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I Dreamt of Being a Farmer in Eretz Yisrael (cont.)

World War I

When World War I broke out, even before the Russians left Dusiat, some refugees from Vilna (Vilnius) arrived into town. The Jews of Dusiat warmly embraced them…

During the German occupation in WWI, the Jews of Dusiat lead normal lives. The stores remained open, and goods were brought from Ponevezh (Panevezys). There was extensive trade with neighboring shtetls, where goods were bought and sold to other towns.[1]

During WWI, when our school was converted into a hospital, my studies in Dvinsk were interrupted, and I went back home to Dusiat.

I arrived at the shtetl in the evening. Suddenly, the Germans started bombing us. The Russians fled the town. One was killed, and buried near our house. The German army vanguard arrived at Dusiat, and some soldiers sat with us. They showed us pictures of their families, and seemed to be rather humane. The next morning I watched them as they ate white bread with jam. That was a new sight! They would play the harmonica and row in the lake. I remember them fondly, unlike my memories of the Russians: when the Russian army was defeated, the soldiers were very rude to us. They took my balalaika forcefully…

When the war broke, Aunt Freidl escaped to Russia, and was joined by my sister Elka and my cousin Sonya Orlin, and they all moved in with the Charits. My parents also contemplated fleeing the shtetl. Father had already bought a horse and wagon, and the Dusiater teased him: Reb Emanuel driving a horse and wagon… I remember the horse was nothing but trouble. It just stood and ate all day long. When we would walk past the shed, it would neigh; causing us to worry that the Germans would take it away. One day, all the townsfolk were ordered to bring their horses to the market square. A horse that was found fit was taken by the army, and its owner received an I.O.U for it. I was sorry that our horse was found fit. It was such a nice horse…

At that time, the Germans would take men of certain ages into forced labor. They appointed Naftali Shub to “Burger-Meister” (“mayor”), and gave him a gift – a book of psalms in German, from which I learned German.

When Grandma Sore-Beile's step-brother, Moshe Friedman of Libava, visited our house, Grandma bragged about my knowledge of German, and he said: “It is not sufficient to speak German. One should familiarize oneself with its culture and literature.” On my way to Eretz Yisrael, I said my goodbyes to him in Libava, and he made sure I was not afraid of traveling by ship.

Abie Friedman: Moshe Friedman (son of Chaim-Avigdor) of Libava was a scholar, and they used to tell of his wife, Sara, that she wore trousers and smoked cigarettes, a rare sight in those days…

The Germans recruited my friend Chaim Levitt and myself to build a bridge on the river that ran through our shtetl. I injured my finger, and the Germans administered me with first aid. For our work, we received money and groceries. Later on, they would recruit for jobs in far away places, but if you paid the ransom, you could get out of it. My parents paid Chaim Levitt's mother (Chaya-Hene) rent in advance, so she'd have ransom money for him, and Father paid my ransom, so we weren't sent away.

In a nearby village, there was a Jewish wood merchant who offered us work, thus releasing us from other jobs. I worked together with Meir Levitt, my brother Avraham, and Chaim Levitt. We built rafts and floated them on the river, and from there, they were sent to Germany. The work was very tedious. I remember getting up in the middle of the night, moonstruck, and rowing with my hands, as if I was on the river…

We slept in a shed in the yard, and eat groceries supplied by the Germans. There were two shikses (gentile girls) there, one who was anti-Semitic, and the other who would push her daughter to dance with us. During weekends, we would go home.

 

The Old Bridge
“Constructing the Bridge, 1916. A memento to Yosef Slep”
(in German)

 

The New Bridge - “Darius Ir Gireno”

Rivka Shteinman: I remember the old bridge; it was shaky. It happened more than once that a board slipped under my feet, and it was only by chance that I didn't fall into the river.

Shayke Glick: The new bridge was probably built in the 1930s, and was named after Darius and Girenas, two American pilots of Lithuanian origin, who wanted to honor their people by crossing the Atlantic [in 1933 from New York to Kovno]. Their plane crashed somewhere in Germany, and rumor had it that they flew over a German army camp, and were shot down.

The Lithuanian authorities issued a postage stamp in their honor, and they became national heroes. A day of mourning was declared, and during the speech made in Dusiat by Kuzmickas (a Lithuanian teacher - see pp. 101-102), the Dusiater Lezer Glick stood and cried. A picture of him,together with his name, was published in a Lithuanian newspaper in Kovno (Kaunas), quoting that the pain of the death of the pilots was so great, that even the Jews cried…

And then the war was over. For a short while, the Bolsheviks, who arrived in the wake of Russian Revolution, ruled our shtetl. I remember the May 1 parade; there was singing, and a Tatar commissar spoke. He taught us songs of the revolution.

Nechamka-Anna Silver (Slep): After the revolution, I arrived in Dusiat on a visit from Dvinsk, and when I was asked about my political preferences, I answered humorously according to my mother's advice – Ka.Ve.De - koda vater doyet (in Russian, whichever way the wind blows…)

During that time, the gentiles used to say that Russia was controlled by three Jews: the tea – by Wissotzky, the sugar – by Brodsky, and the state – by Trotsky…

In Independent Lithuania

Chaim Levitt: It was customary for the Litvak to confuse the Hebrew letters “shin” and “sin”. That is why, when independent Lithuania was in the process of determining how its new borders would be set, the jokers would say that Jew Shimshon Rosenboim, then the Deputy Foreign Minister, suggested going through all the outback villages, and wherever they were welcomed with “a gut Sabes” (incorrectly pronounced, instead of “a gut Shabes), that village was probably Lithuanian…

Independent Lithuania preserved its symbol from the royal era: a knight on a horse standing on its hind legs. Some would jokingly inquire: Why is it standing like that? And the answer would be: If it stood on all four legs, its front legs would invade a foreign country.[2]

Lithuania based its right of autonomy on the slogan of self-determination for minorities and ethnic groups, and had to consider the national rights of the Jewish minority then, whose economic and cultural thrust was much greater than its size in numbers.

On August 5, 1918, in the National Federation in Paris, professor Wladamaras bestowed national autonomy on the Jews of Lithuania, and established a Ministry of Jewish Affairs.

Lithuania was hoping to use the Jewish political influence in order to reclaim their historic capital city – Vilna, which was previously occupied by Poland. They were also interested in obtaining assistance by the Jews in rebuilding the young new state.

And then came the era of independence in Lithuania.

One day, the wife of Itche Ber (brother of Wolfke), went out to herd the cows near the cemetery. Some Lithuanian soldiers came, and decided she was a spy. They shot and killed her. This is how Lithuania's independence began.

In independent Lithuania, there was a Jewish Ministry, and the Jewish community had official rights to run its Jewish social life. Supposedly, you could trust the autonomy given to the Jews. But soon enough they found that there was not much to trust. I too learned of this, later, from letters I received when I was already in Eretz Yisrael.

On the Situation in Independent Lithuania (from the press in Eretz Yisrael)

“A movement of hatred against the Jews… Jewish clerks are fired. In the Triba (parliament), the Catholic Guard is waging an aggressive economic war against the Jews of Lithuania.

The Jewish communities and schools are not supported by the government. The general economic situation of the Jews of Lithuania is very bleak. A call for help is being heard from there. The government is standing by and not lifting a finger…”

(Haaretz16.2.1920)

“Demonstrations against the Annexation of Vilna to Poland

On November 2 there was a large public assembly in Kovno, in which the Jewish speakers promised to do their utmost for their country Lithuania…”

(Haaretz – 24.11.1920)

“A Jewish Department in Kovno University (Lithuania)

Graduates will be awarded the degree 'Doctor of Hebrew Science' “

(Haaretz –2.12.1920)

“Vilkomir [Ukmerge] was bombarded from planes by Zeligowski's troops. Among the 20 casualties were 17 Jews…”

(Haaretz – 3.12.1920)

 

“Vilnius Day”, February 24, 1933

A public assembly, including Jews, in the Market Place, in the centre of Dusiat. The speaker is Kuzmickas (the Lithuania teacher), standing in front of the Monument to the Unknown Soldier. The Beth Hamidrash is in the center back.

The houses on Maskevitcher Gass on the right: Chana (Chatzkel) and Avraham Aires (in front), Chava-Leah (Chatzkel) and Asher Kagan, Zalmen Kagan, Ella (Slep) and Hillel Schwartz (previously Milun), Sarah-Leah Shteinman

The houses in front, on the left side: Zeligson (Yitzchak Moshe's and Yosel Shifra's), Shepsl Krut, Melamed Avraham-Moshe Shmidt, Hirshel Blacher

In front, in the middle is Avraham-Hirshl Orlin. His sister Esther identified him and wrote his name on his back …

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Footnotes

  1. Chaya Malka Kruss-Glussak and Nachum Blacher. From Our Shtetl Dusiat, p. 344, in Yizkor Book of Rakishok and Environs, Johannesburg, 1952. Return
  2. Yoffe, Mordechai. Fun Mein Shtetl Dusiat, in Lita, Volume 1, Ed. Dr. Mendel Sudarsky, New York, 1951, pp. 1483-1496. Return

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