by Hirsch Kaplan (Toronto, Canada)
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
At the junction of 4 streets of Soletchnik was the marketplace and at the center of the marketplace stood the big Catholic Church.
Borek the priest, leader of his pasture, was a nice man, and was nice to Jews, but when the position was taken over by a young priest, the situation changed. From time to time local Gentiles gathered in the marketplace, argued, and raised the Jewish Problem. The essence of the Jewish Problem in their minds and in the town's reality was the question should they let local Jews graze their cows in the fields near their property or force them to keep the cows in barns, and similar problems.
Every two weeks there was a bazaar day, the biggest in the area, and which was the main income for the town's Jews.
There was a pharmacy close to the church, which was usually rented by Jewish pharmacists.
The family of Zats the pharmacist lived in town for several years and became a vivid part of the community and cultural life.
Near the pharmacy lived the family of Shmuel and Sarah Levine (survived with Partisans, almost all of them are in Israel). The quiet Shmuel and the lively Sarah ran several business trades, and their children were involved in commerce too. During bazaar days they took out a weight-scale: the farmers who came to the bazaar weighed their goods on the scale and paid the children for the service.
Near the Levines lived the Krums. Moshe Yakov Krum, a very religious and honest man, did sewing works in one corner of the house, and in another corner his gentle, quiet wife Fruml sewed clothes. The income from those two exhausting jobs was barely enough for the family. (Sons Yosef and Tzemah live in Israel)
Near them stood a big duplex house called the inn (kretchmeh). In one wing of the house lived two rich, well-established families: the Streletskis, and in the other wing on the side of Vilne Street, the Khlavnovitshes. One was involved in the textile trade and the other, in the shoe trade. Velvl Streletski, the textile merchant, was involved in the political and community life of the town. He was a gabai in the synagogue and sang wonderful prayers. Kasriel Khlavnovitsh was a religious scholar, a man of knowledge, and a nice chat-companion, but he was never involved in the community matters.
Over the street lived the Khvayovski family, almost all their children live in Canada. The Khvayovskis owned a liquor house and also sold yash [kosher wine]. This last business was managed by the brave wife Khaye, who took upon herself the risks of this forbidden business.
Up Vilne Street, on the way to the market, lived Yosef Valtukh with his family, a tall, tough, and strong Jew who worked his whole life as a wagoner bringing goods from Vilne for the meek. Even the Gentiles admired his strength, telling stories about his power and bravery on many occasions.
In the outskirts, almost at the end of town lived Alter Sheyman with his family. His was the only [Tr. Note: Jewish] family living as farmers. They used to trade in the villages and also to work various crop fields. They came into town only on Shabbats and Holidays, in order to pray in the synagogue.
In the center of town, near the Khvayovskis, lived Shimshel Lemelman and Yakov Zhabinski. Both owned large sewing workshops and were considered very rich. Shimshel behaved with great self-importance and called himself Reb Shimshel Lemelman, a sign of his importance.
Near them lived Mutieh Landau, a scholar with broad knowledge. He was the manager of the bank in our town and provided services to other towns in the area. He also owned a textile shop. Because of the bank business, he treated the town residents harshly, and they called him Amalek.
Near him was Velvl the shoemaker, head of a large family, and constantly in need. He loved political topics and had great knowledge. His lack of income and bitter poverty didn't affect his good spirits. He was always aware of political changes in the world and was ready for a discussion with anyone on any subject.
Near him lived Mary Levine, a shopkeeper, and her sons who were in the wood business. It was a house filled with joy, and the sound of daughter Khave's (now in Israel) singing came out of the house and filled the grey street with some joyfulness. Across the street lived Khane-Dvorah Levine who owned a butchery, and her sons were also in the wood business.
At the corner of Vilne and Lida Streets stood two big houses with huge gardens behind them. Those were the houses of the brothers Chaim Moshe Goldanski and Yitzakh Hertz. Those two families were famous for their charity activity, especially Reb Chaim Moshe whose house was always open for passers-by in need, where they could get a meal from his wife's cooking or from the storeroom.
All the town's needy and poor knew the secret of the open house and came to it in the times of want.
During the final days of Soletchnik, the Goldanski household was joined by Khatzkl Luski, Yitzakh Hertz's son-in-law, a big scholar and a progressive, religious Jew. Khatzkl was a gifted merchant and did great community work. Because of his nice voice he used to lead the prayers, especially during High Holidays, and his prayers were lovely.
I remember the Kol Nidre night in the Lida ghetto, shortly after the mass murders executed by Nazis in the ghetto. We stayed in the warehouse praying. Khatzkl Luski was singing Kol Nidre in the ancient style and his singing was sad, heart breaking, bringing tears to our eyes, and engraved in our memories for life.
After Yitzakh Hertz's house, Moshe Levine, Sonia Goldanski's husband, built a new house near the big house. In this house was situated the bank and on the other side lived the Katz family. It was a hard working family with new troubles and suffering. Reyzl and Esther did sewing jobs and the rest were bread bakers. All the family members were thirsty for education and kept progressive proletarian views. In 1918 their son Yakov Katz, a promising poet, was arrested by the Germans, tortured, and taken to forced labor. When he was released he died in his home at the age of 22. Shortly after he died, the head of the family - his father-in-law and Khaye's husband, died leaving behind two widows, one of them with two little babies. So after his death they had to come around quickly and take care of their income.
Facing this lived Rabbi Rakovski, shepherd of the tiny community of Soletchnik-- a quiet and modest Jew, poor and depressed. He was not only poor, but also had troubles at home and with his children.
Near the Polish co-operative stood the house of Shlomo the tailor (his daughter Dina is in Israel), after him the house of the Shupians, the richest textile merchants, and close by a tiny short house surrounded by pigpens and inside a large family this was the house of my childhood. My mother was a goodhearted and laborious woman who lived through a lot of hardships but was always ready to share her possessions with others, and donated money anonymously to those poorer than she. Father tried different trades and businesses but with no success, so mother had to work hard to provide for the family.
One of the biggest houses in town, near the house of Fani Marieh, was occupied by the town's princes of poverty. Except for Shimon the glazier, there were 3-4 families there who were always in need. After this house stood another big house in which the widow Mirl Segal lived, the tailor Ysroel Kotler, Rude the plasterer and Sushka the supervisor. At the end of Lida Street lived Alter the whitewasher with his wife Meira-Yiddis, daughter Zlata and son Beinish. Meira-Yiddis was worried about the street fights at nights: They will take out each other's eyes, God Forbid! - she used to say.
This is how our town looked and those were its residents. It was a tiny town with a tiny population, but it was a nice warm town with an unexplained magic to it. Its Jews were one big family. Everybody knew each other, knew of each other's troubles, and enjoyed each other's celebrations together. The town youth, although they were few in numbers, created its own dreams and aspirations, and led a rich cultural and social life. They studied in various educational institutions and belonged to various movements, but joined forces in cultural, Zionist and public activities. They lived a full and content life together with their dear parents in warm houses, united in all their troubles and joys of life. Soletchnik existed as a tiny island of Judaism and peace surrounded by a world of greed and murder.
Until that one autumn day on the last day of Sukkot, when the bloody Nazis, and with them the well-known local Yanek Ivashkevitsh, ordered all the Jews of Great-Soletchnik to leave in 24 hours. They moved first to Divenishok and later to Voronova, where they were murdered and deported to deadly ghettos.
They dragged their belongings on tiny wagons, tied in bundles, and left behind, for the cruel world, the houses of their fathers and forefathers.
This Soletchnik in which we happened to live our lives and to dream about a brilliant future, was inherited by the murderers of our dear ones while they, our loved ones, didn't live to see the light and the better future of their dreams.
By telling their story I establish a memorial to those holy martyrs. May their memory be blessed.
|On a visit to the Kaplan family in Israel
by K. Goldanski
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
The town took its name from the nearby Soletchenka River. This river contributed to its beauty and life, and enriched the lives of Jewish youth there.
The whole town belonged to Count Wagner and his wife, Countess nee Pututski. All the houses in town were built on his land and were part of his property. House residents paid an annual tax, like a housing rent. All their property came from him.
The only ones to own their own houses were father and his brother, who became landlords of their houses by chance. All their lands and real estate used to belong to the Post Office. My grandfather was the manager of the Post so he made use of this property. There was a stable near his house, with horses and carriages, in which he cared for all the mail items, and his standard of living was considered extraordinary. Later, a railway was built, and all the mail was moved by trains and from his office. The Post Office then granted him all those lands and property as a compensation for the long years of service, and thus my father became a landowner overnight.
In those times, Jews in town used to pray in the new synagogue which was situated on our land. When the old synagogue was disqualified for use because of engineering problems and the Jews had no place to pray, my grandfather donated 10 dunams of his land [Tr. Note: 1dunam=1/4 acre]. Others followed with more donations and the prayer house was established. Near the synagogue they built a house for the rabbi, and Soletchnik became a sacred community [Tr. Note: Kehilat Kodesh].
The old synagogue was built hundreds of years before the new one and had been disqualified because of cracks in the walls and safety concerns. So there it stood, deserted and bare, and was used as a playground by local children, inspiring their imaginations. It stood in solitude for years and added a mystical atmosphere to the town. Grandfathers told legends about it to subsequent generations, becoming lodged into the memories of fathers and sons. Here is what we found to be true about these stories after verification: in the beginning of 18th century an ancestor of Meir Solts had donated the whole sum of money necessary for the establishment of the synagogue. He also contributed a piece of his land for it. And when the synagogue was built and the community was established, he also contributed a nearby piece of land for a cemetery.
My father used to tell that it was a gorgeous building with a gorgeous Holy Ark standing high up, and one had to climb 10 stairs in order to take out a Torah scroll. My grandfather Reb Monesh was the gabbai for many years.
The greatness of the Solts family didn't last for long because of the Meir Solts incident, but it left its good and blessed impact on the town.
Meir's father was a big donor who took care of the community's needs as mentioned before. In the old days he was the Post Office manager, and the General Governor used to rise when he saw him, showing him respect and fondness. As someone honored by the authorities, he was also a proud and respected man in the Jewish community. He sent his son Meir to Moscow University and was forgiven for doing that by the Jewish community. Later, my grandfather Reb Monesh took over the management of the Post. Solts was still rich and well-to-do, but all honors from the Governor were now directed towards my grandfather. For years, people in the community told stories about the Governor stopping his carriage to take Reb Monesh home.
In Moscow Meir Solts met a priest's daughter and started to visit her home. One time he happened to be there for this daughter's birthday and, together with all the guests, he got drunk and fell asleep as Gentiles usually do. When he awoke he noticed the cross that his party friends had painted on his chest. He got scared. He saw an abyss opening up before him and panicked. So what did he do? He sent a telegram to grandfather, Reb Monesh:
'[In Yiddish] Come here, there is trouble. Grandfather left behind all his business and went to Moscow. He found him there all mixed up with the Christians, and he had no choice but to send him away out of Russia. Meir asked to be sent to Erets Israel, so with the help of the General Governor he was sent to Israel 3 days after the incident.'
This was 76 years ago, in 1894, and so came the privilege of sending our first representative to make Aliyah.
Meir built a wonderful family here, and one of his sons Dr. Elishe Solts OBM was one of the founders of Maoz Chaim [Tr. Note: a kibbutz], and the first governor of Nazareth and the Beth Shean district for many years.
Good Memories of Wagner
Carl Wagner was a good Gentile, a friend of the town and its residents who assisted them in different ways. His greatest pride was when his late father's name was mentioned in the synagogue during the prayer for dead souls. Then he began donating large sums of money for the maintenance of the synagogue, enough for a whole year.
There was a Jew in town, Abba Yehuda Soltchnitski. He was 80 years old when he began to bring the post from Benakani and to distribute it in town. He used to bring Wagner's mail to his home, sometimes he had to walk 5km to do this. Wagner had to thank him for this effort so he signed an Ordinaria, a permanent service fee similar to all his other workers and employees. Every 3 months Wagner's carriage stopped near Abba's house to bring him his fee and also some fruits and vegetables from Wagner's fields.
On this occasion Wagner would also send something to the synagogue. There were other poor folks in town who learned about Wagner's resourcefulness, they used to come to Wagner to show him respect in various ways, and to win his generosity.
Rabbis of Soletchnik
In our times the main Rabbi of Great Soletchnik was Khanokh Sharshevski. He was a scholar and well known in rabbinical circles, not only because of his virtues but also because he was the son of the Gaon Chofetz Chaim"'s sister. He didn't have sons, and one of his daughters married David Leibovitch who took over after his death.
R. David was a parush [someone who left his home to study Torah], who migrated from town to town looking for Torah houses until he ended up in Soletchnik, wed, and settled there.
He was a scholar with great knowledge, nice to talk to and a great singer.
They used to tell about him:
When his Katriel couldn't understand why Aravah [willow] branches are used if they are wrapped and complicated, he explained to him clearly: Willow [branches] are like human fingers. When they are straight and open, they can even [be used] for Cohanic [Priestly] Blessing, but when they are bent and complicated they can become a punching fist or a fig.
[The matter] became very clear.
When Reb David'l was told that a rich and selfish man had become ill and was taking a long time to die, he said:
'[In Yiddish] When a bad fruit is kept for a long time, it ferments and becomes sweet. Thus his way in the next world will be easier.'
When Rabbi David'l immigrated to America, he was replaced by Rabbi Rakovski who was the last Rabbi of the town and was killed by Nazis together with his flock.
With God's Will Even a Broom is Useful
In 1916 when the regime changed and the Lithuanians took over our region, soldiers gathered near our pharmacy and demanded from us the cognac usually kept for medical use. When we didn't open, they broke into the store at night. They found my mother standing in rags, frightened. They thought she was our maid so they told her:
'Now is your time to have revenge on your rich employers. Take out everything they have in the pharmacy.'
They packed everything, barged into our house, took all our food supply, and demanded we bridle our horses and take them to the destination they'd show us. We knew that we wouldn't be coming back, that in order to hide their actions they'd be getting rid of us on the way. My mother knew it too. She hurried and told my 14 year old brother to take an oven sweeper [Trans. Note: broom], cover it with a sack soaked in oil, and put it burning near the church. When the Gentiles saw the fire in their church, they perceived the danger and ran to put it out. A crowd gathered quickly which the Lithuanians saw prompting them to leave, while all our possessions stayed with us.
Then mother said:
'You see, children, when God wishes, even a broom may start a fire. Mother OBM was so resourceful. She knew how to get out of any awkward situation and to save her family.
Soletchnik Becomes Famous
During World War I, the Germans came to Soletchnik. The width of the local railway didn't fit their trains so they stopped and dismantled the rails in order to change widths. The train was stuck in town and the swollen-from-hunger refugees wandered around town. My father decided to open up a soup kitchen to ease their suffering. He donated the laundry boiler, and good women cooked potatoes and groats from his stock and the milk from his cows. Thus Jewish souls were saved from hunger and its dangers.
When he ran out of stock, he asked for help of Yekopo in the USA and they sent a large quantity of canned food. The Jews of Soletchnik established a kitchen in the synagogue corridor, and Jewish women took turns cooking for the refugees, until Soletchnik became famous around the whole area, and the refugees grew in quantity. We had to prepare straw mattresses and put them to sleep in the corridor.
The Butcher and his Family
We had a butcher in town. His name was Tuvyeh. His family brought a lot of blessings to our town for its knowledge and halakha.
His wife Dobra (Dvora) served as a melamed, she had a cheder in which she taught Gemarah to youngsters. She loved to study and knew Torah well. Her methods were harsh like all the melameds, and she ruled over 15 young scholars as a male would-- always with a teittl, a captain's stick, with which scared the disobedient ones, and she knew how to use it.
With time she adopted some methods from Tsarist schools. The punishment for being late to cheder or for sloppiness in one's studies was to be put in a corner for a long time. And if the person did it again, he was put in the corner on his knees-- the third time, on his knees with a bean under the knees. It was a painful and depressing punishment, but the youngsters found a solution. They cooked the bean until soft and thus made the punishment of the melamed-ess easier.
In addition to being a shochet, Tuvyeh Kagan was also a chazzan, and his sons sang with him, assisting him with their voices on notes which his voice couldn't sing.
This is the Soletchnik of old memory. Small and dear, with its good Jews, built by them, and cherished by them. Now its Jews are gone and so is the town.
by Chaim Kalai (Streletski)
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
[First] Pesach night in 1938. After 5 years in Eretz, I went to Soletchnik. I was a youngster, barely 18, when I left it and I missed it a lot. I wanted to see if it had changed? Developed? Or does it continue its grey dull routine?
My soul was torn from the inner conflict between me and my town that pushed me away, saw me as someone chasing the winds, and mocked me because I believe in a dream and am obsessed with it. But I am firm in my opinion that there is no future in its existence and its days are short. All the years in Eretz didn't wipe the memory of the conflict, I wanted to return and prove my victory. Moreover I knew that now I am the strong one, that its end is near and I have to save it, and first of all save my parents.
I traveled as if on a mission.
The world was at that time under the threat of the Nazi regime, and I knew that the first to fall will be our brothers Jews. I was impatient and wanted to save my family before it is too late.
Eretz Israel was under Arab siege. We lived under the oppressive mandatory regime and its collaborators the muftis' gangs. But somehow I didn't think that our lives are in danger. On the contrary, I saw the wire fence around our farm and its gates, locked every night as something temporary, and never doubted our future even in my worst dreams. On the contrary, I wanted my parents to be here with me, my brother and sister and everyone, to be part of the building and developing of a new country.
I entered the town in the middle of the day. Before me I saw the wrecks of the Big Synagogue, between its folds we used to play hideandseek, and beside it stood Beth Midrash as if embarrassed near its big brother. Although it was the spiritual heart and center of the town, the big synagogue across emphasized its smallness and misery. A substitute is a substitute.
The children ran around excited from [the house of] Rabbi Benya the podarchik of the matzos. Again they baked matzos as each year for ages, in the house of AvromItzik, our beloved teacher, and the children competed to be the first to make the holes in the matzos by rolling the barb [??] wheel, redlen blez. Dear Soletchnik children who later experienced the tragic fate of their parents, together with their parents, were now also full partners with their parents in performing the mitzvah. They didn't pay any attention to me. They argued between themselves, every one described how he put on his kippah, how he washed his hands and said the blessing, how he rolled straight lines of holes, and his young eyes glowed with happiness.
Soletchnik was the same Soletchnik. Do you remember Reb Alter the Yellow, the one whose wife couldn't understand how do they fight at night, when you can accidentally stab an eye and you can't see where to shoot? I found Reb Alter exactly the same, crossing the street with a wide pace to collect the rent money for Mr. Wagner, the owner of the town and surrounding villages.
From the corners of my eye I could see, as always, the town waggoneers leaning on their whips, bored because of lack of work, tailors bending over their sewing machines like yeshiva dancers, shop owners standing in front their shops staring for hours on the puddles of melting snow.
I found Soletchnik exactly how I left it. Sunk in its own world of worries for provision and family sustenance, its several streets were quiet and empty, narrow trails led from the houses to the marketplace, from there to Beth Midrash, from Beth Midrash to the shops etc. My heart shrunk from sorrow. Dear God, how long will those dear Jews trample in one place and continue from one Shoah to the next, from one decree to the next. How can they live like this?
I urged my father to sell everything and leave town, to make aliya. I couldn't imagine the dimensions of the coming catastrophe, I couldn't imagine the extension of horrors. I just wanted them to be part of our destiny, of sieged Eretz Israel which carried the promise of a safe place for generations to come.
My father, who outlived two wars, in 1905 and in 1914, insisted on his safety:
Nothing will happen to us. A war is a war, eventually it ends and the Jews continue with their life.
He was a devoted and active Zionist, but was not ready yet to do aliya.
We had a long and bitter argument. I stayed in Soletchnik for approximately 8 months. I was in the center of [Zionist] activity. In the evening hours, a time to think and dream, I told about my Israel, I read [them] letters that I received from Tel Yosef, from my friends there. Hearts trembled, thoughts widened, but that's it. They didn't come any far than that.
Meanwhile I received notice of the first pilot training course in Eretz, and I was very interested [to join], so I parted and left.
I didn't succeed to save my dearest. For many days I wondered what was the magic of this town, this remote corner of the world that glued generations of smart, able and talented Jews, and they couldn't leave it. Until this day I didn't find the answer to this question.
Meanwhile the news arrived of the extinction of Soletchnik together with all Jewish communities in a deadly march of world bullies.
Dear naïvesmart Jews got caught in its enchanting net and now they are gone. And I know that it wasn't their fault or failure. After all, Soletchnik was a sanctuary and a cradle for small dreams of the miserable and haunted. It's not their fault, but the warning is loud and clear, there is no place for Soletchniks in our world, and may all the Jews in the world know that after our town was destroyed, every city in the world is only falsely safe and should be left immediately.
We'll remember Soletchnik and the warning coming from it.
by Yosef Krum
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
Our town, which consisted of 35 households, was called Great Soletchnik, as opposed to Small Soletchnick which consisted only of 5-6 houses.
Unlike its neighbor Voronova, which was a town of farmers and craftsmen, our tiny town had mostly tradesmen who traded with local farmers, and a minority of tailors, shoemakers and other servicemen, two or fewer from each profession.
Like all other towns in Poland-Lithuania, it was in constant pursuit of a livelihood and the rejection of Zionism as an alternative. In fact, the anti-Zionism's only purpose was to serve those looking for income instead of idealism. Those [Tr. Note: financial issues] served as an excuse for the parents not to allow their children to leave home and make aliyah, and as an opposition to those young people who had started to criticize their parents for being concerned only with money and profit.
In this atmosphere, the good memories are mostly of the Goldansky [Zahavi] family, he being Chaim Moshe and she, Minne Riva.
Theirs was a very wealthy family, considered one of the richest in the area and in town. Their house was a fortress of comfort and prosperity-- a house that stood on their own land, behind it their own fields with a private well in the yard.
Their house, which stood at a distance from all the rest of the houses, was a trade house which did commerce only with Gentiles. Because of the physical distance, the family was also a bit detached from the rest of the community. The elders fulfilled all their religious obligations. They were mitzvah doers, observing prayers and holidays, but never got involved with community life, and had their own opinions on world affairs, on human relations in the Golah, and on the future of the nation and Eretz Israel.
Thus their house became special and different from all other houses. It was always filled with various guests, and Zionist emissaries from Eretz Israel knew it as a place to stay. Even when they were going some distance from the town, they used to spend a night and rest there.
The store was a tiny supermarket. You could buy [anything] from a sack of grain or flour, to herring and pastry. It was part of the house, so everyone who came to the store, visited the house, and vice versa.
I used to work there as a seller. I was a young boy and wanted to help my parents financially. I quit school with a heavy heart and went to work for others. My mood was difficult, but I fell in love with my work from the first day. I made good connections with people and became a good judge of character. There was an atmosphere of togetherness in the house, with no differences in social status or origin. The boys treated me as one of their own and surrounded me with warm friendship. Many times I have thought about this: this friendship was essential for our besieged nation, meeting a need to keep internal relationships close, unlike in other nations. Trade was conducted under all its rules. The goal was to make profit, but the goods were different: not all were kosher. The Goldanskis preserved their integrity: their business and profit-making ethics were different. They were not interested in capital aggregation and didn't conduct themselves arrogantly. They saw it as a kind of destiny that must be viewed and respected as an obligation, but not as the most important one in life.
And most important, and this is the reason to write a memory about them, was the spirit of practical Zionism in the household. All that they did, or didn't do, was done as if only temporarily, until an opportunity to make aliyah would come around.
Reb Chaim Moshe encouraged his sons and daughters to make aliyah. His house, which stood on his land along with a cow and a horse, and many businesses and lots of work, needed working hands, but he was ready to give up on this out of an understandable yearning for nationality: they were more needed there.
Thus the Goldanskis were the first in town to make aliyah, despite the prosperity at home and the hunger and shortage in Eretz. I don't remember the children complaining about their conditions in their letters. I don't remember the parents regretting even once having sent their children away from their table. They had foreseen far ahead and they were correct, but at that time the Goldanskis were considered as being different from the general attitude in Soletchnik.
I worked in this house for seven years. Seven years feeling like one long day of friendship and comradeship. I don't remember if or how my salary was determined. There was some kind of mutual understanding between the two houses because the Goldanskis knew the circumstances of my having taken the job, and knew how to compensate me. They used to bring over wood for heating personally to our cold house, as well as holiday groceries and other stuff. The meaning of their actions was rather that of an act of friendship and comradeship, rather then of financial value, which was obvious and limited.
In my memories of Soletchnik, the house of Chaim Moshe and Minne Riva is that of green garden with a Jewish world-view, where a visionary Jewish camaraderie were kept going until a National revival could be achieved, unique among nations.
by Chava Levine (Lieberman)
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
He was our neighbor, a poor shoemaker with eight children. When I used to come to repair my shoes the whole household was happy. We were rich, or considered rich, while our neighbor Velvele was the poorest of the poor. Yet something drew us to him. His constant joyfulness, the spiritual orientation rather than the corporeal, and the peace and harmony imbuing his whole family filled my heart.
The time was shortly before my Aliyah. I had strong and steady opinions about the town's future, its youth, and its Jews with their Judaism. I was worried about one thing only: would I be strong enough to survive the famine in Erets Israel? How would I bear the suffering? Could anyone survive the famine? My doubts rose. What should I do? I came to Velvele. I watched his family, hungry for bread but filled with joy, and it made me feel better.
One day I saw him in extraordinarily good mood. When I inquired, he explained:
You see, we slaughtered a goose, a real goose, who was alive and well. Such a small thing, a goose, and yet we are eating meat for a whole week. [In Yiddish:] Goosemeat, you see, goosesoup. We've become almost like rich men, and it is not finished yet. After a week of eating look what I will still have:
He opened a drawer, and with great intrigue and pleasure pulled out a gizzard.
This, you see, will be for dinner today, for all of us.
Velvele enjoyed talking about politics. He had a newspaper which he kept folded in a drawer for three months, and each time he wanted to prove an argument he pulled out the newspaper to prove his point with facts.
He was a good neighbor, an interesting man, so I decided to mention him in this book.
by Khave Levine (Lieberman)
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
My mother became a widow at the age of 45 and she was left with 5 little children. The oldest was 15. She didn't want to remarry because she didn't want to bring in a stepfather for the children. She remained alone to shoulder the burden of raising the children and taking care of them.
She was known as a smart woman: Meira (Miriam) Levine from Soletchnik, manager of a department store, independent, with solid opinion on public matters and providing for her family all by herself.
She gave us a traditional education and a sense of happiness. In our home we never knew the meaning of orphanage. We were provided with everything we needed, and more. The town's first radio with earphones, was in our house. We loved her and respected her, and were always careful not to hurt her feelings.
In 1936 I felt storm clouds gathering over us. I was her only daughter, with 4 brothers, and my fear was different from theirs. For me anti-Semitism was connected to special fears reserved only for Jewish girls.
I wanted to run away, to make aliyah, to be among Jews, but I didn't dare to say this to my mother. Aliyah without Messiah didn't fit into my religious education. I was afraid she wouldn't agree and that she'd be against my aliyah: I wanted to make aliyah and be a good daughter to her at the same time. I confided in my oldest brother. I explained my point of view and my thoughts about the future for Jews in Poland. I said:
'There is a professional school in Vilne. I'll study one of those professions that can bring a salary anywhere anytime. Later, when I am settled, I'll do anything to bring everyone.'
He gave me money without mother's knowledge, because he realized that this would hurt her.
I registered to the school. When I brought her the acceptance letter, she looked at it, thought for a while, and then said:
'If this is what you want, and if your happiness is there, go my daughter, and don't be afraid.'
I promised to help her make aliyah, but to my great sorrow this didn't happen.
|Soletchnik saying goodbye to its first olim Shoshona and Ysroel Goldanski
by Yosef Krum
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
The HeKhaluts branch in our town was like a club for rich children, or to be precise, due to being majority of girls, a club for girls from rich and middleclass families. I, who worked from childhood, wasn't a factor to be heard or considered. I remember my thoughts were always about aliyah.
I saw the small town, the misery of its residents, with no chance for improvement in the life of such a small community, and most importantly no hope for the youth. I was looking for ways to go away from there.
In 1932, when I went to hachshara  in Gorohovo,  I was considered a weirdo because I quit a good job with a nice family who were very dear to me, and I felt at home in their home. People also couldn't forgive me for leaving my poor parents, which would then lack my help and assistance. But I wasn't forgetting them. I wasn't able to tell others that I planned to suffer for a while and then later bring them over to me, to live like normal people for, better or worse.
The hachshara papers came on Hanukka 1932. The weather was freezing. People had second thoughts whether To leave home in such frost? I put on my coat, parted with a blessing from my parents, and went out. I was upset that my biggest critics were my friends from the branch. Instead of being happy that a friend was making aliyah, they mocked and criticized me.
I spent 2 years in Gorohovo in a hachshara kibutz before I was approved to make aliyah.
Before the approval I had to pass a test in Hebrew. My knowledge came from my teacher Avraham Ledershteyn, and I passed the test.
I returned to town, happy for two reasons: one, because I had succeeded in the hard training and all [the tests], and also because I had overcome my friends' criticism and mockery, those who had established HeKhaluts and were its leaders and spokespersons.
by By Chaim Kalai 
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
Soletchnik was Wagner's private estate. He was a rare descendant of those Germans that Peter the Great brought to Russia in order to improve its industry and enhance its agriculture. In my days his ownership consisted of collecting of rent money from the Jewish houses that either stood on his land or were built with his money.
He worked his fields with his tractors and his hired staff who worked only for a percentage of the income.
You may say that most of the town earned their living from Wagner and his sharecroppers, while the rest from supplying services to residents of the town and its surroundings.
Thus its population differed from other towns. It had several merchants who were very rich and who earned big money, and the rest were shoemakers, tailors and wagon owners.
There were almost no homeowners because most of the Jews lived in Wagner's houses, and there was a Jew nicknamed Reb Alter ‘the Yellow’ whose job was to collect Wagner's rent payments.
As a child I knew my town well and loved it. I loved the destroyed Big Synagogue, where we played hideandseek and dreamt secret dreams of another mysterious world. I loved the broad fields surrounding the town. And we were happy there.
But when I grew up and became a youngster I started to feel suffocated. Yosef Krum and I, and several others, studied Hebrew with teacher Avraham. He, and Byalik's poems, aroused a longing in our hearts for the birds in the broad fields.
I was very attracted to Wagner's tractors. Those huge bugs made of metal and bladed wheels drew my heart when they did their slow loudconqueringplowing trip through the fields.
I wanted to control them, to be close to them, to drive, and to direct them. I felt that when a person is connected to the tractors, he connects himself to an endless power source. I wanted to study mechanics.
My father convinced me otherwise. He thought that for a youngster deciding to be a craftsman, carpentry would be more appropriate
Look he explained carpentry is a clean profession. You take clean wood, you make a piece of furniture, a window, a door. You plane it, and you work with clean material, you plane, you dye, you polish.
I studied carpentry, but I was attracted to Wagner's tractors. With time my father agreed to send me to the Vilne Technion and to abandon the carpentry dream. Only then I did learn why he was so opposed to mechanics.
When I finished my studies, I knew, as my father knew, that there was no future for me in Poland with this profession. A tractor demands wide fields, and for a Jewish boy like me wide fields can be found only in Israel. And this my father didn't want. He was a good Zionist etc. but still didn't want me to make aliyah. ‘You are too young.’ Eretz Israel is not ready yet for children like you.
But I made aliyah.
Grandma was crying, mother was sighing, but it didn't help. Wagner's tractor prevailed. Due to them I made aliyah, and due to them I learned to love wide open spaces that filled my soul and wouldn't let go.
I could say, according to Byalik's words:
Do you know why I made aliyah? Thanks to the tractors and fields that filled me with the air of freedom and a homeland.
Translated by Judy Petersen
|New York, USA
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