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[Col. 867]

The community Worker Heshl Gurwitz

From the Autobiography that was printed in the “Yekapo” registry of 1931, Vilna

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

He was born in 1894, in Sventzian. When he was a young boy, his parents moved to New–Sventzian, where his father worked at the mill, on the train–line Petersburg–Warsaw.

Until 14 years of age he studied in the cheder and in the Russian Folk Shul. Due to the difficult economic circumstances of his parents, he had to end his future studies, he then worked in a shop.

In the start of 1909 he arrived in Vilna, he got work in a shop and sought to take evening courses.

When the Bundists started to reorganize in Vilna, he became active in the Shop Employees club.

He actively attended the gatherings, which took place mostly in Novogorod, in Rabbi Leizer's house, on Yiddisher Street in the Antokoler woods. Mainly he distributed legal and illegal literature.

Being a member of the “Bund”, he didn't always agree with them, so later he became a Territorialist.

In 1915, he left Vilna and settled in New–Sventzian. Immediately he became one of the most involved members of the town's help committee, also with the homeless of Poligon.

He started to fight for a Jewish existence when Jewish children had to attend German school, learn in the German language and attend classes even on the Shabbat: the children were in a foreign environment. He immediately began to agitate and advise these parents, that they had to open a pure Jewish school for these Jewish children. Thanks to him and his friends, a new Jewish school was founded in our own language with our own teachers.

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Heshl Gurwitz


When “Yekapo” was founded in Vilna, Heshl was involved with its foundation and was active in giving help to the homeless and less fortunate. He was also involved in the homeless shelter in New–Sventzian, through Yekapo. He also served the entire region with uniting refugees with the help of “Hias”.

With a good heart, he served Yekapo and The Sventzianer Folk–Bank. He was an active participant in all the institutions of the region. In 1919 he took part as a representative of first Yekapo conference and all the others and provided much help where needed.

After the First World War he became more involved with the Zionist movement. In 1925 he made Aliyah to Israel.

In Eretz Israel he started working as a wagon driver and painter, and later he was the member of the cooperative called “Fattening of animals” which prepared feed for chickens.

Then he belonged to the party, “Achudot Ha'avodah” (workers union).

In 1929, for family reasons, he returned to Vilna, where he became a manager of a shoe factory.

He went back to his former way of life, full of vigour,

[Col. 869]

In the “Yekapo” of Vilna, and “Free News”

In 1934 he returned to Eretz Israel and lived in Tel Aviv, where he lives until today.

When the refugees started to arrive after the mass destruction in their home towns, he founded the “Landsmanchaft” for Vilna Jews. The Vilna committee didn't want to bother with the Jews from the provinces, so

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he decided to organize” Jews from the Sventzian district”.

Separately, he is known for his outstanding involvement with the Gemillut Hesed. His great love was for the organizing and accumulating the material for the “Yiskor Book” after the Holocaust.

Day and night he devoted his time to this book and thanks to him we have this book.

[Col. 869]

The Good Uncle – Israel Portnoy z”l

Etya Rudnitski

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay




Who didn't know the good uncle, Israel Portnoy, who lived in New–Sventzian and the region. Who didn't know of his generosity and kindness?

He always had a pleasing smile on his face: he always had a joke, winked and said a kind word.

––nephews, he always said to everyone–?

Israel Portnoy owned many shops, he owned a mill. He was a merchant, and he was always seen in the street, between a group of people, telling them something of importance.

There was no Simcha celebration in town where he was not the man of honor, there was no sad event in the shtetl where he was not present.

He was the first one everywhere: in the synagogue, he was the Gabai, in Chevra Kadisha–a member. In the Gemilut Hesed–a donor. When someone needed a few zlotes, we asked Israel Portnoy, he took a walk around town and the money appeared. No one dared to insult the “uncle”. No one asked him, “why” and “for whom”. Everyone knew if “uncle” was requesting, that it was important and we had to give.

[Col. 870]

His own livelihood was affected later on due to negligence and he fell on difficult times.

But this didn't deter him from opening his home and helping others.

He didn't have his own children, but he often raised nieces or nephews.

When the Red Army entered the shtetl in 1939, many families of the shtetl suffered from hunger.

Quietly he distributed the flour that he had at his mill. He never lost his willpower and when he received the news that the Red army arrived, he said

––Better Stalin the wall, than Hitler the head!”

Be suffered from both, first Stalin took away all his means, and later Hitler killed him. He was one of the 43, that the German and Lithuanian animals brought behind the shtetl and shot them (first action).

The New–Sventzianers in the entire world will never forget their “uncle”, Israel Portnoy.

[Col. 871]

The Beloved Lawyer Leib Gurwitz

I. Ichituv

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Leib was born in 1901, his parents were Hirsh and Chaia Feiga Gurwitz in New Sventzian.

Already in his early childhood, still studying in the cheder and Russian Folk Shul, it was noticed that he had talent, a sharp mind and a quick wit. This got him outstanding results in all his undertakings; he was a good student, great at drawing and painting, and very musical. We must include his pure personal qualities, he was kind, a devoted son, a devoted brother and a passionate Nationalist Jew.

In 1915, when the war operations approached our shtetl, Leib's parents with their extended Kovarski family, took flight and spent their years with all the other refugees. They stayed in Koslov (now Mitsurinsk) , Tambover Gubernia. Leib starts his studies in Koslov in a Russian Gymnasia, he was a quick and excellent student. However, he still needed to help out his family.

In 1918, when the Bolsheviks took over the authority in Koslov, for a time there was a Polish administrative office. Different hooligan elements took advantage of the situation and attacked and robbed the new refugees. One day such an attack was on the Gurwitz family. It took place one evening when the parents were asleep and the brother Leib and Israel were sitting at the table preparing their homework; suddenly 2 bandits broke into the home. At first, they said they were sent to find hidden guns,

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then they told everyone to raise their hands and demanded their money (gold). Father didn't give in, he managed to run out of the house and started screaming. The bandits ran after him, one with a rifle, but Leib accosted him, took away the rifle and hid it under the bed. The young Leib saved his father from a certain death.

End of 1918, the Kovarski and Gurwitz families returned to New–Sventzian. Together with Elyiahu Yosef Kovarski and the brothers Zavel and Alter Berenteyn, my father arranged a beautiful house not far from town. Leib threw himself into his work and in no time learned how to cultivate, sow and reap the land, and became a proficient land worker. Later when his father opened a store, Leib became a successful shopkeeper.

Even though his time was spent furthering the family business, he found time for involvement in the Zionist cause. He was one of the founders of Young Zionists and an ardent Zionist.

In 1921, Leib restarts his interrupted studies. He goes to Vilna to study law at the Jewish–Polish Gymnasia of Epstein. In no time he becomes one of the best students and excels in Latin language and becomes one of the best known spokesperson and defender of justice in town. In 1924, after ending his studies in the Gymnasia, he enrolled in the Agricultural department of the Vilna University.

He choose this agricultural faculty to get better acquainted with the workers' rights in the shtetls

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Lawyer Leib Gurwitz


and to better prepare himself for his Aliyah to Eretz Israel. There is lots of Polish anti– Semitism in that time. He studied practical subjects like, medicine, agriculture, chemistry and others, where he came in contact with his Polish “colleagues. Life for the Jewish students were unbearable. Leib was the only Jewish student who was uncomfortable in this agriculture department, and he was forced to lose a year. So he enrolled in the law faculty, becomes one of the best students and completes his judicial studies in 1929.

He is not only a student in the university, but one of the leaders of the Zionist cause: both amongst the Jewish academic youth and amongst the folk of the town and surrounding region.

These are still the days of the October Revolution. Amongst the Jewish youth, especially amongst the academic Jewish youth, the ideas of communism was appealing! Which in Vilna had a large following. They were attracted to Russian literature, Russian folk songs, which all sung praise to the new Soviet regime. From the other side, these are the times after the signing of the Balfour Declaration, the renewal of nationalism, and a strengthening of the Zionist cause was brewing.

At the Vilna University there was a student's union, amongst them many Polish unions. Like,” Emerging” (Lemoshel) , for the Zionist cause.” Kadimah”, who were involved in Zionist movements,” Funk”, which

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surrounded itself with all the socialistic ideals, which in practise is exactly like the Communist party. The need arises for a Jewish socialistic party, for those of the left, the Academics. Leib was one the founders of this union, and others. He was joined by: Lawyer Elyiahu Rudnitski, (died in Israel) lawyer Itzhak Barantchik, (died in Vilna) , lawyer Blamentiovski, (in Israel) , the brothers Leib and Israel Gurwitz and Raizel Kagen (died in Sventzian).

Leib was the heart and soul of the Bund, as well as one of the most active members of the Students union. The work with the Jewish Academic Students was not his only work, when the students started to organize in Poland these various delegations for Eretz Israel, Leib got involved in the unifying work of Dr. Steterling and Dr. Dovid Neiger z”l to establish a branch in Vilna. Leib was its first president (later taken over by Chaim Shalom Kapeliavitch and Israel Gurwitz).

Leib was a true member of “Po'alei–Zion” party of Vilna, working in both the shtetl and all over the region for the party. He was a committed Zionist and participated in all the activities of these parties; he was active in all areas, like gathering funds and emptying the “boxes” for Kerem Kayemet, and others. Either through work or through his writing, as for “The Today” (newspaper) of Warsaw, he represented the workers and the Zionist cause. He was the Vilna correspondent for this newspaper. All his free time was devoted to these causes, even when he came to New–Sventzian in the summer months, he devoted himself to these causes with heart and soul.

After Leib ended his studies in the Vilna University, he left for Sventzian in order to finish his law application. There he entered the apprenticeship of another lawyer, and married the daughter of Ruben Abramovitch, Malosia, who was an known citizen of Sventzian. He starts to practise as a lawyer in Sventzian.

[Col. 875]

Quickly Leib becomes one of the most popular lawyers in the region. Thanks to his friendly nature, to his upbringing and to his honesty, he was loved by Jewish and non– Jewish folk throughout the region. He knew a little Lithuanian from before, and he became more and more comfortable with the people and the language, and they called him, “my lawyer” (“Musu Advocatz”)

In Sventzian, Leib was always devoted to his all his causes, especially Zioinst causes.

In 1939, when the Red Army arrived, his in–laws, Ruben Abramovitch and his wife, were sent to Siberia. Leib, his wife and child were not touched and the Regime turned a blind eye that he was a well– known Zionist and a Polish lawyer.

[Col. 876]

The Soviet regime let him practise law. He was the first Jewish lawyer in the region, who stood up for Soviet rights and spoke Lithuanian. When Leib went to his trials in the Kovna court, a special assembly was organized because of his fame.

Leib's popularity remained as long as there was order between the Christian and Jewish folk, mutual respect. As soon as the Germans arrived, this changed. The Lithuanians changed their attitudes toward the Jewish folk and became the “helpers of the liquidators” in the region. One of the first ones who was murdered by the German–Lithuanian bandits was Leib Gurwitz.

Together with 100 other Jews, the German–Lithuanian act of murder took place outside Sventzian in the woods.

[Col. 875]

Yehuda Moishe the Blacksmith

Freidel Bak

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Yehuda Moishe was a hardworking man, his entire life was spent in his workshop, at the smithy shop, where he repaired horseshoes, fixed “podkoves”, put on wheels and fixed wagons. When he got older and the work became too difficult, he took a second job–as a Shamash. He didn't give up his workshop and from time to time arrived at the shop to do some work.

When it was still dark outside, he grabbed his Tallit and Tefilim and ran to the synagogue. When he was asked, “Rabbi Yehuda Moishe, why are you in such a hurry?” why so early? He answered, I love to daven (pray) with devotion, quietly and not in a rush, so that my praying has meaning for my soul.

Yehuda Moishe was self– satisfied, always in a good mood and easy to please.

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He didn't have much wealth, the main aspect of his life, was to be righteous and to go into the next life with honesty and purity.

Yehuda Moishe didn't have any children to say Kaddish for him. Therefore he gave a lot to charity , he supported orphans and widows, so his goods deeds will live forever.

When one of his brother–in–laws died and left behind 4 daughters, he took one of the daughters to live with him. He willed half his house to her and with luck he married her off. The other half of the house he willed to the Gemillut Hesed, and requested that after his death they hire someone to say Kadish for him.

After his death, the Gemillut Chessed made the arrangements to honor him they named the Gemillut Hesed after Yehuda Moishe, the Blacksmith, z”l.

[Col. 877]

My Childhood Years in the Town
In memory of my mother, Sara, my father Heshl, and brother Henoch

Nechama Kovarski–Gurwitz

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay




My lucky childhood
How can I not brag about you!
How can I not be proud of you!

(from Lev Tolstoy,” my childhood years”)

My dear and wonderful childhood, remain in my memory together with my shtetl Nemiencien, where I was born and grew up.

Until today I remember with precision, when I arrived home at night, after a hot summer's day. I loved to run around barefoot in the hot sand and swish around in the nearby lakes up to my knees. Another great pleasure was to go into the fields and valleys, gather flowers and make a beautiful wreath.

We, children, liked to gather in a closed box, large black beetles, and loved to listen to them.

We loved to go in groups to the forests, to pick mushroom or large black berries. At night we bathed in the cool lakes which were nearby and arrived home fresh and happy.

In the wintertime, we sledded from the hill to the frozen lake and arrived home tired and hungry and went straight to the “Vetshere” (supper) , often we were so tired, we went to sleep in our clothes and late at night mother had to wake us, pleading with us out of pity, “get undressed and go back to sleep”.

We remember from those days all our dear ones, pious and just, who went about their Jewish way of life filled with all its commandments and in the end,

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in our shtetl, Jews who were scholarly, who lived here, who were friendly and content, all vanished. Their motto in life was: You will eat what you will reap!

A Yiddish saying goes, wherever there is a learning, there is a scholar!

Now everything is destroyed, our Dear Jews that were struck down can only be remembered. I am the only daughter who survived from this beautiful and esteemed family, and my holy duty is to” Remember” those of my family as well as our devout Jewish folk, to demonstrate to the Jewish world that such a beautiful Kehillah existed, followed the traditions and obeyed the commandments, which the Hitlerite beasts burned and killed!

[Col. 879]

I was born in Niamencien, 15 kilometers from Vilna, and I became a New–Sventzianer where I grew up as a young woman. My little shtetl was on a hill surrounded by dense forests. Nearby were orchards full of fruit trees. One of these was about 3 kilometers which stretched to the lake called” the Yellow One”. In the valleys around the shtetl a small stream meandered and nearby were several warehouses (graineries).

On the larger lake, the Vilye, which went into the Nieman, many rafts were in the area in the summer, as they transported wood to Vilna. In the quiet summer evenings, these raftsmen sang songs, ladies' and men's voices, until the early morning. In those evenings, the folk sat outdoors, to breathe the fresh air and discuss politics, shopkeeping and other small talk.

Near the shtetl was a small stream called, “Niementche”, and we don't know if the shtetl was called after this stream or vice versa.

Stories were told that this small stream was once a larger river, which eventually dried up.

There was a small area where non– swimmers and small children could bathe.

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We didn't have to worry about drowning in this place.

In the springtime, the river meandered and flowering fields covered the area, and covered even the bricks of those homes made of brick. All the snow that melted from the hill flowed into this river.

On this river, Yehoushua–Yacov Kovarski found a spot and built a mill, that served the shtetl and surrounding region.

As a young girl I remember many historical facts. I remember, one episode, as a young child, my parents packed their belongings and hid some things in the cellar and we all left for Vilna, until the recruitment of the Japanese War was over. After the Revolution of 1905, a help society was created in the shtetl because we were afraid of Pogroms. The Jewish youth patrolled with an iron hand, this didn't last long, the political atmosphere calmed down.


The Miller's daughter Lyuba

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And the children ran back to the woods to play, in the fields and meadows, they had no idea of the new events, that a war was looming over their heads.


The Mill owner Yehoushua Yacov and his wife Sara Baila


We went about our business with no cares in the world.

We didn't only play, but we studied in the cheder for 6 years, boys and girls. In later years, well known teachers came to our shtetl, who taught us other subjects, like mathematics and languages.

The teachers were students, who came for short periods, as they called it, they gave us “hours”–they later left after they earned a little money. No one knew where they came from or where they went.

This had a negative impact on us children, the changeover of teachers. In the summertime, many vacationers arrived. And amongst them, some gave us “hours”. They enjoyed their summer months and earned additional money (teaching us).

We had many vacation homes and “pensions” in our shtetl. Every day between Vilna and Niemencien there was a wagon–driver, who brought many vacationers and therefore the shtetl benefitted economically from this. We joked that the shtetl lived from “Air”.

We children suffered through this, as we had to study with the “Szesonove” teacher, and it rattled our minds.

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Besides the main disturbance, that ever teacher had his own way of teaching, he belonged to a” political party” and we had to endure listening to his stories (politics). Everyone had his “I believe”, his Laws from Sinai, and we didn't know how to orientate our beliefs.

One was a Zionist, the other a Bundist, and they would make “mud” (discredit) one other. To my good fortune, a Hebrew teacher lived in our house, an ardent Zionist, he had a great influence on me and thanks to him I also became a Zionist.

One time he told us: I am proud to be a Jew and belong to a people that gave the world the 10 commandments, the Tenach. Zionism means freeing the Jewish people, a true Jew must envision himself in the land of Eretz Israel.

From this teacher began our dreams and our ties to Zionism and Jerusalem.

In 1915 when the German military approached our region we left our home–town, Niamentzen, and together with my family we settled in Vilna, which was taken over by the Germans at a later time.

The Jewish folk at first were glad that they got rid of the Czarist regime, and the Jewish community began to establish their cultural institutions; the Tzairi–Zion Party was established and carried out its activities legally. I immediately became involved with its ideals and work.

Because of the difficult economic situation, my father decided to return to New–Sventzian, which was his place of birth, and where a large part of the Kovarski family still lived.

When we arrived here, we found that most of the people and the Kovarski family left for Russia. The few that remained lived as a tight knit community and they kept each other company in their homes.

You didn't need an invitation and the gatherings were informal. Slowly, we started

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to discuss a book, debate politics and in this way it was decided to start a Library. A little later we began to work for the Jewish school. Courses for grown ups were started and often there were recitals of important political themes and on worldy events.

When the teacher Hellerstein arrived from Vilna as a teacher in the Jewish school, we then established the society, “the National Party”, in which two streams fought, a national–Zionist and a socialist. Most of the youth belonged to the Zionist ideals. After the Russian Revolution, many were of the leftist view.

When the Balfour Declaration was instituted, many of the youth were captivated by the ideal of Zionism.

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As the “Tzaeri–Zion” was founded in Sventzian, we brought 2 leaders: Schmuel Margolies, and the teacher Baruchavitch. They helped us found a branch of “Tziri–Zion” in New Sventzian.

I immersed myself with this work. My husband's younger brother, Leib Gurwitz, helped me and together we led the activities with the youth of the shtetl.

After a short while, 30–40 new registrants came, we rented a place at Betia Tabackavitch, on Kaltianer Street, where we held our meetings. Leib Garfein was elected president and Yacov Shwartz became the secretary. In the beginning the organization was comprised of the so called “Balabatisch” children (of wealthier homes) , but later proletarian elements joined, like Furmanes, Treger and others.


The 2nd. Conference of the “Tziri–Zion”, 6–8 June, 1921, Vilna

Kneeling: __, Schlomo Farker, __, Menachem Rudnitski, Schlomo Alper, Chaim Kopelovitch,__, Abraham Soleveichik,
Sitting: Abraham Katz, Shrega Antovil, Itzhak Shveiger, Eliahu Rudnitzki, Nechama Kovarski, Gurwitz–, New sventzian, Itzhak Valak, Chaim Feigin
Standing: __, Yochen Levine, Israel Shapir, Nachum Kantorovitch, Israel Meremenski, Faivel Teitleboim, __Sventzian, Borovski, Schmuel Margolit, __Sventzian, Abramson, Baruchovitch, __Sventzian

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From the first days of the “Tzaeri–Zion”, 2 different elements fought amongst themselves: on the right, the Hebrew one, on the left, the Yiddish one. The New Sventzian organization was from the beginning a Yiddish one, and in its charter wrote a special paragraph––to be active in the Jewish school.

I was sent as a delegate from New Sventzian to Vilna for the first conference of all the branches of “Z–Z” and represented the left (Yiddish) stream of ideals.

We recruited more people to our branch and ideas thanks to this conference.

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For those that were too young for our group, we created the “Ha'halutz” for them, and became their first members. Most of them made Aliyah to Eretz Israel.

When we bought the pharmacist Tzipkin's house, where we housed all the shtetl's cultural institutions, the “Z–Z” organization also relocated. We also took over the garden and land and used it for the Halutzim. In the beginning of 1925, my husband Heshl Gurwitz made Aliyah to Eretz Israel. And in 1926, I myself left for Israel. My fondest memories are tied to the “Tzaeri–Zion” organization. With the youth of the “Ha'halutz” and especially with the shtetls of Nemiancien and New–Sventzian.

[Col. 885]

Memories from the Cheder–Years
(from the Children's Journal of the Folk–Shul, New–Sventzian)

Henoch Lapidot

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Until today, I don't know why, but my father thought I was very spoiled. This was, according to him, because I didn't want to go to cheder. I am certain, that, no one was better than me. “Was it a pleasure to go to school and receive punishments?”

One time, when the Rabbi hit me very hard, I returned home and complained. Father listened to me and said–if he hit you, you probably you deserved it! The Rabbi wouldn't hit you for no reason!

I waited for the occasion to pay back the rabbi. A few days later he hit me on the nose and it began to bleed. I let my nose bleed all over my jacket, on purpose, so when I arrived home and they saw the soiled jacket, I yelled: ––the Rabbi want to kill me! He hit me until I bled!

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When father saw my spilled blood on the jacket, he was remorseful. He didn't ask me anything, he put on his jacket and left to pay the Rabbi a visit. He was angry and told the Rabbi he would no longer be sending me to cheder. And that was that!

At first I was glad. After several days I saw I made a terrible mistake. My father brought to another cheder, he sent me to a stricter Rabbi and the children were frightened of him. Like for a fire!

I couldn't admit my guilt so I had to remain here.

Several years past and the Redemption came here. A new Jewish school was founded and we got rid of the Rabbis and the cheders and their antics.

Like we say: We are blessed to be rid of him!

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Pesach in our Town

Teibe Cohen (Zuker)

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay




Winter months were very long, deep snowfalls, severe frosts and blizzards. When Pesach drew closer, our hearts started to warm up. With Erev Pesach approaching, it meant springtime was near.

Truthfully, every holiday for us children was a delight! On the high holidays we took great pleasure from the shofar–blowing, going to the synagogues; the atmosphere was so enjoyable!

I was so enthralled listening to my father daven with his sweet voice, with devotion and rapture.

Succoth we loved to be in our Succah and Simchat Torah, who didn't dance and sing during the celebration?

So did Chanukah have its own enjoyment, with its Chanukah gelt and fatty, tasty latkes. Purim had another sweetness, where we gave “shaloch–mones” (sweet treats) and took pleasure” killing” Haman.

We enjoyed all the holidays but looked forward to Pesach. Not only Pesach, but Erev Pesach as well.

The preparations started right after Purim, we started to collect pots filled with fat. Meanwhile we filled our bellies with “gribenes” (made out of frying goose skin in fat) ,

After we finished with the fat, we started brewing the “mead” in a special “kosher for Passover” cooper pot.

We the put beets on the oven, covered it with a clear white cloth,

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When we children approached the beets, mother started to scream: don't come too close with any “Hometz” (anything not kosher for Pesach).

Three weeks prior to Pesach the ovens used to make the Matza were prepared. This was a great pleasure for us. We enjoyed kneading the dough and the entire shtetl took part in this joyful occasion.

When the fruit wine in the cellar was ready, the fat and the mead and the beets were ready, and the Matza was brought to the houses, we became very impatient for the arrival of the feast of Pesach, counting the days.

The last week was spent koshering the pots and dishes, cleaning and shining the house, and when Erev Pesach arrived, our home appeared like a “palace”.

Can you imagine such a picture?

On the Pesach table were dishes with golden rims, large carafes, silver cups, a white sugar holder, in which we looked into as if into a mirror and finally, the Matza cover, with the embroidered blessings made by my mother.

Erev Peach, father inspected the house like a chief Rabbi and mother looked like a Queen, the seder–table was ready. The smell of fish permeated through the entire house. In the evening, mother prepared the sparkling samovar and it shone throughout the room. It was warm––such a pleasure! Father filled one cup of tea after another, looked around, and was happy with his good fortune.

Mother is saying the blessing as we have reached another year in good health and able to celebrate another Pesach.

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Several hours later, father returns from the synagogue, and the holiday begins–the first day. Father sits on his special chair and begins the seder with much joy, we ask the (4) questions and father answers: “when we were slaves…”, with such a beautiful melody from the Haggadah.

After a short while, we start with our Passover feast, everything is so tasty and appetizing.

Hour after hour passes, and it becomes quite late. But father is still reading with such enthusiasm,

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And then we open the door for “Elyiahu Hanavi”, with much anticipation.

In the meantime, father hid the “Afikomen” and said a present was waiting for whoever found it. Finally, we are so tired we fall asleep immediately and dream about miracles across the ocean.

The next day is the second day of the seder. Chol Hamoed, we play with nuts and guests come to us and we enjoy ourselves from morning till evening.

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Chaim Mordechai Steingold z”l

Pinchas Steingold

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay




Chaim Mordechai Steingold was born in 1882 (error in original book, says 1982) , in New Sventzian to Rivkah and Schmuel. At 10 years old his father sent him to the Yeshiva in Vilna, called “Rameilis”, where he studied until the age of 15. Here the children learned secular subjects. After the Yeshiva he went to Dvinsk to study in a technical school.

When he graduated with his certificate (diploma) he entered the university. Not having the means to continue, he went to his brother Israel Henoch in Riga, who was a wood merchant. He worked there until his conscription into the army.. When he was sent into the military (Russian) he was sent to Samara or Samaria (Russia). He served 18 months instead of 3 years because of his education. He returned to Riga and became a wood merchant. He married his cousin Chaia, from New–Sventzian, the daughter of Baila the Cloitztachaner.

When the first World War began he left for Peterburg.

After the Revolution they returned to Vilna. After so many regime changes,

[Col. 890]

he returned to New–Sventzian to his father– in– law and aunt Baila.

He returned to working in the wood industry in New Sventzian, and became involved with the shtetl's institutions. He devoted all of his strength to the Yiddish Folk Shul and Folk Bank. His friendly and Chasidic character should be an example to all. His greatest pleasure was to be surrounded by his friends and family, which he and his wife Chaia welcomed with largess. From New–Sventzian he returned to Vilna and continued his work in other cultural institutions. When the new “Folk–Kult” Folk Schul was founded in Vilna, Chaim Motel became one of its most devoted followers, because of its character for looking after the needs of the ordinary folk.

He left Vilna after some time for Riga. Riga was invaded by the Hitlerite beasts and this was the end of this wonderful and esteemed family of Chaim Motel Steingold, his wife Chaia and his children. He was killed in Estonia with a son. His wife and 2 children were killed in Riga.

Honor to their memory and may they never be forgotten!

[Col. 891]

The Colorful Life of the Attorney Israel Gurwitz

Sheina Kovarski–Spiegel

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay




Israel was born to Chaia–Feiga and Hirch Gurwitz in 1903, in New–Sventzian. He attended the Russian Folk Shul. In 1915, when the Russian and German war came to the region, the family fled as “refugees” to Russia. They ended up in Koslov, in the Tambover Gubernia (province) , and Israel continued his studies in the Russian Gymnasia.

In 1918, the family returned to New–Sventzian.

When the Tzerei–Zion was founded in New–Sventzian, he became one of its first members. After the Poles left Vilna, he returned to Vilna to continue his studies in the Russian Gymnasia. When Epstein opened his own Gymnasia, he transferred to Epstein's. After, he entered the Judicial program at the Polish University in Vilna. Being a student in the University, he became a teacher in the Gurwitz folk shul. In Vilna, together with his brother Leib, they became involved with the Jewish institutions and Jewish youth organizations. He became the president of the Zionist Students Union and Po'aeli–Zion and founder of Workers for Eretz Israel.

He was not active only in Vilna, but in the entire province. He not only organized rallies for the Zionist cause but organized programs the youth.

After his studies, with much difficulty, he wanted to receive the Advocate title.

[Col. 892]

Because of this, he had to leave his beloved Vilna with all his work that bound him to this city, and left for Warsaw. Under the direction Of Yacov Leschinski, he worked for the Research Institute in Vilna (Yivo). Under his direction, he took the party, Po'aeli–Zion to Krakow. Here he continues as a lawyer and is also active in his party activities in Krakow and its surrounding area.

When the war of 1939 breaks out, together with his closest friend from Krakow, Schlomo Velner and his wife, he returns to Vilna, which at the beginning of the German–Stalin invasion, still belonged to Lithuania. He founds the Joint. When Hitler invades Soviet Russia, he is in Kovna, where he is working as jurist (lawyer) for the state. Together with his cousin Dr. Yunis and her husband, architect Rafael Lesman, he escapes to Russia. The difficult life in Tashkent forces him to seek work in the Urals of Siberia.

He lives in a labour camp and has to work at menial jobs.

Through much difficulty and hunger, he eventually becomes the cashier at this work camp. Thanks to this new job and thanks to the incoming packages from Eretz Israel and others places, he made it through the war years. In 1946 he returns to Krakow and resumes his work for the Po'alei–Zion,

[Col. 893]

Advocat Israel Gurwitz


resumes his work in the party and become part of the executive of the Polish Socialist Party.

He leaves Poland and arrives in Eretz Israel in 1948.

[Col. 894]

He worked for the state, and he passed his law exams, and received the Advocate title in Israel. He found it difficult to get used to new ideas, be became passive in his political aspirations, his regrets he kept to himself.

In 1950, When the “People of Sventzian Organization” is founded, in order to remember the ordeals through a Yiskor Book, he became the leader and gathered all the relevant material, which he organized and related on behalf of the committee.

The difficult years of the second World War, weighed heavily on his health. His bad health forced him to end his work on the book. He died suddenly in 1961, in the month of Av.

This book is a remembrance of the wonderful, devoted worker of our region.

[Col. 893]

The Sad Chanuka Evening
(printed in the Childrens Journal, “Childrens' Voice” New Sventzian, 1922)

Esther Kovarski–Katz, z”l

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

A winter night:

The stars, scattered in the night sky, sparkling with fire and brightness! Suddenly, our eyes stare over the vastness! The trees are covered in white, dressed in “Tachrichim” (shrouds of the dead) , shaking their half–naked branches, in order to throw off the snow. The bitter winter spread its wings over the world, blocking the sun with its frozen haze, and even chased away the birds, to far–off lands.

A howling wind sings her painful song and cries out to its people, who is going to suffer from my cold and frost? In the entire shtetl, Chanukah is in the air. The gates to all these homes are closed, but inside it is cheerful and lively. The Chanukah–lights are burning brightly, and the Moisheles (reference to children) are telling stories of long ago. Fathers are giving their children Chanukah–gelt (money) , mothers are baking latkes (potato pancakes) from potatoes and flour. A Moishe in every corner, in holiday mode….

[Col. 894]

Only in one house there were no candles, just a small lamp, glowing eerily over the lonely walls. The mother is sitting next to the baby cradle and cries. At least the other children are asleep. Just her elder son of 12 years is still awake. He looks lonely and remembers the other Chanukah evenings.

Father comes from the synagogue in a good mood, but tired, lights the candles and sings the Chanukah songs with such a beautiful voice.

Oh, it was so nice and warm in the house! So happy and festive!

And today…

Father is no longer with us…

A deep sigh from a small orphan suddenly breaks the silence of the dark night.

For one family, that Chanukah was a sad and spoiled holiday!


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