The Memorial Book (Yizkor Book)
for the Jewish Community of
(Jurbarkas, name in Lithuanian)
Translations Compiled by Joel Alpert
Significant contributions for this material were made by members of the Krelitz, Ellis and Beiles families from the United States and Canada, whose families came from Yurburg.
All contributors and translators are indicated at the beginning of each article.
This book was written by former Jewish residents and survivors of Yurburg to help preserve the memory and knowledge of their beloved destroyed community. It was published in 1991 in Israel by the Organization of Former Residents of Yurburg, chairman: Shimon Shimonov (Shderot David Ha'Melech 1, Tel Aviv, Israel; cost was $30 in 1993). The book is mostly in Hebrew, with a five page English summary. Consequently, until now most of the contents have not been available to the English speaking community. Here we are attempting to provide translations to the public. Translated pages are reproduced here with permission from the Organization of Former Residents of Yurburg. Those of us who lost relatives from the town of Yurburg never knew what happened to them; now fifty years later, we learn the horrible truth in "Yurburg Destroyed" (The Story of Hannah Magidovitz) and the following entries.
For additional material on Yurburg (Jurbarkas), see the ShtetLinks Page for Yurburg.
This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Special Interest Group (SIG) for the purpose of fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities. Persons obtaining this material may not duplicate or create multiple copies except for non-commercial use. In no event may copies of this material be sold or bartered. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
This is a translation of Sefer ha-zikaron le-kehilat Yurburg-Lita (Memorial book for the community of Yurburg, Lithuania), Editor: Zevulun Poran, Jerusalem, Society of Yurburg Emigrants in Israel, 1991 (Hebrew and Yiddish, 524 pages).
We are grateful to the Society of Yurburg Emigrants in Israel for allowing us to publish this material on the JewishGen web site.
Chapter 1 Contents All hypertext entries below are translated and contained herein. All pictures of Chapter 1 are now included. All non-hypertext entries are not translated. If you are interested in this material and would like to sponsor its translation, please see the section on how to help .
CHAPTER 1: THE CITY AND THE SETTING ON THE BANKS OF THE NEIMAN RIVER
Memories of the Town of My Birth - Yurburg - Emmanuel Kopelov -
Saudinai (Pale) a Neighboring Town - Meir Levyush (family in El Paso, Texas)
Yurburg Commercial Center - Hinda Levenberg (Becker)
Jewish Occupations in Yurburg Jews - A Supplement to the Essay of Hinda Levenberg (Becker)
I Remember Yurburg - Zevulun Poran (Yiddish)
My Shtetl Yurburg - Shimon Shimonov (Yiddish)
Years Ago There was a Town of Yurburg - Motl (Mordechai) Zilber (Yiddish)
Beautiful Town of Yurburg - Ben Devorah (Yiddish)
Yurburg Under Water - Adapted by Paz (Yiddish)
The Shtetl of Yurburg - A Yurburger (Yiddish)
Yurburg Under the Soviets - Translated into Hebrew by Shimon Shimonov
The Land of My Parents - Zevulun Poran
THE CITY AND THE SETTING ON THE BANKS OF THE NEIMAN RIVER
PAGE 13 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Sidney Ellis Family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In memory of the Members of the Eliashevitz and Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
By Shlomo (Sol) Goldstein
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
Yurburg is all and everything to me. A world abounding with memories and recollections. A town that is a dream never hidden. Yurburg is always in my mind, it is large and beautiful, the most beautiful town in the world. My Yurburg is full of love for the people of Israel and the love of one person for another. My Yurburg is Torah and wisdom, culture and a source of income. Larger and richer towns than Yurburg did not have a Hebrew gymnasium, yet Yurburg's gymnasium was open to everyone, rich and poor alike.
Every youngster with a quest for knowledge had an opportunity to study and acquire an education. And indeed, there were educated young people in Yurburg, wonderful youngsters, with a Zionist and pioneer outlook. And there were teachers at the gymnasium - not all of them born in Yurburg, with a higher education. They deserve to be remembered - people such as Eliezer Leipziger, the principal Zvi Altman, the physician Dr. L. Gerstein, the engineer Dov Chen, Alexandrowitz and others. My Yurburg was a liberal town. "Live and let live." In Yurburg there was room for all the different directions of Judaism - orthodox, nationalist-zionist, volkists-autonomists and communists. Everyone had freedom of action and freedom of speech. There was a Hebrew school and a Yiddish school; there was a Hebrew library and a Yiddish library; and there was luxurious synagogue and other synagogues, all well-cared for. And the Jews prayed "Our eyes shall soon behold the return to Zion". This is the Yurburg I knew as a child. The Yurburg that flows in my blood. I love it with all my heart and soul. I long to see my Yurburg again - wander through its streets, its market, the yard of the gymnasium (high school) called "Herzl" and the "Tel Aviv Park"; to breathe fresh air, the air of my Yurburg. Twice I applied for an entry permit to Lithuania, and was refused both times. Now that the regime has changed, I shall probably be able to obtain it. And when I arrive at my Yurburg I shall look for the dear members of the community and if I fail to find them - for they are no longer - I shall lie down on their graves and cry for them. My Yurburg, my dear dear Yurburg - woe is me . . . !
Shlomo (Sol) Goldstein
Street Scene - Page 13
PAGE 14 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
YURBURG ON THE BANK OF THE NEIMAN RIVER
By I.D. Kamazon Translated by Yacov Sherman, Mexico City Yacov's Grandmother, Leah Krelitz-Sherman emigrated from Yurburg in 1937 In Memory of Leah's sisters, Feiga and Rochel (Kravitz) and brothers Moshe and Leib and their spouses and children who were murdered in the Shoah.
Yurburg lies on the banks of the Neiman river and is surrounded by forests. Yurburg is near the settlements of Shaudina, (4 kilometers, 2 miles), Sudarg (8 kilometers, 5 miles), Skirstman (10 kilometers, 6 miles), Arzvilky (21 kilometers, 13 miles), Vilon (30 kilometers, 18 miles), Smiliniko (9 kilometers, 5 miles).
The towns of Pakalinishky (13 kilometers, 10 miles) and Gvavary (28 kilometers, 16 miles), were Jewish settlements before World War I, but they were destroyed during the period of independent Lithuania after World War I.
In the town there were wide streets with sidewalks and two public gardens (one by the name of "Tel Aviv"). Yurburg is located on the banks of the Neiman River; the streams of the Mitova and the Imstra also flow past the town. The Neiman River was heavily traveled between Kovno and Germany, it provided trade connections with East Prussia. Most of the cargo boats and ships on the Memel-Kovno line were owned by Jews. The brisk trade activity provided a source of income to the people of Yurburg.
The Jewish community dates from the fourteenth century, but actual data exist only from the year 1776. In that year 2833 Jews lived in Yurburg, out of a total population of 7391 people. The town is mentioned in the rabbinical responsa "Mehoram M'Lublin by the name of "Yurbrig." In 1831 when Yurburg became part of Lithuania with the third partition of Poland by the Russians, Ruben Rozenfeld, a resident of Yurburg, was charged of helping the enemy and hung.
In 1906, a fire broke out and 120 homes were destroyed.
Most Jews had to leave during World War I. In 1923 the Jewish community numbered 1887, out of a total population of 4409. The number rose in 1930 to 3000, about 700 families, but before the Holocaust, it had declined to 2000, about 600 families. The Jews traded in lumbers, chickens, fish, fruit and eggs, which were exported to Germany. Market days were Mondays and Thursdays. There were 24 fairs held during the year. In the center of the economy life was the Peoples Bank, which had 360 members in 1929. There was a mutual bank for loans and credit, the Komertz Bank, the private bank of the Shmaryahu Bernstein Family.
Jews emigrated to South Africa, Australia and America and some of them to Israel.
PAGE 15 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
JEWS IN YURBURG
By I.D. Kamazon Translated by Yacov Sherman, Mexico City (Yacov's Grandmother, Leah Krelitz-Sherman emigrated from Yurburg in 1937) In Memory of Leah's sisters, Feiga and Rochel (Kravitz) and brothers Moshe and Leib and their spouses and children who were murdered in the Shoah.
Yurburg a very important city, which comprised much of population of the Raisin district. It was only 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the German border. The Ashkenazi tradition was followed Yurburg. Torah was taught there at a very advanced level. Yurburg was known as a town of high levels of education. Most of the Jews there were engaged in trades and crafts. The boats of the Neiman were owned by the Jews, and were used for travelers to come to Yurburg, and to trade with Kovno, the closest large city near Yurburg.
The Jews of Yurburg were proud of their very famous wooden synagogue (see above), which had a lovely Holy Ark, Bimah (platform for the prayer leader) and beautifully wood carved Elijah's chair. There also was a beit midrash There also were Jews in the towns close to Yurburg, who would come to Yurburg. Before the Holocaust, a total of 2000 Jews lived there. There were two public gardens, one named of "Tel Aviv," and a Hebrew gymnasium, named "Herzl."
On September 1941, all of the Jews of Yurburg were murdered and the synagogue was set on fire and destroyed.
PAGES 16-17 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Sidney Ellis Family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In memory of the Members of the Eliashevitz and Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
ON THE RIVERSIDE
By Shimon Simonov
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
I think I'm right in saying we grew up "on the river". Since I remember Yurburg, the town of my birth, it is connected with water, a lot of water and rivers.
The Neiman which started somewhere near the swamps of Pinsk, curved until it reached Lithuania, its waters lowering in accordance with regional conditions - high near Vilki and low near Yurburg. Near Sakirstamon the Neiman widens and reaches its peak in the northern part of Yurburg, while in the middle of the river there is a small island full of bushes and weeds and next to it a strip of soft sand which served as the town's "beach". This island served as a playing ground and we hid behind the bushes. We used to reach the island by swimming or by boat. We used to spend most of our summer holidays on the beach, and I remember that I also prepared for my high school graduation on the beach, combining memorizing the study material and resting.
The Neiman beach was called "Die Zarde", a name and term connected with the town's daily life, both in a positive and negative way. The curse "Arop de Zarde" was very popular among the "common people."
The Neiman was the main transport route from and to Yurburg. Twice a day the steamships would arrive or leave from Kovna and back. The trip took between 6 to 8 hours (up stream) and less down stream. These boats served for the transportation of merchandise and people, while the merchandise had storerooms and a deck area, the people merely had cabins. At night the cabins were used for sleeping as well.
I remember the rush for the carriages, close to the time of departure or arrival, when the children ran behind them shouting at the top of their voices. The whole family would dress up in order to greet the guests and they would walk together to the pier which served as a home port for the steamships.
These vessels - the steamships - were usually owned by Jews, the Levinberg, Feinberg, Karabelnik families and others.
In addition, transport ships would often pass through the Neiman, they were called "Boidkes" by the people and they transported merchandise to Memel while the main part of the ship was deep into the water, and when they returned, empty, the main part floated on the water while the steamship towed along the "boidke" up stream.
Another means of transport were the rafts - made of tree trunks, chopped down in the forests along the Neiman, tied together and sailing down the river as one unit up to Memel, as export merchandise. As children, we used to swim in the river, and hold on to these rafts for a number of kilometers.
In spring, when the ice melted, we would go to the banks of the Neiman and enjoy watching the blocks of ice floating on it. Often large ice blocks would slide on to each other - especially after the Mitova bend - and cause a huge blockage which would result in floods. Often these floods would inundate entire streets up to the town center. We often sailed in a boat up to the "Deitsche Gass", the German street, in order to buy bread at Sara's bakery shop called "Die Roreh" which was not flooded.
To the children the floods were a source of "entertainment", enabling them to play around in the water and sail on a boat or boards.
The inhabitants of the inundated streets suffered immensely. The water would flood the storerooms and cause serious damage. The government would allocate sums of money to compensate for the damage. I remember that my late father was always appointed by the authorities to head the committee for assessing the damage for payment of compensation.
When winter came, the Neiman would serve both as a skating area and as a path for public transport, when the buses, wheels covered in iron chains, would move on the frozen Neiman, which served as a replacement for the road.
In spite of all the joy and pleasure this route of transportion also claimed victims, and we distinctly remember the drowning of the three townspeople, prominent citizens.
The Mitova, the second largest river, was in fact the Neiman's stream flowing from the north and passing through the Lithuanian park until it flowed into the Neiman.
In the Holocaust the Germans "used" the Neiman's shore as a place for torturing the Jews, and we will speak about this later on.
In summer we sailed on the Mitova in boats with bars and we also bathed in the river. The third "river" - the Imstra - smaller than the previous one, blithely flowed along the Jewish park "Tel Aviv" and joined the Mitova. In the summer months its shallow waters were the place where the small children played, while in winter it became a place for ice-skating for the boys.
That is how the residents of Yurburg lived, they and their children, on rivers that became a source of living and of entertainment ... until the bitter end arrived for the town's Jews.
PAGES 18-20 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Sidney Ellis Family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In memory of the Members of the Eliashevitz and Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
A UNIQUE TOWN
Translated from Yiddish and edited by A. Sarid
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
The following story is based on the story of Yacov Lerman, who was a teacher at the Hebrew gymnasium in Yurburg, knew the town and its inhabitants well, and was very fond of them, just like any other resident of Yurburg - whether he lived there for a long or a short time.
The town's name in Lithuanian was Jurbarkas. The Jews called it Yurburg or Yurbrik, a small town on the bank of the Neiman river, with a population of 6000, 2000 of them Jews.
The town was built along the right side of the Neiman river which flows into the Baltic sea. Like all the other little towns - Vilan, Sardnik, Vilki and others along the banks of the Neiman, Yurburg too made its living mainly from the river. However, Yurburg was the largest town in the area between Kovna and Yurburg, the most beautiful and the richest. Some of the owners of the steamships that sailed along the river were residents of Yurburg. There were passenger compartments on these ships, and cargo compartments for transports from Kovna, with the downward stream, up to Memel (Kalapeda, in Lithuanian), in the Korishi bay. Along the way the steamships would stop at towns and villages along the Neiman, take on and drop off passengers, and unload and load merchandise. The Yurburg shore served as a home port for all the ships. The mouth of the Mitova river was a natural port for the ships.
At all these towns Jews were employed as porters, workmen, coachmen or in any other service. The transport of course contributed to the development of wholesale and retail trade in which many Jews were active and on which they made a living.
It is impossible to think of Yurburg without thinking of the Neiman. The river was the thread connecting Yurburg with the world. The German border was close by, 9-10 kilometers (6 miles) and here was the little German town of Samalnikan (currently in the Memel district of Lithuania), which was the source of living of many Jews who lived in Yurburg. It is well-known that under such geographic conditions smuggling thrives, and the inhabitants on both sides of the border made a profit in this way. As the famous saying goes: "Yurburg you visited and from smuggling you profited. . .?"
The proximity to the German border not only gave the Jews of Yurburg the advantage of good-quality woven fabrics, excellent leather products and all sorts of haberdashery - but also lent the town a western European flavor of continuous renovation. Thus, Yurburg was more influenced by a higher standard of culture than the other towns in Lithuania, by technological achievements and by influx of radical ideas. Many Yurburg residents would visit Germany. The town's youngsters would go to study in western countries and return with a broad education and reactionary social ideas which were strictly forbidden in Lithuania under the totalitarian Russian monarchic regime.
In the period of 1905-6, when Russia was in an upheaval and in the throngs of the socialist revolution, the Yurburg youth took part in the revolutionary actions and raised its flag. Masses of Jewish youngsters took part in the demonstrations on the outskirts of Yurburg, carrying a red flag and singing revolutionary songs. The older generation - the generation of the fathers - was embarrassed by the outbursts of its rebellious sons, looking for freedom, and feared for their fate and the future status of the Jews. As in other parts of Russia, in Lithuania too the land was owned by nobles.
(Paritzes) and wealthy landowners. Most farmers were poor, without land and in fact they were serfs, who tilled the land of the nobles, in return for a small living for their kin.
The little town of Yurburg and its surroundings belonged to an area ruled by the Russian prince (Kaniaz) Vasilchakov, a member of the Romanov family which reigned over Russia for 300 years. Prince Vasilchakov used to come to Yurburg and spend the summer months there; he used to live in his beautiful summer palace, surrounded by a well-cared for park. In those months the Jews were of course not allowed to enter this park. However, during most of the months of the year the Jews too were allowed to enjoy the fresh air and beauty of the park. However, the Jews of Yurburg did not need the prince's park, for there was a beautiful landscape all around the town, plenty of water, trees, sun and fresh air. Moreover, when Lithuania eventually became independent (1918) and was liberated from the Russians, the Jews of Yurburg bought a spacious house surrounded by trees, a luscious green garden and they had their own park, which they called . . . . "Tel Aviv." The beautiful house was used for the Hebrew gymnasium (high school) which became the cultural center of the Jews of Yurburg, of which they were very proud.
In addition to the Hebrew gymnasium there were two elementary schools in town - in Hebrew and in Yiddish; "Talmud Torah", modern, in the framework of "Tarbut", two libraries - one called "Mendele" in Yiddish and the other - called "Brenner" which contained Hebrew books. There were religious and secular institutions in the town too.
The Jews of Yurburg were proud of the old synagogue, which many thought was built in 1790; the building and the Holy Ark were designed by Jewish artists, and they were much admired by those who saw them. Many people would come to Yurburg to see this original building and its expensive artifacts.
Jews lived in Yurburg for hundreds of years, they established good relations with the Lithuanians who lived there, and got along with them. The Jews of Yurburg were proud of their closeness to their German neighbors to the west and considered them cultural and enlightened, but they would soon be disappointed. When the so-called cultured German invader entered Yurburg in World War II - Jewish Yurburg was wiped out within months and turned into ruins.
Translated to Hebrew from Yiddish and edited by A. Sarid.
PAGES 21-24 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Sidney Ellis Family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In memory of the Members of the Eliashevitz and Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
YURBURG - MY TOWN OF BIRTH
By Dov (Berl) Levinberg
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
I spent the first twenty four years of my life in Yurburg, the town of my birth. My memories take me back to 1913, the year before the outbreak of World War I.
Yurburg was one of the beautiful little towns along the bank of the largest river in Lithuania, the Neiman. The town was a haven of green, surrounded by orchards, fields, parks and pine tree forests. However, Yurburg's main attraction was the beauty of its rivers: the Neiman on one side, the Mitova on the other side and in the middle the Imstra river, flowing in a narrow stream, hidden at the foot of the mountain.
The rivers flowed peacefully during all the months of the year. However, in April when the ice melted, there was an outburst of strong currents of water which flowed over the bank and flooded broad areas. The water of the Neiman sometimes reached the streets of the town and caused heavy damage. Nevertheless, these floods had their blessing too. The turrets of water would bring along fresh soil that benefited the town's gardens.
There was a large park on a vast area of 200 dunam which was divided into two - one side was open to the public and the other side was declared a closed area, for this is where the palace of Prince Vasilchakov of the Romanov family, the Russian monarchy, was located.
At the end of the park stood the Russian-Pravoslavic church, owned by the Prince. Gold jewels, diamonds, precious objects and works of art were stored there.
Every Saturday evening prayers were held at the church. A wonderful chorus sang beautiful religious songs here, heard by visitors to the park who enjoyed the lovely melodies. Not far from the Prince's palace were the horses' stables as well as a small zoological garden with various wild animals.
Yurburg's Jewish population was composed of businessmen, shop owners, craftsmen, coachmen, porters, peddlers, workers etc. Some of the Jews were orthodox - "Mitnagdim" - and some of them were orthodox in the modern way. Yurburg's proximity to the German border - 9 kilometers (6 miles)from the little German town of Samalnikan was a window to the European life style.
Slowly the western European lifestyle was adopted by the town's Jews. They learned the German language and culture, wore clothes imported from Germany and bought German tools and products.
Most of the town's youth were intelligent and wanted to acquire knowledge and education. Up to World War I there was a Russian-Jewish school in town, Talmud Torah and a modern-style school. There was a library in the town too with a reading room for those who spoke Russian. In 1918, when Lithuania became independent, matters changed. A Jewish gymnasium (high school) was founded in which the study language in the first year was Yiddish, and afterwards a Hebrew - science gymnasium, founded by the "Tarbut" chain of schools. There were two libraries in town - "Mendele" with Yiddish books and "Brenner" with Hebrew books.
The town did not stand still. The youth was organized in associations and various circles, such as "Maccabi", the Scouts (Hashomer Hatzair), the Jewish Sports Club J.A.K. (Jewish Athletics Club), Hovevey Zion (Lovers of Zion), Tzeireh Zion, Poaleh Zion (Zionist Workers), circles of General Zionists, Revisionists etc. There were also cultural circles and a drama circle for theater lovers.
The average Jew was a Zionist and assisted in raising funds for Eretz Jisrael, such as Keren Hakayemet, Keren Hayesod and Kapai. There were righteous and philanthropic Jews, as witnessed by the various public institutions which were usually called "companies" such as Bikur Holim, Gmilot Hesed, Hahnasat Orhim, Tzedaka Gedolah, Maot Hitim, Hevra Kadisha etc.
The Popular Bank (Volksbank) was very important - it was the branch of the Central Bank (Zentralbank) in Kovna and its task was to assist in the Jewish cooperation. The bank assisted by extending loans for small-scale trade, to businessmen and other Jews who required a loan in times of need.
It is noteworthy that there were home-owners who fulfilled the obligation of "giving anonymously" ("Matan Beseter") and helped those who had become poor and required assistance. The needy asked for and received help, while one had to look for the poor.
The theater group arranged parties and performances a few times a year for the benefit of the needy, such as buying clothes for poor children, and supplying matzot and wine for Passover.
The obligation of Passover alms for the poor, for example, was faithfully observed.
One of the town's wealthy men, the lateYehuda Rabinowitz, founded the "Talmud Torah" for the poor children who received an orthodox and general education there, and were given a school uniform once a year.
I would like to mention my late father, Israel Levinberg, who was a well-known philanthropist and helped the needy and poor. In addition to being a "ba'al tzedaka" he also loved the people of Israel. He took an interest in people and inquired who had or had not and how it was possible to help the latter. All those who needed help, a loan or donation, would be given to him. He was a wealthy businessman, a steamship owner in Yurburg. Our home had a traditional-nationalist atmosphere and my father was known to support the Zionist cause, and therefore he was much respected in town.
The synagogues in town were as follows: a prayer house, a synagogue and small houses of prayer. The great synagogue was built in 1790 in the architectural style of the Middle Ages. The Holy Ark was made of wood and covered with carvings of various wild animals, birds and plants. The synagogue was famous in the Jewish world. Guests and tourists came to see the beautiful synagogue and its pictures were distributed all over the world.
There was no industry in Yurburg. On the other hand, Yurburg was an important center through which export goods passed from Lithuania to western Europe, mainly to Germany and Great Britain. The export products were: wood, linen, seeds, fodder, eggs, fruit, hides etc.
Import was also important: sugar, herring, salt, dried fruit, textiles, oil, plaster and chemical fertilizers.
The Neiman was an important factor in the development of the import/export business. Steamships and cargo ships sailed the river. Some of them carried passengers and others carried cargo from Yurburg to Kovna and back. Wooden barges sailed the river from Grodna through the Vilia and other rivers. Transport on the Neiman constituted an important source of employment for the people of the town - both Jews and Gentiles.
Some of the inhabitants owned steamships, which formed the basis for the town's economy.
Yurburg's tale is long, a town and a mother in Israel, a home for the hundred-year old Jewish community - a lively community looking towards the future. But all of a sudden it came to an end. Destruction came to Yurburg and the people of Israel.
The Jewish Yurburg was no more;
Till today it has its glory
But its Jews
Alas, they are no longer - they were destroyed and are no more . . .
Dov (Berl) Levinberg, Montreal, Canada
Translated to Hebrew from Yiddish by E. Koplov.
PAGES 25-32 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Sidney Ellis Family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In memory of the Members of the Eliashevitz and Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
MEMORIES FROM YURBURG- THE TOWN OF MY BIRTH
By Emanuel Koplov
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
I had a dream. I return to the town of my childhood. Everyone there is still alive! It was not yet destroyed! The houses are standing and the Jewish inhabitants were not annhilated . . .
When did it happen? When?
My thoughts return to 1922. In that year my family and I returned to Yurburg from far-away Russia, from Panze, where we stayed as did most of the refugees of World War I.
Shortly after I was born in Yurburg, World War I broke out. My late mother was afraid to remain in town and insisted we leave until matters calm down. Thus we abandoned the apartment where we lived. My parents fled to Russia, as far away as Kaluga and on to Panze. All the furniture and equipment remained behind in our apartment in Yurburg, many Hebrew and Russian books, a piano etc. My parents took us and fled, leaving our belongings behind in the apartment, hoping they would find everything back upon their return.
The stay in Russia was extended, just like the war, and it was almost natural that the apartment could not wait for us. The belongings in the apartment also slowly started "to move" to other apartments in town.
When we returned, many good people had a pang of conscience, and somehow some of the belongings were returned, the piano among them. We also found a good part of the precious books that belonged to my late father, and they are still in my possession.
Yurburg was already a town and mother in Israel in independent Lithuania. It was located on the bank of the Neiman, surrounded by forests and parks, covered in green and divided by two rivers - the Imstra and the Mitova. The Imstra - at the end of the Kovnar-Gass (Kovno Street) flowed into the Mitova which bordered on the area beyond the town. There on the other side was the Kaliani forest and further on to Samalnikan the Prussian border. The town's center was mainly populated by Jews: businessmen, teachers, builders, craftsmen and others.
The Lithuanians lived all around. In the 1930s the Lithuanians became nationalistic. The "Shaulists" organizations started to expand - in the early days it claimed to be a sports club and afterwards it turned into a club waging a nationalistic war against the Jews. In our time the Lithuanians were careful not to hurt the Jews, for they would be hit twice as hard in return. However, after a while the situation changed, as is well known.
As I said, the town was located on the bank of the Neiman, and this formed its character and its economy. Yurburg was a town through which the steamships passed which sailed on the Neiman from Lemel to Kovna and from Yurburg to Kovna and back. A large part of the various goods imported from Germany passed through the town, as well as the export of wood to Memel and Tilzit. Many people in town were employed in the activity on the bank of the Neiman. We recall the steamship owners and the Jews who made a good living from them. The steamships would also bring many tourists from Kovna and its surroundings in spring and summer. They came to attend the sports festivities which were held in Yurburg's parks. Even today one may meet Jews from Lithuania and find out they visited Yurburg on one of the trips to the festivities, and were enchanted by the lovely scenery and the beautiful girls of the town. . . .
There were two parks in town, one of the Hebrew gymnasium and the other in memory of the days of Prince (Kaniaz) Vasilchakov - a large park with remnants of the Prince's palace and many different buildings used by the Lithuanian gymnasium in our days. Various festivities would be held in this large park, evenings of dance, conventions etc.
The activity of the "Hahalutz" youth movement also took place in the parks, the games, meetings etc.
On the other side of the park there was a forest leading to Samalnikan, and the famous "Mushroom" forest, "Der Schwamel". The articles about the "Mushroom" told of many visitors, each of them carving their name on the "Mushroom" tree.
Life passed along slowly in town, only on market days did things become more lively. Then the town thronged with people; many farmers from the surrounding areas came to sell their wares, and also Jewish farmers from little towns in the area, who would bring along carts of apples and pears.
Everyone would gather in the area between the synagogues on Kovner Gass (Kovno Street). Everything was done directly, until some of the farmers would get drunk and start to become rowdy because they had drunk too much wine. This was the hour of triumph of Berle Malchik. The moment matters got out of hand, one did not call the Police. Berle was called to the street and he would catch two farmers by their neck and take them to the Police, return and catch the other hooligans. Berle was one of the town's porters - a group working mainly on the bank of the Neiman.
In the 1930s a new road was paved and a bridge was built over the Mitova, along the Raisner gass (Raisein Street), and this facilitated traffic from the town in the direction of Samalnikan, along the Prussian border. The road cut through the Kaliani forest.
It is along this road that the Germans arrived at the start of World war II. The road that in the good days was used by the inhabitants of Yurburg to go on outings and trips in the Kaliani forest, now became the Via Dolorosa - the path of suffering. In the war the Jews were chased into the Kaliani forest via this road and there many good people of the town were murdered and thrown into the pits they had to dig -men, women and children.
We shall remember them forever.
When I think of my town, which I left in 1935, on my way to Israel, a host of pictures come to mind which are connected to its general and its human landscape.
As I mentioned before, Yurburg was a town surrounded by greenery. It was graced by two parks. Three rivers - the Neiman, Mitova and the little Imstra added to its beauty. The Neiman also defined its shores as it served as a line of transport between Kovna, the capital of Lithuania and its center of trade, and Memel (Kalapeda) on the shore of the bay called "Kurischer Haf". Lithuanian import and export were conducted along the shores of the Neiman and formed the basis of the inhabitants' economy.
However, the Neiman was not merely a water line for trade - not merely so prosaic.
We remember its shores not merely as a station of embarkation. We spent our summer holidays on its shores. We sailed on boats. We swam in its water on the other side and we dreamt our dreams, some of them came true and others were shelved.
Some of our best friends met their death in the shadows of the Neiman when they sailed to meetings of an underground communist cell existing in our town.One of them, Shmuel Abrahamson, was a gifted young man and a brilliant student. He was my best friend, in spite of the differences in our views.
We always had a very good time when the ice and snow melted and the Neiman overflowed and came close to the town's houses, although they were two kilometers away from the bank. In this period the steamships would sail to Kovna not from the distant shore, but from another side of Kovna street, from the Mitova, which also flooded and served as a small port, or from the other side near the bath-house near the great synagogue.
We would go for a walk on the banks of the Neiman to see who had come and who was leaving. There were occasions when a steamship would sail in the dark of the evening to Kovna and the "captain" would become confused and sail the whole night without leaving Yurburg's "territorial waters"; and only when dawn broke would the "captain" find that his steamship was still in the vicinity of Yurburg although it had sailed all night long.
Ah - the steamships - how nice it was to sail on them. And how many unforgettable moments are connected with these sailings - school outings and ordinary trips to Kovna. I sailed many times in all the directions of the Neiman on missions on behalf of my late father. I was well acquainted with the shores of the Neiman and the little town along its borders. I loved the special atmosphere of sailing back and forth to Kovna. I saw many things on these sailings and now that I am writing these pages they come back to mind.
The activity on the banks of the Neiman occupied many of Yurburg's residents. Most steamship owners were Yurburg residents. Some families made a good living by transporting passengers on the Yurburg - Kovna line and towing barges from Samalnikan to Kovna and back.
In addition to the steamship owners, who were Jewish, many clerks worked as treasurers on the steamships. Among the steamship owners I also remember a respectable Christian, called Afsanov, who was always seen in Yurburg, but he had a large estate with a dairy in Raudondavaris, not far from Yurburg. This man was fluent in Yiddish and used to speak in this language to his customers.
Among the wealthy steamship owners were Israel Levinberg and the late Karabelnik. Their steamships "Liatova" and "Palanta" were beautiful and comfortable, and they would transport passengers on the Yurburg - Kovna line. We would joke among ourselves that one day the prow of the "Palanta" would be given to one of the daughters of the Karabelnik family as a dowry. We had no idea then of what would happen to the town and its Jews within a few years.
In addition to the steamship owners and their clerks, who were but few, Jewish porters worked on the shore. This was a group of people, strong young men, who loaded many tons of merchandise arriving at the town on their shoulders.
The town's daily life was connected with the three rivers close to and within Yurburg. In fact, only two of them could be called rivers: the Neiman, of course, and the Mitova, the third - the smallest - like those we have here in Israel in the valleys, was almost dry during most days of the year, but its river bed was deep and two bridges were built in order to cross over it. This was the Imstra, which in a way divided Yurburg into two and by chance, or perhaps not by chance, there was a certain demographic division on the two sides of this river; on one side the predominantly Jewish part, and on the other side - the Christian part with its Jewish minority. By the way, some of the town's poor people lived on the other side of the Imstra, at the end of Kovna street.
We used the Mitova for excursions and rowing. We had good times on its two banks and the thick forest. On one side the park with its broad lawns and visible and invisible paths, the ruins of the castle of Prince Vasilchakov, which lent the place majestic splendor, and the woods on the other side, which went on to the village of Kaliani on one side and almost up to Samalnikan on the other side. The youngsters were attracted to the park, and they held outings and performances there.
This place brings to mind two characters, an artist and a craftsman, who worked here. A sophisticated workshop for frames was left here from the time of the Prince, with excellent machines (very advanced for those days) where an old locksmith worked
He got it into his head to solve the problem of Perpetuum Mobile - The "Perpetual Motion Machine." We, children, would often visit his workshop and inquire about his progress. I remember a sort of machine he built with which he hoped to reach "Perpetual Motion". Had the Nazis not killed him, and not confiscated his tools and machines, he may still be standing there, trying to reach eternity! This, of course, is just a manner of speaking. The man was very old and he has certainly been buried deep under the earth for a long time.
The second one, an artist, was a sculptor. I forgot his surname. A Lithuanian. He lived in one of the beautiful houses at the end of the park. This house was also used for the offices of the Prince's family in the days of glory. I would go to this house from time to time and see small and large sculptures, very interesting.
Once he worked on a large sculpture, investing a lot of work in it. He finished it and when he was about to transfer it to have it cast in bronze, the sculpture collapsed and broke into pieces.
The two people I mentioned resembled each other in a way - the artist and the craftsman. Their ambition and their fate!
I have strayed to the town's periphery. Let us return to the park of our gymnasium. The "Tel Aviv" park. We were proud of the gymnasium. Here we were educated and absorbed the love for Eretz Yisrael, and here we were inspired to realize this love. At the gymnasium we became friends with all the good and precious sons of Yurburg who are with us here in Israel, and those who did not have the good fortune to come to Israel and who live abroad and are still thinking about aliyah.
Yurburg was a typical small Lithuanian town. It was remarkable for its lively, active, cultural Hebrew youth. They were happy young people. The "Tarbut" elementary school and the gymnasium, also founded by "Tarbut", were instrumental in forming the nature of the town's youth. The Zionist youth movements had many members in town: "Hashomer Hatzair", "Maccabi", "Hehalutz", "Beitar" and others.
Yurburg was famous for its old synagogue, built in the previous century. A wooden building, gloriously rising up at the end of the market square, next to the large prayer house, the new one. Here too was the small synagogue, set up by the Feinberg family and called "Feinberger's Kloiz". All the synagogues were full of worshippers on the Sabbath and holidays. The main street looked beautiful on the Sabbath and holidays when it was almost entirely inhabited by Jews - the town's Jews would walk along, surrounded by their children, to and from the synagogue to their homes. That was the time when the Jews would leave behind all their worries, about making a living and about bringing up their children, and would turn to the synagogue to celebrate the Sabbath or a holiday.
There was a Rabbi in town, Rabbi Avraham Diamant, a learned Torah scholar, but unlucky, he was blessed with two daughters who were grown-up, yet no husband was found for them. One sat at home and took care of her father and mother. She was hardly seen in town. The other fell in love with the town's physician - however, her love went unanswered, and he was unaware of it. From time to time she would walk up and down the sidewalk in front of the doctor's home, hoping she would at least see his face. In the end, she lost her mind . . . .
There was a Dayan (religious judge) in the town too. Rabbi Haim-Reuven Rubinstein.
He may not have excelled in the Torah, but he had splendor. He assisted many of us in going on aliyah. All those who were supposed to go to Israel in fictitious marriages received the required documents from him.
There were many good people in town, and many stories may be told about them that have not be forgotten.Yes indeed, it was a beautiful town and we were fortunate to have been able to absorb the good things it had to offer.
We remember Yurburg as Zionist in nature. However, on the Jewish street of Yurburg there was also a group of Yiddishists, the main nucleus of which was composed of the porters on the banks of the Neiman. They had social awareness and were deeply Jewish and stood out in public. In addition, there were a number of businessmen and clerks who also had "Volksist" inclinations and they formed the nucleus of the Yiddishist group, striving for "Daikait".
They set up the library called "Mendele" in Yurburg at the Rabinowitz home. This was a large library comprising the best of Yiddish literature. Many readers would come here and they would always find nearly every new book that was published.
The gymnasium, set up in Yurburg in 1921, started its activity by teaching in Yiddish. Its first principal, Mr. Efrat, was the son-in-law of the Zionist leader and the first Minister of Jewish affairs in the Lithuanian government - Dr. Shimshon Rosenbaum. Mr. Efrat was a staunch Yiddishist and together with the teacher, Mr. Lifshitz, who also was a Yiddishist, and joined the group of teachers at the gymnasium, they tried to preach Yiddishim, however to no avail. In the second year of the gymnasium's existence the public committee and the parents demanded that Hebrew be the language of teaching. And, with the assistance of the "Tarbut" center in Kovna, the Hebrew Gymnasium was founded and existed. The teacher Lifshitz left Yurburg.
Mr. Efrat too left Yurburg and started to teach at Vilkomir. The group of students who had to pass on to the eighth grade moved away with him. This did not exist in Yurburg yet. They finished their studies at Vilkomir. Mr. Efrat ended his Yiddishist career. He went to Israel and taught at the "Tichon Hadash" school in Tel Aviv. He was very popular with his students and admired by his colleagues. He passed away in ripe old age in Tel Aviv.
Indeed, Yurburg was known for its Zionist nature. The gymnasium and the school, with their teachers, placed their mark on the people and they were assisted by pioneer youth movements, and later on by an excellent training kibbutz. Hebrew was heard on the street. At that time Lithuanian was only spoken with the Lithuanians. The older people spoke Yiddish among themselves and the young people conversed in Hebrew.
We should also mention the Volks Bank, which was the only Jewish banking institution in town. Its management would be replaced each year in elections which took place at the general meeting. The discussions towards the general meeting would start a short while before it took place and would reach their peak during the meeting. Two parties contended - the Zionists and the Yiddishists. The discussions would usually end when the two groups would reach a compromise and conduct matters quietly and with mutual understanding.
In addition to the Yiddish library, "Mendele", the "Brenner" library was founded, a library which had mainly Hebrew books. A lot of energy went into the establishment of this library, and the main initiators were the late Eliezer Leipziger and my late mother Miriam Koplov. A large lottery was held in order to raise the money required for buying the books. Many people helped to distribute the cards and buy items for the lottery.
One of the many items in the lottery was a large painting by the former principal of the gymnasium, engineer Chen. This painting was connected to his affair with the daughter of the gymnasium's janitor, a beautiful red-head, who was his beloved, and who served as a model for the beautiful painting.
Significant sums were raised in the lottery, which served for setting up the library for those interested in Hebrew and Hebrew books; the library was the center of Zionist activity.
The "Hehalutz" training kibbutz was another beautiful corner in Yurburg. A large number of the members of this kibbutz at the time managed to come to Israel. One may meet them in Kfar Massaryk, Beth Zera, Kineret and other places.
Festive meetings would be held in Yurburg's parks, the park near the gymnasium, there was dancing and athletics, together with the sports organizations. Many people would come to Yurburg from Kovna. These tourists would arrive at the Neiman shore, would form into rows and march towards the town, accompanied by an orchestra led by conductor Mirsky, who issued his orders in a clear voice, keeping pace. As a matter of fact, he was in Israel and lived in Rehovot.
Such was beautiful Yurburg which we shall always remember!
By Emanuel Koplov
PAGES 33-42 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Sidney Ellis Family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In memory of the Members of the Eliashevitz and Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
THE YURBURG I KNEW
By Mordechai Zilber
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
In a few days I shall be 63 years old (written in January 1970). The years have gone by. Writing these lines, I don't want to scrutinize the days of my life that passed, but I mainly want to remember my little town, in the land of Lithuania. The people of my generation are slowly disappearing, and soon there will be no memory of those born in the little towns and no one will be left to remember them.
We remember those little towns and they are the best memories we have from those days. Indeed, the little towns are no longer. Hitler's "deluge" flooded them, destroyed them, desecrated their temples and dispersed their bones over the fields and forests of Lithuania.
Shall my humble pen be able to set up a memorial for the semblance and image of our little town on the shores of the Neiman? My town was destroyed by villains, the Germans and the Lithuanians. For hundreds of years they were our neighbors. We were like everyone else, we Jews, part of the Lithuanian landscape, we the sons of a southern Semitic tribe in the far North.
The name of my little town was Yurburg. The Jews called it Yurbrik. The little town was situated on the shores of the Neiman, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the then capital Kovna. About 600 Jewish families lived in Yurburg and about 50 Christian families. Yurburg was situated in a small valley; on one side were the fields of the Lithuanian farmers and on the other side the Neiman was its border, its steely blue waters flowing along courageously and sometimes flooding its shores. Beyond the Neiman were dense forests and the farmers' homes covered in straw of the little Jewish village Shodina (Saudina). On the side of this village was the estate of a Baron, its white houses could be seen from afar. The connection with the capital was via the Neiman on which steamships sailed with glorious names such as "Kistotis", named after one of the historic Lithuanian princes, "Laitova" -Lithuania and "Tavina" - fatherland.
The water of the Neiman flowed into the Baltic sea. But my little town was the last stop for the steamships, while the German border was merely 10 kms. away. Rafts would sail on the Neiman as well, made of tree trunks, harvested in the Lithuanian forests.
The Jewish tradesmen would sail these rafts to Germany. "Good" Jews would sail on these rafts, praying and studying Talmud . . . thus a "good" Jew would stand next to the large steering wheel while his small prayer shawl flowed in the wind and he would study the Torah. And at night the stars would shine brightly and the dark shadows would move along silently on the water. Rafts from the world of imagination! These were Jews from the little towns of Vilki and Sardanik. Jews, Torah scholars who chose hard and dangerous work to make a living. The Neiman was their source for making a living. Jewish fishermen, porters on the steamships, carriage owners who transported the "Passagiere" to the little town, ticket vendors on the ships and visitors.
When you would come to our little town from the side of the Neiman, you would see the entire town in front of you. First of all you would see the sand lands, humble vegetable gardens planted with potatoes, and the Mitova river next to them, whose water flowed into the Neiman. The shrill voices of frogs would be heard in the water of the small lake in the "Zarda", before the town.
And here comes the town itself - a gray block of one-storey wooden houses, while on one side the red bell towers proudly rise up and the red roof of the Lithuanian Catholic church, and on the other side - the high house with the three roofs of the synagogue.
In my dream I am walking through my town, which is no longer, which was destroyed and burned down while the bones of its martyrs were collected in the forest next to my little town and buried in a large mass grave in the cemetery, at the initiative and with the efforts of the few who were left behind.
Here comes the street of the butchers "Yatkaver Gass", with its crooked doors and windows, as in the paintings of Chagal. The street is paved with cobble stones, and here too is the large bakery shop of Kraid (Ben Craine's mother's bakery....note added by Joel Alpert). And the butchers - Jews who observe the Torah, who in the days of the high holidays would "lead" at the synagogue and the sounds of their prayers would lament the bitter fate . . . only the last and terrible fate, that of Hitler - may he burn in hell - the days of the Holocaust they could not lament and they were sent to their death as sheep to slaughter.
And from the street of the butchers, through short alleys, we arrive at the main street of our town - "Kovner Gass" (Kovna Street), a street on which almost all the houses are two-storey brick buildings. Most of the town's shops were on this street.
I remember there were weaving workshops there, and a grocery store and a wholesaler and retailer, and there were pharmacies, three hairdressers, Lapinsky's beer agency, two shops for kitchenware and paint. And there was the large store for farming tools and agricultural machinery of Greenberg, who was one of the town's wealthy men and engaged in thriving business with the Lithuanian village. And further on the shop where hides were sold, and the large store for stationery and books of Shachnowitz. And there were the two hotels of Matel Kamel and Feinberg. And thus we arrive at the municipal market, which each Monday and Thursday would be full of horse carts and the noise of the villagers. Next to this market stand the town's two synagogues - the House of Prayer and the Great Synagogue.
Further on is Feinberg's hotel and the Lithuanian citizen's club, the large yard of the Feinberg brothers; four brothers in the family, owners of the lumber mill, the flower mill and the electricity plant which supplied the town's electricity, from 6 o'clock in the evening to midnight. The electricity allowed the town's two little movie houses to show movies and bring the inhabitants of Yurburg in touch with the beautiful world outside - to get to know Emil Yaningas, Konrad Feit, Paula Negri, Charley Chaplin, and all the other famous actors. If a successful movie was shown at one of the movie houses, the other was empty that evening. The town's youth loved the movies, which took them out of their isolation. The movie house was open on Friday evening, Saturday evening and Sunday. Movies at that time were still "silent"; the movie was accompanied on the violin by Poliak Steimatzky and an old spinster played the piano - it was said she had a profoundly philosophic view of life. The second movie house operated without musical accompaniment. The movie house owner was afraid to incur unnecessary expenses. The movie house's billboards, the "Affiches" painted in various colors were set up in a wooden frame next to Shachnowitz's book store. The boards were painted by Levin, a nice young man, who would receive a few cents for this and a few free tickets.
The movies would stir up longings for the world outside, would entice people to leave the town and its boring life behind. There was always talk about emigration in town, and the imagination traveled around the globe. Distant countries were mentioned. And some boys and girls went on training courses organized by "Hehalutz" and they would wait a few years in order to obtain one of the few available certificates to go to "Palestina". Mexico was mentioned, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Chile. America, Canada and South Africa were not mentioned, as these countries were "locked with seven locks," and there was no hope of getting there.
These were the 1920s and they "excelled" in lack of purpose . . . , however, only part of the town's youth was lucky enough to be saved and arrive in one of those distant countries. It is presently possible to find people from Yurburg all over the world, even in far-away Australia. Thus part of the youth was saved from destruction in the days of the Holocaust.
Let's walk on along the roads of our town. The next street is Kalishu street, named after a neighborhood village. What is so special about this street? - Nothing at all, except for the fact that it is our street, the street of my family and my aunts Rocha and Friedel. This street starts at a two-storey house where the Kizel family lived, a family all of whose members emigrated to distant Canada. One of the sons was my best friend, Rafael, or Rafelke Kizel. The others, the grown-ups, did business with the Lithuanian village, fodder, hides and linen. The younger ones studied at the Kovna gymnasia. The Kizel family was a large family blessed with many sons and daughters.
Further on, on the same street, there were a few modest shops and the "Stadola" of the hotel owner Motel Kamel. The "Stadola" was usually empty, but once, not in my time, it was used as a stable for the horses of the "Posta". The post coaches would go in and out there. The coachmen would rest at the hotel, and the horses in the stables. Opposite the large horse stables was the small house of Hane "Der Zaigermacher", the only clock maker in town, a kind Jew, who adopted an orphan and took him into his home. All sort of clocks were ticking on the walls of his workroom. When Hane would repair a clock this would be in "Garantia" - the clock "ran" for a long time. Hane would also be called upon to repair the large wall clocks of the "Knaiz" palace, of Prince Vasilchakov, at the end of town, in the large park.
Further on we stand in front of the large two-storey home - a beautiful house - of Rabbi Yehuda Rabinowitz. This was the most beautiful and largest house of which the town was very proud. This house could easily have stood next to other houses even in Petersburg, Russia's capital. It was not only a home, but also a large yard with all sorts of structures. The yard was paved with stones, not like the other yards in town, which in fall and spring, when the snow melted, would be full of dirt and mud and puddles of water impossible to pass. The house was a luxurious residence with strong brown oak doors with bronze handles. The windows were high and shining. When I was a little boy, Yehuda Rabinowitz was no longer alive. I knew that Rabinowitz had built the "Talmud Torah", a large wooden building with an attic. And there was a large yard around it too, a place where the town's poor children could play.
Rabinowitz was the richest businessman in town, he traded in timber and he had business connections with Germany. His picture hang in the school's largest hall, where all the town's weddings were held. In one of the houses, green in color, lived Doctor Rabinowitz, the late Yehuda's son. He was the town's important physician, a bachelor, who was only interested in medicine. The town's carriages would arrive at his home filled with fresh straw and carpets in order to take the doctor to a patient in the village. On one of Dr. Rabinowitz's visits to "Shaodina" (Saudina), the little Jewish village on the other side of the Neiman, he suddenly felt ill. He said to one of the Jews: "go tell my family that I am not feeling well and that I am about to die". He arrived at his home very sick and died.
My late mother, blessed be her memory, sent me together with the other children of the town to recite psalms next to his body covered in black. Dr. Rabinowitz often treated me during his lifetime and he stitched the sole of my foot which I injured once. Dr. Rabinowitz was a doctor for all illnesses - a general physician - he would deliver babies, carry out surgery, and he was also a doctor of internal medicine, what is called a country doctor in America. Needless to say that he was a kind man who assisted the town's poor people and treated them free of charge.
In that same large yard stood a small house with an honorable neighbor, the famous gentile of the town who was the servant of the Rabinowitzes. He was a tall gentile, "a gentile and a half", a drunkard, whose main job it was to clean the yard and front of the large house. The gentile never let go of the large broom he held in his hand. This gentile came of a distinguished lineage. Everyone knew that he was a "potshotni promestavni grazdanin" - an honorable citizen by birth. This gentile did not go any further in life for he was a drunkard and had no relations with anyone; he lived on his own and was solitary. It was said about the gentile that he still had medals from the time of the Russian army, but no one had actually seen them.
All this happened in the days of the Czar, prior to World War I. Later on, when our family returned from Russia, after four years of World War I, the general picture in Yurburg had not changed. One of the sons lived at the Rabinowitz residence, an aristocratic Jew, who was also an important timber merchant, like his father, who did business with Germany. At the doctor's home there was another doctor already, not a member of the family. His name was Dr. Gerstein. A handsome man who was also the principal of the Hebrew gymnasium in our town.
Yosef Rabinowitz, the son, had a special carriage, on which one sat as on a horse, with the legs on both sides. In this carriage he would ride to his forests in the town's vicinity. He was married to one of the daughters of businessman Fein (the largest wholesaler in town according to the grocery shop), a great beauty. . . .
Opposite the home of the Rabinowitzes, at the Beth laBanim (Home of the Sons) was a coffee shop, where the young and idle youngsters of the town would go on Saturdays, to "kill" time. This was already in the early twenties. Usually they would come to this coffee house to play cards, look through the Russian newspaper "Ahu", a poor newspaper appearing in Lithuania. The youngsters broke away from their fathers' tradition. When a serious person would enter the coffee house they would steal away through the yard.
Down the road, further on, stood the home of Abramson, the photographer and typographer, which occupied a place of honor in one of the Rabinowitzes buildings. He was one of the two photographers in town, but he was the only typographer-printer.
As photographer he would determine the "pose", position of the head and hands of the person whose picture he was taking. After that he would decide when one had to "freeze", not to move or blink an eye, for photographing was an art. It would take a very long time to take a picture, until the "client" managed to attain eternity on the "negative". Mr. Abramson had a permanent exhibition of the pictures next to the door of his home and here the "photographies" could be seen. As a printer, he would mainly print the wedding invitations of the town's inhabitants.
Opposite the home of photographer and printer Abramson stood the house of Levitan, a respected citizen of the town, who was the owner of the "Apothekarski Magazin". In this "magazin" one could obtain cosmetics, as far as they were being used by the town's ladies. Usually iodine was purchased at the "magazin", alcohol, cotton wool and "Schlack Trapens", on Yom Kippur (Atonement Day) eve. To say the truth, there was another "Apothekarski Magazin" in the "Kovner Gass", the one belonging to Mr. Rikler.
Here we pass Rasain street, the "Rasainer Gass" and see the hotel of the Polish woman in the corner - the widow Bilman, who lived here with her two sons and daughter. Gentile visitors would stay here, preferring this hotel to the two Jewish ones.
Downstairs was the tavern with the large buffet. The few officials of the town council - the Head of Police and two policemen - would frequent the tavern. Rich farmers from the surrounding area would also come here on market day, to wet their throat and brush their tongue. The hotel owner and her sons did not look fondly upon the town's Jews. They were Polish - and anti-Semitism was in their blood. Nevertheless, when the Jewish actors would come to town, to perform Yiddish plays, they had to stay at the Polish woman's hotel, because of the large hall, where they could hold their rehearsals, the "Repetities".
The best Yiddish actors would come to Yurburg, they also performed in Kovna, the temporary capital. When they came to town it was a real celebration. The people in town loved theater. Middle-aged people still remembered the time when they themselves took part in the play " The Sacrifice of Isaac".
The actors of the "Kadish veHash" group performed the musical "Malkele Saladat" and "Komedies" with songs and dance. There were actors with a serious repertoire as well. When the actors were rehearsing for a musical they would ask the town's Kleizmer singers to join them - the Polish man with his violin, the one who played at the cinema and weddings, Mr. Fidler with the flute from the wedding band, who also had a fish store and who would lease fruit gardens in the summer, and the one with the big bass and another one. All of them together, in a joint effort, worked hard to produce the sweet melodies of "Malkele Saladat". The beautiful sounds could be heard from the windows of widow Bilman's hotel. A large crowd gathered outside and stood close to the windows, enjoying themselves tremendously. The theater!
Those were the happy moments provided by the theater. We were amateur actors ourselves in those days, and we performed plays for "Bikur Holim" (sick fund), "Mehabeh Esh" (fire fighters),"Gmilot Hesed" (charity). We didn't care on whose behalf we were performing, the main thing was to act and act! And the pretext helped. We performed the "Hasia Di Yetome", "Yankel Der Schmid", "Mirele Efrat", "Mashke Hazir", "Di Spanische Inquizitia" etc. We rehearsed for weeks, took down clothes from the attic, decorations etc. . . . and the good Fidler, the barber, would take care of our make-up - on condition we did not look in the mirror - so that we never knew what we really looked like after his make-up.
On the other side of the street, opposite the house at the corner of the Bilman hotel, stood the house of Aunt Friedel and Aunt Roche. Aunt Roche was a sick woman and she was supported by the goodhearted and generous Uncle Mendel. Uncle Mendel was an industrialist from Kovna. He was a partner in the chocolate and candy factory which had the Hebrew name "Kadima". My uncle was a wealthy man.
In the house where my aunt lived was "the bakery of Leah" (probably Leah Krelitz... the mother of many Krelitz's who immigrated to the US....note added by Joel Alpert) who would bake bread and challot, "beigelech and pletzelech" (challas, bagels and pretzels). The smell of her bakery was like a smell from heaven.Till today, when I pass a bakery, the wonderful smell of the bread calls to mind pleasant memories of "Leah's bakery", and then I nostalgically remember "Leah's bakery" in my little town. I remember that we used to bring the "hammin" (meat stew) to Leah's bakery, the "cholent" of Shabbath. And on Shabbath, after our fathers returned from the synagogue, we would gather at the bakery, boys and girls, and we would not wait until everybody was there in order to open the oven just once "so as not to let the cholent grow cold" . . . and we, the children, would run very fast with the cholent over the snow, on a winter day, to bring it to our home while it was still hot.
And here comes our home. The home of my parents. A wooden house, square and covered by a tin roof. This roof was the source of great financial efforts on our part. First of all we talked about the roof for months, for there was no money. However, we somehow managed to "scrape together" - "man hat zusammengekratzt" - money by loans and we covered the roof. We decided to use solid material, for once and for all, for a roof covered by wooden boards, called "Shindeln" in Yiddish, did not last very long; it would rot and let the rain through.
At our home was our store too, the grocery store. In Russian the shop was called "Kolonialaia Lavka", a store for colonial goods, perhaps because of the black pepper, the cinnamon, the tea and coffee, which were imported from colonial countries. Such a store was also called "Kalania Lavka" in town. Proceeds would depend on the farmers, who would come twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, to the municipal market. When they came they would fill our house with the smoke of "machorke", cheap tobacco from their pipes. The young farm girls would coquettishly look into our mirror, arranging themselves . . . The farmers would sit together for hours, inhaling the strong tobacco, which they grew themselves, and would spit onto the floor. We used to hear the word "sako-fa-sako"- all over again, which meant "he said" in Lithuanian - farmers' gossip.
These market days were a burden to my good and compassionate mother, but there was nothing we could do, for they were customers.
On the other side of the road was the large Lithuanian cooperative store, which looked upon our customers with envy. This store was opened in accordance with the new Lithuanian policy to take business away from the Jews. But my father had had connections with the farmers for tens of years, and therefore they preferred his store to that of the cooperative. In cold winter days the farmers found a place for their belongings in our warm home, a corner to have something to eat and meet friends. Our large yard, behind the house, was used for the farmers' horses and carriages. A farmer who would dare to be unfaithful to us and was seen shopping at the cooperative was simply told to "go away"! After such a market day my mother, blessed be her memory, would work very hard to clean the house and get rid of the smell of the "mechorka" and turn the house into a Jewish home again. (By the way, my father's name was "Abba", and that is why the farmers called him "Abakitis", and they called mother "Abakaine"). We never felt there was any hatred against us on the part of the gentiles. We had many friends among the farmers. And I remember that when World War I broke out and the Jews were deported from Lithuania, a rich farmer came to our house, with a large carriage with two horses and transported all our furniture and everything else in our home to his estate. When we returned from Russia to Yurburg in 1919 the farmer returned everything to us, and nothing was missing. The farmer's name was Yurgis Tamosheitis, blessed be his memory. Later on his sons became priests and officers in the Lithuanian army. Once he came to father and said furiously - a Jew called me "goy" (gentile) - should I be called a goy? He was very offended and kept saying 'I'?, "I"?! His sons, the priests and officers, would always come to our home when they were in town and express their feelings of friendship for our family.
At the corner of Kalishu street and "Daitsche Gass" - in the wooden house - was the town's post office. Before, during the reign of the Czar, this was the "Monopol", the place where the government booze was sold. That is why the bottle of booze was jokingly called "monopolka". I remember that on the eve of World War I a decree was issued by the Czar, to destroy all the booze at the "Monopol". Policemen stood there and broke hundreds of bottles of booze and threw the contents into the gutter. The gentiles in town looked sadly how this precious beverage was thrown into the gutters. They stood there muttering sadly " that is the war - what a tragedy!"
The Czarist regime was afraid the Cossaks, who were near the border, would "attack" the "monopol" and get drunk instead of "attacking" the enemy. And that is indeed what happened. When war broke out the Cossaks, who were in our vicinity, entered the shops in town and asked for sweets, tobacco, cigarettes, free of charge. Their requests were more like threats. My father, beloved be his memory, good-naturedly weighed candy for them and handed out cigarettes, to stress that not everything was licentious. Those were the defenders of "Mother Russia". These sturdy Cossaks, short men with a mane of hair, the splendid tschuperinot and the red stripes on their trousers and hats who inspired awe and fear in the Jews and in general.
In the days of the Lithuanian regime the town's post office took the place of the "Monopol" of the days of the Russians. Towards evening many towns people would go to the post office, as they had nothing else to do. This was called "picking up the mail". Even those who stood no chance of receiving any mail went there. It was a way of "killing" a few hours of boredom. The post office would be crowded and it was mainly a meeting place for the youngsters. The little window of the post office was still closed and in the meantime the latest news would be circulating about the world beyond the little town. Our town too was full of news - and when the little post office window opened only a tenth of the people would receive mail. Afterwards everyone would happily go home.
That is the end of the story which unfortunately was not completed . . . .
Herzliya, January 1970
Bridge across the Imstra
PAGES 43-44 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by Gary Schuman of Miami, Florida
In memory of the Members of the Krelitz Family Who Were Victims of the Shoah
OUR YURBURG From a Former Residents of Yurburg Association Conference By Bat-Sheva Ayalon-Stok
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
What was the difference between our little town Yurburg and other towns? - Naturally we only remember the good things - could it be that we are nostalgic? When one reaches a certain age one tends to look back longingly.
Am I really nostalgic? Would I like to be back there? - Of course not, after all, that is why I emigrated to Israel.
My vision of Yurburg is that of a town of working people. Work was the essence of life. Some people were not so rich, others were richer, all of them worked. No one in Yurburg asked for charity, except for the beggars who came to town and stayed at the "hekdesh" (sanctum) behind the synagogue. There was concern for others- "the people of Israel take care of each other"- this lofty principle was carefully observed.
Yurburg was a town with a high cultural level. No home was without books. People did not live in large, luxurious homes, but in most of them there was a shelf with books on it, holy books and secular books. The Jews loved to look at a book; the children studied at the "heder" and graduated at least from primary school. Before compulsory education became the law of the land, the Jews of Yurburg themselves adopted the law of compulsory education.
The Lithuanian government set up a Lithuanian gymnasium in town. The Jews did not want to send their children to study there, and with great effort they set up their own Hebrew Gymnasium, where studies were held in Hebrew. Thanks to the nationalist-Hebrew education received by the students at the Hebrew Gymnasium, they were attracted to Zionism - and thus to aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.
There were also libraries in Yurburg, in Yiddish and Hebrew. Emanuel Koplov's mother fought for the establishment of the Hebrew library. There was a popular and simple culture in our town.
Our forefathers established a splendid synagogue in Yurburg, decorated with beautiful ornaments, and a pulprit and Elyahu's chair; this old furniture - how lovely it was!. . . ..
Where did our fathers find the means to set up all this, if not from their meager savings?
The Keren Kayemet box (the Blue Box) was to be found in each home next to the charity boxes of Rabbi Meir Ba'al Hanes and others. The students would empty the boxes, they would sell "Sheqalim" towards the Zionist Congress. The grown-ups participated in the elections to the Zionist Congress and considered this an important event for the Jewish people.
In general, Yurburg was a very well organized town, for example there were organizations such as the "Froien Verein" and women's organizations to assist the needy. Our mothers organized these associations; they also took care of brides, visited the sick etc.
The memories of my youth in Yurburg accompany me wherever I go. We are now going through a difficult period in Israel. In the daily press we read about murders, killings and robberies. It seems to me that there were no Jewish murderers or thieves in Yurburg ... I don't remember such a phenomenon.
That is what Yurburg was like. It is nice to remember our little town, where we grew up and which we loved with all our heart.
PAGES 45-51 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by Gary Schuman
In memory of the Members of the Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
YURBURG -MY UNFORGETTABLE TOWN
By Hinda Levinberg (Becker)
A Few Memories
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
A long time ago, more than tens of years ago, I left the town of my birth, Yurburg. However, when I think of it, it seems as if I left only yesterday, and all the memories reappear, pleasant and sweet memories of the years of my youth.
Yurburg, or Yurbrik, as its Jewish inhabitants called it, was a beautiful town, not large, but compared to the other little towns in Lithuania, Yurburg was a town, a real metropolis. . . .
Yurburg was close to the German border, about ten kilometers from the little town of Samalnikan, in the Memel district. The Jews of Yurburg had close business ties with Germany and they were suspected of being "smugglers" -"Kontrabandisten" in Yiddish. The Yurburg residents would cross the border and arrive in Samalnikan in torn and faded clothes, and return dressed in new festive attire.. . .
Yurburg was located on the banks of the Neiman river, which originated in the Pinsk swamps. From here the water of the Neiman flowed slowly to a two hundred to three hundred meters wide river bed, until it flowed into the Korishi bay, near Memel, near the Baltic sea.
Yurburg was divided into two parts by the rivers which flowed into the Neiman. One of them was the Imstra which divided the town into two parts - west and east. The western part was called Uziaimstra, i.e. "beyond the Imstra." A wooden bridge was erected over the Imstra for the crossing of vehicles, at the end of Kovna street. A few small bridges (Klatkes) were used by pedestrians. In summer the inhabitants would stroll along the dusky paths, covered by tree branches and green bushes growing on both sides of the Imstra. In this shallow area water flowers and beautiful weeds grew. Ducks and geese frolicked in the waters of the Imstra to the joy of the little children, who chased them, their laughter rising up everywhere.
The Mitova was a real river, separating the town from the beautiful Kaliani woods to the west. The Mitova river flowed into the Neiman, and thereby formed a broad water harbor where the steamships would anchor during the freezing winter days. In summer it was very nice to bathe in the Mitova and sail on it in boats.
The youngsters would rent boats from the farmers and would go on excursions on its clear water in which the high tree branches were reflected, creating a mysterious atmosphere. We would sing romantic songs and accompany our singing with the mandolin. Till today my ears resound with the sentimental melodies we sang in those days.
Yurburg's pride was its main street, Kovna street (Kauno Gatve), built along the right side of the Neiman. A street full of traffic. Parallel to Kovna street are the Rasainou Gatve and the German street. A few other narrower streets crossed these streets vertically, to the north and south. The southern area, such as Yatkauwer Gass, Bad Gass and others were densely populated.
Kovna street had a beautiful urban look. Its two- storey buildings were made of brick, built in the Gothic style. All the town's streets were paved in stone. On Kovna street there were pavements made of wooden boards or tiny mosaics. Flower gardens graced the front of the buildings on Rasainu street and German street.
The shop windows displayed all kinds of industrial products such as clothing, shoes, household utensils and foodstuffs. In the center of town there were banks, pharmacies, hotels, an electrical power plant and flour mills. There were workshops in town as well, bakeries, a candy factory etc. The economy was mainly based on the businesses connected with the steamships which transported passengers and goods to Kovna and back to Yurburg. The Jews also exported farm produce, mainly to nearby Germany.
Yurburg's business center focused on the market square. The old synagogue - a wooden building constructed in 1790 - stood out here in its special form and style. Inside the synagogue was the striking Holy Ark, the pulpit and Elyahu's chair with their artistic ornaments carved in wood by unknown artists. The synagogue drew Jewish and non-Jewish tourists to Yurburg, from all over Lithuania and from abroad, who came to see the beautiful building and its artistic treasures. Not far from the synagogue stood the prayer house, a brick building used by worshippers and Torah scholars. For many years there was a "yeshiva" here and in the last years only a small yeshiva, in addition to the general studies.
The Jews of Yurburg took care to observe their forefathers' tradition. At the end of the town's streets they set up "eruvs" to carry their belongings on Sabbath.On Shabbat they observed the Shabbat rest, but some of them went for a stroll in the streets and parks. The youngsters played soccer.
Yurburg was a clean and quiet town. The Police insisted cleanliness be observed in the streets. Those who did not observe police instructions received a steep fine.
It was nice to live in Yurburg. The inhabitants loved their town and were proud of it.
On the other side of the Neiman river, opposite Yurburg, was a small town called Shaodina (Sudina), where only a few Jews lived. Some of them dealt in trade and were shop owners and others worked the land and grew poultry, sheep and cattle. There was no school at Shaodina, therefore the parents had to send their children to the schools in Yurburg. Each day the parents would transport the children on a boat or ferry to Yurburg. On the ferries horses too were transported tied to a carriage, and goods and animals. Only in winter when the Neiman was covered by a thick layer of ice was it easy for the town's inhabitants to cross the river. They lived in symbiosis with Yurburg and depended on it for their daily life, making daily use of its economic and cultural institutions. In winter Shaodina became an inseparable part of Yurburg, which in a way was its parent town.
The summer of 1914.
Immediately after the Shavuot (Pentecost) holiday many Jews in Yurburg used to go to summer resorts (Datshas in Russian), mainly to Kaliani, a Lithuanian village in a pine forest. At these resorts the Jews would rest from work, relax and forget their daily worries. They would rent an apartment or room at the farmers' homes and spend the warm summer months here. They would bring along very few belongings (Baviches in Yiddish), only the strictly necessary, such as bed linen, cooking utensils, clothes - that was all.
Two carriage owners (Balagules in Yiddish ) were available to those going on summer holidays - the first was "Boreh Kliatscha" (the horse creator in Yiddish), and the other Yasha Noch. Each of them had a large carriage with thin horses.
The wealthy vacationers would rent a carriage from Shlomke Hadas or Bezalel the coachman (Zalel dar Vorman in Yiddish) in order to reach the Kaliani village in comfort. Most vacationers were women and children. The men would join their families only on the weekend, and they would spend two to three days together in the forest.
The vacationers hoped to strengthen their lungs in the pine forests with the fresh and pure air. Many people in Lithuania, particularly in Yurburg, suffered from lung diseases, apparently caused by the cold and wet climate. Indeed, a government sanitarium was set up in Yurburg for lung patients.
The food at the summer resorts mainly consisted of dairy products - fresh milk, straight from the cow's udders, white cheese and cream. Tova, who sold beigels (Toive die Beiglantzia, in Yiddish) would breathe deeply and bear the heavy burden of bringing fresh beigels to the vacationers.
-"What can I do, Kinderlech, what can I do?" - Toive would say. I need the income, I have to make a living . . . and indeed there was work - for "man was born to toil". . . And Toive would sigh deeply and continue to bring beigels and rolls each morning, to the delight of the vacationers.
- How would we spend the time at the summer resort?
- Very simple.
Building in the Big Park, 1917
(Better translation needed)
We would string a hammock between two pine trees, lie in it, swing along and inhale the fresh air. From time to time we would get off the hammock and take a look at the samovar, whether we had to add a few acorns (Shiskes in Yiddish) to warm the tea. Tea was the most important item on the summer resort's menu. All day long we drank tea, with or without biscuits and jam. That is how the Jewish women would spend their summer holidays - without a care in the world.
The older children and youth would stroll happily in the woods, gather mushrooms and black berries (Schwartze Yagdes in Yiddish). Each day the vacationers would go down to the Neiman, swim and sunbathe. After the swim they would rest and rest again - and that is how the day passed. In the evening they would listen to the sound of birds and drift off in dreams. Some vacationers brought along a record-player to the woods and the sound of music would go up into the air of the forest and the echo would be heard all over.
The children would play games, dance and have fun till late in the evening.
Each year a woman from Yurburg would come to the Kaliani resort to spend the holiday there. This woman was "aguna" (deserted). Her husband had deserted her and she did not have any children. The woman would bring along a bag full of "tales" to the resort . . . arduous love letters from the days of her youth. The woman would read these letters to herself in a loud voice and recite them, so that the vacationers would come close and listen to her excited reading. Sometimes the reading of the letter would turn into a pathetic recital or dramatic game. The vacationers stood around her and listened attentively to the reading of the arduous love letters, unfulfilled love, love full of disappointment. And some of the women who listened to her reading would shed a tear "how sad", how sad" they would say.
However, in general, the vacationers would enjoy themselves . . . for this was a free performance.. . .
In mid-summer the corn in the fields would grow ripe, and the farmers would start the harvest. The farmers would leave in groups to harvest the crop - the wheat and rye. The village women would follow them, make bundles and gather them to the barn. The farmers would help each other. This joint effort would be called "Talke" by the Lithuanians.
In the evening, after the hours of hard work, the farmers would meet, eat and drink vodka . . . and when the intoxicating liquor would go to their head there would be fun . . . men and women would start to sing and dance to the sounds of the mouth organ (harmonicas). Thus they would no longer be tired and would frolic and dance till the wee hours of the morning. . . . .
The Jewish vacationers would join in the farmers' fun, join the circle and sing and dance till late at night . . . .
Tu- o- lah-tu-tu-to
Tu- o- lah-tu-tu to
The vacationers also used their stay at the farmers villages for a "real purpose". . .
They would buy cherries from the farmers, berries and fruit in season, such as apples, pears, plums etc. They would cook the fruit on a primus stove, to prepare jams and all sorts of desserts (eingemachtes, in Yiddish).
Thus the vacationers would prepare the jams which they would use all year round, as a supplement to tea or to offer to guests and also to spread on bread. When the vacationers returned home they took along tins of jams and other delicacies. This was an excellent way to spend the time . . .
But, as we all know, all good things come to an end. And so did the summer holidays. The vacationers spent two months in the woods, relaxed and had a good time. Now they had to go home, full of pleasant memories.
On Tisha beAv (Ninth of Ab) all the vacationers were back home and observed the fast. The atmosphere of Tisha b' Av - the day of the destruction of the Temple - was felt in every corner of the home and the Jewish street. On this sad day the Jews would go to the cemetery, recite "Yizkor" and remember their dear ones, parents and relatives.
. . . .And I remember that after the beautiful summer of 1914, suddenly days of concern and sorrow came.
There were rumors in town that war was about to break out. - "War?" - "Yes, war". No one in town knew what the reason was for the war. Had it already broken out? Who would fire the first bullet and why? Everyone talked and guessed, but they did not really know what was going on. The rumors were baffling and the people were terrified. And there was a jester, the town's "politician" who explained the reasons for the war to the Jews, as follows: "A German soldier shot a dog of the Russian Czarina and killed it . . . "So, what do you think - is that not enough reason for war?" . . .. and then there was another Jew, also a "clever man", who said with certainty - "The war will be short because the "Ponke-ganev" (a word of abuse for the Russian soldier) will not fight for a long time for Nicolai (the Russian Czar) . . . why should he? Therefore the war will end soon . . .. "
Jokes apart and reality apart. And indeed the reality was bitter. The Jews got more terrified by the minute. They are already recruiting to the army . . . . and what does one do at such a time? .. .. The Jews, as is well-known- are always between the devil and the deep blue sea. . .
A day passed, two days, and people started to flee, to get away from the German border and also a forced "escape" . . . to send the Jews away from the German border deep inside Russia.
Thus a new chapter started for the Jews of Yurburg. A long time passed before my dear Jewish neighbors returned and gathered to rebuild their town together and form a Jewish community, which became an example between the two World Wars. This went on till World War II broke out, when, as is known, the Jewish community of Yurburg was wiped out (1941) and no longer exists. . . .
I shall never forget my dear Yurburg, as long as I live.
By Hinda Levinberg (Beker)
Translated from Yiddish and edited by Paz
PAGES 52 - 54 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Steven Koppel Family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In memory of the Members of the Eliashevitz and Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
SIAUDINE (Shaudine) - YURBURG'S NEIGHBOR By Meir Leibush
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
After World War I the Baltic states, including Lithuania, gained independence.
Prior to independence, Lithuania was divided into two regions - Zemaitija and Aukstaitija. They had two different laws. While the Napoleon Codex prevailed in Aukstaitija, the Russian law prevailed in Zemaitija, up to Napoleon's time (1812).
The little town of Shaudine was situated in the Aukstaitija region, near the Neman, thelargest river in Lithuania. On the other side of the Neman was Yurburg, in the Zemaitija region. Most Shaudine residents were hardworking Jews, who worked in small trade and tilled the land. In fact, the Jews of Shaudine acted as go-between between the Shaudine farmers and the merchants fromYurburg.
About 40 Jewish families lived in Shaudine in the past, about 220 people. A few other families also lived in town, who were of German origin, and the others were Lithuanians. There was only one small plant in the town, for combing and processing sheep wool destined for the weaving of threads, to enable the farmers to knit gloves, stockings, vests etc. in the long winter nights.
When the economic and cultural situation of the Lithuanians improved, nationalism started to raise its head among the Lithuanian leadership, and this was reflected by trying to remove Jewish merchants from their economic positions, thus affecting their economic situation.
For this and for other reasons people started to leave our town - some went on alyiah to Israel in the framework of "Hehalutz" (Pioneers), others emigrated to the United States. When one family member emigrated to the U.S., he would be followed by his family and relatives. Thus it came about that many Jews from Shaudine were concentrated in one town - El Paso, Texas, Arizona (and New Mexico &endash; noted added by Joel Alpert).
Shaudine, like most other towns in Lithuania, looked very poor. The houses were built of wooden logs and most of the roofs were covered in straw. Perhaps that accounted for the Lithuanian name for our town (straw town. .. .) . The government did not invest any money in developing our little town or other towns for that matter.
The streets were not paved. In summer the sand land was swampy and each carriage that passed through the street would leave clouds of dust behind it. In fall the rain would turn the streets into mud and the carriages would drown in the mud up to their axis.
After the rainy fall came the cold winter. The snow covered everything in a white blanket. The only means of transportation out of town was the winter coach drawn by two horses. The link with the little town of Shaki, about 20 km. (15 miles) away, took half an hour to an hour in winter and in fall, during the rainy season, it took three hours. To Kovna one would travel in sledges, along the frozen Neman, and the connection with Yurburg was the easiest - one would cross the Neman in a winter carriage or on foot and be there in no time.
The Shaudine residents waited for the coming of spring for many months. Spring was the most beautiful and nicest period of the year. When the first sun's rays appeared on the horizon everyone would be glad. The snow melted and the land would change. The ice on the Neman melted too. Large blocks of ice started to move down the river. Sometimes these blocks of ice would stop somewhere, accumulate and together form a kind of huge and threatening iceberg (ice dam). . . . at the same time the water of the Neman would flow over the shore, inundate the town and cause serious damage to the population. After a while, sometimes after a couple of days, the ice dam would collapse and the "dam" would burst to let through the blocks of ice and the streaming water. Then life would return to normal and timber rafts would sail along the river for the German paper industry. The connection with Yurburg would be renewed. Again it would be possible to get to Yurburg by ferry. The students would now cross the Neman each day on the ferry to attend Yurburg's institutions of education.
It is noteworthy that the parents were glad to see their sons and daughters make progress in their studies at the gymnasium (in Yurburg) and that they were proud of their achievements. In spite of their poverty, the parents in Shaudine would make great efforts to send their children to the gymnasium, even when tuition fees were high and beyond their capacity. Some parents did not merely provide studies at the gymnasium, but even sent their children to institutions of higher education, such as medical studies in Italy and at other universities. My family, the Leibush family, sent my brother to study at the "Herzlia" Gymnasium in Tel Aviv when he was merely thirteen years old. My sister studied at the nurses school in Kovna. I myself and my sister studied at the gymnasium in Yurburg.
Zalman Leibush, our relative, studied at the Kovna gymnasium and at the same time took part in the drama circle of "Habima", which was guided by actors from Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), such as Michael Gur, Rafael Zvi, Miriam Bernstein-Cohen and others. When Zalman Leibush went to Israel he became a famous actor and producer.
As a matter of fact, all the youngsters in Shaudine wanted to study at the gymnasium and the university and their parents made extreme efforts to send them there, even when at home they merely ate herring, dipping bread and boiled potatoes into the salt water in the barrel. That is what many parents ate during most of the days of the week. The most important aim was that their children would study and acquire learning and intelligence. The Shaudinians were very proud of the fact that one of their sons, Shimon Volovitzky, became the mayor of Kybartai, a large town on the German border. The fact that their sons and daughters became more educated was compensation for the hard work and suffering of the parents.
(Kybartai was not a large town and Shimon Volovitzky was never the mayor of the town, he was for some years a member in the Municipality Council-J. Rosin)
We should also mention the beautiful and impressive landscape around our town - lawns, orchards, grain fields and green forests. It was a typical rural landscape, with a pastoral atmosphere, heart-warming. But the Jews of Shaudine did not have time to enjoy the scenery, for they toiled from morning till night, and if they went out into the country they used their time to gather berries, mushrooms, weeds for soup and fruit in season - in order to prepare for winter. All those who went on an outing knew that at home a few hungry mouths were waiting for them and all "ownerless" food would fill the empty stomachs. Therefore each outing had a purpose and was not merely a pleasure trip . . . .
We have spoken about the Jews in our little town of Shaudine. Jews who lived there for hundreds of years with their dreams and their hopes. Jews in heart and soul, they prayed and believed. They worked hard to make a living, brought up their children and taught them religion and knowledge.
These were innocent Jews, with human values, they did not have the good fortune to enjoy the success of their offspring, and one sad day they were uprooted and were cruelly destroyed by the Nazis and their barbaric Lithuanian helpers.
Only few managed to go to Israel, before the Holocaust, and only one person remained in Shaudine after the Holocaust, who emigrated to Israel. Those born in Shaudine fondly remember the Jews of their town who are no longer.
PAGES 55 - 65 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Steven Koppel Family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In memory of the Members of the Eliashevitz and Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
YURBURG - REGIONAL TRADE CENTER
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
Yurburg was an important regional center for trade and transport. There were close trade ties with neighboring Germany. Merchants from Yurburg exported farm products to Germany which greatly needed them, such as: linen, corn, eggs, butter, fruit, poultry, hides etc. The main export was timber used as raw material for the paper and celluloid industry. Herring was imported from Holland and Germany and coal from the mines in Silezia, iron, steel and various machinery.
Agents-commisionaries handled the foreign trade relations, trading between the merchants in Yurburg and trading companies and the industrial plants abroad. Among the trade agents in Yurburg we remember Yitzhak (Itzik) Karnovsky and Shlomo Chanas. The agents in Yurburg made a handsome profit through their trading. In the 1920s a large group of exporters operated in Yurburg, unparalleled in the other Lithuanian towns which were far away from the German border and west-European countries. The exporters bought farming products from the traders who would go to the villages and buy direct from the farmers. An entire network of small and large traders served the export carried out by exporters who were greatly respected in Yurburg. Well-known exporters were Leib (Leon) Bernstein and Efraim Haselowitz, who, by the way, were related. They both had large warehouses for processing linen, combing, refining for export. Leib (Leon) Bernstein was an expert in the linen business, a man with vision and initiative, who inspired considerable confidence abroad. In his warehouses were machines and combs with iron teeth, which would comb and improve the quality of the linen. Tens of workers prepared the shipments, mainly to Germany and Great Britain, from which linen threads were made for the weaving of cloth. After a while Bernstein expanded the scope of his linen export business called "Semilinas". In recognition for his extensive activity L. Bernstein was elected to the government trade bureau - "Handels-Kammer" in Yiddish. He traveled abroad frequently and had trade relations with many countries in western Europe.
The government granted "Semilinas" the special right to deal in export, while this right was not granted to other exporters. However, this license was limited to the Shavl region only. This went on till the revolution when the U.S.S.R. entered Lithuania. (in 1940 -J.R.)
In addition to linen, the exporters in Yurburg also dealt in linen seeds, from which oil was produced. The linen seeds were carefully measured in a sieve (large volume) in order to send them in bags abroad. Thus large shipments of produce were sent abroad, mainly to Germany.
In 1921 an exporters company was established in Yurburg, after lengthy negotiations, in order to prevent competition among the export traders - the EXPORT -HANDEL COMPANY. In addition to preventing competition, the company also aimed at expanding the scope of trade activities and improve ways and means of export.
Michael Lashatz was elected Chairman of the "Export-Handel", he was the most senior member. For efficiency sake the activities were divided into three sections, each specializing in a different field.
A. The linen and linen seeds section - headed by Yehuda Leib (Alter) Petrikansky.
Members of the section: Michael Lashatz, Yacov-Shlomo Weinberg, Hirsch Weinberg. The produce was sent for processing to Memel and from there to Manchester (Great Britain).
B. The harvest, eggs and hides section - headed by Yehuda (Yudel) Mintzer.
Members of the section: Kobelkovsky, Mordehai Levin, Menahem Levin. The farming produce was mainly sent to Hamburg (Germany); the hides of animals such as foxes, rabbits and martens were sent to Fraenkel's factory in Shavl and in part abroad.
C. The timber section -headed by Israel Levinberg.
Members of the section: David Karabelnik, Ossip Rabinowitz, Haim-Reuven Danilevitz, Zeev (Velvel) Levin. The produce was sent to Memel, Tilzit and Koenigsberg (Germany). Treasurer and Manager - Dov (Berel) Levinberg. Bookkeeper - Nahum Triberg.
The company operated and expanded economic activity in Yurburg; it allowed many small traders and merchants to make a profit.The company saw its task as a blessing. Trade was in many millions of Litas (the official currency, a sort of Sheqel or Dollar).
At the end of 1928 the activity of the "Export-Handel" company came to an end, when the Lithuanian government decided to nationalize all the import/export businesses. Traders in Lithuania in general, and in Yurburg in particular, could not cope with this anti-Semitic decree and lost a lot of money, many of them became very poor. All the alternatives to export were useless. The cruel deprivation continued till the bitter end arrived for Lithuanian Jews in 1941.
In addition to the commercial activity of "Export Handel" at the time, traders from outside the company also dealt in export, like Shmaryahu (Shmerl) Poliak,who exported geese to the U.K. The shipments were carried out on rafts. The geese shipments were called "musical transport" in Yurburg, for the geese "sang" with their throaty voices, making a lot of noise . . . .
Other traders sent turkeys to England before the Christian holidays, at the end of the year. Fruit was packed into crates. The winter apples were wrapped separately in paper before they were put into crates which were sent to Germany. Many workers were employed in egg shipments, for each egg had to be checked separately in candle light or under electrical lighting whether it was fresh, did not have any cracks and did not have a drop of blood. . . . The checked eggs, fit for shipment, were packed into special crates earmarked for export. Traders also dealt in pig-hair, which was combed and cleaned before being shipped abroad. Work was hard and full of dust. In the storeroom of one of the traders there were no windows and the doors were closed. The workers asked the trader to open the door a little to let the air in, but the trader refused, claiming the wind might blow away the pig hair. . . . pig hair was much in demand abroad and was good business.
In the winter months, when export of farming produce, such as fruit etc. came to a halt, the traders dealt in wood and employed many workers. The trees had to be chopped, sent to the saw mill and prepared for spring, when the ice on the Neman melted and it was possible to send the wood on rafts abroad. There were large forests in the surroundings of Yurburg that produced the wood that was in great demand abroad for the factories where paper and celluloid were produced. Many families made a living in Yurburg from the forests and the trees. This situation continued until the crisis arrived that eliminated the livelihood of the traders in Yurburg and in Lithuania in general.
The Jews mainly made a living ( "Parnoses" in Yiddish) on trade, groceries, mediation and crafts. The Jews were mainly occupied in "trivial deals" ("Wind-Gescheften" in Yiddish) on which they made a living, some better some worse.
The question arises whether Jews in Yurburg and in general also tilled the land? The answer is no. Only a few took a small part in tilling the land. There were Jews in Yurburg who rented fruit and vegetable gardens in spring and summer, invested some work in them, sold the fruit and vegetables they produced and that was that.
A number of Jews in Yurburg should be mentioned who tilled an area of land they leased from the municipality, called Zarda ("Die Zarde" in Yiddish). This was an area of land from the shores of the Neman to the town's buildings. The land of the Zarda was fertile and suitable for growing vegetables. Families who were thus occupied enjoyed their work and made a handsome profit.
In fall the rain water was absorbed into the land of the Zarda and in winter the entire area was covered by snow. When the snow melted the water of the Neman flooded the Zarda and enriched its land with organic materials which benefited the gardens for the planting of vegetables in spring. This good earth would produce an abundance of vegetables, mainly potatoes. Thus the owners of the plots were rewarded for their hard work. Although the work was hard, those who tilled the plots and their family got attached to their land and thought of it as creation. However, they were unusual "farmers", and they were but few, unfortunately. The Jews who worked the land proved beyond any doubt that they were capable of being real farmers.
In general, Jews were not inclined to turn to farming as a source of livelihood. In addition to work on the Zarda, there were a few Jews who dealt in farming as an suppliment to their profession earnings for the upkeep of their family.We know that Jews from the east of town kept one or two cows. In the morning, in summer, the cow-herds (non-Jewish) would come and collect the cows and take them out to pasture. In winter the Jews would be assisted by herders who helped them take care of the cows in the small sheds. The cow-owners enjoyed fresh milk for their children and a little cheese and cream, but it was not possible to make a good living on this.
A small number of Jews had yards with small gardens for growing vegetables, and a small poultry-pen to provide fresh eggs. This was but a hint of farming, not more.
The Jews of Yurburg, as in all the towns of Lithuania were not close to the land and had to deal in trade and crafts - that was their destiny in the Diaspora.
"Heaven and earth" existed in all the towns of Lithuania, but in Yurburg there were both "heaven and earth" and . . . .the river Neman. And on this river the steamships sailed. The majority of these ship owners were wealthy Jews, residents of Yurburg. Those we remember are Israel Levinberg, Rabinowitz, Feinberg, David Karabelnik and others. The steamships employed many Jews.
Yurburg without ships was unthinkable from the economic and social point of view. The Jews would get up to the sound of the whistles of the ships leaving and would go to bed with the whistles. Their entire life-style was affected by these ships. Two kinds of steamships sailed on the Neman - passenger ships (mainly) and ships transporting cargo and "towing" boats (Baidkes in Yiddish). The cargo ships would carry merchandise from Kovna to Memel, Tilzit and Koenigsberg. Yurburg was an important passageway. The cargo ships sailed day and night. On these ships the Yurburg merchants would send their wares abroad. The cargo ship owners made a good living, without being particularly noticed by the population. On the other hand, the steamships carrying passengers ("Passagieren" in Yiddish) were definitely noticed. Everyone needed the steamships. Some for business and others for cultural and social activities, to visit relatives, go on excursions etc. All the inhabitants of Yurburg were attracted to the large town of Kovna, and to Memel (Klaipeda). When the ships sailed to and from Kovna they would stop at a number of little towns on the shores of the Neman. When the ships stopped, passengers could go down and it was possible to take on new passengers.
The steamships therefore were the Yurburg residents' most important means of transport. The train station was tens of kilometers away from Yurburg, on a difficult dirt road. That is why the Jews of Yurburg and the other small towns on the shores of the Neman only used the ships, like the Christian Lithuanians, though many of these would travel in coaches.
The owners of large coaches in Yurburg would compete with the cargo ships by transporting goods to and from Kovna at an inexpensive rate. To those traveling to Memel the coachmen would offer a cheap trip to Smalinikai, in order to travel on from there in the narrow train to Memel.
Due to the fact that the Yurburg residents traveled to Kovna on ships, the authorities did not pave a road to Kovna, which was the capital in the period between the two World Wars. The trip by boat to Kovna was sometimes a little tiring - upwards stream - 6-8 hours of sailing and back to Yurburg - downwards stream - merely 5-6 hours. The passengers usually enjoyed the trip. They usually sat on the deck of the ship watching the beautiful, pastoral landscape go by. When one had to travel to Kovna, one would leave on the ship late in the evening and arrive in Kovna early in the morning in order to do one's business; in the afternoon one would again board the ship and return to Yurburg in the evening. During their trip at night most passengers would doze in their seats in the passengers lounge or on the ship's deck.
However, wealthy passengers would rent a "cabin" - a small room with a bed. The youngsters loved the boat trip. Organized groups of hundreds of youth movement members would sail from Yurburg in order to meet their friends in Kovna. (The steamships transported 500-600 passengers and more ). The Kovna youngsters would pay a return visit and enjoy Yurburg's splendor, its parks and forests. Some even say its beautiful girls. . . .
"Maccabi" and the sports club "I.A.K." would organize parties in Yurburg and invite their friends to Kovna to have a good time. The young guests would fill Yurburg's streets with joy and fun. From the center of town the youngsters would go to the parks on excursions, and dance to the sound of music, like the "Geguzines" of the Lithuanians. The meetings of the youngsters created a lively youthful atmosphere in town, an exciting experience, fondly remembered.
All the parties took place in the Tel Aviv park, particularly the party of "Maccabi", the national sports movement. To the youngsters the park was the symbol of the link with Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). The guests were proud and happy that the Yurburg Jews were able to keep a beautiful park and Hebrew Gymnasium, called "Herzl".
No wonder that the Yurburg residents loved the Neman and the ships. They recognized each ship from afar, knew its name - Laisve, Lietuva, Kestutis etc. The Neman and the ships were not merely a source of living but also a source of greater social and cultural life.
Jews would go out onto the pier of the port in order to meet acquaintances, or merely curious Jews to hear the news from Kovna; and as the Lithuanian radio did not mention what was happening in the Jewish world and Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), the Jews hurried to acquire a new newspaper from Kovna and take a look at its headlines in order to satisfy their curiosity. Kovna served as a bridge for the Jews of Yurburg and a cultural connection with the Jewish world. Without this cultural link Yurburg would become a provincial town, without life and vision. But to Kovna, Yurburg also served as a kind of bridge and a link to the western world next to which it was situated (Prussia was just across the Neman river from Yurburg &endash; note added by Joel Alpert) and from which it drew its economic and cultural nourishment. Yurburg and Kovna were like sisters, close to each other, linked by trade and cultural ties.
The relations between the ship owners were usually good. However, from time to time, a quarrel broke out. And then the passengers would enjoy the situation. Each ship would compete with the other and announce a drop in the price of the ticket, and moreover, would promise a bonus . . .. a glass of beer with a roll etc. In the days of the "competition" the number of passengers who traveled back and forth almost free of charge increased. The passengers enjoyed the fierce "competition", but the ship owners lost. Only after all the ship owners became exhausted and lost because of the "competition", they would return and unite, ashamed. After the lust for "competition" was defeated everything returned to normal.
In the winter season, days of rain and storm, snow and cold, Yurburg changes its face. The temperature drops to 20 degrees C. below zero ( -6 degrees F.) and lower. People stayed at home. The streets are empty. Yurburg is cut off from the world and becomes a kind of independent republic. The Neman freezes and is covered in a thick layer of ice. The steam ships are gathered together at the mouth of the Mituva river which serves as home port in the winter days. The only transport is the winter coach (the sled). Everyone travels in winter coaches drawn by two horses with bells ringing. People wear sheepskin coats or warm clothes and winter hats which make it difficult to distinguish their faces. At first, this seems very romantic, but only on a short ride. On a long trip it becomes tedious. The ways to Kovna -as to anywhere else - are covered in a thick layer of snow and they constitute a welcome opportunity for the coachmen to transport people and make some money. There were coachmen who traveled to Kovna along the frozen Neman, but this way too was too complicated.
What can one do? Winter comes and goes - man must get used to changing weather conditions. He has no choice.
However, there is no shadow without a light. It is in winter that the farmers often come to the market in order to sell and buy. When there is no work on the land, the farmer has more time, collects his merchandise and comes to the market. It is in winter that business is brisk - and the Jews enjoy the situation. Twice a week - Mondays and Thursdays, there are market days, full of people, a real fair in town. The Jews do good business in their shops and say happily "A Yerid in Shtettel, a mehaye ...."
Life in winter slowly becomes a routine. Export continues - how is that? - There are coachmen and winter coaches. The merchants load the merchandise earmarked for export on the winter coaches and carry it to Smalinikai, a short trip - merely 9 to 10 kms. (6 miles) From here there is no problem to transfer the merchandise from the winter coaches directly onto the railway wagons, traveling to Tilzit and Memel. This is a welcome solution both for the exporters and for the coachmen. Everyone makes a profit.
However, there are many Jews in Yurburg who are left without a way of making a living in the winter months and they have to find other sources. There is no choice, if they don't find what they want they have to make do with what there is; and thus they pass the winter, each year, until the much awaited spring arrives.
The winter months are very long in the minds of the people. Therefore the Jews in Yurburg try to make the best of it and increase social and cultural activity. People are more willing to read a book and the librarians have a full time job. Newspapers are being read as well as journals; some people play chess, others play cards, whatever they fancy. The winter evenings start at four o'clock in the afternoon and everyone has to find something to do in the long evening.
Some people go to the movies and others to study circles. The local drama circle is active and presents plays in Yiddish. Usually an actor or singer are invited to a cultural evening to provide entertainment for the Jews of Yurburg and its surroundings. An important event took take place when a drama group from Kovna was invited. That was a real treat for theater lovers. By the way, all these events took place in Yiddish.
In winter, when the inhabitants were cut off from Kovna, every cultural-artistic event would be welcomed in town. Many activities were devoted to social causes. Tickets were sold and the proceeds were given to local charity institutions. Sometimes a lottery was held. The parties also became active in winter, held lectures and debates - and if this was the year of the Zionist Congress - the debates were very lively. There were activities on behalf of the national funds as well. And if an emissary arrived from Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) or a Zionist leader, this was an important and popular event in Yurburg. The youth movements also increased their activities in winter at their clubs. They played snow- ball and had a good time . . . .
On days when it was not too cold and the sun would shine through, adults, children and youngsters would go for a walk in the surroundings. They would walk in the snowy forests, climb mountains and slide down the slopes. Others would visit friends in the Lithuanian villages, and were warmly received. The youngsters would skate on the frozen rivers, fall down and get up again to the laughter of the bystanders . . . . it was good to be young in winter, as in all the other seasons . . . .
Everything comes to an end, even the long winter. It gets less cold. The sun rays become warmer and warmer. The land slowly unwraps its white "cloak" and becomes covered in green. Soon spring arrives with its colors and enchanting smells; it bursts into the yards and the homes. Life changes. Winter clothes are discarded and everyone gets ready to go about his business. Nature wakes up and so does man - towards the renewed life.
Spring is nice, very nice, but there are special "spring problems" too in Yurburg, sometimes they are very serious. As mentioned before, Yurburg has the Neman, which is usually a blessing, but in spring it sometimes becomes a curse. What happens? This is the story - when the ice on the Neman starts to melt and large blocks of ice flow along the stream they sometimes form a "traffic jam"; a kind of huge iceberg is created which blocks the giant stream of water and causes the Neman to overflow. The water floods the streets that are close to the Neman and enters the houses. The flood is expected in spring each year, but the inhabitants are sure that "this year it will not happen". However, it does happen. The flood causes tremendous damage to the people in the houses that are close to the Neman and are flooded. Imagine you wake up one morning to find yourself in a room full of water; in the yard and the storerooms there is water too; destruction is extensive and so is the damage.
Within hours people are bereft of their belongings and many families are left without anything. Although the municipality helped defray in the heavy financial costs of the inhabitants and the community committee donates its part to the assistance fund, this does not solve the complicated problems each family faces when their home is destroyed. Sometimes the people themselves would get organized and set up their own assistance fund to repair the damage. The rescue action was praiseworthy but those who were affected did not forget the tragedy for a long time.
Luckily the catastrophic flood and destruction did not recur every year.
The only people to enjoy the flood were the children who sailed on planks and wooden boards through the streets and among the houses, happy and merry. However, the "financial disaster" and the broken hearts belonged to the parents. . ..
After a few days of suffering the flood subsided. As suddenly as it had come it disappeared. Sun-rays brought a smile to the faces. Spring gradually healed the wounds and life returned to normal. The homes were renovated and optimism returned. Many days after the flood the Jews would still talk about it and tell grossly exaggerated tales. The flood was a popular subject among gossip tellers, chatterboxes, and fabricators, who told all sorts of stories about the flood and in general.
There was someone in Yurburg called Elia (Eliahu) Hamalagos (the fabricator) who told the following story:
"It was at the time of Sylvester (Christian New Year) when he, Elia Baruch, traveled on the winter coach drawn by two strong horses on the ice of the Neman. All of a sudden the ice started to crack and explode and the carriage started to sink in the water . . . .
Elia started to yell at the top of his voice: "Gevald! Help! Gevald Help!"
The farmers who were harvesting on the shore of the Neman heard his cries. . . .
The farmers hurried to the river, climbed onto the ice and with their sickles they tugged and tugged and saved Elia and the winter coach with the horses . . . "
As far as the floods in spring were concerned, which brought destruction to many families in Yurburg, many entertaining stories were told, such as the following:
"One story-teller (Malagos) said that during the flood in Yurburg he saw a house rise and float on the water and on the chimney of the house stood a hen shrieking koo -koo-ree-koo, koo-koo-ree-koo
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - -- - -- - --
Stories and jokes, truth and imagination, seriousness and light-mindedness, tears and laughter - mingle in our stories, reflecting the nature of our life in Yurburg, our town.
Hinda Levinberg (Beker) Translated from Yiddish (into Hebrew) and edited - Paz
PAGES 66 - 67 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Beiles Family of Canada
In memory of the Members of the Beiles and Kizell Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
JEWISH OCCUPATIONS IN YURBURG *
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
The majority of the Jews in Yurburg dealt in the trades. Others were members of the free professions, clerks, craftsmen, etc. Unfortunately, we do not have the full list of the occupations of the Jews in Yurburg and we can only provide a partial list, as follows:
Exporters - traders
The "Export- Handel" company (see the list of its other members in Hinda Levinberg-Becker's articles).
Shmaryahu (Schmerl) Poliak & Sons (Shlomo and Avraham) - potatoes, fruit;
David Yitzhak Baiman - the same;
Efraim Heselovitz - Linen, fodder, eggs and hides.
Mendel Feinberg - agent of a German company for the import of salt and cement, supplier to small towns in the region;
Zvi (Hirschel) Fein - cement and iron;
Neta Aharonovsky - the same;
Zvi (Hirsch) Yozopovitch - petrol, beer, herring and dried fruit;
Israel Levinberg - coal from Slesia and herring;
Mordehai Greenberg - iron and agricultural machinery;
Tzadok Yozlit - salt and flour;
Kratchmer - hides for shoemakers and shops.
Traders -peddlers - suppliers to exporters
Avraham (Ortchik) Fein
Meat traders - supply of meat to Kovna and abroad
Aba Kaplan and his sons Moshe and Yacov-Baer
Nathan Kaplan, Aba Kaplan's brother; Hirsch Hess
Agriculture - small parcels of land
Small gardens - adjacent to the houses.
David Polovin - fabrics wholesale and retail;
Meir Polovin - the same;
Mordehai (Mottel) Perlman - fabrics, the same;
Akiva Fliar - fabrics, the same;
Alter Simonov - iron and hardware business;
David and Berl Lapinsky - beverage agency of Wolf, Kovna;
Pinhas Shachnovitz - books and stationery;
Yaswansky - Shachnovitz's father in law - haberdashery and children's games.
Banks and their managers
The Volks Bank - the National Jewish bank, branch of the Central Bank in Kovna. Board members: Yitzhak (Isaac) Feinberg, Simon Zondelevitch, Yosel Rabinovitch.
The Komertz Bank - Lithuanian bank - its manager Shmaryahu (Schmerl) Bernstein.
A. Koplov (dentist).
Bargovsky (Kolia and Sasha);
Moshe Rikler - Magazin Apothekai
* Supplementary information to Hinda Levinberg-Becker's article.
TRANSLATION OF PAGES 68 - 70 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
I Remember By Zebulon Poran Translated by Rosi Sherman-Gordon, Mexico City
I remember my pretty little shtetl
Between the flowing clean waters
Between the marvelous and grand
From our more important dreams and our values
I remember the gardens and the fields
I see the mountains and the valleys
Where we spend our youthful years
I remember the shtetl and her streets
Illuminated and full of life
Where Jews use to live very happily
I can still see the synagogue and the Bet Hamidrash
The old Synagogue had the presence of God
And the Bet Hamidrash for prayers and to implore the Lord
I remember the old wood synagogue
The great pride of Yurburg
Our World famous synagogue with its carved wooden Holy Ark
That is my deep memory
I remember the teachings of the Torah
The High School, the elementary school and the Talmud Torah
I remember the scouts from Hashomer Hatzair
And the discussions concerning Zionism and the Sabbath walks
And who does not remember the Achshara Kibbutz
(preparatory training for kibbutz life)
And the youngest ideals from the chalutzim (pioneers)
I remember the library named Mendel
Where the readers were thirsty for knowledge
And the library named Brenner
For the young students that knew Hebrew
I remember the young people who performed in the theater
That the theater artists expressed themselves in the performances
Everyone in the shtetl was happy
Everyone dances, sang songs and were carefree
That way the Zaides and Bobes used to live the way the parents used to like
And strive to live life with happiness and joy
Until the difficult days came
Which were were not prepared for the bleeding lines
They hit us, they killed us
One child shouted in a shutter and horror
In a terrified shout, they finnished off the Jews of our shtetl
The end of the world
Oh Yurburg, Oh Yurburg, you are my shtetl, my life
What happened to you, what was the cause
Wild bandits, killing like wild people
They hit, they killed, they buried them without discency
You are now an empty town
There are no Jewish homes, no Jewish beds
Only bodies dispersed around the town
Only dry broken bones!
We will always remember Yurburg with bitter tears
And with deep memories will we miss you
Cursed is the modern Hyman
Cursed is Hitler's name
TRANSLATION OF PAGE 71-73 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Our Town Yurburg By Simon Simonov Translated from Yiddish by Yosef Rosin, Haifa, Israel and Max Sherman-Krelitz, Mexico City Max's mother, Leah Krelitz-Sherman emigrated from Yurburg in 1937 In Memory of Leah's sisters, Feiga and Rochel (Kravitz) and brothers Moshe and Leib Krelitz and their spouses and children who were murdered in the Shoah.
The town Yurburg (Jurbarkas in Lithuanian) on the shore of the Neman river with its tributaries, the Mituva and the Imstra, is 100 km (62 miles) away from Kovno and 9 km (5 miles) away from Smaleninken. Its long and wide streets were paved with stones and there are concrete sidewalks on both sides. Forests and fields surrounded Yurburg.
The Lithuanians had inherited a big and beautiful park, which had belonged to the Russian Duke Vasilshchikov. In the middle of the park sprawled a palace, surrounded by bushes and flowers. On both sides of the palace beautiful buidings could be seen. These buildings housed the state-supported high school attended by the Yurburg Lithuanian (non-Jewish) youngsters and others from the vicinity. On Sunday afternoons the Fire Brigade band would play dance music and the public would have a pleasant time. Though most of the public were members of the Shauliai (who were anti-semitic) nationalist quasi-military organization, Jews also participated in the entertainment, called in Lituanian "Geguzhines."
One nice day Lithuanians decided to forbid the Jewish youth from participating in this entertainment. At the entrance of the park the Lithuanian extremists erected a sign: "Entrance of Jews and dogs is prohibited". This anti-semitic inscription was an insult to the Jewish population. Immediately a committee was formed, and it was decided to buy a nice garden with a big building. The garden was converted into a park and the building housed the Hebrew gymnasuim (high school) which served the Jewish population of Yurburg, Tavrig and other towns along the Neman river. The Jewish park was named "Tel-Aviv" in honor of the newly built town in Eretz-Yisrael. Jews appreciated the park; which was close to town and together with the high school the park formed an important cultural center. Every Sunday entertainment, concerts and sport were organized in the park.
In the mid-1930s 3,000 Jews lived in Yurburg. The community was concentrated in the center of the town. Lithuanians (non-Jews) lived in the surrounding areas of the town, but the Catholic church stood at the end of the Kovno street, the main street of the town. On Shabbath and Jewish holidays all the businesses were closed. Jews of Yurburg felt like they were living in a Jewish town, where Yiddish and also occasionally Hebrew were heard spoken in the streets.
Mondays and Thursdays were market days in Yurburg. The plot of land between the old wooden Synagogue and the solidly built [brick - still standing in the 1990s - note added] Beth-Midrash served as the market place for the Lithuanian peasants and the Jewish population. The Lithuanian peasants would sell agricultural products and the Jews would sell them haberdashery and other industrial goods.
The old wooden Synagogue, built in 1790, was famous in Lithuania and all over the world for its artistic wood carvings of the Aron-Ha Kodesh (sacred ark), the Bimah (pulpit) and the Chair of Eliyahu. In Yurburg there were many learned men, doctors, lawyers, bankers etc. Well known rabbis also came from Yurburg, the last one was Avraham Dimant, a famous Rabbi, a Dayan (religious judge) was Chaim-Reuven Rubinshtein. There was also a cantor Alperovitz who would write tunes for the lithurgical melodies for the Jewish High Holy Days.
In Yurburg there were two Jewish schools - the Yiddish school and the Hebrew School. The town also boasted a Hebrew High School and two libraries - The "Mendele" library (Yiddish books) and the "Brener" (Hebrew books) Library.
Several youth organizations were formed in Yurburg- "HeKhalutz", "Maccabi", Jewish Scouts - "HaShomer HaTsair," "Betar." Thanks to "HeKhalutz" a large number of youth immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael. Jewish political parties were active in town. The Jewish "Folksbank", the "Commerce Bank" and social institutions like "Bikur Kholim" (Sick Fund), "Hakhnasat Kala" (Fund for the Needy) and others were the famous Jewish institutions of Yurburg.
Jews made their living from different sources. In Yurburg there were steamship owners who employed a great number of staff. Other popular occupations were exporters, merchants, hotels owners, shopkeepers, artisans and workers.
When Hitler took over the rule in Germany it was immediately felt in Yurburg. The Lithuanian Sauliai and other anti-Semites became vocal. For many Jews it became difficult to make a living. Life was becoming harder with evey passing day, and for young people the future became doubtful. Some of the youth went to Eretz-Yisrael or abroad and others left for Kovno.
On June 22, 1941, at five o'clock in the morning, parts of the Nazi-German army invaded Yurburg. Dark clouds enveloped the future of the Jewish population. Only a couple of the Jews survived, and the entire community perished. In the first "action" 350 men were murdered, among them 40 Lithuanian communists. The remaining men, women and children of the Jewish population were murdered and buried in a forest near Smaleninken.[note added: Many of the murderers were the Lithuanians themselves.]
In 1945 Yurburg was freed from the murderers, but unfortunately no Jews were left in YurburgÉonly pain remained in our hearts forever.
TRANSLATION OF PAGE 74-78 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Once There Was A Shtetl
By Motl (Mordechai) Zilber Translated from Yiddish by Yosef Rosin, Haifa, Israel English Editied by Fania Hillelson Jivotovsky, Montreal, Canada
I am beginning my writing the same way my late father would start a story when I was a child "once upon a time there was ..."
This is a story that sounds like a dream.
Forty years have passed since I left Yurberik and I still see it in my eyes as if it was yesterday. I have traveled the world - Russia and France, Canada and USA and now- Israel, but I could never forget Yurberik, it has always been in my heart. Yurberik has always remained in the hearts of all the Yurberikers who were scattered all over the world.
I often think about Yurberik, I see it in my fantasies where I visit Yurberik often. I meet with the people, my friends and I recall events. I visit places and forget that Yurberik was in ashes after the Nazis and the Lithuanians burned down the town; I forget that the people of the town were taken by force and murdered. I want to forget all thatÉI go back to the past, when Yurberik was alive and we were happyÉ
I see the town as I open the iron gates of Duke Vasilshchikov's park. The park is fenced in with a stone wall. The entrance is through an iron gate between three thick brick pillars. In front I see the ruins of the Duke's palace. The palace sprawls near the Mituva river and on the other side, in the forest near the meadow there still is a wooden mushroom, its cap is red, its stem is white and it is covered with many inscriptions of couples in love. The duke built it, apparently, as to protect couples from rain.
The duke would come here only in summer months, and nobody would be allowed to walk near the palace, except outside the property . There were two other buildings - both for the servants. Later the buildings would house the Lithuanian high school. The duke had everything he wished for his comfort - a greenhouse covered with glass, stables, workrooms and a beer brewery outside Yurberik.
The legend goes that one of the duke's ancestors was the lover of Queen Katharine II, like brothers Orlovs and others, after the love became cooler, she would "exile" her lovers, endow them with estates at the borders of the great Russian Empire. Our duke Vasilshchikov was one of those who were "exiled" to our town of Yurberik.
Before we leave the park we will see a small Pravoslavic church. It is a small church built for the duke and his family and for the servants. People said that the big stone in front was a meteorite, a body that fell from the sky.
Now we are going back. On the right side of the building there are the two movie theaters of Yurberik. On the screen of the movie theaters we saw the films of Emil Janings, Marlene Dietrich, Konrad Vaidt, Paula Negri and sometimes performances of Ivan Mazhukhin.
The house of the Altmans was next to the movie theater. This was the house of the diva of Yurberik, Fanichka Altman. With her excellent voice she made her listeners fall in love with her.
And here is the Imstra, a small creek flowing into the Mituva and then into the Neman. In summer a hen could cross the creek without wetting "hens feet", but in spring when the Neman was full of ice tide would flood the areas around. Then in this part of the town people would use boats, like in Venice. Even the priests garden was flooded.
Let us look at the side lane which leads to the park. The house of the Levinsons is there and on the porch two boys are waiting- they are Tony and Izzy Levinson (now in South Africa). They are waiting for their father who works in the "Taryba" (Town Council). On the left there is a narrow lane along the Imstra leading to Rassein street. It passes along the priest's garden and house. A small wooden bridge crosses the Imstra. It is so good to stand on the bridge and look at the small fish in the waters of the Imstra. Tailor Chertok lives near the bridge, he suffers greatly from the floods .
The road right of the bridge leads to the Mituva where the steamships are mooring before winter comes.
Our way leads us to the Kovno street, past a church fenced by a stone wall. The church has two high towers and looks like a big fortress. It is a praying house for the entire community. The rural population gathers here. When someone dies the body is brought to the church and photographer [Natan] Abramson takes the last picture. The same happens when there is a wedding.
The rural community of Yurberik is considered rich. It was said that the Jewish population of Yurberik participated in financing the construction of the church with the calculation that it will increase the living opportunities of the town.
In front of the church, to the right, a road leads to the Neman River. If you have time, let us wait for a steamship coming from Kovno in the afternoon - may be it is the staemship "Laisve", or the "Lietuva" or may be the "Kestutis".
Afterwards it will be announced who arrived. 20 people and 3 Germans, they would say. Like Germans could not be counted among people.
The road leads us through the Kovno street; opposite the church we see the house of the Leipzigers . Eliezer Leipziger, was a very talented person, a lawyer and later the director of the Hebrew high school. . He married Fani Krechmer. At the end he and his wife were murdered by the bloody animals. This was also the house of Freidale Leipziger, today a teacher in Kibbutz Afikim.
Over there is the house of the "Minzers," a fine Jewish family, with two beautiful daughters and one son who immigrated to Cuba. He is a tailor and I unfortunately forgot his name.
And then there is the second movie theater of Yurberik. Films are shown by Pola Skeltz and an older woman. Skeltz has several trades but makes a poor living. He plays music at Jewish weddings, he catches fish. When he plays at a Jewish wedding, he would play a "Krakowiak". He is an ardent Polish patriot and when he plays the "Krakowiak" he becomes very exited, sings in a high pitched voice and stomps with his feet. After the movie is over he goes to the boarding house at the Feinberg's . An old bachelor who, people say, plays the violin in the middle of the night when nobody hears. I never saw anybody coming to his boarding house.
And here is the green house of the Aizenshtats, the brothers Aizenshtat. They were considered the "elite" of the town. Liova died young from Typhus. He was married with Betty Yazelit. A sister, Leana Aizenshtat, lives in Canada. Opposite the Aizenshatats is the great yard of the Feinbergs. They are four brothers and one sister. They are considered the rich people in town. They own a sawmill, a flour mill and the power station. We get electricity from 6 o'clock PM until 12 o'clock midnight. Before the power is switched off we hear a warning to the public: "Here, we are getting off..."
One of the Feinberg brothers, Meir, is in arts, he declaimed very good in Russian and we enjoyed not once his declamations.
It's a pity that we didn't receive the end of his descriptions...Motl (Mordekhai) passed away...all his friends and relatives will never forget him .
For another article by the same author, go to: That Was the Yurburg That I Knew - Mordechai Zilber on page 33.
TRANSLATION OF PAGE 79-81 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
The Beautiful Town Yurburg
By Ben Dvorah Translated from Yiddish by Yosef Rosin, Haifa, Israel English Editied by Fania Hillelson Jivotovsky, Montreal, Canada
Several kilometers before reaching Yurburg you can immediately feel the ambiance of Western Europe. The fields are more intensly cultivated and exploited. The behavior of the rural population is more cultural. The German border is already close and its smells German.....
Yurburg makes a nice impression. Wide streets, many quite nice buildings, nice shops with pretty shopwindows are adding to the impression of a big town. Also the landscape of Yurburg is pretty. On one side - the Neman river and on the other side - the sportive Imstra, flooding the whole area and causing much damage, when the ice in the Neman starts moving. This pleasing geographic situation helps the Yurburg population to make its living. The forests serve as recreation and rest areas. Its obvious why the Health Department has established in town one of its two centers and hospitals for respiratory desease. The marvelous park, that once belonged to the Russian duke Vasilshchikov adds to the beauty of Yurburg. The backbone of the economic life of Yurburg is the Neman River. Many Jewish families make their living from this big river. When the favorite summer season comes life around Neman becomes intense. The several tens of steamships, belonging to Yurburg citizens, sail without pause upstream and downstream the Neman River.
Rafts are floating by and the oarsmen buy their necessities here. Carts, harnessed with strong horses, are going to and from the river bank carrying stones, timber and other goods brought by the steamships.
Tens of meters of fish nets are put in the water by fishermen, whose life is strongly linked with the Neman. The Neman is the very life source and the pride of Yurburg Jews.
The population of Yurburg is mixed. In addition to Lithuanians and Jews, there are large German and Russian colonies. They all have their priests, their churches and schools. For some time the mayor of Yurburg was a German. Yurburg is a clean and relaxed town. All state, municipal and Jewish institutions have suitable and more or less convenient offices. All Jewish schools in bigger towns than Yurburg could only wish to have such facilities like the Hebrew and the Yiddish schools here. The Hebrew high school has its own building with a big and beautiful park named "Tel-Aviv", where all the entertainment takes place.
Though the economic crisis has affected Yurburg as well, but it seems that the Jews don't loose hope for better days to come.
Yurburg is proud of its beautiful Beth-Midrash, but in particular they cherish their really interesting old synagogue. The Aron-Kodesh of the synagogue is a rare object of art in wood carving. Also the Bimah is beautiful. The blind Shamash of the synagogue complained to me that the Bimah was carved by another artist, who was jealous of the person who built the Aron-Kodesh and for that he concealed the Aron-Kodesh with the Bimah.....
The older generation of Yurburg has special sense of self-esteem. They are classic-nicely dressed folks, with felt hats and dark gray summer coats as they come on holidays to the synagogue. Yurburg has a large number of students, boys and girls, who are studying in Kovno and many others abroad.
Yurburg was never looking for public and political activity, for that it got a Jewish-democratic Kehilah (Community Committee) late. In Yurburg there are no extremists. The Zionists, the orthodox and the Yiddishists don't make much noise. Its characteristic for Yurburg to have a Gabbai of the old synagogue Alter Shimonov who also happens to be the dentist, a man with a modern outlook and manners, a sympathizer of Zionism, who goes to the Beth Midrash on Shabbat and every morning put on phylacteries and would not eat dinner before a "ma'ariv" prayer. On Friday evening you can see the wife of the dentist lighting candles. On the other side we can see an important personality living in Yurburg with a woman whom he married in a civil wedding.
The relations between the Jews and Lithuanians in Yurburg are generally friendly. The Jews and the Lithuanians are proud of the fact that Yurburg gave Lithuania several famous personalities. Jews of Yurburg became reknown scientists, writers, artists and philanthropists and Lithuanians became such stately people as professor Tamashaitis, consul Sidrauskas, prosecutor Bila, lawyer and public worker Taliushis.
Many projects were planned to improve the economic situation of Yurburg , such as pavement of new roads, improvement of transportation and other projects that promised a better future.
But all these were pleasant dreams. For the Jews the future would be bitter. During three months-in the summer 1941-the Jewish Yurburg was annihilated by Nazi-German soldiers with the active help of cruel Lithuanians with whom Jews lived together for generations and where Jews established their homes on Lithuanian soil.
( from the periodical "Funken")
(edited by ZP)
TRANSLATION OF PAGE 82-84 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Yurburg under Water Adapted by Z. Poran Translated from Yiddish by Yosef Rosin, Haifa, Israel English is edited by Sarah and Mordekhai Kopfstein, Haifa, Israel
On Wednesday, the 17th of March 1937, at 1 pm, the section of the Neman river adjacent to Yurburg awoke from its winter sleep. As happens each year, so this year too, curious people gather on the banks of the Neman, happy to see the ice move and hoping that by Pesach a steamship will already sail on the river. The Neman flows at such speed that you can hear the ice blocks crashing. And so, standing there in circles and debating the subjects of ice, water, floods, they suddenly look back and see that the water is already creeping up behind them.
The flow continues relentlessly at full speed up to a blockage near Smaleninken, as a result of which the water level in Yurburg rises more and more. At 5 P.M. the municipal siren wails for help.
People start to run, all curious to see how the water is rushing into the town. Police, firemen and all citizens are on duty to fight the intruding water.....
Slowly the market is flooded and water is even flowing into Kovno street. At first the flow is slow, but then it increases in strength and volume.
Yatkever (Butcher) street begins to flood - a howl, a yell: "Help! Rescue! We are inundated!" Mothers with sleeping children in their hands call for a boat to take them to a dry patch, panic is great.
A Jewish woman stands in the water, her hair disheveled, complaining to her neighbors that her stove, which had been renovated just a year ago, is now disintegrating, and in another woman's flat the table and chairs are swimming.
Lots of people congregate in Kovno street, half of which is already flooded. It is now late evening, electric lights are on, small boats sailing to and for. People are walking on the still-dry sidewalks, but for the young this is entertainment, just like Venice!
Nobody is thinking of going to bed. The time is already 1 am, 2 am, 3 am, and the water is still slowly flooding more and more areas.
The shop owners of Kovno street decide to move goods from lower shelves to the upper ones, thus packages of goods, appliances, cigarettes and textiles are lifted up. Some put the goods on chairs in order to have them at least a few inches above the surface of the water. People are standing on sidewalks about to be flooded and wait, maybe God will show mercy -
On the other side of Kovno street the situation is also bad. Here is a boat with bedding, there one evacuating children and old people from dangerous places, someone is running with a package on his shoulders, and someone else with a table. Policemen are patrolling the streets, helping victims and guarding against looting. It is already 7 am in the morning and the water level is still rising. The "padriads" (special bakeries for Matzah baking) ought to be baking Matzos for Pesach, which is already imminent. What can be done? Peasants are coming to the market and stop, they are scared. The market place is inundated.
Jews are standing around, worried and waiting for a miracle. Waiting and waiting - and suddenly - a miracle! The water starts to recede. Yurburg citizens lift their heads and smile - but most of them immediately feel the painful aftermath and cry silently. What will be? What will be? A help committee is set up immediately, but the damage is great. Can the committee manage to relieve the damage?
The situation is bad. But during all previous years of flooding people get over it and this year too they will recover and start again. True, the damage is great. May be the committee will be able to help. We must hope - because it is forbidden to lose hope!
(Edited by Z. Poran)
Flood in the Shtetl
TRANSLATION OF PAGE 85-87 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
The Town Jurbarkas Translated from Yiddish by Yosef Rosin, Haifa, Israel English is edited by Fania Hilelson Jivotovsky, Montreal, Canada
- The article "The town of Jurbarkas" was published in the Yiddish daily newspaper "Folksblat" on July 16, 1939, in the days of the deep crisis for Lithuanian Jews just before the outbreak of World War II. The anonymous author of this article, as it seems from its content, was one of the supporters of the Yiddishist anti-Zionist circles, as he criticizes the Jewish youth who are getting Zionist education, and are interested only in "Hakhsharah" (preparation for moving to Palestine) and certificates for Aliyah. The author is disappointed that these Jews are not concerned with strengthening the (local) "existence "---what "existence " in the Diaspora.
- (Z. Poran)
- The town Yurburg is located in Raseiniai district. It has long, beautiful, wide streets, with concrete sidewalks on both sides, nice houses; some of them built in brick. It is getting more modern and spread out. A new quarter of the town was built, and it is called the New Town- reaching villages nearby. In the New Town a park was planted, where a monument for Vytautas the Great was built. Near the park you can see the Yurburg stadium. In the old-town, as we call it now, the old buildings are being demolished.
- This difficult situation affects the poor and they are becoming weaker. Some will not have a place to live because the rents are becoming higher and there are no opportunities to earn a living in Yurburg. They used to live in small affordable houses but Yurburg is becoming more modern but not through private undertakings. The builders are the state and the municipality.
- The municipality built a slaughterhouse and is maintaining the streets. The government built a second floor for the Yurburg Lung Sanitarium. This was the only Sanitarium in Yurburg. A road was also constructed several kilometers long joining Klaipeda and Jurbarkas. Two concrete bridges were built over the rivers of "Imstra" and "Mituva".
- The government also intends to build a harbor for the steamships.
- Yurburg is like a valley between high mountains. Around Yurburg there are big areas with splendid forests and fields with hills and valleys. There are two parks - one is the Jewish park named "Tel-Aviv" where trees and their branches look like in a dream, inviting passers-by to enter and smell their pleasant odors. The second park is the Lithuanian Park, well maintained and in a continuous process of maintenance. Once it belonged to a Russian duke, today it belongs to the Lithuanian high school. The park has tens of paths, one very small leading to the Mituva, which is winding between the park and the forest. One big path leads to a place behind the park where you can see all the Yurburg surroundings.
- The third river is the Neman running along the shores of the town. The steamship traffic connects Yurburg with the economic and political center of Kaunas.
- When a newcomer arrives to Yurburg he is impressed with the beautiful nature around town. The town is home for 6,000 people, 2,000 Jews among them from different social classes: merchants, artisans, and shopkeepers. The town is facing an economic decline it has been affected by the big world crisis, and by the persistent phenomenon of Hitler politics which slows trade with Germany.
- Although Yurburg does not compare with other towns, there are people here too who learnedto hate. These are the so-called Lithuanian patriots who consider only their own pockets. They have their own shops and call for boycott of the Jewish business.
- Often we can hear anti-Semitic slogans not only from the simple folks but more from the youth and the "Intelligencia".
- The only institution watching over the Jewish economic situation is the Folksbank, which gives out loans. But how can the loans help when there is nowhere to use the money? From the cultural standpoint our town is better off than the adjacent towns. It has a state high school, 4 elementary schools, (2 Lithuanian schools, 1 Hebrew School and 1 Yiddish School), a Hebrew high school, a Lithuanian agricultural school, 2 libraries named after Mendele and Brenner.
- Jewish children don't go to either the Lithuanian high school or the elementary school. Most of them attend meetings of "HeKhalutz" and "Betar". They care only about "Hakhsharah" and certificates, but not about the local Jewish Community.
- We also have an advantage of having the famous Lithuanian sculptor H.Gribas live in the area, his monuments can be seen in many cities and towns of Lithuania. Yurburg citizens are proud of their town and are proud to show their town to visitors.
- The first object of pride a Yurburger could show a newcomer is the ancient synagogue built in 1790 with its rare fixtures. The second object is the atelier of the sculptor Gribas with its marvelous artistic works. The third thing to show would be the beauty of nature [in and surrounding the town].
- There is a cinema in town with occasional shows of nice films. It still belongs to Jews. There is little industry in town. Nonetheless, there is a small furniture factory which was awarded a medal at an exhibition abroad and a flourmill with a power station.
- The economic and social situation of our town is very sad, but let us not be depressed. One hour before dawn it becomes very dark and there is a struggle between darkness and light where the light becomes the winner.
- A Yurburger
PAGES 88 - 113 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Steven Koppel Family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In memory of the Members of the Eliashevitz and Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
YURBURG UNDER THE SOVIET REGIME (From the Lithuanian encyclopedia)
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
(Note added by Joel Alpert: During this period there were either no Jews or at most two Jewish families in Yurburg)
The town of Yurburg in the Soviet republic of Lithuania is surrounded by the Neman and Mituva rivers.
The town is 12 kms. (7 miles) away from the borders of the Kaliningrad (formerly Koenigsberg) district.
In 1959 - 4,422 inhabitants - situated on the right side of the Neman on a low and sandy place. The area was 413 hectars.
Yurburg's old city was established close to the shore of the Neman. The buildings in the center of town were built in the Gothic style. The streets of the new town were well planned. The main part of town was built on the left side of the Mituva; the small Imstra river crossed it in part. Development was started on the right side of the during the years of the Soviet regime.
The shore of the Neman includes a strip of soft sand over 1 km. Not far from the town - the Smalinikai forest - and the large Wasvile (Vashvile). In the southern part of town there is a large factory for processing linen seeds (established in 1950).
[The town contained] a boat dock, the base of the Ministry of Transport, a butter factory (established in 1931), a saw mill, carpentry workshops, factories for production of blocks and tiles, a flour mill, bakery and the Neman fisherman's harbor.
Now roads connect Yurburg to Kaunas (Kovna) and Klaipeda (Memel). Roads lead to Raseiniai (Rasein) and Skaudvile (Shkudvil). A ferry crosses the Neman from Yurburg to the other side of the river and from there to Shaki. Steamships sail to Kaunas and Klaipeda.
Most streets are covered in asphalt - where transport is is provided by buses. On the site of the market, the entire center of town is presently covered in green.
On both sides of the Mituva is the park of the former Kniaz, from the 19th century. In 1950 a memorial statue was set up here to honor sculptor I.Grivas. At the end of the park is a cemetery for those who fell in the battles of World War II. There is a 100-beds hospital in town, built before World War I, and a hospital for tuberculosis patients. There is a 30-beds maternity ward at the hospital.
Culture and education - As early as in the 18th century a high school was established in town. In 1924-27 a pro-gymnasium existed in Yurburg - "Saule" (Sun) and from 1931 a national gymnasium. There is also an evening school for high school education (1946-53 - pro gymnasium), a kindergarten for children, in 1947 a cultural center was set up, a cinema and 300-seats theater. A museum in memory of I.Grivas was established in 1956. From 1963 there is a regional newspaper called "Sviesa" (Schviessa) ("Light") in town. Before that there was a newspaper called the "Flag" (1949-62).
In the northern part of town was the "Bishpil"(?) mountain, crossed by the Imstra, creating a deep valley. On top of the mountain was a look-out post from which the 5 m. (17 feet) high wall of the old castle could be seen. At the observation post remnants of an ancient culture could be seen. In excavations various archeological findings were uncovered, such as ceramic utensils, bows and arrows and other articles from the 12th and 14th century. Some of them were transferred to the history museum in Kaunas. On the shore of the Neman, 3 kms. (2 miles) from the mouth of the Mituva - there were 2 small hills called "Bishpiliokais", from which there was a good view of the surroundings. It is thought that the Georgenburg (Yurenburg) fortress stood on these hills, mentioned in the German chronicles and used as one of the ancient crusader fortresses along the Neman.
In 1259 or close to this year, the "Bishpil" mountain was established by the Lithuanians. In 1260 the Lithuanians led by Dorbas attacked the crusaders who retreated from Georgenburg.
In 1353 the crusaders returned and took over the fortress again. Battles continued here almost until the 15th century. In early 1403 the fortress was set on fire by Vytautas' army.
After the Zalgiris battle, where the crusaders were defeated, the place lost its strategic value. When the crusaders retreated the place called Yurburg started to develop as a permanent settlement.
In 1422 when the borders of Lithuania were determined, Yurburg turned into a border point. In the first half of the 15th century a customs post was set up here as it was an important commercial point, and also because of the Neman river, which was a passageway for goods from Kovna to Tilzit, Memel (Klaipda) and Koenigsberg.
The town started to grow quickly and mainly gained its commercial importance since the 16th century, when trees started to be harvested from in the surrounding forests for transport to Gdansk and Koenigsberg where boats were built.
In 1557 the first primary school was established. In 1611 the Mandenburg Law was accepted in Yurburg and already then it had 3000 inhabitants. Yurburg maintained its status as a commercial center till the 19th century. Already in 1862 goods passed through customs in Yurburg in the sum of about 10 million rubles. In those days railway tracks started to be laid and this affected Yurburg's importance as a commercial center.
In 1864 there were 320 families in Yurburg with 2659 inhabitants; in 1880 3000; in 1901 Yurburg served as a "transit station" for the "Iskra" underground newspaper edited by Y. Lenin, which was sent from Germany to Kovna. In 1906 a large part of the town burnt down. In 1915 the German army destroyed the town which at that time already had the status of district town. In 1923 there were 4409 inhabitants in Yurburg.
Small factories started to be established in town, such as a flour mill and windmill which supplied electricity, a saw mill and dairy. The branch of the Lithuanian bank was opened and the agricultural bank, in addition to small private and public banks (*).
Trade stores were also opened, a hospital, schools, a library, orphanages and a home for the elderly. In 1928-33 illegal material of the Communist party continued to be transferred through Yurburg from Germany to Kovna.
In the period of the conservative regime rightist parties were active in Lithuania as well as the Communist party L.K.P.-L.K.J.S. A branch of the Red Cross was also active in town. From 1929 the sculptor I. Grivas lived and worked in Yurburg. He was murdered by the German conquerors in 1941 together with another 350 inhabitants (Jews) of Yurburg. During World War II Soviet soldiers fought heroic battles against the German fascists, such as Prolov, S.Sergejev, I.Tolstikov. They received the "Hero of the Soviet Union" medal. After World War II the town was rebuilt, its main streets were expanded. Many houses were built, public institutions set up, among them a new high school (1960) and a cinema - a new theater (1960). Yurburg lies on both sides of the road leading to Klaipda (Memel).
Translated into Hebrew by S. Simonov
(*) Editor's note - At that time the Jewish Volks Bank was also set up in Yurburg which served the Jewish population. According to Holocaust survivors who visited Yurburg in recent years the town developed at a fast pace, but there are hardly any Jews. One family lives in Yurburg (?) which returned to settle there, the last remnant of the lively Jewish center which existed and is no more.
Unfortunately, there is no mention in the encyclopedia of the bitter fact that in 1941 when the Nazis entered Yurburg - in June, July, August and September - over 2000 defenseless Jews were brutally murdered, men, women children and old people; with the active assistance of the fascist Lithuanian murderers who had been the Jews' neighbors for hundreds of years and had built and developed the town together and finally - as a reward for what they had done - the Jews were murdered without mercy.
PAGES 91 - 90 FROM THE YURBURG YIZKOR BOOK
Translation Funded by the Steven Koppel Family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In memory of the Members of the Eliashevitz and Krelitz Families Who Were Victims of the Shoah
THE LAND OF OUR FATHERS by Zevulun Poran
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
For hundreds of years our fathers and our fathers' fathers lived in the land of Lithuania.
The following pages are a description of the land, its Lithuanian inhabitants and their history. Of course the Jews too will be mentioned, for they found a refuge here in this country, and lived there for a period of history of hundreds of years. The Jews, together with the Lithuanians, developed their land, established towns and villages with exemplary Jewish communities. The excellent relations between the Jews and the Lithuanian people, were upset in the years 1941-1945 and ended tragically and with bitter cruelty when the Nazis entered Lithuania.
More is to follow.
Lithuania is one of the three Baltic countries - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, on the shores of the Baltic sea. Lithuania is the largest of them. It presently occupies an area of about 80,000 sq.m. Formerly this land went from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and occupied large areas of the land of Russia, Ukraine, Belorus, Poland and Prussia. At present Lithuania only controls areas that are mainly occupied by Lithuanians.
Lithuania is a flat country without high mountains rising above. This is how Yitzhak Katzenelson, the Lithuanian poet describes it:
My Lithuania, my Lithuania, All of it a plain, all of it flat, A land without mountains; Highways run through it Roads pass along.
During most of the year Lithuania is a gray country. Narrow horizons. Rain. Very hot in some months of the summer and cold in winter (20 degrees C. below zero and less, that is 6 degrees F. ).
There are hundreds of rivers and lakes in Lithuania. The lakes are covered by moss weeds and algae. These lakes are called swamps (Falkes). The bottom of the black swamp is turf (peat) (Tarf) which is good for heating and fertilizing.
The soil of Lithuania is mainly clay and does not absorb water, which therefore remains on the surface and creates rivers and swamps. The land of Lithuania is in part "black land", very fertile, yielding a rich crop. Most of the Lithuanian land is good for agriculture.
The crops are: linen, wheat, rice (??), oats, barley and sugar beet. Vegetables and plants are also grown in Lithuania, suitable for woven materials, such as linen and canvas. Lithuania grows excellent soft linen and has linen seeds that are very good for producing oil. Potatoes are grown for food (common food!) and some of it for liquor and starch. The fruit orchards are also important and here apples are grown, pears, plums etc.
Animals are raised in Lithuania as well, such as cows, horses, sheep, pigs, poultry and bees.
In spite of all these achievements, farming in Lithuania between the two World Wars was considered primitive compared to farming in Germany, where the land was ploughed with sophisticated agricultural machines and was of very high quality. In the period when Lithuania was under Russian control cooperatives and farms were set up.
Tilling the land was improved by the use of farming machines. Lithuania's main export was agricultural produce such as: fodder, timber, dairy products, eggs, meat etc.
There are no natural resources in Lithuania, except for turf. Names of towns such as Kazlu-Ruda and Visakio-Ruda indicate iron lead (Ruda!); in the past iron was extracted in a primitive way.
The forests were Lithuania's natural and blessed wealth. The forests in Lithuania cover 16% of its area of land, enhance its landscape, supply wood and improve the climate. The forest is varied and has both evergreen trees and trees with leaves.
The most well-known trees in Lithuania are: the fir tree (Yalke) - mainly for export for the paper industry. The pine tree - good for heating, building and furniture. The birch tree (Berioze) - good for the furniture and household utensils industry. The elm tree - a soft tree from which matches are produced at factories, and also boxes for packing merchandise. The oak tree - which was not present in large numbers and which was a strong wood from which furniture and tools was made.
There are other kinds of trees and bushes of which there are smaller quantities in the forests of Lithuania, adding color to the woods. The Lithuanian forests are full of all kinds of berries (Yagdes) and mushrooms, good for eating,.
The evergreen trees in the Lithuanian forests are good for people's health. In the summer months people would go to the villages or rest homes near the pine tree forests which were used for rest and recreation and for recuperation, mainly for lung patients.
Industry in Lithuania was minor most of the time. It gained impetus only after World War II. Textiles were produced, leather, paper, building materials and furniture, farming machines, electrical appliances etc.
Docks were set up in Klaipeda (Memel) where ships were built and repaired. The Klaipeda (Memel) port was used for Lithuania's foreign trade.
Transport in Lithuania was by railway lines, roads and waterways.
The population in Lithuania numbered over 3 million inhabitants, 80% of them Lithuanians and the others - Russians, Poles and others; there was a small minority of Jews among them, Holocaust survivors. In the past the Jewish population constituted over 7%. Vilna is presently the capital of Lithuania (about 400,000 inhabitants), Kovna (about 300,000 inhabitants), Klaipda (about 150,000 inhabitants) and then, with a smaller number of inhabitants, Shavl, Ponivezh - each of them less than 100,000 inhabitants. The Neman - NEMUNAS - is the father of the Lithuanian rivers. When speaking of Lithuania, it is impossible not to mention the Neman, which is not simply a waterway, but a source of life and national pride. The Neman originates in the region of Minsk, the capital of Belorussia. It is 960 kms. ( 600 miles) long. Near Grodna the Neman is about 100 meters (330 feet) wide, 230 meters ( 700 feet) near Yurburg and 170 meters (500 feet) near Klaipda, where it flows into the Kurian bay; many small rivers flow into the Neman. The beautiful 725 kms. (450 miles) long Viliya - NERIS - joins it near Kovna. The Neman captures the heart of those who see it, with the magic of its beautiful shore adorned with trees and shrubs, and many poets, who admired its beauty, devoted their best songs to it. The poetess Elisheva writes in her poem "On the shore of the Neman":
On the shore of the Neman
Far away beyond the border, the water
flows on, heavy and slow.
The gray sky is full of sorrow
silent grief - in the flowing waves.
On they flow to the sea,
riding along the strong current
losing themselves in the waves.
However, in addition to its poetic side, the Neman was very important, as it served as the main route for the transport of merchandise abroad, such as trees and farming produce and industrial goods to Lithuania.
The Neman also served as an important internal way of transport, linking Kovna with the Baltic Sea. Numerous boats, the steamships (called "Kitoriot" by the people and "Dampfer" in Yiddish) among them, sailed to Kovna and Klaipeda and from Klaipeda back to Kovna.
Yurburg was the middle stop on these sailing trips, especially as most ships belonged to the townspeople, most of them Jewish.
The link with the Baltic Sea is very important for Lithuania, for in this way it was possible to do business with the neighboring Baltic countries and with the people from Western Europe and America.
The Baltic Sea is also an important source of living for the many fishermen. The Baltic Sea is rich in all kinds of fish. Another important source of income for many, mainly Jews, was amber, the precious "bernstein", discharged by the sea and used as a creative material for making precious jewels.
The shores of the Baltic Sea were also used by the Lithuanians as beach resorts, such as Zandkrug, Schwartz-Art and Palangen (Palanga) a little town where the Jews would often come in summer in order to bathe in the sea and rest and find healing for their aches.
ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE LITHUANIANS
The Lithuanians, as all the people in Europe at present, are Aryans, of the Caucasian race, of the Indian-European group of people. The mother of the Lithuanian language is Sanskrit, the source of almost all the European languages.
In the distant past the Lithuanian tribes were pushed towards the north by tribes and peoples, mainly the Slavs; the Lithuanian tribes were forced to hold on to both sides of the Neman river, a cold and muddy land, the present Lithuania.
The Lithuanians are slender, slightly above average height, have blue eyes, flax-colored hair, pale skin and long faces, rather similar to the Finnish and German type.
The tribes that settled on the heights were called Aukstaiciai, and the tribes that settled in the west were called Zemaiciai. There also was a Yotvingiai tribe which settled near Grodna, but this tribe was pushed away and mingled with the inhabitants of the surrounding area.
The dialect of the Lithuanians who settled on the heights, became the cultural-literary language of the Lithuanian people. The Lithuanians are already mentioned in the chronicles of the beginning of the 11th century. At the time they lived in tribes and were pagans. They lived in a primitive lifestyle, but the muddy land and the forests assisted them in times of war.
Mindaugas was the first king of the Lithuanians. he became Christian in 1251. He conquered areas of land in White Russia (Belorussia). After his death his sons inherited his kingdom.
Gediminas, the Great Prince of Lithuania (1316-1341) fought against the Poles and the German noblemen and won. In those days the Vilna-Vilnius capital was established. After his death he was succeeded by his two sons -Algirdas and Kestutis (1345).
Algirdas fought against the Russians and even reached the Black Sea.
Kestutis fought against the German noblemen and freed the areas of Lithuania held by them including Kovna (1362). When Algirdas died he left the regions of Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine to his son Jogaila.
Yogaila revolted against Kestutis and killed him together with the German -Teutons in 1382. However, Kestutis' son, Vytautas renewed the war against Jogaila and won. Jogaila established relations with Poland, married Jadviga, the Queen of Poland, became a Christian and was crowned the King of Poland called Vladislav II. Vytautas became Jogaila's deputy (1392) and ruled over Lithuania.
Vladislav II granted the Polish Boiars and Lithuanian noblemen as well as the Christian priests special rights.
Vytautas was declared the Great Prince by the Boiars. In 1410 Polish and Lithuanian forces joined ranks and went to war against the Teutonic Germans, led by Vytautas, who defeated them in the Greenwald-Tannenberg (Zalgiris) battle.
Vytautas also fought against the Russians, conquered areas of land and established his rule there. He granted rights to tradesmen and intellectuals and invited them to come and settle in Lithuania. Among those who were invited to do so were also Jewish and Karaite tradesmen. Since that time Jewish settlement in Lithuania grew. Vytautas died in 1447. After his death the Poles did not observe the agreement with Vytautas. However, Russian pressure forced the Lithuanians to take the side of the Poles. The Lithuanian nobility mingled with the Polish "shlachte" and the Polish language became the language of the Lithuanian nobility.
In 1569 the Polish and Lithuanian Seimas (parliaments) met in Lublin and decided to unite Lithuania and Poland - the Lublin merger -(Lublin Unija) the Lithuanians had no choice but to agree to this. The "Polish Republic" was set up with a joint parliament, in which the Poles outnumbered the Lithuanians by three. In the subsequent years Poland, including Lithuania came under Russian pressure. From time to time areas were handed over to Russian rule.
Lithuania under Russian rule. In 1795 Lithuania was annexed to Russia. The Russian Czars were also called the Great Princes of Lithuania. The official language in Lithuania was Russian and thus the policy of "Russification" of Lithuania started. Use of Lithuanian writing was forbidden. Lithuania became the north-western region of Russia. However, the Lithuanian intelligentsia did not abide by the Russian decrees and started to strive for national revival. In 1883 a Lithuanian newspaper started to appear in Tilzit (Prussia), edited by the physician Jonas Basanavicius. The newspaper was sent in a clandestine way via Yurburg for distribution in Lithuania.
In 1905 during the days of the first revolution in Russia, Dr. Jonas Basanavicius convened a conference of Lithuanians in Vilna where it was decided to demand national autonomy for Lithuania.
In World War I (1914-1918) the Germans conquered Lithuania. In 1917 a national conference was held in Vilna where the "Council" (Taryba) was elected headed by Antanas Samtona. The council announced Lithuania's independence under German patronage and at the advise of the Germans crowned Wilhelm Urch, the Prince of Wuerttemberg, King of Lithuania. The King called himself Mindaugas II.
In 1918 the "Red Army" conquered Lithuania and a Soviet government was set up for Lithuania and Belorussia, However, under the pressure of the Lithuanians the Russians agreed to grant Lithuania the right to set up an independent state. Jews also participated in the negotiations in favor of Lithuania and exerted considerable influence. That is how the independent state of Lithuania was established on 16 February 1918.
A short while later the Poles conquered Vilna and the dispute between Poland and Lithuania continued until World War II.
Klaipda (Memel) was annexed to Lithuania, and here "Seimik" was established as an expression of partial autonomy. The regime in Lithuania was democratic. In the first years of Lithuania's existence the Jews had "national autonomy". The Jews felt they were full citizens in Lithuania. However, at the end of 1926 a military upheaval took place - Smetona became the President and Prof. Voldemaras, head of the nationalist movement, became the Prime Minister. The constitution was abolished and the "Seimas" (parliament) was dispersed.
In 1929 Voldemaras was displaced and his extremist-nationalist group was dismantled.
Antanas Smetona was in fact the sole ruler in Lithuania. The party supporting the President was the nationalist "Tautininkai" party.
In 1934 Lithuania signed the Baltic agreement with Latvia and Estonia. In 1938, when Lithuania existed for 20 years a new constitution was created, ensuring return to the parliamentarian rule in the country. A new government was formed, but before it started to function World War II broke out.
In 1939 Poland demanded Vilna be handed over and asked for diplomatic relations.
Lithuania had to agree to the Polish demands and the border to Poland was opened. In March that same year Lithuania also had to agree to the German demand to hand over rule over the Klaipeda (Memel) region.
1939 was the year of upheavals in Lithuania. On August 23, 1939 it was agreed in a German-Soviet agreement that Lithuania would be under German influence, but in that same year, in September 1939, it was decided by Germany and the Soviet Union that Lithuania become a state under Soviet influence.
On October 10, 1939 Vilna was returned to Lithuania including a 9000 sq.km. area around the town.
On June 15, 1940 Lithuania was forced to form a regime that was friendly towards the Soviet Union. When the new government was formed, headed by I. Paleckis, the Red Army took over Lithuania. President Smetona fled, the Lithuanian leaders were exiled to Siberia. The parties were dismantled. A popular Seimas was elected, 99% of which were Communists. The Seimas unanimously decided that Lithuania would join the Soviet Union.
When war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 a revolution took place in Lithuania which made it easier for the Germans to conquer the land. The Germans declared an independent Lithuania but united it with all the Baltic countries and Belorussia into an area of land called Ostland, where they planned to settle Germans. Nevertheless, the Lithuanians took the side of the Germans, particularly in the help they extended in the extermination of Lithuanian Jews - till the end of the war.
In July 1944 the Red Army conquered Vilna and in August it took over Kovna. Klaipeda (Memel) was only conquered in January 1945. Lithuania was a Soviet Republic, member of the Soviet group of peoples - up to the present day.
Recently, under the influence of Gorbachev's "Glasnost" the Lithuanians are asking for more independence, though not yet total separation. As to the future - who knows?. .
Lithuanian language -writing and literature. For hundreds of years there was no Lithuanian language-writing and literature. After Lithuania's merger with Poland, Lithuanian "nobility" was influenced by the Polish "shlachte". In those days the Lithuanians did not write in their own language. However, oral literature had always flourished in Lithuania - folklore, popular songs, stories and tales. They sang songs to their children in the cradle, during work, at weddings, holidays and celebrations. The Lithuanian peasants also had their own folk-dances. Such a popular lyrical song was called Daina.
The first book to be translated into Lithuanian was the book written by Father Martinas Mazovidas (1747), and the first original book to be written in the Lithuanian language was by K. Donelaitis (1714-1780). The book's contents - songs about the peasants' work during the year's seasons.
At the same time there were Lithuanian authors and intellectuals - university graduates - who wrote in Polish and German. One of them was Adam Mitzkevitz (1798-1855) who, although he wrote in Polish, created subjects dealing with Lithuania. One of his books of poetry starts with the words: "Lithuania, my fatherland.. . "
Lithuanians claim that also the philosopher Emanuel Kant (1724-1804), who lived in Prussia, was a Lithuanian and even developed a Lithuanian grammar. A street in Kovna was called after him - Kanto Gatve.
After the Russian occupation (1795) the Lithuanian authors were influenced by Russian liberal and revolutionary literature.
In the years 1883-1886 the first underground newspaper called "Ausra" (the dawn) was published and this determined the unified Lithuanian-literary language.
One of the famous Lithuanian authors, who laid the foundations of the new Lithuanian literature was Vincas Kudirka (1858-1899). One of Kudirka's songs - "Lithuania our fatherland" - "Lietuva tevine musu" was chosen as Lithuania's national anthem.
The authoress Julia Zemaite (1845-1921) described the life of the peasants in the village. The most famous poet of the generation of national awakening - rather like our Bialik - was Maironis (1862-1932). Karova (?) Mickevicius was also greatly admired (1882-1954).
Lithuanian literature flourished in independent Lithuania until it was conquered by the Soviet Union (1940). Till today Lithuanian authors and poets are influenced by the socialist realism common in the Soviet Union. The socio-cultural changes taking place in the Soviet Union at present will probably also influence the character and spirit of Lithuanian literature.
In conclusion we would like to add that the Jews too assisted in the development of the Lithuanian language (Avraham Kissin and others) and its literature. Yitzhak Meras, the Jewish-Lithuanian author, presently lives in Israel and writes in Lithuanian which is translated into Hebrew.
JEWS IN LITHUANIA
When did the Jews arrive in Lithuania? There are no historic documents in this respect, but it is most likely that by the 10th century there were Jews in Lithuania, individuals as well as groups, who served as brokers and go-between in matters of trade. They established connections between tradesmen in southern Russia and the commercial towns on the shore of the Baltic Sea.
Jewish immigrants arrived in Lithuania in two ways. The first were immigrants from the Kaukasus, Krim and southern Russia. The names of these Jews and their customs resembled those of the Russians. There were Jews who came from the other direction,
in the days of the crusaders in the 10th-13th centuries, from western Europe, mainly from Germany. In the days of the crusaders the German Jews were persecuted and they had to emigrate to the north, that is how they arrived in Lithuania, where Christianity had not yet taken root. These Jews brought the Yiddish language along with them, other names and customs influenced by the Germans. Till now it is possible to distinguish between the two streams of immigration according to the color of their skin: the German Jews were light in color while the Russian Jews were dark skinned. The names were also different, those who came from Germany carried names such as Weissberg, Zucker, Sternberg, Grosman etc. Those who came from Russia were called Ansky, Kaplansky, Rabinov, Ritov etc. Most of them spoke Russian and a few of them Tatarit. After a couple of hundreds of years the two streams of immigration merged and became one division. There was no trace left of the differences. Over the years the merger created the Jewish type of the special "Litvak" character.
Jews who were not particularly fond of the Litvaks criticized them and their supporters blessed them. This is how the late Professor Klausner describes the two groups: "The Lithuanian, i.e. the Lithuanian Jew, is dry: mind wins over feeling. He is "Mithnaged" "refuser" and lacks the sparkle and enthusiasm of the "Hassid".
The Lithuanian is clever, sharp-witted and outwits the Polish Jew and the Podoliholini Jew and, needless to say, the German and western-European Jew; however, this cleverness has a certain element of guile, which the Lithuanian uses to cheat the Jews of Poland and the other countries. The Ashkenazi Jews said the Lithuanian Jew's fear of God was not deeply rooted and sincere and he was suspected of concealed heresy and of thinking lightly of religious customs and obligations.
That is how the Lithuanian was criticized, but even his enemies recognized his great attributes:
"The Lithuanian is a "Talmid Haham", knows the Torah better than other Jews and takes his Torah with him wherever he goes. On his many wanderings, caused by his poverty, he spreads the word of the Bible. The learned scholars, rabbis, cantors and shamases (caretakers), all these Jews carrying out the religious duties and included in the name "kley kodesh" come from this group. The intellectuals and Hebrew authors come from Lithuania as well, and not only from eastern Europe, most of the "learned men" and Torah teachers come from Lithuania,and this applies to western Europe as well as to the United States."
JEWS IN THE DAYS OF THE KINGS OF LITHUANIA
Under the rule of King Gadiminas the Jews received a bill of rights ensuring protection of body and property as well as freedom of trade, craft and religious observation.
The great prince Vytautas brought Jews to Lithuania, tradesmen and craftsmen, when he fought against the Tatars of the Krim peninsula and southern Russia. At that time he also brought Karaites, a group that separated from the Jews, to Lithuania; Vytautas
allowed this tribe to set up a Karaite community in Trakai (1399). This community exists until today.
In 1495 Alexander Jagelon threw the Jews out of Lithuania and confiscated their property. However, in 1503, after he was appointed King of Poland, he allowed them to return and their property was returned.
When Lithuania and Poland merged into one state, the Lithuanian "nobility" received the same rights as the Polish "shlachte". The situation of the Jews did not improve.
In the 16th century the "Committee of the Lithuanian State" was created in which the main communities were represented by leaders ("Heads of State") and rabbis. The "Committee of the Lithuanian State" collected taxes for the requirements of the communities. In 1633 the Jews received a bill of rights.
Lithuania became known as a Torah center. Students from Poland and Russia came to the yeshivas there. However, the pogroms of Hemlenitzky - decrees of (1648-9) - destroyed and annihilated the Jews of Lithuania. In 1764 the "Committees of the Lithuanian State" were cancelled and a one-year levy of gold was imposed on every Jew, from the age of one year old.
In 1795 the Russians conquered Lithuania and Russification of the population started. The Russians allowed the Jews to attend the general schools and encouraged them to work on the land and in industry.
Czar Nicholas I ordered the enlistment of Jewish youngsters [into the army] and children for 25 years (the "Cantonists"). The children were brought up in peasant homes in Siberia, in the spirit of Christianity, while they were totally cut off from their parents and the Jewish community. Army service was very long. This terrible decree divided the Jewish community, for the rich people found a way to set their children free while the poor Jews were forced to carry out their duty. The "recruitment" of the children was carried out by Jewish kidnappers who handed them over to the authorities.
When Czar Alexander II came to power in Russia he canceled the "recruitment" of the children and allowed large traders and high-school graduates to settle in the large cities, outside the settlement area. The settlement area was also reduced. The Jews were ordered to live together in small towns. The Czar wanted to spread education among the Jews. And indeed, many of them studied and learned, yet did not mingle with the people of the land. Education led the younger generation not only to study and get acquainted with the foreign culture, but also to develop their Jewish-Hebrew culture.
Learned scholars and authors writing in the Hebrew language sprung up from among the Jews. A Jewish printing house of the " Rom Widow and Brothers " was opened. A study center for rabbis and teachers was set up. Indeed, the youngsters made good use of the opportunity to study and gain an education. The custom of a " government appointed community rabbi" was established for purposes of registration etc.; and a rabbi who was a publicly accepted yeshiva graduate.
Under the rule of Alexander III the situation of the Jews got worse and emigration to western Europe and the U.S.A. increased. At that time Jews who did not believe in a solution by emigrating from one Diaspora to another set up the "Hibat Zion" (Love of Zion) movement, with the aim of emigrating to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and establishing Hebrew settlements there.
The first alyiah (immigration) to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) started in 1882. The Jews of Lithuania were among the first to set up settlements for tilling the land. However, many good youngsters did not chose the way of "Hibat Zion" but devoted their energy and strength to underground activity against the Czarist regime.
In 1897 Dr. Herzl convened the representatives of Hovevey Zion from all the countries to the Zionist Congress - the first Zionist Congress in Basel. After lengthy debates the Congress decided to establish the World Zionist Federation, with the following purpose: "Zionism strives to create a fatherland for the people of Israel in the Land of Israel as ensured by general rule". Dr. Benjamin Zeev Herzl was elected President of the World Zionist Federation. At first, response was minor to the Zionist Federation, but from one congress to another activities increased, it gained momentum and created tools for building Jewish settlement in historic Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). Lithuanian representatives fulfilled an important task in the congress and subsequent activities.
The second alyiah (1904-1914) was an immigration of unmarried working youngsters, unlike the first immigration, when families arrived with their own financial means.
The Jews of Lithuania showed great sympathy for the activities of the Zionist Federation. In 1903 Dr. Herzl returned from a visit to Russia and stopped over at Vilna. He was enthusiastically received by all the Jews of the town.
In 1905 a revolution took place in Russia. The "Duma" (Parliament) was elected. The Jews hoped they would be able to participate in government and that their situation would improve. However, after a short while the "Duma" was dispersed and hope abided.
In World War I (1914-1918) the Jews of the Kovna region were banished to Russia, among them Jews from Yurburg, and only when the war ended were they allowed to return to their homes in independent Lithuania. Vilna was conquered by the Poles and Kovna became their temporary capital. The Jewish population within the reduced borders of Lithuania numbered about 160,000 people, i.e. over 7% of the total population. In the first years of Lithuania's independence the Jews attained national-cultural autonomy and self rule on matters pertaining to the Jews. However, even after the autonomy was canceled, the Jews were allowed to act in the cultural spheres. The primary schools were financed by the government, but not the high schools. The schools in general educated their pupils in a nationalist-Zionist spirit. And so did the religious schools ("Yavne"), except for a number of Yiddishist schools. There were large yeshivas as well in Slabodka and Teltz, which were among the most famous in the world. There was a Hebrew Teachers College in Lithuania as well - "Tarbuth" - which was recognized by the government. Furthermore, there was a chair for Hebrew studies at the Lithuanian university in Kovna, headed by Dr. H.N. Shapira. A few daily newspapers appeared in Lithuania in Yiddish and Hebrew periodicals. There was a Hebrew drama studio as well and a Jewish theater. Hebrew Jewish student organizations were active at the university. Zionist parties - General Zionists, Youngsters of Zion, Z.S.I. Workers Movement, the Revisionists and Mizrahi. There were sports clubs as well for the youngsters - Maccabi, V.A.K.and Hehalutz and Hehalutz Hatzair, the Scouts, Shomer Hatzair, Beitar, Hamizrahi youth movement etc.
In the last years the economic situation of the Jews deteriorated. The Government restricted the tradesmen and forbade them to deal in import/export business; many of them fell into poverty.
When Vilna was annexed to Lithuania, right before World War II, the Jewish population numbered about 250,000 people. The Soviet regime canceled Hebrew education and dismantled the Zionist parties and Zionist youth movements. Many Zionists and rich Jews and yeshiva students were exiled to Siberia.
The Holocaust in Lithuania started the moment the Nazi warriors [soldiers] entered Lithuania. Only few [Jews] managed to escape. Small communities were destroyed and wiped out by the Nazis and their Lithuanian helpers, already in the first days of the invasion; their belongings were taken away and their houses demolished.
The nationalist Lithuanians organized themselves into "activist partisans" and helped the Nazis to destroy the small communities. Only three communities in fact existed for a longer period of time - Vilna, Kovna and Shavl, where ghettoes were set up for Jews in small areas. At Ponivezh and Keidan there were only labor camps. The Jews in the ghetto were forced to wear a yellow badge. The elderly, children and weak were executed. In Kovna at Fort 7 and 9 and in Vilna at Ponar. The healthy people in the ghettoes were sent to forced labor in towns or labor camps. Many were sent to work in Estonia as well. The living and economic conditions were bad.
The Nazis appointed "Jewish councils" (Eltesten-Rat)at the ghettoes. In Vilna the council was headed by Yacov Gans, a former officer in the Lithuanian army and a teacher of Lithuanian at the Hebrew gymnasium in Yurburg. In Kovna the Eltesten-Rat was headed by Dr. Elkes and when he died he was replaced by advocate Leib Garfunkel.
(Dr. Elkes died in Dachau. Garfunkel was a member of the Eltesten Rat--J.R.)
Underground groups of Jewish youngsters were formed at the ghetto, they collected arms, went into the woods and operated there as partisans, in coordination with the
Red Army. There were about 1000 partisan fighters from Lithuania in the Rudnitski forest.
Thousands of youngsters, who fled to the Soviet Union, joined the Lithuanian division which fought in the framework of the Red Army against the Nazis in order to free Lithuania.
When the Jewish survivors got together at the end of the war, it transpired that merely 10,000 had survived, and they were but a small percentage of the total former Jewish population of Lithuania. At present most of them live in Vilna and a few in Kovna. There are synagogues in these towns, but in the present situation there is no Jewish community life there as yet. A certain revival is taking place recently among the Jews. A few Jews come on visits to Israel. Although the gates of exit were opened in Lithuania, there is no significant movement of immigration to Israel for the time being.
HISTORY OF THE JEWS OF LITHUANIA
The Jews of Lithuania who had lived in the land of Lithuania for hundreds of years, lived as in a kibbutz, separated from their neighbors, the country's citizens. The Jews observed their own way of life which was founded on the Torah and religious duties. The Jews of Lithuania had a great and deeply rooted love of the Torah.
The man who personified the rule of Torah, in the mid-18th century, was Rabbi Eliahu Shlomo-Zalman, called the "Gaon of Vilna" (1720-1797). "The Gaon of Vilna" and his students, the "Prushim" considered Torah study a guarantee for the survival of the nation, although they did not deny that in order to understand Halaha it was essential to study science. The "Gaon of Vilna" was one of the greatest philosophers and spiritual leaders of the Jews in the new era. He headed the Mithnagdim-Prushim" who fought against Hassidism, because they considered it a deviation from the historical tradition of the Torah. The "Gaon of Vilna" encouraged the establishment of "yeshivas" and "kolelim" for Torah study which trained rabbis for the small and large Jewish communities. The most famous yeshivas in Lithuania were - Volozhin, Mir, Slabodka, Telzh etc. Rabbi Kook and Haim Nahman Bialik were among those who studied at Volozhin. In his poem "Hamatmid" Bialik expresses his love for the Torah and its studies at the yeshiva.
It is noteworthy that after the death of the "Gaon of Vilna" Rabbi Menahem Mendel from Shklov came on alyiah to Israel at the head of a large group of Lithuanians and settled first in Safed and then in the old city of Jerusalem. That is how the alyiah of the "Prushim" was able to renew the Jewish-Ashkenazi settlement in Jerusalem.
In the 19th century the Musar (Morality)movement was founded in Lithuania, at the initiative of Rabbi Israel Salanter (Lipkin) (1810-1882), who wanted to strengthen rabbinical Judaism by studying the Musar theory as a barrier against Hassidism and Haskala.
Among the well-known rabbis in those days in Lithuania was the Rabbi of Kovna, the Gaon Rabbi Yitzhak Elhanan Spektor (1817-1896), one of the greatest rabbis of his generation. Nahlat Yitzhak in Tel Aviv is named after him. Torah Judaism under the leadership of Rabbi Yitzhak Elhanan occupied an important place in the Lithuanian community.
The Haskalah. In those days the "Berlin Haskalah" started to spread in the world and in the towns of Lithuania. The rabbis fought against this phenomenon and warned the Jews of Lithuania against the negative results of this Haskalah that was strange to the Jewish spirit. The rabbis warned about Jews assimilating with the indigenous population, for this was spreading among the German Jews. However, the gentile education, which was spreading in the towns of Lithuania was completely different from that in Germany. Not only did the Haskala not lead to assimilation, but it even strengthened the love for the Jewish people and its cultural values. Intellectuals rose up in Lithuania, educated people, authors and poets - such as - Adam Hacohen Levinson, Micha"l, Yalag (Yehuda Leib Gordon) and story-tellers such as Kalman Shulman, Avraham Mapu, Peretz Smolenskin, M.L. Lilienblum, and critics such as A. Kovner, Paparna and others. The Jews, who were educated at the universities, spread general culture among the people and raised its standard.
The life of the Jews in Lithuania was reflected in the work of many writers who were born or lived in Lithuania when they were young and absorbed the special Jewish experience, such as: Isaac Meir Dick, Mendele Moher Sefarim ("In Those Days"), Prof. Joseph Klauzner, Ben Avigdor, Y.H. Brenner, G. Shofman, Zalman Shneur, Yitzhak Katzenelson, Yacov Cohen, Y.L. Baruch, David Shimoni, A.A. Kabak, H. Lansky, Avraham Kariv etc. And there were writers who wrote memoirs about Lithuania, such as A. A. Lisitzky, M. Vilkansky, Hirshbein, D. Tsherni, Z. Segalowitz, Bergelson, Zvi Visalvsky, M. Ungerfeld and many many others.
The period between the two World Wars was a time of rejuvenation for Hebrew and Yiddish literature in Lithuania. From this time we remember authors, poets and translators such as Haim Nahman Shapira, the son of the Rabbi of Kovna, who was a lecturer of Hebrew literature and language at the Lithuanian university.
Dr. Joshua Friedman, Nathan Goren (Greenblat), Israel Kaplan, Isidor Eliashev (Ba'al Mahshavot), Esther Elyashev, Nave Yitzhak Gotlieb, Yacov Gotlieb, Zvi Osherowitz, Jehoshua Latzman, Ella Greenstein-Kaplan, Eliezer Heiman, Noah Stern, Daniel Ben Nahum , Yacov David Kamzon, Meir Yelin, Yudika, Sara Eizen, Joseph Gar, Aharon Goldblat etc. Most of them wrote in Hebrew and some of them in Hebrew and Yiddish, others wrote only in Yiddish.
In the thirties a group of Hebrew writers "Petah" of the Shlonsky-Steinman school became known. Among them were: Lea Goldberg, A.D. Shapira (Shapir Dr), Ari Glazman (among the first to perish in the Holocaust), Shimon Gans and others.
The following are the publications that appeared at different times in Hebrew: Hatzofe, Hed-Litha, Netivot, Olameinu, Galim, in educational paths edited by Dr. Avraham Kissin. This Week (orthodox), "Ziv", - Hashomer Hatzair- edited by Yacov Gotlieb (Amit) and Daniel Ben Nahum.
Yiddish literary publications: Vispa, Sleihen, Mir Alein, Toieren, Better, Ringen, Briken etc.
The daily newspapers - in Yiddish: "Yiddishe Stimme" edited by L. Garfunkel (first editor), Reuven Rubinstein; "Dos Wort" edited by Efraim Greenberg and Berl Cohen; "Folksblatt" edited by Dr. Mendel Sudarsky, Yudel Mark and Helena Chatzkeles; "Yiddisher Leben" - Agudath Jisrael (short period). In 1940 the newspapers "Yiddishe Stimme" and "Folksblatt" turned into a newspaper called "Emmes".
Painters and sculptors in Lithuania. We should mention artists here, born in small towns, whose creations became known in Lithuania and all over the world - Yitzhak Levitan (Kibart), Mark Antokolsky and Ayala Gintzberg, Victor Brenner (Shavl), the sculptor Jaques Lifshitz, the painter and sculptor Zerach William (Yurburg), the painter and sculptor Baruch Shatz (Vorna) - founder of "Bezalel"; Max Band (Neishtot), Arbitblat and Markus, the painter Yehezkel Streichman (Sapizishok), who is now a famous painter in Israel, the painter Abramowitz (in Israel), the paintress Bluma Odes-Ronkin (Plungian), Zlipher, Yudel Pen (Ezhereni), the sculptress Gurshein (in Israel), Liova Kansky-Shlatofer (in Israel) and many others, some of them perished in the Holocaust. We should also mention the name of Esther Lurie, the painter from the Kovna ghetto.
Hebrew and Yiddish theater. They loved theater in Lithuania. There was hardly a town without a drama circle. Performances were usually in Yiddish and at Hebrew schools in Hebrew. However, real theater at a Yiddish artistic level was not to be found in Lithuania.
Immediately after World War I (1919) Leonid Sokolov, producer and actor on the Russian stage, founded a drama group in Kovna, which performed a few successful plays in Yiddish and Russian. When Sokolov left Lithuania the group dismantled.
From that time on they limited themselves to performances held by theater artists who came from abroad, such as Sigmunt Turkov and Yonas Turkov, who would perform with the assistance of local actors. The performances took place on the stage of the people's house in Kovna and also in other towns.
From time to time reading-artists would also come, such as Hertz Grosbard and Eliahu Goldenberg, who would read literary passages to the public. The "common people" would fill the hall and be satisfied with what they heard. It should be remembered that there was a regular state theater in Lithuania that performed in the Lithuanian language, attended by quite a few Jews, however, it did not have any Jewish actors.. . .
A Play with Zalman Lebiush , Chai Saliet (Clara Petrakansky) and Arie Glazman
Better translation needed - Page 107
The Hebrew Studio. The visits by single actors and theater groups from Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) (Habima, Ohel) prompted the Zionist-Hebrew public to set up a Hebrew studio in Kovna.
Indeed, in 1927 a public committee was set up that founded the Hebrew drama studio. Members of this committee were Nathan Goren (Greenblat), Nahum Prachiahu, Dr. Alexander Rosenfeld, Goldfarb, Dr. Jehoshua Friedman and Nathan Shapira. The "Tarbut" center managed by Dov Lipetz sponsored and supported the establishment of the studio. The "studionists" who were accepted to the studio after meticulous examinations were: Nathan Shapira, Rehavam Mogiliuker, Zalman Leibush, Haya (Klara) Petrikansky -Glazman, Ari Glazman, Haim Laikowitz, Hanoch Paz, Baruch Klas, Adina Yudelewitz, Arie Volovitzky (Ankorion), Zvi Osherowitz, David Milner, Mordehai Gilda, Haviva Greenstein-Yizraeli, Nehama Meizel, Mrs. Sirkin, N. Gutman, S.Riak and others. Most of them were students at the Lithuanian university.
The studio's producer was Michael Gur, theater actor in Israel, who taught drama and acting. Later on Miriam Bernstein-Cohen joined him as diction teacher.
In 1928 the studio performed the Peretz party with 4 stories: "The Death of the Musician", "Venus and Shulamit," "That's The Way " and "Moon Stories. " It was a tremendous success. In 1929 the studio performed "Scapin's pranks" by Moliere, a grotesque play. The public and Jewish press in Lithuania loved the performance.
In 1930 the studio performed "The Tower of Oz" by Ramhal. Victor Alkaseiwitz Gromov, one of the greatest producers in Russia, produced the play, which was extremely successful. The next play was "The Gold Chain" by Peretz produced by Rafael Zvi from the "Ohel". The public fell in love with the play.
When Rafael Zvi left, some of the actors went to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) as well, among them: Zalman Leibush, N.Gutman, Hanoch Paz, Baruch Klas, Nathan Shapira, Arie Volovitky (Ankorion), Adina Yudelewitz, Nehama Maizel and Haviva Greenstein-Israeli. In subsequent years the activities of the studio continued at a slower pace until the Red Army entered Lithuania which resulted in an overthrow of the regime. Yiddish was the language used in Hebrew education in Lithuania and everything connected with it, but this too was merely a matter of time. In 1941, when the Nazis entered Lithuania, everything was turned upside down. The studio disappeared, as did its people, together with all the Jews in Lithuania.
Most of the studio members who had gone to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) successfully integrated with the theater groups in Israel, Zalman Leibush became one of the pillars of the Kameri Theater. Hanoch Paz and Baruch Klas spearheaded drama culture on the kibbutz stage. The activities of the studio in Lithuania were not in vain.
The Yoel Engel choir counted 40 singers. Its conductor was Shaul Blecherowitz. The singer and famous soloist was Yona Varshavsky. The choir's program included oratorio, cantata and popular songs in Hebrew and Yiddish. The choir's performances in Kovna and country towns were an artistic cultural event for the Jewish population of Lithuania.
The choir was founded by the "Tarbuth" center and supported by the Kovna municipality and national educational department. The Jewish public as well as the non-Jews loved the choir.
HEBREW EDUCATION IN LITHUANIA
After World War I the Jews returned from exile in Russia and established new communities in independent Lithuania. In 1919 minority rights were recognized in Lithuania and the Jews gained national autonomy. A Ministry of Jewish Affairs was set up, headed by Dr. Menahem Solovetzik (Solieli) and Shimshon Rozenbaum.
In those days of glory a broad chain of schools was established for Jewish children. About 60-70% of the schools belonged to the "Tarbuth" trend, i.e. they were national-Zionist secular schools in the Hebrew language. More than 30-40% of the schools belonged to two other trends. One of them - Agudath Israel - "Yavne", where studies were conducted in Hebrew.
Nearly 15-20% of the schools belonged to the "Kultur-Liga" trend where all studies were conducted in Yiddish. These schools were supported by the anti-Zionist "Folks-Partei" (the Folksists) and the "Liebhober fun Wissen" company.
The fact that at over 80% of the schools studies were conducted in Hebrew was quite wonderful, for this was neither the mother tongue nor the language spoken in the area. Nevertheless, the experience was successful in spite of all the problems. The Hebrew school thrived on ground imbibed with the spiritual tradition of Torah and Haskalah.
The Jewish kindergartens were private institutions and were not supported by the government.
The primary schools -first 4 years and then 6 years of study - were governmental. The government subsidized wages to the teachers, and local authorities, municipalities etc., subsidized maintenance expenses for the schools (buildings, janitors etc.).
The pro-gymnasia (5th and 6th grade) were private. The parent committees were in charge of their maintenance.
The gymnasia (14 years of study including kindergarten) were the backbone of Hebrew education in Lithuania. At 9 points of settlement there were 11 gymnasia, as follows: Kovna (5), Shavl, Ponivezh, Mariampol, Virbaln, Vilkovishk, Vilkomir, Rasein and Yurburg. These were private institutions at the expense of the parents committees. Diplomas were signed by representatives of the government education department.
The Yiddish trend had 2 gymnasia - one in Kovna (Kommertz) and the other in Vilkomir.
"Yavne" had 4 gymnasia. They too were private institutions, as the others. The "heders" were dismantled by virtue of the compulsory education law. The "yeshivas" were private and existed in Slabodka (2 large yeshivas and smaller ones in Telzh and Ponivezh). In addition to these schools there was a professional school in Kovna, "ORT", which was of a high level.
Teachers colleges. From 1921 the "Tarbuth" center conducted two-year teachers colleges. At first the teachers were "yeshiva" graduates and from 1927 high-school graduates.
A Hebrew college for kindergarten teachers was held in Riga (Latvia) and belonged jointly to the three Baltic countries. The "Yavne" trend had a teachers and kindergarten teachers college in Telzh, and the Yiddish trend had an annual kindergarten teachers college in Kovna. The parents carried the heavy burden of the educational enterprise, but the Jews of Lithuania managed very well, and they deserve all the credit for this.
Public library. There was hardly a Jewish settlement in Lithuania without a public library or two libraries in Hebrew and Yiddish. There were over 110 libraries in Kovna and country towns and about 120 libraries next to the schools. The Hebrew readers were mainly youngsters, students of the Hebrew schools. There were quite a few readers among the older generation as well.
The residents of Kovna were proud of a large Hebrew library called "Avraham Mapu" with a spacious reading room next to it, where those who were interested could peruse a Hebrew book or read Hebrew newspapers.
There was also a Yiddish library in Kovna of the "Liebhober fun Wissen" company. Most Hebrew books printed in Lithuania were study books and but a few were poetry books or novels. The "Tarbuth" center founded the "Ezra" cooperative which sold books at reduced prices.
VISITS BY WRITERS, ARTISTS AND ZIONIST LEADERS
The visit of a writer, artist or Zionist leader was a festive occasion in Kovna and the country towns. The halls were hardly large enough to hold the numbers of interested people.
Among the stage artists we shall mention the visits by "Habima", "Ohel" and actors who came separately, such as Refael Klatzkin, David Vardi and Hava Yoelit, Michael Gur, Miriam Bernstein Cohen, Amitai and others.
The national poet Haim Nahman Bialik visited Lithuania twice and admired the Hebrew schools and their pupils who spoke Hebrew just as well as native Israelis. The writers Shaul Chernihovsky, Zalman Shneur, Eliezer Steinman and Yitzhak Lamdan, whose cultural origins were to be found in Lithuania, were most impressed by the Lithuanian Jews and their Hebrew-cultural level.
Among the Zionist leaders who visited Lithuania we shall mention M.M. Usishkin,
David Ben Gurion, Zeev Jabotinsky, Nahum Sokolov, Berl Katzenelson, Nathan Bistritzky, Leib Yaffe, Yehiel Halperin, Alexander Goldschmidt and Zvi Zohar.
Furthermore, there were emissaries who came to train the members of the youth movements and for fundraising for the building of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel).
THE YOUTH MOVEMENTS
The Hebrew schools scored tremendous achievements in the field of education. However, these impressive achievements of the schools had a junior partner - the youth movement. The blessed activities of the youth movements, in nationalist-Zionist education, complemented the ideological-educational activity of the schools. Study hours at the schools were limited and it was impossible to find time to install nationalist-Zionist values. This is where the youth movement stepped in and taught their members lofty ideals. The movement's activities took place in an educational environment - the club. At the youth clubs the vision of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) was created and its establishment as a fatherland for the people. The aim obliged the members to toil each day for its realization. That accounted for the activity on behalf of the Jewish National Fund, fundraising for the purchase of land to make the desert bloom.
That is why there was a blue box at home and that is why funds were raised for the realization of the Zionist dream.
An atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) was created at the youth clubs, the members spoke Hebrew and prepared themselves for training and going on alyiah to the pioneer village, the kibbutz. The story of the youth movement is a wonderful story, full of the majestic splendor of the boys and girls whose lives, regretfully, were lost too soon, following the tragic events of the Holocaust.
The following are the youth movements that were active in independent Lithuania between the two World Wars: Hashomer Hatzair (59 branches - 3200 members); Hashomer Hatzair Hatzofi Halutzi (34 branches, 1350 members); Hehalutz Hatzair (15 branches - 1000 members); Beitar (38 branches - 1500 members); Gordonia (32 branches - 700 members); Hanoar Hatzioni (4 branches - 155 members); Noar Halutzey Hamishmar (129 members), Noar Z.S. (Eretz Yisrael Haovedet) - details are missing.
Sports organizations: "Maccabi"; "Hapoel" and "Hakoah"; I.A.K.-Yiddisher Atletik Club.
Students organizations: Beitaria (90); Herzliya (38); Yardenia (80); Al Hamishmar (129 members); Noar Z.S. (Eretz Yisrael Haovedet) - details are missing.
(The above data are derived from "The Book of Lithuanian Jewry" - according to registration from 1931).
LITHUANIAN JEWS' CONTRIBUTION TO ERETZ YISRAEL (THE LAND OF ISRAEL)
The Lithuanian Jews' love of Eretz Yisrael was deeply rooted and was reflected in study of the Torah, prayers and yearning for redemption. From the alyiah of the "Gara" students -the Mithnagdim-Prushim in the 18th century, the Lithuanian Jews' spiritual ties with Eretz Yisrael grew. Among the "Gera" students were people of mind and matter, such as the Rivlin and Salomon families, who set up new neighborhoods around the old city of Jerusalem and agricultural settlements all over the country.
When many new immigrants had problems they set up a financial enterprise - the Rabbi Meir Ba'al Hanes fund - in support of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel).
Following the alyiah of the Gera students, other immigrants started to come, initially very slowly, who decided to expand settlement of the country. These were the of the well-known Kalisher Rabbis, Alkalai and Shmuel Mohliver, from Lithuania, after whom kibbutz "Gan Shmuel" is named.
Before the Shivat Zion movement was formed, Eliezer Ben Yehuda (Perlman) came from Lithuania and he enthusiastically spread the Hebrew word. Young people, mostly students in Russia, founded Bilu - Beth Yacov Lehu veNelha (Isiah II: 5), and they went to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) in order to make the desert bloom; among these olim were Biluim from Kretingen in Lithuania, Horabin, among the founders of Gedera and its head.
Other Biluists spread out all over the country and devoted their efforts to settlement.
That is how the first alyiah started. About 10-15 agricultural settlements were established, many of them by Lithuanian immigrants assisted by Baron Edmond Rothschild.
When the Zionist Federation was founded by Dr. Benjamin Zeev Herzl at the first Zionist Congress in Basel (1897) influential representatives from Lithuania took part, and one of them - a Jew from Erzhvilki near Yurburg - Prof. Zvi Shapira made a practical proposal at the Congress to establish the "Jewish National Fund" for redemption of land and settlement. Herzl's faithful assistant, David Wolfson, is the man Herzl describes in his book "Altneuland" as its central character - the "man from Litvak".
After Herzl's death (1904) the"man from Litvak", David Wolfson, was elected second President of the World Zionist Federation (kibbutz "Nir David" is named after him).
Many youngsters from Lithuania took part in the second alyiah (1904-1914) - the workers' alyiah - they were Hebrew workers and laid the foundations of a new way of life - the kibbutz - "Degania" (M. Busel). They also founded the Hashomer organization (Israel Shochat, Alexander Zeid and others).
Later on, in the third alyiah (1918-1924), of the pioneers, the pioneers from Lithuania were among the founders of the "Gdud Ha'avoda", drained the swamps, paved the roads and settled in the Jizrael valley.
In the fourth alyiah (1924-1929) the Jews from Lithuania contributed towards the building of Tel Aviv and industrial development; By the way, the founder of Tel Aviv and its living spirit was Akiva-Arie Weiss, from Lithuania. Then there was Avraham Krinitzi, among the founders of Ramat Gan, and its mayor for many years. And Zerach Brandt as well, who was among the founders of Petach Tikva.
In the fifth alyiah (1929), the last before World War II, many wanted to go on alyiah from Lithuania, old and young, but the hostile mandate authorities prevented them from doing so. The few who came on alyiah were members of the pioneer youth movements, who went to till the land; they set up tens of "Homah uMigdal" ("Tower and Stockade") settlements and guarded and protected in the days of the bloody clashes and in the World War against the Nazi enemy.
The Jews of Lithuania contributed and left their mark on all spheres of life and creation in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel); on each clod of land that was redeemed, on each stone that was upturned, and each settlement that was erected.
When the State of Israel was born, only a small part of the Jews of Lithuania were fortunate enough to fulfill their dream. Those who came from Lithuania and settled in Israel, took place in the building and establishment of the State - its institutions, government, science, defense, law, economy, culture and education.
It is a great pity and to be regretted that many people from Lithuania who yearned to witness the creation of the State of Israel and to live there - did not have the good fortune to do so. May their memory live on forever in the work and creation of the Lithuanian Jews in Israel.
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