CHILDHOOD - VOLOZHYN 1924-1940
My ancestors lived in Volozhyn, for at least a dozen generations. The town frequently changed its sovereign. During the time of my fathers birth (1898) the shtetl was part of Tsar Nicholas of Russia terrain. Yet by the time of my birth (1924) the territory had already been transformed to Marshal Pilsudskis Poland (after years of wars were Germany, Russia, the Soviet Union and Poland intermittently took control of the Area.
I left Volozhin in 1940, during Stalins Soviet Union occupation of the area. By the summer of 1941 Volozhin was occupied by Hitlers Germany. The fascists murdered my grandparents in Volozhyn. With the final defeat of the Germans in the area (1944) the district became again part of the Soviet Union. However more then fifty years later, after the fall of communism, Volozhin became , and still remains a part of an independent Belarus. Belarus is now transformed into a new entity with its own language, borders, banner, president and history.
Hundreds of years ago Volozhin and the hundreds of surrounding communities composed the so-called "Litvak Yiddish Land". It occupied an area of approximately 500 x 500 Kilometers, which extended from the Baltic Sea coast to the Dnepr river on the East and to the Pripiat swamps on the south. This territory included Lithuania, Leetonia, the Bialystok (Poland) district and almost the entire Belarus territory.
The word "Belarus" means "White Russia". The local legend is that during the 12th 13th century when the Mongols invaded a major part of Russia, they did not reach these big forests, lakes and swamps located west of Russia. The territory therefore remained "pure" white "free of the yellow-dark aggressor".
The small kingdom of Lithuania was referred to as the Great Lithuanian Princedom, because of its well-organized governorship and efficient army. It ruled the whole territory. The great Prince Vytautasthe Grand (Vitold), desired to develop commerce and economy, and therefore welcomed the Jews that had immigrated from Germany and other western countries. Many Jews settled there and were allowed to form self-governed congregations- KEHILA. Most of the Jew lived in small towns (Shtetls) there they were able to preserve a traditional life style, and they spoke Yiddish- with a unique Litvak dialect. Although I spent my first 15 years in this Litvak-Yiddish- Land, I have never to my knowledge seen a true Lithuanian Christian (most of the local population was belarusian or Polish) and never heard a word in the Lithuanian language.
Nevertheless, to my knowledge all of my ancestors during the last two to three centuries were 100 per cent "Litvak" born.
The PERELMAN- ITSHAYKIN: my fathers parents.
My great-grandfather Yehoshua Anshel PERELMAN was the Vishnevo (a small village near Volozhyn) Rabbi. Before World War One he immigrated to Eretz Israel, where he changed his last name to "MARGOLIS" (Hebrew for "PEARL") and served as the town of Rehovot Rabbi. I am not sure why he left his children behind in Vishnevo. His son, who was my grandfather, was named MOYSHE PERELMAN (I bear his name). He married who was to be my grandmother, MALKA ITZHAYKIN, Rabbi Hayim Volozhyners Great-great-Granddaughter. Moyshe Perelman owned a vine shop and an insurance agency. They lived in the famous Volozhyn Rabbis house that was Grandmother Malka inheritance. My father Yosef, his sisters Haya Dina and Feygl (Fania), and brother Eli, were all born in this house. At the dawning of World War One the whole family left Volozhyn as the Germans were approaching the area. They spent the war years in Ukraine, In Nikopol on the Dnepr. The Perelman family returned to Volozhyn at the end of the war. Feygl and Ele had remained in Russia that became the Soviet Union at that point.
Before the German- Soviet war (1941) Grandmother Malka left Volozhyn and went to live with her daughter Feygl in Moscow.
The MALKIN-MARSHAK family: My mothers parents.
My mother Etl (Etia), her sister Zinah, and brothers Osher, Itzhok (Izia) and Mordhay (Motia) were born in Volozhyn. Her father, (our Grandfather Hirsh Malkin, Yoel-Moyshe Malkins son) came to Volozhyn from Lunna, a small shtetl on the Nieman river. He married our Grandmother Haya-Riva, the daughter of ShmuelOsher Marshak. She was born in Alitus -Lithuania.
Hirsh Malkin established his home in Volozhyn. As the head manager of the millionaire Hellers large forests operation company, he had a nice income.
The main office of the company was in Belokoretz, a hamlet in a forest near Volozhyn.
The family fled Volozhyn at the WW1 to Konotope in Ukraine and some family members returned to Volozhin in the twenties.
In February 2001, I received a message through Eilats site from Ms. Laurel Chertow Glikstein, Florida.
"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."
We thank this lady for the noble services her family offered our grandparents some eighty years ago.
After spending some 12 years, working in Mikashevitsh and Bierezno (West Ukraine, Polish Kresy), they came back to live in Volozhyn near their eldest daughter Etl, who was married to Yosef Perelman in Volozhyn.
The fate of the family during World War II;
Zina, Izia and Osher Malkin survived the war in France, Motia in Erets Israel.
Rabbi Hirsh Zvi Malkin and his wife Haya Riva lived in Volozhyn at the war breakout (1941). They were transferred to the town ghetto. The Nazis and their associates murdered both of them at the second action mass slaughter on Sunday, May 10th, 1942. This slaughter occurred in Volozhyn, near the ancient graveyard. May they rest in peace.
The PERELMAN-MALKIN: My parents.
My parents Yosef and Etl Perelman were married in 1923 and established their home in Volozhyn. They lived in a wooden house at Vilna Street. In this house my younger sister Sonia and I spent our early childhood. The family income came from the wood saw and the flour grinding mills (driven by steam), which our parents erected and managed on the Volozhynka waterside. In 1939 the Soviets entered the area. Shortly after our father Yosif Perelman was imprisoned by the Soviets with other business men and sent to the Goulag for being "enemy of the people" from where he never returned. A month later they expelled my mother Etia, my sister Sonia, and I to Siberia.
Sonia and I were born in Vilna, the biggest city in the area was where mother chose to bring us to this world. It was a whole day journey, by horse and by railway, forth pregnant, back with the newborn babies.
The Perelman family changed the location of their dwellings four times during our childhood in Volozhin. The first address was on Vilno Street. The house stood near the SAZHELKA, the shtetl water pond. The western part of the single story wooden house belonged to my mothers parents and was rented to the district court. We owned and inhabited the eastern side.
The apartment had four rooms: the sleeping, the eating, papa's "Cabinet," which contained two entrances, a large kitchen with a huge oven. The fourth room was rented. Some prized items I recall were the wall mounted telephone, the leather sofa "kushetka", the hanging musical clock, and the large angle armoire mirror.
The first image I am able to clearly remember from my infancy is of my mother sitting on a jagged pointed chair in the cupboard, beside the open fire of the tall white stove. She sent me to get the iron rod- KOCHERKE, to arrange the glowing coals.I was running fast out of the dark kitchen, with the rod in my hand, ready to give it to mama. Near the warm firelight, I bumped into the chair edge. My face was covered with a mixture of blood and tears. I was sure that I had lost my eye! Feltcher Avrom Tsart, the Shtetl chief medical authority was alerted. He put bandages and iodine on my face. The eye was "saved", but the scar and memory have been with me ever since.
In 1998 during our visit to Volozhyn, we found the house. 4 families now occupied it. I recognized the oven with its still original small wrought iron door. It was the place of my haunting first injury.
Russian was the first language I spoke. Our parents returned to Volozhyn after the First World War, the Russian revolution and civil wars. At that point the region was under the Polish rule. They returned from Ukraine. Father came from Nikopole on the Dnepr, Mother from Konotope, where they both studied in Russian schools. Both of them, especially mama, were well read in the classic Russian literature. They insisted, "The boy should speak the language of Pushkin".
Polish My parents did not know, the area was not part of Poland during their childhood. For Yiddish, "The boy will manage to learn it in the SHTETL courtyards" they said. The family was named according to the Russian manners, Mame Etl - Mama Etia, Tate Yosl - Papa Yosif, Mume - Tiotia, Feter - Diadia, Bobe - Babushka, Zeyde - Diedushka etc.
As for my true MAME LOSHN (mother tongue), eventually it became Yiddish. I succeeded to become skilled at a beautiful "Litvak" Yiddish dialect. It caused me many struggles at first, especially the "RrrrEISH", which I turned on my tongue softly like the SHKOZIM instead of pronouncing it roughly from the throat as my Jewish court comrades did.
I'm still astonished when I think about the linguistic tribulations of our childhood. At home I heard Russian, with my court comrades I conversed in Yiddish, and the housemaid's language was Belarussian - we called it "GOYISH", The main language in my Tarbut primary school was Hebrew and the authorities spoke to us, citizens of Poland, in Polish. It is a bit strange to require from six-year-old children to hear, to speak and to understand five languages. Nevertheless this was the way of life in Diaspora.
I remember the pride with which I would tell my friends about our Sabra sons speaking a single language, and better yet it is our own - Hebrew language.
Grandmother MALKAs HOUSE
The house of grandmother Malka, my fathers mother, stood at the northern side of the market square. Around 1800 Graph Tyshkevitsh, the Volozhyn and the entire district landowner, built a stone house in style of his estate mansion and offered it to his friend, Reb Hayim Volozhyner. The Yeshiva founder and his son Reb Yitsele were much estimated by the graph. Grandma Malka, Reb Yitseles great-granddaughter, inherited the big house. When She became a widow she lived in this house together with her daughter (my fathers sister) Haya-Dina. Haya- Dina married Yani Garber and had two sons; Dania and Monia (Moshe).
The main entrance to the house from the market side led to a broad wood staircase. On the opposite side, going down to the Yeshiva side and Beys Hamidrosh Synagogue were narrow steep steps. On at the bottom of the staircase stood the cellars in which my grand father stored vine bottles before prior to World War One. During the thirties, it was the meeting place of the Beytar youth movement.
Everything was enormous in this house. The rooms were large, the walls thick, and the windows through which you had a clear view of the yeshiva, were very high.
My cousin Monia Garber was tall. He was nicknamed Monie der Greysser (the big), while I was called Monie der kleiner (the small). And small, to my luck, was also my grand mother Malka. In contrast her house was very large by our shtetls proportions.
Babushka Malka was a gracious, beautiful woman, with totally white hair. We were not very close to her. We had Bierezno with my mothers parents. Grandmother Malka was preoccupied with her daughters children who lived with her. In the main room she had a piano. Dania was learning to play the piano. My grandmothers epigram was well known to us and frequently repeated by the family members "The teacher is already covered with gold and DANIE never stops playing the octaves". The octaves saved Danys life. The Soviets, arriving in our area in 1939, invited him to play piano far inside Russia. He did not return when the war with Germany started. Dania stayed in Russia and escaped the tragic shtetls destiny.
1934 , Clockwise: Grandma Malka, Sonitshka,
Monia (the author), Danie, Monie der greyser
My cousin Monia was two years my senior. I was always very impressed by his large postal stamp collection and by his technical abilities. All on is own, he constructed a radio receiver and he made it work 65 years ago in Volozhyn. Monia was also away from Volozhyn during the war. At the time of Stalins pre-war regime that lasted less then two years, Monia was a student in the towns high school; Monia jokingly erased the moustache of the Soviet leader on a newspaper that was pasted on the school wall. The Soviet did not share his sense of humor; he was arrested and deported to Siberia. Monia had the chance to be free and to join the Polish "Anders" army as the war started. As Polish citizens they were only allowed to fight in faraway areas. They left Russia to Iran and then to Eretz Israel. Here he encountered our cousins from Vishnevo (Tsherna and Bluma Rabbi Perlman-Margolis granddaughters). Monia did not settled here in spite of the cousins insistence. He wanted to fight the enemy. He continued with Anders army to Italy. Monia "the Tall", Malka Perlmans grandson, The son of the Volozhin Judenrat head, Yani Garber, soldier in the Polish army, fell at the Monte-Casino battle, fighting the Germans in Italy.
His father Yani Garber was born in Ukraine. He had a perfect musical ear. He was a great singer. When he joined the Beytar singing choir "taking" the harmony parts, the sounds became multi layered, a resonant harmony and, to my memory, a most wonderful choir. During the Nazis occupation of Volozhyn he was nominated as the Judenrat head. On October 28th 1941, he was ordered by the SS to assemble three hundred Jews in the cinema hall to be taken to work. Yani Garber accomplished his mission. The nazi commander told him to leave. Yani at that point realized that he was deceived; the assembled Jews were not brought to work, but to be killed. He insisted that he should share the fate of his community members. His demand was fulfilled. He was the first to be shot.
Let us revisit to the big house during the thirties. There were times when I lived there; when my sister Sonia fell sick with a childhood malady I was removed from our house to live with babushka Malka. After the passing of Haya Dina my fathers sister, our father passed the seven days mourning in the big house. Haya Dina had an appendicitis operation. She died under the surgeons knife in the tiny Volozhyn hospital. I remember my aunts covered body lying on the big chambers floor with clothes covered windows and mirrors. The funeral was typically Jewish, without any flowers, with three prayers a day at the Perelmans house.
The Perelmans were called the "Stone Skulls" (MOYER KEPLAH). The first reason was their stone habitation, the second one, not less important, was their erudition, education and behavior. The family head, Moyshe Perlman, was the single person in Volozhyn who used to receive daily newspaper and to read the magazine "Russkoye Slovo" "Russian Word". Aunt Haya Dina was always, (although she spent her day in the vine shop), reading a book. All the children graduated from high school and even attended Universities. (Ele was doctor; Feigl- an Academy of Sciences member). And among my Tarbut schoolmates, I had the only father that had a secular matriculation certificate.
Our grandparents Haya Riva and Eliyahu Hirsh Malkin moved during the thirties to Bierezno, a small town near Rovno. Every year when summer season was approaching, Mother would pack suitcases and we would take a long, long ride to Bierezno. It was a wonderful sizeable journey to an enchanted place. First in a peasant's single horse cart to the Horod'k rail station. Then we would eagerly await for the black steaming, smoking and whistling locomotive that was rapidly approaching the station, later the fields and forests would be passing through the window frame, and next the thunder like noisy passage over the Nieman and Pripyat' bridges. We would eat the tastiest black bread with cold calf meat sandwiches. I still have the taste in my mouth. After two PIERESIADKA rail changes, and a second horse cart transfer we would arrive to Bierezno at a late night hour.
If I will have to consider a place to be named PARADISE, Bieriezno would be my first choice. First of all my Babushka and Diedushka were "oozing" with kindness, then the great house and the beautiful gardens: The large house where our grand Parents lived was built from wood for a local squire POMIESHCHIK. Equipped with a large, open veranda it stood in the middle of fruit trees orchards. Apples, pears, plums, cherries, round red small PORECHKES, yellow oval AGRESS.- Beautiful, fresh from the tree, the most tasty, delicious fruits.
The house had a built in SUKE with a convertible roof that could be raised by pulling a cord. It was full with novelties, a bathtub with a true water faucet to fill it up. Nevertheless, the water had to be drawn from the well in buckets and transferred by hand into the boiling kettle.
A real camera on a tripod, that was operated by uncles Motia and Izia, all of them would be covered by a black sheet and we would stand motionless for long, long moments to be photographed; A bicycle made in Germany by DURKOPF the "world best" bicycles producer impressed me greatly.
But the crown of Bierezno was its river. Unlike our narrow, crossable VOLOZHYNKA, the Slutch was a very wide river, 20 to 30 meter wide, with a high steep shore on the village side and a sandy clean perfect plaza beach on the opposite side.
Amongst my anticipated Bieriezno pleasures were; lengthy sailings excursions with Motia and Izia in their rowing boat and swimming and sunbathing with tiotia Zina on the sandy shore of the scenic river.
1929, Clockwise: Grandma Hay Riva, Monia (the author),
Grandpa Hirsh Malkin Izia, Mama Etia, Motia, Zina, Papa Yosif
It was a shtetl, but very different from most others I have seen. Bieriezno was located in VOLYN', a Ukrainian territory dominated by Poland, mostly populated by Ukrainian GOYIM. The majorty of VOLYN Jewry was Hassidic.
Bieriezno orthodox congregation was ruled by a REBE who had his court of devoted Hassidim. He possessed a TISH - table, from which the Hassidim used to collect the festivities remnants, the so-called Shirayim. Those habits and practices we did not see in Volozhyn. The severe Volozhin Yeshiva and studious Rabonim was the Misnagdim resistance bastion against the influence of the Hassidic movement
The Bieriezno rebe was blessed with many sons and daughters. The whole shtetl celebrated the rebe's successor betrothal. When my uncle Motia was 85 he told me with pride, how many years ago his brother Izia, riding a genuine riding horse headed the Bieriezno coachmen, mounted on their horses to meet and to accompany the new bride from the rail station to the Rebe's house.
Here again some linguistic conflicts arose. Bieriezno residents were speaking a different dialect from the Volozhyn "Lithuanian" Yiddish dialect. They turned our "O" into a "U", our "U" became an "I". Our DOSS became in Bierezno DOUSS, and our HOUN became HEEN. Also the typical melody changed. The Bieriezno children listened with amazement to my strange speech and teased me "Der Loutvak".
My grandparents lived in Bierezno (Volyn) until the mid 1930s. Izia and Motia graduated High school in Luninietz city (next to Bieriezno). Izia and Zina left Poland to settle in France. Motia with his wife, as pioneers (Haluzim) have made aliya to Erets Israel.
The Grandparents prepared themselves to visit the children Zina, Osher and Izia in France. Before the long journey they asked Motia to come back and stay at the home. Motia left the HAHSHARA in Kolomyya and came home together with Irka Lilienberg, his schoolmate and girl friend. His father Hirsh Malkin could not leave the young couple alone. He followed them to make sure that their behavior was proper. One day, just before the anticipated travel to France he came home accompanied by a Rabbi, two men to be used as witnesses and a Stetson "kapelush"- hat. After the Huppe had been finished and the young couple was married, as it should be, the old Malkins could finally leave their home and the new couple peacefully, and travel on their way to Paris.
THE SMALL DECLINE DER KLEYNER BARG
Summer of 1930 we spent in Bieriezno with my new born sister Sonitchka. We came back to Volozhin to another apartment. A bad fungus infected our Vilna street wood house. The family was obliged to leave it for reconditioning. A Yeshuvnik, a so cold country Jew (a farmer), from Bielokorets (the Village where Diedushka Malkin managed Mr. Heller's Forest Contor before the first world war) has built a new house. Father rented it for our family to live in.
Volozhyn was positioned on the main way from Vilna to Minsk. The shtetl was composed from two parts. Vilna Street on the west with the Market Square in the center was called ARUFTSU uphill. On the other eastern side was the downhill part - AROPTSU. Aroptsu was built on two parallel slopes, the small one, Der kleiner Barg, ending before the Volozhynka; and the big one, Der Greysser Barg, beginning close to the Polish Kostiel, crossed the Volzhynka Bridge and reached the East town exit, to Minsk, to the Soviet border.
The Bielokortsers house was placed in the middle of the small decline. Mother would walk with me to school every morning. The primary language in school was Hebrew. Therefore we had to first pass a preparation class for speaking and reading Hebrew. In the higher classes we learned Jewish history, Tanah and Hebrew beside the requested by law general subjects like Polish history, geography, arithmetic and Polish language. We were in school the entire day, from eight in the morning until three or four in the afternoon, with a long pause in the middle. For lunch, we used to go home, a 5 minutes run. Our school way passed near the babushka Malkas house, beside the synagogue and the Yeshiva.
Our teachers came from surrounding shtetls. The school manager and arithmetic teacher, Yakov Lifshitz, came from Radushkevitsh. Yakov Finger, our Hebrew teacher, with his family came from Soll. With their son Benzike, my neighbor on the school bench, we were excellent friends. Our beloved class tutor, the school choir and orchestra conductor, Mr. Baykalski from Zheludok taught us Polish, history and Geography. Mr. Taller came from Lida to teach the holy Bible. Ms Rachel Melzer, our natural science schoolmaster, she alone was born in Volozhyn. She was married to Shneur Kivilevitsh (Yudenrat head in 1942). Rachel spoke to the children in Hebrew only, avoiding Yiddish although during the breaks we spoke Yiddish. To our teachers we called "schoolmaster, or schoolmistress" (Adoni, or Gvirti Hamore/a). Very polite, we stood up as they entered the class.
Across the street from our rented home, lived Freydele di Rebetsn, rabbi Avigdor Derechinski's spouse. We were in familiar relations. Freydele was our babushka, Malka's cousin, and a best friend.
Although Father was the Volozhyn prominent Rabbis descendant, he was not very religious.
Mother kept the home and food strictly kosher. The kitchenware and cutlery were separate, one set for meat and another for milk food. A special set was preserved for Passover. HOMETZ did not pass in our home. Father conducted only the first Passover night Seder, but never the second one, as was the Diaspora habit, and it rarely last after the meal to reach the Had Gadya. Grandfather Malkin used to conduct a real Seder with all rituals, sayings and melodies. He strictly guarded the afikoman from stealing. The boys worked hard to "steal" the well-guarded MATZA piece. They usually arrived to perform the theft operation when grandpa was deeply occupied with the kneydlah. The meal always ended with an obstinate negotiation about the price. The demand was very high, the offer very, very low. The resulting price fell somewhere in the middle.
During the important holydays like Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Sukkoth, Passover and Shevouot we dressed in our best clothes and went with father to the big synagogue near the Yeshiva. There father had a preserved place at the East Wall. The Most joyous Holyday in Volozhyn was Simhat Torah. In this happy day the boys prepared themselves on eve of the feast, by borrowing small Torah rolls called meguiles from the Yeshiva cellar. They each contained scripts of the prophet books. The real Hakofess (circling the synagogue) with multiple Torahs and meguiles in hand took place in the Yeshiva. The Yeshive-boys were joyfully with them the whole shtetl. They danced and sang songs such as "Ato Bohartonu mikol Hoamim Veytoyras emes Nota beyssoyheynu" and "You chose us from all nations and the truth Tora You planted in our hearts " lasted until late in the night. A tale was told in Volozhyn that once a group of Yeshive-layt learned that vodka is made from potatoes. It was decided to test the joy-enducing liquid fabrication. They put a kettle full of potatoes on the fire. During the boiling, the hungry boys did not cease to test the hot food. They satiated, and became HAPPY. This event taught the poor Volozhyn Yeshive-boys how to become FREYLAH without vodka, just boiling and tasting potatoes.
During Kippur day all the grown family members fasted. But we had never had a Suke. I was therefore very happy when Freydele invited me to her Sukot rabbinical diner. It was a home built Suke with a convertible roof, like in Bieriezno. Freydele, I believed, was the main personality in the family, but to my astonishment, she was deprived the privilege to have her diner together with her sons and husband. She served us a beautiful cooked gefilte fish. The Row had the head, Chayim, the eldest son the middle, The youngest, Yona received the tail and I contained myself and was very satisfied with a tasty spicy Litvak-gefilte fish ball.
Speaking about religion makes me recall the Sabbath skating event. Returning from his Vilna business trip Father brought us presents. Once it was a wonderful gadget, the first scooter ever seen in Volozhyn. The sloping sidewalk of our declined street was an excellent way to ride on the one foot "Hulay Noga". From another journey steel ice skates were brought. They were not made from wood like in Volozhyn, and not from common steel, but from prestigious in those times and places, "pure Swedish steel". I found this gift on a Friday mid winter morning. Returning from school we spilled water on the courtyard until it formed a small pool. At Saturday morning we had a tiny skating area. I utilized it ardently. My pleasure was big but short. The holy Shabes desecration reached our school management. Mister Taller, our severe Bible teacher, reproved me in front of the class and the skating sacrilege stopped.