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The Annihilation of Dunilovichi (cont.)

Fulkshule (Yiddish School) In Dunilovichi

People began talking about setting up a Yiddish secular school. Notices were put up in all three synagogues, stating that all householders should gather for a meeting in the large synagogue. Since at that time no special political parties existed, it was unanimously decided to found a Yiddish school. The founders were Aron Ligumsky, Baruch Kolis, Moishke Lurie, Hirsh Barkin, Shalom Naratzky and Shmuel-Kalman Barkin. Two teachers were brought from Vilna, one a Rosenfeld, a student of Vilna University, and the second a Solomon, a graduate of the Vilna Gymnasia. Also Shmuel-Kalman Barkin and Baruch Kolis became part time teachers. It took only a few days, after a short exam, the children were divided into classes. The school began to function. The first and second grades met in the ladies' section of the synagogue, the third grade in the synagogue at the table where Jews used to learn Mishne, and the 4th grade in the meeting room.

As soon as the school began functioning, Dunilovichi changed her image and looked entirely different. Happy children's faces appeared on the streets. The youth revived, and something started to happen. Ploshe Lurie traveled to Vilna and brought back enough books, mostly textbooks for the children. Never had anything like this been seen in the shtetl. They ran to the library to grab a book as if running after “matzah water” (the special pure water used for the baking of matzos). The teachers had a difficult job in the school, because the children weren't graded properly and were behind in their studies. Many according to their ages should have finished school long before, but instead, they were in the first few grades and so forth. To top it off, there was poverty during those first few years. In fact, there wasn't even enough to cover the expenses of each day. At that time, in the entire Vilna province, there was a huge relief operation from North America. The school administration sent a delegation with Aron Ligumsky at its head to Vilna and it arranged for Dunilovichi to benefit somewhat from this help. On a fine morning, information arrived that a transport with clothing, mainly for children, had arrived. Entire days were spent standing until one got something and then it was “good for nothing”! Those who had hurried managed to get a pair of shoes or a few pairs of socks that the children could use, but those who were a bit late, got worthless things. A kitchen for school children was also established in the home of Shalom Naratzky. All the children, rich and poor alike, could eat a tasty lunch at that kitchen. The teachers had arranged this because of the poor children. At the beginning they had been ashamed to sit down at the table to eat, but when they saw the wealthy children, as well as the teachers, were all sitting around the table, they also sat down. The kitchen closed before the end of the school year because they stopped sending products from Vilna.]

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Dunilovichi youth

In time, the teachers prepared a children's presentation, the first which Dunilovichi had ever seen. Children performed in Yiddish and Polish and it was a pleasure to listen to them. No one had believed that in one year, so much could be accomplished. The fathers and mothers were very proud of their children. They saw that the Yiddish school was a noteworthy achievement. If not for the school, the children education and social life would have been completely neglected. When the school year ended, the administration called a meeting of all the parents to deal with the question of whether to build their own building for the folkshule because the synagogue was not appropriate. Besides this, they weren't sure if the more observant would approve of boys and girls learning together in the synagogue from books that were not holy.

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Young girls during sewing class

Jews considered the possibility of a separate building, and immediately appointed a building committee composed of Dan Feigl, Zise Klionsky, Shalom Naratzky, Baruch Kolis, Hirshl Barkin, Aron Ligumsky, Moishke Lurie, Yankel Abel, Motte Bergman, Flax Dratve, Yisroel-Chaim Gurvitsh and others. A large empty plot near the bathhouse was chosen and there the building was to be set up. The actual work began immediately, with the bringing of building materials. The singing of the builders could be heard and there was joy on everyone's face. When the building was completed, there was a dedication ceremony. It wasn't entirely comfortable since it had only two rooms, but all community activities were transferred there.

With the start of the 2nd school year, the shtetl undertook the expansion of the school, as if trying to make up for lost time. Evening courses were set up for adults and two teachers were added, Aronovitsh from Vilna and Abraham Weinstein from Zamoshtsh. They took over the running of the school, as well as community activities. Tuition was very low, so that anyone who had the slightest desire to learn something could attend. It was truly a great success. The courses were well-attended and the people learned math, Yiddish literature and Polish. A reading room was set up, packed with people every evening. They would gather there to live it up intellectually and read the newspapers which arrived, such as the Vilna Tog, the Folks Zeitung, Haint, Moment, the Literarishe Bleter, Der Folks-Gezunt and a few Polish newspapers. The teachers also began to give lectures. Weinstein, a former student of Bialik, used to lecture regularly about Peretz. So many people came to his lectures that if you came a bit late, you had to remain standing on the street because there was no room inside. The library grew steadily and the number of readers jumped. If an interesting book appeared, it was jumped upon. More than once somebody would run to a borrower's home, and sit and wait for him to finish reading the book so that he could borrow it. It also led to arguments. Public readings also took place. The leading reader was Aron Ligumsky, who was a former Yeshivah student and an expert in both Yiddish and Russian literature. He would read Peretz aloud and everyone sat glued to their seats. When he read Shalom Aleichem, they would roll with laughter.

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Dunilovichi youth on the bridge

Eventually, it was noticed that the building was too small for the school, since there had been an increase in the number of students. The people began to think about building a second building, larger and more comfortable. They also had in mind a larger plot, so that they could include an auditorium for theatre productions and children's activities. Until then they had had to use the Polish club, which wasn't at all suited for these things and not always available. Work started immediately. The people decided to turn to the Jews of Dunilovichi who immigrated to North America for financial help. The Americans contributed some money, but not enough to cover all expenses and we remained in debt. We began to search for ways to pay off the debts. Many helped with their own labor on the building. For example, Hirshke Trotzky and Elyakum Urevitsh rode into the forests to bring moss and other building supply.

A drama circle was founded under Hirshl Barkin's direction. Participants included Aron Ligumsky, Baruch Kolis, Liebke Tzefelovitsh. Abe Endel (today in Brazil), Rise Skiransky, Soke Tzefelovitsh (from Ostov), Sorke Feigel, the Eterise sisters, Rochke and Sonia Cho-osh. These two sisters were especially distinguished in their performances, singing and recitals. The first production was presented with great success. It was Yakov Gordin's play “Chasye the Orphan.” All profits went towards funding the school. When Zalman Reisin (author of a lexicon of Yiddish writers) once came to give a lecture in the shtetl, Eterise Chodosh presented a Sholom Aleichem monologue. He was very impressed by her presentation and he said that our little town had nothing to be ashamed of even in comparison to Vilna, when it had such talented artists. As a result of the great success, they consequently had several such evenings. Among other things, they presented “Motke Ganov” (Thief) and “Des Groise Gevins” (The Great Win). Hirshl Barkin, a conductor of sorts and a fiddler, formed an orchestra composed of Meir Svirsky, Yoshke Abel, Sayaiske Katzavitsh, Avrashke Cepelovitsh , Shmuel Barkin and Hirshl Barkin himself. Besides dance evenings for the youth, the orchestra played at weddings and the income went to the school.

Even with all these successes, there was still a lack of money to support the school. There were many children attending, but not all could afford to pay tuition. More teachers had to be brought in and they thought about setting up children's library, which was needed for the children's development. In order to establish it, money was needed and they decided to attempt something new, something the shtetl had never known before. A mock trial, regarding Shalom Asch's “Motke Ganov”, was planned. Announcements declared that anyone who intended to participate should prepare themselves and inform the organizers. Held in the second building, all of the rooms were packed. There were prosecutors and defense attorneys, among whom were Aronovitsh, Einstein, Abes, Ligumsky, Barkin, Kolis and others. The discussions continued for weeks until the matter was closed. Such evenings brought excitement to the monotonous life of the shtetl.

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Dunilovichi youth 1936

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