Dr. Chanoch Swironi
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
Svir was considered a Zionist town. In every family, at least one of the members of the family aspired to make Aliya to Eretz Israel. Right after the WWI, the first who began the journey was the old Shochet [slaughterer] R'Tzadok. He did not, however, go to live in Eretz Israel, but to fulfill the wish to die in the Holy Land. Some time later, the Rabbi and Talmud teacher R'Moshe Aharon Schwarzgar and his wife Shoshe made Aliya to Eretz Israel for the same purpose.
The first Svirer who went to Eretz Israel to create there a new life for himself and his family was Sinai Kutcher. All his acquaintances felt sorry for him and criticized him; some tried to dissuade him saying that all those who went there came back. What will you eat? argued the neighbors perhaps the stones, the rocks or the sand Some of the good friends even laughed at him and spread jokes: At the most you will have the opportunity to ride a camel Only one, Henech Zlatayavke, reassured him and said, before he bade him farewell:
You go, Sinai, and open a wide road for all the others. Indeed he went it was the year 1924 but on his way he met many who were on their way back and they simply mocked him. But he did not let this deter him.
Since he had very little money to spend on this voyage, he went on a cargo ship, and after six weeks of a difficult journey and much distress he arrived at the port of Yafo [Jaffa].
During the first year, Sinai did not enjoy much of the milk and honey of the land. He worked hard, and his salary was paid by food-notes instead of money. Yet, he managed to overcome the hardships through the first difficult years and he sent for his wife and children.
The farewell wish of Henech Zlatayavke, however, came true: a broad path was opened, and Svir people began to come.
Moshe Aharon and Shoshe Schwarzgar zl
In town, the Hechalutz movement was organized, and when the first certificate was received, it was clear that it must go to the president of Hechalutz, Chaim Chayat. He registered Reizl Chazan as his wife and this was the first pioneer Aliya from Svir. A great farewell party was arranged for the couple, the town youth escorted them to the bridge and enthusiastic goodbyes were exchanged.
Some time later, the woman pioneer Chaia Kuritzki, registered for Aliya. She was criticized and ridiculed. If you want to work hard and cut stones, there are enough stones in Kremenets, they said.
But all these warnings did not help. The youth did not pay attention to them, and tens of Hechalutz members, young men and women, prepared for Aliya, despite the difficulties. The problem was how to obtain aliya certificates for all of them.
After Chaia Kuritzki, the next young people who emigrated were Avraham Yitzak Miller, Shlomo Kalman Blyacher with his family, Binyamin Kamin and Sheine Miller and Chanan Gendel with his family. Svir began to wake up. Sinai has indeed opened a wide path for all others.
In time, the Svir Jews became accustomed to the Chalutzim [pioneers] Aliya. It came to be regarded as a natural occurrence in town until the outbreak of the 1929 riots in Eretz Israel. The August 1929 events left a very painful impression in Svir. Mourning assemblies were organized and a memorial service for the murdered was held in the Bet Hamidrash. Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, the chairman of the Vaad Leumi [National Committee] in Eretz Israel, sent a telegram to the Jews over the world asking for urgent help. When the telegram reached Svir, the people understood that this time it was not a question of sending a few Zloty. The Hechalutz committee held several meetings and it was decided to send immediately 5 chalutzim to Eretz Israel. They were: Heshel Miller, Gershon Yoel, Yitzhak Fischer, Shlomo Chodesh and Sara Lea Potashnik.
On the eve of their departure, a festive banquet was organized. The most respected people in town gathered to the farewell party, and spoke with admiration about the five chalutzim. All felt that this time Svir was participating in an entirely different
way in the struggle for Eretz Israel.
In the course of the evening, the Rabbi, Aba Berkman, suddenly arrived and asked to say a few words. The news spread in town like fire, that the rabbi himself came to bide farewell to the pioneers. A large crowd gathered around the place, and in respectful silence they listened to the rabbi's speech.
Baruch Kuritzki zl
The rabbi spoke about Eretz Israel, about the eternal bond between Eretz Israel and the Jewish people, about Jewish heroes in the past and today and about the wars of the Hasmoneans. How great was the surprise when the rabbi began to read a poem by the Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, Im yesh et nafshecha ladaat [If you wish to know], reciting slowly and translating line by line to Yiddish.
Our great national poet, said the rabbi, asked the following question in his famous poem: From where did the Jewish nation draw the strength and the endurance to withstand such suffering? From which source did they draw the courage to leap alive into the fire and not abandon their faith? Where did they find consolation and comfort in their pain? To all these questions Bialik replied a reply that was to become famous:
Go to the old Bet Hamidrash [synagogue, lit: house of learning].
Come in to the old Bet Hamidrash, there you will find the wonderful fresh spring.
But now Rabbi Berkman raised his voice when someone will come today and ask where do the Jews find the strength and courage to withstand the Arab attacks, we must modify Bialik's answer and say that here, in this place where we are now, I see the amazing spring, the true source. So long as the Jewish nation possesses pioneers such as these five, who are about to step directly into the fire, without fear or hesitation, with passion, driven by an inner force, so long as we have such a youth, the Jewish nation will not perish.
When the rabbi finished his speech, he approached the five chalutzim, blessed each of them and kissed them, and only then were the sobbing parents convinced that their children have become national heroes. They stopped crying and their faces began to glow.
The Jewish population of Svir did not sleep that night; next morning all escorted the 5 heroes to the bridge. When they began their journey it started to rain, but all remained standing and sang the Jewish national anthem Hatikva [The hope].
I am sure that each and every one of the persons who was blessed to be on that morning on the bridge will remember these wonderful moments all his or her life. Even the Vilna newspapers found it necessary to print articles about the five Svir Chalutzim. The Vilna Jewish daily Die Zeit had a special report, which brought all the details about the farewell event, and special admiration was expressed for the rabbi and his speech. Since that speech, the rabbi became the darling of the Svir Jewish youth, although most of them were not religious persons.
In Svir, more and more young people joined the pioneer movement, and emigrant groups from Svir left for Eretz Israel frequently.
Among the people who left were Shlomo Chayat and Bat-Sheva Jaffe and Chana Rabinowitz and Ethel Dobkin and the number of former Svirer in Eretz Israel increased month by month. However, as the years passed, the journey became more and more difficult, and the early trips seemed like child play compared to the latter. We would remember with envy the times when one could reach Eretz Israel in one week. The Aliya became illegal, the trip was challenging and life was in danger. However, the flow of Aliya continued.
In 1939, shortly before the War broke out, six Svir Chalutzim Oizer Miller, Berl Yoel, Herzl Weiner, Feivel Blyacher, Rachel Mechnowitz and Beile Blyacher started the dangerous journey. They traveled legally up to the Romanian port of
Constanþa, and there they boarded a ship to Panama, as tourists. Eight hundred passengers were on board, and on the 4th day they arrived at the shores of Eretz Israel. But British ships guarded the shores and they were forced to sail on. They remained several weeks at sea, until the food ran out, and drinking water was rationed, a small glass a day. Medications were lacking as well. To add to their misfortune, they encountered another ship full of illegal immigrants, which had been 4 months at sea, and they took on board all the passengers. They were now 1,400 persons, many of them exhausted and sick. They tried most of the Mediterranean ports nowhere were they allowed to disembark. In despair, after 5 weeks of wandering, they decided to sail toward the Eretz Israel shores, even at the risk of being captured. Indeed, as they approached the shore, the British navy ships opened fire. Two of the immigrants were killed and many were wounded. The captain and his crew left the ship and they fled in one of the boats. Finally the Jewish passengers took control of their ship and on Friday evening they reached Tel Aviv. It was a dark night and the people on board immediately began to leave for the shore. However, the British discovered them and those who did not manage to escape in the darkness were arrested and sent to the Sarafand military base, near Rishon LeZion. They remained there a long time, and were released only after great efforts. Many other Svir pioneer immigrants had to undergo the same ordeal before they could finally settle in Eretz Israel.
The Svir family in the country increased year by year. After the war, very few Jews remained in Svir. Most of the survivors came to Eretz Israel and only several
Yosef and David Matzkewitch zl from Kiryat-Chaim
families traveled from Germany to America. Now there are over 100 Svir families in Israel. They live in Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv, Kiryat Chaim near Haifa, Tel Mond, Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, Ekron near Rehovot and in the kibbutzim Sede Nachum and Ramat Rachel. Almost all of the Svirer in Israel are hard working people and make an honest living.
As time went on, the Svir families in Israel suffered heavy losses as well.
Shlomo Chayat died of a heart attack in Kfar Saba. He was a diligent worker and a conscientious pioneer, and was devoted, body and soul, to the rebuilding of Israel.
Bat-Sheva Jaffe-Ratner from Tel Aviv died of pneumonia. Every immigrant who came from Svir had an address to go to, and it was always Bat-Sheva's address. She welcomed the newcomers and shared her bread with them like a loving sister.
She lived in a one-room apartment with her husband and child, but her door was open and there was always room for another Svirer to spend the night. With her passing the Svirer lost a true and devoted friend.
In Kibbutz Tel-Yosef, death took away the young Feigele, Reznik's youngest daughter.
In Kfar Saba, Binyamin Kamin died at the age of 44, leaving a wife and four small children. He was a good friend to all Svirer.
Also in Kfar Saba, Chanan Gendel died of heart disease. He was generally a healthy man, but he could not overcome the grief at the terrible death of his son. In Chanan's home the door was always open and he was loved by all Svirer in Israel.
Chana Rabinowitz, Bendel's daughter, died in Jerusalem. She was a hard-working and dedicated lady.
And finally we remember the Svirer who have shed their blood in the war for the independence of the State of Israel, and among the hundreds of Jewish heroes we shall mention them here:
Zev Gendel son of Chanan, who gave his life to save the life of a wounded soldier.
Seadia Grager, Yakov Grager's only son, fell on the battle fields near the Syrian border.
And the two brothers Yosef and David, sons of Zelda Matzkewitch of Kiryat Chaim, who fell both in the same battle, in the attempt to open the road to Kibbutz Yechi'am.
Two other Svirer were seriously wounded in the War of Independence: In May 1948 Baruch Gershowitz lost a leg. He was a driver and on that day he was taking
food to the soldiers fighting in South-Jerusalem. The Arabs attacked the vehicles with machine-guns and Baruch was hit.
Chanan Weiner, one of the well-known Svir chalutzim, a member of the kibbutz Ramat-Rachel, was even more seriously wounded. He was hit in his back and the lower part of his body became paralyzed.
Zev Gendel zl from Kfar-Saba
This is, in short, the description of the lives of the Svir immigrants in the Land of Israel. For most of them the country was not a land of milk and honey, but of sweat and blood. However, every one of them has managed to build a life and see
Seadia Grager zl from Kfar-Saba
happiness, and raise a generation of smart, beautiful and lovable children, named mostly after their dead fathers and mothers. It is interesting and gratifying to see that all the children are eager to learn about Svir, the birth town of their parents, and they listen with interest and attention to the stories about the remote little town of Svir.
The Svir tribe living in Israel continues the long chain of generations of the old home and maintains the tradition of friendship, brotherhood and togetherness.
Svirer remain Svirer, wherever they are.
Finally, I shall mention with pleasure and pride the association of all Svir former residents, which carries the Hebrew name Irgun Yotz'ei Svir Bimedinat Israel [the Organization of the former Svir Residents in the State of Israel].
The leader of our association is Dov (Berl) Yoel, Gitel's oldest son, who is working in the offices of the Tel Aviv Municipality. He is devoting all his free time to the Organization and its Free-of-Interest Loan Fund. Just as his mother Gitel, he is involved with all his heart and soul in the good work. His aim is always to help others, exploring all the possibilities. It is simply impossible to imagine the existence of the Svirer association and the loan fund without his help and his energy.
Berl Yoel was one of the first Svirer who realized the meaning and the importance of publishing a special Yizkor Book for our town. Together with him, the members who are contributing time and effort to the work of the organization, the loan-fund and the Yizkor book are Heshel Miller, Gershon Yoel, Shmuel Dobkin, Herzl Weiner, Yosef Desyatnik, Sara Tzach and others. Only thanks to their untiring work and unlimited creativity, thanks to their utmost devotion and enthusiasm, have the Svirer been able to create a literary monument in the form of this book, to serve as a historic remembrance of their nearest and dearest, all those who exist no more.
In the name of all Svirer over the world we sent them a heartfelt thank-you. They have earned it honestly.
IDF soldiers who fell
in the War of Independence (1948)
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
May their souls be bound in the bond of the living
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
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