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Many Years Have Passed

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Eliyahu Garmarnik

** Webmaster Note: The following is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov as sponsored by George Zilbergeld. Additional clarifications are provided in parenthesis ( ).

MANY YEARS HAVE PASSED…

Many years have passed since the era of which I speak, and nevertheless, I can see it alive before me.  It was the summer of 5674 (1914), the month of Av [August], and I was already a man whose time to serve in [Czar] Nikolai's army had come.  Consequently, I was called to come to the provincial capitol, Lutzk, to report to the government committee for appraisal of my age.  It was a Thursday.  My parents and family accompanied me fearfully, and I, my heart was very heavy.  Thus, I arrived in Lutzk and appeared before the committee.  And what we feared, occurred – the Czar's experts erred by only two years, and I was found to be qualified to report, that same year, to a second committee, the Draft Committee.

On Friday, I left Lutzk to go home.  But the road from Lutzk to Vladimirets was a long one, and I was not able to reach home before the onset of the Sabbath.  Because of that, I remained in Kolki for the Sabbath and went home only the next day, Sunday.  That day was the 9th of Av, and when I arrived in Vladimirets, the amazing news had already fallen: war had broken out between Germany and Russia.  There was great confusion, and people were walking around in dismay.  There was almost no house in Vladimirets without a candidate for the army; if he was not actually in your house, he was in the house of your relatives.  There already were published notices in the town, with draft notices for all men up to the age of 40.

Before the draft date, candidates from 5 gminas (townships) gathered in Vladimirets.  Our gmina was a main one and was called "Setan."  The head of every village in our area came to us with the draftees from his settlement.  Even though the goyim, who were obligated by the draft, were likely to torment the [Jewish] residents, their presence did not cause any loss to the people of the town; the profits were great.  There also were draftees who belonged to the Vladimirets gamina and lived far away, in the cities of Russia.  Now, these draftees also were required to gather here, even from the ends of the earth.

I remember that during the days when I was drafted, several young men came from Odessa – young men "with a fist."  We called them "the Mischief-Makers of Odessa."  But we gained something from them at that time, because the goyim from the neighboring villages were attempting to run wild on the merit of their future – they were going to be soldiers.  With the help of the toughs from Odessa, we were able to rout them.

That year, our draft fell in the month of November.  The Draft Committee, which included all kinds of officials, including the army doctor, arrived in our town.  They stayed in Shimon Weisblatt's house.  I reported to the committee, and received a "strochka," in other words, a delay of one year.  They found a defect in me.  My weight, and my body measurements – were below the requirements.  I happily left the room:  perhaps, meanwhile, the war would end and I would be exempt from wearing their uniform.

The year ended, and my wish did not come true.  The war was at full strength.  Now, they advanced the draft dates to the intermediate days of the Sukkot holiday.  The turn of the Vladimirets draftees was on Hoshanna Rabba.  I didn't look like such a "big man," but even so, success did not favor me – I was drafted into the army.  At home, there was mourning and moaning.  My mother wrung her hands and shed buckets of tears. 

IN THE SERVICE OF THE ARMY 

The holiday was over, and little by little I began to recognize that there was nothing trivial in the fact that I was a soldier and that a bloody war was raging in the world.  One day the news arrived that we were to travel and actually report.  We were seven boys who came to Lutzk, and the officer received us with shouts.

"Cursed Jews," he screamed, "you didn't report on time.  This deed is going to cost you a lot."

He ordered them to put us in jail.  We sat imprisoned in the Lutzk jail for three days, and after that they sent us far away with all the rest of the draftees, to Russia.  I, Tzvi Kamin, Leib-Yosef Leshetz and Moshe Radizevsky were sent to Samara.  The others were sent somewhere else.  From Samara, they transferred us to Nikolaievsk, and from there – to our battalion.  Most of the soldiers in the barracks were Cossacks, and we were four Jews among them.  Our clothing was light, and it was very cold.  But we succeeded in making friends with the Cossacks, and we did not encounter any revealed anti-Semitism.  On the contrary, when they received food packages, they would also share with us:

"Sonchik," they would say, "all people are created by G-d, and everyone wants to eat."

From there, we were sent to the front, after a few easy training sessions with weapons.  We travelled in the train for seven days.  We arrived in Zharadow, near the location of the battles.  They gave us three days of leave, and one night after our leave, we were brought to a forest and ordered to enter the trenches.  Moshe Radizevsky was wounded immediately.  And so we remained together, three sons of our town, until the great withdrawal began.  Between Ostrov and Ostrolanko, Kamin was wounded, and after that Leshetz was killed.  From our entire group, I remained alone.  Dark depression and gloomy discouragement took hold of me.  Spirits declined greatly, and the soldiers would talk among themselves, telling that the defeats were coming because of the corruption of the high-ranking officers.

"Everything is lost, and they are asking us to spill our blood." 

There was no ammunition at the front, and the soldiers were beginning to rebel.  I remember that we were ordered to dig a tunnel, and after that an order was given to fill it with explosives and blow it up.  There were many instances of flight from the battlefield.  Leaflets full of incitement were widespread among the soldiers, and they were passed from hand to hand.

"Throw away the rifles!  Enough spilling of innocent blood!"

It was already 1916.  In our withdrawal, we were travelling 50 kilometers per day, and the Germans pursued and attacked us.  An incident that took place during a mass flight – suddenly some high-ranking officers, riding on horses, appeared and began to lecture us, to convince us to return to the battlefield. 

"How is it that you are not embarrassed to flee?" they lectured us.  "We are going toward the firing, and you are running away!"

And the soldiers answered, "Where were you yesterday?  Yesterday, where were you?  When we were under enemy fire, you sat comfortably somewhere in the rear…and now you come to lecture us!" 

The matter would certainly have ended very badly, if it weren't for the heavy bombardment that suddenly began, scattering the soldiers and the officers alike in every direction to look for shelter.

Once, we came to a village, of which nothing remained but a few granaries. In one of them, which I happened upon with several soldiers of my acquaintance, we found a place to rest.  I was very tired and I knew that if I would just lie down, I would immediately fall asleep, so I asked them to wake me if any danger was expected.  I laid myself down and fell into a deep sleep.  Suddenly, indistinct explosions reached me.  I woke up.  All around, I saw flames.  I was alone.  Of all the soldiers who had been with me in the granary, not one remained.  It is hard for me to explain how I got out of the flames.  I ran away from the place.  I reached a forest, and I found shelter under one of the thick trees.  Again, I encountered terrible fire and a great flight of soldiers.  During one of the attacks of those days, I was wounded.  After many troubles, I arrived in Moscow with a convoy of wounded.  After I recovered, I received a three-month leave and was permitted to travel to Vladimirets.

There were many military men in the town – a brigade of foot-soldiers and a mounted battalion.  My parents told me that one soldier, a Cossack, came every day to our house, ordered a large meal, filled his stomach, got up and left, as if the matter had nothing to do with him, and he did not pay for anything.  They told me this with a great deal of worry, since he had already done this several times, and they were afraid to enter into a discussion with him about it.  I could not accept the fact that an uncircumcised goy would treat my parents that way.  I decided to investigate.

One morning, that same "guest" came and ordered a meal, as he had been accustomed to do until then.  Not only that, but when he saw me walking around in the house in uniform, he found it necessary to interrogate me:

"Why are you running around here and why aren't you at the front?" suddenly asked the Cossack.

"Why?  It's very simple.  Because I already was at the front, and I was injured during a battle," I answered, emphasizing my self-esteem.

He was not satisfied with my answer, and continued to ask me what front I had fought on, and what battalion I belonged to.  I answered him, and then he also told me what battalion and what platoon he belonged to – all of the details.  When I knew all this information, I left him in the house and went to his officer and told him the whole story.  The officer immediately sent two soldiers with me, and when we came back to the house, we found him sitting over his food and stuffing his mouth.  He understood what was happening, and when he finished eating, he hurried to pay properly for his food.  But the soldiers took him away immediately.  And from then on, we saw him no more. 

The town knew other incidents and injuries of this kind, and I was almost the only one who dared to act among the local army regimes, because as a soldier, I found a common language with them.

The residents of towns that were close to the front were fleeing from their homes and moving to the towns in the rear.  Many of them arrived in Vladimirets.  There was great distress in our town.  Living conditions became very difficult and the community was not able to stand up under it all.  At that time, a typhoid epidemic spread through the town, and many people died of this disease.  We established the "Righteous Rest" organization, whose members volunteered assistance to sick people and sat through the night at their bedsides in order to give them help and support.  At that time, an assistance committee was also established, which dealt in philanthropic matters.  The means for doing so were supplied by the Joint [Joint Distribution Committee], who provided financial resources as well as goods, such as food and clothing.

That year, 1917, we did not know only afflictions, but there also was good news and some consolation.  That year, the Balfour Declaration was published and the rejoicing increased in our town.  I remember that everyone went out with blue and white flags and our band played marches.  At that time the popular songs were mainly "Carry a Flag and Flagpole to Zion," and "Shteit Ein Yid Oifen Veg" ["A Jew Stands on the Path"].  The very religious Jews began to look upon those that they called "Zionists" with other eyes.  There was nothing wrong in it – England was considering them, and it had the right to give the Land of Israel to the Jews.  If so, it meant that this was not vanity and a vain aspiration, but rather something very actual.  In the merit of that good wind that began to blow, we were conducting our meetings in the synagogue, with no interference.  A new light began to break on our horizon.   But this happiness visited us after many troubles during that year.  The war was not over.  Meanwhile, Russia knew heavy losses on the battlefields, and in October the great Russian Revolution took place.  The people of our town woke up one morning from their sleep and one whispered a secret into the other's ear:

"Did you hear?  They brought down Nikolaike!"

No one wanted to believe that the rumor was true.  Our brothers, the Sons of Israel, who had learned from experience, did not know whether it was already allowed to celebrate, but when we saw the soldiers going out with red flags and a large stage was set up in the market square in honor of the occasion, and when we heard the emotional speeches made on that stage, we understood that indeed, it was really happening.  Now, we also saw how every time a different officer was brought up on the stage, and they tore the epaulettes with their symbols of rank off his uniform, while the crowd shouted:

"Down with Czarism!  Down with Czarism and Long Live the Revolution!"

With all these things, we began to taste an exodus from slavery to freedom.  We Jews also believed that a new era, a better one, was about to enter.  In the midst of this chaos, my leave was of course extended, and I remained in Vladimirets many months longer than had been granted me. 

In a short time, the plague of gangs spread.  Wild gangs – the names Petliura, Denikin, Bilachovitz, became notorious and Jewish blood was again spilled like water.  The headquarters of Petliura was located in Antonovka, 18 kilometers from us.  For some time, there was no regime at all in our town.  One winter day, a brigade arrived that had been cut off from the army.  We didn't know how to define it – was it the Revolutionary Army, or the army of the old regime?  We had to stand guard.

SELF-DEFENSE

At that time, a son of our town, Nachum Kanonitz, Yaakov Kanonitz's son, arrived in Antonovka.  Nachum was wearing a leather jacket.  This type of garment was then a sign of a Bolshevik, and members of a gang murdered him on the spot.  After many difficulties, we were able to obtain his body and bring him to a Jewish burial. 

I remember that the brigade came to town on a Thursday.  The next day, Friday, the soldiers spread out over the city in small groups of four or five and began to knock on the doors of the shops and ask the prices of goods.  They didn't buy anything.  They only tried to bargain and said that the prices were too high.  This happened in all of the shops.  Confusion arose in the town and everyone felt that some kind of a plot was taking shape.  That day, the Jews closed their shops early.  The excuse was that it was the eve of the Sabbath and so they should close early.  But the real reason was fear of what was coming.  The Jews tried to act as usual that day – some of them went to the bathhouse, and after that to the synagogue to "welcome the Sabbath."  But their hearts were very fearful – and after the evening meal, every one of them closed the doors of his house and his shutters, and they all remained sitting at home.

The door of our house, for example, had a wooden lock.  I think that any ordinary wind could have moved it.  Nevertheless, we locked the lock and closed the shutters.  Abba and Ima [Dad and Mom] went to sleep, but I was worried about what would happen and I found no rest, because of the situation in town.  If not I, who was a soldier, and knew how to use a weapon, who would stand up for the Jews of our town in their trouble?  There was something to do.  I had an enormous desire to go out of the house and see what was happening in the town.  Consequently, I told my parents that I was going out for only a short time.  Of course, they objected to that and began a moral reprimand, telling me that I shouldn't put myself into dangerous situations, but I had made up my mind, and I went out.

It was a winter night.  It was quiet and dark all around.  Where do we go now? I asked myself.  The windows of the houses all were dark.  Nevertheless, I headed toward the house of Zelta, di aleinitishke.  There was a young girl named Esther in that house, and Pesach Zhuk always went to see her.  I said to myself, I should talk with Pesach and we should make some kind of plan as to how to stand in the breach.  I came to the house, but to my dismay I did not find Pesach, I only met their neighbor, Zecharyahu Burak, there.  Zecharyahu had a pistol and five bullets.  We sat for some time and talked about this and that.  It was 8 o'clock.  Suddenly, shouting voices reached us from outside:

"Help!  Help!"

We quickly burst out of the house.  And now it became clear to us that the voices were coming from Yonah Riback's house.  We started to go in that direction.  First, we came running to the parapet of Moshe-Yossel Benjamin's house, and out of excitement Zecharya began shooting toward the house from which the shouting was heard.  I don't know exactly why we shot then, but I do know that the bullets were used up very quickly and we remained with a pistol, but no ammunition.  Now, we couldn't do anything but go home. 

I didn't close my eyes all night.  In the morning, I again went outside in the street, and I saw that the destruction was great.  Many of the merchandise storerooms were broken into and robbed.  I found out that Chaim-Shmuel Reznik was wounded by the robbers when he showed that he objected.

What should we do?  What should we do?  The question beat in my head. I wanted something to do, and I didn't know what.  I decided to go to the Tscherniak family's house.  This house was open to community activities.  Here, a few other friends gathered together.  We consulted each other and decided to go to the members of the Revolutionary Committee, who were in Gedalyahu Shlita's house.  We negotiated with them all day on that Sabbath.  Our request was that they would appoint guards over the town from among their members.  The negotiations did not bear fruit. 

The day was over, and now it was night.  It was dark all around, and our hands were empty like they had been the night before.  Each of us went home to a sleepless night.  The Jews again locked their doors and shutters.  Each one prayed in his heart that a miracle would happen, and that the situation would end peacefully.

I went to Golda-Leah's house.  Several officers of the brigade were there, who had come that evening as guests.  Yaakov Bas and Zelda, and Ben-Zion Zhuk, who had a pistol, were also there.  At 9 o'clock, again we heard screams from the street.  I approached one of the officers and asked him to give me his pistol.  He did not refuse me.  He gave me the pistol, and he even gave me his military tunic.  He warned me not to go into the street because of the danger.  I thanked him for the equipment and for his concern.  Ben-Zion and I went out into the street.

We shot a few shots.  Some goyim, who had been in the market and were preparing to plunder it, started to run away.  Meanwhile, Pesach Zhuk arrived, equipped with a rifle.

As we approached the house of Shmuel the watchmaker, we saw smoke going up from the house.  We hurried inside.  The bedclothes were burning – the rioters had poured kerosene on the bed and set them on fire.  The three of us began to extinguish the fire.  After we succeeded in doing so, we went outside, where we saw watches scattered and thrown on the ground.  But we didn't wait to gather them.  Pesach harnessed his horses and the three of us went out to chase after the goyim. 

We saw that most of them fled toward the village Pechenki.  On the road, we didn't catch a single one of them.  They had already managed to escape to their village.  We were afraid to enter the village itself.  When we came back to town from the chase, we saw a single soldier on the road coming from the town, and he had some stolen merchandise he had managed to gather in his hands.  We took his rifle and ammunition away from him and took him prisoner.  We turned one of the rooms in the synagogue of the Stepan Chassidim into a jail, where we imprisoned him.  Pesach Zhuk remained to guard him.  We were exhilarated by our achievements that evening – we had chased the rioters away and arrested the soldier.

In our exhilaration, Ben-Zion and I went out to recruit more companions to our ranks and to organize self-defense.  First, we went to Sarah-Pessle Kanonitz.  We knocked on the door and asked that they send Aharon out to us, because we had something very important to tell him.  But Adele didn't believe that we were really Jews.  She thought that we also were rioters, who knew how to speak Yiddish; that we had come to rob them and everything we said was just an act. 

"Ima," cried Adele in great confusion, "where is the money hidden?  They are coming to us already!"

With great difficulty, we were able to convince them that we really were Jews.  We came into the house and called for Aharon.  We told him the purpose of our visit and asked him to join us.  Together, we went out in the town to recruit more companions to our ranks.  That night, 12 young men joined us.

The next morning, I went out with Zeev Freidman, and we took the soldier to the investigator for questioning.  The soldier was not from the brigade.  Many certainly remember the "Sladveitel" [Investigator] with the large moustache.  Ordinarily, he was a Jew-hater, but these things took place after the Revolution.  He therefore was in low spirits and his powers of imagination were low.  When I entered his room I saw that the fact that Eliyahu Garmarnik, the wounded soldier, came to him with a rifle in his hand and a Russian soldier taken prisoner – this fact confused his thoughts completely, and he didn't know how to start. 

Because I saw that because of his great confusion, he would not succeed in the investigation, I first stood and gave him a lecture about the whole matter – with all the details of everything that had happened and the circumstances under which we had seized the soldier.  Now, the investigator calmed down a bit and began to question the soldier.  He questioned, recorded, and questioned.  In the end, he gave judgment:

"Indeed, I must tell you that you did the right thing in taking him prisoner."

While I was still busy with the soldier and the investigator, Zeev Freidman went to the house of a goy by the name of Kalstran Kuchar to get a drink.  When he came to the house, Zeev encountered a group of soldiers who were there.  The soldiers disarmed Zeev, in other words, they took the rifle away from him, and he came back to us empty-handed.  Our situation was slightly worse, but nevertheless we succeeded in bringing our prisoner – the soldier – back to the synagogue of the Stepan Chassidim.  Now there were six young men next to the jail, and they guarded him.  All this was because our group still had nothing to do, and so all of them were busy doing guard duty.

We went again to Tscherniak's house.  We called the activists to a meeting and chose an action committee for emergencies.  I, who was a soldier, was chosen to be the officer of the self-defense group.  In Vladimirets there were four Jewish soldiers who were not natives of the town.  We decided to pay a monthly wage to those soldiers, who were camped at the time in the town and remained there with their weapons, and add them to the ranks of the defenders.

We, the defenders, and the members of the committee for public safety, began together to concern ourselves with obtaining weapons.  It was very difficult to legally obtain weapons.  Consequently, we undertook different strategies.  One of these strategies was extremely interesting, and it will be explained below. 

I already told, in the above, that a squadron of Petliura's men was camping in our vicinity.  Because Petliura's men fought against the Bolsheviks, we decided to harp on this string.  We turned to the officers of the squadron in Rafalovka and informed them that in Vladimirets a local force was being organized whose purpose was to prevent the control of the place by the Bolsheviks, and that this force needed weapons.  We asked the members of the Revolutionary Committee to approve this strategy and they said that all ways of obtaining weapons were permitted.  One of the officers from the headquarters of Petliura's men was sent to us to find out the character of our group, and he indeed was impressed that we opposed the Bolsheviks.  After a few days, the first shipment of weapons was received – 30 rifles and ammunition.  New members immediately joined our ranks, and we already numbered 50 men who had knowledge of weapons.  We also received weapons from other sources.  Now, we positioned armed guards around the town, as well as inside the town itself.  Every neighborhood had its own appointee, who would watch and make sure that the area was properly guarded.  Thus, we guarded the town from the convoys of soldiers who passed through the town during the nights.  These soldiers, when they saw that the place was guarded by armed men, did not harm anyone.

However, the situation began to deteriorate.  Our comrades, who did guard duty at night, began to tire of the heavy burden that was placed on them.  The guard duty took them away from their ordinary work, and their means of survival became difficult.   The soldier was still imprisoned by us.  We held a meeting at that time; on the agenda were the questions: how to ease the livelihoods of the guards, and what should we do with our soldier-prisoner?   

The soldier told us that he was one of Petliura's men, and we decided to transfer him to Antonovka.  I immediately wrote a protocol and appointed Meir Pinchuk and one of our guards, and the prisoner was put into their hands, so that they would bring him to Antonovka.  Meanwhile, we went to the head of the Revolutionary Committee and proposed to him that he expel the army battalion from the town.  The matter would have to cost money, and we were prepared for this.  Meanwhile, our comrades returned from Antonovka and told us that they had brought the prisoner there and gave him to Petliura's men, but there for some reason matters got complicated and they sentenced him to death. 

I was very upset by this.  I saw it as a huge mistake on our part.  I found it desirable that I would not be the head of the guards, because I was concerned about complications.  I told myself that it would be wise to give the office to Bitav, Kassel's son-in-law.  He was regarded as a revolutionary and a good fellow, and he helped us a great deal.

It happened before Purim.  That year, the Purim holiday fell on a Sunday, and the event I will tell about happened on Friday.  We were standing on the parapet of Gedalya Shlita's house, where the Revolutionary Committee was located, and we were wondering:  from where will our help come?  Many members had left our ranks because they were in financial difficulties, and we were unable to solve their problems.  And here, we saw four German patrols entering the town, all of them riding on nice horses. 

They asked us, in German, who was the mayor of the town.  The people who happened to be in the street at the time pointed at me.  I approached them and asked what they wanted.  They said that the Germans were camped in Dolgovolya, and they wanted us to provide them with fifteen wagons of fodder.  I immediately recruited four Jewish boys from among the civilians and two of our police.  At that time, the entire police force numbered eight Christians and four Jews.  Among the Jewish police were Yudel Raban and Alter Bik.  Together with the scouts, we travelled to Nowaki, where we obtained the requested fodder.

The next day, the German army entered the town.  Their first order was to hand over our weapons to them.  I ordered our company to come with their weapons and report to the German officer.  We stood in military formation next to the city council building, and the German officer approached and requested me to explain to him who these men were and what was their task.  I told him that for a time the town had no government and was left in a situation of lawlessness, and that these were the members of the self-defense organization, whose job was to preserve the safety of the residents.  Apparently, he liked what he heard, and he gave us permission to continue to carry our weapons and to serve as the guards over the safety of the town. But our boys, after the danger had passed, began to leave our ranks and I had to hand over the weapons to Suchazanet the priest, who then was the town officer.

This was the history of the group of protectors who guarded the town for a short while so that no robberies or riots would occur.

The Germans left, and the Russians re-entered.  Again, the authorities were mixed.

At that time, I travelled to Rowne to report to a committee, and at that examination I was released from the army.  I was a released soldier, and through my army service and the troubles I had seen, my attachment to the community was greater.  Now, I wanted with all my heart to do something for the community. 

In those days, a young man lived in Vladimirets who had been a tree inspector in the forests, and he was an ardent Bundist.  He saw a need to take care of our youth, with the intention of drawing them into his net.  But after a few gatherings and meetings, he found out that in Vladimirets the matter was not so simple, and his efforts were for nothing.  He had no choice, but to withdraw from his attempts.

Our youth was filled with a Zionist and nationalist spirit, the sources of which were the Torah education and Chassidic spirit of the town.  Zionist political parties were established and public agitation began. 

In order for the Zionist activity to endure, we decided to establish a dramatic club.  At that time, the days of demobilization, two soldiers, among others, lived in our town – one was named Gordanchik and the other, Marenson.  Marenson was a professional actor, from the theatre in Kiev.  His wife, Nadia, who arrived in Vladimirets at a later time, also was a professional actress.  On their strength, we established the dramatic club.  We presented plays by Gordon, Goldfeden, and more.  Among the members of the club were Zelda Bas, Chava Garmarnik, Yaakov-Leib Weisblatt, Kamin, Avraham Garmarnik, Yaakov Bas, and myself.  Later, other members joined us, among them David Melamed, Sheike Melamed, Avraham Teitelbaum, Sender Volok, Pesach Tscherniak, and Sender Tscherniak.

Miniatures from that experience come to mind – I will tell about an incident connected with the play "Das Pintele Yid," which we wanted to present.  We lacked a young actor to fill the part of the bar-mitzva boy.  We looked for an actor who was appropriate for this part, and found none.  We were almost discouraged.  And suddenly, in an unexpected manner, almost, the miracle occurred:

There was a tailor in our town, and his name was Hershel.  He had two sons – one was named Bezalel, and the second, the younger, was Moshe-Zalman.  The news that we were looking for an appropriate actor for the part of a young lad reached Hershel the tailor's son Moshe-Zalman.  One day, this boy came and said:

"I heard that you are looking for an actor.  Maybe I can be suitable?"

At first, Marenson looked at him doubtfully, and almost rejected him.  His appearance was not convincing.  Nevertheless, they gave him a test.  And look at the miracle – at the rehearsal, when the boy opened his mouth, all of us were shocked and surprised.  We felt that here, in front of us, was a real actor – a born actor.  He was given the part, and he played it with amazing talent.  From then on, the boy was part of the actors' club and he filled parts of major importance, with responsibility and talent. 

We presented the plays in the granary of the church.  The income was great, and the money was dedicated to the cultural needs of the community, mainly for establishing a library.

The youth began to read different kinds of literature and to progress, and our town became famous in the vicinity.  Eventually, Marenson and his wife left and returned to Kiev.  But the dramatic club had already taken root and become an actual property, such that it was able to exist on the strengths of local people.  Now, new members joined the club – among them, Freidel Kanonitz, Berel Garmarnik, Teibel Kanonitz, Hinda Dik, and more.  We occasionally travelled to other towns in the vicinity and showed our strength, and our drama group gained repute.

The relationships between the actors were generally normal.  Arguments, criticisms and pursuit of honor were unknown.  All of us kept our purpose in mind and not personal pleasure.  Once, however, there was a dispute among the actors, but it was not about parts.  Rather, it was about dividing the money that the play would bring in.  This occurred during the year when my father died, and our club had prepared to present the play "Holy Sabbath."  That year, the members of our family did not participate as usual in the plays.  Shlomo-Sender Volok had to fill the role of a landowner.  It was already close to the date of the play, and friends came to me and told me there was a problem – Shlomo-Sender was refusing to act in the play, because he was requesting a percentage that was much higher than the entrance fee for his political party, and when they didn't agree, he notified them that he would not act, because he saw the whole matter as harming his party.   So they decided that I should fill the role instead.

My thought was that it was forbidden for me to act in a play during the year of mourning.  Also, I could not learn the part in one day.  After many arguments, they succeeded in convincing me that there was nothing forbidden in filling the role.  Another argument they brought up was the great amount of damage that could be caused to our party.  Truthfully, a party, in those days, was one of the important values, and its members were prepared to go through fire and water on its behalf.  The conversation was very long, and they convinced me. 

They left a copy of the play in my house and I began to memorize my part.  When I realized that it would be difficult for me to learn it at home, I went outside and walked in the field, whispering the sentences of the role to myself.  I whispered and reviewed it until I had it memorized.  That same day, we held two rehearsals, and everyone decided that indeed I could appear on the stage.  The sale of tickets, and the last preparations for the play, began.  Shlomo-Sender was very surprised – it was the finger of G-d – that the play would nevertheless take place.  And indeed it did take place, and not only did it go well, but also with great success, and the income was great…

After the play, Shlomo-Sender went up on the stage to see clearly who it was who had filled the role of the Graf.  When he saw me, he hurried toward me, hugged me, and said, laughing: 

"So, you are breaking the strike!"  and both of us laughed with relish.

He was the one about whom I said:  if there was a dispute, it was for the sake of Heaven and not for personal enjoyment.  And proof of this was Shlomo-Sender's noble behavior; he didn't greet me with a contention that I had "stolen" his part, but rather pleasantly and with humor.  That was the custom of people in our town, Vladimirets, in general.  It was blessed with good spirits.

Our town was famous for many local images.  Before my eyes arises the image of Baruch Kanonitz, whose conduct was both comic and philosophic.  He was talented in bringing people to think about their deeds.  Even on the last day of his life, Reb Baruch's good spirits did not desert him.  It was a Sabbath.  It was told that he began to sense that his time had come, and so he sent for Reb Avraham-Yaakov, who was the Burial Society's gabbai, and who also supported himself by sewing shrouds.  Baruch had already prepared a shroud for himself in advance, and he did not call Avraham-Yaakov now without a reason, but with some intention.  In other words:  he wanted to prove to Avraham-Yaakov that he didn't need to sew a shroud, and that he should not, G-d forbid, look forward to the money he would make from doing so.

"How are you, Reb Baruch?" asked Avraham-Yaakov. 

"Ah, bad.  Very bad.  Not very good." And he began to sing:

"The wheels don't turn any more,

The horse isn't walking, he's standing still

And the heart – indeed, indeed

Still wants a bit of whiskey

But again, it is impossible…" 

And suddenly he loudly called out: 

"Minda-Rachel, please be good enough to bring my clothes.  I want to measure them and see if they fit me and if they are sewn properly according to my measurements." 

Minda-Rachel fulfilled his request.  She brought him his white clothing.  He put them on and approached the mirror.  He looked carefully at himself, and turned to Avraham-Yaakov and said:

"Nu, what do you think?  It's true, they are very comfortable.  It doesn't matter, we all will go."

Slowly, he undressed, laid down in his bed, and said:

"There is nothing to fear.  When I get there, I will know what to argue and what to answer."

And so, with a smile on his lips, that day he left the world.

MEDICAL ASSISTANCE 

The medical assistance in our town was also domestic, without lists of doctors that instill fear.  There was a Jewish medic, a "pladsher" in local jargon, and his name was Yosef "der rofeh" [the doctor].  His method of healing was letting blood, in other words, to take the "bad, unclean blood" out of the body.  He did this very simply:  he tightly tied the arm with a strip of fabric and when the veins began to stand out, because they were full of blood, he would stab the location and the blood would begin to spray out in a strong stream.  He would allow the blood to flow, and then he would release the strip of fabric, bless the ill person with wishes for a full recovery, and that was that.  Not only that:  he was also an expert at giving enemas if necessary and at cupping – not just cupping, but "gehakte beinkes," in other words, cupping for bloodletting – after removal of the cups, he would cut the flesh that had swelled and take out the "bad blood."  He carried out this kind of cupping treatment on Fridays, in the bathhouse.  He kept the glass cups in a small knapsack, and the rest of his accessories were a bowl, a candle and a sharp razor.  All these assisted him in his medical work.  After such an "operation," the sick person would go up to the top step in the sweat room and flog his body well in the hot steam.  This treatment was meant for people who were healthy, in general, but it was also used for sick people, mainly those who were ill with pneumonia, in which case he would add some "garchitchnik" [mustard] to the cups.  If someone fell ill with typhoid, he would merit treatment with leeches, which would suck the infected blood.  And so it was, until – he was called to the "Yeshiva above."

Another "pladsher" in our town was Shidlowski, a goy – and he was almost a doctor.  Shidlowski already wrote prescriptions.  When it was necessary, he was expert at pulling a tooth.  He said that he learned the job when he served in Nikolai's army.

In addition to these two, there was Nissel Bik, who was one of those who had served in Nikolai's army for 25 years.  He was an expert, mainly at treating dislocations – if someone dislocated his arm or leg – they would call Nissel and he would very quickly return the dislocated limb to its right place.  From time to time, my daughter's arm would become dislocated and go out of its socket.  When this would happen, we immediately called Nissel, and he put it back where it belonged.  If someone broke an arm or leg – again, Nissel, who accelerated healing, would align the broken parts with each other and everything would go well.  He did this work with "klashtzes," splints made of wood, which would clamp the broken place until the bones knit together.  At that time, we had never heard of plaster.  If Nissle were living now, he certainly would have achieved the status of a famous surgeon.  In addition, Nissel was also a veterinarian.  If a cow, or one of the horses, became ill, they would immediately call Nissel, and he, with his primitive resources, would bring a cure.

Nissel's house stood next to the meadow, which was called the "poplav," on the road leading to the landlord's holding.  It was a tiny, old house.  In addition to the above-mentioned professions, in Nissel's yard there also was a mill for crushing grits and a straw cutter.  Therefore, his clothes were always somewhat dusty.

Once, someone from a good family – the son of a Jew who lived in Sarna, had a dislocated foot, in other words, his foot went out of its socket, and became very swollen.  Doctors came and prescribed all kinds of drugs to lessen the swelling, which didn't help a bit and would have helped only after some time.  Meanwhile, the boy was tortured by terrible pain (it shouldn't happen to you).  Neighbors and friends, and passers-by, saw in such a case a necessity to visit the patient, and, as is the custom in the world, each one gave him good advice.

Among those who came to visit was someone who knew Nissel or had heard of him, and he said that he knew that in the town of Vladimirets there was a Jew, Nissel by name – and he actually did wonders – who was an expert at returning a dislocated bone into place.  This happened on a Sabbath.  The family waited impatiently until after the Sabbath, and when it became dark, after the evening prayers and Havdala, they hurried to harness the horses to the sleigh, and like an arrow shot from a bow – galloped to Vladimirets.

When they arrived in the town, the newcomers immediately asked where they could find Nissel the doctor, but when they arrived at his hut, they were in shock – how was it possible that a famous doctor would live in such a dwelling?  But what do people say?  Whoever is drowning, will even grab at a straw in order to be saved.

The arrivals knocked at the door, and Nissel, who had already gone to sleep, woke up and asked what happened.  When he heard that they had come to take him to the city of Sarna in order to provide medical care, he asked the arrivals to wait a few minutes, and he went inside to get dressed.  Getting dressed was not a complicated matter with Nissel.  He threw a coat on himself, tied a rope around his hips like a sash, and was ready to go. 

When they came to Sarna, it already was late.  But the home of the sick Jew was fully lit.  Many neighbors and friends had come into the house, and all of them were waiting curiously for Nissel to arrive.

"Shavua tov, Jews!" [Have a good week, Jews!] – called Nissel when he came in, and he immediately went to work.

"First of all, bring me a bowl of boiling water, and in the water put a piece of soap, so it will make a lot of bubbles!" ordered Nissel.

They quickly boiled the water and brought it to Nissel.  The soap was put in the water and there was a great deal of white foam.  Nissel placed the bowl in the exact place according to his plan, and he himself approached the patient.  Nissel stood with his back to the patient, facing the bowl.  He carefully took the patient's dislocated foot and put it between his own legs. And standing thus, with his back to the patient, so that he wouldn't see his suffering, he put the patient's foot into the boiling, foamy water.  Nissel stood that way until the foot became very warm, and suddenly, without the patient being at all prepared for it, he rotated the foot, and in the blink of an eye, the bone returned to its place. A horrible scream came from the patient's mouth, but it was all over and completed.  The owner of the pain immediately began to feel better. 

"Nu, Reb Nissel, how much does your kindness cost?" asked the family.

"How much does my kindness cost?" answered Nissel – "for my kindness, give me one-eighth of a packet of Byarsk tobacco."

"After you did your work, we really are very happy.  But don't joke with us, Nissel," answered the family 

"Sirs, I am not joking.  That is the price.  That is what I take from everyone, and also from you.  But under the condition that you take me back to Vladimirets."

Of course, they brought him back to Vladimirets with great honor and happiness, and everyone was satisfied.

We also had an altogether different kind of helper – I refer to Reb Ben-Zion Freidman.  Ben-Zion was an educated, intelligent Jew.  The man was religious and learned, and swam in the sea of Talmud.  From the Talmud, he learned the wisdom of medicine.  Ben-Zion had pleasant manners.  His clothing was clean; he had soft, shiny boots.  He read "HaTzfira" and was familiar with events taking place in the world.  At first, he was drawn to medicine as if it were just a science, but he slowly was taken into the world of its application, and he began to be interested in patients.  And thus, he acquired a name for himself in the town and people began to call him to come to them in various cases of illness.

When he visited a sick person, Ben-Zion always acted calmly and reassuringly.  He would find the illness to be a mild one.  He would take upon himself the work of healing, but if the illness was somewhat serious, he would order the patient to call a doctor.  When the doctor arrived, he would request that Ben-Zion would also be present at the time of the examination.  The doctor would consult Ben-Zion, and together they would determine the diagnosis.

Sometimes, on his first visit, Ben-Zion would determine that the illness was serious, and then he would say that Feinstein should be brought from Kovel, or Segal or Kaplan from Kolki.  When one of these doctors visited, Ben-Zion also came, and the doctor, relating with respect to Ben-Zion and out of courtesy, would ask his advice and sometimes would give him the stethoscope so he could examine the patient and express his opinion.  This raised Ben-Zion's value in the eyes of the Jews of the town.

During World War I, when the typhoid epidemic spread in our town, a famous doctor, a surgeon, from Pinsk was visiting.  His name was Yagorov, and he also came down with typhoid.  When he fell ill, he gave orders that only Ben-Zion Freidman should come to take care of him, and so it was until he recovered.  Ben-Zion continued to give help to people all his life.

Eventually, a hospital was built in the town.  At first, the hospital was located in Yeshayahu the shochet's house.  I remember that there were a doctor and a medic in this hospital.  The medic wanted very much to gain the sympathy of the residents of the town.  What did he do?  He brought a gramophone with records of Jewish songs, chazanut [cantorial music] and the like.  Every Sabbath, after the noon meal and after the afternoon nap, he would set up the gramophone and begin to play the songs for the pleasure of the residents.

Up to now, I have told about pure-hearted people; now I wish to mention someone with derision.  This was the field officer, the goy Ostapenka, may his name be blotted out.  He worked in the large hospital that was built in our town.  At the merit of the Jews who supported him, this Ostapenka rose higher and higher and became extremely wealthy, but it was he who gave his hand to the elimination of the town in 1942 and organized, together with the Germans, the operation of destruction.
 
 


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