“Mishpoha” magazine has been organizing trips to Jewish communities of Belarus for poets, writers, publicists for eight years. The trips take place during Hanukkah celebration.
We’ve visited many cities and towns of the country. In some places we’ve been more than once, meeting with our readers in clubs, libraries, community centres, visiting veterans and the disabled in their homes.
In December 2013, our trip began in Slutsk. We were met by Friedrich Iosifovich Falevich, the Community Chairperson, at the bus stop in the heart of the city.
The community was restored in this city twenty years ago. Since then, it has been renting a basement room.
– Far fewer people come here than in the mid-nineties, said Friedrich Iosifovich. – Some people passed away, others went far away. But we keep on going, gather together, celebrate holidays and Sabbath…
16 people came to the community centre, most of them quite elderly.
And the three of us, representing “Mishpoha”,- the poet and translator Alla Levina, novelist Boris Roland and me, the editor of the magazine Arkady Shulman.
We told about our trips, meetings, read poetry, excerpts from stories, and answered questions. We were very much interested in hearing peoples’ stories. These conversations we put off till the end of our meeting.
I WAS BORN HERE
by Friedrich Falevich
I was born in Slutsk, on May 1, 1934, and have lived here all my life. My parents were also locals. My father, Iosif Israilevich Falevich, a party member from 1925, held various executive posts, was the Chairman of the Slutsk disabled persons' cooperative before the war.
My mother, Yudes Abramovich (her maiden name) was a housewife. There were four boys in the family. My father went to the front on June 22, 1941, and we neither saw him nor received any news from him. But when, in 1944, his brother returned to Slutsk, he told us that he saw my father in hospital near Mogilev.
My father got burnt in a tank battle. He was a tank platoon commander. My father's brother, Yakov Falevich, had worked in a fire-fighting squad in Slutsk before the war. When he was in Mogilev, someone told him that Iosif was in hospital. After the war, we were told that he was seen during the battle near Moscow in winter 1941-1942. Even if my father had sent letters to us, they simply couldn’t have reached us. We were in the Slutsk ghetto.
My elder brother Igor, born in 1926, and his cousins managed to escape to the East and stayed alive.
My mother, brother Boris (born in 1929), younger brother Grisha (born in 1939) and I also tried to escape to the East. We got to Bobruisk, but had to go back to Slutsk, since the German army was approaching.
Grisha was killed by the Germans along with my father's mother literally in front of my eyes. Their bodies were thrown onto the truck and taken away.
– Where was the Slutsk ghetto located? – asked I.
– There were two ghettos in Slutsk. One was on Volodarsky Street, now it’s Maxim Bogdanovich Street, and in the area of Shkolishche, now Paris Commune.
The first ghetto was established soon after the occupation of the city. We returned from Bobruisk, and stayed at the house of my mother's sister. It was in late June. A week or a week and a half later the Jews were forced into the ghetto. They were mostly families with small children and the elderly. Those who were stronger and richer managed to flee.
When the Germans were going to eliminate the first ghetto, a policeman came to my mother. My father once did something good to him and he never forgot it. There were such people among the policemen. He told my mother:
– Yulya, grab the kids and come with me.
He took us through the ghetto gate, past the Germans and policemen, to a friend of his who had an empty hut. We were hiding there for four months. The man’s name was Konstantin Vainilovch. He died after the war. He received no Righteous or any other awards for that. Time was different. After the war no one ever told about helping the Jews.
Then the neighbors began watching the house. Vainilovich got to know that and came to warn. He asked us to leave in order to save his and our lives.
Late in the evening we went to the second ghetto of Slutsk, established in April 1942. My mother, Boris and I lived in that ghetto.
– You must be very lucky to stay alive. How did it happen?
– I have no words.., – sighed heavily Friedrich Iosifovich. The second ghetto was destroyed on 7-8 February, 1943. They began shooting the Jews, transported them outside the ghetto in two trucks, and an organized resistance started. The Jews began to return fire and throw grenades. The fascists did not expect that to happen. They surrounded the ghetto and set fire to it. Those Jews who were still alive, were burnt in the fire.
– I heard nothing about the uprising in the Slutsk ghetto. How did it happen?
– The ghetto was burning for three days...
– Where did the Jews get weapon?
– They picked up, collected or bought. They stocked and kept the weapons in the attics.
Before the elimination of the second ghetto the policeman named Nikolai came to my mother again and said that all the Jews would be killed.
He took us to the power station. There was a peat-fired power station in Slutsk. The peat was dug around the surrounding villages. Nikolai told us to climb into the wagons, covered us with all sorts of rags. The prisoners of war who worked at the peat field then took us to Radichevo where the peat was excavated. Then we were sent to a friend of Nikolai’s in the village of Ulanovo. We were hiding in some house for about two days. On Sunday the hostess gave us clean clothes to change, and took through the villages to Staritsky forest in Kopyl district. It was a partisan area. She said goodbye and went away.
It was eight o'clock in the evening. We spent the night in the woods, thinking over what to do next. At six in the morning we heard male voices. It turned out that partisans were coming towards us. There was a woman among them, named Stepanova. She was the third Secretary of the Slutsk District Communist party Committee before the war and knew our father well.
So we got to a partisan unit named after Shestopalov…
After the war I graduated from the Minsk College of Economics and Finance, served in the army, then graduated from the Belarusian Academy of Agriculture. I worked as an economist, held executive positions in the municipal Department of Finance, in construction companies. Now I’m retired. I'm the Chairman of the Slutsk Jewish community…
THE FIRST CHAIRMAN OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
Story by Raisa Alekseevna Tychina
– I was born in Slutsk in 1928, and lived here almost all of my life. My parents were ordinary workers. My father, Alkone Manyuk, was a tailor. He was also born in Slutsk. My mother, Rosa Sakhina, also worked for the guild, but she came from a village of Starodorozhsky district. There were two children in the family – my younger sister Zelda and me. My sister is now in America.
My parents were not religious people. It must have been the first generation of non-religious shtetl Jews. The grandfathers and grandmothers were deeply religious people. My mother's father, Iosif, lived in Starye Dorogi. My other grandfather (his surname was Manyuk) died before I was born. The Manyuk family had 12 children. In 1930s, 8 brothers and sisters lived in Slutsk.
There was an old synagogue in Slutsk before the war. It was located in Shkolische area, inhabited mostly by Jews. There was a school at the synagogue.
I remember the pre-war Slutsk well. I managed to finish five grades at school. I studied two years at the Jewish school, and, after it was closed, we were transferred to the Russian one. The street was mostly Jewish, everyone spoke Yiddish. We lived four houses away from the Kosberg family. The owner of the house, Arie Kosberg, was a blacksmith, he had nine children. One of them, Semen or Sholom, became Doctor of Engineering Science, Hero of Socialist Labor, one of the fathers of the Soviet cosmonautics. Semen was much older than me, and left Slutsk before I was born.
There lived a Russian family in our street, but we communicated in Yiddish. After September 1939, a family of Polish refugees settled in our street. Before the war I didn't understand the meaning of the word "kike", we all lived friendly, like one big family.
I remember the breakout of the war. It was Sunday. My mother went to the market. Suddenly, my father was called to the military enlistment office. He was a very responsible man and went to the office immediately. In the evening his brother from Bialystok came and said to my mother to leave Slutsk. It was a must. My mother didn’t want to leave since my father was at the mobilization station.
Two days passed. We saw that people began to leave Slutsk. Our neighbor and my mother’s friend urged us to leave. We went to the mobilization station to see my father. He said that we should leave. He remained in Slutsk and must have died before the establishment of the ghetto.
Our Russian neignbour told us later that he had been shot while walking along the street.
We got to Starye Dorogi, stayed overnight at my grandfather's. He told us to go further and not to stop. So we got to Rogachev and boarded a train.
We lived four months in the Stalingrad region, worked on the farm. When the Germans approached, we went to Uzbekistan, the Andizhan region, and worked on the farm again.
We returned to Slutsk on 7 November, 1944. The city had just been liberated.
There was no place to live, our house having been burnt down. We went to Starye Dorogi, to our mother’s cousins. One of them, Aisik Gelfand was a partisan, and we stayed at his place. We met the victory on May 9, 1945, in Starye Dorogi. Later, in 1946, we returned to Slutsk. My mother had a sister, who had a small house, and we were allowed to live in it.
Gradually, the evacuated, demobilized soldiers began returning to Slutsk. There was no proper accommodation and people began moving to larger cities, like Minsk, especially Bobruisk (after the war Slutsk was part of the Bobruisk region).
It was difficult for my mother to bring up the two of us. In Glubokoe one of my mother's sisters worked as a chief librarian, the other was a teacher. They had small children, and they wrote: “Let Raya come to us, she will take care of the children and study”. So in 1946, I went to Glubokoe, entered a teacher training college.
I had the best results at college and was sent to study further at the Minsk Pedagogical Institute. But I had no finances to study, I had to help my mother. There opened high school No. 1 in Slutsk. From 1949 to 1981, I worked there. I taught children from their first to their last years of studies, and graduated from the Minsk Pedagogical Institute by correspondence.
In 1994, I organized a Jewish community in Slutsk. At that time about a hundred Jews lived in Slutsk, maybe more. I knew some of them. I searched for Jewish surnames in the telephone directory and called them. People began to come. At first, there came Jews from America, Israel, searching for their relatives, and we helped them as we could.
The indigenous inhabitants of Slutsk were almost all gone. Of the 16 Jews who’s come today, 5 are locals, and the others are strangers.
MY GRANDFATHER SEWED A COSTUME FOR BUDYONNY
by Faina Wulfovna Rudnitskaya
– My father was from Vitebsk. Wulf Peisakhovich Belkin worked in a used clothing store.
My grandfather, my father’s father, also lived in Vitebsk, in the heart of the city, and was a famous tailor Peisakh Belkin. He once even sewed a military suit for Budenny himself. The Marshall used to come to our house for fittings. I was told about it by my father and grandmother. It’s like our family legend.
I don’t remember my grandfather, he died before the war. My grandmother died during the war in evacuation in Chuvashia.
During the war my father was in the labor army. He was demobilized in 1945. He came to Vitebsk. Our house survived, but there lived a military commander and my father failed to get the apartment back.
Many of our relatives were killed in the war in Vitebsk.
In 1948 or 1949, we moved to Slutsk. My father went to work in a used clothing store again. He died in 1952, and was buried in Slutsk.
I graduated from the Leningrad Medical College, came back home and worked all my life in an x-ray examination room in the hospital.
The memorial to the victims of the Slutsk ghetto.
The meeting with very friendly people at the Slutsk Jewish community center lasted two hours. Then we went to the monument to the victims of the Slutsk ghetto to pay tribute to the people who we remembered more than once during our meeting.