The Jewish story of Glubokoye is part of its common history
Bit by bit we have been collecting what is lost forever. Sometimes, talking to people, it seems as if you are talking to the history, the living history of your native town.
But it is so distant that you rely more and more on archival materials, although you are trying in every possible way to talk to people about the Jewish Glubokie: about residents, relationships, weekdays, holidays, habits ... It all gradually fades into oblivion, but you don’t want to put up with it and you search, and put the ends of different paintings into one plot, as if you are collecting a mosaic.
And this is an interview from the category of searching for the missing part, which has long been troubled, around which many previous stories revolved ...
Here are stories about family, about children, about tradition, about preserving the memory of those who died during the Holocaust and Yiddish, the language of that time, about everything that once was in the town of Glubokoe.
The protagonist here is a native citizen of Glubokoye, Konstantin Yakovlevich Pelkin, a surgeon, the son of Jacob (Yankel) Pelkin, whose direct efforts preserved the memory of a whole community in the post-war period ...
Konstantin Yakovlevich began with a story about the family from afar: “The ancestors of the indigenous inhabitants of the village lived in the pre-war shtetl on Lomzhinskaya Street (now Engels St.). Their house stood on the right side, not far from the turn to Polevaya Street. Grandfather's name was Rubin; he was a tailor. Grandmother Kayle was a housewife, which was typical of a Jewish woman of that time. By the way, I was named in the honor of my grandmother, by the first letter of her name, Konstantin, and my brother, in the honor of my grandfather. So it was customary for us to name in the honor of deceased relatives, nobody has ever been called in the honor of the living.
My dad was born in 1924, they had 8 children in the family. Before the war, he graduated from a Polish school, grade 7, it was a Polish-Jewish school, where teaching was conducted in Polish, and Yiddish was taught there. My father knew Yiddish well and wrote in Yiddish.
In those years (before the war), of course, Jews tried to follow all the traditions, they went to the synagogue, and celebrated holidays. Dad recalled that there were three synagogues in Glubokoe, but, unfortunately, I don’t know where exactly they were. They always tried to keep Kosher, they never mixed meat and dairy products. Even in the post-war period, Dad never put sour cream in borsch.”
Talking about the Jewish past of their native place, it is impossible to skip the topic of the war, however hard it would be to talk about it for both of us.
“The whole large family of father, parents and brothers and sisters died in the Glubokoe ghetto. Only he remained from this family. Luckily In 1939, he went to study at the Federal Labor Law school (factory training) in Molodechno. It was like a school. With the outbreak of war, Papa did not have time to return to his parents and was evacuated, and later joined the regular army.
‘In the early days of the war, no one thought that the Germans would behave this way towards the Jews, because during the First World War they behaved differently. And nobody knew here what was already happening before 1941 in Poland.
‘After the war, dad returned to Glubokoe, hoping that he would find his family, but the whole family died ...
“And did the Jews who were evacuated during the war return back to Glubokoe?”
“They returned, but there were few of them. Basically all of these people in the late 1950s. left for Israel, in the first wave of emigration. Then they released first of all those who before the war lived in Western Belarus. Dad had two friends who left in 1957. Many wanted to leave the Soviet Union so much that they entered into fictitious marriages. A friend of the father took a similar step with a Jewish woman from Latvia. And later, after this wave, none of the local Jews left Glubokoe until the collapse of the USSR.
“Dad didn’t want to leave. All his life he worked as a shoe-maker at a consumer services establishment (BWC).”
“And what language did your parents speak?”
“Dad and mom almost always spoke Yiddish, and we, the children, were already using Russian, because there was a Russian-speaking environment around us, we studied at a Russian school, and it seemed to them that it would be better. Sometimes they spoke Yiddish, so that we would not understand some points. At first, of course, we did not understand, but then we understood everything. I did not speak Yiddish with my parents, only occasionally could I insert some kind of words. Although, in fact, Yiddish is a very simple language: you write as you read. Interestingly, Yiddish is different in each region. Mom said that dad had "Litvish /Polishe Yiddish." For example, my mother, who was originally from the Mogilev region, would call sausages “sausages”, and my father would say “wurst”.
“Your mother is not from Gulbokoe?”
“No, my mother was from Bobruisk. Her name was Freida, her maiden name was Nissenbaum. She graduated from the 8th grade of a Jewish school, where she learned to write in Yiddish. Mom's family was able to escape during the war, because she was evacuated to Uzbekistan. “Mom said that they were starving. She worked in a hospital, and her sister was a Komsomol organizer. Work made it possible to get rations of bread in the end.
“ My Dad met my mother Freida in Glubokoye, where my mother was sent after attending Mogilev Pharmacological College.
“Every summer I would visit my grandmother Khava Aizikovna in Bobruisk, who knew Russian very poorly and spoke only Yiddish with me. In general, in Bobruisk at that time, many people spoke Yiddish.
“Do you remember any expressions, proverbs, sayings in Yiddish that you had heard from the lips of your parents or grandmother?”
“Not everything, of course, I can name, but some of them remain in my memory. For example, if you wanted to wish something good, you could say: “Zol Zayn Gezunt [You should be healthy]” , “Zol Zayn Freilachs a fon harzen [That there was happiness in the heart]” . “Zol Zayn Shtil in der Welt und Freilahs ofun Harz [There should be quiet in the world and joy in the heart]” . If we talk about various toasts, they could say “For alle gut yiden [For all good Jews]” , “Lebn ibr'a yor [To survive until next year)].” From the category of curses, the words “Gros zol af de dir wachsn [So that the grass grows above you]” , “Rach dir in galz [Cancer in your throat]” could have sounded. Well, also some sayings. For example, if someone told a story, but they didn’t believe him, they would say, “Zol du azei labn [You should live the way you are saying that!]” , or “Genuk tsudrain der kop [Stop twisting your head]” . To a little crazy person they could say, “Cudraet af ganze cop [His head is always spinning around]” .”
“And in difficult Soviet times, did your family observe Jewish traditions and celebrate religious holidays?”
“The family always celebrated Passover, Rosh Hashanah. On Pesach, my mother would always cook fish, beef jellied meat (in Yiddish “Ptcha”), chopped liver (gehakte leber), chopped herring (gehakte gereng) and matzo kneidlach soup. At that time, one could hardly get matzoh in the shtetl, it was not baked in Glubokoe. My father would go to his friend Khaim Muniz in Vilnius and would buy it there. I don’t know where, but there were houses where it was baked.
“Later, when Chaim died, and in the last Soviet years, my father would go to Minsk for matzoh. I moved to the capital in 1989, lived in the apartment of a friend of my parents, who was originally from Verkhneudinsk. I remember how, before Easter, he and I went to one of the houses in the area of the current Bogdanovich Street, and we bought matzo there. A kilogram cost two rubles. It was in ordinary cardboard boxes. And later, when they introduced rationing, it was necessary to bring flour and pay for bakering, in return you got matzo. That time I would buy it and would send it to my parents in Glubokoe.
“Father always observed fasting on Yom Kippur: he didn’t eat, didn’t drink, didn’t shave, or brushed his teeth. He did not go to the synagogue, because there was no synagogue in Glubokoe.
“He had a talles, a prayer book, but he did not know many prayers. He always recited the mourner’s prayer ‘Kaddish’ on August funeral days when guests came from the USA and Israel.
“By the way, the tradition of annually commemorating the victims of the Holocaust in Glubokoye began back in the 1940s. Every year on Builder's Day, on the second Sunday of August, people from Lepel, from Luzhki and from other settlements would come to us. Not all of them were natives of Glubokoe. 15-20 people would arrive in a large truck, which was equipped with seats. We would get in the truck and would drive to Borok, to the mass graves, as well as to the monument on Chkalova street.. Then everyone would drive to our courtyard, where they would commemorate relatives and friends. It was every year, as I recall.
“After all, the difficult story of the Jewish cemetery of Glubokoye, one of the oldest preserved in Belarus ... Your dad was directly involved in the restoration process, putting it in order. Do you remember how that happened?”
“Yes, the fate of the cemetery is not easy. After the war, matzevas were taken by people for household needs: The stones went to the foundation of one of the buildings in Glubokoye. A quarry was formed from the side of the lake, where for some time sand was taken for construction. There is a version that the Jewish cemetery was destroyed by the Germans during the war, but my father did not tell me anything like that.
‘The cemetery was put in order in the late 1980s, when a native citizen of Glubokoye, Rachel Klebanova (nee Ioffe), came from Israel. She was concerned about its condition, because at that time it was often used as a pasture for cattle ... Later, the idea of Rachel was supported by immigrants from Germany, Israel and America. Dad was dealing with organizational moments: he went to the executive committee to solve the relevant issues, construction contracts. Thanks to the efforts of these people, in 1991 not only the cemetery was put in order, but also the mass graves in Borki, where the executed Jews were buried.’
... “And it seemed to me that you could ask many more questions,listening about mother’s recipes, nostalging for the native Jewish Glubokoe, to recall Glubokoe together: its streets and faces ... But time inexorably ran forward, giving hope that we would definitely return to this conversation, to these wonderful stories.”
Margarita Kozhenevskaya, Minsk
Margarita Kozhenevskaya is a Master of Historical Studies and a graduate of the graduate program of Grodno State University of Janka Kupala. She is the author of more than ten scientific publications.
Her research interests include gender history, education, charity, history and culture of the Jews of Belarus (in particular, the history of the Jewish community of the town of Glubokoye).
She is a member of the international project “Shtetl routes. Objects of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism (Belarus-Poland-Ukraine) ”(2014-2016), research expeditions the Jewish historical and cultural heritage of Belarus (field expedition schools of the Center Sefer).
Holocaust remembrance day in Glubokoye, August 1952 (from the family archive of K.Ya. Pelkin),
Rachel Klebanova and Yakov Pelkin (to the right of the monument) with the villagers at the monument to the executed Jews, Borok, late 1980s. (from the family archive of K.Ya. Pelkin),
Rachel Klebanova and Yakov Pelkin (from the family archive of K.Ya. Pelkin),
Yakov Pelkin (third from left), together with immigrants from Glubokoye, read the funeral prayer “Kadish” at the site of the execution of the victims of the ghetto,
Jewish cemetery in Glubokoye before restoration work. Eary 1990s (from the family archive of K.Ya. Pelkin,
Jewsh cemetery in Glubokoye after restoration work. 2001 (from the family archive of K. YA. Pelkin.
By Margarita Kozhenevskaya
translation by Juliana Mikolutskaya and Aaron Ginsburg of an article in Mishpoha photo: Holocaust remembrance day in Glubokoye, August 1952 (from the family archive of K.Ya. Pelkin)
Dad always said: “The Jewish history of Glubokoye is a part of its common history”