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[Page 258]

Reminiscences…

By Ben-Zion Chait (Bentzke Chaitowitz)

Translated by Judy Grossman

Sara Weiss (Slep): Two good friends “from home” met at the Diplomat Hotel in Tel Aviv: Yitzchak Orez and Bentzke Chaitowitz. Lanka Binder (Visakolski) and the initiator of the encounter, Masha Gershuni (Slep), were also present in the armchairs in the lobby. I showed them many photographs from the shtetl and with a bit of pride I showed them that even the “Jewish Bank” was in the collection, and at the time I didn't know that the figure peeking out of the corner was Asher-Moshe Chaitowitz, whose new house went up in flames…

Bentzke looked at the photograph, and suddenly said excitedly: “That's my father! Here's my father! My father owned this house,” and he ran to show their grandfather to his daughters, Rachel-Leah Zetzer and Shoshana-Shirli Graff.

The Big Fire and Just Ordinary Fires

I remember the big fire, which took place, I think, in 1910. The synagogue went up in flames then, but they managed to rescue the Torah scrolls. The fire destroyed the entire shtetl! It broke out from both ends of the shtetl and there was only one fire engine, so it's no wonder that they didn't manage to control the fire.

After the Shavuot holiday (Pentecost) we moved into our new house, when there was suddenly another fire, and the new house was also burnt to the ground.

There was another fire: During WWI the Germans entered the shtetl the day after Rosh Hashana (New Year), and a fire broke out during the week of Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles). At the time they said that the Germans had put something up to cook, left the house without putting out the flame, and thus caused the fire. I remember digging a ditch at the time, and crawling into it to escape the fire.

I remember the old rabbi, Natan-Neta Zilber, and his grandson, Rabbi Eliezer Zilber (Silver), who emigrated to the United States. In 1914 he came to Lithuania for a visit under the auspices of the Association of Rabbis, and then he came to our shtetl to visit his father Rabbi Bunim-Tzemach.

Of course I remember the lame teacher, and also the blows I received from him. And how! And also the teacher Avraham-Moshe Shmidt. I was told that he moved to Ponivezh (Panevezys) because he didn't want to remain in a small town. I remember his son Yankele very well.

Emigration to South Africa

In 1914 I left to study in Dvinsk (Daugavpils, Latvia), but was forced to return home because of the war. My mother died in 1924, and she was only forty-eight years old at the time! I will never forget her last words, and I always remembered that she asked me to be a father to my brother and sisters.

A large wave of emigration from the shtetl began at that time. Velvel Blacher left, and after him, Shmuel Yudelowitz. They departed for South Africa, and later on sent for their families. In 1929 I also emigrated to South Africa. I worked hard there, and saved every penny in order to bring my sisters and brother to me.

My father remained in the shtetl and married Netel, the widowed mother of Chaim and Leibele Slovo. After my brother Natan, my three sisters and two brothers-in-law also came to South Africa. My little sister Bunka (Bertha Englander) was perhaps twelve years old at the time.

I married Fruma, the daughter of Simon and Chyene Steiman from Dusiat. In 1937 my wife and two daughters visited the shtetl, and they were there for nine months.

Rachel-Leah Zetzer (Chait): I was still little, but I retain memories of that visit, and the shtetl is dear to me to this day.

All My Grandchildren Have Visited Israel

I have a very close friendship with Yitzchak Orez from my shtetl, the “pioneer” who is presently sitting across from me. We have been good friends since we were children.

I did not immigrate to Eretz Yisrael, but I always remained a lover of Israel. I have visited here many times, and am always received well and lovingly by Mashka Gershuni (Slep), my childhood friend from the shtetl. My children and all my grandchildren have also visited here.

I now fondly recall my friend Yitzchak Poritz and the emotional visit to him in Kibbutz Afikim.

That is how the years have gone by. We get older and our friends grow fewer…

 

Excerpt from an inscription in the handwriting of his father Asher-Moshe Chaitowitz from Dusiat.

 

 
The Chaitowitz house in Maskevitcher Gass
Part of the house was a bank.

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