by Mendel Gordon
Translated from the Yiddish by Abraham Zygielbaum
and edited by Lennard Thal
Before World War I, 50 Jewish families lived in Skopishok (approximately 200 souls). The Lithuanian population there was substantial. Skopishok had four main streets: Koloveyer Street, Ponedeler Street, the Tzigayner (Gypsy) Street, and the street called "Yene Shtetl" ("the other shtetl"). Jews were concentrated in the center of the shtetl adjacent to the marketplace. They were mainly tradesmen and merchants. Among the more important merchants were Ortchik Fein, Zalman-Moteh, and Shlomo Orlovitz who resided in Skopishok for many years. There were some peddlers called "Karabelniki" (men who carried their wares, often just odds and ends, to nearby towns). There were also some artisans including Abe-Leib the tailor; Shimon the tailor; Noteh the Tailor; Micha the shoemaker; Elkona the shoemaker. There was also an extensive flax trade. These included Israel Gordon; the writer of these lines (Mendel Gordon); Ya'akov Feldman (the grandfather of the brothers Feldman in Johannesburg); Leslie Feldman and Abraham Feldman. These flax merchants, as well as other merchants, also traded in seeds. Until World War I, trading was done with Novo Alexandrovsk (New Alexandria) the regional city, and with Dvinsk. After World War I, the merchants of Skopishok traded with Kibard, situated near the Lithuanian-German border, and with Kovno. Jews also traded in forest products and were lessors of lakes (presumably with water and/or fishing rights). There was a large, dense forest around Skopishok and two beautiful lakes were owned by the city.
The relationship with Christian Lithuanians was good. There were no pogroms. I remember one event which caused panic in the town, but it did not develop into an attack on the Jews. The following took place. Two peasant women from the village of Srubishok came to the place of Shimon the tailor to comb the wool. It happened to be just before Passover. Shimon went out to the market and left the two women villagers inside his house. They became frightened by Shimon's sudden departure and were seized by the thought that the only reason he had left so suddenly was to summon other Jews with long beards to kill them in order to use their blood for matzos for Passover which was approaching. Terror-stricken, the two women broke into the market-place shouting, "gevalt! gevalt!" It was the day of the fair in the town and the peasants attending the fair gathered together, ready to fight. Panic broke out as people sensed the possibility of a pogrom. My wife, Fraidl, quickly ran to the Catholic priest, a Lithuanian, and pleaded with him to go quickly and calmly to pacify the peasants given the imminent danger of a bloodbath. The priest summoned the Christians to the church by ringing the church bells and there he appeased them by explaining how groundless and stupid the women's accusations had been.
During World War I, some families evacuated into Russia because Skopishok was too close to the front lines. Jews of Skopishok settled temporarily in Yeletz and Bobroisk. In 1921 most returned to Skopishok, but some did not. In general, the Jewish population became smaller, shrinking to 25 families after the war. The young people began to emigrate, particularly when the economic situation worsened. The government opened Lithuanian co-operatives (stores owned by the authorities which sold goods at lower prices). The Lithuanian Prime Minister Tubelis threatened that he would fill the Nieman River with Jewish blood. My children Itzhak, Moshe, Zalman, and Chaim emigrated to South Africa. Until 1937 I lived in Skopishok.
The regional city was Rakishok. There was little change in the life of the shtetl. Everything went on according to the old ways and fashion. There was no "folkshul," and no library. From time to time the young people organized an amateur theatrical performance. There were two wooden synagogue, one Chasidic and one Mitnagdic. The Chasidim were followers of Kapist (Kapister Chasidim). Before World War I, the Rav of Skopishok was Rabbi Azriel Gordon. Subsequently this post was occupied by Rav Reb Mendel. The religious teachers (Melamdim) were Zalman-Itzeh and Itzeh-Yankel. The schochet's name was Nacham.
After the Holocaust my wife received a letter from her brother Mosheke Gafinowitz. He wrote about the destruction of Skopishok and how he escaped to the partisans in the forest. He came back to the shtetl as soon as the Red Army liberated Lithuania. He wrote that the structures remained intact but that the Jewish cemetery had been demolished. He became horrified and nearly went insane when he saw all the Jewish houses without even one living Jewish soul: doors open, houses empty. He couldn't linger on in Skopishok and left for Vilna where a group of Jewish survivors had settled.
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