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Memories of Solomon, son of Orchik Alperovich
Jewish Life in Kurenets After the Holocaust
Written in English by Shlomo Alperovich
Edited by Sandra Krisch

Shlomo Alperovich near the memorial for the
1050 Jewish people from Myadel street, Kurenetz (2001)

I was born in “shtetle” Kurenets (Belarus) in 1948, and I wish to share my own memories and stories that I heard and remember from Jewish natives about Jewish life in Kurenets and its surroundings.
After the liberation of Belarus (including Kurenets) in 1944, Jewish people started returning to the area. Kurenets was almost completely destroyed and burned by the retreating German Army. Only a few houses were left standing. Most of the surviving Jews immigrated to Palestine and the United States in the next few years.
My father, Alperovich Aaron Abramovich (Orchik son of Abram, grandson of Chaim Isar; born in 1896, died in 1974) returned home to Kurenets from Saransk (Mordovia), where he had been sent in 1939 (when the Soviets came to the area). He was sent there by decision of Stalin's court for 5 years of hard labor. When he returned he found neither home nor family. His wife Mirel and 3 of his children (Chaim Isar, another son, and a daughter) had been murdered.

Kurenets (1945) - Miron Meckler and Aaron Alperovich

From local residents and Jews who returned from the forest, he found out that his older son Yakov (Yankel) joined the partisans during the war. He was informed that he was recruited to Belpolk — a Red Army unit that was supposed to search and clean the Belarus forests of Nazi soldiers and local collaborators (politzais) who were now replacing the Jews and hiding there. Father finally found Yakov near Minsk. He was very skinny and very tired. He learned from him that Yankel's sister and brother, his daughter Lisa, and his son Shmuil survived, and that during the war they also joined the partisans' ranks.

In the Red Army
Above: Benjamin-Yosef Sosensky, Yakov Alperovich (from Kurenets).
Sitting: Levi Koton and Dov, son of Chykel (lives in Minsk)

Yankel Orchik's story is well known and told in many books. On Simchat Torah of 1941 his family was taken to be killed. His mother was able to escape with the younger children while they walked to the forest. Yankel and his brother Chaim Isar were taken with the other Jewish men. The men were put in groups of ten and killed, while many of the local population were watching. Just before it was Yankel's turn to be killed, he said that Yente (nee Dinerstein) Rodanski was let go by the Germans and was told to never marry a communist again (they had just killed her husband, Velvel Rodanski). Yankel realized that all are not equal, and he demanded to speak before he was killed. The German officer let him talk. Yankel said in broken German “Before I am to be killed I would like to know if my sin is being a Jew or being a communist.” The officer answered, “Clearly, being a communist.” Yankel said, while turning to the local people, “They could all tell you that my father Orchik was sent to Siberia for being an enemy of the Soviet people; why would I then become a communist?” The officer liked what he [Yankel] said, and maybe it was the broken German that made him laugh—he told him to stand to the side. Yankel said that his sick brother should be let go first, and they let Chaim Isar go.
Yankel did not trust the Germans, and together with the sons of Pinia Alperovitz he escaped to the woods. They [the others] were killed. Yankel survived and later joined the partisans and saved many many Jews from Kurenets and Myadel and also his brother Shmuil.
In 1944 my mother, Botwinnik Evgeniya Samuilovna (Zelda daughter of Shmuil Botwinnik, born in 1920 in Rakov) came to Kurenets. After her release from the partisans she looked for her relatives. She found out that all of her family was killed in Rakov. She moved to Kurenets, following some of her Jewish friends from the partisans. And that is how two lonely people met each other and established a family. At first they lived in the house of Aaron's brother Hirsh, who was killed with his entire family (wife and two children). Here, in August of 1946, their first son, Abram, was born. At that time Arye Leibe (Lior's grandfather), the brother of Aaron [Orchik Alperovich] returned from evacuation to Russia; their two sisters, Hava and Feiga, also returned after being partisans during the war. They all married and started their own families. My father moved to a new house of his own, which he built with his own hands; he left the old house to his brother Leibe and sister Hava.
In July of 1948, in the new house, a new citizen of Kurenets was born — that was I. About my birth I will tell you the following story: My mother felt that she was about to give birth, so my father took her to the Vileyka's hospital, which was 8 km away, riding on a horse. However it was too early, and after one day in the hospital she asked to be taken home because she had a lot of work to do there. And so my father brought her back. A few days later he had to set the horse again to take mother to the hospital. This time she was left there for several days, while my father had to return home to take care of the housekeeping chores. A few days passed and then a fellow Kurenets resident by the name of Nikolay met my father and told him, “Vorchik, I've visited my wife in the hospital and saw your Zelda. You have a boy.” Father took a horse and went to meet us. Mother asked to go home right away, so father took off his jacket, put me inside, and brought me home. That is how my life in Kurenets began.

Alperovich family - Kurenets, 1959

At that time almost every Jewish family in Kurenets had a newborn. About 15 Jewish families remained in Kurenets after the war. On Saturdays and at Jewish holidays Jewish people gathered at the old Leizer Shulman house. There they had their prayers, and after the religious ceremony they were drinking L'chaim. We kids played outside the house and never forgot that Leizer had an apple orchard. We, all the Jewish kids, were raised together among the other gentile kids — together we went to the river and to the forest. Sometimes we had our fights. During the winter we would build snow forts and have snowball battles. Starting at the age of 7, every kid in Kurenets would attend school; there we met with new duties and challenges and made new friends.
In 1955-56, many Jewish Kurenetsers started moving to Poland in order to continue on their way to Israel. Since Kurenets was part of Poland before 1939, the Soviets let the old Polish citizens cross the border to Poland. The first family to take that step was my father's sister Hava and her husband Boris, with their 5 children. The oldest child was 7 years old and the youngest, Sholom, less than a year. I still remember his brit milah ceremony: all the Jews of Kurenets gathered together in the small room and then came the rabbi. All the Jews raised the money to pay for his services. That is how the last Jewish child was born In Kurenets, and that happened in 1955.

Surviving Jews from the area of Vileyka meet in Naarch'

Many families followed that path, moving directly to Poland or to the larger cities in order to arrange the needed papers and then move to Poland. So in 1958 only two Jewish families were left in Kurenets: Levin's and ours. But Jewish life didn't stand still. At every holiday the older children of my father would visit us with their children. Also we kept in touch with the Jews in nearby villages: Dolginovo (4 families), Lyuban (7 families) and Vileyka (about 15 families). The spiritual leader of the remaining Jews was Mironovich (Finkelshteyn-Tewel) the head of the Lyuban sovhoz [state farm].
In 1958 a new school director arrived in Kurenets — Catznelson. He lived in Kurenets till 1963. The head doctor of the Kurenets regional hospital was Dr. Nasis. He lived in Kurenets from 1960 till 1966. They both had children younger than school age.

Alperovich family in grandfather's house (1960)

At the Kurenets public school between the years 1958 and 1966, only two Jewish kids studied: my older brother, Abram, and me. Despite this, we never felt excluded and participated in all kinds of social activities; along with the other students we went dancing and training. Abram even won a regional championship in throwing the discus. We participated in all-night parties in the nearby villages and hung around with boys and girls of our age, but what we were missing were Jewish friends.

Kurenets (1961) - childhood friends
Left to right: Petya, Tolik, Abram and Shlomo Alperovich, Lenya

Abram finished school in 1964 and went to Brest to study pedagogy. I finished school two years later in 1966 and went to Minsk to study engineering, but it didn't mean that we left Kurenets. Every holiday we returned to visit our parents.

Kurenets soccer team, champions of the Vilekya area (1964)
Abram Alperovich is 5th from left

Kurenets (1964) - Abram Alperovich jumps

Abram finished school in 1964 and went to Brest to study pedagogy. I finished school two years later in 1966 and went to Minsk to study engineering, but it didn't mean that we left Kurenets. Every holiday we returned to visit our parents.
After finishing my studies in 1971 I returned to the Vileyka region to work. I was the head engineer of Kolhoz, and later a regional agriculture machinery engineer. At that time my brother Abram was already a math teacher in Vileyka's school. Almost all the Jewish kids of the Vileyka region received a higher education.

Estony, Tallinn (1971) - Abram's wedding
Left to right: Zelda, Shlomo, Samuel, Lisa, Misha, Aaron and Yasha Alperovich, Victor and Bunya Kempin

Abram finished school in 1964 and went to Brest to study pedagogy. I finished school two years later in 1966 and went to Minsk to study engineering, but it didn't mean that we left Kurenets. Every holiday we returned to visit our parents.
Soon Abram got married and moved to Tallinn (Estonia). In 1974, my father passed away. It happened in January and it was very cold outside, but still many Jewish and also local (gentile) populations came to pay him their final respects. Among the locals he was a well-known authority. Everyone who had to buy or sell a cow went to Aaron (“Vorchik”) to ask for help in [the form of] advice or even in [case of] a shortage of money. I still remember how some of our Russian neighbors cried at the funeral and kissed his legs.

At the funeral of Aaron Alperovich (1974)
All the Jews of the region came together

My mother and I, in 1975, sold our house and left Kurenets and moved to Tallinn. I would still come to Kurenets for visits. One time, it was in 1981, I went there after getting married; just after the wedding ceremony, my wife and I flew to visit my father's grave. At that time I learned from local non-Jewish citizens who still remained there that they [the Jews] are all called “Vorchiks” by the nearby villagers—that's how deep and lasting was the memory of the last Jewish family that lived in Kurenets.

Vileyka (1984) - Wedding of Taisa Alperovich and Jenya Hayet

After us, there was only one Jewish family left in Kurenets — Issak and Jeniya Levin. Issak passed away in 1990 at the age of 90, and his wife moved to Svetlogorsk to live with her sister. Before leaving the USSR and moving to Israel, in 1989 my brother Abram and I visited Kurenets and our oldest brother Jacob (Yankel), who lived in Molodechno and worked not far from Kurenets in sovhoz Lyuban with Mironovich. He organized the placement of a memorial at the graves of those who died in the Holocaust. At this visit in Kurenets we met our old neighbor Felsher Shuberty (born in 1918). While talking to him we found out that he was a Jew, something that we didn't know before. We lived near him from 1956 until 1975, went to school together with his children, and didn't know of his being a Jew. So, since 1990, he is the last Jewish settler in Kurenets, he is the one who welcomes visitors who come to Kurenets, and he is the one taking care of the Jewish graveyard.

My brother Abram and I have lived happily with our families in Israel for 10 years already. Our brother Yacob also immigrated to Israel, but he passed away in 1996. My other brother, Samuil, is still living in Belarus.

Shlomo and Lev Alperovich by the grave of Miranovich, Vileyka (2001)


Belarus, Hoyniki (2001). Samuel Alperovich's family

Shlomo Alperovich near the house he was born in - Kurenets (2001)

At Abram's house after the funeral of Yasha Alperovich - Israel (1996)

Alperovich in Israel - Afula (1994)


Shlomo (Soplomon) posted the core of the story of Solomon in the Kurenets guest book some years ago. I emailed Shlomo and received his phone number in Israel as well as the number of his brother, Avraham, who lived next door to him.
I called both brothers and was amazed because without looking at notes they recalled every person who lived in Kurenets. They had a very interesting way of recalling people. The year in which the person was born and many times also the year in which he or she passed away accompanied every name. They both recalled every Jew who lived in Kurenets or nearby after the war. They also remembered every Jew who came for a visit...it was amazing! Some of the information they gave me was added to Shlomos' story. I am sorry to say I did not write much of the information down while talking to them and it therefore must be recorded in the future. I received a phone number in Chicago of the daughter of Chaia Aada nee Benes,
For the story of the Benes family go to http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/kurenets/kur090.html.
The daughter of Chaia Aada was the only survivor of her immediate family and she was the same age as my grandmothers’ youngest sister; Chana Shulman ( perished with her parents in 9-9-1942 ) whom she told me was one of her best friends.
In June of 2003 I received an email from Ruth of YUSSR. She wrote that there is a torah in their office that was given to them in the Soviet Union by a Mr. Alperovitch from Kurenitz and that they had lost touch with him many years earlier. I immediately knew that it was Shlomo Alperovitch who they are looking for and gave them information about the history of the torah as well as of the history of the family. I also sent his son, Sasha’s email address...I am posting the emails sent by Ruth and Shlomo....
Eilat Gordin Levitan.
Sent: Wednesday, June 25, 2003 10:55 PM
Subject: your torah from Kurinetz
Dear Shlomo -
I am writing to you today with an interesting story. Our organization, YUSSR works with Jewish children in Belarus. About 13 years ago, Eli Krimsky was given a torah to smuggle out of Belarus. The person was making aliyah and had a sefer Torah, and your name. Eli Krimsky brought it back to the US.
We have the torah in our office and would like to get the history of the torah. We would eventually like to give the Torah to a musuem - with permission, of course. Here is the story, which Eli wrote to me - please let me know if this is your family. One of my adult Hebrew students invited me to her home to show me a 'Torah.' I think both Josh and I went and just assumed we'd have some tea and look at her little simchas torah paper torah. She then pulled this out and we almost dropped. I distinctly remember seeing it open to the parsha at the end of Balak and the beginning of Pinchas - where it discusses the zeal of Pinchas. I shook when I realized that. The idea of revenge - here's a Torah that survived the Holocaust open and stuck on that specific parsha. I immediately started writing down information about the Torah and knew that I needed to get it out of the USSR, although it was made clear to me that any artifact smuggled out from before WWII was illegal.
Anyway, here's what we found out. The village of Kurinetz was an all Jewish village in White Russia near the city of Minsk. Between 1941 and 1942 the nazis occupied Kurinetz, gathered the villagers into the synagouge, and torched it with the sifrei Torah and villagers inside r'l. A non-Jew named Konstantine Bakatz, who lived in the nearby town of Melnicki, saved the Torah and hid it in his his basement all the years of the war. He gave it to the father of Shlomo Alperovich (and other Jews who returned to Kurenets after the war) who kept it hidden in his basement. Shlomo was born after WWII and his father died many years later.
Shlomo Alperovich, his mother, and two children emigrated to Israel on March 25, 1991. Shlomo knew that he would be thoroughly searched upon his departure from the USSR but he wanted the Torah removed, but knew it was illegal to remove it. He relayed the story to me, and gave me the Torah with the hope that I, an American citizen, would be able to remove the Torah from the country. On March 28, 1991 I packed the torah in my duffle bag and with the help of God, had it removed from the country. Best regards and I look forward to hearing from you.
-Ruth Rotenberg
I was glad to hear from you, and would like to contribute some information about the torah: I was born in Kurenetz in 1948, and the story of the Jewish life in Kurenetz after the WW2, by me, you can find in www.eilatgordinlevitan.com, in the Kurinetz section. Since childhood I remember that there was a torah in the house, on the closet, which was half burned, and was hidden in a box from a "Singer" sewing machine. My father told that when he returned after the war, an old citizen of Kurinetz named Bakatch came to him and told him: "Orchik, come I'll show you something", and when father came to his place he was given a half burned torah, which he rescued from the burned synagogue of Kurinetz. Before the war there were 3 synagogues in one street in Kurinetz. And so it it was kept in Kurinetz this was untill 1974, while my father was alive. In 1974 me and mother Zelda moved to Tallinn, Estonia where my older brother lived. In 1991, when we were about to move to Israel, I was studying Hebrew in the Tallinn' Jewish school and met 3 Jewish guys who came from the US there. I invited them home to see how Jews lived, and gave them the torah since it was hard to be to smuggle it out of the country. One of those guys, Reuben Taragin left me his phone number in the US. In 2002 I've called him, and he told me he gave the torah to a museum, and it made me very happy to know it found it's proper place. I've also informed that to Mr. Shimon Zimerman, the chairman of the Kurenetz descendants community in Israel. Hope that helps,
Don’t hesitate to address me with any further questions,
best regards
Shlomo Alperovich
Shlomo and Avraham to me that because of Bakatz testimony they authorities were able to bring to justices
A non-Jewish resident of Kurenets who collaborated with the Nazis and actively participated in the killing of his Jewish neighbors. Their brother, Yankle found the collaborator (The collaborator fled Kurenets as soon as it was liberated in 1944). The man would have gone free since his Jewish victims perished and all others refused to testify fearing reprisals by his family members who still lived in Kurenets.
The Jews protected Bakatz from reprisals. Years later the man was released and returned to Kurenets.
Shlomo and Avraham who (were still kids at that point) wanted to kill him. Eventually they let go of the plan and ignored him every time he walked near them.
Many wrote about Bakatz in the Yizkor book.
Am working on a translation of a poem that was written about Bakatz and the torah in The Yizkor book for Kurenets;
It is the very first draft and I have a long ways to go.....
By Ahoron Meirovich
And I didn't know his deeds of kind
Nor the nobility of his soul
Of my ravished home the remnants wailed
Of the testament they had to recall
There was a goy, a solitary dweller of my homestead
Yesteryear no one was his confidant
No one conceived that this son of a stock we dread
To a righteous mankind belonged
Until something started brewing in the center of the earth
Days of horror, boulder of genesis
These chronicles they called out in their hurt
My brothers, the sons of my hometown, the vestiges
And on their faces ruins imprinted
A raven shadow, while they told what they had to say
And only when Bakatz tribute they recited
Light passed through and I saw a ray
And it was, they told, time when our blood was spilled,
Time when every son of evil eradicated our cherished
Only he, seeing them standing in line waiting to be killed
Supported them and cried for the perished
And this man put his life in his hands
He threw his soul to the other side
to consult a tormented Jew and to heal him
To be his staff and his support
but the glory of the man and his special spirit was discovered later on
And they asked us to keep their testament and its candle as an eternal flame
that will never be extinguished It happened that great tidings spread that the enemy (that wanted our destruction) came to the day of judgement
They told of the transfer from darkness to light the remnants of the violated Israel
Then we returned, leftovers from forests and corners, but there was no ray of light for the returned
They didn't walk in glory as heroes of battles -
Bodies as extinguished flames
Dark mood, humiliation, capture
Only dust, not a hint of salvation
Hills of extinction, rupture on top of rupture
The footprints of a community in desolation And when on the ashes of the dead community
The hobbled vestiges sat
Bakatz humbly approached the remnants
Mourning, he sat in the midst Quietly he sat, to a point of depression he was subdued
And he was like the community in her essence
Until this man expressed what he had to tell
- it was lower than the ashes I know that the depths wronged you, crimes to the deepest crippling wound
And my heart fills me with a desire to console you
However, first I have something holy of yours
Envision, you three Jews, only the elderly and those who lived through many days, since the thing is pure and very holy and holds many sorrows and blood
Then we answered what we had to say to the man
Here, look at us the remnants - there is no more difference between us
the young and old after leaving the core of torment
Look at us. We returned from misery and from the forest as one destroyed
In these remnants a child and a teenager are very old, they are sons of gray
When you add the souls of the remnants
they were endowed with age when they pass through the trail of fire
And each child is holy and pure like an old man
So choose the ones you would ask for Three he then took in union
From the leftovers of the remnants as his heart wished
And they walked silently with him and joined him
With Bakatz, the three to his abode Confounded as to what he was going to do
They sat in his home, the three
And they watched as he took a cloth and covered the picture of the holy mother
And they watched as he went to one of his barrels and took from the well
In this water he washed his hands and they looked on without understanding

What is this unexplained work
What hint will this ceremony endow
And why is he taking a white tablecloth
And covering the table with it And two candles' fire he lit
And placed on his table across from them
And he kneeled on the floor and uncovered a trapdoor
Into the basement he descended on a ladder
While they sat wondering in silence
As to what was occurring
Then they saw that the trapdoor to the basement again was lifted
And palpitating were their hearts They saw the man, but not alone
He ascended from the darkened basement
A Torah book in his hand he held
And their eye filled with tears And then on the tablecloth splendor
He laid it down slowly
Their soul understood the grandeur
Bakatz with a shaky voice: Maybe it would be considered a sin for me
On this holy book to put my hands
But my witnesses above
In purity and fear I guarded your book with me
I knew that one of you would return
And I guarded it for you
For when your hearts will ask to heal
And there would be no one to answer to you
I knew that very anguished you would rejoin…
But Bakatz his assertion didn't resume
As tears and convulsions overcame him
And his voice in his tears was consume - - -
On the Torah book that was left as a shrine
The three lamented inconsolably throbbing
And Bakatz from a corner, joined in their pine
The righteous giant was sobbing
My brothers, all of this they told with a tear
They told and requested while weeping
That the memory of this venerable dear
Would be printed on the table of our heart for keeping.