Return to Volozhin Stories Menu



By Moshe Eliyaswhkevitsh,

Volozhyn Yizkor Book, page 382 (code 36)

Translated by M. Porat

Zabrezhe (Zabzhezie – in Polish) is situated on the way to the railroad station, thirteen Kilometers from Volozhin. It is a small village located on the Berezina (Bierioza) River shore. The Berezina flows to the Nieman River. The village is nestled amongst fields and forests, in which most Zabrezhe inhabitants found their bread earning. The local Jews would cultivate the surrounding fields and grew; rye, barley, potatoes and wheat.

Twenty Jewish families inhabited this village when I was growing up; three of them lived in Horod’k, the railroad station, about three kilometers from Zabrezhe.

Those families were: Yosef Berman, Khone Berman and the tailor-woman the widow Temka. Yosef Berman was an agent. He used to receive his goods in the railroad station and transfer them with horse-carts to Volozhin. Here he distributed the goods to the various merchants. Hone Berman owned a hostel and Temka made her living by dressmaking.

Harav (Rabbi) Shmuel Dovid Levin (ShaDaL), who was born in Bobruysk, was the village most prominent person. Reb Avrom Moyshe Bunimovitch brought him to Zabrezhe to be his son in law. Harav Shadal used to study Torah on both days and nights. He did not practice as the shtetl’s rabbi.

His father in law, Reb Avrom Moyshe Bunimovitz, was a wealthy man, a Jewish Poritz (land owner). He owned numerous spacious fields and a large house, which was located in the middle of a big courtyard. Reb Avrom Moyshe was a person who was blessed with some special "privileges"; he lived a long life and managed to know many of his great-grand children. Reb Zeharye Berman and Reb Menahem Mendel were also considered as part of the village’s elite.

The Zabrezhe Jews supported themselves by farming and by commerce. Aron Dudman owned shoes and leather shop, Duba Berman possessed a cloths shop and the third, Yehoshua Berman was a flax merchant.

Some of the Jewish farmers cultivated their own land. The others were land leasers, who worked on the land of the nearby landlords. They were true peasants that worked the soil and brought bread from the earth. It is suitable to recall some of the estate owners; there was a woman by the name of Mrs. Baranowska. She, her husband and their son the physician were considered by us as righteous gentiles. Mr. Baranowski was friendly with the local Jews, and as I remember he contributed materials to build the Zabrezhe Klayzl-synagogue.

The Klayzl has been the spiritual center of the village. Here was the nucleus of the Jewish public and cultural life. Reb Zkharia Berman practiced the Gabay’s (synagogue manager) functions. He did not behave like a typical noted person. On Fridays, he himself used to sweep the floor, to clean the tables and benches from dust, to amend the candles and to polish the candelabrum. Rabbi Zekharia, before Yom Kippur, used to hire a gentile (with his own money) to supervise the candles from time to time. In the synagogue’s arc there were carefully guarded three Torah scrolls. They were real novelty in Zabrezhe – the prophet’s books have been written on scrolls like the Torah books. The shtetl children used to participate at the Simhat Torah hakafot (encirclings), with these "small seyfer Torah’s " in hand. The Prayer’s readers were local Balabatim. As the Torah reader Rabbi Yehezkel Yahas was a regular, he died in 1940 and was buried in Volozhin.

There were never many Jews in Zabrezhe. In spite of it the parents used to hire the best teachers to educate their children. During the daytime the Jewish children attended the Polish public school. But in the evening they would be taught Hebrew and Judaism by Jewish teachers. The teachers used to be hired from nearby villages. They did their holy work for a minimum salary. Who among them had in mind to strike for better conditions? Torah teaching for its own sake was spiritually profitable for them. They did not stay in their own private apartments; they used to wander from house to house. Giving some of their pupils’ private lessons in their own homes. The teachers that I’m able to recall were; Rabbi Zvi from Volozhin, Rabbi Ariye Leyb Grinhoyz, from Lebedve (died in Volozhin 1945) and Rabbi Yekhiel Segalovitsh from Rubazevitsh. The last teacher was Rabbi Hayim Stolar from Vishnevo.

My Jewish studies were implemented in the Klayzl. During the long winter nights we used to study by the light of kerosene lamps, their shades ascended their radiance. Each student, in his turn, used to bring from home a bottle of kerosene to supply constant light to the lamps. I would never forget Rabbi Ariye Leyb Grinhoyz, my beloved teacher. He graduated from the Vilna-Hebrew-Teachers Seminary. We obtain from him our strong Hebrew language knowledge and our deep knowledge of the Jewish history and the geography of Ertz Israel. He made the Bible become alive for us. His explanations were very sharp. We were able to understand the newly emerging community in Israel, the community that was rooted by the Zionists. He taught us how to recognize the faithful connection of our land’s geography with its history.

Reb Ariye Leyb was a most devout Zionist. He had organized the Zionist Youth movement in the shtetl. The members were connected with the Volozhin Zionists. He founded in his room a Hebrew library. The first thirty books that he bought, he paid for with his private account. This library served the students as treasured spiritual source. Ariye Leyb was very dedicated to his pupils. During cold winter nights he used to accompany each one of us to our homes.

It has been said that Volozhin and Zabrezhe were like a main room adjoined to a waiting room. Zabrezhe seemed to be torn from Volozhin to forever stay on its main road. The Zabrezhe Jews were bound completely to Volozhin in every life realm. The nourishment and clothing, provided by the town was bought there. The deceased were buried in the Volozhin ancient cemetery. The ties were also in the medical service area. There was no physician in Zabrezhe, but a medical assistant only by the name of Hardiniets from Losk. When a person would become seriously ill, a doctor would be brought from Volozhin.

On the Riverside, it means in Zabrezhe, our ancestors lived generation after generation. They considered this life to be guarded by some civilized laws until the terrible deluge. It arrived and erased all that was dear to us. Only Temka and Judith Ginsburg remained among the survivors. The Zabrezhe Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. The Zabrezhe tiny ancient Kehila was annihilated on Hanukah 1942. Most active in the slaughter of the Jews were the local peasants, the Pashkovski brothers. They tortured the victims without any pity.

The images of our dears will be engraved on our hearts forever.