BENZION H. AYALON
Antopol Committee in Israel, Actively Assisted by
The Antepoller Yizkor Book Committee in the U.S.A.
Tel-Aviv, Israel, 1972
By Dr. HERSCHEL H. BURSTON
"The peoples of the world inscribe the names of their heroes and martyrs beneath statues and on great memorials. But who can inscribe the names of millions on a memorial?"
- Witness of the End
This is the story of a vanished world, the shtetel of Antopol. The material for this presentation was gathered painstakingly over a long period of time by a relatively small group of dedicated people who wished to preserve its memory and heritage for the descendents of its martyred. More than a history, this story is very personal because our parents, grandparents and great-great grandparents going back many generations came from this community. This is also a place whose many sons and daughters in years past left to seek a new and free life. Many achieved success and prominence all over the world - the United States, South Africa, Argentina, and other areas of the globe. We are the fortunate descendents of these hardy forebears and pioneers.
It is hard to imagine that only a few decades ago there existed a vibrant, living community called Antopol, with its men, women and children; its market place, stores, schools. Beth medroshim (Houses of Prayer), orphanages, Gmilas Hasodim (free loan society for the, needy), newspaper stands - all so familiar and so dear to memory. This little town was typical of hundreds of similar smaller and larger communities. And, like Atlantis, or some past people recounted in a saga, it suddenly vanished in the most bloody massacre in all of history.
But this presentation is for the living - to convey to
us, the "she'erit" or "last remnant" of' descendents, something of the
heritage, spirit and record of the life of this community which many of
us know only in an abstract and detached way. The task is too great,
and our resources too limited to write the whole story. This little
volume, condensed and translated into English, is both a record and a personal
memorial to a profoundly meaningful and warmly nostalgic past.
"Let us remember the day full of light,
The sun which gazed down on the bloody scaffold.
The clear blue sky which saw but was silent,
And the hills of ash beneath the blossoming gardens."
C o n t e n t s
of Antopol Yizkor Book
Chapter One History
Antopol / P. Czerniak
Our town / A. Ben Ezra
The Synagogue Court / Dr. P. Berman
R. Pinchas Michael O.B.M.
Rabbi Moshe Berman O.B.M. / P. Licht
The Belachovitzes / Rabbi M. Berman
The Roof Corroded / A. Warsaw
Chapter Two The Holocaust
War Years in Antopol / P. Czerniak
The Ghetto of Antopol / P. Czerniak
Memoirs of a physician partisan / P. Czerniak
Verdict without appeal / P. Czerniak
The story of a martyr / P. Czerniak
Survival / Ita Wolinets
Antopol in the years 1957-1959 / P. Czerniak
In Fire / A. Warsaw
Chapter Three Personalities
Yudel der Schreiber
Moshe Stavy (Stavsky) / P. Czerniak
Dr. Phoebus Berman / A. Ben-Ezra
Dr. Herschel Burston / P. Berman
Akiva Ben Ezra / E. Leidiger
Pintche Berman / A. Baraban
Abraham Warsaw / A. Baraban
Abraham H. Lieff
Chapter Four Landsleit Organizations
Antepoler Aid Associations in the U.S.A. / Ruth Rosenblatt
Antepoler Ladies Auxiliary of Harlem / Mrs. Lifshe Seidberg and Mrs. Mirke Seidel
A short history of the Antepoler Y.M.B.A. / Leon Wolowelsky
From Antopol to Argentina / E. H. Torniansky
The Gmilus Hassodim Fund / M. Polak
List of Pictures
Fradel Stavsky and Judith Feldstein in Siberia
Board of Directors of the Peretz Library
The Synagogue Court
The Brick Synagogue
Yeshiva Students from Antopol
Rabbi Moshe Berman O.B.M.
Mechiras Hornets Contract by Rabbi Berman
Family murdered by the Belachovitzes
Mr. L. London near the mass grave
Survivors honor the martyrs
Women partisans during the war and after
Permit for going out of the ghetto
A mother weeps over dead child
Part of Memorial Wall in Synagogue in Tel-Aviv, named after the martyrs
In front of Mayor Sirota's house
The market place
Yudel der Shreiber and his wife
Moshe Stavy (Stavsky)
Dr. P. Berman
Abraham H. Lieff
Rebitsin Walkin with friends
Mrs. Teibe Shagan and her class
Appeal of Antepoler Federation of America
A passport of one of the first immigrants from Russia to Argentina
Committee of landsleit in Buenos Aires
A reception at the meeting
Signatures of members at the meeting
Teachers and pupils of German public school during World War I
Engagement Contact by Rabbi Walkin
Tomb stones in the old cemetery
At the cemetery
A landmark in Antopol
A letter from Rabbi Walkin to Mr. L. Wolowelsky
At a Banquet of Israel Development Bonds
Jubilee of Antepoler Organization in Chicago
AT THE GATES
of the English edition
With a heavy heart and spirit, full with sorrow, I am writing in memory of our beloved Jewish community which was annihilated in our townlet Antopol, where I was born and where I spent my youth - the spring of my life. When I left our townlet Antopol in the year 1921 in order to immigrate to Israel, I parted from all my dear and beloved and from a townlet in which dear and fine Jews were living, satisfied with their fate, productive artisans, decently educated in Jewish tradition and spirit, a townlet which was renowned by its Rabbis and scholars and by the very old and nice synagogue and numerous Batei-Midrashim. Also the hard-working Jews used to spend there every day, early in the morning as well as till late in the evening in praying and learning Torah and in doing charity and aid to those in need, thus symbolizing the splendour of human nature which was found throughout all generations in Antopol for over 300 years. Much to our regret and sorrow, the bitter and cruel destiny cut off the life of the whole dear Jewish community, and all our good and bright hopes entertained by us and by them for the future, disappeared with their souls into the high heavens in Sanctification of the Holy Name, and their blood was shed by the Nazi and Polish murderers and their heirs, may their name be blotted out, Amen!
We the Antopol landsleit, the bereaved orphans, who left Antopol more than 50 years ago and emigrated to far countries overseas, with the ardent wish and aim to extend relief to our parents and families, who were left behind .in the old home, and numerous families did get relief at the end of the first world'war by their children, husbands and relatives who remitted the first-aid through delegates, and since them many families and youths, with the help of American relatives, did emigrate to all States of America as well as to Eretz-Israel, with the desire and hope to send relief for their families and take them out of the Polish antisemitic regime and people.
Alas, to our deep regret we were too late and had not the privilege to let all our beloved join us, so that it has just been left to us - the orphans to set up monuments in their memory. We have already erected many monuments, and now, with the publishing of the nice Antopol Memorial Book we have set up a really great and magnificent monument. The erection of this monument has taken many many years, since I met the first rescued remnant from Antopol who arrived in Israel, from whom I got aware of the heavy disaster which had befallen us with the annihilation of the whole beloved Jewish community of Antopol, of blessed memory. Since then I started outlining the Antopol plan marking all houses, just as I recalled them to my mind from the eve of the first world war, having contributed to the Book many articles which I had taken out of my memorial book, as I noted many years ago. I have also been active in demanding and collecting some material from local and American landsleit, who have very warmly responded in contributing plenty of material, pictures and money towards the publishing of this nice and monumental book.
Following our ardent wish and tendency that our Antopol Book should include contributions of our landsleit who knew Antopol, the writers and poets, who are capable of perpetuating the memory of destroyed Antopol, in eulogy and lamentation over the ruin and destruction of the Jewish Antopol community of blessed memory, and in this way publish the Memorial Book, in its proper form and appearance. We shall, however, refrain front being arrogant and giving compliments to ourselves. We did it because this is our ardent duty and devotion for the memory and honour of our perished families of our dear townlet Antopol.
I highly appreciate the activities of all devoted landsleit
of all the American Committees, with respect and gratitude for their nice
and gigantic help and assistance, which continues already for over 50 years,
and for their great help extended to our institutions that all of us, Antopol
landsleit in Israel highly appraise and appreciate with innermost gratitude,
all that they have done for us and for Israel, and especially for the magnificent
Antopol Book. I express my special thanks to our devoted friends:
Max Futerman, Leizer Wolynietz, Israel Pernik and to all those who assisted
us to discontinue the protracted delay in publishing the Book.
Your sincere and grateful Antopolei
H I S T 0 R Y
Prof. P. Czerniak
Antopol is one of about 30 similar little towns in Polesia, the greatest marshes-area in Europe. The district lies 150 meters above sea level, at 52 degrees 11 minutes N and 24 degrees 42 minutes E. The town is situated between Kobrin, Drohichin, Radostov, Zafrod, near the great marshes which extend south, east and north-east, and occupy about 56% of Polesia. Antopol, like other similar settlements, lies on a small elevation of land, but in its immediate vicinity we find already the beginning of marshes, especially to the east.
There is no river near Antopol, but 7 miles from the town lies the Karolevski Canal, 50 miles long, 20-30 meters wide, and 2-2,5 meters deep. As long back as 1795 the Poles began the project, which was finished by the Russians during the Czarist regime. The Soviets in 1941-42 deepened and extended it in order to adapt it to the shipment of vessels carrying wheat to Nazi Germany, and bringing back coal and metal ores. These were the times after the treaty between the German and Soviet foreign ministers. In the winter of 1941-42 they brought to Antopol about 5,000 prisoners from Russian concentration camps, who extended the canal and also built an airport for military use.
The zone, in which Antopol is situated, belongs to the border of the plateau separating the Baltic basin from the Black Sea basin. A smaller canal, named after Oginski, 30 miles long, 12 meters wide was dug in the eighteenth century. A total length of 1,250 miles of other canals was counted in 1935.
The ground water is very high in Antopol. Many wells were dug in the backyards in town, especially in the years 1930-1940, when cement pipes were manufactured by a local citizen, Podorewski.
Climate and Precipitation
The climatology of Antopol is affected by its being situated in an enclosed area, low and marshy, in a continent extending from the Ural to the Atlantic, from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. The summer lasts from the end of May till the middle of September, and the temperature is about 17.60C. In the summer there are western and north-western winds, sometimes also storms with rains. After the hot day come nights with heavy fogs rising from the marshes.
The winter is severe, full of snow which lasts three months, and the frozen water, especially in the marshes, serve for transportation. Spring is short, and this is the time when the marshes melt again. Autumn is usually a rainy season. Precipitation reaches 600mm per annum.
Geologically the soil has a granite basis with varying layers of lime and sand. During the Diluvial period the whole area was covered with huge glaziers. The granite hills prevented them from moving, and thus were formed the Polesian marshes. In these marshes began to grow layers of Torf, which occupy about a third of the area. In other zones we find layers of Kaolin and Black Soil.
Around the 15-16th century, after beginning to dry the marshes, they began to till the land in an orderly manner. Most of the good land belonged to different princes. In the 20th century, with the abolition of servitudes the land was parceled and colonization began in 1927-33. After World War II the soviets established two agricultural groups (Kolhoz): Pervomaiski and Gubernia.
Wild flora abounds in the region, especially in the marshy region. Large areas are covered with forests, which occupy 25-32% of the region, with 65% pine trees, as well as other indigenous species. These forests are full with mushrooms and berries.
The agrarian flora includes: Wheat, barley, flax, as well as potatoes, onions, cabbage, garlic etc. In Antopol itself there were many plots tilled by both Jews and non-Jews. The Jews perfected their production of industrial crops, mainly two: pickles and ganders for export.
The region boasts of riches in fauna. Forest animals include all the known varieties, from bears and wolves to rabbits and beavers. Hunting was therefore very popular in the area. Also fowl is abundant, and there is a variety of 40 different species of fish, as well as insects indigenous to marshy areas.
The population numbered up to 3,000 in good times, but
epidemics, pogroms and emigration did not allow it to grow. The majority
were Jews, and the others were: Polishuks, Bielorussians, Russians and
Poles. The inhabitants live in primitive huts, wore hand made clothes,
until manufactured goods arrived. Their countenance is pale, long
oval faces, wide foreheads, straight noses, auburn hair. Quiet people,
speak little and calculated, patient, conservative, not industrious, and
in spite of availability of water - unclean. The adults often sleep
on the furnace. The prevailing religion is Pravoslavic, but the peasants
believe in many superstitions. Poles began swarming into the area
in the 16th century. In various periods their immigration increased
or decreased. After World War I immigration increased and with this
wave came also the postman Chrominsky, the cursed hangman of Jewish Antopol,
OU R TOWN
Location and Origin
ANTOPOL (Antipolie, in the Jewish slang is situated near the railway Pinsk-Kobrin, 8 kilometers east of Horodetz and 28 kilometers west of Drohichin, in the subdistrict of Kobrin. district of Grodno.
The town is part of Polesia, known for its vast marshes and forests. Antopol is therefore known by its nickname "marshes of Antopol".
Near Antopol, on the west side, there used to be a large forest beginning from the road to Kobrin. To the south, on the road leading to the village Rusheve, there was another dense forest. In these forests used to roam wolves and bears, as well as dangerous snakes.
It seems that ancient Antopol began to develop from the Kobrin road, where the forest ended and stretched until the site of the old cemetery, which by religious law was outside the town limits.
When was Antopol founded? When did Jewish settlement begin there?
There is little documentation, which can be relied upon, and we must contend ourselves with assumptions that Jewish settlement in Antopol began about 1604.
According to documents in Polish, the town is mentioned in relation to the building of a monastery around 1718. In the same documents it is mentioned that the good lady Antonina Zamoiska built the monastery, and the town was named after her - Antopol, Antonina's town (=polis in Greek).
Changes in Government
The region of Polesia has undergone many occupations, following revolutions and counterrevolutions. In 1315-1341 Polesia was conquered by the Lithuanian archduke Gdimin.
After the unification of Poland and Lithuania in 1386, the Lithuanian archduchy opened its gates to Polish culture, and especially to its Roman Catholic religion. The Roman Catholic church extended its influence everywhere. Gradually and successfully it completed the Polanization of Polesia. This situation aroused the anger of the Cosacks and caused the famous Chmelnitzky Rebellion.
The Cosacks looted the country for two years. Much Jewish blood was shed in those two years in Polesia, until the Polish army drove out the rebels.
In the spring of 1706, the Swedes, led by Karol XII, declared war on Poland, but the marshes of Polesia caused them to withdraw in the same year.
History does not give us details about the fate of Antopol Jews in those years, but in Jewish folklore there remained the saying "it remembers the Swedes" as signifying an old story.
Poland was saved and remained intact until 1772, the year of its first partition. In 1793-1795 Russia annexed the districts of Minsk, Vilno, and Grodno. The district of Grodno contained the following 8 sub-districts: Grodno, Lidda, Novogrodsk, Slonim, Volkovisk, Prozhani, Brisk, and Kobrin. Antopol was then part of the subdistrict of Kobrin.
In the 1812 Franco-Russian war, Antopol also took its share of misfortunes. During the battles in the town the inhabitants suffered much and the Jews most of all.
The Polish residents were not happy under Russian rule, and tried twice to rebel against the foreigners, in 1830 and in 1863, but they failed in both attempts.
These Jews supported the Poles. They provided them with food and shelter, even though the Poles did not forget in the Jewish shelter to shout at their saviors: Filthy Jew, take off your hat!
The Russians did not forgive the Jews for harboring the Poles, and punished them very hard for their support of their enemies. Punishing Jews was an easy undertaking under Czarist Russia.
The land of Antopol and environs belonged to the squires, the noble landowners, and the Jews used to pay taxes. In 1904 the Jews paid taxes to Lady Sofia Dmitrivna Voitosh. Her property in land was immense and her business manager was an Antopol Jew by the name of Mordechai Sheinboim, through whose initiative she did for the Jews of Antopol many favors.
The region had been resting from wars about 100 years when World War I broke out. In the summer of 1915 the Germans conquered Antopol. Many Jewish houses were burned down and the Jews settled in the houses of the gentiles who had fled to Russia. The few Jews who remained reorganized life in the little town but the German rule was very strict. The young people were hurt most of all. They were seized and sent to labor camps. The German conquerors began to establish German public schools to spread the German language and culture.
Antopol was under German rule until November 1918 when the Germans began to return to Germany. Anarchy spread in town. When eventually Antopol was annexed to the new Poland, "legal" terror began to reign. The Polish regime protected the terrorists who continued to loot and riot. Later Antopol became a zone of fighting between the Russians and the Poles. In 1919 the Bolsheviks arrived in Antopol and they began to introduce their "new order". They did not stay long and the Poles returned to Antopol. Upon their return they avenged themselves on the Jews who suffered much during this period,
The region began to quiet down, and the population began to rehabilitate its life, when Poland and the Bolsheviks began fighting in July 1920. At first the Russians succeeded in getting to the gates of Warsaw, but finally the Poles repelled them. In the meantime the soldiers of General Beldchovitz, leader of the White Russians, join forces with the Poles. This union is written with blood and tears in Jewish history.
In 1921 a truce was signed in Riga and Antopol was incorporated in Poland. The Polish government introduced strict laws against the Jewish people, including compulsory education in Polish schools and service in the army. In spite of that many Jews excelled themselves in their army service.
When World War II broke out, the Bolsheviks took over Antopol and environs.
The Soviet regime lasted, for better or for worse, until June 1941, when the Nazis crossed the Russian border and conquered all of Poland and the Ukraine, on their way to Moscow and Leningrad.
Under the Nazis, the Jews of Antopol were persecuted, tortured, imprisoned in a ghetto, but they did not surrender. They fought back, joined the partisans and took an active part in the underground. But eventually they were executed and murdered by the cursed Nazis.
In July 1944 the Red Army reconquered Antopol, which is now incorporated in the district of Kobrin in White Russia, but her Jews, our dear families are no more. Thus came an end to Jewish life in Antopol.
Economic Life in Antopol
We do not know much about economic life in old Antopol. We also lack information about its Jewish population in those years. Nevertheless we know that the Jewish population was constantly increasing.
About 200 years after its establishment in 1847 the Jewish population numbered 1108 inhabitants. By 1860 they increased to 1259 out of a general population of 1563. If we take into account the fires in town which drove away many people, the net increase is remarkable.
In 1897 the Jews were already in the majority, 3137 out of 3867. In 1904, when the total population numbered 5235, the, Jews accounted for at least half that number. During that period the town developed, roads were extended and the side streets were inhabited by Jews.
What did the Jews do for a living? What caused them to spread out? Most Antopol Jews tilled the land, grew potatoes, onions, carrots, cucumbers etc. Those agricultural workers were called Morgovniks and worked the land in the back, of their houses, especially along the roads to Pinsk and Kobrin. Some worked by themselves and others employed gentile hired workers. The vegetables were loaded on wagons and sent to the markets in nearby towns.
In the beginning of the 20th century an industrial crop came to the fore - pickled cucumbers, which were stored in cellars to protect them from the cold. Later they were sent as far as Warsaw.
The second agricultural industry was the goose trade. They used to import them from far away Russia, feed them and raise them in special “poshornies”. When they became fat, they were transported to Lithuania or to Germany.
Merchants and commercial agents from other towns used to come to Antopol, and Antopol merchants were also constantly going to Vilno (capital of Lithuania).
There were also other enterprises in town, such as mills, brick factories, lime factories etc. In the middle of the town stood the market place, numbering 42 stores.
On Sundays the inhabitants of the neighboring villages used to come to Antopol for the weekly fair to exchange goods in the local market which attracted also merchants from far away. There were also two yearly fairs which were famous all over the region.
In 1840 when the Royal Canal was dug from Pinsk to Horodetz, a local Jewish contractor supplied workers for the project. In the 1880's, the Lifshitzes, famous forest traders, supplied lumber for a regional railway.
Another large project was the road between Horodetz and Antopol in 1908-1910. This road gave Antopol access to the Horodetz railway station.
A traders loan association began operating in Antopol in the beginning of the 20th century. Merchants were granted loan without interest from its bank. Its chief accountant was Peretz Gurewitz.
In the period between the two world wars a Gmilus Hassodim Fund was established following the initial hearty contribution of Mrs. Esther Comblum from the U.S.A. This fund was a significant aid in the economic development in Antopol.
About 1928 a bus line was inaugurated, connecting Antopol with Kobrin, thus helping also the trade of the town. In 1935 a small power station was constructed to supply electricity and power.
The U.S.A. was an immense source of income for Antopol. Many men who had emigrated to America used to support the families left behind. After World War I the amount of aid increased, especially when the Polish regime proclaimed restrictions on the Jews.
Two waves of emigration began then: One to Israel and the other to South America. The Jews who emigrated from Antopol were the ones who remained alive to tell the world of the destruction of their birth town and the murder of their families by the Nazi inhumans.
Culture in Antopol
Antopol, like many other Jewish towns in Polesia, was a religious town. Religion was the framework for everyday life. The rabbis were the leaders in all walks of life, and everything went by religious law. Even some young people who "went astray" did so within the religious sphere. Such a man was Dr. Israel M. Rabinowitz, son of the rabbi Moshe-Hirsh, who went for secular studies, and became known as the translator of the Talmud into French.
The thirst for knowledge spread more and more, and the public demanded teachers for Hebrew, Russian, and mathematics, and when they were brought - they had an increasing number of students for these subjects.
The social movements during the Russian revolution had a great influence in Antopol. Antopol Jews tell about Fradel Stavsky, one of the organizers of subversive activities in town. She was exiled to Siberia. Zionist movements followed and many young people joined them.
Young boys and girls learned also in Russian public schools and continued in high schools in Brisk and other cities.
The traditional Heider was reformed by Reb Aharon Lifshitz (Lief). The reformed Heider was later followed by another one established by Reb Israel Wall-Wollowelsky, who introduced also a teacher for the Russian language.
A private school for girls was conducted by Mrs. Teibe Shagan. Also private teachers were brought to teach languages and sciences.
After World War I a Hebrew School Tarbut was founded, in which Hebrew was the current language. There was also a library called "The I. L. Peretz library".
Talmud Torah schools and Yeshivot were opened in town and Jewish studies gave the tone until the Soviets closed the schools and the Nazis executed the population.
Colonies of Antopol Jews
Jews from Antopol spread also over Russia and Poland. Already in the 1880's there were famous branches in Kishinev and in Warsaw.
An important center for Antopol emigrants was the U.S.A. Although it was far away, one had to prepare a passport, cross frontiers, and travel by boat 2-3 weeks, and upon arrival they could not observe religion as they used to back home, but the desire to wider horizons overcame everything. They used to come to New-York and Chicago, and other metropolitan cities, where they could make a living and build a home, but people went also to Brownsville which was nicknamed "Jerusalem of America" on account of its Jewish population. There they established a union with emigrants from Kobrin and Horodetz called "Hevra Gmilus Hassodim Agudas Achim Anshei Kobrin, Horodetz and Antepolie".
One helped another to settle in the new country, but some did not find their place and returned back to the old country.
Many of Antopol immigrants in America advanced themselves in American industry, like the Farbers in silverware and Margolies in gas stations. In music we all know: Cantor David Putterman who was dean of the cantors association, and Roberta Peters (also a Putterman) star of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
In science Antopol is represented by: Prof. P. Berman, who was director of the large hospital in Pasadena; Dr. M. Kletsky, for many years chief dentist of Arbieter Ring and contributor to professional magazines; Prof. Herbert L. Henderson, who took an active part in the development of the first atom bomb.
Antopol Jews have earned prominent places also in Chicago. They established organizations and various associations. Their synagogue in Chicago was famous in the city. Rabbi Jacob Greenberg founded the “Beit Midrash LeTorah” in Chicago and presided over the institution all his life.
In Argentina there is an, important chapter of Antopol landsleit, especially in Buenos Aires, and it is said that they were of the first immigrants there.
In the building of the State of Israel the Jews from Antopol wrote (and are still writing) a brilliant chapter.
The Holy Land was always the dream of the Jews in Antopol. Already 200 years ago they began coming to Israel. Seventy Hassidim of the followers of Hagra came to Zefat in 1808. Others came individually in the same century, like Reb Moshe Ben Akiva and Reb Moshe Zvi, Reb Benjamin Yahalom and Reb Jacob Benjamin, Reb Nethaniel Haim Pape and his family, and the whole Saharov family.
In 1960 our dear brother, the late Prof. P. Berman wrote a letter to the governor of Antopol. In his letter he inquired what had become of his birth town. After two years came the answer in the form of a newspaper article in the local paper published in Minsk, capital of White Russia.
The reporter described a Jewish citizen named Isaac Berkovitz, who told him about the suffering of Bielorussians, Jews and Poles. He did not point out that the ghetto imprisoned only Jews and that the Nazis killed all the Jews with the help of the local population.
He tells happily about the progress which the Soviet regime brought to town. He tells about schools, libraries, bookstores etc. but no Hebrew or Yiddish is mentioned, because no Jews were left to enjoy it.
There is a church in town. But where are the synagogues and the prayer houses? Why does he not mention any of them?
And so, with this report we seal a 300 years chapter of the Jewish community in Antopol.
Yisgedal viskadash shmai rabah!
Dr. P. Berman (O.B.M.)
THE SYNAGOGUE COURT
We called it in Yiddish Shul-Heyf (-court, plaza). It was a "court" in the center of the town, around which were grouped the religious and communal institutions of the Jewish community. This was probably the center of the first Jewish settlers in ancient times, and from here they gradually spread out to the other parts of the town of Antopol, extending pretty far out.
I remember that, when I was a boy, the court was the only paved, or, rather, cobbled, area in town, and was therefore less severely affected by the large puddles of water in the, fall and in the spring.
The court was square-shaped and surrounded, on its four sides, by: The "Cold Synagogue"; the two Beiss Medresh (=prayer house), one “new” and the other "old"; and the Beiss Horav (-rabbinical residence). Behind the “old” Beiss Medresh stood the Bod (-communal bath-house) and the Hekdesh (-poorhouse, hostel). There, too, began the old Jewish cemetery.
The "Cold Synagogue" was the tallest building in town, excepting the Greek-Orthodox church, which stood in the market place, a distance away from the Jewish synagogues.
The architecture of the "Cold Synagogue" was of the well-known type of the Jewish synagogues of Poland and Lithuania, as depicted in literature, and I have seen pictures of such synagogues which looked to me like copies of our own.
I do not know how old that synagogue was. It must have undergone many repairs and thorough rebuilding in olden times. I remember it as a solid edifice, clean-looking, devoid of any external ornaments and, in my boyish eyes, the greatest and most beautiful building in town.
There was a Polesh (-lobby) in the synagogue, and to its right there was a chapel which served as a classroom for one of the classes of the Talmud-Torah (-Jewish early public school). The main classrooms were located in the “Old Prayerhouse”. The chapel was also used for daily prayers on weekdays.
To the left of the lobby there was a room, which was used as the center of the Hevrah Kadisho (-burial society), for there were to be found the Tohoroh-Bret (-cleansing board) and the Mittoh (-couch for the dead) as well as other utensils. As boys we used to avoid getting near that place, being afraid of the assortment of burial utensils.
The tall Gothic windows were situated about two floors above the ground, right under the ceiling, and therefore permanent darkness reigned inside the synagogue. Even the walls were painted dark grey. A small metal-frame hung on one of the walls, containing a Matzah (-unleavened bread).
The ceiling was a dome, resting on a single rafter, which was etched out with designs like a pleated Halla (-Sabbath loaf). It was painted in white-and-gold and extended from wall to wall. The domed ceiling itself was decorated with figures of animals - deer, lions and even, as I recall, the mythological unicorn. Underneath the animals were painted the twelve planets, with Hebrew legend. Hebrew captions were painted also under the animals, quoting verses or idioms like Swift as a Deer, or Mighty as a Lion, etc.
As a child, I was strongly attracted to the pictures described above, and I could never have my fill of contemplating them, whenever I had the opportunity.
In the center of the synagogue, nearer to the doorway, stood the Bimah (-pulpit), while at the Eastern Wall, as usual, was the Ark containing the Sifrei Thorah (-Holy Scrolls), and on top of it - over the various designs - were drawn two hands in the position of the priestly benediction.
In a corner of the synagogue stood the Chair of Elijah, on which used to sit the Sandak (the man who holds the male child on his knees during the ceremony of circumcision). Nearby there was a large copper vessel on a stand, filled with sand, into which were thrown the foreskins.
The women's section was on the second floor, over the lobby and the chapel. This section was fairly large. Its Eastern Wall was built up only to half its height, and protruded into the main synagogue like a gallery with grillwork, through which the womenfolk could look into the men section and follow the reading of the prayers.
The Cold Synagogue was used for services on Sabbaths and holidays. Unlike the prayerstudy-houses, it was used only for prayer and the recitation of psalms.
Many legends circulated in town about the Cold Synagogue. It was said that a great rabbi once blessed it that it would never be consummated by fire. As a result, the synagogue survived the numerous fires which had happened in Antopol. Another legend related that one of the Poreiches (-curtain of the Ark) had been bought from a Cossack who had it salvaged from a synagogue pillaged in the time of Bogdan Khmelnitzky's massacres of the Jews.
One of the earlier sextons of the Cold Synagogue was a man by the name of Avreml, a small statured old man, who used to find enough strength to come to the market place every Friday at eventide to call the people to finish their business and trade and go to the synagogue.
The sexton in my days was Elyeh, a handsome man with a wide red beard. He also served as teacher in the Talmud Torah classes, which took place in the chapel of the Cold Synagogue.
The New Beiss Medresh was not really new. The "old" one was a much newer building, but it was erected in place of the older prayer house which had been destroyed by fire and therefore kept the name.
The New Beiss Medresh consisted of two large rooms, divided by a long brick stove which separated the men’s section from the women’s section. Here worshipped some of the leading Jews of Antopol, such as Reb Hersch - one of the three rabbis who reigned in Antopol after the demise of the religious leader of the prayer-house, Reb Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory, who won great fame among the leading rabbis of that time. Other notables were:
Efraim Lifshitz - the richest man in town, and his family.
Shmuel Sborschik - the starosta (-mayor, elder) of the town. He was also the Reader in the Scrolls and, on High Holidays, the leader in the services.
Chaim the hunchback - one of the important storekeepers in the market place, owner of the only two-story brick structure in Antopol in which the town's pharmacy was located.
Reb Hatzkel the Rushever - an impressive-looking man, a great scholar and so much engrossed in his studies that he was hardly conscious of the world around him. He used to read and interpret for the congregants the Book of Ein-Yaakov, a collection of stories, parables and homilies selected from the Talmud and Talmudic literature.
Reb Yaakev Chaim, the sheyhet - the ritual slaughterer, was a shrewd man who took an interest in many communal affairs, and was one of the main leaders in the welfare societies in our town, which occupied themselves with charitable and other communal activities.
Leizer, the sexton of the "new" Beiss Medresh, was a tall, powerfully built man, with a long beard and nimble in his motions. I recall how, on Friday evenings before sundown, he used to walk with vigorous strides from bench to bench, lighting the numerous candles of the large candelabras. The function which he performed in the prayer-house was his secondary occupation. He drew most of his livelihood from bookbinding. At his place I always found many books in different languages which were entrusted to him by the Polish and Russian nobility of the manors around our town Antopol. At that time there was no general public library in town, and Reb Leizer's bookbinding establishment was thus the only place where one could find so many old and new books. I believe that that was where I first acquired my urge for reading books. I used to spend a great deal of my time there, because Leizer's son, Ahron, was my close friend.
The Old Beiss Medresh had new walls, although - as mentioned above - it was called "Old". As a matter of fact, even after the rebuilding of the prayerhouse, they left a few wooden pieces of the old edifice in their place, following the instruction of Reb Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory.
The path between the Old Beiss Medresh and the rabbinical residence was paved with several wooden planks, to enable the rabbi to walk the path without stepping into the mud and soiling his shoes.
The Old Beiss Medresh was a much larger and much more modern structure than the new one. The entrance faced directly the entrance to the rabbinical residence. There was much room for worshippers and students. The long tile stove occupied nearly all of the Western Wall, behind the pulpit. Long tables stood along all the walls in the prayerhouse. Here, too, was a chapel, in which there were classes of the Talmud Torah. The women's section was on the second floor and had a separate entrance.
As mentioned above, the prayerhouses were used also as houses of study, in which young men spent their whole days at the folios of the Talmud or the codes. One of these students was Yaakev Shleyme Henech's. The father, Shleyme Henech, ran a coach service which brought each week goods from Brest-Litovsk for the Antopol traders, but he, too, like the others, dedicated much time to study.
My father used to spend most of his time in the Old Beiss Medresh. I, as a child, used the place as part of my home. On coming back from the Heider (-Hebrew religious school) during weekdays, or on Saturdays and holidays, when there was little homework to be prepared, I would stop off at the prayerhouse. When I grew up, I used the place of study for learning under my father's supervision.
Some of the many congregants who worshipped at the prayerhouse, left interesting impressions in my memory:
There, was Yekussiel, Beile Chanke's, who used to sit at the corner of the Eastern Wall near the Ark. His wife, Beile Chanke, was the provider who carried on the business for the whole family. Reb Yekussiel spent all of his time in the prayerhouse. He was a short man whose beard and earlocks were dark black, and he had a quiet somewhat hoarse voice. He was always studying, and took little interest in worldly matters. His two sons were the only young men in my memory of the Beiss Medresh, who had long black beards.
Then there was Bezalel Troika, who owned a dry goods store in the market place. I remember him as the Reader, the man who used to read the portion of the week, or of the day, from the Scrolls, on the Sabbath and on holidays. He was a very learned man, but very naive in respect to many things. In matters concerning every day life he displayed childish simplicity.
Here worshipped another mayor-elder, Reb Avigdor Sirota. He was one of the leading Baalei Batim (-house holders) in Antopol. Because of his official position in town he was involved in all relations between the Jewish community and the Russian authorities, as well as taking part in all communal and philanthropic activities. In the Old Beiss Medresh he occupied a prominent pew.
Reb Binyomen, the Rosh Yeshiva (-Dean of the Yeshiva) was a fine-looking elderly man with a flowing white beard. His title had nothing to do with his occupation, at the time that I knew him. He lived near the synagogue-court and had a soda-water business.
Another one of the regular worshippers in this prayerhouse was Shmuel the Scribe, a miniature man with a dusky face, who was always busying himself with communal affairs. You could often see him in the midst of a crowd discussing local politics, especially on late Saturday afternoons, before the evening services.
Avreml, Shmuel Farber's was one of the leading butchers in our town, an ardent follower of my father's. I often used to see him early in the morning already busy with the Mishna study group of the congregation, the Hevra Mishnayess.
Yankl the Healer, was one of the most attractive personalities in the Old Beiss Medresh. He was indeed an expert in the medical sciences of the day, so far as general practice went, and was called for help, much more than the Polish doctor. Thus it was that the state of health of the town depended very largely on Reb Yankl. He also took an active interest in all leading local institutions. He was honest, honorable, and devoted, and did nothing but good for all the inhabitants of Antopol.
Avrom Aron, the old man, used to spend the whole day in the prayerhouse, studying. I do not know what he did in his youth. In his old age he took his meals at the houses of charitable people, each of whom donated a day's meals per week. It was called "eating days". He spent his days near the large tile stove, bent over a folio of the Talmud or some other book. As a child, I always marveled at his spectacles: one frame had a tin-piece instead of a glass lens, and the other frame was hollow. He did use a lens when reading, but that he held in his hand over the text. He would explain that one of his eyes did not function at all, and the other could see better through the empty frame.
The Old Beiss Medresh had two sextons: Gedaliah, the chief sexton, and Yankl Menkes, his assistant.
Yankl Menkes used to do all the hard tasks such as sweeping, heating, and cleaning the building. His ritual functions, so to speak, consisted of reciting the Psalms and the Slihos (-prayers of penitence) during the weeks before the High Holidays. He was also one of the grave-diggers of the burial society. Naturally, he was a very poor man and his wife supplemented the income of the family by working for the more prosperous households. Gedaliah himself, the chief sexton, was also the general manager of the congregation. He handled the accounts, looked after the collections, etc. During the services he called the man for attending the reading of the Torah, and he also made the Mi Shebeirah (-blessing after reading the portion of the Torah). Frequently he also led services or read from the Torah substituting for others. Outside his functions at the prayerhouse, he was a master of all trades: He could build a house, a brick-stove, do carpentry work, and other skills. Once, when he was carving an inscription on a stone monument, his hand was injured as a result of an explosion of the material and he was confined to the hospital for a time. When he came out he had a stiff arm which he could not use. Nevertheless he continued to work with one arm. Gedaliah was killed in the war between the Poles and the Bolsheviks in 1920.
In the evenings the prayerhouse housed study groups seated at the lit tables: Talmud-study-group, Mishna-study-group, Ein Yaacov study group, and individuals, usually young men, who spent their time studying for themselves. The chanting of the scholars filled the house day and night, except during services. Sometimes the prayerhouse would be lit up all night, when young Talmud students "kept watch" all night over their studies. This all night study was known as Mishmar (-watch). It was usually from sundown on Thursday till sunrise on Friday.
The Beiss Horav (-rabbinical residence) was a fairly large house which was probably built in the days of Reb Pinchas Michael. It had five large rooms and a kitchen, and a built-in Succah (-tabernacle) which was used most of the year as a pantry, and on the Succoth Holiday - for its original ritual purpose. The large baking oven and the long heating stove which obtruded into every room keeping the whole house warm in the winter, occupied a substantial portion of the house. The large dining room served also as a waiting-room for the many people who came to see the rabbi, and as a "sales-room" for yeast every Thursday, since this was the major source of the rabbis income. The many shelves, which filled the room from the floor to the ceiling, were lined up with old books. A few years after the demise of Reb Pinchas Michael, his eldest son, Avrom Meyshe, took the books to his home in Brest-Litovsk, where they were destroyed by fire a short time later. In my memory, I see this room with the unpainted spot right above the rabbi's seat. This unpainted spot was "In Memory of the Destruction".
The second large room in the rabbinical residence was the court-room, where the rabbi presided over rabbinical tribunal hearings, where questions of Kashrut (=dietary laws) were answered and decided, and where disputes between individuals were arbitrated. There was a small cupboard in that room, built into the wall, about which my father told me an interesting anecdote relating to Reb Pinchas Michael:
The old rabbi once invited the members of the congregation to come to his house on Purim Day, after the service, promising to treat them to "wine out of the wall". The guests were somewhat disappointed, when the rabbi took out a small flask out of the small cupboard, and good-naturedly drank Lehayim with his guests...
In front of the rabbi's residence, near the entrance, stood a long bench, where we used to sit in the summer evenings, enjoying the fresh air and listening to the familiar sounds of prayer and study in the house of worship;
The town-bath stood a short distance behind the Old Beiss Medresh, while its windows gave out on the Old Cemetery. Men went to the bathhouse every Friday. To accommodate the women, the bath-house was heated on the other days of the week. The Mikve (-Pool for ritual bathing), was used every day, not only for women but for men as well, who performed immersions of purification whenever necessary.
There was a whistle fixed on top of the steam boiler, which could be heard all over town. On Fridays the whistle blew twice - once, to summon the people to come to the bath-house, and the second time - to announce the time for lighting the Sabbath candles.
The attendant of the bath-house lived in a house nearby, half of which was taken up by the Hekdesh (=traditional poor mens' hostel-and-hospital). I remember also the assisting-attendant, Dovid-Ber the madman, one of the number of demented people who were taken care of by the community. Dovid-Ber used to come to our house, where he kept his Tefillin (-Philacteries). He never wore a Tallis (-praying shawl), presumably because he was never married. I remember him as a middle-aged man, short of stature, with a black beard. He spoke very little, but often complained that "Man is done for". This phrase of his was known in town, and served as an object of jokes usually at the expense of anybody complaining of his health.
The Old Cemetery extended for a fairly long stretch as far as the Rusheva highway. It is difficult to tell how old the old cemetery was. It was probably as old as the town itself. There were altogether three cemeteries in my time. There was the "new" cemetery, at the other end of town, in which Reb Pinchas Michael was buried, and a third cemetery was opened beyond the fields, a good distance away from town.
In my childhood, the proximity of the Old Cemetery to our house, the many funerals which I saw, and the horror stories about the dead, had a profound effect on my mind and soul. I retained, through the years, a strong hatred for death and a great respect for human life. These attitudes were later reflected in my make-up when, in ensuing years, I became the medical superintendent of a large municipal hospital. It was a place where many births and deaths took place daily, and my greatest concern was always the possibility of a medical error which might cost a human life. In my frequent lectures to young physicians and nurses I never missed an opportunity to speak of the absolute sanctity of life and the importance of applying every possible means to avert a death and to prolong life under all circumstances.
The Synagogue Courtyard was the nerve center, as well as the barometer, of the inner life of the community. Here started the meetings and assemblies of various organizations where resolutions and general regulations were adopted, which not infrequently affected the life of the whole community.
The joys and the sorrows of Antopol Jews found their echoes in the synagogue courtyard. Most wedding ceremonies were performed here: the canopy would be put up in the yard for the bride and groom from the farthest parts of town. First the groom was brought here, accompanied by musicians walking through the streets, and then the same band would go back to bring the bride while the groom stood alone waiting under the canopy, his face turned towards the synagogue. While waiting, the groom was not allowed to move, and we, the urchins, hanging around the yard, would sneak up to stick a pin into his pants and laugh at his helplessness. The ceremony itself always impressed me deeply. The many lighted candles, the long pleated wax tapers (at the rich people's weddings), in the hands of happy festively dressed men and women, the flames moving in the breeze; the familiar standard tune of the benedictions and the festal pleasing voice of the cleric performing the ceremony with a flair of pomp, all these remained indelibly stamped in my memory. On going back from the wedding canopy, the band would strike up a sorrowful march, which used to evoke the jocular comment that the music sounded like "Bagroben dem Kop" (-something like: "Ruined for life...").
Deep sorrow would descend on the synagogue courtyard each time a funeral procession passed. When the deceased was an important member of the community, the procession would stop at the plaza for a eulogy.
Every misfortune that happened in our town was reflected in the synagogue court. Epidemics sometimes struck Antopol, especially during the winter months, and many children fell ill with Diphtheria or scarlet fever. Those were occasions for the reciting of psalms in the synagogue courtyard. Now and then a loud wail would be heard and a woman would rush into one of the prayerhouses to come before the Ark and, wringing her hands and weeping loudly, would pray for the life of her child, who had been stricken ill.
On Saturdays and holidays the courtyard was full of worshippers and students dressed in their finest clothes. A festive mood reigned in every corner.
Also on an ordinary weekday crowds were sometimes attracted when a well-known Maggid (-itinerant preacher) came to speak in one of the prayerhouses. Some preachers could draw a large crowd in a winter evening when the windows were shut and the air was close and the flames in the lamps flickered. But the audience was thirsty for "a good word", especially for the fiery preachments of the Zionist propagandists. They were ready to stand for a long time, tightly packed like herring in a barrel and listen.
The all-pervading joyousness of Simhat-Torah, the sacred grief of The Ninth of Ab, the solemn melancholy soul-searching of The Day of Atonement, all these are associated in my memory with the Synagogue Courtyard of Antopol of fifty years ago.
There was a small pool of water in the plaza, which would
spread out during the rainy season as far as Reb Hersh's house. The
pool was useful on occasions. In the first place, it provided water
for putting out fires - which broke out frequently in Antopol. In
the second place, it was convenient for Tashlich (-the ritual of
shedding one's sins into the water on the day of Rosh Hashana. Before
Passover the townspeople would throw the unleavened bread and the wooden
utensils of non-Passover use into the pool. In the wintertime, when
it froze over, the boys would skate on the frozen pool. In the summertime
the water would dry up and the air would be filled with microbes spreading
diseases. Finally the city fathers decided that the pool served no
useful purpose and filled it with earth and branches. In the end
only a memory remained of the pool.
R. PINCHAS MICHAEL
(of Blessed Memory)
There is an accepted premise among us: The "rebbe" status is one thing and the rabbinate is another, and one does not wear both crowns simultaneously. For the "rebbe" is a wonder worker, a performer of miracles and a guide to the common people. The rabbi, on their other hand, is a teacher of law, a father and a leader for scholars. One realm does not infringe on the other.
Historical facts, however, contradict the above premise. There have been several great and revered personalities in whom there were combined the traits of the rebbe, - good-hearted and concerned with the problems of the individual and the community - and those of the learned rabbi, the epitomy of scholarship, building spiritual worlds and destroying them. These personalities come and rebuke our premise about the "rebbe" and the "rabbi".
Even before the Baal Shem Tov, we had such luminaries as Rabbi Yehuda Hechassid, the Maharal of Prague and others who combined in themselves the fine traits enumerated in the “rebbe" and the rabbi. After the spread of Baal Shem Tov influence there were revealed here and there great crowns of a good name, such as R. Zekiel Leib Wormser (Baal Shem of Mitchaelstaadt), R. Joshua Gottmacher of Greiditz and others.
A rabbi of this category was R. Pinchas Michael O.B.M., who combined in himself the proficiency and keen analysis of the Talmud as one of the great, and at the same time diffused through his noble personality light and warmth to everyone created in the image of G-d, drawing to himself thousands of people, Jews and Gentiles, who flocked to him to enjoy the light of his countenance and to receive his blessing.
R. Pinchas Michael was born about 1808 to his father R. Yitzhok Isaac and his mother Braina Henia in the city of Shereshov (Grodno County). R. Isaac was a grandson of R. Joshua of Pinsk, a descendant of R. Elazar of Amsterdam, author of "Maasay Rokeach." On his mother's side he was a descendant of the author of "Ponim Meiros."
R. Pinchas Michael was an only son, but he did not behave like one. An only son tends to become spoiled and seek to escape the burden of Torah. But this was not the way of the boy Pinchas Michael. From his earliest childhood he dedicated himself to Torah and good deeds. The ideals of his parents were not secular in nature, to increase wealth and material possessions, but to increase Torah and wisdom. They, therefore, exempted him from worries of a livelihood and the burdens of life. The boy Pinchas Michael spent day and night over the Torah and thirstily drank the words of the sages.
Of the teachers who impressed him we know only one whose influence was great. He was R. Asher Ha-Cohen, author of "Birchas Rosh." R. Pinchas Michael tried to go in the footsteps of this teacher in his humble behavior. From R. Asher he learned the trait of being content with little, and he refused to accept the crown of the rabbinate until he was close to fifty, as was the case with his teacher R. Asher. Also in authorship he followed the path of his teacher. The latter authored a commentary on tractate Nazir - so did he write a commentary on this tractate. Like his teacher, he attained the height of constancy in study and deprived himself of sleep, until his father used his paternal prerogative to get him to nap one hour in the afternoon. From his father R. Yitzhok Isaac he inherited his great love for Israel and his dedication to matters of charitableness.
In accordance with the custom of those days, his parents married him off at an early age. He married Mushka, daughter of the well-to-do E. Yahiel Michal of Pavsal, a descendant of the author of "Seder HaDoros." His wife operated a store and managed the household, and thus removed from him the burden of livelihood so that he could devote himself to Torah.
Even in those days, when he was still a youth, R. Pinchas Michael became renowned as one of the great negotiators of the sea of the Talmud. At that time he began to correspond with the luminaries of Torah in matters of law and the comments of the early and later sages. They all saw in him a keen mentality and an expert analyst in coming up with the correct conclusions. These innovations - in the Shas, Rashi, Tosefos, Rif, Rosh and Ran, he began to note down until they accumulated to a heavy tome. But all this he did with modesty and without fanfare.
And not only in matters of jurisprudence did R. Pinchas Michael demonstrate his prowess, but he also favored matters of legendary nature.
Shereshev, the birthplace of R. Pinchas Michael was known for its rabbis, outstanding in Torah and wisdom. Among those who served there were R. David, author of the book "Ramparts of Jerusalem." It is said about this rabbi that he planned to appoint three days of Rosh Hodesh and that he also used to read the Megillah on Shushan-Purim as well. The rabbinical chair in this town was also occupied by R. Pinchas Halevi, son of Azriel of Amsterdam, author of the book "Nachlas Azriel" on "Yoreh De'oh." Another who served there was R. Isaac HaCohen, author of the book "Shaaray Yitzhok.
In this town also served R. Asher HaCohen, a pupil of R. Chayim of Wolosin, author of the book "Birchas Rosh" on the Tractate of Brochos and editing of the interpretations of Rashi and Tosephos, and "Birchas Rosh" on the Tractate Nazir and editing and commentaries on Rashi, Tosephos and Maimonides.
At first R. Asher HaCohen refused to make a livelihood from Torah. To his fiftieth year he was a merchant in Shereshev, and during his free time he sat and studied Torah. Finally at the, insistence of her town's leaders he agreed to occupy the rabbinical post. He did not serve there long, for the leaders of the community of Ticktin (Grodno County) turned their attention to him and in 1853 he was appointed Rabbi of Ticktin.
When R. Asher HaCohen became Rabbi of Ticktin the, community leaders of Shereshev began to look for a rabbi who could continue the rabbinic tradition of Shereshev. Finally they selected R. Pinchas Michael to fill the place of R. Asher HaCohen. They saw in him the counterpart of their rabbi greatly proficient in the Talmud, in the first and latter sages, a modest man of high virtue. When the crown of the rabbinate was placed on the head of R. Pinchas Michael he did not change his former behavior and he conducted himself with the same modesty as prior to his assumption of the rabbinate. As always he was a close friend of the masses. He gave heed to their conversation, he participated in their sorrow and helped them in their hour of trouble. He was particularly beloved by the children, whom he treated with respect and addressed as he did their elders.
Despite his democratic behavior R. Pinchas Michael became renowned for his Torah knowledge and he became the cynosure of all eyes, On the one hand he received response in theory and fact from famous rabbis, and on the other the masses flocked to him for advice in matters of daily living. His home was open wide to every pauper and misery-stricken individual.
Thus he conducted his rabbinical post for six years in Shereshev until 1864. This year marked a milestone in the life of R. Pinchas Michael for on that year he left his native town of Shereshev where he grew up and struck roots and went to the town of Antipolia, (Antopol in Russian) Kobryn County, in the State of Grodno.
Antopol, or Antipolia as it was known among the Jews, was famous not only in the State of Grodno but outside its confines as well. It is true that this town had practically been overlooked by the Russian Government, but the Jews regarded it highly because of its rabbis, famous for Torah and Kabalab. In town lived the famous Kabalist R. Moshe Zvi for forty-four years, from 1818 to 1862. R. Moshe Zvi was known not only for his vast erudition in matters known as secret but also for his generous soul and for his sensitive heart. He was sought after in spiritual and mundane matters, in problems of livelihood as well as matters of healing body or soul.
Following the death of R. Moshe Zvi, the rabbinical post was occupied by R. Chayim Zalman of Breslav, a descendant of the illustrious R. Yosef David of Mir. Evidently there was some argument about this post and after two years R. Chayim Zalman was forced to leave Antipolia and settle in Mir. The post of Rabbi of Antipolia waited its rightful heir. Several rabbis, renowned in Torah and teaching, were candidates for the rabbinical post in this small town, but none satisfied its Jewish residents, for the rabbi who was to occupy the rabbinical post would also have to continue the tradition of Antipolia's rabbis and to be acceptable to all the segments of the people because of his paternal attitude to everyone created in the image of G-d.
It: was not an easy matter, to be acceptable to the Jews of Antipolia who at that time numbered more, than a thousand souls, for almost all of them were scholars and men of erudition instructors in Gemora, such as R. Yekusiel the blacksmith, etc.
The heads of the community of Antipolia could not find a rabbi more suited to this post than R. Pinchas Michael, who was thoroughly imbued with Talmudic erudition and was also devoted to every human being in distress. The heads of the community paid no attentions to the "fault" that he had, namely his impaired speech. They knew that this was not a physical imperfection but the result of the quick thinking and lightning-like grasp that R. Pinchas Michael had. They saw his simplicity, both in study and in daily life, and his broad heartedness and his tremendous knowledge in the Talmud. These virtues recommended R. Pinchas Michael as the occupant of the rabbinic post in Antipolia.
Before accepting the rabbinate in Antipolia, R. Pinchas Michael stipulated with the heads of the community that he would not gain anything materially from the rabbinate, and that he would live on the sale of yeast by his wife.
On Rosh Hodesh Heshvan 5624, the residents of Antipolia were blessed with the arrival of R. Pinchas Michael. The entire town rejoiced in welcoming its new rabbi. At last Antipolia was privileged to a rabbi worthy of two crowns, the crown of Torah and the crown of good repute. Everyone was eager to hear his inaugural sermon, which would certainly be of the first magnitude as was the custom of the Torah greats in those days. But R. Pinchas Michael's sermon was nothing like that. They heard not words of legalism but words of legendary and moralistic nature. Only as a matter of course did he add words of jurisprudence, for this was the way of the Holy One, who spoke naught to the children of Israel on the first day of their arrival at Mt. Sinai because of the toilsome way. Such was also the course of the commandments that the Lord gave. First he gave the light commandments, such a Chalah and the Omer, and later offering tithe, seventh year and jubilee, which are weightier. "When, the Lord gave us His commandment He taught us the ways of righteousness gradually, how to behave in ways of grace". From legendary materials he goes on to speak of moralistics. He repeatedly admonishes concerning the light commandments, such as praying on time and the value of Torah study. At this point he expanded his speech and almost his entire sermon centered on this theme. And these were his words: "Everyone, even if he is busy with his work or business, must se aside a definite time for study, more or less as he is able, or to listen to others, each according to his own mentality. The Holy One comes to no one with a demand that he study involved matters, only as G-d has endowed him. Only let him not go about idle. Let him also beware of idle conversation, especially in the Beth Hamisdrosh and the Synagogue. Great is the importance of Torah study and the woman who helps her husband and lightens his burden of livelihood, her reward is very great, as was the reward of Isaachor and Zebulun.
The first sermon that R. Pinchas Michael delivered in Antipolia set the program for his behavior during his stay in that town. In it he explained the principles of his procedure in Torah and general matters, for first and foremost in everything was the study of Torah. And these thoughts he would repeat in almost every sermon. The study of Torah had to be done simply, without undue sophistry. One had to direct the heart in study, and to learn outwardly with the lips and every individual had to study according to his nature. “One may be able to study more before retiring and another may find it easier earlier in the morning, when a person’s mind is more at rest.”
In addition to the pillars of Torah there are two other pillars: prayer and acts of consideration. On these three pillars he would build his sermons and his private conversations. R. Pinchas Michael veered away from the accepted custom that the rabbi sermonized twice a year, on the Great Sabbath and the Sabbath of Repentance. He delivered a sermon on every holiday. On the Sabbath of Repentance he would ascend the pulpit, envelop himself in the Talit and burst into tears, and the congregation would follow. This was his "sermon," designed to awaken the hearts for repentance and good deeds.
Most of his sermons were not studded with disputation and argument, but with words of moralism and admonitions about daily affairs such as the observance of the Sabbath, act of consideration, provision of food for the poor and proper weights. These things he would stress every opportunity he had.
R. Pinchas Michael approved the method of explanation and kept away from disputation. In his reply to one individual he says: "Continue with your good method of study, my dear man, and see to it that you make your mark in Shas. And this you will not be able to achieve unless you drop the method of disputation and stick to proficiency."
The study according to the elucidated text was his course. He studied and taught others according to this method; in other words, to elucidate the hidden meaning without disputation and an overflow of words, but with logical explanation and the correct norm briefly stated. R. Pinchas Michael followed this course in his brief commentaries on the Tractates of Nazir, Temura, Meila and Tamid. And this is what he says: "I have seen that this tractate (of Nazir) is more hidden and impenetrable than all the other tractates in the Shas, in that even the commentary of Rashi is not like the Shas Rashi Commentaries, and it is likely that it is not Rashi's commentary at all, in that it is not his customary language - because of the paucity of interest in this tractate, the bulk of which does not apply to the present, it suffers from many errors of omission and superfluity - even though it has had many commentators , who dwelled on it at great length, nevertheless many chapters are still obscure - and one must teach his pupils intensively because of the lack of time - I have set my goal to set forth the chapters of the Talmud explicitly and to abandon disputation." And he adds with great humility: "I have not made the compilation for the luminaries of our age, but for people of my level."
Whoever peruses his "Leket Hakotzrim" sees that R. Pinchas Michael does not compile indiscriminately. This commentary though brief includes a great deal. He knew the secret of conciseness. He knew what to include and what to exclude.
He thus also acted with his commentary on Temura, Meilah and little of the Tractate Tamid and in the case of his preface to "Nazir", so does he apologetically all in this commentary: "I appreciate the paucity of my attainment and of my intellect. I have other shortcomings no doubt of which I am not aware."
Evidently R. Pinchas Michael kept this manuscript with him for several years, probably because of the lack of funds, until he was notified "from above" (see the story of the dream) that he was duty bound to publish the manuscript in question. He then placed it for publication, and immediately his commentary on these tractates received wide circulation, because it was brief but outstanding.
Directly and indirectly R. Pinchas Michael influenced thousands of Jews, both those who were privileged to hear from him words of moralism and wisdom and those who merely knew him by reputation. When still among the living he became a legend which was passed on from father to son and from grandfather to grandson. All spoke about the righteous one, who lent his ear to every one who turned to him, and who did not differentiate between Jew and Gentile, for "a Gentile also has to live." He was a father and patron for every embittered soul and downhearted that came to him even from far away. Among these were scholars, merchants, artisans, women and children. If a tragedy occurred in a home, immediately they ran to the righteous one. If the "overlord" refused to renew the lease, R. Pinchas Michael was asked for advice. When an individual became seriously ill, they called on the righteous one for aid. And he would say: "I know not, but the Lord will bless you.” R. Pinchas Michael became the emissary of whoever turned to him, and when he prayed the “Shmoneh Esreh" he added prayers for those who had handed in notes of supplication.
He did not handle these notes like the Chassidic rabbis. He did not accept "redemption money." At most he accepted a few coins for the poor students. He had a purse tied about his neck into which he put these coins, which he spent for charity. The act of charity is one of the foundations on which the Jewish world is built. He continually admonished about this commandment.
He was concerned not only with problems which demanded immediate solution. His keen eye penetrated into the life of our people which had just began to take shape in distant America. At that time, when the Jewish community was yet small and Judaism there was weak, he would advise those who asked him about emigrating to America: "Go to America. You will make a living there." And he would add: "Observe the Sabbath."
Like R. Israel Salanter, his contemporary, his heart ached for the condition of his people, and he sided with the idea of immigration to America, for his vision foresaw the wave of pogroms about to inundate the Jews of Russia. As for himself, he yearned to go to the Land of Israel, but his townspeople would not let him go. With deep longing he would send off whoever went up to the Land, whether it was a tailor, a shoemaker or a merchant and an investor. He would accompany them on foot a mile outside the town.
Settlement in the Holy land was very important in his eyes. Not only residence itself, but even he who desired to return to the land was entitled to redemption and thus he comments in the passage: "Because of four matters were our forefathers redeemed from Egypt - that they did not change their tongue and name." For he who intends to settle permanently in another land changes his language, name and attire and becomes accustomed to the ways of the land. But "he who intends to return to his father's house is the opposite. They therefore had this great merit, that during the entire harsh enslavement they did not lose their faith to return to their land, and therefore they emerged from slavery to redemption".
R. Pinchas Michael had a formula for redemption from the harshness of slavery and from all oppressors - the observance of the Sabbath. He would therefore ask his audience to hasten and inaugurate the Sabbath early. In instance, the artisans and their employees should leave their work benches early so that they may be through at the bath house in time. R. Pinchas Michael would himself take the trouble to be in the bath house a good hour before sunset every Friday eve, and in his hand he had a switch with which he prompted those who were late in leaving.
This switching was one of affection, since R. Pinchas Michael objected to corporal punishment. Once he slapped a boy of fourteen - Meir Utenof, the Cantor's son - for having beaten his companion, he regretted his act and his prayer became confused. R. Pinchas Michael approached the stricken boy several times and asked his forgiveness. When the boy forgave him, he grasped his hand with great joy.
By nature R. Pinchas Michael was forgiving, foregoing upon the honor and respect due to a man of his station. Many exploited this "'Weakness" of his and used it for their own ends. One instance of this sort is told by R. Pinchas Michael himself. One crook forged his signature and traveled about from town to town to collect funds for the Talmud Torah in Antipolia. R. Pinchas Michael reacted to this matter in the press and asked the rabbis in the towns where the crook might appear to take away the document and the forged letter and burn them.
Evidently this crook perpetrated his act following the conflagration that took place in Antipolia in the summer of 1885. Some eighty houses went up in flames at that time. On the 20th of Sivan of the same summer a second conflagration broke out and 120 homes burned down. The Jews, of Antipolia became completely impoverished and emissaries went forth to gather contributions for the victims. This situation was fertile ground for acts of deception.
Antipolia was "famous" for its conflagrations. The elders of the town used to tell about the first one, about 1860, as though it were an historic event in the life of the town, for at that time almost the entire town went up in flames. In that year R. Pinchas' Michael together with R. Natanel Chayim Pappe, one of the foremost townspeople, went forth long distances in behalf of the victims. They went as far as St. Petersburg. Everywhere they were cordially received. Thanks to these distinguished men, the town was rebuilt and Jewish life began to pulsate there again, with all its light and shadows.
R. Pinchas Michael returned to his town and its Jews. He cared not only for his congregation but also for the problems of the entire Jewish community. Once he said to R. Jekutiel, the husband of Beila Hannah: "You are better off than I am, for the world is not upon you." From all corners of the Earth people turned to him and gave him no rest, neither repose for the soul nor rest for the body; His wife, Mushka, would drive away those who besieged the rabbi's home saying, "He is not able and he does not know. Let his alone."
The more she drove them away, the more they came. And what about the study of the Torah? After all, one had to carry out "thou shalt dwell on it day and night."
He therefore followed the dictum of the Talmud "The night was not created but for study" (Erubin 55). He wanted to sleep intermittently, and spent almost the entire night studying, and as a result his proficiency in Shas and Poskim was marvelous, "so that all his distinguished contemporaries had the greatest respect for him."
Lack of sleep, his innumerable burdens and his strong concentration on his studies begot R. Pinchas Michael a severe case of Hemorrhoids, and on orders of his physicians he went to Berlin for an operation. On leaving for Berlin he prepared for a journey to the hereafter, for who knows what the next day might bring? One must issue his testament to his household. R. Pinchas Michael then wrote his will. Ostensibly the will was for his sons, but whoever reads it with open eyes would see that this will constituted R. Pinchas Michael's credo, and witness thereby his inner, higher world, one of harmony, and equity for one and all. Here we see his democratic attitude and viewpoint towards the status of the poor and the artisans, for in his day the artisan was looked down upon. All important in his eyes was the Scholar. He therefore orders his sons to marry off their sons to the daughters of scholars "and do not seek out the wealthy - and for your daughters provide good and scholarly men, even from families of artisans. For this is no stigma at all, as the fools would have us believe. It is a greater stigma for those of wealthy families who lose other people's money. But the artisans who enjoy the fruits of their labor are precious in the eyes of the Lord."
As it has been said, R. Pinchas Michael gave priority to scholars. He therefore orders his sons to purchase Shas and Poskim and all the other sacred books; for sometimes it is the lack of books that hampers study. R. Pinchas Michael also possessed a sense of the esthetic for he asks them to bind the books handsomely, "for this brings glory to those who do so in this world and in the world to come.”
R. Pinchas Michael admonishes "let not any curse come from your lips, even against gentiles or animals - and raise your children gently, not by beatings, only goodly words - and beware of being inconsiderate toward anyone, and especially the maid servants, for they like you are descendants of our forefathers. Be careful with their respect and you will merit much goodness."
He also admonishes at great length about peace in the household. A man must be easy going with his spouse, even though she may at time embitter his spirit. He advises not to argue with her, since it is difficult to vanquish them, and they should be judged affirmatively and kindly. He also admonishes his daughters and daughters-in-law to be careful to respect their husbands and not to irritate them "even with slight speech."
Concerning moodiness and anger he warns several times, "for with aggravation you will not in any way repair the matter" and "remove the traits of aggravation and anger, and trust in the Lord in all your dealings." He therefore cautions concerning the giving of tithe for the benefit of the poor and the relatives and other sacred matters. Such funds should be kept in trust as though they did not belong to the giver.
If conditions of livelihood are not so good, there should be no journeying for the aid of a tzaddik in another town "for in every town there are G-d-fearing people" who would intercede with the Lord for the needy. The same applies to physical matters. One must ask the grace of the Lord for himself first and then turn to others to request grace for him.
And as he was the emissary of every pauper and downhearted in his lifetime, so he promises to intercede for those who seek his help in the hereafter.
Reading the admonitions of R. Pinchas Michael O.B.M. we are reminded of the admonitions of R. Asher of Stolin O.B.M., the son of R. Aaron of Karlin, founder of the Karlin Chassidism. He too cautions several times about the observance of the Sabbath and the extension of the secular into the sacred, about the appointment of time for Torah study, about the contribution of tithe, etc. And one asks, was R. Pinchas Michael influenced by the Baal Shem Tov Chassidism, was he inclined toward Chasidism?
The latter question can be definitely answered in the negative. On the contrary, from the numerous tales told in his name we learn that he was a strong opponent of the ways of Chassidim and its leadership. How then can two extremes exist in one entity?
In truth, both opinions are correct. In his youth R. Pinchas Michael was a strong opponent of the system of Chassidim, especially where it concerned the belated hour of prayer. But during his last years he came near to Chassidism, and at times prayed in the Chapel of the Stolin Chassidim.
For more than twenty-six years R. Pinchas Michael occupied the rabbinic chair of Antipolia. Not all of them were years of peace and serenity. More than once someone was offensive and R. Pinchas Michael passed over the insult in silence and in his heart he forgave the offender. And the truth must be said that not all the residents of Antipolia recognized the greatness of their rabbi. This is a psychological truth: The townspeople do not give their rabbi recognition. An anecdote told in the name of R. Pinchas Michael reflects the attitude of the Jews of Antipolia toward him. Once he was asked: "Why is he not as important in Antipolia as elsewhere?" R. Pinchas Michael replied: The sedra "Pinchas" in its place and season is not especially important since it is read during the season of depression. But when it is read outside its environment, as in the case of Maftir on the festivals, which is taken from "Pinchas", one pays a large sum for this "Aliyah." For Pinchas in its place is not so noteworthy, while Pinchas outside its place is more important.
Only after his demise did people begin to recognize the great importance of their “Zaddick rabbi" who lived like a saint and left the world in holiness. It is said that on Rosh Hodesh Adar 5650 (1890) R. Pinchas Michael was stricken with typhoid. For two weeks he did not leave his bed, but his mind was clear. When prayer time came he woke up and prayed. On the last Sabbath of his life he went up to the Torah, saying to his household: "I am a guest, and a guest must receive an Aliyah." On Sabath night after Havdalah he sent a card by messenger to the Rabbi of Pinsk, informing him about his death and inviting him to his funeral, and in the same card he asked for his forgiveness. He also notified him that in the case of one place in the Rambam the law was according to the writer of the card. On the eve of the 17th of Adar his soul departed in purity.
Immediately the entire town went into mourning. Messengers were dispatched to Horodetz and Kobrin to announce the bad tidings about the death of the Zaddik. Many inhabitants of these towns, Jews and gentile alike, came to the funeral. And these rabbis eulogized him: R. Joshua Jacob Rabinowitz, rabbi of Horodetz, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Rabinowitz and R. Moshe Berman, son-in-law of R. Pinchas Michael, the later rabbi of Antipolia, eulogized him at the synagogue. At the Beth Hamedrash in Pinsk Street he was eulogized by the dayan of Antipolia, R. David Rushkin and R. Pinchas, son of R. Eliah of Lida, dayan of Kobrin. Then they went to the old Beth Hamedrash where the deceased used to pray and the eulogy was delivered by the Gaon R. Joseph Saul Epstein, Rabbi of Kobrin.
Thus came to an end the history of R. Pinchas Michael
O.B.M. With his passing there closed a bright chapter in the history of
Antipolia, whose Jews participated in its writing.
RABBI MOSHE BERMAN, 0. B. M.
Rabbi Moshe Berman was born in 1864 in Razinoi, White Russia, where his father - Reb Feitl - had been Rosh-Yeshiva for many years. Both his parents having died when he was still a boy, young Moshe grew up at the house of the famous charitable woman Hodeske, who was related to him through her husband. This wonderful woman had an enormous influence on the boy, and contributed immensely to the formation of his moral and personal character. He learned at the Razinoi Yeshiva, and later at Volozin and Minsk. Finally he came to Antopol, where he studied under the guidance of Rabbi Pinchas Michael O.B.M.
In Antopol he married Breine-Henie, granddaughter of Rabbi Pinchas Michael, and following the wedding he spent some time in Kobrin. When the R.P.M. died, and following the Grand Dispute about his successor, Rabbi Moshe became Rabbi together with Rabbi Hersh. After that Rabbi Hersh passed away, Rabbi Moshe continued as the only successor.
Rabbi Moshe was a quiet man, always at study and the interests of the community close to his heart. He was a Zionist and also alert to worldly affairs. He tried once a business partnership with Reb Avraham-Moshe, son of the R.P.M., but he used to return his profits to the customers, for he would not take "extra money" from them. Eventually he sent back the merchandise to his partner, and went out of business.
After the end of World War One he was brought over to the U.S.A. by his devoted sons, who had long before preceded him: Dr. P. Berman, and Mr. P., Berman.
In 1921 Rabbi Moshe was appointed Rabbi of the Agudatly Achim Congregation in Los Angeles. He soon received recognition from most of the orthodox Jewry, and was elected to be Chief Justice of the orthodox rabbinical court of Los Angeles. Being aware of the special circumstances in keeping Judaism in America, he was an understanding Judge in religious matters. He himself sat all day long studying in the synagogue, and upon coming back home he continued till late at night.
Rabbi Moshe carried a continuous correspondence with many rabbis in the U.S.A. and was respected by all who knew him. Ten years he sat on the rabbinical chair in Los Angeles, until he was called to Heaven on Heshvan 22, 5691 (1930).
For many years after his death they used to hold a special mourning meeting in his honor on the day of his Yorzeit, even after the synagogue had moved to another suburb.
His blessed memory will always be with us.
Rabbi Moshe Berman O. B. M.
It was in the summer of 1920. Our little town was in ruins, after passing from hand to hand between Russians and Germans, Germans and Poles, Poles and Bolsheviks.
The Jews suffered pogroms, looting, requisitions, hard labor etc. Eventually the Poles remained and the front moved away from Antopol. There remained only a bakery which supplied bread to the military.
One evening when I was at the prayer house I was summoned to the military. On my way home I was met by Belachovitz soldiers who told me that their commander called for me. The town was in panic. Everybody knew that in a nearby town these Belachovitz soldiers took the rabbi as hostage until they received the contribution and supplies which they requisitioned, and in another town they killed everybody.
I came to the commander, who stood in the middle of the market place, surrounded by soldiers. He introduced himself as commander of those who killed in Kamin-Kashirsk over 300 Jews. His battalion camps not far away waiting for the fulfillment of their requisition. Otherwise they will come down to extinguish everything. I asked him for his requirements and he gave me a list of meat, corn, boots, salt, etc. which made me shiver.
While we were thus talking he shouted: "Why are we talking like this in the middle of the market? Let us go into my office." Upon arrival he sat down and added to his list more and more provisions. In his office we were joined by the town mayor and leaders of the community. He then demanded that the whole requisition should be in his office within 4 hours. We pleaded for more time but to no avail.
In the meantime came in the owners of the cattle which he had confiscated and offered to replace them with meat. He finally agreed to exchange them for an additional ransom of 60,000 marks. They asked my advice, and I told them that he would take both the money and the cattle. They did not listen to me and found out later that I was right.
We collected the items which he demanded and we realized that we have robbed ourselves of everything after the completion of this task.
It all ended unexpectedly. When the owners of the
cattle came asking for their cattle, the Belachovitzes began shooting at
them, and when the soldiers stationed at the bakery heard the shooting,
they started shooting at the robbers, who fled and left town to our great
THE ROOF CORRODED
Winter was over early that year. The snow had already melted. Spring was coming from the warmer lands.
The little town was still lying under the dirt of the heavy winter, which had kept the few alleys, as if under siege for full five months. Now it looked as if it has just started breathing again. The people themselves felt as if they had just grown a new skin, and accepted the deep marshes patiently.
In the prayer-houses Jews have been predicting an early spring, but the favorable predictions caused some of them to worry about provisions for the coming holidays Purim and Pesach, and they relied on the Almighty to help them solve their problems.
It was quite late after the third morning service. Shloime had participated in all three, after which he also took in a chapter of Psalms, and went home for breakfast.
The street was quiet. The sun had just emerged, and was biting mercilessly into every hiding piece of ice. Birds were singing in the clear air and Shloime was overwhelmed with the beauty of God's world.
He was nearing the Kobriner Street, when he observed a cart approaching towards him out of the marshes.
The man travelling in the cart was Mordche, who greeted Shloime wholeheartedly.
Shloime returned the greeting, adding his own wishes for a happy good month, meanwhile indicating that he was not working these days.
Mordche then spoke up, saying:
As a matter of fact, I wanted to call you, Shloime. You see, my roof is getting rusty.
- What did you say? exclaimed Shloime as if smitten with a club. What did I hear you say? Only about two weeks ago I went by your house and saw your roof shining like a mirror. As a matter of fact I enjoyed seeing it, after that the weather and the sun had brought out its true color of shining copper.
- Yes, this is true about the front of the house, answered Mordche, but it did corrode on the other side.
Shloime could not refuse the invitation to come and see what could be done to repair the roof, and the two men bade each other farewell.
Continuing on his way home, Shloime became gloomy, on account of "his" roof needing repair. Coming home, he kissed the mezuza, greeted the family and waited for his wife to call him to breakfast.
His wife came towards him right out of the kitchen, where she was preparing a special breakfast in honor of Rosh-Hodesh (First day of the month) - cut herring, skinned potatoes and sweet chicory, plus a white pletzl from Raphael the baker.
Noticing the breakfast table, Shloime praised the Lord for His kindness, and later told his wife about Mordche's roof. But Leine Feigl never claimed any understanding in mending roofs, and consequently Shloime put on his coat and left the house, on his way to examine the roof.
Shloime was walking with sure steps, encouraged by his wife's farewell blessing. While walking he remembered his childhood days when he and Mordche went to the same Cheiders and later to the same Russian school. Both of them stood up bravely against the Russian boys. He, Mordche, was of the Sheinboim family, and Shloime was himself known for being of a good family.
Later in life they separated. Mordche traveled over the world, seeking his fortune, which he did not find neither in America, nor in Africa. His fortune turned out to be right at his door, and he became a millionaire. But Shloime neither pursued his fortune, nor did fortune seek him out. Still he thanked God for everything and did not begrudge Mordche and felt equal to him in this mundane world...
Walking like this, deep in thought, he did not feel the road, or the deep marshes. He approached the gate of Mordche's courtyard, the dogs greeting him in a friendly manner. He remembered the saying: When dogs play in town, it is a good omen. He is thankful for the friendly welcome, and his eyes begin to examine the roof. He goes around once and twice. The roof smiles at its master. There is no sign of rust.
The gardener sees Shloime and greets him wholeheartedly:
- Panie Shliomka, what brings you here?
- Tell me, have you noticed any rust on the roof?
The gentile put away his gardening tools and gazed at Shloime:
- Who was kidding you?
- The landlord himself told me about it.
- Oh! Panie Shliomka, you are a great friend of the landlord, and you drink tea with him. Don't you know that he is a kidder?
Now the driver approached, and he remembered the meeting on the road between his landlord and Shloime. Although he did not understand Yiddish, he knew what they talked about.
- What do you say, Stepan Stepanowich, is the roof rusty?
- I do not know what goes on the roof. You have to see for yourself, - meaning:
- We all see there is no rust.
Shloime came near the steps leading to the kitchen, cleaned his boots and entered the house.
Somebody had told Mordche about Shloime's arrival, and he came towards his guest to greet him and invited him for a glass of tea.
- Well, have you examined the roof?
A smile appeared on Shloime's face as he was staring at Mordche. But Mordche did not let up, waiting for a reply.
- Why do you kid me? Do you think that I have enjoyed your kidding these last few hours?
- Never mind. Listen to me. The roof did come out beautifully, and therefore, come summer, I want you to go over it for protection.
- Bless you, exclaimed Shloime in relief, there is no need for it.
- But I am the landlord here, and I want to have it painted.
- It won't make it any better. You will throw away your money.
Here, put some brandy in your tea, suggested Mordche.
Well, in honor of Rosh-Hodesh it is nice to have a drink, but still I will not paint your roof.
- Listen, in order to be sure that you will paint the roof, here is an advance payment of 25 Rubles.
- I won't take it. If you insist, I will paint, your roof, but I won't take any payment in advance. I trust you.
- Today I have it, maybe tomorrow I won't.
- Leave me go. I won't take it.
Mordche could not control himself any longer, and with a fraternal impulse stuffed the banknote into his friend's hand.
Here Shloime froze, and like in a haze looked at Mordche as at an angel from heaven...
He could not utter a single word of all he had wanted to say. They both finished their tea and Shloime left the house with a mere "Good Day, Mordche".
Upon leaving the house, and being a little further away
from the aristocratic courtyard, Shloime envied his friend Mordche for
the first time in his life.
Prof. P. Czerniak
WAR YEARS IN ANTOPOL
From a diary
It is late August of 1939. The weather is hot. We hear the German radio thunder: "Poland must cede the corridor! We must have a thoroughfare to East Prussia! Danzig must be German! The Germans in Poland want to join Germany! etc. etc."
The diplomats are working desperately; the Polish Ambassador in Berlin, Mr. Lipski, seeks an audience with German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop to discuss the situation. Ribbentrop finally receives him late on August 31, when he knows already that several hours earlier Hitler ordered to start the march on Poland. What can Lipski accomplish?
The army is busy with preparations; Ridz-Smygly declares, over the Polish radio, that not a button from a Polish jacket will be lost. At the same time the generals are forming their divisions.
* * *
In Antopol few people knew what was going on. Everyone had his own troubles with making a living, looking after the children, the house, and communal affairs. To be sure, they all had their faith in God. Some housewives were provident and stored up more groceries. In the drugstores they bought some aspirins and other medical supplies for the house. They prayed in the synagogues more ardently than usual. The Polish intellectual “elite" of the town was unnerved. Some had already been drafted and were leaving.
* * *
It was 4.45 in the morning of September 1, 1939. There was a report of an alleged attack by Polish soldiers reported over the German radio station in Glywic, Silesia. Other well-planned incidents between Poles and Germans were reported in other localities. Hitler "cannot endure Polish aggression. He has given the order, and the divisions are crossing the Polish border". That was reported in the early morning broadcast and was heard in the houses in Antopol. We were benumbed. I was ordered to prepare first aid stations in town. The main center was in Dom-Ludowy (Peoples' House) in the market-place. We were collecting medical supplies and were preparing to treat the wounded.
At night the town was dark. Windows were shaded, lights were shaded. Streets were vacant. Only soldiers on patrol duty moved about. It was war! Antopol was under military rule.
The next day we eagerly sought out news-reports and groceries to store up. Faces were grim and worried. Parents grieved for children who were gone; women grieved for menfolk. Some were stuck, since the whole governmental machinery had been quickly disorganized and nothing moved anymore.
We did not move from the radio. Why was Russia silent? What were doing the British, with whom we had concluded a pact? Why was France inactive?
On the third day of the war German airplanes appeared over Antopol. They descended near the electric station behind town, looking for something important, and were off. We waited in the prepared dugouts in the nearby fields and imagined that a plane was throwing bombs precisely at our dugout.
One morning, August 17 to be exact, we experienced a sense of relief. The radio announced that Russia had entered the war. We waited and hoped for the Russians to come to our town. It was now clear that Poland would be torn apart, and there was nothing to be done about it. Unfortunate Poland was fated for another partition as in the 18th century. We felt for the Polish patriots, who had so little time to enjoy the modem rebirth of their nation, only from 1919 to 1939! But what of us, Jews? What will happen to us?
* * *
The Russians advanced fast. Also the Germans were flying forward fast. They were racing towards each other, with Antopol between them. On the radio we heard reports from each side. Our young people stopped all daily work and were glued to the radios. They were our source of news. They told us that the Russians were quite close. The Germans were reported to have reached south of us, and turned towards Brest-Litovsk. Woe to us! We were in their clutches! They were already in Kobryn.
The next day things looked brighter. The youngsters heard a report over the radio that the Germans were retreating to Brest-Litovsk, and the Russians were coming to our town. The people of Antopol were waiting anxiously while, in the meantime, the town got along without any constituted authority. Jews stayed at home, sat around in the prayer houses, in the stores and workshops, talking, praying, and hoping.
* * *
On September 20th the Russians entered Antopol. The soviet army passed in a long line far out into the distance; motor vehicles, men, armaments and amiability. Every spot was being occupied - vacant lots, large houses, orchards and fields. Temporary accommodations were sought out by infantry, artillery, tanks, communications and other services, in Gorin's Park, in the market place, on the square facing the Hebrew school "Tarbut", in the old synagogue courtyard, and alongside the pavement. Some of the officers in the Soviet army were Jews. This was good news to us, Polish citizens. The arrivals were under strict orders not to talk much; they were busily at work. Antopol was now becoming part of Russia, White Russia (Byelorussia) to be exact.
* * *
It was spring of 1940. Antopol had changed, having been transformed from a small community into a district center, the administrative capital of a segment of White-Russia, with a population around it of some ten thousand people. The authorities had established their headquarters in the market place. The party secretary was staying in Mazurski's house. The drugstore had been moved from there into Yudl Lifshitz's brick-house. At the other end of the brick-house they had installed a radio receiver, which had been connected by wires to the houses in town, where earphones were installed. The reception center functioned throughout the day and newscasts and music programs were heard in the houses. Lifshitz's other brickhouse had been taken over by the post office. The militia established itself in Greenberg's brick-house. Sirota's brick-house was taken over by the military commission which registered the young people and mobilized them. Klorfine's brick-house housed the State Bank, carrying on the financial business of the region. Sacharov's house became a court house. Polciuk's brick-house became a hotel for visiting dignitaries, and later it became the center of the komsomol. The stores were converted into warehouses for the military and for the administrative authorities. Some stores were used for the newly established state or co-operative shops with a limited choice of merchandise. Lifshitz's long frame house was turned into a polyclinic. The brick-house across the street became the office for civil registration of births, weddings and deaths. A shoemakers' co-operative was established in Wysocki's house; a tailors' co-operative - on Kobryn street, The Ispolkom (Executive Committee.) esconsed itself in the former Jewish Community House. Three schools functioned. The NKGB was in Szagan's house. Telephone wires were strung between houses and everything was carried on in strict order, under punctilious control.
Many new settlers arrived from White Russia and from Russia proper. Party Secretary Subatin occupied Bereh London's house on Pinsk street, and ruled together with Pastushenko, of the Ispolkom.
Jews had to change their occupations. Instead of shopkeepers and middlemen they "became" clerks, administrators, members of cooperatives or artels (collective independent labor unions). On the side they did a little trading. They lived, listened to speeches, read Russian papers, heard the radio broadcasts. Young people went to the cinema; older people went to the prayer houses, especially for the evening services. Their number shrank as the atheistic bezbozhniks (godless) intensified their activities.
* * *
To go back a few months to the end of 1939. Great projects were being carried out in the Antopol region. The Bug Canal was being shortened, an airport was being built, apparently for military purposes, and several thousand deportees were brought from Russian labor camps to work on the projects. The Antopol Jews were organized into "Sabbath brigades" and "volunteered" to help in the digging. I well remember the trip out and the work. More than one of those "volunteers" returned ill with pneumonia or swollen legs, but the canal was finally completed. Through the canal the Russians were able to send their barges laden with rye and wheat to the Germans (it sounds like a bad joke, but that was a fact) and come back with other goods (seemingly gasoline). The airport was nearly ready but was not to be made use of. Life marched on. The number of sick people in town grew. It did not cost any money to get treatment. Anyone, if he so pleased, came into the polyclinic, registered, was examined, received a prescription, went to the drugstore and got what he needed.
Others, to be sure, were in need of hospitalization, and so a hospital was set up in Antopol. There was the house of Jankiewicz at the foot of Kobryn street. One day I was brought there and was told to open up a hospital. Two weeks later the first patients were admitted. Two houses belonging to kulaks (well to do peasants) were brought from a village and were converted into hospital wings, one for obstetrics, the other for patients stricken with contagious diseases. The Antopol hospital had 35 beds. Close to a hundred patients would apply each day for treatment in the dispensary of the hospital. Antopol became a medical center. A Jewish girl from Moscow and another from Bobruisk were brought to Antopol as physicians. Several nurses and apothecaries were from Homel. Our townspeople nearly stopped going to Kobryn and to Pinsk for medical treatment.
* * *
The Soviet occupational authorities ordered that "elections" be held in Antopol. A list of candidates was posted in Mazurski's house and everyone was "advised" to vote for the whole list.
The citizens of Antopol went one rainy autumn day to the ballot boxes, into which they threw in printed pieces of paper with printed lists of candidates. Later there was a meeting of the so-called elected Soviet-council in the frame house of the Polish school on Pinsk street. It was a festive occasion. The "delegates" were allowed to buy chocolate, sausages and cigarettes. In other districts it was the same thing. The delegates then adopted a resolution to demand the incorporation of the district into the Soviet Union.
On October 29, 1939 the Supreme Soviet took cognizance of the resolution and voted to accede to its demand to have the Antopol region become an integral part of the U.S.S.R. We were annexed to the Byelorussian (White Russian) Republic of the Union. Minsk became our capital too, and from there we received decrees and officials, commissars and leaders. The new regime took to purging the atmosphere of reaction, kulaks, ideological and economic opposition, etc. Among others, recent Polish settlers were carried off to the interior of Russia. At night the military authorities informed the victims to dress and pack, and they were loaded on motor cars to be taken to an assembly center.
* * *
It was a sunny morning in June 1941. I was about to take a short rest, but at seven a.m. my rest was disturbed: Yossl the tailor knocked on my door, all excited. At 6 a.m. he heard the German radio announcing that the Germans had attacked Russia. A train of coal cars arrived at the Brest-Litovsk station from the German side, as it had been every day. The sealed cars opened and German machine-gunners jumped out of them rushing straight into battle. Many Russian officers had spent Saturday night celebrating as usual. Now they were so treacherously attacked by their erstwhile allies, after the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty; The brigands were coming here. At dawn their planes bombarded Kharkov, Odessa, Homel, Minsk. There was a state of panic. What was to be done now?
* * *
Although we were part of White Russia, we heard reports reaching us by word of mouth about brutalities across the Bug river: killings, oppressions, evidently with the view of exterminating the Jews. We did not quite believe everything we heard. We did not want to believe that Man could descend to such bestiality. After all, even Nazis are human beings, so we thought.
The Jews of Antopol took to their feet. Everyone understood he had to flee. But where to? Russia? Leave everything and run! But one man was ill, another had small children. Besides, there was no transportation available. Could we advance as fast on our feet or by wagon as the Germans on vehicles? What if they overtook us on the road? That would be certain death! What was there to be done? What did other people do? What were the Russians doing? What were the authorities doing?
* * *
Four days later. Unbearable four days, when life and death were on the scales, terror and impotence, decision and helplessness. The Soviet authorities threw everything they had onto the vehicles and rushed away, promising they would return. "Don't be afraid! We'll come back! We'll show the Germans what we can do". They offered to take me along. But how could I do it? What of my family? We now envied the kulaks who had been forcibly deported to the land beyond the Volga. They were sure of their lives. We here remained chained by ties of family and friendship, by human sentiments, and by an inner sense of responsibility. Whatever happened to others might very well happen to, us.
* * *
The Germans entered Antopol. A new page was turned in Jewish history, a page which degrades the word Man. This was a period of suffering unlimited, of appalling savagery and of very few miracles, including those which enabled myself and seven other people to survive. Small shreds of large beautiful flower-pots smashed to pieces. The German jackboot trampled over Europe, stepped over town and hamlets, among them our dear town Antopol and destroyed them - how it destroyed them. So much brutality, and so much blood shed unjustly. Such degradation of human dignity and human spirit! Those were dark days, darker than black, years of history. Alas for the people who made them! Alas and alas for those who went through them.
* * *
I leaf through the diary of my ghetto days and I come up with the following:
1) There is deathly silence in Antopol. It is 2 p.m.; the second "hunt" has been completed. I quietly emerge from my hiding place in the house on Zaniew street, to which we have been driven by the Germans. I see, at a distance, a green two-legged swine walking. He passes by Appelbaum's house. The doors are open, the inhabitants already evacuated. Out of the left-hand side a small child crawls out, on all fours, advancing serenely, as if there were nothing to fear. Evidently his mother had hidden him away before being driven off by the Germans. Now the child is looking for its mother. The swine-in-jackboots with their hobnailed soles sees the child. He approaches and raises his boot. I cannot look any more. Later they took away from there a bloody bundle with a smashed head for burial. Why did not a thunder strike the beast?
2) The tailor's son, also a tailor, has been arrested by the police on the charge of being a communist. But everybody knew he was a non-party man. He ran away. The police served notice that unless he surrendered, they would shoot his parents, his wife and child and ten Jewish notables of Antopol. Meanwhile the young man's father and wife were placed under arrest. Ten notables were being picked as hostages.
The "fugitive" was in the neighborhood. At night he would slip into his house, where he was told about the situation. Yet, no person was willing to betray him to what everybody knew was certain death. Everyone imagined what suffering this fine-looking young man endured and what his inner conflicts were. Should he give himself up, then he would be subjected first to torture and then to shooting. If he did not - his wife and child, his father and mother and the other hostages would be the victims.
Thus he lived through forty eight hours of anguish. When the time was up, he came and reported to the police.
"Shoot me, but spare the others!" he told them. The murderers did just that. They paid no attention to the noble courage of the man. They did not even think of it. They placed him onto a truck going to Kobryn and there shot him on the high bridge over the Muchowiec river. There, on that place of execution, many victims fell. We, who survived him, honored his memory as a hero.
3) It is the last "hunt". The remaining 300 wrecks of human beings are surrounded by a chain of killers and machine-guns, lurking across the fence of the small ghetto. The Judenrat and "our own" police are no more. In another few minutes they will begin rounding up all of us, dragging us away and taking us to the sands to the left of the highway leading to Proszychwost. There we shall be ordered to strip and a bullet will put an end to life.
My thoughts race through my brain like flashes. Some time ago, I was given a ride back to town by a colleague, the Ukrainian doctor, by the name of Niestruk, who had been brought to us from Kobryn to serve as Chief Physician of the district, He tried to comfort me with his philosophy: "Well, my dear Sir, what can we do? A prosecuting attorney has arisen, by the name of Hitler, and he issued a decree, a death sentence against all the Jews, and there is no appeal. So you can't appeal. All you can do is wait in your cell until you are taken out for the execution!” One thought asks: Has the end now actually arrived? But another flash comes: What kind of a trial? What verdict? On what basis? By what right? What for? Firm resolves, are formed and crystallized: Not to let it happen! To save one's life by every possible means! Under all circumstances!
* * *
The sum total of our family was as follows: Our own child, a little girl of ten months, we had handed as a "gift" to a Gentile woman (Vera Okhritz) a month earlier; my sisters, Radia and Peshka with her husband and two wonderful little children, Rochele and Yudele, had been done in by the brutes some time earlier! My mother Shifra was hiding each time in a different place; my wife's mother Zivia and her brother Avromtze were still alive. This is all. What now?
It is 6 a.m., October 15, 1942, past the High Holidays. Our fate had already been sealed up on high. The survivors, mere remains of human beings, had dressed quickly and were running around like shadows, like trapped birds or mice, silent, speechless, humbled, resigned, bewildered, pale and dried up. A welter of emotions which it is difficult to describe and difficult to understand, because they are emotions born in human beings living in bestial conditions. Short sights are dropped. What is one to do? Where is one to hide? Jews, save yourselves!
I take a look at the nearest and dearest survivors. Zivia has gone to Yossl Sirota's secret hide-out, taking leave with profound grief in her eyes. I take my mother and wife... come, let's try to get away. We go into the cabin at the end of the ghetto street, where there is a window out on the Gentile street. A last look in my mother's deep, dear, true, infinitely devoted and sad eyes... I leap through the window. My wife tries to draw me back. She has seen through the mist a German standing on the other side. But it is too late. My feet land on Gentile soil, outside the ghetto. An impudent act on my part. A German gun faces me, its bayonet pointed at me. "Halt!", I hear the command. It's a miracle that I haven't been stabbed. He takes me in. The dull-witted German has orders to shoot anyone who leaps from a window in the ghetto. The head does not think; the heart flutters; cut to pieces. I left there mother and wife. They won't leap; they saw the German take me in and must be sure it is all over with me. What will they do? What will become of me? I resolve again that so long as they haven't deprived me of my life, I will not submit!
* * *
October 16, 1942. I lie on the rim of the cut rye in the granary of Ivan, whose cabin is the last in Antopol, on the road to Proszychwost, to the left of the cobbled highway. A few weeks earlier I saved the housewife's life by stopping a hemorrhage. That day I left my home and my wife, with Ivan who had come to plead with me, at the risk of being killed by the Germans if they caught me. Now this woman, whose life I had saved, found me in the shed on an early morning when she came to milk the cow. The cow was on the other side. When she noticed me, she was frightened at first, as if she saw a ghost. Then she called out her husband, Ivan. They took me up to the top and hid me. But first they brought me a coat to cover me up -- I was wet from the rain and shivering from cold. Then they brought me hot milk and pancakes.
The sun has arisen, and so, I am alive, among sheaves of rye. For a whole day the head did not think, was dulled. It was only the inertia and the instinct which were functioning. I clung like a dog to the ragged clothes to keep warm. Then gradually the brain began to react.
I see it clearly now: The German orders "Forward!" and I walk. He brings me to a group of brutes, among which were the German, the Landwirtsmann, the Chief of Police and their dog, the Buergerrneister of Antopol, the former mail carrier Chrominski, who was a Pole and Volksdeutsche, the murderer of our dear ones, the fiend stained with the blood of his victims, whom he had dispatched with his own hands. I see his diabolical face with its pointed nose and frozen dead eyes, his hand on the revolver by his side. His swinish snout utters the command: "Zabrac Jego!" (Take him away) and two policemen grab me and lead me into Sirota's gate, where the pasterunek (detention) was located. Four other people were there who had been seized earlier. A few minutes later they bring the midwife Weinstein and three young men. It was too early in the day to shoot. Every article we had on us had been taken away and we were told to sit on the floor. The verdict is unmistaken.
The brain thinks only in one direction: Where does one find the strength to administer them such a blow that we could liberate all those who are scurrying about the fence looking for holes to hide in? The heart is full of hatred for the brutes, full of pain and worry. How long will it go on beating?
I picture the German with his revolver aimed, taking me about 8 a.m. Any split second he may press the trigger and pierce me with a bullet. I walk quietly. He is leading me back into the ghetto to the assembly place.
On all fours like a cat, I leap forward, when the machinegunner leading us, bends down to light a cigarette. My heart beats even now when I think of the decision I made in a flash and carried out: I ran over to Eisenberg's stable. I am noticed at a distance by the old chief of the German constabulary. I am sure he sees me, but he pretends not to. I am not afraid of him. I recall that after the second "hunt", when he stood at the well near Markiter's house in the ghetto, he was looking into the well and said to me quietly with a sigh, as I approached the well: "What a misfortune." His voice trembled, and I thought that tears would come to his eyes. That was the only true sorrow which I noticed in a German in those days.
Here I lie in Eisenberg’s stable on the loft. I don't move. Pain, hunger, thirst - I don't feel them, I have covered myself with rotten hay and am waiting. Night is coming and I have to make use of it. I slide down the loft and begin wandering among the dark mute houses of the ghetto. I can still hear, on one side, the dead silence, and on the other - the voices of the sentries who make the rounds, and shoot into the air from time to time, to see that no one escapes.
I stole out between Polciuk's and Sirota's houses, and am now crawling on my belly through the market place. A thin rain is falling; it is dark. I am already on the Zaniew street, and suddenly in the dark there is a gun facing me with the command "Stoji Kto idzie?" (Stop! Who is going?). I recognize the voice of the policeman Kostia, whom I know well. I used to give him some salve to irritate the sore on his finger, so that he would not be able to put on his boots and have an excuse to stay away from the raids. Kostia, it seems, also remembers and is grateful. He let me go through. This way I reached Ivan's stable. My body is trembling now, not from cold but from excitement, from impatience, from anger. What of the rest? What of my mother, my wife Gittel, my child? What of all the 300 survivors? I saw some of them being led away. Ivan crawls up to me in the afternoon and tells me that it is not good in the ghetto. He brings me, a German newspaper and I read with pain of the Nazi victories at the front. Night falls, but how can one sleep?
* * *
... April, 1943. My wife and I are under the floor of a house not far from the railway station, between Antopol and Proszychwost. We were united three days after parting, when she came at night to the hiding place where Ivan kept me.
Suddenly the order arrives to demolish the house under which we are hidden - the demolition was deemed necessary for security. Our hosts are faced with the dilemma what to do with us? Letting us go free is dangerous, because my wife would not be able to withstand the blows and would divulge her hiding place and our hosts would be executed. I hear them discuss the matter over our heads. The question is: should we be shot or poisoned? But there is no poison to be had anywhere, and the man, an acquaintance of mine, though he has a weapon, does not want to shot me. I get an old iron bar ready and fix up a lock on the door. I will not surrender. I will fight for my life!
Finally a way out was found. Arcyszewski learned that Dr. Cherniak and his wife were alive and came to take us. We came out to him. This wonderful man, the Polish patriot, burst into tears when he saw what was left of a Jewish community. We went to live with him.
* * *
Our address as of the end of April: Antopol, Kobryn street No. 10, the loft of Arcyszewski's stable. We are buried in the bay, near the planks. There is a crack, which serves us as a window. Three times each day the doors of the stable open wide and the housekeeper, a kindly village spinster, comes in carrying a pail with food for the denizens of the stable: a couple of pigs, a cow, hens and a rooster, a horse and a Jewish doctor and his wife, the Jewish pharmacist. The food for the humans is hidden at the bottom of the pail under the fodder for the animals. She talks to the animals, climbs up the ladder ostensibly to get some hay, and unloads the meal for the Jews. While on top of the ladder, she whispers a few words to us. Now and then the master himself would come for a chat, while the housekeeper waits underneath. He would give us some news and bewail the fate of Poland, of Polish Jews, of his relatives. He works for the Germans but he would always end his conversation with a curse: Let the cholera seize them, the sooner the better!
One night a pig became hungry. He grabbed a sleepy hen from the fence. The hen raised a cry. The other animals in the stable woke up and raised a din. The pig evidently became frightened, let go of the hen and the conflict in the stable was terminated, with no damage to anyone. I watched the struggle, thinking to myself that with humans it is not so simple. We, the powerless, have been attacked by a ferocious beast, all of us, adults and children, old and young, well and sick. Our outcry reached up to the heavens and was loud enough and strong enough to move mountains. But it was of no avail. Here we are in the very heart of the once living Jewish town, where we had a community of some two thousand souls, and now it is all vacant, quiet, dead...
* * *
From Arcyszewski's we moved to the village Rushevo. The moving took place in a singular way. At 12 noon a cart drove in into the courtyard on Kobryn street, near the market Place, right in front of the eyes of the arch-murderers. The cart was loaded with tall logs and some straw.
Arcyszewski together with the tall young village blacksmith from Rushevo came into the stable. There were two full sacks tied up ready for them. They looked as if they were filled with potatoes. The two men took first one sack and threw it onto the cart, then the other. They put the sacks straight, covered them with some straw, then made an opening in them to enable us to breathe. The sacks contained me and my wife, of course.
The two sat in the driver's seat, whipped the horses, drove up to Kobryn street and out of Antopol. We arrived in a farmstead in Rushevo, to an address which goes back to the ghetto...
... When the Jewish doctor had to visit a patient in the country, he had to get a permit from the burgomaster to leave the town limits. One day a Gentile woman brought me such a permit and asked me to come to see a gravelly ill woman. I went along and arrived at a farmstead to the right of the road. I was invited to sit down and wait. In about ten minutes the door opened and a Gentile entered, armed with an automatic and hand grenades. He was the "sick woman". I was brought there, so I was told, because they had confidence in me. The German invaders were hunting them as they were hunting me.
"I took ill," he told me. "When I get well, we'll go on fighting the enemy."
I examined him and found out that he suffered from jaundice. The prescription was made out to the "Peasant woman". Grateful and silent, dignified and proud, he pressed my hand and took me back to the ghetto.
In about three weeks, a man who did not look Jewish came to see me at the polyclinic, closed the door tight and told me the following story:
"My name is Aliosha. I am a Jew, a pilot, a soviet warprisoner. My plane was shot down by the Germans at the battle of Brest-Litovsk. I was taken prisoner and handed over to a peasant to work for him. They thought I was a Gentile. Now I am being called to headquarters for investigation. I am afraid they will order me to undress to see if I am circumcised. Can you perform an operation over me to make me look uncircumcised?"
"That I can not", I said, "but I have another idea for you: Go to that farmstead at Rushevo and tell them who you are. They will take you in."
Ten days later a peasant in sheepskin came to see me. It was that same Aliosha. Under his sheepskin he had a weapon and a slice of sausage for me with a promise: "We'll help you when you want help. We'll tell you when things are bad. We have people with us who know."
Evidently they were late with their information - they did not have it in time and failed to warn me. But I had their address and this is how I found refuge in Rushevo...
* * *
At long last! The end has come to the accursed Germans. They look so ridiculous now, so broken up, so filthy, bloodied, humiliated and ruined! We have lived to see the day when justice triumphed. But what a colossal price we paid for it!
We enter Antopol again. It is empty. Last night it was evacuated by the monsters. The cur Chrominski fled along with his masters. On leaving they burned a few houses.
It is a beautiful day in June. The first one to meet me is Ivan Baiduk. He falls on my neck and kisses me. What an outpouring of affection! A pity to mention it. My first steps are directed to the house where our little girl is supposed to be. The Lord be praised! She is here, in good health. But what about later? It is so difficult to breathe here! So difficult to watch everything around you. Here, in this place, we once lived and loved every spot of it. Four other girls came, who managed to save themselves, and that was all that was left of Antopol Jewry.
We have to get settled, carry out the orders of the new authorities - the soviet armed forces. I am told to organize the health services in town and also for the whole region. I ardently throw myself into the task. I look for work to keep me busy all day and through the sleepless nights. I don't want my brain to be free to think, to remember.
But we cannot remain here. For whom? We must leave, we must come among Jews, we must leave the diaspora and realize our old dream...
* * *
Our little daughter is over three years old now. Vera Ochritz still keeps her. She is holding on to her in order to "save her soul" for the "true faith". She refuses to give her up, feeling like a mother to her, the girl owing her her life. Vera says: “We shall wait until the girl is eighteen years of age. Then she will decide whom she wants."
What is to be done? It is a difficult problem. The woman has become so attached to the child! Once the constabulary arrested the woman on suspicion that she was harboring a Jewish child. They had an idea that the girl was ours. They were ready to shoot the girl. Vera held her in her arms for three days, saying: “If you are going to shoot, shoot both of us. Then both our souls will go up to Heaven together."
The local priest stepped in and saved them. He testified that Vera was a believing Christian and that the child was Christian (the priest knew the truth, however, from Vera's confession). She was entitled to the rights of a custodian. Yet the parents were alive. We gave her everything we could, we helped her a great deal, but we could not make her a gift of our child. There was a trial and the court ruled that the child belonged to its parents.
We finally made it. We packed and left for Brest-Litovsk. There we boarded a train for Poland, as repatriates. First we went to Lodz and thence to Gorzub (Landsberg) and later to Wraclaw (Breslau). Here we found some survivors of Antopol Jews, namely Mazurski's daughter and Itke Wolinetz. Mazurski's daughter saved herself under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and lived to see freedom. Itke came with her husband Meyshe Helefantstein.
* * *
We take our seats in the carriage of the train leaving for Paris. Farewell, Poland. Farewell, land of exile. We are determined and we are able to realize our ideal - to come to the Land of Israel.
Midway we linger a little in France. In the hotel, where the remnants of the escaped survivors are gathered from the larger and smaller towns of the now extinct Jewish communities, there is a great deal of talking, reporting, discussing. History is being recorded!
There are sick people, survivors of annihilated households, broken spirits, frustrated ambitions, melancholy neurasthenic people, unnerved individuals, undernourished, frostbitten, cut-up tortured bodies, arms tattooed with numbers; each one a world by himself, a history, a tragedy. What is to be done?
Our firm resolve is to shake off the dust of the exile from our feet, not to let ourselves be discouraged by the hard times in the Homeland (that was in the years 1949-1950). On the contrary we must now come there to help. But not everyone feels that way. Some have other ideas.
The idealists are quietly ridiculed. It was we, the survivors, who have seen how little value human ideals have. Hitler has trampled them underfoot.
In Marseilles we embarked on the Israeli ship Artza. How well we feel among our own people! How precious that is!
On Wednesday, April 4, 1950, we greet the soil of Israel.
We have become the citizens of our ancestral land!
Prof. P. Czerniak
THE GHETTO OF ANTOPOL
I see before my eyes the town of Antopol, with its market place and its stores and other buildings. There are Greenberg's, Lifshitz's, Smolinker's, Sirota's, Polichuk's, Mazurski's, Rosenbaum's, Vissatsky's, Kaplan's etc. I can see the streets running through the town -the Zaniev, the Zhalove, the Greblie, the alley leading to the old synagogue, to Healer Yankel. Here are the prayer-houses, the schools, the bathhouse with the ice-cellar, the orphanage, the traditional Jewish schools, the drugstore, the post-office, the bank, the free loan society, the newspaper stands, the booths, the stores, the larger and smaller shops. Here is everything dear to memory and everything appears so beautiful.
In those, early September days of 1939 faces changed. Everyone is anxious, worried. Bombs are falling over all of Poland. The treacherous Germans destroy everything in their way. They are, coming closer to us. What is to be done? Where can one flee? We are drowning in a sea of hatred and hostility, we have nothing good to look forward to; we are powerless, poor and weak. Affection and loyalty in our own ranks can be of little avail in such days of fire and blood.
It is mid-September now. All night, only the noise of the Polish army vehicles can be heard, as they are leaving the, front to flee towards the Rumanian border. Explosions are heard. On the Kobryn side the sky is reddening. The wounded are being brought in.
In the morning information reaches us that the Russian army is approaching. The Jews of the town become alive. Finally there will come an end to the uncertainty and a new chapter will open. A new order of things, new joys and sorrows - but, the main thing, life will be secure. The Russians arrive. People adapt themselves, they work, they build. Months go by.
It is 6 a.m. on June 22, 1941. A new conflagration is on. On the Bug, near Brest-Litovsk, the Hitler bands are moving forward. The Soviet forces are fleeing in great haste, abandoning large stores of supplies and ammunition. They managed to destroy only part of their archives; the remainder was to be made good use of by the Germans.
On the fourth day of the German-Soviet hostilities, the last of the Russian soldiers left Antopol. The Jewish section is drained of all life. Already the sound of the German airplanes overhead is to be heard. The first motorcyclists arrive. The frightened Jewish population looks out through the curtains as the killers come in.
The march of the German army took several weeks. As long as the Germans were marching, the power was in the hands of the gendarmerie (constabulary). After the gendarmerie came the Gestapo, which set up the civil police force, formed out of the local Polish and White-Russian (Bielorussian) population.
The first act of the police was to square accounts with those who collaborated with the Bolsheviks. They also handed over to the S.S. two Jewish men who had escaped from a German camp and returned to Antopol during the Soviet rule. The men were taken to the S.S. car which arrived from Kobryn, where one of the brutes first beat them and kicked them with his feet and finally shot them dead.
This opened the bloodstained chapter of the story. The police invented an amusement for itself consisting of whipping Jews. They made use of the time when an S.S. car would stop at the market place. They would then catch Jewish passersby, who were already wearing the badges on their sleeves with the Star of David, and bring them into the police station to be whiplashed. The crying and weeping of the victims would freeze the blood in the veins of the listeners. Whenever an unfortunate, released from under the lash, was not quick in making a getaway - crawling away, for that was all he could do they would punish him by calling him back, pouring cold water over him and submitting him to new lashings. Some of the victims would be confined to bed for weeks as a result.
Another amusement the Germans had was to order the Jews to wash their cars and use the opportunity to whip them as they worked and to make them run up and down like dogs.
By employing these barbarian methods, the Germans succeeded in making the Jew hate his life and lose his self-respect and his sense of human dignity.
A short time after their entry into Antopol, the German rulers called together the Christian population of the town into the local church and enlightened them on the proper way of handling their Jewish townspeople. The lesson was quickly learned by the Ivans and the Marussias.
Thus began the systematic cold-blooded implementation of the anti-Jewish plan: a strongly armed monster pitted against a handful of helpless men, women and children. No one asks why or when. Placards are hung in the marketplace with shocking medieval anti-Semitic slogans.
Then evil decrees begin to crowd one another in quick succession. The Jews are ordered to sew on a yellow badge on the breast and on the back. All Jews living on the right hand side of the Pinsk street are ordered to move out of their homes.
The letter-carrier Khrominsky is appointed Chief of the town and the district. He orders the Jews to form a Judenrat consisting of a Chairman and five or six members. At first the demand was for the two Jewish physicians, Dr. Sunschein and myself, to enter into it. But they later realized that if the physicians devoted any time to the sessions of the Jewish Council, the sick of the town and the surrounding villages would be neglected and they rescinded the order.
On a cold October morning formations of armed bandits in German uniforms appear in the fields near Antopol, with their guns trained. They surround the town and the Judenrat is presented with two demands: 1) an indemnity of gold, silver, jewels, leather, various foods and Polish and Soviet currency; 2) all able-bodied men to gather in the marketplace for work. Men scurry away to places where they can hide. I was hidden by the Russian priest in his barn. To be seen are only women and members of the Judenrat. Everyone is carrying what he has to the collecting point, at the home of the late sainted Rabbi Wolkin. The gold, the silver and the money are taken into the house, the merchandise - to a store in the marketplace.
Before the evening came, the Germans managed to capture about 140 men, including boys of 14 years of age and shut them all up in the Polish school on Pinsk street.
At the very same time that the wives, mothers and sisters of the imprisoned men were collecting their indemnity to ransom their nearest and dearest - as they hoped - the peasants of the village Proshikhvost were digging their graves in a nearby wood. (Of that we learned much later).
The day is done, it is dark and a thin dreary rain is falling. Everyone is seated in his house. The curfew forbids to appear outside. But the hearts are with them over there, with the imprisoned fathers and brothers.
In the houses which are situated near the school they hear the sound of approaching automobiles. The innocent victims are being led out, loaded into the cars and taken to a "labor camp"... But they don't get very far. Others had a story to tell about the dull reports of machine guns, which took the lives of the male members of the despoiled families. Hearts were beating fast, but the minds refused to believe that such things could happen in an era of culture and civilization in the twentieth century!
The next morning an automobile arrives and the brutes report: everyone taken away yesterday is now at work in a labor camp and is entitled to receive a parcel of five kilograms of foodstuffs. A new sport for the demons! But mothers and wives make up packages of the best that they have left, write the name of the addressee on each side of the parcel and hand the packages over to the messengers of mercy. An hour later, outside the town, the packages are opened, the best is taken out and consumed and the rest thrown away. In this vandal manner the assassins trample underfoot the dignity of Man and his culture.
A short time after the first liquidation the first ghetto was set up. At first we were assigned to one half of the town, on the left hand side of the Pinsk and Kobryn streets. For a few weeks things were quiet. It was the quiet before a storm. Then came a new decree: there would be two ghettos now, Ghetto A and Ghetto B, the one for skilled workers, useful Jews, the other for the useless. No one wished to be counted among the useless. The Judenrat, together with the Labor Office, had to make up lists. There began the bargaining for places on the useful list, which was believed to involve the difference between life and death. People pleaded, begged, gave presents, wept, anxious to be included in Ghetto A among the "useful" Jews, or to add to the roster and old father or mother. What next?
The Jews of the surrounding countryside were gathered into Antopol - from the villages and towns of the Pruzhan district and the Bielovezh Forest and other places. That resettlement had to be carried out within 24 hours. Often people were just driven from place to place. After a day's strain and tension in moving about, the newcomers begin to look for secret hiding places, potainiks, where to hide out from the hangmen. A great deal of ingenuity and technical skill had to be invested in that effort to discover or contrive them. The potainiks - a new term coined in those years - were within the walls, under the floors, behind cupboards, under screened or curtained-off entrances, double walls and various dark holes. Men ran into such holes like mice, hiding from the brutes human and canine - the Germans employed specially trained dogs to catch the Jews, who pursued us as a cat pursues a mouse. In those days we became the sympathizers of the mice.
It is an early summer day in 1942. The murderers surround Ghetto B. Their task is to capture over 1000 people. Whoever is caught is led to the market place. Old people and children are driven like sheep onto carts. From the market place they are all driven to the railway station. There a train arrives from Pinsk, Janowa and Drohichin, filled with Jews from those towns. The Jews of Antopol are driven into the same train. There are gruesome scenes, accompanied by outcries, wailing and shouting.
Subsequently it became known that near Kartuz-Bereza, in the woods of Bronie-Gura, mass graves had been made ready among the tall fir trees and the sandy hills. The train arrived, one carload after another of human beings was thrown out into the graves while the machine guns were firing on without cease.
A woman who was wounded managed to escape from that inferno to tell us what had taken place. Petrified, dumbfounded, stunned, people listened to her story but even then a spark of hope glimmered in their hearts, and they thought the woman had gone off her mind, for how was such a thing possible?
After the second “operation" the ghetto became too large, and we were confined to a smaller ghetto, in the part of the town between the market-place, the Kobryn, Zhalov and Grushev streets. A tall barbed-wire fence was put up around it and guards were posted before it. Here the inmates were suffocated and eaten up by various diseases and by hunger. Every morning a group of workmen is driven off to some labor under guard to be paid in beatings and curses. The vandals could not tolerate the few survivors and organized a third "operation".
One night the ghetto is surrounded again. People are dragged out of their hiding places. 400 people were gathered together. More human tragedies are played out. Families are broken up, but who takes stock of such things? The monster does its work. Here they take the rabbi and beat him. We hide on the garret and watch through a crack what is going on. A young shoemaker is running and crying "Let me live. I can work well". The German fires and evidently has hit the mark, for all we hear now is a feeble groan of the victim.
Following this tragic day and its events, come other sad days. Wet with tears, drained of feeling, each one is busy with himself alone: why has he remained alive? Why didn't he go with all the others? How long is one to suffer and to "fight" for one's life? Is it worth it? . About 300 fragments of families, fragments of human beings, we remained. It was certain that the death sentence had already been pronounced over us, but when will the German bullet pierce us? We are isolated from the world and don't know what is taking place outside. We haven’t even the small consolation that somewhere someone is thinking about us. Usually a condemned man is visited by a rabbi or a priest and sees a face with an expression of compassion, knows that his relatives grieve for him. But nothing of the kind reached us through the walls of our ghetto. Sometimes one has an ideal for whose sake one is ready to lay down one's life. A soldier is ready to die for his country. We have nothing. We are surrounded by the full grinning faces of our Russian neighbors, headed by the letter-carrier Khrominsky, together with the beasts from the Land on the Rhine and they are all waiting for the time they can carry away what is left of ours after our death. They did not have long to wait. Khrominsky had already promised them they would soon be able to take a walk through the ghetto. A Christian woman doctor came from Brest-Litovsk and took up a house in the ghetto. My former patient Vera from the Kobryn street warns me to hand over my 10 month old child to her as quickly as possible, because we are to be done away with pretty soon.
It is early September 1942. Shadows rather than living human beings are to be seen in the ghetto. One has to search for a smile with a lantern. The sleepless nights are spent in prayer for a speedy end to the suffering by death or by some miracle. Some of the inmates consult with one another about building some hiding places outside its walls, where one could bide one's time until the Germans left. But where is one to obtain arms?
The bearer of the idea - the father of the project - was Markiter. As a capable electrical technician, he was often called by the Germans to repair their radio transmitters and thus had access to their arms. The day had already been fixed when Markiter would seize a few rifles and run into the woods. But we were afraid of the likely consequences in the ghetto and the plan was dropped.
One night six Jews escaped from the ghetto. They roamed the countryside for a few days but no one would help them. Emaciated by hunger and cold, they came back. It was during that time that we placed our little daughter at the doorstep of the Christian woman. Other people had similar ideas but could not bring themselves to carry out such a daring deed. Lipshe Wolowelsky, the wife of Meyshe Hershenhorn, had handed over her daughter, several years old, to a Christian who had a farm near a village. But the children playing with the little girl used to call her zhidovka, so the Christian woman became frightened and brought the girl back to her parents. At the same time Gittle Zeidel came to an understanding with a Christian woman in the vegetable patches on the road to Pinsk that she should hand her over her child of 7 or 8 months of age. But she found it difficult to part from her baby and she missed the opportunity. There were other such cases in which places had been arranged for the children, but the parents, unable to part with their offspring, were too late to save them.
On the night of October 15, the treacherous letter-carrier assembled the Jewish Council and the Jewish police and put them in prison. Simultaneously the S.S. surrounded the ghetto. The Jews in the ghetto had no knowledge of what was happening. I remember that at 6 a.m. Abramchik knocked on the shutters of our room to let us know the ghetto had been cordoned off. Now everyone realizes that the end has come. Our first reaction was: it is good that our child is not with us now. She may survive it all and remain as a living memory to us... Then a new feeling surged up: No, I will not let myself be done in! I leap out of the ghetto. I am caught and led into the gendarmerie and thence to the square from which the way leads to the grave. Is this the end?
I shall never forget that place. Here is the young barber, smoking one cigarette after another and saying: "Let those killers hurry up and finish it!” Here is also the dentist Shogan and his wife. He says to me: "What, you want to flee? It is of no use!” At a distance I see the midwife Mrs. Weinstein and her son, the physician, who clings to her. I address him and ask him to join me in my escape. His answer is: "My mother cannot run with us. I cannot leave her." Here a boy is driven up, his stomach shot up by a gun, with his entrails hanging out. I take my blood-soaked handkerchief from my forehead (bloodied, by the rifle butt of a German after my first attempt to flee), and stuff up the boy's belly. Who could dream of a bandage? At least, let him have some relief of his pain. The automobile has arrived. Just then I jump up like a cat on all fours, run out and in a few seconds I am on the roof of a nearby stable.
Every one of the eight survivors of the two thousand Jews of Antopol has more or less the same story to tell. Mine is one of the eight.
A will of iron was needed to merely wish to be saved, and still more luck was needed, later to survive in an ocean of hate, which had overrun our fair countryside of Lithuanian Russia.
The final liquidation of the Antopol ghetto lasted about four days. It took four days and four nights for the bestial Nazis to hunt down the unfortunate Jews with the aim of destroying them.
After that there remained only empty pillaged broken down houses, filthy streets, a dead silence, polluted air but free of Jews, and the sun went on shedding its light on the place of destruction. Ivan and his girl friend, Otto and Wilhelma could freely stroll through the "battlefield" on the ghetto, after their gallant victory over the "enemy". Only eight emaciated and lonely creatures, deprived of all hope, were hiding in the fields, woods, marshes and bunkers in order to remain alive and be able to tell at least a part of the bloody story, of the days of monstrous evil done by fiends compared to whom Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, Torquemada, Khmelnitzky and many other wicked rulers in history appear like angels of mercy.
Twenty-eight years have passed since those days. Time has somewhat healed the wounds. Memory has lost some of it. But this can be said of the community, of society, of our people. We, the individuals who lived through all that hell, can never forget it. We seek to dull our remembrances in work, to keep our minds busy so as to be able to sleep at night. A new generation is growing up, which has not witnessed it and will not be able to picture it or be willing to believe it. Let them at least read the record and keep in mind that the pen of an ordinary writer cannot describe everything. But the little that is poured out comes out of a bleeding heart. It is a mere drop of the anguish accumulated in two years of Inferno beyond the powers of a Dante to depict.
We, the survivors, are the mere small fragments that are left. Millions lie speechless in their graves or have gone up in smoke. Of those who are left among the living, some will never forgive or forget and wait for vengeance to come, they raise their fists to the skies and shout for the whole world to hear: “We remember, we will not forget what the wicked Amalek has done!" Others accept things as they are, nod their heads and make peace with fate. What can one do now to better things?
There are yet others who refuse to concern themselves with the brutes. They leave it to history to pass judgment. They bear too much of their own pain to have room for other people's worries. They know what mental anguish is, and they can appreciate the mental anguish of others.
We have been broken by our ordeal. Let now our murderers
be broken by their anguish. We must not help them become morally
rehabilitated before the judgment of history. Let them suffer if
indeed their conscience awakes!
Prof. P. Czerniak
MEMOIRS OF AN ANTOPOL
The month of October of 1942 in the Western part of White Russia, the region between Bialystok, Brest-Litovsk and Pinsk, under the German. Remnants of Jews, who have so far escaped the massacres, are still living in the innumerable towns and townlets. Now comes the final act: the liquidation of the ghettos, including the ghetto of Antopol.
The operations are marked by unspeakable atrocity. The ghettoes are strongly guarded so that there is no chance to escape: the slightest attempt to get away brings a bullet in the head. The physicians were left to the last moment: they were still needed. So far there were no Aryan doctors to be found in the small out-of-the-way localities, and the Jewish physician was still in demand.
It so happened that in Horodec (Horodetz), where there was only one doctor, a fugitive from Brest-Litovsk, Dr. Sunschein, he was tolerated for three months after not even a single Jew was left in town. He was placed under a strong guard day and night, and was ordered to treat the non-Jewish population of the region. But as soon as an Aryan doctor was found, the Jew was liquidated. A motorcyclist with black insignia came down from Brest-Litovsk and, with the help of his local flunkeys, the doctor, his wife and his child were taken outside the town limits, were ordered to dig a grave and were covered with earth while still alive.
In Kobryn, Dr. Goldberg was to have a similar fate. But, unlike others, he prepared himself for it and decided to exact a high price for his life. He had succeeded in obtaining a few hand-grenades and a loaded revolver. When they came to take him, he threw the hand-grenades against the murderers, defended himself with his revolver and finally turned the last bullet on himself. Another fellow-physician, whose name I do not recall at the moment, threw upon his assassins a flask with sulphuric acid and leaped from the balcony.
There were many such examples in our parts of quiet heroism mingled with tragic resignation on the part of Jewish physicians. These facts deserve to be recorded for posterity. For the present I merely wish to dwell on some of my colleagues who, by some miraculous combination of favorable circumstances and their own courage, managed to break out of the claws of the brutes and become active in the ranks of the partisans. Each case is a miracle in itself. I knew six such fellow-physicians in our region who joined the existing partisan formations.
It was a long road from the ghetto walls to the freedom of the partisans in the woods and swamps; from the state of a hunted and condemned “fly" to the post of a physician or chief physician in the partisan units. In the environs of Antopol the first partisan ranks began to form as early as 1941. In 1943 a whole corps was active known as the Brest-Litovsk United Fighters. It consisted of a staff and brigades spread over the forests and the marshlands. Attached to staff headquarters was the Chief of the Partisans' Medical Service. He was one of the six Jewish doctors. The remaining five were attached to separate field units.
It is difficult to convey to the reader what each one of us did and under what conditions! In the midst of battles, of thousands of dangers, in the woods, fields, marshes, caves, pits, under the open sky, under a tree, in a primitive tent, or in a rural cabin, at best: under the hot sun or in a slashing rain, in a snowfall or hailstorm, here by day, there by night, and as often as not under the hostile looks of non-too-friendly strangers. Not to mention the lack of medical installations and instruments, an operating table, cots, medicines or bandages! We always had to improvise, to create something out of nothing. Not only were we called upon to take care of the health of our fellow partisans, but also to look after the local civilian population to receive their sick and wounded and to combat epidemics.
How to convey or describe all of this?!
Here are some personal reminiscences.
Noontime of a sunny April day. A cart enters a courtyard on the Kobryn Street in Antopol. Two sacks are carried out of the stable, and loaded onto the wagon. The sacks are covered with straw. Arcyszewski, who is under obligation to me for having saved the life of his wife, has taken pity on us - for it was my wife and myself who were in those sacks - and punctures an opening in the sacks to enable us to breathe. We travel for seven kilometers. Our hearts flutter, we hardly even wish to believe that we shall reach our destination. Night has fallen. We come to a threshing-floor. Here we are awaited by ten armed partisans. We experience our first friendly encounter with people at liberty after five months of hiding and constant fear of death. How good it is to breathe the free air of the forest! We walk. It is way past midnight when we reach a clearing not far from the village of Odrinke. That is our destination. For the time being, this will be my place of work, my new quarters.
On the morrow, the first personal meetings of acquaintance. The work begins. First of all a general medical examination for everybody. Between two trees, overhead, they draw a coarse sheet for shelter, and the inspection begins. It turns out that more than 20% of my comrades suffer from scabies; the rest are sure to get the itch soon. It is a highly contagious ailment, especially under prevailing conditions of life. My first task is to relieve the suffering. I explain that since no medical supplies are available, it would help if they could secure some sulphur. Once animal fat is secured, the mixture would serve as an ointment. My wife prepares a pot with the ointment - 15-20% sulphur. For several days the odor of sulphur hung over the countryside. The laundry was boiled, clothes were changed, people bathed in the nearest swamp. Soon they were rid of that plague. There is no way to describe the gratitude of these people of the forest. That “Partisans' ointment”, as it was known, spread among all the detachments of the brigade and among the civilian population as well.
But there were other ailments. Unfortunately I had to do my work empty-handed. I had nothing in the way of medicines or instruments, bandaging material or syringes. At a meeting I proposed a plan and asked for general co-operation. I asked that they collect old unused medicines in every house and village where the partisans come to carry out operations; I asked the staff to set aside some lard which could be bartered in the Antopol pharmacy for the necessary medical supplies; that they should search out medical instruments in the loot of the robbers of the ghetto. It was done. Thus we set up the partisans' dispensary in the woods. A syringe was found as well as some distilled water. The machinery used by the peasants to produce homebrew was put to work in distilling water. The work progressed.
June 20th. We play host to distinguished visitors. For the first time we were visited by the Chief of Staff of the United Partisans of Brest Litovsk; we discuss organizational problems. The Chief was accompanied by the head physician.
As we were seated on the ground, consulting with one another about sanitary problems we were suddenly apprised of the arrival of a car with 15 German military personnel in Hruszewo, two kilometers from our camp. The Germans came to look for eggs, milk and fowl. The session was interrupted and we quickly form a group, with the few arms at our disposal, to attack the enemy.
Before long we hear the loud reports of firing. Our men had ambushed the German party on their way back and showered them with a rain of bullets on all sides. Eight were killed on the spot. Five were seriously wounded and two, defending themselves with their automatics, managed to escape. Their automobile was no longer fit to be used but we found in it several cans of benzene and some arms and ammunition. This was quite a loot, for us. We suffered two casualties in wounded, one of them seriously, in the tip of his right lung. When he was brought to our station, I made use of the reserves I had built up. I gave him, instead of a transfusion injections of a specially prepared physiological mixture. I used up the only ampule of morphine I had to relieve his pain. Taking care of the light wound in the hand of the other casualty was a much easier task.
However, we were compelled to make a quick getaway expecting as we did a retaliatory expedition by the Germans. We set out for the Juchon woods, winding our way through little known hidden paths and by-paths. Carrying him on a hastily improvised stretcher, we took our seriously wounded comrade with us and everything we possessed. We later learned that two hours after we left, several German armored trucks appeared in the neighborhood, cruising it up and down and unable to find any trace of us.
Time moved forward and the number of partisans grew. The engagements with the Germans took place more and more often and the Germans stepped up their repressions against the civilian population. The latter increasingly demanded of us medical assistance. It was impossible to find auxiliary medical personnel, and I began to train some in my unit.
My colleagues, doctors in the neighboring partisan detachments, were in a similar position. They did not have a moment to breathe and, in addition, there was not a single nurse or attendant.
I picked 16 women partisans and began to teach them how to handle a sick person, how to clean and bandage wounds. I trained them in the practice of first-aid. They were eager and capable and very devoted. They finally acquired the art and were assigned functions. Every small unit was allotted one nurse and two male attendants, chosen from among the partisans who had some idea about such work. This was the nucleus of each of the larger groups of First-Aid. The three members of the nucleus usually accompanied the group whenever there was a minor engagement in the area. The staff refused categorically to risk its only physician except in very important sorties.
November of 1943. Our detachment, in agreement with several other, smaller ones in the same area, undertook a joint attack on the town of Antopol. We concentrated our forces at night. According to the prearranged plan, each grouping was assigned its objective, to occupy this or that position, to carry out this or that act of sabotage.
I went with my group to seize Gody's Mill. The new owners of the flourmill were shut up by us in the cellar, while we converted the rest of the premises into a field hospital. I established myself with my assistants, ready to receive the wounded. In this place, behind Gody's Mill, I used to romp and play as a child and play pranks as a boy. Now I was here again, to treat the wounded partisans who were fighting to avenge the destruction of a large Jewish community.
The longed-for moment has arrived. On all sides there is the din of machine guns, automatic rifles, guns and hand grenades. Next the houses are on fire. The first wounded have arrived. I am assisted by a young Jewish physician from another unit and three trained nurses. One man has a bullet in his head, three have their legs wounded, a few have light wounds in various places, one has a broken leg. All of them receive first aid. Two return to the firing line immediately. Three will have to be carried on stretchers.
At daybreak all the fighters have reassembled worn out, but pleased with the job well done, courageous and inspired. The Germans and their collaborators were taught a good lesson, their "fortress” was destroyed and a large quantity of food and ammunition was taken to last a long period.
In October, 1943, on the anniversary of a national holiday, we get an order from above to blow up the Brest-Pinsk railway line for a stretch of four -kilometers. Our unit marches towards its objective through woods, fields and hamlets. I go along. We have arrived, spread out, laid out the bricks with the explosives. Here is the agreed signal, and then come scores of explosions. Chunks of iron soar up and fall down groaning to the ground. The German watchmen wake up suddenly in their booths and open a wild fusillade with tracer bullets. One of our men has been hit in the back by a piece of fallen iron. We take him along. I give him an injection of morphine to relieve his pains. I do what I can under the circumstances. But could he be saved under ideal conditions?
Early in 1944. An epidemic of spotted typhus fever is raging in the region of Antopol. The partisans were infected and brought the disease to camp. There are over 20 sick. They make it difficult. We must be mobile and on the alert, because the Germans are lurking for our lives. The typhus patients are like lead on our feet while their absence from the battlefield is keenly felt. There is no time to lose in fighting the epidemic. The first thing to do is to exterminate the lice. Since there were no chemicals to do the job, I invented an abattoir for lice: I arranged one of the dugouts used for hanging the clothes in such a manner that it could be sealed hermetically and filled with hot steam; two hours of such treatment killed the lice. At the same time I ordered close-cropped haircuts and two baths in the open air for each partisan.
The partisans were ordered not to spend a night in any strange house and to bathe and steam their clothes after every contact with civilians. I also ordered strict insulation for the sick and. suspicious cases. The partisans carried out all my instructions with remarkable promptness. The success was amazing.
Among the duties of a physician in the partisan forces was one of rendering assistance to the civilian population when it asked for it or when it was forbidden, for security reasons, to go seek medical assistance in a town occupied by the Germans. We were constantly approached by sick civilians and we helped them.
One hour after we had entered the village Derevnoye, a young peasant came to me and told me his wife was bleeding. I see her. She had a miscarriage. Her womb must be scraped immediately or she would bleed to death. I took some of the pipes used by the peasants for making homebrew, the wiring used by the soldiers to clean the rifles and some other such obtainable materials and made my own instruments for the occasion, sterilized them together with the gynecological speculum and treated the woman. After half an hour the bleeding ceased.
March 1944. Six thousand Germans are assembled around our unit, armed with tanks and cannon, in order to put an end to us. I am laid up with severe pneumonia, and 39 degrees fever. I contracted it a few days earlier travelling in rain and wind to a distant hamlet to see a patient. On account of my illness the staff had to alter its schedule, waiting for me to recover somewhat, perhaps following the crisis on the ninth day. But when the German noose began to tighten around us, waiting any further was impossible. I was placed on a wagon and traveling during the night, by hidden byways, we manage to break through the ring. It was a long way but finally we arrived at the Sporow marshes, where we were out of danger. While on the way there, I was visited by the doctor of a neighboring unit who gave me some treatment and helped me to recuperate somewhat.
A "hospital” was hastily put together in the marshes: trees were cut and chopped down, and a structure arose with a wooden floor. We had a sickroom with cots for eight patients, one for the sick who could walk and a physician's office. Out of here issued sorties into evacuated localities and the men returned weary and some wounded. There was plenty to do.
In June of l944 we emerged from the marshes and went over to the Russian army. On our way we engaged some of the retreating German units. My wife took gravely ill. I had to obey orders and leave her to her own devices. Fortunately I managed to contact a Jewish woman physician of a neighboring unit and she looked after my wife until she got well.
The last battle with the Germans took place south of Bereza Kartuzka. A larger unit of Germans took up some trenches and idled their time away, awaiting instructions. Meantime the Germans went out to pick berries in the nearby woods. Our woodsmen then attacked in full force. A strong fusillade ensued. Many Germans lost their heads and raised their arms, throwing away their weapons. Others defended themselves and ran for cover into the nearby distillery. None came out alive.
When the first elements of the Red Army appeared, the men continued to fight the remnants of the fanatic Germans, but the task was much lighter.
On July 22 I returned to my "liberated" home town, Antopol. It was a desolate place for Jews. Only seven Jewish souls were there. How could one bear it? How could I stay there for any length of time? Before leaving Antopol I made two calculations:
a) What did the partisans-doctor of Antopol do from April 1943 until July 1944?
Received 7320 sick partisans, treated while they could walk around; 2358 sick people of the civilian population spread over 46 different localities, which necessitated my making 152 trips. Treated 213 gravely ill partisans, requiring a total of 1278 confinement days; treated 58 wounded partisans of whom only two were unable to return to the line; performed 35 complicated surgical operations; treated 6 wounded civilians, delivered 7 children of civilian mothers, of which one had triplets; waged war on epidemics, lice and all sorts of plagues, and so on.
The total is based on diaries kept during work.
b) What did the German occupational authorities and their collaborators achieve in Antopol and its' environs in the field of medicine and health?
Murdered 3 physicians, 1 dentist, 2 pharmacists, 2 medical attendants, 2 midwives, 2 nurses and 39 male nurses along with 2000 (two thousand) Jewish inhabitants of the town. Destroyed health centres (Detkowic, Torokan, Aniskowic, Berezno, Worotnic), the medical laboratory, the health department and the contagious diseases department in Antopol and more of such institutions.
It remains for the world to compare our total to that
of the murderers.
Prof. P. Czerniak
VERDICT WITHOUT APPEAL
(from a diary)
It is late summer of 1942. The day is warm, sunny and bright. A carriage comes to me from the hospital to the ghetto, with Dr. Smirnov in it. "Kolezhka!", he addresses me affectionately, “come quick, I'd like to show you something!”
Smirnov is now director of health services, and his wish is an order for me. I have known Smirnov since our high school days in Kobryn, under different circumstances...
When I first entered high school, Smirnov was one grade above me. When I was completing the final grade, the eighth, he was repeating his seventh grade. The poor fellow was a bad student and had difficulty even in memorizing the fact that water boiled at 100 degrees centigrade. On my graduation from high school I was refused as a Jew, admittance to a university in Poland. Smirnov, however, did manage, two years later, to enter the Vilno School of Higher Learning, and even to study at the Faculty of Medicine. Somehow he pulled through during the war years, when the Russian occupied Vilno. When the Germans arrived, he became important - a man with Slavic Aryan blood in his, veins and a diploma in his pocket. It did not matter much what he had, or did not have, in his brain. It was this Dr. Smirnov who was brought by the Germans from Kobryn to Antopol to be entrusted with all the functions which I, the accursed Jew (verfluchte Jude), had been charged with before - director of the health service for the region and of the hospital (which I had built in Antopol during the time of Russian occupation, beginning in 1919 and continuing until the German invasion). Whenever something happened in the hospital, which Dr. Smirnov did not know how to handle, he would come running out of breath to the ghetto to ask my help.
This time, too, the carriage clattered loudly on the cobblestones of the Kobryn highway. In it were seated: Dr. Smirnov, the director; I, with my yellow badge, and the coachman (who, when no one was looking, would take off his hat before me, as in olden times). The three of us drove out to Janyszewski's farm, at the end of the Kobryn Lots, where the hospital was situated. I found there a child sick with whooping cough, suffering from strong attacks of coughing and an eczema under the skin of the throat, and on the upper part of the chest. Apparently the pressure created by the coughing caused a rupture in the windpipe, and air entered under the skin. The child was hurt by the pressure and looked terrible. I asked for a couple of coarse needles, pricked the skin and the air came out. The distended skin contracted and the suffocation was relieved. I administered some bromophorm to the child and he was saved.
Dr. Smirnov accompanied me on my way home. There was no need to hurry, so we walked. I wanted to gain time and perhaps obtain some information from this stupid fellow about what was being planned for us, Jews, in the ghetto. For several minutes my colleague kept tapping his forehead and muttering: “It is all so simple, why didn't I think of it? You prick the skin with a needle and you relieve the coughing. A puncture in the skin makes the air come out. Then you administer bromophorm to relieve the coughing." It looked just as in olden times when he used to rehearse to himself "H2O is water, H20 is water." I let him complete his course in the subject, thinking to myself:
There he, is, the Pan Direktor of today, the man who is superior to me, greater, more handsome, the more pureblooded specimen of the human race in this world. He rules and leads me as one leads a dog by a leash into its kennel - the ghetto. And here is the yellow badge on my back. That is the rope which stifles me, and weighs me down. This dull-witted brain on two legs trudging like a bear, and carrying a living carcass shaped like a human being, this thing is my superior, the one who lords it over me, and I am the Jew, for whom nothing will avail - neither science nor industry, nor talent, nor culture. I am the one who is not wanted, not needed. I am the hated and despised, the one to be destroyed. Why? Why did the Poles admit this total zero to the university in Vilno but would not admit me, the Jew? Why is this absolute nonentity now a free physician in control, even though it is clear that the distance between him and the Jew-dog is the distance of long years of evolution of the human species on earth? Why, after all, is he sure of his life and is entitled to it, while I am sure of death and am not entitled to live?
That beautiful summer day, as it was nearing its end at twilight, while Smirnov and I were walking back to the ghetto, I received the answer to my query.
Dr. Smirnov began: "It is a pity that you are a Jew, a zhid. You understand, a great ruler arose in the world, a great judge. He issued a verdict which ordered all Jews to be destroyed. There is no appeal against this judgement. That is plain, no mistake about it. You've got no one to appeal to, no one to discuss it with. You cannot defend yourself, and I am sorry about you, because you have been helping me (the unassailable logic of a numbskull!)."
Smirnov went on: “It seems it won't be long now. Pan Chronimsky, the Mayor, told me: ‘Just wait a short while and you will soon be able to take a walk with your lady in the ghetto freely’. (Pan Chrominsky is the postman turned German - a Volksdeutsche - whom the Germans appointed Mayor of Antopol).
Smirnov spoke some more. He offered me to save my equipment by taking it for himself and hiding it. According to his way of thinking, that ought to make it easier for me to take my bullet in the head, or console me somehow, when my end comes, with the rest of the Jews, and my stupid companion will be able to stroll over the blood-drenched soil of the ghetto, drenched with our blood. He kept on talking and talking, but I kept quiet. Here I was given my verdict of death not subject to any appeal. I, my family, and all the remaining Jews of the ghetto were soon to be put to death. All of us knew about it or felt it, but none of us dared to formulate it so plainly, the way this descendant of the Khmelnitzky killers blurted it out. The cold bullet, 8 grams of lead, already entered my brain and dazed it, killing the best that there is to be found in a human head and leaving an automatically propelling, numb body. This body took leave of the Pan Direktor of the hospital, who continued to mourn: "Too bad, panochku, that you are a zhid, because I need you. But a verdict is a verdict."
Time passed and, during the period still left for us to live, the wound made by Dr. Smirnov was healing. What is to be done? The first thing decided by myself, and all those to whom I reparted my conversation, was to make arrangements about the children. In a few days we deposited our little girl Vera at the doorstep of a Christian household (our daughter was five months old at the time. She stayed with them in the Pinsk Lots. The woman saved her, and took good care of her. After the war, following strenuous efforts, we got our child back).
A few weeks later they knocked at our door at 5 o'clock
in the morning: "Get up! The Judenrat has been arrested, the ghetto
police is disbanded and the Germans are guarding us." I jumped up
from bed with the thought: Smirnov's prediction has come true. The
8 grams of lead will bring the end. It makes it so much easier that
our baby is not with us, that we saved the Deutsche Wehrmacht the expense
of 3 pfenning for a bullet. And immediately thereafter a new determination
came into being. If there is no appeal, let there be a fight for
life or death. This is a fight of a hunted against the hunter: he
has the gun, but the animal has the swift legs, it has justice on its side,
the right to live. We are such animals: We must flee, out of the
ghetto, and then we shall see. The decision was taken and carried
Prof. P. Czerniak
THE STORY OF A MARTYR
Taylor Yossi Friedman had a son named Meyshe, who was also a tailor. A fine good-looking young man. Meyshe got married a couple of years before the War. His young wife gave birth to a child, who grew to be a year and a half old when the German horde brought darkness to Antopol.
A non-Jewish farmer denounced the young man to the Germans as a communist. He was arrested, though he was pretty far removed from communism. Meyshe managed to escape from the police station and hid in the Pahonie (a large marshy field), where cows had their night pasture. The enraged Nazis were furious. Two motorcyclists came from nearby Kobryn. They called up the Judenrat (Council of Jews) and announced that if "the communist" failed to appear within the coming 48 hours, they would shoot his wife and child, his parents and ten prominent Jews. The next day Meyshe’s wife and child and his parents were shut up in a brick-built store, with a guard posted in front of the store, and a warning was issued: We are waiting 24 hours more.
Ivan Baiduk, a representative of the local gentile burghers, a supposedly progressive man who was literate enough to be able, to sign his name, met me in the market place and said: "Mister Doctor, it looks bad, Moshke is not coming. The rulers are sure to take another ten Jewish notables. In that case, dear doctor, we may lose you. We have got to do something about it."
Life had already lost its value with us. No one dreamt of acting along the lines suggested by Ivan. We knew Meyshe would be put to death as soon as he fell into their hands. Would anyone betray him? Sell him out? Would anyone do anything to please the Germans, give them cause to feel triumphant? And why should Meyshe get this? Is he a communist or any sort of an activist or communal leader? He is nothing but a nice, quiet, decent and hardworking good man. And even if he were some sort of a party-man who believes in his ideal, does he deserve to be shot without a trial, just because some peasant wanted to have him dead?
Everyone in town knew that at night Meyshe came from the Pahonier, and sneaked into his house, On the first night he saw his wife and child, his father and mother, and together they grieved. They wrung their hands, sought out friends to ask for advise, had no food and no sleep. What was there to be done? On the second night the house was empty, because his nearest and dearest were shut up in the store. In the dark of the night he knocked on the doors and windows of his friends: "dear friends, what can be done? The heart is about to break, the head is whirling, the air is tight and life is a curse!"
They quietly sighed with the unhappy man. They felt for him and were sorry for him. The young man .had become transformed. He was no more good looking and had aged. They quietly parted. Meyshe went back to the Pahonie.
The next morning he reported at the police station. He put in his appearance before the killers, as if to say: "Here I am, hang me but let my wife and child and parents go. They are innocent!"
He was put in chains, although there was no chance that he would try to escape again. He had taken a decision to give his life for his family. That same day he was taken to Kobryn. Not far from the tall bridge over the river, several scaffolds had been prepared. Within a few hours the body of the innocent brave man was swinging off one of the nooses.
May the memory of Meyshe Friedman live forever!
We were liberated in the summer of 1944. The handful of survivors had begun to come out of the woods and other hiding places. The sum total was very saddening. Very few Jews remained as living witnesses of the brutal murders. Only five Jews survived of such a large community as Brest-Litovsk. Even less remained in Kobryn. The number of women and children survivors was proportionately smaller, because they had not been readily admitted by the partisans to join in fighting the Germans.
Fate willed it that only seven Jews were left of the residents in the ghetto of Antopol. Among them were Dr. Cherniak, his wife and child, and four other girls, namely: Shoshe Wolowelsky, of Grushev street; Itka Mazurski the daughter of Itzl Mazurski; Reizl Kagan, Yankl Tebin's daughter, of Kobryn street, and the writer of these lines, daughter of Naftoli Kaplaniker. How each one of us remained alive is a subject for a book about the period when we saw death before our eyes every day.
I lived in the ghetto of Antopol from its first day, together with my whole family. During the final operation, when the last remaining Jews in the ghetto were being driven to the railway station for shipment (in October of 1942), I managed to escape and hide with a Polish Christian acquaintance, Arcyszewski. To remain in Antopol was out of the question, since at that time there was not a single Jew left in town.
Arcyszewski took me, a few days later, into the village of Novosolok, to a Christian family’s home, where he had prepared for me a place in a pit under a cowshed in the backyard. It is difficult to imagine life in a pit in the cold and in the dark, isolated from the world, but yet this is how I was saved.
I was fed as it was customary to feed a cat or a similar animal in rural places. There were moments of fear, when drunken Germans visited the family, and I used to hear their wild voices from my hiding place. The unhygienic conditions for a long time caused my getting ill very often. There was no hope for medical care. It took great strength and endurance to bear all this. I had about six months of this tortured existence, until I could not remain in the village any longer. The man who shielded me feared for his life all the time, because he risked death for harboring a Jew. He told me that Dr. Cherniak and his wife lived in the nearby forest among a group of partisans, and advised me to seek a way to contact them and apply for joining them. We managed to make the contact, and one day a sleigh drove into the yard of my host, who hid me under a pile of straw and sent me with the driver into the forest.
A different type of life began for me in the forest. The partisans lived in primitive conditions, in tents and booths. They often had to be on the move in order to escape the pursuing Germans. Spread out in the famous Pinsk marshes, the partisans had to endure unusual hardships in the wintertime, when they suffered from a shortage of clothes and footwear. It was my good fortune to get quarters in the same tent with Dr. Cherniak and his wife, who contributed so much to the cause of the partisans, and he enjoyed great respect and popularity with them. If it were not for him, they probably would not have admitted me, since they seldom agreed to admit women. Dr. Chemiak and his wife looked after me as if I were their own child, We carried on in the marshes as best as we could until the summer of 1944. We took solace from the defeats which the Germans were beginning to suffer in the front, and we nursed the hope that we would live to see a better day. Finally liberation came. All of us returned to Antopol. It is difficult to describe the impression we had on coming back to our native town, and meeting the other survivors, namely: Itka Mazurski, Shoshe Wolowelski, and Reizl Kagan.
After the end of the war, another dozen families returned to Antopol, coming from distant parts of Russia, where they served in the army, or through other circumstances which brought them there.
We all nurtured the idea of building up connections with the outside world, and beginning a new life. In 1945 we left for Poland with the intention of proceeding thence to Israel.
Thus came to an end a long chapter of the Jewish community
Prof. P. Czerniak
ANTOPOL IN THE YEARS 1957-1959
During the years 1945-1950 there were only three Jews to be found in Antopol: Avigdor Devinietz ("Nat"), Chaim-Leib Finkelstein, and Yitzchak Zacks [see supplemental information]. Even these three failed to strike permanent roots. Devinietz married and moved with his wife to Pinsk; Finkelstein moved to Brest-Litovsk, and thus Yitzchak Zack remained the only Jew in a town which once boasted a flourishing Jewish community.
No Jews are left in the whole neighborhood. There are no Jews in Horodetz, and there are only four Jewish households in Drohichin. The same picture is to be observed in Kobryn and all other towns in the region.
Finkelstein, until the 1950's, was manager of a Kom-Khoz (communal economy). He utilized his position to convert the large marketplace into a municipal park. He had trees and flower-beds planted, walks and benches installed, and the old market-square was gone: the stores were hidden from view by the trees and the whole scenery changed.
Yitzchak Zack was at first a member of the party, but he was later expelled and he is content with being an official in the Regional Consumers' Cooperative (Ray-potreb-soyuz).
Now there are in Antopol three thousand Russians and Poles, some of whom are the former Gentile inhabitants of the town, while the others are newcomers from nearby villages in Russia and White Russia.
The Christian population presents a different story than that of the Jews. Two kolkhozes were established:
The "First of May", which includes Pryshikhvost, and "Gubernia" with the other district. Work groups (artels) were organized, as well as co-operatives and other such bodies. The former Jewish prayer-house on Kobryn Street now houses an artel for combing wool. Other artels were formed to carry out various kinds of building jobs. Houses were built along the cobbled Drohichin highway as far as Pryschikhvost. A new street called "Niekrasov" was opened up at the right side of the highway.
At first the authorities planned to create in Antopol a "Regional Committee" (Raykom). In order to carry it out they began building a two story brick house on Feiwel Bendet's lot. Later it was decided that the town would become, administratively, a "Posielkov Selsoviet", or Village Council, attached to the Drohibitz Region. The new edifice was converted into a children's home. Kobryn, too, became a regional centre, including also Horodetz and Khadlin, under its jurisdiction.
The internal appearance of the town changed a great deal. Various institutions were built. The rabbi's house in the synagogue courtyard was confiscated. The same fate befell Feldstein's house on Pinsk Street, the Orphanage on Grushav Street, the Squire's prayer-house, the ice-cellar and many other buildings. The Tarbut Hebrew school building was converted into a dairy restaurant; Polchuk's brickhouse became a Soviet orphanage; the Talmud Torah building is being used for a secular school, the old frame prayer-house now houses a cinema; and the new brick building of the synagogue was occupied by the offices of the Regional Union. Bales of flax are stored in the old large brick prayer house. The "Squire's" prayer-house was moved to the village of Holovietz, where it was used to build a Church. The old school building on Pinsk street is used for a ten-year secondary school. The hospital on Kobryn street has been enlarged, with the addition of a surgical department and a staff of four physicians.
The Gentile population of Antopol is still busy rummaging in the ruins of the Jewish houses, hoping to unearth some treasures. They did succeed in finding some valuables in the cellar of Itke Miriam's house. The police confiscated them.
That is how the once Jewish town of Antopol looks like after the brutal murder of the Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi horde. Where 2000 innocent Jewish martyrs found their graves there are now some 3000 Christians, mostly newcomers, living a life free of Jews. Some of them remember the past and secretly yearn for it and for the Jews. But where are the forces that can bring back to life the souls which still live in the hearts of the few survivors scattered all over the world?
The ever unanswered question arises; Whence will come that moral force which can stir up the conscience of mankind which watched with equanimity the vandalism of the Nazi brutes, while now everyone seeks to obscure and forget and obliterate every trace of the perished Jewish population, or as to be able to succeed to its heritage undisturbed.
But we cannot forget. "Remember what Amalek hath
done to thee,"
It seems that up there, Providence had predestined Reb Elie Mass to be a leader and a representative of his people.
Everybody knew Reb Elie, who lived opposite the old post office and had a glass porch, which served all the year as a veranda, and during Succoth - as a Succoh.
Reb Elie Mass enjoyed the respect of everybody, young and old, small and grown up. You got to like him from the first time that you saw his aristocratic-patriarchal countenance.
He used to pray in the Pritsishn Beis Medrosh, on Kobriner Street, and he was always on hand to answer queries and solve disputes.
Always dressed neatly, on the Sabbath Reb Elie wore a top hat and a white collar shirt. He knew all about the big metropolitans of the world, and people said that he learned to wear a top hat in America.
Still he knew nothing of the neighboring villages around his home town, until one day a war broke out between Nikolai of Russia and Willhelm of Germany, and the Germans advanced as far as the other side of Pinsk. When the local farmers fled deep into Russia, the local Jews and Reb Elie among them harvested their crops in order to feed their own families, and thus they got to know all the villages around, and the fields surrounding them.
Then came a declaration, by U.S. President Wilson, famous for its fourteen points, followed by a war between Poland and Red Russia. This fire also swept Reb Elie's town.
It came about in the month of Elul, when the sun usually celebrates its last days of summer, the air is "clear, full of blossoms, and people feel fresh and prepared to pick all the ripe fruits to preserve them for the winter, when everything will be covered with snow and ice. In these very days the Jewish people were hiding in dug-outs, awaiting death any minute.
On the last day of Succoth, the air was filled with the noise of bullets, houses crumbled under fires, and the Poles were driving the Bolsheviks beyond the other side of town. While passing by, the Poles advised the hiding Jews to put out the fires. Reb Elie instinctively looked out to see the fires, when one of the soldiers asked him for the road to Sweklitch.
Reb the came out, and, approaching the commanding officer, tried to give him directions. But the officer ordered him to lead them in person as a scout.
Night came, and they were still walking. When they approached the outskirts of the village, Reb Elie began to feel better. He outlined the place to the officer, who checked with his map and verified it. But now, after telling Reb Elie what would have been his fate if he had misled them, they ordered him to go into the village and return with information as to the possibility of the Bolsheviks still being there.
Reb Elie walked over, tired and exhausted, and came out reporting that the village was empty. But now they ordered him to continue to the next village. He had to go on. On the way he prayed the evening prayer which he had missed before, and it made him feel better, until he reached the village. And then onward… by the time he reached the third village he knew what to do. In that village there lived a farmer named Mikita. Reb Elie woke him up and asked him about Bolsheviks, and the latter replied that he would not know for sure. Reb Elie came back and related what he had heard.
Now they told him to walk ahead together with Mikita. The Battalion halted as the two went forward scouting. Suddenly:
- Who goes there?
- Yours, followed by Poles.
- Lie down, quick. We start firing on them.
Both armies began shooting while Mikita pulled Reb Elie down to the ground. Then he took him back with him through back roads until they reached the village, and then he sent him on his way to his home-town.
Now Reb Elie continued alone on his way until he reached his town, all dirty and exhausted.
- Dear Papa, his children met him, where have you been?
- Hush children, we have a great God. If not for
the war, I would not know the villages, and if I would not know the villages
– what would be my end? I come from "no man's land” and I came out
alive from the fire. Who would have thought that Mikita would earn
himself a place in Paradise?!
YUDEL DER SCHREIBER
Yudel der Shreiber was one of the earliest educators in Antopol. As was the custom in those days, the "shreibers" were both official and private writers in the community where people were literate, but mostly in the Holy Scriptures and the Prayer Book.
Reb Yudel excelled in the knowledge of the “small letters", both in Hebrew and in Russian. He also gave private lessons to young and adult students.
His father, Reb Shmuel Friedman had been the head of the Jewish community, as well as a known wealthy land owner. His son Yosl married and moved to Bialistok and used to visit his parents on holidays. Yosl's son, Benjamin, moved with his family to Israel in 1924. He passed away in 1943.
Reb Yudel's daughters, Rivka and Masha, born to him and his wife Meite, left the town and emigrated to the U.S. about 1910. Masha married the late Dr. Phoebus Berman, the son of Rabbi Moshe Berman who had been Rabbi of Antopol. Rivka married the late Dr. Isaac Burstein. She visited Israel in 1960. Her son, Dr. Herschel H. Burston and his wife visited Israel last year, and took great interest in the projects and accomplishments of the local Antopol organization, such as the synagogue, the lzkor Book etc.
Dr. Burston has been very active in financing the publication
of the memorial book, and together with the late Dr. Berman they also outlined
the contents of the English part, in order to leave for later generations
of American Jews the story of Antopol in English.
Prof. P. Czerniak
MOSHE STAVY (STAVSKY)
On July 23 1964 we were bereaved in the passing away of our dear brother Moshe Stavy.
He was born in Antopol in the 1880's to his father Yaacov-Shmuel Stavsky and his mother Rivka (nee Lifshitz). When their mill was consumed by fire they moved to Kremenchulk. In the course of their many travels, young Moshe came to Warsaw and got acquainted with a group of young poets, who opened the renaissance of Hebrew-Jewish literature. He began to publish his first works, and finally he settled in Warsaw from where he used to come home on visits. During one of his visits he happened to save his niece who was then a revolutionary. He managed to hide her and smuggle her to Kremenchuk.
Coming back to Warsaw he continued his struggles, preferring the hard life of a young writer over easy life in a well to do family. Here he met his future wife and together they moved to Israel. In 1911 they sailed on a primitive Russian boat from Odessa to Jaffa - after a fierce struggle with the sea, the Turks, and lack of food and water. Upon arrival in Jaffa started another hard period. Moshe, who since boyhood loved nature, decided to revive the love of nature in the holy land. He began studying the new environment, the Arab neighbors, their way of life, and became an expert on the Arabs in Israel. He began working the land and became a farmer. He became also an expert in Hebrew in which he now published his old Jewish stories, as well as new ones. When his literary life became unbearable, he turned completely to agriculture. After a while, when he was already a successful farmer in Beer-Tuvia he came back to Tel-Aviv, and began writing on farming and agriculture.
He became also a friendly adviser to Antopoler who respected his experience and knowledge. He was always helpful and found time for Antopol affairs. He used to make trips to his old birth town, and many young people of that period remember his encouraging meetings which later brought them to settle in Israel.
When we arrived in Israel in 1950, we found our Moshe in the prime of his success in literature, public affairs, social activities, and writing, criticizing and learning, travelling to various settlements to lectures and demonstrations in agricultural subjects.
Finally he began suffering physically and his eyes also deteriorated, which made him more miserable. The loneliness was insufferable, but Stavy fought nature consistently. He did not let any of his numerous friends to comfort him.
For the last 14 years I had the honor to get to know the personality of Stavy the writer. Personally I was privileged to offer him medical attention and services, get near him and win the confidence of the great uncle. I learned that under the hard appearance beat a tender heart. He was always human, a man who for 80 years worked hard, very hard, fought much, built much physically and spiritually. Thus he built for himself a permanent monument extending from the Jewish quarter in Warsaw, via Antopol and Lvov to Beer-Tuvia and Gadera, New York and Tel-Aviv. A man who opened his house in Tel Aviv to all numerous friends in every settlement.
Stavy's library on science, nature, and labor, on cattle and fields, on oriental fables for children and adults; on the biblical Hebrew and agricultural Hebrew, and on Arab folklore - all these form an important national treasure.
He did not finish his work. He prepared much material for additional publications. He began working and contributing to Yizkor Books. In 1962 he headed the Israel committee for publication of the Antepoler Yizkor Book. Suddenly he left us and passed away. We fought hard to save his life, but to no avail.
May this Yizkor Book, which he dreamt about, help keep
his memory in our hearts!
DR. PHOEBUS BERMAN
One of the shining stars in the U.S.A. was Dr. Phoebus (Feitl) Berman, born in Antopol and faithful to Antopol until his death.
Dr. Berman, whom we called Feitl back home, was born in 1890 in Antopol and died in the U.S.A. in 1967. His father was Rabbi Moshe Berman, who gave his son a strict religious education. At a young age he was sent to Rozhinai, birthplace of his father, to study at the Yeshiva there. Later he studied at the Yeshiva in Yanove.
The young man began also to look into foreign studies, and went to the Pinsk High School, where he graduated with honors, and then he returned home to teach Russian and general studies. Along with teaching young Feitl became active in the local youth movement, and finally his thirst for knowledge brought him to the U.S.A. in 1913.
In 1916 he started at U.C.L.A. Here, too, he excelled in his studies, received a gold medal and a scholarship. In 1919 he received his degree in medicine, and after ten years of practice, in 1929 he was appointed director of the district hospital in L.A., one of the largest in the U.S.A. He continued also to lecture at his alma mater.
Under his leadership the hospital developed to house 3,800 beds and over 100,000 patients per year.
Dr. Berman also invented several significant medical inventions, which are used all over the world. In 1956 he retired to engage in a diversified public activity, still continuing to keep in touch with the hospital and with Jewish life.
When it was decided to publish a Yizkor book, he was one of the initiators and active doers. He also contributed and collected money for this cause, and wrote several articles for the book, full of love to the town of his birth.
His wife Masha (daughter of Yudl der Shreiber) was always having a great part in his success. His brother, the famous poet, had a mutual influence with his public activities, and continues to fill the late Feitl's will regarding the book.
May the memory of our dear Feitl be with us forever!
DR. HERSCHEL BURSTON
Dr. Herschel Burston came to America as a young boy with his parents. He is a grandson of Yudl der Shreiber, one of the first scribes and teachers in Antopol.
As new immigrants they had a very difficult beginning, but the young man was encouraged to study. He went to high school, college and university and graduated with honors form the School of Medicine.
He specialized in plastic surgery and is today one of the best in the field. Among his patients are famous artists and actors. However his success did not change his good popular nature and friendly personality.
Dr. Burston has a wonderful wife and two lovely children, a boy and a girl. He gave them Jewish education in a Jewish school as well as personal Jewish knowledge. He himself speaks, writes and reads Jewish fluently, and subscribes to Jewish papers and journals. He takes part in and contributes to Jewish projects in America and in Israel. Antopol is very dear to him, and he always remembers the fate of the Jewish community.
Among the important persons who originated from Antopol,
Dr. Burston rightly occupies a prominent place.
AKIVA BEN EZRA
In 1914 a young man of 17 came to the U.S.A. For several years he sought his way, and worked in many odd jobs, until in 1917 he found what he was looking for - Jewish education. He taught in several schools and acquired experience in teaching Hebrew and religious subjects. He was liked by his students and became a successful teacher and educator.
While still teaching young children he began his research in education and published several articles on the subject. Faithful to Jewish tradition, he was teaching his students Jewish customs and way of life, and thus published text books on these subjects. He also set rules for teaching the prayer book within the curriculum of Jewish studies.
During the 30 years of teaching at the Yeshiva "Ohel Moshe" in Brooklyn, he was also fruitful in the literary field. He contributed to the Jewish press in America and in the Hebrew press like "Hadoar", "BeZion", "Shvilei Hahinuh", "HaZofeh" and others. He went also into literary criticism, delved into history of Hassidism and published a monograph about the "Yenuka" of Stolin. His monographies about Reb Pinchas Michael and about Reb Mordchele are famous in the literary world. He also continued his research about Jewish holidays customs and published his famous book "Customs of Holidays".
In his introduction to this book Ben Ezra writes: "I have incorporated in this book the various customs which I found recorded until today, and stressed the differences in various communities.” This book was written in a scientific approach and contains a treasure of footnotes and cross-references. Ben Ezra writes also for children, short stories adapted to the young.
Ben Ezra loves the Hebrew book. He loves books, and his private collection contains many thousands of books. He is also a famous bibliographer. He published bibliographies of Professor Zvi Sharfstein, Dr. Shlomo Rubin and others. He also published a bibliography of "Shvilei Hahinuh" and edited the "Ketavim Ivriim" of Dr. Morris Robinson.
Ben Ezra is a Hebrew Zealot. His friends and acquaintances know that he speaks only Hebrew. He educated his children in Hebrew and his family was among the first in America where children spoke Hebrew. Ben Ezra was fortunate to give his son and daughter a national-religious education at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. After graduation his son went to the teachers seminary affiliated to the Rabbinical Seminary of Rabbi Schechter, and now he is a Chemical Engineer and an active public figure in Binghampton, N.Y. while his talented daughter, after graduating from the Herzlia teachers seminary in N.Y. with honors, married Rabbi Prof. Haim Daneburg from Montreal.
About two years ago Ben Ezra retired and after preliminary
arrangements came to settle in Israel.
There is poetry which, even if its reader is in a high state of reception, he can not always grasp the meaning of the poet's thoughts as expressed in his writings. Some people think that simplicity in poetry is just unacceptable. Some critics even do not pay attention to simple poetry. However, writing poetry in straight language is in many instances a very difficult undertaking. David Frishman, in his "Bamidbar", tried to reach a classic-meteorish-simple Bible style, but it was detached from the Bible itself. Miguel Cervantes reached classic simplicity, and we were always looking for a poet in Yiddish to do the same.
I was meditating on these thoughts when I was reading the book "Offene Fentzter" by Pintche Berman. His poetry is simple and hearty, tributes which get the poet nearer to prose as a form. Another tribute to Berman's poetry - his marveling at the world, at life in general. I believe that he must have tried on various occasions to delve into the mystery of life, withdrawing in time to prevent him from turning into pessimism. Because essentially, Berman is a positive enthusiast, and he loves life as well as the essence of living - existence.
In many of his works Berman brings out the sorrow and
grief over the destruction of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, and only with
his positive enthusiasm, mentioned above, he manages to treat the wounds
in his heart over the unfortunate fate of his birth town.
Out of the many Jewish little towns, which had been destroyed in Europe, only a small number was lucky to be commemorated in Yizkor books. Antopol was one of the lucky ones, because many years before the holocaust there were enough young people who left town and emigrated to other countries, where they settled, developed and survived to tell the story of their martyred home-town and community.
One of the outstanding figures among the one time emigrants, who settled in the U.S.A. is Abraham Warsaw of Miami Beach, author of the great book "Years of Fire and Blood".
In his introduction to the book we learn that his talent in writing developed during twenty years, in writing short stories about his home town, when - in his modesty - he did not dare to dream about publishing them in a book. However in the course of time some of the top Yiddish writers in America discovered the treasure. Leading writers like Dr. Mokdoni, Abraham Reisin, and A. Kravetz urged Warsaw, aided by Antopoler landsleit to publish his great collection, knowing that by doing so they are erecting a literary monument to the holy martyrs of Antopol.
And in fact, upon reading the book we discover two different discoveries: The prose writer, the refined author, and the town with its population - Jews and non-Jews; everyday and holiday; simple Jews and scholars; workers and merchants; high ranking rabbis and. simple scholars; Zionists and socialists, communists and revolutionists. In short - a dynamic Antopol, living and active, before it was destroyed by the Nazis.
The talent of Abraham Warsaw belongs to the sort of authors who saw their birth town with warmth and always cherished their memory with only good memories. They described them lyrically, hence the sad undertone, although the happenings themselves oftentimes were rather tragic. This is understood also from the name of the book "Years of Fire and Blood". As an example take Warsaw's description of 1920 in Antopol, during the war between Poland and the Bolsheviks:
"Day and night were heard the enemy's artillery giving out fearsome sounds and painting the skies red and blue. Clouds, painted geen-white, were moving and disappearing in the sky. The forest, with its golden-yellow leaves shining in the autumn sun, resounds its echo to the bursting shells which stir the world. On the ground, drenched with blood, you can see people crawling in green clothes the color of grass. Through hidden trails people walk silently to keep away from the enemy and its airplanes which throw fire and human limbs. Hundreds of human beings in green are swallowed in the forest in which every minute the steel, fire and lead put out the lives of scores of people".
The Jews of Antopol do not want either one of the fighting enemies: The Poles hate the Jews, kill and loot them, and the Bolsheviks hate Jewish life in general, Still better they than the Poles. One live Jew is better than dead by the Poles. But on the first day of Bolshevik rule, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jews feel that the newcomers hate also Jewish religion:
“In the market, on an elevated stand, the new speakers attacked God, tradition, old culture, etc. The voices penetrated the open windows and doors of the prayer houses, and the praying Jews were stunned, as if asking - what is happening here?"
Warsaw's stories give the reader an opportunity to meet the people of Antopol. Here is Meier'l the builder, "a phlegmatic man, a great believer, a hospitable man in secret". In this story Warsaw describes the great respect of Antopol Jews to scholars, a respect without outside manifestations, but with inner respect to the Torah itself, and to the scholar who studies it.
The language in Warsaw's stories is idiomatic. The descriptions are extremely plastic. In the rather great story "Fire and Blood" Warsaw achieved a high literary standard. He penetrated into the deep beings of the types, whom he describes, their soul psychology and their situation. He brings forth the early period of the Russian revolution, when the Jews still looked up to it, hoping to benefit from it in their dire existence. Here is the description of the town revolutionary: the future commissar, a man with a sensitive soul, who detests dogmatism and terror, although he himself got involved to perform brutal deeds by order to the authorities, under the disguise of the proletarian dictatorship.
A. Warsaw draws his inspiration from the love of his birth town, from his Antopol. He is proud of her, and rightly so:
"We, the small children of Israel, listened attentively
to the stories of our elders about the greatness of our town, and they
told about her with pride and enthusiasm. After all in its cemetery
were the "tents" of great Rabbis like Reb Moshe-Zvi and Reb Pinchas Michael,
may they pray for us. And the Cold Shul whose fame is known all over.
And where is the list of rabbis who graduated from the ancient Yeshiva?
All this gave us a feeling of joy and self pride",
ABRAHAM H. LIEFF
Abraham H. Lieff is known as one of the builders of Ottawa's Jewish community.
He studied law at the University of Toronto and began practice in 1926. He was a Carleton County magistrate from 1937 to 1945 and served on the Collegiate Institute Board, the board of directors of St. Vincent's Hospital, and service clubs.
Mr. Lieff was the first Jewish lawyer to be elevated, to the bench of the Ontario Supreme Court, and Mrs. Lieff, the former Sadie Lazarovitz, received her law degree in Nova Scotia, where she was a member of the bar even after moving with her husband to a new residence.
Both were associated all their life with religious, fraternal, social and educational organizations.
At a testimonial dinner in honor of Mr. Lieff upon his
retirement as President of Agudath Israel Congregation, creation of the
A. H. Lieff Cultural Foundation was announced to express his interest in
the promotion of the tradition and culture of the Jewish community.
ANTEPOLER AID ASSOCIATIONS IN THE U.S.A.
In the winter of 1921 the Relief Committee of the landsleit in New-York sent a delegate to Antopol, to inquire about the fate of the Jewish population after World War I. When Morris Lifshitz came he had money for the local Jews from their direct relatives in the U.S., as well as 500 dollars from the Antepoler Young Men who donated the money for buying a house for an Orphans' Home to house and help the orphans of World War I. Joel Bendet was among the founders of the Home, whose first officers were elected: Hersh Nitzberg - president; Abraham Feldstein - vice-president; David Warszawski and Aaron Shagan, Mrs. Nahum Wolinetz members. The supervisor of the Home was Frumtse Lifshitz, the daughter of Udel Lifshitz.
The Antepoler Y.M.B.A. sent yearly contributions towards the orphans' home, and after my father came to the U.S.A., he initiated help also for other institutions in Antopol, namely: Talmud-Torah, Hebrew Tarbut School, Gmilus Hasodim, and the Matzo Fund (Maos Hitim).
Later a committee was organized incorporating all societies of Antepoler, namely THE ANTEPOLER FEDERATION OF AMERICA, with David Bayuk as president, Hyman Goldberg and Leon Wolowelsky as secretaries, and we started to send help to the above institutions. The same committee helped also in building the public Mikve in Antopol, as well as other necessities of the Jewish community.
With the establishment of the State of Israel, a committee
of the United Jewish Appeal was organized with Leon Wolowelsky as chairman,
Joseph Rosen as co-chairman, to collect money for Israel, and two years
later, when the first Bonds issue was proclaimed, we the Antepoler made
a big drive to sell Israel Bonds. The President now is brother Hyman
Mrs. LIFSHE SEIDBERG
and Mrs. MIRKE SEIDEL (PUTTERMAN)
ANTEPOLER LADIES AUXILIARY OF HARLEM
Many Antepoler immigrants settled in Harlem around 1910. They felt lonely and decided to organize an association which would give them a social meeting place, and would also secure their unity in Paradise by acquiring and maintaining their own cemetery.
Several ladies of the association assembled together to form a branch, which they named "Ladies Auxiliary of Harlem", to dedicate themselves for benevolent activities. In my house we gathered: Mirke Palewski, Tamar Wolinetz, Bessie Gerstein, Yente Haya Lifshitz, Fanny Greenman, Reisi Sapir, Miriam Feldman, Bracha Farer, Gussy Bernhardt, Sara Reisl Birnbaum, Miriam Palewski, Henia Sadowski, Babil Blecher, Hanke Potolski, Sheinke Aronowski and Goldie Aronov.
We had our first celebration in my house. We were happy and sure that our organization will survive and expand. A short time later we invited our beloved Rabbi Abraham Kotler for a benediction. We rented a large hall and invited all our landsleit to the meeting. I was elected president and we all made it our goal to help our needy people.
Although we were spread out in New-York and vicinity, we continued to maintain our ties. When something had to be done for Antopol, we always managed to continue the nice tradition of helping the needy. I must mention again Rabbi Kotler and his dear wife, who were always ready to answer our call. Although we enjoyed our meetings socially, we made it our goal to help the needy Antepoler. All the money raised in benefit shows, Purim and Hanuka campaigns, and other projects, was dedicated for aid. Every celebration, or G-d forbid, mourning, was an occasion for collecting donations to be sent to the late Rabbi Wolkin in Antopol, and he used to distribute the money among the town institutions.
Our greatest grief came when we heard that Antopol was no more, after that the Nazi murderers had put to death all our dear ones.
During all the time we contributed also to HIAS, JOINT, NATIONAL FUND, UJA, as well as individuals. We also purchased a bed in the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital of Brooklyn.
A major project undertaken by us was adoption of a girl survivor from a concentration camp. We sent every year $360 as well as packages until she grew up. We contributed also to Maos Hittin and local charities like the Red Cross.
Finally, when the Antepoler landsleit undertook to publish
this Yizkor Book, we were among the first to give a hand in this holy work.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ANTEPOLER Y.M.B.A.
At the end of the 19th Century and at the beginning of the 20th Century, large numbers of our Jewish people emigrated to the United States of America. Most of them settled on the lower East Side of Manhattan, where some of our people who preceded them had previously settled. They all came from Eastern Europe and great numbers from Czarist Russia, from where they had departed because of persecution and the threat of the Pogrom. Most of them we're young and inspired with the ideal of liberty and freedom, which they soon found flourished in their new homeland.
Coming from different cities, towns and villages from the old homeland, they were not satisfied to live in an unorganized community as individuals; they felt a certain strangeness, a loneliness, a longing for the past association and comradeship which they had in common in the old hometown where they were born and grew to manhood. They had an urge to reconstruct the past and to surround themselves in an environment of their own.
To overcome these shortcomings, they felt that they must' combine themselves with other landsleit in groups. The synagogue was the first of the institutions thus formed, where landsleit congregated for religious services.
The younger element soon found that the Synagogue had to be supplemented by other group institutions. Living in an era where the individual was subjected to various kinds of economic pressures and uncertainties and feeling insecure on many fronts, they were looking for some sort of mutual protection. To a considerable degree our association provided its members with the sense of security which they were seeking.
On or about September 20, 1906, a group of young men under the leadership of the late Brother David Bayuk, met at the apartment of our late Brother Nathan Weissman at 23 Orchard Street in New York City and decided to organize the Antepoler Y.M.B.A,
A charter was applied for at the Department of State in Albany, N. Y., which was granted and officially recorded as at October 6, 1906.
The signers of the Charter were Max London No. 1, David Bayuk, Max London No. 2, Philip Goldman, Sam Feinberg, Aaron Cohen, Sam Hoffman and Israel Hellman.
The first meeting of the Antepoler Y.M.B.A. was held on October 4th, 1906 at 412 Grand Street in New York City. In addition to the charter members, the following were present: Louis Goldman, Joe Eisenberg, Joe Greenberg, Nathan Weissman, Max Cohen, Sam Cohen, Isidore Lipofsky, Louis Gerstein, Abe Kolodner and a number of others whose names we do not remember.
A Committee was appointed to work out rules and regulations and to interpret the meaning of Benevolence as to be applied to our membership in a practical way. Those named to the Committee were Max London No. 1, David Bayuk, Louis Goldman, Sam Feinberg and Philip Goldman.
The next meeting was called for November 10, 1906, at 96 Clinton Street, New York City. The Committee brought in its report which was adopted after some discussion and modification as follows:
1. Dues shall be $150 per quarter.
2. The financial and recording secretaries shall serve without pay.
3. A limited amount of six dollars per week was to be paid to members in case of sickness and also as a Shivah benefit.
4. Aid and assistance was to be provided to members in distress.
5. No benefit of any kind could be paid to members if the Treasury held $500 or less
6. Free medical services were to be provided to members, their wives and their minor children.
7. As soon as financially possible, the organization would provide for in case of death, for a free cemetery plot, and the payment of funeral expenses and death benefits.
8. All officers were to be elected for a term of six months.
The following officers were elected: Max London No. 1, Chairman; Philip Goldman, Vice Chairman; Sam Feinberg, Treasurer; Aaron Cohen, Financial Secretary; Louis Goldman, Recording Secretary; David Bayuk, Joe Eisenberg and Joseph Greenberg, Trustees; and Abe Kolodner, Inner Guard. Thereafter, progress was steady and within three years, the membership exceeded 200.
The list of the brethren who have served as President and who have guided us ably and successfully, in the order in which they served are as follows: Max London No. 1, Sam Feinberg, Louis Goldman, Nathan I. Corbin, Philip Goldman, Joseph Greenberg, Abe Kolodner, David Bayuk, David Bayarsky, Hyman Goldberg, Hyman Resnick, Israel Rabinowitz, Julius Cuttler, Oscar Palefsky, Max Katz, Julius Garber, Joseph Rosen and Hyman Sterman.
Our present officers and leaders give their time and effort to the service of our organization and its members and serve with loyalty, honor and distinction.
In reviewing our accomplishments for the past 64 years,
we find that the objectives which we set out to achieve were carried out
both in letter and in spirit and our membership was always served honestly
and well. No small part of this achievement is due to our Leaders,
both past and present, who with dedication contributed their ability and
resourcefulness to make our organization a significant force in the Jewish
E. M. TORNIANSKY
FROM ANTOPOL TO ARGENTINA
Jewish emigration from Antopol to Argentina began in 1902, upon the arrival of the Gedalia Gerstein family. They settled in Mosesville on an agricultural project, and later they moved to the south, where part of the family still lives on agriculture. But most newcomers settled in Buenos Aires. In spite of hardship in the beginning, they finally found their place in the new country.
In 1924 the increased number of Antopoler encouraged the foundation of an association to keep ties with the old country and to keep in touch in the new one. Newcomers were given hospitality and aid and usually were helped in finding work in the new environment.
In addition to sending aid to Antopol, also a local loan association was founded, whose first president was the Shohet Reb Kalman Mazkewitz, son in law of the late Reb Feivl Shagan. A home for the Aged was built as well as a Jewish center. Many other institutions and fund raising campaigns pave the history of the Jewish community.
All over the country there are landsleit from our little
birth town, and in every place they represent Antopol tradition with pride,
THE GMILUS HASSODIM FUND
The Gmilus Hassodim Fund was established to help the Antopol refugees who survived from the holocaust in Europe, as well as local landsleit.
The major part was taken by our devoted brethren in America, and we in Israel undertook to promote the commemoration of our Antopol tradition.
A special project has been inaugurated in the form of a IL 50,000 fund, from the interest of which scholarships will be granted annually to needy talented high schools children.
A great synagogue in the center of Tel-Aviv was constructed in memory of the martyrs of Antopol. Funds were raised mainly in the U.S.A. to help us build this community center in which we dedicated a special room, on whose walls are inscribed the names of our dear ones.
Another project of commemoration is a tombstone in the Yad Vashem center in Jerusalem, where the tombstone of Antopol stands among others of the 6 million Jews murdered in Europe. A complete list of all our Antopol dear ones is placed there.
We also placed a memorial plaque on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
In Beer-Sheva, capital of the Negev, and in Hazor, in
upper Galilee, we established, with funds from out brethren in America,
vocational schools and large houses for new immigrants, all in memory of
our dear martyrs who lost their lives in Antopol.