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[Pages 347–351]

Reminiscences Mingled with Pain

By Malka Gilinsky (Feldman)

Translated by Judy Grossman

I left behind a Jewish shtetl full of life, and my memories increase the pain for the world that was destroyed.

The days of my childhood in the beautiful shtetl, in its natural surroundings, still live on in my heart. In the summer we used to sail on the lake. More than once we “borrowed” the priest's boat, which had five seats. We would sail, jump into the water, and swim. Suddenly – thunder and rain. My mother would go out to look for us, and observe us worriedly from afar. In the winter – we would sit in sleds on top of the flourmill hill, and whoops, down we would slide to the middle of the lake, turn around, push the sled back up, and slide down again! We also skated on the frozen lake in ice skates, frequently accompanied by our teachers. It was dangerous to slide from the estuary of the river to the lake. The vegetation was dense, and we knew that we had to watch out for deep holes, especially in the area of the bathhouse, as the escaping heat would melt the ice there.

Among the Gentiles …

I recall market day in the shtetl. I would rush to get back from shopping with my mother, in order to help serve the non-Jews who came to our shop. When the cooperatives opened, anti-Semitism began to spread, and the incitement not to buy in Jewish shops increased. The Lithuanian slogan was “Savi pas savus” (Each to his own). The Jews were allowed to buy in the non-Jewish shops, but because of the competition that developed, it was unpleasant to go into them. The shops were alongside each other; their owners would stand outside and wait for customers, calling: “Come to me, come to me!” On many an occasion, they also came to blows, and we were afraid to leave our homes.

I had a non-Jewish friend, whose father was a simple cobbler. My father helped him open a shoe shop, and later on he opened a fabric shop in the home of the dairy owner. After the war, I learned that this non-Jew, Leleikas, was extremely active in the murder of the shtetl's Jews.

“ On October 31, 1940 the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian S.S.R. issued a decree for the nationalization of property. Fourteen thousand houses were nationalized. Most of them were owned by Jews …” [1]

During the Soviet period, the Russians nationalized the shops. Our store was also nationalized, and our family lived off its savings. Anyone who resisted the Russians, or was even suspected of doing so, was deported to Siberia. That's what happened to Dovid-Leib Aires. His family remained in the shtetl and perished, and Dovid-Leib was deported to Siberia and survived.

My Father's House…

It is the Sabbath eve. Jews are bringing their pots of cholent[2] to my grandmother's bakery. My mother would bake a yeast cake in honor of the Sabbath, and she would also bake her own challes, even though in grandmother's bakery they sold challes. I even remember a poor family that received challes for free.

 

 
Shmuel-Yosef Feldman and Sara-Mina (Berman) with their children
From right to left, top: Zvi, Malka, Yitzchak and Israel-Eliyahu
Between their parents: Rachel-Hindale and Shimon-David

Only Malka survived. Yitzchak was killed fighting for the 16th Lithuanian Division.

 

When my mother lit the Sabbath candles, I would stand beside her and light a candle in a small candlestick of my own. My father would return from the synagogue and recite the blessings, and we would all sit down to eat around the big table. On Sabbath mornings we would climb into our parents' bed, and my father would teach us arithmetic. When I started school I already knew the multiplication tables. My father was an educated man who helped us with our studies, so that we always had excellent grades. Our father would also help anyone who asked him with writing letters. He knew bookkeeping, and served as the beadle of the synagogue.

We had a gramophone, and people would come to our house to listen to cantorial music. My father taught himself to play the mandolin and the violin by ear, and he also taught us. I remember that my relatives, the children of Rochel-Gitel and Yudel Slep, also played the violin and the mandolin, and Gershke played in the Sauliu Sajunga[3] orchestra. That was at the time when reasonable neighborly relations still prevailed. When times changed, these Sauliu Sajunga brutally and pitilessly murdered their Jewish neighbors, our parents and brothers.

 

Three brothers, sons of Yudel Slep and Rachel-Gitel (Feldman)

 
 
Meir Slep 25.5.1935
[Courtesy Masha Gershuni (Slep)]
  Motele Slep
[Courtesy Sheinke Zeidel (Chaitowitz)]
  Gershke-Gershon Slep

 


“Meike had good friends among the Shaulists. They suggested he leave the shtetl and flee. Then one of them asked him: 'Are you with Hitler or with Stalin?' and shot him on the spot.”

Gershke fled to Russia and is the only one of them who survived the Holocaust.

School and the Youth Movement

I am trying to remind myself of the good days, and every remembrance leads me to the bitter end.

I can't forget the time at school and in the youth movement. That is where we spent most of our time as children. That is where our dream to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael was born. In my time, all the children in the shtetl went to the Hebrew school. I know that that had not been the case previously. The school had a preparatory class, and four grades. At the time it was located in a house belonging to a gentile, across from the Poritz's house. The teachers were Hillel Schwartz who was my mother's cousin and also the principal, and Yudel Slep. When Yudel was drafted into the Lithuanian army, Malka Rosowski replaced him as teacher. The rabbi also taught us.

I remember the strict discipline at school. In the classroom we would raise our hands, receive permission to speak and stand up. We addressed the teachers as “Sir teacher”, and when we encountered a teacher on the street, even if he was far away, we would immediately kneel and bow our heads. It was considered a great honor to receive permission to enter the principal's office, and an even greater honor was when the teacher approached a pupil and patted him or her on the head.

The rabbi taught us Bible, and it was in his lessons that discipline was lacking. He would punish us and send us to sit in the teachers' room. As we were on our way to the “cell” which was not far from the rabbi's home, he would lie in wait for us and rebuke us for “violating the Sabbath.”

In the movement we had a uniform, with a different color for each age group.

The uniforms were sewn in the shtetl. We were divided into groups, and each group had a name. Usually, on Saturday afternoons all the groups would gather together. We all went to the movement camps where we were joined by members from nearby shtetls. We would gather around a large table, which in actual fact was a piece of ground surrounded by ditches we had dug, and we would sit on the edge of the ditch with our legs dangling into it. While seated, we would eat, sing song after song, and in the evening, we would sleep in a barn we rented from a farmer. We would dance, especially the hora, and also galim v'sharsheret (waves and chain). We spoke mainly about Eretz Yisrael. Movement emissaries and delegates would come and tell us about hachshara (training for life in Eretz Yisrael) and about Eretz Yisrael, and we put our ideas and opinions in writing, in our branch newsletter. I should mention that the parents encouraged their children to join the movement. My memories of those beautiful days were always with me.

 

 
Dancing the “Hora” in Dusiat
“We would dance, especially the Hora, and also Galim v'Sharsheret (waves and chain)”

 

Footnotes

  1. [26] Gar, Yosef. Under Soviet Occupation, in Yahadut Lita, Vol. 2, p. 372. Return
  2. A dish composed of meat, beans, potatoes, onions and any other desired ingredient, left cooking over a low heat on Friday night through to Saturday. Return
  3. Lithuanian National Sharpshooters Association. At first they comprised paramilitary (civilian fighters) who fought for Lithuanian independence. Over time they become anti-Semitic extremists, and during the Nazi occupation they played an instrumental role in the annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry. Return

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