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In the Field of Education (cont.)

Memoirs of my Shtetl Dusiat
Impressions of People and Typical Characters who lived in the Shtetl during my Childhood
[2]

…Two extended families lived in the shtetl, and I, the writer of this memoirs, belonged to both of them: “Juzinter” on my mother's side (the name deriving from the small shtetl of Juzintai, a distance of ten to fifteen kilometers from Dusiat, from which the family ancestors had come) and “Debrezer”, from the small shtetl of Debrez, from which my father's ancestors had come.

Dusiat's community leaders and scholars came from these two families, which played an important role in the formation of the social and economic makeup of the shtetl.

The number of Jews in the shtetl after WWI, in the days of independent and sovereign Lithuania, was approximately 250 families.

Dusiat was surrounded on three sides by forests, which extended for dozens of kilometers, and on the fourth side it lay on the shore of a large lake [Sartai]. The Œventoji River (which originated somewhere around Vilkomir [Ukmerge], ran into the lake at the northern entrance to the shtetl, beside which was a small Jewish settlement called Unter-der-Brik [in Yiddish, Beyond the Bridge]. This settlement grew smaller, and at the end [3] only a small number of Jewish families remained there. Unter-der-Brik was surrounded on all sides by wonderful natural landscapes. A road with high embankments on each side led from the center of Dusiat to Unter-der-Brik, and there were two wooden bridges, a large one that crossed the Œventoji River, and a small one that crossed one of its brooks, which over time dried up.

The income of the Jews of the Dusiat was based on trade with the Gentiles in the area and on the market day on Wednesday, when the surrounding peasants and farmers brought their products to market, and merchants, even from out of town, would come and bargain and transfer the goods, mainly flax and pig's hair, to bigger cities.

The Timber and Lumber Business

Several of the Jews of Dusiat, mainly from the prominent families I mentioned above, also dealt in timber and used to rent plots, that is only the trees in the plots were sold by the government, at auctions (which the official government organized from time to time). They would chop down the trees, prepare plain boards, beams and ties to lay railway tracks, and sell them to special timber merchants who came from neighboring Latvia, from Koenigsburg in Germany, and from other cities. The boards and trees were brought on sleds to the shores of the Œventoji, to be floated over the water on rafts in the spring, when the water was at its highest, to Koenigsburg in Germany.

Several members of my family were specialized in this trade. They were talented and successful merchants who had close business relations with well-known international timber merchants and lumbermen. These business relations went on for many years, over generations, and led to specialization in the purchase of forest trees from the government and the processing of the raw material for the embankments for the railway tracks and for other construction purposes.

The purchase of such forest plots was a complicated procedure. After the authorities published a notice that a certain plot would be sold, the specialist lumbermen, with years of experience in this field, would tour the spot and give a rough estimate of the trees: they would estimate the value of the trunks and the potential use of the processed products. For this purpose they even used to measure the width of the trees with a special implement. When calculating the bid they used to take an important factor into account: the means of transportation and the distance to shipping outlets.

At the end of this work, they would submit a written tender in a sealed envelope to the government officials. After all the tenders, that is the sealed envelopes whose contents no one knew, had been collected after a set date, the official committee gathered for the sale, and in the presence of all the candidates for purchase, the envelopes were opened, and the highest tender won the public auction.

The authorized purchaser had to deposit a certain portion of his tender, and the rest would be paid in payments.

When I was a child, I joined my uncle[4] more than once on such tours for an advance estimation of the plots and the determination of their purchase value, and it was an unforgettable experience.

My uncle had a partner, a relative called Eber[5], who had married a rich woman from our family. Eber was an educated man, knowledgeable in the law, but had not completed his studies and was not qualified. He was a “vinkl advokat” [in Yiddish, literally a corner lawyer], someone who wrote requests. Although he knew nothing about the timber business, he used to join my uncle, who was an expert at this but could not afford the business transaction, and Eber used to finance the deals and receive a certain percentage.

Eber's father-in-law …

[The manuscript unfortunately leaves off here]

* * *

Gilad Caspi (Dov Caspi's younger son):

My Grandparents David Zilber and Michle

Among my father's papers I discovered information about my grandfather David Zilber. He was born on August 19, 1878 and immigrated from Dusiat to the USA in 1907. His brother, Israel-Shaul Zilber had also immigrated to the USA and passed away there.

These two brothers were married to the two sisters: Michle and Rochel (nee Levitt). My grandfather tried in vain to bring my grandmother Michle to the USA as well. Michle could join her husband with their two little children, Lesl and my father, but she refused to do so because of her devotion to her childless widowed sister Rochel. Michle's refusal to leave her sister behind in Lithuania brought about an actual separation in the family. The conditions that prevailed during the WWI did not help to solve this problem.

In the meantime, my grandfather, supported by local relatives, established himself in the USA and passed away there.

My Father's Uncle Yosef Zilber

Yosef and his wife Malka [from Dvinsk, Latvia] settled in Berlin, and there their three children were born: Boris, Elizabeth-Elisheva and Aharon.

Boris Silver (!) was a brilliant writer, and in 1928, one of his novels was included in an anthology of young authors, one of whose editors was the famous Klaus Mann. After Hitler's rise to power, Boris immigrated to Sweden, and his death (in Sweden, in December 1968) was reported in the German press.

In the 1930s, Yosef and Malka and their daughter Elizabeth left Germany and established their home in Eretz Yisrael. Yosef worked as an engineer in the Electricity Company, and Elizabeth worked at an insurance company.

The third son, Aharon, was among the illegal immigrants that the British exiled to Mauritius. After the end of WWII, the 'Mauritius exiles' were permitted to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael, and Aharon worked as a teacher in Israel.

All the three of Yosef and Malka's children were childless, and their passing away brought an end to this branch of the Zilber family from Dusiat.

 

The parents, Yosef Zilber and Malka, welcome their son Boris and his wife from Sweden, Israel, 1950's
From right to left, seated: Yosef, Malka and their daughter Elizabeth
Standing: Their son Aharon and his wife Tonny, Boris (extreme left) and his wife

 

Devora Brosh (Wizgordisky):

About Dr. Rabbiner Yeshayahu Zilber

 

Dr. Rabbiner Yeshayahu Zilber

 

My maternal great-grandmother Ella Zeligson's maiden name was Zilber. There were very close relationship between the Zilbers in Lithuania, inter alia Zarasai and Dusiat, and then also in Eretz Yisrael. I used to visit the Zilbers in Tel Aviv, and there I met Uncle Yeshayahu, as I used to call him.

As far as I know, Uncle Yeshayahu Zilber visited Eretz Yisrael several times. He was apparently here at the end of the 1920's, because they constantly told me that he had brought me a present, a harmonica, and I was so clever that I knew how to use it. I was then 1-2 years old...

I remember his visit in 1933/34. I was then 4-5 years old. We were already living in Kfar Bilu. I remember Uncle Yeshayahu as a tall man, wearing a pith helmet, and carrying a stick. He had a thick black beard, like Herzl's. I clearly remember how he used to comb his beard and when I saw him doing it I laughed. Uncle Yeshayahu was a bachelor, and from what I know, and from stories that I heard in the home of Uncle Yosef Zilber, Uncle Yeshayahu was a professor of oriental languages at the University of Berlin.

I also heard that in order to exit Germany, Uncle Yeshayahu joined a group of professors who purchased a ship in order to sail in it to Shanghai, but the ship capsized at sea, and rumor has it that that is how Uncle Yeshayahu perished.

Tzila Gudelsky (Shub): The truth is that Uncle Yeshayahu's efforts to leave Berlin produced results, and he moved to Vilna [Vilnius] and taught at a Teachers' Seminar there, but he suddenly passed away and I attended his funeral. That was in 1940.

* * *

Gilad Caspi: (cont.)

I am now perusing my father's numerous documents and am discovering the story of his life not only in the records that he wrote, but also from a variety of official documents from the “Lithuania period” and after it, the contents of which reveal the spirit of the period and tell the story of the life of a youth – a youth who left the shtetl for the big city to acquire knowledge and to earn his daily bread. Many of the writings are in Hebrew and imbued with the spirit of Eretz Yisrael.

I found that my father was first mentioned under the Hebrew name Dov Caspi in the document of the Z.S. - Zionist Socialist Federation “Tzeirey Zion” [Zion Youth] Kovno, Lithuania 3rd Sivan 5684 [1924].

I don't recall stories about my father's childhood in the shtetl. What captivated me in his stories was his expert knowledge of Lithuanian culture, his work as a journalist and as the editor of reports for radio broadcasts. Among his papers I found newspapers in Lithuanian, in which articles appeared by my father on Hebrew literature. I remember him telling me that while a student at the University of Lithuania in Kaunas he also studied at the Slobodka Yeshiva.

 

Tzeirey Zion Member Card Paid One Shekel “The aim of Zionism is to create a home in Palestine for the Jewish people…” Symbol of the Tzeirey Zion Organization, Dusiat

 


List of “Zeirey Zion – Union” Candidates for the Jewish Community Council of Dusiat

  1) David Schwartz

  2) Zvi Levitt

  3) Meir Gafanowitz

  4) David Gerber

  5) Yosef Aires

  6) Dov Levitt

The signatures include Michle Zilber.

[YIVO #8419]

 

Vairas [Helm], Magazine for Culture, May 1934
“Public National Education”Berl Zilber's Articles about the
New Hebrew Literature in Palestine

 

Footnotes

  1. Based on a copy of Dov Caspi's manuscript, which was apparently written in 1966, in the later period of his life, when his health was very poor. Return
  2. The writer is apparently referring to the beginning of the 20th century, before WWI. Return
  3. The identity of this “uncle” is not known. Return
  4. Eber Bernstein and his wife Tzive-Bathe (daughter of Dov-Berl and Rachel Levitt), who were childless, immigrated to the USA (in the 1930s?). Return

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