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[Page 38]

Dvinsk Today

[Page 39]

How Does Dvinsk Look Today?

An Interview with Mr. Yitzhak Gorevich

If I wanted to compare the Dvinsk from before the war with the Dvinsk of today, I would be hard-pressed to find the words. Dvinsk was once a city full of Jews, active, creative and working; the Dvinsk of today is foreign to me.

Only a monument remains, on which it is written: “Here are buried the victims of Fascism.” There is not even a hint on the monument that an entire community is buried there. The monument has no national character. Every single spark of nationalist Jewish culture was destroyed, and the Soviets are quite familiar with that type of work. This is one of the links in the chain of the assimilation of the Jews in the Soviet regime. Today there only remains one synagogue, and a ruined cemetery.

There are hardly any native Dvinskers left today. There is a small Jewish community in Dvinsk today, most of whose members came from eastern Russia and settled there. Those Jews have no connection to what once was. There is not a single school – not one whose language of instruction is Hebrew, nor one in Yiddish. There are no Zionist youth movements, and no political movements; it is a cultural wasteland. The Nazis physically destroyed the Jews, and the Soviets finished them spiritually.

After the war there was still a Jewish theater and a drama class, but during the 1960s the regime also got rid of those. “Why do you need a Yiddish theater?” they asked. “None of the population understands that language.” And so the drama class and the Jewish theater were closed.

The Jews do their best during the holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to refrain from working, even going so far as to feign illness in order to stay home from work and go to pray in the synagogue.

Some of the Jews who try to follow tradition and Yiddishkeit try in any way they can to obtain an aliyah permit. The Jewish population works in the many factories that opened in Dvinsk. The remaining youth tries to study in the universities – but after completing their studies they have difficulty finding the jobs they want, because sometimes Jews are rejected from jobs that come with a high level of responsibility, such as managers or chief engineers. The Jews try not to become assimilated, and to remain a cohesive group. They don't live together in a separate quarter as they did in the ghettoes of the days of the Germans, but the older generation wants their children to marry Jews, not goyim. They try to keep the embers of Judaism glowing.

Edited by:   Leah Berkovich, Grade 8, Kiah School
Written by:   Shula Apotker, Sarah Inger, Hava Hafber, Sofia Kastel,
Ganor Atzmon, Dovrit Blimenfeld, and Eitan Sela.

[Page 40]

Dvinsk Then and Now

As told by Mr. Aryeh Madelya, Written by Shula Apotker, Grade 8A

In Dvinsk before the war there were many Zionist youth movements, namely: Hashomer Hazair, Gordonia, Herzliya, and Beitar, and also Yiddishist youth movements from the Bund stream. Dvinsk was once an important community. Natan Bistritsky visited there and taught the youth their first Hora. Thus the youth learned to dance the Hora, until he said “Long live Bistritsky and his Hora!”

When the Nazis entered Dvinsk, they killed many Jews. In November 1941 there was an aktia of children: they dug a huge hole and threw the murdered children inside. Today there is a marker on this grave that says only, “Here are buried the victims of Fascism” without any mention of the fact that they were Jews. World War II, and the Holocaust that befell the Jewish people, killed 98% of the Jews of Dvinsk.

The Nazis destroyed the Jewish cemetery. After the war it was possible to find tombstones that had been used to pave roads or to rebuild destroyed houses.

The Soviet regime in Dvinsk does not currently work to develop the Jewish culture of the city. Only a few of Dvinsk's Jews remain. The Jews who are located there came from vast Russia, after wandering from place to place until they settled in that city. Only one synagogue remains, and it is difficult to gather a minyan of Jews there for prayers. In the large aliyah in the 1960s most of the Jews immigrated to Israel, and the once splendid Jewish culture of Dvinsk no longer exists.

[Page 41]

Dvinsk Today

Madelya, Aryeh is a former Prisoner of Zion who arrived in Israel a year ago. After his release from Siberia, where he was imprisoned for 14 years, he arrived in Dvinsk in 1947 and remained there until 1972.

After the Holocaust about five thousand Jews gathered in Dvinsk, most of whom were not natives of the city but rather were from cities in central Russia.

The city had been destroyed during the war and was rebuilt. The city featured many tall buildings and all of the government shops were located there.

The first thing we did was organize a Yiddish-language theater.

The shows were the fruits of the pens of S. Aleichem and A. Goldfaden. Most of the Jews came to see a show in Yiddish, because they wanted to hear their language.

A large factory for synthetic thread was built in the city, and employed about 15,000 people. Most of the Jews of Dvinsk left the city and moved to Riga. In 1970 about 70 families from Dvinsk moved to Israel.

No Jewish school exists in Dvinsk. The children study in comprehensive schools where the dominant language is Russian. Before the Six Day War there was a Jewish cultural group which was closed by the government.

In the city there remains a small synagogue where a few minyans occasionally gather. The Christians throw rocks at it and the Jews mostly avoid going there. There is no rabbi. There is a shochet (ritual butcher) who fulfills all of the religious functions: he is the synagogue manager and the beadle in the synagogue.

The 18th century cemetery was destroyed in 1972 on the orders of the city government. When a Jew passes away he is buried in the general cemetery, and only a Star of David on his tombstone indicates that a Jew is buried there.

The young generation that has grown up knows only the Russian language. No Jewish holidays are celebrated. The Jewish youth is becoming assimilated into the existing society. There are no Jewish weddings; there is no mohel to bring Jewish babies into the covenant of Abraham. Books in Hebrew or Yiddish are not to be found. The once-splendid Jewish culture has vanished from that city, which was once brimming with life and creativity, and filled with activity before the war. There are no Jewish representatives in any of the government institutions. There is no Jewish newspaper, though there is a Russian one. How is it possible to create cultural Jewish life when the government line of the Soviet regime in Latvia has been to uproot everything that was Jewish?

[Page 42]

Sometimes a cantor comes from central Russia, from Odessa or Vilna; then the Jews gather who are yearning to hear a word in Yiddish. But those performances are rare, and only happen before holidays.

Lately the Jewish youth are in the habit of gathering around the synagogue on Simchat Torah and dancing the Hora.

The police do not look favorably upon such gatherings of Jews in one place, and always disrupt the dancing.

The police view the dancing as a bad thing and are afraid it will inflame the depressed spirits and inspire a rebellion.

Dvinsk – a home to the Jews before the war – is now, after the war, a monument to the ruination and destruction of Jewish life. The Soviet regime continues to suppress every spark of Judaism.

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