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Hirsch Community Jewish Cemetery

An historic site, approximately 4.22 acres adjacent to Highway #18, about 2.5 miles west of Hirsch, Saskatchewan, east of Bienfait. It is located in the northwest corner of the northeast quarter of section 32, Township 2, Range 5, West 2nd Meridian. It is owned by the Jewish Colonization Association, originally contained 5 acres or 40 rods by 20 rods. There are 103 graves, of which 50 are marked.

The known graves are listed after the following comments which address the unique historical nature of the cemetery.

Hirsch Colony 1892-1942

A plaque at the entrance to the cemetery says
"Erected in commemoration of the Baron de Hirsch Jewish Agricultural Colony. Jewish immigrants who mostly came from Czarist Russia, Roumania, Austria and Poland were assisted by the Baron de Hirsch Institute and the Jewish Colonization Association. These colonists were motivated by a keen desire to escape religious persecution and racial discrimination, with the rights to own and farm their land and freely adhere to their orthodox faith."

- Erected by former colonists and descendants in co-operation with Saskatchewan Department of Tourism and Renewable Resources. 1976

The cemetery is located in Rural Municipality of Coalfields No. 4 on highway 18 east of Bienfait and west of Hirsch with a land description NE 2-2-5-W2.

1977 was the centenary of the commencement of Jewish settlement in western Canada. In that year Alec S. Muscovitch, member of the Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada, Manitoba Historical Society, Red River Valley Historical Society, and Canadian National Railways Veterans Association, submitted this report on the cemetery to the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society:
"The Baron de Hirsch Jewish Agricultural Colony was a unique orthodox Jewish farming community which carried on in the traditions of their orthodox Jewish faith.

It was sponsored by the Baron de Hirsch Institute of Montreal, and the Jewish Colonization Association.

Although some individual Jewish families like the Fishtroms settled in that area in 1890-91, the Colony was not established until 1892, with 47 families.

During the span of its existence as a Colony (1892-1942) its numbers varied between seven and seventy-five families.

When the Hirsch Colony was established in 1892, there was no organized Municipal government in existence yet, and the area was referred to as the District of Assiniboia, Northwest Territories, until September 1905, when the Province of Saskatchewan was formed. This area is now referred to as the Rural Municipality of Coalfields #4, in the Constituency of Qu'Appelle-Moose Mountain.

The Hirsch Community Jewish Cemetery was established in 1894. It contained five acres until Provincial Highwasy #18 expropriated 0.78 of an acre therefrom, when it was constructed in the 1950's. It now contains 4.22 acres and is located on the northwest corner of the northeast quarter of section 32, township 2, range 5, west 2nd Meridian. This cemetery acreage was set aside by the Jewish Colonization Association, who are still the owners. The balance of that quarter section in addition to other adjacent lands is now owned and farmed by Alex Schopp.

There are 103 graves in this cemetery, of which only 50 remain marked now. I remember, prior to the drought of the 1930's, when there were several temporary markers. Due to neglect, lack of maintenance, and severe drifting of soil, these markers have disappeared. The original cemetery records which were kept by the late Chas. Zelickson, are lost.

On October 19, 10, and 21 in 1975, my collaborator, the late M.G. Kofsky, and I; with the kind assistance of the Kleiman Bros., and Alex Schopp, local farmers and natives of that colony, attempted to compile new records. We found little evidence of the former temporary markers, but only visible mounds of earth overgrown with vegetation; with some almost covered by drifted soil. Such is the only mute evidence of those others who were interred there.

We found three rows of marked (with several unmarked) graves lying north and south. The rows and plots are not marked numerically nor alphabetically. Some of the tombstones are traditionally and totally inscribed in Hebrew, but are badly weather beaten, with the inscriptions almost obliterated.

Furthermore, those headstones which bear the total Hebrew inscriptions show the dates according to the Hebrew calendar, with only the first names of the interred, and the first names of the interred's father.

Note - this year 1997 corresponds to 5737 - Hebrew Calendar. ASM

I have listed the three rows numerically #1, #2, #3, from west to east. The plots or graves in each row are listed numerically, beginning with #1 on the north, consecutively towards the south.

Of course, all the rest of those graves which are unmarked cannot be identified, nor listed here.

A new sign mounted on 4" seamless steel pipe posts embedded in concrete was erected at the cemetery gate in the fall of 1975, by I. Moss, a native of Hirsch, and descendant of a former colonist.

On June 15th, 1977, I have erected a plaque, commemorating this historic venture in Saskatchewan agriculture. It is located in front of the cemetery fence adjacent to Highway #18.

Enclosed herewith, is a copy of the wording on the plaque, and a picture of me beside it, with my compliments.


A.S. Muscovitch.

Released to C.M. Ching at Oxbow, Saskatchewan, in the presence of M. Kleiman November 11th, 1977. Maurice Kleiman."
The following notes were offered by Gertie Lev of Estevan, during an interview on September 8th, 1997.

At one time there was a synagogue in Hirsch with a resident Rabbi. There was a permanent Rabbi at Estevan's Beth Jacob Synagogue from 1915 to 1932. Harry Bronfman donated the scrolls, which were made in Montreal. After 1932 the Rabbi would come from Regina for High Holiday Service. In 1957 the Beth Jacob Synagogue building was sold to the City of Estevan, with money raised and arc and scrolls to the Beth Jacob congregation in Israel. The building became the local public library in keeping with the Jewish love and respect for learning.

Two references are Land of hope by Clara Hoffer and F.H. Kahan. Modern Press. Saskatoon, 1960., and Township 25 by Clara Hoffer, Saskatchewan Department of Culture and Youth.

From 1905 to 1939 a boarding house on 6th Street was a stopping place for Jews arriving from Pogroms. The main Saskatchewan colonies were Hoffer and Hirsch.

The Hirsch Colony Synagogue was built around 1929 by the Jewish Colonization Organization of Montreal. It was a white building with blue trim. It used to be four feet higher with a gallery which had no windows. There were three windows on the east side of the main level. There was a coal furnace in the basement and a brick chimney on the exterior of the east wall. It is presently occupied by Norman Abood.

There was a Mogen David on the west wall near the top of the gable. The cornerstone was the tombstone of an Annie ?oak.

On June 15th, 1980, there was a commemoration ceremony marking the Historic Baron de Hirsch Agricultural Colony(1892-1942), and Harvey B. Kleiman of Hirsch was the Committee Chairman. At that time stones were replaced. The last resident to be buried was Michael Schopp on March 10, 1970. He was 94 years of age.

There used to be an immigration hall in Hirsch. Descendants of Hirsch now live in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver.

The following notes were compiled by Gertie Lev of Estevan.

Hirsch - a Jewish Farm Colony formed and settled under the Jewish Colonization Association founded by Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a German Jewish financier and philanthropist, to help the plight of Jews fleeing from Russian and Polish persecution, where waves of pogroms (attacks against Jews) plaqued the Jewish people of Eastern Europe. Starting in 1892 Jewish families who emigrated were settled by the Jewish Colonization Association at Hirsch, about 18 miles east of Estevan. The Colony, the first in Canada to be established by the Association, was named for its founder and benefactor, Baron de Hirsch. The families that came were the Hillel Rothman's, Mr. And Mrs. Joel Handelman, Isaak Vineberg, Mr. and Mrs. Josef Kaufman, with mother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Israel Emmes, Mr. and Mrs. Shia Herstein, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Zelickson, Mr. and Mrs. S. Goldner, Mr. and Mrs. M. Pfepperman, Mr. and Mrs. E. Rabin, M. Hartenstein, Mr. and Mrs. I. Barnblatt, Mr. and Mrs. M. Shatsky, Mr. and Mrs. L. Shatsky, Mr. and Mrs. Joel Shapiro, Mr. and Mrs. I. Hershon, Mr. and Mrs. Eli Freidman, Nathan Vineberg, Mr. and Mrs. Samovitch, Mr. and Mrs. Hiam Hadis, Mr. and Mrs. F. Davies, Mr. and Mrs. S. Rosenfeld, Mr. and Mrs. W. Dun, Mr. and Mrs. L. Herzcovitch, Joshua Shir, Elkan Shir. The aforementioned brought with them thirty daughters and forty-three sons. A later contingent of emigres were Mr. and Mrs. Skupsky, Mr. and Mrs. Sirlin, Rabbi and Mrs. Palansky, Rabbi and Mrs. Berner, Mr. and Mrs. Percy Beirbreger, Mr. and Mrs. Benberner, Mr. and Mrs. Fishstrom, Mr. and Mrs. Muttner, Mr. and Mrs. Dubitsky, Mr. and Mrs. Fischel Hirt, Mr. and Mrs. Baron, Mr. and Mrs. Schoenfeld, Mr. and Mrs. Abe Schopp, Mr. and Mrs. Max Koslofsky, Mr. and Mrs. Saud, Mr. and Mrs. Gorback, Mr. and Mrs. Moe Kofsky, Mr. and Mrs. Alec Muscovitch, Mr. and Mrs. Abe Pikarsky. The number of children among this last contingent is not recorded.

The population grew steadily as the settlers applied themselves to the task of breaking land and planting crops. However, a high percentage of the original colonists found work as traders, tailors, peddlers and storekeepers. They came as farmers and were ready and willing to give it a try but if it didn't work they were prepared to do something else. Nevertheless, most of the original settlers persisted and gradually Hirsch grew into a respectable community. There were three stores, a hotel and a school serving about two hundred residents. Hirsch once challenged Estevan as being the most important centre in the southeast. There were, at one time, three synagogues in the district. Now there is very little to testify to Jewish life in the district and the town of Hirsch, except for Harvey and Jack Kleiman, the two remaining Jewish farmers in the area. One home, now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Norman Abood (Mrs. Abood recently deceased), was a Synagogue in Hirsch. In Estevan, a building which was a Synagogue for more than seventy-five Jewish families at one time, is now[1957-1992] the public library. The Jewish people in Estevan were doctors, dentists, hotel owners, store owners, clothing and grocery. By 1937 the Hirsch Community was badly decimated. For seven years in the Dirty Thirties, repeated crop failures, dust storms, drove many of the settlers to find work in the city or elsewhere. Not so with the Lev brothers, Gordon and Morris Lev. In 1928 Chana Lev, her husband deceased in Poland at age 45, emigrated from Poland through arrangements with the Baron de Hirsch Jewish Colonization Association to settle in Hirsch with her family of three sons and two daughters. Their first home was in a one room schoolhouse which was converted into a synagogue when their three room cabin was built. One son, Nate, emigrated from Poland to Chicago(now deceased). He ran a dry cleaning firm. Meyer, who came across with Chana also left for Chicago and in later years moved to Gary Indiana and ran a departmental clothing store until his retirement a few years ago to Houston, Texas. Dave, also left the farm and went to Winnipeg where he learned the upholstering trade and later moved to Lethbridge, Alberta, where he owned his upholstering firm until his retirement and move back to Winnipeg. Rae, married Zachary Koslofsky of the Hirsch settlement and after residing in Regina and Weyburn, moved to Winnipeg. Her husband Zachary is now deceased. Fanny went to Winnipeg in the 1960's and late in life married Max Machlin a grocery store proprietor. Fanny in now deceased. Chana due to ill health moved to Winnipeg in the sixties and died in March, 1981 at 77 years of age. Through all these years from 1928, Gordon and Morris carried on the work of the farm approximately six miles northwest of Hirsch. They attended school and synagogue, sang in concerts, recall working for less than a dollar a day, and sleeping in haystacks. Through the dirty thirties they looked elsewhere for a living but never left the farm. One might say Chana Lev and her sons Morris and Gordon pioneered to the time Gordon was ailing and had to leave the farm for Winnipeg and Morris carried on, on his own until 1975 when it could not be carried on by one person alone, and the farm was sold to the Wilson family. Sunday, June 15th, 1980, the lilting strains of the Hebrew prayer for the dead, drifted over bowed heads and weathered tombstones in the old Hirsch cemetery. Even before the first synagogue was built the early settlers were setting aside land for a cemetery. In Hebrew religion and custom, the dead of the community are afforded great respect and a proper cemetery must be built before other needs are attended too. Accordingly, in the first year of the settlement in 1892, a colonist named Mr. Blank paced off an acre of his quarter section for the cemetery. Almost ninety years later descendants, neighbours and friends of the Hirsch Colonists attended the consecration and designation of the Hirsch Cemetery as an historic site.

Instrumental in this coming about was Mr. Alec Muscovitch of Winnipeg who was a former Hirsch farmer. He discovered early records of the cemetery and compiled its history and with undaunting determination endeavored to convince the provincial and federal governments and the Canadian Jewish Congress to care for the cemetery. His brother Irwin Muscovitch was instrumental in erecting the wrought iron gateway with the Jewish Star of David affixed to it and the words "Hirsch Jewish Cemetery". Unfortunately, ill health prevented Alec Muscovitch from seeing the culmination of the work he began. However, Alec's two sons, Marvin of Winnipeg and Arthur of Toronto represented their father, now in the 80's. Arthur's young son Zak presented the keys and records of the cemetery to the Canadian Jewish Congress on behalf of his grandfather.

Mr. Norman Vickar of Melfort, Provincial Industry and Commerce Minister, only Jewish member of the Provincial Cabinet gave the opening remarks. Rabbi Saul Diamont of Saskatoon chanted the centuries old incantation consecrating the plot of land as the "Eternal Abode" for some one hundred and fifty Jewish souls laid to rest there. The headstone of 94 year old Michael Schopp was the last to join the ranks. That prayer would likely be the last delivered in the 88 year old cemetery as there can be no more burials. The headstones face east towards Jerusalem. The grave markers, some of them crumbling and leaning at precarious angles will be repaired but the cemetery will be left much as it is today, for time to come. About 100 descendants, neighbours and friends of the former Jewish farm community of Hirsch had gathered under a sunny cloudless June sky to witness this dedication.

After the dedication, the assemblage of close to two hundred people drove into Estevan to the National Exhibition Centre where Gertie Lev and Morris Lev, at the time the only Jewish couple left in Estevan, hosted a reception for all assembled. The table appropriately set with candelabra, blue and white flowers and the Israeli flags, and those assembled, not having seen one another for some years, were able to renew acquaintances and revive old memories with tales from the past of what was once a thriving Jewish farmland community and pay homage to their collective roots.

They had come from Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Sault Ste. Marie, Montreal, Oxbow, Estevan and Hirsch. Many came from Winnipeg which has the largest population of Jews in western Canada. There were professionals, politicians, merchants, farmers, housewives, business people, a mixed bag and school children, except that most of them were Jews and all of them had some connection, family or otherwise, with the old Hirsch Agricultural settlement.

Representing the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council, in addition to Mrs. Blankstein, were Izzy Peltz, Executive Vice-President and Ann Steindal. Mrs. Dorothy Hershfield represented the Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada. Program Chairman was Harvey Kleiman of Hirsch, one of the two brothers remaining farming at Hirsch to this date. The Hirsch Commerative program was sponsored by the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council and Canadian Jewish Congress.

Thus, a small but significant piece of Saskatchewan history was officially recognized and duly honoured. As Mr. Vickar stated "something more than a plaque, a speech and a ceremony drew those attending back to Hirsch. Standing here we feel the strength of history. We are in touch with our cultural and natural roots."

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