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Book Committee

Shimon Bushkanyetz

Moshe Michelson

Shakhne Akhyasaf

Avraham Krill

Sender Kowarsky

Eliezer Levin


Editor: Shimon Kantz


Cover and illustrations:
Alexander Bogen


Assistant Editor:
Heshl Gurvitz


Yisroel Gurvitz, Esq.
Dr. Khanokh Drutz


Sventzian REGION



Editor: Shimon Kantz

Published by “Irgun Yotz'e Aizor Sventzian b'Israel,” Tel Aviv, 1965


[Col. 8-9]

My eye tears, doesn't stop, because there is no cessation . . .
Book of Lamentations [3.49]


[Col. 12-13]

Crying stones

Translated by Khane-Faygl Turtletaub

Donated by Arleen Shapiro Tievsky

In the book before us we commemorate the martyrs among the people of Sventzian who died such terrible and horrible deaths that there are no mortal words to honestly describe their suffering.

There were twenty-three communities, and they are no more.

In blood and fire they fell and ascended to heaven, but their memories live on in our hearts and will live forever in the hearts of future generations.

Don't be silent and don't forget us [they demand]!

We, the few survivors, approach with fear and trepidation the building of their eternal memorial.

We tried to write chapters on the life of the town encompassing work and creativity, materialism and spirituality—an exciting time in all its aspects and in all times.

Each succeeding generation continued [to be a link] in the chain of the Jewish life in these shtetlach.

Multi-faceted Jewish life developed roots and grew here.

The future generations will find in this book, as in all memorial books dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust, a witness to, and mirror of, what happened in the European Diaspora before the great Holocaust and before every vestige of Jewish life was erased in it.

We, the few who were privileged to join the builders of our homeland in the land of Israel, felt that we had the sacred obligation to establish an everlasting memorial to our communities. We didn't rest and we were not silent until we finished this work, this sanctified work.

We carry in our hearts the images of the fighters and the rebels who expressed the desire and the strong will to exist of the entire nation; and we present line by line, document by document, all the evidence of the heroism of the youth in the area of Sventzian.

With great care we collected materials confirming the Jewish resistance to the Nazi murderers in the area of Sventzian—materials about the heroism of Jewish fighting units in various battlefields, about their struggle to stay alive. Their struggle, their relatives' struggle, their nation's struggle.

We will light an eternal light of remembrance of the martyrs and innocent victims, their courage, their devotion, and their dedication.

This book will be a memorial monument so that they may be remembered forever.


[Col. 14-15]

Sventzian Memorial Plaque in Har Tsion in Jerusalem

[Col. 16-17]

God Full of Mercy

Translated by Khane-Faygl Turtletaub

Donated by Arleen Shapiro Tievsky

God full of mercy, judge of widows and father of orphans

Please don't be silent and restrain yourself from avenging the blood of Israel

Which was spilled like water. Grant peace under Your[1] wings for the martyrs and innocent ones

Who dwell in the shining heavens among the thousands of holy ones

from the Area of Sventzian

Men, women, boys, and girls, who were murdered

And slaughtered by fire, by drowning, by strangulation, by being buried alive

All of them holy and pure


Let not the earth cover up their blood!

  1. The word is Shekhina, which usually refers to the feminine aspect of God. Trans. Back

[Col. 18-19]


by Mordechai Bartana

Translated by Khane-Faygl Turtletaub

Donated by Arleen Shapiro Tievsky

And father approaches me: Oh, my son! Oh, my son!
And I reply: Here I am. But who calls? Your voice is so distant.
And my father says: There's a scream in my heart,
But I don't know how to express it. We both are being led to the slaughter.
But who will be sacrificed I don't know.

And I reply: There is fire in my blood. I am ready to be sacrificed.
Who will be the scapegoat for the great sin?
For so many generations I have been walking and wandering,
And I don't hear G-d's voice, and I don't see [any sign].
My father, oh my father! My fear is too great to bear.
We will sacrifice the offering, but G-d's hand is not there to receive it.

And my father said: The depths of your questions sadden my soul.
The crescent moon over our heads will accept the offering.
But there is an ancient echo in me that shines like a great sun.
G-d will appear over the offering
And I replied: My father, oh my father, forgive my stupidity.
Because suddenly I don't know which one is the child.
Who here is me and who is you?
Both lights and profound darkness are inside of me
And mixed together in my eyes are horizons and borders,
Today in tomorrow, the future in ancient times.
Here we are. Both led under the crescent moon
Like sheep to the slaughter.
Why only us? Why does He always choose us?

And my father said: Nights and days I prayed over you,
That you would outgrow me and we would be able to walk together.
My son, only the offering of the best and the first.
G-d Himself will choose the sacrifice in the dark night.

And I replied: My father! Here I am, and I will go, but my soul is low,
Because I still don't understand why this is and what is the reason.

And my father bent down to me and his tears fell both on my hand and on his hands--
And together we will go.


  1. The binding of Isaac. Trans. Back

[Col. 23-24]

We Will Remember

the souls of millions of our brothers and our sisters, who were cut off from the land of the living, the thousands who were murdered in the fields of Poligon by the hands of the filthy murderers, who are not even worthy to be called human beings.

We will remember the heroes who raised the symbol of uprising and consecrated the name of Israel when they fought among the partisan units in the Lithuanian Brigades in the forests and in the front lines all over Europe.

We will remember the simple Jews and the scholars, the glory of humanity, from the old to the young, the righteous and the precious, those who gave charity and did good deeds, lovers of humanity , dedicated souls.

We will remember the brilliant talents, the dreams, their hopes and their soul's longing, their great ambitions, their love for the people of Israel and the land of Israel, their faith and their heroism, their hatred and enmity toward those inhuman beings.

We will remember the synagogues and the study houses, the social institutions of charity and mercy, the publishing houses and the institutions which carried on the holy work of the people and the land.

We will remember the cemeteries and the graves of our fathers and the fruits of their loyal devotion.

We will remember all of those who were destroyed and cut off at the roots by the hands of all kinds of bestial foes, some by fire, some by drowning, some by starvation, and some by thirst, some by the sword, and some by strangulation while they were still alive, and some in the gas chambers. All of them were tortured and tormented to death. They gave their lives for the sanctification of God.

We will remember -- and not forget!

[Col. 25-26]




Shimon Kantz

Translated by Khane-Faygl Turtletaub

Donated by Arleen Shapiro Tievsky

If I wanted, as a historian, to present the broad picture, a detailed depiction of the history of the people according to the microcosm, and if I wanted, like a writer, to compose an epic about the world that disappeared, to describe in different hues what is exposed to view, that which is hidden, and that which is hinted at, I would without hesitation, think of the area of Sventzian as an appropriate example. The area of Sventzian contains all of the major components of the fate of the Jew in the past generation; all the forms of their physical existence and spiritual life found their expression in the communities of the areas of Sventzian: the struggle for complete civil rights, their fight to be recognized as an independent nationality in all special fields of life. In the community, and in the culture, in language, and in education, in work and in remuneration for work. The disintegration of the community and the birth pangs of new worlds were felt in a painful way. The Holocaust erased the area of Sventzian completely. In the same way that hundreds of other Jewish communities were removed from the face of the earth.

There was definitely something special about the communities of the area of Sventzian as compared to the other communities. In the past, the area of Sventzian stood out on the map of the Jewish Diaspora. It was unique, and its influence spread far beyond its borders.

The Jews of the area of Sventzian were working-class people. They worked in all kinds of trades, making everything that they needed to live at that time. They were millers and bakers, tailors and shoemakers, blacksmiths, wagon drivers, etc. Jews there also worked in jobs related to forests and irrigation. They earned their bread by the sweat of their brow and praised God for his kindness.

Their modest and honest life was a source of power and strength for the Jews in the area of Sventzian. Every Jewish settlement in the area of Sventzian had its tough Jews, Jews who stood up to the Gentiles of the area during market days.

But the spiritual level of the Jews of Sventzian and the surrounding area was based on emotional connections that were characteristically Jewish. In this area of the country, the Jews built for themselves an insular Jewish world. Indeed, from an emotional and spiritual aspect, the Jews here felt that they were in a world of their own. The style of life and the rhythm of life, both in the house and on the street, were truly Jewish. In the synagogues, the Jewish spirit reached high levels; but at the same time, the education of students was not limited to formal education. They always kept on studying on their own.

Many were influenced by the Khassidic Movement. They invented melodies, created dances, and wrote stories of their wonderful rebbes. The majority concentrated on following the righteous path and the duties of the heart as well as the duties of man in this world.[1]

Out of their will to live and the struggle to survive, political parties and political movements arose in Vilna and Warsaw. Many different voices were heard in those days in the communities of the area of Sventzian: calls to return to Zion and calls for victory for the proletariat inciting revolt by words and actions. The elderly nodded in disbelief, but the young received these calls with enthusiasm. They gathered around the various movements. They built schools in which the language of instruction was Yiddish or Hebrew.

The young people were educated in these schools and took part in the social life and in the efforts to build and create all the areas of community life, cultural life, and national life. During the era of the Nazi occupation, the youth rose to protect the honor of their people and their people's spirit when they saw that the Nazis intended to drown the soul of the Jews in the blood of those who were killed.

And if it will be that your son will ask you, “How did it happen that the entire nation went like sheep to the slaughter?” you will answer him, “It wasn't so. Open this book and read in it. Here are the people of the area of Sventzian. They fought a heroic fight in the areas around Sventzian, Novo-Sventzian, Kaltinian, Ignaline, Haydutsishok, and they deserve to be recognized, glorified, and admired for their heroism in the partisan forces, in the Lithuanian Brigade, and in other Russian fighting units. You will read here descriptions of battlefields, ambushes, bombing of transportation lines in strategic places, of enemy sieges, and the capture of Germans, of revenge operations against people who cooperated with the Nazis, the murderers of the Jews.

May it be God's will that this book succeed in casting light on the history of the Jews in the area of Sventzian, on their economic life, religious life, community life, and national life, all of which returned to us the thing most precious for every nation--our own sense of self-worth.




  1. The Path of the Righteous and The Duties of the Heart are titles of books which emphasize the beliefs of the Musar Movement. Trans. Back

[Col. 29-30]



And You Shall Tell Your Son…

Translated by Janie Respitz

In the pages of this book, the lives and destruction of the Jewish massif of Sventzian region will be eternalized.

This compact Jewish massif occupied a striking place on the map of former Jewish diaspora and its influence was often felt beyond the borders of the region.

Descendants from the Sventzian region are dispersed throughout many cities and countries, in Vilna and St. Petersburg, in Warsaw and Jerusalem, in Paris, New York, Buenos Aires and other large cities in the world where they participated in great deeds and brought with them the great wonders of their old home.

Like the Ten Commandments in a casket, they carried with them the warmth and quit joy of their towns, the initiatives and activity that provided zest and prominence in their general and Jewish communal work where ever they went.

What could be more characteristic than the love we brought with us and the longing which never left us.

What can be stronger than the last “Let there be a desire” which our fathers mumbled as their last hope, their last testament, when blood was pouring from their mouths and was soaked up into the earth.

Now the blood gurgles in our veins with the noise of bells from melted iron and love shining from our wounds, that blesses every pain, making it holy, just like the cries that we hear in every wind and we know, that it carries the fog of Poligon.

[Col. 33-34]

Remember What Amalek Has Done to You

Shimon Kantz

Translated by Khane-Faygl Turtletaub

Donated by Arleen Shapiro Tievsky

In the course of hundreds of years, the Jews built their home in Sventzian and the surrounding cities, and in time there developed a completely full Jewish life with all of the institutions that existed in the largest Jewish settlements in Lithuania and Poland.

Unfortunately, they left no archive which could provide historical material to preserve for eternity the history of that flourishing existence until the time of its complete destruction. Approaching this material, therefore, could have proved to be too daunting. It could have proved to be too much to compile the histories of those towns which had so few survivors. Here too, however, can be seen the great virtues of the Jews of the Svintsyaner region. The extraordinary desire to memorialize this era of destruction, together with the yearning for the lost, destroyed world with its truly Jewish lifestyle, nourished and inspired dozens of ordinary people who never aspired to become writers. They understood that the job of researching and describing our not-too-distant past belonged not only to historians, philosophers, and writers. The sacred goal of erecting a monument to their former homes encouraged them to take up their pens and themselves describe their vanished Jewish town. They wrote about the life of dozens of generations, their habits and their customs, their faith in the Torah, Khassidism and the Enlightenment, Socialism and Zionism.

The anguish and suffering, the abyss of evil and violence, that their eyes must have seen; the pain of millions of innocent, tortured martyrs--unnerved them and opened their silent lips and made them talkative.

And a truly wonderful thing happened, that the work of simple people created a picture of the developmental process of each of the Jewish settlements in the region of Sventzian. Their familiarity with everything about which they speak helped them. That they had once taken part in all of the problems that they treat, cultural, social, and economic. After all, these idealists, who fought for nice Jewish life were members of the synagogues, evening classes, libraries, and drama groups, banks, cooperatives, and interest-free loan funds.

It is clear and understandable that in most of the sketches and treatments in this book, one hears the cry of the mourner. In the memoirs, everyone will hear the tone of the eulogy and elegy, the wailing after the cruel destruction. Those who helped erect this monument commemorating the twenty-three decimated Jewish towns, the Holocaust, as well as the general tragedy of the Jews in Europe, are bound together by their personal tragedy, by their yearning for their relatives and friends.

That is why perhaps, here and there, one will find repetitions of description and reiterations of similar ideas, events, and people. But one completes the other and creates a more complete picture of the kind of life they led, with its disappointments and its achievements.

Everything together tells how much we have lost, how great and, in fact, inconceivable the loss is.

The bearing witness of those who, by a miracle, remained alive describes with suggestive clarity the whole gamut of pain and death in the ghettos, in Poligon and Ponar, and one can see that the Germans did not succeed in leading the Jews of the Svintsyaner region to complete moral death. Except in occasional instances, the atmosphere was not poisoned with thievery and robbery or scenes of Jewish cruelty or indifference to the suffering of one's brothers.

In contrast, there is a rich chapter of heroic resistance and struggle, describing the fight that the heroes of the Sventzian region put up against the German executioners. It is not merely a coincidence that the dynamic Jewish life of the town produced so many exalted figures as Moishe Shutan, Ishike Gertman, Berl Jochai, Yitzhak Rudnitsky among others, who threw themselves into the partisan struggle against the armed forces of Hitler's Reich with legendary strength, courage, endurance, perseverance, and selflessness. The Shutans, Rudnitskys, Gertmans, and hundreds of others engaged in open combat with the murderers, became heroes and helped to drive the vandals off Svintsyaner soil.

The most heroic chapters of the history of the Jews in Poland would describe the large part played by the young people of the Svintsyaner region in the partisan army.

The benefit of a full-blooded settlement with a rich cultural life, and the traditions of a Godly life, formed the characters of the youth of the Sventzian region. They were resolved not to permit themselves to be led astray by the Nazi murderers and not to permit themselves to be led to their deaths without resistance. They were pervaded by a fiery desire to take revenge for the deaths of their brothers and sisters. They were inspired by the great human desire for self-preservation and the desire for a future, and so they were not alone in their stand against the great, armed enemy. With tremendous selflessness and exemplary devotion to the general good, they managed to get through to the Vilna Ghetto, from which they led hundreds of young people into the woods, young people who then joined the partisan armies.

The greatest qualities of the Jews of the Sventzian region were discovered in those days of great horror. The stories of heroic struggle are told with such fervor that in some places it takes one's breath away. They are pervaded with the spirit of holiness, of the sanctity of God and the sanctity of our people.

A characteristic of everything that is told in this book is the warmth with which it is conveyed. It is the warmth of the Jews in the cities, the towns, and the villages of the Sventzian region, which those who remained alive preserve even in the farthest reaches. Here one of its finest representatives must be mentioned, Heshl Gurvitz, without whose help of all kinds and passionate will this book would not have been created at all. In addition to his deep sense of responsibility, he is also possessed of drive and boldness, zest and zeal. Everything that he wrote exudes a love for the surrounding towns of the Sventzian region, with which he always remained in close contact in those times that it glowed with Jewish culture, education, and economic aid, as well as after the war, when he sat in Tel Aviv deeply worried about the refugees. He devoted time and energy to organizing real help for them--in any way he could, even thinking up the great idea of creating a memorial book, which he nurtured with great love and devotion, with assuredness and tact, with warm determination and a feeling for all the threads which bind him to those around him. The blessed characteristics of the best ethnic Jewish person of the Sventzian region were revealed. From his earliest childhood, he tied his future to that of the common Jewish people. And even later, in the writing of, asking for, and gathering together their memoirs, he deeply felt the need to bring out the special light of the simple Jewish person of the little towns so that the future generations would have a good idea of the beauty that was killed

Directing the gathering of the material and bringing it to press, Heshl dreamt of encompassing the whole Vilna region to which he was so bound throughout the years of social activism. But his strength failed him, and he concentrated all of his energies on the Sventzian region and in so doing earned our deepest gratitude.

We, who merited to be saved from that great conflagration, have ever before us that age-old warning which has remained etched for us with letters of fire and blood:

Remember what Amalek did to you -- the Amalek of the twentieth century!

[Col. 39-40]



The Blood of Our Brothers Cries Out
from the Mass Grave — Poligon

Heshl Gurvitz

Translated by Khane-Faygl Turtletaub

Donated by Arleen Shapiro Tievsky

The town of Sventzian existed for close to 500 years in the area of Vilna, among Lithuanian and White Russian settlements. The population in the Lithuanian part of that area was, like the soil, poor, in impoverished Lithuanian villages scattered over great distances. The White Russian part of the Sventzian area had better soil. It was flat and had been planted with various grains, like rye, barley, buckwheat and especially flax. This is also how the Jewish area of Sventzian looked from the beginning to the end. The people weren't blessed with great wealth, and they earned their bread by the sweat of their brow. Quietly and modestly, the Jews built a world of their own here. It was a quiet and unpretentious life but a thoroughly Jewish one. As early as the year 1778, the founder of Chabad Khassidus, the author of the Tanya, had three Khassidic minyans.

In the year 1863, after the Petersburg-Warsaw-Berlin train line was built, there began a slow rise in the economic and cultural levels of the local inhabitants. In the year 1898, when the Lithuanian area extending to Ponyevitch and the White Russian area extending to Gluboke were connected by the small train, new yeshivas arose, as well as new towns and villages which enriched the Sventzian area. The Jews of Sventzian and of the new surrounding towns began a more intensive building up of their economies, which were based on trade and business. The Jews were the bond between the towns and the villages. The Jews of Sventzian and Haydutsishok developed the flax trade, which in time became quite widespread. The Jews erected factories which made felt boots sold throughout all of Poland.

The towns like New Sventzian, Ingaline, Kaltinian, Lingmian, Lintup, and Podbrodz, which lay near the big and small trains, developed a large wood export business. The wood was sawed and cut in the nearby sawmills and from there was shipped out all over the world to places like Germany, England, etc.

Up to the time of the First World War, New Sventzian was one of the biggest collection and export points for goods bound for Germany. Shellfish, geese, mushrooms, and eggs. The Jewish fishermen from Lingmian, Palush and Gaviken developed quite an extensive fishing trade on the local lakes.

The Jewish butchers of Sventzian, New Sventzian, Ingaline, Duksht and Podbrodz had, up to the time of the First World War, developed quite a large meat trade, which extended past the border of Lithuania to reach as far as Warsaw and Petersburg.

Together with economic development, there also developed an indigenous spiritual life.


The World of Judaism

Spiritually and emotionally, a Jew there felt that this was his natural place to be. The Jews used the local language to a very small degree. The style of life, the rhythm of life was Jewish through and through, whether in the home or on the street, during holy times or during ordinary days. At the end of a day, laborers and common folk would shake the dust of the day off themselves, off their souls, and go to the synagogue or to the study house, where their main pleasure was learning a page of Gemara[1], a chapter of Mishna, a section of Eyn Yankev[2], or simply saying the psalms. During these hours Jews were renewed and refreshed. Their hearts were revived, the quietly beating, sensitive hearts of the Jews in the area of Sventzian.

Every Sabbath Eve in the towns of the area around Sventzian, there were moments when the whole surrounding world was quiet and with great anticipation awaited the start of the Sabbath. The moment when our mothers lit the Sabbath candles was among the holiest moments in the Jewish town.

On the Sabbath and on holidays, the street of the towns and villages rested, pervaded by a sacred awe. All of the houses were permeated by the spirit of the Jewish soul.

Being located close to Vilna, the area was influenced by the social and national strivings of that time and gave rise to people in the Jewish world who had spirit and initiative. The area of Sventzian produced well-known doctors and artists, engineers, and community leaders.

In all areas, the struggle for Jewish nationalism around Sventzian was carried on with tremendous self-sacrifice. The poor, economically ruined province supported, with great self-sacrifice, the Jewish elementary and secondary schools in Sventzian. At that time, Sventzian was the only city in the area other than Vilna to have a Jewish high school in which studies were conducted in the Yiddish language.

In those days, there was a lively social life in all circles of the Jewish population. The lecture halls were filled with people every night. They attended various readings and lectures, gatherings and discussions, literary evenings, and theatrical performances. These cultural and social activities were conducted with great stubbornness in spite of all the difficulties of that time, including being labeled low class and degenerate. The Polish government announced new decrees every day. Angry winds were beginning to blow from Hitler's Germany, winds which found fertile ground in Poland.

In the year 1939, when Poland was broken and enslaved, controlled by Hitler's soldiers, the whole area of Sventzian fell to the Russians. This continued until the year 1941, when the Nazi hordes took the area. After the Soviet army left our area, the Lithuanians became the bosses and immediately began to persecute the Jews.

With the help of the S.S., the Lithuanians began to track down their Jewish neighbors with ferocity, the same neighbors with whom they had lived together for so many hundreds of years. There were immediate victims in all of the villages. All of the Jews of Lingmian were killed right away. Jews were attacked and robbed in all of the villages. Jewish lives and Jewish fortunes were up for grabs. In Sventzian, in the month of August in the year 1941, one hundred and four Jews were arrested and were shot by the Lithuanians in the Baranover Woods. Right after that on the same day, forty-three Jews were killed in New Sventzian. The murderers didn't even make an effort to bury their victims; and right after they left, the wolves of the Baranover Woods threw themselves at the corpses.

On the 27th of September, Tishrey,[3] the Sabbath of Repentance 1941, all of the Jews of Sventzian and New Sventzian were gathered together, from Ignaline and Dugelishok, from Podbrodz, Haydutsishok, Lintup, Stoyotsishok, Tseykin, Meligan and those who still remained in Kaltinian, and were taken away to the barracks of Poligon in the Baranover Woods near the town of New Sventzian. They were told that they were being taken to work; and after being kept there a short time under terrible conditions, all of them were killed and buried in one mass grave.

The Jews of Duksht, Kimelishok, Bistrits and those who yet remained alive in Podbrodz were murdered separately in similar fashion.


The mass grave of 104 Jews from Sventzian who were shot in the Baranover Woods in August 1941


This is how it started

The tragedy of “Poligon” actually began back in the year 1915.

Poligon is the name of the Czarist, military summer camp which was located along the train tracks between Podbrodz and New Sventzian. On Yom Kippur 1915, the Germans entered Vilna. The Czarist government was trying to throw the blame for their defeat at the front on the Jews by spreading the false accusations that the Jews were traitors in Spain and that now they were passing information to the Germans. The Jews, therefore, were happy when the Germans marched into town. But the Germans immediately began to bare their teeth by instituting “decrees.” The situation in Vilna became worse from day to day. The military hordes confiscated food and other materials. The town was suffering from hunger. Terrible scenes were made by people trying to get a piece of bread and a bowl of soup in the inexpensive [soup] kitchens. People started dragging out clothes and furnishings from Jewish houses in order to trade them for flour and potatoes.

Each day the oppressions became more terrible. More and more restrictions were added. People were forcibly sent to Germany against their will. The civilians were arrested and imprisoned in camps so that free labor would always be available to build roads and to chop down trees in the woods, which were then transported to Germany. During forced labor, people fell like flies. In the city, the typhus epidemic was taking its toll; and corpses lay in the streets of Vilna.

The Germans issued an order that the streets be cleaned of filth. Under the mask of this decree, all poorly dressed people were rounded up and sent to Poligon, where they were incarcerated behind a barbed wire fence and closely guarded. The terrible things that happened in this camp boggle the imagination. The prisoners would stand near the barbed wire and scream in wild voices: “Bread! Save us!”

Under the guise of evacuation, the Germans sent hundreds of families there. Among them were also Jews who lived in the villages near the front lines. The evacuees were placed in barracks. They could move about freely only on the field of Poligon. Leaving the field was strictly forbidden. They had to work, and for their labor they were allotted food rations. The Jews of New Sventzian, Sventzian, and Kaltinian organized a relief action and assisted the Jews of Poligon with food. Later it was also possible to smuggle them out and send them to the Ponyevitch area. This tragedy was unparalleled in its cruelty.


Poligon in the Year 1941

Jews were packed into the large barracks without doors and without windows. The men were separated from the women and children. The things that they had taken with them, the Lithuanians took right at the start. The imprisoned Jews hugged one another, looking for a word of comfort in the cold autumn night, anything that might make this easier to bear. Diseases broke out almost immediately because of the lack of food, the dirt, and the overcrowding. Every day the conditions became more brutal and more cruel.

On the 8th of October, the German Commissar, Volf, arrived. He called all of the Jews together and demanded that they give him money, a half a million marks, giving them the illusion that by doing so they would save their lives. The money which the Jews gathered was greater than the asked-for sum. But the very next morning after [the Jews had] given the Germans the money, the Lithuanians began the executions, which took two days. Eight thousand Jews were thrown into an already prepared pit a half a kilometer long. For several days the tremendous mass grave in the woods near the Zhemyane River moved. The earth, where innocently spilled blood still seethed, issued forth a silent protest to the sun, to the cruel world, to God.


What About Me?

Having grown up in that area, I knew every road and path. In the early years of my childhood, I reveled in the beauty of nature, running and jumping through the fields and woods, swimming in the Zhemyane River, listening to the song of the birds and inhaling the aromas of the various colored flowers. But I have never forgotten the pictures of the First World War, when I first recognized the brutality of the Germans.

I returned from Israel for a short time in the 30's and traveled around Poland. There I saw the raging hatred emanating from Germany. Even at that time I sensed the threat to the existence of European Jewry. At that time, I wrote an article in the periodic journal Our Way, published by the group “Free Writings” in Vilna, in which, just as in my speeches, I called attention to this great danger looming over the old, established Jewish homes. In the January 1930 issue of Our Way I wrote:

...Dark clouds hang over the world. The cry of millions of unemployed workers echoes louder every day. The common people are drowning in a sea of hunger and deprivation, but the plight of the Jews is doubly hard because, in addition to the ominous clouds of bitter hunger and poverty, they must also suffer the angry reactionary winds of political enslavement. Over all of this hovers the tension of war and decimation.

In the issue of Our Way published on the first of May, 1931, I wrote:

...The grumblings of hard times can be heard everywhere one turns. It is true that we are no longer ruled by Czars, but no less terrible are the ideas of Mussolini concerning once again imbuing Rome with its erstwhile power or those of the Hitlerites who would empower Germany by means of murder and pogroms...
In the March, 1934 issue of the journal Dawn, I wrote, among other things:
. . . The following S.O.S. can be heard anywhere there are Jews: They scream, “Save us. We are going under!” Never before has the situation been as terrible for Jews as it is today. If something bad befell the Jews of one country, the doors of another country stood open to receive them. Today the world is hammered shut. . . . No feels that it is worth his while to speak up for the Jews.
In the year 1943, in New World, I wrote, among other things:
. . .Our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, are being slaughtered every day. Our cries [of protest] should have echoed throughout the world.

What will we tell those individuals who will survive Hitler's slaughter when they ask us, “Why were you silent when our blood ran like water? How could you sleep peacefully in your beds? How could you dress yourselves in such luxury when our corpses weren't even covered by earth? How could you decorate your houses with flowers when we were choking in our hiding places? How could you eat and drink when we were dying of hunger and thirst? How could you dance, sing, and be happy, when we were going to our deaths?

It was only yesterday that you left us, and you have forgotten us so quickly. Have your feelings become dulled to your own flesh and blood? How can you complain about anyone else, when you yourselves are no better than they are?” For the sake of our martyrs, shouldn't we live more modestly, not live such profligate lives, and prepare ourselves for the day that the war will end and we will have to help the survivors with bread?

Later, when we did meet the surviving refugees, I was asked more than once: “Where did you get the visionary ability to see so clearly the picture of Jewish destruction?”


The mass grave of forty-three Jews from New Sventzian who were shot in the Baranover Woods


Earth, Do Not Cover Their Blood!

But during the time of this terrible destruction, there were also pages of heroic struggle in which the youth of the Sventzian area took part. Those who will chronicle the history of life and death of that time will also be surprised at the great courage, the honoring of God, and the honoring of people that our brothers evinced.

We, therefore, ask of you, the martyrs of our area, to pardon us because our pain is too weak to cry out from this book. But we assure you that we have tried, and will continue to strive, to make certain that your memories will not be forgotten.

We will never stop demanding that the passive world justify its silence, justify its not coming to your aid.

We will never forgive the murderers and all of those who looked on with joy as you were killed.

A rich spiritual Jewish life was erased, a thriving life which embodied great spiritual values. The lakes of Lingmian, Palush, Gaviken, and surrounding areas no longer hear the prayers or the praying of the Jewish fishermen. The flowing rivers no longer hear the blessings[4] of the Jewish peddlers who walked or rode by and stopped to wash their hands in their waters. In the fields of the Jewish village Stoyotsishok one no longer hears the psalms being sung during the plowing or the harrowing. During the twilight times between the afternoon prayers and the evening prayers, one no longer hears the cessation of the sounds of the blacksmiths, the tailors, and the shoemakers, or the shopkeepers doing business and going to the synagogue during these hours which connect the day to the night, some to pore over a page of Gemara, some to learn from the book Khay Odom[5], others reciting a chapter of psalms.

One no longer hears the call to say the nighttime prayers of forgiveness[6], or the blowing of the ram's horn in the evenings, or the Jewish sighs of our guileless fathers and grandfathers.


By the mass grave in Poligon near New Sventzian


Quiet, a funereal quiet, prevails everywhere.

This silence hurts, it cries, it bores into one's ears, tears at one's insides!

Never, never will the crying in us, the great wailing for our martyrs, cease. With all of our thoughts and feelings, we unite ourselves with the huge graves in Poligon and in Ponar near Vilna, graves of tens of thousands, where the tortured and cruelly murdered Jews of the Sventzian area lie. [Nor will we forget] the graves of Duksht, Kimelishok, Postav, Niementshin and all of the others. Every one of us has a father there, a mother, a brother, or a sister. We will never, never forget you. We will never forget those who fell, fighters at the front and partisans.

With bowed heads and folded hands, we stand before this memorial book which commemorates the twenty-three destroyed communities in the Sventzian area, and we become one with the sacred memories of the murdered martyrs.

Hallowed and exalted be the names of our martyrs and our heroes! [7]


The remnants of the survivors from the area of Sventzian near the memorial commemorating the anniversary of the death of 8,000 victims in Poligon near New Sventzian

  1. Commentaries on the legal explanations of the Torah contained in the Mishna. Trans. Back
  2. Gemara simplified. Trans. Back
  3. This is the name of the Hebrew month. Trans. Back
  4. An Orthodox Jew washes his hands and says a prayer for various different things throughout the course of the day. Trans. Back
  5. Hebrew for The Life of Adam. Trans. Back
  6. Slikhos, said the whole month before Rosh Hashona. Trans. Back
  7. This last line is in Hebrew, and it starts out like the kaddish but ends differently, praising those who have died rather than God. Trans. Back

[Col. 55-56]

The Sources are Buried

Abraham Golomb

Translated by Khane-Faygl Turtletaub

Donated by Arleen Shapiro Tievsky

A long river flows. It carries its waters from far, far away to some other very distant place. Time and place. The Jewish people have left the world arena. When and where? – Let historians figure it out. Somewhere behind the Egyptian pyramids, somewhere before the Sumero-Arcadian cultures, our people spread over the world, heeding its eternal Leykh Likho[1]. And the Jewish people go—ancient Israel—hoary, gray Israel. Let Chagall paint a Jew in the air carrying a bundle, floating over cold, snowy, isolated worlds. Let Pilichowsky paint the Jew's passage in exile. Let other folk people recount the legends of the Wandering Jew, the Ahasver [a legendary figure of the eternal Wandering Jew (A.H.)]—but he's walking! The nations that used to persecute him are no more. There is not even a vestige left of them. All of them have been buried in the sand. Only he pushes forward. A world of enemies surround him; the lime ovens of the past and the crematoria of the present—the world is making progress, the river is flowing, everything moves forward. Why doesn't the river dry up? Why are we the only living exception to all the other petrified peoples?

Throughout the whole duration of its long history, it was revitalized by fresh sources of living waters. These waters pour their thin streams on the river bed, and the river doesn't dry up. For the last thousand years, and perhaps even longer, the springs that kept Judaism alive were the small, impoverished towns of Eastern Europe. This means the Svintsyans, the Haydutsishoks, the Vidzes, the Lingmians, the Dugelishoks, and our Kasrilevke[2], in general. In these small towns, Judaism grew; and from them it flowed into the cities. The great river is big because the small streams and springs carry their waters to it. This is how Vilna merited the title “Jerusalem of Lithuania”; all around it were towns which produced creative Jews. These towns were the vineyards, the fruitful fields; and the cities were the silos, the storehouses, the wine presses. The cream of the crop from the towns and villages gathered in the cities.

The river flows its course quietly and serenely, smoothly, without strain. When it comes to a rocky place, the river exerts the force of its pressure . . .

In this manner, Jewish life flowed for centuries, softly, slowly. The small towns were happy to take their contribution to the cities, where there were granaries. Every town, with its own rabbis, prodigies, its own accomplishments, and its individual marvels. In this way, the treasure of Jewish culture grew unhurriedly, until the time that certain impediments disturbed the life of the shtetl, and the small towns began to roar, to storm, and noisily carried their cultural contribution into the cities. That's how a rich and tumultuous Judaism developed. New names began to be heard, new, creative fields. Our culture grew up to be strong and mighty, and it spread out and made itself heard . . .

This is how it was until a ruthless tempest arose, a primitive force of hatred and [seemingly] civilized evil. The springs were covered over, our villages burned. The lime furnace into which Abraham, the first Jew, was thrown blazed up in a thousand flames. It burned throughout the whole dark night across the world. Remnants of our people hid themselves in woods, in ditches. The source cities, however, are dead. Kasrilevke[3] is no more, and gone also is the sturm un drang[4] of the culture. The springs are waterless; the river is dry. If there are no more Jewish villages, the Jerusalem of Lithuania is also no more. If there is no vineyard, why should there be a wine press?

There are Jews, the last remaining embers, standing all over the world and saying yizkor, whole books of memorial prayers, hundreds of books of prayers for the dead.

And in my heart there is a question. Books will remain, but will those for whom the books were written also remain? Gentiles burned Jews, a whole nation of Jews burned, and there has come the time when Jews are burning their own Judaism.

But we are a people who are used to miracles, and a miracle happened: “When the sun of Jerusalem was extinguished, the sun of Babylon arose” is what the Gemara said, and when the sun of Babylon was extinguished, the sun of Jerusalem once more began to shine. In time, the towns of Lithuania began to build sister cities in Zion, cities with names from the Torah but with builders and activists from Kasrilevke, with Kasrilevke's heritage, with presidents from Motele and Stoybts, with the inheritance of Sventzian and of Haydutsishok and of all of our beloved towns that were destroyed.

So the divine presence of the Jewish people, its wings severely wounded, remains a bloodied shadow which cries over the scorched roofs of those small towns of yesteryear. May it remain forever and from Jerusalem in the land of Israel; may it send its burnt parchments and blooming letters from all of the little Jerusalems of the Diaspora back to a world-class Jewish nation. Amen!

Exalted and hallowed Jewish towns. It is because of your blood that I live!

  1. This is the name of the 3rd Torah reading. Leykh Likho means “get thee out.” It is God talking to Abraham telling him to leave the land of his birth. Trans. Back
  2. Kasrilivke refers to the fictionalized city of Sholom Aleichem's stories. Trans. Back
  3. He uses the name of one of Sholom Aleichem's fictional towns, the quintessential shtetl. Trans. Back
  4. In German, this literally means “storm and stress,” but the meaning here seems to be “storm and exaltation.” Trans. Back

[Col. 59-60]

He Who Stands to Receive the Blessing

Shakhne Akhyasaf (Tsepelovitz)

Translated by Khane-Faygl Turtletaub

Donated by Arleen Shapiro Tievsky

I think that the words “thank you” and “congratulations” alone are insufficient to express our admiration for the enormous work that went into the writing of this book, which involved the collecting of information and coordinating a tremendous number of details. It involved also encouraging others to write, gathering their collective work, getting them to provide pictures and myriad other details involved in publishing this book. And everyone who holds this book containing such a great quantity of information will be blessed by the fact, one that all of us appreciate, that he has found a friend; his name is Yehoshua Heshl Gurvitz, may his light continue to shine. Thanks and blessings to him for taking on this holy task and completing it.

As one of those who helped only a little in the publishing of this book, I am able to give testimony to what went on, even though it is really impossible to describe how much work, how much devotion, how much spiritual and physical effort went into this on burning hot summer days and on freezing winter nights. The physical work also involved preparing the work for publication and conferring with all of the contributors to the book. He could not rest until all of these things were done.

Because of his great love for the people of Israel, he worried constantly about everything that happened to us, and it gave Heshl no peace until the work was completed and he approached the time that he could say a blessing over the finished product[1] with the publication of this book.

I know my dear friend, Heshl Gurvitz, like a brother, from my youth. I met him while I was still a student in school in New Sventzian at the time of World War I. I didn't know exactly who he was, a parent, a teacher, a community leader, because he had a hand in everything, in the reconstruction of the school in those years, in the holy work of Yakpa,[2] in serving white rolls and cups of cocoa to the children of the school every morning, when this was very difficult to obtain.

From the time that they came to Israel, their house was open to all; and Heshl and his wife, Nechama, were like a father and mother to all of the pioneers in the area of Sventzian.

With the coming of the Holocaust upon the Jewish people and with the settling in Israel of the first survivors, Heshl began to organize a committee of people from the area of Sventzian to help the refugees. He established an active committee in Tel Aviv and wrote to every address that he could get. He called every person who came from our area and had settled in richer countries, to help in the mission mentioned above. And, indeed, it is possible to say that he was very successful. With the help of a few close friends and business acquaintances, he established an interest-free fund, so that he and his friends could give financial assistance to all individuals who needed it and to small businesses that needed it. In this way, they were also able to set an example as faithful and honest political leaders, since they received nothing in return.

Heshl Gurvitz was naturally endowed with an amazing memory, the power of acute observation, and the talents of drawing and describing things in writing. All of these find their way into this book by way of remembering places, events, and people, starting with “Poligon” through to his eulogy of friends and acquaintances who are no more, who didn't live to share this day with us.

In the last years, he took it upon himself to publish this book. This was a tremendous undertaking in all aspects. However, he felt that if he didn't do it now, the time would pass. It did not give him any peace until he did it.

For the erecting of this eternal memorial for the thousands of Jews who were killed in the area of Sventzian, we owe a great debt of gratitude primarily to our dear friend Heshl Gurvitz.

  1. The blessing referred to appears to be the shehekhianu prayer, which thanks God “that we have reached this time,” whatever the propitious occasion might be. Trans. Back
  2. A food pantry for the needy. Trans. Back

[Col. 61-62]


[Col. 63-64]

Jews of Sventzian

Shimon Kantz

Translated by Khane-Faygl Turtletaub

Donated by Arleen Shapiro Tievsky

Sventzian was not blessed with any hidden treasures of nature. The earth was modest here, just like the people. Field and forest, river and lake—pensive but light. Soft, sincere, and smart, not only with the mind, but clever with the heart, with deeply felt wisdom which comes from keen senses. This was always the characteristic specific to the Jews of Sventzian, who never had the opportunities to put their energies to use in a large industrialized undertaking, or far-reaching branches of business, and therefore they were also very far from being coldly calculating and brutal. The Jews of Sventzian took part in all sorts of trades which catered to their needs and to the needs of the Christian population, whether in the town or in the rural areas. They were the tailors and the blacksmiths, the shoemakers and the painters, the bakers and the glaziers, the porters and the wagon drivers, the miller and the forest workers. The shopkeepers didn't work any less hard than the craftsmen, and all were characterized by respect and a love for the Torah scholar and the Jewish spiritual leaders, for the rabbi and the yeshiva student, for the sermon of the itinerant preacher to the speech of the Yiddishist and the Zionist who brought them the generations-old dreams and visions of new worlds. The heart of the Jew of Sventzian beat with the most refined simplicity. The scholar distanced himself from the minutia of hair-splitting arguments. With his sharp straight-line logic he plumbed the depths of every matter; and at the same time he listened to the song of his own heart, which was filled with deep longing, and aimed at great distances. The wine, which was not made in Sventzian, bubbled with their holiday joy. The wine of their intense goodness poured from their smiles. Their strength was their faith, which was deeper than any well and clearer than the deepest mortal wisdom: their faith in the worthwhile and long-lasting ideal of righteousness.


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