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Map of Belarus
The Map of Belarus

"Man is just the image of
his homeland scenery"
(Sh. Tchernichovsky)

Chapter 1
Vicissitudes and Fate

My name is Litman Mor. This name may sound odd, but Litman is my first name and Mor is my family name. Among my documents, there is a birth certificate, signed by the community Rabbi of our village, and there is my full name: Litman son of Yehudah.

I remember that, following my late father's instruction, I was called up to the Torah by the name Yom Tov Lipman son of Yehudah. Since this intrigued me, I did some research and found that in the 14th century, there was a Jew by the name Yom Tov Lipman Milhausen, who lived in Prague and was a famous Rabbi, Kabbalist, philosopher and polemicist, who served as Dayan (religious judge) and head of a Yeshivah in Prague. After having read about the man and his deeds, I hoped that indeed I am one of his descendants. A few years ago, I found in Minsk, Belarus, a copy of the birth certificate of my uncle Lazar, my father's brother. The certificate is written in Russian and Hebrew. Lazar was born on July 28, 1887 (by the Julian calendar), to his parents, who were my grandparents, Shalom Shachna the son of Yossef and Naomi, the daughter of Litman. Hence, if there is some mistake in the name, it occurred not later than the beginning of the 19th century.

During my research, I found in one of the encyclopedias, that a certain Jew, a Melamed (religious school teacher), named Muravchick, who originated from Moravia, immigrated, in the far past, to Lublin, Poland. While touring Czech and Slovakia, I encountered many times the family name "Muravchick", but just as names of Christians. The family name Muravchick was quite common in our little town David-Horodok, and in the adjacent little town Lachva, which was about 20 kilometers from our town. But, surprisingly no relatives of ours were found among them.

Till the sixties, I held the name Litman Muravchick, but towards my participation in an international conference on food conservation, in Yugoslavia, when the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs granted me a service passport, I had to Hebraize my name, as was the custom on those days. So, I changed my name from Muravchick to Mor (Hebrew for the plant Myrrh). I also took this opportunity to add to myself the name Benayahu, which is an abbreviation of Ben Yehudah (son of Yehudah).

I was born on March 9, 1917, by the Jewish calendar - 28 of Adar 5677, in David-Horodok, a typical small town (Shtetl), one of many that were scattered in Eastern Europe and Russia on those days. In Russian, the name of the town was pronounced David-Gorodok, because of the fact that in Ukrainian the "G" is pronounced as an "H". We, Jews, pronounced it David-Horodok.

My parents told me that on the day that I was born, the small town, as well as the entire country, were storming because of the events resulting from Karansky's democratic

Revolution, that started a few days before my birth, and lasted till the end of 1917, when the Bolshevik revolution broke out, known as the October Revolution. I never consulted an astrologist, but maybe this was a sign for my future, the twisting of names and the vicissitudes of my life.

Even the date of my birth requires clarification. Indeed in my birth certificate there is the date 9th of March, but this registration is by the Julian calendar, which is ahead of the Gregorian calendar by 13 days. Thus, my birth date, by the commonly used calendar is March 22, 1917.

And, if these signs are not enough, I was decreed to be born and grow up in a border town, which during its 900 year of existence, has been subject to frequent wars, revolutions and endless changes of regime.

But first of all, a bit of geography: David-Horodok is located in the Pollese district, in the south of Belarus, on the bank of the Horin river, which flows into the Pripet river. The Horin River, which flows from south to north, connects the Podolle district, in the west of Ukraine, with Pollese. On those days, the entire area was covered by swamps and forests and in Jewish folklore it used to be called "Pinsker Blottes" - Swamps of Pinsk.

A prince named David established the small town, at the beginning of the 12th century. At that time, all the settlements in the district suffered from repeatedly raids of Tatar armies that arrived from the south. During one of these raids, in the year 1240, the Tatars succeeded in destroying many towns in the district of Pollese, causing the local population flee towards Pinsk and the Tatars settling in their towns, on the banks of the rivers Horin and Pripet.

In 1285, the Tatars demolished the city of Toorev, which was the largest and most important city in the entire area, and instead established David-Horodok, at a location adjacent to the former Toorev location. They constructed an artificial mountain that served as fort. At later days, an Orthodox church was also built on the spot.

On September 2003, when I visited David-Horodok with my two daughters, Edith and Tamar, we noticed that the municipality had placed in the center of town, which is where Jews lived up to World War II, a very tall statue, in memory and in honor of the founder of the town, Prince David. I told my daughters that, in 1939, on the same square, a sculptured memorial statue was placed, in the memory of one of the Red Army soldiers, named Yurchenko, who was killed on the same year, in the Soviet invasion into Poland, at the beginning of World War II.

In 1793 all the territories of this area, including David-Horodok, have been transferred to Czarist Russia, and in 1921, about a hundred and thirty years later, the entire Pollese district, including our town, has been returned to Polish rule. In September 1939, the soviets "freed" Belarus and Western Ukraine.

The first authoritative historic information, regarding the Jews of David-Horodok, is of the year 1667, when the Pinsk community requested, from the Lahishn church, a money loan for itself and for other communities in the district, among them David-Horodok, for the purpose of rehabilitation of Jewish refugees, who returned to their homes after the Chmelnitzky pogroms.

In 1766, a Jewish population census was held, for the purpose of Poll (head) Tax, which was introduced in Poland-Lithuania. At that time, 408 Jews lived in David-Horodok. This number does not include children whose age is less than one year, who were not required to pay the tax. It is possible, of course, that in fact the number of Jews was greater and that, since the census was held for the purpose of taxation, surely some Jews abstained participating in it.

In 1921, when the Polish border stabilized, according to the Riga agreement, the number of inhabitants of David-Horodok was about 10,000, 58% of which were Belarusian, 25% were Jews and 17% were "others". The others were mostly Ukrainians and some Polish Catholics whom the Polish authorities brought to the district, to serve as officials, owners of franchises and settlers who were given land in the area.

Ethnically, the entire district was settled by Belarusian, Jews and Ukrainians, and only a small part of the population were Polish Catholics. On those days, national kinship was defined by religion. Descendants of those Tatars are, practically, the Christian inhabitants of David-Horodok. They were nicknamed by the Jews as "Goyim" or "Horodochuks". They differed from the population of the villages in the area; they were scorned and hated. They married among themselves and Tatar and Cossack blood had flown in their veins. Their body structure differed from that of the local villagers. Unfortunately, as will be told later on, this had a crucial impact on the active full participation of the locals in the brutal extermination of the Jewish community, during the years of the Nazi occupation.

The main street in DavidHorodok, 1938
The main street in DavidHorodok, 1938

Chapter 2
My Parents of blessed memory

My Father, Yehudah Muravchick, was born in 1873, in David-Horodok, to his father Shalom Shachna, the son of Yossef Muravchick, and his mother Naomi Ladetzky, from the village Ladetz, which is adjacent to our small town. Before marrying my mother, my father worked for a timber trade company in Kiev, capitol of Ukraine. After his marriage, he settled in David-Horodok but continued working a few more years in Kiev. My father knew the Bible thoroughly, and he used to study it every day. As a man of the literacy movement (Haskalah), he was close in spirit to the "Misnagdim" (opponents to the Hassidim), he knew Hebrew, the Holy Language. The Talmud was less close to his heart. On Rosh HaShanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of atonement) holidays, he used to recite the portions of the Torah that are recited on these days, with their special intonation. He also taught all of us the vocalization of the Bible.

My mother, Chayah Leah, the daughter of Arieh and Batyah Doorchin, was born in the village Rooble, in a more religious home, but not extreme orthodox. She had a wonderful memory and knew the Torah by heart. I remember that on Sabbath afternoon, after the Cholent (Sabbath traditional stew), she used to wash the dishes in the kitchen while humming verses of the Chapters of Avot. She was a beautiful woman, blonde, with natural wisdom. She was a capable woman who worked hard, both in the store and at home raising seven children. In her special way, her influence on us was not less than our father's. She educated us to good deeds, respecting others, and to avoiding gossip. She insisted that I read a book and look into the "Hamelitz", the Hebrew newspaper, which used to arrive at our home, also in the "Heint" the newspaper in Yiddish, for which we subscribed together with the Kushnir family. Mother saw to it that her children would get what is called in German Kinderstube (a proper education), within the limits of that time. In the town, there was no theatre, neither a cinema, but every now and then theatre actors or a portable cinema, or athletes, would come to our town for performing, and I would be given money for a standing ticket. On those days, children were not given pocket money; as a matter of fact, there was nowhere or for what to spend the money. In town, there was only one kiosk and sometimes my mother would give me a coin for buying there a soft drink or ice cream. By the way, soda water we used to prepare at home.

My family was not a religious family, but we definitely observed Jewish tradition and celebrated the holidays. My father was even elected to be, voluntarily, a Gabbai (manager) of the synagogue. Our home was traditional, but I stress - not religious. My late father belonged to the Haskala movement, which was influenced mainly from Lithuania and the West. He stood for the slogan "Be a Jew at home and a man outside". He bestowed his children with Jewish education alongside with general education. I have no doubt that, from the beginning, this had an impact on my studies.

Nevertheless, my father respected the Rabbi of Stolin who used to come to our small town for visiting his followers. At times, the Rabbi met my father privately, in spite of the resentment of the Rabbi's followers.

As far as I can remember, my father did not go to the synagogue every day, but he prayed at home every day. On Sabbath, he used to go to the synagogue. He never wore a Yarmulka but recited the blessing before eating, with his head covered. In our house, there was a painting, a portrait of my grandfather with no cover on his head. Taking into consideration that this portrait was painted in the 19th century, I can say positively that he wasn't born into a religious family.

There is no doubt in my mind that, during the terrible years that came later, in the time of the Holocaust, when I encountered very harsh situations, if I maintained some humanism, it was thanks to the values that I have absorbed at home.

My mother had a strong character. I will never forget our separation, on the day when I left home for the last time. I will get to it later on.

My parents married in 1898. On December 1899, my oldest sister, Esther Sheyndel, was born; in 1901 my brother Velvel-Zeev was born; in 1904 my sister Zisl; in 1907 my brother Yossel (Yossef); in 1909 my sister Bella and in 1917 I was born, and in the summer of 1924, my young brother Shachna (Sasha) was born. At that time, the number of children in every family was relatively large, and there were many families with seven or more children.

My two sisters, Esther and Bella, immigrated in the land of Israel (then Palestine - Eretz Isroel) at the beginning of the 30th. From my entire family, close and distant relatives, that stayed in David-Horodok, I am the only survivor.

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