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[Page 441]

From the Life of the Town

Prussian Market-Gardeners

by Yekhiel Shmushkovitsh

Translated by Ruth Murphy

This is what we were called in Swerznie. My father, Reb Moshe Shmushkovitsh (peace be upon him), was the first to travel to Prussia, to Königsberg. There he planted a garden consisting of cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, beets and various other vegetables. As my father told it, this was in 1870, during the time of the Franco-Prussian war. In time, other families from Swerznie began journeying to Prussia and sowing gardens there. This became a very steady livelihood for people like our neighbor Reb Eliyahu Tsalkovitsh, my two uncles Dov and Zev Klyatshuk, and other families.

If one of them married off a daughter, “Prussia” was given in her dowry, that is — the son-in-law was taken to Königsberg and taught how to plant the gardens. This was a respectable occupation with a secure existence. When the children grew up, they were taken to Königsberg in order to help their father and in time, they too remained in this occupation. So, in Swerznie, eventually, a significant number of families were involved in this livelihood.


Reb Eliyahu Tsalkovitsh (of blessed memory)


The above-mentioned market-gardeners would leave their homes in Swerznie right after Passover and return after Sukkot. They would take with them, from Swerznie, the “nasenye”, that is, the seeds to sow the different vegetables.

In Swerznie, “the Prussians” [the market-gardeners] were regarded as distinguished families and they occupied a respectable place in the town society, as do, for example, synagogue presidents and heads of societies.

In 1914, as soon as World War I broke out, the German authorities of that time sent everyone back to Russia. The only ones left were me, my brother Zev, my cousin Mikhael Klyatshuk and Zalman Reznik. We kept in the same line of business until Hilter (may his name be obliterated) came to power. In 1936, we left Königsberg and went to Israel.

With this, the history of the “Prussian market-gardeners” in Swerznie, ended.

Memories of Our Little Town of Swerznie

by Manya Protas

Translated by Ruth Murphy

When I recall my childhood years in Swerznie where I was born, I see before me the hard-working Jews of the town who, as they said to us, didn't even have time to wipe their noses. I see how we young ones would walk along the mountain and shout, “Children, a train is coming.” I see the trees of the pine forest. Green fields. Gardens cultivated by the town's Jews. The lake by the watermill, where people would sail in small boats. And sometimes to play a trick on the miller Srogowicz, we opened up the dikes at night

[Page 442]

and let all the water out of the lake. In the morning there would be a mess in town; people would call it in Hebrew “The Jews in Swerznie.”[1]

I remember how part of the Swerznie youth studied in the high school in Nyesvizsh, around thirty kilometers from us, as our town did not have a high school. On Fridays, we would walk home for the Sabbath.


M. Protas by the bridge over the Nieman


In summer-time, when the youth did not have to study, they would occupy themselves with different tasks: some with gardening, some in one of the surrounding villages, others would walk to the nearest forest very early in the morning collecting berries or mushrooms. Each one would try to pick as big a jug of berries as possible, or as big a sack of mushrooms as they could. It was a joy in the early morning to hear the echo of our voices among the trees of the woods.

After the long, cold winters, the Jews in the town would begin to prepare for Passover. One could already sense this right after Purim, when the Jewish residents of the town began to bake matzoh. They prepared the Passover utensils that had been lying packed up the entire year, as if they were waiting for the moment when they would be used again. On Passover eve, in every Jewish home, the floor would be covered with straw and the table with sacks or something else, a sign that everything was ready to welcome the festival.

The youth in town were inclined towards Zionism. We were busy raising money for the benefit of the National funds. There was a person in town by the name of Yosef Sagalowich who could write Polish and the Christians in town would go to him to write petitions to the authorities. He donated his pay for writing the petitions to the Jewish National Fund. The revenue from performances that were produced by the local dramatic circle was also donated to the Jewish National Fund.

One's heart aches, knowing that all this is, and all those, are no longer here.

In 1945, the sad news arrived that our parents, brothers and sisters from our hometown had perished in a brutal manner, by the Nazi murderers.

Those few Jews from our town who survived, arrived in Israel in 1946, and we began to look for a way to memorialize those who had perished.


Feygl Protas (of blessed memory)
– passed away in Jerusalem


In 1953, the first memorial evening took place, for those who perished from our town, and since then an annual memorial evening is held in memory of the Jews of Swerznie who died.

It was a beautiful Jewish town, and it is no longer here. Murderers destroyed it. We, who are in the Land of Israel, honor the memory of those who lived there, with our work in our Land of Israel.

My written recollections of my little town of Swerznie, should serve as a gravestone for those who died and those who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis — my family Protas: My father Mikhael, son of Mordekhy; my mother Sorre, daughter of Peretz; my brother Aharon (Berke); my brother Mordekhy (Motl) and his wife Shifre; children Mikhael, Feygele; my sisters Badane, Itke and Tzipporah.

Translator's footnote

  1. A reference to Esther 8:16: “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor.” Return


[Page 452]

Jews in the struggle against the Nazi Occupier[1]

(A chapter from the Memorial Book of Ostrov-Mazovyetsk)

by Alter Rostker

Translated by Ruth Murphy

During sleepless nights when varied images and thoughts about the tragic past come to mind, the whole nightmare of those horrific past years, one can hardly believe that all this actually happened, that it was a reality: that all these people, friends, relatives and acquaintances, each of whom was a world in their own right, perished in such a cruel manner: at that time, two people stand out most distinctly, who through their deeds, deserve to be included in the history of Jewish heroism, in the various ghettos.

My first hero is a boy aged ten, I have forgotten his first name. His family name was Leibovicz, (the son of Ette Yakov, son of Chane Feige, A. D. Sh.). I will tell about him quite briefly.

In 1939, when the German troops occupied our town Ostrov-Mazovyetsk, all the Jews ran in the direction of the Soviets. My family and I lived like many refugees in the White-Russian town of Swerznie, three kilometers from Stoibtz, close to the Polish-Russian border. We lived like this until 22nd June 1941. Part of the White-Russian population and also part of the wealthier peasantry, received the war with joy. They all lived fairly well under the Soviets. There were various reasons for this: the wealthy peasant was afraid


A. Rostker, of blessed memory,
Died in America in 1960


Esther Rostker, May God revenge her blood,
Perished in the Swerznie ghetto together
with her two children, Yudel and Batya

[Page 453]

of the collective farms; others simply wanted to plunder, they had already tried to do this in 1939, when the Soviets occupied the eastern part of Poland. Then the White-Russian peasant plundered the possessions of the Poles, the so-called “settlers” that the Polish government had settled in the White-Russian areas and given them big concessions, in order to make the area more Polish.

The only ones who looked on in sorrow, pain and fear at the last retreating Soviet military units, were the Jews. With the approach of the German soldiers, true hell began for the Jews. Some White-Russians joined the police with the aim of plundering Jewish possessions. Dark and cruel days and nights began. We were without any legal protection. Any White-Russian peasant could do with us, what he pleased. At night they would shoot into Jewish homes. The children, in fear of death, would cling to their parents. They would come at night to take Jewish girls, supposedly to wash the floors at the police station. There they would torture them and rape them. They would arrange the so-called gatherings of the Jews, chase them through all the streets, without sparing any beatings. Criminals ruled over our lives, the underworld of the worst kind, so that our lives became absolutely wretched. We became degraded and humiliated even by those non-Jewish people who took no part in the torture.

For certain reasons, we had to modify some passages.

In addition, they regarded us as an inferior people with whom one should have no contact. We felt isolated and devastated, surrounded by enemies. It was therefore no wonder that we became indifferent to death. The White-Russian spies incited terrible anti-Jewish propaganda. Dr. Shtshort and Shkutke (two young non-Jewish men from Swerznie - A. D. Sh[2].). These were two Russian characters who fled to Berlin at the time when the Polish Government dissolved the White-Russian party “Hramada” to which they belonged. Hitler cultivated them and waited for the moment when he would be able to use them for his plundering purposes. These were candidates for the promised White-Russian state. In the meantime, they travelled around delivering venomous speeches in all the small towns of White-Russia and poisoned the already polluted air.

On the 10th October 1941, the gestapo arrived and selected 30 Jewish girls and other youth from Swerznie and shot them. After that everyone understood that our fate was sealed. On 5th November 1941, they chose a few people capable of working, and the rest were transported in groups to the cemetery where a huge and terrible grave had already been dug. They forced the victims to go into the grave themselves, and in this way, they shot dead, all the Jewish people in the town: old people, women and children. On that day, the White-Russian women sat at the cemetery all day waiting for the clothing that they would remove from the victims. The little Leibovicz boy, whom I knew, and whose appearance always drew my attention and whose face now bore expressions of stubbornness and confidence mixed with nervousness. I used to see, when he played with other children, that he was an unusual child. That day the 10-year-old boy went with his mother, sister and brothers to the cemetery. He did not want to go into the pit. He tore himself away from his mother's hands, hastily grabbed handfuls of sand and stones and threw them at the murderers. He did this in a flash, until they shot him, but not in the pit. They had to pull him into the pit themselves. This is how David's descendant stood, in the battle against the greatest Goliath of all times, who were armed to the teeth, while the boy possessed only a little sand from the
cemetery . . ..

The second hero was a Jewish farmer from the village of Kisyelavshtshinne, three kilometers south of Swerznie. His name was Fyvl[3], who was known as the best farmer in the whole vicinity. He ploughed, sewed and reaped his fields himself, and lived the life of a farmer.
When the hangmen began to cleanse the villages of Jews, Fyvl met with the same fate. From quite early on, his house was guarded on all sides by White-Russian police, awaiting the arrival of the chief of the police, who was due to come. When he came, they wanted to take Fyvl and his family out to be shot. He did not allow them into his house and firmly closed the door. They then opened fire on his house, killing his wife and two children. Fyvl then opened the window and began a desperate battle with the murderers. He hurled stones at them, bottles, weights and anything that

[Page 454]

came to hand. He hit a policeman on the head with a bottle, wounding him severely. Then he saw that they retreated and opened an even stronger fire. He then poured out kerosene and set his house alight from the inside. He himself exited from a rear window, ran about 200 meters and fell from a bullet that hit him in the fields, that he had toiled with sweat and blood over the course of tens of years. The peasants of his village later boasted that “our Fyvl did not go to the slaughter himself”. For a long time, I saw the German murderer walking with a bandaged head. One person from our camp asked him who had beaten him, and he answered with German bluntness: “what did the Jew have against me? After all it was an order”.

Original footnotes

  1. The author of this chapter is from Ostrov. After the Germans occupied his birth-town, he arrived in Mezritsh after wandering around a great deal, and lived there for some time, until the Hitler gangs captured him in our town and together with all the people of Swerznie, he experienced the entire hell of the ghetto and the resistance army, that he describes in the book of his destroyed town. Return
  2. A.D. Sh. – taken from an article by A. D. Shkolnik). Return
  3. Fyvl inherited the land from his grandfather the cantonist who served in the army of Tsar Nikolai the First, for 25 years. After completing his service, he received as a gift from the government, 10 dyesyatin of land: 100 dunam, as a possession in perpetuity. Even during the time of Stolipin's decree about driving Jews out of the villages, the family was allowed to remain in the village and they continued their village farm work; but what the Tsarist minister and Stolipin, the Jew hater could not do, the Nazi murderers managed to do. Fyvl, may his memory be blessed, was already the 3rd generation in the village on this plot of land. Return


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