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[Page 91]

Gordz as She Lives in our Memory

 

Memories of Gordz

by Yehudis Lashem

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

This happened probably in the year 1908 or 1909.

At that time Russia was engulfed in a wave of pogroms. Wild hooligans, organized in bands, attacked Jewish houses, businesses, murdered and beat. There were many victims and wounded among the unprotected Jewish population, particularly in the small shtetlekh [towns] of the Jewish Pale of Settlement. Fear enveloped the Jews and this also had the effect that many Jews emigrated from Russia to distant nations and, particularly, to America.

This wave of pogroms also encouraged Gentiles in Gordz and the surrounding area. Thursday was a market day and Gentiles came from the surrounding villages and broke the windowpanes in the Jewish houses, robbed Jewish businesses and beat Jews. Fear reigned over the Jews in Gordz.

We then lived over the customhouse and, according to the idea of Gordz distances, this was far from the marketplace. I remember that many children were brought to our house to protect them from the pogromszczikes [those carrying out the pogroms].

*

A year or two later, after the event, this was on a Friday night when the Shabbos [Sabbath] candles were burning, we suddenly heard a strong knock on the door. We were very frightened. My father immediately took to his “weapon,” which consisted of a stick and prepared to open the door and go out against the thief or robber and “serve” him with the stick over

[Page 92]

(Photo, caption: the German school at the end of the war, previously a Russian school. Following Lithuanian independence, it became a Lithuanian school)

his head, but how astonished my father was when approaching the door, he heard a Jew calling: “Save me!” This was a Jew from Petersburg, a revolutionary, who had escaped from the Tsarist police. He wanted to smuggle himself across the border to Memel, but he got lost and went in the opposite direction, not in the direction he needed to go; instead of going to the German border, by mistake he went back and seeing the candles burning in a Jewish house, he knocked on our door.

Understand, we let him come in; he spent the night with us, remained for Shabbos. Then my father went to the Jew who would go across the border and reached an agreement with him

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that he would immediately after havdalah [concluding Shabbos prayer] take the Jew across the border.

At the close of Shabbos, immediately after havdalah, the ferryman along with a Christian arrived and the Jew was taken back to the border of Gordz to Laugallen [Laugaliai] and arrived there in peace.

Sunday, my father went away to Laugallen and met with the Jew. Then the Jew left Memel on a ship to America and when he arrived in America he sent us a thank you letter for the mercy that my father had done in helping him in a time of trouble…

*

During the time of the First World War and in the years 1916-1917, the Germans brought young Jewish men from Poland as forced

(Photo, caption: The theater presents Goldfaden's Shulamit during 1918 under the direction of Yitzhak Raman. Among the actors is Yehudis Lashem)

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laborers to build the railroad line from Lithuania to Germany. The young men suffered greatly from hunger and cold during their forced labor; their clothes were torn and they were barefoot and they were wretched.

Two of them came to Gordz on a Shabbos morning and hid in the attic of the beis-hamedrash [synagogue]. My father brought the news from the synagogue and the shtetl stirred… and as it happens, Shabbos afternoon my father went to sleep; I took a few pieces of fish and potatoes from my mother and sent them to the two Jewish forced laborers in the beis-hamedrash with my brother, Beni, so that they could eat and quiet their hunger. I also asked my brother to tell them that they should come between the two gardens of Zusa-Menda Uriasz at 4 o'clock.

At 4 o'clock I went to them and promised them that tomorrow they would have a room also teg tsu esn[1*] and they would be provided with clothing because they were naked and barefoot.

More forced laborers in addition to the two arrived and when the number was already 8 to 12, I did my best to give advice, but later when dozens arrived and the number reached 82, I took Mikha Melamer and Kalman Platus as helpers. We made a special book and everyone in the shtetl made a monthly payment to help the suffering forced laborers. I personally dedicated great efforts and energy in order to help the suffering forced laborers who were in need of our help and even more – a warm, human and hearty connection. At that time I went through a great deal, but I had the greatest satisfaction in helping unfortunate men at their time of difficulty and helped them to stand on their feet.

Several of these former forced laborers were very intelligent and educated men. Three of them later

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were married in Gordz, settled down and were incorporated into communal life in the shtetl. They were active in several communal institutions in Gordz.

They were freed in 1919. This was one of my happiest days.

(Photo, caption: Blue Galen, the German school during World War I)

[Page 96]

*

The spring was a part of our sthtel's extraordinarily beautiful landscape. Behind the church, which stood at the very edge of the marketplace, began the road, overgrown with tall grass and trees, to the Minya [River], to the bridge that ran downhill on both sides. A small path turned on the mountain to the well. Young Gordzer would gather at the well in the summer, early Shabbos and at night, and drink the crystal-clear water that flowed without stop day and night and formed a sort of silver stream downhill and rinsed the shining stones that looked out from the entire road up to the Minya.

Not far from there, a large wooden wheel at the watermill turned without stop. The watermill belonged to a German who was named Freikop and he could always be seen with a long pipe in his mouth that he smoked without end.

Opposite the well stood the count's palace. The count was a chamberlain of Tsar Nicholas and from time to time he would come home to Gordz to see his wife, who was paralyzed and sat on a small wagon. The count would light a carbide lamp [gas lamp] (there was no electricity then in Gordz) and this illuminated the shtetl for a great distance.

Early Shabbos the count's garden was opened and, as children, we would be very curious to see the count's garden and mainly the baroness. The park was revealed to us as an enchanted corner, full of secrets and I remember that once the count's son, who was a child of our age, set a large dog on us. We then ran off in great fear to where the pepper grows…[2*]

During the later years, the count's garden was open for

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everyone and entry was free. We, the young Gordz Jews, used the place very well to spend our free time.

The forest began on the other side of the bridge. It stretched for great distances. The forest was thick, always dark and no road was seen there. When we went deeper into the woods we always had a strange feeling. Everyone felt a mystery and an anxiety. Stories and events were told about the forest, frightening stories about thieves and robbers in the forest and this made the forest more mysterious and full of secrets for us… Crossing the bridge and entering the forest was considered an heroic act and there were not many who were able to enter the forest fearlessly…

(Photo, caption: City Garden. On photo: Gordz park)


Translator's Footnotes

1*. teg tsu esn – days for eating. It was a custom for families in a city or town to provide meals for students in yeshivas. They would provide the meals for a day or a few days. Return
2*. “Where the pepper grows” is an idiom denoting a great distance, the end of the world. Return


[Page 104]

Gorzd Cultural Institutions

by Rashel Oysher

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Our folks-shul [public school] was the only educational institution in Gorzd, but the school did not give us much knowledge. I remember that in later years when we, the former students of the school, would meet for a friendly conversation, we would laugh heartily remembering that even many years after the First World War they would still teach us geography about the “United Austria-Hungary” and various other curiosities. But the school and, especially the coming of the teacher, Chana Grynberg, laid the basis for our development.

 

gar104.jpg  Council of the Hebrew Library  [18 KB]
Council of the Hebrew Library
From right to left: Ben-Tzion Duks, Malka Ornshtein,
Yitzhak Gutman, Shoshana Usher, Ester Puret

 

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Our teacher, Chana Grynberg, was a talented pedagogue. She would transform each lesson in Talmud into a substantial conversation. We learned Hebrew not just in books, but also through various games, songs and performances.

After graduating from the school, we freely spoke Hebrew; much time was dedicated to the subject of Jewish history, Hebrew literature, Jewish holidays and Jewish traditions. An appropriate performance was prepared for each holiday and important date in history. Chana Grynberg, the teacher, planted a love of Zion in us. She was the founder of Hashomer haTzair [Zionist socialist youth movement] in Gorzd. This enabled many young people to go to hakhshore [preparatory training for prospective agricultural emigrants to Israel] and, later, to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel.

Chana Grynberg was one of the innocent victims among the Gorzd Jews. Her bright memory lives in the remembrance of many of the young from our shtetl.

 

Our Library

Our library, which consisted of Yiddish and Hebrew books, was founded and supported by our landsman [man from the same city], Shmuel Zaks, who emigrated to America and from there he would send books as well as material help for the library.

There were two divisions in the library: books for adults and books for children. We arranged a joyous evening for the 10th anniversary of the library. Yitzhak Gutman, Ester Puret, Malka Ornshtein, Ben-Tzion Duks and I belonged to the committee that managed the library.

The library committee was involved not only with the book fund and giving out books to read; the library was a cultural institution that engaged in cultural activities. We would organize theater performances

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and the income from them would be dedicated to the library in order to supplement the library fund.

The library also organized cultural activities that included various cultural performances, such as literary trials, literary evenings, speeches, evening courses and others.

An Esperanto course was organized at the library with the help of Leibl Shoys. Many young people learned Esperanto and later carried on a wide correspondence with young people from various lands. This permitted us to enrich and broaden our thought process. Thanks to this we learned about various countries and people and became acquainted with their cultures.

 

Gorzder Lovers of Theater

There was no established theater in Gorzd; for many years only dramatic circles of lovers of the stage existed in the shtetl. The dramatic circles organized presentations almost systematically. The income would go to various charitable institutions, such as the Bikur-Kholem [society to visit the sick], Lines-haTzedek [poor house], for the volunteer firefighter team and also for the library.

The performances would be presented in Yiddish and Hebrew. How greatly I remember the active organizer of such performances, as well as the director, Zalman-Leib Rubinshtein. And, after his emigration to America, his place was taken by Ziwik (I do not remember his surname). Josef Blekh was always responsible for make-up.

The performances would take place in the so-called “folks-hoys” [people's house]. This was a very primitive wooden building that we would rent for a performance from the Lithuanian gemeinde [community]. In order to increase the income we would organize a donated buffet at the same time. Posters about the performance that would take place in Gorzd would also be hung

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in Meml and very often full buses with guests from Meml would come and this created excitement in the shtetl and a great interest in the performances.

The first performance that I was successful in seeing in the general rehearsal was Mirele Efros [play by Jacob Gordon, often referred to as the “Jewish King Lear”] and this made such an impression on me that I myself began to dream of being an actor, an actress. But understand, this remained only a dream, but without doubt this influenced me to later take part in performances.

The repertory of the performances often consisted of portraits of Jewish exile life and of emigrant life in America, of their American good fortune and troubles.

An important place in the selection of the repertory was taken by serious performances from the Jewish and Hebrew dramaturgy, as well as pictures from Jewish history – in the Tanakh [Bible], for example:

 

gar107.jpg  The Purim theater presentation  [17 KB]
The Purim theater presentation – the early years of the 1930s.

 

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Mekhires Yosef [The Selling of Joseph], Akedas Yitzhak [The Binding of Isaac], HaHashmonaim [The Hashmonaim - Maccabees], Megilus Ester [The Scroll of Esther], A Din-Torah mitn Wind [A Torah Judgment with the Wind], Shulamit [by Abraham Goldfaden] and others.

I do not remember the older generation of artist enthusiasts. I will recall as active participants: Ziwik; Mendl and his sister, Toyve Haz, Avraham Ornshtein, Ruchl Lan, Malka Ornshtein, Leibl Shoys, Yitzhak Goytman[1*], Ester Puret and many others.

I, myself, also took part in many performances, playing various roles. The very successful performance, Bas Yephthah [Jephthah's Daughter] performed by our school under the direction of Chana Grynberg, remains in my memory. I performed the role of Jephthah the Gileadite. In the main role, Ruchl Frydhajm took the part of Jephthah's daughter. Jephthah's five step-brothers were played by Ruchl Erman-Fyurski, Etl-Fig Baranow, Etel-Bine Frak, Sheyndele Joselowitz-Ornshtein and Dina Troyb.

The well prepared decorations, clothing, songs and dances created an impressive picture of Jephthah's tragedy.

In addition to the performances of plays that we presented, there was a wide program of sports, dance, a chorus and recitations. The performances were highly appreciated by the Jewish as well as the Lithuanian population.

No doubt our theater lovers had a great effect on the development of the population of the shtetl, which had perceptive young people with an understanding of art. Our performances brought much vitality to the Jews in Gorzd and also gave them much pleasure.

 

Our Tea Shop

That is what we would call Josef Shlumowitz's bakery cellar. It is very possible that not many in Gorzd even knew that active and highly interesting cultural work was being carried out here.

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Along with the three sisters, Sora, Yochl and Rayzl Shlumowitz, almost all of the young would meet there, Leibl Shoys, Yitzhak Gutman, Ester Puret, Malka Ornshtein, Mordekhai-Leib Ornshtein, Sheykele Gorn and also, me. We would jointly read various writers' works, deal with and discuss various literary works, organize collective walks. We would jointly go to Meml and attend the movies and theater performances there and work out plans about how to expand our activities among the Gorzd youth.

Until late in the night, often after the electric lights were turned off, we would sit in front of the fire of the heating oven during the long winter nights deep in reading and in animated discussions.

The tea shop was a good school of intellectual development for us.

 

Organizations and Communal Institutions in Gorzd

Various Zionist organizations, such as Hashomer Hatzair [Socialist-Zionist youth movement], Zionist Socialists, Tzeri Zion [young Zionists] and Mizrakhi [religious Zionists], carried on animated activity in Gorzd. There were also charitable, philanthropic institutions such as Bikur Kholem, Moes-Khitim [assistance for the poor for Passover] and Lines haTzedek and sports organizations such Makabi and HaPoel.

Hashomer Hatzair planted a love and deep longing for Zion in us and our wish and ideal was to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel and take an active part in the building up of the country, of a Jewish land.

Mostly the children and young people of the working class belonged to Hashomer Hatzair. At our meetings we would discuss various Zionist problems, about the road that Hashomer Hatzair was taking to its goal. At the meetings we would read

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gar110.jpg  A group of Hebrew scouts  [22 KB]
A group of Hebrew scouts

 

various articles about the work that was being done in Palestine and the struggle for a Jewish land.

Hashomer Hatzair developed various moral characteristics in us: to be honest and modest, to help comrades and those weaker, to throw off all petit-bourgeois traditions, to love nature and to prepare ourselves for active physical work.

Every gathering would begin with the singing of Hebrew songs and end with a spirited hora [circle dance]. We would wear our uniforms with pride and we would wait impatiently for the summer colony when we would leave our homes for several days and find ourselves in the bosom of nature, live in tents with great multitudes of scouts who would come together from various cities and shtetlekh in Lithuania.

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There was a very beautiful landscape around Gorzd. Various hakhsore [training sites to prepare emigrants for life in Eretz-Yisroel] points were found in the villages and in the agricultural households. There were collectives and halutzim [pioneers] there who went through their preparatory training before their emigration to Eretz-Yisroel.

We would often visit them, looked with interest at their place of residence and animated conversations would develop with the halutzim. They would tell us about Eretz-Yisroel and about life and the building up of the country. Our group would also visit comrades from the primary leadership of Hashomer Hatzair and representatives from Eretz-Yisroel.

Our group existed officially, legally and we did not have any difficulties with or disturbances on the part of the local regime. But then in 1934 we were forced to switch to illegal work and it happened like this:

In that year, we moved our meeting hall (residence) not far from the Gorzd police. Our meeting on the 3rd of May [celebration of the Constitution of 1791] was dedicated to the international worker's holiday, the 1st of May.

While we sat engrossed in listening to the lecture by Yitzhak Gutman, the door suddenly opened and in fear we saw the chief of the police accompanied by two policemen and civilian witnesses. Whoever was able to orient themselves had time to escape through an open window. But a guard was immediately placed near the doors and windows and an investigation was started which lasted until late in the night.

We spoke among ourselves in Evrit [modern Hebrew] that we should tell the police that the meeting was dedicated to the Histadrut HaOvdim [Federation of Workers] in Eretz-Yizroel. We were allowed to go free after the investigation.

At that time I was the leader of our group. In addition to me, members of the council were Ben-Tzion Duks and Avraham Joselowitch. A week later after the above-mentioned meeting, all three of us

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were invited by the police chief and he officially gave us notice that for organizing a meeting without permission from the regime we were being penalized with a week in jail and that our further activities could only be carried out under the supervision of the police. That is, we had to give three days notice about every meeting that would take place and the police would send its representative to the meeting.

We, three, suffered the punishment in the Gorzd prison. At first we followed the regulations of the police, but later we were disillusioned with the undesirable guest and began to meet in secret in various places and avoided the supervision of the police.

We were invited to the police a second time and they gave us notice that the police knew that we had organized secret meetings and they warned us that if we continued our illegal work, our organization would be closed and the leaders would be severely penalized. However despite these threats we still continued our work until the police chief was changed. Then we again renewed our activities freely, without disturbance and supervision from the police and many of the young filled our meeting hall and we continued our cultural-educational work. Many of the young from our group went to the hakshore locations. But it was not possible for everyone to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel.

 

Our Philanthropic Institutions

The Bikur-Khoylem [organization to aid the sick] had an important place in Gorzd. As in every shtetl, there were old and lonely people who were in need of help. These lonely people did not have any friends, any

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family and when they became ill there was no one to bring them help.

The Bikur-Khoylem assured that these lonely and sick people would not remain without supervision and provided for their medical help and material support. For this purpose

 

gar113.jpg  'Makabi' Gorzd  [26 KB]
Makabi Gorzd

 

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the Bikur-Khoylem made sure that each family would pay a certain fee each month for Bikur-Khoylem according to, it should be understood, the ability of each family.

Flower days and performances would be organized and the income would go to the fund. The needy would get medical help – free remedies and better food. Volunteers would all go to the sick to spend the night and to serve them.

Moes Khitim was a fund created with the aid of those who would help poor people with food and, mainly, with matzoh for Passover.

The voluntary firefighter team, at the head of which stood the untiring leader, Shepsl Bis, was very popular in Gorzd. Gorzd, which was built up with wooden houses, often suffered from fires and there was no lack of work for the firefighters.

The Makabi football team and, later, also Hapoel was well known by all of our Gorzders. The song with which the football players would march in the streets to the football contest still rings in the ears until today:

“We are the football team,
We are always ready for the match
We carry the flag of Makabi
We carry it with pride and with joy.”
Makabi and Hapoel had various sections for gymnastics.

Thus lived our shtetl, Gorzd, until the great calamity, when Jewish Gorzd was destroyed in the time of the Shoah.


Translator's Footnote

1*. Yitzhak Goytman is most likely the Yitzhak Gutman mentioned throughout the article. Return

 

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