Tag Archives: Jewish Pale of Settlement

My Father Wolf Sosensky (1)

Early Years

Wolf Sosensky was born in the town of Dolginov in the Vileika district of Wilno province in what was then Russian Empire in February 1883. Not much is known about his childhood except that he was one of nine children—eight boys and one girl.

Two of his older brothers were already steeped in Torah and were learning full time in a local cheder. Wolf was a precocious child from the very beginning and the story that has been passed down was that one morning, when he was only three years old, he followed his siblings to their cheder without realizing where they were going. After watching what they were doingsitting and learning TorahWolf decided that there was nothing he wanted to do more than that. The Rebbe, as well as Wolf’s parents, felt that he was too young to start learning in such a formal method, but the Rebbe decided to give the boy a chance.

Not surprisingly, Wolf turned out to be a born ‘learner’ and he spent seven years there studying Torah each day with a well-known melamed (a religious teacher), Yitzchak Wolf (no relation). But when a major fire erupted in the town totally destroying the Sosensky farm and home, the family was left with very few resources. Wolf had to set aside his learning and help support the family.

Wolf’s grandfather had been a tailor and he had quite a few wealthy customers. His father, Abel Sosensky, followed in his footsteps, sewing uniforms for high-ranking Russian soldiers. But despite the many hours he spent trying to make a living, money was always scarce.

At the age of nine, while continuing his Torah education, Wolf was introduced to the sewing trade and worked in his father’s work shop for many years. His expertise in sewing came in handy over the years and helped him to survive.

With his family house rebuilt, and the Renaissance movement at its height, many guests would congregate in the evenings in the Sosensky home, telling stories about the glorious Belarusian past and offering a world view of what was going on at the time. Some of them still recalled the events of the uprising of 1863-1864, an insurrection in Poland against Russia to restore the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Wolf, as a teenager in the 1890’s, embraced the idea of a Belarusian revival and joined the National Liberation Movement, engaging in numerous educational activities. He also distributed illegal literature against the Russian autocracy to the surrounding villages. Wolf was an avid reader and devoured any book he could find. His father, who was well learned and knew French and German, encouraged him in this endeavor.

He became a member of the Bundthe Jewish Socialist Partyin 1903 and later joined the amateur cultural circle which had operated in Dolginov since 1904. There he and other young men and women met to discuss books they had read and to disseminate knowledge on any number of relevant topics.

Wolf had a wonderful singing voice which offered him solace from his troubles on many occasions. People from his town enjoyed hearing him sing and they invited him to join them at their smachot (happy occasions). He never refused. He would chant, tell stories and light up the crowd.

In the fall of 1906, Wolf traveled to Vilna and took part in the distribution of the first Belarusian newspaper, Nasha Dolia (Our Fate), a publication that was eventually banned by Tsarist authorities.

During the same year, the Student Movement for the Cultural Development of Belarus emerged and it distributed a publication, Nasha Niva (Our Field), which focus was mostly public businesses while promoting Belarusian language and culture. Founded in 1906, it was one of the oldest Belarusian weekly newspapers. During World War I, Nasha Niva was not supportive of Russia’s war effort, and the Tsar’s government closed down the publication. (It remained dormant until 1991 when it was re-established for a newly independent Belarus.)

In 1908, at age 25, Wolf began to write for the paper and he offered his readers vivid descriptions of life in Dolginov during this period. He was well aware of the dangers inherent in distributing the Belarusian newspaper at that time, but, it didn’t deter him. The result was that, in 1909, he spent a month in the Vileyka District Prison.

Throughout these years, he continued his tailoring trade. At one point, he decided to learn additional sewing skills and completed a tailoring class in Germany at a Dresden academy. He also opened a sewing workshop and a tailoring school in his home. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed his house, once again, and with it his dreams vanished.

Wolf was ‘autodidact’ (a person who studies a subject without the benefit of a teacher or formal education), and he taught himself several languages some of which became useful during his lifetime.

He also gave classes at the Tarbut School. The Tarbut Movement was a network of secular, Hebrew-language schools in parts of the former Jewish Pale of Settlement, specifically in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. Its existence was primarily between World Wars I and II.

Raya Sosensky, Israel

(to be continued)

Published 05/21/2021 18:13