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Impressions - An Extraordinary Person

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Y. Ben-Aryeh (Y. C. Ziniuk)

** Webmaster Note: The following is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov as sponsored by George Zilbergeld. Notes for clarity or explanation have been provided in brackets.

IMPRESSIONS

AN EXTRAORDINARY PERSON

He held a position of importance in Vladimirets and the surrounding area, due to the strength of the trust he had acquired among wide circles – Jews and non-Jews alike – his name was Ben-Zion Freidman.

I remember him well.  He was tall, with an aristocratic face, intelligent, a gentle soul and noble spirit.  He was not a doctor, nor the son of a doctor, but the people of the town regarded him as a doctor. 

He would go out on his mission at dawn.  Many sick people wanted him and would knock at his door, and Ben-Zion answered them all, but not for the reward.  He referred people with serious illnesses who came to ask his advice to a doctor; in many cases, the doctor would consult with him.

He was good-hearted.  I remember the time that my father, of blessed memory, came with his family as refugees to Vladimirets, stripped of everything, with nothing.  He gathered them into his house, even though his house wasn't very large, and kept them there for a token rental; he was devoted to them like a father.  His good-hearted wife, of blessed memory, received the family with love and instructed my little sister in home economics.  We rented one room from them, but in actuality, the entire house was open to us.  My little brother would sit in his arms and he would teach him, because my father was always occupied in going to find sustenance for his family…

Many people came to ask his advice and hear his opinion on various matters.  He opened his house, and always received everyone with love and warmth.  He was blessed with powers of insight and spirituality and knew how to get to the bottom of a matter, to dissect it from many angles, and to weigh one thing against another, to quickly find the worthwhile side and clarify the contradictions between them.  He was very careful when it came to making conclusions.

He was brave.  I remember one night, a night of horrors.  It happened – if my memory is not mistaken – in 1920, during the war between the Bolsheviks and the Poles.  Many towns passed from one hand to the other.  In the morning, they were conquered by the Poles, and in the evening the Bolsheviks would enter.  Or the opposite.  And the goat for sacrifice was always the Jews.  Each side blamed the Jews… This was also the fate of the Jews of Vladimirets… There was a short period when the Bolsheviks withdrew and the Poles had not yet entered.  We waited for the "Paritzim" ["Squires"] all day and all night.  Everyone knew the attitude of the Poles toward the Jews – every Jew was, in their eyes, a suspected Communist.  Bad rumors spread quickly and the town was very tense.  And then there was a rumor that they would enter the town that night…  That night, in the house, was a night of vigil.  Everyone remained dressed in his clothing and drove sleep from his eyes.  Everyone sat, whispering, in the dark.

Fear and trembling seized everyone.  Our family had a worse feeling.  Our father had gone to one of the villages, and he did not return.  I had arrived from Russia only a few days before, and I did not speak Polish.  I sat, cramped in a corner, and waited, as if for a verdict.

Reb Ben-Zion was quiet.  He ordered me to burn all of the documents that I had brought with me from Soviet Russia; he encouraged me and everyone else.  We sat in the dark and listened.  We were afraid of the sound of a falling leaf.  Shots were heard, and after that the squeaking of wagons and the stamping of horses' hooves.  We knew that the "dear guests" had arrived.

Suddenly, there was a loud knock at the door, followed by more knocks, stronger than the first one.  Reb Ben-Zion did not allow anyone to go to the door.  He went himself and opened it.   Before he was able to say anything, he was already ordered to go with the soldiers.

We were very frightened and worried.  His sons wanted to follow him, but we didn't let them go.  We were worried what would happen to him, because we had heard a lot about the deeds of the "Paritzim."

We sat crowded together and waited.  Every minute lasted a year.  Finally, there was a light knock on the door and a voice, speaking in Yiddish, "Open the door."  We recognized Reb Ben-Zion's voice.  We breathed easier and said a blessing for the miracle.  Reb Ben-Zion entered, quiet and pale, with a smile on his face.  He told us:

"They asked me to get food for the horses and a stable to put them in.  I brought them to the town's priest, and the priest sent me home, accompanied by a soldier."

He had a sense of humor, and always knew how to bring sweetness out of strength. 

He was very interested in the Land of Israel.  He always questioned the "meshulachim" and "shlichim" [the emissaries and envoys of institutions in the Land of Israel, who travelled abroad to collect donations] and wanted to know all the details about the Land of our longings.  His son Zeev made aliya [immigrated to the Land of Israel], and his second son, Michael, may G-d avenge his blood, was planning to make aliya.  The love of Israel burned in his heart like a fire – it was one of his unique spiritual properties.

No one made celebratory speeches in his honor.  No one made him parties when he became 50 years old.  Reb Ben-Zion did his deeds quietly.  Pleasantly.  And modestly, without telling anyone and revealing them.  He acquired a name in Vladimirets and the surrounding area, for his special qualities.  May his memory be blessed.

THE "TARBUT" SCHOOL

In memory of the dear and precious children of Vladimirets

Who were cut off in their prime from the Land of the Living

With a trembling hand and a pained heart, I am bringing up my memories of the "Tarbut" school in Vladimirets, which no longer exists.

I now see the town in my mind's eye, in all its glory.  A typical Jewish Volhynian town.  An active Jewish life.  Before me is the wide-awake, yearning youth of the town, the pioneer Zionist youth, whose heart was open to everything.  Thirsty for education and culture, he wandered to a place of Torah and from there, he brought new ideas.  His outlook was that nationality is a supreme biological, social phenomenon which blends the lives of all of the classes and groups within it.  There also was another movement, which disputed this theory and prophesized that nationality was destined to disappear from the world.

In other towns, this inner war was more difficult, but in Vladimirets, possibly because this latter movement was very small, its voice was not heard.  Therefore, after the Balfour Declaration and the new national strength that was revealed, and also because of displeasure with the old version of the cheder, parents and the Zionist youth began to be concerned with a new form of education for their children.

It was then difficult to open a Hebrew school.  The situation of the cultural institutions in the Polish exile was very bad.  Every year, more strictures and decrees were made and it was difficult to fulfill them in order to receive an instruction permit, even more so a management permit, or a permit to establish a school.  Piles of certificates were required, which were difficult to obtain.  And furthermore, the Polish supervisor over the schools requested that these be submitted in a very short time, which was impossible for the agents of culture to do.

At the head of the functionaries of culture in Vladimirets – if my memory does not mislead me – stood Nathan Tscherniak, may G-d avenge his blood.

The man had a noble spirit.  Even though his private life was not an easy one, because he concerned himself with his entire family, he dedicated his time to Zionist activities.  He had a warm Jewish heart, and his heart's desire was Zionism.  He was the living spirit of the movement; he encouraged everyone until they finally overcame their difficulties and in spite of the anger of the authorities, a Hebrew school, "Tarbut," [literally, "culture"] was opened.

There was no separate location for the school.  An apartment was rented in the gralnia [distillery], and there the people of Vladimirets opened the school.  In my memory, there appear, as if out of a fog, the tiring meetings that we held in the committee members' homes.  Of the members of the committee, I remember only Kagan; Goldberg, may G-d avenge his blood (an entire article should be written about each of them); and, may they live long, Reznik and Yaakov Bas.  I do not remember the rest of the members.

They discussed Zionist activities not only in fixed meetings, but they would talk about the school and its activities also in casual encounters.  Mainly, they would discuss how to maintain the school without government support.  A drama club was organized, the purpose of which, among other things, was to assist the establishment of the school. 

Willingly and happily, the parents accepted the Hebrew school and its importance increased.  But in spite of all this, the financial situation was very bad, also after the institution acquired a good name and after the cultural functionaries invested in it their best efforts and abilities. 

The institution had very little equipment.  This poverty was obvious in everything:  in the furniture, on the bare walls, in the office; and nevertheless, the students and the parents regarded the school as of the utmost importance…I remember that they would stop up the cracks in the walls with paper.  The strengths and talents of the students and their parents from hidden sources were revealed.  They did everything they could to raise the prestige of the school over the anger of those who hate us.  Every step forward filled the hearts of the townspeople with great joy. The cultural functionaries, the students and the Zionist youth all celebrated together.

The voices of song could always be heard in the school, where there was cultural activity and hard work.  Here, the students absorbed basic values of Jewish life, and the connection with the nation, its spirit and its past, became stronger and stronger.

During the few years of the school's existence, there was broad Zionist activity there:  meetings between parents and teachers, Zionist demonstrations by the students on Lag B'Omer and on the eves of holidays; there was an atmosphere of love and respect for the Hebrew nation; its creation in the Land of Israel was one of the values with which our school was blessed.  The learning excelled in its liveliness and joy; the teachers were superior and dedicated with all their hearts.

And thus the school was opened.  The Polish authorities regarded its success with jealousy and increased their claims and decrees, while simultaneously opening the doors of the Polish government school to Jewish children.  Their school was well organized, equipped with everything, but the parents took upon themselves the yoke of paying tuition and preserved their school.  The authorities did not accept their own lack of success, and they began to oppress the principal, asking to replace him with a Polish principal, who would certainly be faithful to them.  The functionaries of culture also agreed to that, and the Pole Malinowsky was appointed principal of the Tarbut school in Vladimirets.  The Jews got along with him very well.  He did not interfere in the life of the school; he came only to be paid his salary 

Now, the authorities were still jealous.  They emphatically requested that the school be moved to an appropriate building, which did not exist in the town, and the school was closed.

In 1925, a foundation was laid for the school, with the participation of all of the townspeople, and the joy was great, because everyone saw this as overcoming the haters of Israel.  The huge song that came from their pure hearts still echoes in my ears.  The chain is still unbroken, hands are joined, the circle widens, and the dancing begins.  "How good and how pleasant…oh, how good and how pleasant…"  Tears of happiness poured out.  The nation of Israel and its Torah are the victors.  The Eternal One of Israel will not lie.  Wells of happiness were opened.

What happened after that?  I cannot add more, because I emigrated to the Land of Israel.  Now, I know that the axe was waved over the young children of Vladimirets, as it was over the entire House of Israel in Poland.  Only a few, brands who were rescued from the great fire, can continue to tell the story.

But the chain continues…

ONCE THERE WAS A FAMILY

In memory of Chasia Dik and her two sons

Chaim and Eliezer, may G-d avenge their blood

Once, there was a quiet, modest family.  This was the Dik family.  And a tragedy occurred.  The head of the family, Rabbi Zalman Dik, passed away in the prime of his life.  His wife Chasia remained, a widow caring for small children.

Chasia worked very hard to support her children.  She was a village girl, the daughter of Rabbi Eliezer Trebnik, of blessed memory, a Jew eminent in Torah and good deeds, and she followed the ways of her great father.  She was a faithful daughter of Israel, loving her people, its Torah and its homeland.

She had an enormous desire to educate her sons.  Nothing was too difficult for her.  She did everything in order to achieve her goal – to provide a Jewish education for her children.

Chasia was a wonderful housekeeper.  Order and cleanliness reigned in every corner.  She was intelligent and learned – the image of a woman of valor.  In 1918, my father, Rabbi Leib Ziniuk, of blessed memory, arrived in Vladimirets with his family from German imprisonment.  Chasia opened her house to them, and my father provided them with great support.  She received them warmly and with great dedication, and was like a mother to them.  All she wished for was to send her children to the Land of Israel and afterwards to emigrate there herself.

Because of a lack of resources and the great restrictions placed upon Jewish immigration by the British, Chasia was only able to send her daughter, Sarah, to the Land.  She and her sons remained in the Polish exile.  The heavy hand of the Polish government oppressed her.  The Polish oppressor Gerbasky knew no mercy, and the collectors would occasionally visit her home…

Chasia's oldest son, Yaakov, who had meanwhile grown up, helped her a great deal in finding a livelihood.  The letters from her daughter in the Land of Israel provided her with faith and encouragement during difficult days, and in her dreams, she saw all of her children in the Land, building their homes, and herself as attaining the yearnings of her soul…

Other days arrived.  Days of horror.  Hitler's troops invaded the town…

I cannot describe Chasia's life under the Nazis.  My hand is powerless to put it down on paper…

Chasia's two sons, Chaim and Eliezer, of blessed memory, fought in the ranks of the Red Army and added to the fallen of the Nazis.  They were killed in battle like heroes… 

Chasia said to her eldest son, may he live a long life, "Flee, my son, fight and take revenge against the oppressors of our people."  He listened to his mother and at the last minute, he escaped from the town.  He even succeeded in fighting and fulfilling his mother's will, and eventually he built his home in the Land of Israel.

Alone and forlorn, without knowing anything about the fate of her sons, Chasia walked over the threshold of annihilation…


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