until 1939 return
  24. School providing a traditional religion-based education, free of charge for poorer pupils return
  25. Nearest small town, nowadays just north of the Ukraine-Belarus border return
  26. Yiddish: ‘eating days’, the arrangement by which a yeshiva student would eat with a different family each day return
  27. Student in religious seminary return
  28. Refers to the death in 1920 of Yosef Trumpeldor and seven other 'guards', defending Tel Hai, a farming village in the north of the Upper Galilee valley return
  29. Polish: sołtys, village administrator return
  30. 'Genius', a title for a rabbi indicating great respect return
  31. This refers to the name Melekhke, ‘little king’ return
  32. From Russian без посредствий return
  33. Jewish/Israeli round dance originally from the Balkans; return
  34. Polish: chicory return
  35. ‘Standing prayer’, originally consisting of 18 blessings, is the central prayer of Jewish liturgy, recited every day at each of the prayer services return
  36. Polish: sołtys, village administrator return
  37. Section of the Talmud return
  38. Peretz Smolenskin, a Russian Jewish Hebrew writer, born 1842 in Mogilev, died 1885 in Odessa return
  39. 'One of the People', pseudonym of Asher Tzvi Hirsh Ginsberg (1856-1927), a Hebrew essayist and proponent of cultural Zionism (as opposed to political Zionism) return
  40. 'Today', a leading Yiddish-language paper published in Warsaw from 1908 until 1939 return
  41. 'The Pioneer'movement, divided into HeKhalutz HaBoger (the Adult Pioneer) and HeKhalutz HaTzair (the Young Pioneer) return
  42. 'The Future', the newspaper of HeKhalutz, published in Warsaw return
  43. 'The Dawn', the first Hebrew-language journal in Poland, founded in 1862 return
  44. 'Sanctification of the Name', an act that brings honour and respect to God (cf. Leviticus 22.23) return

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My father's house

How difficult it is to record memories of a home that no longer exists, of an extended family that remained faithful to tradition and brought up its children in the deeprooted values of Judaism.

At the head of the family was my clever and sharp-witted grandfather. Who did not come to him for advice in various difficult situations? He would always be ready with advice for those who needed it, with a pertinent and clever aphorism, and the person seeking advice went away encouraged. He always demanded action, in particular from young people with regard to earning a living for their families, so that they could give their children a proper education.

He was extremely realistic and practical, endeavouring to give his son a peaceful home background in order that he would be 'a wise student' and devote himself to the study of the Torah. He was proud of the fact that his son was expert in the Torah and the Talmud and full of the wisdom of Israel. In the long winter evenings he would enthral us for many hours with the legends and splendid stories about god-fearing men, their lives and deeds.

I remember the Sabbath and festival days. The house would be ready for the arrival of the festival, cleaned, with the dishes appropriate for Sabbath banquets, accompanied by songs. All these left deep impressions in the hearts of those taking part. There was great beauty in this joint family life, full of tradition, rich in content and with deep spiritual values.

Our house experienced bereavement and orphanhood. My mother had an extremely fine and sensitive soul. Under the strain of everyday life, which was cruel to her, she broke down in her suffering. She was so young. She would worry about her little children and feared for their fate. Then her heart prophesied to her that her end was nigh and that it would come before she had brought us to a safe shore. Her sick heart could not take the hardships and worries of life and she departed at the age of 34.

Hershl Sheynbeyn


My father was a typical educated Jewish type, detached from the realities of everyday affairs and of earning a living, but he embraced the modern world. This was a time of turbulence and revolution in Russia, a time of hope for the coming of a new world.

He was a loyal Zionist, forever hoping to join his children in the Land and live there. He was among the committed followers of Zionism, although in those days there were few people in the shtetl of his age who publicly took a stand in favour of Zionism. They didn't read newspapers a lot in Vysotsk; subscription to a newspaper was regarded as a luxury. There were only isolated homes where it was possible to find a daily paper. I remember Father sneaking out of the house, sitting for hours in the chemist Khmara's place,leafing through Russian and Yiddish papers. He wouldn't leave them until he had finished reading the lot. He knew classical Russian

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literature inside out. He enjoyed Mendele[423], Sholem Aleichem[424], Peretz[425] and Bialik[426]. He was a brilliant mathematician. At home he would solve for us the most complicated problems we were given at school. None of this was done in public because the older generation frowned on this sort of activity.

I remember my two younger sisters who had not yet been able to reach the Land for various reasons. This was particularly because of a lack of aliyah. They fell victim to the hands of the murderers of the Jewish people. Esther finished her obligatory schooling in the Polish state school and trained as a seamstress in the ORT[427] school in Pinsk. She dreamed of a good future . She was clever, full of a fine and lively humour. She loved life. All her future was before her, but the hand of the murderer was brandished over her.

Esther Zoliar
Chaya Zoliar


And Chayale, the lovely and pleasant daughter born to her parents when they were getting older. She was already without a mother when still very young. Since we, the older ones,quickly dispersed, one to training, another to the Land, the burden of the home fell on her while she was still a small girl. But she knew how to fit in both studies and housework, looking after Father and herself from a very young age.

My sisters were at the beginning of their adulthood, full of hopes for the future, when they were cut down cruelly for the sin of being Jewish. We were bereft of those nearest and dearest to us.

I want to record the image of my best friend and comrade Tzipora Shuster from whose parental home not a soul survived. We were good friends from childhood, from school years. Together we passed the long journey of training, in the seminar of the HeKhalutz and in joint work in the movement. It was just by chance that she did not come to the Land. She was in poor health, and her parents were extremely fearful for her in the difficult conditions of the Land.

She was an exceptionally poetic soul, she loved what was beautiful in life, like singing, music, flowers and children, nature and life around her, everything in a natural and self-evident manner.

We did not receive a musical education in the shtetl. Her brother taught himself to play the violin. She was also attracted to playing, to whistling; she adored a beautiful song, a sentimental tune. Rich in spirit, she was full of the wisdom of life. She had great influence over the younger age groups in HeKhalutz HaTzair. She was

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a gifted, talented leader in the movement. A bosom friend, she was on the threshold of being saved. What a pity she did not achieve it.

May her memory and the memory of her house be blessed.

  Mina Zolyar Rotberg


  1. Mendele Moykher Sforim (Mendele the Book Peddler), pseudonym for Sholem Yankl Abramovich, was born near Minsk in 1838 and died in Odessa in 1917. He started writing in Hebrew, later switching to Yiddish in order to reach a wider audience. Regarded as the 'Grandfather' of Yiddish literature. return
  2. Nom de plume of Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich (1859-1916), the most famour Yiddish writer return
  3. Yitzkhok Leybush Peretz was born in Zamošć in 1852 and died in Warsaw in 1915. Regarded, with Mendele and Sholem Aleichem, as one of the three classical Yiddish writers return
  4. Chaim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934), the most famous Hebrew poet of the modern age return
  5. The Society for Trades and Agricultural Labour among the Jews in Russia (Общество ремесленного и земледельческого труда среди евреев в России) was founded in 1880. In its first 25 years it provided training to 25,000 Jews. After the First World War ORT spread to other European countries and the USA. During the Second World War it continued to serve Jewish communities until they were liquidated, even functioning in the Warsaw Ghetto. To this day it remains an important provider of vocational training in Israel and in Jewish communities throughout the world, including, once again, countries of the former Soviet Union.return


Gershon Kolodny and his wife Dina


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