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[Page 306]



Reminiscences of the Old Home

(Zarasai, Lithuania)

5544' N 2615'

By Nisn Sacks, Moyshe Sharp-Saltuper, and Pinye Albert

Translated by Harry Abramowitz

Until the First World War, Novoalexandrovsk was the administrative town of Rakishok and many other villages and settlements. When Alexander III traveled with his entourage from Moscow to Kovno, he renamed the town “Novoalexandrovsk.” 1

Since the time of the Lithuanian king Gedimin, the town had been called Ezros. “Ezros” is a Lithuanian word that signifies “lakes.” Because of the tsarist tendency to Russianize, they changed the name from Ezros to Novoalexandrovsk. In honor of the above-mentioned Czar Alexander III, a monument was erected to stand for generations in memory of his visit. It was a pole of cast iron – about 50 feet high – and on the top there was the Russian eagle. After WWI, when the Lithuanians took over Lithuania (1918), they renamed the town “Ezhereni” (Ezeranai). Later, in the 1930s, they renamed the town “Zarasai.”

The scenery of Novoalexandrovsk is remarkably beautiful. Besides the lakes, there are also forests. The beauty of the surroundings was compared to the beauty of Switzerland. It was not for nothing that president Smetona called the town and its surroundings “The Lithuanian Switzerland.” But in Lithuania our native town was known as “The Lithuanian Siberia,” because it was colder there than elsewhere in the country. People used to come there during the winter to skate on the frozen lakes.

Novoalexandrovsk was very near to the border of Latvia - only a few versts - and Dvinsk was only 24 versts away. Through the town of Novoalexandrovsk there was a chaussée [road], which led on one side to Utian and on the other side to Dvinsk. This road led also to the little towns of Solok, Dusiat, Ushpol and Taragin. The Polish border was also near, only 14 km away. The Tormond railway station was the Lithuanian-Polish border at the time of Poland's liberation.

Under czarist rule, the population of the town was about 5,000. The Jewish citizens numbered about 2,500. In the town there also lived Poles, Lithuanians and “staroveries” ("old believers"), who were Orthodox Christians.

The Jewish inhabitants lived mainly in the center of the town, in the main streets. There the homes of the shopkeepers adjoined their shops. The Jews settled on the main street, on the chaussée, where there were also inns, near the butchers' shops on the Aristocratic street, on the Tailor street, in the little suburb of Petranishek, downhill near the lake, in Saltupa, beyond the bridge.

The Jews tried to earn a living in many ways. That's why they had various incomes. There were a considerable number of shopkeepers, merchants, colporteurs [book sellers], wagon-drivers and tradesmen: blacksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, makers of felt boots and others. There were also a number of seamstresses, who made ready-to-wear clothes, which they supplied to the shopkeepers. In the town and surroundings Dovid the Tandetnik was known for the ready-to-wear ladies' coats he made. There were Jewish fishmongers and fishermen who would catch fish in the lakes. Yoyne Zisl Lonshteyn had a permit to catch fish in one lake. The biggest shop-keepers were Artshik Tsimerman, Leybe Mikhoels, Yisroel Troyb, Leybe Glikman, Meyer Leyzer Plat, who had a grocery shop as well as a bottle store, because he was a merchant of the first guild. The widow Broyman, with her two sons and daughters, managed a big enterprise. They sold galoshes and groceries, and also had a refreshment shop.

The following merchants were also known: Bertshik Shteyman, Boris Daytsh, who traded in flax and grain; Yerakhmiel Levin, Shloyme Fligl, Avrom Okun, who were timber-merchants; Avrom Tshertkover, who was reckoned a well-to-do man. He possessed 10 desatins of land (1 desatina = 2.7 acres). The island and the lake were his property, and he tried to build a datcha [country house] there.

The market was the main source of earnings. Big market-days were Tuesdays and Fridays. On Sundays, there was intensive trading with the farmers who used to come to town from the villages. Two big fairs were arranged yearly: one in winter and one in summer. The fair lasted a couple of days. Trade took place in flax, ladder [??] and pigs' bristles, and agricultural products. There were also gentile traders who had stands and sold bread and various fatty items. The “Starovery” dealt in groceries. The Jewish traders did their trade with the aristocracy, who were mainly Polish.

Before World War I, Novoalexandrovsk was considered to be a progressive trading town. Unrest used to break out at the time of military mobilization, which was carried out in Novoalexandrovsk since it was the administrative town of the surrounding lands. Newly mobilized soldiers came from little towns and villages throughout the district. With the newly mobilized, the parents, brothers and sisters also came to town. Newly mobilized drunken Christians would walk unsteadily all over the town, frightening the Jewish population. The newly mobilized Jews obviously did not willingly agree to serve with these gentiles. Jewish parents accompanied their children to the mobilization commissions with sighs and cries.

The year 1905, during the Russian revolution, was a restless period. During this period, the Jewish Bund and Social Revolutionary parties played an active part against the Czar's regime. In Novoalexandrovsk, the Russian officials and the police threatened the Jewish inhabitants with pogroms.

An important revolutionary of those days was a man named Motl, whose family name we do not remember. He once got up on the “bima” in the synagogue demanding that there should be no prayer for the Czar. He unfolded a red flag, saying, “This flag will remove the bloody Czar Nicholas II.” Once Motl and the cobbler Meyer Krut organized a demonstration on a Saturday afternoon. They marched all along the chaussée singing revolutionary songs in Russian and Yiddish. Half of the Jewish population took part in that demonstration.

A meeting was arranged in Shteyman's orchard. The main speaker was Mine (Motl's sister), who was a seamstress. At that meeting the speakers were both Jews and non-Jews. Mine held a red flag and asked the demonstrators, “How long will Jews live only in specially designed areas like ghettos and not be allowed even to travel to Moscow?” In the middle of the meeting mounted police came and hit those assembled with special whips. They beat the demonstrators very severely. A couple of hundred were arrested. But the revolutionary youth were not intimidated and they continued to arrange meetings.

Arke, the son of Alter the Baker, once called for a meeting on the Island. Police came and arrested Arke. They led him to prison with a cracked skull. It was at the time of the Beylis case and times were generally restless. The Jews were having a very difficult time. Rumours spread that the Christian Russian population wanted to make a pogrom on the Jewish inhabitants. The leader of the pogrom makers was the Starover Semyon Kholopov. No pogrom, however, took place at that time, because the pristav (the head of the Russian administration of the gubernia) Popov was successfully bribed to stop it.

At all times the Jews strived for their children to get a good Jewish education.

Up to World War I, this education was purely religious. Only after World War I the Jewish education in the shtetl was in the spirit of Zionism and the national-religious foundations were established. Before World War I, there were absolutely no modern schools, either in Yiddish or Hebrew. There were only cheders. There were the following cheder teachers: Bertsik Maklaner, the Talmud teacher, who after World War I became a rabbi; Yisroel-Meir Ikhiltshik, whose son, Yehude-Tsvi Ikhiltshik, is a well-known musician who has for years lived in Johannesburg; Avrom-Moshe Ikhiltshik; Yoshe Ikhitshik; and the Hebrew teacher Moyshe Leyb.

There were some exceptions, with a few Jewish children who studied in the Russian schools, in “Yevreyskoye utshilishtshe” (Jewish school), and in the three classes “gorodskoye utshilishtshe” (town/state school). Apart from the above-mentioned teachers, there were also Itse der Taytsh ("Itskhak the German"), who taught his pupils to write, and Khaye the letter-writer, who wrote letters and addresses for girls and women whose husbands or fiancés had emigrated. There was also a Talmud Torah school. The teachers of the Talmud Torah were Note Shvabski, Mikhoel Leyb and Yisroel Meir Ikhiltshik, who also taught in Talmud Torah. The Talmud Torah was managed by Khaim Levin, who afterwards emigrated to the United States. Lipe the Shoykhet took his place.

Of observant religious Jews there were always many and the synagogues were full of praying Jews. There was the “Groyse Shul” (big synagogue), the Chassidic shtibl (small synagogue) - the “Red Minyan,” the Groyser Beys-Medresh (the large synagogue), the Chassidic “Green Minyan,” the synagogue on the slopes of the hill, called “Toliker” (in the valley); and the Tailors' Synagogue. Naftali Vayts was the recognized “bal-tfile” [prayer leader] of the town.

Before World War I, Novoalexandrovsk had two rabbis: an Chassidic rabbi called “More Tsedek,” and Rabbi Burshteyn. After World War I, the rabbi's chair was occupied by Elyohu Reznik. A long time ago the rabbi of the town had been the famous “gaon” (scholar) Rafoel Shapiro, who was the rabbi and the head of Volozhiner Yeshiva.

The congregation ("kehila") looked after the religious requirements of the population, and also the health and welfare of Jews. The congregation had a “bikkur-cholim” (sick society) under the management of Zalman the Paramedic and Leybe Mikhols. There was also a hospital. The chief doctor was Doctor Bukont, a Lithuanian who was a good surgeon. There were also Jewish doctors: Doctor Pik, the dentist, Miss Mistroyb, and there was Doctor Loyne, a German. During the czarist regime there was also “meshtshanske uprave” (administration of the town or local community management), the head of which was Avrom Moyshe Tsimerman. The military rabbi was Ayzik Yafo.

The outbreak of World War I ruined the established Jewish positions and the community organization. Because they feared the approaching front, the Jews abandoned their houses, leaving everything in the care of the Almighty. They went far away, to Russia. The Jews of Novoalexandrovsk left during the war for places such as Penze, Saratov, Nizhni-Novgorod, Kazan, Yelyets, Simperaol, and for the Caucasus region.

In 1919 the Jews of Novoalexandrovsk started to return home. The journey home was very difficult and lasted a long time. The journey from Penze to Dvinsk took three months. When the Jewish refugees returned to Novoalexandrovsk, they found their possessions had been looted and their homes severely damaged. Only the synagogue buildings were not ruined, because the German army had converted them into stables for their horses.

It was only in 1920-22 that larger groups of Jews began to return to Novoalexandrovsk. But a considerable portion of Novoalexandrovsk Jews remained in Russia, and the number of Jews in Novoalexandrovsk was noticeably and considerably diminished.

The decrease of Jews in Ezhereni is referred to in the book “Lite” that appeared under the editorship of M. Sudarski, Uriah Katsenelbogn and Y. Kisin. Before World War I, the population of Ezhereni was 9,000; after the return of the Jews it was less than half that number, namely 4,200.

According to the statistical table dated 1st January 1927 prepared by Y. Barvein and B. Entelis, inspectors of the central committee of the Yiddish Folk Bank in Kaunas, we see the decrease of the Jewish population in Novoalexandrovsk . At that time there were 1,329 Jews constituting 284 families; members of the Bank numbered 325.

We learn from the above-mentioned table that the People's Bank in Novoalexandrovsk /Ezhereni was founded in 1920. At that time, just after the First World War, the number of Jews was 880 and the number of families 176. The Bank also served the surrounding villages. After the war, the administrative area of Novoalexandrovsk was diminished. A number of villages remained in part of Poland, and Dvinsk (Dinaburg) was cut off. New administrative centres arose in Rakiskis and Utian. The fact that Novoalexandrovsk had no railway station also hindered the development of the economy.

In Novoalexandrovsk trade dropped to a minimum and the poorer peasants around were greatly impoverished, deriving their nourishment mainly from dairy products. In other Lithuanian towns and villages there was a very active reconstruction process, while this was entirely lacking in Novoalexandrovsk.

Nonetheless, after the First World War, a cultural and economic life began in Ezherieni. Because of the impact of the Russian Revolution and the Balfour Declaration, education and social life were modernized.

Under the direction of Ya'akov Mushel, a Hebrew primary school also opened. There being no Hebrew middle-school, many Jewish children attended the local Lithuanian Commerce High School. A Maccabi organization was established. There was also a drama society, of which Leybe and Khaye (Chaya?) Tsimerman, Mulye Tsimerman, Khaye (Chaya?) Shulman and Rivka Berkovitsh were members. There was a library and a Zionist-Socialist party formed. A Linat-Hatsedek, or place for people without shelter, was established. A branch of the Folk Bank was established under the management of Azriel Fitel, Zalman Levit, Rabbi Eliyahu Reznik and Leyb Melnik. Before the war, the director of the Credit Bank was Yudel Shteyn, and the book-keeper Leyb Gilbert. The “Joint” (American Joint Distribution Committee) also sent subsidies to the Folk Bank to assist people to repair their houses and guest-houses (Hakhnoseth Orkhim).

Towards the end of the 1920s, the emigration of Jews from Ezhereni increased. The main emigrants were the young, and they went to Brazil, South Africa, South America and Palestine.

According to Rabbi Efraim Oshri's book “Khurban Lite”, Ezhereni- Novoalexandrovsk was among the last places in Lithuania that was occupied by the Germans. The Germans also brought Jews from the surrounding villages; they locked them up in the synagogues, and later took them, together with the local Jews, to the nearest forest where they killed them all.

After the liberation in 1945, a monument for the 8,000 Jews massacred was erected there. Also, after the Holocaust, some letters were received from countrymen who survived the destruction. They wrote to say that they found Novoalexandrovsk totally Juden rein.

[Pages 314-316]

My Birthplace

By Jehuda Zwi Ichilcik

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

My birthplace is Nova-Alexandrovsk (Ezereni). I studied there in a cheder and at age six, with the help of my father, I made a fiddle out of a small sieve and the strings out of hair from a tail. A few years later, my father took me to Mikhal the klezmer (musician), who taught me to play the fiddle and the clarinet.

I became widely known in Nova-Alexandrovsk as a gifted fiddle player and the rabbi would even invite me to play at the celebration during the intermediate days of Sukkos.

Nova-Alexandrovsk was not a large city. Its population numbered about six thousand souls. The Jews lived in the center of the town and the Lithuanians and “Old Believers” (Orthodox Russians), whom the Jews called “Fonyes” (the Yiddish word for Russia or Russians), lived on the edges.

There were orchards, gardens and beautiful lakes. Nova-Alexandrovsk was considered one of the most beautiful spas in Lithuania.

During Czarist times Novo-Alexandrovsk was a district city, with a bailiff [or district police chief –Ed.] at the head. The Jews were very poor; only a few Jews had an easy life. The majority of the Jews were without a definite occupation. A poor income was drawn from the Tuesday market days, when Jews would walk among the peasants selling their packs of pig hair, a calf and produce.

Jews traded in fish, along with grains and cows. The butchers did not wait for the customers to come to their butcher shops to buy--they would carry baskets of meat to their customers.

There were craftsmen: tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, tar makers, and so forth.

There was great poverty among the Jews in Novo-Alexandrovsk. My father was poor. He was an enlightened man and was occupied with teaching.

He was a Talmud-Torah teacher and every Friday he simply would have to go to collect kopeks, and he never was able to gather together his salary of three rubles a week. Only for Shabbos, my mother would buy the head of a calf. She would divide the meat among the children and leave the bones for herself and my father to suck on.

I remember how my father Yizrael-Meir, of blessed memory, would send me with a kopek on Shabbos night to buy kvas for havdalah (the ceremony at the close of Shabbos). But he would tell me that I should spend half a kopek and leave the second for another week. The kvas seller would record on the wall that he should give me a portion of kvas without cost on the coming Shabbos night for havdalah. The kvas, alas, was made from the crusts of black bread, and was very sour, like the sourness of the mood of the coming gray week with its worries.

However, great artists came out of Novo-Alexandrovsk such as Yudl Pen – a great painter and academician. He died in Russia during the Bolshevik regime which buried him with a great parade at government expense. Great singers, players, conductors and composers also came out of my birthplace. It is most certain that the beautiful landscape affected and influenced their artistic souls.

There was also a small aristocratic class. The so-called “aristocrats” were “advocates” who [did not have academic credentials] and wrote petitions for the peasants on market day. They were my wife's father, Zalman the Feldsher, who graduated from a school for feldshers and whom the Jews called Zalman the lucky man; the advocate Gordon (my wife's uncle); advocate Bendet, advocate Fridland; advocate Yerkhmeil Berman, who later became a judge in Utian; Dr. Moishe Berman, who was the head of the Lithuanian Red Cross; and several people from the merchant class.

At age eleven I walked a distance of 50 miles to the Wizer Yeshiva to study. Later I studied in the Dvinsker Yeshiva. Then I left for the wider world where, thanks to my talent, I became the conductor of the orchestra of Nikolai's uncle, “Prince Altenburgsky.” I came home to visit every few years.

In 1921 I returned to Lithuania. The Lithuanian government was then a young one that expressed liberalism toward the Jews. A short time later, anti-Semitism began to grow which pushed me to emigrate to South Africa.

I have been in South Africa ever since. Now I think back on Novo-Alexandrovsk and her Jews, who although they lived in poverty, were very elevated in their simplicity, in their popularity, and in their honesty and their habits.

[Page 317]

From My Home Town

By Yitskhok Dumas

Translated by Harry Abramowitz

A classic joke is told about my home town, Novoalexandrovsk-Ezhereni-Zarasai. Many years ago my home town was called Ezros because of the majestic lakes (Ozeres) that surrounded the town. But when the grand highway from St. Petersburg to Warsaw was completed, the Czar himself, Alexander III, passed through Ezros to Novoalexandrovsk and was so taken with the natural beauty surrounding the town that he ordered the name to be changed from Ezros to Novoalexandrovsk, after his own name. The citizens, Lithuanian peasants, Jews and Poles, received an additional command that anyone who dared to call the town Ezros would be caned. It happened that a Yishuvnik, an isolated agricultural settler, came to the town to observe the anniversary of a death (of an acquaintance?) . He prayed at the prayer-stand in front of the Ark, and when he came to the part “ezras avoyseynu” (the help of our fathers), he was too frightened to say the words and instead said “Novoalexandrovsk avoyseynu.”

When the Lithuanians got their independence they quickly changed the name of the town to Ezhereni, and in the year preceding the Second World War the Lithuanians changed the name of the town to Zarasai. Thus my hometown was blessed with three names. But for the most part the town was called Ezhereni, and the Jews generally called it Ezhereni.

Ezhereni was known as the Switzerland of Lithuania and I maintain that this honourable title is well-deserved. The town was situated on a mountainous peninsula surrounded on all sides with majestic lakes that spread out over a large area.

In the town itself there were two big parks and a beautiful boulevard. In one of the parks there was a monument with a large Russian eagle on top in honour of Alexander III. People used to call this monument the cast-iron post. This park had many trees of all kinds, flowers and glades. On Saturdays and other holidays people would come to the park to get some fresh air and children used to play on the steps of the cast-iron post.

The streets of Ezhzereni were cobbled. Ezhzereni had no muddy streets because the rainwater was drained down to the lake.

A beautiful corner on God's earth, as if painted, was the Ostror (island). People used to come to the island by small boats, and there were picnics and various other entertainments. The young enjoyed themselves and were happy there. Even the cemetery was a peninsula and when there was a burial, those with a sense of humor said, “The corpse is being taken to a datcha.”

Around the town there were many pine and birch forests. Near every Jewish house there was a garden. Jews had their own orchards and gardens, which made their lives easier economically, and because of that, poverty in our town was not as great as in other smaller towns.

Jews had many brick and stone buildings. The row of shops belonged exclusively to the richer Jewish shopkeepers. There was a big two-floor stone building, where on the ground floor there were big shops and above it, dwellings.

Before the First World War, Novoalexandrovsk, as it was then called, was the administrative center of a very large area, and the following little towns belonged to it: Dusiat, Antalept, Abel, Rakishok, Vidzh, and others. Under the government of Lithuania, Ezhereni lost half of its former towns. A large part fell under the government of Poland. Rakishok then became the administrative center of its surroundings, including other little towns like Abel.

In general, Ezhereni lost a great deal after World War One, being the most remote part of Lithuania, and cut off from Dvinsk. Before World War One, there was considerable commercial activity between Ezhereni and Dvinsk. Finding itself only four versts from Dvinsk, the citizens of Ezhereni were permitted to go to Dvinsk with a permit instead of a proper passport. Even though the connection with Dvinsk was not entirely cut off, normal commercial activity between the two towns could not continue.

The population of the town consisted of Jews, Lithuanians, Poles and Russians. That is why anti-Semitism was not strong in Ezhereni: the Poles hated the Lithuanians, and the Russians hated both groups. Thus they left the Jews alone. As far as I know, there were no fights between Jews and Christians.

Before World War One, the economic position of the Jews was generally satisfactory. There were many rich merchants and some of them were “merchants of the first guild” who conducted trade all over the world.

There was a richer class and a poorer class. The richer Jews lived on the chaussée [road], on Sodover Street, around the commercial center, where the shops were. The poor Jews lived down the hill, near the lakes. The Poles lived in Saltupe, and the Russians near the factory.

Jews traded with peasants and with neighboring villages. The craftsmen had their own workplaces. The wagon-drivers used to take goods and passengers to Dvinsk and to surrounding villages. The shopkeepers dealt in haberdashery, manufactured articles, hardware and colonial articles. The richest man of the town was Israel Traub. He had a big wool and textile business and was respected by Jews and Christians.

The whole week the shopkeepers stood in their shops, waiting for customers, and having no business they discussed politics and town affairs. But on market-days peasants came from all the surrounding areas, and Jewish shopkeepers and craftsmen would bustle around, engrossed in their business. There were separate sections for timber, hay, cattle and horses. The horse-traders and the butchers were the main bidders at the horse and cattle markets. There were butchers who did a big trade, transporting fish and meat to Dvinsk and other towns.

The annual fair was very noisy. Merchants and peasants came from near and far to this fair.

Novoalexandrovsk had no industry, but there were several lumberjacks who had sawmills behind the town. These Jewish economic enterprises were ruined during World War One.

On the outbreak of World War One, the Novoalexandrovsk Jews were sent far away into Russia. Only from 1918-20 did these refugees return to their homeland and start to rebuild their economic life. Gradually trade with the peasants and with the nearest villages and little towns became normalized. Shopkeepers again opened their shops and craftsmen rebuilt their workshops. Fishermen took leases for fishing on the lakes and occupied themselves with fishing, and with God's help, when there was a good year, profits were very satisfactory.

Nonetheless, the pre-war economic position was very much better. After the war, many families lived only on the support they received from the United States and South Africa.

The religious life of the Jews did not differ from that which existed in other Jewish towns and villages at that time. Before World War One, when the numbers of Jewish inhabitants in Novoalexandrovsk was much greater than after the War, the Jews built six synagogues: the large Beth Midrash, the main synagogue built of brick and stone, which was used only in summer because in wintertime one could not warm up such a big, tall place; the tailors' Beth Midrash; the Beth Midrash down the hill, and the two Chassidic synagogues. These synagogues were always filled with people praying.

In the last years the head of the Jewish community there was Rav Eliyohu Reznik, of blessed memory, and the ritual slaughterers of poultry and livestock were Yosef Litvin and Pinkhos Shteyn. Before World War One, the Chassidim had their own rabbi, whom they called Moyre-Tsedek.

There were cheders and a more enlightened cheder called the Cheder Methukan. This enlightened cheder was managed by Chaim Williamowsky and Shlomo Pelz. After WWI, a school was established and Chaim Williamowsky went over to teach in the school, working together with the other two teachers, Moyshe Mushel and Yasman.

But the cheders continued to exist even after the school was founded. Reb Ben-Zion Lyubatsky, who was both learned in the Torah as well as an enlightened person, had his own cheder. Also well-known was the cheder of Chaim Mordechai Abramowitz, or as they called him, Chaim-Motte the “bord,” because of his long beard. He was an Chassid and before World War Two he emigrated to Palestine. Mr. Avroham-Yoshe Ichilchick was also well-known as a Hebrew scholar who distinguished himself with his beautiful handwriting. Children of rich parents were his pupils. Many of the pupils of the cheders and schools now live in South Africa.

The pupils of the Hebrew school were, after entrance examinations, enrolled in the Lithuanian gymnasium because there was no Hebrew high school. The more well-to-do parents sent their children to study in Kaunas and in other towns. Many of the children who studied in the cheders afterwards went on to study in the Yeshivoth of Manevezys, Slobodka, etc.

After World War One, various youth movements were started. The Zionist-oriented youth were active in and around the Maccabi organization, and the Jewish youth who were left-inclined belonged to “Y.A.K” (Jewish Athletic Club). The Maccabi movement had a very good team of football players, and matches were organized with the surrounding little towns. Teams even used to come from Dvinsk, making their way on bicycles to play with the local Maccabis. On such occasions this was quite a holiday in Ezhereni. Shopkeepers closed their shops, hastening to see the match. The Maccabi members used to organize tournaments and beautiful gymnastic exercises. The “Y.A.K.” also had a good football team and a dramatic circle, which quite often put on Yiddish plays that were much enjoyed by the spectators.

In the 1920s there arose a Chalutz movement, and many young people emigrated to Palestine. The youth saw no future for themselves in their impoverished hometown and took many roads. Some went to Palestine, South Africa, Argentina and other countries.

To finish, I shall mention the local fire brigade which consisted mainly of Jews. The chief of the brigade was Abrasha Rosenberg. All brigade members wore uniforms with shining brass helmets. The fire-brigade had their own musical band. On the occasion of official parades, like Lithuanian Independence Day, the fire brigade used to march with the military units led by Abrasha Rosenberg. (Later he emigrated to South Africa and died a short time ago in Cape Town.)

This was my little hometown. A community of Jews lived there, more or less satisfied with its fate, trusting in God. They married off their children and built homes--some better ones, some worse. All enjoyed the surrounding lakes and forests, until the savage Nazi plague arrived and killed all the Jews.

Ezhereni did not produce any great men. As far as I know, only eight persons were known throughout Lithuania. These included the sole Jewish judge, Yerachmiel Berman, who was a judge in Utian, and his brother, Dr. Moshe Berman, who was the head of the Jewish Hospital in Kaunas in the last few years before World War Two. He, together with other doctors, Benjamin Zacharin, Zvi Elkem, Rosa Golach and Leyb Feldshteyn, organized courses in Kaunas for Jewish partisans and ghetto fighters to enable them to give first aid.

All the Jews of Ezhereni were dear, hearty, plain Jews with crystal-clear souls.

Only a few Ezhereni Jews managed to save their lives. According to the latest information only seven or eight Jewish families live there now, Joseph Grinman amongst them.

This is the terrible tragic history of my hometown Ezhereni.

  1. According to my research, before the town was named after Alexander III, it was known by several names, "Oziera", "Ozera", "Ezherena" and even in plain Yiddish "Ozeres." This new name of Novoalexandrovsk was proposed to Alexander III to honour his visit on his way to Kovna, because various kings had given similar names to various towns. "Novoalexandrovsk" was a somewhat pretentious name for a very little town with no railway to the outside world, because the Slav ending "-ovsk" usually signified a town of some importance, either as a communication center or because of its large population or industry. None of these could be attributed to Novoalexandrovsk. Return


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