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[Page 417]

How I Remember You, Divenishok...

by Khanan Levkovitsh

Translation by Tina Lunson

It is possible that because I am not from Divenishok myself, I am more suited to write about this particular shtetl. It is not important whether I stem from Oshmene or Ivye. It is sufficient to mention that I visited Divenishok and spent a long time there, simply intoxicated by its beauty and the striking landscape.

I was also enchanted by the lovely Jewish young people with their various organizations, the Jewish school with the ebullient children. The beauty of the landscape was apparent: the pond, the meadows, the fields and beautiful forest where we used to meet to enjoy time together, singing, dancing and being happy.

One must not forget any of this, but speak of it, describe, and immortalize Jewish Divenishok.


How fine it would be if Zipe's grandchild could sometime read how her grandmother described the village, or how she went into the forest to gather black and red berries there, and then cook them on the wood-fired oven in a pot – and how from that, there came the best preserves which today one could not produce from the best electric stove. Especially delicious were the strawberry preserves, which served not only as a tasty dish but were the best medicine for the flu, serving to sweat out the illness and make you well.

How I remember you, Divenishok . . .

[Page 419 – Yiddish] [Page 28 – Hebrew]

Those Days Are Well Remembered

by Yakov Bloch

Translation by Leybl Botwinik

The 25th of January 1975, marks the 40th year since I left my home and my mother z”l [Tr. note: Of blessed memory], brother and sisters, the family, friends who shared the school bench, the movement (“Hashomer Hatsair”) and my birth shtetl [Tr. note: Jewish town or village] Divenishok in the Vilne circle – and made Aliya to erets yisroyl [Tr. note: The Land of Israel]. To this day, I remember those wonderful days of spending time with my parents, with the family, in a warm and snug home, mixed with worries. Even now, there is nostalgia of that tiny shtetl where not one Jew is left, just like in hundreds of shtetlekh [Tr. note: Plural of shtetl] in Poland and Lithuania, which have been emptied of their Jewish inhabitants, after the majority had been slain by the Nazi murderers and their helpers during the years of the Second World War. Only a small handful of these Jews managed to escape from the murderers, and the majority of those survivors are to be found in Israel.


The Family

My mother Frieda, two sisters, Malka and Duba, and my younger brother Saul perished with the martyrs of the shtetl. My oldest brother Dov, who managed to run away to the Soviet Union, fell in battle against the Germans in the Moscow hinterlands.

My mother, Frieda bas [Tr. note: Hebrew for 'daughter of'] Yitzhak Binyumen and Sarah Malke nee Bernstein, was born in Divenishok. My father Aaron z”l was born in Ivia. I was born during the years of the First World War, the second son in the family. My older brother, Dov, was born two years earlier. When the war broke out, my father was mobilized into the Russian army where he served without interruption for five years. My mother remained with her two sons.

The yoke of making a living and educating the children fell on her. Our fate was the same as for all the shtetl inhabitants. My mother ran a workshop for hat making and was also supported by our grandfather the smith, Yitzhak Binyumen, who worked mostly for the peasants and received potatoes, wheat, vegetables, and fruits for his work, which was enough to feed the family and help out the needy.


My father – in German Custody

In the wretched days of the First World War, the economic situation of the Jews in the small shtetlekh turned for the worse. Many Jewish settlements in Eastern Europe were transformed into battlefields where the armies of Tsar Nikolas the Second and those of Kaiser Wilhelm and Franz Josef fought. The population was miserable, particularly in the small villages. Commerce and crafts ceased and it was not possible to get raw materials or even combustibles.

Refugees of the war wandered over the roads of Poland and Lithuania seeking safety and food. The Russian soldiers, in particular the Cossacks, broke into homes, robbed what was there, and if anyone tried to oppose them, they were heavily beaten.

The fronts moved eastward. At Tannenberg, in Eastern Prussia, the Tsarist army suffered a resounding defeat and Poland and Lithuania were occupied by the Austrian and German armies. The German occupation army was less severe in oppressing the Jewish population that understood German. As the battles moved further away, the restrictions on private trade remained. Communication was renewed and high quality German and Austrian construction appeared. The rapport with the powers-that-be was normalized.

In the beginning, we had no news from our father. Then a rumor spread that he was alive and had been incarcerated by the Germans. This rumor was confirmed when we received a post-card through the Red Cross. He had been captured at Tannenberg where the army of General Samsonov met a brutal defeat. Afterward, a correspondence began between my mother in Divenishok and my father in the prisoner camp. On the letters to my father, my mother would draw my and my brother's hand outlines in order to show my father how much we had grown. We also sent him photos that were taken by the German military commander of Divenishok who expressed a particular affinity toward the children of a prisoner of war.


German “Decency”

Even though the Germans had a more-or-less good rapport with the shtetl Jews, they still mobilized the youth to dig trenches, inter-connecting channels, and bridges. Those who had cows were required to provide milk quotas.

During the period of the German occupation, almost no social or cultural activity was carried out because there were few youths in the shtetl and it was also cut off from the cultural center at Vilne. The Germans used to organize performances of their wind orchestra in the market place, or show films.

The situation in the shtetl became particularly difficult in 1917, after the Germans stopped their distribution of wheat to the inhabitants and hunger let itself be felt in every house. Various illnesses also wreaked havoc in the shtetl, predominantly stomach typhus.

After the October revolution in Russia in 1917, and the upheaval in Germany in 1918, skirmishes began again between the Red Army and the Germans, who retreated in great panic, and the shtetl passed back and forth between them. Later, there were battles between the Red Army and the Polish military. In the end, Divenishok was taken over by the Polish Military that was led by General Haller.

His first task was – to bully the Jews. A great Fear again befell the shtetl, and no one knew what the morrow would bring. At that time a youth watch was organized whose task was to maintain order and prevent robbery and pogroms. Little by little, things began to quiet down.

At the end of 1919, my father returned home from the war and prison. I was about 4 years old then, and my brother, 6 years old, when he appeared at the entrance of our house, accompanied by 3 other soldiers, who, together with him had lived through the war and imprisonment. Mother almost didn't recognize Father after all that he had gone through. We, the children, behaved coldly and with reservation towards him. He showered us with a lot of love and presents and we soon began to accustom ourselves to him. A few days later, after a rest, his friends left our home to return to their own families.

During the period of 1923-1929, our sister Malka, our brother Saul, and our sister Duba were born. They all perished together with our mother, at the hands of the German murderers. My older brother, Dov, as mentioned earlier, fell in battle in the Moscow hinterlands.


Restoring our Family Life

Father then began rebuilding the family, as well as the workshop. He also became involved in the social and cultural life of the shtetl and helped found the cooperative bank, the school, and the first kindergarten. Together with Tzvi Krisovski and some others, he organized a drama circle and a library with Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, and Russian books.

In those days it was not easy to convince the Jews of Divenishok to alter their old lifestyle of sending the children to learn in kheyder [Tr. note: Religious school for children beginning at a very early age], where the melamdim [Tr. note: Religious, male, teachers] ruled. Only after a great deal of initiative and clarification did the parents' committee succeed in renting a house that would serve as a school.

The teacher Ingulski was selected as administrator. He was stern and pedantic and threw fear into the children and demanded that they show him respect.

In my memory is deeply etched the melamed Leib-Arye [Ed. note: Probably Leib-Arye Rogol], who taught for many years, even before the First World War, and later ran a kheyder mesukn [Tr. note: Traditional children's school, but with a slant towards more enlightened learning] where khumesh, gemore and psukim [Tr. note: Standard Jewish religious texts] were taught. On more than one occasion he would strike the slower learning children with his stick. However, we learned a lot from him. I remember that both Leib-Arye and Ingulski also wore “Jewish hats” [Tr. note: Probably the simple “Kashket” style worn daily by Khasidim of Eastern Europe]. Ingulski was always dressed elegantly, as opposed to Leib-Arye who wore a long kapote [Tr. note: Black robe of the Khasidim] with arbe kanfes [Tr. note: A white undershirt (sometimes worn over a shirt) whose four corners were tied with sashes called tsitses], a white beard, and lived in solitude with his wife. He was a boki [Tr. note: Religious authority] on tanakh [Tr. note: The Bible] and knew exactly where each posek [Tr. note: Quoted text from the Bible] could be found. During the school year 1922-1923 there were between 100-120 students in 6 classes.


Political-Social Awakening

From that past, reminiscences pop up of the experiences of the various youth organizations in the shtetl – and I ask myself: How did it start? Nowadays when we talk of a political movement we know its ideological platforms as well as the names of its leaders. In a shtetl like ours it was difficult to arrive at clear definitions. Such figures as Herzl, Jabotinsky, Yitzhak Gruenbaum, Ben Gurion, Berl Katzenelson and others, lived inside the awareness of the youth. The opponents were not always capable of formulating a position against whom or what they were fighting – was it against a political notion or against a specific personality?

However, one institution was clear for everyone: The keren kayemes leyisroyl (kkl) [Tr. note: Jewish National Fund (JNF)], whose goal everyone knew: to gather groshns [Tr. note: Very small coins, e.g. pennies] for festivities, get-togethers, and various events; emptying the kkl alms boxes that were to be found in the majority of the Jewish homes in the shtetl. And all this – in order to liberate the terrain of the Homeland.

Young people who learned in the “tarbut-shul” [Tr. note: Hebrew language Zionist oriented school], in the Polish (“Povshechni”) school, and elsewhere, all belonged to one or another youth-organization.


The “Hashomer Hatsair

The ken [Tr. note: Hebrew for “nest” – similar to a Boy Scout “den”] of the youth organization “Hashomer Hatsair” was established in 1929 thanks to the teacher Betsalel Petukhovski from Vilne, who administered the “tarbut-shul” in Divenishok. I was in the 7th grade at the time. He called together all the pupils in class, as well as graduates – some of whom were already learning a trade in the shtetl or in Vilne. The movement was already carrying out its activities in the entire Vilne circle. Instructors were invited from the regional management and after they became acquainted with our ken, the appropriate advisory literature was sent. This movement had at its disposal every method and possibility to attract the youth: uniforms, flags, scouting, and the duty to self-development via kibbutz- [Tr. note: The kibbutz was a model for collective social living and working] the hakhshore (preparation).

Of the initial founders of the ken, we must with warm recognition recall: my brother Dov Bloch, Liovke Namiot, Ester Rokhl Shkolnik, Minke Mintz, Nekhemke Katsev, Yekusiyel Zhizhemski (these are no longer among the living) – and may they live long: Shraga Blyakher (in Israel), Nahum Levine and Sh. Levin (United States), and the writer of these words. All were devoted to the goals of formation and of instructional effort. We were united by the passion for the movement and each one contributed with whatever they were able to.

The ken was composed of 150 young men and women, and was the center of social activity for the youth. Their goal was to realize the Zionist-Socialist ideal, and life in the shtetl was considered a “corridor” to the future life in the Land of Israel. If not for this yearning on the part of the youth for the land of their fore-fathers, to escape the reality of the golus [Tr. note: 2000 years of wandering in the Diaspora without a homeland] with its dark companion-events, our joie-de-vivre would have been shattered. The energetic youth infected everyone in the shtetl: the parents, the teachers, and even the Rabbi, Reb Yoysef Rudnik, zts”l [Tr. note: of Blessed and saintly memory].

The Lag Ba'Omer trip [Tr. note: Lag Ba'Omer: Holiday falling on the 33rd day after Passover eve] , the street manifestations on the 3rd of May (a Polish national holiday), and the uniforms and flags of the ken, were transformed into an impressive experience, and everyone, adherents as well as opponents, felt fatherly warmth and respect for the group.

The ken effervesced with social and cultural activity. The majority of the members and their madrikhim [Tr. note: Guides or mentors] expanded their education, bought and read books with great enthusiasm and understanding. The younger members also became infected by this atmosphere, and they also yearned for knowledge and scholarship.

The movement implanted in everyone's hearts a feeling of responsibility and attachment to a collective, gave a purpose and scope in life, and produced moments of joy and elation. We, the few who managed to make Aliya, remember the spiritual and physical compensation that the ken – our second home –provided us with.

The ken in Divenishok remained in close contact with parallel organizations in the surrounding shtetlekh. We went on trips, went boating on the waters, and participated in Scout activities. Our members participated in all the regional get-togethers in the Vilne circle, and carried out the activities that were organized by the main leadership in Warsaw.

During the Summer of 1933, some of the members of the ken, together with the leadership, left for hakhshore, and in the years 1934 and 1935 succeeded in making Aliya to the Land of Israel. Those that stayed behind in the shtetl continued the work, and in this way, a second muster took over the leadership, although with less enthusiasm than their forerunners.

Their names need to be recalled: Yekusiel Zhizhemski z”l, graduate of the “Tarbut” seminar in Vilne, that led the ken in 1936; Minka Rogol, Yehudis and Sime-Etke Levine, two sisters, also graduates from the same seminar; Tevye Blyakher, z”l, who perished as a Partisan, and Malka Bloch, z”l.


The “Betar Ken

The first founders of “Betar” [Tr. note: A right-wing leaning Zionist youth movement] in the shtetl actually came from the “Hashomer Hatsair”, such as Meir Itskovitsh and others. As far as I can remember, one of the initiators was Yisroyl Berkovitsh from the nearby shtetl Voronova. He was the Commander of “Betar” in that shtetl. While visiting Divenishok in 1933, he swayed some of the youth to the ideals believed in by Ze'ev Jabotinski – of a Land of Israel on both sides of the Jordan River.

The ken in our shtetl was composed of several tens of members and sympathizers. The ken was internally consolidated around the Revisionist ideology. They used to organize get-togethers and circles where concerns in the movement were discussed, as well as Jewish history and current issues concerning Zionism. Amongst the activists, the most prominent were: M. Itskovitsh, Schneider (Sharon), Solodukho Aaron and Y. Kotlar (both now in the United States), Lubetski-Lutski, and others.

[Page 429]

On Communal Life

by Lolik Sutskever

Translation by Tina Lunson

Divenishok belonged to the category of very small towns. The Jewish population was very poor; there were no rich people in Divenishok. Anyone with property was considered a person of great wealth.



The Jews made their livelihoods from the following sources:

The shops were all in the market square and served the shtetl population and the surrounding villages. Once a week, on Thursday, there was a market day when all the peasants from the surrounding villages gathered, and that provided the livelihood for the whole week.

Among the Divenishok Jews there were many tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths and blacksmiths in poor workshops of which 90% consisted of the artisans alone, without any helpers. These artisans also drew their livings from the market day, because they prepared ready-made tools to sell. The village peddlers worked very hard. They were on the road the whole week, not acknowledging the difference between day and night, but always going from one village to another trying to earn a little bread. But on Shabes they came home to rest their bones. They were very poor. If his horse failed a peddler, he did not have any means to buy another. They had to collect money to buy a horse.

The whole area consisted of poor peasants engaged in a backwards agriculture, in sandy soil. Thus making a living was very hard for the town Jews. Nevertheless the town carried on a very intensive social life.


Der shulhoyf [Tr. note: The shul courtyard]

The shul and the study houses were located in the shul courtyard.

In Divenishok there was a Hebrew school in which 100% of the Jewish children studied even though there was a Polish school where one could study for free. One had to pay tuition to go to the Hebrew school, but all the Jews did so in order to send their children to the Hebrew school, which was located in the new building constructed with great difficulty on the place of the old shul and with special permission of the rabbis. American landslayt [tr. note: natives of the town] had a special part in building the school.

In the two shuls - a new one and an old one - prayers took place three times a day. People also studied there, a chapter of the Mishne, the book Ein Yaakov [ethical and inspirational teachings of the Talmud by Rov Yaacov ibn Chaviv, 15th century], and others like it. The rov's house was in the shul courtyard, alog with the rov's court chamber, a bathhouse and a mikve.


Communal Life

The following organizations, institutions and societies were active in the town:

The burial society, the Jewish folksbank, a poorhouse, societies for visiting the sick and to provide for poor brides, a library, private donation fund, fire fighters, a Keren Kayemes group, a department of the Vilne VILBIG [Tr. note: Vilner Yidishe Bildung Gezelshaft/Vilna Jewish Educational Society organized in Vilna in 1924], a fund to provision the poor for Passover, a free loan society, and Beta”r and HaShomer HaTsair groups.

The burial society was well organized. The distinguished Jews in town participated in it, because they considered it the biggest mitsve. Older Jews presented themselves voluntarily to dig a grave, even in the rain, snow, frost or blizzard. The burial society kept its own budget. When a rich person died the family was charged a high price for burial so that a poor person could be provided with burial shrouds for free.

Every year the 29th of Kislev was the day for the burial society. None of the members worked on that day, they fasted and recited psalms. At night there was a feast fit for a king, fried goose and duck and whisky and wine flowed like water.


The folksbank was a cooperative society, founded just before the First World War. The bank gave out loans, took deposits, administered promissory note collections, dealt with foreign currency and securities. It was the only institution that had a paid administrator.


When someone in the town was sick for a long time and the family members became weary of caring for the patient, a man or woman was sent to sit by the patient's bed all night in order to relieve the household family. As far as I recall, no one ever refused a call to come and sit with a patient overnight. The members of the “hospital” for the poor did everything voluntarily. The group was headed by Gad Levin (son of Gute Itshe).

No sick fund existed in the town. A private doctor used to charge 5 zlotys for a visit, for rich or for poor. The poor had no possibility of paying for a visit. The society for visiting the sick had an agreement with the doctor that he should treat the poor people and they paid him for the necessary things. The society also lent out a rubber bottle to apply ice to the head, and cupping glasses, and thermometers. In very severe cases the society contributed to send the patient to Vilne.

The visiting society was headed by Chaim Eliashkevits, along with several volunteer youths, like Binyamin Dubinski, Khaykl Katsev, Gad Shkolnik and others. The visiting society needed a lot of money. Part of the expenses were covered by relief from America, part by donations, and also from the so-called “Friday Actions”. Each Friday two youths went around from house to house with a charity box and collected money. The visiting society was the only institution in town that not only took, but also gave. Almost every Jew in town had to call on the society at some time.

The provision for poor brides was one of the quietest and most modest organizations, providing the means for poor girls to celebrate a wedding, or to buy a dress for the bride. It is hard to determine who was involved with this.


The Yiddish public library was located in a rented space (in later years, at Avrom Mayer Lubetski's in Subotnik Street). The library possessed more than 6,000 books in Yiddish and Hebrew--- the greatest classics. A special purchasing commission had assembled the lists and acquired new books on the recommendations of experts. One of the experts was the manager of Shimon Funk's bookstore in Vilne. That is also where we bought the majority of the books.

The library brought light into the grey life of the shtetl. Generations of youths were drawn to the library, youth who had no education but achieved a good deal of learning thanks to the library and the reading room. From time to time presentations were given there on various topics in culture, literature, medicine, politics and science. Periodical publications were also received there.

Every year we had to send a list of the books to the central authorities. In 1935 a letter arrived from the ministry of education, in which it was stated that they could not understand that such a serious and rich library contained no Polish books. So they sent us, at no charge, a beginning set of 200 of the best Polish classics -believing that we would then buy more Polish books. And that is what happened: we bought Polish books each year too and thanks to that we had a few dozen readers from among the Christian intelligentsia.

Up to the year 1930, the library was for everyone. But that year the Zionists demanded more Hebrew books. The dispute lasted until 1933. Every member of the library had voting rights. The Yiddishists had the majority in the general meeting that year, and the library went over to their hands. Fayvke Blyakher broke out in a hysterical wail in his great vexation.


In Divenishok there was a benevolent organization that quietly carried loans for impoverished householders who were ashamed to hold out their hands. There were such householders in town who had fallen on hard times and who would rather die from hunger than ask for support. The private donation society helped those people in secret.


The firefighter command consisted of volunteer Jews, although the chairman was the local priest. Members of the administration were Nathan Itskovitsh, Ben-Zion Schneider, Dovid-Khaim Lubetski, and others. The firefighter command was sustained by the “chimney tax”. Other than that their budget was overseen by the community board, in order to keep the management of the firefighter's out of Jewish hands.

The head of the firefighter command was Zev Lubetski (‘Velvke’, son of Dovid Khaim). I was also among the leaders of the firefighters, did exercises with the firefighters and went through the firefighting courses in order to raise the level of the command.

The firefighters also created a wind orchestra which was the pride of the youth. The Poles were not pleased that a Jewish band played for all the Polish national holidays and parades. They could not rest until they had wrested the firefighter command from Jewish hands.



At the beginning of the 1930s when the crisis in Erets Yisroel was coming to a head, and many of the youths who had gone there came back to Divenishok, the influence of communism became stronger in the town. The VILBIG was created then, and it also took over the library. VILBIG carried out two tiers of cultural activities. The Polish government “kept an eye on” them. And one morning we received an announcement from the sheriff rescinding our legitimization. Still the VILBIG remained active until the outbreak of the war in September 1939.


Temporary Help

Every year, ‘Divenishok Relief in America’ sent money for all the institutions in the town. A certain amount of that was specified for the Passover Fund. But the main fund for that purpose was gathered right there in the town itself. Every Jew was taxed for the Passover Fund so that poor Jews would be able to observe the Passover holiday properly.

The free loan society was established with both American monies and membership dues. The loan society was very important for poor Jews. I cannot imagine how they could have existed without that institution. Any Jew could get a loan of 500 zlotys, which at that time was a lot of money. As soon as a Jew had repaid one loan, he could receive another.

One of the managing members of the free loan society fund, Avraham Krivitski, used to borrow money from his friends and every Friday afternoon distribute a free loan to the poor peddlers, as an addition to the loans that they received. Krivitski was also a regular Torah reader at the new study house, and a distinguished householder in the town.


HaShomer HaTsair and Beta”r

The HaShomer HaTsair in town was very strong; the majority of the Zionist youth belonged to it - idealists who did not only talk but took action. Many of them went to Zionist preparatory camps and emigrated to Erets Yisroel.

It must be mentioned that the town rabbi, Reb Yosef Rudnik, gave the HaShomer HaTsair his full support, which strengthened the position of the organization.

Moshe Lubetski (‘Moshele’, son of Dovid Khaim), a student in Vilne, created the Beta”r in Divenishok. Respected householders helped them. Their meetings were held in the school.


Keren-Kayemet Activity

Although not all Zionist organizations co-existed in peace, at least the Keren-Kayemes l'Yisroel were all united. In almost every Jewish home hung a blue and white charity box for the KKL. Each week youths from the Zionist organizations emptied the boxes. The head of the KKL was Arye Leyb Rogol.


With this short, general overview of the social life in town, I want also to immortalize the social workers, the idealists, and activists who encouraged the cultural and political activity among the Jewish population.

[Page 437]

The “Bees” and “Wielbig” Organizations

by Khaye-Rivke Krizovski

Translation by Tina Lunson

The “Bees” in Divenishok was founded in 1930. Officially it was considered a scout organization, but in fact is was a leftist youth group that educated its members in a communistic spirit. To the Polish authorities it was described as a non-political scout organization since otherwise the “Bees” would have been shut down.

While the “Bees” was for younger children, the older youth belonged to the Vilbig [Tr. note: Vilner bildung gezelshaft (Vilna education society)], which had the same political positions as the “Bees”. Both the Vilbig and the Bees were founded by the Yiddishists, or as they were called in Vilne, the folkists. Among the leaders of the folkists was Dr. Tsemekh Shabad and his son-in-law Max Weinreich, president of the YIVO [Tr. note: yiddisher visenshaftlekher institut (Yiddish scientific institute)] in Vilne.

The heads of the Vilbig were Hirshel Krizovski, Moshe Stul (today in Minsk) and others. And the head of the “Bees” was Yisroel Cherson. He also directed the cultural activities of the “Bees”.

Vilbig, the “Bees”, and the folks-library were located in the home of Avrom Mayer Lubetski, on Subotnik Street. The Vilbig meetings were held there, as well as the activities of the “Bees”. That was the cultural center of the Yiddishist circle in our town.

The “Bees” were conducted like all scout groups, organizing summer and winter camps. I was an active member in the group and participated intensively in all the activities.

Once we arranged a winter camp in the village of Renkatsinski.[1] The poet Avrom Sutskever and his wife visited us there. His wife had an accident there and broke her leg.

It is worth mentioning that at the camp we enjoyed the moral and intellectual support of a group of writers known as the Yung Vilne [young Vilne].

I was 16 years old at the time. We spent two weeks at the camp. We slept on the ground, cooked and roasted potatoes, went on outings and sledding.

In the summer of 1932 there was a summer camp of “Bees” groups from Vilne, Oshmene and Divenishok.

In 1933, in Oshmene, there was a “swarming” together of “Bees” organizations from the Vilne region (there are photographs of both the Divenishok camp and the Oshmene “swarm” in the book Yerushlayim d'Lite [Tr. note: Jerusalem of Lithuania] by Leyzer Ran.

Despite the fact that the Polish authorities looked askance at the activities of the Vilbig and the “Bees”, we involved at large number of young people and carried out multi-branched activity in the town. We fought for Yiddish and for Yiddish-Jewish education.

After the Soviets occupied our town in 1939, the Vilbig and the “Bees” were liquidated and several of our leading members were taken in by the Communist Party, among them my father, who was nominated as chairman of the town council.

The “Bees” members were taken in by the KomSoMol [Tr. note: Kommunisticheskii Soyuz Molodyozhi, Communist youth group]. The activities of all remaining youth groups was forbidden, among them of course the activities of YIVO and of our Yiddish cultural institutions.


Editor's Footnote
  1. The specific location of this village has not yet been determined as of the date of this translation in 2013. Return

[Page 439]

The Torah Reading Was Stopped

by Eliahu Itskovitsh

Translation by Leybl Botwinik

Summer, a shabes [Tr. note: Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest] morning in the month of May. The dew still lays on the fields that smell of fresh mown hay. It's quiet in the shtetl. The cattle have gone into the fields.

The populace has gone davenen [Tr. note: To pray]. The first minyan[1] has finished, and the second is about to start. Everyone, even those from the first minyan, however, remains. No one goes home. There is a feeling that something is about to happen. In the meantime the people begin to pray. They now reach kriyes toyre [Tr. note: reading from the Torah scroll]. Suddenly everything is quiet. Mikhl the shamesh [Tr. note: Manager of synagogue affairs] bangs on the pulpit and says "nu, nu"[2]! No one moves from his place.

The rov [Tr. note: Rabbi] looks towards the bale-batim[3], those at the eastern wall. What is going on here? The mood is stressful. The reading has stopped. Munye Kherson, the regular bal-tfile [Tr. note: Person who leads the prayer service] stands leisurely, but wipes the perspiration from his brow, and waits for a command.

Suddenly, from the other side of the heating oven there is a murmur, mumbled words:

– We will not allow them to carry away… cut off a livelihood … gradually, one another … kupkeskupkes… [Ed. note: The meaning of kupkes has not yet been discovered]
Then louder shouting, voices crying out:
Raboysay, raboysay [Tr. note: Gentlemen, gentlemen]…
Moshe Kalmen, breathless, sweaty, with foam on his lips, his hands trembling, cries out:
Raboysay, this must be the work of a sheygets [Tr. note: A male gentile (female is shikse);. used here in a derogatory manner meaning a "troublemaker"]… people should know what is happening here, no … it will not be … transporting meat from the shtetl, the katsovim [Tr. note: Butchers] are gathering money, they should be uprooted!
Moshe Kalmen doesn't finish and the noise grows louder. The doors open wider and the "alte gvardye" [Tr. note: "Old guard" or veterans] of the old beys hamedresh [Tr. note: Synagogue or house of learning] come in.

The battle grows stronger. Hands are raised and slaps are thrown. When the rov sees that things have gone bad, he gets really angry: raboysay, a khilel-koydesh [Tr. note: Blasphemy], the toyre has been lying on the table an hour long. How can one suspend the kriye [Tr. note: Reading], let us call an aseyfe [Tr. note: Meeting]! – He calls out in his weak voice.

Others look at the large wall clock. Young men do not dare speak a word. The gathered become rambunctious, crying out. Things become suspenseful.

Suddenly a voice is heard, getting louder and louder: "veyehi binsoya ho-oroyn" [Tr. note: Prayer said while the Torah ark is being opened] … and tens of voices continue "veyefutsu oyvekho" [Tr. note: From the same Torah ark opening prayer, "and your enemies shall be driven away…"] and they begin to read.

However, who it was that stopped the reading is still unknown.

One thing is well known, however – and it was talked about all week – more than one cholnt [Tr. note: Traditional shabes meat-potato-and-bean fare left on a hot plate or burner overnight to avoid cooking on the Sabbath] was burnt because of what went on that shabes.

Translator's Fotonotes

  1. Minyen A gathering of 10 Jewish males (who are at least 13 years old) for purposes of praying and other rituals. Here: A specific gathering for the morning prayer services. Normally, if there is more than one minyen in the morning, the first one is very early, possibly even starting at daybreak .Return
  2. Nu There are many uses and translations for this word. Often the meaning is dependent on the expressed mood and intonation of the speaker. In this case, it may be a query: "Come on already, what are you waiting for?", or "What's up?", or "What gives?", or even an admonition: "Be still/quiet". Return
  3. Bale-batim [s. bale-bos] Usually refers to owners or 'bosses'. In this case, the well-to-do (or leading figures) of the community. They normally sit up front in the first rows, with a select few sitting towards the congregation. Praying is normally done facing eastwards (towards Jerusalem). When required by the service they turn around and face eastward. Return

[Page 440]

Jewish Livelihoods in Divenishok

Translation by Tina Lunson

From the book On the Ruins of Wars and Unrest, Vilne, April 1931.

Report of the Labor Committee “YEKOPO” [Tr. Note: Yekopo is an acronym for an organization dedicated to assisting the victims of World War I that was active in Eastern Europe.] For Vilne and the Provinces, in the years 1919 – 1931, under the editorship of Moyshe Shalit, published in 1931.


Divenishok (Oshmene region):
520 families, 140 of them Jewish. Chief occupation – shop-keeping, village merchandising, craftsmen in workshops and second-hand goods. In the town – 60 Jewish shops; two Polish cooperatives for groceries, haberdashery, leather, footwear. These had the support of the community. Goods from the Polish cooperative were often brought to the train station in Benakani (21 kilometers away) [Ed. note: The purpose of bringing goods to the Benakani train station is unclear; however, this may have been an efficient way to distribute goods more widely throughout the region.]
The Jewish shop-keepers brought goods by wagon from Vilne (63 kilometers away). Shop-keeping was in a poor stead because of limited transport and also because of the surplus of shops. There was a market [open air] once a week.

Twenty to twenty-five families lived from village merchandising. In town, five Jewish workshops operated, producing inexpensive men's clothing and coats and fur coats for men and women. They employed 40 workers, men and women. They earned between 20 and 30 zlotys a week. The goods were sent to the surrounding villages of Vishneva, Trok, Olshan, Volozhin, Oshmene and so on.

In the town itself there were two Christian shoe specialists. Except for one carpenter there were no Jewish construction workers in the town.

Five Jewish families in town owned their own land, each two acres. They worked their lands for their own accounts, using for the most part hired labor. Besides the land work, the landowners also had other employment.

Among the Jews there were also some “luft-mentshn” [Tr. note: people without livelihood]. They lived from the fairs. [Tr. note: Fairs in Eastern Europe were large regional markets where goods were bought and sold wholesale. At the fairs (the big ones were usually held at fixed locations) there were lots of temporary jobs to be had. People with no real jobs could be employed peddling small wares, helping with customer services, working as porters, and so on.]. There were also Jews who dealt in boar bristles, earned a living as matchmakers, or who got money for pasturing animals, raising calves, and as farmers.

On Tish B'av people played berelakh. [Tr. note: This word literally means little bears, but is also the diminutive for the name Berl. To my knowledge it is a game that included the phrase “Berele, Berele, kum aroys!”] A fascination for soccer developed. There was a children's teacher, and also a teacher for even younger children, and the kheyder [Tr. note: elementary school] lasted from early in the morning until late in the evening.


Activities of the “Yekopo” in 1917 – 1918

In 1918 those who had fled into Russia returned. Vilne was occupied by the Polish military.

Divenishok is mentioned among the towns that undertook to help the suffering war victims. Divenishok sent a delegate, among 83 delegates from 74 villages, to a conference in the Vilne region.

The help was expressed in the creation of cooperatives, orphanages, schools, hospitals, aid committees on the community councils, help from ORT [Tr. note: The name ORT is an acronym for the Russian words Obshestvo Remeslenofo zemledelcheskofo Truda, meaning the Society for Trades and Agricultural Labour, founded in 1880 in Tsarist Russia], and from OZE [Tr. note: An organization devoted to the promotion of health, hygiene, and childcare among Jews. Founded on August 7, 1912 in Saint Petersburg as the Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jewish Population, (Obshchestvo okhraneniia Zdorov'ia Evreiskogo naseleniia; and later, Obschestvo Zdravookhraneniia Evreev]. The representative from the “Joint” [Tr. note: This refers to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Inc. (JDC), a non-political humanitarian aid organization headquartered in New York that is an overseas arm of the North American Jewish community. Committed to the rescue of Jews in danger, relief of those in distress, renewal of Jewish community life, and support of Israel] was Isadore Hirshfeld.

The delegate from Divenishok to the first regional conference of “Yekopo” in Vilne in 1919 was Ira-Leyb Rogal. The second regional conference was in Vilne, the 5th, 6th and 7th of December 1921. The delegate from Divenishok was the Rov Yisroel Movshovitsh. The Rov was also the delegate to the third regional conference, the 9th and 10th of March, 1924.


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