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Rēzekne in Winter of 1905

Letter from Abe Kopelovich to Yetta Daragoi

This information was submitted
by Jenny Brown

I have a letter that my great-grandfather, Abe Kopelovich, (spelled many different ways), who lived in Varaklani (near Rezekne , to the north), Latvia, wrote in 1905 describing his visit to Rezekne. He wrote it to his future wife Yetta Daragoi. (Yetta was born in Varaklani, but moved. I'm not 100% where to, but I suspect Vilna, based on the address given on her ship's manifest. Her name became Yetta Brown, (before being married) in the USA. After Abe arrived in the USA, he lived in Hartford. He later changed his name in the USA to Abe Kapelow. Then they married and moved south to Memphis, Tennessee. All three of their children were born in Memphis.)

The letter was written in Yiddish. The entire letter is added on here, for it sheds light on life in that period and in that area.

Varklan, December 18, 1905

Dear and always beloved Yochele, live happily!

Sunday, December 18. I sent you a letter. This week there is no news in our shtetl [small town], and also not in my life. I am healthy, working. I work and I have a good time...when it's possible, and I worry a lot... but all with hope. Whenever I realize that I don't have much more than 10 weeks to be here in the shtetl, I feel a bit better.

Thursday the 22. An izvest [news] arrived that military personnel will come to Varklan and they'll repair the telegraph that the Shveydlikh [Swedes] broke, and the monopoly opened up! Our Self Defense prigatovet [prepared] everything, and hid the arms, because 'our brothers' are practiced against other cities. The inhabitants of the shtetl deliver further as much as they can, and hide what they can, because in Livengoff these same soldiers robbed what ever they could.

Friday the 23. Today I don't feel well; my illness is kholile [G-d forbid] not dangerous, but the head is not in the order it needs to be. But the z'khus [merit] of the Sabbath affected me, and I became well again on the Sabbath. Furthermore, there is not even a doctor here for us; the first one left and a second one hasn't arrived yet. But I haven't thought of them in any case.

Saturday evening. I'm sitting in the house and suddenly red hats are passing by the window. Those are probably draguner [dragoons]. Several stopped in front and entered our house. The housemates became frightened to death. But one needs to be a mentsh at all times. They ask us to give them a place for the horses; they're patrolling this area. Later, towards evening, they left us. In the evening I brought a soldier (home) and I begged him to tell (us) how Varklan is doing, and what was the akruzayenen [surrounded/encircled in a military sense/blockade] the shtetl, and later to take it back. Briefly, dear, dear Yochele, I will describe to you the words of the soldier.

We arrived, 2 wtesh/rotes [squadrons] soldiers, 60 pechote [infantry], 50 dragoons, artillery with 5 cannon boxes. We were brought down by the Commissary of Police, in a great hurry, because, writes the Commissary, the Latvians are killing the ziteles [the residents/the inhabitants of the shtetl, most likely Jews and Swedes] from the shtetl across the courtyard. So the Commissary orders right away to bombard the shtetl, because, says the Commissary, the Jews have a lot of bombs, and they will surely throw the bombs at us. The Bailiff from Rezitse was also here! In short, they didn't allow any shooting in the shtetl, they only warned the entire shtetl'(in order) to see what kind of people there are here.

The dragoons come to tell them about the shtetl, that these are "mentshn," and good ones. So they entered the shtetl from the courtyard, and the soldiers with the boxes, with an orchestra of musicians. But, towards evening, several people from the shtetl were summoned, and they were asked for weapons that our agency had. In short, they were brought 8 revolvers, old ones, that, for example, an old home-owner possesses, and they gave away the rest; they said that the Swedes took them away.

At night there were attacks on many houses. At Meyer Shvindler's they found soldiers' bullets so they arrested him with Itske. Others they took away before dawn, but they let them out. The same thing happened throughout the shtetl. They did take away all Swedes. No goods were taken from any one.

It was probably good for Varklan that the Bailiff is also here because the Commissary of Police constantly wanted to create a tumult, so they would start robbing the shtetl. On Sunday the Commissary ordered that all voloft [bailiwick; region] lords of Varklan should come, but while they came, again ready to rob, the Bailiff stands up on top of one cannon and says: Don't you, stara veres [a derogatory term for older people; could refer to an old religious group called Old Believers] believe that these cannons are only for Jews and Swedes. They are for whomever will create a bond. As if whipped, they all left for their homes. The cannons are standing on the street, opposite the tavern. The back of our little street has been occupied; one is scared to even look at them. There are more soldiers in the shtet/than local inhabitants.

Tuesday the shtetl had calmed down a bit. Today they dispatched an etape [group of prisoners] from the shtetl. The Swedes with Meyer and Itsik in Rezitse are bound in chains. Itske is completely innocent. Meyer deserves it, because he was ordered several times to hide (the stuff).

Dear Yochele, since I wrote you the letters nine days have passed by, and I still don't have a single answer. Today is already the 28 of December. I'm getting ready to travel to Rezitse. I'm going with the thought not exactly to look for a job but to enjoy myself for several days, because time passes by very slowly for me, and all the time in anguish and increasing heartache...

Early Wednesday, at 6 o'clock, I left the shtetl'to travel to Rezitse. I wanted to wait for the mailperhaps I'll have a letter from youbut since we're traveling in a large group, I cannot detain everyone, and we're going to Rezitse by wagon. I arrived in Rezitse at 1 o'clock. We traveled by sleigh quite well. All of us, and I, are important guests in Rezitse, but my heart is telling me that in Varklan there is a letter for me, but now I'm far away. However, I'm thinking of going back on Thursday.

Thursday the 29. I bought myself kaloshn [galoshes] and was on a yolke [Christmas (or, less likely in 1905, New Years) festivities; "Yolka" is a Christmas tree, "to be on yolka" is to attend Christmas festivities] in Rezitse, in the club. I had a good time, but I still feel that I am lacking something... While in the city we heard that in Varklan there again was an attack, and that they gave up the Self Defense. So the father (?) didn't take me along, and I remained in Rezitse over Shabbes.

The soldiers left the shtetl on Friday. No one of the Jews was further arrested. I'm having a good time in Rezitse. I'm meeting up with good old acquaintances. I haven't been in Rezitse for over four years.

Sunday, January 1, 1906. Today there are very many stara veres [the older people/Old Believers] in Rezitse, and they watch over the katok[skating rink]. Towards night, after half a day, it broke out, that a shop was robbed and the shopkeeper was severely wounded. But thanks to the dragoons, who are good people, they were chased out right away, and (the event) went through quietly. I wanted to travel home, but couldn't get a wagon driver to take me to the train station. Everyone is busy; they're all driving around in preparation to the New Year celebrations. I wish you much joy for the New Year. We have taken a big step in our life, and now things will be easier for us further on. January 2, Monday evening at 6 o'clock, I'm traveling home.

Tuesday, January 3. I found a letter from you. I beg you, dear Yochele, forgive me that I didn't retrieve your letter for such a long time, and I couldn't write you from Rezitse. Dear Yochele, you think that I am angry with you, so I beg you, dear Yochele, not to consider such a thing at all. That bad words should exist between usthen our ideal could not existand we couldn't exist. I wish you, dear Yochele, to wear in good health the jacket that you sewed. Everyone sewed plush jackets for themselves.

About Vilna I read in the newspaper that a new Governor General arrived in Vilna and suggested that no "self defense" should be mentioned. And in whose possession they will find arms, will be punished. Now watch yourselves from bures [turmoils] or general assemblies. They allow gathering for a meeting, but afterwards they arrest all assembled, and the like! Varklan's conscripted into the military were all sent away. In the newspaper there was a project that this year's perve legates [the first conscript/the first draftees] will be freed, but in the meantime they continue serving. Kopke Shvalb and Isher Bentses in Minsk County in the dragoons, Leyb Yaffe and Shloyme in Dvinsk, and Lebke Shvindler, I don't know now. I only knew, and forgot, Leybke Kopels, who walks around in the shtetl as unemployed; he does nothing!

I finished the letters January 3, and I hope that you will not have bad thoughts about me. Write me, dear one, about your life and write about everything. I send regards for Prodke/ Frodke (?). Be well and live happily.

As wishes you Your eternally faithful.

Write when you will be able to answer.