Aaron Yitzak the Rabbi
Bere from Azubal
Itche-Pesach the peddler
Efraim the peddler
Osher the Shamos
Hirshe Kopel Berger
Lazar Henesh Blacher
Bertzik Gafanovitz the tanner
Hannah the shoemaker Gafanovitz
Fievke the Smith Herish
Peretz and Hene-Ite Vineberg
Velve the Shopkeeper
Leibush from Zavish
Reb Yosef Halevi
Yossi - Hirsh Yankel's
Mates the Shoemaker
Zalman Neimark the Innkeeper
Aaron Itche Neimark
Dubre and her daughter Chaya-Gittel Neimark
Shmuel haCohen Simonovitz
Leibe Moishe Epstein
Moishe Yacov Farber
Chaim Itche Fulman
Noshem Freedman the Shochet
Liba the mailman
Shloime the Smith
Dear Uncle Itzik Leib Bayel!
May good fortune always follow you. You should know that we are all well, thank God, and anticipate nothing worse to come. Also I can write to you that I go to school and I am now in fourth grade and I am a good student. Gita is in first grade and she is a good student. She is good in Hebrew. And she is very good at singing and dancing. Tebele runs around in the streets. My little brother, Lifale is in a shtayalke. Furthermore I would like to ask you to send a little scarf. A new suit was sewn for me. Send me the scarf for Passover if you could. Also everyone sends regards. Be well.
From me your nephew Leibe Pakabitz
[Pages 362 - 365]
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund Sevenishok or Suaveniski is a small shtetl that lies very close to the Lithuanian- Latvian border. A small river, Naret, which divides Lithuania from Latland, flows between the Nareter Court and Sevenishok. Sevenishok is found on the Lithuanian side and on the Latvian side lies the Nareter Court, which belonged to Count Shivalov, one of the richest landowners in Latland-Kurland.
The Nareter Court took up a vast area. The Nareter Market, which was six versts [Translator's note: two-thirds of a mile an old Russian measurement] from Sevenishok, was very well known. The Nareter market was the largest in Kurland. Tens of thousands of peasant wagons would come riding together. Although there were only three houses, the largest merchants in Lithuania and Kurland would arrive there on market day every Wednesday. After the First World War a small shtetl was built around the Nareter market.
There was also a court on the Lithuanian side, which belonged to Count Kamarawski. The soil of Sevenishok was his property, too.
A large village with 90 Christian families was a neighbor of Sevenishok. A long street, the Radunker Street, went up to the marketplace. The market was quadrangular, and a large church stood there.
The market was inhabited by Jews who had their shops and apartments there. There was only one brick house in Sevenishok. Elya Prazer was the proprietor of the brick building with an inn and shop in it. Around the marketplace were the shops of Lotzef's dried produce and manufacturing business, Zisl Shon's dried goods; Gershon Bedek's food shop, Elya Bedek's inn, Ben-Zion Gershuni's inn and grocery-haberdashery business. Gerhsuni was the gabai (synagogue warden and assistant to the rabbi) of the shtetl. He was a great scholar. An important merchant was Nusen Halshtein, who had eight employees working for him.
The border street led from the right of the marketplace, which led up to the bridge the border point between Lithuania and Latland. Another small street meandered near Gershon Bedek's shop.
The shtetl numbered 60 Jewish families. There were merchants who traded in furs, grains, forests, cattle and so on. The mill in the shtetl belonged to the Zif brothers. Haim Leib Shon was one of the richest merchants. There were several craftsmen. The men's tailor, Mikhal Gafanowitz, was well-known, as was Mrs. Ruchel Lewin, who sewed men's clothing.
Before the First World War, when no border existed between Lithuania and Latvia, the Jews of the shtetl drew most of their income from the Nareter permanent market day. Although Sevenishok also had a market on Thursdays, it did not have any great significance. The larger Nareter market prevented the Sevenishok market from developing.
There was no train traffic from Sevenishok to Nareter. The Germans built a railway spur during the First World War, which joined Ponedel with Sevenishok. Naret, however, had a railway line that led to Kreizberg and Riga. A large highway ran through Sevenishok and Naret to Riga. Before the First World War, thousands of wagons traveled through Sevenishok and Naret, laden with fruit, grains and furs. Horses, cattle and oxen would be driven by way of the highway.
When an order was issued that the Jews could not live in Kurland, the Jews would live in Sevenishok and trade in Kurland. There were several settlers, such as Moishe Shon and Haim Yankel the Settler, who lived legally on the Kurland side; however, they were considered Sevenishok Jews.
It was a quiet and peaceful life before the First World War.
During the First World War, the Jews of Sevenishok were driven out. Only two families took a risk and remained living on the spot: the families of Yankel-Matathias Shon and of Itze-Moten. When the evacuees returned during the 1920's, everything was broken. The properties were plundered and the houses abandoned.
The shtetl was divided in two parts, and on crossing the bridge to Latvia, it was necessary to have a pass. Then Sevenishok again began to be built up with the help of the Joint (the Joint Distribution Committee) and relatives across the sea. Craftsmen began to establish workshops, and shopkeepers opened their businesses. Sevenishoker Jews were members of the Rakishok People's Bank, which gave them short-term and long-term loans.
There was smuggling across the border, and many Jews from Sevenishok were engaged in smuggling. The county seat of Sevenishok was Rakishok.
Culturally and socially, Sevenishok before the First World War was poor; she did not even have a rabbi. Nusen Khalshtein brought a rabbi on the eve of the First World War. However, during the war, when the expulsion of the Sevenishok Jews took place, he was also driven out and he did not return to Sevenishok. After the war, the Rakishok rosh-yeshiva (head of the religious school) Reb Abraham-Mikhal, who was a talented person and a preacher, was the rabbi in Sevenishok.
There were several khederim (religious schools) in Sevenishok. The better teachers were: Haim-Itze, Haim-Henekh, and Moishe-Hirshe. The shochet (ritual slaughterer) Reb Mendl was very esteemed in the shtetl. After the war, Reb Moishe was the shochet. The shammus (synagogue caretaker), Reb Shlomoh, was a fine Jew. He davened (prayed) in front of the pulpit and was versed in books.
After the war, a Tarbus school opened. [Translator's note: a type of Hebrew school that existed between the two world wars.] The first teacher was Dovid Sudavski who after this was a teacher in Rakishok. A second teacher was Gafanowitz, who came from Ponevezh. The school in Sevenishok numbered 40 students. It was the great aspiration of the parents to give their children an education. Parents sent their children to study in the yeshiva in Rakishok and to the Lithuanian gimnazie there. Haim-Motke Gafanowitz ended up as a barrister.
Di Yidische Shtime (The Jewish Voice) and the Folksblat would come to the shtetl from Kovno. A sports organization was created.
Because of the hopelessness of a better future in Lithuania, the young began to emigrate. Here, in South Africa are found the following Sevenishoker Jews: Sheike and Yerakhmial Gurman née Kutzgal; Shlomoh Kres; Mikhal Gershuni; Yerakhmial Shon; Henek Gafanowitz; Leibe-Leizer Gafanowitz; Dovid Katz and Mrs. Nowitz, and also others.
The great annihilation killed all the Jews of Sevenishok. Not one soul remained of them. We did not know of any refugees from the Holocaust. We learned, however, that all of the Sevenishoker Jews were taken together to Tarutzer Forest and forced to dig out large pits into which they were hurled and shot. Many were buried alive.
No one remained in Sevenishok, but there lives in each of us a longing for our old home, and an eternal sorrow and pain haunts us.
Before the First World War, when no border existed between Lithuania and Courland, one would pass by Anushishok when traveling from Rakishok to Jakobstadt [Jekobpils in Latvia].
The shtetl Anushishok, on the Lithuanian-Latvian border, is surrounded by large, dense forests; and 2 versts [equal to approximately .66 of a mile] from Anushishok there is a beautiful lake.
Anushishok's land belonged to the Polish count Kamar, and the Jews of the town paid a tribute for their properties. The more prosperous among them gradually bought out the land. The houses were all made of wood, except for the tavern, a large brick building, which belonged to the Polish count until a Jew by the name of Fein bought it from him. Later, the priest purchased the building and the first cooperative was established in it.
There was a large round market-place with a water pump in the middle from which the whole town drew water. All the main stores surrounded the market-place. A long road led from the market-place to the village and from there wound its way through Juodupe to Rakishok.
Before the First World War there were 60 or 70 Jewish families in Anushishok. As the shtetl was near the border of Courland, the Jewish inhabitants made a living by trading with the Latvians, and the Jewish artisans supplied the wares ordered by them. There was an extensive trade in horses and cattle and there was a big fair on market-day which took place every Thursday. Since Anushishok had a large church, which stood on a hill to the right of the market-place, hundreds of peasants would arrive in their carts every Sunday for church services, and the Jews would profit from their presence.
There were some big businesses in Anushishok. The best-known shopkeepers and merchants were: Leibe Grintuch who had a dry-goods store and traded in furs; Shlomo Fein who owned a big wholesale store of clothing, hardware, agricultural machines, enamel ware, galoshes; Shmuel Penn who owned a textile store; Yitzchak-Moshe Penn who had a textile store; Menachem-Mendel Penn, the owner of a clothing store, a dying plant, a hosiery plant, and who in addition was also a furrier; Yankel Kanelowitz who had a clothing store; Kaplan who had a clothing and haberdashery store; Velve-Bere Fein a timber merchant; Tzepaikin, a miller; Abba Zuckerman, a merchant whose business was in Elze-Muze (Courland), but was an inhabitant of Anushishok and who loved to lead the prayers in the synagogue even though his Hebrew-reading was not very good.
In general, the Jews made their living from shopkeeping, but there were also various artisans, butchers, peddlers, gardeners, and horse traders.
Until the First World War the economic situation in Anushishok was quite good. Parents raised their children in the spirit of Jewish tradition and observance, in the typically traditional way of life, although the Haskalah [Jewish Enlightenment] had already begun to have an influence at the beginning of the twentieth century, and newspapers and journals began to appear in the town.
There were a few cheders [Hebrew schools]. The most distinguished teacher was Beinish Belek, a Jewish scholar. His son Leib Belek was a well-known leader of the British Labor Party, and his second son, Ben Zion Belek, was the leader of the leftist movement in Lithuania. I remember other teachers, but cannot recall their names. The shochet [ritual slaughterer] was Shalom-Reuven Gordon, the grandson of the Skopiszki rabbi. He was known throughout the region for his learning and wisdom.
There were both Chasidim [adherents of a Jewish religious movement founded in the 18th century in Eastern Europe, devoted to particular rabbis and generally stressing pious devotion and ecstasy more than learning] and Mitnagdim [the opponents of the Chasidim within Jewish Orthodoxy] in the shtetl. There was a big Chasidic synagogue, and the Mitnagdim had their own prayer and study house.
When the First World War broke out and the front drew closer, the Jews of Anushishok began to pack their wagons. I was just a little girl, and was placed in the wagon beside my uncle, Shmuel Penn. The battle came ever closer, and my father did not manage to pack everything and therefore remained at home under the German occupation. So it was as though I had become an orphan.
We traveled for six weeks in the ox-drawn wagon until we arrived in Kaplancy in the Vitebsk province. From there we went to Kursk. I only returned to my home and family in 1921.
In 1921-1922 Anushishok Jews began to return from Russia. However, many of them remained in Russia, among them the Grintuch family and my uncles Shmuel Penn and Yitzchak-Moshe Penn. Those who returned found the town destroyed and plundered.
The new border between Lithuania and Latvia was disastrous for my hometown. Trade with the Latvians ceased as merchandise could no longer be transported to Latvia.
The post-war youth, returning from military service, from the front, looked around desperately and saw that there were no prospects. An emigration of the youth began. Elderly people, who lived from the support sent by their children, remained in the shtetl.
Anushishok Jews, in their new lands of immigration, were throughout the years closely connected to their old home, helping not only parents and friends, but also the communal institutions in the shtetl.
Thus few Jews remained in Anushishok after the War. They dispersed,
as Shalom Aleichem says: some to Lisi and some to Strisi. They settled
in Kovno and in Rakishok, and they also emigrated to their children who
were already overseas. The remaining Jewish families lived under the impact
of the new era. The little town was caught up in the Zionist ideal and
the Jews sent their children to Hebrew schools in Rakishok, Vilkomir and
Kovno. Jewish children also learned in the gymnasium in Anushishok.
Anushishok was a very small town, but was nevertheless well-known because of the personalities who had lived there.
The Revolution years from 1902-1905 brought forth new ideas and trends. An active revolutionary circle was established from which emerged the famous revolutionary and martyr, Hirsch Lekert, who, in May 1902 in Vilna, shot the provincial governor, Von Wahl. Lekert was illiterate, a shoemaker by trade, but he had a beautiful soul, a pure heart, a strong feeling for honesty and freedom. He was a very lively young man and Anushishok Jews remember him to this day. The shot that he fired reverberated throughout Russia, especially in the Pale of Settlement [the area assigned to the Jews in Czarist Russia]. He went proudly to the gallows as befits a hero who took revenge for the injustices done to his people. Soon after this event, a number of Anushishok Jews were arrested.
Anushishok was known for its rabbis. At the beginning of the 20th century the rabbi of the town was Rabbi Klatzkin, who later became the Rabbi in Swiadoscz [Svedasai?]. His son played a significant role in establishing the national council and was later the rabbi in Rasssein [Raseiniai] and Livoi [Laviai?].
The name Rabbi Avraham Dov Popel was renowned and acclaimed. He was the son-in-law of Avraham Penn, the wealthiest Jew in the shtetl.
Avraham Dov Popel was a great scholar and when he was still very young he was ordained by the greatest rabbis of his time. He studied mainly at the Eishishik [Eisiskes] Yeshiva, and he was known as a prodigy. When Rabbi Klatzkin left to become the rabbi in Swiadoscz, Rabbi Popel became the rabbi of Anushishok, despite the fact that his uncle, a brother of his father-in-law, was against his candidacy because he was a Mitnaged..
Rabbi Avraham Dov Popel was one of the finest personalities in Jewish Lithuania. Apart from his scholarship, he was a lover of peace and often served as a mediator in disputes between individuals and groups. He was also an eminent orator with a strong power of elucidation.
Before the First World War [in 1905], he became the rabbi of Mariampol. He was one of the leaders of Lithuanian Jewry and was vice-chairman of the national council and one of the builders of national autonomy, chairman of Agudat Israel and vice-chairman of the Yavne schools in Lithuania.
Rabbi Popel was also a representative in the Sejm [the Lithuanian parliament] and was famous for his speech in parliament against capital punishment, which was reported in the world press and, in particular, the press in the United States.
Even though Rabbi Popel was one of the pillars of the Aguda, he nevertheless always supported fund-raising for Eretz Yisrael [Palestine].
Rabbi Avraham Dov Popel died on the 4th of Shevat in 1923 at the age of 53. He left a wife and children. His wife Rachel died in the Shavl ghetto; his son Arieh, [who was doing his doctorate in chemistry in Belgium] was deported from France to a concentration camp where he perished. His daughter Henia died in a concentration camp. His daughter, Rivka Wilkov, lives in Johannesburg with her husband and daughter. [In 1962 they immigrated to Israel where Rivka Wilkov died in 1994. Her daughter, Aviva Wilkov Kraemer at present lives most of the year in Chicago and part of the year in Israel.]
After Rabbi Popel left Anushishok, Rabbi Kadesh became the rabbi of
In South Africa there are about 25 families of Anushishok origin. Amongst them are the following: three brothers Katz who have a clothing factory; Joseph Penn [deceased]; Berel Penn; Julius Penn [deceased]; Yitzhak Moshe Penn [deceased] and his sons Wolf [deceased], Abraham, and Dr. Aaron Penn; Kruz; Shulman; Tuvia Glass; Harry Miller; Yudel Tzupeikin.
The Anushishok Jews, wherever they are now settled, hold sacred the memory of the Jews of their idyllic, beautiful shtetl, who perished in Rakishok together with the Jews of Rakishok.
In Anushishok there is an old tombstone on which is inscribed that it was erected over 150 years ago. This proves that the Jewish settlement in the shtetl was not new. And now, nothing is left of the Jewish presence, as though it had never existed.
[Rachel (Ray) Kramer (Penn), who wrote this chapter on Anushishok, lived in Johannesburg for many years and then for a number of years in Cape Town. Her two daughters and their families are now living in Australia. Her sister, Raina Zemel, and brother, Berel (Barney) Penn are still living in Johannesburg.]
Photo of Hirsch Lekert: The great revolutionary and martyr, Hirsch Lekert, who was hanged in May, 1902, by the Tsarist hangmen. His memory is sacred!
Photo of Rabbi Avraham Dov Popel: Rabbi, gaon, Avraham Dov Popel of blessed memory.
The relationship with Christian Lithuanians was good. There were no pogroms. I remember one event which caused panic in the town, but it did not develop into an attack on the Jews. The following took place. Two peasant women from the village of Srubishok came to the place of Shimon the tailor to comb the wool. It happened to be just before Passover. Shimon went out to the market and left the two women villagers inside his house. They became frightened by Shimon's sudden departure and were seized by the thought that the only reason he had left so suddenly was to summon other Jews with long beards to kill them in order to use their blood for matzos for Passover which was approaching. Terror-stricken, the two women broke into the market-place shouting, "gevalt! gevalt!" It was the day of the fair in the town and the peasants attending the fair gathered together, ready to fight. Panic broke out as people sensed the possibility of a pogrom. My wife, Fraidl, quickly ran to the Catholic priest, a Lithuanian, and pleaded with him to go quickly and calmly to pacify the peasants given the imminent danger of a bloodbath. The priest summoned the Christians to the church by ringing the church bells and there he appeased them by explaining how groundless and stupid the women's accusations had been.
During World War I, some families evacuated into Russia because Skopishok was too close to the front lines. Jews of Skopishok settled temporarily in Yeletz and Bobroisk. In 1921 most returned to Skopishok, but some did not. In general, the Jewish population became smaller, shrinking to 25 families after the war. The young people began to emigrate, particularly when the economic situation worsened. The government opened Lithuanian co-operatives (stores owned by the authorities which sold goods at lower prices). The Lithuanian Prime Minister Tubelis threatened that he would fill the Nieman River with Jewish blood. My children Itzhak, Moshe, Zalman, and Chaim emigrated to South Africa. Until 1937 I lived in Skopishok.
The regional city was Rakishok. There was little change in the life of the shtetl. Everything went on according to the old ways and fashion. There was no "folkshul," and no library. From time to time the young people organized an amateur theatrical performance. There were two wooden synagogue, one Chasidic and one Mitnagdic. The Chasidim were followers of Kapist (Kapister Chasidim). Before World War I, the Rav of Skopishok was Rabbi Azriel Gordon. Subsequently this post was occupied by Rav Reb Mendel. The religious teachers (Melamdim) were Zalman-Itzeh and Itzeh-Yankel. The schochet's name was Nacham.
After the Holocaust my wife received a letter from her brother Mosheke Gafinowitz. He wrote about the destruction of Skopishok and how he escaped to the partisans in the forest. He came back to the shtetl as soon as the Red Army liberated Lithuania. He wrote that the structures remained intact but that the Jewish cemetery had been demolished. He became horrified and nearly went insane when he saw all the Jewish houses without even one living Jewish soul: doors open, houses empty. He couldn't linger on in Skopishok and left for Vilna where a group of Jewish survivors had settled.
Before the First World War, Ponemunok had a Jewish population of about 200 souls. Probably because of the rail station the townlet had increased rapidly in size. You must realize that during the reign of the Czar there were no borders between Russia, Latvia, and Poland, and there was a far-reaching network of trade with cities and localities in Russia. No doubt the presence of the railway station attracted people who wanted to ease the struggle for a livelihood by settling down there.
Apart from the railway station, Ponemunok is surrounded by a fine landscape
and the river Nemulenim, a subsidiary of the Nemunas, lends a particular
charm to the town. That river certainly was one of the main attractions
for the youth of the town--we all have lots of memories
connected with that stream running through the city.
After the Great Fire [see "My Shtetl Ponemunok," by Ben Zion Joffe] and after the expulsion of the Jews of Ponemunok during WWI, the Jewish community of Ponemunok diminished considerably and only 22 Jewish families remained, all living around the railway station, while the Lithuanian community numbered about 60 families. The Jews busied themselves trying to make ends meet.
After the death of the only Jewish tailor, Segal, there were no more craftsmen in Ponemunok. They were tradesmen, shopkeepers, peddlers [karabelnik-krumer], and farmers. The few affluent families took care of the poor in the shtetl, giving them matzah during Pesach and meting out an irregular income to them. They lived in peace with each other and they helped each other out with interest-free loans.
Because the community was so small, there was no resident medical doctor.
The Jewish apothecary, Olkin, who lived in the center of the town, used
to bring over a doctor from Ponevezh twice a week. There was only a Christian
barber-surgeon living in town and in urgent cases they had to ride to Rakishok
for doctors. After the war Rakishok, 16 kilometers from
Ponemunok, became the capital of our district.
In my time Ponemunok did not have a Rabbi either. There was a young yeshivah student from Telz who officially registered as Rabbi of Ponemunok in order to have grounds for exemption from military service. He only came down to the shtetl in the evening, in order to satisfy the authorities. The prayer and study-house was a simple wooden one, with a modest ark and a lectern without any carvings. Only on Shabbes and during the High Holy Days did the prayer house have an occasional minyan of worshipers. On weekdays there would seldom be a minyan if it were not for someone's yahrzeit. At first, Yoyne Karabelnik was gabbai (caretaker), and after he died the position was taken over by his brother Ezra Karabelnik.
All people of the shtetl were Chasidim, and the tradition followed in praying was the Sefard style. Only the members of the Karabelnik family were Mitnagdim. Sometimes when the gabbai Karabelnik went up to the lectern for prayer and recited the "Yatzmah Purkanei" from the Kaddish or a "Barukh She'amar" as "Hodu," a tumult would arise in the benches [shtenders], but it never became an outright shouting match.
Parents took care to give their children an education. For many years the shochet Avrom Epstein was the only teacher [melamed] in Ponemunok. He was a man with a long beard that reached down to his waist. He was thirsty for knowledge and he was well-read, mainly in astronomy. His pupils in the cheder loved him because of his mild and friendly behavior towards them.
After the death of Mr. Avrom Eliezer, Vilenski from Nayshtat became shochet and chazzan.
There was a Lithuanian "Volkshul" in Ponemunok where some Jewish children went; young men went away to a yeshivah or a "gymnasium" [classical grammar school]. For some time they had an imported female teacher of Hebrew and general studies in Ponemunok. She taught Hebrew with the Sephardic pronunciation [havore], which clashed with the Ashkenazic style taught in cheder.
I left Ponemunok in 1936. A quiet and idyllic life formed the heartbeat of the shtetl. The only dynamic force was the railway station. Nothing special ever happened; no changes took place, and there was no social activity. The paupers occupied themselves only with the battle for survival and the well-to-do people were not active in the community either. Maybe the small number of Jewish inhabitants in Ponemunok were simply not interested in showing any initiative in the field of social activity.
A great social upheaval took hold of Ponemunok when the writer of these lines "sold shekalim" [shekels--collected fees for the Zionist organization] and then called for a general meeting, during which I urged for a vote to elect the delegates to the 19th Zionist Congress, for a certain Zionist party. For the people of the shtetl it would be the first Zionist Congress, because they had never been involved in the activities of the Zionist movement.
Ponemunok did not produce any famous people. Leibe Levin was the only "utsjoni Yivrei" (erudite Jew).
The whole community of Ponemunok somehow did not have much cohesion,
especially after the First World War. This becomes evident from the fact
that there was no Jewish cemetery. They used to bury their dead in Kamay,
11 verst [1 verst is .66 of a mile] from Ponemunok. It could be
that the Jewish inhabitants of Ponemunok had a premonition that in the end the Jewish community of Ponemunok would be rooted out, as indeed happened during the days of Hitler's reign, may his name be blotted out.
Translated from the Yiddish by Lucas Bruyn It is many years ago now that I left Ponemunok. I have been forty years in South Africa. My father, Chaim David Joffe, may he rest in peace, initially traveled to Africa alone and later brought over his family.
With the passing of time spent in South Africa, under influence of the changed living conditions of the new country, the memories of my old home have faded out. But although many things have unfortunately become nebulous, still, to this very day, shreds of reminiscences, images, and figures from those distant years in the shtetl of my birth still run through my mind. This is all the more so since the great destruction [khurbm] of the East European Jews in general and the annihilation of my town Ponemunok in particular.
I do not know when a Jewish community was first established in Ponemunok, but the story in the town went that Jews started to settle there with the building of the railroad. Before that time it used to be a kind of farm [folvark], under the estate [hoyf--court] of Ponemunok, the property of count Shvintetski. The fact that the church did not stand in town, but rather on the estate, bears witness to this.
Ponemunok was surrounded by large woods, fields, and meadows. Along the town stretches a dense forest and a small river named the Nemunelim cuts through it. (In Lithuanian, Nemunelim means Little Nieman). [The river Jara, a subsidiary of the Shventoji/Swenta.]
To this very day I am puzzled why the Central Railway Board of Czarist Russia chose Ponemunok for the site of a new railway station--one even bigger than that of Rakishok. [The reason might be that before the railroad was built, Ponemunok was on the main road between Dvinsk and Libau, while Rakishok was not.]
Trains used to halt in Ponemunok for a solid half hour, and there was a canteen in the waiting room. While the train was standing at the platform, passengers would alight to eat and drink there.
Ponemunok's railway station served all small towns and villages in the region. The towns Sviyadosht, Kamay, Skopishok and Ponedel, as well as dozens of villages, exported their agricultural products, cattle, and timber through PonemunokÕs railway station. Thousands of farmers would deliver logs at the station for further transportation by train, and these would lay in wide circles around the station. At the beginning of the geese season they would drive flocks of geese towards the station and the noise of the gaggle would be deafening. At the end of summer they would bring whole strings of carts full of fruit to be exported to many places.
Every Thursday there was a big market, and the marketplace was in the center of town. You could also find shops there with living quarters above, as well as some brick buildings. Big merchants from Russia and Germany used to come down to the market of Ponemunok. In my time the town counted about 60 Jewish families, and almost all of them were in commerce. There were big merchants and small traders. There were almost no craftsmen--only one shoemaker, a tailor, and a blacksmith.
Thanks to the railway station--and also thanks to the fact that the post office of Ponemunok served the surrounding towns and villages--the economical development of Ponemunok went well. There were several wholesale businesses. The owner of the biggest wholesale store was Zalman Itze Mizrekh. You could say of him that he united religion, cleverness, and wealth in one person. In his shop you could find anything, from a needle to a threshing machine.
A big lumber merchant was Shmuel Avirer (Karabelnik). He kept a roadside inn. He was a man of high morals, and always the first when it came to helping out someone or doing someone a favor. When it happened that someone fell ill during the night--Ponemunok did not have a doctor, only a Christian barber-surgeon [feldsher]--they would run to Shmuel the Avirer and he would immediately harness his horse and deliver the patient to Rakishok himself. He was always ready to give a loan, to offer hospitality, to help out an orphan getting married, or to assist a widow.
Yoyne Karabelnik had a good name in the region. He had a textile business and was a timber merchant. He owned a two-story brick building.
Malatski was a man of Talmudic learning and the owner of a big business. Moyshe Arn, the butcher, was a good and fine person.
My father, Chaim David Joffe was a real man of the people, always lively and in good cheer, clever and witty. He brought his plain Yiddish personality along to South Africa and spent a lot of time on community affairs. For 40 years he was a member of the Rakishok Society and other Jewish institutions.
In my time there were two prayer houses: one Chasidic and the other Mitnagdic. Most Jews were Chasidim; the wealthy ones were Mitnagdim. Yitzhok-Moyshe, the son of the Rabbi of Ponedel, was the [Mitnagdic] Rabbi. [TranslatorÕs note: the author is not clear if Yitzhok-Moyshe was Mitnagdic or Chasidic, but the text reads "rov" rather than "rebbe," generally indicating a Mitnagdic rabbi. It may be that he served both synagogues.] He was a man of great Talmudic learning and an exceptionally capable person. He was also in big business [groyse miskhorim] and he did not make a living from his rabbinate. Moreover, he was a great singer [bal-menagn], the chazzan [cantor] in the Chasidic synagogue, a preacher [bal-droshn], and in general a man of stately appearance [a hadres ponemdiker yid].
I think that Avrom was the shochet [ritual slaughterer]. He was a modern man, not only learned in the Talmud, but also an adherent of the Haskalah [Jewish Enlightenment] movement, who spoke Russian and Polish well. He gave his children a secular education.
Shmerl the shames [beadle] was an interesting character. He always said the morning prayers, blew the ram's horn in the synagogue, and was the reader of the Torah. He also used to write out the addresses for women whose husbands were overseas.
In the Mitnagdic shul, Zalman Itze Mizrekh was the chazzan.
Ponemunok as I remember it had several cheders. The teacher of Gemara was Bertstik. The well- to-do families used to send their children to study at the yeshivah of Ponevezh. I also remember a strange man who had 22 children.
I don't remember any special events in Ponemunok. There was a bit of commotion in 1905 when they killed a member of the secret police in Ponemunok. My brother Itse Berk and his friend Nefl [?] Naftali were accused of shooting him. They soon escaped to America, were they live until this very day.
Around the turn of the century there was a great fire, and the whole shtetl burned down. Before long, however, the shtetl was rebuilt with a new bathhouse [merkhets].
Up until the First World War the Jews of Ponemunok lived in comfort and contentment. After the war the economic situation of Ponemunok went downhill. Rakishok became the governmental seat of the region and competed with Ponemunok. The business of the whole region centered on Rakishok.
There never was a cemetery in Ponemunok, giving rise to the joke that this was why the Jews of Ponemunok lived to a ripe old age.
The Jews of Ponemunok, together with those of Rakishok, were all murdered. May this account keep alive forever the memory of my home town, Ponemunok.
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