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[Page 165]

Memories of Father's house

The house of Reb Ichie der Melamed[457] stood in a quiet street. The house was covered by trees and surrounded by bushes. The branches would come through the open window and spread out inside the room. A hand would stretch out through the window and reach all the goodness of the tree. Fruit would be eaten straight from the tree. The house bustled with life and was full of the sound of joy. The pupils, young nippers, felt at home in the house and joined in the life of the family. As the daughter of their teacher I was liked by the boys, who were very protective towards me. My mother, Rivke, was called die Rebbitzin[458] by everybody. She was a good woman, devoted to the family and to the pupils who studied with Father. If an orphan was found among the children she would adopt him as a son, as her own son.


Reb Ichie Shabshi


I loved the festivals best. Father, who was also a khazan[459], would fill the house with his pleasant voice and enchant the listeners with his prayers that flowed over everyone with warmth and powerful emotion. Tradition was always observed in our house. Every festival had its own order and character. At Purim Father would read the Book of Esther to Mother, and slowly the women neighbours would gather round to listen.

Special memories stayed with me from the days of slikhes (penitential hymns) and New Year. The slikhes that Father would sing in the synagogue at one o'clock in the morning would burst forth, cleaving the sky. The women would bless Father, saying: 'Light to the mother in the grave who has such a son'.

Similarly I shall remember the preparations for New Year. Uncle Asher Lapinsky would come. He and Father would 'rehearse' their chanting, each raising his voice with the other and helping each other. Mother was with them all the time, handing them warm sweet drinks. Throughout all the festivals the house was full of singing and joyful tunes.

The time arrived when I parted from my father's house and from all that was connected to it and made aliyah. When I was already in the Land in kibbutz Givat HaShlosha[460]. I and the other friends that were from my shtetl always remembered my father the khazan. Shmuel Hersh Borovyk, who was in the kibbutz, would always prepare the parents in the kibbutz to receive Reb Ichie. He would say: ' In a little while you will have a good khazan in the synagogue. Wait till Reb Ichie comes.' We were indeed ready to receive him on his arrival and, but we did not succeed, neither he nor us.

Also my sister Khinke was ready to make aliyah to the Land but didn't make it. She was a very clever woman, she knew how to help everybody. Her house was a model. It was always a place of refuge for those in distress who would come to pour

[Page 166]

out their hearts to her. She and her husband knew how to bring up their four children. She did not manage to save her soul from the claws of the murderers No memory remains of her family. Thus a large family was torn to pieces together with all the other Jews who perished.

May their memory be blessed

  Shifra Shabtai-Efory
Givat HaShlosha


Khinke Shabshi, her husband Yehuda Roytnberg and their children:
Avram, Mordekhai and Shoshana



Nishke Borovyk

Sarale Reykhman


  1. Yiddish: the Teacher return
  2. Yidd.: the wife of the rov return
  3. Cantor in the synagogue return
  4. A kibbutz in central Israel, founded in 1925 return

[Page 167]

Shokhet the teacher

As man is commanded to honour and fear his father, so he is obliged to honour and fear his rabbi more than his father, as his father brings him into the life of this world, and his rabbi, who taught him wisdom, brings him into the life of the world to come. If his father and his rabbi are prisoners he must release his rabbi first and afterwards release his father. But if his father is a wise scholar he releases his father first – and there is no greater honour than the honour towards the rabbi and no greater fear than the fear of the rabbi.

The sages said: 'The fear of your rabbi is as the fear of God in heaven.'

The Rambam[461]: Hilkhot Talmud Torah[462]

My dear teacher!

Even after so many years you remain alive in my memory. I can picture you, short of stature, with sad, penetrating, green eyes that pierced the soul, your high brow below a mass of long flowing hair, alert, lively, quick, clean and handsome. I can see you as you walk into the classroom in your Russian shirt, tied by a black cord.

The soft yet demanding sound of your voice echoes, incisive, urging us on. In my mind's eye I see all your pupils listening to your teaching. I know that you were an outstanding teacher!

And when I record your story in the life of Vysotsk it sounds to me like a legend and you stand out as a marvellous person.

You, you whom our parents would call Epicurus[463] and a polluter of Israel – you were like a saint revealed in our small, secluded shtetl, far from the hubbub of the city. To the innocent children of the poor, who grew up like wild flowers in their shtetl, you came and lit in their hearts the desire to know, the love of learning; you awakened in them a longing and striving for a life mysterious to them, the desire to make headway, to search and to make progress.

You revealed to us the big wide world, which for us was distant, beautiful and strange, and its light shone in us. Study, read, increase your knowledge – that was your watchword.

And soon the first books appeared: 'Alone' by Kabak[464], 'Love of Zion' by Mapu[465], 'Daughter of the rich man' by Rabinovych[466], 'Whither?' by Feierberg[467].

And in class you read Frishman[468]. Yes, various, multi-faceted aspects of life. And only now do I understand the aim you set yourself. You opened our eyes in order to know the history of our people.

I remember the history lesson and your great disappointment when you learned that we had not heard about the exile of the Jews of Spain. But you never lost hope. You continued to teach us the history of our people. It was only after many years that I understood what you were after. Above all I remember your nature study lessons. This was a new subject for us, strange and marvellous. 'Do you see this blue?

[Page 168]

That is air, many layers of air!' 'And the sky?' 'There is no sky, that is air!' 'But where does God sit?' On Sabbath in the synagogue they are all talking and seething: 'Shokhat, may he be cursed, is teaching the children that there is no God!'

And your walks! Those walks into the open field, into the splendid countryside where you point out every flower, calling it by name. How you brought us closer to the beauty of nature and to love it. There were also evening walks, when you pointed out the stars in the sky. But the purpose of these walks was not only to study; you brought us all together in every way, we learned to live together, to understand each other. You were always close to us. You explained, you told stories, you argued. Hurry, use every opportunity, make progress! It was as if your heart told you you were the last teacher of Hebrew in the shtetl.

I remember the joint Seder[469] nights in your house, the performances and the parties, the private conversations. The help you offered outside the classroom. Nor did you forget us after you had left the shtetl; for many years you stayed in contact with many of us via letters. You joined in all areas of our life, you embraced them all! You bestowed on us your noble spirit, and the words entered our hearts. We all loved you, respected and adored you.

We also knew the difficult struggle you had for the existence of our Hebrew school with the unenlightened ones in the shtetl on one side and with the shkola[470] on the other. We could also see your material hardship. You struggled for every crumb of bread for yourself and your wife. But you did not abandon the shtetl. Only many years later did it become clear to me at a time when I myself underwent a similar test to yourself. Only then did I understand your battles in all their severity. I chose you as a guiding light.

Your activities bore fruit, for it was because of you and your friends that the children of Vysotsk were attached to the Hebrew language; they knew and loved it. Vysotsk became famous as a Hebrew-speaking shtetl. Thanks to you every young person in the shtetl aspired to make aliyah to the Land, seeing in this his only path in life. And indeed how large is the camp of those fulfilling the dream, the sons of one shtetl living here in the Land! It is thanks to you, only to you and the Hebrew school that we came here, one person directly, another indirectly. You formed the young generation! I, like many others, drank from the pure, clear water of the well, I swallowed it and it touched my heart deeply. I owe double and multiple thanks to you. Unknowingly you marked out the path of my life – to continue in your project. I also count your name among all those who are dear to me.

On the tombstone of all the saints of the shtetl your name will also be engraved.

  Dina Tkach-Ilan
Deganya Alef


  1. Acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Jewish philosopher, born 1135 in Cordoba, died 1204 in Egypt return
  2. ‘Laws of Torah study’ return
  3. Greek philosopher (341 BCE-270BCE) who taught the pursuit of happiness and avoidance of pain and fear return
  4. Aaron-Avram Kabak, born 1882 in Smargon' (110 km north-west of Minsk), later moved to Jaffa. ‘Alone’ is reputed to be the first Hebrew novel in which the principal figure is a woman. return
  5. Regarded as the first Hebrew novel, it was written by Avraham Mapu (born Kovno (Kaunus) 1808, died in Konigsberg (Kaliningrad) 1867) and published in Vilna (Vilnius) in 1853 return
  6. Sholem Naumovyh Rabinovych (1859-1916), better known as Sholem Aleikhem. return
  7. Mordechai Ze'ev Feierberg, Hebrew writer (1874-1899). return
  8. David Saulovych Frishman, born 1864 in Zgierzh, a town just north of Lodz, died in Berlin in 1922 . return
  9. Ritual feast marking the start of Passover. return
  10. Refers to Polish szkoła, i.e. the Polish government school return

[Page 169]

Grandfather's house

Volf and Reyzl Gelman

The shtetl of Vysotsk is situated about seven kilometres from the railway station of Udrytsk. The road from there to the shtetl passed through fields and woods which cut through by the river Horyn. In order to get to Vysotsk it was necessary to cross to the second bank of the river by porom[471] (ferry) or boat.

Between the Christian and the Jewish streets stood a large church which served the farmers of the surrounding area. About 100 metres away from it stood a large residential house where the Gelman family lived. Grandfather and Grandmother lived there with their children and their families.

As far as I can remember my grandfather was one of the important cattle merchants in the area, but in about the year 1908 he decided to turn to agriculture. He was the first Jew in the area to become a farmer. He acquired 600 dunams[472] of land which he worked with the help of his sons.

I remember Grandmother as a quiet woman who would do a lot of 'secret giving' which I would bring to the needy.

Uncle Feybil Gelman, a generous man, educated his children in Vilna and Pinsk.

Uncle Itzik Gelman - I shall not forget the eves of Yom Kippur[473] when the whole family gathered in Grandfather's house and prepared wax candles in memory of the dead, and in contrast also for the living. Uncle Itzik would go in the morning to purify himself in the Mikve[474] in order to get himself ready for the prayer Kol nidrei[475]. When he sang the prayers in his clear voice we would open the windows of the house, bringing us nearer to what was happening in the synagogue, and listen to him in excitement.



Malka Gelman

Itzkhok-Dovid Gelman


  1. Ukrainian return
  2. 1 dunam = 1000 square metres return
  3. Day of Atonement return
  4. Hebrew: Mikvah, ritual bath. return
  5. prayer recited at the start of the Day of Atonement return

[Page 170]

Father's house

Hershil and Dvoyre Petrukh

My parents lived in the centre of the shtetl, eight houses away from my grandfather's house. My father was a generous, warm man, loved by those who knew him and family alike.

I am obliged to tell this story as a memorial to the parents whom I defied by leaving them. When Motil Lopatyn came from Warsaw to organise new members in 'Khalutz' I was among the first to join this movement, afterwards making aliyah to the Land.

On the last evening before I left home friends came to invite me to a party that had been arranged in my honour. As I wanted to avoid distressing Mother for as long as I could I didn't go to the party. Poor Mother stood all that night by my bed to prevent my departure. Early in the morning I asked her to make me a light meal, promising not to leave that day. However as soon as she went to the kitchen I got up and escaped from the house. I went first to the cemetery to say goodbye to the dead.

There I felt most intensely the natural beauty of the shtetl. From one side I could hear the sound of the river and from the opposite side the sound of the flour mill.

And there I stood struggling with myself whether to stay or whether to continue on my way.

After a number of hours spent there acquaintances appeared. They were looking for me and told me that Mr Lopatyn had persuaded my parents to go to the station and bless me in peace. My parents were waiting there, not knowing that I had not yet left the place.

I hurried back, bidding farewell to my grandfather. After that I went to my parents' house, where there was nobody at home. I glanced farewell


Feybl Gelman, his wife Belka and their daughter Shoshana


to the house and everything in it. As I went I did not meet any neighbours or acquaintances and I went in the direction of the river. When I came to the river I was surprised by all the people of the shtetl who had come to say goodbye to me with a blessing for the journey.

As if it had happened yesterday I recall how Father said to me before I got on the train 'Mayn kind[476], always remember that there is somewhere for you to come back to.' Six years after my aliyah to the Land my parents saw for the first time that I had done the right thing. Then they sent my sister Sara Petrukh and my brother Itzhak Petrukh after me, but Hershil and Dvoyre and their families, along with Berl and Figa and their families, remained behind as prey for the murderers.

  Rivka Petrukh-Lykhtigshteyn


  1. Yiddish: my child return

[Page 171]


Aaron-Zev son of
Feygl (Petrukh) and Arie Furman

Sonya Gelman-Bichik

[Page 172]

In memory of one branch
of the 'Nisalekh'
[little nuts] tribe

Grandfather Itzhok Lopata had eight sons: 1) Itzhok was the grandfather of Aaron Itzhok and Gitl Lopata whose family name remained Lopata; 2) Shleyme the grandfather of Etil of blessed memory and of Khaya, Meir, Yakov and Rushke Vaks - as a result of his being called up to the army the family changed their name to Vaks; 3) Mordekhai my grandfather and grandfather of Tova and Khaviva and also of Israel and Zalman Gutman; 4) Reuven the grandfather of the Kolkovskim whose name also remained Lopata; 6) Nisn the grandfather of the families of Nisn and Rivke; 7) Benyamin, my father of the family of Akiva Leyb. The eighth alas I do not remember. All of them had children and grandchildren who all remained in the shtetl. These lines are dedicated in particular to one branch of the extended family and this is the Nisn Veles family or Bas-Shevas Lopata.

My parents had three sons and five daughters. The sons, the eldest Itzhok and Shleyme-Mendl remained in the shtetl and were killed by the Nazis. I am the third. I made aliyah about seventeen years before the destruction. The daughters Yentil and her family who lived in the nearby shtetl of Vladimertz, Teybil who lived with her family in Vysotsk, and Rachel who lived in nearby Stolin – the three of them and their families were destroyed in the great slaughter, each one in the shtetl where she lived. My two sisters Khaviva and Tova made aliyah to the Land several years before the destruction. My mother Bat- Sheva was able with our help to reach the Land where she lived for some years. She reached a good age and was highly respected when she passed away.


Shleyme-Mendl Lopata


She was buried next to my sister Tova in the cemetery of Sede Nakhum[477] where she lived for the last years of her life near my sister Tova..


In memory of my wife's family

Nisl 'Des Shatkhns'[478] (Nisn Kaftan) and his wife Tsipa, the parents of my wife Sima and of Tsibl Levin, had three daughters. Two of them have already been in Israel for many years. The third, Yentl, and her family lived in Sarny. My wife's mother, who had arrived in the Land in 1930, went back to Sarny in 1932 to her daughter and grandchildren whom she was missing so much. All of them were killed in the Shoah.


  1. A kibbutz near the Jordanian border, founded in 1937 return
  2. Yiddish: the Marriage-broker's return

[Page 173]

In memory of my father's home

(from a letter from Rabbi Chaim Abelson, Uruguay)

…For how dejected is my soul and how I yearn when I remember all that was taken from us. I am still in mourning and grief, grief for one and for many, for my large family and for all God's people who fell by the sword. In you, my brothers, I see the wonders of the Creator, how those who survived the sword, tiny embers saved from fire, are able to continue their life and raise generations. We saw evil, the furnaces and the strange deaths by which they killed and burned our loved and dear ones. God, who gives strength to the weary, will give us the strength to forget, in order to carry within us 'God will not neglect his people or forsake his inheritance '.

The prophet Isaiah said: 'For thus saith the Lord…unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name[479]… I will give them an everlasting name[480].' What that means is that by telling in my house of their good deeds I shall grant them an everlasting name, for our children will learn from their good deeds and through this will achieve the world to come, for they do not have sons left whose good deeds grant


The rov Reb Avram Yoel Abelson


them this (look up in the writings of RaDaK[481]). My grandfather's father was the rov Avram Yoel Abelson of blessed memory. He was the high judge in Odessa. He wrote many books. He had four sons, three of whom I knew. One was my grandfather, the rov Yehuda Abelson of blessed memory who was the president of the court of justice in Pitrikov[482]who after the first war was rov in our shtetl Vysotsk. The name of his wife, my grandmother, was Miriam, may her memory rest in peace.

One of grandfather's brothers was the rov Itzhok Abelson. His name is found in the interpretation of the Mishnaot[483] in the Vilna edition. The second brother, whose name was Nisn Abelson, died in New York.Grandfather, the rov Reb Yehuda Abelson, had four sons. They were: my father and teacher, the rov Reb Yehoshua Abelson, may God avenge his blood. When my grandfather Reb Yehuda moved to the shtetl of Plotnitza[484] to serve there as rov, my father, the rov Reb Yehoshua, remained, taking over from him as rov in our shtetl. My mother and teacher, may God avenge her blood, was the daughter of the rov of Aniksht[485] in Lithuania. Her name was Vitel Berezansky.

My father's brothers were : Reb Yehezkel, may God avenge his blood, Reb Bonam who had a daughter (they were killed in Lithuania) and the rov Reb Yakov, may God avenge his blood, who served as rov in Latzkave[486], Lithuania. They had three daughters and a son. All of them were killed in Lithuania.

My elder brother was the rov Reb Avraam Yoel, may God avenge his blood.

He married the daughter of the rov of Menivich[487]. Her name was Chana Gordon,

[Page 174]

may God avenge her blood. They were killed along with their three children, may God avenge their blood.

My sister Sheyndl, may God avenge her blood, married the rov Menachem Eliezer, may God avenge his blood, son of the rov of Sernyk[488] near Pinsk. During the war he served as rov in Plotnitza[489]. They and their three children were killed in Vysotsk. May God avenge their spilt blood.

  Chaim, son of Rov Abelson Montevideo,
Shevat 5723 [Jan/Feb 1963]


  1. Yad vaShem, after which the Jerusalem Holocaust museum was named return
  2. Isaiah chapter 56, verses 4/5 return
  3. Rabbi David Kimchi (Kimkhi), Talmudic scholar and grammarian, lived in France 1160-1235 return
  4. Petrikov, a district centre north-east of Vysotsk in Belarus on the river Pripyat’ return
  5. Plural of Mishna, the 'oral law' handed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai and not included in the Bible return
  6. North of Vysotsk, now in Belarus return
  7. Now Anykšciai, a small town c. 85 km. north of Vilnius return
  8. Letzkava, close to the Latvian border return
  9. Now Manevychi, on the railway line 80 km. west of Sarny return
  10. Sernyky, c. 25 km. west of Vysotsk return
  11. a village 30-40 km. north of Vysotsk return

In memory of the oldest family
of rabbis in the shtetl

It was about sixty years ago. Before Yehuda and Yehoshua Abelson served as rabbis in the shtetl the rov was Moyshe Melamed, a native of the shtetl. His sons were Leybush the slaughterer, Mordekhai (father of Yakove Rabinovych also called Yenkl Mordkhes) and Shmuel Rabinovych (Melamed). This Shmuel had daughters about whose fate I know nothing. Yakov, son of Mordekhai Rabinovych, had two sons.

One, Itzhok, died before the Shoah. The second, Shleyme Rabinovych, emigrated to England. One daughter, Sara, is in Israel. There were two other daughters of whose fate I am unaware.

The son-in-law of Feybush the slaughterer, Shleyme Levin, had four sons and one daughter. One of them, Yakov Shmuel, was a slaughterer and was killed with his family. The second, Mordekhai Tzvi Levin is still alive in Israel. The third, Zelig, was also killed with his family. The fourth, Moyshe, stayed in Russia. The one daughter Khava, whose husband was Yosef the slaughterer, was killed with her family in the great Shoah.

May their memory be blessed.

  Mordekhai Lopata


The Rabinovych family
Sitting: Yakov and Dvoyre Rabinovych standing: Leybl, Sara, Brokhe and Yehudit Rabinovych


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