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[Col. 525]

Activists During the Difficult Times of the Jewish Schools

Sender Kovarski

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita) Turtletaub




From 1935 to 1936, anti-Semitism burgeoned in Sventzian. It could be felt especially in the economic and social aspects of life. The officials in the government started to take particular notice of the Jewish schools and they began to think up terrible gimmicks with which to undermine their existence. The hand of Kamarovski, who led the political arm of the police, could be felt. Many devoted school supporters and teachers were arrested. Many plays and social events, whose profits were to benefit the school, were forbidden. The financial situation became worse with each passing day. Debts mounted. The amount owed to the electric company also increased; (previously the electric bill had been paid by the City Council.)

One evening, when the children and teenagers had gathered in the schoolrooms, the electricity suddenly went out. It became clear that the electric company had cut off the electricity due to non payment of the bill. It seemed that now the school would have to be closed in the evenings. The children, however, got involved. They decided that they would start a campaign to raise the money on their own. They went door to door in the city and everyone gave as much as they could. [They did this for two days and] on the second day, the campaign ended with a delegation of four children giving a substantial sum of money to the principal of the school. Then the school once more had light. Despite all the difficulties caused by the authorities, the parent committee and the teaching staff did what they could to overcome them.

I want to talk about another fact, which brought great honor to the parent committee and the teaching staff. This happened in the years 1934-5, when the Christian students wanted seating to be different

[Col. 526]

in the universities: the Christian students should sit on the right side and the Jewish students on the left. There were also clashes between the Christian and the Jewish students. The Jewish students put up great resistance, coming early to occupy seats on the right side [of the classroom]. In the universities in Vilna and in the teachers' seminary in Sventzian, a group of Polish students actively supported their Jewish friends. And it was actually a Sventzian student named Markov, who using his great influence on the leftist students, organized them and got them to occupy places among the Jewish students.

Markov returned to Sventzian intending to teach after having received his diploma, but he found it hard to find a position. Then his Jewish friends came to his aid. The parent committee of the Jewish Folk School hired him to teach in the Sventzian Jewish School. We children welcomed him and were friendly to him. (In 1943, Markov was the leader of the partisans in the Nartsher Woods).

The anti-Semitic government officials were very upset by the gall of the Jews and sought ways to get back at the school [for its temerity]. That is when they decided to take the school building away from us. If it hadn't been for the courage and self-sacrifice on the part of those who sympathized with the cause, the school would certainly have had to shut its doors. After having received a letter about the eviction, the parent committee got together. The meeting was short but decisive. It was decided that concession was not possible; we would build a new school – a nicer one and a better one.

Leyzer Kovarski suggested that we should try to obtain the building of the former prison,

[Col. 527]

which was owned by the Jewish community. At an open meeting that took place in the cemetery, everyone there enthusiastically supported that proposal. It was also proclaimed that it would be necessary to raise the funds, and right there at the meeting a sizeable sum was collected. Those who did not have the means to contribute money instead volunteered their services.


Leyzer Kovarski


A building committee was selected including the following people: Volodye Taraseyski, Leyzer Kovarski, Kopl Sirotkin, Nakhum Gordon, Khaim Svirski, Dvoyre Fisher, Dr. Binyomin Kovarski.

K. Sirotkin was arrested for being a member of the illegal Communist Party, and he was sent to Kartuz-Bereze. That did not stop the work from continuing. Leyzer Kovarski took over Sirotkin's position as chairman of the parent committee and the building committee. Various messengers were sent to warn him not be become too active on behalf of the school, saying that he would then have the same fate as Sirotkin had. This did not frighten him. He stubbornly persisted in this sacred undertaking. When the construction was very close to being finished, he was invited to

[Col. 528]

see the governor of the province, and there he was officially warned: “Since we know that the Jewish School serves as a nest for Communist activities, if you persist in continuing to work on behalf of the school, we will understand it to mean that you are a Communist sympathizer, and everyone one is aware of the consequences.”

My father remained courageous and brave even there giving the following response: “Let it be known that the school has nothing to do with Communism. The school belongs to the Central School Organization of Warsaw, a legal entity, which is not al all involved in politics. Its only concern is the education of Jewish children. Sirotkin was an innocent victim. His only fault was in being a devoted culture-activist for a legal Jewish school. You should know that we will not be silent about that case. We are preparing a petition of all the residents wanting to free him.”


Khaim Svirski


Despite all these difficulties, the school was built, thanks to the devotion of all the workers and ordinary supporters in the Jewish community. When the new 1937 school year started, the new building stood ready to welcome the children.


The Folk School on a trip to Vilna (Photograph taken in the YIVO building) To the right stands the attorney, Fayvish Taytlboym – Sventzian. Left, head of YIVO – Bernshteyn


Valodya Taraseyski




Valodya Taraseyski was born in Frushzani in 1898. His parents later settled in Sventzian. At age 5, he studied with the teacher Leyb Lifkhin, o”b [of blessed memory] and continued in municipal after-school classes as well as in the state-run Russian school.

During the years 1912-1915, he studied in a gymnasium in Vilna. Because of the war, he finished in Vyazme (Russia). He later studied chemistry at the University of Moscow. In the year 1917, he was drafted into the army. In 1919, he returned home to Sventzian and immediately became active in the area of culture.

At the same time, he continued his studies in Vilne. He studied pharmacy and worked in Sventzian in this field the whole time.

[Col. 530]

When the Polish authorities removed the municipal building in which the Yiddish elementary school was located and it looked as if it would be closed, Valodya led a group of other devoted activists in building a school of their own. Thanks to his financial credit the building was quickly erected and that made it possible for the school not to miss any class time.

In the year 1939, with the coming of the Soviets, Valodya Taraseyski was arrested for being a capitalist. He was transferred from one prison to another until he was finally sent to a work camp in the Komi Republic,[1] where he remained until the amnesty at the end of 1941. At that time he found out that his wife and children had also been exiled to Kasakhistan.
With the stream of repatriation, he and his family returned to Poland, where he worked for a short time as the manager of the TOZ[2] Pharmacy in Lodz. In 1948, he and his family settled Brussels, Belgium, where he lives to the present day.


[Col. 529]

Nosn Kavarski

Nosn, the younger son of Asher and Basya Kavarski, was born in Sventzian and just like the other children of the family he attended kheyder and afterwards went to the Russian high school.

After he married, he settled in Petersburg and went into business and financial ventures.

He came to Vilne after the October Revolution and there he immediately became connected with the Yokopo Society[3] and worked with this organization to rebuild the province that had been destroyed in the War. He was one of the founders and general directors of the Central Folks-Bank and of the Handcrafter's Bank that served Vilne and the province.

He later moved to Warsaw and headed the Jewish Folks-Bank that served all of Poland. Nosn Kavarski, just like his father, Reb Asher, and his brother, Dr. Herts Kavarski, was honored for his selflessness on behalf of the people in the area of Vilne.


Dr. Menakhem-Mendl Kavarski

        Dr. Menakhem-Mendl Kavarski was one of the most interesting personalities ever to come out of Sventzian. He distinguished himself by his indefatigable work on behalf of his people. When he arrived in Slonim in 1921, he was a pediatrician, who at the same time dedicated himself to the matters involving the Jewish School in the city. Idealistically he was close to the Bund. He headed the Community Committee for the Jewish School. Together with other activists, he founded the Slonim division of the TOZ. With the active assistance of Dr. Tsemakh Shabad of Vilne, Dr. Kavarski created one of the most active TOZ divisions in the whole surrounding area. Under his supervision, the health agency included all of the children in the city. He was also the head doctor of TOZ, and did not accept payment for his work.

[Col. 531]

Dr. Kavarski was also at the head of ORT[4] in Slonim. His house was always open to cultural activist, writers, lecturers. He did a lot to publicize Jewish books.

He perished in one of the Slonim massacres in1942, together with his family – his wife, his son and daughter, both of whom were physicians.


Aleksander Kavarski

Aleksander Kavarski was born in Sventzian. That is where he graduated high school.[5] He married the daughter of a very respectable proponent of the Enlightenment, Reb Hersh Konenberg, and lived in Slonim after the wedding. He distinguished himself as a colorful and devoted community activist and was one of the “twelve” overseers of the Jewish Hospital. He was also active in other philanthropic organizations. He was a member of Vaad Eydes Yisroel,[6] which led Jewish life in the

[Col. 532]

city. In the year 1918, during the first City Council elections under German occupation, Aleksander Kavarski was unanimously elected Mayor of Slonim. The City Council was disbanded in January 1919, when the city was occupied by the Bolsheviks. After they left Slonim on March 2 nd 1919, they took Kavarski along as a hostage [?]. It was just by chance that he was saved and barely made it home from the marketplace with his life. In his later years, he devoted much energy and initiative in helping the “Joint.” He headed the Vaad HaKahile[7] and was respected by the Jewish as well as the non-Jewish population.

He died in 1922 at the age of 65. His sons-in-law were: Levin, the renowned pediatrician in Vilne, and Lazinski, the well-known attorney in Mexico.


Kalman Likhtenshteyn

Itshe-Hersh [sic]][8]


The Prophet of the Town

Itshe Hirsh

During the First World War, when the German Army was approaching Sventzian, the Jews feared the time of transition. On one of those days, Itshe Hersh strolled through the marketplace of Sventzian with a large, tin charity box in his hand. Drumming on the charity box, he said loudly: “ 'Jacob left Bersheva and went to Haran.'[9] Yankl! Where are you going? What do you lack in your parents' house? What will you do in Haran? Stay where you are. You yourself don't know where you are going.” Itshe Hersh's words affected many Jews and they decided to remain in Sventzian.”

[Cols. 533-534]

Two Friends

Leyb Germanski and Mikhal Notish[10]

Khaim Grade


No caption[11]


  They grew up together; they blossomed as one.
Childhood friends but strangers in thought and mood.
Like trees in the woods, during the copper-red evenings,
They would look at each other.
  Two barefoot children in huts of clay and straw.
Two lean boys in the loneliness and grayness of a small town.
They stood opposite one another
Like headlights, before they heard the approach of trains.
  Together they used to go the train tracks in the field,
And each one walked into the world on a rail.
Both of them walked into a sunny dream,
Even though one always spoke about war and the other of peace.
  Together they walked in naked fields,
As if they were sowing bread for the new spring.
One of them was the Lithuanian earth, hard and sober,
The second, like our cloudy sky – a poet.

[Cols. 535-536]

  For those who want to dream the night is as good as sleeping.
He rises before dawn with the sun on his eyes: I hope!
My path lies before me, as open and slender as this line.
He drives through smoke-filled cities and villages inflamed by hate.
  That's what the first one said and sanctified its truth with blood.
He was taken. The street marched behind him filled with courage.
Several weeks later and eagle brought a letter in its beak:
Dead. We are sending you his linen, documents and boots.
  For the person who wants to dream, the night and sleeping are good.
He gets up with sun in his eyes: I pray!
My road lies as open and slim as this line,
It goes through smoky cities and through villages lighted by envy.
  That is what the first one said, and made his truth sacred with blood.
He was captured –the street followed him, full of courage.
Several weeks later an eagle brought a letter in his beak:
He died. We are returning his clothing, his papers and his boots to you.
  In your memory, I took a vow:
I swear by the anguish that burns off my tears,
That whatever your life failed to teach me,
I learned from your cruel death.
  We stood here in the marketplace
Near the same old moldy stalls.
We let ourselves walk into the distance,
But we were stopped by rotting fences.
  Now I stand alone in town in the rain,
Being scraped by the autumn storm
As if I were a black-framed piece of paper,
That still hangs there even after the corpse has been buried.
  How can I escape my sadness and where would I go?
The train tracks run through my brain,
And all the train cars and wheels and screws
Lead me at night through my marrow to your death.
  How can I avoid your mother and where could I go,
So that her wailing does not reach me?
I cannot find a place for myself anywhere.
I always see her pale face in the mirror.
  I am now in the city. I have run away from our town.
I walk through the street and suddenly begin to run.
It's just that I have run into a dealer in second-hand goods –
Your mother. She wants to sell me one of your garments.

[Cols. 537-538]

  A spring bloomed and an autumn rusted,
Since death separated those two friends.
Now he has woven a snow-white dress for his comrade,
Death wanted to unite them.
Blood on the spring-green, blood on the snow.
  Death attacked the first one with a storm –
The Polish eagle with its wild shrieks;
It tortured the poet with pain,
And later saved him from it.
       Blood on the spring-green, blood on the snow.
  He lay on his white bed,
Saw through the window the swirling whirlwind
Of snow, which covers all the trees and roads.
Death also came to him in this way:
       Blood on the spring-green, blood on the snow.
  His heart could have served only with song.
Now stronger ones will take their turn.
The voice of your grave in the blue dawn –
And my songs will remain with them.
       Blood on the spring-green, blood on the snow.
  In death he dozed like a child,
His arms outspread: Now I'm going. I am going now.
Because he saw in that whirlwind of snow,
A column of light, which would lead him in his pain.
       Blood on the spring-green, blood on the snow.

[Cols. 539-40][12]

The Economic Situation in Sventzian

(According to the records of the “Yekopo”[13] of Vilna, which appeared in 1931 edited by Moyshe Shalit, p. 448)

The round number of the general population of Sventzian is 6,000 souls of which 2,900 are Jews.

The main occupation of the Jewish population is shop-keeping, small businesses and wholesale businesses. In the city there are about 200 shop-keepers and small businesses and over 150 hand craftsman.

All three of these main business occupations of the Jewish population that were mentioned, were at that time, doing very poorly.

This region suffered for two years in a row, in 1927 and 1928, from a great crop failure. The peasant became very poor and his purchasing power shriveled.

In addition to this, the markets, that took place there every Wednesday, became sparse. The reason was that all the nearby towns also opened markets and they drew away many of the peasants from Sventzian.

It can also be mentioned that after the First World War, Sventzian was separated from many villages by the Lithuanian border. These villages had always bought and sold goods in Sventzian. They conducted all of their business with the Jews of Sventzian and this economic traffic now disappeared.

Much income was also taken away from the Jewish shopkeepers by the wealthy Christian Cooperative.

This Cooperative is greatly supported by the “Seymik”[14], which granted it large loans at only 6 percent.

Even the Jewish shopkeepers had to buy many of their products at the Cooperative, products such as salt and sugar.

The Cooperative also bought grain, seeds and flax, and did a great business with these.

Christian shopkeepers were only 5 percent of the general population, and their situation was actually a very good one.

Many shopkeepers from all the surrounding neighborhoods also came to the market in Sventzian. They brought with them notions and costume jewelry, fabrics, leather, manufactured items and shoes. They were in fierce competition with the local merchants.

Because of these out-of-town small businessmen, the shopkeepers in Sventzian also had to bring their merchandise out of their stores to the market. They also displayed their wares on tables and had to close their stores the whole day that the market was held.

Since some of the Jewish shopkeepers, who sold notions and fabrics did not do much business locally, they began to travel around to the markets of the surrounding towns and sell their wares there.

In general, Sventzian had a surfeit of shops. For example, the number of manufacturers had grown to three times what it had been before the war.

Due to all of these enumerated reasons, the conditions for the Jewish shopkeepers and small businessmen were really very dire.

The bad harvest also had critical consequences for all the artisans, such as shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths, and construction workers. The farmers were now giving them very little work.

Many Christian shoemakers had settled in Sventzian and they were, actually, doing a lot of business. One of these Christian shoemakers ran a workshop that employed over 30 workers. He even sold the finished products in the surrounding towns and he was doing very well.

The Jewish shoemakers did not have the same opportunities to develop their business. They were, therefore, very poor.

But there were other Christian artisans in Sventzian in addition to shoemakers, and they too offered big competition to the Jewish artisans both in town and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

It was said that in Sventzian, there were factories that made woolen boot-liners, that were only in Jewish hands. In truth, the manufacture of these items was only supervised by Jews. The workers were exclusively Christians, fanyes,[15] and they did not want to teach this trade to young Jewish men.

Over 100 workers were making these woolen boot-liners and earning nice salaries, but there were practically no Jews among them.

Some of the Jewish bakeries were also going to close very soon. The Seymik was in the process of talking about instituting a mechanized bakery in Sventzian. If this project became a reality, it would immediately bring ruin upon many Jewish families.

Now it is understandable why there was so much poverty in Sventzian. Fortunately, there exists in town an organization called “Raising the Fallen,” which is a great help to those in need.

This organization doles out, for practically nothing, bread and wood, and by doing so saved dozens of families from cold and starvation.

This is, in brief, a true, eye-witness report of the economic situation that existed in Sventyan in the beginning of the [19]30s.

1. The Komi Republic is situated in the far northeast of the European part of the Russian Federation within the boundaries of the Pechora and Mezen-Vychegda plains, the Central and Southern Timan, and the western slopes of the Urals (Northern, Subpolar, and Polar Urals) [From Wikipedia. Trans.] Return
2. In 1936 the TOZ (Polish initials for the Jewish Health and Welfare Society). [Trans.] Return
3. An aid organization for Jewish victims of war. [Trans.] Return
4. A world-wide Jewish charity whose interest lies in education and training. [Trans.] Return
5. Real Shul in the original. I am not sure how to translate this. [Trans.] Return
6. Committee of Witnesses of Israel [Trans.] Return
7. Committee of the Jewish Community. [Trans.] Return
8. Sometimes the name is spelled with a hyphen, as it is here, and at other times not. [Trans.] Return
9. Genesis 28:10. [Trans.] Return
10. Germanski was arrested, suspected of Communist activities and was sent to the Kartuz-Bereze Camp. There he was persecuted until he died. Only his things were returned to his mother. Mikhal Notish (Shutan), the son of Lipe, the Sventsyaner mason, was a Yiddish poet, and a teacher in the Jewish schools as well as in the Medem Sanitorium. He died very young. Hi poem, “Hirsh the Mason,” was well known. It was dedicated to his father. Return
11. It is a photo of Khaim Grade. [Trans.] Return
12. There are 3 columns of close print on this page. It looks like a page of a newspaper. [Trans.] Return
13. An aid organization for Jewish victims of war. [Trans.] Return
14. The Seymik was the local assembly of the nobility. [Trans.] Return
15. A humorous expression used to refer to “Russians.” [Trans.] Return

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