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[Pages 25-26]

Introduction

by Levi Ginzburg

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The 3,000-year continuity of Lithuanian Jewry that had its roots in Biblical Talmudic Judaism ended with its destruction during the Second World War.

Two basic lines of development of Judaism can be distinguished from ancient times to the blossoming of the Jewish community in Lithuania as a center of Torah. There were eras in which our spiritual world sprang from the depth of the people themselves and there were other eras in which our spiritual ascent was greatly influenced by the surrounding culture and environment.

Talmudic Judaism is not identical to the Biblical, but both are very bound together in kinship, so we must consider the Talmud as a direct development of Tanakh [Torah, Prophets and Writings – the Hebrew Bible].

The close relationship of both kinds of Judaism appears more clearly when one compares them with Alexandrian or Helenistic Judaism. Helenistic-Egyptian Jewry equally with the Eretz-Yisroel Biblical recognized the same authority of Tanakh, its rules of life and its Godly origin, and yet, how great was the difference between Philo and Alexandria and the Tannaim [compilers of the Mishnah [Oral Torah] and Amoraim [compilers of the Gemara – Talmudic commentaries] of Eretz-Yisroel and Babylonia.

While the former had the intention of Helenizing Judaism, the Babylonian and Erezt-Yisroel spiritual leaders strove to make the Helenistic influence more Jewish. We can, therefore, properly say that the development of Judaism in Eretz-Yisroel and Babylonia was the direct continuation of Biblical Judaism, while Alexandrian Yidishkeit [Jewish essence] carries clear signs of foreign influence, although it was based on the Torah.

These two developing phases of Judaism also have a close parallel in post- Talmudic times.

The revived Greek philosophy and knowledge in the 8th and 9th centuries in the Arabic speaking lands did not fail to leave their influence on the Jews in the above-mentioned lands.

The Greek-Arab influence is strongly apparent in the golden epoch of Spanish Jewry. How deeply Jewish they were cannot be understood if one does not take into account the effect on them of the surrounding non-Jewish culture. Both the philosophy of Rambam [Maimonides] and the poetic creations of Yehuda HaLevi are a direct continuing line of Talmudic Judaism. The later generations of Jews in Eastern Europe were dominated by the direct influence of Talmudic Rabbinism.

Post-Tanakh Judaism, which developed in Eretz-Yisroel about 500 years before the present era and continued its development for a thousand years in Eretz-Yisroel in general, was adopted there earlier than it was by the Ashkenazi in French-German lands and then in Bohemia and Moravia, Poland and Lithuania.

When the Torah centers and the mature Jewish community moved to Eastern Europe, the Western European Jews were even more influenced by the surrounding culture and their spiritually creative world, and therefore absorbed even more elements from the surrounding environment.

If we were to delve into the essence of this development we would come to the conclusion that, intellectually, Judaism consisted of Torah research and emotionally it was expressed in piety, based on the principles of Torah, worship and interest-free loans.

[Pages 27-28]

We see the main point in the development of Lithuanian Jewry best in the century of the series of massacres in 1648-1649.1

The ancient rabbinic ideal in the studying of the righteous and the moralists [and their belief in] the power of the Torah united in the personalities of the Vilna Gaon [the most important Lithuanian Jewish religious figure - Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman] and Reb Yisroel Salanter [the founder of the Musar movement of disciplined ethical and spiritual development].

Jewish Lithuania, to our great sorrow and pain, was destroyed by the sword and in the gas ovens by our worst murderers – the Nazis. But however long there are Jews in the world, we will always remember with pride great men of the Torah who Lithuania produced.

Simultaneously with spiritually Jewish Lithuania, we also knew another Lithuania, in which enthusiastically beat the pulse of a colorful, vigorously healthy Jewish community, full of ebullent energy with a true national Jewish life.

During the course of generations, the Jewish people from all classes of the population through effort and toil formed a local cultural, communal way of life that carried the name nusekh Lita [Lithuanian style].

The Jews of Lithuania, through widespread contact with every distant corner of the earth, built new dwellings of Torah and sent deep roots into the surrounding life.

Jewish Lithuania became the connection between eastern and western Europe on this and the other side of the ocean.

Of course, we will write about the Jewry of Lithuania and will research the Jewish past, but the majority of the co-workers on the book, Lita [Lithuania], themselves lived in the Jewish community in Lithuania. Their treatises and memories about Jewish life in Lithuania are more than scholarly achievements; it is the life itself. The notes that are brought to the book about the destruction of Lithuania were written by those who themselves went through the Nazi hell and were on the edge of death for many years.

The comprehensive content of the book, Lita, illuminates the history of the 700 years life, effects and creations of Lithuanian Jewry in all of its phases. The editors devoted years of intense work and they were successful along with dozens of co-working writers and scientists – each an expert in his area – to create a magnificent work about Jewish Lithuania.

The publication of the book, Lita, was drawn out not only because of the rich material that fills its 2,000 columns, but because of the difficult material and technical circumstances with which the book committee and the editors had to work. We hope the reader will receive the book, Lita, with joy and when reading it will have something to think about and to remember. The reader will sing its praise in joy and suffering.

The book, Lita, will very much protect from oblivion what we remember about Lithuania and will serve for future generations as a source of knowledge about the Jewish tribe that remained completely Jewish until the last day of its existence in Lithuania.

The devotedly spun thread of Judaism in Lithuania is a blessing for the Judaism arising in Israel and for all Jewish communities throughout the world.

 

Translator's Footnote
  1. These were the Chmielnicki Massacres carried out by the Ukrainian Hetman Bogdan Chmielnicki and his Cossacks, in which approximately 100,000 Jews were killed and about 300 Jewish settlements were destroyed. Return


[Page 33]

Lithuania in Our Memory

by Uriah Katzenelenbogen

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

1.

There was a Jewish Lithuania until not long ago – the Jews who witnessed that Jewish life with their own eyes are the haunted witnesses of a bit of Jewish history. Now the Jewish Lithuanian community only remains in the memory. Jews from Lithuania, like the Jews in other destroyed settlements of Europe – we are all mourners. Each of us is a ten-fold mourner of family, of those closest to us. If you sit among Jews and you ask which martyrs died of torture, you see before you this one and that one. Perhaps we are not permitted to think of this at all? Because we will cry our eyes out until we are blind while our feet should not still walk the earth. Find an effervescent New York, look at a Jew on the street – tears in his eyes. You think: is he also thinking about the Jewish destruction? Because how can we turn away from this? Jews from a small nation like Lithuania see so many faces of the same Jewish martyrs. Jews from every shtetele [small town], now widely scattered, have suddenly become so related. They walked in the same alleys as the annihilated. Shtibl to shtibele [one room synagogue to small one room synagogue] clung together. There was the adage: a shtetl is like a lantern. They were all so close to each other. There were shtetlekh for which there is barely a single last remaining witness of those who were carried off somewhere. For another Jewish community, there probably remains not one pair of Jewish eyes who had looked at it when it was alive. Oh, how you would want to give respect to such annihilated communities that no one remembers.

Human history is not only woven of time, but also bound to a place. An event happens “some time” and “somewhere.” The life of an individual person also happens in time and place. Our childhood and youth and all of the later years are connected to a country, to an area, to a city. The country where you spent your youth formed your character and your spirit. Of course, there is a sky and stars in every country in which you find yourself, but in your homeland, you once as a young person looked up at the stars in the sky at night and felt the

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loneliness of people and their distant longing. When there was a lively Jewish community in Lithuania, you did not only remember Lithuania from afar, but lived with the Jewish community there. If you had a celebration with relatives or friends, had you wished that there would be joy there among family and neighbors, then your joy would be full. And there was also sorrow there with you. Have you asked that this fate be avoided? Again and again, you were distressed by what you had once lived through in your cozy shtetl. This suffering that you lived through there was sometimes even sweet.

What Lithuanian Jew has not contemplated visiting Lithuania again? To see the familiar land that just now has begun to rise from ash and dust with its own government. And did you hear of how the Lithuanian Jews had struggled to build and support their community that had been destroyed during the First World War? One's heart is captivated by the flaring up of Yidishkeit [Jewishness, connoting an emotional connection to Judaism and/or to the Jewish people and their history, beliefs and customs] there. Letters received from Lithuania from sisters or brothers, a child – a boy, a girl written in such a luscious mame-loshn [Yiddish] or in an elegant loshn-koydesh [Hebrew] were shown in New York and Chicago. The Jews of Lithuania, completely traditionally Jewish – such an isolated community in exile – second to Eretz-Yisroel. You wanted to see the familiar Jews in the new Lithuania, cross the threshold of the rooms where you spent your years and days.

You would watch the American Jews in a shtetele in the early morning and the houses would extend so high into the fog. How our hearts would beat when we would think of coming to the familiar street. You would first visit everyone in your family. Would you go alone to find the room of your past kheder [religious primary school]? Is your teacher still alive? And the shoemaker who made your boots – you will go to him. And when you enter a room, you American, speak loudly and smile widely. Because as soon as you become lost in thought or if tears come into your eyes, you are not sure if anyone has sympathy for you. They know of your toil in the sweatshops and how much you as a

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lonely youth in the distant America once endured. When you pass the market, Jews who have shops there, if they are standing in front of a table under a roof, or at a stand under the open sky – all will come out to you, say hello. Have you brought sweet greetings from America for others. And you hurry from shtetl to shtetl. You do not know if you are struggling with a dream or with reality. Let there be “clattering” of the carts and wagons. If only to be everywhere. And you knew that even during the weekdays, they would serve the American guest white challah [not the common dark bread]. Wherever you entered, they would hide their poverty. They would perhaps treat you to the best supper dishes in the house – fresh, pickled mushrooms, cooked in butter. However, you remember the poverty and bitter need in the blackened rooms well, where the meal was a pareve [neither dairy nor meat] krupnik [barley soup], simple fish, a kneading trough of borscht, sour milk with dark bread. The Jews would repeat the Lithuanian saying: [God gave teeth. He will give bread]. However, whatever brightness was in the cities and shtetlekh, in every street wherever there was a cubit of earth, in all the houses and rooms to the last stooped little house with a little window – everywhere there were lively Jews, children made noise, girls laughed, worried fathers and mothers toiled. Late in the evening, even in a tiny shtetele a light shone from a house of prayer – a rabbi read aloud the Talmudic lesson for Jewish students. They would say in the poor shtetlekh that when a bitter frost came in winter and there was no wood to heat the house of prayer, Jews stood there at the reading stands with frozen beards and studied. In a shtetele famous for its scholars, it was an honor for a preacher to give a sermon there. A preacher from one side of the shtetele enters and from another side another one arrives. The preachers cast lots, who will preach in the house of prayer on an earlier day. In a Jewish community, they never turned away from Torah – not even for a day. Centuries rolled and the Lithuanian Jews were known all over the world for Torah and folk-wisdom. Jews lived in Lithuania in tens of cities and in a few hundred shtetlekh, where everyone was as erect as towers that led to a fortress of Jewish spiritual strength.

 

2.

Lithuania had an abundance of beautiful nature. The sun shines only slightly more than five hours on winter days. Therefore, there are summer days with

[Page 36]

almost 18 hours of sunlight. Jewish boys rejoiced that no matter how late they returned from kheder, it was still light. Lithuania is rich in bodies of water. Traversed by rivers, streams; it has 800 lakes. A tenth of the area of Lithuania is occupied by lakes. They shimmer blue under the sunshine. Legends are told about various lakes. In one, Napoleon is supposed to have hidden treasures that he could not manage to take with him in his rush to leave Russia. In another one, sunken bells ring. When the waters are combined during a storm, it happens that the lakes suddenly surge or they vanish with the fish. Lakes with amber along their shores are well known. Jewish fishermen wove nets at every river and lake and went sport fishing. Jews often could taste which lake the fish came from. Jewish women washed laundry at the waters of the shtetlekh. During the winter the ice in the middle of the water was chopped to allow the nets to be lowered, driving in sticks around the ice hole to hold the nets. The women would chop the ice to rinse laundry. In outlying communities, they immersed themselves there. And if you travelled further over the frozen waters and saw a green tree somewhere sticking in the ice, you knew that this was a warning that the ice had been chopped. Where there was a shtetele [small town], the Jews built a bathhouse near the water that was also used by non-Jews. Jews with broken hearts came to these waters for Tashlikh [symbolic casting off of sins on Rosh Hashanah by throwing breadcrumbs into a moving body of water]. Strong Jews with faces reddened by the sun and wind, so called vashvinikes [workers who pull logs out of the water that have been sent down stream] would go for weeks driving rafts through the rivers. Who had not seen on a Friday night on the Neman or the Vilie [Neris rivers], under a straw roof somewhere in the distance, a Shabbos candle flicker. The Jewish raft driver had a non-Jewish helper with him. Erev Shabbos [eve of the Shabbat], he [the Jew] gave the tiller to him and the vashavnik had his enjoyment of Shabbos. And at the rivers, Jews erected or rented watermills, built oaken ferries. On summer evenings, they would go to the water to cool themselves, to bathe. And everywhere Jewish young people capably swam. Lithuania also had a magnificent seashore at Palange that was famous throughout Europe for its “dunes” of white-white sand, speckled with amber. The extraordinary sand dunes were all blown into piles by the wind.

A body of water is so free, a dog would not be set on a Jew there. Young men and girls would also play outside the shtetl. They sang, forgetting shtetl concerns. And

[Page 37]

forests and mountains cheerfully echoed. The Jews grew to feel at home in the waters of Lithuania. Rivers and brooks cut through so many cities and shtetlekh. You sit near a body of water, even alone, or you walk along the shore, and you think that your loneliness on the earth has melted away and has been carried somewhere far away.

It is wet in Lithuania in the spring. However, how joyfully the rain drums on the roofs. How bright the sun rises in the synagogue alley. When spring began to shine, you, a boy, would run outside the shtetl to the mountain – see how green it is! When it is Lag b'Omer [Lag b'Omer takes place on the 18th of Iyar, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer – counting the 49 days between Passover and Shavous – the holiday celebrating the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai], the kheder-yinglekh [young religious school boys] and the teacher would stroll – how can one wait! Run to the shtetl to tell of the green mountain and the wind. It seems that you are singing. Mountains and hills around all of the shtetlekh. And elsewhere, a mountain in the middle of a shtetl. Mountain ranges stretch through the entire south of Lithuania – from the western, Sulwaki border area to the eastern border – outside Vilna. Still higher mountains to the northwest – in the area of Raseiniai – to Šiauliai and Telz. The Schlosbarg in Vilna itself and at the Aleksotas in Kovno. The mountainous road from Anykšèiai to Utyan is called the Lithuanian Switzerland. None of the mountains were taller than 700 feet. But ancient oaks remained on other mountains that were venerated by Lithuanians. Ruins of palaces and castles on the mountains – at night, you think you hear a scream. The spring waters thrash at the mountains, wash into them and cause erosion. But the water ebbs. The fertile meadows turn green under the descending mountains. Here, Jewish cattle also grazed. Boys, free from kheder, would jump with thin, Jewish goats or pull the beard of a solitary Billy goat. Wagon drivers would come here on Shabbos or on holidays, driving up their horses to bathe and graze. This happened in a city or in a shtetl. The water at the riverside moved from the shore and it became dry land. Jews had the opportunity here to rent or to buy a plot of land for an accessible price, so at the water they erected a sawmill, a brewery, a kvas [fermented, yeast-based drink] factory, a tannery. On such “won” ground in Kovno, a Jewish factory, saw mills, breweries arose on the banks of the Neman [River].

In Lithuania, the ground froze in winter for four months. And the Neman [froze] for 10 weeks. However, where the shore was flat, as in Kovno and elsewhere, the population grew uneasy. The sun had just lost its shine; they measured how deep the snowfall was. They were afraid of flooding, which would begin when the ice would open. Year in

[Page 38]

and year out, cities and shtetlekh would be flooded, bridges would be undermined, houses would be carried away. The shtetl young people would show great cleverness in boats chasing after a bed or a table that was swimming away. A young boy would recklessly swim on a lokshn-bret [a board on which noodles were rolled out]. But everyone would go to save the household goods from the poor houses. Spring began early in Lithuania. How sweet the unusually warm days were in March. And in May, cold days dropped in, even snowy, but in any case, you knew that it was spring. The springtime sun would suddenly bake the earth. As soaked as the ground was, it would quickly dry up – even the muddy pieces of land. Dorf-geyers – peddlers – who hauled their pack on the nape of their neck would go to the villages and to individual rich village men, striding on the dried paths at the edge of the muddy and gravelly roads. It was certain that a Jew could then go through the distant fields.

 

3.

According to the weather, the year in Lithuania is divided into perhaps equal halves. The very hot days are in July and the coldest in January. The summers are rainy, but who is afraid of a summer rain? There were enough sunny days for the people and for the horses. Who does not remember the burning heat under the clear sky? A bakery oven carried the aroma of fresh bread to you. But here the summer misfortune of the Jewish shtetl would break out – fires. Many writers from Lithuania began their writing careers describing the fires in their shtetl. However rainy the summer was in Lithuania, on the days of fire, no rain fell. And the sky would cloud over, only a wind would come to drive the fire. And in Lithuania, as everywhere, barely had the fire in the shtetl been put out and carts would make noise in the surrounding communities, gathering bread and clothing for those who had lost everything in the fire. And the poverty would cling deeper to the burnt shtetl. There would be a new shingled roof in a shtetl or even one of tin. But it was empty in the house underneath, as with a person who had lost everything in a very recent fire. However, as dry as a summer was, they were afraid in Lithuania that there would be heavy rains during the late summer – at harvest time – and rot the grain, as would often occur. And everyone takes the summer from the country where he had spent his youth. And on what field does summer inspire you here? In America you see familiar, golden grain in the distance. A wind blows; you think that a wall of grain has

[Page 39]

been inserted. And then you remember – we will have sunny days to cut the grain. And here one searches for the small yellow heads of the buckwheat fields. The blue and crimson blossoms of the meadow around the shtetl blind the eyes. And you ask: Why have the chamomile on the American fields grown so large and so strange? As if a wild fire, the poppy flowers of the familiar fields chase you. And you remember the cut, thorny fields and the puddles in the shtetl. Lithuanian autumns were sunny, but unexpectedly it would let loose with a snowstorm and a heavy autumn rain would fall continually for several days or for a week. Children would cling to the adults and the adults, themselves, were afraid in an angry world. And Jews in the market shops and on the roads were soaked. However, winter was even worse for the dorfs-geyer [peddlers going from village to village]. High heaps of snow would pile up and not only someone on foot but horses and wagons would also sink [in the snow]. The Jews habn gebentsht gomel [recited the prayer said after surviving a possible life-threatening event], that they had been saved. And girls would save the first snow and the last one to rub into their cheeks, so as not to get freckles. Based on to the number of rainy and snowy days in Lithuania, a dry year rarely occurs. While it should rain or snow only every third day, usually, it rains or snows almost every second day. The ground immediately dries – ah, birds have flown down; they peck on the ground, a promise that it will rain.

And do you remember the fruit orchards that the Jews guarded? A Jew, homeless or driven from a village, would often serve as a guard in an orchard. A Jewish family, homeless, in a hut. Children jumping around. And the trees lament – does the family have a place to go for the winter? Young men would buy a paper bag of cherries or apples and pears and bring them to a house where they had made a match with the daughter. And did you see how a young boy picked blackberries in the forest and said a blessing on them? Do you remember the Lithuanian forests with the breathtaking aroma of pine trees? You thought, how can a person get sick here? All of the weak and sick Jews from a shtetl would wish to survive until summer and be somewhere near a forest. The sap dripped from the maples. Do you remember a board or a piece of wood with a “groove” cut into a spot on the tree and a pitcher hanging, for the sap to run into? Oh, what a remedy the sap was supposed to be for all illnesses, but how

[Page 40]

could a poor Jew be able to buy it? Girls would gather mushrooms in the forest. Searching for the slim baravkas [King Bolete mushrooms] under the fir trees, they would be joyful that no ants were on the yellowish mushrooms and no worms were eating them. They knew that they should not pick the muscaria with the red caps, speckled white – because they were poisonous. They were afraid to step on the “puffy” mushrooms – filled with a white puss-like discharge or a black fluid. They were called “piggish” mushrooms because only pigs and wolves, it was said, could digest them. Did you ever see a mother run out to greet her small daughter who carried a bowl of picked berries or mushrooms? Did you also see how a mother trembled when on the road to a field a wandering Hungarian (called Vengras in Lithuania) passed her small daughter? Who was this – a small man in a velvet suit of clothes with a green hat, stuck with a feather and in lacquered boots. A leather sack hung from his shoulder. In the sack he carried tools for castrating bulls and horses in the villages and shtetlekh; from Talmudic times it was forbidden for Jews to be so employed.

When you would sometimes walk or ride through a forest; the trees would fill your heart with pride. And the thousands and thousands of Jews who would walk and ride daily through the Lithuanian forests – where are they now? How many were dragged into the forests and slaughtered? The Jewish children who hid in the forests, did they know about the poison berries or mushrooms, to avoid them? Perhaps? Marshes cut the forests in Lithuania in two – you see before you frogs jumping, frightened by Jewish corpses that lay there. Up to 200 species of birds have been counted as being in Lithuania. We remember the singing nightingale and are suddenly horrified – can her twitter alleviate our pain? There is not enough sadness in the lament of the cuckoo for the lament in our hearts. Bees, birds and butterflies flutter and hum in Lithuania, and here you can see the distant lightning bugs in the complete darkness – children would say these are the souls of the dead. Harvested flax dried in the Lithuanian fields. Too late – the corpses no longer need any shrouds.

 

4.

Jews who lived in Lithuania and perished appear before our eyes. In the streets we saw their shops. And the people who were walking around throughout

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Lithuania wore garments sewn by Jewish tailors, walked in shoes and boots that were sewn by Jews, used copper kettles and pans hammered by Jewish coppersmiths. A table and a bed polished by a Jewish carpenter who inspired and shined the wood so that it still sparkles. Houses erected of wood or built of brick – for Jews and not Jews, but the Jews were annihilated. Windowpanes in windows, put in by Jewish glazers, look blind in houses without Jews. A market in the shtetl, paved through the money of the Jewish community tax on meat – by Jewish pavers. There were more non-Jewish pavers, but these few Jewish [ones were] massacred. Books, bound by Jewish bookbinders. A horseshoe hung for luck over a door. But where is the Jewish blacksmith? His smithy was at the entrance to the shtetl. A Jewish blacksmith boy would take the raised foot, often hurt, of a horse, into his sweaty hands and the blacksmith – the boss – would shoot the nails into the hoof. The horse trusted the Jewish blacksmith, that he was nailing the horseshoe for his [the horse's] good and he would calmly stand still. Sometimes a nearby foal, a mare, would joyously jump around the smithy. Does a clock strike somewhere in Lithuania, repaired by a Jewish watchmaker? It has gone tick-tock hundreds of thousands of times and after tens of thousands – so many Jews were annihilated – it began to go tick-tock again.

And Jews built houses and breweries, traded in the forest, with flax and with wool, brought goods from abroad. Sent herds of horses across all borders. Around Chanukah – kaleyd [Christmas] – drove thousands of geese to Germany. The feet of the geese were smeared with fish oil so as not to be injured walking. As if they were dressed in black, little boots. Animal drivers, Jews and non-Jews. Jewish merchants, who “overturned worlds,” believed that wealth could have a benefit in Jewish hands and could also go to their children through inheritance. There were Jewish wholesalers in the city. Others who for generations devoted all of their time to religious study. [They had] warehouses or rooms on the second story stuffed with fabric, haberdashery, with ironware. Or grocery items, but they continually sat with a religious book, reciting Talmudic lessons for scholar-businessmen. They rarely traveled to buy goods themselves. Their wives, women of valor, or sons would travel to buy goods. Such a wholesaler devoted his active head to commerce only from time to time – calculating what and how much and where to buy. For him, with all of his great business, he did not need to be persuaded with coins of little value to take measurements for a kapote [caftan]

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or for shoes. The customers rarely saw him. He would be called out only when one bought on trust to say how much the fabric cost him in capital. And Jewish retail shopkeepers, as well as non-Jews, believed him. There were retail shopkeepers who were more powerful than the wholesaler and would extract every penny of profit from him because the wholesaler required the turnover to pay his debts. Such powerful shopkeepers could sell their goods to the peasants more cheaply than all the other shopkeepers. It would happen that there was an artisan who was more influential than the retail shopkeepers from whom he bought leather, cloth and other articles. The shopkeeper did not earn any money from him because he also had to pay an I.O.U., or to the gmiles-khesed [an interest-free loan]. There were journeymen [working] with the artisan. It would happen that a young man, a journeyman, would live better than his miserable boss and his family. But the workers and women workers still endured enough “strikes” and went begging. A rung lower or half a rung higher were the traders with a table at the market. Melamdim [religious school teachers], clergymen and wagon drivers, peddlers or artisans who wandered through the villages, or had a small shop – a hole [in the wall] – and sold yeast or candles. Still a rung lower – bunches of street people, woodcutters, water carriers, grinders [who sharpens tools]. A rung lower – chicken sellers, market-women. Carrying a basket of bagels. They received a few gildn for their goods for which they had borrowed money from the gmiles-khesed, which was in a small shop near the house of prayer, where they kept pledges from the borrowers. Servant girls, daughters from the last few strata; they were ashamed to serve others in their own shtetlekh, they went away. Another rung lower – organ grinders or just poor people, who were ashamed to stick out their hand in the shtetl where they were known. Those who begged in the place of the home were a still lower rung. And even more degraded were those who could no longer move about and wandered around the poorhouse that was near the bath, where the bath attendant occupied the room upstairs. There was still another rung lower than the poorhouse – these were the genteel young people, deranged in their minds. Who among us had not seen them wringing their genteel hands over their beards or waving them in the air, with burning eyes and shouting or babbling talk? Who among us mourners are not ashamed that we have remained sane?

And the entire ladder of the Jewish multitudes wavers before us. All of the Jews had to serve the surrounding people, the non-Jews, undersell, because if not,

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those believing differently and speaking other languages would have had no commerce with them. And what they consumed – the bread and potatoes, the butter and cheese, the chicken and the calf – they paid more for all of this than the non-Jew. They never could take something violently. They only prayed that the peasant would grow more, asked for a good harvest in the country so that a piece of it would be accessible. And how strange it became for us – we heard the martyrs asking, “Why do you remember us? We still need an answer?” And a mother of a child who has perished cries in lament: “My child was too holy to be remembered on such a cruel earth.” However, in our imagination the martyrs still live. And if a living Jew very often calls to another: “v'al karkhakh atah chai – against your will you live – so it is. Perhaps it also applies now to our martyrs. They must live, live in our memory, and they must be spoken about eternally.

Woe to our Jewish wandering! – lands and countries, where we lived for hundreds and hundreds of years – where in a land of communities of Jews – then they began to beat us in the neck, push us out. We left on our own and they drove us out. The chronicler of today will ultimately add – slaughtered and burned. We must constantly read about our past in countries from which we have been removed. Lithuanian Jews, widely scattered across all of the corners of the world – who have Jewish life in Lithuania carved into your brains – are perhaps the last chapter of the Jewish community in Lithuania.

 

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