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[Pages 180-182]

The Jews Did Not Restrain Themselves

By Yitzchak Toker

Translated by Judy Grossman

Yitzchak-Hirsh Toker
(Son of David and Chaya-Sara)
Children of Chaim-Eliyahu Toker
(Son of David and Chaya-Sara)
who immigrated to the USA

 

My father was murdered when I was two years old. My mother used to tell me about my father, and from her I learned that he had “hands of gold“. He used to build all kinds of machines, and also windmills. Among his inventions was a special machine for compressing wool. He brought such a machine to Dvinsk [Daugavpils], where he found a buyer for a good price. On his way home to Dusiat he was murdered by Gentiles, who robbed him of his money.

At first we lived in a big house that also had various machines standing in it. We had a good income and the Gentiles who worked for us used to stay over to sleep in our house. Later on a bakery was also opened there, and my mother worked in it very diligently. When our big house burned down, we moved to a small house beside the Slep family, very close to the lake.

 

 
Three families Lived in Neighborliness

 

My parents were apparently born in Dusiat. My mother was definitely born there. How do I know that? My mother used to relate that she grew up with the Gentile woman who lived beside us. I remember the following incident in connection with that Gentile woman:

A fence separated the two houses. One day the fence fell down due to an excess of snow and the Gentile woman's children set it up again on our property. My mother went out and called to them, asking them to move the fence and place it on the exact border between the yards, saying to the Gentile woman: “Aren't you ashamed of yourself to do such a thing, after we were born and gave birth here together?” And to us my mother said: “There won't be a war, but we'll show them that we aren't weaklings!”

In general I recall that people didn't hold back when the Gentiles did something. For example, one time the Gentiles invaded one of the shops belonging to a rich man, shut him up inside and emptied everything in the shop into their receptacles, but when they opened the door with the intention of departing with their loot, Shneor's [Poritz] older sons, who were already studying in Petrograd, set upon the robbers and beat them soundly.

Yitzchak Porat (Poritz): At the beginning of 1918, we sensed a commotion on the part of the Gentiles, and were very tense. One Sunday the mass of worshippers came out of the church and passed by our shop, which was close to our house and the first in the row of shops on the street. My brother Aharon – who was about twenty years old at the time – stood in the doorway of the shop with a thick stick in his hand, prepared for any eventuality, when he heard a few Christians whispering to each other: “It's not a good idea to start something here. An impressive looking Jew is standing in the doorway.” They went on to the next sidewalk, and took metal bars from a metal goods shop. Their purpose was clear! Aharon rushed at them and beat them soundly with his stick. The Christians ran for their lives and left the bars behind. That evening in the synagogue, the shopkeeper – I remember him well, a dignified looking man with a long white beard – complained, saying: “Have you ever heard of such effrontery on the part of a young man? He broke into a stranger's shop and caused a scandal.” He was apparently afraid to lose Christian customers …

I don't have good memories of the Germans who occupied the shtetl during World War I. I recall that when the Germans were still on the other side of the lake, they shot at the Russians who were in the shtetl, and in fear of the shooting we fled to the bathhouse, when a short German arrived and overcame the Russians and took them with him.

The Germans took horses and cows from the residents of the shtetl, and I recall that they left a voucher, stating that after three months, anyone who presented the voucher would get the animal back. However, in actual fact the voucher was valueless, and they never returned the property.

In general I recall that the Germans behaved with cruelty in the shtetl, looting and stealing. They would wander around carrying pitchforks and stick it into the haystacks and everywhere else, in order to catch people who were hiding. People were shot and wounded, and we had to bury the dead and clean up the area. The sonder [lieutenant] used to ride a horse through the shtetl at night, to make certain that no one came or left.

Another memory I have from that time is that the Germans arrived in automobiles… That was the first time we saw a motor vehicle. We ran to the market square to see the marvel!

When Lithuania received its independence, a curfew was placed on the streets of the shtetl, starting at 8:00 PM. One evening, when the curfew was already in force, Yankel Fein, my sister Chana's husband, who had been discharged from the Russian army, arrived in the shtetl. He was armed with a rifle, and the Lithuanians immediately surrounded him, attempting to disarm him, but he managed to get away and hide. They began to search for him, but in vain. He had been wounded in the war, and I remember that he showed us his body, which was scarred with bullet holes.

At that time the Lithuanians still needed the services of the Jews in almost all areas. Because what did the Gentile peasant know? He certainly didn't know how to read and write.

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