From the papers of the late Elimelech Benari, contributed in 2005 by his son, Shmuel.
Edited for clarity, slightly reorganized, headings added, by the Page Coordinator.
Table of Contents
1. A 500 Year-Old Community
Kletsk was a town in White Russia situated not far from the Minsk-Brest Highway. Until the outbreak of World War II, it had been part of Poland, and contained an active Jewish life. Of its 9,000 inhabitants, the decisive majority, some 6,000 people, were Jews. At the war's start, this number included Jews who had fled areas of Poland that had been conquered by the Germans (in 1939).
There were five Jewish schools in the town --four Hebrew and one Yiddish-- and also the famous Slutzk Yeshiva found refuge there after the area was transferred to the Soviet regime. The writer Mendele Mocher Sefarim, who visited his family in the town, marveled at the Jewish life of Kletsk in one of his essays.
Jews lived in the town for 500 years and always constituted the majority of the population. The first knowledge of the origins of the community is drawn from a 1529 order issued in the name of the great prince of Lithuania that levied special taxes on the Jewish community, among them Kletsk. The Jews were required to pay what was demanded from them no later than the Passover Holiday of that year.
In 1447, 2,138 Jews lived in the town. [Source: Kletsk article in Encylopedia Eshkol, V10, edited by Dr. Vishnitzer.]
In 1921, 4,190 Jews were counted, out of 5,671 inhabitants - 73.9%. [Source: H. Alexander, Tseitschrift, Minsk (Periodical published 1926-1928), editor, Pinkas Kletsk. ]
The Jewish population of Kletsk subsisted mainly by manual labor (40%), trade (30%), small industry, and transport. The market in the center of town extended over more than two thousand square metres, surrounded by shops and also in its hub was a square block of shops. On Mondays the local farm would come to sell their crops and to buy what they needed. Because the market served as a centre for the economic life, it was "The Shulhof", that is to say, the yard of the synagogues was the religious and public centre. All the public institutions and different organizations of assistance were localized here. Here too, clattered the town's municipal life. Seventeen of the twenty-four towncouncilmen were Jews, six were Christian and one Tatar. The mayor was a Christian and his deputy a Jew.
The youth movements were from all shades of the political rainbow, and the Pioneer Movements, in particular, spread their influence on the local youth and nursed the idea of the bringing to reality the state of Israel. Kletsk natives are scattered today across Israel in its kibbutzim, moshavim and cities. Kletsk natives were among the Biluyim and founders of the first settlements at the end of the previous century and their place was not absent from the founders of Degania A.
Part 2: The Soviet Invasion
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