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[Col. 1277]

Dukstas

(Dukštas, Lithuania)

55°32'/26°20'

 

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[Col. 1279]

On Polish – Lithuanian Soil

Chaim Grade

Translated by Janie Respitz

––Were you only from straw and moss
That the wind , without vestige could carry you away?
My poor Sabbath, my holy ecstatic week,
Who will now recite the mourner's prayer for you?
The market place is full with merchants and villager's wagons,
The fairs are bustling and joyfully noisy,
The village virgins bow to the stone Jesus,
As if they were thanking him because there were no longer any Jews.

Fathers dreaming, your stringy beards
Are now the autumn spider webs, that hang in the air,
They hang like harps on the river banks of Babylon…rusty
On willows bent over Polish – Lithuanian soil.
A flood of water, that ends, leaves no signs
As our settlement here has been abandoned,
Only I see, on the porches of our occupied homes –
A shadow of the side locks that are blown and scream in the wind.
I search on the road for the prayer shawl I spun
From stories of our Shtetl, cemetery legends and worker's songs.
If I could only find a piece of my torn prayer shawl –
I would spin it again.


[Col. 1281]

The History of the Town of Dūkštas

By B. Davidowitz

Translation by Meir Razy

 

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The town was named after the close–by Dūkštas estate that belonged to the well–known land–owner in the area, the Polish aristocrat Zechan. The town, located between the two big cities of Vilnius and Dvinsk, was founded around 1860 with the completion of the railroad linking Warsaw and Leningrad (St Petersburg in those days).

The earliest Jewish residents in Dūkštas were Shneur Zalman Levin and the Kopilovsky family. Shneur Zalman Levin was a very respected timber trader who was my maternal grandfather. The Kopilovsky family was also engaged in timber trading. Several Jew who rented forests in the surrounding area followed. The Jewish community was founded by about ten families whose businesses were based on the forest, wood and timber. When they moved from their plots of forest to the town, they wanted to maintain their presence on their leased forest land. As a consequence, they left their sons or married daughters living on the estates of the land–owners.

The number of trains passing through Dūkštas increased rapidly and the increased business helped build up the Jewish population of the town. Various branches of commerce developed in the town thanks to the local train station.

The train would often bring cars loaded with flour, oil, barrels with salted fish, groceries and other commodities needed for the town and the surrounding rural population.

The Jews took advantage of this opportunity and began exporting local commodities. They bought beef, pork, grain and fruit from the peasants and from the land–owners and shipped it all to the big cities. This trade greatly improved the economic situation and created new opportunities, making the whole district very attractive to new settlers, especially Jews.

The Jewish population grew every year and reached about 600 by the end of the 19th century. This was a relatively large number for towns in those days. Jewish merchants soon opened many shops in town: grocery, textile, notions, leather goods, etc.

[Col. 1282]

The proximity of the train station brought occasional traders and visitors to the town. Travelling agents and other passengers needed places to stay, sometimes even for several days and some Jews took the opportunity to open hotels and restaurants. The hospitality industry developed rapidly and employed many families, directly or indirectly providing related services.

Meanwhile, the timber trade of the Levin family was growing. Hundreds of workers and porters were busy in this industry. The booming economic situation attracted hundreds of small craftsmen and merchants and a large, well–established Jewish community developed in the town of Dūkštas.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman Levin, the richest man in the community, was elected as its leader. He brought in a Rabbi, a slaughterer and providers of other religious services and the town developed a traditional Jewish character. Later on, his eldest son, Rabbi Abba Noah Levin, succeeded him as the leader of the community. This is how the Levin family helped shape the town for many years and became the main influence on its social and economic life.

[Col. 1283]

Nothing in town would happen without first consulting the distinguished Levin family. Dūkštas became a kind of tiny monarchy of the Levins.

The economic situation prospered until the First World War. Merchants from Riga and St Petersburg, Vilnius and Warsaw arrived at Dūkštas and various types of trade flourished. Companies trading in flax, geese, beef, fruits and crabs were established and the standard of living of the local residents continued to improve.

The Jewish community decided to build a magnificent synagogue. Each resident donated generously and secured a “place” for him and his whole family in the synagogue (a place was called “a shtat” in Yiddish).

The Jewish population continued to expand and it became clear that one synagogue could not accommodate the crowd. A second synagogue was built, smaller but beautiful and convenient. They were called “the Great Synagogue” and “the Little Synagogue”.

The good name of Dūkštas attracted emissaries from Yeshivas, wandering Jewish preachers (=Magid), cantors, and various other religious types. These guests needed a place to stay, “a hospitality house” as was the custom in every established community. All the lumber and building materials were naturally donated by Rabbi Aba Noah Levin, the wealthy merchant.

A large–size, tiled fire–place was built inside the hotel so the guests could sleep on it during the long, cold winter nights. Rabbi Abba Moshe, a poor Jew, was appointed as the caretaker of this hotel. He was given a free apartment in lieu of salary for his work.

This man was the official Torah Reader in the Great Synagogue. He was paid on Holidays and other occasions by placing a plate on the table so that people would leave a few coins in it on their way out.

In addition, he also had a side job as a MELAMED, teachings young children the prayers and Torah. However, his multiple callings he did not earn enough to support his family.

The town of Dūkštas stood in a favorable location: two rivers flowed near it. Lake Disna, which provided an endless supply of high quality fish, was about 3 kilometers away. It was also a wonderful place of entertainment for the town's young people. On summer evenings, the younger generation would flock to the row boats and would joyously sing and dance for hours on the shore.

On the other side of the town was another large lake, called the Dūkštas Lake. The townspeople, even the elders, used to go there and bathe in its water on hot summer days, especially on Fridays. Everyone would eagerly await the end of the “Counting” when bathing was forbidden (=the forty nine days between Passover and Shavuot). Immediately afterwards, all the residents, no matter their ages, would rush to bathe in the river and swim in its cool, fresh water.

[Col. 1284]

The lake lay about a mile from the town and many would come by their cart. The youth preferred, of course, to walk.

The road to the lake was both pretty and interesting. Fertile, fresh, crop–bearing fields of wheat stretched on both sides. Thick forests, where all kinds of berries, mushrooms and nuts could be found in abundance, stood not far away. Flocks of young man and young women, teenagers, boys and girls would go to the forest during the month of Menachem Av (=July and August) and return home with baskets full of nuts, fruit and various berries. The trips to the river and the lake, walking together into the nearby forests, always gave the participants unforgettable and enjoyable experiences. To this day, it's hard for me to forget those wonderful times.

These were the glorious days of childhood. I remember, for example, how we would play all kinds of games, running and jumping along the way and having fun until sunset.

Sometimes it is hard to imagine that all this was erased and destroyed, that all this life was ravaged and disappeared from the face of the earth.

And while I am reminiscing, other pictures hover in front of me. I can see an interesting picture that took place almost every morning in those days:

I see Jews, early–risers, rushing before dawn to the synagogues for morning prayers. I see the shadows of their figures, holding prayer shawls and Tefillin under their arms, rushing to serve the Creator. They enter the synagogue, wrap the prayer shawls around themselves, place the Tefillin and sing a hymn. As the house of G–d fills up – morning prayers are heard throughout the whole universe.

The children of Israel used to go to a Cheder at an early age in Dūkštas. There were always good, wise Melameds in town, and the standard of learning was high. Study time in all the Cheders was from morning till evening and sometimes even until late at night. Some of the Melameds knew Gemara and had a special higher status. It is interesting to note that almost no attention was paid to the study of the Bible in those days.

A modern teacher arrived in town just before World War I. He taught Bible, History, Hebrew and Arithmetic to the children. Some of the parents were frightened by the horrible “Epicurus” and removed their children from his school.

[Col. 1285]

The young people who wished to benefit from a more general education had to leave town in order to pursue their studies. They moved to the bigger towns and cities. Some of them even entered university. Among them were some members of the famous Levin family.

On the eve of World War I a big fight broke out in the town, after the city Shochet (=slaughterer) passed away. Rabbi Abba Noah Levin immediately brought another Shochet from a nearby town but the general public did not like him. Rabbi Aba Noah was already losing his power over the community in those days and a number of the homeowners dared to oppose his choice.

Among the “rebels” were: Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Reeves, Israel Lurie, Mendel Podvitz, Shaul Bar Shinovitz, my own grandfather and my father. They argued that the new slaughterer was not well–versed in the SHAS (=Mishna) and his Jewish knowledge was based solely on the “Ein Yaakov” book (an interpretation of the TALMUD, published 1516). They wanted to disqualify him as a professional because of this “flaw”.

The whole town was divided into two rival camps: one camp included the large and powerful Levin family and all the artisans, the workers and the officials who depended on the Levin's businesses. They were careful about supporting their source of income. The other camp included most of the homeowners (=middle class) and the independent merchants. The disagreement lasted for a long time but when the First World War broke out, the public had other, more important concerns.

The warfront was not far from the town and trains carrying wounded soldiers would often pass through the train station. The Jewish public desired to help the unfortunate wounded. My brother, Israel Davidovich, and his friends, Idelman and Podvitz, organized a special team providing the injured soldiers with warm milk and fruit. Help was given to every wounded person, regardless of whether he was a Christian or a Jew.

This activity did not last for long as my brother was soon drafted into the army. Soon afterwards most of the town's Jews were forced to relocate. Only a few Jewish families stayed in Dūkštas, among them the Levin family. They hid on the farm of a Christian peasant. The peasant family cared for the forest land the Levins had bought from the Polish nobleman.

The town was almost completely destroyed during the war years, only ruins remained. Houses were demolished and robbed; sometimes the robbers ripped even the doors and windows and stole the wooden panels off the walls.

When the fighting was over and the armistice was signed, the residents began returning to the ruins of their homes in order to rebuild the town. However, the four years of the war instilled a new spirit in the Jewish population and there was a desire to change and modernize their way of life. The youth began to get organized, a modern new public library was built and most importantly – they decided to create a Jewish school where the language of instruction would be Yiddish.

This matter, of course, was not easy to do. There was no building suitable as an educational institution in the entire town. There was no source of even a minimal budget either, but they still insisted on setting up the school despite all the difficulties.

[Col. 1286]

There is a popular Hebrew saying: “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”. Well, we put our mind to it and started looking for a building. As the Great Synagogue remained almost intact, we decided to set up the school in the Women's Section of the synagogue. The organizing committee included Bezalel Levin, Lippman Levy, Tzipa Levin, Elijah Himmelfarb and several other public figures.

After finding the building, we encountered another problem no less challenging. It was difficult finding suitable teachers. Not every Jewish teacher was willing to teach in Yiddish. After much effort, two uncertified teachers were finally found. One was Gluz, a good teacher who was well versed in Russian and German literature and had a good knowledge of Biblical Hebrew, however he had no organizational skills. Except for teaching his classes he didn't understand and didn't want to understand anything. He was always immersed in reading books and sometimes did not even notice when someone entered his house.

The other teacher was a totally different type. His name was Motil Gilinsky and he was brimming with energy and initiative. He was the son of a painter from the nearby city of Sventzian. The whole town, both students and their parents, were enchanted by him from the minute he arrived in town. Unfortunately, he did not stay in Dūkštas for long. He left town when the Teachers' School was opened in Vilnius and went on to continue his studies. At the seminar he acquired the nickname Batke, that is “father”. That nickname stayed with him for the rest of his life.

After he graduated from the Teacher's Seminar he moved on to Warsaw and managed the sanatorium “Madam” for many years. He returned to his hometown of Sventzian at the outbreak of World War II. After the liquidation of the ghetto he was transferred to the Vilna Ghetto and from there to Estonia. There, he was killed along with thousands of other Jews.

The Yiddish School was located in the Women's Section of the synagogue for many years. The public opposed this and the school management rented two rooms from an old Jewish woman, Frida Hamburg. Her narrow, small apartment could not accommodate all the classes and the children had to study in two shifts. The children and the teachers suffered from this arrangement but they managed to hold on despite the poor conditions.

 

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Frida Hamburg and her family. Her apartment housed the Jewish school

[Col. 1287]

Over time, a Drama Club was established by the school's management, and all of the income from the performances was dedicated to improving the school and its financial state. With the initiative of the Asher brothers and Schneur Segal, they bought a plot of land and started building a suitable, spacious building for the school.

A festive inauguration ceremony was held in 1930, with many guests from all around. Notable guests were: Senator Dr. Tzemach Shabad of Vilnius and A. Klianski, a member of the Managing Committee of the Jewish Schools Organization[T.I.S.H.O]. The school provided quality education and many of its graduates successfully attended high schools and the Seminary in Vilnius.

Nine years passed. World War II broke out and all that effort and toil was lost. Dūkštas found itself under the Soviet rule for two years. Life was not easy, but at least it was possible to live. People found it difficult to get used to the new arrangements of the Soviet rule as everyone had been used to their individual freedoms and private initiatives. No one could imagine that it was still “the lesser of two evils” that was awaiting them.

[Col. 1288]

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A memorial at the grave in the Zagrin Forest

 

The Germans entered the town in August 1941 and the Lithuanian murderers arrived with them too. A month later, almost all of the Jewish population was taken to the Zagrin forest and murdered by these human animals.

This is how the light of the community of Dūkštas has extinguished forever. A Jewish town, working, functioning, cultured and social was erased from the face of the earth.

G–d shall revenge the blood of all the inhabitants of Dūkštas. Their memory will be forever cherished in the history of the Jewish Nation.


[Col. 1287]

The First Hebrew School

By Shmuel Dobkin

Translation by Meir Razy

I had the great privilege of being among the teachers of Torah and knowledge in several of the Jewish communities in the Sventzian district near Vilna. There, I was involved in the education of young children, teaching love for the nation of Israel and the Land of Eretz Israel.

Whenever I remember that distant time that has already sunk into oblivion, all those little towns, their Hebrew schools, their students and their parents, their businesses, their livelihoods and the zeal of their labor appear once again before my eyes.

From the outside these towns seemed very similar in almost every respect: economically, culturally and socially. However, once anyone closely examined their life they noticed that each town had its very own character and special unique features.

[Col. 1288]

Of all these towns, the one that remains in my heart to this day and stands out for me, is Dūkštas, the community that left me with many fond memories. My memories from Dūkštas are embedded in my heart as the most profound experiences I have ever had in my life, both as a teacher and an educator.

It was a primordial experience in two senses: this was the beginning of my work as a teacher in a Hebrew school and I was the first teacher in that school. So I was privileged to be among the founders of the national Hebrew education in the Diaspora and of the Zionist youth movement. I went through the initial struggle of establishing the Hebrew School in Dūkštas and was among those who shaped its character and outlined its path to the future.

The town of Dūkštas was located near two borders: on the one side – the Lithuanian border and on the other – the border of the state of Latvia.

The town, one long street of wooden and stone houses, sat on a hill. A number of small alleys branched out from the main street.

[Col. 1289]

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The TARBUT School

 

Two beautiful synagogues in the middle of the town served the community. The rich and affluent residents prayed in the Great Synagogue while the small synagogue served the so–called laymen and the poor. Public opinions were formed and public affairs were decided in the Great Synagogue.

The market and almost all the shops were located down the street. Local farmers came to the market once a week, bringing their best produce for sale. They bought their own supplies and other necessities in the market as–well. Most of the town's residents made their living from trading during the market day.

The railway that linked Riga with Warsaw passed through town and was the economic engine of its development. A narrow railroad linked Dūkštas to the towns of Braslav– Druya. The train station was a significant factor in the expansion of the wholesale trade, especially in flax, grain and timber.

One of the most famous companies in the area was named after its owners and founders: Kovarsky – Himmelfarb. Other important companies were those of the Luria brothers, Aaron Kacherginsky and Levin. Dozens of accountants, bookkeepers, and various clerks manned the offices of all these companies.

The railway station was not only an economic factor, but also a cultural and social one. Travelers would bring the latest “big–world” news as well as the “Jewish–world” news to town. Here the townspeople met acquaintances and friends from near and far and this expanded their knowledge and opened the news of the world's progress to them.

The train station hummed with activity during most of the day and evening, busy with travelers and visitors. Young people and residents who assembled there during their leisure time, especially on holidays, added to the commotion.

The Dūkštas Jewish community was not large, yet it had a vibrant cultural and social life. Although the residents were busy during most of the week with their work and businesses, they still found time to engage in public and cultural affairs.

[Col. 1290]

In this respect, the town earned a good reputation throughout the region and in various matters it even became an example to other towns.

In 1927 I was invited by the distinguished businessman, Mr. Bezalel Levin, to serve as the first teacher and educator at the newly established Hebrew School. We met for the first time in Vilna and I learned that just a few months earlier a few parents and community leaders decided to open a local Hebrew School. From the conversation with him it became clear to me that they were not satisfied with their children's education in the Yiddish school. They did not want their youth kept away from “national” values. In general, Yiddish education opposed Zionism and instilled animosity towards it and its goal of returning to Zion.

The founding of the Hebrew School surprised the leaders of the Yiddish School who, for several years, opposed the new educational institution.

I had many hesitations when Mr. Bezalel Levin tried to recruit me for this endeavor. I was a young man at the time, I had no experience in public and political struggles and I feared that I would not be able to take on the responsibility. On the other hand, I was full of ambition and ideals and the “fight” against those who rejected Zionism attracted me.

Mr. Levin apparently understood my hesitation and encouraged me and by the end of our conversation I expressed my agreement to the proposal. I took on this challenge as the goal of my life.

I arrived in Dūkštas on a cold, windy winter night and was greeted by the members of the school board, representatives of Zionist youth associations and some students, at the train station.

My first stop was at the home of Rabbi Asher Davidovich, the teacher of Jewish Studies at the school. He was a good man and a loyal friend who greeted me with happiness and an open heart. His wife, who exhibited cleverness, wisdom and nobility, took care of me so my first feeling was that I was joining a loving community.

I started teaching at the school the next day. The institution was in a rented building at the end of the main street. The walls had not yet been plastered and all the surroundings were indicative of the huge challenge ahead of me.

The kids sat quietly and were so nice that I forgot all about the difficult task and the struggle ahead of me. The first day passed in exhilaration. The children were attentive and industrious and that made me all more want to fight and overcome any challenges.

In addition to Davidovich I found another teacher at the school. He was Leib Opeskin of Vilnius, who died later as a partisan in the Vilnius (Vilna) ghetto during World War II. He was a very educated Jew who had a poetic and gentle soul.

[Col. 1291]

Although he himself was a graduate of the Yiddish School, he immediately joined the effort to develop the Hebrew School and with all his energy he developed a superb pedagogical study plan.

We found that the pro–Yiddish camp was telling parents that many subjects cannot be taught in Hebrew. As a result, we decided in our first meeting, to prove to the Yiddish camp that they were wrong and misleading in this matter and that the children would actually achieve no less in Hebrew than in Yiddish. And, perhaps even more!

After raising the pedagogical level of the school, we turned our efforts to improving its finances. We found that the financial situation was not sound and we had to look for additional sources of income. To that end, we occasionally performed children's stage–plays and all the income was devoted to improving the school's financial foundation.

Over time, our shows became famous and the public eagerly awaited them. Of course we put a lot of effort into rehearsals. We were forced to work in the afternoons and evenings and the outcome of our labor benefited the school in many ways. The shows were educational, artistically successful and added fairly decent amounts of money to the meager budget.

The audience did not forget our first Purim show for a long time. The hall was filled to the brim. Parents, acquaintances and neighbors attended. There were brothers, sisters, grandparents and even just plain city people who wanted to hear a live spoken Hebrew word. The play made a great impression on the public in town and even the Yiddish circles were amazed and cheered. For many, hearing Hebrew sparked tears.

Our success was so great that we were invited to appear that summer in the nearby towns Ignalina and Rimshani. There, too, the performances were greeted with enthusiasm and appreciation.

Our school started attracting many young people. An excellent library of Hebrew and Yiddish books was created through the initiative of Mr. Bezalel Levin. Soon after, we started a marching band that paraded through the streets of Dūkštas on Lag Omer. The residents welcomed us with applause and love and the band advertised our school throughout the district of Sventzian.

The great success attracted the attention of the Polish authorities who started to look for ways to restrict us. They used all kinds of excuses. One time they did not like the principal. Another time – one of the teachers. There was always some flaw or offence in our work. After they had run out of all these reasons, they announced that the building was not appropriate for an educational institution. The threat was loud and clear. Unless we would find another building, we would not receive a license for the next school year.

[Col. 1292]

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BEITAR Youth

Sitting: Bluma Hamburg, ––,
Standing: Yacov Fludman, Rochel Shor, Shneur Korb, Reisenberg,––, Bluma Hamburg Beit Mendel, Basia Shvil

 

The founders and the leadership immediately began exploring various options in order to build a proper school building. Mr. Levin was able to purchase a spacious lot on a pretty hill, surrounded by meadows and fields. Then they began looking for financial means to start the construction work.

A loyal and dedicated member of the board, Aaron Kacherginsky, who was a successful timber merchant, was able to collect building materials from donors. It is interesting to note that even his Polish forest–owners acquaintances helped by donating timber and other building materials for free.

The result of all this effort was that in the fourth year of our school, during the holiday of Chanukah, we were able to celebrate the dedication of the new school building in a large public ceremony. Distinguished guests from out of the town arrived for this important celebration. Among them were Rabbi Yitzchak Rubinstein, Rabbi Klinbaum who was a leader in the Mizrachi Movement, Yerachmiel Korb who was the chairman of the Jewish community in nearby Ignalina and many other community workers from across the region. There was a real atmosphere of holiday in the town and happiness and exhilaration was felt in every home.

I had to leave Dūkštas and move to another educational institution about a year later. The departure was difficult for both me and the students and their parents. I felt that I had acquired many devoted friends in the town. I have since lived in several Polish cities and managed eventually to immigrate to Eretz–Israel, but throughout the years I kept in contact through letters with the people of Dūkštas. I was interested in everything that was happening to them. I was happy to receive their letters and keep up with the progress of the school in Dūkštas. I had the feeling that my labor was not in vain, I had worked hard and now, here were the fruits.

The correspondence continued until the outbreak of the Second World War. A few years later I could only mourn the destruction of the community and eulogize the murder of all my acquaintances and friends, all devoted and faithful.

Writing these memories inspire me and bring me satisfaction but, they also bring me pain and grief. Inspiration and satisfaction because it was one of the brightest periods of my creative life: pain and grief because everything was ruined and lost by human animals. Nothing is left.

Their memory shall remain etched forever in the history of the revival of the Jewish Nation. May G–d keep their souls forever.


[Col. 1293]

My Little Shtetle

By Ruben Hamburg

Translation by Anita Frishman Gabbay

My little shtetle Dukst were I was born and where I spent the best years of my youth, comes back to me now as if in a long lost and beautiful dream.

Until today, I remember every detail of my little shtetl. I can see the streets with their shops, the market place with tens of stalls, the mill with the electric power, the 2 Jewish Folk schools, the synagogue and the miniamin, the Holy aura during the “Days of Awe” (Yom Kippur), and other holidays, the Zionists and the “Yiddishists”. All this is so near and dear to me and stands before my eyes.

I remember my little town with its beautiful nature, with her lakes and forests, hills and valleys, each placed where we used to play or stroll during the Shabbath. I remember those frosty winter days, when we used to sled down the higher hill, this was always a wonderful time for us, the children of Dukst.

It amazes me that I remember my dear home, without my dear and wonderful parents and without my entire family, which were so closely knit to each other.

My heart pines for them and my eyes are filled with tears, like flood waters from the Sea, and I think that there is no one to remember the Kushlins, the Segals, the Himmelfarbs, the Zainmans, the Shapiras, the Gedods, the Levines, the Rosenbergs, the Gurewitches, the Arons. I, alone, remain from my Hamburg family.

[Col. 1294]

Everyone perished at the hands of those murderous beasts! My sister Lipka perished in Vilna when she left the Ghetto. My cousins Bluma and Sara–Elka were shot on the way to the forest, where they wanted to reach the Partisans. My parents with my younger brother Smerele, died in the Dukst forest together with the Jews Malak, Rimsana, Turmant, Zarasai.

In Dukst, 20 people were hacked to pieces, amongst them my young friends.

From this “Action” very few remained.

From this moment on, my will to survive became my obsession. Besides this, my sister Bluma was still alive, as well as my cousins Sara–Devora Berman, who had at the right time left for America. My aunt Chaia Kushlin with her sons Abraham and Sneour.

Those who saved themselves by fleeing into the forests and fighting alongside the Partisans in bloody battles are most thankful.

The part of the Dukst community that remained was very small, one can say they were almost annihilated.

In the Dukst forests you can find our “Dear Brother's Grave” and this is what remains to remember our dear little shtetl of Dukst.

It was a very little shtetl. Jews lived side by side like one large and extended family. You couldn't distinguish who was a relative and who wasn't. We all lived like brothers and sisters, until the wild and barbaric beasts arrived and slaughtered these good and innocent souls. I, together with those who survived, will always keep their Memory alive.


[Col. 1295]

The Cultural – Communal Life

Soreh – Dvoyreh Berman / Hartford, United States

Translation by Janie Respitz

Duksht began to develop as a town when it was decided to build a large train station in the region. Jews were dispersed throughout all the villages in the region like: Kaniuk, Drishkun, Ligun and others. They lived a lonely life. They believed a community could be built around the train station and began to move to Duksht.

They all built their homes around the train station.

One of the first Jewish residents in the new community was actually my great grandfather Moishe Kaniuker, or Moishe Hamburg. He moved there with his sons: Abba – Nakhman, Yisroel and Leyb. Following him other families arrived including the family of Reb Shneour Zalman Levin, from whom all the Levins and Davidovitchs in town descended.

Another early Jewish resident was Reb Lipeh Rappaport, whose son Anshl became an important socialist leader in France.

Besides the Jews from the villages, many Jews moved to Dushkt from surrounding towns. They believed it would be easier to earn a living close to the new train station. They were right. Many Jews benefited from the station.

Among the Jews in Duksht who earned a good living were: Ruven Eidelman, Yehuda Leyb Podvitch, Shaul Ber Shinavitch, Zundl Tzinaman, Yisroel Feldman, Yisroel Luria, and all the Tarnesses and Bloshteyns.

Slowly, a Jewish community grew around the station.

[Col. 1296]

A nice House of Prayer was built, a Rabbi was hired and Duksht became a Jewish community like all the others in Sventzian province.

The first Rabbi in Duksht was Rabbi Dov– Ber Abigil. He arrived as a young man and remained his whole life. When he died his position was taken over by his son–in–law Rabbi Borukh Spivak who was a great scholar.

Duksht was always proud of its Rabbis and they were loved throughout the region. Rabbi Abigil was even a student of the well–known Rabbi Meir Simkha. The story in town was Rabbi Meir Simkha gave him a prayer book as a gift with the following inscription: “One should know what is written here”.

In the early years Duksht suffered a fire which destroyed the town. In those days no one was insured and as they say, everyone was left with only the shirt on their backs. But, no one lost faith. They quickly rebuilt the town and returned to a normal life.

 

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The large family of Leyb Hamburg with their relatives: Doytch, Rozentzveig, Ahkenazi

[Col. 1297]

The story went that when people did not even have a piece of bread, they still sent their children to their teacher, and made sure he lacked nothing so the children could continue learning.

Duksht was situated topographically on a hill. This did not help much as the town was often deep in mud. It was referred to in the region as the “Duksht Marsh”.

My mother, may she rest in peace, Taybe (nee Epshteyn), would recount how when she arrived in Duksht from the Lithuanian city Vilkovsky, she had to get used to wearing boots all the time. At home, only peasants would wear boots, not Jewish women.

In time, the main streets were paved and they even built wooden sidewalks. The town now looked nice and people forgot about the past marshes.

Until the outbreak of the First World War, Jews lived in tranquility. They were satisfied and happy. A few months after the war began the front moved closer and the Jews had to leave all their belongings and evacuate their homes. The majority wandered to Ukraine and deep into Russia. Meanwhile the Christians destroyed and stole their belongings. The few Jewish families which remained tried to guard the Jewish homes, but they too were eventually chased out by the Germans and they settled in Utian and Ponevezh.

In time, all the Jews from Duksht became refugees.

After the war, when they returned home, they had to start from scratch. They had to rebuild their homes and look for livelihood. But our Jews did not lose their courage or faith. With great trouble they rebuilt and found a way to earn a living. Some more and some less but everyone found his way. Almost all who left returned.

After the war the Jewish population

[Col. 1298]

increased not only in numbers but in quality. Some important well– off people arrived like: Aharon Katcherginsky, Noteh Luria, Yakov Kovarsky and others.

They brought new colour into the communal and economic life of Duksht. Duksht was reborn and once again had a great reputation in the region.

Aharon Katcherginsky has the town to thank for two large economic endeavors. He built a steam mill and was the first to provide the town with electricity. He had a strong will. When Katcherginsky decided to do something, everyone knew he would not rest until it was accomplished. This is what happened with his dream of providing the town with electricity. Within a few years there was electricity in all the homes and in all the streets.

Communal life began to develop after the First World War. The youth were particularly involved. Firstly, a Jewish Folk – School was established thanks to the energy and initiative of Zalman Feygelson, Lipman Levin and Eliyahu Himilfarb.

 

Sve1298.jpg
Youth from top to bottom: Borukh Noyman, Dovid Gravitch, Yakov Feldman, Kanovsky, Shneour Korb, ____

[Col. 1299]

The school quickly became associated with the centre of all the Jewish schools in Vilna.

From the first day, the economic situation of the school was not well founded. They received subsidies from the central school organization as well as tuition from the parents. However this did not cover all the expenses.

The students decided to form a drama club and all proceeds from performances would go to the school.

The leaders of the drama club were: Lipman Levin, Tzipe Levin, Eliyahu Himlfarb, Leyb Kushlin, Malka Bloshteyn, Esther Feldman, Soreh Levin (Davidovitch), Hirshl Gurvitch, Motl Kalrin, Motl Levin, Shloimeh Katcherginsky, Binyomin Davidovitch, Asher Segal and others.

The drama club from Duksht soon acquired a great reputation throughout the province. All of their performances were well received. They strove toward two goals: the town now had a Yiddish theatre and they now had the financial ability to support the Yiddish school.

The drama club from Duksht performed plays by: Sholem Asch, Sholem Aleichem, Yakov Gordin, Dovid Pinsky as well as translations from general literature.

Thanks to the initiative of Bezalel Levin a Jewish People's Bank was also founded which had the colossal responsibility for the economic development of the town. Its first board of directors was comprised of: Bezalel Levin, Aharon Katcherginsky, Abba Levin, Yoel Luria, Yosef Rives, Pinkhas Daytch and Avrom Segal.

In later years, the bank saved many shopkeepers and artisans from a big crisis.

The Jewish public library helped build the communal and cultural life in town. It contained many Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and Polish books. There were always many readers and they raised the cultural level of the town's youth.

When the struggle began throughout Poland between the Hebraists and Yiddishists

[Col. 1300]

a second Jewish school was founded. The language of instruction in the new school was Hebrew and it belonged to the Tarbut organization. Its founders and leaders were: Bezalel Levin, Binyomin Davidovitch, Moishe Luria, Shloimeh Katcherginsky and Moishe Doytch.

Later, a branch of “HeChalutz” was founded. They opened a carpentry workshop which taught many young people a good trade. Besides this, “HeChalutz” rented land from a Christian and planted vegetables. This garden provided income, but more importantly, taught the youth to work the land.

Duksht was considered a Zionist town. Often speakers would come from Vilna and Warsaw and provide propaganda on behalf of The Jewish National Fund and The Jewish Agency.

I remember a speaker called Garbovsky who made a big impression on his listeners. After his talk many wrote out pledges for the Zionist fund.

There was also a division of Mizrachi in Duksht. All the Zionist organizations were represented. It was said that our town played a large role in the building of the Land of Israel.

This is how our town was active until the outbreak of the Second World War. First our town was occupied by the Red Army. Then it was given over to the Lithuanian Republic.

At that time I took advantage of the opportunity and left for Kovno. I then had the opportunity to leave and join my husband who was in America.

This is the reason I was saved, but I left behind my entire family. They were all later killed by the bloody hands of the German and Lithuanian beasts.

Today I live with my husband and two children in Hartford, in the United States. We will never forget our nearest and best who were murdered in Duksht.

Their memories will be eternally engraved in our hearts.

 

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