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[Pages 138-140]

Small Town Boy Goes into Big Town

By Shmuel Levitt

Translated by Judy Grossman

 

 
Shmuel Levitt and his sister Devora (Dora)

 

I remember the opening of the school in Dusiat. I had already gained experience in the cheder [Jewish religious school], and so I was immediately placed in the second grade. I was a real scalawag, and skipped lessons more than once.

One winter day I was on my way to school with my school bag and books, on skates, of course. The water in the lake had already frozen, and it was a wonderful experience to skate on it. I changed direction, and spent the day skating on the ice. When I saw the students coming home from school, I went home too. My face was red from the frost, and my ears were swollen and frozen. The teacher Yudel Slep – who lived in the house beside us – came in and asked why I had not come to school. Nu, I had to confess…

I became ill, and they sent for Dr. Druyan who instructed them to smear goose fat on my face. I suffered terrible pain and didn't leave the house for a week.

The teachers knew about my pranks and placed me in the front row, so that I wouldn't annoy the girls by sticking them with a pin…

Although I was a mischief-maker, I remember what we learned at school very well, and to this day I know Bialik's poems by heart. And how can I not remember, when we had such dedicated teachers? I preserved my graduation certificate from the Tarbut School throughout the entire war, and I have it to this day.

My Pranks at the Yeshiva

I wasn't in Maccabi [sports club], and I was not included in soccer teams, because I was still a child. I was also not a member of Hashomer Hatzair. My mother Chasya-Leah wanted me to be a rabbi and I was sent to study at the yeshiva in Rakishok [Rokiskis]. We ate yamim [days] at the home of a different family each day and slept in a hotel. My father [Moshe Levitt] passed away while I was at the yeshiva, and they came and told me to say kaddish [prayer for the dead]. I would stand beside the pillar for a while and say the prayer. This was an honor allocated to an “orphan”.

 

 
Dov-Berke (left) and Issar at their Father's Grave, Panevezys

The tombstone bears the inscription:
“Our father and teacher Reb Moshe son of Yosef-Dov Halevi from Dusiat.
Died 12 Tevet 1928. May his soul be tied in the knot of life.”

 

The head of the yeshiva was Rabbi Moishe, a hunchbacked, short man, and he nevertheless had a pretty wife and seven children. He used to rebuke us incessantly, and I particularly regretted that we were forbidden to play soccer, forbidden to go to the cinema and forbidden to ride a bicycle. The last-mentioned ban was the hardest for me! There was always a bicycle in our workshop in Dusiat, and my father used to rent one for fifty cents an hour. Bicycles drew my attention.

In Rakishok there was a man, Gafanowitz by name, who also rented bicycles. He invited me to come and take one, free of charge. I came and he gave me a bicycle suited to my height. “Take it and go wherever you want.” I rode outside the city, so that the yeshiva students wouldn't see me, and I was blithely riding along a small street, when Rabbi Moishe suddenly popped out from one of the yards, and here I was riding in his direction on a bicycle! I managed to ring the bell, so as not to, Heaven forbid, kill him, and he shouted out “Levitt !!!”

Naturally, when I came to the yeshiva the following day he told me: “Pack your bags and go home!” My mother came from Dusiat (more than thirty kilometers from Rakishok) to beg for mercy… The head of the yeshiva said that I had a good head, but he couldn't keep me on at the yeshiva because I was leading all the boys astray. And my mother so wanted her son to be a rabbi!

I transferred to a yeshiva in Vilkomir [Ukmerge]. I remember that while I was studying there my sister Batya and Yitzchak Abel came there to say goodbye to me before departing for Eretz Yisrael.

On the eve of Purim I was evicted from this yeshiva as well. Why? Someone informed on my roommate, that he played cards. They searched the room and found the cards among my possessions. “Cards? Those are forbidden by Halacha [Jewish religious law]!” Four of us were evicted, including Abba-Yudke Yossman, from Dusiat, but he didn't give up, like me. He was stubborn and returned to the head of the yeshiva with his father [Israel Yossman son of Nahum-Abba], continued his studies and was ordained as a rabbi. He was killed at the front during World War II.

At the Fishmonger's in Kovno [Kaunas]

I returned to my shtetl at Purim and worked at installing signs.

However, at Shavuot [Pentecost], on the holiday itself, I left the shtetl on my way to Kovno. There were three of us, including Greinke Pores. We were young, had no real jobs in the shtetl and saw no future there. There was no electricity in the shtetl and no cinema, and it was boring there, so we decided to move to the big city. We planned to leave on the holiday, when everyone was at the synagogue. We went outside the town, so as not to be caught in our iniquity, because if we were caught, they might, Heaven forbid, have killed us as desecrators of the holiday when the Torah was received. The Gentile bus driver stopped and picked us up.

Greinke's brother lived in Kovno at that time. He was a baker and we ate at his house. He was young, like us, and was pleased that we had come. The holiday lasted two days, and we stayed with him.

The morning after the holiday I went out to look for work. Most of the shops belonged to Jews, and I looked for a place where I could work as an apprentice. I found work at a fishmonger's, a wholesale shop, with huge barrels. Opening the barrels was hard work, but I managed.

A customer entered and started bargaining with the shop owner. Suddenly the owner flung his hands down, shouting out “No!!!” When the customer left the shop, the owner immediately regretted it and sent me to call him back. I went out, didn't find either the customer or the way back to the shop…

Thirteen Sheets of Tin at a Time

I looked for a job in metalworking, as I was an expert at that.

I came to the metalworker who offered me a job, carrying thirteen sheets of tin at a time. I said to him: “Ir darft a-treger und nit a-blecher.” [You need a porter and not a metalworker], and this pleased him and he paid me a decent salary to cover the roof of a hotel outside the city with tin – forty Lit a week and per diem expenses. We worked in pairs, facing each other, and because I was left-handed there was no coordination between my partner and me. Consequently, I was forced to work only as a porter, and carried thirteen sheets of tin at a time, and my hands really got cut up.

Sabbath was approaching and the boss asked me where I would be staying, and I replied “on a bench in the municipal park.” I was invited to stay at his home, and the next day, when he got up early to go to the synagogue he found me sitting and writing (I was writing a letter home). He said to me: “I see that I have been mistaken in you. I thought that you were a Jew, and here you are behaving like a Gentile.” He fired me but paid me what he owed me, and I was able to buy shoes, pants and a shirt.

Having no choice, I slept in the municipal park. My two friends didn't manage in the city; they missed home and went back. They told my mother that I was sleeping on a bench in the park and that my hands were injured. My mother was worried and came to the city.

A Hassidic Zaddik was visiting Kovno at the time. My mother brought me to him and the Zaddik told her: “At the yeshiva your son was a failure. He is also left-handed. It would be a good idea, therefore, for him to learn a refined profession, delicate technology, perhaps watch making.” The Zaddik blessed me and … received payment.

Moishele Visakolsky [from Dusiat] was studying to be a dental technician at the time, and at his recommendation I was accepted as a student. I rented a room, ate in a pension and my mother and my sister Devora sent me money and packages.

I Yearned to be an Actor

With all my might I wanted to be an actor. I used every possible trick so that I could see plays. I sneaked into the theaters via the roof and through every crack.

 

The New Yiddish Theater Card

 

There was a Yiddish Theater in Kovno, and I remember the play “A-Hartz fun A- Mame” [A Mother's Heart], with the actors Chana Lerner and Dovid Zeiderman, whose acting I admired greatly. There were also performances of the operetta from Berlin, with the singers Felix B. and Trude Berliner. The theater “Ohel” [Tent] from Eretz Yisrael also came there, and to this day I remember the words, in Hebrew: “My brothers went to herd the flocks” – and I can still hear the ringing of the bells. There was also the winter theater of Lan and Bukanc, which performed plays on the second floor of the National Theater.

The actors already knew me, and one day one of them said to me: “I heard that you work as a dental technician, and I need you.” And I said, “And I need you too.” From then on I had no problem getting in to see the plays. I once said to an actor: “I am dying to be an actor! That's my mania.” He appointed me to be the head of the extras, but not for long. During one play I accidentally came on in the middle of his monologue, and the other extras followed me. Each of us in turn got a good slap from him, and that was the end of my theatrical career.

When the time came, I was drafted into the Lithuanian Army. Shortly after my discharge (in May 1941), the Germans invaded Lithuania ... [See 329-331]

 

 
“A memento to my girl friend Reichele. Slabodka, May 6, 1933. Shmuel”
From right to left, top: Dovid Aires and Moshe Visakolsky
In front: Dovidke Zak and Shmuel Levitt, Dusiat

 

Shmuel Levitt: I remember that some girl got into the picture without our permission, and we asked the photographer to erase her, so he “planted” a tree in her place.

 

 
“The Fairer Sex”

From right to left, top: Etka Schneiderman, Rachel Blacher, Liebke Kasimov,
Nechamka Yudelowitz, Chava Shub

Middle row: Breinke Shapira, Elka Melamed, Rivka Scop
Bottom: Sheinke Yossman, Sheinke Chaitowitz, Iska Zeif

 

Micha Baron: Even though the picture was taken in our field, the girls didn't allow me to join them and so there are only members of the “fairer sex” in the picture.

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