By Reuven Rogovin
Translated from VYB P. 498 by M. PoratI recall with much warmth the Kivilevitsh family. The family was renowned for their dedication and self-sacrificing nature during the First World War. And this was their story. At the outbreak of the war, two Yeshiva-students were stranded in Volozhin. They could not reach their home towns since their towns were already occupied by the Germans at that point. Even worse, they were at an age in which the Russian authorities could draft them for service in the war, but they refused to serve in the Tsar's army. The Kivilevitshes took an enormous risk and concealed the young men in the family's apartment for three years (from 1915 until 1918). They knew that hiding "deserters" greatly endangered them: if they were caught they would receive very severe punishment, possibly even capital punishment.
The Yeshiva students returned home after war and told their parents about the kindness of the Kivilevitsh family. Their parents sent a thankful letter to Volozhin. The letter was very emotional and often brings its readers to tears. I've read this letter and I too, shed a tear while reading it.
The family's mother, Sima Kivilevitsh (nee Shriro) was born in Molodetshno. She lived in Yatskevo after marriage. She had a generous heart. Her donations to poor people were distributed largely and secretly, so as not to shame the needy.
Mother honoring was the cause of my first encounter with Shneur. The Volozhin Khevre Kadishe (Interment Society) would fix the burial place and its price on their own choice.
When his mother died, Shneur went to the Khevre Kadishe and pronounced these words: "All of you know who my mother was, and the good deeds she has done, you also know. Therefore choose the best place to which she can be brought to eternal peace and I will pay full price for it."
He would say Kadish not like a member of the enlightened circle, but as would be done by a simple Jew, at Shakharis (Morning Prayer), at Minkha (Midday Prayer) and Maariv (Evening Prayer), every day and without substrate. He did this without missing one single day during the Mourning Year. As it's written "the Fathers' is their sons' glory". Shneur had seen his glory and honor in the image of his mother. He might be an example in honoring mother and father for the children of our generation.
We prayed with Shneur in the same Klayzl. Both of us had places at the Orient Wall (facing Jerusalem). He inherited this place from his father Moshe. His father, who was a sage scholar, had bought the place at the honored wall before the First World War. Prior to his demise he donated his extensive Judaic library to the Klayzl.
I remember an event from Shneur's life that showed his national pride and readiness to passionately defend Jewish honor. The son of Vartman (the Volozhin district governor's (Starosta)) was a High school student in Warsaw. After lunch on Saturdays, Jewish families would take a walk in Count Tishkevitsh's park. The Gimnazist, who was an ardent anti-Semite, came back to Volozhin during his vacations and took a sadistic pleasure in taking his fathers horse and bursting into peacefully walking groups to create dismay among them, on more than one occasion hurting or wounding someone.
Vilna Street - Volozhin (Nineteen thirties)
The first house at left is the Kivilevitsh's
One day Shneur met me and said, "Reuven we must end this maltreatment of our Jewish inhabitants." We decided to put an end to the Volozhin Hooligan's mini-pogroms. And so it happened. Once when the Starosta's offspring entered the park on horseback, we stopped him, we pulled the rider from his horse and we beat him severely. When the gimnazist laid down, Shneur made movements as if he were photographing him and said, "If you complain to your father and tell him of this event, we'll send the pictures to your High School director in Warsaw to show him and your classmates how you were beaten by Jews and how you laid ashamed on the soil."
Our exercise worked, and he never said a word to his father or anyone else. He never again attempted his horse riding escapades, to the great relief of the Volozhin Jews.
Shneur reached the summit of his noble essence during the time of the Shoah. He loved his shtetl's cohabitants, and as the head of his local Judenrat, he did all that was conceivable to support them and to save their lives.
Shneur had the opportunity to save his life. However, he could not and did not want to abandon his wife Rachel and their son Yigal whom he loved more than his own life. He also knew that his escape would have brought instantaneous catastrophe to the Jews imprisoned in Ghetto.
Shneur was always encouraging the Ghetto captives to construct hideouts, the so-called "Malinas". He suggested that they hide there as much as they could since it was clear that the day of the massacre would soon arrive. Some Ghetto dwellers survived the mass slaughters inside Malinas, and when slaughter was over they ran out in the forest.
One day Shneur was led away by the Ghetto Politsay and murdered en route to Molodetshno.
Shneur bravely carried out his tragic duty until the very end. Hewent stoically to his death, knowing that he would not return from this trip.
Shneur's death was the death of a saint and he was bestowed the crown of a good name. It is known that this crown is more important than the crown of Torah and than the crown of royalty. Shneur's wife Rachel Kivilevitsh (nee Melzer) was a born Volozhiner. She taught Hebrew and natural sciences at the Volozhin Tarbut School.
Rachel spoke with her students only in Hebrew, avoiding Yiddish even during the breaks while the children in other classes spoke Yiddish. She was the sole Jewish teacher in the Polish High (Evening) School. Rachel graduated from a Russian high school and the Hebrew Seminar for teachers.
Translator's note: Rachel with their little son Igael had been exterminated in Zabrezhe hamlet (ten Kilometers from Volozhin). Her name appears on the martyrs list of Zabrezhe in the "Pamiat Memory" book (page 262), published by the Volozhin Region authorities (1996).
Rachel Kivilevitsh, Moyshe Meltser's daughter her name is written in the "Pamiat' book among the Zabrezhe victims of the Fascist terror, in the Belarus language, in Cyrillic characters.
"Meltser Rakhilya Moyshawna, born 1909"