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The Sources are Buried

        A long river flows. It carries its waters from far, far away to some other very distant place. Time and place. The Jewish people have left the world arena. When and where? – Let historians figure it out. Somewhere behind the Egyptian pyramids, somewhere before the Sumero-Arcadian cultures, our people spread over the world, heeding its eternal Leykh Likho[1]. And the Jewish people go—ancient Israel—hoary, gray Israel. Let Chagall paint a Jew in the air carrying a bundle, floating over cold, snowy, isolated worlds. Let Pilichowsky paint the Jew's passage in exile. Let other folk people recount the legends of the Wandering Jew, the Ahasver [a legendary figure of the eternal Wandering Jew (A.H.)]—but he's walking! The nations that used to persecute him are no more. There is not even a vestige left of them. All of them have been buried in the sand. Only he pushes forward. A world of enemies surround him; the lime ovens of the past and the crematoria of the present—the world is making progress, the river is flowing, everything moves forward. Why doesn't the river dry up? Why are we the only living exception to all the other petrified peoples?
        Throughout the whole duration of its long history, it was revitalized by fresh sources of living waters. These waters pour their thin streams on the river bed, and the river doesn't dry up. For the last thousand years, and perhaps even longer, the springs that kept Judaism alive were the small, impoverished towns of Eastern Europe. This means the Svintsyans, the Haydutsishoks, the Vidzes, the Lingmians, the Dugelishoks, and our Kasrilevke[2], in general. In these small towns, Judaism grew; and from them it flowed into the cities. The great river is big because the small streams and springs carry their waters to it. This is how Vilna merited the title “Jerusalem of Lithuania”; all around it were towns which produced creative Jews. These towns were the vineyards, the fruitful fields; and the cities were the silos, the storehouses, the wine presses. The cream of the crop from the towns and villages gathered in the cities.
        The river flows its course quietly and serenely, smoothly, without strain. When it comes to a rocky place, the river exerts the force of its pressure . . .
        In this manner, Jewish life flowed for centuries, softly, slowly. The small towns were happy to take their contribution to the cities, where there were granaries. Every town, with its own rabbis, prodigies, its own accomplishments, and its individual marvels. In this way, the treasure of Jewish culture grew unhurriedly, until the time that certain impediments disturbed the life of the shtetl, and the small towns began to roar, to storm, and noisily carried their cultural contribution into the cities. That's how a rich and tumultuous Judaism developed. New names began to be heard, new, creative fields. Our culture grew up to be strong and mighty, and it spread out and made itself heard . . .
        This is how it was until a ruthless tempest arose, a primitive force of hatred and [seemingly] civilized evil. The springs were covered over, our villages burned. The lime furnace into which Abraham, the first Jew, was thrown blazed up in a thousand flames. It burned throughout the whole dark night across the world. Remnants of our people hid themselves in woods, in ditches. The source cities, however, are dead. Kasrilevke[3] is no more, and gone also is the sturm un drang[4] of the culture. The springs are waterless; the river is dry. If there are no more Jewish villages, the Jerusalem of Lithuania is also no more. If there is no vineyard, why should there be a wine press?
        There are Jews, the last remaining embers, standing all over the world and saying yizkor, whole books of memorial prayers, hundreds of books of prayers for the dead.
        And in my heart there is a question. Books will remain, but will those for whom the books were written also remain? Gentiles burned Jews, a whole nation of Jews burned, and there has come the time when Jews are burning their own Judaism.
        But we are a people who are used to miracles, and a miracle happened: “When the sun of Jerusalem was extinguished, the sun of Babylon arose” is what the Gemara said, and when the sun of Babylon was extinguished, the sun of Jerusalem once more began to shine. In time, the towns of Lithuania began to build sister cities in Zion, cities with names from the Torah but with builders and activists from Kasrilevke, with Kasrilevke's heritage, with presidents from Motele and Stoybts, with the inheritance of Svintsyan and of Haydutsishok and of all of our beloved towns that were destroyed.
        So the divine presence of the Jewish people, its wings severely wounded, remains a bloodied shadow which cries over the scorched roofs of those small towns of yesteryear. May it remain forever and from Jerusalem in the land of Israel; may it send its burnt parchments and blooming letters from all of the little Jerusalems of the Diaspora back to a world-class Jewish nation. Amen!

        Exalted and hallowed Jewish towns. It is because of your blood that I live!

Abraham Golomb

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1. This is the name of the 3rd Torah reading. Leykh Likho means “get thee out.” It is God talking to Abraham telling him to leave the land of his birth. Trans. Back

2. Kasrilivke refers to the fictionalized city of Sholom Aleichem's stories. Trans. Back

3. He uses the name of one of Sholom Aleichem's fictional towns, the quintessential shtetl. Trans. Back

4. In German, this literally means “storm and stress,” but the meaning here seems to be “storm and exaltation.” Trans. Back


He Who Stands to Receive the Blessing

        I think that the words “thank you” and “congratulations” alone are insufficient to express our admiration for the enormous work that went into the writing of this book, which involved the collecting of information and coordinating a tremendous number of details. It involved also encouraging others to write, gathering their collective work, getting them to provide pictures and myriad other details involved in publishing this book. And everyone who holds this book containing such a great quantity of information will be blessed by the fact, one that all of us appreciate, that he has found a friend; his name is Yehoshua Heshl Gurvitz, may his light continue to shine. Thanks and blessings to him for taking on this holy task and completing it.
        As one of those who helped only a little in the publishing of this book, I am able to give testimony to what went on, even though it is really impossible to describe how much work, how much devotion, how much spiritual and physical effort went into this on burning hot summer days and on freezing winter nights. The physical work also involved preparing the work for publication and conferring with all of the contributors to the book. He could not rest until all of these things were done.
        Because of his great love for the people of Israel, he worried constantly about everything that happened to us, and it gave Heshl no peace until the work was completed and he approached the time that he could say a blessing over the finished product * with the publication of this book.
        I know my dear friend, Heshl Gurvitz, like a brother, from my youth. I met him while I was still a student in school in New Svintsyan at the time of World
War I. I didn't know exactly who he was, a parent, a teacher, a community leader,
because he had a hand in everything, in the reconstruction of the school in those years, in the holy work of Yakpa, ** in serving white rolls and cups of cocoa to the children of the school every morning, when this was very difficult to obtain.
        From the time that they came to Israel, their house was open to all; and Heshl and his wife, Nechama, were like a father and mother to all of the pioneers in the area of Svintsyan.
        With the coming of the Holocaust upon the Jewish people and with the settling in Israel of the first survivors, Heshl began to organize a committee of people from the area of Svintsyan to help the refugees. He established an active committee in Tel Aviv and wrote to every address that he could get. He called every person who came from our area and had settled in richer countries, to help in the mission mentioned above. And, indeed, it is possible to say that he was very successful. With the help of a few close friends and business acquaintances, he established an interest-free fund, so that he and his friends could give financial assistance to all individuals who needed it and to small businesses that needed it. In this way, they were also able to set an example as faithful and honest political leaders, since they received nothing in return.
        Heshl Gurvitz was naturally endowed with an amazing memory, the power of acute observation, and the talents of drawing and describing things in writing. All of these find their way into this book by way of remembering places, events, and people, starting with “Poligon” through to his eulogy of friends and acquaintances who are no more, who didn't live to share this day with us.
        In the last years, he took it upon himself to publish this book. This was a tremendous undertaking in all aspects. However, he felt that if he didn't do it now, the time would pass. It did not give him any peace until he did it.
        For the erecting of this eternal memorial for the thousands of Jews who were killed in the area of Svintsyan, we owe a great debt of gratitude primarily to our dear friend Heshl Gurvitz.

Shakhne Akhyasaf (Tsepelovitz)

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* The blessing referred to appears to be the shehekhianu prayer, which thanks God “that we have reached this time,” whatever the propitious occasion might be. Trans. Back

** A food pantry for the needy. Trans. Back



Illustration with Name of Shtetl in Yiddish
and in Hebrew - Alexander Bogen


Jews of Svintsyan

        Svintsyan was not blessed with any hidden treasures of nature. The earth was modest here, just like the people. Field and forest, river and lake—pensive but light. Soft, sincere, and smart, not only with the mind, but clever with the heart, with deeply felt wisdom which comes from keen senses. This was always the characteristic specific to the Jews of Svintsyan, who never had the opportunities to put their energies to use in a large industrialized undertaking, or far-reaching branches of business, and therefore they were also very far from being coldly calculating and brutal. The Jews of Svintsyan took part in all sorts of trades which catered to their needs and to the needs of the Christian population, whether in the town or in the rural areas. They were the tailors and the blacksmiths, the shoemakers and the painters, the bakers and the glaziers, the porters and the wagon drivers, the miller and the forest workers. The shopkeepers didn't work any less hard than the craftsmen, and all were characterized by respect and a love for the Torah scholar and the Jewish spiritual leaders, for the rabbi and the yeshiva student, for the sermon of the itinerant preacher to the speech of the Yiddishist and the Zionist who brought them the generations-old dreams and visions of new worlds. The heart of the Jew of Svintsyan beat with the most refined simplicity. The scholar distanced himself from the minutia of hair-splitting arguments. With his sharp straight-line logic he plumbed the depths of every matter; and at the same time he listened to the song of his own heart, which was filled with deep longing, and aimed at great distances. The wine, which was not made in Svintsyan, bubbled with their holiday joy. The wine of their intense goodness poured from their smiles. Their strength was their faith, which was deeper than any well and clearer than the deepest mortal wisdom: their faith in the worthwhile and long-lasting ideal of righteousness.

Shimon Kantz

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