Mein Shtetl Postov
by Yisrael Raichel
Privately published in Israel in 1977
Blurb on back cover:
Israel Raichel was born in Postov, in [what was then] the Vilna gubernia [= province]. He arrived in Eretz Yisrael as a halutz [Zionist pioneer] in 1923 and became a member of the G'dud Ha'avoda* in Jerusalem. He studied for two years in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1929 he went to Montreal to continue his studies. There he became one of the leaders of the Zionist-Revisionist Party and wrote articles in the "Canadian Adler". In 1934 he moved to the United States where he became active in the Revisionist movement and took part in the well-known "Baltimore Conference".* He has been residing in Israel since 11971.
*Short descriptions of items marked with an asterisk can usually be found in most Jewish encyclopedias. However, if you don't have such an encyclopedia, I can copy out the entries from the one that I have (The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, Cecil Roth and Geoffrey Wigoder, eds.).
Foreword [pages 7–9]
I decided to write this book in Yiddish because I am more than sure that all the Postov Jews, who are dispersed throughout the world, can read Yiddish, but not all can read Hebrew.
This book is not only about ghetto life and, ultimately, death, as are the countless "memory books". My purpose was to write about the life of the Jews in Postov before this period of time. I wanted to determine when Jews began to settle in Postov and from where they came, and their sources of livelihood. Unfortunately, in my research I was unable to find any written materials that could help me in locating reliable information about events and facts other than official accounts.
Postov is a small town, and the significant historical events that occurred during the political, cultural and social development of the region were not recorded. No writers, thinkers or scholars wrote about Postov, and the town doesn't even appear on large-scale maps. But the Jews of Postov loved their shtetl, and they maintained a active and varied, Jewish way of life in the more distant past, and especially during the years between the two world wars.
Most of what is written in this book is based on memories, personal experiences and information gathered from various individuals. I was also helped by books about the wars of the last hundred years, written memories of Jewish life in Lithuania in general, and encyclopedias in several languages.
I have not written dry facts and episodes. All of the events are accompanied by shorter or longer discourses about the political changes, and the cultural, economic and social developments that affected the ongoing events. For clarity it was necessary to include short historical episodes from the more recent past in Lithuania, especially in the Vilna district.
I have written in Litvisheh [Lithuanian] Yiddish, although I am not sure that I have been grammatically consistent in my writing. Fifty years of wandering in various different lands have undoubtedly affected my Yiddish writing. I hope that my dear readers will forgive me that some of the chapters contain personal anecdotes. It was not my intention to relate my own biography, but the short biographical sketches throw light on the Zeitgeist in that small point on the map, Postov, as well as on my own personal life history.
Shachne Achiasaf (Tseplovitz) **, helped me with his knowledge of publishing, Alexander Ben-Hur (Manfil), Rachel Borovsky, Abba Weiner, Fima Wexler, Meir Tadress, Yaakov Feigel, Hanoch Reuveni (Rabinovitch), Zalman Rachman, Sh'muel Shteingold, Chava Shteingold and Arieyeh Sheftl, and my wife Miriam, all helped with their encouragement and patience.
I have, to my regret, been constrained to shorten the length of the book, and am not able to acknowledge many of those financial and moral support have helped to make this book, nor all of the sources I used for the story of Postov that appears in it. I was also unable to include photographs from institutions, organizations and individuals who were forthcoming with information and reminiscences about Jewish life in my little shteteleh Postov.
* Shachne Achiasaf (Tseplovitz), who died in
2004 at the age of 97, was my maternal Aunt Bunia's husband. Various members of
the family were in publishing in Lithuania/Belarus, and Shachne established a
small but well-known publishing company in Palestine in 1937, which is still
operating under his son Matan's ownership and management.
In the summer of 2005, I began to translate my Uncle Israel Raichel's Mayn Shtetl Postov from Yiddish into English. More than thirty years have passed since it was published, and there are now very few people who can read this book in Yiddish. Of those who lived in Postov, I am not aware of any alive today, but they have left many descendants. I myself wanted to read the book, despite my very limited understanding of the language and a complete ignorance of its grammar. A very non-intensive course in Yiddish, and the very extensive use of Uriel Weinreich's Modern Yiddish-English Dictionary, together with considerable experience in Hebrew-to-English translation, has made it possible for me to read the book, and to translate it. In addition, I dipped, rather than immersed myself, into the history of Eastern Europe in general. Although I already had a fairly broad knowledge of Jewish history there and in Europe in general, I was fairly ignorant of general Eastern European history.
As a final touch to this background, and while still in the middle of the translation, I visited Lithuania in the autumn of 2005. Although I was unable to get to Postov itself, due to likely border problems at the Lithuania-Belarus border, I got close enough – twenty kilometers to the west of Postov – to become acquainted with the natural scenery of the area and the atmosphere, the aromas and the light in the fall of the year, of a small town, Adutishkis (formerly Hydotzishok) and a larger town, Svencian (Svenciyonis), both of which are mentioned in Israel Raichel's book. Indeed, after his marriage, Israel's paternal uncle Reb Shimon Raichel lived in Adutishkis, where he established a brick-making factory, which was one of the Raichel/Reichel family trades and sources of livelihood.
My Shtetl Postov (pp. 10–12)
Postov is located on the border between Lithuania and Belarus, or White Russia, half-way between Vilna [Vilnius] and Palatzk. Prior to World War I Postov was under Russian dominance. One hundred years ago (i.e., about 1870-1880) Lithuania dominated Postov and even beyond it, deep into Russia.
During World War I Postov was on the front-line between Russia and Germany and was completely destroyed. For two years after this war the town was a battleground between the Bolsheviks and Poland. The Bolsheviks finally had several victories and reached Warsaw. Being in a generous mood, or for political reasons, Russia returned to Lithuania part of the Vilna gubernia, up to Postov. The Miadlekeh River, which flows thorough Postov, was the border, so that half of the town was under Russian rule and half under Lithuanian control.
This did not last long. On 19 October 1920, the Polish General Zeligovski made a surprise attack on Lithuania and occupied part the Vilna gubernia of Lithuania and almost to Globok. Postov remained under Polish control until 17 September 1939 when, as per an agreement with Hitler's Germany, Russia took over the entire region. On 21 June 1941 Germany attacked Russia, following which Postov remained under German rule until the Russians repulsed the German attack.
Postov's topography is remarkably beautiful. The town is surrounded by rivers and lakes, hills and valleys, great pine forests and fields. The Miadlekeh River, which flows through the town, emanates from Lake Naratzer, which lies between the Miadlekeh and the Naratzer forests; it was to these forests that the partisans fled from the ghettos and from them they carried out their activities of sabotage during almost the entire duration of the Nazi occupation. Cut timber was floated down the Miadlekeh River to the Disenkeh River, which flows into the Dvina and thus found its way to the Baltic Sea. In this way, the lumber reached Riga and then Germany.
Under almost two decades of Polish rule [after WW I – October 1920 to September 1939] Postov grew. The entire town was paved with cobblestones and was therefore much less muddy than other towns in the area. Postov had four main streets and several smaller side-streets. Vilna Street was the town's crown. Both sides of the street were bordered with large, tall trees and the military barracks. The great white palace, and its surrounding large park, and the Zamarik woods, made Vilna Street majestically beautiful and an attractive location for strolling.
The beautiful buildings all around Market Place, and many other buildings in the town, as well as large areas of open land around the town, had once belonged to Count Yozef Psedzhevski. Many old Jewish houses stood near the bathhouses, which officially, but not de facto, belonged to Goyim, this because according to the old Russian laws, Jews were not allowed to own their own bathhouses. After the First World War several goyim wanted to take over the Jewish houses that stood on "their" bathhouses. Their demands were not legally recognized.
Prior to the Second World War there were about 2,500 Jews in Postov. The other residents were White Russians, Poles and a few Moslem families. The Jews spoke a "half" Litvisheh Yiddish, the goyim spoke Russian, White-Russian, Polish and, after the First World War, Lithuanian as well.
When Did Jews Settle in Postov? (pp. 13–14)
I was not successful in finding information that could verify a definitive date for when Jews first began to settle in Postov. The Great Russian Encyclopedia of 1916 notes that in 1847 there were 551 Jews, and in 1897 there were already 1310, while the entire population was estimated as 2,397. Other encyclopedias report the same numbers.
According to my memory, there was a tombstone in Postov's [Jewish] cemetery [Beis Olam] from the 17th century. According to a map that appeared in the first volume of "Lithuanian Jewry", [Yahadut Litta/Lithuanian Jewry], which was published in Tel Aviv in 1959, Jews were already living in towns and villages in Lithuania in the 15th century. The Jewish settlements were marked on this map by the Lithuanian government as centers for tax-collection from Jews. As of the 15th century Jews were living in Polotzk, Drissa, Driya, Globok, Smargon and Oshmeneh, which also appeared on the map; one can therefore safely assume [fuller zicherkeit – complete certainty] that Jews were also to be found in Postov at that time.
From where did the Jews come to Lithuania and Postov? As a result of recurrent persecutions and pogroms Jews were forced to wander from land to land. Kiev was a gathering point of Jews. Well-known historians are of the opinion that the Jews that arrived in Kiev already in the eighth century were Kuzari survivors, or remnants. In the 12th century Jews fleeing the Crusades arrived from Germany, and Jews migrated [eingevandert– "wandered in"?] from other countries as well. Thus, about 800 years ago, when Jews were forced to seek new homes, they came to Lithuania, and to Postov as well. The believers in Christianity and the Catholic ministers had no influence in Lithuania [at that time] and Jews found a safe place to settle down for a period of time that lasted until the Second World War.
The Railway (p. 15)
Before the First World War, Postov was on a small railway branch-line between Ponevezys and Berezvesht, which was one station after Globok. To travel to Vilna, one had to transfer at Novo-Svencionys to a second, wider-gauge railway line to Vilna, through which the train route between St. Petersberg and Warsaw passed.
During World War I the Germans built a wide-gauge railway line from Novo- Svencionys to the front-line in Postov. This line made it possible to transport war materiel directly from Germany to the front-line. The Bolsheviks extended this line to the Russian rail hubs.
After the war, Postov shopkeepers and tradesmen therefore had a better connection with Vilna, where the more important wholesalers were located. This direct connection helped to improve business in Postov.
The Market Place (pp. 16–17)
The Market Place in Postov was recognized as the most beautiful in the entire region. Four main streets led into the market. Many years earlier, on Court [Artikker] Street and all around Market Place, large and beautiful white-washed buildings were erected, all according to a well worked-out master plan. The larger shops were located in the nicer buildings, the smaller ones in similarly-constructed small wooden booths, and all lined up in small street-like formations according to an overall plan. A certain part of the market was set aside for traders who sold their wares [s'khoireh – goods and/or produce] from wagons.
In the southern part of the Market there was a large building, also white-washed, that resembled a fortress. It may actually have been built, many years earlier, for defensive purposes. In the center of this building, entered through two large doors, there was a large courtyard into which horses and wagons could be driven. There were more shops, both in this courtyard and outside the "fortress". The police commissioner and the police officers were quartered in another large building, as was the jail. Two Protestant churches, one of either side of Market Place, "protected" it. Downhill from the Market, near the river, stood Postov's aesthetically beautiful Catholic cloister. The Miadlekeh River wound around three sides of the cloister and an abbey [g'lakhs hoiz ; glakh, from Hebrew, is "shaved" (heads)], forming a true peninsula.
Monday was the market day, and a lot of trading went on. Almost all of the businesses were in Jewish hands. Traders from near and far bought grain, animals, fur and leather pelts, flax, pigs' hair, fruit, eggs and butter from the peasant farmers [poyyerim]. The farmers were able to purchase all of their needs, from thread and a needle to a ready-made outfit [costume]. Traders began coming from further areas already on Sunday in order to be in the market as early as possible on the morn of the next day. For the Jews, the in-flow of so many Jews [from elsewhere] created a holiday atmosphere in the town.
The "Blind" River and Napoleon's Treasure (p. 18)
The Blind River wasn't actually really a river, but a small lake, about a vierst long and vierst across. Where the name "Blind River" came from is unknown. No one was even interested. Perhaps because of the black baths [bad'n - or pools] all around it, the water was as black as coffee, and this may be the reason behind the name "Blind River". There were only a small amount of very small okeness [?] in the lake, which also had a dark appearance.
People believed that it was healthy to bathe in the dark water of the lake. The water was very still and therefore froze earlier than it did elsewhere, and so people began to ice-skate there sooner.
The black mud around the "Blind River" was overgrown with large blackberry bushes, which were called "pianitzes". During the months of Av and Elul [August and September] the whole town went out to pick blackberries.
There was a widely-known legend that Napoleon had left a great treasure in the lake, and that it comes out of the water from time to time. To the present day, no one has been able to catch the treasure. No one was even able to see it, because it disappears very quickly. The legend also tells that if someone will give it a whack with a shoe, it will remain standing in place.
To this day, no one has been able to do this – probably because it takes too long to take off a shoe.
The Military Barracks (pp. 19–21)
At the end of the 19th century, the topography of Postov and the surrounding area drew the attention of the military headquarters in St. Petersburg. Military experts came to the area and determined that it was a suitable place for a training camp. For this purpose, a large building, which could hold 2000 people, was constructed at the end of Vilner Street. Behind this large building, in the forest that reached as far as the river below, small barracks were built for the soldiers who served [? or served under] the officers who lived in the large building, as well as stables for the horses, and various other buildings needed for such a large military post.
In the large open area in front of the large building there was a large podium made of berovezeh [?broad; ?smooth] planks. Here, on some evenings during the summer months, when officers from all over Russia came here for annual training and maneuvers, a brass band of about one hundred soldiers used to give concerts. On the right side of the barracks there were several tennis courts where the officers played tennis to the sound of the music.
Avenues bordered by tall trees lined both sides of Vilner Street, up to the count's palace, which stood not far from the barracks. The entire aspect of the street was that of a "promenade". Along the avenue, there were long benches, and during the concerts these were always filled with residents of Postov. People from the surrounding areas also used to come to listen to the concerts.
A short distance away from the center of the town, on the right side of Vilner Street, there were barracks for the soldiers who remained in Postov throughout the entire year. They maintained the entire base, and took care of the dogs, the foxes and the deer that the officers needed for their hunting games.
A bit further, on the left side of the street, a large high building stood, where the military musicians lived. A large number of these musicians were young boys, apparently the bastard sons of the officers, whom the army had adopted. This building stood at the edge of the Zamarik forest, where town's youths used to in the summer months.
In a large pine forest, seven viersts beyond the count's palace, the army had erected an arena for sports and races, with various high and low obstacles, over which, as part of their training, the officers used to teach their horses to jump. Sometimes a horse took fright from an obstacle and shied or ran sideways, thus throwing its rider.
There were longer and shorter races over hills and valleys, rivers and swamps, and these too were very interesting. They participants rode in groups, and each officer was free to ride however he thought was the best way to cover the distance in the shortest amount of time. Along the way, however, they had to go past certain known points, so that they couldn't shorten the predetermined distance. There were also clock-timed individual races. The rider had to come back to the point form which he set out, without missing any of the control points.
The chases after foxes and deer were also very popular. The animals were released, and during the chase were either caught alive as they ran or wounded with a sword. Shooting was not permitted. These games went on throughout the entire summer. The officers and soldiers used to come by train, with their horses, from St. Petersburg. Many of Postov's residents wouldn't miss the arrival of the officers and soldiers and their wild horses, the unloading of which used to take a whole day.
The local children used to play various different soldier games, and would even make epaulettes, like those of ordinary soldiers, officers and even of the general. The "general" was chosen by casting lots.
During the First World War the barracks were destroyed by the German artillery forces that held the front line, which was in the vicinity of Postov for three years. Poland had established barracks in the forest not far from the train station.
The Arrest in the Forest (pp. 22–23)
On summery Shabbes evenings, Jews strolled leisurely in the streets of the shtetl. They walked with their hands either crossed either behind their backs or used to gesticulate in order to indicate the logic of the meaning of the point under discussion. The women and the smaller children followed them, and talked "in public" about "viebisher" [women's] matters. The older children played their various children's games in the streets or in the courtyards. The Shabbes-schineh, or Shabbes atmosphere dominated the entire town. [The Shechina, is the Divine Presence.[
Suddenly the sound of marching was heard in the distance. It sounded like a regiment of soldiers on the march. When the marchers came close enough to recognize their faces, the people strolling in the streets were frightened and alarmed. The ones marching were their sons and daughters, accompanied by police and gendarmes, who held whips and revolvers in their hands. The police and the gendarmes were brutal, and simply drove the boys and girls like animals and even struck them with their whips. The young people were "statznikess" who were fighting for the right to have "statzkes" [?demonstrations] or hold strikes in their struggle for better working conditions.
On this particular summer Shabbes, the Statznikess of the town had held a covert meeting in the depths of the woods. By chance, Vechter [not in my dictionary; apparently a personal name], known to be a complete reactionary and an anti-Semite, passed by. He immediately informed the local police commissioner about the meeting. The police commissioner quickly called policemen and gendarmes from the nearby towns and villages and they made an ambush on the gathering, with the hope of catching the carp'n-kepp [literally carp-heads, and meaning, apparently big shots, leaders] of the revolutionaries and to thus be worthy of recognition and great honor from the higher "natshalnikes" [?authorities] – and also perhaps promotion to a higher position. He was, however, sorely disappointed. The gathering had been encircled by a score of "look-outs" who gave an advance warning, which was heard throughout the forest, and warned of the coming ambush. The leader and many of those gathered there were able to get away in time.
Those who were arrested were released early on Sunday morning. The police commissioner sent a protocol to the "sledovartel" in Dissneh stating that the meeting had only been a cultural outing of young people. This protocol made the commissioner richer by several nice tens of rubles.
When the Russian Soldiers Celebrated Simchas Toirah (pp. 24–25)
Soldiers were always to be found in Postov. They guarded the military barracks and took care of the deer, the dogs and the foxes that the officers needed for their various summer games. In 1910 a large number of the soldiers decided to celebrate Simchas Toirah.
They weren't really very interested in Simchas Toirah itself, or in dancing with the Torah. They were, rather, greatly endeared of the bitter drop, vodka, and for them this happened very often, without any connection to any particular date. Although one yontef a year was definitely insufficient to satisfy their taste and love for Vodka, they decided, in 1910, to really celebrate the Jewish Simchas Toirah.
This time they lost control completely, and lost their heads as well. On their way to the "monopolkeh" to buy more vodka, they insulted and even struck a few Jews who were on their way to the synagogue for the hakaffot. When those who had been attacked came to the synagogue, which was full of half-intoxicated Jews, they very quickly agreed to the suggestion of a couple of the younger fellows, that now was a suitable time to "settle accounts" with the soldiers, and not only for the events of this evening, but for all of the soldiers' "good deeds" of the entire year.
Resolved and acted upon. The young Jewish fellows armed themselves with broomsticks, spades, shovels, and boards from fences, and with these "weapons" they fell upon the soldiers. This unexpected assault took the soldiers completely by surprise and, totally confused, they fled from the town. Some of them jumped over the fences in order to hide in the fields and gardens. The night was cloudy, and suddenly a strong harvest rain, accompanied by thunder and lightening, poured down. It looked like a real war scene.
Early the next morning, soldiers' great-coats were found hanging on the fences. As they jumped over the fences, these long coats were caught on the pointed boards. The soldiers had to quickly slip out of their coats and run for it, because the Jewish shtekken, boards, were raining blows on their heads. The soldiers didn't make any accusations or file any complaints because they would have been punished for making a riot in the town. But they never forgot this night of Simchas Toirah and after it was over, they were more "antshtendik" [?decent/respectful].
Children's Superstitions (p. 26)
A shaygetz drowned in Lake Zadzsever, which was located just beyond the Jewish cemetery, the Beis Olam. Two days passed, and his body was still not found. It was the talk of the town, and many people went to the lake to look at the search for the body.
The pupils of Yoel the Melamed [teacher] of the heder also took great interest in this event. Motkeh, the oldest pupil in the heder, proposed that the pupils go to the lake after their lessons. All of the pupils immediately set out. They had to go past the Jewish cemetery. When they reached the cemetery, Motkeh ordered them to stop and told them that only those children who knew the "Shema Yisrael" and the "Ve'ahavtah" by heart could go further, because in the daytime the dead came out of their graves and played on various instruments and observed the passers-by to make sure that they said the "Shema Yisrael" and the "Ve'ahavtah" – and if they didn't do so, then . . .
Even before Motkeh had finished speaking, all of the children, who were badly frightened and confused, began to run into the town, feeling all the time that the dead were running after them. Some of these children, among them the writer of these lines, were so upset psychologically that they dreamt about the dead and had hallucinations and various other symptoms for a long time. As a result, doctors and "exorcists" had a bit more business, and the parents, a lot of aggravation.
The Children's Revolution and Its Failure (pp. 28–29)
The revolutionary atmosphere in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century captured the minds of the children of Postov. Big Yoshkeh, a lad of fourteen years, organized a group of boys, the children of simple craftsmen and artisans, with the intention of matching up to the rich kids in the town. They decided that they were also entitled to be able to buy candy, ice-cream and flavored soda. In order to do this, they "laid a tax" on the rich kids. They warned them that they would be beaten if they didn't come forth with the demanded sums, and also if they said anything about this to their parents. The secret, however, lasted only a short time. It was unintentionally revealed.
One day, on a summer Shabbas afternoon, Yisrael Raichel and his friends from the "Heder Metukkan" [a more modern school, where children were taught general subjects, not only G'moireh] were strolling in the Zamarik, when they were offended by a group of youngsters who were there, playing cards. When they saw among the players a pupil from the "Heder Metukkan", they decided to get him away from the game, for it is not honorable to play cards in the woods [and on Shabbes, no less]. Before they could decide what to do, Big Yoshkeh and his two adjutants came along and grabbed their money from two of the players, saying that it was two weeks overdue to them, and threatened that if they again failed to make payment exactly on time, they would beat them up.
Yisrael Raichel, however, was the son of Avrom-Itzik the Brick-maker, and among the children he was considered a shtarkn, a strong one, besides which he could always depend on the support of his three older cousins, the Shwartz brothers. Yisrael suggested that they explain what they were demanding payment for. Yoshkeh suggested/advised them to shut up if they wanted to stay alive. Yisrael gave the card-players a few twists of the ears, and to Yoshkeh he landed a hefty punch, and they began to discuss. They finally reached the decision that there would no longer be any demand for, nor any payment of, any money.
Yoshkeh, however, didn't give up. With the help of some hired shkotzim* he organized two attacks – one in Vilner Street near the Advocate Shapira's house, and the second on the children of the "Heder Metukkan", as they were leaving the schoolhouse. The latter, however, were prepared and broke, "but good", the bones of the young "revolutionaries" and their shkotzim abettors, who were thus persuaded that Jews can give good blows. They all deserted Yoshkeh.
And the revolution was a total failure.
*- shkotzim comes from the Hebrew, sheketz , meaning an abomination, an unclean creature; in colloquial usage, shaygets is an unruly youngster, a Gentile youngster -- or, by extension, like one.] And, of course, Yiddish contains many other Hebrew terms and words. ]
Sin and Retribution (p. 29)
Aharon Pergament was the richest man in the town. He was a big lumber merchant and also had, in Postov itself, a beer brewery and a saw-mill. Once, when he was in the brewery early in the morning, he didn't like the way one of the workers was working. He came over to the worker and landed him such a slap in the face that the worker fell over. In the evening, he was again in his saw-mill, and he didn't like the way a worker was putting a board in the machine saw, in order to cut it narrower. Wanting to show how this should be done, and apparently agitated and insufficiently cautious, instead of sawing the board, he sawed off his hand – the same hand with which he had slapped the worker in the morning.
Pergament was a stubborn man, but he was a religious Jew and a philanthropist. He felt that he had lost his hand as punishment for slapping the worker. When he returned from the hospital in Vilna, he went to the worker and asked his forgiveness, and also left him a large sum of money.
A Crazy Dog Attacks the Community's Leaders Parnossim (p. 30)
This crazy dog event took place in January 1912. The leaders of the community were gathered for the monthly meeting of the community council. There were many matters to be dealt with and the meeting dragged out till late at night. As they were going home, a mad dog "greeted" them with great ferocity. He sprang at them and tried to bite their faces. Because of the terrible freezing cold, their faces were covered with the large furs coats that they were wearing, and the dog wasn't able to reach their faces. Nevertheless, the dog was able to bite two men, Leib Pergament and the iron shopkeeper Lubotsky.
Early the next morning, Leib Pergament traveled to Vilna where he was examined and treated by important doctors. Lubotsky had received only a small bite and ignored it. Later, when it was discovered that he had blood-poisoning, it was too late to cure him and he died.
On that same night the dog had tried to attack the night-watchman of the Jewish street, Herr Peretz. Peretz, however, attacked the mad dog, beating it with his big spade and the dog, yelping loudly, ran away.
News about the mad dog quickly spread throughout the entire town and all of the inhabitants stayed in their houses until the police and other men, who hunting rifles, found the mad dog and shot him.
Sports in Postov (p. 31)
There were no organized sports in Postov until after the First World War was over. In the summer, people went to swim, and there were good swimmers among them. In the winter, they ice-skated. The Miadlekeh River had outflow near Vilner Street, and there, after the first snows, people constructed high snow-banks all around. Skating within these walls was very pleasant even on the coldest days of the winter. Before the snows came, people skated on the Blind River, which, because its waters were very still, froze over before other bodies of water.
Although these were the only sports available, one cannot say that the young folk of Postov weren't interested in sports. All of the sports activities of the officers in the summer months, which I described above, were enthusiastically attended by the town's residents.* In their games, the children of the town imitated the officers and soldiers, and the war games that they played were very popular.
In later years, after the First World War ended and there was peace on the border between Poland and Russia, the young people began to take up various different sports activities.
*My mother used to tell me about these games and how they liked to go to see them. It's not easy to remember that entertainment of any kind was not common in those days, not in the shtetls.
Beaten for Striking His Wife (pp. 31–32)
It was an accepted fact that a Jew doesn't beat his wife. But there were exceptions. And there was such an exception in Postov. There was a middle-aged Jew who would often beat his wife. It isn't important to know the name of this man, for it will add nothing at all to this sorrowful episode.
Neighbors used to tell about the wife's terrible screaming and crying, day and night, that was heard from this Jew's house. The whole town knew what was going on there, and people deliberated about what to do to help the woman.
After long consultations, some of the young adults decided to do something in order to stop the man's brutal handling of his wife. A delegation of two Jews came to Jew in his house and had an innocent and "cozy" talk [shmoo-ess – from which we get shmooze] with him about the attitudes of Yiddisheh men according to age-old Jewish traditions. The Jew agreed with what he heard of this morality lecture, but he didn't want to make any promise that he would stop beating his wife. Before the delegation left the man's house, they told him that they would deal very harshly with him. They gave him a week's time to decide how to deal with this matter.
Two weeks passed and there was no change. The strong young fellows decided to carry out what they had said they would do. On Shabbes, between Mincheh and Mai'rev, when the town's rabbi was studying Mishna with the Jews in the shul, these fellows tricked the "wife-beater" into the shtibl [small prayer room], stretched him out on a long table, and began to beat the tender parts of his body with a leather strap. The Yid, however, was also a strong fellow, and he freed himself, jumped down from the table and out through an open window into the street.
A few weeks later they again grabbed him, got him into the shul and spread out on a table, and pulled down his trousers. Four fellows held him down on the table, and two "shmeisers" [thrashers] with specially prepared kontshikes [disciplinary whips], one on either side of the table, delivered twenty-five lashes. Before they let him go, they told him that he would get fifty if he didn't begin to behave in a menshlecheh [decent, humane] and Yiddisheh way to his wife.
The twenty-five lashes helped, but it was perhaps the fear of the promised fifty lashes that worked to ensure that he stop beating his wife.
Hanna Laekeh Marries (?פארפירט) a Shaygitz (pp. 34–35)
When one is fated to have troubles they can come even from one's own daughter. Hanna Leah, who was the daughter of a typical shtetl Jew (whose name it not important here) was a beautiful maiden. Young fellows wanted to be counted among her friends or to go strolling with her.
Hanna Leah, or Hanna Laehkeh as she was later called, fell in love with a shaygetz and was always chatting with him. Her parents, who were greatly disturbed by this, prevailed upon their daughter to give the shaygetz up, but to no avail. The parents became very embittered and decided to confine her to the house. Because of her hot love [yes … hayseh libeh] for him, Hanna Leah found ways to get out of the house and to go out to be with her shaygetz. She would jump out of a window, or exploit the moment when her mother went out to buy something in a shop. Finally, they decided to give their daughter, upon her return, a beating each time she went out. Once, when the father gave her a good beating with a stick, Hanna Leahkeh retaliated with a slap in his face and ran out of the house. A long time passed, and no one heard from her.
Some men decided to go and find out from the shaygetz where Hanna Laehkeh could be found. The shaygetz became tired fed up with talking about her. And, finally, got angry when they didn't leave him alone and said that he didn't know where she was that he wasn't interested in her.
A few months later it became known that Hanna-Laehkeh was employed in the "oldest profession" in the world; she had become a street-walker.
Leib the Wagon-Driver (p. 36)
Actually, Leib wasn't a proper wagon-driver. He wasn't employed with taking passengers to and from the train, or from one town to another. Leib had an old horse and he used to deliver sacks of flour from the grain store to the houses in the shtetl. It took only half an hour for the horse to carry a sack of meal from the knoll to the bridge over the Miadlekeh River, a distance of about a quarter of a vierst, and maybe even less.
He had barely enough of a livelihood (parnosseh) from this to provide for his large family. Not only that, but his horses would very free themselves from the shafts of the wagon and lie down and not get up again. In the town they said that his horses were dying because he didn't give them enough to eat, and it is highly likely that there was more than a grain of truth in this. He didn't earn enough to feed his own family, so how could he afford to buy enough oats and hay for his horses?
But Leib never went for a long time without a horse. The Jews in the shul would collect enough money to buy another old or half-blind horse for him. In the town they joked that this horse was "a real one".
Leib was a quiet man, and an honest one, and all of the Jews in the shtetl liked him. Without him they would not be able to obtain the flour for baking their bread on the weekdays and their hallas for Shabbos on time.
Children Dance around a Yolkeh
and the Yiddisheh Kehilla (Jewish Community) Storms (pp. 37–38)
Assimilation doesn't arrive suddenly. It comes by way of a long process of circumstances, often barely noticeable. An innocuous deviation, a tiny step, is often joined by a second or third small act, and one is on the slippery slope and rolling down to the precipice of assimilation. The final stage of assimilation comes about on the university campuses: mixed marriages and even shmad – apostasy or conversion.
Our rabbis, throughout the different eras, struggled bitterly against even the smallest deviations from the correct path [derekh ha-melek h– lit. the kings'/royal way], from the ways of the old rabbis. The rabbis' struggle became more difficult with the beginning of the Enlightenment, which brought with it the first wave of assimilation, in Germany, and then spread quickly to other countries a well.
Despite their failure, the rabbis' struggle still goes on today. Their failure is perhaps the result of the old rabbinical methods of fighting, which are insufficiently organized and unsuited to the new conditions. Their deeds often do more harm than good and more Jews distance themselves [from their Judaism]. Such a thing happened in Postov about sixty years ago [i.e., ~1910].
Moisheh-Yitzchok was a very devout Jew, old-fashioned and, in addition, a very obstinate person. He caused a great storm in the town with the clumsy and uncivilized way he behaved towards his daughter, who – in his view – had strayed from the right path. The event took place on a cold New Year's eve.
The only Russian school in the town used to organize an entertainment program on the evening before Christmas. A large yolkeh, a Christmas tree, lit up with tiny colored electric lights and decorated with various glass ornaments and paper confetti, provided merriment and enthusiasm for the students, who danced around it. The yolkeh remained standing until after the New Year's festivities.
The Jewish students, who at the age of thirteen left their schooling in the heder and studied in the Russian school, also participated in the New Year's festivities. All of the students, the Jewish ones and their friends, boys and girls, were dancing together around the yolkeh.
The door of the hall was suddenly thrown open. Moshe-Yitzchak burst into the room screaming wildly "Where is my daughter?" and began to look for her among the mass of students. When he noticed her dancing enthusiastically around the yolkeh with the other children, he ran to her and, wild with wrath, grabbed her by the hair and dragged her out to the street. The festivity was ruined, and the children sadly made their war home, disappointed and embittered.
The Jews in Postov were also disappointed and embittered. They talked about Moisheh-Yitzchok's brutish behavior for a long time afterward.
Reb Shimshon the Gemara Teacher (pp. 39–40)
Reb Shimshon was not the usual kind of melamed – teacher in a heder. He was ordained as a rabbi and was a great scholar and a tzaddik – a pious and saintly man. In his time, eminent rabbis corresponded with him about halakhic rulings [i.e., of the legislative aspects of rabbinical literature] and often sided with his meanings.
Rabbi Shimshon was extremely modest, never seeking honor or riches. He felt that he was too weak to lead a congregation as a rabbi. His call was to lead a quiet life and to study Torah with no worries, and he earned his livelihood by studying Gemara with older children. The town of Postov was proud of him. Every father whose son studied Gemara in Rabbi Shimshon's heder dreamt that his son would become a great scholar and even receive ordination as a rabbi.
When, after a long illness, Rabbi Shimshon died, the whole town mourned. Many rabbis from the surrounding towns came to his funeral. The heads of Postav's Jewish community, the members of the Hevreh Kaddisheh (Burial Society) and the visiting rabbis convened to organize the funeral in a way suitable for such a great and pious scholar.
The town's Hevreh Kaddisheh had a coffin for poor Jews, and those with no family to see to their burial. A horse carried the coffin with the body of the dead person to the Bais Olam, the Jewish cemetery, which was a great distance away from the town. Wealthier Jews and scholars were brought on a litter that was carried by a group of important or prominent proprietors. A large number of people were needed to carry the litter, in order to relieve each other from time to time.
When the number and selection of pallbearers was finalized, the door of the gathering place suddenly opened and a delegation of the local socialists entered. They demanded that their members also be among the pallbearers, because they too had held the departed in great esteem. Their behavior and demands took everyone by surprise.
The surprise was even greater when the socialists' spokesman declared that he would not hold long discussions or arguments, but would rely on the verdict of three rabbis. Three rabbis immediately went into a second room and quickly returned with a decision that the young socialists should also be among the pallbearers, because it is a case of penitence. Their decision was received gladly by all.
A heavy snowfall began before the funeral procession set out, and it quickly became a storm. It was very difficult to carry the litter bearing the deceased Rabbi Shimshon in the deep snow. The pallbearers frequently slipped or fell, and the procession proceeded very slowly. Were it not for the strong shoulders of the young socialists, they would have reached the cemetery very late and night would have fallen. All of the people attending the funeral felt deep gratitude for the heroic young socialist-Jews.
The Effect of the Beilis Trial* (pp. 41)
* 1913 - A blood-libel indictment in Kiev against Mendel Beilis; Beilis was ultimately
exonerated and set free after spending more than two years in prison awaiting trial.
As long as Postov was on the border between Lithuania and White Russia, there was no fear of pogroms. Lithuania had become Catholic later than other countries in Europe, and the anti-Semitic Polish clergymen had no influence in Lithuania, and the White Russians had no great love for the Russians. The area around Postov therefore was not affected by the Russian "Black Century", and the call for pogroms against the Jews failed.
The Beilis trial, however, alarmed the Jews of Postov. People felt that all of the Jews stood before the Russian tribunal together with Beilis. In the streets and in the synagogues, between mincha and ma'ariv, they spoke about the Beilis trial. An inner fear pervaded everywhere, and the Jews of Postov together with all of the Jews from Russia, followed the trial very closely. Beilis, Gruzenberg and Forishkevitch were in everyone's thoughts and were spoken about in conversations everywhere.
When Beilis was freed, news of his release spread very quickly to each and every Jewish house and town. Young Jewish boys ran through the streets and cried loudly that "Beilis has been freed!"
The Jewish population populace had earlier made preparations, and there were great celebrations in the synagogues and in private houses. Everyone felt "simchas tiorah-dik", bottles of whiskey and wine were opened, and people broke out in dancing with hassidisher exuberance.
Trades and Employment of Jews in Postov (p. 42)
Postov Jews owned a brewery, a saw-mill, a gristmill, a brick-making establishment, and furnaces for slaked lime. Besides owning shops selling almost all kinds of goods, they were also dealers in lumber, grain, orchards, flax, seeds and various other commodities. There were also craftsmen of almost all the trades: shoemakers, tailors and dressmakers, carpenters, boot-makers, saddlers, glaziers, brick-layers, wig-makers and watchmakers – and perhaps several other trades not mentioned here. And wagon-drivers – and without the wagon-drivers, people would not have been able to travel to the train station, or to have a sack of flour brought to their houses.
It goes without saying that Postov also had a rabbi, kosher slaughterers, melameds [teachers in heders], sextons in the synagogues, and matchmakers, as well as its share of beggars, poor people and idlers.
Pre-First World War Institutions, Societies, Schools and Heders (pp. 43–44)
Jews owned the bathhouse, the mikveh [ritual immersion bath] and the slaughterhouse. Except for the mikveh, gentiles also used these facilities. On the eve of Passover, people koshered their dishes in the bad (= bath-house – but this is usually done in the mikve; is that what is meant here?], this against a small payment.
Until the First World War, Postov also had a "karavkeh", which supported [or ?housed] the rabbi. A bank and a mutual aid society [g'millat khassadim] helped the craftsmen and shopkeepers with loans. The hospitality house [we'd call it a poor-house, I think] was fully used by the poor of the town. The burial society [Hevra Kadisha] also had a corner in a small prayer house where it stored the purification board, the coffin and the litter. The burial society was comprised of men employed for the burial of the dead. They had two days in the year when they made merry: Simchas Toirah and the 19th of Kislev, the anniversary of the freeing of the hassidic rabbi, Shneour Zalman Shneersohn. On these two days the Hevra Kadisha enjoyed feasts, they raised a glass of drink, and they danced with great exuberance, as only hassidim know how to do.
There were also other aid societies, such a visiting the sick and the doss-house. The women took over arrangements for the marriage of poor brides and various other philanthropic activities. And, of course, the ill and the poor have to be helped, and how could it be that a fish and a challah should be lacking on the table of a Jew on the Shabbas? The women took care of all of these. Jews also had a great share in the "pazsharneh" comandeh [I have no idea what this may be – RR].
There were three synagogues in the town: the great synagogue, the gemoyerteh synagogue, and the bes-midrash. There were also a Shabbes-synagogue and a yom-tov [yonteff] synagogue. One was on Jews Street in Yitzchak Magilniak's house; the other was on Zaretcher Street. The davening (prayers) in all of the synagogues followed the Sephardic tradition [nussach sepharad]. Prior to the First World War, the only rabbi in the town was a Lubavitcher hassid. After the war a misnagid rabbi was brought in, and there were, thus, two rabbis in Postov until the Holocaust.
Six heders and the heder metuqan cared for the needs of the younger children. The older children studied in a Russian school. The teachers were Berel Dovid, Yo'el the Melamed, Dov Baer, Yekutiel Rivkind and Yisroel Abramson; the last was the teacher of the heder metuqan. After the First World War all of the children studied in modern secular schools.
The Heder Metuqan (Perfect School) (pp. 45–46)
The influence of Zionism reached Postov at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, no Zionist organization was established until after the First World War. Only during the summer months did the young folk gather, in the house of Lubotzki the iron dealer, for discussions about Zionism. Two students, Leib Kastrel and Lubotzki's oldest son, led the discussions. They also organized a children's group, Ha-tihiya, which was active in selling Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) stamps. After the summer vacation, when the students had to return to their studies, Zionist activities were almost non-existent. A short time before the First World War began, Lubotzki died, and with his death Zionist activities also died until after the war was over.
At the end of 1911, the wealthier families organized together and brought a Hebrew teacher, Mr. Yisrael Abramson, from Svencionys, and he established a heder metuqan. Mr. Abramson was an inspired [or inspiring – or both] teacher, and he taught all subjects in Hebrew. He even read the Ha-Tzephirah* with the pupils. As per the contract, Abramson accepted only 14 pupils. The tuition per term was 30 rubles, while in other heders it was between eight and twelve rubles. The higher tuition was, however, well worth it. In a short time the pupils were speaking Hebrew and reading Hebrew books, from Nitzannim and Prahim [obviously simple children's books or periodicals – RR] to Judah Leb Gordon , and so on. They also had a great influence on the other children in the town.
The heder metuqan and all the other heders did not function after the First World War.
The children who had studied in the heder metuqan later became the carriers and disseminators of Zionism in Postov and in the surrounding area. They were delegates to the Zionist conferences, and they established the "Tarbut" [Culture] schools, libraries, study groups, and so on. The writer of these lines [who apparently had studied in the heder metuqan described here – RR] was even a member of the Zionist central committees in various countries and was a delegate to the well-known Biltmore Conference in New York in 1942.** Although he had also wanted to participate in the 1947 Zionist Congress [acc. to my enclyclopedia. it was in 1946, in Basle –– RR], but the difficulties of travel so soon after the war (WW II) caused this dream of his youth to be shattered.
*"The Dawn" – Hebrew periodical, Warsaw, 1862-1931- to disseminate knowledge of natural sciences and mathematics. In 1879, Nahum Sokolow joined the editorial board, and under his influence political essays, stories, feuilletons, etc. were incorporated. When the journal became a daily in 1886, the scientific section was omitted. It was the organ of the Polish Zionist Organization after WW I, but its appearance was irregular.
** Biltmore Program: Platform adopted by the Zionist conference meeting at the Biltmore Hotel, NY, 1942. It denounced the British White Paper of 1939, called for the reopening of Palestine's gates to Jewish immigration, and asked for the establishment of Palestine as "a Jewish commonwealth integrated in the structure of the new democratic world." The statement was adopted at the insistence of David Ben-Gurion, who appeared at the conference to urge a more activist Zionist program. This was the first official pronouncement that Zionism's goal was statehood in Palestine; previously the phrase "Jewish National Home" had been used.
Weddings in the Shtetl (pp. 47–49)
In Postov of the past, as in all small Jewish settlements, shadchans – matchmakers – played a large role in arranging matches. The brides and grooms were usually residents of neighboring towns. This was still the time of "horse and wagon" transportation, it wasn't always possible to have liaisons – amatory or other – with people in distant places. Only wealthy Jews or yeshiva students "with a name" were sometimes "matched up" to brides – or grooms – in more distant places.
A wedding in Postov was a simcha – a happy celebration – for the entire town. People began to talk about the wedding right after the first meeting of the matchmaker with the future in-laws [makhataynim]. Until he secured a rapprochement between the demands of one side and the offers of the other, and up to the time that the groom and the bride met each other, and plates were broken [I hadn't known about this tradition, but have heard about it more recently – RR], the matchmaker had need of great "diplomatic" and rhetorical skills. There were even instances when at the very last moment, when a settlement was in view, that it "fizzled out". An accidentally [or fortuitously?] dropped word or a little "rekhiles" [gossip/rumor] sufficed, and then one side would slam the door shut from the outside.
The matter of the "kest" [the support promised by a family to its new son-in-law to enable him to continue his studies without financial worries – or to have board – especially with one's parents-in-laws] that the bridegroom was supposed to get was often a very difficult matter, and it usually took a considerable amount of time until the two sides reached an understanding.
The wedding took place in the bride's shtetl. On the day of the wedding the eyes of the entire town's populace were turned in the direction from which the wedding party was due to come, in order to catch the first glimpse of the groom and be able to pronounce one's opinion as to whether the hometown bride [the heimisheh kalla] had made a good match. The bridegroom didn't go to the bride's house, but stayed in another one.
The wedding ceremony began with the groom and all the male members of the family and the male guests walking to the house of the bride for the badekenish [the veiling of the bride prior to the wedding ceremony]. They were preceded by [players of] musical instruments who accompanied the procession with the sounds of lovely Jewish melodies [niggunim]. Often the bridegroom saw his bride for the first time at the badekenish. From the bride's home, the groom was led to the courtyard of the synagogue, where a canopy [khuppa], held by young "pole holders", already stood. All were surrounded by other young fellows and onlookers who, until the musicians and the women guests arrived with the bride, cracked jokes with – and shared witticisms about – the hossen.
After the huppa the bride and groom walked together, arm-in-arm if they weren't strictly religious. They were led by the bubbehs, the older women, dancing the mitzvah-tanz to the sounds of the music and hand-clapping of the people standing on both sides of the way.
When all the guests were sitting together around the tables for the wedding dinner, the continuation of the ceremonies was taken over by the badkhen [an entertainer at weddings, specializing in humorous and sentimental semi-improvised rhymes]. If the bride's father was well-to-do, there were also special tables for poor people. One of the grandfathers would make the motzi, the blessing over the large kidkeh, and all the guests ate the roasted meat and the golden soup with a gutn appetite. The musicians played, and some of the guests danced. As usual among Jews, only a few of the guests become over-intoxicated. The badkhen made everyone merry with his witticisms and rhymes, which the guests heard once and then enjoyed hearing repeated again and again. The calling out of the names of those who had given gifts was the last event, prior to the sheva-broches [the "seven blessings"]. The wealthiest weddings lasted several days.
In the last few years, "young lovers", and the custom of "romantic love" have taken away some of the livelihood of the matchmakers.
The Fatal Gunshot in Sarajevo (pp. 50–52)
History is replete with incidents of political assassinations. A short time after each of the assassinations and its aftershocks there were again periods of calm, and life began again to return to its normalcy and its evolving processes.
The political assassination of the Austro-Hungarian crown prince Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, by an extreme nationalist from Bosnia, Gabriel Printzip, occurred in Sarajevo on the 28th of June, 1914.
[What follows is a comparatively brief description of the political situation
in Europe that led to WW I. It just isn't worth my great effort to translate it.
It can be read about in any history book, and even my
simple old high school history
text book has a perfectly sufficient though brief explanation. ]
War was declared one month later. On 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Thus began the First World War.
How Postov Went through the First World War ( pp. 53–54)
How Postov Went through The First World War (pp. 53–54)
The day was Tish'a B'Av 1914. As the Jews were on their way to the first minyan in the synagogue, they noticed large groups of townspeople standing around posters that had been hung on the walls of buildings during the night. The posters announced the call-up of first-class reservists and ordered them to report immediately at their army meeting-points.
In Postov, as in all other cities, towns and villages, on both of the warring sides, weeping fathers, mothers, wives and children accompanied their sons, husbands and fathers to the army divisions, from where they were sent to the front. In their hearts there was only one request, only one prayer – that their dear ones should return home alive and well. Not all of these prayers were fulfilled.
The lives of those who remained at home changed radically. Fear and hope filled the hearts of the townspeople and everyone's thought were turned towards the distant pain, towards the trenches along the frontline, and with a prayer for the protection and safety of their loved ones who were standing on guard duty in the darkness of night and often in the rain and cold.
There was no television or radio during the First World War, and newspapers, which Jewish readers in Postov received by mail from Vilna or Warsaw, were the only source of news and information. How the campaign was going, the Russian defeats, and the intense anti-Semitic incitement dominated the daily newspapers, the minds of all, and the talk of the Jews of the town.
People didn't wait until the postman delivered their newspapers to their houses, but went to the post office to pick up them up. After receiving the newspapers, they didn't go right back home but, as they quickly read the headlines of the last war reports, gathered in groups and discussed the latest news. Some Jews always wanted to impress the others that they were strategists and had even foreseen the course of the distant campaign. Everyone listened with careful attention to these Yiddish strategist "generals" and in the usual Yiddish manner nodded their heads from side to side to indicate that they understood the issue and were in agreement. It also happened that they were not in agreement. A new upstart "professional" general might enter [the discussion] and with hassidic enthusiasm present the correct meaning. In such cases, the discussion lasted longer than usual.
In this way the Jews of Postov followed the course of the war. More than anything else, however, it was the intense anti-Semitic incitement that caused them to fear the morrow.
Pogroms on the Jews and Defeats on the Warfronts (pp. 55–56)
General Yanoshkevitz was known throughout Russia for his propaganda, [---?---] and for his opinion that the Jews should be exempt from military duty, [a situation] that would only intensify venomous Russian hatred for the Jews. As soon as this anti-Semitic general was appointed to head the general staff, he busied himself with anti-Semitic activities instead of directing the war. With the consent of Nicolai Nicolaievitch, the high commander of the Russian armies, General Yanoshkevitz ordered all front-line commanders to place the Jewish soldiers at the head of the front-lines when attacking, and in the last lines when retreating. His intention was that the Jewish soldiers would always be in the first line of fire and suffer the greatest number of losses and casualties.
Later, he expelled the 2,500 Jewish soldiers from the Kovna fortress, because the Jews "could hand it over to the enemy". The fortress did fall later, but did so because it was treacherously betrayed by its commander, General Gregoriev.
Defeats were suffered on all fronts, and the Jews were the "scapegoats". The Jewish suppliers of provisions were accused of supplying spoiled provisions. The Jews were blamed for the large number of losses on the warfronts, because they were spies and had telephones hidden in their beards and informed the enemy as to the movements of the Russian forces.
The newspapers spread news releases that because of "Zhidavsken treachery" thousands of Russian fathers and sons had been killed. The Danner and Kovno Cossack regiments were occupied with pogroms and looting instead of fighting in the war. The Cossack "batkess" would berate [?swear at] their Cossacks if they were not sufficiently brutal to the Jews. In order to fire up the anti-Semitism, the newspapers fabricated calumnies against the Jews, and thus to divert the attention of the Russian masses from the true causes of the defeats – the incompetence of the corrupt Russian commanders.
Even more intensely spread in Russia were the "events" in Kutchi at Shavell. People accused the Jews of hiding German soldiers in their cellars when the German army divisions were forced to leave the town. The German soldiers fired at Colonel Domalanov's army divisions in the middle of the might. News of this was so greatly exaggerated that the Duma dealt with the matter. The liberal Duma representatives demanded an inquiry, and a delegation headed by the liberal Duma representative Kerensky made a investigation. Kerensky and the delegation reported, in the Duma meeting and in the press, that the Kutchi story was a false and fabricated accusation.
The anti-Semitic propaganda continued nevertheless, and the pogroms and the defeats continued with even greater intensity. Throughout the years of the war, a series of banishments were enacted, which will be described in the chapters below.
Expulsions and Russian Barbarity (pp. 57–58)
Banishments began with the onset of the war on the 28th of July 1914. Only ten days later the Jews were driven out of the town of Mishtenick, in the gubernia of Lomjza, in Poland . In that same year, Jews were driven out of many other towns in Poland.
In Lithuania, the banishments of Jews began in 1915. On March 15th, fifty Jewish families in the town of Batki were ordered to leave the town within half an hour. They were accused of having thrown a dead cat in a well, in order to poison the gentiles. On April 28th the Jews were banished from Korlander gubernia, and in the beginning of May, from a large number of towns in Lithuania. In several instances, there were threats to hang the Jews who didn't leave their homes within two hours.
Jews from the Kovno, Grodner and Suvalker gubernias were the ones most affected. The great defeat of General Renenkamp's army in the Mazorer Swamps in eastern Germany was the cause of these expulsions.
The culmination came on the eve of the Shavuos holy day, on the 15th of May 1915. The anti-Semitic military cliques issued an order to drive out all of the Jews of the towns behind the front lines. From the Kovna gubernia alone, 160,000 Jews were expelled. They were packed in wagons like animals, and driven, with neither food nor water, to Paltaver and other gubernias. Many of the wagons were locked. In accordance with the orders received from above, the refugees were ordered to spy. In many cases Jewish activist leaders were not allowed to give food and blankets to the hungry and frozen refugees. Many town councils refused to take in the escapees, who then trudged from place to place for many days. It is impossible to describe the barbaric Russian behavior. Very quickly, over the night of Shavuos, the Jewish aid organization "Yekopo"* organized a relief operation that eased the situation a little bit – where it was possible, and where they were allowed, to do so
The sequence of expulsions did not end with this great one. Looting and violence were part of the expulsions. In Vidz the Jews assembled in the synagogue for safety. The Cossacks found out about this and attacked the synagogue, and violated the men's wives and daughters before their eyes. Elsewhere, too, throughout the entire duration of the war, Jewish women were raped.
* YEKOPO (initials of the Russian "Committee for Jewish Assistance): Society founded in 1915 to assist Jews expelled by the Russian military command from the Baltic provinces, etc. It was liquidated by the Soviet authorities in 1920.
Half of Postov Desecrates the Shavuos Yonteff (pp. 59–60)
On the eve of Shavuos in 1915, the Jews of Postov, despite the very bad news from the front, behaved as they had done on the eve of Shavuos in all of the previous years. The women were busy with baking hallas, dairy and fruit pastries, and blintzes for the Shavuos yonteff. The men went to the bath-house, and then – if God had willed it and had granted enough of a parnosseh, a livelihood – to the tailors to pick up the new clothes for the children and also for the grown-ups.
In the evening, the men also went out into the fields to gather flowers and green branches. Coming from the synagogue [the shul], the men were busy with heart-felt yonteff greetings to the women, now dressed-up and smiling. The tables were covered with white table-cloths. A vase filled with flowers stood in the middle of every table, and around it were laid out the beautiful dishes, the kidkeh, and a bottle of wine. The table was enhanced with the special aura cast by the silver candle-sticks and the light that shone from them with yonteffdikeh beauty. After the dairy meal, everyone sang zmiress, [the traditional Sabbath and holy day songs]. The Schineh, the Divine Presence entered and filled the house and the souls of all. With the happy sounds of the songs lightening their spirits, everyone went to sleep. Their sleep, however, was torn away from them in the middle of the night.
Their sweet post-Shavuos sleep was torn away (ibergerissin] by loud banging on the doors and vociferous yelling. Members of the [Jewish] community's committee ran around to all of the Jewish houses and called on the Jews to harness their horses and drive to the railway station in order to take from the trains the fleeing refugees. "It is a matter of pikuach-nefesh – "the saving of life"– and one is permitted to desecrate the Shavuos holy day", the rabbi declared. They also called for people to take bread for the grown-ups and milk for the children, and also to carry blankets with them.
The Jewish YEKOPO aid committee had organized assistance overnight. Telegrams were sent to all of the Jewish communities asking them to care for the fleeing Jews and provide food and blankets for them as they [i.e., in the trains they were in] were being driven through the train stations in their towns. They also took from the trains a certain number of the refugees as many as the Postov kehilla, would be able to provide with food and a place to sleep.
The Jews harnessed their horses and drove to the train station. Early in the morning, trains carrying the refugees began to arrive. The tumult was great. Women and children were crying and screaming to high heaven [biz in himmel arein], families were separated, women were wailing for their lost children and husbands, and children were sobbing and looking for their parents. The provisions and blankets they [the Postov Jews] had brought with them were given to the fleeing refugees were on the trains traveling through the station. People took a number of families from the railway cars and drove them to the batei midrash [the schools for Jewish religious study] and private houses. Throughout the day, people went around to all of the Jewish homes and took the Shavuos foods prepared for the yonteff, which they distributed to the "yonteff guests" and, driving in their wagons, brought to others that were passing through on the trains. They even took the prepared food out of the [bakery] ovens. The Postov kehilla, the Jewish community, treated the Jewish very well.
Three and a half months later the Postov Jews themselves became refugees.* Many of them settled in the Kovno and in Suvalki gubernias, in the houses of the Jews who had earlier been driven out and sent to Russia, where they remained until after the war, and who, on their way to Russia, had been helped by the Jews of Postov.
*My mother had often told me about how the family been expelled from Postov during World War I, and that it was a very difficult period of time. She didn't describe a night flight, but told me that the family had become separated, for some reason, and that upon their return they vowed to never again be separated should such an event occur again. She also told me once that the potatoes they had in the place in which they were refugees were especially tasty (my guess is that we must have been preparing potatoes for dinner, or something similar) and so they decided to take some with them upon their return and plant the "eyes" of these potatoes in Postov's fields. The potatoes that grew from these eyes weren't good at all; it was apparently the soil in their place of exile that gave the potatoes their good taste. I don't know why I remember this, but it was one of the things that I do remember her telling me. She was about 12 ½ years old at this time (she was born in January 1903), and never properly resumed, or completed, her schooling after they returned.
The German Army Marches In (pp. 61–62)
The Russian armies retreated in great disorder from all the fronts. Postov's official, state dignitaries, the police commissioner, the police and the gendarmes fled under the darkness of night, and the town became a "no man's land".
Fortunately, the Russian soldiers fled via the Palatzk highway, thus skirting around Postov. Only military trains went by, one after the other, in the direction of inner Russia, and none of them stopped in Postov. The railway cars were packed with soldiers, and some even sat on the roofs of the cars. Quite often small detachments of frightened soldiers would quickly run through the town, and small separated groups of these sometimes carried out pogroms in certain places, where they beat and also killed Jews. Postov went through this only with fear [shrek].
During the ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in the fall of 1915, Jews gave little thought to the upcoming Day of Atonement. People prayed that the Germans would come as quickly as possible. But several days of helplessness and fear were to pass before they did. Just as the Jews were going to the synagogues for Kol Nidre, the Germans marched in, accompanied by a sudden downpour. The Jews had earlier decided what to do, and they received the Germans with gratification. They willingly asked the Germans what they liked and longed for. The Jewish houses had all kinds of wild-berry comfitures that they had prepared, as they usually did, during the summer.
Throughout the entire night soldiers on horseback, along with cannons and other war supplies made their way through the town. The soldiers were amicable, but they requisitioned all of the best horses in the town and they stationed themselves in fortified positions in the forests all around. Only a few soldiers remained in the town itself.
The Cossack Ambush (pp. 63–64)
During the entire night of Yom Kippur in 1915, German army detachments marched through Postov, leaving only a small number of soldiers. For several days, until Hoshana Raba, the Jews had a feeling of security.
Hoshana Raba did not fall on a Monday, which is Postov's market day. Still, on that Monday, from very early in the morning, the peasants from the villages began streaming towards Street of the Jews. They didn't speak with Jews. Their bearing and their secretive glances at the Jewish businesses, and the rumors that Cossacks were in the forests all around, which they had heard earlier, threw the Jews into a panic. Everyone felt that a calamity was approaching.
It didn't take a long time for the Cossack attack to come. At about ten o'clock in the morning, Cossacks on horses fell upon the Street of the Jews like a winter storm, with shouts of "hurrah" and wild wavings of swords, and shooting in the air. The peasants broke open the doors and windows of the Jewish businesses and looted them. The Jews hid in cellars, in attics and under beds.
I was in my uncle Meir Shliapin's shop. When I heard the yelling and the shooting, and saw that everyone was running in the direction of Vilner Street, I also ran with them. As the Cossacks rushed in, I jumped over a nearby fence and ran into the house of Zalman Ber Hacohen. I didn't notice anyone in the house. Suddenly, I heard a woman's voice coming from under a bed saying, "Young boy [Yingeleh], lie down next to me and my sister and let us say Shma Yisroel, if you know it by heart."
We remained lying under the beds, with the hope that the "Shma Yisroel" and the "Ve-ahavta" would save us. When no more shooting could be heard, I ran home through back streets. The family was waiting for me. My father and my mother decided to hide in the woods and, luckily, the Germans had left us one horse. We harnessed the horse and loaded the wagon with bagels (we had a bagel bakery), and the hallah breads that we had baked for the holy days, and blankets and tarpaulins, which we always had to protect us from the big rains that often fell on Sukkos. The bubbeh* and the smaller children rode on the wagon, and father, mother and the older children walked alongside the wagon until we were in the depths of the woods. Half of the town's Jews had gathered there. When the rabbi davened ma'ariv, prayer, with a weeping voice [a vainendikker shtimeh], everyone wept with him, and with a restrained stillness. The rabbi said that everyone should be very quiet, because in the woods sounds carried very far and could be heard in "unwanted" places.
We remained in the woods for two days, until a look-out [ois-kooker] brought back a report that the town was empty of Cossacks. When we returned to the town we found out that there had been only one Jewish victim: one of Chaim-Yitzchok the furrier's [?or hatter] daughters had gone out on the porch to see what was going on outside, and a stray bullet had found her. The gentiles from all around had been informed about the Cossacks' attack and they had come from the surrounding villages, and the shops had all been looted.
venture that this is the elderly woman in the family picture from about 1910
(that was in the family-tree site that you sent me), of Chava (whom you call
Eve !?) and Avrom-Itzik, the six children -- Haym-Reuven (my father, on the
right), Israel (your father, on the left), and Rose, Sara, Asna and Leah
– and another, unidentified, man. I also don't know who the hat hanging in
the tree belongs to, but it looks like a woman's hat; ergo, Bubbeh Chava's – n.b., she isn't wearing a sheitl, nor are any of the males wearing, visibly, yarmulkehs! The
print I made of this on my HP diskjet printer came out so well that I am going
to make another copy on photo paper and frame it. [Later: Done, most successfully!]
Expression [in Hebrew, too]: A picture is worth a thousand words. Indeed; the picture speaks words.
Postov is Again Taken by the Russians (pp. 65–66)
Up to Simchas-Toira of 1915, Postov and the surrounding areas didn't experience םר witness any fighting between the different armies. The Yiddish "strategists" figured out that the Germans had met up with the Russian forces deeper in Russia [and that] the attack of several hundred Cossacks on Hoshanah Rabba had been unplanned, and fortuitous [for the Cossaks], when a division was separated from the main body of the army during a disorderly retreat.
This, however, proved to be an incorrect calculation. On the evening of Simchas Toirah [the day after Hoshanah Rabba], late in the evening and just as the Jews were coming out of the forest, cannon fire could be heard deep in the forests all around. The Russian army had begun a great offensive. The shooting lasted the entire night. The fighting drew closer and closer. It was even possible to see the flying red traces of the cannon fire in the darkness of the night.
Later there was sporadic shooting from Polemyiatn and Biksn. Early on Shmini Atzeret [i.e., the next day], German soldiers came and began digging trenches in the west side of the town. The topography on both sides of Postov, with rivers, lakes and swamps all around, was very suitable for a defense line.
The shooting became stronger and closer. Late in the evening, the entire German army began retreating from the defense line. Many Jews ran with the Germans, but some remained in Postov, which was occupied by the Russian that same night. [This was written "The Jews ran . . . " and " Jews remained . . . ", but I changed it to "most" and "some" to make this a bit more logical. However, it could just as well have been just the other way around, with "some" running and "most" staying.]
The Germans held back the Russian offensive along the defense line. Month after month they strengthened the new defense line with underground bunkers, tunnels and various fortifications.
For three years this frontline held out through larger and smaller attacks. By the time the Bolshevik Revolution began, the Russians had abandoned all of their front lines, and the Germans occupied large areas of Russia with no resistance. After the German revolution, the German armies likewise withdrew.
The front line in Postov was only one part of the long front, which stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north to Chernowitz in the south, and even further.
Postov Jews Become Refugees (pp. 67–68)
The Jews who had fled with the Germans stopped going with them in the darkness of the night, along the way, which led to Hydotzishok [today Adituskis*]. It was a sorrowful march. They traveled with horses and wagons filled with bedding and their chattels, and with the old people and the small children. Fathers, mothers and older children, carrying large bundles on their shoulders, walked, trudged along, holding the sides of the wagons. They also drove animals, carrying large loads on their backs. Among the great mass of refugees there were a few individuals who were not carrying anything. Children and women wept bitterly. The sound of their crying was muted by the heavy shooting in the forests all around. Villages, closer and further ones, were burning and appeared like [or brought to mind] the "Pillar of Fire"** that lit the way for the marching refugees. The burning villages looked very pretty, but it was a hell on earth. The march lasted the whole night long as the people trudged slowly along the way. From time to time order came to stop the wagons at the side of the road in order to allow German armored vehicles to drive through on their way to the front.
Early in the morning the Jews, exhausted, hungry and broken [the word here was tsebrocheneh, which also means heartbroken] arrived in Hydotzishok. After a short sleep, those who had horses went further. To the joy of the refugees they found many well-to-do empty houses in the town they had come to. The owners of these empty houses had fled deeper into Russia in order to escape the ravages of the war.
A few months later, many refugees, ordered to do so by the Germans, had to travel further. They were provided, this time, with free transportation by the Germans. They settled in the gubernias of Kovno [Kaunas today] and Suvalkai. In these places too, they found the empty houses of Jews who had been driven out by the Russians four or five months earlier.
Some of the refugees "got themselves well ordered-in" in their new homes and remained there after the war. Most of the refugees returned to their old homes after the war ended.
*Adutiskis: a smallish town on the present border between Lithuania and Belarus. It is about 65 miles NE of Vilna, and about 15 miles west of Postov. This is where, with luck and good relations between the two countries when we get there, Leah and I will cross the problematic border into Belarus. Belarus are very difficult about this, and the visa will cost about 120$ -- so we may just not go there. We will go to Adustiskis, as that is where Leah's mother is from. Her grandfather, Rebbe Shimon the brickmaker moved to Adustiskis from Postov, but I don't know exactly when. Maybe as described above??..
**Pillar of Fire": God led the Israelites through the wilderness during the 40 years of the Exodus from Egypt "by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud of smoke by day" [free translation].
I Return to Postov (pp. 69–74)
After the failure of the Brest-Litovsk peace negotiations between Germany and the Bolsheviks, the Bolsheviks abandoned the frontline and the Germans marched deeper into Russia.
I was overcome by a great urge to travel to Postov at this time. I felt inside that by returning to Postov, new horizons would open before me and I would be able to continue my studies, from which I had been torn away in 1915.
While I was in Ponevez I had even studied at the Ponevez yeshiva. This, however, did satisfy me, and I yearned for a normal, modern education. But how does one travel to Postov? It was still occupied by the Germans and one was not allowed to move around freely without a military permit. Without such a permit, one could travel only a short distance from one's place of residence.
My strong yearning and my determination helped me to carry out my decision. Early one morning I bought a train ticket for a distance of two stations, which was the longest one was permitted to travel. I traveled on to the third station, but jumped from the train before it arrived at the station. It was eleven in the morning, and I decided to continue on foot along the train tracks. When it started to get dark, I stood and waited on the top of a rise, where the trains, especially the smaller ones, begin to slow down. Fortunately, a train soon came by and I was able to grab hold of it and to climb on it without difficulty. [Your father was a natural hobo? – RR]
I was very tired, and I fell asleep. By chance the conductor came through and asked me for my ticket. I "looked and looked" for it in all of my pockets for a long time, till the conductor finally asked me where I was going to and asked me to buy a second ticket. A smart conductor he was. The few marks that I gave him undoubtedly remained in his own pocket.
The train stopped in Novo-Svencionys [a large town and gubernia capitol about 15 miles west of Hydotzishok and, thus, about 30 miles west of Postov] in order to take on water and fuel. Several new passengers boarded the train, among whom I recognized Hershel Tseplovitz, from Postov, who had a sack of rye with him. We were both happy to see each other. He told me about himself and his family, and then he asked me if I would agree to take the sack of rye from him and take it in the train to Lintop. He would come an hour later with another train, and with a second sack of rye. He also told me that he might be able to get a train ticket for me to Hydotzishok.* Hershel worked on the railway and could travel free on the trains.
Exactly an hour later, Hershel and the second sack of rye arrived in Lintop.
Hershel now lives in Israel. [This was written in 1977, and appears here in the original. – RR] He helped me get a train ticket and told me that I would be on my own in Hydotzishok and at the old front. He was, he said, pessimistic insofar as my success in reaching Postov was concerned. I was too close to my goal to give up traveling further. I already had a ticket to Hydotzishok, and it was only 18 virsts further to Postov. How was it possible to be so close and not to risk going further?
As the train approached Hydotzishok I jumped off and continued by foot along the railway line, but I circumvented the stations. When I heard an oncoming train approaching, I hid in the tall grass at the side of the railway line. After I had walked about a vierst, I noticed very small trains, running on electricity, along special railway tracks to the front line. They didn't make any noise and couldn't be detected by the enemy. Large trains brought war materiel to central storehouses along the railway line, and the small trains carried it to the war fronts.
I felt that it was risky to go any further. I had already hidden quite a few times from passing patrols. I had also noticed that many trains that passed me along the route had uncovered cars. Without thinking too long, I grabbed a ride on one of these trains. The open car was loaded with hay. I met two people there. All three of us were very frightened, but we quickly understood one another and began to talk together in a friendly way.
Near the front the train stopped for a short while. Some soldiers looked inside and left quickly. The "passengers" were hidden under the hay. It seems that the Germans didn't find it necessary to follow all of the wartime regulations since the main part of the army was already deep in Russia.
I had already made my decision when the train began to move again. I had managed to observe the trenches, the forts and the barbed-wire of both the Germans and the Russians. Five minutes later I already saw the bais-oilam [i.e., Postov's Jewish cemetery], and a little after that I jumped off the train, just as we were passing Jews Street.
The whole town had been burnt. Only the walls of the plastered-over or brick-built buildings remained standing and on some of them, the metal roofs as well. Everything all around looked wild. In the market place there were many half-broken military wagons, almost hidden by the tall grass all around.
As I came to neared Zaretzer Street, I noticed a few intact houses at the end of the street. It seems that the German artillery shots didn't reach these houses because they were further away from the frontline.
As I went towards these houses, I met along the way the first living person, a Christian woman. She had once been a neighbor of ours. She was so happy [to see me], that she embraced me and began to kiss me as if I was her brother. She told me that some Postov inhabitants who had remained under the Russians had begun to rehabilitate themselves [get themselves organized again] and had begun to rebuild the town. She declared, with enthusiasm, that everyone must come back and build a beautiful town.
Standing there, in the midst of the tall grass, in the middle of the street, and thinking about the burnt town, I noticed a young man coming towards me from a long way off. He was my cousin Zalman Livshin, who had been a Russian soldier* but had not gone with the Russian army when they were overrun. As I came to the houses that had remained standing, I met a second Russian soldier who had remained behind, my cousin Avraham David Schwartz. The three of us stayed the night in Postov and early the next morning we three cousins traveled to Globok [about 20 miles due east of Postov, if I found the right place on the map – RR].
* As I read this, I got a real "shtoch in hartz". Zalman Livshin was my mother's oldest brother – and I have a photo of him in his Russian army uniform. She told me a lot about him; she had apparently "idolized" her oldest brother, who had many wonderful characteristics. Zalman and their father, Shmuel Livshin, both died within days, or one day, of each other, when there was a typhus epidemic shortly after they returned to Postov after WW I. My mother's youngest sister, Raskeh (or Rasheh, after whom I am named), a talented musician who played the violin, was also very ill with typhus at that time, and my grandmother, Rochel Rivka, made sure that the bodies of both the father and the brother were taken out of the house for burial from a side of the house that Raskeh couldn't see it, because she was afraid of what their deaths might do to Raskeh. It apparently didn't help too much; either because of their deaths – Raskeh was especially attached to both of them – or perhaps there were other reasons, she had what was probably a nervous breakdown, or maybe a severe depression. In any case, she was institutionalized, and died in the mid- or late 1930s. So she escaped being killed by the Nazis. There were 6 children (that survived infancy): Zalman, Artzik, Sarah, Bunia, Raskeh and Yaakov (who moved to Israel in the early 1950's). Artzik remained in Postov, married and had three children. He, his wife and children, and his mother (my grandmother) were all taken out to a pit beyond the edge of town and killed by the Nazis. (This is described in Charlotte Gerber Turner's "Painted with the Blood of our Ancestors". It is painfully similar to what I have read over the years (and been reading much – too much – of recently) regarding many other shtetls.
In Globok we found our uncle Moshe Cutler and his family, who had settled there after they had fled from Postov. When it became known that I had come from the German side of the front, many Jews came to ask about their relatives who [had also fled and] found themselves under the Germans [i.e., in German occupied areas] during the war years. I was the "hero" of the day, and they gave me the nickname "the prisoner of war".
While we were still in Globok, a third cousin arrived there – Leib Reichel,** who was also a former soldier. The joy was now very great. Leib had come from Moscow, and was enthusiastic about the Kerensky government, the important parties in the [struggle to] liberate Russia, and about the Balfour Declaration and the rebirth of the Zionist movement. This news of the rise of the Zionist movement enthused me greatly. Under the Germans, we had not heard about the Balfour Declaration.
**Leib Reichel: If the lists of family members that my sister collected during the 1980s (or 1970s) are correct and inclusive, this Leib is a maternal uncle of my cousin Leah, with whom I am going to Litta. [This was written before our trip to Litta.] Her grandfather was "Reb Shimon, The Brickmaker" (we have an article about him in both Yiddish and in English translation, from the Hydotzishok "memory book"). [I have since added the English version of this below.] Our cousin Bertha (Boiteh) Riback is the second daughter of this family of 6 children; Leah's mother Sarah is the youngest; she was a baby when Bertha emigrated and went to the US in the early or mid-1920s.
Before I left Globok to travel back to Ponevezys, people brought me tens of letters for their relatives there. Levik-Yaakebs Shubitz brought me a pekl [small bag or small amount] of money for his son. He had sold the goods that his son had left behind in Postov on that sad Simchas Torah night of 1915. Because of the difficulties of the travel, I didn't want the responsibility for the money, but Mr. Levik told me that he was taking the risk because he could depend on "Avrom-Yitzik's a zun" [my quote marks, for the Yiddish flavor – RR]. I think that this is the only case in which property left in Postov brought in a known sum of money.
Traveling back was a much easier matter. When I arrived in Ponevezys, I went through the same thing as in Globok. It was as if I had come back from "yener velt" – from the "next world". A week later, Leybeh the Barber received an official permit to travel back to Postov, because he was the barber of the German Commmandant Magistrate [?German Magistrate Commmandant]. When Leybeh the Barber returned to Ponevezys from Postov, he described, in his own humoristic way, how, when he arrive in Postov's market place, and saw the wildness all around, he called out "cuckoo-rikoo-koo" [cock-a-doodle-do] three times and immediately returned.
The Refugees Repossess their Homes (pp. 75–76)
The Jewish refugees [in Ponevezys] were not taken aback by my report from Postov. On the contrary, it awakened in them a strong desire to return home and build an even more beautiful Postov. Even the Jews who had already established themselves economically in Ponevezys were torn by a longing to return home. Gerett unn getonn! [No sooner said than done!] They quickly got organized and in a short time received from the German occupation authorities a permit to travel, without paying, in several special railway cars. Twenty-five families comprised the first group to return.*
The atmosphere surrounding everyone was one of elation. People sang throughout the entire trip, and the young ones danced. There were also serious moments. People talked about and discussed their plans for rebuilding. They day-dreamed about it. Relations between the travelers were wonderful, and the impression created was that they were all one family.
As the train drew closer to Postov, it crossed the German-Russian front-lines and passed by the Jewish bais-olam [the Jewish cemetery], and all spontaneously began to sing "Now I see again my heimesheh shtetele". [I think Yisrael means that they were now very near Postov, not that they thought that the bais-olam was their heimesheh shtetele.]
As they entered the town the travelers were welcomed with great joy by the Jews and the Goyim who had stayed on the Russian side and had returned to Postov a week earlier. After the return of the refugees from Ponevezys, more refugees, in smaller and larger groups, began to return from other towns in Lithuania and also from places under Russian control.
Brick walls that were still standing, and some cellars, were fixed up a little bit and were the returning refugees' first homes. With a roof over their heads, people began to build new houses, and in a short time one could see lovely new structures in all of the streets. One helped the other. The tempo was faster than can be imagined. People didn't have to pay for building lumber. They drove into the forests all around, felled trees, and brought finished, ready-to-use, beams.** Brick-makers also began to work and they prepared enough bricks for the larger needs.
Shopkeepers renovated their shops in the "city gate" [?entrance to the town] and in the market place. Peasants from the countryside and various merchants began to come in large numbers to the Monday market days. The shopkeepers had customers and the craftsmen opened workshops and also had parnosseh [made a living].
*[The word Israel used here was not "to return", but "transport", the very same word, which is a Yiddish cognate. I cannot use that word in this context; it is too weighted down by other connotations for me… [Obviously I wasn't Uncle Israel's editor…]
**As the daughter, wife and mother of builders and carpenters, I am having trouble with this: building wood has to age before it can be sawn into beams and rafters, etc…
Economic, Cultural and Social Reconstruction (pp. 77–80)
Economic: Upon their return to Postov, the heads of families were greatly concerned with building homes and with economic problems. Despite this, cultural and social life was not neglected. First of all, the brick shul [synagogue] was repaired, for how can people live in a town where there is no shul to daven in? The bath-house and the mikveh were also repaired, for "taharos ha-mishpoche" – family purity – had to be upheld.
The newly constituted community leadership was active in every way to make life in the town easier. With financial help from the Jewish aid-committee in America and extraordinarily well organized and active support of the yakapo, the community organized a bank and a g'milat hassadim – a mutual assistance fund. These two organizations played an important role in the rapid rebuilding of Jewish sources of livelihoods in all fields. The financial institutions enabled merchants, craftsmen and small shop-owners to get ahead quickly in their businesses and pursuits. In the course of time, other social and philanthropic institutions and societies were established.
Cultural and Social: The young Zionists played a very large role in cultural and social rehabilitation. Feeling that they were behind in their cultural development because of the four years of war, it was decided, first of all, to open a library. Yiddish and Hebrew classics and translations from other languages were bought, and the library began its activities. Little by little new books were acquired and in a short time a large and quite respectable library was in existence.
The second step was the opening of a modern Tarbut school. At first, the young Zionists undertook all of the preparatory work, and did so with great enthusiasm: they cleaned the school building, washed the floors and windows, saw to the heating, and even brought the wood for this from the woods. The teachers best remembered were: Kotzekovitch, Gershater, the Danishevsky brothers, Bregman and Arieh Sheftel, the last of whom was later a member of the first Israeli Knesset and the mayor of the Israeli town of Rishon Le-tziyyon.
In 1928, a Yiddishist school was organized. The initiative for this school came from Chaim Eliyahu Tzeplovitz, Feivish Weiner, the brothers Zissel and Yehoshua Shobitz, Moshe Toudres Einhorn and Yaakov-Leib Reichel; the teachers were Rozenfeld, Chaya Sarah Tzeplovitz, Alter Persky, Rachel Touber, and others. The Yiddishist school also had a library.
Most of the young people in the town were inclined towards Zionism, thanks to the influence of the Heder Metukan, which had functioned for a few years in Postov prior to the war. At the first meeting for the establishment of a Zionist organization, Feivish Weiner claimed that the first thing to do was to organize a "Culture League". In that way, he said, the young people would first become familiar with all of the parties in the Jewish milieu, before they decide on any particular one to join. Because of the preceding four years of war, he continued, the youth were too culturally unknowledgeable to make conscious decisions about party matters. A stormy discussion ensued. Israel Raichel, the initiator of the meeting, and its chairman, therefore declared that it is not a good idea to argue about party politics while rebuilding and rehabilitation were still ongoing. He succeeded in the group's adoption of Feivish Weiner's proposal, along with the name "Culture League", but with the condition that the newly created organization would be independent and would not make any decisions [on the problematic matter of party identification]. He also proposed that, at the next annual meeting, the issues of the name of the organization and its tasks would be again negotiated. This proposal was accepted unanimously.
At the meeting of the "Culture League" one year later, the members decided to declare itself a Zionist organization, and to identify itself with the Zionist-socialist Farband "Tzeirei Tziyyon". Only two voices voted against this. During the first year, under the name "Culture League", Zionist work was also carried out, as noted above. The first active members were: Chanoch Rabinowitz, later Reuveni, Yitzchak Pergament, Shachneh Tzeplowitz, later Achiasaf, Alter Griton, later Gronit, Shim'om Lubatzki, Leib Reichel, Gitel Feigel, Abba Weiner, Henya Shuster, Sarah Reichel,* etc.
*Of these I knew: Chanoch Reuveni, who became a member of
Kibbutz Ashdod Yaakov, in the Jordan Valley, and I went there and met him and
his family (we lived in a nearby kibbutz in
1951–2); Shachneh Tzeplowitz (Achiasaf}, and Sarah Reichel, probably not my mother but
Israel's younger sister, later Sarah Malzman, whom I know that you met more than once.
"Tzeirei Tziyyon" developed very rapidly, and branches of the movement were established in other towns around Postov. People lived with Zionism. The Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) representatives from Tzeriei Tziyyon were uninvited but welcome guests at all celebrations, and the [invited] guests were always generous with their donations (lit. taxes – bashteyerungen). The annual Keren Kayemet "Flower Day" was a festivity in the town. The library and the schools were supported by the Zionists.
The "Hechalutz" movement was also active in many different activities. Training groups were organized in Postov, and chalutzim also worked in the town doing various kinds of work that would prepare [them for life in Palestine. Israel Raichel, who was also a member of the Hechalutz central committee in Vilna, organized and led a carpentry group in Osmena.* The first chalutzim who journeyed [to Palestine] were Alter Grittin (Gronit), Shachneh Tzeplowitz (Achiasaf), Sarah Raichel (Maltzman), Yosef Toibess, Ze'ev Feigel, and others.
Now, in the year 1975, chalutzim from Postov, and their families can be found in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, Kfar Saba, Bat-Yam and in various other towns and kibbutzim. Among them there were also members of Hashomer Hatzair and Chug Ha-oved; these two organizations were organized in Postov at the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s. There was also a general Zionist organization in Postov. All of the organizations contributed "to the good of Israel".
*Osmena: A town quite a bit south of Postov. I know of it only because I looked for it after our more distant cousin Talma Pistol asked – because that is where her mother was from. Talma's mother was Liuba Hodosh Pistol, and she and Sarah Malzman, Bunia, my mother, and even my sister were quite close. So we apparently had relatives in Osmena too. From my recent research I discovered that Jews moved around the area quite a bit, especially, it seems, as a result of marriages – often to relatives! Reichels and Livshins are much intermarried – not only my parents.
The Drama Circle (p. 81)
I have, in my mother's photo album, a very nice 1928 photograph of the "Dramatishe Circle of the Zionist Organization in Postov" group (they are holding a large banner with those words on it). All are beautifully dressed and combed: the men are wearing suits and ties or Russian-type "turtle-neck" shirts, the women are in high heels and what appear to be silk stockings! There are 16 people in the group, eight men and eight women; Asna (Reichel) and Bunia (Livshin, my mother's sister and later Shachneh Achiasaf's wife), who are especially nicely dressed, are the only ones I recognize.
The town of Postov, though small, was blessed with two drama circles. The first was organized as part of the cultural program of the Tzeirei Tziyyon (Zionist Youth) Association in order to give its amateur members, its haverim (boys) and haveroth (girls), the opportunity to express themselves artistically and in order to create and reinforce an interest in and a love of art in Postov. In the course of time the dramatic circle developed achieved a high level of artistry. They performed "God, Man and the Devil", "Yankel the Blacksmith", "Hassia the Orphan", and other plays. Bunia Livshin (today Bilha Achiasaf) was the prima donna, Yitzchak Reichel [apparently a first cousin] was the male star, and Abba Weiner was the comic.
The Yiddishists organized their dramatic circle a few years later. They also performed, with great success, "The Green Fields", Gordon's plays, etc. Faigeh Bunemovitz was the prima donna and Sander Ma'apil (today Alexander Ban-Hur) was the male star. The dramatic circles helped to finance the schools and libraries.
The Town's Chalutzim (Zionist Pioneers) Become Firemen (pp. 82–83)
The large gristmill that stood near the bridge on Zaretsher Street wasn't functioning because it had been badly damaged by artillery fire during the war years. A wooden gristmill was built at the end of Yiddisher Street.
A fire suddenly broke out in this mill. By the time that the carters' horses arrived, with their primitive fire-fighting equipment and barrels of water, the fire had spread greatly and the wooden houses around the mill were already feeling the heat of the flames. The fire-fighters had spread sacks on the roofs and had begun to pour water on them and on the walls that were facing the flames from the mill.
When the fire-fighters decided that they couldn't save the mill, they got all of the strong fellows to apply themselves so that the fire wouldn't get carried to the other houses. A large crowd stood some distance away and gazed at the heroic fire-fighters battling the flames. Almost all of the young people of the town were among the onlookers.
Suddenly people noticed that smoke* was coming from the roof of Gendel the smith's house, which stood nearest the mill. At the very moment, the chalutz Yisrael Raichel climbed up to the roof and called for all of the town's chalutzim and the hachshara (training) groups to line up in a row and pass buckets of water to him, and for another person to come up on the roof and help him. In a few moments the chalutzim and other young people were all lined up in a row. Very quickly, pails full of water were brought to the roof, and empty ones sere sent back. Then they began to do the same at the other houses. The danger of the fire spreading to the other houses was overcome.
When the fire in the mill was finally put out, the head of the fire-fighters thanked the chalutzim for their admirable help. The chalutzim began to dance Eretz-Yisraelisher dances, and the fire-fighters and the crowd danced with them till late at night.
*smoke in Yiddish is roikh (resh, vav, yod, khaf), and its diminutive is . . . reichl (resh, yod, yod, khaf, lamed). I looked up roich, and found the diminutive there as well. I have long wondered about the meaning of our name; reich is also, of course, rich… Take your pick.
A Bal-agoleh's (Carter) Prophecy (pp. 84–85)
In Postov, the "Hechalutz" (The Pioneer) was organized at the beginning of the 1920s. "Chalutzim" had already begun to make "aliyah" to Eretz Yisrael in 1923. With the assistance of the Zionist-socialist "Tzeirei Tziyyon" association, hachshara (training), groups were established in the town, but not all of them were learning trades or agriculture. The main purpose of the hachshara was to prepare the members for physical labor, to learn Hebrew, and to acquire the spirit of collective group living. Chalutzim also did various kinds of hard physical labor in the town in order to help finance the hachshara groups.
One group of chalutzim always worked in the railway station where they used to load and unload the merchandise from the railway cars. Once, after a market day, the chalutzim were working at loading rye onto wagons. When the writer of these lines came to Laizer the Bal-agoleh's wagon to take a sack of the grain and put it on his shoulders, Laizer came up to him, quickly tipped his hat over his eyes and cried out loudly, "Damn your father's father!" (or: "The devil take your father's father!"); your father has a shop for iron and other businesses, and you have to work hard?"
Another bal-agoleh, Zelig Hodosh, who was standing nearby, heard Laizer's words, came up to Laizer and said to him: "Listen here, Laizer, to what I am going to ask you. Do you remember, Laizer the Wise, how your older daughter, the Socialistikeh, used to yell, softly into her sleeve so that she shouldn't be heard from too far away, where she shouldn't be heard, "Down with the Tsar, Nicolai Dala-lai!"? Well, your daughter has gone away from this place, and I can tell you with certainty that the chalutzim will go away, and a Yiddishe kingdom will come into existence."
This prophecy was fulfilled only twenty-seven years later.
Zelig's daughter was one of first chalutzim in Postov to go to Eretz Yisrael. She and what is now her large family live today in Kfar Saba.
War Again – And Again Postov Goes Hungry (pp. 86–87)
The rapid progress of reconstruction was soon temporarily interrupted when, after four years of war, there were great political changes. The Russian tsar was deposed and Kerensky created a democratic government, which was too weak to prevent or halt the Bolshevik assault. A Bolshevik victory appeared inevitable. In Brest-Litovsk negotiations were held between the Bolsheviks and the Germans. Due to the exaggerated German demands, Trotsky pulled out of the negotiations, declaring that although there would be no peace, there would also be no war.
The Bolsheviks abandoned the frontlines and the German armies occupied large parts of Russia. In France, however, the Germans had suffered great losses in their attacks on Verdun, where the German assault on the way to Paris took place. America came to help the French, and the German armies were smashed in large-scale counterattacks. The German army was vanquished, and Germany surrendered. A revolution broke out in Germany as well, and all over the German armies surrendered. All of the occupied areas were freed and new countries were established. And in Poland, a Polish state was established.
Between the Polish and the Bolshevist armies there were great battles over the liberated areas. This war lasted for two years, and Postov and the areas around it were the war-theater of this campaign, which was a very zig-zag affair. A Polish patrol would enter Postov, open fire in the direction of the enemy, and beat a fast retreat. A short while later a Bolshevist patrol would enter the town and do the same thing. It sometimes happened that patrols from both sides would come from both sides and retreat as soon as they saw each other, without firing even one shot. Like hares they would run away, each to its own side. After they had left the town, each side would fire shots in the direction of the other.
The townspeople, fearful of the possibility of being caught in the crossfire, were afraid to go into the town to buy food supplies. There was also the danger of being caught by one of the sides and accused of espionage, and there were some such instances. Because of this stand-off, there was hunger in Postov. People baked bread from various plants or made other improvisations. Almost all of the inhabitants had an animal or two, and that helped a little. Nonetheless, there wasn't enough to eat, and people had swollen bellies from lack of food.
The United States Breaks the Famine (pp. 88–89)
Herbert Hoover, who later became the President of the United States, was appointed to organize an aid committee to provide food for the populations left hungry by the war. The aid-committee carried out its assignment expeditiously and with great success. Wheat, rice, legumes, milk for the children and other products began to reach the war-torn areas. Tens of thousands of people were saved from dying of starvation.
Poland was supposed to distribute the donated foodstuffs at no cost, but this was not what happened and. in the long run, the treasury of the Polish government was enriched by the embezzlement of what was supposed to have been given free of charge to the starving populace. A Polish officer came to Postov and ordered that a delegation be sent to Warsaw to request food products. The delegation was composed of Zalman Linn, Avrom Iitzik Reichel and the Polish merchant Pivess. Upon their return, the Polish commander at the front-line detained them and the products they brought with them. He gave an order that the people should come there, to the front-line, where each person would take his share of the products, because otherwise the Bolshevists could still grab the foodstuffs when they reached Postov itself. Everyone had to go to the front-line, five viersts away from the town, to receive the products.
The front-line looked like a large campsite. The products were given out according to a list of the population, and had to be paid for on the spot. Many of the townspeople had no money, and Avrom Iitzik Reichel laid out the money for them. The townspeople didn't forget this, and when he left Postov for Canada, they accompanied him [to the railway station] with great affection. He was also warmly received when he returned for a visit a few years later. The whole town, led by mounted policemen, accompanied him to the railway station when he left.
The event described above could have had a very sad ending. Two days after the products arrived, a large detachment of Bolshevist soldiers came to seize them and to arrest the members of the delegation that had brought them from Warsaw. When they came into Avrom Iitzik Reichel's yard, they noticed a large number of chickens and began to catch them and shoot at them. My sister Sarah, Avrom Iitzik's daughter, began to cry and asked them to stop shooting. She said that she would give them the chickens. Luckily, they agreed, and in this way the community's emissary Avrom Iitzik Reichel's life was saved – because he was hiding in the henhouse.
The people of the town were still in great fear, but they had food, and the supplies from America continued to come as long as they were needed.
Courage and Self-Sacrifice Triumph over Might (pp. 90–92)
After a long period of the "zig-zag" skirmishing between the Polish and Bolshivist soldiers, the Polish army took control of Postov and the area around it. This was not, however, a total occupation. Larger Polish patrols continued to go through Postov, remain a few days, and then go on. Very only a single soldier or a pair of them came through. Most of the time they were deserters [or ?survivors] separated from their units, who would come and rob and beat the Jews. Most of all, they wanted to forcibly take a good pair of boots from someone's feet, and they sometimes shot the victim.
Early one morning, two soldiers, hooligans, came into the town and seized the shoichet (kosher slaughterer) Shmu'el Livshin [my paternal grandfather], Moshe Freidman and Velvel the tinsmith's son, and marched them in the direction of the train station. Knowing what this could result in, a bunch of young Jewish fellows quickly got together and demanded that they be set free. The soldiers were surprised at this Jewish chutzpa, and answered that they were carrying out actions ordered by their superiors, who were with their regiment at the railway station. The soldiers were obviously a quite confused, and it was clear that this was a lie. As they continued and went further on their way, the young Jewish fellows followed after them as far as the railway line. Then they decided what to do.
All of the town's Jews were moving along the railway line to the station. Only three, Shmu'el Livshin's son, Zalman, and his two nephews, the brothers Chaym-Reuven and Yisrael Raichel were not among them. They had crossed over to the other side of the tracks and from a side path had reached the railway station before the soldiers and the three arrested Jews got there.
All at once, the three young Jewish men sprang out of their hiding place and surprised, and greatly frightened, the soldiers. By the time the soldiers realized what had happened the three were standing right near them, eyeing them carefully to make sure that they would not use the rifles that were slung over their shoulders. A short argument ensued.
Suddenly one of the soldiers ordered Shmu'el Livshin to go aside with him or he would be shot, and began to undo his rifle. At that very moment, Zalman Livshin made a move to grab the rifle, which went off into the air. Zalman Livshin was completely in control, for he had been a Russian soldier and knew what to do in such a case. Moshe Freidman came to his assistance, and at the same time Chaym-Reuven and Yisrael Raichel fell upon the soldiers and "relieved them" of their rifles. The soldiers fled quickly, and the Jews with the rifles fled in another direction. They abandoned the rifles in a field and then returned to the town by way of the main road.
The two fleeing soldiers apparently didn't know where they were at this point. They stopped a peasant in a wagon and asked him to take them to the forest. He took them by way of the main road, which went from the town to the railway station, and was very close to the beginning of the forest. When they saw the crowd of Jews coming right towards them, they jumped off the wagon and ran into the woods.
The "liberators", along with the three freed Jews, were received in the town like heroes. The mayor of Postov, Belitzki ordered that they should bring the rifles to him, and leave Postov, because the soldiers would have to report to their commander that Jews had taken away their rifles.
Chaym-Reuven and Yisrael took the responsibility for this upon themselves and went to Sventzian,* where about half of their family lived. Two days later, a Polish high officer, with a larger unit of soldiers, did indeed come to Postov to arrest the "damned Zhids". The mayor told them everything that had happened, and they decided to not look for the "guilty" ones.
* Sventzian/Svencionis is about 25–30 miles west of Postov, and is today in Lithuania. Midway between them is Hydusziski, now Adutishkis, where one of Avrom Yitzik's brothers had moved. I wrote about my visit, with Leah Shuster, to these two towns. Sventzian was a fairly big town compared to Postov, and although I don't remember having heard the name of this large town, my cousins here in Israel, Sarah Maltzman's daughter and Leah do remember it being mentioned often. It is a more important railway hub than Postov, and is, of course, on the way to Vilna.
Postov Is Occupied by the Bolsheviks (pp. 93–96)
The zig-zag game between the Polish and Bolshevik armies ended with a great Bolshevik offensive that reached the outskirts of Warsaw. Although a Polish counterattack forced a Bolshevik retreat from Warsaw, Postov remained under the Bolsheviks until the 9th of October 1920.
The Bolsheviks had their own way of ruling and organizing the territories they took over. After the revolution, revolutionary committees, called "revcoms" for short, were organized throughout Russia. The central revcom organized special departments of old-time communists, who followed the armies, and they took over the organization of the management in the captured cities, towns and villages.
The communist who came to Postov went by the name of
Lavrenty. Tovarish Lavrenty had been a worker in the Putilavskin arms factory
in Petrograd. He was a highly intelligent young man and a sworn and conscientious
He was modest, and tolerant of those who didn't agree with his way of thinking.
During his first week in Postov, Lavrenty walked around the streets of the town and spoke with the townsfolk in order to gather information about the, the burghers, the middle-class, well-to-do citizens who had filled important roles in the life of the town. In the second week, he held individual interviews with those whose names had been mentioned in his walks during the previous week.
Having learned who had been the former leaders of the town, he noted the names of those who, in his opinion, could help him to organize life in the town. His first practical step was to call a meeting, to take place in the market place, of all of the burghers, in order to elect a revcom. At this meeting, Lavrenty announced (or stipulated?) that the revcom would be formed of seven members, providing that the meeting agreed unanimously with his proposal. The proposal was unanimously accepted by a hand vote.
Now, Lavrenty continued, candidates had to be nominated, and each of them would describe his background and his abilities, and say whether he was willing to be a member of the revcom. Candidates were nominated and the list was closed. Before the voting, however, one of the town's citizens had to explain what motivated him to support that candidate, and why he thought was fit for that role, and another, if there was such, had the right to explain why he was against that candidate. Two citizens counted the raised hands and reported the result and the revcom members were elected. The seven candidates that got the largest number of votes were declared the duly elected members of the revcom.
The pre-voting statements were very short. Neither politics nor state problems were mentioned. The audience learned little about the candidates' personalities, abilities and opinions. And why was this necessary? The communist party led, decided, and ordered – and "demokratia" is "demokratia". And, lest I forget to mention, after the meeting ended, those present all sang the communist anthem.
At the first meeting of the newly-elected revcom, chairmen were elected for each of the committees; these chairmen were authorized to recruit members for their committees. A short debate followed when the question was raised regarding an administrative office for the revcom. It was decided to take over the burghers' building, as it was in the center of the town. Israel Raichel, the writer of these lines, came out sharply against this: Why provoke bitterness amongst the burghers, he said. Several of the committee members took part in the debate. Lavrenty supported Yisrael Raichel's motion and suggested that, instead of taking over the burghers' building, the lovely Catholic abbey be requisitioned. It would be very suitable for the committee's administrative offices, in addition to which there was room for an apartment for Tovarish (Comrade) Lavrenty. This motion was unanimously approved.
The matter of the burghers' building again came up when a suitable place for a youth club, a meeting hall and a theater was sought. Several of the members of the revcom agreed that the burghers' building could be renovated to suit these requirements. Yisrael Raichel, again, was against this, and proposed taking over the count's palace, which had a sufficient number of rooms for other activities as well. The great large veranda and the lawn in front of it, he continued, were suited for staging summer theater productions and for various other gatherings. And, again, justice and common sense won the day.
Following the approval of the involved committees, and the protection of the militia appointed by the security committee, the culture committee staged a theatrical production in the palace that was successful from both an artistic standpoint and in terms of attendance. Feivish Veiner, a member of the culture committee, was responsible for the great success, carried out with only local talent and effort.
Although other committees worked on plans for other activities and projects, the Bolsheviks didn’t remain in Postov long enough for them to be carried out.
Am Silent before the Commissar for the Promotion of Culture in Postov
and the Surrounding Area (pp. 97–102)
Early one morning, Lavrenty came to my house and invited me to come with him to his administrative office because he wanted to discuss something with me. I went with him. A breira hob ich gehat? [Did I have a choice?]
When we arrived at the office, I was surprised by his friendliness and courteous attitude. First, I had to drink a glezl vodka with him. After I declined a second glass, Lavrenty began to speak quietly and slowly.
"I know," he said, "that you are a Zionist and that in Postov you organized a Zionist organization, a library, the school, and other institutions. And that you were active in organizing Zionist organizations in towns around Postov. I was also told that you are a serious fellow and that you have organizational abilities. Your attitude and the things you said at the first meeting of the revcom showed me that you have ability and logic. I therefore feel that you can help me greatly in unofficial matters. I also want to appoint you as the commissar or chairman of a committee to promote culture in Postov and the surrounding area. I will be happy if you accept my proposal."
I agreed, but on the condition that I would not be obligated to any communist party activities and that I be free to express my opinions when practical matters were being discussed, and that he remember that I was a socialist-Zionist. We understood each other very well and became very friendly. There were many evenings when we had open-hearted discussions on politics, economic matters, philosophy and other timely issues.
I earnestly began to fulfill my appointment as cultural chairman, according to Lavrenty's method. I traveled around to all of the small towns and villages in the vicinity of Postov in order to ascertain their cultural and social needs. During the war years, everything was neglected and abandoned, and had to be rebuilt. If the people concerned wanted to make the first steps, I came to finalize the decisions: civic institutions had to be reorganized, libraries set up, and youth, sport and dramatic clubs established; to reawaken the love of music, orchestras had to be equipped. I gave Lavrenty a report and proposed a working program. First, I said, books for the libraries had to be procured, and musical instruments bought.
Tovarish Lavrenty was pleased with my first practical suggestions and accepted my working program. He immediately began inquiries about the possibility of acquiring books and musical instruments quickly. He was advised to send a delegate to Vilna, to ask for assistance in these matters. Lavrenty immediately decided that I would be the delegate, and a day later I already had the appropriate documents and letters of recommendation. These would not only make my travel much easier, but would also ease the way to the higher authorities.
At that time, travel around Russia, and especially in the newly-taken territories, involved a few difficulties and formalities. Upon my arrival, at ten in the morning, in New Svencian, where I had to transfer to another train, I first had to report to the authority in charge of the station. I was told that the train to Vilna would leave only late that evening and that I should report to the local revcom. They were very friendly in the revcom, and the secretary suggested that if I went with him to observe the trial and execution of five "skorniks" [skorni-kess], the time that I had to wait until the departure of the train to Vilna would pass more quickly. And it would be interesting.
"Why," I asked him, "do you think that I would be interested in going to such a trial, and why do you think that there will be an execution?"
"They are skornikess, aren't they?" my friendly chaver [comrade] answered me with anger.
I must here clarify what was meant by skornikess in the year 1920, so that my dear readers of the 1970s and later will not remain puzzled.* "Skornikess" is a Russian word, by which people who, fearing for their very lives, had perpetrated a great "crime" by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in the hearing of the wrong ears about Bolshevistisheh ideas.** If a Polish military patrol asked an innocent passerby the way to a certain town, and the passerby answered, that person was called a skornik – because he had answered [only] out of fear for his own skin. A person could even be accused of being a skornik even if someone told that he had himself seen, or had heard, that a second person had said that a third person had pointed the way. Often old hatreds between people also gave rise to accusations – and executions. I didn't accept the invitation, of course. I was even courageous enough to declare that I did not agree with the quick trials and executions for such "crimes".
* puzzled, it was farvundert] – translated as "astonished" in my dictionary, though I think it is more at wondering, unknowing, in the dark. – I ordinarily just write what seems to me the likeliest meaning, but I am letting you in on the trials and tribulations of the translator. In Yiddish, translations are said (often with a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek) to have been "fartaysht un farbessert (translated/interpreted and better-ized).
Often I not only don't find the word I am seeking, but nor do I find even the root of the word. I mentioned once the Yiddish trick of "broadening" or "expanding" words, and especially verbs, by adding various prefixes and suffixes, which often changes their meanings in quite astonishing ways, so even finding the "root" doesn't always help..
** I really "farbessert" this sentence … I usually refrain from over-bessering Israel's narrative because I want it to remain in his "voice". But I don't quite get the connection with the next sentence about the Polish military patrol.
I spent the time before the departure of the train walking around the streets of the town. Near the train station I noticed two large warehouses containing salt that was left over from the German occupation. Some men were filling the salt in small bags and carrying them away. I wondered why the salt wasn't being sent to Russia, where was a shortage of this item.
I went back to the revcom and suggested that they send the salt straight to Russia, reminding them that they would receive recognition and honor for doing so, because there was a great need of salt there. I spoke in a loud voice, as if giving an order. They listened very attentively and gave me to understand that they would do so immediately.
When I arrived in Vilna, I again presented myself and was provided with a room and with an order to the best Soviet restaurant to provide me with meals for the time that I would be in Vilna. By the time everything was arranged, it was too late to look for the commissariat that I had to contact. After the evening meal in the restaurant, a man, who looked like a high official in the party, and with whom I had become friendly, invited me to go with him to the peace negotiations between the Bolsheviks and the Lithuanians. In these endless negotiations, matters of the borders and reparations, and various other questions, were being discussed.
It is worth noting here that Jews were strongly represented in the delegations of both sides at these negotiations. My new friend, whom I had just met at the restaurant, was a member of the Bolshevik delegation.
After hearing half a night of discussions, it became very clear to me that the Miadlekeh River, which flowed right through Postov, would be the border between the Bolsheviks and Lithuania. My home was located on the western side of the town, which would be Lithuania. There were some interesting moments during the negotiations in the future capital.
I was no longer interested in the books and musical instruments. Early the next morning I was already seated in the train to Novo-Svenciyonis [New Svencian], where I again went through the difficult procedure of waiting for the train to Postov. As I passed by the salt warehouses, I noticed more than a hundred workers loading the salt on railway cars, five of which were already loaded.
In the revcom, I reported the peace negotiations, and the possibility that Novo-Svenciyonis would be given to Lithuania. I was thanked for getting the salt sent to Russia. They allowed me to stay in the revcom until I had to go to the train, accompanied me to the train and, as a token of their gratitude, carried into the railway car two small sacks of salt.
Upon my arrival in Postov in the morning, I went straight to Tovarish Lavrenty, who became very upset that I had returned so soon. My explanation bewildered him completely. He became very thoughtful for a while and, after he figured out what this meant, he asked me what I was considering doing.
"I have to think the situation over," I answered.
"Listen, Yisroel Avromovich, to what I am going to advise you to do. Because of the war, you were torn away from a formal education. You are an "auto-didact" (self-taught man). You must study further; it isn't too late. You have abilities, why should they be lost? I can arrange things for you in Petrograd, where you can take courses, course that you can choose. You won't have any financial difficulties. The government supports talented capable young people. My friends in Petrograd will be your friends. …What do you say about my suggestion?"
Before Lavarenty had finished speaking, I had already made my decision. Out of politeness, I answered that I would think about it, and would talk it over with my parents, and would give him my answer the next day.
My dear Tovarish Lavrenty was sorry and resentful when he heard my negative answer. Even after he realized that he would not be able to change my mind about my decision, he gave me a letter of recommendation describing the good work I had done, and requesting that, should I be in need of it, I be assisted in any undertaking, and we kissed each other (tze-kusht) when we parted.
Lavrenty has a very important place in my memory. His letter of recommendation can be found in a certain place under the floor of my house in Postov– if mice didn't chew it up or tear it into shreds.
Postov Becomes a Border Town (pp. 103–104)
Considerations of political or military strategy led the Bolsheviks to conclude a peace agreement with Lithuania. The negotiations were finalized in Vilna in July 1920. It is important, historically, to note that the leaders of the delegations of both sides were Jews. A. Yoffe was the chairman of the Bolshevik delegation, and Shimon Rozenboim of the Lithuanian delegation.
They quickly agreed about the amount of money and gold that Russia would have to pay to Lithuania, and about various other matters, but the question of the border was the cause of long and heated debates. Rozenboim demanded that the gubernias of Minsk and Vitebsk be given to Lithuania, because hundreds of years earlier these areas were part of Lithuania. Yoffe categorically opposed Rozenboim's demands, along with his motives.
In the course of the negotiations, Yoffe tried to convince Rozenboim to be more openhearted and more realistic in his territorial demands and asked him to say where, as he understood it, was the demarcation of the extent of Lithuanian land. Rozenboim answered in brief and with complete earnestness, that wherever Jews say "sabbes-salom" and "gefilte fiss" – instead of "shabbes shalom" and "gefilte fish" – should belong to Lithuania. The dominant consideration in the final decision as to where the border would be was the Miadlekeh River, which flowed right through Postov and demarked the Postov Region. Everything lying to the west of the river went over to Lithuania.
Lithuania was very happy with the peace agreement and with the border, and it was celebrated throughout Lithuania, but this border lasted for only a very short time.
The Town is Again Occupied by Poland (pp. 105–107)
On 19 October 1920 a Polish army unit, under the command of General Lucien Zeligovsky, and with the secret support of Pilsodsky, attacked Lithuania and occupied the Lithuanian capital Vilna. On their way towards Palatzk, the Polish army succeeded in taking Globok. The occupation was accompanied by looting and pogroms against Jews.
In order to justify the occupation, Zeligovsky decided to carry out a plebiscite. To be sure of a majority, he settled Polish citizens from Poznan and other Polish areas in the occupied areas. The plebiscite was carried out under the watchful eyes of Zeligovsky's soldiers, and the result was a foregone conclusion.
Later, when they wanted to hold elections to the Vilna seym, Jews and other Lithuanians boycotted the elections. In April 1922, the Vilna seym, which was composed only of Polish deputies, voted to include the occupied areas, Postov among them, as integral parts of Poland.
After long drawn-out negotiations, the People's Party confirmed "Zeligovsky's Booty". This was the first unjust decision taken by the People's Party, and was followed by other dishonorable actions. The authority of the People's Party was weakened by these, and was thus less able to resist the events that led to the Second World War.
The Zeligovsky annexation took place only a short time after Lithuania and Poland had concluded their agreement, according to which Vilna was to remain under Lithuanian rule.
I See in Postov Again in 1930 (pp. 106–107)
In the beginning of 1930, after an absence of more than six years, I made a short visit to Postov. I found many changes. The town had become significantly larger and more beautiful. The old streets stretched out into what had once been fields, and now almost reached the forests. New streets were laid out and there were sidewalks in almost the entire town. The man governing Postov, Count Psevdszheski, had a strong will that Postov should be larger and more beautiful, and thanks to his influence Postov became the regional center.
The Jewish population of Postov had also grown. New youth organizations had come into being. Zionist activity had increased greatly, and chulatzim and chalutzot had already gone to Eretz Yisrael, while others worked in organized preparatory groups and studied in institutions of higher learning in Vilna. Young people were freer in their social lives. People were uneasy and worried about what the future held in store.
Jews had built new homes and enlarged their businesses, despite the boycott-movement led by the Polish shopkeepers against the Jewish businesses which had become quite successful [if I understood the Yiddish here correctly – RR]. In Postov, antisemitism, as in all of Poland, became so much stronger that it undermined the feeling of security of the Jews. The atmosphere was infected with poisonous malevolence.
To me, it all seemed hopeless. I described my mood and my feelings before a mass meeting of all the town's Zionists, who had come to hear a live g'russ, [regards] from Eretz-Yisroiel.*
One short declaration remains in my memory, a statement that I made at that time, during the course of my talk. Describing the situation of the Jews in Poland, as I understood it, I said, "People are building here palaces and businesses on ice."
Sorrowfully, thirteen years later this proved to be true. And not only the houses and businesses of the Jews of Postov were ground into the earth, but the Jews themselves, And not only the Jews of Postov, but the Jews of Poland and of many other countries throughout Europe, six million Jews, murdered by Hitlerism..
* This visit obviously followed the years Israel was in Palestine, which are not described in this book, which is only about Postov.
Tax Collection in Postov and in all of Poland (pp. 108–110)
In developed and progressive countries, manufacturers and storekeepers, and all other people with incomes, are obliged to keep books recording their revenue and expenses. Once a year they must present these accounts, which show their annual profits or losses, to the local tax office.
The amount due, that the income reporter must pay, is figured on the basis of annual earnings or profit and on the ? [?value of the property]. Officials in the tax office examined the annual accounts and if they were not accurate, special clerks were sent to investigate, and they examined the books and the entire running of the business. If necessary, they even examined the account books of other businesses connected with the one under investigation. In this way, they could find out if all income was duly recorded and all declared expenses were indeed paid out. False accounts were punishable by monetary penalties or by imprisonment, and sometimes by both. The amount of the fine and the duration of the imprisonment were determined according to the degree of falsification and the country's rules.
In Poland it was, by law, not obligatory to keep account books, and, indeed, small Jewish storekeepers did not keep such records, nor could they allow themselves the added expense of paying a book-keeper. Their fathers and grandfathers didn't keep books, so why should it be any different for them?
In Postov, as in all of Poland, taxes were collected according to certain especially good methods that allowed the taxation office to demand larger amounts and, often, bribes as well. Jews were the main victims. They simply didn't allow the Jews to breathe. Many Jews were forced to give up their shops and become workers, or they left Poland to seek their luck in other countries.
How were the annual taxes that a shopkeeper had to pay determined? All over Poland, circles or "poviyat" – "appraisal committees" were established. In order to "democratize" the entire matter, people from different parts of the poviyat were designated as committee-members. At the head of each appraisal committee was a natshalnik, an official authority who was, de facto, the "sole decision maker" [?arbiter]. He determined the amount of taxes that each shop-owner had to pay. He even examined all of the papers, such as receipts and payments, etc., of the train station. A shopkeeper who had received a larger amount of merchandise undoubtedly had – according to the natshalnik's understanding – a larger amount of business. Thus, for example, an iron merchant, again according to the natshalnik's reasoning, received more merchandise than a shnitt-kremer [kremer is a shopkeeper, but I was unable to ascertain what this shnitt is…]. The natshalnik also sought out information about people's standard of living.
The natshalnik determined the overall dimensions of the merchant's business. The selected committee-members had very little influence on him regarding any changes in his decisions. They were also unable to seek justice, due to the fear that if they did not remain silent, the natshalnik would increase the amount of tax due from them. The natshalnik also had a personal interest in bringing as much money as possible into the national treasury, as he might be promoted to a higher position by doing so.
The natshalnik of Postov's revenue office was the son of a Jewish woman [bat – daughter] who had converted (to Christianity) and was known to be a bitter anti-Semite. He thought that his anti-Semitism and the fact that he collected larger amounts of tax-money each year would help him earn more credit and he would be accepted as an important member of the highest Polish social strata. He caused a lot of tzoress for the Jews.
This Polish anti-Semitic economic policy lasted throughout the years between the two world wars.
The Murder of a Jew and Polish Justice (pp. 111–113)
The peasants of the villages had their own customs about how to behave on the market days. For them it was a day for trade – for selling their products and buying household needs – which was, of course, the main purpose of their day in town, but not only for that.
Their day in town was accompanied by a smaller, or a larger, "simchaleh" – an occasion for joy. Every peasant had his "harbatneh", or tea-house, where he could buy a herring, fried fish, white bread or challa, a glass of tea or even a glezl mashkeh, a shot of whiskey – "to ward off the evil eye". Sometimes also a second or a third glass was also permitted. And it was not forbidden, God forbid. He was allowed to drink and he must drink, because he is a . . . a drinker.
It would also happen, sometimes, that instead of traveling home to wife and children after the simchaleh, the peasant would find himself early the next morning in a dark prison-cellar. Usually, however, he came home alone, but very late. Or a neighbor would bring him home, dead drunk.
In order to compensate the wife and children for coming home late, and in even higher, more tipsy, spirits, the peasant would buy some gifts of candies, cookies or cakes of various colors, or other sweets, or bagels. White bread with caraway seeds was also good. The peasant would buy the goodies before going to the tea-house, since experience had taught him that he might forget to do so after the simchaleh.
There was, therefore, a lot of business connected with these goodies. In order to make a good living from baking bagels, cakes other such goodies, large enough quantities had to be produced and, also, more markets visited to sell them. Some manufacturing businesses for the production of such gift-articles were quite successful and even hired men to seek out other, more distant towns.
One of these was Yaakov Leib Raichel. He had, working for him, a young bocher, Chaim-Yitzchok, the son of Nechamkeh the seamstress. Nechamkeh was a widow, and had been one for many years. She worked very hard as a seamstress in order to feed her family. When Chaim-Yitzchok, her oldest son, grew up and began to earn, new horizons opened up for Nechamkeh. She could buy new clothes for the children, and make her house a little nicer. Nechamkeh felt a little happiness, but this did not last very long. Her son Chaim-Yitzchok used to travel around all week long. On Tuesdays, he would travel to the market day in Danilovitsher.
On a certain Tuesday, Chaim-Yitzchok met with a fatal misfortune. For Nechamkeh this was the second most sad day of her life after the death of her husband. Late in the evening on that sad Tuesday, as Chaim-Yitzchok was harnessing his horse in order to travel home, a shaygetz from Postov came up to him and asked to him take along, because he had to be in Postov early the next morning. This was not the first time that Chaim-Yitzchok had taken the shaygetz with him. But on this Tuesday the shaygetz, who was a shtarker [hefty fellow], had a lust for money, and he knew that Chaim-Yitzchok had money from the day's sales. This awakened the evil animal in him.
As they neared Postov, the shaygetz struck Chaim-Yitzchok several blows to the head, with a thick iron bar, took his money and fled. Chaim-Yitzchok was left, lying unconscious, in the wagon. The horse was used to pulling the wagon to the courtyard of his owner, Yaakov Leib Raichel who, as was his custom, went out to unharness it. To his amazement, he heard groans and begging, "Yanuk, don't hit me, don't hit me…"
They immediately carried Chaim-Yitzchok, by now half-frozen, into the house, and called a doctor and the police. But they were unable to find out what had happened. He only mumbled, again and again, "Yanuk, don't hit me. . ." The doctor couldn't do anything to save him, and, continuing the mumble those words, Chaim-Yitzcok died.
The suspicion fell immediately on Yanuk. It was known who he was, for he often rode with Chaim-Yitzchok in the wagon. The police found Yanuk, sleeping in his house. At first, he lied, and said that he had not been in Danilovitsher that Tuesday. But the stolen money was found in the house, in a little bag that Yaakov Leib recognized, as he had had it for many years.
Yanuk wailed, and admitted his guilt. A special judge came from Warsaw and the trial was conducted according to all the usual procedures. The murderer was given a death sentence. On the next day, the president of Poland reduced the death sentence to a prison term and, a couple of years later the police pardoned the murderer. Some years later, Yanuk became a Nazi collaborator.
The Second World War and Its Sorrowful Results (pp. 114–115)
Like political and social changes, wars do not come about suddenly. Even a revolution is a culmination point of larger and smaller developments, sometimes unnoticeable, that have occurred over a long period of time. This is the process of progress and regression.
Four main causes brought about Hitlerism and the Second World War. (1) The Versailles Peace Treaty, which was dictated by the French delegation and which tore away from Germany important industrial areas, divided the country by the Danzig Corridor, destroyed and limited its industrial activity, and, in addition, laid the payment of huge reparations on it. (2) Great unemployment in Germany, another result of the Versailles Treaty border changes. (3) The economic crisis in America and in the world. (4) The helplessness and disunity of the democratic countries.
Chamberlain, umbrella in hand, made several visits to Hitler in Berchtesgaden, and by doing so, encouraged Hitler to begin the great blood-bath. The Second World War was the most grievous and cruel of all the wars that preceded it. Millions of soldiers fell on the battlefields, millions of others were wounded, and millions of civilians were killed.
Hitlerism brutally slaughtered six million Jews, and the free world, which knew about the extermination camps, was silent. In the course of the Second World War, two means of extermination were invented – the atom bomb and the gas chamber – and both were used in the course of the war, especially the latter, which was put to effect in order to slaughter one-third of the Jewish people.
At the same time that nations in Africa, Asia and Europe were liberated from the yoke of imperialism, other nations, which had been liberated after the First World War, were enslaved by communist imperialism. In 1948 the Jewish state was established, and is still fighting a bitter struggle for its existence.
Ethical and moralistic words have been bandied about,
day in and day out. Terrorism, "communist imperialism" and the newly arrived
"oil imperialism" now rule the world — and the United Nations
goes in the footsteps of the League of Nations, which could not and did not
prevent the Second World War. The very same process of destruction is in full
*N.B. – This was written in the 1970s, or perhaps a bit earlier.
Postov is Occupied by the Soviet Union (pp. 116–118)
On the first of September 1939, the German army attacked Poland. In the course of a few days the Polish army, based on its well-trained cavalry, which had no chance of holding back the blitzkrieg of the German mechanized forces, was vanquished.
An episode that was transmitted by word of mouth throughout Poland is worth mentining at this point. It is a known fact that after the First World War, France assisted Poland in its struggle for freedom. A strong friendship between the two countries was established and, from time to time, French military leaders would make friendly visits to Poland.
On one occasion, a large group of French military leaders came to Poland to observe military maneuvers. The Polish military staff ordered a farewell dinner to be arranged for the highly regarded guests. Champagne flowed like water, and the participants became somewhat tipsy. One Polish general, who was a strong believer in – and particularly proud of – the Polish cavalry, and who, thanks to a few too many glasses of champagne, was thoroughly soused, suddenly asked the French guests what they thought of the cavalry maneuvers. A French general, a firm believer in fortifications and mechanized army units, answered sarcastically and laconically, that he had only seen how horses ride on horses. . . .
The admirable Polish horses were unable to save even the "heroic" Polish horsemen, who were driven back by the German airplanes and bombs. The German army met almost no resistance and achieved its goals with no difficulty.
Poland was completely occupied to the border line with Russia, demarcated according to the agreement made between the German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and his Russian counterpart Molotov. Russia, with no difficulty, then occupied the parts of Poland that the Germans had left untaken, as well as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which she had lost in the First World War. Postov was occupied by Russia on the 17th of September 1939.
The Jews of Postov went through a difficult adjustment to the communist economic system following the arrival of the Russians, although they felt more secure. The Polish hooligans, who with the onset of the German attacks on Poland had begun looting Jews, went into hiding when the Russians appeared. The Jewish shopkeepers concealed their goods, gradually liquidated everything, and began to seek work. Some were placed in government bureaus and cooperatives, and many were employed in shops producing various useful articles.
In the course of time, life in Postov was normalized – normalized, that is, according to the Marxist line. Political parties were dissolved, and a few Jews were arrested and sent to Siberia for unclear reasons. The Jews exiled from Postov and from other towns thus escaped the destruction of the ghettos. There were, however, persecutions in Russia, and hunger and even death. Many of the exiled Jews can now  be found in Eretz Yisroel and in other places throughout the world.
On the 22 June 1941 the blitzkrieg against Russia began. German airplanes ceaselessly bombarded deep within Russia. There was great mayhem in all of the areas that Russia had occupied. Soviet officials, communists and sympathizers, began to flee deep into Russia, as did Jews from Postov and other areas. They fled by every means possible – automobiles and trains, horses and wagons, and on foot. The Soviet soldiers were in retreat and found it difficult to move, and the continued German bombings added further difficulty to all of the fleeing people's tribulations. Many people were forced to abandon the wagons, and many of them decided to return to their old homes, where they met their end in the ghettos.
The Germans Occupy Postov – The Ghetto and Mass Killings (pp. 119–124)
I will not write a preface to the sad chapter of the ghetto and the Holocaust. Great writers and poets have written sufficiently in prose and in poetry about the brutal annihilation of six million innocent Jewish men, women and children, about the ghettos, concentration camps and gas chambers, and about the liquidation by cold-blooded shooting of those that remained alive in the ghettos.
What can my small offering add to the descriptions of the immense tragedy that befell the Jewish people that would not "minimize" another tragedy – that of the civilized world that saw everything – saw and was silent? It is more than a tragedy for the civilized world; it is moral bankruptcy, a moral collapse.
What has been written thus far does not, however, encompass the full scope of the events, of Hitlerism and its collaborators from among the other nations that helped to carry out the dastardly deeds.
There must and there will come a day when a "m'konen" [a mourner, one who will lament], a great spiritual personality such as the prophet Jeremiah, will appear. And just as Jeremiah wrote Megillat Ekha, "Lamentations", after the Destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem, he will write Megillat Hitlerism.
I will tell only about the events that took place in the Postov ghetto, as told to me by several Jews who were there but managed to escape but a few days before its final liquidation.
Along with their march into Postov the Germans began the murders: Gershon the Carpenter's son was standing in the street looking at the German soldiers entering the town. The commander of the unit ordered them to take the "little Jew-boy" with them. The order was immediately carried out. Gershon the Carpenter saw this, as he was standing at the window. He immediately ran outside and pleaded with them to let his son go free. The commander wanted to know who else was in his house. He searched the house and found three more children, whereupon he ordered the soldiers to take all four children and the father. He had them taken beyond the town to the Magilnik [?Miadlekeh] River and they were shot to death there.
In the middle of the night of that same day, many other Jews were dragged out of their beds: Velvel the Tinsmith and his two sons, Yaakov and Mosheh, Zelig Hodosh's son-in-law, Alteh Shubitz the midwife, Chava Shapiro, and Zelig-Itz's daughter. They were thrown into a dark cellar of Zalman Tseplovitz's house and held there without food or water till the next evening. They were forced to walk to the end of the Vilner Street, where they were then shot. In the town, the Germans said that they had been sent to work in Germany. The goyim who had dug the graves for the victims gave away the secret. It took a long time and a lot of money to get permission to bury the murdered Jews in a Kever Yisroel – a Jewish burial.
Chaim Eltzik Tseplovitz was shot in the street, and Leib Reichel, Misha Zaslovsky and Viner's two sons-in-law were driven away and shot. After these brutal "random" murders, the Germans began to "bring order" to their doings. Orders began to be announced one after the other. The first one ordered all Jews to wear two yellow patches with Stars of David on them, one on the chest and the other on the shoulder. This made it possible for the Germans to keep a watch on all of their comings and goings. The second order was that Jews may not walk on the sidewalks, only in the roadway. Jews were forbidden to buy from or sell to the goyim. Their intention was to "oishungern" the Jews, to "hunger them away", to starve them into submission and thus make it easier to subjugate them.
In August 1941 the Germans imprisoned the Jews in a ghetto that had been prepared for that purpose. All of the Jews were awakened at six o'clock in the morning and ordered to be in the ghetto by twelve noon. Anyone found after that hour outside of the ghetto would be shot. People were allowed to take only a small bundle with them, and were crowded in the designated area, with five or more people in each room. A "self-government" in the ghetto dealt with problems of cleanliness and of illness and epidemics.
The ghetto was located on Bazilianer Street, Dvortzover Street, and on one side of the Jewish or Braslaver Street. High fences made of strong wire encompassed the ghetto. Some Jews were sent out of the ghetto during the daytime to work at the dirtiest and hardest and kinds of work. They had to be standing at the broad gate near Sh'muel the Smith's house at seven in the morning, ready to go out to work. Polish police guarded the ghetto and the workers. After a German called out the names of all the Jews, they were marched to the market place, and from there were sent in smaller groups to work in various different places. They cleaned streets, loaded wagons, and worked in the fields and in workshops that produced various goods for both civilian and military use. It sometimes happened that they worked in a very original way: they dug ditches, filled them in, and then dug them again; built, tore down, and then built again. For their hard work each person was given 100 grams of bread a day and warm water, which was called "soup". But they weren't starving. Different ways were found to get bread from the local population, in return for certain articles. A few Jews were even shot for trying to sneak in a piece of bread or a roll.
Order was maintained in the ghetto by an appointed Jewish committee, a Judenrat, and Jewish police. In the committee were Shimon Lubotzki, Micel Toibess, Dr. Rubinstein's son, Shayeh Shubitz, Pessach Shubitz, and the commander of the police was Alexander Garbarovitz.
The Judenrat did not actually make any decisions; it only carried out the orders of the Germans. And the Postov committee was obedient; they acted according to the biblical "We shall do and we shall hear" – Na'aseh ve-nishmah. In order to prevent corruption, all demands for contributions or penalties were filled. Sometimes a Jewish delegation was forced to travel to larger and wealthier towns to ask for help in order to fulfill the demanded quotas.
When forced to make a collection of furs for the soldiers on the front, they also had to put a note in a pocket, by German command, containing a "wish" that the fur should provide warmth and they that the wearer should have success in the struggle. Similar "wishes" had to be placed in various other articles of clothing – in the pockets of pants, in knitted socks, and so on.
The Judenrat had to designate where each person had to work. There was much bitterness and complaints, as each person thought that he should be sent to easier work. The committee was, however, always resolute in its actions.
The ghetto had connections with units of partisans. Messengers, gentile as well as Jewish, would enter and leave the ghetto. A delegation of Miadler partisans once demanded that the best of the young people be sent with them [to become partisans]. The committee demanded that they take everyone, or no one. Unnoticed, a few left the ghetto under cover of darkness. One of these was Yaakov (Yankele) Feigel. When he was outside of the ghetto, he accidentally came upon a German soldier, but was able to escape. Today, he lives in Israel. Two larger groups of Jews managed to flee from the ghetto during the last days prior to the great slaughter.
Although some of Postov's Jews were also in partisan groups, most refrained from doing so as it was very difficult to be a partisan. First of all, one had to have a weapon, and secondly, one had to find the strength and the willingness to be subject to the partisan commanders, who were usually Russians, and often anti-Semites.
It was also very difficult to move along the roads. Many peasants spied for the Germans and would report to them about Jews moving along the roads or in the forests, because they were paid for each Jew that was caught. A few goyim did help Jews, not due to mentchlechkeit, humanity, decency, or feelings of pity (rachmones), but, rather, because of the fear of revenge by Jewish partisans. There were cases of acts of revenge; the houses of many Jews were burnt, sometimes with the dwellers inside. The Jewish partisans were very uncompromising with the village peasants, and this helped them to acquire food, products and sometimes even protection, warnings and important information, as well as weapons.
Many Jews could have helped to save themselves had they not believed in miracles, but we cannot blame anyone for not doing so. The Jews were physically and spiritually tzubrokhen, broken, and unable the risk entailed in such fighting. Of the more than two-thousand Jews in the Postov ghetto, some from surrounding villages, only one-thousand five-hundred were left in the ghetto the time of the liquidation.
The final liquidation [Yisrael uses this very word – likvidatzieh] came on the 25th of December, 1942, tet"zayyin Tevet. At three o'clock in the morning everyone was awakened – men, women and children. They were ordered to form lines and were marched to the railway line. As they came near to the railway tracks, they felt they they were being driven to the slaughter [men derfilt, az men firt zey tzu der shchitteh]. A few of the younger Jews began to run into the woods, and many others ran after them. They [the Germans] immediately began to shoot at them from every direction. Only a small number reached the trench previously excavated in the ground. After the "aktzia", all the bodies scattered throughout the woods and fields around were brought to this trench and thrown into it.
In this way, our dear and beloved Postov Jews, who had remained in the ghetto, were destroyed. We bow our heads in sorrow, for our pure and holy ones. We shall always remember then.
From: The Gerber Family Visit to Postov
In 1942, Schner explained, there was a ghetto in Postov for the local Jews and those from surrounding towns. People were brought from as far away as Bialystok. They had had to live in the crowded ghetto, but could go in and out of it freely.
One day Schner awoke to find the ghetto surrounded by soldiers. He sensed that if he didn't escape then, he never would. And so he paid a visit to my grandfather's house.
The house was the last one in the ghetto and located on the outskirts of the village. On the adjacent lot there was a shack. Schner and some others entered my grandfather's house through the front door and left it out through a side window which led to the shack next door. Under the cover of darkness they then escaped to freedom.
On the very next day, everyone in the Postov ghetto, about 1,000 people were taken to the edge of a pit and shot. Their bodies were covered with dirt. Witnesses told Schner that the ground moved for three days; then it stopped. Blood poured from the mass grave.
When the war was over, returning Jews, men and women, found scattered human bones under bushes and next to the roads. They gathered these bones into two mass graves and encircled the area with broken gravestone fragments from the desecrated Jewish cemetery.
We found deep red alpine strawberries growing wild in another area of this yard. When my son Gideon stooped to pick one, he found a spine bone embedded in the soil. A watching survivor said to him:
"That berry … it is painted with the blood or our ancestors."
PART TWO – I will work on this part of the book as soon as possible.
For the most part, I expect to write only a précis of the introductory two pages. Regarding the six individual "stories", I will write a general description that covers the life and activities of the partisans in general, and perhaps one or two special events. The stories of virtually all partisans are very similar, and it is unnecessary to relate each one separately. This in no way denigrates the immensity of the experience that each partisan went through personally. There is an abundant amount of material about partisans and partisan activity available. (Recently I read James Michener's book Poland, which also has quite a bit about this subject, albeit not about Jewish partisans in this case. It also a very painful section about the Maijdanek labor and extermination camp.
Postov Partisans Tell Their Stories – by Shimon Shapira: pp. 125–126
Shimon Shapira, pp. 127–138
Reuven Vant, pp. 139–149
Mully Zasslavsky, pp. 150–159
Zalman Rachman, pp. 160–186
Fania Tseplovitch, pp. 187–191
Ya'akov Feigl, pp. 192–204
LISTS OF NAMES OF POSTOV JEWS (pp. 205–215)
A List of Those Who Remained Alive from the Postov Ghetto (~25 names) p. 205
A (very long) List of the Postov Jews Who Were Slaughtered. (It is difficult to ascertain the exact number as often it says only "So-and-so and family", or "So-and-so, his wife and children".
The Reichels/Raichels in the list are many; they are listed on the bottom of p. 213 and top half of p. 214.
There are no Polsteins in this list (Bubba Chava was a Polstein);
My mother's maiden name was Lifshin. Her brother Aharon, his wife Rassia and their 3 children and my mother's mother Rachel Rivka Lifshin are listed at the bottom of p. 209. (Her father and oldest brother Zalman died shortly after WW I; her sister Rasia died in the 1930s in a mental institution after what appears to have been a nervous breakdown and/or depression, and the other three siblings, Bunia, Yankef and Sarah, moved to Palestine, Canada and the U.S. respectively.)
Hodosh names are bottom p. 208, top p. 209.
Many Tzeplovitches on p. 212-213.
/ "נאטשאלניקעס" "natshalnikes" [?authorities] official authorities