A Short History of
<-- The Kamenets-Litovsk White Tower
KAMEN means "stone" in Russian
The POMERANTZ and DUBINER/RUBIN families came from Kamenets-Litovsk. The White Tower, a remnant of an ancient fortress erected in the thirteenth century, is its landmark. The tower, rising up high, was built of thick masonry with battlements for guns and cannons. The bricks of the tower were so solid that it was impossible to chip away even a small piece. In Kamenets they said that the walls were built with egg whites - and that's why they were so strong...
(paraphrased from Journey to a Nineteenth-Century Shtetl)
The name of the place derives from the word "kameny" which means "stony".
The advantageous location of the castle, on the stony steep banks of the Lesnaya (Lesna) River was found by Aleksa, the prominent builder and architect in Volyn principality. By the order of Prince Volyn Vladimir Vasilkovich, the prince of Volyn, he built several castles, including that in Brest (Berestye).
The castle was built as an enclosed community. Like many European castles, it had a great round tower, on the raised mound (motte), surrounded by a moat on 3 sides and the river, an adjoining enclosure (bailey). This type of the motte and bailey castle appeared in the 10th and 11th centuries between the Rhine and Loire rivers and eventually spread to most of western Europe and even to the area of the present Belarus. The red-brick tower with guard and residential rooms on five levels was actually a donjon or a keep, that was quite common in France and England till the 16th century. It is 30 m high, the walls are about 2.5 m thick, 14 battlements at the top and a pitched roof. The windows on lower levels were narrow, looked like loopholes with lancet arches. The pointed lancet windows on the upper 5th level were bigger and the openings were once plastered and whitewashed. The upper part of the tower was furnished with battlements and several nice courses of brickwork, once the niches resembling window openings were plastered and whitewashed. From the 13th century until the 17th century the castle saw many assaults and remained unconquered.
There are four separate accounts of Kamenets-Litovsk history included below.
#1 Paraphrased from work by Leybl Goldberg (Sarid) - found on the internet
The POMERANTZs and DUBINERs came from Eastern Europe and were mainly based in the towns of Kamenetz-Litovsk (not to be confused with Kamenets-Podolsk) and Kobryn. Although Kamenetz-Litovsk is now in Belarus, it was in Russia and Poland when our ancestors lived there. The last generation of Jews from Kamenetz, now dispersed throughout the world, remember little houses, old and dilapidated, and long rows of miserable looking shops rather than the resplendent past, when kings and princes shaped the town.
Kamenetz was a crossroads, a meeting place between the north and the south, the west and the east, lying near Brest-Litovsk. Roads joining all regions of the united Polish-Lithuanian monarchy met there. It was a stopping place for merchants and travelers situated on the main highway that led from Vilno to Lvov.
Kamenetz, a fortified outpost, was established in 1276 by the Volhynian Prince Vladimir Vasilevich to protect Brest-Litovsk against the Tartars . The name of the town derives from the word kameny that means "stony". The remnants of a fortress built on the steep and stony banks of the Lesna river on elevated ground still can be seen today. The fortress was called the White Tower (aka the "Slup"), Biala Wieza in Polish, giving its name to the adjoining gigantic forest, Puszcza Bialowieska.
Kamenetz was a bone of contention between the Princes of Little Russia, Lithuania and Masovia because of its important location . At the beginning of the fourteenth century it came under the rule of Lithuanian Princes. At that time it was the central town of a large region, Starostwo, that stretched as far as Kobryn, Siemiatycze and Pruzhany. Later, Kamenetz was attacked by the Teutonic Knights. Although they caused heavy damage, their occupation was of short duration.
Janusz, Prince of Masovia, captured Kamenetz, but the future Polish-Lithuanian King Jagiello recaptured it after a successful siege. From that time onwards Kamenetz belonged to Lithuania; hence its name Litovsk. Polish kings were frequent guests in Kamenetz, attendeding joint councils of the United Kingdom and hunting in the nearby forests. Some rulers resided at Kamenetz, an ideal meeting place for the Polish and Lithuanian szlachta, or nobility. The Starostwo, or district, was considered royal property.
Noble or influential families, such as the Tyszkiewiczes, Paczewiczes, Radziwills and Sapiehas had ties to Kamenetz and left their imprint upon the history of Poland. One local family belonging to lower nobility became very famous in the 18th century - - - the Kosciuszko family, whose most important representative, Tadeusz, fought in the American Revolutionary War and later led the unsuccessful Polish uprising of 1794.
Royal decrees and privileges exempted citizens of Kamenetz from various obligations so that they enjoyed a large measure of independence as well as the rights to fell timber in the nearby forests. These privileges gave rise to constant friction between the townspeople and the powerful szlachta that considered itself the ruling class. In the seventeeth century, during the Cossack and Swedish wars, the town suffered considerable damages. As a result, it was exempt from paying certain taxes for a period of four years. The Jews were exempt too. However, customs duties and taxes on the sale of alcoholic drinks, the main source of the states revenue, were not exempted in the decree. The right to collect the taxes was leased to the Jews.
Kamenetz's glorious period of ended in the eighteenth century when it lost its royal status and became the possession of a magnate, Wielhorski. Many noblemen sold their property and left Kamenetz. Its importance decreased after the partitions of Poland and it became a typical little town in Poland's Grodno Gabernah, a political district established by Russia. In 1878 there were 6,885 inhabitants in Kamenetz and the adjoining villages; 5,900, or ninety percent of them, were Jews.
The following three sections are from speeches made at a memorial tribute celebrating Kamenetzers in Israel. The tribute was sponsored by the Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Memorial Authority and the event was entitled: "Ceremony of Perpetuating the Memory of The Community Kamenetz-Litovsk-Zastavye" - - - NOTE: Mr. Simha DUBINER is mentioned in this document as the Chairman of the Organization of Kamenetz-Jews in Israel. Could Mr. Dubiner be related to us?
ÜTo see the entire document in its original form click here:
Kamenetz was not a large Jewish center. It was a small town somewhere in Lithuania, that throughout most of its history, remained in the shadow of its Jewish "mother-city" Brest-Liovsk, one of the most important historic cities of Lithuania and Poland. Altogether, there were four large cities that were Jewish centres: Cracow, Brest, Lvov (Lemberg) and Lublin. Kamenetz was affiliated with Brest.
The history of the Jewish community becomes known to us from the beginning of the sixteenth century when Worszecki began to study the history of Lithuanian Jews. In his book, for the first time, we come across the name Kamenetz, but to our dismay, the first information about the presence of Jews there, in the year 1525, relates to a restrictive measure which took away the taverns from the Jews and gave them to the Christians.
Later on we learn about the privileges conferred upon the Kamenetz Jews, in 1635, by King Jan Casimir who freed them from various taxes except the tax on alcoholic drinks. We know nothing more about this particular period until the eighteenth century when it had already become a large Jewish center producing a number of great men descended. One was Menachem-Mendel of Kamenetz who in later years opened the "Kamenetz Hotel" in Jerusalem.
The writings of Yehezkel Kotik, with a foreword by Sholem-Aleikhem, comprise a unique reminiscence of Kamenetz. Other Jewish writers from Kamenetz include Natan Grinblatt and M. A. Zak.
Real greatness came to Kamenetz close to its end, when the Great Yeshivahspread the teachings of the Torah throughout all Poland's Jewry.
"This little town exists no more. It was not so keen on guarding its medieval character as on preserving the positive values of the Middle Ages: internal organization, mutual help, medical assistance, religious schools, the custom of visiting the sick, etc. This was a little town which retained the medieval structure of the religious community including all the elements of mutual help. The Jews of Kamenetz-Litovsk are no more. We are unable to return them to life. But we can erect a monument to them in our hearts. We learn about them, display their pictures, keep their records. Many of those people were our own flesh and blood and – whether we want it or not – we are their descendents and they are worthy of our respect and affection."
The period I remember begins before World War I. Then, in the days of the Russian, Tsarist regime, a Russian state school existed in the town. We, Jewish children, were not accepted to this school. Our parents thought it their holy duty to provide education for their children. They took great pains to provide private teachers, graduates of high-schools and universities, and highly qualified Hebrew teachers for our town. We learned privately or in circles. Devotion to studies was great. The Bible, Hebrew and the Geography of Palestine were the favorite subjects. The Hebrew language was heard in the streets, to our parents' delight. But this situation did not last long. With the outbreak of World War I the town's cultural life was paralyzed. Many teachers and parents were mobilized, either for army service or for compulsory work of erecting fortifications in the vicinity. Despite the numerous difficulties we continued to study with our own resources, with the help of text-books and we regarded our educational work as very fruitful.
In 1916 there was a turning point in the cultural life of our town. The community, which was almost completely destroyed after the outbreak of WWI, had not as yet reorganized itself. The only place serving public activities was one of the synagogues in town. After evening prayer the entire congregation discussed the affairs of the town and decisions were made on various subjects.
And so it happened that one evening, in the spring of 1916, the congregation decided to establish a Hebrew school where all the children form the town and from the suburb Zastavye would learn in a normal fashion. At the same gathering in the synagogue, three teachers (two women and one man) were chosen. I was one of them and my fellow teacher was Malca Polakevitcli-Kurshansky, now residing in Mexico.
I worked in the above-mentioned school, in the capacity of teacher and pedagogue, for over three years. Even though, at that time, all of us were young teachers, we had no difficulties in regard to discipline. And this must be said in praise of the town's children. All of them had a very respectful attitude towards their school studies and followed instructions lovingly and willingly. Despite a shortage of textbooks, instruments, and financial means, the results of our work were good and encouraging.
After I had left my home town Kamenetz in order to come to Eretz-Israel, the work was carried on without interruption. Many youth organizations were formed, and some of their members underwent pioneer training (Hakh-sharah) and settled in the Land of Israel – thus realizing their youthful dreams. The seeds sown at that time in Kamenetz sprouted here, in the revived Homeland (Israel).
Many fellow townsmen who managed to come to the Land of Israel are scattered all over the country – in kibbutzim, villages and towns. They are all faithful citizens working in all fields of constructive work. Dear children, blessing will come upon you for perpetuating the memory of my fellow townsmen.
Pinhas Rabinovich-Rabi: In our native towns of Kamenetz and Zastavye, there existed educational iinstitutions and religious academies (yeshivot) with thousands of scholars and rabbis who acquired their education there and who later spread the teachings of the Torah to many countries. This dear town, where many generations led an active life, based on the teachings of the Law and on charity, was completely destroyed by the accursed Nazis. Kamenetz and Zastave were wiped off. Old and young, women and children were murdered and burned in the crematories. Houses were set on fire and razed to the ground. The tombstones in the cemeteries were smashed and used for pavements. The Jewish community of Kamenetz-Zastavye was uprooted and perished with no remnant to remind us of its existence.
DISCLAIMER: THIS IS WORK IN PROGRESS. WE ARE NOT SURE THIS INFORMATION IS ENTIRELY CORRECT, AND WE KNOW IT IS INCOMPLETE.