Back Next

Section III

The War Years 1914-1921

“You know it's hard when I talk to you. Many times I think maybe I read all this in a book. It's really hard for anybody, no matter how much you take it in, to understand how a person in it gets through it. It's just impossible to describe to another person how we survived. Sometimes I ask myself, how did we survive? Really. It's just a miracle happened. Human beings didn't mean anything. Just like animals. Nothing. Especially during the revolution. Criminals that used to be in jail were let out and became soldiers. What can you expect from criminals?”


Bessie Davidson

Governments of David-Horodok from WWI to 1921

by Brian Kaye

March-November 1917 Russian Republic (Kerensky regime)
Nov 1917-Autumn 1918Bolshevik (Russian) government
Autumn 1918German Empire (Ukraine District)
Autumn 1918Ukrainian Republic
Autumn 1918-1919No central government
1919Republic of Poland
Summer 1920Bolshevik (Russian) government
Early fall 1920-1939Republic of Poland
1921 Treaty of Riga gave David-Horodok to Republic of Poland 

David-Horodok From 1914-1921

by Yosef Lipshitz (with additions from Kathy Winston)

World War I

  On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia. The outbreak of World War I had an unusually severe effect on the town. The declaration resulted in the mobilization of a large part of the male population and was followed by the crying of those families separated. According to Bessie Davidson, “Everybody was so sad. I remember they were walking their sons to the train station at Lakhva. They were crying. David-Horodok didn't have a train station. It was about ten miles away. You used to walk there or take a horse and buggy. Most parents walked with their sons up to the station and everybody was crying. The parents knew they'll never come back.”

Click for fullsize image

Chayim (Harry) Yachnitch, a soldier in the Jewish battalion in WWI

  The new martial laws, the requisitioning of numerous wagons and horses for the needs of war—all were indications that things were taking on an ominous character. “Experts” were predicting that the war would not last more than two or three months, but everyone was nevertheless upset.

  These events were particularly oppressive because since the times of Chmielnitzki, the town could remember no war. Invading armies avoided the Pripyat Marshes when they could, preferring the more solid uplands to the north. The Swedish army mostly bypassed David-Horodok; Napoleon's armies never saw the town. David-Horodokers had scarcely heard of the Russo-Turkish War [1877-78], and the same was true of the Russo-Japanese War [1904-5]. At first, after those mobilized had gone off for military training, the town did not feel the effect of war so strongly. Only later when the Russians had begun wreaking destruction on the population of the Galician front was the war's entire horror felt.

  With the press of German attack and the dismal performance of the Russian military, in March 1915 the Russian Supreme Headquarters, under the command of the czar's great-uncle the Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, ordered the expulsion of all Jews in the war zone, approximately 30 percent of the Jewish population of the Russian Empire. The expulsion was ostensibly on the grounds of disloyalty and the need to protect “loyal” citizens from reprisals instigated by the Jews. Although almost all these charges remained unproven, the accusation of Jewish spying did provide a handy excuse for the campaign failures of the Russian commanders. Ultimately 600,000 Jews, principally women, children, the sick, old men, and wounded Jewish soldiers were ordered to leave their homes in the provinces along the western border of Russia. Most able-bodied Jewish men were already gone, serving in the Russian army. Refugees from Congress Poland, Kovno, Galicia, and Bukovina—all of the Russian territory from Riga down to the Rumanian border—left on 24 to 48 hours' notice. Only some 5% were able to take their large, moveable belongings with them; fully 22% left everything behind. This description was provided in a speech delivered to the Russian Duma by the non-Jewish deputy Dzubinsky: “As a representative of our 5th Siberian division, I was myself on the scene and can testify with what incredible cruelty the expulsion of the Jewish from the Province of Radom took place. The whole population was driven out within a few hours during the night. At 11 o'clock the people were informed that they had to leave, with a threat that anyone found at daybreak would be hanged. And so in the darkness of the night began the exodus of the Jews to the nearest town, Ilzha, thirty versts away. Old men, invalids and paralytics had to be carried on people's arms because there were no vehicles.

  “The police and the gendarmes treat the Jewish refugees precisely like criminals. At one station, for instance, the Jewish Commission of Gomel was not even allowed to approach the trains to render aid to the refugees or to give them food and water. In one case a train which was conveying the victims was completely sealed and when finally opened most of the inmates were found half dead, sixteen down with scarlet fever and one with typhus.

  “In some places the Governors simply made sport of the innocent victims; among those who particularly distinguished themselves were the governors of Poltava, Minsk [David-Horodok's province] and Ekaterinoslav... who illegally took away the passports of the victims and substituted provisional certificates instructing them to appear at given places in one of five provinces at a given date. When they presented themselves at these designated places they were shuttled back and forth from point to point at the whim or caprice of local officials.

  “In Poltava the Jewish Relief Committee was officially reprimanded by the governor for assuming the name ‘Committee for the Aid of Jewish Sufferers from the War,' and ordered to rename itself ‘Committee to Aid the Expelled' on the grounds, as stated explicitly in the order, that the Jews had been expelled because they were politically unreliable—and therefore presumably deserved no help.”[1]

  The smaller towns where Jews constituted over 80 percent of the population became ghost towns overnight, their possessions left to those who could carry them off. Thousands of refugees were forced for weeks at a time to stay in congested villages, which were absolutely unable to afford them a roof and shelter, or to sleep in freight cars or open fields. And tens of thousands were forced to tramp weary distances along the open road or—in fear of the soldiers—to take to the back roads, the woods and swamps, dying of hunger and exposure. These refugees sustained huge economic losses. Only the lightning-quick Austro-German invasion, which overtook some two-thirds of these exiles, allowed them to return home. As it was 100,000 died of starvation and exposure.[2]

  This inhumane policy was felt in David-Horodok when Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich gave an order that the Jews in the provinces of Suvalik and Lublin—which included Chelm—must leave their homes on 24 hours' notice. Hungry, naked and unfortunate refugees fled through David-Horodok. Looking on helplessly at the Jewish refugees had a shocking effect on the David-Horodok Jews. Understandably, an assistance committee was immediately organized, and the entire Jewish population received the refugees wholeheartedly. According to Anna Helman, “When they were fighting the first war the refugees used to come over the bridge there from the west, the Greble Bridge, and the Jews used to bring them food. They were so sad. They came right through the middle of the city.” David-Horodok Jews accommodated the unfortunates in schools and private houses and provided them with clothing and food.

  At the same time German refugees evacuated from the region of Volhynia began passing through David-Horodok. They had been driven back by military force. They came to David-Horodok with their own wagons and from there took boats on the river deeper into Russia. Waiting for the boats they loitered on the banks of the river in the town. This resulted in epidemics of disease, which spread to the townspeople.

  People began to show up who were fleeing from Brest-Litovsk and Pinsk. Some David-Horodok Jews began looking around for evacuation routes. The Slonimer Rebbe and a few other families actually left. Many families bought horses and wagons from the retreating German refugees and prepared for departure. Others drove to Pinsk with the intention of staying with the German soldiers so as to avoid being mobilized into the military.

  The front came even closer. Panic increased. Cossacks appeared in the town and took down the bells from the churches so they wouldn't fall into the hands of the Germans. At night cannon shelling could be heard. However the Germans, having taken Pinsk on September 1, 1916, stayed there. Almost a month passed and still the front did not move. As the fall rains and mud came, David-Horodokers began to realize that the front would not move during the winter and they gradually began to adjust to the situation. However, two problems had made food scarce. First, because more than half of all able-bodied men in Belarusan villages had been drafted, agricultural production had decreased. Second, between 1915 and 1917, military personnel actually outnumbered the civilian population in the major towns of Belarus, making food even scarcer. Food shortages became acute.[3]

  The stalled front was not greeted happily by the David-Horodok evacuees. Those Jews who had bought horses and wagons from the German refugees in order to have something to evacuate in, sold them back.

  The people became accustomed to the nearness of the front, and the presence of military garrisons in the town even gave them a fresh source of income. The townsfolk had profitable dealings with the military and the economic situation improved considerably.

  This state of affairs continued for over a year until early 1917 when the Kerensky revolution broke out and Czar Nicholas II abdicated.

From an Interview with Bessie Davidson

  The artillery would sound, “Boom, boom.” In our town special, the Cossacks from the Russian army used to pass by. They were all tall, handsome, young, and healthy—and arrogant; they looked like the Czar made them to order. They rode on tall, trained horses as big as a house. We lived on the main street, so all the troops passed by our house. Every time there was a change, we saw the troops. It was really a war. Then was a revolution.

  During the war was always a black market. Whoever got a little money can buy, whoever doesn't that's just too bad. In my time it was terrible for everybody. The Russian soldiers bought food but only paid half what it was worth, and they put you in prison or killed you if you didn't sell. People hid food, and it cost a lot to buy from somebody else.

  We had to buy food under the table. And we knew a lot of people, gentile people, like the Polish family in Remele. During the war they brought us food. We were very close to them. They came every Sunday, even during the war, because their church was in David-Horodok. When they came to us, they felt they were coming to their own home, that's how close we were. They even kept separate dishes for my mother, when she spent the night with them. They had the biggest respect for her.

  We tried to help poor people. Like the mother and son who lived next to us where the boy was a shoemaker and the mother whitewashed walls. They were very poor. And once I walked in to have my shoes fixed and I saw the boy was picking up a piece of dark bread, and so hard, and I came to my mother and said, “Oh my God, they haven't got a piece of bread in the house.” So my mother went and brought them a piece of bread. We also went out and collected money from the rich people for the poor people. They got a few rich people there in David-Horodok too, and they got to help the poor people.

   During the war people needed a lot of charity because we had a lot of dead people in David-Horodok because of the flu. Every house had six children, maybe seven, eight children. And always two, three children died. It was a terrible epidemic. And all the children had to be buried.

From an Interview with Anne Zemmol

  When my father went to America, my youngest brother was just maybe two months old. After the bris my father left. And my mother couldn't keep up the store because she didn't have money to buy what to sell. So the wholesalers gave her on assignment. Then she didn't pay the bills as early as they wanted so they stopped giving her. So she decided she is going to peddle to the villages. She sold trinkets for the women, and some for the men and instead of money they gave her produce. And when she came home she sold the produce and she bought again the trinkets and that was the way we survived, through the First World War and the Revolution. When I was born it was Russia; then the Germans came and then it was Russia and Poland and Russia and Poland. It wound up Poland.

  After my father left, my mother wasn't home in the winter much. And it was very cold in the house and the kids didn't have much to eat. I was the third oldest of the children and I didn't know what to do. My neighbor's name was Osha Margolis. He lived next to my Grandpa Beryl. He has family here someplace. And he had a stack of wood. I figure I'm gonna' go and pull out a couple of pieces of wood. What are they gonna' do to me? If they put me in jail, let them put me in jail. I pulled out a couple of sticks of wood and I came into the house and put it in the ruba [a type of brick furnace]. It gives heat but you can't cook on it. And it made warm the house and the kids were so happy. I don't know where I got something for them to eat but I did and they fell asleep and I was very happy about it. So from that day on if I was cold, I took some wood. The Margolises were rich people. They made a living and they had a nice house. Osha Margolis probably saw that I took it but he never said anything. And we kept warm during the winter. I want you to know that's the only thing I ever stole in my life. Osha Margolis was a very nice man. He bought a house that they called Visotski. We pulled through but it was a struggle.

From an Interview with Anne Komisar

  We were in Europe during the First World War and part of the revolution. We heard guns often. During those wars we had trouble with the soldiers. We had a barn because we had a cow. So the Cossacks, the ones that ride on the big horses, came and put one of their horses in the barn. While the horse was using our hay in our barn, they put a leather feedbag on him. And the feedbag fell inside the hay, came off the horse's head and fell into the hay. I suppose it happened when the horse was eating. So when the Cossacks came to get the horse they thought my mother stole the feedbag, and they started to hit her with one of their whips. The Cossacks used to carry those ugly whips, and they hated the Jews. Our next-door neighbor was a gentile man. He said, “Let me look in the hay to see if I can find.” And he put his hand in the hay and sure enough, there it was. Meanwhile they kept on beating her.

  Easter and Pesach are always together. On Pesach for the Jewish people in David-Horodok it was a big thing to have chicken. So my mother who used to peddle cotton thread and buttons, traded for a chicken. It was about two weeks before Easter. It was a skinny chicken, and my mother let it eat in the yard to fatten it up, so she should get a little schmaltz from it. Then she would take the chicken to the shochet, the man what kills animals, and we would eat. The Cossack soldiers came and saw the chicken and thought my mother had eggs. They wanted the eggs for Easter, but it wasn't a chicken that was laying eggs. That's not why my mother was feeding it; she just wanted to have a little schmaltz. And the soldiers started to beat my mother and my sister Lily, while they both screamed, “Go and look.” Finally the soldiers went away because there was no eggs. My mother wasn't lying.

Kerensky's Revolution

  Even remote areas far from the center, like David-Horodok, felt the new refreshing winds when they started blowing from distant St. Petersburg. From mouth to mouth in the stillness, rumors spread that the hated czarist regime was toppling. With eyes expectantly gleaming, Jews heard the whispers and silently prayed that they should be true. Then came the information that some duke had poisoned Rasputin in St. Petersburg, and the royal court was in turmoil. People waited from day to day for fresh news; no one yet believed the dream would come true. Was it possible that old czarism, entrenched for hundreds of years, could come apart? Was this not an empty dream?

  Then came surprising news. An uncensored Russian newspaper that came to town reported Czar Nicholas had abdicated his throne in favor of his son and a Provisional Government ruled. It was not to be believed. One was afraid to talk of it aloud for fear it might turn out to be a lie. Then something happened in town which showed everyone that the information was correct. The royal representative in town, Avtchenikov, went out into the marketplace and in front of everyone, tore the epaulets off his uniform.

  It is impossible to describe the great joy that encompassed all of Russia. Understandably the rejoicing was even greater among the Jews, who freely opened the gates of their towns and offices for all citizens. This first Russian revolution at the beginning of 1917 was followed by a honeymoon period. Kerensky gave all people reason to believe they were standing on the threshold of a new epoch of equality, friendship and brotherliness between the common people and the landowners, and that under the wings of this revolution, the economies and cultures of the numerous minorities could be freely developed in Greater Russia. The Kerensky government even issued a decree at the beginning of April that said, “All limitations on the rights of Russian citizens imposed by hitherto existing laws on the basis of religion, creed or nationality, are hereby revoked.”[4]The Jews were free and equal Russian citizens at last. There was great enthusiasm and tremendous rejoicing as David-Horodokers waited to celebrate the International Workers' Holiday on the first of May.

  Preparations for the holiday moved into full swing. Jews and Christians jointly established a First of May Committee. A special delegation was sent out to the Hussar cavalry regiment, which was stationed not far from David-Horodok, to invite them with their orchestra for the holiday. The plan envisioned the orchestra playing La Marseillaise from the French Revolution and Hatikvah at the celebration. However it turned out that the orchestra did not have the music for either of the two songs. The musician Velvel Krapal came to the rescue. He wrote out the notes for Hatikvah. Thanks to the help of the old 1905 revolutionaries, the notes of La Marseillaise were also put together. In truth what the orchestra then played was not very similar to La Marseillaise. However the proper feeling was there and everyone understood that it was supposed to be La Marseillaise.

  The day of May 1st was a full holiday in town and everyone participated. The first gathering occurred in church. Jews, who usually passed the hill on which the church stood with a certain anxiety, went inside freely with red flags. There Misha Yikin, a Christian, led the ceremony. Thanks to the revolution, he had been freed from prison where he had been serving a fifteen-year term.

  Leaving the church, a small incident occurred. An old peasant woman stood on the small bridge leading to the church and screamed, “Enjoy yourselves! Enjoy yourselves! You will yet seek and beg our Father Nikolai to come and restore order for you.” Needless to say the merry-makers quickly took her away and everyone had a good laugh.

  From the church, the demonstrators went to the synagogue. There they encountered Rabbi Ravinski with Torah scrolls. He invited the general and the officers from the cavalry inside. The orchestra played La Marseillaise and Hatikvah. The rabbi gave a sermon and in the name of the Jewish people pledged, among other things, that together with all the peoples of Russia, the Jews would wage war against Russia's outside enemies until final victory was won. He added that all the youth who had not volunteered to serve in the military during Nicholas' regime would now willingly go into the army.

  After the street demonstration, there followed a reception for the officers. The Committee had prepared lunch and, after everyone ate, there was dancing to the sound of the military orchestra. For the first time in the history of David-Horodok, Jewish girls danced with Russian officers.

  In the evening there was a solemn convocation. In the name of the Jews Anshel Zeitchik appeared. He was not a David-Horodoker, but happened to be there as a guest of his relatives. He gave an inspired talk concerning the great friendship and brotherliness between peoples which the revolution had engendered. He then kissed the gentile Yasif Anashka who stood next to him. This made a tremendous impression on all the onlookers. Many people wept with joy.

  May 1, 1917 was the happiest day in the entire history of the Jewish community of David-Horodok. The dream was being realized that “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb”—actually the time of the messiah. Who would have believed then, that 25 years later in the early autumn of 1941, that same Yasif Anashka and all the Horodtchukas who were onlookers at that meeting, would take sadistic joy and pleasure in sending to the slaughter their Jewish neighbors with whom they had lived for hundreds of years?

  In those Kerensky days there was a strong development of Zionist and communal activities in David-Horodok. This will be described in another chapter. It should be mentioned that economic conditions had improved somewhat; Jews could move about freely and there was no job shortage.

Bolsheviks Take Power

  However, the honeymoon of Kerensky's Revolution quickly passed and gray reality arrived. The front had not moved. The war became sickening and ugly. All of Kerensky's offensives failed. The people were tired and wanted no more war; the army was increasingly demoralized. Soldiers appeared in town selling revolvers, rifles and even machine guns. Deserters were everywhere. Even prior to the February Revolution, 195,000 men had deserted and by August 1, 1917, the total had swelled to 365,000.[5]

  In November 1917, the Bolsheviks drove out Kerensky's constituent assembly and seized power. The country was in chaos and Lenin's first concern was peace. The situation in David-Horodok became unstable. There was no firm power in the town and, in the meantime, everything was done by the system of the prior czarist regime.

  On March 3, 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between the Russians and the Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria) was signed, giving Russia peace. However to get it, Lenin had had to cede Belarus and the Ukraine to the Germans. Even though David-Horodok now belonged to the Germans, its fate was far from clear. To the north the Belarus Rada [Assembly], under German control in Minsk, claimed the marshlands south of the Pripyat. However since the Rada had no real power to rule, local governments were left to govern themselves, following ancient rural and municipal administrative systems. The Ukrainians to the south also claimed the area. However, the Ukraine was occupied by Austro-Germans whose chief concern was to extract as many Ukrainian resources for the war effort as possible. This left both the Ukrainian and German governments without much attention to pay to the relatively poor region of the marshes. So David-Horodok was left on its own during the warm months of 1918. This was when it had a brush with a gang of Petlyurians.

  Already during June 1917, only months after Kerensky's revolution, the Ukraine had declared itself free and independent. Although the Provisional Government of Kerensky temporized, when the Bolsheviks came to power in November, they would have none of it. To retain the rich territory of the Ukraine, they sent troops to fight the “White” Russian separatists. Bolshevik troops in the Ukraine, as elsewhere, began drafting men and requisitioning supplies under their philosophy of “War Communism.” “Requisitioning” bore a strong resemblance to theft, since no money was paid for the requisitioned articles. Of course, with industrial production at a standstill throughout eastern Russia, it was impossible to give the peasants a fair equivalent for their food. So the Reds outlawed free trade and collected what they needed forcibly.

  The White Russians were not better, only different. While the White Russians permitted free trade, this led to an enormous amount of speculation and continual price rises. To buy what they wanted, the Whites therefore extracted forced levies, often resorting to simple robbery. The peasants resented the demands for food and army recruits, whether they came from the Red or White forces. What they wanted most during these years of civil war was to be left alone. Given the situation, that was impossible.

  Among the innumerable hatreds which came to the surface during the Civil War was a bitter hatred for the towns, which grew up among the peasants. They saw the townsfolk as a source of oppression and exploitation, and linked them to the Communist Party. Peasants were a minority in the Party since the Communists recruited their members largely from the towns. In the towns there were few Ukrainians, but rather a large number of Russians and Jews. When Communist measures proved unpopular, it was easy to arouse the peasants along racial lines. “All Jews are Communists” and “Kill the Jews and Communists” were two catchphrases popular at the time. The connection between Jews and Communism led to savage pogroms, far exceeding in the number of their victims anything known under the czars.[6]

  Colonel Simon Petlyura, a journalist turned army officer, presided over the worst of the pogroms. His army consisted of ragged, disorderly bands of hastily recruited peasants, a confused horde lacking trained officers and inferior in discipline to the newly organized Red Army. While all combatants in the Civil War took part in pogroms against the Jews, the Petlyurians “distinguished” themselves most in this direction, being responsible for 852 organized pogroms, as opposed to the other White Army “Volunteers” with 233, the Soviets with 106, and the Poles with 32.[7] The Petlyurians generally bypassed David-Horodok, although one day a group of Dombrovitz [Rus: Dubrovitsa] gentiles who called themselves Petlyurians did show up in town. Fortunately, they quickly left.

  In the midst of this chaos, David-Horodok remained without governing authority. Train communication became irregular and dangerous. Many David-Horodokers were stranded in various Ukrainian towns and were unable to return home. All business came to a standstill and there was no available work.

  Lakhva to the north was occupied by the Germans. Although the Ukraine to the south was also allegedly in German hands, the truth was that as 1918 moved along, the Ukraine filled with armed opposition bands. So Stolin to the south of David-Horodok was occupied not by the Germans but by the Petlyurians. David-Horodok was without a government. Town affairs were managed at the municipal court with the aid of several policemen. It should be noted that there were no assaults or thefts in the town. The municipal affairs were concerned with straightening out land disputes between the peasants, recording land sales, and giving out birth certificates, marriage contracts or divorce decrees for the Christians. The Jews took care of all these formalities with the rabbi. 

  Characteristic of the times was an original punishment which the court authority of those days imposed on a David-Horodoker Jew named Beryl Eisenberg for not obeying the law. They caught him driving illegal whiskey. In those unsettled times even that law was obeyed in David-Horodok. The punishment was as follows: they hung the kettles in which he distilled the whiskey on his shoulders and a town gentile named Adam Pavuk went in front beating on a drum as they led him through all the streets of the town to the laughter of the residents.

  In this manner the town led a quiet existence, a calm island in a stormy sea of war. The affairs between Jews and Christians in the town were peaceful and normal.  But this calm did not last long.

  In the autumn of 1918 the Austro-Germans entered David-Horodok. They then annexed David-Horodok to the Ukraine, which they also still “controlled.” This did not cause any significant change in the economy of David-Horodok because the town was already economically bound to Kiev and the Ukraine. The town felt a little more secure with the Germans and began doing business with them, making some good deals. During this war, the Germans treated the Jews reasonably well, which caused a mistaken belief among some David-Horodokers that the Nazis wouldn't be so bad either.

  The official policy of both the Germans and Austrians toward the Jews during World War I was one of correctness if not friendliness; they made no distinction in their treatment of the people they conquered because of religion, although they did try to gain the active support of the Jews by issuing Yiddish handbills with statements like “Remember the expulsions of the Jewish masses from their long-established settlements! Remember Kishinev, Gomel, Bialystok, Sedlitz, and hundreds of other bloody pogroms!”[8] The Jews of David-Horodok had not forgotten, no more than any other Jews, and they appreciated the even-handedness of the Germans. Even a representative of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of America touring the battle area in 1915, concluded that the condition of Jews under German control was “indescribably better than under Russia ... The best possible outcome of the war for the Jews will be its retention by Germany ... the most unfortunate thing that can happen to Jews in occupied Russia will be an absolutely autonomous Poland. The Jews there all agree that an absolutely autonomous Poland will mean such hardships for and oppressions of the Jews as will make the rule of Russia by comparison seem a benign form of government.”[9]

From an Interview with Bessie Davidson

  The Germans quartered their troops in the houses in town. There weren't too many of them, so they only used the larger houses of the rich people. They didn't stay by us. The Jews could understand a lot of what the Germans said because Yiddish is similar to German. They were very pleasant to the Jews. They didn't look down on us or steal our things or rape the women. The Germans were nice to the gentiles too, but not as nice as they were to the Jews, because the Germans were fighting the Russians. Everybody was happy when they came in, but they didn't last long. Only about a month.

From an Interview with Anne Zemmol

  During the war when the German soldiers came to Horodok, they were the best people. They were quartered in the houses on the Greble, because the Greble had beautiful homes and it was like the center of the town. We could understand one another. What happened later with Hitler was a terrible thing, but what I remember, we got along very good because we could communicate. Of course, not only the Germans quartered in the Greble, also the Russians and the Poles. It was the natural thing to do.

  The Germans stayed in David-Horodok just a month. Only a month before they had arrived, national uprisings had broken out in different parts of the Habsburg monarchy and the Austrian Empire appeared to be on the verge of collapse. When this news reached the Austro-Hungarian troops, an irresistible desire swept through the ranks for immediate return to their own country. Official German sources describe how at the beginning of November disorderly crowds of Austrian troops in trains and on foot went west selling their arms and munitions to the local populace for money to live. Then on November 9, the news came by radio that Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany had abdicated, and the Germans had surrendered to the Allies. The German military shortly afterwards began leaving Belarus and the Ukraine, and therefore David-Horodok.

Civil War between Red and White Russians

  After the withdrawal of German troops from Belarus and the Ukraine, the Civil War started again in earnest, and war with Poland quickly followed. Bolshevik military forces were determined to take over the land vacated by the Austro-Germans. The Germans left Minsk on Dec. 9, 1918 and by December 12, the Red Army had taken over. On January 1, 1919, the Russians proclaimed the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and then moved east until they ran into the Poles, German volunteers and White Russians.

  During this drive east, the Bolsheviks captured Lakhva and Luninets to the north of David-Horodok. Then something occurred that shocked and interrupted the peace of the town. Its leaders, both Christian and Jewish, made a blunder for which the town paid dearly both in human and material sacrifice.

  The Bolshevik military detachment in Luninets sent out a group of soldiers into the surrounding area to requisition food for the troops. They also came to David-Horodok. In Visake, two-and-a-half miles from David-Horodok, there were herds of cattle belonging to the landlords which the Bolsheviks wanted to requisition. Until today it is impossible to understand what provoked the Horodtchukas to set up a resistance to the Bolsheviks and even more unbelievable, why the Jews then stood alongside the resistance.

  It is, however, a fact that the Horodtchukas organized a defense. They went to the priest and convinced him that he should ring the church bells and persuade the other gentiles to join the resistance against the removal of the cattle herds from the town. The rationale was that if they allowed the removal of the landlord's cattle today, then tomorrow everyone else's private cattle would also be taken.

  The Jews, especially their young people, helped organize the defense. And with joint effort the group actually succeeded in their opposition and prevented the removal of the cattle. Some shots were exchanged by the two sides and as a result one of the Christian members from Ravkom named Dennis was killed and one soldier was wounded.

  The resistance foresaw how the Bolshevik military power would react on learning of the events. There was a warlike mood. They removed the bridge on the road to Chuvarsk, erected barricades and waited for the enemy. At the same time they sent a delegation to Stolin where the Petlyurians were stationed and asked them for help. However the Petlyurians could give no help since they themselves were preparing to retreat.

  The author of this chapter and his brother were in Luninets at that time, running a restaurant. They were also acquainted with the staff that had sent the squad of soldiers to requisition the cattle. The staff knew that the brothers were from David-Horodok and came to inquire what sort of town it was. They could not understand what reason the Jews had to oppose the Bolsheviks. In those days it really was madness, even if the Bolsheviks had in fact ruined the economy of the Jewish middle class. The reality was, however, that they were also the only ones who fought against anti-Semitism and against all the gangs that carried out anti-Jewish pogroms. In those days there were thousands of Jews who joined the Red Army in order to fight against these gangs.

  The staff in Luninets was manned by some very competent students from Great Russia who had no anti-Semitic leanings. There were also Jews on the staff. Thanks to these Jews the town came out reasonably well. Under the circumstances there could have been many more casualties.

  The Bolsheviks sent a strong disciplinary detachment of soldiers with cannon to David-Horodok. Understandably the town quickly surrendered and the youth fled. The punitive expedition entered the city. The soldiers were given free rein to take anything they wanted except naturally not to lay hands on the people. That was the exclusive right of the commandant and the political commissar, who happened to be a Jew.

  Three David-Horodoker residents were executed by the punitive expedition in proportion to the population—two Christians and one Jew, Baytzl Yudovitch. Besides this the Bolsheviks emptied out the town. They took everything that was movable. At that time there were large food reserves in town that had been brought in from the Ukraine over the summer. This was all requisitioned. The soldiers even took good shoes right off people's feet. The David-Horodok people were forced to take all their requisitioned things themselves to the trains at Lakhva and Luninets. The destruction was great, especially the needless death of Baytzl Yudovitch who was a well-known personage, the victim of a foolish, poorly conceived action which was not in the interest of the Jews. The death sentence was carried out in the Christian cemetery and that is where they buried B. Yudovitch. A few weeks later in Luninets the author extracted permission from the military to bury the martyr in a Jewish cemetery.

   This is how David-Horodok paid for trying to resist the authorities. After this episode the town was put on the blacklist of the Bolsheviks, and the Horodtchukas became the deadly enemies of the Bolshevik regime.

  As Bolshevik authority strengthened in the region, the economic situation deteriorated. The town was impoverished. There were no business opportunities and there was no work. People began suffering from hunger. They went out to the villages to swap clothes for food. The peasants would only accept gold as currency. A pood [36 lbs.] of grain was acquired with the greatest difficulty.

From an Interview with Anne Zemmol

  I remember during the revolution it was a peristroika, a military action where they were shooting each another. If you wanted to go to the town of Lakhva you had to cross the bridge and in the middle was the river. That bridge was on the Greble. It was a bridge that opened up and there was some part that was so high the parahodn [steamboats] could go through. So I heard there was a peristroika on the Greble. I thought, oh—my mother wasn't home to stop me because she wasn't there—I'll go and see what's going on. I got to the Greble and saw soldiers lying on the ground dead, and I got scared and went back home. What I want to bring up is that nobody stopped me or told me, “Where are you going? You're not supposed to be on the street.” Everyone was involved in themselves. But if you have to survive, you survive. That's all.

  Once during the revolution I remember my mother was in a village and I was there too, with her. She sold a lot of trinkets: beads, combs, powder, whatever a girl desires, and she gathered a lot of produce. That's how the peasants paid. Friday she used to rent a boat and hire a man and he took us home. So we were going home and we were stopped by a Russian soldier, and he confiscated everything. And I remember like today, my mother was pleading for something so he slapped her. And I said something. He didn't hit me but he arrested me. And on the Greble was a rabbi, the Slonimer rov they called him. The Bolshevik headquarters were in the house of the Slonimer rov. So they took me and my mother to that house. My mother was released right away. Me, they kept. They were talking, but what could they do to a child? I must have been eleven, twelve years old. So I figured, while they're talking I'm gonna' sneak out. So I walked out. They probably saw me walking out but they didn't care.

  I had a grandmother on my mother's side and she lived far away from the Greble. So I ran to my grandmother and I slept on the top. They had straw roofs and the houses were very close, and one roof was up against another; there was like a bend in the middle. There it was warm, so I slept there. Nobody came to look for me. So I stayed until I got tired and then I went home. Then the Poles came, so there wasn't anything the Russians could do to me.

  The Bolsheviks stayed until the spring of 1919. During this time they began organizing cooperatives. The peasants acquired parcels of land—there was no lack of land—and planted it themselves with rye and potatoes. 

  The Bolshevik authorities then declared a mobilization of young men for the Red Army. However, because it was rumored that the Poles were not far away, no one wanted to be far from home. To avoid being drafted one could volunteer for forest labor in Siankavitch [Rus:Zitkovichi]; the work freed one from military service. Hundreds of David-Horodoker youth volunteered for the work in which they produced firewood for the trains. The rumors were right. Only one month later the Bolsheviks evacuated and the Poles entered David-Horodok.

  The substitution of mass labor conscription for mobilization was a pet project of Leon Trotsky. This militarization of labor was carried out with special vigor for the railroads, which were under his personal control. Faced with a catastrophic breakdown of civilized life, Trotsky proposed to apply military methods to the economic field and make the population into one vast army, where everyone would be assigned an allotted task and severely punished as “a deserter from the working front” if he shirked or evaded his task.[10]

  This fate befell the druggist of David-Horodok, Baytzl Dovidov. Three separate people remember.

From an Interview with Anna Helman

  I was born in David-Horodok and so was my husband Leo. He was a young boy when the Bolsheviks caught him. People said they're coming to Horodok and they're going to take the young people from there [mobilization]. So that time my husband went to buy something, you know sugar or something. His family had a little store. And the Bolsheviks caught him and they caught a couple of other people from the town. One was Baytzl the Druggist, and they asked, “Why are you running?” They thought the boys were running away to the Poles who had left.

  So when they asked, “What are you doing? Where are you going?” Leo said he's a worker and he's going home from work. So they said, “Let's see your hands.” His hands were from a working man because he was a worker. He was a carpenter. So they slapped him and then let him go. The others they killed because the Bolsheviks thought they were running away.

From Interviews with Bessie Davidson

  From her window Bessie watched Bolshevik soldiers escorting Baytzl Dovidov, the local Jewish druggist, and two other Jewish notables out of town.

  “We were hiding in the houses; we didn't dare to go out. I saw through the windows. I was sitting, looking out my front window. They didn't pass by on my side, but they were across on the other side of Olshonergas. And way outside the town was the Russian Orthodox Church on the hill. So they took them out there and killed them.

  “Their hands were bound behind them. Baytzl Dovidov was a real handsome man, and his head was bowed. He didn't have a hat on, and his hair was standing up. He knew they were going to kill him. His family were educated people; they had a big house a couple blocks away from us.

  “A Catholic priest ran up to the soldiers and argued with them, asking why they had to shoot the men. So they shot and killed the priest in the middle of the street. You said something against them and boom, you were dead.”

From an Interview with Anne Korman

  When I was nine, ten years old, the Bolsheviks came. There were four neighborhood kids; I was one of them. We saw two, maybe three men being led down the main street by the soldiers; so we followed. They were the richest men in David-Horodok. We thought we were going to see something good. They went to a place on the hill where the Russian Orthodox Church was, and the Bolsheviks made them dig out graves. We didn't know what was happening. And then the soldiers shot them and they fell in. And that I'll never forget.

The Russo-Polish War from 1919-1921

  With feelings of dread and fear, the David-Horodok Jews received the Poles. Even though life under the Bolsheviks was very difficult and the David-Horodoker Jews half starved, they looked toward their new future with apprehension. Rumors regarding the behavior of the Polish military, particularly the Holertchikas, towards the Jews and the prior reports of the November, 1918 pogrom in Lemberg [Rus: Lvov], gave them reason to be very worried. That city had been contested by Ukrainian and Polish forces after the general collapse of Austrian authority in the area. The Jewish community of Lemberg, numbering 70,000 by 1918, tried to remain neutral but the Poles suspected it of being pro-Ukrainian. As a result of these suspicions, a three-day pogrom was instituted against the Jews by the Polish military. A Jewish inhabitant of Lemberg described November 22 as follows: “In the early hours of the morning, the frightened population of the Jewish quarter heard the whistling and hooting of Polish soldiers coming in, accompanied by shooting and harmonica-playing, as well as by curses and foul names called out to the Jews ... Machine guns and armored cars were stationed on the thoroughfares of the Jewish quarter and the streets were raked with fire, so that no one dared step out of his house. The machine guns were placed at the following locations: at Cracow Place near the State Theater, at the entrances to Boznicza, Cebulna, Teodora Place, Zolkiewska, etc. At the same time, patrols were organized and every larger one was assigned to an area in which it could “work” without restriction or curtailment. A headquarters for the plundering legionnaires was set up in the State Theater, where orders were issued and reports received. A large reserve squad of robbers and murderers also was posted there ... The Jewish quarter was cut off from the rest of the city by a powerful military cordon, through which no unauthorized person could enter or leave.”[11]

  As usual in pogroms, Jewish shops were looted, homes entered and robbed, women raped, families beaten and killed, whole blocks burned. At the end of three days, 72 Jews had died, 443 were wounded, and thirty-eight buildings had been burned to the ground.

  Then the sad and shocking news arrived in David-Horodok that the Poles had groundlessly shot 35 innocent young Jews in Pinsk. Seventy-five community leaders, including 6 women, had assembled to arrange for distribution of matzo meal that the American Joint Distribution Committee had sent for Passover. As the meeting was breaking up, the Polish town commander and fifteen of his men broke into the hall and arrested everyone on the grounds that the Jews of Pinsk had aided the Bolsheviks. Less than an hour later, without any investigation, 35 were lined up in the town square and shot. The next morning when three were discovered still alive, they were shot again. All the bodies were thrown into a common grave without any religious ceremony. Until an American investigation team arrived, no Jews were permitted to visit the unconsecrated mass grave.[12]

  This sort of violence was being repeated all over Polish-held territory. Within several months of the Polish declaration of their independence after WWI, 280 Jews were killed and several hundred wounded.[13] The Poles variously accused the Jews of having profiteered during WWI and therefore deserving vengeance, or of being Bolsheviks and therefore being the enemy, or of working for the Germans when they occupied Poland and therefore being traitors. However, the most succinct comment came from Jozef Pilsudski, the Garibaldi of Polish independence, who was actually one of the least anti-Semitic Poles, “I must say that the Poles are not philo-Semites. That must be admitted. The Jews in Poland form a very large number and are a foreign body whom one would like to get rid of.”[14]

  With attitudes of this kind governing military policy, David-Horodok Jews were afraid, and their fears were confirmed after the arrival of the Poles; they were treated very harshly. They were of course not the only victims of bad treatment; the Poles were in an unforgiving mood. Belarusan leaders were also harassed and driven out of the western provinces, schools closed, newspapers suspended, church property confiscated, political prisoners arrested and teachers sent to prison. The Polish demands for the total incorporation of Belarus into Poland led to local uprisings on the eastern border next to Russia. Polish officials were murdered, military trains attacked, warehouses plundered. The Poles retaliated by burning whole villages. An anti-Polish underground spread rapidly.[15]

  When the Poles entered David-Horodok in spring of 1919, the Jews were so afraid, they could barely look up at the soldiers. First of all, the Poles condemned to death a Jew named Krapivkin who had headed the town's professional union under the Bolsheviks. Then people were seized for forced labor. Organizational and Zionist activities ceased and fear enveloped the entire town.

From an Interview with Bessie Davidson

  About ten Polish officers were staying in my Uncle Yankel's house next-door to us. They took over the house entirely and the family had to move out and stay with relatives. My uncle and aunt had a nicer house than us, so they had the officers. We had the plain soldiers quartered by us. My uncle used to make the nicest handmade furniture for all the rich people, the best people, the people like Duke Radziwell. They used their own furniture in their house, too. And they had every floor painted red; we just had the parlor painted in red. In the back of their house they had a room with all the machines and the wood. When the Poles were in his house, my uncle wanted to go and see if some furniture was finished. Everybody begged him, his children and his wife, “Please don't go in. You're going to get killed. At least wait until they sober up.” But he said, “It's my house. I have a right.” But it wasn't his house that time.

  He went back to the house and he didn't have a chance even to go in. He opened the door; his hand was still on the doorknob. They walked right up to him and put a bullet in his stomach. They killed him on the spot. He didn't even say boo. I'll never forget. The Poles didn't arrest the officers or try them or anything. That night, the officers stayed in one room, and my uncle was in another room with my father's uncle watching, because it was on a Saturday, and you're not supposed to bury on Shabbes. So they had to bury him Sunday. And then they moved the officers out from there, and they had the funeral. They used to have the funerals in the house, you know, 'til they take to the cemetery.

  It was the first funeral I'd seen; before they wouldn't let me in because I was too little. They put the body on the floor of the living room, wrapped in a white sheet. Women bathed the body before, and sewed white clothes, and put them on the body before. Then the women and men sat around on their knees and cried and screamed for an hour, and carried on. Then they left for the cemetery; I'll never forget how they carried him down. I was so little; I was so shocked. But life wasn't worth anything then. A human, it didn't matter. It was only luck you lived.

  In 1910, several of my aunt's children had come to Chicago. So right after the war, they brought my aunt and her younger children to the United States.

  By the end of the summer, the president of Belarus's Council of Ministers—Anton Lutskevich—went himself to Warsaw to bring the Poles to their senses. They detained him until they had extracted a promise that he would gain Belarusan consent to unite with Poland. Having forced the Belarusans to accept their terms, the Poles relaxed their grip. Their treatment of the Jews also improved, in part because the war was subsiding and in part because Warsaw had begun receiving protests from America regarding the persecution of Jews, and feared their position in the peace negotiations at Versailles might be adversely affected.

  To establish the facts of Polish-Jewish relations, a commission headed by Henry Morgenthau was sent by Woodrow Wilson to Poland in 1919. Among other stops, Morgenthau's fact-finding mission visited Pinsk. There they witnessed widespread looting of shops and private homes, the beating of many Jews and the murder of 31 others by Polish troops. This occurred in the few days after August 8 when the Poles had temporarily taken the city from the Bolsheviks, and was justified by the allegation that Pinsker Jews had been abetting and aiding the Bolsheviks.[16] Only after the war had passed to the east and the Americans had begun looking over the shoulders of the Poles, did the persecution diminish for awhile.

  David-Horodokers accustomed themselves to the new life. The front line was more distant, running between Minsk and Vitebsk and to the east of Mozyr. It became possible to communicate with Pinsk. The townsfolk slowly began to do business, trading chiefly in salt. With this item the people determined the worth of all other articles of trade. One pood of salt was exchanged for three poods of rye.

  A link was established with America. The “giant” became active. Delegates from the Joint American Distribution Committee came with help. A committee was formed in David-Horodok, which distributed goods and clothing to the poor. Prior to Pesach, the committee received flour for making matzo and the matzo was then passed out among the people. Schools were opened. Organizational life began to develop. An orphanage was established. However this did not last long.

The Polish Offensive Against the Red Army

  In the early summer of 1920, the air was once again filled with powder. On April 21, 1920 Poland signed a treaty with the Ukrainian government-in-exile, taking on the task of liberating the portion of the Ukraine held by the Bolsheviks, west of the Dnieper. On April 26 Polish armies invaded the Soviet Ukraine, and on May 7 took the city of Kiev. By the end of May the Red Army had started a counteroffensive northeast of Borisov and the Poles were routed all along the front, including suffering a stunning defeat at Kiev. A rapid retreat began, and with it nightmare-filled days for the Jews of David-Horodok.

  Day and night for two consecutive weeks, retreating groups of Polish soldiers passed through the town. People were afraid to go into the streets. Eventually the Poles burned down the bridge and were left on the west side of the river. That was the worst day. In the course of that day, Polish soldiers crossed over the river in boats to loot David-Horodok houses. Things finally quieted down at nightfall. The Bolsheviks had arrived at the outskirts of town and entered David-Horodok the following morning.

  The Jewish population greeted the new authority with mixed feelings. On the one hand they were glad to be rid of the Polish government, which had revealed its anti-Semitic character all too clearly in its short span of its rule. And everyone was extremely pleased that the tension of the past month caused by the retreating troops had finally ended. On the other hand, the advent of the Red Army meant that David-Horodok was now cut off from the rest of the world. The link to America was broken, and the way blocked to Eretz Israel where many of the youth had planned to emigrate.

  Food provisions which had been sufficient under Polish rule seemed to disappear overnight. The situation became difficult. Business came to a standstill and there was no work available. Authority was in military hands. The Bolsheviks again began organizing cooperatives. Most of the townsfolk's time was spent in meetings, assemblies and concerts. What could the people in David-Horodok say?—only “We are poor but happy.”

  However before long, before one could even look around, there came news of the Red Army defeat near Warsaw. Between August 16th and 18th, the Bolsheviks were put to rout at Warsaw's very gates. Then things again became unsettled. The Red Army began a rapid retreat and there was tremendous chaos.

  The Jewish population became terrified when they heard that among the first detachments of the advancing Polish army were the Balakovitzes. These soldiers constituted a Russian military group of “White Volunteers” under the leadership of Bulak Balakovitch, which fought alongside the Polish military against the Red Army. Retreating with the Polish military from Kiev, they had become infamous for the terrible massacres they committed on the Jewish population of Volhynia, just to the south of David-Horodok.

  The Bolsheviks retreated from David-Horodok during the intermediate days of Succos, 1921, and a detachment of Bulak Balakovitch's troops entered the town on the night of Hoshana Rabba.[17]

  There was great terror. The youngsters and particularly the women hid themselves, and no one wanted to go out into the streets. A few of the bolder people who tried to go outside quickly returned indoors terrified. The Balakovitzes were adorned with plumed hats embroidered with death-heads, and they ran about the streets like greedy beasts. The first ones to be assaulted were Rabbi Dudle and Motle the Shopkeeper who had gone early Shmini Atzeres morning to pray at the synagogue. Afterwards the Balakovitzes began to pillage the houses and beat up the Jews.

  By noon a larger number of troops had arrived in town; they were quartered in Jewish homes. The Jews catered to them hoping they would prevent other soldiers from entering the house and looting. In many houses that was the case. There were other homes however, where a soldier would initially look around to see what was in the house and on departure would either himself remove all the valuables or send other soldiers to do it. The last night they were in town before going to the front was particularly severe. There were many casualties that night. Several women were raped and many Jewish homes pillaged.

  The few weeks with the Balakovitzes in town were a terrible nightmare for the Jewish populace. They tried to associate themselves with the Polish military authority, but the few Polish officers in town either would not or could not help.

From an Interview with Anne Korman

  The Balakovitzes came to our house too. My father was very wonderful. He was sitting in the house having tea. I was sitting beside him. My older sister Hiah, my mother dressed her up like an old lady; she put a lump on her back with clothes and covered with a shawl, because the soldiers used to grab the young women and rape them. So two Balakovitzes came into our house and one of them took his rifle, and pointed it at my father sitting at the table. And my father didn't turn his head. So the other guy searched the house and said, “There's nothing in the house to take.” And they left.

From several Interviews with Bessie Eisenberg Davidson

  A group of ten to twelve Balakovitzes were quartered in the Eisenberg house and stayed for several weeks. They slept in the dining room and parlor. Mostly these troops quartered themselves in Jewish homes, although many also stayed in Christian houses. Bessie's mother treated them very well, hoping her behavior would protect her family from them. She cooked for them as well as her family, using food that would otherwise have been eaten by her children. She also cleaned up after them and washed their clothes. In gratitude, they invited the gentile neighbors into the house, and asked them what they wanted to buy. The gentiles pointed to anything of value they wished; the soldiers then took it and sold it to them, and kept the money. Bessie remembers her family had to stand silent, because there was nothing they could do. “By them it doesn't mean a thing to kill a person.” Her family lost a dozen metal wine cups with gold rims that were given to her parents as a wedding present in this sale. (Metal wine cups were a common wedding gift at the time for Jewish couples.)

  Worse, Bessie and the other Jewish girls were in danger of being raped at the whim of the soldiers. At the time the Balakovitzes entered their town, Bessie and her younger sister Sophie were suffering from pneumonia. They were lying in bed in the most isolated bedroom in the house. “Then it was a serious disease, the kind of disease you didn't even want to open the door for.” The soldiers would not enter the room because they were afraid of catching pneumonia. A hospital had been opened in David-Horodok during the First World War, but the doctor would not leave the hospital to come to the house because he was afraid of being killed. In fact “he was afraid to walk out of the hospital at all, because he would be killed. He was a Jewish doctor, real short, Dr. Jokavitch.” Although Bessie and Sophie were lucky they did not die from it, the disease protected them from rape. Other girls in the village who were also in jeopardy hid under their beds in order to avoid the soldiers. The Balakovitzes had given them a terrible choice: be raped or risk catching pneumonia. They had opted for pneumonia. Some also hid in the attic. “But the Balakovitzes did catch plenty of Jewish girls. Not only in David-Horodok, but all over Russia.”

  The Balakovitzes also terrorized Bessie's father. (Hear her telling it. 1 MB) “I'll never forget they wanted to hang my father for no reason at all. They wanted to have fun with a little Jew, that's all. They took him out of the house and were going to hang him. But my sister Golde that time, she came. My mother's sister she had a nicer house next-door and the officers stayed there. Golde came and she kissed their guns and she said, ‘If you kill him, please take my life too. I wouldn't go on if you kill him.' She really carried on terrible. She had courage to go to them because it was very easy to take the gun and shoot you right on the spot. A human being didn't mean anything during the revolution. So the officers came out and they told the soldiers not to do it. They had a little pity on us.”

From an Interview with Anna Helman

  The women with their husbands in America made whiskey to earn a living. They had a samovar and they learned how to make it and from this they made a few dollars. My mother did it too. When the Balakovitzes were in town, they came one night to our house looking for whiskey. They had an order not to kill any more but they were hitting my mother, slapping her because they wanted the whiskey. I ran outside and I'll never forget, I started screaming. And I looked and saw the soldiers were running, and they ran outside. They didn't want me to scream. There was a little space under the porch, so I hid there.  If they had caught me they would have killed me. Instead they left and didn't bother with me. It's a funny thing. When the Germans came in we had the best time. We had bread; we had everything. They were so good. And I never believed they were gonna' get like they did.

  In those weeks the situation changed often. Several times military detachments of former Red Army soldiers captured by the Poles passed through David-Horodok. These Russian soldiers had willingly enlisted in Balakovitch's “Volunteer Army” for the sole purpose of returning home. These detachments were well-behaved.

  Then the staff of Balakovitch's army, with Bulak Balakovitch at the head, passed through David-Horodok. When the David-Horodoker Jews complained to him about the behavior of his soldiers, he replied that he had ordered that civilians should not be harmed, but that he could not be held responsible in this town, where there were many Jewish communists who were the foes of the soldiers.

  When the last remnants of Balakovitch's army had left town and the Polish troops were about to enter, the townsfolk thought the nightmare was finally over. Unfortunately David-Horodoker Jews were destined to endure a death threat which they could only commute by paying a large ransom.

  When the last of Balakovitch's army had left David-Horodok a small detachment of their cavalry returned, rode over to Rabbi Ravinski and arrested him along with several more Jews. The soldiers demanded a payment of 100,000 rubles within two hours. If not, they would shoot everyone. The rabbi was freed so he could collect the money and valuables. It was horrible to see him trudging the streets with two sacks hanging from either side, pleading with tears for everybody to give as much as they could. The Jews began bringing gold rings, chains, watches—whatever they had. With this plunder, they were ransomed from the hands of the bandits.

  David-Horodoker Jews later experienced a special boost to their morale. The Balakovitzes, having advanced further, suffered a defeat and were forced to retreat. However by this time the Riga Peace Treaty of 1921 had been signed and the Polish-Soviet border established between Turov and David-Horodok. At the border the Poles disarmed the retreating Balakovitzes. Without weapons they passed through David-Horodok on their way to concentration camps. The Jews went out into the streets especially to laugh at and mock those bandits.

  With that ended the sorrowful chapter of the war years, which had caused hundreds of Jewish casualties in David-Horodok and had economically ruined thousands of Jewish families.


[1] The American Jewish Committee's The Jews in the Eastern War Zone, pp. 62-63

[2] Baron, Salo W., The Russian Jew under Tsars and Soviets,  pp. 156-160; and Sachar, Howard M., A History of Jews in America, p. 237

[3] Lubachko, Ivan S., Belorussia under Soviet Rule 1917-1957, p. 11

[4] Sanders, Ronald, Shores of Refuge, p. 295

[5] Stachiw, Matthew, et. al., Ukraine and the European Turmoil 1917-1919,  Vol. 1, p. 301

[6] Chamberlin, William Henry, The Russian Revolution, 1917-1921, Vol. II, p. 223

[7] Allen, W. E. D., The Ukraine, p. 310. Allen was citing material from the Ostjüdishe Archiven in Berlin. Pogroms by Red Army soldiers did take place, principally because the Soviets could not control the peasant recruits they had drafted. The peasants looted and killed in spite of the fact that the Soviets prescribed the death penalty for pogroms and strictly forbid the circulation of anti-Semitic literature. See Chamberlin, William Henry, The Russian Revolution,  p. 225-6

[8] Sanders, Ronald, Shores of Refuge, p. 284

[9] Sanders, Ronald, Shores of Refuge, pp. 293-294

[10] Chamberlin, William Henry, The Russian Revolution, 1917-1921, pp. 291-5

[11] Sanders, Ronald, Shores of Refuge, p. 318

[12] Morgenthau, Henry III, Mostly Morgenthaus, a Family History, p. 203

[13] Marcus, Joseph, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland 1919-1939, p. 301

[14] Sanders, Ronald, Shores of Refuge, p. 323

[15] Vakar, Nicholas p., Belorussia, p. 111-112

[16] Morgenthau, Henry III, Mostly Morgenthaus, a Family History, p. 202-3

[17] There is a certain irony in this date. Hoshana Rabba is the seventh day of Succoth, falling in the autumn. Hoshana means “Please save me!” and the ceremony that takes place on that day is a plea for a fruitful, fertile year. Seven times the congregation marches with the Torah, beating willow branches on the earth and chanting seven chants about the earth's fertility. Hoshana Rabba expresses the need to renew the cycle of rain, river, trees, and earth, what is today called the ecosystem. It is a strange day to be confronted with death-heads.

Previous Page Acknowledgments
and the Small Print
Updated 20 Oct 2000
Table of
Next Page