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About Reuven Rabinovitch
With the Nomad's Staff
Translated by Ron Rabinovitch
In 1929, when I was a 3rd grade student in our Tarbut [Yiddish language] school, I became involved with the Hashomer Hatzair movement along with Moshe Vilkomirski and Chanan Zukovitzki. We were all nine years old. The commander of the youth movement in our area was Nachum Gilrovitz and the head of our group was David Bass. As school vacation was over, our first public activity with the school and the movement was to stage a protest at the big synagogue against the bloody riots in Israel in 1929. Our second activity, which remained engraved in my memory, took place during the 18th Zionist Congress when we were included in the distribution of Shkalim and general activities to support Eretz Yisrael. Also, at home, there was a Zionist atmosphere such as contributing to the National Funds, which was enough to charm a young boy whose goal was to realize the Zionist dream.
In 1933, I completed the 7th grade of school and was still involved with every program and activity to promote “The Redemption.” During the Passover of 1939, I went to Rovno to prepare with Channa Boretsky. There were other Maitchet folks, including Moshe Vilkomirski, Isaac Movshovitz, Vichne Belski, Beryl Kroshinski, Channan Zukovitzki and Reuven Bitenski. At Rovno we lived in the Kibbutz-house and worked in factories, mills, sawmills, etc. The women did housework. The war found us there.
I had a piece of luck and at that time I became sick and could not recuperate under the conditions at the Kibbutz, so I had to return home after few days when the roads were difficult, just five days before the Russian occupation. Of course nobody knew about the Russian-German agreement and they were only worried about the Germans coming closer and talked about escaping into Russia. Meanwhile, on Sep 17th 1939, the Russians unexpectedly entered the area and all our plans changed. At that time our friend Moshe Vilkomirski returned from Rovno and told us that the kibbutz was going to disperse because of the situation. After we received messages that Vilna was going to be a part of independent Lithuania, I went to Vilna with Vilkomirski to check on the possibilities there. The situation was not so clear and there was turmoil, especially in our people's groups. So Moshe Vilkomirski stayed there and I returned to the Kibbutz in Rovno to tell them about the situation and to advise them to move to Vilna as quickly as possible.
On the way from Vilna to Rovno I stopped at my home in Maitchet for a few days. Vichna Belski came with me and when we returned to Rovno, we were divided into small groups in order to move to Vilna. On the way back from Rovno I stopped again in Maitchet to take the supplies necessary for the long journey. As the teenagers heard about my coming and that I was going to Vilna, they came to talk to me, but most of them didn't accept our plans. Their opinions didn't turn me from my decision and I went to Lithuania, to a transit center. As one of a group of 20 people we went through Eshishuk on the night of Yom Kippur and crossed the border where group leaders from both sides helped us. It is worth mentioning that during the first weeks the Russians and the Lithuanians chose to ignore what we were doing and gave us the chance to do what we had to do. The Lithuanians even helped us, but they wanted to do it without publicity. At night we arrived at Eshishuk and the first thing in the morning we transferred to Vilna by trucks and went to the Kibbutz's absorption center on Sobatac Street.
After a few days all the Kibbutz's movements began to organized on their own and our movement, Hashomer Hatzair, was established on Tartaki Street. We stayed in Vilna for three months in readiness and, at the beginning of March, 1940, we moved to Vilkomir (currently Ukmerge) inside Lithuania, were the local Jewish community accepted us with much warmth and extended a brotherly helping hand. There we organized as an independent kibbutz and worked, even though the Lithuanian law forbid refugees from working.
In June and July 1940, the Russians feared the Germans would enter the area, so they joined the Baltic states to the Soviet Union. Our kibbutz remained until the end of the year, but then, after some friendly hints from the local citizens, we divided into small groups and lived in private houses for more then six months. After complete annexation of the area to Russia, it was possible to reconnect with our home after being cut off for more then a year. But our activities stopped because we had to be very careful. No one could travel abroad and certificates were only available to a few people. Only the Youth Aliyah organization (Aliyat Hano'ar) was permitted as a special program. In this program there were just three younger men from Maitchet – my brother Nachum Rabinowicz, Benjamin Stolovitzki, and Moshe Kroshinski who traveled via Moscow to Odessa on the ship “Svetlana”.
As the connection with home was created again, my family came to meet us and to see our departure. We sometimes went home, but in secret ways. We were afraid of the consequences, so we met them in Baranovichi. The last visit of my father to see me in Lithuania was a few days before the onset of the German-Russian war. When the war started we again took up the nomad's staff and fled with nothing on us to Dvinsk, the only route into Russia. We walked a hundred kilometers to the Lithuanian/Russian border. The Germans bombed all the roads in front of us so we went through the forests until we arrived at the Russian border. There we took the train to Saratov, Russia on the way to the Persian border, in central Asia.
Near Samarkan we organized again into groups. There we learned the fate of our friends who disappeared and we met with some of them. In this place we were together and worked for the next four years. At the end of the war we returned to Poland where we kept busy with Aliya Bet activities till 1950 when we finally arrived in Israel.