There is well based information that the Jewish community of Kelem already existed some 300 years ago. Although we haven't found documents about its founding, it is clear that Kelem was one of the earliest Jewish communities in that area of Lithuania.
The town was built on a forested area which was owned by the nobleman Grozheviski. The forest was cut down little by little. Only the stumps remained. On that cleared area were built the houses, and the town was established. The name comes from the word Kelmes - cut down tree.
On both sides of this road were a number of streets, the largest among them was Resain (Resaene), and two narrow streets, which were called the Konigishiki. The remaining streets in the shtetl were small. The houses in town lined both sides of each street. They were mostly one story houses, made of wood. Many Jewish families tended flower gardens next to their homes and had small vegetable gardens. A few buildings were built of red or white bricks. These were larger two story buildings, which served usually as public buildings, such as gymnasia (Lithuanian), the cinema, the banks, the police station, the town dairy, and others. Most houses were built of wood, because that material was the most available in wooded Lithuania. Bricks were in that period apparently more expensive, therefore, they weren't commonly used.
On both sides of the road stood houses and behind them were streets, lanes, and yards. Along these were also many houses in which Jewish families lived.
On one end of the main road stood the white German Protestant church, with its spire which could be seen from afar. On the other side of the road, in the direction of Tavarig, stood the estate of Moxkos.
On one end of the Konigishiki streets stood the Roman Catholic church. It was built of red bricks, in pure Gothic style. Around this church were the Rectory, old age home, and other Catholic institutions. On the continuation of this street on the shore of the river Vilbaina stood the famous farm estate of Grozheviski. At the time of the Nazi occupation near the Grozheviski estate were gravel pits. It was at these pits that the Jews of Kelem and the nearby area were slaughtered. The infamous name of the Grozheviski farm estate will forever be in our minds as an abomination.
The Vilbaina and Krazhante rivers were the main sources of water supply for Kelem. There was no running water in the houses. The people pumped water from wells in their yards. Next to the main synagogue was a large well that supplied water to water carriers, who brought water to the houses which had no wells. The toilets, which were in the yards, also had no running water.
On the other side of the river Krazhante, which was at the end of Resain Street, stood the ancient Jewish cemetery. At the entrance to the cemetery stood a gate, above which was a sign which read, Beit Olam L'Kol Chai, roughly translated as Eternal Resting Place For All Living. The murdered Jews of Kelem were not granted burial in their cemetery, except for the few which were killed in the first days of the occupation.
The name of the Krazhante river conjures up in us memories of the days of the Big Wash. The wash lasted at least two days. After that the wash was loaded in its tubs on wagons to Krazhante to rinse out the soap. This was done by spreading the wash on flat stones near the river on the shore, and by banging the clothing with special wooden racquets.
Children who were sick with the whooping cough were taken to the Krazhante river. There was a belief among the people that the moist air along the river would act as a cure for whooping cough.
Outside of the town, on both sides of the main road, stood the forest of Kelem. This forest, in which grew mainly fir and pine trees, served as a recreational area for both youth and adults alike. To this forest Jewish field trips would come; they also came for sport days and just to be out in nature.
Well remembered were the fun days on Lag B'omer. The traditional bonfires were made upon the ice and snow. We had to be careful not to create a large fire and destroy the forest. The children would bring bows and arrows. In their food sacks, the children brought hard boiled eggs, which were boiled in water plus the addition of onion peel. This gave the eggs the special color, which made Lag B'omer eggs different.
In the big square on Resain Street, there took place, once per week, the big market. Around the square were many stores, bakeries, cake shops, butchers, and taverns. In the middle of the square was a large tree, and around the tree was a wooden fence painted green. Next to the tree was a tall flagpole upon which, once a year on Lithuanian Independence Day, was flown the national flag, among ceremonies. Next to the square, on the main road, was the Kiosk, the one and only in Kelem.
The Jewish spiritual centers were, of course, the big synagogue complex. The
area in front of the synagogue complex was large, covered with grass and fenced
in. There were a number of entrances. This area had several uses:
Most of the houses in the town were populated by Jews. Jews and their families, stores and workplaces were located on the main streets and the side streets, lanes, and yards. One had the impression that the whole town was Jewish. Only here and there, in the center of town, were there a few houses of non-Jews or public buildings. The non-Jewish Lithuanian population lived mostly on the edge of town.
- a meeting place for the shtetl Jews on the way to prayer,
- marriage ceremonies,
- eulogies before burial,
- public blessing of the new moon,
- ritual cleansing of dishes, etc. before Passover,
- and, talks and discussions on communal affairs, national politics, and others.
The spoken language of Jewish Kelem was Yiddish. In the houses, streets, and stores, you could hear the Yiddish language spoken in its well known Litvak accent.
The language of learning in the schools was Hebrew. The Tarbut school taught its students in the Sephardic Hebrew pronunciation, while the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew was taught at the Yavneh school.
Remembered among the carpenters in the town was Ben Tzion Broide. who lived in the court next to Tiferet Bachurim. There, also, stood his carpentry shop. His daughter, Fruma, was murdered in the first executions of Kelmers, a month after the entrance of the German Nazis into Lithuania. The rest of the Broide family was killed in the final destruction with the other Jews. Among the shoemakers are remembered the Ziskind family, who also made shoes, the Myerovitz and Lieb families. Those three families were related by marriage. Abba Myerovitz, seventeen at the time of the German occupation, escaped to Russia, fought in the war, and returned to Lithuania after the war. He came with his wife, children, and grandchildren to Ramle, Israel, in December, 1993, only to pass away in December, 1995. Also remembered among the shoemakers was Yaakov Imber, a member of the Orel family, Israel Gutman, and others. In those days, shoes were very expensive and weren't thrown out lightly, but rather repaired again and again for their owners use. Therefore, the shoemakers always had work.
Tailors and dressmakers were very plentiful in Kelem, and among them grownups and youngsters were trained to sew. Work was plentiful, too, because ready made clothes were not available. Remembered among the tailors are Yaakov Danilvitz, Leib the tailor, Yodel-Shaika Freedman and Abrasha Leibowitz, who was an expert at making ladies suits and coats. He escaped to Russia, but his family did not survive. After the war, he married Leiba, and they had two boys. Tzippa Lieb, daughter of Simcha Lieb, the Shamash of the shtibel Ein Yaakov, was a fine seamstress. She left Kelem for Philadelphia in l938 and still lives there as of 1995. There were many other tailors in Kelem, but to our sorrow, their names have been forgotten.
There were many seamstresses in Kelem. Since there were not many job opportunities for girls after completion of school, the parents of young girls preferred that they learn sewing and be employed in the household in that profession. Names remembered among the seamstresses are Ziskind, Miller, Droker, Shames, Imber and others. At all of these seamstresses' houses, there were girls who studied that trade, and who hoped to be occupied in the trade afterwards.
All the Jewish males in Kelem went with their heads covered. On the Sabbath and holidays, some men wore fancier hats. On weekdays, it was common to wear peaked hats. The need for hats supplied much work for hatmakers, Hittel Machers. Well known hatmakers were the Abromovitz family. Apprentices worked at their shop. Two of them who survived the war and live in Israel are Yosef Belbiansky and Moshe Segal.
Like the carpenter Ben Tzion Broide and his family, so came to an end the lives of the other carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, and all the other tradespeople in the shetl. Almost all of them were murdered at the time of the Nazi occupation by the Lithuanian Nationalists, collaborators of the Nazis.
Among the well known stores was the large hardware store owned by the Stern Brothers family. There, you could buy anything from a shoe string to agricultural tools to fuel. The business in this store was very intensive. The Sterns supplied merchandise to stores in six towns from the area. Not only Jews, but many gentiles from towns and farms near and far were counted among their customers.
The Stern brothers worked in their store together with their wives. Because of the intense business in the store, the Sterns required shop assistants, a bookkeeper, cleaning people, porters, and others. The Stern children studied in the Yavneh School and the Small Yeshiva. One of the two brothers, Meier Mordachi, settled in Israel, just before the Nazi conquest of Lithuania. His son, David Stern (Cochav) is a well known economist in the U. S. today. He is an economic advisor to an important bank in Washington, D. C. His daughter, Hannah and her family live in Haifa.
Golda, Eliezer's wife was the moving spirit in the store. She worked from morning till night in the shop; she supervised all workers and customers. In Eliezer Stern's family, there were four sons. After the war, only Elchanan survived. At the outbreak of the war, Elchanan was a yeshiva student. He received a certificate from his relatives in Israel, and with that he prepared to settle in Israel. In 1940, he asked the Soviet authorities that he be allowed to emigrate from Lithuania. He was immediately refused permission. The authorities maintained that by leaving he would, as a religious Jew, be sinning against the commandment, Honor thy father and mother. He, therefore, could not realize his desire to go up to the land of Israel. When the war broke out, he was studying at the Slobodka Yeshiva, which was located in a suburb of Kovno. He was put into the Kovno ghetto, together with all the rest of the Jews in the area. In l944, he managed to escape from the ghetto. He joined the Russian partisans, who fought against the Germans. After that, he was conscripted into the Soviet Army.
After the war, Elchanan returned to Lithuania, married, and lived in Vilna. He eventually succeeded in immigrating to Israel. Presently, Elchanan Stern lives in Jerusalem. He is one of the organizers and sponsors of the memorial ceremonies for the Jews of Kelem.
Included in the list of store owners was Yerachmiel Imber. Besides having a grocery store, he owned a delicatessen called Vitmin. This store was really a new and different type of shop in such a small town like Kelem. In it one could buy such things as candies in all varieties, tropical fruits, and other imported and fine delicacies. From the standpoint of the variety of the merchandise, this store was thought of as innovative. Similar stores were owned by the Kaufman sisters and by the Miller family.
Mention must be made of the grocery stores of the Finkel and Yanklov families. No one remains from these families. The Roll family also owned a grocery store. Their son, Yosef Roll, settled in Israel in the 1930's as a pioneer. Chanan Levin was also a grocery store owner. He succeeded in escaping from the internment camp in Kelem - the granary of Zunda Luntz. We have in our hands his written testimonial about that camp, the slaughter, and his escape. He joined the partisans and also served in the 16th Division of the Red Army. Chanan Levin settled here in Israel and died here. There were other small grocery stores in Kelem but none of their owners families survived.
The owners of the bakery shops baked their own cakes, breads, and bagels which they sold. The famous Shectin bakery, for example, baked and sold bagels which were very tasty. People who know, say that bagels like those of Shectin cannot now be found anywhere in the world.
The ovens of Shectin, Vigdor, and others, stood open free of charge on Friday afternoons for the people who wanted to cook their cholent and kugel in the still hot ovens. On the day after, Shabbat, the housewives or their children would go to the bakery's ovens and take the hot food to their homes. The pots were, except for their lids, covered with brown paper, scorched from the oven. After the fathers and children came home from synagogues on Shabbat, the family would all sit down to enjoy the delicious and fragrant cholent and kugel at the Sabbath noon feast.
The Vigdor bakery was next to the synagogue complex. The children of this family were very ardent Zionists, and active in the Zionist movement. Their daughter, Esther, taught in the Tarbut school and taught Hebrew reading and writing to many a child in Kelem. We remember other bakeries, such as those of Paglinsky, Chaim Yavneh, Adler, Domb, Mel, and others. One Adler daughter, Esther, went up to Israel before the war as a pioneer chalutzah, the other daughter, Leah, survived the war and also settled in Israel. The Yavneh family survived, and their daughter, Miriam lives in Shavel, Lithuania at present. Their son, Shalom Yavneh, fell in the war while serving in the Russian 16th Division. There were other small Jewish and non-Jewish bakeries in Kelem, located next to the Catholic church at the end of Konigishiki Street.
In the shtetl, there were butcher shops that supplied Kosher meat to all the Jewish households. The non-kosher meat was sold to Gentiles. The supervision of the kosher meat was very thorough. The names of the butchers were these; Fraz, Podlas, Avraham Karabelnik and his son Reuben, Shavlovitz, Shames, and others. It is worth mentioning that in this male occupation, there was one woman, Malka Goldblat, whose work enabled her to support her family. One daughter, Miriam, studied in the Lithuanian Gymnasium, and finished her studies at the very beginning of the war; she was thought of as a very bright student in that school.
The butcher, Reuben Karabelnik, steeped his children in the spirit of Zionism and filled them with the love of Eretz Israel. In the time of the war, Reuben was caught up with the rest of the Jewish males of Kelem at the granary of Zunda Luntz. They suffered greatly form humiliation at the hands of drunken Lithuanians, collaborators of the Nazis. They would come to where the Jews were confined and would torture them cruelly. They would also make them clean the ruined streets with their hats. They forced old Jews to sing and dance; they beat them and made fun of them. Reuben had a chance to escape, but he refused. He was already a broken man. He saw no way out and refused to continue living under such terrible circumstances.
Reuben's wife, Leba, who was imprisoned at the Chaluzin family farm, gave a signal to her two older daughters to escape. She, her six year old daughter, Hindele, and her four year old son Yitzchak, and her mother-in-law, succeeded somehow to get past the guards and fences and escaped. She spent some time with a Lithuanian family. One of the members of that peasant family desired to possess all of her belongings, as well as those of the other Jews who had found refuge there, and turned them in to the authorities. The other Jews succeeded in escaping, but not Leba and her children. In Kelem, she was shot with her small children and her mother-in-law. The older daughters, Ada and Bat Sheva, hid during the war with a Lithuanian family. Ada was, for a time, a Catholic nun at a convent in Krakus. The nuns habit was a very good way of hiding one's Jewish identity. Bat Sheva was kept by a Lithuanian widow by the name of Greshyta. She treated her like her own daughter and took care of all her needs, including her education. Bat Sheva was one of the very few Jewish children from Kelem who studied at a state school during the war. Mrs. Greshyta supplied her with false Aryan papers and paid for her upkeep when she studied at Resain, in the Gymnasium. After the war, both Karabelnik daughters completed their studies and went on to higher education. When they settled in Israel, Eda was, until recently, a teacher and principal at a Hebrew Ulpan in Upper Nazareth. Bat-Sheva, also, was in the field of education and was principal of a special educational school near Tel Aviv.
In Kelem, there were a number of butchers who didn't have shops. They were called Kitzvay Hadakot. Once a week, according to the season, they would slaughter calves or sheep and sell the kosher meat to their relatives, friends, and neighbors. Among them were Miasnik, Shavlovitz, Yefet, and others. Alexander Miasnik was killed along with all the other Kelmer Jews. His wife, Devorah and her four year old granddaughter, Luba, managed to escape along with her daughter, Fruma. Her daughter, Rachel, was at that time in the ghetto of Shavel. All during the war, Luba and her Fruma hid out with peasants and endured suffering. It was very hard to hide a dark skinned Jewish-looking girl like Luba. Luba was the daughter of the oldest daughter of Devorah Miasnik, Tzipporah, who was the kindergarten teacher in the town of Koshedar. There, she was murdered together with her husband, her son, and her sister, Sarah, who was visiting her at that time. Luba was saved and after the war lived in Shavel with her grandmother and aunt Rachel, who survived the Shtuthof concentration camp. Her aunt, Fruma Amit (Miasnik), came to live in Israel, and was a member of Kibbutz Afikim. She presented herself before the Soviet authorities in Lithuania as the mother of Luba, then eighteen, and demanded to be allowed to be united with her daughter in Israel. The trick worked. Luba was nineteen when she was allowed to go to Israel. She raised a family here. She has worked for many years now with the Jewish Agency in Haifa. After many years, Luba's aunt Rachel Zilberman (Miasnik) came up to Israel and lives in Kiryat Mutzkin.
At the beginning of the war, Yitzak Yefet, the butcher, succeeded in running away deep into Russia. There he joined the 16th Division of the Russian army, which was famous for its many Lithaunian Jews, who served in it, fighting against the Nazis. After the war, Yitzak and his family lived in Kelem. In the 1960's, he came to live in Israel, in Upper Nazareth.
Besides grocery stores, bakeries, and butcher shops, there were shops which sold other products, such as haberdashery, textile, shoes, and others.
The largest among the haberdashery (dry goods) stores was a two-storied shop in the center of the shtetl opposite the market square. Riva Yaffe will be remembered as the sole owner, a woman who managed a successful business. The shelves in the store were filled with boxes of thread, wool for weaving, stockings for men and women, gloves, buttons, ribbons, and other dry goods and clothing. Many customers always filled Riva's store. Her store employed a bookkeeper and shop assistants. No one from her family remains. They were all murdered in the Holocaust.
In town, there were a number of other dry goods stores on a smaller scale, that were owned by women who were wives of students at the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva. To our sorrow, their names have not remained in our memory. None of them, apparently, survived the Holocaust.
The many different schools in Kelem made for a large demand for books, mostly school books and related objects, such as notebooks. The book store at the Dat family was the most well known among the school children. There, one could buy books, notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, and every thing else that a student might need. The Dat family were very religious people, known as keepers of Jewish tradition and well honored. Another bookstore was that of the Isserlis family. Both these bookstores were on the street known to the Jews of Kelem as Konigishiki. The Berkman family also had a stationary store, which sold what one needed for writing. Shoshanah, the daughter in this family went to Israel before the war and was a member of Kibbutz Givat Brenner.
In Kelem, there were a number of textile stores. The largest and most impressive of them was that of Moshe and Ezra Gurvitz. Their store was in a two story red brick building in which they also lived. Their store was run on a large business basis for those days. The Gurvitz brothers were thought of as rich and respected. They were also active Zionists. Textile stores were also owned by the Neihous family, the Broide family, and others.
Opposite the Gurvitz shop stood the large red brick building which held famous shop of Faya Friedland. She sold metal products, such as iron, chains, pipes, and agricultural tools and equipment. All the peasants in the area were in need of the service she provided. Feya was, like Riva Yaffe, an independent business woman, and was regarded as an excellent business person. Her hard work brought her big profits, and she was considered wealthy.
The Shaffer family was also the owners of a metal supply store. This was a respected and Zionistic family, which belonged to the Betar movement. Fruma, their daughter, was a well known beauty, who married and lived in Kovno. During the Nazi occupation, she and her small daughter, were put into the ghetto there. She tried to escape, but was caught, brought to the Gestapo and shot. Tzvi Shaffer is the only survivor of that family. During the war, he hid with a woman in Lal (Leoliaye). She was a teacher in the local school. She made great efforts to hide and protect Tzvi. This woman, a daughter of a distinguished Lithuanian family of the past, hid Tzvi in her house, and endangered her life for him. Tzvi felt obligated to her, so he converted and married her in a Catholic ceremony. After the war, he divorced his wife and married another teacher in the school where he worked. He lives there today and has sons and daughters. Tzvi never wanted to return to Judaism, although the Jewish Bible was always on his table, and he enjoyed reading and quoting from it. One of his daughters is a doctor, and has expressed a desire to visit Israel many times.
There were a number of shoe stores in Kelem. They were owned by these families - Tartak, Gutholf, Myerovitz, and Ziskind. At the Tartak store, you could buy shoes of the highest quality for men and women, such as the BATA brand from Czechoslovakia. At the Myerovitz store, you could buy boots, rainboots, leather good, etc. Their son, Abba Myerovitz, arrived in Israel a few years ago with his wife, Rosa, daughter, Ilana, son Arieh Lieb, and their children. Abba died in December of 1994.
Dealers of grain in Kelem had large storage places from which they did business with local farmers. Business was good before the war, and those in it lived well. Among the grain merchants were Rosenfeld, Gelman, Robikovitz, Zak, Valk, and others.
The Rosenfeld family had four sons. The older sons were murdered with their parents. The younger ones, Emanuel, a gifted student at the gymnasium, and Moshe, the youngest, a Yeshiva student at the Small Yeshiva, managed to escape and hide for a few months at the farm of the Lithuanian Salmonis.
It seems that these peasants changed their minds and expelled the Rosenfeld boys, who were captured and shot. There are those that claim that Salmonis turned them over to the Kelem police, who shot them in the fields of the peasant family.
Robikovitz was one of the important grain merchants from Kelem. His son was active in Betar. All died at the hands of the murderers.
The Valk family had many children. They had a large grain warehouse. All but the infant daughter of Moshe Valk were killed. Only a few months old, she was saved by a miracle. After the first slaughter, while being taken care of by the older children at the Grozhebski estate, she was taken in by an old Christian couple who had no children, and were raised as Christians. After the war, Moshe Valk's brother from Russia came to Kelem to reclaim his niece through the courts, since she was the only remaining member of his brother's family. His efforts were in vain. The court ruled for the adopting parents. She remains, a Christian, lost to her people.
Another grain merchant was Azriel Zak. He lived in his large house on Konigishik Street, near the Catholic church. He was one of the respected people in the town. Most of the members of his family were killed in the Holocaust. Two of Azriel Zak's sons emigrated to South Africa before the war. His son Yaakov succeeded in escaping at the last minute from a group of Jews on their way to death at the gravel pits in the Grozhbiski lands. All during the occupation, he hid, along with the members of the Chaluzin family, with gentiles in the area. After the war, he came to Israel, raised a family, and worked with the electric company in Haifa until his untimely death. Shana Yaffe Isserlis, of the Zak family, together with her husband Nissan Isserlis, managed to escape from the Kovno ghetto. They, also, found refuge with peasants in the villages. After the war, they came to Israel. They had children, a son and a daughter. Shana and Nissan have passed away.
Some of the Jews of Kelem made things out of metal, including the Demant family. Their shop was in the center of town. The father, Yona Demant, saved himself by being brought to Israel at the break of the war. All the Demant children came to Israel in the early thirties. The daughters, Malka and Yehudit, and the sons, Yaakov, Yosef, and Ze'ev, came to Israel as pioneers, with some joining kibbutzim. Another metal workshop was that of Golda Kanovitz, whose nickname was Golda de blecherka: She was among the murdered. On a small unpaved lane behind the Bet Hamidrash Hagadol, was the shop making soft drinks and soda water that belonged to the Movshovitz family. The Fraid family, too, was in that business; none of them are left.
In Kelem, wine was made by each and every family for Kiddush, Havdalah, and Pesach, but there were a few people who made wine for sale. One person who made wine (geshtelt vine), was Pinchas, Pinya der milchiker. Pinya died a very strange death. One evening he went outside and looked at the sky. That evening, the sky was so red at sunset that the people of Kelem thought that there was a fire somewhere in town. The fire fighters drove out to find the fire, but there was none . But the sight of such a red sky frightened Pinya. He had a sudden heart attack at the sight of that red sky and died.
A number of Jews in Kelem owned tanneries. This was very hard, unpleasant work, with very long hours spent breathing foul, fetid air. The people who worked at it usually worked by themselves or, at times, hired workers. The better known tanneries were those of the Podlas and the Oral families. The Oral family was active in the Zionist parties in Kelem. Efraim Milner also worked in a tannery, but also had a farm and dealt in grain. Not one of the tanners survived.
Fire fighting was largely in the hands of Jewish volunteers. It was a volunteer brigade at whose head stood Lazer Eleazer Danin and Chaim Yavneh, whose nickname was Chaim Der Tzimmes. His variegated personality was the source of many smiles among the people. He got his nickname from his love of Tzimmes, the sweet carrot dish which he adored. One time, young pranksters in town tried to put one over on Chaim. They sent him a telegram saying that he had won the government raffle. He took it seriously and even fainted while arguing with his wife about what to do with the money! When the truth was made known to him, he was embarrassed to show his face in public. The pranksters had their day!
All of the firefighters had very fancy uniforms. Outstanding were the copper fire helpers they wore; and the fire fighters' brass band was famous.
The photographer was an important person in town. One was the well known Eleazer Danin. Two of this family's daughters came to Israel in the late 1920's and were spared the fate that awaited those who stayed in Kelem. They worked at Ben Shemen. The Katzerginski family also was in the photography business. The whole Katzerginski family survived, and the two daughters, who were only very young girls, were also saved and are now in Israel.
Even today, we are impressed at the comparatively good quality of photographs taken in Kelem at the time before the war. People had their families photographed, and schools had their classes photographed. Parties and meetings were photographed, especially of political groups. Ceremonies and celebrations of farewell parties given for chalutzim going on aliyah were photographed for posterity.
The photographer was an important instrument in preserving the faces and places of Kelem, which lives again for us in the remaining photos that we have in our possession.
A particularly interesting profession was that of the klezmer, that is of the Jewish musicians. They were a part of every wedding in Kelem, whether it be a wedding of the rich or of the poor. The instruments they played were the violin, guitar, bass violin, and drums. Yitzak the musician (Itzak der musician) and his brothers were known by the name of der Ketzelach (the pussycats).
Modernization came to Kelem in the form of ice cream. Two Jews made ice cream with their own hands and sold it in the main square in Kelem. They were the Margolis brothers. The children would crowd around their special ice cream wagons, where the ice cream was sold in specially shaped cones. There was also the kind of ice cream eaten between two waffles. One of the older members of the Margolis family made the ice cream and made special candies. They were made of poppyseed, fruit, carrots (manelach, imberlach, pletzlach) and others. She sold her wares in a cellar in the city square. When the two wooden doors of the cellar were opened to the side, the children would run to buy her delicacies.
There were also barbershops in Kelem. The most well known of them was owned by Aaron Golibrotski. It was located in the market square. Here the men would argue and discuss politics, play cards, tell stories, and pass along rumors. Golibrotski survived the Holocaust, but his wife and children were murdered. After the first mass slaughter of Kelmer Jews, his small son was among the living, having been with other young children, who were to be distributed to peasants. But, because his father was a well known leftist at the time of the Soviet occupation, no one would take him, so that, in the end, he was killed with most of that unlucky group of children.
In Kelem, there were Jews who busied themselves with delivering merchandise from place to place, using horses and wagons. These were called balagoles. There weren't many balagoles, because the motorized truck had become its competitor in the early 1930's, and they could not compete with the trucks. The balagoles eked out a living from this difficult occupation. They had to spend many days away from home on their journeys along dusty roads in the summer and muddy roads in the winter. Usually, these men were learned in the Torah. In order to banish the boredom of the long journeys, they would sing verses from the Psalms to themselves. They generally did not have to drive their horses hard, because the horses already knew the way and always got to their destination. Remembered among the balagoles is Aperiash, Kaplan, Semiatzki, and others. Avraham Aperiash's daughters survived the Holocaust and came to Israel with the great wave of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
The Kaplan family lived close to the Great Yeshiva - Talmud Torah. They had seven boys and one girl. At the start of the war, Moshe Kaplan was separated from his family and imprisoned with the rest of the men at the granary of Zunda Luntz. He was murdered with most of Kelem's Jews in the first massacre. Moshe's wife, Chaya Leah, was taken with her eight small children on a wagon to the Chaluzin farm. From there she was taken with her eight terrified children to the final massacre. This also was the end of the rest of the wagon drivers, except for one or two who managed, with their horses and wagons, to cross the Soviet border.
Near the wagon and truck station there were employed Jews who worked as porters. They were heavily built and could do such physical work, such as loading and unloading. These were the Kelem porters, who excelled at physical strength. Like most of Kelem's Jews, they, too, would study a page in the Gemara after a hard day's work. It is impossible to pass over the name of one of those porters, whose nickname was Yankele der Kizik (Yankele the colt). Not only was he muscular, but he was also very learned in the Gemara. The story is told about this Yaakov, who used his strength and muscles in a great fight between Jews and gentiles on a particular Shabbat. In the heat of the fist fight, he pulled a metal stake out of the ground and pounded away, left and right, at the opponents. When the story became known to the town rabbi, he called Yankele to a hearing, severely scolded him and gave him a slap in the face for violating the Shabbat by pulling the stake from the ground.
A number of doctors lived in town. The Jews among them were Dr. Kagansky and Dr. Soralski. Dr. Kamber lived in Kelem for some time, but later left. The Jewish doctors were very professional in their field, and were dedicated to their patients. People gave them their complete confidence. The gave their services to both Jews and the gentiles who came to them from the nearby villages and farms. Dr. Soralski was an excellent doctor. He lived on the edge of town and was not involved at all with the Jewish community. He gave the impression of being estranged and introverted. There were rumors that he was an assimilationist. Quite different was Dr. Kagansky, who was endeared by everyone. He was a Zionist, who had visited the Land of Israel, and he educated his children in the spirit of tradition and Zionism. On Shabbat and on holidays, you could find him in the Great Synagogue, the Bet Midrash, together with the other Jews. Dr. Kagansky was a pillar among the Jews who worked for the Jewish National Fund.
At the beginning of this century, there was a Jew in Kelem who dispensed medical treatment, in spite of not being licensed as a doctor. He was known as Moshe der Feltsher (Moshe, the old time barber-surgeon). People, in those days, gave him their confidence and received his advice and services, which he gave generously.
Close to the outbreak of World War II, two more doctors (women) were added to Kelem. Both were the wives of the Gurvitz brothers.
The town dentist was Dr. Mrs. Baksht. Almost everyone in Kelem was her patient. Actually, there was another dentist named Dr. Ziv, who was occasionally invited to come to Kelem for certain people, but he did not live in Kelem.
It is impossible not to tell the tragic story of Taibeleh, the only daughter of the Baksht family. She was taken, together with all the remaining Jews, to the gravel pits at the Grozhbeski farm. It is not known why, or who took her away at the last minute from that vale of death. It is also not known how she got to the Kovno ghetto. According to witnesses, it is known that in 1942 she was brought out of the ghetto by the Mother Superior of the convent in Krakes and hidden as a nun for a time behind the walls of the convent. Apparently, because of an informer, the convent was raided and searched for hidden Jews. Teibeleh was caught and murdered by the collaborators, Lithuanians, who worked with the Nazis.
There were two pharmacies in Kelem, whose owners were Jews. One was Volpert and the other Morgenstern. None of these families survived.
There weren't many lawyers in Kelem. Here we mention Hayman, the father, who was also a judge; also, his son, and the lawyer Getz. They were lawyers for Jews and non-Jews. They were mostly employed by: Lithuanian farmers in relation to land disputes on their farms; in settling physical and material damage suits resulting from drunken brawls; and, in trials having to do with theft, etc. Also, among Jews there were legal suits relating to libel, insults, embezzlement, and other financial matters. Usually, such matters could be settled in a Jewish Torah Court, but there were some people who wanted to settle these matters in a government court. Contracts for buying and selling were finalized in the town court. But we can imagine that contracts for buying and selling property, such as houses and land, were a rare transaction.
One of the trials that raised great interest was the one in 1937, which had a background of anti-Semitism. That malady had raised its ugly head again in those days. It happened in the middle of the winter, on Saturday night, after evening prayers. On the way home from the evening prayers, Jews were accosted and beaten by a bunch of Lithuanian nationalist thugs. There ensued a general fist fight; people from both sides were injured. When the police finally broke it up, Rueben Karabelnik realized that his hat was lost in the fray. So, he picked up a hat left behind by one of the ruffians and wore it home. That hat was an exhibit in court during the trial. The lawyer for the Jewish side during the trial was Mr. Hayman.
The Hayman family had many children. Their daughter, Tiebe, married Zalman Halpren. Their daughter, Anna, who after experiencing the war in the Kovno ghetto and a concentration camp in Germany, made aliyah to Israel. She died just recently. The family was known as Zionists. The sons and daughters were members of Hashomer Hatzair and were leaders in the Tzofim in Kelem.
The banks in Kelem were managed by Lithuanians. The bank that served the Jewish community was Der Yiddisher Folksbank (the Jewish National Bank). This bank belonged to the Jewish Bank Association in Palestine. It was managed for a time by Yanber and afterwards by Elpern, in whose house the bank was located.
The Elperns were a well known and well honored family in Kelem. They had their children well educated and raised in the spirit of Zionism. The children of this family were followers of Jabotinsky and were members of Betar. Their daughter, Popa Penina Katz, came to live in Israel in the middle of the 1930's. She worked for the newspaper named Ma'ariv until her retirement. She served as secretary to the editor, Arieh Disentziek. During the 1950's and the 1960's, she served as the chairperson of the Free Loan Society for Needy Kelmers in Israel. Zalman Elpern, a son, studied mathematics, physics, and civil engineering at Kovno University, after completing the Hebrew Gymnasium in Kelem. For sometime, he was the leader of Betar in Kelem and its many branches in the area. He married Taiba Hayman, of the forementioned Hayman family. His studies and Zionist activities were interrupted by the war. Zalman joined the Lithuanian Division of the Russian army (the 16th Division) and fought in it until the war's end. His wife, Taiba, passed the war in Turkeminia, deep in the Soviet Union. After the war, the couple lived in Kovno and raised two daughters.
They came to Israel in the 1970's, and Zalman worked for the building company Amidar. He was one of the sponsors of the Yiskor ceremonies for the Jews of Kelem. The couple both died of cancer. Both of their daughters, Betty and Rosa (Vered), completed their academic studies. Betty is a social worker and works in mental health; Vered works in the settlement department of the Jewish Agency. The younger brother, Yitzak, served in the 16th Division and was seriously injured. After he was discharged in 1947, he came illegally to Israel. He then volunteered to fight in the Haganah and was killed in the battle for the Kula installation against the Jordanian Legion. He never lived to enjoy the life of the new nation for which he sacrificed his young life.
The children of the Yanver family survived the war. Their son, Moshe Yanver, moved to Israel. Their daughter, Rachel Yanver, also came to Israel as a Chalutza in the 1920's. Popa Yanver, the youngest of the family, lived with them in Holon. She recently died of cancer. One of the Yanver brothers, Naphtali, one of the commanders of Betar in Kelem, escaped into Russia, and no one knows of his fate.
Following the Elpern family, managers of the bank were brought in from other places, but they then resided in Kelem during their terms with the bank. They were educated in banking and in other areas as well. Their presence in the town contributed to the enlightened strata. They were involved with the Zionist movements in Kelem and Jewish community life. Bank managers Taub and Tegar and their families are well remembered.
In the middle of the 1930's, the bank manager was Yehuda Mer. He came to Kelem from Linicuba with his wife, the daughter of the rabbi of Korsheni, and their two children. Yehuda Mer was a dedicated Zionist, spoke Hebrew fluently, was conversant with Jewish history and with his fatherland, Eretz Israel. In addition to his activities in the Socialist Zionist movement, he participated in all kinds of conferences, celebrations, and ceremonies of the Zionist movement and the Jewish community. He set himself the goal of imbuing the younger generation in Kelem with the love of our people and homeland, In the afternoon of the Sabbaths, school children, from the Tarbut high school, and Jewish children from the Lithuanian Gymnasium, would gather in an auditorium, where they would listen to Yehuda's wonderful lectures about Israel, its landscape, every hill and valley, its animal life and vegetation, the Jewish people's right to its own land, and on the political situation in Palestine. The children of Kelem, who participated in Yehuda's lectures and discussions, never forgot them and those that survived the Holocaust will always remain influenced by the love of Israel that he managed to pass on to them. He and his wife were murdered along with Kelem's Jews.
The Mer family's children managed to find refuge at the last moment with the family of their former servant. But, here lurked danger, so that they were passed from one house to another in Kelem and in the area. After the war, Mrs. Broide, who survived, adopted Yitzak and Yonina Mar. They lived in Kelem until they went to Kovno to learn professions. Yitzak studied engineering in the Technical Institute in Kovno, and worked as an engineer for six years after the war. He used his writing skills and wrote and published books about the Holocaust. Among them are Stalemate With Death, The Yellow Jewish Star, and others. His books were published in Lithuania. Some have been translated into Hebrew. Yitzak came to Israel in the 1970's and taught in the ORT schools. He continues to write and keeps up his correspondence with Lithuanian writers. He was recently invited to be the guest of the Lithuanian Writers Society. He appeared there in many forums, including Lithuanian Television.
Their daughter, Yehudit Mer (Yonina) worked as a senior laboratory assistant in the Biological Institute in Vilna. A few years ago, she came with her husband to live in Israel; she continues to work in her profession. For more information about her escape from the claws of the enemy and about her miraculous survival, see Memories From The Holocaust Period by Yonina Mer Gresh.
Never to be forgotten is Moshe Gold, who was an excellent teacher and an active Zionist. Unforgettable, also, were the Saturday nights when he would gather his students and give lectures to them about literature and important portions of Jewish and Hebrew books. There were also evenings where he discussed the following subjects; the situation in Palestine; Zionist movement training farms; world politics; and everything about the Jewish world, such as the establishing a one new kibbutz, or the assassination of Arlozorov, or the Arab riots of the late 1930's. Moshe Gold taught his students the poetry of Israel along with explanations about the poems. It is no wonder then that the poems of Bialik, Tchernichovski, Rachel, and others were known to the children of Kelem in their early youth. In addition, Hebrew songs of Eretz Yisrael were sung by the students to the melodies popular in Palestine at that time. So it was that the children of Kelem sang between the world wars the songs that they learned at the Hebrew schools. Among these were: My Kinneret, Cucumber, Caravan in the Desert, I have a Garden, Song of the Port, Song of the Emek. What a wonder , and many, many others.
The bus station was at the Shabeshvitz's place. From there, buses would depart and return. They had a license from the government for that gas station. Among the owners of the trucks and buses were the Keltz, Aperiash, Popkin, and Broide families.
Batya Broide was the owner of buses and trucks and personally managed her business for many years. She was what is called a woman of valor. Her survival and tragic death follows. She and her children were sent into the prison camp that was set up for Kelem's Jews, on the land of the Chaluzin family. After a months' time, her husband, her only daughter, Rachel, and her young sons, Yitzak, and Ben Tzion, were taken to be killed in the first mass killing. She found herself alone, her tragic figure moving among others waiting for the next act of brutality. In spite of everything, she found the strength to slip away from the second mass murder and found refuge at the home of kind Lithuanians, who hid her. She eventually was hidden by a priest, who was very courageous. After the war, she lived in Kelem, in a miserable and gloomy house. Somehow she was barely able to support herself. At that time, she adopted Yitzak Mer, the son of Yehuda Mer, the manager of the Jewish bank. He had survived also by being hidden by Lithuanians. She treated him as her son. She also managed to free Yonina, Yitzak's sister, who was imprisoned in a camp in far Siberia during the war. When the Jews of Polish origin were permitted to leave, she could have left Lithuania, but hesitated to do so and paid with her life for that. Among the people of Kelem, there was a rumor that Batya Broide had money stashed away in a secret place. One night, two Lithuanians, one an adult, the other a youngster, broke into her house and demanded the treasure. When she could not answer, they strangled her. She was buried by Yitzak and Yonina Mer in the Jewish cemetery in Kovno.
Another of the owners of trucks and commercial cars was Berl Keltz. Berel's eldest daughter, Frieda, was an outstanding scholar at the Lithuanian gymnasium. She had many friends among the gentile students, but that did not help her during the occupation. After she escaped at the beginning, she was hunted down with guns by her school friends. They found her in the town of Teltz, brought her to Kelem and tortured her cruelly, keeping her prisoner in the yard of the school where she had studied. After a while, Leah, the youngest daughter of Berl Keltz, was caught and put with Frieda, (their cousin Frieda Mendelovitz) and Chaya Gilvitz (daughter of the well known Zionist Gilvitz family. They were taken to jail in Resain, were kept there a while, and then shot to death.
From the Aperiash family, who were also truck owners, only Reuven Aperiash survived. In the 1970's, he and his family came to Israel. He lives in Ashkalon.
The Odvins were one of the respected families of Kelem, and it was an honor to marry one of their children. Near the beginning of the war, their daughter, Gisa, married Rabbi Silver, who was one of the students at the Great Yeshiva in Kelem. They came to Israel very close to the beginning of the war. They live in Jerusalem. Rabbi Silver participates in the memorial services for Kelem's Jews. The daughter, Henyah Odvin, came to Israel in the early 1930's and married Rabbi Ze'ev Sherif, zl. Henyah has also passed away. There are no more members of this family, as all those who remained in Kelem were killed.
Among the Jewish farmers in Kelem were Shimon Osher, the Gelman family, Yechezkel Koshelevsky, Ephraim Milner, Zunda Luntz, and Berman and Yaakov Chaluzin. These Jewish farmers lived in Kelem, while their farms were worked by Lithuanian farm workers and managers. Yitzak Chaluzin, and his family, was the only one of the Jewish farmers who lived on his farm. All of the work on the farm - plowing, seeding, reaping, beef cattle, vegetables, removal of stones, and marketing were all done by Yaakov, his sons and his daughters.
Besides having a farm, Efraim Milner had a tannery and milk cows. His milk was sold through the town dairy, which was called Penina. The Milner family was wealthy and owned a number of housing units. The post office on Resain Street was owned by them. Their son, Raphael Asher Milner, was one of the founders, and was active in, the organization called Tiferet Bachorim. When their daughter married, she and her husband went to live on the farm outside of town. All of this family was killed in Kelem, except for their daughter, Michla, who escaped to Kovno, where she was put into the ghetto. She died there. The family of Shimon Osher sold their farm's products in town. Neighbors and friends would come to their house to buy their milk. Their two daughters, Hina and Miriam Osher, studied at the University at ???
The family of Moshe Gelman marketed grain in Kelem. Near his house was a store room in which he kept grain which he sold to the peasants from the area. Their son studied in the Yavneh school, and their daughter studied at the Lithuanian gymnasium.
Yechezkel Koshelevsky's children were well educated. They studied at the Tarbut school and the Lithuanian gymnasium. Koshelevsky also sold grain and marketed his produce.
The Berman family also lived on their farm, a number of kilometers from Kelem. Their daughter had a higher education and taught at the Lithuanian gymnasium.
The land of Zunda Luntz's farm was divided up and parceled out to peasants. On the grounds of their house was equipment for the making of a cheese, which was called facht in Yiddish. They also had a large granary, which enabled them to deal in grain. The granary (hadarz'hina in Lithuanian) symbolizes more than any other building, the tragedy of Kelem's Jews. Most of the male Jews of Kelem were imprisoned in this granary, and from there they were taken to the gravel pit. Their son, Baruch, was one of the active members of Betar in Kelem.
At the outbreak of the war and the Nazi occupation, these Jewish farms were turned into collection centers and prisons for Kelem's Jews. On June 6, 1941, the German war machine invaded Lithuania, coming down the main street in the middle of Kelem. The Jews quickly came to the conclusion that they must run for their lives. Those that had some form of transportation (horse and wagon, car, or truck) drove eastward to the border and into Russia. Only those Jews who succeeded in reaching Russia were saved from the Holocaust. Even those Jews, who served for many years and fought in many bloody battles while in the Soviet Army, had more of a chance of living than the Jews left in Kelem. So it was, that most of the Jews of Kelem turned to the Jewish farms near Kelem and searched for places to hide from the Germans. On every Jewish farm, there were concentrations of hundreds of families.
In 1918, Lithuania received its independence, and the gentiles started to compete with the Jews for nationalist reasons. They started a bank, a cooperative for the marketing of produce, and generally tried to oust Jews from the traditional Jewish businesses. The Jews did not rest on their laurels and fought hard for every business opportunity and customer. They opened new businesses, such as transportation companies, and starting and operating the electric station, etc. The trucking and transportation businesses were in exclusively Jewish hands, as was the electric company.
The fact that Kelem had such varied and forward looking businesses gave the town a feel and look of a small city, when it was actually a small town. The fact of having a Jewish bank in the town, as well as the many free professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, clerks, accountants, and students, was unusual for a shtetl. Kelem's Jews made their livelihood in varied and different ways, but it could not turn away from its poor and needy. Such a level of poor people existed in all Jewish towns and cities in Lithuania. The most important and wealthier Jews helped the needy, as did all Jews in Kelem, especially in making contributions to schools and the needs of students.
The Depression of the 1920's and 1930's influenced the situation of Jewish Kelem, as it did the rest of the world. A great number of the Jewish youth had emigrated to other lands in order to make a living and help support their families back home in the shtetl. Most of these Jews emigrated to the United States and South Africa.
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