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The Town, its Landscape
and Stories of the Cultural Pattern

 

[Page 45]

Topography, landscape,
transportation, residents' businesses

by S.P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie

 

The Topography

Calm and modest landscape that is blended among forests and meadows, between rivers and calm lakes, on green undulating hills and yellowing sands. Stormy winds did not hit the town, as it was hidden in the shade of mighty pine trees. The summer weather was excellent and autumn winds with the falling leaves added beauty to the low houses and straight streets. At the back of the meadow (“the Stavo”) - east of town - lays Olkeniki's history. The white tombstones and tents of the new and old Jewish cemetery stand out. Who knows if the tombstones remained in place and if anyone still visits them today? Our parents, brothers and sisters were not buried by a Jewish ritual burial in their city, but were led to slaughter and burial in the neighboring town. The remains of the water mill near the meadow remained until the last few days near the wooden bridge that led to Eishyshok. Our loved ones crossed this bridge for the last time on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5701.

On the north side of the town was the murderers' village Tsijoni (400 meters from the edge of town). And on the west side, two kilometers beyond lush fields and swamps, the houses of the Jewish village Dakashnia (“Slo”) stood on the hill.

 

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A turn at the end of Eishyshok street, near the bridge

 

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The blacksmiths' neighborhood across the bridge
during the high tide of the Marchenka River, 1930

[Page 46]

There were about 10 streets and alleys in the town, all of which were concentrated around the large market, which was divided into two streets by the “Karachma”- a hostel - one of the houses in the town that was built by a Jew named Olkenitzki. The town's Jewish center was on the street where the synagogue was (Shul Gas), on Eishyshok Street and in the alleys that connected them with the market. No foreigners lived there. In the streets behind the church building and at the end was the “sharp end” (“Ostri Kunitz”) - Jews and foreigners lived in the neighborhood together.

The houses of the Jews were mostly one-story wooden houses, covered with wooden shingles; there were only three bricks' houses. The farmers' houses were covered with hay. Trees did not grow on the streets where the Jews lived, only a few trees grew here and there and they became a byword in the town. The soil was fertile and the Jews mostly cultivated

 

Val046.jpg
The town's map in the early 20th century until the Holocaust,
drawn by the editor from his memory

[Page 47]

Sights of the town

Val047a.jpg
 
Val047b.jpg
A woman draws water from the public well
 
Velvel Bere Yankels on the town street
 
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Market Day in the town, on the left is the Catholic Church
 
Hershel Reha Sheftel's, the town's fool

[Page 48]

The rivers and the view of the town and its surroundings

Val048a.jpg
The Marchenka behind the slaughterhouse
On the left - A smithy, On the horizon - The village of Tsijoni
 
Val048b.jpg

Autumn, near the “Shuruk”
- the place where the three rivers meet
 
Val048c.jpg

The Galluje, at the back of the town

 

Val048d.jpg

The wooden bridge over the Solcha

[Page 49]

small plots by their dwellings. Usually, all the plots were cultivated by their owners in the spring season. Some even sold their crops to the people of the town.

At the entrance to the town, on the northeast side of the village Tsijoni, two prayer houses stood on a hill - the Beit Midrash and the old synagogue. There was no sign of a green vegetation, tree or garden around the houses of worship either. The natural landscape of the town was accompanied by the Marchenka River, its lifeline, which twisted and passed not far from the old synagogue. In the spring, floods would sometimes reach as far as the foundations of the synagogue. The Marchenka River flowed and passed between the houses of the Jews, until it entered the living area of the Gentiles.

In places that were away from the Marchenka River, Jews lived only along the leading road to Eishyshok. Jewish blacksmiths lived in this neighborhood. Next to each house, or as part of the house, smithy was built. Blacksmiths lived also at the entrance to the town, on the side of “Vilna Road” and “Orany Road”, but the blacksmiths who lived across the bridge created a special neighborhood. Every day the monotonous pounding of hammers was heard throughout the town.

This neighborhood was unusual compared to the whole town. The houses were not built on the same level. Some of them were below street level and some on hills. At the end of the neighborhood lived a few foreigners whose boys integrated with the town boys, learned the Yiddish spoken language and knew all the mysteries of the town's life and its problems.

 

Jewish Livelihoods

Lands

The land around the town and the nearby villages was of the worst kind in Lithuania. There were places where the red or black clay was plentiful, and the farmers used it for the primitive pottery industry. Some Jews were also engaged in pottery (teperei). There was another type of land in the area, which was light gray and was called “Galinka”. The farmers, and in times of emergency also the Jews, used this land to whitewash their houses.

 

Field Crops

Of course, in lands of this type, there are not multiple and profitable field crops. Buckwheat was common in the sandy soils (“Grike”). The buckwheat was ground with manual millstones or at flour mills. The flour was used for baking and frying various dishes. The people of the town were generally called “Alkeniker Rachke Bandes”, after the special rolls that were made from buckwheat flour.

The most common and successful crop, which saved the rural and urban settlement in years of drought and famine, was the potato. Special varieties of potatoes that were adapted to the light soils, have been grown very successful. The popular food of the farmers all year round was the potato. Most of the Jews of the towns would hand over the manure of their domestic animals to the farmers to fertilize their fields and in return received a share of the potato crop.

 

The Forest

The town's only treasure was the forest, with its plants and animals. The most common tree was the regular pine tree. At the beginning of the twentieth century the government began to take care of the forest. They would cut plots and re-sow the plots according to a specific known order. After the spring floods, the timber beams were sailed across the Marchenka River to the Neman River, to be sent abroad. The timber trade was operated by the town's Jews. The forest officials (“Shafer”, “Bracker”) and some of the transporters (Vajakes) were also Jews. Even the turpentine industry - pine oil, tar and charcoal, was owned by a Jewish family in the town, who came from the village of Vyshnytsia. The mushrooms that were collected by the farmers were dried and sold to Jewish peddlers, who operated the trade of the “forest crops”. Another plant that grew in the forests was the Lycopodium, Cape Bear (in Lithuanian “Panki-Firsti”). The plant was laid on the ground and the farmers would collect it while it was still soft and contained the spores inside. The Jews would put papers on the steps of their houses, dry it and the spores would have turned to a yellow flour “Litzpan”, that would be spilled on the paper. After cleaning and sifting, it would be sent in sacks to the big cities and abroad for the needs of the pharmaceutical industry and other industries. Also, the trade in wild animal skins was operated by the Jews, who had constant contact with the rangers and hunters among the farmers.

 

Summer vacationing

The forest, which grew on a sandy dry land, served as a place of healing and recreation for the hundreds of campers from the towns and yeshivas, who came to spend the hot summer months in the shade of the fresh trees. The Jews' houses and the farmers' houses that were near the forest, were used for summer vacationing and many of the townspeople would hand over their houses and rooms to campers during the summer months.

 

The factories that related to the forest

There were two factories (formerly three factories) for cardboard from the forest trees in the town and in the nearby village of Krumintsa. There were also three sawmills for cutting boards and planks in the town (one was destroyed in 1914). All the farmers' houses, the Jews' houses and all the farm buildings were built from the trees provided by the forest.

[Page 50]

Factories in the town and its immediate vicinity

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The cardboard factory of David Bonimovich and Yaakov Sheskin,
on the beach of Solcha, continues its operation until today
 
Val050b.jpg
 
Val050c.jpg
Abandoned factory, operated until 1905
 
Printed postcard of the flour mill and the sawmill of H. Bernstein
 
Val050d.jpg
A sawmill and flour mill in the village of Krumintsa,
near the town, on the Marchenka's creek

[Page 51]

Transportation

For many generations the town was located along the important roads that passed near it. The only means of transportation were the horse and wagon in the summer and the sled in the winter. In the years 1850-1860, about a hundred years ago, the Petersburg -Warsaw railway, via Vilna, was built 8 kilometers west of the town. The Jews of the town took part in the construction of the railway that was called by them “Chahunka”. (chogun - Iron type). The construction of the railway opened new trading channels for the town. Some of the wood processed at the town was sent by train. Cardboard was also sent by train. It was produced in the factories located at the edge of the town, factories that were built at the end of the last century. During the years of the First World War, in 1915, the Germans, using forced labor of the surrounding farmers and prisoners, paved a road made of timber beams, that passed not far from the railroad tracks and connected the roads around Vilna with Orany - Grodno roads. Within a few years the timber beams rotted and the road became out of use.

In the 1930s, the Poles paved the Pilsudski Road, which connected Vilna with Warsaw and Krakow via Grodno. This road crossed the Olkeniki forests, about seven-eight kilometers to the east. Thus, the town remained until the last war, until the 1940s, far from roads. A few years before the Holocaust, the Pilsudski Road was connected with the roads to Orany, Elita, near the railroad tracks. This road passed near the town, north of it. The means of transportation were operated by the Jews. There was a constant weekly contact (and then daily by bus) by wagon owners with the city of Vilna and with the nearby towns of Eishyshok, Anoshishok and Butrimantsi, (until they were joined to Lithuania).

The train station, which was about eight kilometers from the town, was commuted several times a day by special waggoners – “Ban Farar”. They also brought the mail to the post office in the town. In times of emergency, when the railroad tracks were destroyed, the waggoners of the town would reach as far as Kovno, Leda, Grodno and even farther away. In 1928, the first bus to Vilna was operated, and a few years later a truck, which was operated by the Jews. The second means of transportation was the Marchenka River. After the spring floods, the timber merchants would pass timber beams or barges connected to each other through it. They were floated as far as the Neman River, into the town of Merch, and thence to the Baltic Sea.

 

Industry, workshops, clerical work

(The residents' business in the third decade of the twentieth century)

 

Factories

In and around the town were:

A cardboard industry factory; A wood factory and a flour mill; Wood factory - sawmill and flour mill; two turpentine refineries; two Flour mills powered by water; two soda factories; two groats' factories. In total, they employed around two hundred workers.

 

Workshops

Sixteen bakeries for bread and confectionery; eighteen blacksmiths; three bicycle makers; three glaziers; twenty shoemakers; three dressmakers; twenty-five seamstresses; two hairdressers; five tailors; five carpenters; six wood chisels; one tinsmith, two hatters; one bookbinder; one stone engraver, (mainly for tombstones); one socks knitter; one ceramist; eight wagon owners; four carriage owners.

 

Clerks, teachers and “holy vessels”

One Rabbi; one cantor; two shochets (slaughterers); two beadles; three “Prushim”- yeshiva members; four teachers from the town (except teachers outside the town); ten clerks in the forests (shafers); five clerks; one doctor; one medic; three pharmacists; five minstrels.

 

Grocers, merchants

Fifteen textile shops (manufactory); eight “department stores” - grocery, housewares and haberdashery, one perfume shop and all kinds of medicines and herbs; four flour merchants, who brought their goods from outside the town; six grain merchants and intermediaries; four contractors (meat and grain suppliers to the army); four butchers; four merchants traveling between the villages (“Karabelnik”).

 

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