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[Pages 252-256]

Jewish Pupils in a Lithuanian Gymnasium

By Rivka Shteinman (Shub)

Jewish Pro-gymnasia[1] in Utian

I was eleven years old when I stubbornly insisted on going to study. My sister Chava accompanied me to the admittance exams. After I was accepted, she returned home and I stayed on in Utian (Utena).

There were three of us, friends from Dusiat: Itale Charit, Rachel Slovo and myself. Together we rented a room at Feiga Bak's. During the week we would eat from food packages that were sent from home, and on Shabbat I ate at our relatives in Utian, the Scharfstein family.

My memory of those days is one of a special experience. Across from our window lived the Jewish painter Yoffe who would look at us from his studio. He invited us over several times but we were afraid that he would ask us to pose for him… On one occasion he came to Dusiat and asked for me. We met and took a stroll in the woods. All these years I have kept a picture of a sculpture of his that he gave me when we were in the woods. I remember how he stood there and just scribbled figures on the back of the picture. When I returned home, my father said that it would be better for this young man to look for a more mature young woman for himself…

When the painter married - he was such a handsome young man - I was jealous of his wife Rivka who was the Lithuanian beauty queen. She was the daughter of Dr. Berman, a judge in Utian, whose brother was a well-known doctor in Lithuania.

Photograph of a Sculpture by Yoffe, the Jewish Painter/Sculptor from Utian

 

The Hebrew Pro-Gymnasia in Utian, the fifth class with Mina the teacher

Front row, right to left: Itale Charit and Rivka Levin
Middle row, second from right: Rachel Slovo
Back row: Rivka Shub (extreme left), Goldman (second from left)

The Lithuanian Gymnasia[2] in Zarasai

I very much wanted to study at the Jewish Gymnasia in Ponevezh (Panevezys). But, the tuition was too high, and instead, I was sent to study at the Lithuanian Gymnasia in Zarasai. The tuition there was minimal and students were exempt from paying if they had a justifiable reason.

Itale Charit and myself were from Dusiat, while Tzipora Per and Yitzchak Shteinman were from Zarasai. I remember the uniform: a brown pleated dress with a white collar, and a black pleated pinafore…

Naturally, the medium of instruction was Lithuanian. We also studied German and English. There were music and piano lessons, painting, and a huge gym…

In the classroom we conducted debates on the books we were reading. I especially remember the debate over the book “Salin Ginklos” (in Lithuanian, “Arms Away”).

Of all of us, Yitzchak excelled the most in his studies and many a time Lithuanian students would come over to his house for assistance, and he was therefore very respected by them.

We were very involved in school activities, and I did not sense any anti-Semitism. I do remember one of the Lithuanian students remarking to a Jewish female student: “Oh, you Jews, with the smell of garlic and onions …”

The gymnasium students had to be home by nine o'clock at night. The educators who felt responsible for us would go themselves and check if the students were indeed at home.

One time our class tutor came over and found Yitzchak in our room, but he promised not to take any action against us. Why? Because he found us reading a book… He said to us, “You are behaving in a civilized manner.”

The fact that we had to be home at nine o'clock was a bother to us, especially affecting our activities in the Hashomer Hatzair movement. How could you leave at the height of the action? We had to find ways of getting around this decree and one could say we were getting ready for life in the underground…

Lithuanian Gymnasium in Zarasai (1932)

The gentiles used to sneer at us: “Oh, you Jews, with your smell of garlic and onion…”
[Photographer D. Daskeviciaus, Zarasai]

 

A special holiday was observed in the Lithuanian Gymnasia with the approach of spring. We welcomed spring with dances, songs and games. We planted trees near the gymnasia, and a special custom was to go out to the woods with birdcages and hang them on the trees…

“Gegužinė” – Spring Festival, May 1, 1933
[Photographer M. Botvinik, Zarasai]

 

Footnotes

  1. Junior high school. Return
  2. High school. Return

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