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[Pages 130-131]

In the Lithuanian School

Translated by Judy Grossman

“We are already going to the Lithuanian school.

We are studying in Section V, on the second floor, in a very large room…”

(Excerpt from a letter written in Hebrew by Dov Schwartz to Rivka Melamed – Nov. 16, 1935.)

“The Lithuanian people had folklore abounding in folksongs, fables, riddles, and the like. The Lithuanians developed original handicrafts, mainly colorful weaving, and paper cutouts. This art had an absolute rural character, and did not attract the urban Jewish population.

Because of the meagerness of urban Lithuanian culture, its literature and art, which were just beginning to develop, there was no cultural -linguistic assimilation of the Jews into the majority in Lithuania, as had happened in more developed countries.” [1]

“The Jews and Lithuanians lived alongside each other for centuries, but there is no noticeable influence of the Lithuanian environment on Jewish folk songs.

The Jewish world was different than that of the Lithuanian peasant. Jewish thought hovered in the space of Jewish history… The Lithuanian Jew had his roots in Zion and his thoughts were on Zion…” [2]

Shayke Glick: There was a Lithuanian elementary school in Dusiat that was converted to a pro-gymnasia, which some of the graduates of the Hebrew elementary school in the shtetl attended.

Henia Sneh: It is important to mention the good relations that existed between our Tarbut School and the Lithuanian school in Dusiat. The liaison between them was the teacher Kuzmickas.

We had joint sports events; attended each other's end of year ceremonies, and the graduates of the Tarbut School were permitted to continue their studies at the Lithuanian school.

Yes, before the war there were also manifestations of friendship…

I remember the Lithuanian national anthem from that period:

Kur bèga Sasupé Where the Sasupa river runs
Kur Nemunas teka Where the Nieman flows
Ten musu tèvyné There lies our homeland
Grazi Lietuva Beautiful Lithuania

And we sang it as a “Zionist song”:

Kur bèga Jordanas Where the Jordan River runs
Kur Kisonas teka Where the Kishon flows
Ten musu tèvyné There lies our homeland
Grazi Palestina Beautiful Palestine

 

A joint outing of the Jewish and Lithuanian schools to the Nieman River, Kaunas

Right: The teacher Yudel Slep with his students
Seated on the bank of the river, extreme right: The three friends Chanka Pores, Tzilka Shub and Sonka Slovo

 

Kuzmickas's son (Dusiat, 1998):
I can identify my father [the teacher Kuzmickas]. He is in a black suit at the back on the right side of the picture. My mother [Kuzmickas' wife] is on the left side, wearing a hat and brightly colored suit.

 

 

Tzila Gudelsky: Kuzmickas was the principal and a teacher in the Lithuanian school in Dusiat. In 1914 he was exiled to Russia, where he married a Russian woman. When he was released he brought her to Dusiat, and he was the head of the Sauliu Sàjunga[3] in the shtetl.

I went to the Lithuanian school and the Lithuanian girl Marita Plonita and I were the only girls in a class of boys. I remember an incident – it was in the sixth grade. The boys imitated the accent of the Jews and made fun of them in our presence, and I ran away from the class crying bitterly. When Kuzmickas entered the classroom, Marita told him that they had insulted me, and I remember the moral behavior he preached, in short: “We the Lithuanians need to remember the time when we were under the rule of the Russians who mistreated us, and we must not now mistreat the Jews, who are a minority in our midst.” Kuzmickas condemned the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, and forced the students to apologize. Of course, I remembered this to his credit. He was a handsome man and I really loved him. I was an excellent and diligent student, gained his esteem, and on his recommendation would borrow books from the library he directed at school.

I recognize him in the photograph of the joint outing of the two schools – the Jewish and Lithuanian ones – to the Nieman River.

In the Soviet period (1940-1941) he was again exiled to Russia. After the war he returned to Lithuania, having received a pardon. Among those who signed the petition, there were also Jews. However, I know that Kuzmickas was a controversial figure: there were those who considered him an absolute anti-Semite and refused to sign the petition.

When I returned to Lithuania, I met him in Vilna (Vilnius). At that time, he told me that in the labor camp in Russia he became weak, lost a lot of weight, and a Jewish doctor from Czechoslovakia saved his life. The names of the teachers Hillel and Yehuda came up in our conversation, and he remembered the close friendship between them and himself. He said that if he had been in the shtetl during the time of the extermination he would have attempted to rescue them. [For reasons unknown, his only son suddenly left Dusiat in 1946, and returned in 1996.]

 

A page of a Lithuanian copybook[4]
Only a few from our shtetl went on to study at high school, at the university and at the polytechnic in Kovno [Kaunas]. Among them were Berl Zilber, Yaacov-Yankale Charit, Yitzchak-Itzke Shteinman, Rivka Levitt, Lanka Visakolsky and her brother Israel Visakolsky.

 

Footnotes
  1. [45] Neshamit-Shner, Sara. Hayu Chalutzim B'Lita, p 310, note 7, Beit Lohamei Haghetaot and Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 1983. [There were Pioneers in Lithuania. Story of the Movement 1916-1941.] Return
  2. [46] Gottfarshteyn, Yosef. Jewish Folklore in Lithuania, in Yahadut Lita, p. 583, Vol.1, Am Hasefer. Return
  3. The Shaulists were members of the Sauliu Sajunga – the 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
  4. Rivka Melamed's private collection Return

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