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[Pages 405-430]

The Destruction of Rakishok in Letters

by M. Bakalczuk-Felin

Translated by Rabbi Ezra Boyarsky and Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The published works about the Holocaust in Rakishok and vicinity provide a narrow basis for a description of all the various German persecutions of the Jews leading to the days of slaughter and also the tragic, dramatic situations in the face of the executions. Both the collection of testimony from B. Rotholtz and the descriptions of Gita Levin and Hershl Ben-Yehuda tell of Rakishok's destruction through personal experiences plus facts that were heard of, so to say, from rumors and reverberations.

For the most part, little material remained from our Jewish shtetlach, which were devoured with lightning speed by the Hitlerist pestilence and slaughtered by the Nazi hangmen in the first weeks of the German-Fascist occupation. Only a few individuals, two or three people from a Jewish community, were saved from slaughter by a miracle, and sometimes not even this. What happened to the Jews was as if the earth had suddenly opened, swallowing them in its vicera, or as in the age of the flood.

The German plan of a lightning victory was closely bound with the plan for the complete physical annihilation of the Jewish population in Europe. If the interval of time from July to almost the end of 1942 was the era of the greatest extermination according to scope and area and according to the number of victims, the start of the most brutal extermination took place in July-August 1941. This was the clearest signal of a massive annihilation of the Jews.

For those Jews who were assembled in various barracks during the first days of occupation and isolated, it was unbelievable that they would actually be killed. Still more, they relied on the fairness of the world and the ethical human feelings that would spurt in the German hearts in the last moments before their execution. That is perhaps why there were no attempts to escape from the [barracks] and that is how almost all perished, leaving few traces.

Only individual Jews kept their bearings in this situation. In Rakishok, Doctor Gandelman and his wife, the dyer, and Chaya-Ita Shartzberg recognized the hopeless condition and poisoned their children and then themselves. Certain similar suicide actions occurred in other shtetlach. However, it was hidden and there was no one who would talk about it.

Because of the dwindling base of material, I found a substantial need because of the situation to publish a bintl brief [bundle of letters] that will throw a spotlight on the tragic circumstances and situations of those days. These letters will certainly be an important contribution to the Holocaust subject matter and particularly to the Holocaust in Rakishok and the surrounding area.

The returning Jews described the evacuation of their ruined homes with heart-rending direct words and with Jobian tragedy and absorbed all of the news and rumors about the various phases of martyrdom, describing the confused escape to Russia and the Lithuanian partisans who lay in wait for them on every road and detour, and also about the extermination.

I publish the letters that were addressed to friends and to the Rakishoker landmanschaft from various people, both direct witnesses and those who gathered all of the information, rumors and echoes, and place them in print without linguistic improvement; let the letters themselves speak of the great tragic epic, of the dreadful Third Destruction whose “beginning” was started immediately after the first day of occupation by the murderous Vandals of the 20th Century. [Translator's note: this refers to the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.]

 

A Letter from Riva Epshtein

On the 4th of October 1944, Riva Epshtein, a Rakishok girl, described her own tragedy and [the tragedy] of the people to Yitzhak Ginsburg, in Johannesburg.

Dear Friend!

Of course, you will be surprised that I am writing to you. If not for chance that led me to travel with your little brother, Abraham, I certainly would not have written to you, because I would not have had your address. Thus, by chance, I remained alive during the terrible war years, when our European Jewry was marked for destruction. So by chance, I met your small, weak Abrahamle, as a soldier, in Shavl [Šauliai].

However, he is no longer small. He is much taller than you and for a year he had been fighting the enemy. You will never understand even a little of what I have survived to meet him. No human fantasy can imagine what I have survived.

However, in the time when we all suffered together, it was easier. The great tragedy first began for those who survived. It is already three months since I was freed by the heroic Red Army. However, five minutes do not pass that I can forget our collective loss: the loss of my parents, brothers and sister who perished through Kiddush haShem [died in the sanctification of God's name; died as Jewish martyrs].

I traveled to Rakishok and at least wanted to find a small photograph of my parents, brothers and sister and, even this, our “dear neighbors” did not find it necessary to hide. Understand, not a sign remained of Jewish things, of Jewish belongings, that this was once a Jewish place.

It was not necessary to hide things, but a small photograph, if it remained with the living, this did not interest them. Therefore, they say, they could be punished. Shooting Jews—neighbors--with whom they lived for years in friendship, shooting and torturing Jewish women and innocent Jewish children, throwing them alive into pits – of this they had no fear.

However, the punishment will come for them. Innocent spilled blood calls for revenge and revenge must come. My dear friend, you can be proud that you were not in Lithuania and even prouder that you will never be in Lithuania. For me, it is a shame that I have lived with neighbors, friends and comrades and did not know that on a beautiful day they would slaughter my parents, brothers and sisters, my people, and only because we are Jews.

But my fate was different. I worked as a nurse in the Kovner Hospital and, when the war broke out, I no longer had time to escape to the Soviet Union. And thus I remained in the Kovner Ghetto for two years. During that time tens of thousands of Kovner Jews were shot before my eyes; tens of thousands of foreign Jews; Jews from Germany, Belgium and from other lands. This all took place in Kovno in the Ninth Fort [one of a series of fortifications that encircled Kovno].

I escaped to the forest from the Kovno Ghetto where I joined the Red partisan detachment (division). I was there and fought the enemy until the arrival of the Red Army.

I write this letter to you having already been freed. The yellow patches that we wore in the ghetto, I no longer wear. I walk equally with everyone on the sidewalk, look everyone right in the eye and I have no fear of my own shadow.

However, my tragedy begins here. I do not know what I lived for, and I am tortured day and night by all of the frightening images.

My situation – I do not mean in the material sense – is terrible. Loneliness is a terrible feeling. The material side does not interest me because I have no interest in living. On the whole, I am not thankful for my fate – that I survived. How it goes, it goes. If I could free myself from my terrible moods I would not be lost. I have a trade, work; I will always earn my bread. And that which interested me before the war, I am too apathetic to have an interest in. Today, the important things are missing from life. I am missing blood, blood, blood! I alone remained from such a family!

Your devoted Riva Epshtein

* * *

The writer of the letter, Riva Epshtein, was in the Kovner Ghetto and escaped to the partisan woods, where she saved herself. She survived much torture and many threats of death that “no human fantasy can imagine.”

Although she was freed and no longer wears the yellow patch and has no fear of her own shadow, she is in a vise of terrible apparitions that persecute her and “five minutes do not pass that she is able to forget the loss of her parents, brothers and sisters.” She is not satisfied with life and is not thankful that she survived.

She ends her letter with an elegiac exclamation: “I am missing blood, blood, blood! I alone remained from such a family!”

The letter is a faithful mirror of her mood of despair and resignation.

 

A Letter from Liba Kur to Malya Wittz

All of my dear ones together! I received this letter that you wrote to me on the 23rd of May. Yes, dear Malya, I was very happy to receive a letter written by you because this is the best for me, to receive a letter. As I alone remain of everyone, it can be imagined how it affects a person. But what can we do; it is already decreed. I am very happy that you write me out of everyone.

Dear Malya, you ask me to write everything that I know of the dear lost ones. It turns out to be very difficult for me because I know that you will receive no joy from this and, also, it will greatly increase your pain. But, as you ask, I will do it:

When the bloody war began on the 22nd of June 1941, we already freely knew what was in store for us. The anguish was very terrible. People began running to one another, but no one knew what to do or when. All of our friends came together and we began to talk and cry: do we run from Rakishok or do we remain? Uncle Itze and Aunt Chaya immediately said that what God will give, that's what will be. They will not run from Rakishok. The Germans will not do anything to them. Only Rokhka packed a package and took both children and left on foot because there were no longer any horses and we could still travel by train. We were so mixed up that we did not know what to do. Rokhka and both children left for the border with Abel because everyone ran in the same direction. And the uncle and aunt remained in the house and I, running to the same border, met Rokhka and came to the border. However, everyone was turned away. She said to me, “Libka, take the things I am carrying from me, because I cannot go further.” Her feet and the feet of both children were very swollen. And it is difficult for me to describe to you. I did not take the little package from her because my life was also in the balance. I will not describe everything to you because I have so much to write that I get dizzy. Rokhha came back to Rakishok alone and the Germans entered two days later and you must have heard of their treatment [of the Jews].

As far as the Christians tell it, before they killed the Jews, they tortured them so much. All of the Rakishok Jews were driven together into the court where the Count had lived. They were held there without food, and the cries of hunger from the children and of the mothers were unbearable. In addition, they would be driven completely naked into a fenced off area and cut with whips on their naked bodies. Thus the Jews were held for six weeks. Naturally, many of the children and adults died there as a result of their treatment. During the sixth week they were taken away to a place near Baiar, that is, eight kilometers from Rakishok, and there were already four large holes dug out. And the gangsters were already there with tractors that would drown out the voices of the Jews. The people were placed in rows of 20 and were shot with one bullet so that they were alive because a bullet only reaches one person, not 20.

Dear Malya, what I write to you here is just a tiny part. The terrible pains that were inflicted on them, I cannot describe. In this way, 5,000 (five thousand) Rakishoker Jews were in the four holes and no one remained, only those who went to Russia and survived. Among the 5,000 Jews lie my dearly beloved mother, father, Chayala and her husband and two children, my uncle Itze, my aunt Chaya and the unlucky Rokhka and her two children and, also, our remaining friends.

My heart is wrung. I would write, but I have no one to whom to write. I alone remain of everyone. My only consolation is when I take the photograph of my mother and my father in my hand and through it I become a little lighter for a while, but not for long. Thus we live from day to day.

So, Malinka, this is enough of this.

Remain healthy and strong as I wish you, your distant cousin Libka Kur.

The above noted, Liba Kur, also wrote a second letter, dated the 17th of July 1948 to her cousin, Asna Hit, with the following content:

Dear cousin Asna and your husband and children, may you always be happy!

You ask me about everyone – the dear lost ones, that I should write to you with details about everyone. Yes, dear Asna, I know about everyone, but when I just think about them, it becomes very difficult for me. Disregarding this, I must take the strength and write to you so that you will know and now I write and I will not repeat it again because neither you nor I have the strength. You ask about our aunt; I will describe how she perished. I should write everything about this, but I can only tell you this:

Three months before the dark war, our aunt left for Kovno to go to Saraka because Saraka held an important position. She was an important person. She could be relied on. She would often appear in the newspapers because she would excel in her good work. In a word, it would have been an honor to remain alive with her. But, alas, when the war broke out, on Sunday, at four o'clock in the morning, that is on the 22nd of June '41, Saraka went to work; but she could no longer get there. She was forcibly placed in a car to travel far from Lithuania to Russia. She strongly argued; she did not want to go, thinking that Aunt Toyba Riva remained. But nothing helped and she left. But she could not rest. From the car she was placed on a train and when the train would stop, she would run around to see if her mother [was on the train] because she always imagined that her mother would not stay without her and she, too, went after her. And so at each stop she looked to see if her mother was traveling.

But Saraka lost her life in one unlucky moment. The train in which she was traveling stopped. She did not take notice of anything or hear what people were saying to her. She ran around to a spot further from the station and, suddenly, a bomb fell and hit her and it immediately decapitated her and she lost both legs.

Yes, dear Asna, she would have lived if she had not run out to the stations. But, unfortunately, that was her destiny.

Our aunt remained in her room in Kovno with the thought that Saraka would come from work and they both would think about what to do, and in thinking this, she lost her life because in time Hitler's murderers took Kovno. And she was destined to perish together with all of the Jews. She was burned with thousands of Jews in the second group at the green mountain in Kovno. The screams of the people were unbearable. The city was enveloped in smoke and as horrible as it was, it is as horrible for me to describe because I am unable to continue to write. In a word: they both lost their lives through a terrible death.

It is also terrible to write about Chashka and her husband and child. They were all obliterated alive with my dear parents, sister and her family and all of our dear friends. Oh, how terribly I would scream and not stop if I would meet one of my close ones because this all presses on my heart and I will never stop thinking of their terrible death.

Heika and her family perished in Dvinsk. It was no better for her than for us.

In a word, dear cousin Asna, our dear close ones no longer remain for us, only the memory that once every one had a family that was so loved and dear and now we remain alone like a stone without anyone.

Your devoted, Liba Kur.

* * *

Both of Liba Kur's letters to her cousins, Malya and Asna, are direct and powerfully heartrendingly written. She writes with great effort because it is very difficult for her to write about the Holocaust of the Jews and “my heart is wrung.”

She describes important events and reports many details that were not known.

In the letter, she described how the slave labor continued and how the Germans applied the most sadistic tortures to their slaves – the Jews. She brings out the fact that the Germans placed tractors to drown out the screams and shrieks of the Jews and how 20 Jews were placed in a row and they were shot with one bullet.

The description of Saraka is very tragic, how she could not rest in the train and ran around on every station to see if her mother was on the train. She lost her young life because of her devotion to her mother.

Liba Kur also presents information about the death of family members and their names, ending almost with similar elegiac words as the writer of the first letter: “Our dear close ones no longer remain for us.” “And now we remain alone like a stone without anyone.”

 

A Letter from Rajza Kark

Rajza Kark, in an undated letter to a friend in S. A. [South Africa], writes:

Today I received your first letter. Your letter, with your devotion, reminds me of the past and refreshed the great wound that does not heal because it is the kind of wound that no person can imagine; to remain alone from such a family, knowing that such young people and children must lay in large holes that the gangsters made for them with such inhumanity. They came to their deaths in such difficulties. I cannot remember anything of what I was told by the Jews who I met in Rakishok.

I was sick when I escaped from Rakishok. The gangsters held Malka and Fajgetshka in prison for 20 days and before that severely tortured them. The rest were with all of the Jews in the camp. All of the Jews were brought from the smaller shtetlach. And I must write to you that it was a terrible death: half were buried alive, together with the dead.

Yes, dear, everyone in our family perished, except for me who has survived. They were driven out in a wagon and only I remained in the house until everyone left the city. But the misfortune was that they apparently went to Dvinsk and we went a little on foot and a little with someone who would take us into an auto. And thus we, I and my husband, left Hitler's paws and survived.

You ask about the date of the slaughter. It is difficult to say, although there were local helpers, but then they could not kill everyone in one day and, therefore, we do not know exactly. In any case, after the period from the beginning of August 1941 to the 20th, there were no Jews in Rakishok. Only one remained who had been hidden by a Christian. If you remember, there was Berl Shlosberg, the brother-in-law of Ester Leah the dressmaker, the husband of Sara Beila. He remained the only Jew and he explains that the Rakishok Jews were driven to Abel and they were killed on the 10th and 12th of August.

From Yurdzike, I and the deaf one's [son], Shimkin Beigl, survived. There is no one else and from all of Rakishok, everyone can be gathered together into a small group. That is the fate of the Jews of Rakishok. The same as all of the remaining cities and shtetlach, through which Hitler's gangsters marched with their bloody paws.

As you see, we never believed such devastation would leave us all alone, without friends from such a family and good friends.

You are like my own mother and sister. I will end because my daughter is asking why I am crying. She is still too young to tell her about this, that she, too, once had a grandmother and aunts and uncles and that there was one such as Hitler in the world.

Write to me about how you are living, about your health.

From me, your friend who wishes you luck, Rajza Krak

* * *

Rajza Krak “left Hitler's paws” thanks to her successful escape to Russia.

Returning from the evacuation, she learned of the slaughter in Rakishok from the beginning of August 1941 until the 20th and that, with the exception of Shlosberg who had been hidden by a Christian, there were no longer any Jews in Rakishok.

She ends the letter with motifs of loneliness: “As you see, we never believed such devastation would leave us all alone, without friends from such a family and good friends.”

 

A Letter from Yudel Meller

Dated 10.08.47

I happen to have come across a letter you wrote in which you seek some information about the Rakishker Jews who escaped the German carnage and survived the Holocaust.

I feel I must first give you some facts about myself. My name is Yudel Meller, Avraham Yitzhak Meller's son. My family and I are among the few Rakishker Jews who survived. All my brothers, Shmuel, Motel, and Chonye, together with my uncles, aunts, cousins, and their families were killed at the hands of the blood-thirsty German murderers and their Lithuanian collaborators. At present, my wife and I, together with our son and daughter, live in Vilna. During the war I was in the Soviet Union. Upon my return, I visited Rakishok, but found nobody. The sub-human Germans brutally tortured the Jews, pillaged their possessions, and then killed them in cold blood.

On the road to Anushishok, at a spot about five kilometers from Rakishok, I found a massive grave where the remains of our beloved and never to be forgotten family members and fellow Jews are interred.

Now we must start from scratch again to build a new life. Understandably, this is not easy after our devastating and ravaging war experiences.

With kindest regards,
Y. Meller

 

A Letter from Maya to her Brothers and Sisters

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

How are you all feeling? How are you all getting along? How come you haven't written for such a long time?

As you probably already know, my first husband passed away. But life must go on. I met Zalman Gordon, Meyer's friend, and since he too remained alone, we got married. For some time his father lived in Rakishok. My husband was mobilized, sent to the front, and was wounded. But now, thank God, he feels fine.

We started a new life and are slowly getting back on track. We have a little boy. His name is Grisha and tomorrow is his birthday. He will be two years old.

Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, is a day of fasting and mourning in commemoration of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. It is customary to visit the graves of family members on this day. We--that is, all Rakishker Holocaust survivors--hired a car and went to visit our parents' graves on Tisha B'Av. Our dear and beloved ones are interred in seven large pits near a grove located five kilometers from Rakishok on the road to Visiumke. Each pit measured four meters long and two meters wide. A sudden, uncanny apprehension seized us as we tremblingly approached the mass graves. It seemed as if the trees around were vying with each other to tell us of the cruelties and atrocities that our parents, relatives, and indeed all the Jews of Rakishok endured before they were led to the pits where their noble lives were snuffed out. Brokenhearted and crying incessantly, we visited all the pits, not knowing in which pit our parents were interred.

August 15 marks the sixth yahrzeit of their death. We made a dugout surrounding the cemetery for purposes of identification.

Yours,
Maya

 

A Letter from Leah Shamer

Dated 08.09.47

(This letter was addressed to the Rakishok landsmanshaft.)

We have heard a lot about you, and we are very grateful for your warm response. The writer of this letter is Shamer's youngest daughter who worked as a teacher in the Rakishok kindergarten. Many waters have passed under the bridge since those idyllic and peaceful days. Our shtetl Rakishok is empty, without a trace of a Jewish child, and our homes lie in ruins.

When I came to Rakishok for the first time since I returned from the Soviet Union, I was overcome by an uncanny fear and seized by a gnawing pain. Lost in my thoughts and in a maze of flashbacks, I was wondering, “Where are my neighbors, Bentzie Baksir the shoemaker, Mendel and Ronyie the bakers, and all whom I loved like family? Where are they and why do they not come out to greet me?” Frightened goyim looked at me as though I were a specter risen from the billowing smoke of the crematoria.

Feigning innocence, the Lithuanian goyim described in detail and with an eerie precision how our sainted parents were tortured. Their chilling nonchalance caused me untold anguish as did the unmistakable glee in their eyes.

Now a few facts about myself. I met my sister Chvolyie and my brother Shmuel Yonoson in Russia, and now we all live together in Vilna. My only sister is ill with tuberculosis, and her sickness is of great concern and an awful blow to us. Whatever financial aid we receive from you is very much appreciated. It helps us to alleviate our suffering and gradually to normalize our lives.

As soon as I obtained your address, I decided to get in touch with you. I feel an intimacy and a close kinship with Rakishker Jews. I wish you a happy year, success in all your endeavors, and good tidings to all of you.

With kindest regards,
Leah Shamer

 

A Letter from Ruchl Gor

Ruchl Gor, the wife of the author of “Holocaust of Jewish Kovno,” Josef Gor, writes a letter from Munich to Sara Klas, Johannesburg.

We provide only the most important excerpts from the letter that is dated the 16th July 1948:

Dear friend Sara and husband!

Your letter of the 28th June has been received. I was very surprised by your friendship. You were correct when you wrote that, perhaps, I would not know who was writing to me because I would not remember you from home. I remember your cousin, Leiba Spiwak, very well. It is possible that if I saw a picture of you, I would remember. Time has passed with much trouble and pain.

Now I will write a little about me:

In 1932 I married a man who comes from a small shtetl, Kron, near Kovno. You have surely not heard about this shtetl. He studied, worked and always lived in Kovno. I was a nurse and until the war I worked in the Kovner Jewish Hospital. My husband was a teacher by profession. However, he worked for the Kovner newspaper, Folksblat, during the last years. Our life was good.

In 1941, immediately after the outbreak of war, I gave birth to a daughter. We were already in the Kovno Ghetto. The child was named Gitele. The trouble, need and pain we suffered in the Kovno Ghetto cannot be described.

In 1944, after I had hidden the child from the murderers in an attic during the search for children in the Kovno Ghetto, I gave the child to Christians in the city. A nun took her from me and hid her.

Several months later when the Russians were already near Kovno, the Germans drove us toward Germany. On the way, not far from the German border, still in Lithuania, my husband and I jumped out of the moving train (the 12th of July 1944) and hid in a field of rye and in holes for 20 days, until the Russians took that area and we were liberated.

Upon our return to Kovno, we immediately ran to look for our child. We found the child and then we were the happiest people in the world. Later, when the Jews began to leave Kovno to go to Poland and further on from there, we also went with the stream, not wanting to remain alone and forlorn on the graves of those closest to us.

We had a very difficult trip from Kovno to Germany. We lay around in various dirty camps without a shirt on our back and without money. We stole across the border through mountains and valleys until we arrived in Austria. There I became sick with typhoid fever and lay in an Austrian hospital for five weeks.

My husband and child were in a camp where they received little food. When I left the hospital very weakened, we stole across the border to Germany in order to reach the area where more Lithuanian Jews lived. There we did meet many Lithuanian Jews from the Kovno Ghetto who were very well known to us, and they helped stand us on our feet. However, how does the saying go: “When it comes to life, one must die.” Our child was exhausted by such a trip. She became infected on the way and arriving in Germany, she became sick with brain fever. We did everything we could to save our only child, but it did not help, and in December 1945, the child died. You can imagine our great pain and grief at losing our only child who suffered so much in her four and a half year life. We were so broken and wretched that we cannot to this day recover from the great misfortune that we encountered.

Yes, my dear, it turns out that the cup of tears was not full for us.

Of my family, only my two brothers, Leizer 27 and Efriom 21, survived. They both escaped Rakishok for Russia two days before the Germans took Rakishok. Leyzer married and has a daughter who was given the name of our mother, Chaya, may she rest in peace, and he now lives in Vilna. He is a hat maker. My younger brother, Efriom, came here, left for Eretz Yisroel and was on the ship, “Exodus 1947,” if you read about it. He left again and has been in Eretz Yisroel since the month of April. They suffered enough during the war. Efriom lost an eye in Russia. Now he only sees with one eye. Ryfka and Sara Beilka were in the Kovno Ghetto and survived. They know that I am in Germany. Chasya-Beilka was in the Kovno Ghetto. I helped her a great deal. I do not deserve any thanks. She is my cousin and this was my duty. However, our vexation is great, because we protected her from all of the deportations and, at the end just before the liberation, she perished, and not one of their family survived. At the end, she married a young man from Rakishok, Gafanowitch, the son of the shamas [sexton], and they both hid in the cellar of a house. The Germans set the entire ghetto on fire and they were burned in the cellar. A terrible death. We also hid in an attic. However, at the last moment, we went out by ourselves and traveled on the transport to Germany. On the way, as I have already written, we succeeded in jumping from the train and survived.

My best greeting, Ruchl Gor

* * *

Ruchl Gor and her husband were in the Kovno Ghetto. They successfully hid their child with a Christian and they themselves escaped from a transport while the train took them and other Jews to crematoria.

Both the hiding of their daughter and their jump from the train were uncommon experiences.

She also writes about the happy meeting with their little daughter and how the blind fate of death persecuted their little daughter who died during their wanderings.

Ruchl Gor also gives details of her family, both those who perished and, may they live long, those who survived.

 

A Letter from Shafir Efriom (Israel)

(In a letter from the 14th November 1950) Shafir writes to Yerakhmiel Aronsarsh:

A hearty thank you to the Rakishok landsleit committee for the material help that you decided to give me. Everything that I have received is very useful to me. Let us hope that better times will come and no help will be needed.

Mrs. Klas asked me to write everything I know about the Holocaust of the Rakishok Jews. After the war I was in Rakishok for one week. This was in July 1946. I experienced so much from that time until now that one event causes me to forget the next one: aliyah bet [clandestine immigration to Palestine during the period 1920 to 1948] on the ship, “Exodus Europe,” the struggle in the country and so on.

What I know are details that I think you already know about. Nevertheless, I will write what I know.

As the Christians describe it, the Jews were killed in August 1941. Eight thousand Jews were killed in Rakishok and vicinity, as many refugees who had run from the Germans remained in Rakishok because the Latvian border was in dispute and they could not run any further. Not many people were able to save themselves because they did not have the wherewithal to travel. Specific details that I learned from the Christians I have already forgotten.

They were killed near the Gilincer Woods. Before they were killed, they were assembled in the Count's courtyard that was enclosed by barbed wire. All 8,000 were placed into two large holes.

The synagogues were burned. All of the personal property was looted by the Christians and a large part of what the bandits had gathered, they sold for trivial amounts. Christians from neighboring villages moved into the Jewish houses.

Now, after the war, only a few Jewish families live in Rakishok: Nakhum Sabl, Hirshl Bin, Mikhal the Kamayer [from Kamajai] and also several families from the smaller shtetlach who have settled in Rakishiok. For the most part, they settled in Vilna.

Hirshl Bin and my brother, Leizka, collected 500 rubles from each surviving Rakishok family to erect a matzeivah [headstone] and fence in the area.

In my eyes, all of Rakishok looks like a cemetery. Quiet, silent, as if everyone had died.

Whoever one speaks to among the gentiles contends that they are all good and religious; there are no guilty ones. Each declares that he helped; this one brought bread, this one something else, and so on. And when one comes into their rooms, there one sees it filled with Jewish property, clothes, furniture and other things.

I will stop writing. Writing about myself is very difficult. It makes my head hurt and I cannot concentrate on my thoughts. Ask more questions--perhaps it will be easier to answer, if I know.

Stay healthy and strong. Greetings from my wife.

With the best greetings, Shafir Efriom

* * *

Shafir Efriom writes from Israel. The aliyah bet and the ship “Exodus Europe” and the struggle in the country smothered his memory of certain events.

He briefly describes what the Christians have told him, that the Jews were killed near the Gilincer Woods with a total of 8,000 thrown into two large holes.

Shafir also provides the information that several Jewish families from Rakishok and from neighboring shtetlach remain in the shtetl. He lists their names.

 

A Letter from Henokh Blakher (now in Israel)

In a letter of May 11, 1951, he describes his wanderings and a history of martyrdom, as well as the deaths of some shtetlach:

To the distinguished people of the Rakishok Landsleit Union, much peace!

You wrote to me, a Lithuanian Jew, who survived the death march of the Hitlerist gangsters in Europe.

As I am in Israel, I have read your appeal in the Yiddish Israeli newspaper, Nei Welt [New World], in which you ask all who know something about Rakishok and vicinity to be of assistance with information for a Yizkor book that will be written by you. I was born in Kelme, lived in Memel from 1924 to 1938, and when in 1938 Hitler marched into Memel, I moved to Rasein [Raseiniai]. And as the war started in 1941, we escaped from our last residence, Rasein, with many hundreds of Jews, with the goal of distancing ourselves from the Hitlerist storm-troopers who streamed in so rapidly. The goal of our running was to reach the Lithuanian border and cross into Russia, and this was our area.

We escaped from our residence to Shavl [Siauliai]. A heavy German bombardment took place the same day in Shavl and we successfully escaped further to the small shtetl, Ligem [Lygumai]. From Ligem, we continued to travel and went through many small shtetlach, the names of which we do not clearly remember, to Birzh [Birzai] and from Birzh to Rakishok.

Rakishok was the last stop because the Lithuanian Hitler-partisans stopped us. And here begins the smallest bit of information that we can give you about the place. As soon as we reached Rakishok, we clearly saw that our situation was desperate. The Lithuanians had seized power before the Germans arrived, while the Russians were making a disorderly withdrawal. We saw that there was no point in continuing our refugee march, and all of the refugees began to return to their homes.

We saw how the Lithuanian partisans tortured local and non-local Jews to some extent. One of the sights was of the Lithuanian partisans stopping an entire trainload of refugees who were going from Rakishok to Birzh. On the road, when we wanted to return to our homes, there were full wagons with Jewish families, walkers who did not have any wagons and also many young Lithuanian partisans who rode on scooters.

They surrounded us all and robbed each of us of our possessions: rings, watches, gold and other valuables, as well as horses and wagons from our families. And I saw another ugly prank that showed us that we had to go further. This was when the partisans caught small children and hit their heads on the wheels.

Several Russian airplanes appeared in the heavens and began firing with machine guns. They saved us.

Then the partisans told everyone to run to the shtetlach, but only in the direction back to Lithuania, not forward.

They knew that Hitler was coming in today or tomorrow and that, therefore, they would have time to do what they wanted. And so some of the non-local Jews survived because we did not remain in the area but traveled back in an attempt to return home.

This is all information from the course of five days of the war.

When we woke up on Friday morning, the 26th of June 1941, we found ourselves in a village; we saw that the Germans were streaming en masse in the direction of Latvia.

What then happened to the Jews of Rakishok and vicinity? We only know that in the course of 3 to 4 weeks there were no longer any Jews, except for a few who saved themselves from the mass slaughter.

And after nine days of running through villages and many times through fields by day and several times at night, we reached Shavli.

And in Shavli we went through all of the hell that the Jews of Shavli went through and here I lost my entire family: wife, children, sisters and brothers and my old mother who was with me, except for my son who is now with me.

These are the common everyday events from a short time wandering. It is impossible to describe the day-to-day details because no matter how many times one writes about them, one cannot describe everything.

On and on, the same thing happened in all of Lithuania. Jews were murdered in the provinces through mass murder and they perished in agony. And in the large cities, the Jews were concentrated in ghettos: this was Vilna, Shavl, Kovno, where the largest number of Jews perished slowly from work, hunger and various deportations and concentration camps.

With this, I give the small bit of information about Rakishok and the Rakishok Jews.

Be successful in your benevolent work because there are few Lithuanian Jews remaining who can write about their history of pain and agony.

Stay healthy

With respect: Henokh Blakher

* * *

Although, Henokh Blekher knows a little information about Rakishok, he was an eyewitness of the large march of refugees – how Jews ran from and to Rakishok – and how the Lithuanian partisans stopped an entire train of refugees in Rakishok and how they were all robbed, murderously beaten and murdered before the Germans entered.

He resolutely states that in the course of 3-4 weeks there were no longer any Jews in Rakishok, except for those who saved themselves from the mass slaughter.

 

The Rakishker Landsleit Society received the following letter from Reuven Shreiberg in America

Dated June 30, 1951

While reading the Yiddish newspaper “Der Tog,” which is published in New York, I came across your announcement concerning the plans you are making to publish a Yiskor Book, perpetuating the Jewish community of Rakishok, and those of her vicinity.

I hail from Ponedel, and if I am not mistaken, Ruch is a cousin of mine. I am the son of Mendel Shaklier (Mendel Shreiberg). We owned a mill, located just as you enter the town. I came to America in 1939 to visit my brother for the occasion of the 1939 World's Fair, and due to the outbreak of the Second World War, I remained in the U.S.

When I left Ponedel, the town had about 300 Jewish people and two synagogues. Close to 80% of the residents received financial aid from family members in America. Soon after I arrived here, we formed a Ponedeler Society and at each general meeting we would collect money and send it to our town. I am sure that you all remember life as it was under the rule of the Lithuanian government. You must surely remember Velvele Herring. He came here about the same time as I did. After the war ended, I corresponded with a number of our Lithuanian neighbors. When the Germans withdrew, they burned down three quarters of the town. They also wrote to me that they ordered the entire Jewish population to pack up a few belongings and be ready to be shipped to Poland where a Jewish state had been established for them. The entire group was taken to a wooded area not far from Rakishok, and there they all met a violent death. This was the end of our parents, relatives, and friends, brought about at the murderous hands of the Germans.

Right after the war was over, I received a letter from a Lithuanian neighbor in which he informed me that my brother had been exiled to Siberia. He also sent me my brother's address, but it took a long time before I finally made contact with him. My cousin Moshe Michel's son (his father was a tailor), who is now a judge in Vilna, has somehow succeeded in freeing him from his banishment in the Gulag and has brought him to Vilna. For five years I received frequent letters from him. Lately I haven't heard from him.

My brother's name is Yankel. His wife, their children, and my parents were all murdered by the Lithuanian Nazi murderers. My brother wrote to me that when he came to Ponedel, he didn't find any surviving Jews there. He stayed in Ponedel one day and left. The very same Lithuanian neighbors who carried on a correspondence with me had massacred the Jews.

He wrote that those who managed to escape and have survived are: Gershon Shtanaver's daughter; Motel Shmid's son and daughter, and Itzik Muluntze's son Arke; and Yankel Shizimovitz's also survived. There may be more, however, of whom I have no information. I will try to contact some Ponedeler and Rakishker Landsleit here in America. Perhaps they may have some information.

Please let me know what progress you are making with publishing the Yizkor Book.

With best regards,
Your Landsman, Reuven Shreiberg

 

How the Shtetlach, Salok and Dukshty, Perished

(From My Diary)

(The Rakishok landsmanschaftn in Israel received a 1/6/1951 letter from Yerakhmeil Korb that was accompanied by notes from his diary that mainly cover the history of martyrdom and death of the Lithuanian shtetlach, Salok [Salakas] and Dukshty [Dukstas]. Although the shtetlach are not in the vicinity of Rakishok, it is necessary to publish this because in those frightful days – in the first weeks of the occupation – the majority of the Lithuanian shtetlach endured the same tortures and history of martyrdom and they perished el kidush haShem [died in the sanctification of God's name as martyrs] in the same savage way.)

1941. Friday, erev [the night before] Shabbos Nokhmu [the Shabbos after Tishe b'Av], the Christian who we had sent to Lygumai to determine if it is correct that the shtetl had perished came to me and he confirmed that all of the Jews (over 200 souls) were killed by the Lithuanians and also those in Kaltinenai. (Both shtetlach are 15 kilometers from our shtetl.) We were confused. There was nowhere to escape. There was one consolation; the messenger said that this was done by the Lithuanians and the Germans did not know about it and they were carrying out an investigation and the guilty would be punished.

It was almost Shabbos. Young Leibshtein came running to me and shouted: “Yerakhmeil! Young girls are coming to you!”

Why are young girls traveling at such a time? I thought, perhaps my friend from Utenai wants to come to me to save himself because my shtetl, Salok, belongs to Poland. And I kept on thinking and a wagon arrived at my house with five young girls. One of them gave me a letter written by well known Padrader merchants, in which they wrote in short: “Mr. Korb, help the five young girls to get to their homes.” I learned who the young girls were: two from Salok, Hirsh Brava's daughters. I knew their father. One was a teacher in the Vilner Jewish Gymnazie, the second in a public school; three young girls were from Novo-Aleksandrovsk [Zarasai]. One was a bookkeeper at Shopn's brewery and two were students at Vilna University.

I led them into the house, gave them food and they told me that immediately after the outbreak of the war they tried to escape to Russia. They were captured entering Molodeczno and everything they had was taken from them; they were sent to Vilna. They had been hungry the entire time and they tried to obtain permission to travel home.

They told me the following:

“But how do we get home? Jews cannot travel by train, and a Jew cannot travel in a wagon because the Lithuanians are guarding the roads and when they see a Jew, they kill him. We went on foot and arrived in Padbradzi (50 kilometers). The Jews in Padbradzi took us in, arranged for a wagon and, also, a letter to you, and thank God, we came here safely. And now we ask you to help us get to Salok.”

We arranged for a wagon with an old Lithuanian driver and decided that they would travel early on Shabbos because everyone said that Shabbos is the best time for safer travel because the gangsters do not travel on the roads, knowing that Jews are not allowed to travel on Shabbos.

Early Shabbos. The wagon arrived. We said goodbye to them. They traveled to Salok. Shabbos at night, the wagon returned with the young girls. I asked the Christian, “What is this? Why did you bring them back?” The Christian told me: “I had already brought the wagon to the village Akhres (eight km from Salok). A Christian helped me and asked, 'Where are you taking the young girls? You are taking them to be shot? The Jews are being shot in Salok!' I turned around and brought the young girls to you and you have to pay me for two trips; for going to Salok and for bringing them back.” I took care of it with the Christian.

The young girls cried that they had no money to pay me. I calmed them. Do not cry, children, thank God that you have survived thanks to the peasant and are here with me. There is still food and what we eat, you will eat.

* * *

Sunday afternoon, we succeeded in sending a messenger to Salok. The young girls sent a letter to one respected Lithuanian named Kavaliuk. In the letter they asked him to write to them about what was happening in the shtetl and if their parents were there, he should give them their letter.

The Christian returned Tuesday at night bringing a letter from Hirsh Brava in which he writes: “Dear Children, we are alive, thank God, and we think about seeing you. Last week all of the Jews were taken away and not allowed to take anything with them. We were brought to Shigardi (Shingardi) and 120 men were taken to the village of Paezere (This is on the way to Taragini [Tauragnai]). They were held for two days without food; the 12 men were killed in the village of Paezere [Translator's note: the first number of men is given as 120 and the second as 12.] and we were brought back from Shigardi to our shtetl and everyone was taken to Plan Street where a ghetto was created for us in the empty ruined houses. During the two days, the houses were emptied, but thank God, we are alive.”

On the 4th of September, a well known Leaniskhi estate owner came to me; he greeted me. He was frightened. I asked him, “Mr. Regner, why are you so frightened?”

He shouted, “I cannot speak!”

“Tell me, explain to me!”

His answer was, “I must not speak!”

I repeated that he should tell me and he began to speak:

“The farmhand of my sister-in-law, Maria, and I were chosen to take the Jews from Dukshty. We were not told where we would be taking the Jews, but the Jews were told that they were being driven to Rakishki [Rokiskis] to work. And the same day, the Jews were driven out of Salok, Rymshany [Rimse], Turmont [Turmantas] and other shtetlach. We came to a forest near Degutse [Deguciai] (this was on the Utena-Zarasai highway), on the road that goes down to Dusiaty [Dusetos]. We were told to remain standing, that the Jews should get out of the wagons, and there was an immediate cry: Everyone should take off all of their clothing. The victims immediately saw that they were standing next to long deep pits and surrounded by gangsters with machine guns. There was a lament, a scream to the heavens. The men got undressed and none of the women took off their clothing. And immediately – shooting from the machine guns and all were shot. We were told that if any of us told, we would be shot. Two of the drivers lost their minds. And I came to tell you and, perhaps, you would be able to see how to escape.”

I knew that Virshinski of the Salok militia had given a letter for the Rabbi of the shtetl and for Gilinksi, Yitzhak Shnurat's son-in-law and for Bak, the son-in-law of Tuvia the butcher. The form of the letter: “[Name]…is a very respected man, he should be taken care of.”

And thus was the shtetl Salok annihilated — one of the oldest shtetlach in Lithuania which had scholars, despite the fact that it was poor. In my time, when I was growing up in Salok, besides the few shops in the shtetl, there were many peddlers who lived in the villages [during the week] and only came home for Shabbos, many tradesmen: shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, seamstresses and, mostly, sock knitters. Despite the poverty, every Jew studied. The learned men, who knew the Gemara and the Mishnah, taught the others. Zalman Leib, the tailor, also read for a group.

The shtetl had two shochets [ritual slaughterers], four small synagogues. An old 300-year old pinkes [book of records] was in the old synagogue. I remember once in 1904, when I left the virtuous path and started to read non-religious books, the shamas of the old synagogue, Reb Yehuda Leib Gordon, said, “What do you get from the books? I will give you the pinkes to read and there you will find good things,” and I was truly satisfied with reading the pinkes from the time that Napoleon marched through on the way to Moscow, about the Polish Rebellion and many other things. Today, only the ruins of the walls of the synagogues remain and the dilapidated houses. No Salok Jew survived, only two Jews who were in the Russian army came to Salok: one, Tzibl, the grandson of the Mordekhai Tzibl; and one Shimon Leib Epshtein, Kashal's grandson. I saw them in 1945.

One of the above mentioned young girls, the student Ruchl Kroiz, survived, and thanks to her, I survived.

* * *

In 1945 The Soviets opened the graves in Salok and it was confirmed that some were shot in their clothing and some were naked.

 

Dukshty

This shtetl belonged to Novo-Aleksandrovsk District (Zarasai) before the First World War. From 1918 it was under Poland. When the Soviets took Vilna during the First World War, Dukshty and several other shtetlach were given to the Zarasaier apskrites (county).

Dukshty is 13 km from Salok, but completely different from Salok. If Salok was an old shtetl with learned men and many poor people, Dukshty was one of the richest shtetlach, a young shtetl with many educated people. (The first Jewish houses were built 87 years ago, when the Petersburg-Warsaw train line was built.) Thanks to the trains, settlements arose near the train stations. There were many shtetlach, of which Dukshty became the main depot for all goods, starting with the wood trade – wooden poles, telegraph poles and wood pulp would be sent to Germany and England from the station. The area was richest in grains and all kinds of fruit and they were sent, too. The trade in flax which was developed by the rich Hilsfarb-Kabarski firm was the largest.

From its intelligencia, it is worthwhile to mention the names, Rapaport, one of the first fighters among the members of the People's Party. He is from Dukshty, but he lived in Paris; the painter Eidlman and still many more doctors, pharmacists, teachers.

In 1941, just as the Germans marched through, the regime took over Lithuania and immediately began to drive the Jews every day to hard labor and loading wooden beams and stones which the Soviets had prepared to be taken. Money also began to be extracted from the Jews, to prevent their killing as Bolsheviks. When the work was at an end, the Jews were driven to Ostrov (island) on the lake; they were not permitted to take anything with them. On Ostrov, the gangsters took care that the peasants did not provide the Jews with any food and many of the peasants who did give the Jews something were punished.

At the same time, all of the Jewish houses in the shtetl were cleared out, the ovens broken and searches were made for the gold and jewelry that the Jews had hidden (in many places, gold was actually found); the Jews were taken to the villages. Then they were brought back to the shtetl and the Jews again settled down in the empty ruins of the houses.

Three days later they were still in their houses. All of the Jews were driven out to the court of Antanov (Novihanshke), three kilometers from the shtetl where they lay in the street for several days and then were driven out with the people from the other shtetlach in Zarasai apskrites to the forests near Diegusti [Deguèiai], where they all perished.

In the entire county in which the Jews were shot, only two men successfully escaped from the pit and hid temporarily with a Christian acquaintance; one was Ahron and the second was Vishigor.

They were with me in the ghetto in Sventsyan [Švenèionys] and, also, working in the camps. In 1943, Ahron fell into the hands of the gangsters and he took his own life.

That is how the beautiful youngest shtetl in the Zarasai area perished, the rich shtetl, Dukshty.

In short I have written how the two shtetlach of the Zarasai apskrite (Novo-Aleksandovsk district) perished.

I am responsible for its truthfulness.

Respectfully: Yerakhmeil ben Abraham Moshe Korb (Born in Salok and living in Ignalina since after the First World War, Sventsyan County).

* * *

The descriptions of Yerakhmeil Korb explaining how the shtetlach of Salok and Dukshty perished are considerable contributions to the Holocaust material about these towns.

The Jews in these above mentioned shtetlach did not imagine that the Germans would kill them and many Christians.

In his work he remembers the names of several destroyed shtetlach and, also, that the Jews of Dukshty were told that they were being taken to work in Rakishki.

In addition to the course of the Holocaust, he provides details and facts about the life in the shtetlach before the Holocaust, remembering people and the full worth of communal matters as well as institutions that can be a definite contribution to a monograph about these shtetlach.

* * *

These letters present a collection of cruel facts and tragic, dramatic situations before, during and after the Holocaust, as well as rich physical material from the survivors. The entire tragedy of the Holocaust spins before our eyes in its full cruelty. From these lines and letters written in blood, emerge specters and pictures, tragic episodes, the history and facts of a people's cruel catastrophe.


[Page 452]

The Landsmanschaft of Rakishok
(1912-1952)

M. Rotholz-Kur

This work was written on the basis of record books, excerpts from minutes, information, materials and notices which were given to me by Yerakhmiel Arons – Arsh, the landsleit [people from the same town] worker; Yitzhak Ginzburg, Ahron Noach – Noachmanovitch and Shlomo Rubin. Thanks to the material provided, I was able to assemble this documented treatise about the Rakishoker Landsmanschaft [society of people from the same town].

A. Activities of the Society

The Rakishoker Landsmanschaft has been in existence for over 40 years and those from the neighboring shtetlekh, Abel [Obelial], Kamay [Kamajai], Svidoshc, Ponedel, Tibat, Skopishak, Poneminok, Sevenishak, Anushishok, Novo-Aleksandrovski=Ezsherni and others, are also included as landsleit.

Many significant and great changes took place in Jewish life over the course of time. A great deal of water flowed over the Jews in many lands; not least the Jewish people suffered from anti-Semitic persecutions and pogroms and slaughters, the First World War and a Second, when the savage destruction of the Jewish people under the rule of the Nazis took place and, finally, the rise of the State of Israel.

Without a doubt, all of the years and times lay their seal on organized Jewish society in general and on the Rakishok Society, which at the critical moment had to master and absorb all of the shadows and light in Jewish life, seeing the strengthening of the beliefs of our members and awakening in them the hope of better times that stimulated them to communal activities and to national actions.

The barely 40 years of the Rakishok landsmanschaft is an important communal event not only in its own area, but also for the entire local Jewish organized society and it is therefore necessary to very abundantly reflect its activities in the columns of the Yizkor Book.

The Founding of the Society

The first emigrants from the Jewish shtetlekh in Lithuania who began to wander to distant South Africa did so in the role of pioneers and among them were educated circles of landsleit who were mutually connected and were among themselves like family members and brothers who would come together to share the news of those scattered in various population areas of South Africa. Such frequent gatherings were the beginning of a landsmanshaft.

[Page 453]

The devotion of one toward the other was expressed in deeds; a new emigrant was met at the ship, he was offered hospitality, helped to look for work and given the initial financial aid, and care was also given to a sick landsleit, providing him with a doctor and medications, too.

The excerpt from N.D. Hofman's Book of Memories, published in Jews of South Africa by Leibl Feldman (a Rakishok landsman), can serve as a source of information:

“When a griner [newly arrived] Jew would arrive in Cape Town, he would look for distant relatives with the addresses he had brought with him from home. He would be received with pity, taken to a bath to destroy his third plague [lice], he would be led to a barber, given other clean clothing and held at home for weeks at a time until he was rested from the long trip and became a little assimilated. Then the landsleit would take him to a wholesale merchant where they had credit and provide him with several pounds of goods. They would help him pack his bag, writing the price on each piece of goods, what it cost, as well as the price for which he should sell it. Placing the heavy pack on his back and tightly binding it with two wide leather straps, they would wish him success and would send him into the countryside around Cape Town among the Boers.”

Landsleit circles were organized entirely spontaneously after which a landsmanschaft was founded. Landsleit would come together monthly on Shabbosim [Sabbaths], yomim-tovim [religious holidays] and on Sundays in a hall or at the home of a landsman – a pioneer – who had immigrated with his family or was able to bring them here.

In general single people, individuals, without wives and children, came with the first storm of immigration to South Africa and it was a long time before they decided to urge their families [to come] and to create a new home in South Africa. Even young men, who left brides beyond the sea, also did not rush to ask them because the ideas were deeply sunk into them that they still would save a little money and they would return home.

There was too strong a nostalgia with each Lithuanian Jew and Jewish immigrant for the way of life in his shtetl or city. He also could not live a religious life as at home. During the early years there were only a few khederim [religious primary schools] for children, only a few synagogues, clergymen, beli tefilus [men who read the prayers on holidays], cantors, shoykhetim [ritual slaughterers] and preachers.

The climatic and economic conditions also were entirely different from those in Eastern Europe.

It was difficult to adjust with respect to the work. There was no sellers market for much of the local work and means of earning a living. In addition, the industry in South Africa was still undeveloped at that time.

The immigrants, not mastering the language, could not take

[Page 454]

positions of employment in various trade firms. They became trayers [peddlers], carrying goods on their backs, mainly to the Boer villages and farmers, or they received work places in kaferites [restaurants for the Africans].

There were many cases when immigrants returned home – to their wife and children, to the relatives and those closest to them. There were also those who again returned to South Africa when they lost their saved money in trade. These facts were not an influence in such measure that Jewish immigrants would consider South Africa as their permanent home.

The landsleit joined more strongly and more firmly together in order to quiet their longing for family and home.

L. Feldman in his above-mentioned book talks about the reciprocal connection and strong friendship among the landsleit. I quote here that passage from his book:

“The thousand miles that separated him (the immigrant) from his home increased his longing and loneliness. After work, on holidays and days of rest, he felt his loneliness in fear and strongly longed for community, at least to pass time. The wish for community to quiet his loneliness and longing for his family and familiar environment drove him to the relationship with Lithuanian Jews from his town or city. As others were in a similar situation as he was, they strongly befriended each other. They would come together at the home of a landsleit and they would talk about the old home, about the difficulties of the new life, about income; they would ask for advice and they were helpful to each other.

“The coming together of the landsleit or of just Yiddish speaking Jews took on a more communal character each time. They would meet more and more often. In addition to discussing their old home and daily economic questions, they would also speak about and discuss news and worldly matters.

“This led to founding of landsmanschaftn and khevras [groups] that had as their purpose to give material support, (gmiles khesed kases [interest free loan fund], medical aid) to the landsleit and help the shtetlekh of the landsmanschaftn in question.”

The extract provided above can serve as an argument for what was necessary for the rise of landsmanschaftn, including the Rakishoker Landsmanschaft.

* * *

The genesis and stages of progress of the Rakishok landmanschaft are not comprehensive, but are mirrored in the protocol books of the Society that were kept. It is regrettable that they are dryly written, in a banal style and in a Yiddish language that has a great deal of English and German words. It is indeed a fact that the first Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, not being in the country for long, used such a strange mixed language.

Yet, looking at all its drawbacks, the protocol books are for us a

[Page 455]

worthwhile source from which we can learn and be informed about the founding and activities of the Rakishok Landsmanschaft in various periods of time. First of all, we are informed that the official founding of the Society took place on the 14th of January 1912, that is, over 40 years ago. From that historic day I cite the full text of the first protocol without any changes:

“A general meeting was held on Sunday, the 14th of January 1912 in South Africa, Palmesten [Palmerston] Hotel, Commissioner Street to found a Rakishoker Sick Benefit Society. The following officers were elected, S. Shwartsberg as chairman, Zalman Sher, vice chairman, Gedelia Zakstein as treasurer. Hilel Eidelman and S. N. Yafa, trustee committee, Sh. L. Yafe, Josef Feldman, S. H. Abelovitz, W. Kahn, D. Shaibla Yisrael, N. Kahn, Z. Beinart and S. Shneider as secretary. Meeting closed.

It is signed by Shimon Shwartsberg”

After this “general meeting” two committee sessions took place:

“Sunday the 21st of January 1912 and Sunday the 28th of January 1912.

At the session of the 28th of January 1912, it was decided:

“Letters shall be printed and a general meeting shall be called for the 4th of February.

“At the general meeting of the 4th of February, 1912 the particular rules and regulations of the constitution for the landsmanschaft were discussed and a decision was made that the society would arrange for a doctor who would provide medical help for the member, and his family would have the benefit of a doctor for half price and also medicine for half price. It was then decided: register books shall be printed and each committee shall have a register book and collect contributions.”

The second general meeting, which took place on Sunday the 10th of March, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, 1912, dealt with and approved the points of the proposed constitution for the landsmanschaft. And a banking account was opened.

I publish the adopted constitution as an historical document.

Constitution
Rules and Regulations

of the
Rakishoker Sick Benefit Society
Johannesburg

* * *

1 – The name of the Society will be: “Rakishoker Sick Benefit Society,” so long as there are 10 members in the society.

2 – The purpose of the Society will be: a) without cost to give those members who need to have a doctor and medicine; all remaining claims and services of the doctor should be taken to the committee.

[Page 456]

b) To give the wife and children of a member who need to have a doctor and medicine for the society's price at their own expense.

3 – Candidates can only become members of the Society when they are not less than 18 and not more than 45 years old.

4 – Each candidate must be brought before the committee and must be supported by two full members and shall be elected by a majority of the general body.

5 – The candidate who wishes to become a member of the Society must be a respectable man. Whoever is connected to immorality, both directly and indirectly, cannot join the Society. If the committee learns that a member has or has had connections with immorality, it has the right to return the money he has paid in and to exclude him as a member of the Society.

6 – In case a vote is brought to the committee of the Society when a member is accused of bad behavior or the behavior of a member is harmful, when the accusations are found to be correct, the committee has the right:

a) To take away from the member all rights, benefits, such as the committee will find suitable.

b) To call on the member in writing to resign and, if he does not resign, then the committee can remove him from membership. The committee should give the member all rights to defend himself and to appeal in person or in writing to the general meeting and if he is found guilty by the general meeting, then he will be bound by the punishment and he cannot make a claim against the society.

7 – Everything that is considered by the committee must be in private and those who reveal anything publicly to a stranger shall be penalized the first time with 2 shillings/56, the second time with 5 shillings and the third time he will be removed from the committee.

8 – A candidate who has not married according the Laws of Moses cannot become a member of the Society.

9 – The contribution will be 2/6 per month.

10 – The secretary shall send a registered letter to a member who does not pay his contributions two months in a row and ask him to pay his contributions. If he does not pay for six months, he loses all of his benefits. When a member is not able to pay his contributions, he shall inform the committee of this and they will give him time to pay, but they can also declare him without benefits.

11 – When a member travels, he must notify the secretary of this.

He is permitted to discontinue his obligations for six months and he is without benefits during this time.

In case of illness, the national member may present a certificate from a doctor and he will have the right to receive the same benefits according to the rules of the Society for a local member.

12 – Each person who becomes a member of the Society shall pay

[Page 457]

7/6 entry money and he shall be considered entitled to benefits after six months, if he has paid all of his obligations.

13 – A member can leave the Society for 12 months. Over 12 months, he can join the Society according to the rules for candidates for membership.

14 – A member of the Society who gets married should receive a present from the Society and it should cost not less than 30 shillings.

15 – The committee of the Society shall consist of 15 members: chairman, vice chairman, treasurer, secretary, assistant secretary, two trustees, two auditors, a door-keeper and two committee members. The officers should be elected at a general meeting.

16 – Duties of the chairman:

The chairman shall administer all meetings; if he finds it impossible to attend a meeting because of certain circumstances, he must then notify the secretary in writing a half hour before the meeting or he will be fined one shilling. He shall control everything that belongs to the Society and sign the minutes of every general meeting. When he finds it necessary, he can call a special meeting. At the time of the meeting he must maintain order among the brothers of the Society. If a brother is not obedient, he has the right to punish him. If the brother is not obedient after being called to order three times, the chairman then has the right to take away his right to vote at this meeting. If the brother does not obey the penalty, then he has the right to ask him to leave the hall for the meeting. If the brother is not obedient the chairman can take him to arbitration. The chairman shall have a casting vote.

17 – Duties of the vice chairman:

The vice chairman has the same duties and rights as the chairman, when the chairman is absent.

18 – Duties of the treasurer:

The treasurer must attend all meetings and shall receive all monies from the secretary of the Society and give him a receipt for them. He shall deposit all monies, checks and other documents. He deposits everything he receives in the bank in the name of the Society.

19 –Duties of the secretary:

The secretary shall have correct reports of all meetings and handle all of the correspondence and the books of the Society in good order. He should inform each member by letter about each meeting. He must attend all meetings and insure that all of the contributions are paid. All money that he receives for the Society must be given to the treasurer and he has the right to keep up to one pound for small payments.

20 – Duties of the assistant secretary:

The assistant secretary has the same duties as the secretary. He must perform all of the tasks that the secretary gives to him for the Society. However, he cannot sign any documents that belong to the Society.

21 – Duties of the trustees:

The trustees shall attend each meeting and when the committee decides to

[Page 458]

issue a check, it is the duty of the trustee to sign the check.

22 – Auditors' duties:

The auditors shall review the books every six months before the election and sign the balance sheet if it is correct. They have the right to demand the books at that time and verify them. In case an auditor does not fulfill his duty when he is asked, the committee has the right to arrange an election in his place.

23 – Duties of the committee:

Each committeeman must attend the meeting promptly and carry out all of the business that is brought to the committee. A quorum of the committee must be seven committee members in addition to the chairman.

If a committeeman fails to attend three committee meetings in a row without an important reason, the chairman has the right to fine him up to 2 shillings and then the secretary shall write a letter to him and if he fails to attend a fourth meeting the committee may declare his seat vacant and designate a replacement unless he sends in an apology.

The committee has no right to make new or other rules; a special general meeting must be called for this purpose.

The committee shall compile a report for the general meeting about the work that it undertook. Committee meetings shall be held every month.

24 – Duties of the doctor:

The doctor's duty is to examine a member when he asks him and in such cases he must send a certificate to the secretary and set down if his illness is infectious. He must attend all sick members at least once a day when they are seriously ill. When the sick person can, he must go to the doctor. When the doctor thinks that an extra doctor's help is needed and provides a certificate, the society will permit the taking of another doctor.

52 [This should be 25] – Each member must attend a quarterly meeting; if not, he shall pay a fine of a shilling unless he sends an apology. When one brother is speaking a second one may not interrupt. He must ask permission from the chairman. And when the brother has finished speaking, he can then speak. If he does not obey the rules, he can be fined. When a member speaks unpleasant words or insulting words, or leaves without the permission of the chairman, he shall be fined a shilling.

When a member moves to a new residence he must give notice to the secretary with his new address not later than two weeks or he will pay a one shilling fine.

26) – A quorum at the general meeting shall be 25 members in addition to the chairman. No member can be elected to office unless he has belonged to the Society for six months.

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