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[Page 99]

My Family House

Simcha Polachek

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

It is difficult to commemorate parents in writing, create their image and describe their actions objectively. For this reason, I will only describe a few lines to their image, and it will serve as a memorial to the parents who were murdered by the Nazi oppressor, Damn him.

Our house was far from the center of the town. Although it was big, and had over ten rooms and a store, it was not possible to see it from the market street, because it was hidden by a high fence that was built by the Christian Church, in order to narrow my parents' steps and their trade.

Most of the townspeople were named after their parents, or their villages of origin. My father was called by his last name only. And when the discussion was about Hirshe Polachek, you could have imagined a tall Jew, with a straight back, pleasant face and dreamy eyes; A “French beard” adorned his chin, and a thick, curled mustache adorned his face. He was a mixture of a Jew and a Polish nobleman (Shlachchitz).

In the course of his business, he often traveled and was in contact with many people. He was a successful merchant and businessman and knew how to create a Jewish and Zionist atmosphere at home. He had a progressive worldview, although he studied a lot of Torah in his youth and lived the life of a traditional small town. He would pass in front of the ark on Shabbat, and with his deep and pleasant voice he knew how to curl the prayer tunes and delight the crowd of worshippers. On special occasions, they would gather at our house for mass prayer, because there were also a Torah scroll and Holy Ark in our house.

As a man who served the public, he accumulated knowledge of the world's ways. For this reason, he was always chosen to arbitrate in matters of disputes, because many people would ask him for advice. As one of the old “homeowners”, he was a member of the community council and a member of the Zeta (Seven Good People of the City) and the bank, as well as one of the founders of the Hebrew School “Techiya” in 1912. In 1914, he visited the Land of Israel in order to settle there, but the secure businesses in the diaspora and the lack of possibilities to settle in the Land of Israel with a big family, forced him to return to the small town.

My mother was named by her family name, Nakel Poliachek, or by my father's name. She was the perfect type of housewife and devoted mother, who knew how to observe the mitzvah of hospitality. Her home was always open to all the poor, needy and hungry people. She spent most of her time in her large household and her shop, as she was deeply connected to it and to its trade.

She was of medium height, with a round and beautiful face, her eyes expressed wisdom of her life experience and her great knowledge of the world's ways. Although she took an important part in the trade, she had enough time to raise her five children with the great devotion of a mother. In 1930, she visited Israel on the occasion of my brother Shlomo's wedding.

Her generosity and concern for others were expressed as distribution of alms as an “anonymous donation” to everyone in need. Not a single Shabbat nor a holiday passed without having a guest for dinner. On Shabbat evenings, she would prepare packages of food and recruit me, my brother Shlomo and my three sisters to distribute food to the poor of our town. To mark her endless love and devotion to others, I will cite the case below:

It was in 1918, on the eve of Yom Kippur. World War I was still raging. Thousands of soldiers, among them about 70-80 Jews, passed and flowed through our town.

When it became known in the town, a few hours ahead of the last meal before the Yom Kippur fast, that dozens of Jewish soldiers appeared in the city, they started running around and looking for a solution to divide them into houses and hold a proper meal for them. I remember that my late mother secretly left the house. She went to the rabbi (or to the gabbai) and informed that she was willing to prepare the last meal before the Yom Kippur fast for all the soldiers at her expense and in her house, and that she would also prepare a feast for them after the fast. She told us, the members of the household: “We will eat today and tomorrow evening salted fish, and now, come and help me prepare food for all the soldiers”. And so it was.

During the Holocaust, my older sister Mina and her husband Markel, with their three children, were killed in hiding in the village, my sister Esther with her son Hashka, in Ponary, my sister Ida and her husband Chaim, and their children - in the mass grave in Eishyshok, may God avenge them.

May their souls will be bounded in the bundle of life and God will be their inheritance. Amen!

Those who were saved from the Holocaust and may they live a long life: Yitzchak, Esther's husband, and their son Gideon, who immigrated to Israel.

A Home that was Ruined

Yosef Karpovitz

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

I remember well the house of Reb Yosef and Batia Zubisky in Olkeniki. It was a spacious house, which was simple. The owner of the house, Reb Yosef, was hardly at home. The mother of the house, Batia, was the focus of the house and she handled all of the household affairs. In recent years, before I emigrated to Israel, I would meet Reb Yosef Zubisky often in Vilna, in Salomon's hostel.

He was perceived in my imagination as leaning on the Warsaw “moment” magazine, or the Vilna “Die Zeit” magazine, and delves into the articles of Rabbi Itchele.

My childhood memories of the synagogue are also associated with Reb Yosef. I see him wrapped in his tallit next to his lectern - the “stender”. Reb Yosef was a Torah scholar and was among the houseowners in the Shas society, that Rabbi Damta would “recite” before them a page of Gemara every day, at evening time. In the morning, after the Shacharit prayer, he would sit by that long table, on the southern side, and listen to a chapter in the Mishnayot, that was read by Reb Fayva the shochet (slaughterer).

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Several incidents related to Reb Yosef's personality are etched in my memory. In 1913, before the First World War, when they were about to dismantle the “Techiya” Hebrew School, which was also known as the “Reformed Cheder”, that Reb Yosef was one of its founders, he came to our home to influence my parents to hand over their two children, who studied at the Reformed School, to Reb Avraham Mende, who was about to establish a “cheder” for children. I was very impressed by his enthusiasm, his dedication and his concern for advanced Zionist education.

The second case that amazed me was at the same time when the news was received in the town that Reb Yosef's children, Chaim and Zipporah, had received permission to settle in Tel Adashim in the valley. The joy in his house was great. To celebrate the occasion, he was honored on Ali'ya La'Torah (being called up to the reading of the Torah in the synagogue), and made a special donation to the Jewish National Fund.

That summer, in 1924, a short time before I emigrated to Israel, I worked in training with a group of pioneers in processing wood for the paper industry at the factory in Sulza. I happened to arrive to Reb Yosef Zubisky's yard while he was buying a hay cart from a farmer. Of course, the hay had to be brought up to the attic. We joined the work, and within an hour we raised the hay. The work, in the heat and sweat, was not so easy. I remember that all the time we were working he talked repeatedly, as if he had memorized to himself, that this is actually similar to working the land in the Land of Israel. At that time, he had already decided to join with the rest of his family to the children who had already emigrated to Israel, to settle there and work its land.

Indeed, Reb Yosef and Batia Zubisky were imbued with a deep Zionist consciousness. Evidence of this is the fact that they sent their only daughter Tzipora and their youngest son Chaim to Israel, as paving stones for the entire family and themselves. May their memory be blessed and their souls be bounded in the bundle of life.

A House in the Town

S. P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

Apparently, the houses in the town were of one type, all wooden houses (except for 3 stone houses) with pitched roofs of dark wooden tiles, all of the same age - about 40-50 years. Most of them were built after the “last fire”. But anyone who approached the house and entered it, could see and be convinced how different and how multifaceted the houses were and everything inside them. Every house and its color, every house and its smell, every house and its “livelihood”, every house and the atmosphere in it.

Here is a description of my family's house, which I grew up in and knew it closely. Houses like this and this atmosphere repeated in different forms in every street and alley in this typical small town. The house I'm about to describe was not on a main street or in the market, but in a small alley, connecting the street of the Beit Midrash with the market. The Poles called the alley by the name “Tragova”, that is, the trading street, even though the number of all the houses in the alley was only 7, and no merchants lived there at all.

The house was made of wood. The round beams were protruding from the outside. Between them, to seal the cracks, the builders put moss (we mistakenly called it hyssop). When we grew up and tried to imitate the elders and started smoking, we would take the dry “deer moss” out of the beams, roll it in thin paper and smoke it. Oh, the taste and smell of it were terrible...

On the western and southern sides, the house was surrounded by a small garden, four by four was its size. Nevertheless, it was an unfailing source of actions and experiences. Since my mother was a farmer when she was young, in her native village, all the work in the garden was accompanied by great interest – as if it was a kind of holy work. In later years, when the girls grew up, flower beds were added to the vegetable beds for decoration and fragrance. The garden was part of the house. On Sukkot, the sukkah was built on the garden area. The coop of the birds was also established in the garden.

The entrance to the house was usually through the front door, through a small balcony, covered with a sloping roof. In those days, when the house belonged to Grandpa, there were not any shutters for the door and windows. Anyone who approached the door, saw what was happening in the house inside, but the glazing was unique. Grandpa installed additional frames for the windows. The glass was divided into four parts. The handle was also one of a kind. Hirschel the blacksmith made it. Entering the house was easy. All that was required is a press of the thumb on the handle, and the door was opened.

Grandpa had technical inventions. To secure the entry to the pantry next to the house from thieves, he installed a bolt that could be moved, opened and closed from the inside through a hole he made in the thick wall of the house. He also installed a flywheel above the door of the corridor (“parhois”). At the end of the string was hanging an iron ingot. When they pushed the door, it opened, and the string followed the door and the ingot rose on the wheel. And when they let go of the door, it closed “automatically” by the weight of the ingot, which pulled the door by the string. This was actually the first technical invention I saw and properly understood back then, when I was 7-8 years old.

The primitive sewer he installed in the house, to remove sewage from the kitchen, based on gravity, should be added to his technical inventions. The sewage water was filtered through a “strainer”, and flowed outside through the pipe and the wall.

When you opened the door and entered the house, the hot brick oven with a special hot bench was revealed to you. This bench was the gathering place for the entire family, including the guests, in the winter season.

To the right, between the windows, stood a white wooden table.

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In the table was a drawer for the cash register, locked with a lock, as well as a deep drawer, a sort of storage for many other things. In the deep drawer were placed linens, sheets, bleached and unbleached farmers' linen, towels, etc. In a second flat drawer - all kinds of craft tools, all kinds of utensils fragment that grandfather collected for his technical needs. In the fourth drawer were sacred things: tallit and tefillin, siddurim, Tehillim, Machzor books, bundles of receipts from Eretz Israel from the yeshivas “Me'a She'arim”, “Sha'ari Chessed”, etc. Among all these, in a hidden corner, was a bag with yellow soil and a stamp from Eretz Israel.

My grandmother's death made a great impression on me, when my grandfather divided the land in the bag and the receipts from the yeshivas of Eretz Israel into two. He put half of it in my grandmother's grave and kept the other half for himself - and he was about 80 years old at the time. On either side of the table stood two huge benches of a reddish-brown color, with armrests made by an artist and two birds touching each other with their wings and beaks. The benches also provided a sleeping place for the family members at night.

On the wall, above the table, was a corner of photos of the family members, the gentlemen with the caps that live abroad, landscape pictures embroidered by the mother and grandmother, the red and yellow “Mizrahim”, and the other pictures from the Land of Israel. This furniture and the pictures become loathsome in the eyes of my older teenage sister. Her taste was more developed than the taste of “the mechanic” - grandfather. At that time, “the photo and furniture war began”.

As mentioned, the house belonged to my grandfather. Since Dad was the youngest of his three sons and he did not have his own house, because before that we lived in the factory outside the town, grandpa decided after grandmom's death to ask Dad's family to live with him in the house and bequeath the house to him after a hundred years. When I was six years old, we came out of town to my grandfather's house to live with him. Sheyna, my older sister, may God avenge her, my sister, the late Rachel, myself and my brother Binyamin, may God avenge him, were born in a house near the hospital outside the town, and the other three children were born in Grandfather's house. Grandfather accepted us with love and willingness. He was independent until he passed away and did not need his sons' assistant. Being 80 years old or older, he was still involved in the grain trade, and the bakery, which he had been involved in for years, he handed over to my mother.

In those years, I would help my grandfather carry the bag of psalm books to the Beit Midrash, because he learned the wisdom of librarianship from Reb Ze'ev the parush, and if Rabbi Ze'ev was the librarian for the Shas and Poskim, then my grandfather, Reb Beinish, was “the supplier” of the psalm books. He knew the psalms by heart. His concern was to buy, repair, and supply psalm books to anyone who needed them, especially to the “Psalm company”. The demand for psalm books was immense, especially from Rosh Chodesh Elul (the first day of the month of Elul) until after Yom Kippur.

Grandfather's attitude towards us, and especially towards my older sister, worsened since the “reforms” she led in the house. She bought beautiful landscape pictures in stores and hung them on the walls, instead of old yellow family pictures, or instead of “Mizrahim” covered in flour and dust. My sister exaggerated when she threw out the white table from the house in 1915 and in its place brought into the house a dark polished table, with two wings and engraved legs, without footrests.

This action irritated grandfather, which was 85 years old at the time, he went to the rabbi to complain about my sister's new arrangements. The wise rabbi explained to grandfather the situation and the circumstances that caused it and softened him a little.

* * *

Let's return to the rooms of the house. Behind the small stove was a room called “camer”, where the commode stood with the linens, the jewelry and some of the property. On it - the samovar, the Shabbat lamps, the tableware and other decorative items.

In this room there were two beds and a sofa with a fixed backrest (“kushetka”) and by it - a table. Around this table the youth of the town would gather, they would argue, attack one another and reconcile. Every political and social shade that existed in the town and the surrounding area found a supporter at home.

The Zionist youth, advocating Hebrew and aspiring to emigrate to Israel, had three supporters at home - two sons and a daughter. The religious youth, which is close to the “Aguda” circles, found one supporter. At a certain time, the eldest daughter was inclined to the “Bond” circles, and the younger son inclined to “Beitar”, and finally, when he finished the Technion in Vilna, he was swept away by the extreme left. The house was full of visitors. In addition to those who came for commercial business, the youth would come at all hours of the day and evening, and would not really leave the house, or in my mother's picturesque language – “the door did not close from morning to evening”. And so, the door was not closed for two decades, until all the children left the house, and only one remained, the good, the faithful guardian of father and mother, who was among the first to be led to extermination.

Next to the table, in the “camer”, was a cabinet for secular books. Here were concentrated the textbooks that the children studied in school, in Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish, reading and poetry books. The cabinet served as a center of attraction for everyone who came to the house, and anyone who had to prepare for a lecture found something in this cabinet, in addition to the books he found in the local library.

On the holidays and festivals days of the farmers, the young Lithuanian women would gather in the Jewish homes and also in our home, before going to church. In this room they would decorate themselves with their colorful clothes and with glass beads around their necks. They had special attraction to our house, because my older sister was at a certain time sewing dresses and vests for them - “nazhutky”, in their language.

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The “kitchen”, which was bigger than the house, and the center of “my mother's kingdom”, was used for many important needs. The big oven, which took an area of a quarter of the kitchen, was used for baking black and half-black bread (“Halb Zeidena”). While baking the bread, they would also cook the meals in the kitchen. On Fridays, relatives and others would cook the stew in it, “cholent” in foreign language. Of course, in a special corner stood the bread trough, the container for the bread dough (“Diezhe”), the special pillow for heating the dough, that spread a sour and pleasant smell. All around were all kinds of sifters, sieves, which were used for sifting the flour and for the semolina and buckwheat flour industry.

On one side of the kitchen stood primitive millstones, in which a gentile living in a church shelter used to grind for days and months. Sometimes she would stay overnight in the hallway of our house. The monotonous sound of the convex moving on the concave was heard throughout the neighborhood. In times of emergency and war, and there was no shortage of such days, we would grind our bread ourselves. Many of the neighbors would also come to grind some dry rye, buckwheat and even barley. On the floor stood regularly, and especially on market days and fairs, sacks of grain and flour and grits and more, as well as decimal balances.

Above the back door of the kitchen was fixed a long and wide shelf, on which stood polished copper vessels that were used on special occasions for frying mini sweets, kettles (“liakim”) for heating tea for Shabbat, and copper vessels, which were only used on Passover. Some of the vessels were brought by grandmother as a dowry, “dresha geshank” from the wedding. On a thick nail hung a reddish sack sewn from cloth - a comforter cover to be filled with feathers (“einshit”), and in it the books of the psalms that my grandfather used to carry to distribute to the “Psalm reciters”.

The small room behind the big stove, which was called by the grandfather “Gnazda”, (perhaps from the Russian word “Gneizdo” - nest), was used after grandmother's death, as a bedroom for my grandfather. The room was dark, without a window, and from there you could climb and go up the ladder to the platform of the big stove. This corner was for us, the children, the favorite corner of the house. There we found all kinds of tools, hooks, tongs, ropes, planks, all kinds of clock mechanisms, and most of all we were drawn to the stove yard on which they used to dry all kinds of fruits and grains, trees for installing “iliyot” (“Kinalach”) and wet clothes. When someone climb on the stove, they could touch with their head in the ceiling.

The ceiling, with its cracks and gaps in its beams, served as a hiding place for household items, money, certificates and important family souvenirs. I remember, about twenty-two years ago, when our eldest son was born in Israel, and we wanted to make my mother happy and send her something as a memory of him, I sent her, in addition to a photo, curls that the barber gave me from his first haircut. As an answer to this “gift” my mother sent me in the return mail an envelope with golden curls in it, with a written addition: “These are your curls, my son, that I have kept to this day”. These curls, and probably other valuable things, were kept under the ceiling beams.

Before leaving home forever, I traveled from the big city of Vilna with my wife to show her the home – the home where I spent my youth. Although she was also born in the same town, she was not among the visitors to our home. And when my late father, may God avenge him, who had already passed the age of sixty, saw his eldest son in the company of the girl he loves, he approached us, and with a smile on his face said to her: “You are really beautiful, but you should know that when I married my Hannah Faige and brought her to this house, she was not less beautiful than you”. This is how he saw my mother, who at that time was ill, after she had borne him 12 children and raised 7 sons and daughters.

May the remembrance of this house in my hometown serve as a faithful memorial to all the Jewish homes that existed and were destroyed.

Three Families

Chaim Z-Ki

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

I would like to briefly put on paper the histories of three families from Olkeniki; which were rooted in the town for many generations. In Olkeniki, as in every other Jewish settlement, there were some unusual types, whose character description would have certainly made a nice contribution to folklore literature. However, I chose three families that there was nothing exceptional about them and because of that, one can learn from them about the general community. Here will be given a description of the lives (albeit only a partial description) of the residents of an important town for the people of Israel for generations, and of the atmosphere in which they lived and created.


A - The Fiklani Family

Reb Eliyahu Fiklani, the father of the family, was a manufacturer. His factory provided tar, turpentine and coal for the blacksmiths in the area. His factory was in the village of Visincia, near Olkeniki, and he lived in the village. Reb Eliyahu was involved in the life of the town and involved with its residents. He was respected and loved by the people, gave his money to charity openly and secretly and was a constant supporter of the town's “Gmiluth Chessed” (philanthropies). His image is pictured before me, when I remember how he came to the town on holidays with his whole family. He had a patriarchal appearance, completed by his wide white and long beard. Reb Eliyahu's life was a symbol of a life of peace and security and an example of a life of happiness and faith. His manners were pleasant, even the gentiles who knew him, respected and admired him. He employed dozens of laborers from the village in his factory. Members of his family worked on the organizational side of the factory. Thus, they lived a complacent life for many years until the first shock came. It was at the end of World War I. His eldest son returned

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from the war, and shortly after his return, he was murdered for no reason by one of the gentiles from the village of Visincia.

This blow hit Reb Eliyahu hard. His faith in his gentile neighbors was shaken and he decided to move to the town and move his factory there as well.

He immersed himself in this great work with all his energy. I remember, that we, the children, used to run every day after school to see the construction works of the factory. The work and effort exhausted his strength and at the end of the construction he collapsed and died. His three sons continued the enterprise even more vigorously. They slowly recovered from the blow, and life began to return to its old course. The second son was a scholar in the town's Beit Midrash, and devoted all his time to the Torah. The work of the factory was mainly handled by Yitzchak the elder, who was married and the father of children, and Nathan, the younger son.

In those days, the Zionist spirit was already present in the town and shook the life of many of the youth. The Fiklani family decides that Nathan will leave the diaspora and emigrate to Israel to pave the way for the rest of the family. During these years Yitzchak worked very hard at the factory. He was helped by his wife Hannah, who herself used to bake bread for the workers and take care of supplying the other supplies they needed. Through hard work, they paid off their debts which accumulated when the factory was moved to the town.

Nathan went through difficult stages in his attempts to integrate in the life in the Land of Israel. For a certain time, he was a member of a group, but left it, after he could not adapt to the shared life. He tried to work at various jobs, and even in them he did not see a blessing. After he fell ill and developed high blood pressure, he left the Land of Israel and returned to Olkeniki. Short time after his return, he started working in the factory, and soon married a wife. He received his share of the factory and moved to the vicinity of Lida. There he established a new factory, which was very successful, established himself and built a handsome house in Lida. The two houses in Olkeniki and Lida were an example of a well-being and peaceful life - until the destroyer came upon them. Not a single soul remained alive from the Fiklani family.

Baruch Dayan Emet.


B - The Zandman Family

The Zandman family was one of the long-established families in Olkeniki. It was said that the family's ancestors imposed their rule on the town and were a symbol of their firmness and arrogance. Gad Zandman was a completely different type. His manners were pleasant and he never got angry. He inherited a cloth trading house and continued to manage it with good taste.

Gad Zandman's home was exemplary in the love and brotherhood that permeated it. He had two talented daughters, Esther and Rachel, who belonged to the Zionist youth, but never realized their Zionism into real action. Gad Zandman, as an orthodox Jew from the old generation, was far from Zionism, and not even his daughters had any thought of emigrating to Eretz Israel. His financial situation was solid and he was able to give generous dowries to his daughters. He saw their future as continuing the complacent life in one of the Polish towns.

Gad Zandman's main trait was righteousness, and gentiles as well as Jews trusted his righteousness. He was the treasurer in the Gmiluth Chassadim company and he would answer kindly and willingly to all the requests. He would go to the Beit Midrash for the morning and evening payers and did not move from his corner. He did not take part in any quarrels or disputes that often broke out in the Beit Midrash. Sometimes he would approach those who were quarreling and quietly beg: “Jews, the place is holy, do not defile it with quarrels and noise!” Thus, his life was conducted quietly, without noise, in peace and happiness, until the days of upheavals came when the Russians occupied the district of Vilna and imprisoned Zandman for the crime of hiding goods in his house. He was sentenced to ten years of hard labor. In the Aktziya in Eishyshok, members of his family perished, but Gad Zandman himself was saved and emigrated to Israel. He, who never thought of leaving exile, was privileged to see the establishment of the State of Israel.

He spent the rest of his life in a nursing home in Bnei Brak and there he died.


C - The Karpovitz Family

In its general character, Reb David Karpovitz's family was not different from the two previous families. Reb David made a living from hard work. He had a bakery in which he worked together with his wife and sons. On top of that, he worked as a cobbler. Their livelihood was respectable.

Reb David would go to the Beit Midrash for the morning and evening payers. He was a member of the “Shulchan Aruch” society and observed the lessons very carefully. He even recited psalms and listened to every Maggid or sermon. He was one of the mitzvah lovers, and was willing to fulfill every mitzvah with devotion and warmth.

His family was large and he had four sons and three daughters. Everyone lived a quiet life, a pleasant life, full of love and joy. When the winds of Zionism began to blow in the town, the whole family was influenced by them. The eldest son Yehuda, a family man and the father of two children, whose livelihood was abundant, left Olkeniki and all the good life he had behind him and emigrated to the Land of Israel. His brother Yosef emigrated after him, and after Yosef came the sisters Sarah and Rivka and their brother Shlomo. Here, in Israel, they went through all the difficulties of absorption, but they did not despair and took root in the homeland. Even the parents, despite all the difficulties, followed their children and emigrated to Israel. One of the married daughters remained abroad, and one married son, Aharon Leib.

Aharon Leib was one of the excellent and talented forces in Olkeniki, one of the activists of the Zionist youth.

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Together with the Rabin brothers, he organized a drama club in the town, which operated with great success. He was an active member of the “Gmiluth Chessed” committee, the library committee, and every public enterprise in the town. All his actions were done modestly and honestly. By nature, he was humble, but his actions, which were done quietly and modestly, were carried out thoroughly and faithfully.

His health condition did not allow him to emigrate to Israel and go through the first stages of absorption in those days. He waited until the family was well established in Israel, so he too could emigrate to Israel. Not a single day passed without him expressing out loud his hope and expectation to emigrate to the Land of Israel, but his hopes were not fulfilled.

May his soul will be bounded in the bundle of life.

A Mother in the Town
(For Rachel Dvortsen, may God avenge her)

S. P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

The small house that stood next to the Beit Midrash attracted my heart even when I was a boy. I think I remember the time the house was built and inaugurated by the neighbors who came to live in it from the nearby town of Eishyshok.

When the children of the house grew up and the sounds of the Hebrew language began to echo in the house, the house became a place of attraction for the learning and lively youth with the influence of the eldest daughter who studied in the big city.

Aaron Dvortsen's house was different from other houses I knew in the town. It was quiet and clean and exemplary order was in all corners of the house: unusual pots and toys on special shelves. I would say that the Shabbat Shekinah was in this house even on weekdays.

In those days, after World War I, I was familiarized with the mother of the house. She was always dressed in clean and polished clothes, on weekdays as well as holidays. In that she was different from all the women of the town, who were preoccupied with supporting the household and raising the children.

She was a virtuous woman, her large head was crowned with light hair, her facial features were sharp and her eyes were blue and deep, and its manners expressed dignity.

Her friends for conversation and public action were from the affluent classes. The Rebbetzin, the pharmacist's wife and other honorable women, that were not concerned about livelihood.

When the children grew up, the house became empty. The son, Zvi, went to the nearby town to build his house there; The daughter, Sara, the elder, went to study in Vilna, and the younger, Shoshke, emigrated to Israel over time. After the children left the house, the humble and quiet father immersed in his loneliness, and continued his daily work, but the restrained vigor and mental powers of the mother grew and intensified and she found her relief in extensive public work. All the aid companies in the town found in her a loyal partner for action and work. It was for a good reason that she was called in the town, a little out of envy, and more than that out of respect and appreciation, “Di Moter Rachel”. With all the mothers and fathers and their families, she returned to Eishyshok, her place of origin. There she died with her husband in the large mass grave. Only the youngest daughter remained of the family, she lives in the United States.

May their memory be preserved forever among the names of the holy and pure mothers and fathers of all generations.

A Pioneer
(In memory of Tzipora Zubisky, may God avenge her)

Yosef K-Vitz

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

I remember Tzipora from my childhood, when she would come from the city of Vilna, from the gymnasium, for Shabbats and holidays to the town. I see her in my mind walking with her friends, upright, cheerful and full of youth.

In later years, when she grew up and joined “Tze'irei Zion” (Youth of Zion) organization in the town, she was among the pioneers who emigrated to Israel. Together with her, emigrated her brother Chaim, may he live long life. In Israel she went through the anguish of absorption. I first met her in the fall of 1924 in Jerusalem. It was when I joined the labor battalion in Rehavia. We walked between the barracks and the tents, we worked and were happy, because we had the privilege of emigrating to Israel.

Then, in the spring of 1925, I got to know her closely in Tel Aviv. I then went out on foot on the Saturday night before Purim with a group of friends on the way to Tel Aviv for the Purim celebrations. I arrived in Tel Aviv with an empty backpack, with no food, nor money in my pocket. Weary and tired from the hard journey, I came to Tzipora and Chaim's room on Rashi Street in Tel Aviv. Tzipora welcomed me and gave me a place to rest from the hard journey. The next day I went with Chaim to work in construction, that he had arranged for me the day before. Every day I would go to work with Chaim and return to the barrack. Tzipora would prepare the food and wait for our arrival. I remember how her face was beaming with joy and pleasure that she could repay me with kindness like a mother or a senior sister. She took care of me and took care of my needs until I received my first salary and rented a room in partnership with other friends, and was managed to handle by myself as was the custom of those days.

Time passed, and Tzipora married with her friend, Moshe. They started building their house in Tel Aviv on Yona HaNavi Street. I worked in construction and Tzipora would come every day to supervise the work. She was bright, wise and practical and known for her wisdom among all her acquaintances.

When the crisis broke out in Israel, and especially in Tel Aviv, at the end of 1925, many returned to their countries in the diaspora. The family of Tzipora and Moshe Tsiglenitsky remained in Tel Aviv and did not leave

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Israel. At that time, they founded a trading house for sacks and succeeded in their business. After a few years, when I came from Jerusalem, I visited their home, and met with their nice children on the Jaffa-Tel Aviv Road.

However, the disaster came in the form of a serious illness that Moshe, the head of the family, fell ill with. On the advice of the doctors, he had to change the climate and leave the country. They liquidated their business and went to Lithuania, to Moshe's hometown - Dvig. They continued their humble lives until the Holocaust came.

May their memory be blessed and their souls bunded in the bundle of life.

In Memory of a Friend

Yosef K-Vitz

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

My childhood friend was Nathan Fiklani. We studied together in the same room at Reb Fayva, the shochet and bodek. And as we grew up our friendship grew stronger. We would walk for long hours, talk and daydream about emigrating to the Land of Israel.

Nathan emigrated to Israel after me, in the fall of 1925, with two other friends from the city, may they live long life, Aryeh Botrimovitz and Aryeh Maltzman. The three of them went to a kibbutz - to the Ein Harod company in Jerusalem. This company was based, as it is known, on working in a large and sophisticated quarry. Nathan was absorbed into the quarrying profession and for about a year and a half he lived in the company among his townspeople. Since his heart was after agricultural work, he left Jerusalem and went (of course, on foot) to train himself in a settlement in the Galilee.

I accompanied him. We arrived on the eve of Shavuot 1927 at the Beit Gan settlement, near Yavniel. He started working for a farmer under extremely difficult conditions. He worked in the settlement all summer. In the meantime, his father died in exile. The members of his family, and especially the old mother, begged him to return and handle his father's life work.

The situation in the country was difficult, a depressing lack of work overwhelmed the workers. Many returned, and Nathan also returned to Olkeniki, in order to sort out his parents' household and business affairs and return to Israel. In the meantime, he married a wife, started a family and remained in exile, until the terrible fate befell him in the Nazi holocaust. He and his family perished on May 8, 1942 in the Lida ghetto. He was humble, honest, kind-hearted, and a loyal and devoted friend.

May they all be of blessed memory!

One of the Activists

S. P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

Eliyahu Korkodinsky, or Elinke, as his friends and colleagues called him, was not one of the students of the “Techiya” school, but a student in the cheder of Reb Fayva, the shochet. He spoke fluently the Hebrew language and his knowledge of Hebrew literature, ancient and new, was enough for him to cooperate during the stormy period, between the two world wars, with those doing for the Hebrew culture in the town.

He came from a simple, warm and good house, like all the houses in the town. The mother was a sick woman who moved around the house on crutches, a sick sister was next to her bed, and the father Reb Menachem, who had a smiling face, was busy and troubled with the craft of hat making. The house was used as both a workshop and a warehouse, to supply hats to the farmers and the Jews of the area. Between one transaction to the other, he would tell a joke or a jest to those going out and coming in. From him Eliyahu inherited his jocularity and his sharpness.

He started his public activity while he was still a teenager. It can be said that he was a talented public activist, and the sense for involvement in public affairs was inherent in him. During the period of “Tze'irei Zion” (Youth of Zion), in the years 1918-1921, he was among the young activists who fought for the people's bank, for the Hebrew school, for the library, for increasing the number of young people in the town's congregation committee and for the influence of the youth in its public life. At the beginning of 1920, he was appointed for a while as the administrator of the Hebrew school. Over time he became one of the establishers of the Hebrew education in the town. He worked in the library for over ten years, and as an addition to his work at the library he worked in a bank. He was also the authorized “eccentric” of the National Fund for Israel for many years. When there was a change of personnel in the town, the adults went to other cities to study, some of them emigrated to Israel and the majority built their homes in the town or nearby towns - Eliyahu was, in a sense, the last Mohican, who continued in his public role in the town and educated a generation of young people who continue the beautiful tradition of volunteerism and public activity. Around 1930, he left the town and moved to build his home in Globoki, the town on the northern border of Poland, where he and his family perished in the Holocaust along with all the townspeople. Only one of his family survived, a brother, who lives in the United States.

May his memory be preserved among his friends and those who cherish his name forever.

The Greengrocer
(Hannah Rocha Ozerlansky)

S. P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

Hannah Rocha was a short woman, slim and agile in her walks. Through her colorful handkerchief, the strands of her white hair stood out. The fringes of her apron were usually tucked under her belt, lest they interfere with her quick movements. She was always busy with work. At dawn I would meet her as she returned from the nearby village with the milk jug on her arms. Her breathing was heavy and her walk was slow, because she walked on the sides of the roads, in sands and between fences. In the evening she hurried to the end of the alley, where she lived, to meet her cow back with the herd, and during the day, between meals, she took care of her garden.

[Page 106]

And she had a garden like no eye has ever seen before! Vegetables of all kinds and colors: red beets, orange carrots, green onion, white radish, purple cabbage and yellow turnip.

Hannah Rocha cultivated her garden by herself, without the help of others. Only for the first plowing, in the spring, she would invite Yurka the gentile from the nearby village. He would come with his poor horse and his plough, break through the fence, because the gate was too narrow, and quickly plow the black soil. She did the rest of the work herself. Her little grandson Yaakov helped her with the irrigation. He left his parents' house and went to live and be educated with his grandmother.

The first fruits of the vegetables that appeared in the market were from the famous garden of Hannah Rocha. She was known for her diligence and devotion to her sons, daughters, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. All her family members were named after her. And if you hear that the gabbai in the synagogue in the town is “Avraham of Hannah Rocha”, you will know that they mean the son-in-law of Hannah Rocha the greengrocer, the milkmaid, and the woman of valor.

The Town in Recent Generations

K. P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

The town was blessed with a special character: money was not the determining factor in the status of “those with an opinion”, in the town, as is the custom in the world. On the contrary, the job did not make someone lower in rank. It was for a good reason that the late writer Chaikel Lonsky, from the Strashon Library in Vilna, commemorated Olkeniki as one of a kind, saying: “Beware of the people of Olkeniki, that the charioteers among them are great in the Torah and in wisdom”. He found among the common people great people, whom the public respected for their integrity and righteousness and considered their opinion. All of these were tied with all their souls and hearts to the Beit Midrash and the tradition of the ancestors. And in fact, nothing, big or small, was done in the town without passing their approval first.

The Folklore of the Town

S. P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

The town, which existed for hundreds of years, created a special atmosphere. Parables, jokes and stories were common among its residents and handed down from generation to generation. In the last generations, there were several characters who earned a reputation in the town, for knowing how to tell a good joke or compose a hymn, etc.

Among them, those that are fondly remembered are Koppel der Leipener, Beinish the baker, Chaim Bashes (who visited America about 60 years ago), Moshe Pakamonsky, and the greatest of the group in the last generation, Reb Zvi Sanznik, may God avenge him. In addition to the honorable homeowners, who told stories or jokes occasionally, lived in the town in a professional entertainer, that enjoyed the guests in every wedding, according to the accepted wording in the towns of Lithuania, in the interpretation of the town. I remember that C. S. published a magazine for humor and slapstick, which was called “Der Plakenshiser”... “Was Erscheint”... “Wen s'wilt zich”. In this newspaper appeared the hymn “Gedayink Zeshe Welkedrikeshok, Gedayink Zeshe Tyere”. The hymn was sung to the tune of “On the stove burns a fire…”

The townspeople, as was customary in exile towns, were called by different, odd names. The names were given according to the profession, on the basis of illness or physical defect, on the name of the parents' origin, or on the name of the family members known to the public, etc.

Here are some names of people according to origin: Chaimke, Reuven, Leibe Lazers - after the grandfather's father; Tselka, Shimon Tzipa Rashes - after the grandmother's mother; Yitzhak Zeldes – after his mother; Avremel Hannah Rochas after his mother-in-law; Reuven Hannah Feiges - after his wife; Alter Ashles - after his father; Yehudit Leahs - after her mother.

Nicknames according to profession and origin:

Eishyshker Schneider, Der Baeker, Der Einbinder. Der Shamash, Der Krinker, Shimon Der Keiliker, etc.

Nicknames according to body defect:

Der Stomak, Tsinke Di Kleine, Yaske Der Naz, Der Toiber, Der Blinder.

Historical nicknames:

Itzele Der Okhotnik” - (volunteered during the days of the kidnappers' tsarists). Di Tsarska” - Privileged families.

Mocking nicknames:

Futka, Bure, Poif, Plaksa, Trall, Der Obershter etc.

All the people of the townspeople were called by the name “Alkeniker Ratchke bandes” - Olkenikian buckwheat fritters, because they baked many types of buckwheat pastry, which grows in the thin lands around the town.

Among the special dishes in the town were the “Vernikes”, which are dumplings made of buckwheat flour dough, stuffed with cheese. This dish was intended for “three meals”. On Simchat Torah, they would prepare “tzimmes” from a carrot cut into rings, and that is why it is called “a randalach tzimmes”.

It is difficult, according to memory, to put on paper the abundance of special expressions, quips, blessings and curses that were common among the townspeople. Only a little of what I remembered, or was told to me by the people of the town, will be given in the following lists.

[Page 107]

A Legendary Man
(In the image of Moshe Pakmonsky, may God avenge him)

by Zehava Tanal Menachemi

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

He was one of the elders of the town in the period between the two wars. In his youth, he was a student of the Beit Midrash, full of Torah and the wisdom of experience. He worked as a coachman. He would take his passengers to the train station, which was eight kilometers from the town. His sons were also engaged in this business. He was considered one of the town's distinct jokesters. Since he was man of the world and accepted by everyone, he was often asked to serve as a mediator in matters of buying and selling. His wisdom and wit won his respect in the opinion of the community leaders, and if they had in mind to invite a new rabbi to the town, then Reb Moshe Pakmonsky was one of those who came to assess the rabbi's character and examine him on practical daily matters. And here is an episode that was told by Mrs. Zehava Menachemi which to some extent illustrates his personality:

One crisp autumn morning, the late Mr. Moshe Pakmonsky entered our home. We, the children, called him “Moshe der Kneifer” (the pincher), because he would not pass a single child without pinching him. I glanced from the side and saw that his demeanor was serious and that he was very sad. He looked from the side and addressed my late father with these words: “Reb Eliyahu, I have something to tell you, but you must promise me that you won't get too excited and will be patient. If you don't promise me that, I won't tell you anything.” My father turned pale as chalk, his knees began to fail, and his hands shook. “Reb Moshe,” he said, “have mercy on me and tell me quickly what happened. I promise that I will not react, regardless of what trouble may come.”

Moshe, with a serious face, turned to my father and said: “Well, I will tell you: Shimon Moshe Tzipa Reshas traveled today for the first time in his life to Vilna”.

My father replied, “Tfu zalt ir voren, Moshe. If you had waited a moment longer with your important news, I would have fainted from fear”...

The Power of a Handshake

by Yosef Karpovitz

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

It happened many years ago. A train had not yet passed near the town, and there was no post office, telephone, or telegraph yet. In those days there lived in the town a pure, honest, and God-fearing Jew. He was poor and had no way to support his family. The man's name was Idel. One of his sons was the late Reb Eliyahu Moshe, who served for about two generations as the shamash in the Beit Midrash. Reb Idel would carry letters and parcels for the people of the town. He would deliver letters, money, small packages, etc., to the nearby towns. He would usually make his way at night. He knew the Book of Psalms by heart, and according to the chapters of the Psalms he said during the travel, he knew how to measure the distance he traveled until he reached a destination.

One autumn Saturday night, he left as usual from Olkeniki on his way to the nearby town – about 21 kilometers away – of Rudzishok. He carried letters and money in his knapsack from Olkeniki's merchants to business owners in Rudzishok. On the path he knew well he recited chapters of the Psalms.

And it happened that while he was in the forest, between the Jewish village that had been established nearby, and the Lithuanian village of Mosti (Vilkishi), bandits came out of the forest and attacked him in order to rob the money from him. While he was fighting the robbers, he recognized them as local residents, disguised Jews from the nearby village, whose residents had only recently settled there. The young men of the village, knowing that Reb Idel was going on his way and that often there was money in his rucksack, disguised themselves, ambushed him, attacked him, and wanted to steal the money.

When Idel realized this, he called out their names and the names of their ancestors, and begged them not to do this evil thing because how would he be able to show himself in front of those who had entrusted him with their money and those to whom the money was owed.

The bandits conferred among themselves and came to a decision: Since Idel had recognized them and would be able to bring them to justice, their only option was to kill Reb Idel and hide his body there in the forest.

When Idel heard their words, he begged them to have mercy on him and his family members, who had not done anything wrong. After conferring among themselves again, they came to a general decision that if Reb Idel would assure them upon his word of honor and by a handshake that he would not tell anyone about the robbery, and would not report it to the authorities, they would take the money and leave him alone. With no choice, Reb Idel assured them upon his “word of honor” and a handshake that he would not hand them over to the authorities. They took the money and left him broken and devastated in the forest.

Reb Idel returned to his home that night, sad and mortified.

The next morning, after he had recovered a little from the previous night's terrible incident, he did not know what he would say, ow he would answer those who were owed money, and where he would get the money to pay them. On the other hand, it is impossible to tell the whole truth, because after all he had given his word of honor and a handshake.

Even before Shacharit prayer (morning prayer), he sneaked out of his house and passed between the yards and fences so as not to meet the people of the town. He entered the rabbi's house, and told him his story. The rabbi heard Reb Idel's words and ruled that “because the word of honor and the handshake were given out of distress and for preservation of human life, it was permissible for Reb Idel to reveal the truth to those to whom money was owed” and upon this determination the rabbi allowed him to violate the word of honor and the handshake. The thugs were handed over to the authorities and sentenced to hard labor in Siberia, and the town Olkeniki breathed a sigh of relief.

[Page 108]

The “Parbelistan” (cheap woman)
(The daily conversations of Binyamin Farber, may God avenge him)

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

New spirits were blowing in the town. Gone were the days when babies and children would roll around in the streets without supervision. From now on, the young children would be under the supervision of a kindergarten teacher. And so Haina Beyla's husband went to Vilna and brought back from there a kindergarten teacher who would take care of their daughter and the children of their neighbors. This arrangement was the talk of the day. The women sitting on the streets and balconies had a new topic to discuss. One day they noticed that the “Parbelistan,” the kindergarten teacher, wore a new dress. In the second week after her arrival, they saw her walking with Binyahu Patilansky, the “Don Juan” of the town. She suddenly grew taller, because she was wearing shoes with high heels, etc.

It was a little before evening. A group of women gathered by a railing in the market square, and had a conversation. Zisa Leah, Haina Bayla's mother, came out of the alley. She approached the women and listened to their conversation. And when she heard one of the women saying the name “Parbelistan,” she folded her arms and said, in amazement and determination: “Gott iz mit eich, vas radet ir, zi iz nit kein parbelistan, zi iz an ernetliche meiddel.” (“God be with you,[1] why would you talk ill about her, she is not a parbelistan, she is a decent girl...”).

Napoleon and the Bookseller

by Balon

Translated from Yiddish by S. P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

It is said that during Napoleon's retreat from Russia [in November and December 1812], he passed through Vilna and Olkeniki. On the way to Olkeniki, he met a man carrying packages. Napoleon turned to him and asked:

-Where did you come from?

The man answered, from Olkeniki.

- And where are you going?

- To the nearest town, to Rudzishok.

- And what are you carrying in your bag?

-I am a bookseller and in my bag are packed siddurim, machzor books, techinot, and story books.

- And how many rendelach (silver coins) do you think you will receive for this merchandise of yours?

- 5 silver coins.

Napoleon took out of his pocket a gold coin whose value was 10 silver coins, gave it to the man and said:
Here is your money, sell me your goods.
The man agreed to the deal. Napoleon turned to the bookseller once again and said: Now that you have sold your merchandise and don't have to travel, you can escort us to Olkeniki.

When the bookseller arrived in Olkeniki, he spoke with the townspeople about what had happened to him and about the important guest who accompanied him. Of course, they held a reception for him in the synagogue. And when Napoleon saw the synagogue, he was so amazed by the sight that he took one of his own expensive carpets and gave it to the synagogue as a gift. From the carpet they made a kaporet (cover) for the holy ark.

It is known that antique dealers have offered the townspeople thousands of rubles for it, but they refused to sell it.

Translator's footnote

  1. God is watching you. You therefore should “guard your tongue” from gossip. Return


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