What’s the correct spelling?
Located in modern-day Belarus, about 68 miles north-east of Minsk, the village was known by various names – Dokshitsy [Russian and Belarussian], Dokshits [Yiddish], Dokszyce [Polish], Dokšycy, Dokshitse, Dokshitsya, Dokschyzy, Dokshitz, Dokshitzy and Dugscitz.
The Karbatznicks probably used characters from the Russian alphabet rather than any of the above. Any spelling in English of a Russian Cyrillic name is a transliteration so can be written in numerous ways.
How do we know all this?
Wonderful work is being undertaken, particularly in America, to preserve the memory of the town and its inhabitants. Websites such as jewishgen.org, jewishdokshitsy.org, people such as Aaron Ginsburg in Massachusetts, and projects such as the Yizkor book, all help to paint a picture of life in the town.
I thought it was in Russia
After Poland was partitioned in the 18th century, Dokshitzy became part of Russia, the country from which the Karbatznicks fled. During WWI, Germany occupied the town. At the end of WWI, it was caught up in the post-war turmoil in Eastern Europe, eventually becoming part of the Republic of Poland in 1920 after the Russo-Polish war that year.
Between the World Wars it was part of Poland, then part of the Soviet Union after the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939. Following the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany on 22 June 1941, it was part of the territories occupied and decimated by Nazi Germany. After the Germans retreated in 1944, it again became part of the Soviet Union. Since the demise of the USSR, it is now in Belarus.
Dokshitz was a small provincial town, without any regular transportation or proper roads, and until the 1930s even without electricity. (Most homes used oil lamps). A flour mill, saw mill and brewery were the only industrial enterprises. Most Jews made their living from trade and the Tuesday market when local farmers would bring produce for sale and in return would buy food and clothing at the stores of the Jews.
A large number of Jews were craftsmen: tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, milliners; some Jews were farmers. They carried a heavy burden of taxes. It was not surprising that many youngsters left school at barmitzvah age (sometimes even earlier) to help support the family or unable to afford tuition fees.
Nevertheless, Dokshitz had a rich cultural life. The cheders [small religious schools], schools, cultural institutions – municipal as well as Jewish – gave it a good reputation. In the pre-WWI days of Russian rule, Dokshitz had a municipal high school and later three elementary schools: Polish, Hebrew/Zionist, and Yiddish, plus ten cheders and a large public library (most books in Yiddish with a few in Polish, Hebrew, Russian and German).The Hebrew and Yiddish schools were established partly in reaction to the anti-semitic nature of the municipal schools during Polish rule.
The majority of Dokshitz’s inhabitants were Jewish, their lives guided by Jewish tradition. They were religious, but not fanatical, and were divided into two rival camps: the Lubavitch chassidim and the Mitnagdim (‘opponents’).
Dokshitsy existed in the 1400s, but the Jewish community can only be traced back to the 18th century – possibly a bit earlier – the oldest known tombstone is from 1765. The town was a sub-district of Borisov in the Minsk region, bordering the Vilna district, not far from the source of the Berezina river; the population was 5,759 in 1892 and the town had two cerkovs (Gregorian churches), a Catholic monastery and at least one synagogue.
The monastery was built in 1608 by bishop Stanislav Kishka. During the Swedish war in 1708 the town suffered burning and pillaging and was rebuilt around 1745. After the second division of Poland, Dokshitz was included in the Russian Empire and in 1795 became a district town in the Minsk region. In 1802, however, the town was annexed to the Borisov district. While part of Poland, Dokshitz was in the Dizna district of the Vilna province.
The four most important streets, intersecting the marketplace from four different directions, were Polotzker, Borissover, Dolhinover, and Gluboker. These streets led to the towns of Polotz, Borisov, Dolhinov, and Glubokie.
Many little streets branched out from these streets and most of them made their way to the synagogue courtyard – there was also another quadrangular place between the beis hamidrash and the shtibles [little synagogues]: Starosheler, Libavitzer, Liyader and Slaboder.
Opposite the shuls were workshops of the Dokshitz Jewish tailors, cobblers, bootmakers, and tinsmiths, in small muddy streets also inhabited by wagon drivers and butchers.
Jobs and charity
Dokshitz Jews were also matchmakers, brokers, sextons, cantors, ba’al tfiles [leaders of prayer services], psalm sayers [for the dead: it was the tradition that psalms were read aloud for the dead from the time of death until the time of burial], shroud embroiderers, those who practiced cupping [for blood-letting as a remedy for ailments], ritual attendants at the bathhouse and mikveh, cooks for weddings and suppers, waiters, guardians, porters, and plenty of charity collectors. Jews also worked in the lumber trade.
Almost half of the Jews in the shtetl benefited from support from overseas, probably from relatives who had emigrated to America, South Africa, England or even Australia. It is probable that Yehuda Karbatznick sent money home for his wife and children; we assume that’s why it took him four years to accumulate enough money to get them over to London to join him.
Despite monies coming from overseas, most people were burdened with worries about income; the general economic position of people was not very high. Therefore, the Jews created many institutions and organisations to encourage and support the poor – there were no government-funded welfare institutions.
One of the oldest and most important institutions was the fire department, known by its popular name the Pozsharne, which was kept busy putting out fires. In a shtetl like Dokshitz the alarm sounded often. Most houses were made of wood and crammed together in narrow small little streets. The gates and entrances to the town were also made of wood.
People burned gaslights or lanterns, which started fires more than once. Winter apples were kept in cellars packed in straw – a fire hazard. Kitchens were common causes of fire outbreaks, which ravaged many homes. A spark from a chimney was enough to cause an entire street to go up in flames.
People used to tell of the big fires in the shtetl and even the history of Dokshitz is organised according to the first, second and third fires. The Pozsharne was supported by the community and government, but most firemen were B’nei-Yisroel [the sons of Israel] – many younger Jews had time available and most of the fires broke out in Jewish homes.
A picture of Jewish Dokshitz wouldn’t be complete without a description of places of rest and recreation. Several miles east of the shtetl was the Swistopole forest that stretched to the Soviet border. Every Sabbath, it was transformed into a mass meeting. Young and old came here to relax and enjoy their free time. The young danced, played and sang, as the older people laid in the shade of the trees, reading or chatting.
In the shtetl itself, there were several fruit orchards, the property of the local priest, who leased them to Jews. On Shabbas, after cholent – a dish of meat, potatoes and beans kept warm from the day before so as to avoid cooking on the Sabbath – people would go there and relax after week’s work. Lying on the grass, people discussed politics, shtetl news, carried on romances, decided on wedding dates and occupied themselves with gossip.
War breaks out
In September 1939, some 9,000 people lived in Dokshitz, of whom at least 4,000 were Jews. Just after Rosh Hashanah that month, a large number of Russian tanks tore into the shtetl with tremendous noise and uproar. Not one shot was fired. The Red Army’s march into town lasted a whole week.
The Jews took the occupation by the Soviets indifferently. They felt that it was better than Germans arriving. News of what was happening to Jews elsewhere reached the shtiebl. With the occupation of the Red Army, Dokshitz became part of Soviet White Russia. Zionist groups and parties had shut themselves down; philanthropic institutions ceased their activities; and the library closed. The beis midrashes, in contrast, remained active.
At the outbreak of war there were 679 houses in Dokshitzy; by the end of the war only 206 remained. Those few years changed everything.
On a sunny early morning, 22 June 1941, the sky clear blue, German silver Messerschmidts suddenly appeared and began bombarding the shtetl, sowing death and destruction. They destroyed Jewish streets and paths, with Jewish houses and all their belongings.
There was panic and confusion. The bombardment was unexpected. People ran, but didn’t know where to go. Some ran with bags, some with children in their arms, some dragged the sick with them. People ran from place to place, between burning houses, falling walls and ruins. Calls for help, screams, cries, moans and sighs of the wounded carried above the shtetl. Many were killed and others were left without a roof over their heads.
At the beginning of July, the German occupation began. Nazi soldiers marched into Dokshitz on 3 July. They immediately demolished the beis midrash, burned Torah scrolls and holy books, and smashed tombstones in the cemetery.
The first Jewish death during the German occupation was Raphael Markman; the Nazis shot him. People feared being shot for nothing and were afraid to go into the streets. Most people just went hungry. There was no food available.
The Germans introduced compulsory work for Jews, during which many people were beaten to death. In early autumn, on a Sabbath morning, the German murderers gathered fifty Jews from the shtetl and took them to a dug-out pit, where a young boy was shot before their eyes to instil fear in everyone.
One Jewish resident later recalled a Sunday when the Germans took thirty men to work by the church on Borisov Street. The Jews were forced to scrape manure with their bare hands and were beaten with rubber sticks until they bled.
While the men were at work, the Germans plundered and robbed their homes. They destroyed or stole anything they could get their hands on.
The Germans gave the non-Jewish peasants the right to point out any Jew who had dealt with them dishonestly in trade or on issues of money. When a peasant pointed out such a Jew, he was immediately shot.
On Rosh Hashanah evening, 1941, the Germans took a group of Jews to the Jewish cemetery where they were forced to dig graves with their hands. After this forced labour, the Germans shot them. One Jewish man survived; he later recalled a Jewish girl, Leah Blokh shouting at the Germans before being shot: “Do not think, you murdering gangsters, that in spilling my innocent blood and that of my brothers, you will win the war. No! Our spilled blood will take revenge upon you!”
Creation of a Judenrat
Daily Jewish life became more difficult. A Jew’s life was at the mercy of the Germans, who could do whatever they wanted with a Jew. There was no-one to whom one could complain.
The Nazis insisted on the formation of a Judenrat (German for ‘Jewish council’), an enforcement body established by the occupiers to manage Jewish communities, especially to carry out their anti-Jewish policies. A law was established that Jews must wear yellow patches. The punishment for not wearing this mark of shame was death.
On Rosh Hashanah one year, while the young men went to their forced labour, older Jews gathered in private homes to pray. The German police heard about this, came immediately, beat the worshippers, and demolished the homes.
In the ghetto
In November 1941, the order was given to create a ghetto. The ghetto encompassed the area from the bridge to Gluboke Street, to the side of the synagogue courtyard; Polotzk Street, from the side of the synagogue courtyard, to Gordon’s beer house and the Berezine River; and the marketplace.
On 30 November 1941, it was decreed that everyone must pack their things and gather in the marketplace. Only half an hour was given to do this. Exactly on time, all the Jews gathered in the marketplace; all their possessions were immediately taken.
Nobody was allowed to leave. Life in the ghetto became more difficult; everyone felt the shortage of foodstuff, which grew more expensive. Daily food rations were 200 grams of bread per person, with nothing other than the bread.
One Tuesday evening before Purim 1942, the Germans surrounded the ghetto. They grabbed 65 Jews and took them away. At 5 o’clock in the morning a barrage of loud shots were heard from Piask pit in Borisov Street.
Counting the Jewish residents
One Sunday, a day before Lag Ba’Omer in May 1942, it was announced that there would be a count and it was forbidden to leave the ghetto. According to the count, there were 2,516 Jews in the ghetto at that time. At eight o’clock the following morning the ghetto was surrounded; the Germans entered the ghetto and took about 650 Jews. They were immediately transported to the Folks Hoyz [public house] on Borisov Street; approximately 200 Jews were told them to go home; 450 were shot.
Alternative accounts of events that month are worse, saying that on that day, around half of the 2,516 Jewish residents – probably including Nachman Glickenhouse and his wife and children – were marched to a pit across the street from the cemetery and shot. The remaining half were killed on 23 May 1942, a few weeks later.
After the war
By the end of the war, the Dokshitz Jewish community comprised a mere 130 survivors of Nazi atrocities, all of whom left soon after. Thirteen subsequently returned to live there; none of those 13 stayed long.
Sources:Yizkor book: http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/dokshitsy/dokshitz.html; jewishdokshitsy.org
With thanks to Aaron Ginsburg