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THE LIFE STORY OF SHMUEL YELISHEVITCH

Related orally in Yiddish by Shmuel Yelishevitch in 1992, at the age of 92.

This written record was translated simultaneously from Yiddish and written in Hebrew.

[Translated by Chaim Freedman, 1998/9]

I was born in a Jewish house, father, mother and seven children. I was the youngest of the six sons and the daughter who was the firstborn. We lived in an old house on an estate called Azarevitch1

The estate had a Russian landowner and we worked his land. When we built a larger house, my grandfather and grandmother continued to live in the old house. Grandfather was a religious Jew and attended the synagogue every day which was one kilometer from the house. One day, a severe winter day, on the way home from the synagogue he fell and broke his foot. Due to his inability to work he wanted to move to his son Gotlieb who lived close to the synagogue. Grandmother was afraid to sleep alone in the house at night. She paid me two kopecks per night so that I should stay with her. I was then aged six and grandmother told me each evening about the history of the family which is engraved in my memory.

I

The Colonies

The estate was founded in 1800 before which it was desolate. Rothschild, who was friendly with Queen Katerina was aware of the difficult life of the Jews in Polotsk and in Vitebsk and it was forbidden for them to live in the villages unless they were craftsmen. In the same period army service in Russia was by those who were abducted whose service was for twenty five years.

Rothschild approached the Queen Katerina and suggested to her to grant the Jews an area of land and he would finance the settlement of Jews there2. The idea found favor with the queen, she visited the Ukraine, passed through the steppes and discovered that it was desolate and uncultivated. She suggested to Rothschild to accompany her and visit the area and it was decided to establish Jewish colonies in that area. She promulgated an order to divide the area such that each family would receive a plot of land and that those families who settled there would not be enlisted in the army.

That is how they established seventeen settlements of one to two hundred families each. The largest colony was called Bakher3. Others were called Latent4, Engels, Myadler, Peness, Di Vilner, Kabilni, Gravskoy, these were on one side.

On the other side there were, amongst them, Horkes, Nazrivka ( in Yiddish Azeritch where I was born), Priud, Kavalevsk, Haloshkas, Pervi (2) numer, Dritten (3) numer, Numer (4) Ferten numer, Hopalover. In between an area of sixty kilometers there were also Russian villages.

Every family received forty kilometers of land, a two-family house and next to it for each family, a dunam of land to grow household needs. Two thousand dunams was left in reserve for family expansion.

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II

Grandmother

When my grandmother’s family received the land and the place my grandmother was aged five. Her father was a fish trader in Dinaburg 5 and they moved into agriculture. My grandmother grew up and married a boy from the colony Priut who arrived at the same time. Her husband was a tailor. The land was divided in half and they received half of the area which they worked in the summer and in the winter continued to work in sewing for the inhabitants of the village and brought an additional livelihood to the farm.

They had two sons and two daughters. The firstborn was Yehoshua, he was my father. He had seven children. For his family he built a new house, larger than the previous one. He traded in fish which he brought from Mariupol which was on the sea. When the children grew up and the land was divided amongst them, father leased land from those families who did not work it and paid five rubles per dunam per year. He leased ten dunams and worked them alternately each year in order to let the land rest. In that was the yield was particularly great.

With the help of the children, the work possibility became greater and he leased more and more land, raised horses to work the land and bought cows for milking. The work was difficult for mother in the house and they had to hire a maidservant and with the help of the eldest daughter they managed with the situation. Father was engaged in trading most of the time. When my sister married she left the house and went to live with her husband who was a shokhet. He also inculcated Torah to the children of the colony and I was also sent to live with her.

The eldest brother who got married established a workshop for roofing tiles. Since his wife refused to live with her husband’s family and they went to live with her father who was a butcher and a prosperous man.

My father in partnership with his brother began to trade in cattle which they pastured on the steppe during the summer and sold them for meat in the city, and so they established a workshop for all agricultural work. For several years they were engaged in raising cattle. My second brother helped alongside father and it was decided to open some trade for him.

My father met a Jew whose name was Benyamin Perlman6 and his father was called Guchik. He was known in all the seventeen colonies. My father took advice from him about which trade to set up for his son. He advised him to come to his colony and open a factory for carriages. Father and his son Mikhel traveled to Perlman’s colony in order to assess the situation. They found there a large area on which it was possible to put in craftsmen to develop the factory. That colony was built at a distance of seven kilometers from the railway and it was easy to manage with transportation. They established the factory in partnership of father, the son and the owner of the plot. The factory developed and grew, they added workers and craftsmen. But the market was very limited in that they supplied all the other colonies but the return was small.

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III

The Brothers

Perlman had a pretty daughter and my brother married her. But they had to close the factory in that place and they moved it to our colony. So continued matters until 1914 when the First World War broke out. Two years they were already conscripting and now they conscripted another two brothers and so all the rest of my brothers except me and only I remained with my father. My eldest married brother moved to Horlovka7, a city where there were coal mines and my brother bought one of them and so was not liable to enlist in the army.

Two brothers who were released from the army for health reasons worked together with the eldest brother in the coal mine and so were released from military duty.

The youngest brother of the seven brothers, Noakh went to study in Novopoltavka where a technical school was opened.

The continuing war caused the closure of factories, among them the carriage factory and I with father remained to work the land.

My brother’s wife, the daughter of Perlman returned to her father.

In the year seventeen when the war ended the October Revolution broke out and when Lenin returned in 1921 we had to give up areas of our land.

My brother Nakhum who succeeded during the war to hit two airplanes received after the war three medals and my father was called to Aleksandrovsk which was the capital of the region to be present during the receipt of the medals.

In the colonies new leaders were chosen [.....] the revolution . My father moved to the brothers who worked the mine because he was considered a wealthy man. I remained with my mother in the place.  The land was taken from us by people from the Soviet, Yankel Kroz and Nakhman Zilver, and they managed the colony.

In 1918 the two brothers Nakhum and Noakh returned home and we resumed being a family of four men and my sister lived in a nearby colony with her second husband whom she married after the death of her first husband.

From time to time soviet soldiers appeared and demanded tax from each family who was liable to pay. Yankel Kroz and Nakhman Zilver who during the war were in Siberia returned and received important positions and they decided to confiscate the produce which was ready for planting and distributed it to the needy.

My father who returned home began to plan how to make a livelihood or to leave the colony. Meanwhile appeared about twenty riders and called the inhabitants to the Soviet office. When I heard this demand I ran quickly to announce to the family to hide. Father and mother had already arrived at the Soviet. One of the riders hit father with his rifle and split his head.

The same night forty8 men were killed, among them also Yankel Kroz, the last of those killed. The robber removed Yankel’s boots before Yankel could run away. Among those killed were two German families and thirty eight Jews.

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IV

Grandfather

My grandfather was an orphan9 and grew up with an uncle on one of the other colonies. And grandmother was with her parents in Nazarovitch, one of the other colonies. When they looked for a shidukh for her they found grandfather to match and he arrived to her in Nazarovitch. He was given a dowry and he began to trade in fish. He was a talented person and succeeded well in business. Also grandmother who was a diligent woman helped him in his business.

They bore four children, two sons and two daughters. My father was the firstborn of them. When they grew up they separated to different colonies in Ukraina.

V

Father

My father was a successful man. He established a business in the fish trade and also received an area of land to cultivate.

My mother came from a poor family since she was orphaned from her mother. On the other hand my father’s brother who married a rich girl and received a big dowry. He included my father in trade and gave him his money and they began to trade beef cattle.

After my father was killed we remained in the house three brothers, one who had returned from the war. We worked the land and the farm was very successful. We sold the farm and moved to the city Mariupol on the sea. The sum which we brought with us we wanted to buy a house but the sum was not enough and we decided to travel to Dombass where there also lived one of the brothers and he had a small mine with another brother and their brother-in-law. Since they supplied coal they were released from army duty when the war broke out. We bought four horses and I and another two brothers entered the village Volnovakhr10 which is a railway station village. We were stopped there by riders Machka who brought us to them to take the horses from us with all the money which we had with us. And they also didn’t spare blows because they thought we were spies since by my brother they found a book covered in all sorts of pictures. They beat us because they thought we knew secrets, but we had nothing to tell.

We were tried and the sentence was death by firing. We reacted severely and yelled. They returned us to the city where other Jews lived . Several of them were released and we asked to tell them of our arrest. They arrived and released us on the grounds that we would work in the mines. In fear that they might return us we walked by foot to the next station and when the goods train arrived so we reached Horlovka. There in Horlovka we remained to live in Donbass until we reached Israel.

In Horlovka lived three brothers and two of us joined them. They had a small coal mine there which was abandoned because of the Revolution and all of us together tried to rehabilitate it, with the help of some of the local peasants. For some time we worked there. The family of one of the brothers lived in Lugansk where he had an estate but he worked in the mine so he would not be sent to the army. When my brother traveled to visit in Lugansk I joined him. One of the brothers to whom belonged a quarter of the mine, he also returned to Lugansk. In 1919 the situation in Ukraina in Donbass there was famine in this period after the Revolution. They made a living from the income of the mine where my brother opened a workshop for harnesses and I worked in this factory with my brother’s children with who I lived for half a year. Afterwards I returned with my brother to Horlovka in order to work again in the mine. When we passed one of the railway stations I was taken down by White Russian soldiers who took me to a military camp. They took from me my papers. My brother suggested we should run away and so we did and we returned by foot to Lugansk, a distance of forty kilometers. One of my brother’s family’s neighbors was an inspector of the city and of the civil defense. When he heard about the incident he issued us with new papers with a new passport, and I remained again with the family. The communists began to arrive, among them the officers who enlisted for the Red Army.

I was sent by the neighbor one place so they would not enlist me also. There was a rich Jew and we lived with him to prevent searches. When a search was made they hid me below under the bed linen until the fuss was over.

My brother with difficulty reached Horlovka, but he wanted to return to the family and it was decided to sell the estate and we all moved to Horlovka and lived in a cellar in the yard of the mine. So I also began to work in the mine until the year 1921. The famine was great but since there was barley for the work horses we ground part of it into flour to bake bread.

When the Soviet authority was organized we rented an apartment within the city Horlovka at a distance of two kilometers from the mine and we moved to live in the city. The mine was expanded and we all worked in it.

Near the city there was a much bigger mine with thousands of workers and better coal because it was deeper. The coal from our mine they distributed to the workers in order to save the good coal for the trains. They gave me a horse and cart in order to deliver the coal to the houses of the workers.

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VI

Eretz Israel

This situation continued until 1922. My brother sold the mine and we decided to go to Eretz Yisrael.

Three of my brothers set out. My mother stayed with two other brothers. Two of the brothers continued on to Eretz Yisrael and I still remained in Rostov which was on the way in order to buy with the money which I had earned some gold and diamonds in order to exchange the cash with something of value. That is how I got to Baku where two brothers awaited me. We remained there together a week. We missed the train because the purpose was to get closer to the target. Meanwhile we remained in Baku. We sold the diamonds and the gold and exchanged them for fabrics in order to make some profit. They sent me with the fabric back to Horlovka where I sold it and the brothers remained in Baku to await transport to continue the journey. I needed to get there in order to travel together with them. But meanwhile I took sick and was unable to return. Meanwhile two of the brothers left Baku to travel to Eretz Yisrael.

We reached Baku because we heard that once a month a ship embarked and within a month reached the borders of Israel. We missed the ship by a few days and we had to wait for the next ship. My two brothers and I sat and waited and meanwhile we wanted to find work for our sustenance so as not to spend on food the money we needed for the journey.

My brother Yaakov found work with a seamstress of hats at a workshop of five or six people. My brothers did the distribution, For me there was no work and so my brother suggested that I sell my property such as diamonds which I brought with me and we would by fabric which was cheap in Baku and take it to Horlovka to sell so as to earn our livelihood.

That was what I did. Mother was very happy at my arrival. The brother who had remained with mother sold the fabric in the market in Horlovka.  And I thought of returning to Baku. Mother opposed my return and I stayed to live with mother. Exactly that night I became ill with a very high temperature and the doctor that it was malaria which continued for months. The money meanwhile was spent and my brothers who remained in Baku in that time traveled to Eretz Yisrael. Their journey took months and with great difficulty they arrived in Eretz Yisrael.

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I remained in Horlovka

I remained in Horlovka with mother and began to look for work. Mother managed the house again and was very happy and I began to trade in leather. Each week I brought from the leather factory a quantity of leather which I sold and made a reasonable profit. The authorities demanded a permit to carry on trading. The taxes were high and I could not cope with them. I sold the shop and traveled to my birthplace, the colony Azarevitch11. When I lived with mother a young woman lived as a neighbor who seemed to be very suitable for me. But as long as I had no fixed livelihood I did not want to make contact. I remained on the colony and received two dunams of land which I started to cultivate. I proposed that the girl should join me but she did not arrive. After I had worked the land for half a year I operated a small farm. Not far from the colony was the town Hulyaipolye which served also as a purchase center for the colony. A cousin who lived in the town and her husband Moshe suggested I organize a cooperative to work leather. Although this was difficult work I was prepared to join. I took my house and cart from the colony with the object of selling them so as to collect a sum with which to become a member of the company.

In order to get to Hulyaipolye I passed through a small colony where I had acquaintances. Steady rain fell and I stayed for Shabbat with relatives. On Sunday I reached the town with one horse for which I received with an addition of three hundred rubles. I gave the horse as an addition to the amount that was lacking, and the horse dragged the wheel of the machine which processed the leather.

The cooperative needed two more people and I suggested my family and my brother-in-law arrived to join the business and went to fetch his family.

In the yard of the factory lived a family where I ate and lived for seventy five rubles and there remained an amount from my wages each month so that I could invite the girl I had met in order to get married.

I acquired an apartment. In the same yard there was an apartment which needed repairing. I traveled to the girl’s parents and we went to the regional city called Bmkhmud (sic) and there was a shokhet there who was permitted to perform marriages. One of my relatives who lived there in that city we made there the khupah in the presence of one brother who was able to get there. We returned to the place where we were able to live and work.

In the time when I lived in Azarevitch there was there a synagogue, school, but everything was neglected. They needed a man who would look after renovations and people suggested to my father to take upon himself the job. Father gave in to the demands of the community for the period of the renovations and afterwards returned to his tasks at home.

Close to the High Holy Days they started to sell places to pray in the synagogue. Father claimed that with that amount of money they would not be able to manage and they should sell more places and more expensively. To his assistance came local people. Father bought for himself and his sons four places. The price was naturally according to the prestige of the places and also the price of an Aliyah during the service. A man who donated twenty rouble to open the Ark during Neilah would not agree to double the sum as my father asked. So father took upon himself the task. This affair caused an argument among the family because the man was the father of a son-in-law of ours. A compromise was suggested that each would give twenty five rubles and the honor would be given to the grandfather.

We returned to Hulyaipolye; my wife brought with her the dowry and we bought furniture and the factory set up the apartment for us. Together with my wife came her cousin who helped us to get organized. At night my wife remembered something which she had left outside. She went out to get it and when she returned she forgot to close the door. When we rose in the morning we found the cupboard and all the other things had been stolen. My wife traveled to her parents and they helped us to buy new things. In the course of time a daughter and son were born. After some time my mother had to come to us as she had no other place.

The factory needed additional people and they accepted my brother and he reached us with his family. We found for him a rented apartment and my nephew was also accepted. We shared everything that we earned equally since the salary was according to seniority.

My brother and I bought an apartment in a large and nice house where we lived for seven years. In the same house also lived the American clerk of HIAS and he paid us rent.

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The Stalin Period

The Stalin period arrived and the pressure began to be hard. There was a government demand to close the factory to purify the air. They combined us with a larger factory at Plukhi station eighteen kilometers away. Three of us took a room there during the week and for Shabbat we returned home. When I got sick of this arrangement I left the factory. I thought of going to Potropetrovsk (sic) to buy a house there after selling the property on the colony. During this time I saved some money and I bought gold coins. There lived also the brother of my cousin and he joined me and we both traveled to his brother where we received work in the leather industry. Meanwhile the family stayed on the colony until we got settled. The conditions of life in the city were hard and expensive and I returned home.

My wife claimed that we should move to Horlovka to the family. We did that and rented an apartment by her parents. I got work from my wife’s cousin who was a construction manager.

In the course of time a brick factory was opened where my nephew worked as a manage of the factory and he suggested to me to join him at the factory a hundred kilometers away.

After a year my cousin was sent to Kharchovk (sic) since he was a member of the Party. I and my family returned to Horlovka and I returned to the previous work. I was sent to clarify the matter of cement which was not sent to our factory from a distance of a hundred and fifty kilometers. The manager of the center related that he had to receive ten trucks and they would distribute the material to the places that were in need. I suggested myself to organize the work since they looked for a man who did not get drunk and who was honest. A meeting was made with the person in charge and I was accepted to this work.

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[The rest of the memoirs contains detailed personal activities ]

Footnotes

The correct name was Nazarevitch, which was the alternative name for the Jewish colony Gorkaya.

Rothschild’s involvement in the settlement of Jews on the land needs researching.

3  Bakhers was the alternative name for the colony Zatishe which was certainly not the largest colony.

Some of these names are variations of the correct names - see Yaakov Yelishevitch’s memoirs.

5  Dinaburg is now called Daugavpils. It was also known amongst the Jews as Dvinsk.

6  Perlman - a Esak Perlman married a niece of Bessie Mendelson (nee Svidler) from Myadler. The Perlman family were prosperous, lived in Yuzovka, and one drove the first automobile to be seen in Grafskoy before the Revolution (as per Willie Komesaroff).

7  Horlovka = Gorlovka

Official reports of the pogrom in Gorkaya mention about twenty Jews killed.

9  Priut

10 Volnovakha

11 Probably Bakhmut.

 

    

 

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