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[Page 207]

The Svirer in the Land of Israel

At the Annual Svir Gathering

Shmuel Dobkin

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

We have again gathered, to hold the annual meeting of all the Svir Landsleit [former Jewish residents] who are now living here in Israel.

It is obvious that we would want to meet – we, the few who were left of Svir – to chat, to discuss our common concerns, to remember everything and everyone.

However, as it is mentioned in the Talmud: had you been worthy, you would read the verse “These are the feasts of the Lord” [Leviticus 23:4]; now that you are not worthy, you read the verse “For these things I weep” [Lamentations 1:16]. This gathering should have been a gathering of joy and festivity, but unfortunately our memories make us weep.

 


The annual convention in Kfar Saba, 1952

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Had we been worthy and the horrible things had not happened, our gathering would have been a great celebration. The new immigrants would have brought us greetings from our home, and our hearts would have been filled with joy. Today, we are not more than a few remnants of our town; we listen to sad greetings and we remember our former home, which exists no more.

Where are the words that could describe the great tragedy that has befallen the town and the people? What expression could convey in a few short minutes our pain and sorrow for our dearest whom we have lost in such a tragic way? Perhaps the best form of expression would be total silence. A great writer once said: “The power of the silence between the words often says more than the words themselves.”

As I stand now before you, to say a few words about our town, I remember a chapter from the book of the prophet Yehezkel [Ezekiel], which we shall read in the Torah Portion of this week.

This is the famous prophecy about the valley that was full of dry bones, which, by the command of God through the mouth of the prophet, “came together, were covered with flesh and skin” and became alive, standing up on their feet to form a great army. And God said to the prophet “These bones are the whole house of Yisrael.”

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New immigrants from Svir in 1950

 

Dear friends, Svirer Jews! We do not have the divine power to bring to life the dry bones of our nearest and dearest. We do not have even the merit to know where their bones are scattered; but we do know that today, as we are gathered here, we can and we must remember them and always keep them alive in our memories.

Let us now, for a while, wander away together with our memories to our town, and behold our home of long ago, where Jewish souls are hovering and do not find rest; let us look at the times when we lived there, times of childhood and youth, times of suffering and happiness, times of a vigorous

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life in different domains – social, cultural and national. Let us, for a while, unite our thoughts with all this, remember and not forget.

And may our children learn from all this and may the memories remain with us forever.

Remember and do not forget! – This is what we say about our town. This is the candle that we light today for the memory of our old home!


The Svir Immigrants in Israel,
Their Association and their Interest-Free Fund

Dov Yoel

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

1. Svirer in Israel

Thanks to the Zionist movement in Svir, to the pioneer education of the Svir Youth and to the Hebrew school, many Svir Jews made Aliya to Eretz Israel during the 20s of the 20th century, and the Aliya expanded during the 30s. In 1944, before the survivors of the Hitler gangs began to arrive, some 60 Svir families (in 12 of them both husband and wife were from Svir) lived throughout the country, in cities and towns, moshavim and kibbutzim. Most of them lived in Tel Aviv, Kfar Saba and kibbutz Ramat Rachel.

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The families kept in contact and visited each other during holidays or joyful events, but a formal Svir organization did not exist. Like all the other Jews in the country, we felt that we were part of the Yishuv [the Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel] and we did nor feel the need to create a special circle or organization of the Landsleit.

However, the situation changed after the Second World War, when new immigrants from Svir began to arrive. They needed advice and assistance in their attempts to create a new life for themselves, and it became necessary to establish an organization dedicated to that purpose. The Svirer Association exists since 1945.

The following numbers show the distribution of the Svir residents in Israel, according to profession, place of residence etc. In 1958 the number of families and unmarried persons reached 110.

The Svir immigrants in Israel in 1958

1. By dates of Aliya 3. By place of residence
Before 1944 59 families a. In cities:
After 1944 45 families Tel Aviv 18 families
Total 104 Jerusalem 5 families
  Haifa 2 families
2. By profession Other cities 14 families
Merchants 25 Total in cities 39 families
Farmers 22  
Office workers 16 b. In towns:
Artisans 11 Kfar Saba 25 families
Teachers 7 Other towns 15 families
Drivers 6 Total in towns 40 families
Contractors 2  
Manufacturers 2 c. In villages 13 families
Without profession 13 d. In kibbutzim 12 families
Total 104 Total in Israel 104 families

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2. The Association of the Svir Immigrants in Israel

In April 1945, when first bits of information about Svir and its Jews began to reach us, several of the veteran Svir immigrants met in Tel Aviv and created a “Temporary committee, with the purpose pf acquiring aid for the Svir Jews.”

The members of the committee were:

Shmuel Blyacher – chairman
Shmuel Dobkin – secretary
Dov Yoel – treasurer
Hanoch (Henech) Drutz- Svironi, Moshe Yaffe, Ozer Miller – members

The aims of the committee were:

  1. To collect information about Svir Jews who survived the war.
  2. To get in touch with them and send help.
  3. To collect any information available about those who perished.

At the beginning of our activity our financial means were quite limited, and the cost of the first packages of food and clothing that we sent out was kindly covered by the Association of the Svenchan Jews in Israel and by the Jewish Agency through the Association of the Vilna Jews.

I would like to extend special thanks to the chairman of the Svenchan group, our friend Heshel Gurewitz (from New-Svenchan) for the help he has sent to the Svir people.

Terrible and sad news began to arrive – that only very few of the Svir Jews survived. It was difficult to get in touch with them, and we were not sure whether the help we sent had reached them. But the Committee did not stop hoping that in time more survivors will show up, and it was imperative that we create the means to help them. We asked the Svir immigrants in Israel to send us donations, as well as any information they might receive about relatives and friends from Svir. In 1946 we contacted, through Mrs. Liebe Gold, the financial secretary of “The Svir Social Association” in New York,

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Mr. Aharon Kourie, the president of the Association. Thanks to the help of this organization we were able to expand our activities.

During the next few years, we received information about Jews from Svir and the surrounding villages and towns who had survived and were scattered in the camps in Germany, France and other countries, on their way to Eretz Israel.

We included in our active team our friends from Kfar Saba: Heshel Miller, Gershon Yoel, Sara Tzach and Yosef Desyatnik. We planned to convene a meeting of all the Svir immigrants in Israel, however due to the events of 1947 and the War of Independence in 1948 we had to postpone the plan. In the meantime, the first immigrants arrived and we sought to help them in various ways: our money sources were limited (for 100 dollars, sent by the American organization, we received only 35 Israeli pounds; in one year we received about 500 dollars), so that the sum we could give any immigrant at arrival was low – more like a small “welcoming gift” rather than real help; but we did assist them by other means, in their first steps in the new land: we used our influence to obtain for the new immigrants a loan from the bank and helped with the guarantee, and we helped them find work and a place to live.

When we located the veteran Svir immigrants in the country, we found out that not all of them were well off and had regular work; some of them were badly in need of help.

The tasks of the organization multiplied, and we felt the need to create a stronger

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Svir organization, and to bring together the Svir veterans with the newly arrived. This way we could not only listen to the new immigrants and receive a direct account of the fate of our parents, brothers and sisters, but also create for them a warm and pleasant environment, in addition to our efforts to help them find work and dwellings.

The first annual convention of the former Svir residents was held in 1949 in Kfar Saba, where a large number of Svir families lived. About 60 people from all over the country attended, among them about 20 new immigrants. Some came with their families.

It is difficult to express the situation, and the excitement of all present: the meeting between the older residents in Israel, who had not seen each other in 10-20 years and, more than that, the meeting with the few survivors.

The official agenda of the convention was:

  1. A memorial service for the Svir martyrs and for the Svir children fallen in the War of Independence.
  2. Welcoming greetings to the newly arrived.
  3. A prayer for the wounded in the war.
  4. A few words about our town Svir: The story of the downfall of the Svir Jewish community, as told by the new immigrants.
  5. A report by the Temporary Committee about the accomplishments from 1945 to 1949, and the relations with the Svirer Association in America and the help it has extended.
  6. Election of a Council and Board of Directors of the Association.

The official part of the convention created a sad atmosphere. Of the 900-1,000 Jews who lived in Svir before the war very few survived – only 125-150 souls, according to the information we had. About 50 of them came to

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Israel or were on the way, the others were still in the refugee camps and planned to go to America or to other countries. Very few remained in Svir.

The listeners broke out in tears when Henech Drutz spoke about “Our little town Svir” and said: This meeting is like a memorial service, where all the orphans gathered to recite the Kadish.

We all sat, petrified, when the newcomers Berl, Chasye and Zalman Reznik described shortly the long story of pain, persecution, hunger and murder against the Jewish population.

The discussions continued until late at night and it was felt that such meetings should be convened in the next years as well. A council of 13 members was elected; six of them were chosen to form the Board of Directors. The convention made the following decisions:

  1. To contact all the former Svir residents around the world.
  2. To establish assistance funds.
  3. To collect material about the Svir community and publish a book.
  4. To organize a convention at least once a year.

Until the year 1956, every year a convention was held (we had 8 annual conventions). The agenda of each convention was:

  1. The report of the Board of Directors and new elections.
  2. Stories and memories from the old home, told by the participants.

The number of the participants increased each year and at times reached 100 adults. Several times we hired a photographer, to preserve the moments of the meetings.

In October 1953, we called a special meeting of the Svir former residents in

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Israel, in honor of our friend from America Bluma Chayat z”l and her husband Avraham Chaim – both very capable workers of the Svir Association in America. Mrs. Chayat was not originally from Svir, but she was a great help to her husband in his devoted and wholehearted work for the Svirer in America and Israel.

We could not organize a convention in the years 1957 and 1958, for several reasons. We are planning to resume the conventions with the appearance of the Svir book.

The daily work of the association is carried out by the board of directors, which works as an executive committee. It consists of 6 members. The full council of 13 members meets once or twice a year, to discuss the general matters concerning the association.

Although the board of directors presented its report to the Convention every year, it is interesting to compare the following financial report with the regular activities during the last 13 years:

  1. A welcoming gift for every immigrant at arrival to the country (1-30 pounds).
  2. Assistance in money and packages.
  3. Help in finding work and dwelling, & presents on joyful occasions.
  4. Help in receiving loans through the bank, including guarantees.
  5. Preparations for the publication of the Svir Book: collecting material, printing the material on a typewriter, collecting photographs etc., and finally printing the book.
  6. Expenses for conventions, mail etc.

The Svir immigrants in Israel participated in the current expenses of the association. But without the help of our friends in America we would not have been able to realize all the projects of our organization and establish the interest-free loan fund. And although we are aware of the fact that several of our friends have for years “pulled the wagon” I would like to mention in particular our friend

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Aharon Kourie, with whom we have been corresponding during the 13 years of our activity. In addition to his work for the association year by year, he has personally contributed large sums to the Svir association, and lately he sent a large sum for the publication of the book (which is not mentioned in the following report). To Aharon Kourie and the others who are active in the association we send our heartfelt thanks.

General Report of Income and Expenses 1945-1957

Income Expenses
From the association in America (not including the loan-fund  
For help 860 For help 950
For the book 360 Preparation of book 340
Total 1220 Conventions, office expenses etc. 230
  Total 1520
From Svirer in Israel  
For current expenses, preparation of book, help 650 In the bank, account of the book 730
Book 380  
1030  
Total 2250 Total 2250

The above report does not include the income and expenses
of the published book “Our Shtetl Svir”

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The Council and the Board of Directors

  1. Dov Yoel – president
  2. Heshel Miller – vice-president
  3. Shmuel Dobkin – secretary
  4. Moshe Yaffe – treasurer
  5. Gershon Yoel – member
  6. Yosef Desyatnik – member
  7. Shmuel Blyacher
  8. Chanoch Drutz
  9. Herzl Weiner
  10. Yitzhak Fischer
  11. Sara Tzach-Chayat
  12. Zalman Reznik

 

3. The Svir Interest-Free Loan Fund

The Fund for interest-free loan, in the name and memory of the martyrs
of the Jewish community of Svir (near Vilna)

Established by the former residents of Svir in the USA and Israel
192 Arlozorov St. Tel Aviv, c/o Yoel

In 1953, the board of directors of the Svir association decided to create a loan fund without interest [Gemilut Chasadim, lit. “bestowing charity”], which would serve as a constructive help for the immigrants from Svir who needed a loan. The first 200 pounds for this purpose were donated by Sol Schwarz (son of Aharon Schwarzgar) and his wife, and another 100 pounds – by Blume and Avraham Chayat, Svir immigrants in America who visited Israel at that time. We send them our heartfelt thanks.

When the Svir association in America received, through Avraham Chayat, a detailed report about our activity and our plan to create an interest-free loan fund, they sent us at the beginning of 1954 the sum of 2350 pounds and by the end of 1957 another 1700 pounds.

In 1954, we duly registered our association with the authorities, and the loan fund became an official social project. Six members of the council were elected to serve as founders and members of the executive committee of the fund, and they are managing the fund to this day (see the exact list at the end of this article).

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It was decided to register all the Svir immigrants as members of the fund organization. The enrolling fee was the very low sum of half a pound.

The functions of the fund: to extend loans to any member, in the cases where help was truly needed for practical and productive objectives, under the following conditions:

  1. The loan will be returned by monthly installments, by the decision of the board of directors.
  2. The borrower will not pay interest, in any form.
  3. As guarantee, the Fund will receive a promissory note signed by the borrower. The guarantors will be his wife and two other residents.

Even before the official opening of the Fund's activity, several applications for loans were received, which proved that the project was a real necessity at the time.

During the first years of the existence of the Fund we gave out loans of 100 to 200 pounds; in the last few years we raised the amounts to 200 pounds. The monthly return payments were 10 pounds, and in difficult cases 5 pounds.

In a separate list we present the distribution of the loans by years and amounts. We note with satisfaction, that all the loans have been returned on time.

I think it would be interesting to know how the Fund is functioning. Our working principle is: to make the least difficulties for our members, to spare expenses and to authorize the loan as soon as possible.

Since the Svirer live in all parts of the country, they submit their requests for a loan by mail. The board of directors meets to discuss the request, or, in urgent cases, the entire procedure is carried out through the mail: the president obtains the approval of the other members, the decision is sent to the candidate for the

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loan and the latter sends back by mail the guarantee, signed by himself and by the guarantors. The loan is received by the borrower at the post office (the Post Bank). The monthly payments are made through the Post Bank as well and all the administrative fees are paid by the Fund, so that burden on the borrower and his guarantors, regarding cost and effort, is kept to a strict minimum. Moreover, unlike other financial institutions, we do not demand that the borrower and the guarantors sign the guarantee in the presence of a member of our board of directors; they may sign it in the presence of one of the councilmen in their place of residence and, after the signatures are confirmed by the councilman, send it to us by mail.

Compared to other similar funds, which carry out their transactions through regular banks, we think that ours is a very efficient and cost-effective arrangement.

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Distribution of loans

1. According to years and amounts (in Israeli pounds)

Up until Amount Total
  Up to 100 Over 100 Loans Amounts
1. 30 Sept. 1954 1 2 3 400
2. 30 Sept. 1955   14 14 2100
3. 30 Sept. 1956 1 13 14 2050
4. 30 Sept. 1957   13 13 2250
 
Total 2 42 44 6800

 

2. According to occupations (in the above mentioned years)

Year Artisans Laborers Grocers Farmers Clerks Lib. Prof.
  No. Amount No. Amount No. Amount No. Amount No. Amount No. Amount
1 2 300 1 100        
2 1 150 2 300 2 300 4 600 4 600 1 150
3 3 400 2 300 2 300 3 450 2 300 2 300
4 4 650   3 450 2 350 2 450 2 350
Total 10 1500 5 700 7 1050 9 1400 8 1350 5 800

 

3. According to Goals

Number Goals Amount
8 For an apartment in a housing project 1300
5 For changes in apartment/adding rooms 750
7 For apartments and children's weddings 1050
8 Cleaning 1150
8 For business 1300
4 For farming 600
1 For locksmith machinery 150
2 For health purposes 300
1 For trip to America, (son's study) 200
44 loans Israeli Pounds 6800

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Financial Report of the Fund – 1953-1957

Income:
From the Society in New York 4050 Pounds
From Sol Schwartz 200
From Avraham Chayat 100
From Dov Resnik 10
Membership fees 32
Bank interest 8
Total 4400 Pounds
 
Expenses
For defense fund (keren magen) 40
Founding expenses, stamps and other office expenses 120
Total 160 Pounds
 
Debts on loans 1875
2035
 
In the bank 2365
4400

 

The Board of Directors of the Fund since 1953:

Dov Yoel – president and book-keeper
Heshel Miller – vice-president
Yitzhak Fischer – secretary
Shmuel Dobkin – treasurer
Yosef Desyatnik – member
Moshe Yaffe – member
Gershon Yoel - member

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We have described in detail the activity of our Society and Fund and have presented the financial reports, hoping that our friends in America and in Israel are assured that their contributions have helped – in various ways – the Svir landsleit, that the amounts of money were distributed rationally, and that the administration expenses were kept to a minimum.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that, compared to the other towns, the Svir Society is very well-organized, and our daily work is carried out in friendly co-operation of all Svir former residents, here in Israel as well as in America.

May this serve as a measure of consolation to us in the great sorrow after the destruction of our old home, and the murderous cleansing of our nearest and dearest.

 


The administration of the Svir Society in Israel:

Seated from right to left: S. Dobkin, Y. Fisher, D. Yoel, H. Miller and H. Weiner
Y. Desyatnik, H. Drutz-Svironi, Sh. Chayat, Z. Resnik and G. Yoel

 

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