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The Mill Industry in the Volozhin Forrests

Part One

February 6, 2002
I suggest concentrating the material written in the Yizkor book about the topic of Volozhin saw-ground-mill industry. The few “industrialists” were regarded by the Soviets as capitalists. NKVD (Soviet Interior Ministry Police) arrested and sent to goulag the family heads. A month later, on April 1940, the police expelled the other family members and resettled them in Siberia. As a result of the expulsion the families were able to escape the horrible fate of most of the Litvak Jewry.
A. Please revise and edit the English (M. Polak’s and O. Malkin’s extract are already on line edited).
B. Pictures:1. Trunk-raft, VYB 336   
2. Water Mill, (Pamiat’ Book).  Scanning may be sent at your demand
3. Shif Meyir & Etl   Scanning attached (Were they not beautiful walking upon the romantic Youzefpol avenues?)
4. Mill in Youzefpol , VYB 339  
5. Group of pioneers, VYB 400  
6. A.Rosenberg, VYB 500   
7. Rope swing    Scanning may be sent at your demand
8. Gatar remnants    Scanning may be sent at your demand
9. Vagonetka remnants   Scanning may be sent at your demandMoshe Porat 
The Jewish inhabitant of Volozhin and its regions developed an industry that utilized the first-rate pinewoods, which were plentiful in the vast forests that surrounded the shtetl. The Belarus peasants in addition cultivated corn in the adjoining fields and the corn was also utilized
.  Extract from: A Bundle of memories, page 318 (Yizkor Book) By Osher Malkin
The Jews of the Shtetl earned their living by trading with Belarus peasants, who populated the surrounding villages and worked the Graph Tyshkevitch's or their own land. The soil around the forests was poor, suitable to cultivate potatoes and corn, but not wheat. The peasants were scarce in money to spend in Volozhyn.
Employment became available and some prosperity appeared in the area, when Mister Heller, the most significant international wood merchant, bought at the nineteenth's century end a great part of Graph Tyshkevitch's forest.
My father Hirsh Malkin, Heller's Wood Works general manager, established in Belokorets (a village 3 Kilometers from Volozhyn) the enterprise's main office. The peasants came to life; they received credit to buy horses and tools. The peasants earned money working in the woods. Some wood saw mills were built in the region. A more decent life became possible in the Shtetl. 1
Picture on page 338 (Volozhin Yizkor Book)
Volozhin Pushtsha (Forrest) pine trunks bound into a raft navigated
on the Berezina river for export Khatskl Gleek –third from left Malkin’s family descendants in Israel and France received a message through Eilat’s web-site from Ms. Laurel Chertow Glikstein, Florida on February 2001.My 89 old mother remembers the name Malkin VERY clearly. She was a young child, but recalls her father, Moshe Rogovin, speaking with and working with the Malkins in Belokoretz. She told me that when the First World War broke out, the Malkins stored some furniture at her house. It seems that the wealthy had to flee. She thinks that they fled to Siberia. They returned after the war and did recover the furniture that her father stored in the attic of his home. "My family was not as well known or wealthy and they were not bothered" she said.
Malkin’s family descendants are thankful this lady for the noble services her parents offered their grandparents some eighty years ago. 
 “The First mill in Volozhin”
by Michael Vand Polak, page 336
I came to Volozhyn from Olshan, my birth town, in 1910. I had just married Ester-Etl, Yohanan Rudenski’s daughter. My father in law was an important flax merchant. The merchandise he dealt with was sold in far away places and his business even extended to Germany.
During his numerous business trips to Germany he would always "hunt" for modern gadgets. He brought us from abroad some true "western culture". Among many novelties that he brought to Volozhyn was a kerosene lamp with a pendant that was hanging from the ceiling. It was a very important innovation at the time. The common lighting device was the "kournik", a can with a cord threaded through a tube. This lamp was very economizing, since it needed very small amount of fuel.
At those times matches were extremely scarce in our area. Instead of matches most people used glowing coals, they were continuously guarded under ash at the oven rim. To make fire we had to reveal the coals from the cinder and to blow at them until they burned. Often this fire creating method did not work. When the system would fail we would turn to our neighbors for a well glowing coal, so we could ignite a small fire.
People would at all times carry in their pocket an iron tool, a piece of lint and a small rock. Sparks would be produced by knocking with the iron tool on the rock and when flames were kindled the lint would create the vital fire. In the year 1910 the first matches were brought from the city of Viazma.
I was very knowledgeable with the flour grinding production. The Volozhyn area was deficient in such mills. The nearest one was operating in Sakovshchina hamlet on the Berezina River, 8 Km from town. The water from the river was use to operate the mill. The mill belonged to Graph Tishkevitsh and was leased by Yakov Bunimovitsh. Flour grinding was a very involved production, and was done with great difficulties. The queue to grind was very long and sometimes clients had to wait an entire week to grind their grain into flour.
In order to free the town inhabitants from this burden I decided to build a grinding mill of my own. I brought machinery from Minsk and from Germany. The equipment was quite primitive. Wood spill and sawdust served as fuel.
Yakov Bunimovitsh warned me. Building such a mill in Volozhyn he said, will turn in a dangerous adventure: "Du vest zah ferplontern vi a hon in a pakule" — "you will entangle yourself like a cock in a flax-bulb".
My friend’s warning did not deter me. With endless enthusiasm and energy I was able to carry out the project. In the course of less than a year, the mill was ready, and began to function day and night around the clock. I became the main miller in the area.
At the end of the first year I was almost hit by a big disaster, the wood that was constantly prepared for the steam heating had been swift by a springtime flood caused by the rapidly melting snow that year. When the soil dried up the exposed wood was found. But the Goyim farmers claimed that it was their property, and I had to once again by the wood from them. Soon after I made the second deal the mill renewed its functions in full steam.
At the end of World War One, with the Poles conquering our area, a technological revolution occurred in Volozhyn. The first Polish starosta — (district governor), was prior to the war one of Graph Tishkevitsh’s employee, He was my acquaintance and was very aware of my knowledge and energy. He asked me to install electricity and to build a cinema. I fulfilled the task without delay according to the authorities requirements. A dynamo was installed and set in motion. Electric light was supplied, first inside the mill and thereafter to the town main parts. With time passing, most of the Volozhyn houses and streets installed electrical light. The electricity was a very important achievement; it changed the city’s entire appearance.
We achieved also the starosta’s second requirement. An abandoned cowshed existed in the graph’s estate. We received permission to use it free of charge as a cinema hall. I reconditioned the building, put benches inside and installed electricity. Mr. Komay, a Jewish engineer from Vilno, controlled the overhaul works. Mr. Zvi Kerstein, also from Vilno, managed the cinema functions.
The first projected movie was "Shulamit". My mother in law, Sara Rudenski, asked us to take her to the cinema hall to see the new wonder with her own eyes. She was convinced that behind the screen stood people and animals and they were acting for the audience. She yelled hysterically when she saw a two-horse coach approaching. She feared to be run over and ran out of the cinema.
Returning home I found her relaxed. She referred to me with joy: "I did not know, Mihal my dear, that you are so rich, all the houses, streets, horses, carriages, slaves, counts and princesses and their luxury dressings — all that is yours?" Since that evening my mother in law respected me much more.

Mihal Vand-Polak: Photo & text Page 33 —.
Born in Piesk, Volkovysk district, 1884. He was a well-known and respected figure in Volozhyn and the vicinity. In spite of the fact that he was very busy with his business, he always found time for public work, helping the poor and giving donations to the Zionist movements. Vand Polak was renowned for his generous contributions and for providing the Volozhyn Haluzim (pioneers- who planned to settle in Israel as farmers) with work in his plants. He was always proud of being a Jew. During World War One he collected arms and organized a Jewish self-defense group. During the Second World War, he was imprisoned by the Soviets and sent to the Goulag. Thereafter his family was expelled to Siberia. Three of his daughters Yatia, Riva, Nehama and Grand Daughter Etia remained in Volozhyn and shared the shtetl’s fate. They all perished in 1942. He died in Jerusalem on October 1966. On his tomb, beneath Mihal Vand-Polak’s name, at his demand was engraved: Memory to my daughters Yatia, Riva and Nehama with their families, murdered by the Nazis in Volozhyn, May 1942.

Part Two

By Meyir Shiff and Benyamin Kutshevitski
Estate Possessors in Volozhin (page 338)
By Meyir Shiff (Tel Aviv) 
Three Volozhin families: Avrom Shif’s, Bunimovitsh’s and Mikhl Vaysbord’s leased the entire of Count Tishkevitsh’s estates. Those properties were extended upon 40,000 acres that includedr the hamlets; Adampol, Mikhalovo, Tshekovshtshina and Sakovshtcina.
Jews were prohibited, during The Russian Tsar’s rule, to live in countryside settlements (but not prohibited to live in some cities). For that reason the Jewish lessees had built their houses in town. In actually they lived most of the time on their country estates. It was possible, due the local authorities tendency to except bribing. Our family lived in Sakovstshina until 1914. During the time of The First World War we lived in Minsk. After the war ended we returned to Sakovshtshina. We found out that the count Tishkevitsh’s Flour ground mill, which was functioning by water, was completely destroyed by fire.  from Volozhin Region Pamyat’ Book, page 141

Water mill in Bogdanovo, Drawing by F. Rushtshina 
We bought a land parcel in Youzefpol and with our associate Kushevitski we built a flour grind and wood saw mill. We supplied high quality flour for Matzoth-baking to all the Jewish congregations in the region. We also donated slates to cover the newly built Zabrezhe synagogue.l

Etl and Meyir Shiff – Photo taken in 1948
The Shiff family was expelled by the Soviets to Siberia in 1940, where they survived the war. They made illegal Aliya to Israel, through Germany France and Cyprus in 1947. 
The Youzefpol Estate. (Page 386)
by Benyamin Kutshevitski (Kiryat Motskin) 
The estate belonged to the Polish landowner Mokashitski. Borukh Kutshevitski and Meyir Shif bought a portion of it. The property was beautiful. Two avenues that we named “The Love Avenue” and “The Separation Avenue” adorned the estate. In the center of a lovely Fruit Trees Park stood a giant arbor. It became our friends’ most favorite playtime location. The environs numerous springs provided chilled pure water that were used to nourish man and animal, to irrigate the vegetable gardens and to feed the grind and sawmill’s vapor kettle that was established here by our families. The engines noise could be heard all day and night. The mill sawed the huge wood trunks to be ready for export. It employed 40 permanent workers. In addition Hundreds of local laborers worked there during the busy seasons. The sawmill served also as a suitable work and training place for all the Jewish youngsters who were members of Beytar and Hekhalutz Zionist organizations from Volozhin and vicinity. Mastering the various tasks would prepare them for Aliya to Palestine and working there as laborers. The estate was situated 7 Km. from the rail station of Horod’k and near to Zabrezhe Hamlet where daily we used to send our mail by a messenger. The relationship with the residents of Zabrezhe were very close. Here we went to Rabbi Shadal to resolve religious; Kosher or Treyf food questions. During Saturdays and Jewish Holidays mornings we used to go there to join the synagogue prayers and after the service we will return home, back and forth by foot. During Kol Nidrey nights and the next Yom Kippur days all the members of both families stayed in Zabrezhe. During the evening of the Holy Day, after Maariv Prayer, Mikitka the mill-guard used to come to take us on the flour-mill cart home, where both our families would have the post-fast meal.
The two families took care for the children’s Hebrew National education. A kindergarten schoolmistress would be brought from Vilna. Grown boys and girls were sent to study in Hebrew Tarbut schools to Volozhin, Vilna and Oshmiane.
The medical help was quite primitive. The local “feldsher”, a non-Jewish unofficial paramedic, held it. He was drunk most of his time. We used his services as first aid only. In serious events the sick person would be transferred by horse harnessed carts to Volozhin. Once a “Hachaluts”-Hakhshara girl was carried for a doctor’s consultation to Volozhin. The hard journey on a bad road had caused the rupture of her inflamed appendicitis. The town doctor saved her from critical condition. Not always there was a happy end. In Ozelevitsh, our neighbor hamlet, the landlord Avrom-Itshe Levin’s son, stepped on a rusty nail. He died soon after he was brought to Volozhin from blood poisoning.
Our life on the Yuzefpol estate seemed to us like living in paradise. We loved the plentiful nature, the stunning landscape. Our economic state was good. We had all we needed. We hopped that this “Gan-Eden” would last forever.
The war broke out. The Soviets occupied the area. They nationalized our ground-Saw mill. My boyhood nest was destroyed.  

Part Three

Preparation (Hakhshara) of the Pioneers (Halutzim) in Yuzefpole.
By Leah Nakhshon-Shiff (Tel Aviv) Yizkor Book page 405 

Picture – Yizkor Book page 400 
A group of Volozhin born pioneers at Polak’s wood-saw-mill
From right to left : Shneur Kivilevitsh, Eliezer Lavit,
Etl Shuker, Moole Polak, Moosia Rogovin. 
Yuzefpol was converted into a training location for the Zionist pioneers. A group of thirty young people arrived there one day in order to be trained in living in common (kibbutz) and work as laborers to prepare themselves for “aliya” to Palestine. Some local workers were replaces by the Jewish boys and girls. It was not an easy task for them. However Mr. Kushevitski and Mr. Shif the Mil-proprietors have done all that is possible to help the Zionist youngsters to practice for their vocation to live and work in their ancient land and eventually to create a Jewish state in Erets Israel.
The “Hakhshara” Youth packed the empty rooms of Count Tishkevitsh’s large house. The quiet place turned to be a busy Zionist center. It was full of life, echoing with Yiddish dialogue and Hebrew songs.  

Part Four

Grand Father Rabbi Aharon Rapoport
(Named by error Rosenberg in the Yizkor Book- corrected by Ms. Miriam Levitan)
by Miriam Levitan (Rosenberg) – Volozhin Yizkor Book page 500 

Picture - Volozhin Yizkor Book page 500 

My grandfather was born in Volozhin in 1853. He was a very wealthy man. He spent most of his time on torah studies. He had rabbinical certification and his house was filled with ancient books. During his final years he became blind. Despite of his blindness he continued to study and teach the Volozhin residents Talmud pages every day. He was able to find the way to the synagogue all on his own. 
Grandpa owned many tar mills. In the forest that count Tishkevitsh’s owned he found tree roots from which turpentine, tar and wood coals were produced. Near one of those mills he built his house. He also build in Volozhin a large house in which for the first time in our shtetl history, running water was installed.
Grandfather was so rich that he could equip each of his six daughters with their on tar mill, a very generous dowry. His son, Moyshe Rapoport lived in the house that was equipped with running water. In association with Mr. Yosef Perlman he established a saw-grind-mill on the Volozhinka shore in Volozhin.  The count while visiting his forests, stopped one time to take a rest at the only house in the woods. Grandpa was at that point submersed in a grave Talmud subject, but seeing the count he immediately stood, to honor his unexpected guest. The count, looking at the heavy loaded bookshelves, asked the old man “Who is studying all this sources of wisdom?” “Its me” answered Grandfather. “Do you understand all of the writings?” “Yes, your Honor.” was the answer. The count remaining on his feet asked the old Jew to seat and said “I am the one who should be honored, to stand before a person so skilled in the mysteries of ancient writings”.
Grandfather was also very engaged with charities and benevolence associations. He assisted in the region found that was established to marry brides from poor families and also to help them later during hardship times. All who found themselves in distress would always find support in his house.
Grandpa Aharon Rapoport passed away at the age of 88. He was brought to rest on the first day of the Nazis entering Volozhin. .

Part Five

Our parents Wood-Saw & Floor-Grind mills
By M. Perlman 
Prior to the First World War our mother’s father; Hirsh Malkin, was the general manager of Mr. Heller's (the Millionaire ) Wood Works enterprise. He established the project main headquarters in the hamlet of Belokorets, near Volozhyn. The peasants, as well as the entire region were greatly invigorated; The Company accorded credit to the laborers to buy horses and tools. The Inhabitants earned sizeable amount of money while working in the woods. A decent life style became feasible for the residents of the Shtetl.

With grandfather’s advice our parents established a wood- saw – flour-grind-mill on the Volozhinka east shore. They received much help from grandpa. After ten years of heavy utilization, father with his associate Mr. Moyshe Rappoport decided to restore the machinery. A new engine & kettle were ordered in Danzig. The engineer, Mr. Pollak, arrived from Warsaw to supervise the infrastructure preparations.
The steam kettle transportation was an exiting event for us. Harnessed to a dozen of horses the sparkling steam was led through the main streets, it passed safely the Volozhynka wooden bridge and was installed at its place, on the freshly made foundation.
The Family invested all their savings and even some more in the mill renovation. The infected house on Vilna Street was dismantled but the overall works did not begin. Often I was sent home from school with a message asking for overdue payments of the tuition fees. At home the spirits were low. Father collapsed under the burden of his debts. Mother twisted in all directions to bind the edges.
Eventually the new engine was set in motion and immediately initiates advancement of the renovated mill fast forwards. The new facilities for white floor grinding appeared to be profitable. And the forest business with a fresh investor, flourished. The so eagerly anticipated “good times” finally arrived. After a short time our family moved into a more spacious place.
The horse-harnessed cart kept making his turns. First came the leather sofa "kushetka", then the wall hanging music clock, the big angled standing mirror, flowerpots, suitcases and peklah. They were all transferred through the wooden Bridge and discharged into a new four-room apartment at the entry to our saw & grind mill on the Volozhynka left shore.
On Pilsudski (Minsk) Street southern corner, some five meters high on the streams’ beach, was situated a wood constructed well with a tin bucket on a rope. Right beside the well passed the entrance way to the Perelman–Rapoport mill. Farther on the road, facing the street our new home was located. In that wooden house we spent our final three years in Volozhyn. Here we were exposed to the events of the first year of the war. Subsequently it will always remain forged in our memory.
Behind the house was a small fenced vegetables garden, with a rope made-swing suspended on two wooden poles for Sonichka and her childhood friends. In the window frame that faced the garden and the sun some bottles were arranged in which fermented fruit liquors could be seen. It was our Dad’s hobby, which he inherited from his Father.Sonitshka Perlman (sitting) and Etinka (Michl Polak’s granddaughter) on the rope made swing in the garden - 1938 

Some hundred meters behind the garden, following the water stream, the mills were located. I would like in a few sentences describe our family business. It was an interesting one. The reader should have in mind that all that I remember, I have seen as a young boy, so it is likely that I am exaggerating as to the dimensions of what I describe.
On the stream-shore, pumping water for cooling and steam producing, were installed the Engine and kettle. It used saw dust and wood offal as fuel. The engine was operated by the “Machine-man”, Mr. Kadirka, the mechanic. His helper the “kotshegar”-heater worked hard. His duty was to maintain the steam pressure, exposed in big figures on a round dial, by heating the kettle. He conveyed upon a hand pushed one-wheel cart the wood waste to the kettle room and poured it into the fire spitting mouth. Besides the machine housing, on the river shore took its place the black, tall, fuming and at some times whistling chimney. A visible, locomotive like, crankshaft mechanism transferred the steam engine linear movement to a big turning wheel. A large flat leather belt transmitted its circular movement to the long under floor-shaft, on which were mounted the further transmission wheels. Flat link belts transmitted in their turn the energy to the grind and saw mills installed on the ground.
The grain-grinding heavy stones were positioned on the upper floor. The peasants used to bring their grain-sacks to the mill gate. Mr. Lieberman, the weigh-man, was on the scale. Sometimes Mother, or Ms. Rapoport (our associate) would replace him. After the weighing and payment in cash or in grains, the sacks were raised in a wooden lift driven by the transmission to the upper deck. The peasant’s function was to empty his sacks into the big funnel above the grinding system, and to collect his flour in sacks from the exit beneath. A white dust always covered this building, and it smelled field, wheat grains and flour.
A bit farther over the transmission, inside a covered shed, open in two directions, were placed the two wood sawing machines. The machine (gatar) consists of a steel frame, inside which a set of saws is moving up and down. Vagonietka-carts, which were mounted on narrow railways, carried the trunks to the gatar inlet. Two iron sprocket rollers, installed inside the machine frame, rolled the trunk forcing it to pass through the sawing set. The boards were transported upon the rail carts to the other side of the sawmill plant (tartak). Here they had been stored in rectangular towers of crisscross-arranged planks.8

Gatar remnants – 1998 photo
Managing the sawmill was quite a complex business. The Volozhyn landlord, count Tishkievitsh’s official mangers sold it by auction. They divided the forest to sections. Before suggesting the price one had to check carefully the wood section to estimate the timber volume and quality, the expenses involved in the forest work, transportation and boards fabrication. Father claimed that the main part of business was the buying and not the selling. In the Russian and Polish languages a tradesman is called “kupietz”-buyer, not “prodavietz”-seller. Now, at our times, it seems to be the contrary. And maybe Father was not, or did not want to be a tradesman. I remember as in the synagogue, during chats with our neighbors, Volozhyn balabatim; father claimed to be proud for his managing and manufacturing skills and not for his merchant business.
During wintertime, the forest section trees were cut and cleaned from branches. The long trunks, each one loaded on two sledges, the first horse-harnessed, the second trailed, were transferred to the sawmill. The forest cutting and the trunks transporting, an action called “Zavoz” was- a limited by time- mission. It could be done during the “dry snow” season only. During the time when the snow was melting, the forest was impossible to approach. Therefore we would have a feast whenever the “Zavoz” ended on time. All the involved persons were invited, vodka with “zakuska” (after vodka food) was cheerfully and handily served, and the joy was immense.
I encountered Father during workdays often. He would be in the sawmill area, following the machinery and workmen functions, or measuring the incoming trunks volume.  
The sawmill area served as a huge playground for our children games and activities. The sawdust hill, which was piled up in order to heat the steam engine, was a perfect place for all kinds of games that required tunnels, pits and hills. The rectangular towers of planks arranged in a crisscross design served as ideal hiding and climbing spots.
However the best and most popular playing object was the railway cart-vagonietka, which was normally used for moving the trunks and boards. The cart was build as a rectangular wooden blocks frame, mounted on four iron wheels. It would move on a narrow railway by gravitation, or by hand pushing. The real pleasure had been the downhill descent while riding on the cart frame. Although, the cart-vagonietka rolling was not entirely legal. The quick heavy rolling could be quite dangerous. We used to do it on Sundays only, when the mill was not functioning and the area was free. Although often the amusement park lkike activities were interrupted. The mill manager used to supervise the area and when he bumped into unwanted intruders, he drove them away by shouting and hollering in the loudest pitch.

Vagonetka remnants – 1998 photo 
Our plant was situated on the east shore of the Volozhynka. It stood on the south side of Minsk road. Across the street a similar plant was established, it belonged to Mr. Mihal Polak. The rivalry between the mill owners was devoid of any conciliation. At my naivety I divided the entire shtetl in two camps, the evil one – Polak’s and the second one – ours. My foot did not tread on our “enemy” territory. In hard times our and their representatives called the grain transporting peasants to bring their goods into the “right” mill. At our mill Mr. Polak in some occasions was referred to as the “wicked man”. This was the situation before our Grandpa, Hirsh Malkin, built his home in Volozhyn. As soon as he moved to Volozhin he decided that he must try to resolve the animosity between the two parties. As a result of his efforts the situation improved and some communication had started.
After words by Moshe Perlman:
All the sawing-ground-mills were nationalized soon after the Soviets occupied the region. The owners of the mills were arrested and their families’ expelled. The families were sent to Siberia. Our Perlman and Polak families took a single room loge in a Siberian collective farm. We became best friends, but this is a different story.