Years of Economic Stability.
After the great boom, during which most of the merchants moved to Kovno, the town entered into a period of ten more or less tranquil years.
The main wide street of Kibart, paved with stones, with large chestnut trees on both sides and a paved sidewalk on one side, which also served as the main road leading to Germany, was called after the name of President "Smetonos Aleja" (Smetona Avenue). As there were no diplomatic relations with Poland, Lithuania was closed to the East and the South, but in the North the border with Latvia was open, and to the West there was an open border with Germany, so travelers coming from Europe by car had to pass through Kibart. This road, a few kilometers long, was actually the border on one side, whereas on the other side the soccer field and the Jewish cemetery were situated. From there on, there were fields all the way to Virbalis, about 4.5 kilometers distant from Kibart.
Most of the stores were situated along this street, the banks, one cinema called the "Palas," the volunteer fire brigade, 2 pharmacies, one belonging to a Jew, the government elementary school, the German school, a Catholic church, a Pravoslavic church, a Protestant church and also a gas station which was operated by hand. Once a group of motorcycle riders from "Hapoel" Eretz Israel passed through Kibart and bought gas at this station, which was a big event in Kibart.
Most of the two to four story buildings along the avenue and in the nearby streets were built of brick, some with and some without plaster, but there were no small wooden houses with straw thatched roofs or wooden tiles as could be seen in most Lithuanian towns. Most of Kibart Jews lived in modern houses equipped with running water, sewage systems and electricity, and some houses had central heating. The housing conditions in Kibart were much better than in many other towns in Lithuania with much larger populations.
All the streets at right angles to the avenue faced south, whereas the north side belonged mostly to the railway. One section of the town was situated to the north of the railway station and people had to pass the station to get there.
Life in Kibart was influenced very much by the proximity of the German border. The main street of the town stretched to the border crossing, consisting of a wooden bridge over the small stream with customs buildings on either side. These buildings, both on the Lithuanian and German sides, were manned by a policeman and a customs clerk. The police issued certificates to inhabitants of a 5 kilometers zone on both sides of the border, to enable them to cross freely. The German border town of Eydtkuhnen was small, but had four to five story buildings, wide paved streets and nice shops, according to the standards of those times. Many of the merchants, who owned textile, shoe, clothes and other stores, were Jewish (Rubinshtein, Levin, Zilberman and others). Eydtkuhnen had already instituted "White Weeks" and "Seasonal Sales," and the inhabitants of Kibart as well as their friends and relatives from other towns enjoyed these occasions.
Dr. Iviansky was one of several Jewish doctors in Eydtkuhnen who also treated Kibart Jews.
During these years, similar to the times of Russian rule, masses of German women from Eydtkuhnen would come to the market in Kibart, on Tuesdays and Fridays, to buy fresh agricultural produce brought in by peasants from nearby villages. Food products were much cheaper in Lithuania than in Germany and near the border tens of grocery and butcher shops opened up, mostly owned by Jews, who made their living from the Eydtkuhnen inhabitants. There were about twenty Jewish groceries in the town during these years.
Kibart and Virbalis Jews would buy dresses, shoes, cloth, cosmetics etc. in Eydtkuhnen. It paid to buy these goods there and to sell them in Lithuania for great profit.
Until the beginning of the Nazi regime in 1933, Kibart Jews bought most of their supplies in Eydtkuhnen, including types of fruit which could not be obtained in Kibart, such as bananas, grapes, water melons, melons etc., and for reasonable prices. The problem was how to cross the border without paying customs' fees, and the method adopted was to take two or three oranges only by hand in a paper bag when crossing the border. New shoes were smeared with shoe polish and not brushed, so they would not look new to the customs clerk. New dresses and cloth would be wrapped around the body under the overcoat, and many other tricks were invented in order to smuggle goods without paying duties.
There were times, during the late twenties, when Jews from Kibart went to the cinema in Eydtkuhnen. Once they even went to a circus show in Stalupeonen, some 20 kilometers from the border.
In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, all this stopped. On the first of April 1933 Nazi guards of the S.A. did not allow people into Jewish stores, and from that day on most of Kibart's Jews did not go to Eydtkuhnen anymore.
Most of Lithuania's main exports were agricultural products, which were sent to Germany, one of the major items being live geese. At the beginning of winter, exporters would bring the geese to a lot in the railway station, and the quacking of geese was heard in town day and night for a month or so. After Hitler had established his rule, he demanded Memel' (Klaipeda) return to Germany. As a means of pressure he canceled the commercial treaty with Lithuania, so all the geese assigned for export were left without buyers. To solve the problem, the Lithuanian government ordered all its clerks to get a part of their salary in geese, so that the price of geese dropped a lot at the time and people benefited.
The railway station in Kibart reminds one of additional events. All the immigrants (Olim) to Eretz Israel traveled through this station by train. There were years, when a group of "Chalutzim" passed through Kibart every few weeks, and large crowds of Jews came to see them off. These were happy and exciting events, sometimes even funny. In order to exploit every "Certificate" (Aliya Permission) issued by the British Mandatory Government to its maximum, every young man married a girl fictitiously, so that each "Certificate" enabled two people to enter Eretz Israel. It often happened that the fictitious couple met in Kibart's station for the first time, the "groom" looking for the "bride" he had never met before by shouting her name.
The Occupations of the Jews in Kibart.
In those years the main occupation of the Jews was commerce, there being shops of haberdashery, grocery, shoes, cloth, paper, books, stationary, meat, iron and tools, household utensils. There were also several small factories such as bookbinding, a shoe polish and tin cans factory, several textile factories, sewing workshops etc. There were many craftsmen: shoemakers, photographers, tailors, fashions, barbers etc. Some were engaged in exporting agricultural products, such as flax, after processing it, and horses for meat. Apart from those there were one cinema owner, two tavern owners, several customs clerks, teachers, bank clerks, two carriages and one taxi owner. The economic life in town concentrated around the Jewish Central Bank and the Jewish Popular Bank. Two specially Jewish occupations existed, one being illegal trading with foreign currency and the other "Couriers." Several Jews made a good living by trading with foreign currency, and these "Couriers" were people who traveled by train to Kovno every morning and returned in the evening. They passed on orders from the merchants of Kibart to the wholesalers in Kovno, and then brought the ordered goods back by themselves on the same day. They also sold smuggled merchandise from Germany to the rich merchants in Kovno, and there were seven families who made a rather a poor living from this occupation. In particular I remember at least one case when the community had to buy the monthly train ticket for one of these couriers, because the man did not have the money to do so.
Public and Cultural Life.
During the first days of Independent Lithuania the Ministry for Jewish Affairs and the Council of the Jews were established, and according to law Community Committees (Va'ad haKehila) were democratically elected in most Lithuanian towns.
The veteran "Gabaim" of Kibart did not want a "Community Committee" to be elected, since they had enough power of their own in any case. Only after tremendous persuasion was a "Community Committee" elected, most of its members tending to the left. After a short while this Committee was forced to resign and in the next elections, which were forged, a Committee with a right wing majority was elected. Later, in the autumn of 1923 a mixed Committee was elected with a small majority of right wingers, but the left were more active and pushed for establishing an elementary school and social help in town. Towards these elections five lists were presented:
Each list was presented with signatures of supporters. It is not known who was elected to the Community Committee, but according to the names of the different sub-committee members one can see that there was reasonable representation of all lists.
Among the sub-committees it is worth mentioning the education sub-committee, which at its first meeting on October 10, 1923 discussed the issue of the school and the library, and it is interesting to note that the protocols of this sub-committee were written in Hebrew. Among its members were Shereshevsky, Goldberg, Rechmat, Jafe, Leikin, Rachmil. Shereshevsky was elected chairman and Jafe as secretary, who was then the director of the school.
Another sub-committee was for social help. Its members were Chashman, Volovitzky, Rachmil, Shereshevsky, Yedidya. Y.Sh.Chashman was elected chairman.
The Community Committee existed until the end of 1925, when the Autonomy for Jews, also for other minorities, was annulled. At the last meeting of the Committee on December 20, 1925 it was decided to appoint four sub-committees who would care for the community's affairs after the annulment of the official committee:
a) the education sub-committee, its members being T.Shereshevsky, Sh.Volovitzky, and M.Leibovitz,
b) the sub-committee for social help whose members were Sh.Rachmil, M.Shadchanovitz and Sh. Maroz,
c) a sub-committee on religious affairs including ritual slaughter with the same composition as above, and
d) a sub-committee for the liquidation of the Community Committee, its members being Sh.Volovitzky, M.Rabinovitz and M.Leibovitz. This sub-committee had to settle the main Committee's debts and also to apply to the Jewish faction of the Seimas, asking it what to do with the buildings and archives which belonged to the Committee. (see the protocol of this meeting written in Yiddish in Table 3, 4, 5)
The archives of all the Community Committees were transferred to the "YIVO" Institute in Vilna, and during World War II the Nazis transferred them to Frankfurt in Germany, where they were found after the war, after which they were finally stored in the "YIVO" Institute in New-York. This is the source of all the copies in the tables.
In order to illustrate the views of the Jewish public in Kibart one can use the results of the elections to the first Lithuanian Seimas in October 1922. 403 Kibart Jews participated, of whom the Zionist list received 324 votes, "Agudath-Israel" (religious) got 47 votes and the Democrats (the Volkists) 32 votes.
In 1924 Kibart was declared a town with self rule, and a municipality was elected consisting of 25 members: 6 Jews, 7 Germans, 1 Russian, 1 Pole, and 10 Lithuanians.
In the 1931 elections 12 members were elected to the municipality: 2 Jews, 4 Germans and 6 Lithuanians. The elections of 1934 resulted in the election of 2 Jews, 3 Germans and 7 Lithuanians, Pharmacist Budrevicius being elected Mayor. Among the Jews who officiated as members of the municipality during these years mention should be made of Y.Sh. Chashman, Yurzditzky, Sh Volovitzky, A.Vidomliansky and others.
A Jewish school had already been established in Kibart in 1919, which was more like a "Cheder" and was situated in the "Ezrat-Nashim" (Women's Hall) of the Synagogue. For a long time the community did not manage to create a school of reasonable standard for several reasons, among them the proximity of the German border which enabled many Jewish children to go to kindergartens and schools in Eydtkuhnen. The older children would study in the high school in Stalupoenen, a German town about 20 kilometers from Kibart. With the establishment of the Hebrew High School in Virbalis in 1919, wealthy parents with a national conscience sent their children there. In that High School which included elementary classes, tuition levels were comparatively high, but there were problems of finding skilled teachers. high, but there were problems of finding skilled teachers. (see Table 6): the protocol, written in Hebrew, of the meeting of the Education Sub-Committee on October 14, 1923 in which the situation of the school, a building for the school and the library were discussed).
The new sub-committee for education carried out a survey of all children between the ages of 7 to 13 in order to estimate the possibility of establishing a reasonable school in Kibart. Parents were asked where their children were learning at present and whether they would agree to admit them into the Hebrew "Tarbuth" elementary school. 95 children of the above mentioned ages were interviewed, of whom 18 studied in Eydtkuhnen, 13 in the Hebrew High School and the remainder in the existing school or privately. 55 parents agreed to enroll their children into the new school, whereas the remainder answered negatively or did not give a definite answer ( see Table 7, 8, 9 and 10).
A Hebrew school with 4 classes and 2 preparatory classes was established in Kibart in 1925. Hebrew was taught from the first preparatory class, Lithuanian from the second, but Yiddish, the mother tongue was not taught at all. A.Jafe, the director of the existing school resigned and after considering all the candidates, M.Goldoft, a teacher who was also authorized to teach Lithuanian, was appointed director. Together with the establishment of the school, a Jewish kindergarten was opened by the wife of the director of the school, Mrs. Goldoft.
According to the Lithuanian Education Law each minority had the right to establish a school for its children where the teaching language was that of that minority. Teachers' salaries were paid by the government, but in this school there were always one or two additional teachers who received their salaries from the Parents' Committee. The school had a complement of about 100 - 150 pupils, and all graduates knew Hebrew well. Every year the school arranged a festivity including a play in Hebrew, which was an important event in the cultural life of the town.
After the first director of the school Mr. Goldoft emigrated to South-Africa, a young teacher, a graduate of the Hebrew Teachers Seminar in Kovno, Aryeh Varshavsky, was appointed in his stead. He fulfilled his duty successfully until 1940, when Lithuania became a Soviet Republic and Hebrew education was annulled.
Among the teachers of the school there are fond memories of Leah Yablokovsky and Shoshana Klein. Leah Y. taught the lower classes for few years, emigrated to Eretz-Israel and continued teaching in Tel-Aviv. Shoshana K., who was a very beautiful woman, married and emigrated to South-Africa. Among the men teachers worth mentioning are Mordechai Lurie, who taught in this school during all its existence; Avraham Vizhansky, Moshe Leibovitz, Shmuel Matis and others.
First line from right: A.Chashman,---,Z.Golding, E.Ozerov, Ch.Jasovsky, F.Saharovitz, B.Sheinzon, ---,
Second line: S.Jofe, D.Levin, ---, G.Borovik
Third line: E.Kliatchko, Z.Borochovitz, ---, Tzibulsky(?), ---, Y.Skrobiansky, M.Chlamnovitz, the Principal A.Varshavsky, teacher L.Yablokovsky, teacher M.Lurie, Y.Feferman, P.Kliatchko, D.Shtern, Ch.Borochovitz, P.Shimkovitz
Fourth line: E.Halperin, ---, A.Leibovitz, T.Beker, N.Levin, Magiliuker, B.Borovik, Y.Levin, Margolis(?), Skrobiansky, B.Zilbersky, Kanopke(?), F.Shtern, J.Rosin, H.Bartenshtein, ---,
Fifth line: L.Tzichak, Beirachovitz, M.Landau, M.Grudzinsky, ---, M.Vizhansky, R.Vilensky, Levin, Levin, ---, Z.Borovik, ---, ---, ---,
It should be pointed out that when money was plentiful in the twenties, the Community was not wise enough to buy a plot of land in order to build a suitable building for the Hebrew school. During all the years of its existence the school rented buildings which were not always suitable, and the Parents Committee had to care of the rental payments. On the other hand, this Jewish community donated generously to the building of the modern Catholic church, which was built opposite the railway station, as well as to the building of the German church and school built at the other end of the town.
For many years Meir Leibovitz was the chairman of the Parents Committee and Mrs. Dobe Shtern one of its active members.
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