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[Page 57]

My Birthplace Olkeniki [1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I cannot forget my hometown, where I spent 20 years of my youth until I left it, exchanging it for the national homeland of the Land of Israel.

I cannot forget the experiences of childhood. I recall the streaming river that was the center of childhood play, and the bathing that was accompanied by the noise and shouts of children engaged in mischief. How great was the joy, and how many possibilities opened up for us children when the shipment of wood passed through the river on the way to large cities overseas. No shipment passed through without us having fun by jumping from log to log across the river, accompanied by dipping ourselves into the water.

The forest of the city - I also cannot forget. The thick, gigantic trees seemed to cover the face of the sky. There was no path upon which we did not tread. At first, the forest was a puzzle for us, but later we solved the puzzle and exposed it with all of its mystery and beauty. We spent many beautiful, pleasant hours there.

The convalescent home located in the forest was also a gathering point in our town. It took in many character types, including students, Yeshiva students, and merchants who preferred to leave the life of the noisy, single minded city for a period of time, and to relax in the bosom of the comforting nature of our town.

Behold, another idyllic picture comes before our eyes. The townsfolk are sitting on their porches in the light of the full moon, listening to the sounds of the singing of the Jewish youth bursting forth from the heart of the forest, and instilling pride in the hearts. There was indeed a strong basis for pride amongst the residents of the city.

I will make note of several main themes that typified the youth of Olkeniki.

The cultural level of the youth was higher than that of neighboring towns. Aside from the foreign languages spoken in the town, including Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish, most of the youth were fluent in Hebrew and were able to sing and tell stories in Hebrew. The large library of the city served as a center for reading and study of the Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew languages. The theater that was established through the efforts of the townsfolk was successful, even in the nearby towns. This also added to the cultural level.

The cultural life of the Hebrew youth was concentrated primarily in the Young Zion movement. That movement drew the spirit of the youth toward love of the Land of Israel, and instilled the desire to make aliya and settle in the Land.

Indeed, when the news arrived after the Balfour Declaration that aliya to the Land was permitted, we four friends - Yaakov Ozranski, Hillel Dan, Yehoshua Dan, and Avraham Menachemowicz - decided to be among the pioneers of the city, to leave our family, friends, relatives and home in order to actualize the pioneering vision. At that time, we were only 19 or 20 years old, without any profession, still dependent on our maternal home. However, we were of strong spirit in order to overcome all the many obstacles and impediments that stood in our path.

At that time, the war between Poland and Lithuania was in full force, and we had to leave our house without the accompaniment of “drums and dances”, and cross the border in secrecy; with our only possessions being the sack over our backs and the strong will in our hearts to leave Poland and arrive in Kovno, the capital of Lithuania, and from there to move onward to the Land of Israel.

I recall that day when I told my parents, “Behold, your son is among the first for Zion.” My mother of blessed memory asked a motherly question to her son, “Tell me, my son, are there not others older and stronger than you who should go first, and you can then follow after them?” Even though the pain of leaving behind that which is dearest to a person - I decided to not think about emotions, and to set out.

I have to thank my parents of blessed memory for giving their assent to the journey which I was undertaking, even though none of us knew if we would ever see each other again.

Thus did the period of my childhood and youth in my town Olkeniki conclude, and the new, difficult era of my life begin. This was a period of great obstacles, ???, and searching for new ways of life in a new homeland, the Land of Israel.

Now, when I bring to memory my far-off town, how greatly does my soul mourn that they did not merit to make aliya to the Land of Israel, and that the majority of them were murdered in cold blood by the filthy hands of the impure murderers, who still live among us and enjoy good.

Vengeance shouts out, “Is there one person who will hear my outcry?” All of them are lost, and are no longer…

Yaakov Agami - Ozranski


Translator's Footnotes
  1. Modern name is Valkininkai, Lithuania Return


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