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Flour grounding mill, Electricity and the first Cinema in Volozhyn

by Mihal Vand Polak,

Translated by Moshe Porat

From Volozhyn Izkor Book, 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 — Eilat site Volp 31.

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 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 for being Jew. During World War One he got 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 and 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, Nehama and their families, murdered by the Nazis in Volozhyn, May 1942.


Photos of Vand-Polak family members: page 8 Riva Sheyniuk (nee Vand Polak) Nehama Vand Polak michal Vand Polak

Dr. Hirsh Roznsteyn, his daughter Ester and Wife Yoheved-Yatia born Vand-Polak Volp 6,

Riva Sheyniuk born Vand Polak — Volp 22,

Nehama Vand Polak — Volp 24.