Project «Voices of Jewish settlements. Vitebsk region.»
פיתוח קשרי התרבות בין העמים של ישראל ובלרוס
Sirotino is a settlement in Vitebsk region. According to the documents dating from 1847 “Sirotino Jewish community” consisted of 269 people. According to the census of 1897, the population of the place was 1998 people, 1766 of them – Jewish.
My father, Aron Beilinson, was born in 1898 in a settlement called Old Sirotino. At the age of 18 he decided to marry my mother Mina Borisovna Shames. Their two families were neighbors and the children grew up together. However, mother’s parents were against the marriage, because my father was poor. So, my father took a loan from someone and bought a horse to earn his own money and become financially independent.
Sirotino of that time was a town with about 30 shops. There were three synagogues and a church.
It was a picturesque place. The River Chernushka with beautiful banks was running through the town. The streets in Sirotino we cobbled. They were cleaned by the residents. In general, the town was clean and quiet.
A lot of people from Moscow and Kiev came to spend summers here. Sunday was a day of trade fairs, when peasants from neighboring villages came to sell vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products. Fairs were also organized on holidays and they were a real spectacle, especially in winter. Girls would walk the streets in chains, looking for young men, and the young men chose brides for themselves. Then there were moments when a guy would harness his horse, seat the girl he chose into the cart and take her home, where she lived for several days. If they matched, he took the girl home and sent someone to make a marriage proposal. But the morals were very strict – guys were not allowed to touch girls before marriage. Then there was another kind of entertainment – street fights, which started with snowballs and sometimes finished with real fighting.
As for industries, Sirotino had its own flax factory. Flax was processed and sent to Vitebsk. My father became involved in flax transportations and managed to earn some money and marry my mom. My mother’s brother, who lived in Leningrad, helped them out with money and the parents bought a two-storey house, which had a bakery on the first floor. So my parents mastered a new craft – baking pastry and making children. Mother died in 1920 and father was left with four small children: three-year-old twins Honia and Raya, seven-year-old brother Joseph and me (I was five). It was a sheer tragedy.
It is difficult to imagine what state my father was in. His wife died, the bakery was taken by the new authorities, the flax factory, where he had worked, burnt down in 1929. He could not earn money and feed the children. Father’s mother helped us out, even though she was really old and deaf.
At that time Sirotino Jews had an idea to organize their own small collective farm. I do not know who initiated the idea but several poor families were ready to give it a try. They went to the local council and the idea was supported: “Take as much land as you can cultivate,” – they were told. So my father Aron Beilinson, Epshtein, Soritz, Skoblov and Staroselsky all took their tools and began working together.
They lived like that until collectivization started in 1930 and a collective farm was created by the authorities in Sirotino. Those were cruel times. The local synagogue was looted and turned into a granary. 1933 was a particularly difficult year – the farm pigs died and the flax had rotten. All the people in charge of the collective farm were arrested.
One day Zabezhinsky’s wife (he was the head of the pig farm) ran into our house and said to my father: “You seem to be on good terms with Mandrikov, the militiaman. Can you ask him what is happening?” “Ok, no problem.” So he came to the man’s house. The militiaman wasn’t in and when my father was going out, he met him and was immediately asked: “What do you want, Beilinson?” He should have answered: “To see you” and instead he said: “I would like to find out if you have any information about Zabezhinsky.”
“Sit down then. You’re under arrest.” At night my father, together with other arrested people, was taken to Shumilino. After spending nine weeks there they were finally taken to court. There were no documents that charged my father with anything. When his turn came, the lawyer asked the judges: “Your honor! Why have we arrested Mr. Beilinson? Only because he has a nice-looking beard?” Only then they let him go.
In 1935 grandmother, who was living with us, told my father: “You need to bring a woman here. I cannot work any longer – I have no strength.”
So, father married a middle-aged woman Hiena Chagall. She owned a cow together with her sister. When the cow calved, the wife’s sister told my dad: “Pay me half the price for the calf and it will be yours.” Soon our stepmother got ill and was sent to a hospital in Vitebsk. Father quickly got a job looking after horses and transporting bread from the bakery to the shop. He was paid sixty rubles per month. The money was not enough to support both the family and the stepmother. So, her sister said: “Sell the calf and you will have the money.” But father replied: “We have a cow that we both own. You are her sister and I am her husband. Let’s sell the cow and try to save my wife.” Stepmother died of sarcoma while they were trying to make a decision.
My father had a heart attack that nearly killed him. He was saved by a young man, who started rubbing him with alcohol. Then father got married for the third time to a woman from Gorodok. Her last name was Chagall. They lived together until fascists came into Sirotino. They were both shot.
How did I survive the war?
In 1941 I received a call-up paper to the military registration office. I left the house on the first day of the Jewish Passover, on April 12th, 1941. I was taken to Polotsk and lived in a railway carriage. We were going to become railway workers. On June 20th I went home to Sirotino for a weekend. As soon as I came I found out that the war had started, so I hurried back to Polotsk. The train depot in Polotsk was already being bombed. We were then taken to Velikiye Luki and spent three days there because the station was being bombed.
Eventually I arrived in a town called Serov (former Nadezhinsk). I was conscripted in 1942 and sent to Vladivostok, where I spent seven months. I spent 8 years in the army and was demobilized in 1950.
I did not come back to Sirotino – no one was left there… So, I made up my mind to stay in the town of Kolchugino, where I got married and my two sons were born. I lived and worked in Kolchugino until 1969 and then moved to Germany, where I am currently living.
I used to visit Sirotino rather often. The first time I went there when Ruman Massarsky was still alive. He was the one to set up the memorial to the executed Jews. The memorial was made of bricks and surrounded with a wooden rail.
A few years later I bought a metal rail in Shumilino and set it around the memorial. The Shumilino Council helped us set up the second memorial which stood there until recently.
Jewish settlements in Vitebsk region
Vitebsk • Albrehtovo • Babinovichi • Baran • Bayevo • Begoml • Beshenkovichi • Bocheikovo • Bogushevsk • Borkovichi • Braslav • Bychiha • Chashniki • Disna • Dobromysli • Dokshitsy • Druya • Dubrovno • Glubokoye • Gorodok • Kamen • Kohanovo • Kolyshki • Kopys • Krasnopolie • Kublichi • Lepel • Liady • Liozno • Lukoml • Luzhki • Lyntupy • Miory • Obol • Oboltsy • Orsha • Osintorf • Ostrovno • Parafianovo • Plissa • Polotsk • Prozorki • Senno • Sharkovshina • Shumilino • Sirotino • Slaveni• Smolyany • Surazh • Tolochin • Ulla • Verhnedvinsk • Vidzy • Volyntsy • Yanovichi • Yezerishe • Zhary • Ziabki •