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[Page 27]

The Zionist Movement in Eisiskes

 

The Zionist Organization of Eishishok

Rumours of Dr. Herzl's appearance and the first Zionist congress reached even remote Eishishok (70 km. away form the district town Vilna), On the initiative of the eldest son of Rabbi Eliezer the Judge, Itzhak Vilkansky (now Prof, Itzhak Volkani, head of the Institute for Agricultural Research in Rehovot) a meeting of the town's “ Maskilim,” readers of “ Hamelitz” and “ Hatsfira” was held. These people were painfully aware of the distress of the Jewish people and yearned for liberation. The Zionist idea was fiercely opposed by the Orthodox and extremist “ home owners” who, like the orthodox everywhere, viewed Zionism as a danger to religion and opposed “ the anticipation of the coming of the Messiah supported by the western atheists and the eastern enlightened, A few young people did however, master enough courage in the compressed extremist Pharisee atmosphere of Eishishok at that time, to lay the foundation of the Zionist organization. It is interesting to note that these early and few Zionists received enthusiastic support from the simple naive warm hearted and straight minded crafsmen.

These people flocked to the Zionist meetings, “ drinking in” with belief and enthusiasm the lofty and wonderful words of Jewish revival, a Jewish state and great leader Dr. Hertzel,

Meir Vilkansky, the youngest son of Rabbi Laiser the Judge (known in Israel by his literary name M. Elazari) describes in his book “ From Wave to Wave” the formation and early days of the Zionist Organization in Eishishok:

”…This is what my brother did upon his second returning from the place of Torah, He went whispering with some of his friends to the tavern of Yaakov Setzkin, the American (fictitious name -the editor). There they decorated the walls with pictures and hung a bright lamp from the ceiling. In the rear they arranged a table with books and spy books. That evening my brother stood at the head of the table and in the lamplight announced to the people the plans for a Jewish State in Israel.

A Jewish man has arisen by the name of Dr. Herzl, who will redeem his people, bring them to their country and create a state for them. A license will be obtained.

He did not spread his arms in the manner of a preacher to the Holy Ark and the people. His head was bowed, his hands grasped the table and in his suppressed voice seemed to be talking more to himself. But his face was flushed and his voice quivered. Also other faces became flushed and other hearts were struck. In this enthusiasm the Zionist organization was founded.
Again the platform was taken by a speaker. Not a fortune-teller but a preacher sent by the regional Zionist center. Each preacher was directed to adapt his words to the spirit of each town. This preacher stood in his Tallith before the Holy Ark. The Yeshiva was completely full. Zionist youths and Zionist artisans came; also other Jews who wanted to hear of Israel's plight and redemption attended. A long table was placed at the entrance so that everyone would buy a shekel and a share after the preacher concluded. (the shekel was the annual membership fee of the Zionist organization).

The home owners and really Orthodox did not attend. They timed their entrance exactly for the beginning of the Maariv prayer. But the prayer was delayed due to the preacher's sermon.

The hall was vibrant with the fiery words which captured the hearts and that evening the Maariv prayer was as fervently recited as on Yom-Kippur eve. The crowd pressed upon the table at the entrance of the Yeshiva, The deep bowl filled with coins for the settlement of Israel and Reb Avraham Haneeman, who had also prayed close to the door, approached the table and cried “ Give me a Shekel”!

My town divided, while all the wealthy objected, the young were attracted and the artisans enthused, Shlomo the tailor preached in the tailors minyan, Abba the shoemaker, preached in the shoemakers Minyan, They bought shekels and shares-, They cried, “ We shall rise and succeed!”
The Zionist organization in Eishishok was founded by Itzhak Vilkansky in 1897, after the first Zionist congress, Those chosen to the first committee were:

Reb Tuvia Rubinstein (known as “ Darr Yeremitsher), Yehoshua Slovotsky, Yehuda Yaakov Snitzky, Zvi Levzovesky, may he long live (now- residing in Petach-Tikva), Zvi Levzovesky, Itzhak Vilkansky and myself. The heart and soul of the committee and society was Itzhak Vilkansky who served as secretary. When he went abroad to study, Shmuel Senitzky took his place. As was usually the case, in those first years of political Zionism, activities were limited to selling shekels and shares of the Colonial Bank.

Sometimes preachers would come from the district town Vilna, Initially the attitude of most of the townsmen to Zionism was hostile and negative. The Orthodox tried to besmirch us and accuse us falsely of being “ anticipators of the Messiah” and atheists. But a large portion of the younger home owners and most artisans supported us and so the fanatics battle against us did not succeed. One example of the Zionist enthusiasm in Eishishokat the time is that 140 shares of the Zionist bank were sold; as the price of a single share was 10 rubles, this was a very considerable sum for an Eishishok Jew.
When the fanatics saw our success, they tried to recruit the Gaon “ Hachafetz Haim” whom they brought to preach against the Zionists. But all their efforts were in vain. The town's rabbi, Zundil Hutner, who spent his days and nights studying the Torah and working, did not persecute us. As a gentle hearted man, he avoided fights all his life. It was typical of him to reply to Meir Shalom Dubitsky, who came to ask whether, as an Orthodox Jew he is permitted to buy a shekel, that that is no sin according to the Torah.

Thus many Torah and yeshiva students joined our society, Besides the Zionist society, another society was founded. The speakers there were Rabbi Paltiel, Zvi Levzovesky and in particular Joshua Slovotzky, Members of the Zionist organization were only men-Eishishok was too Pharisee fanatical to allow the membership of women, But in our practical work we were at times assisted by women,

In the Minsk conference of Russian Zionists (1902) our representative was the lawyer Snitzky. When the teacher Archimovitz, brother in law of Leib Rudzin came to town, the society of “ Poalei Zion” (workers of Zion) was founded, During the years of 1904-1905 also a Bund party existed which attracted the working youth of the town, The Bund was then at the height of its activities and its influence was great while ours decreased slightly. The conflict between the Zionists and the Bund concentrated mainly on the conquest of the municipal library which was the only one in town.

At a later period, close to the First World War, Raphael Nahimovitz and Botvinik were chiefly active in Zionist matters.

When “ modern heders” were extablished in Lithuania, wer decided to extablish one also in Eishishok. We invited Mr. Archimovitz to be the teacher. When the Orthodox found out, they raised hell and loudly warned of the danger to Judaism. They convened, preached in public and nearly excommunicated us. When they realized how strongly we desired to open a “ modern heder” (“dangerous heder” is what they called it) and that pupils had already registered, they rushed the Gaon Chofetz Haim from nearby Radun to influence us to cancel our evil and dangerous plan.

Rabbi Israel Meir came. Meir Kyuchevsky and myself were called upon to see him and he began to appeal to us to cancel our plan. When he saw our resistance, he burst into tears. This affected Meir Kyuchevsky who promised to withdraw but I was stubborn. The “ modern heder” was established to the horror of the fanatics and it became a fact. It operated intermittently in various apartments till the establishment of the modern hebrew school after World War I,


[Page 31]

The Society for “ Hebrew Only” – Rak Ivrit

Eishishok's very special activity was the teaching of Hebrew to children. On the initiative of Sara Vilkansky (now- living in Raanana), daughter of the Judge, Rabbi Leiser, a society was established in 1905/6 in Eishishok by the name of “Hebrew Only.” Students were girls from the age of six and up. The main duty of these “members” was to talk only Hebrew among themselves. For each, word spoken not in Hebrew they were fined one kopek (an agura) which was- given to the society's treasury- Each evening the girls would get together and the tutor Sara (who was replaced after her Aliyah, by her sisters Esther and Lea, may they rest in peace) would read the girls stories, tell them about Israel and the Zionist organization and teach them the few national songs then circulating (“Hatikva”, “ Where the Cedars Grow”, “ Hurry Brothers, Hurry” and others). From time to time, public “ parties” were organized for parents and relatives and the girls would present small plays, declaim and sing in chorus and so on. This society was the foundation of the Hebrew movement in the town and due to its influence, the Hebrew language became common usage till the end.

The First World War brought a temporary cessation to the activities of this society. Immediately upon the establishment of a routine of life under German occupation, the “ Hebrew Only” society resumed its activities. Sara Rubinstein, daughter of Reb Tuvia (“Der Yerementser”) who was herself a member of the society in her childhood, returned to Eishishok and began reestablishing the society. About a year later, she was joined by Shaul Kaleko who also came to Eishishok and began working on spreading the Hebrew language. The society grew and embraced nearly all of the learning youth in the town. The new society of Hebrew speakers by the name of “ Hauerkaz” (The Center) was founded for older youth, A club was opened (in the house of Eliyahu Bastunsky) where nearly all the young people convened each evening to spend their free time reading newspapers, playing and attending lectures on Zionist and literary subjects.


[Page 32]

Zionist Youth Movements

After the First World War, the younger generation became predominant in Zionist activities. In 1920, a Poalei Zion party was founded in Eishishok on the initiative of Shaul Kaleko and with the active participation of the young Paikovsky and Dembrovsky. “ Poalei Zion” embraced the great majority of the labor youth of the town and the “ un- restrained” yeshiva boys. But the party did not last long - when the active members left Eishishok it fell apart and was succeeded by the various Zionist youth movements.

During the years 1919-1920 the youth society “ Cherut Vetehiya” (Freedom Revival) was active. Its participants were most of the “ homeowners” in the town. This society was headed by Shalom Sonenson, Shaul Shneider, Rachel and Peretz Kaleko, Zeev Kaganovitz, Mordechai Levsovsky, Shlomo Kyuchevsky and others. For youngsters 10-14 years of age, there was the society “ Pirchai Zion” (Flowers of Zion) and during 1922- 1923 the club in the memory of Brener founded by S, Shneider and P, Kaleo, in 1924, the latter two founded the “ Hashomer Hatzair” organization which existed till 1939.

During 1925-1926, with the increase of immigration to Eretz Israel, the Zionist movement reached the height of its activity and success. Immigration was instigated during the rule of the Polish minister Grevesky, notorious for his behavior to Polish Jewry. The pressure of heavy taxes and other economic persecution imposed by the Grevesky rule, with the aim of “ liberating “Poland of its large Jewish population, resulted in the immigration of many to Israel - “the fourth Aliyah”. In each city, “ Hachalutz” organizations were founded.

In Eishishok an organization of “ Hachalutz Hamizrachi” was first established by Yoseph Reznick, Pesach Kopelenski, Fruma Rachel Ratz, Peretz Kaleko, Zipporah Lovetzky and with the assistance of N, Radunsky and Munin who were members of the “ Hachalutz Hamizrachi “center in Vilna,

The “ Hachalutz Hamizrachi” organization numbered more than 100 members from various circles not necessarily Orthodox and during its two years of existence was very active in providing information on Zionism and Pioneering as well as in training people for Aliya. And many members did indeed make “ Aliyah” to Israel. The “ Hachalutz Haklali” was founded two years later by Uri Rozovsky and Simcha Kaleo. As the saying goes “ jealousy among scholars will increase knowledge”; indeed, a very lively competition existed between the two parties with fertile results: numerous meetings, conferences, parties and balls were held and public life was very active.

Garden plots were leased by the two parties so that their members, all of whom were candidates for Aliya, should undergo a practical course in agriculture to train them for work in Israel. On the streets of the town one could often see pioneers striding on foot or sitting on carts filled with hay, big sickles in their hands or on their shoulders and their young, sweating faces beaming with triumph and pleasure.

The dream of all these youths was to obtain an immigration permit to Israel. The lucky few were escorted by their friends and the townsmen irrespective of party affiliation; parties and processions were held, wild hora was danced and fiery speeches were made by the renowned “ brave mouths” of the town.

The few anti-Zionists, remnants of the Bund and the communists, vanished from public life and were not heard from. They dared not appear in public because the general atmosphere was Hebrew-Zionist. The artisans' children i.e., the lower and working classes, filled the ranks of the youth Zionist organizations. Also the economic organizations: the merchant union and the artisan union, were dominated by Zionists and no one objected.

When the Beitar organization appeared in the Zionist world, a strong Beitar unit was also formed in Eishishok. At a later period, also a Zionist Revisionist organization was established in the town, Both organizations reached the peak of their activity during the last years prior to World War II and were headed by Shlomo Kyuchevsky, Meir Shimon Politzky, Dov Shlipek and others.

Cultural life also flourished, The Hebrew school was growing despite its many difficulties. Plays in Hebrew and Yiddish were held by local or outside actors. The young people saw no future in Poland and dreamt of Israel, waiting for the moment they could fulfill this dream and live a free life in Israel,

And then came the terrible Holocaust which brought an end to the dreamers and their dreams.


[Page 34]

The Library and Amateur Theatre

The public Library was founded when the Zionist movement first came to Eishishok, During World War I when most of the well to do and active townsmen left for Vilna (in the end of the summer of 1915) in dread of the Russian Cossacks, the library was almost completely destroyed.

After Eishishok was captured by the Germans in 1915, most of the refugees, including many Jews, returned to the town. As is known, also the Nazi's ancestors were not overly affectionate to the Jews but it must be noted to their credit, that they hardly intervened in the social and cultural life,

At that period, Eishishok was very fortunate in its leader. Reb Meir Kyuchevsky, an enlightened and clever man of action with a profound social sense, He won the trust of the Germans and therefore succeeded in re-establishing a normal and public life in the town. On his initiative, a “ comitat” was founded whose main purpose was to supervise the just distribution of the portions of bread and wheat the Germans administered, as well as the clothing which later began to arrive from the U.S. for the Jews.

A soup-kitchen for the poor was also established. The vital spirit in the “ comitat” and the executor of ths decisions was young Shmuel Kaleko,may G-d avenge his blood. He concentrated all activities and was its representative before the local and outside charitable committees.

Since he also loved books, he began, when first returning from Vilna, to devote time and effort to reorganizing the destroyed public library. He and Benjamin Chorny went from house to house to collect the few remnant books of the old library which were to form the foundation of a new one. Actually, the library was at that time a basic “ necessity of life; the Germans had imposed a curfew after 7 p.m. so the young people were confined to their homes every evening. In such a situation, what better passtime than reading could they have?

Efforts were made to expand the library by donations of books and money, lotteries etc. Nevertheless, the limited numbers” of books could not satisfy the hunger of the increasing number of readers. A big operation to purchase more books was then launched by staging plays the proceed of which were used for that purpose.

Sara Pinon the teacher (who was not a native if Eishishok) organized a drama group which staged the well known play of Gordin “ Hassia De Yethoma”.

The customary theatre, stage and curtain were set up in the stable of Arie Leib, the horse merchant, on Radun St. All the work involved in arranging the stage, the benches etc. was of course, done voluntarily by theatre and library supporters.

One most note to the Germans' credit that they generously supported this project both in providing the necessary materials and purchasing expensive tickets,

The dramatic group consisted of Fruma Rachel Katz, Shmuel Haim Gross, Shaul Kaleko, '¦ Benjamin Chorny and later Yosef Michelovsky, Shin Katzenelboygen and others. When Sara Pinon left Eishishok, Shaul Kaleko took her place at the head of the group and he was later succeeded by Yosef Michelovsky. The plays of the Eishishok theatre were attended also by guests from nearby towns.

In 1918 the foundation was laid for a separate Hebrew library. With the increase of Hebrew readers as a result of the spreading of Hebrew by Zionist societies and evening classes, there was a corresponding increase in the demand for Hebrew books. As the general library was more concerned with the purchase of Yiddish books, a special play was staged (Der Inteligent by P. Hirshbin) the proceeds of which, amounting to several hundred German marks, were used to purchase Hebrew books.

Meir Kyuchevsky demanded that this money be contributed to poor people ill with typhus (at that time there was an epidemic of typhus in the town which killed about 100 people in one year), but the younger people objected strongly, claiming that care of the sickly poor was the duty of the community leaders, As is always the case, the people were divided on the issue but the matter ended well since Havale Strelitzky (now residing in Israel) who was representative of the young people, had already reached Vilna, bought books with the money and sent them to Eishishok, the elders felt compelled to leave it at that. Thus the peace was restored.

The public library, which later contained several thousand Hebrew and Yiddish books, played an important part in the public life of the youth, The library represented a strong “ position” over which the Yiddishists and Hebrews fought through the years. The amateur acting group continued to perform many and various plays, Later the youth societies also formed drama clubs which staged plays and playlets in Hebrew.

 

eis037a.jpg
The committee of Eishishok' Youth Club named after Y. H. Brenner, 1923

 

eis037b.jpg
The committee of “HeHalutz Hatzair” in Eishishok in the year 5685 (1925)

 


The Economic Situation

What were the occupations of the townspeople? In early days, the Eishishok Jews dealt mainly in commerce but many were farmers. The Jews owned wide fields reading far beyond the Virshoky River. But during the reign of Nicholai the 1st, who was an oppressor of Jews, most of the fields were taken from the Jews and divided among the Goyim of the town. The latter built houses and planted trees as boundaries between their land and the land still remaining in Jewish hands. Thus the “ Pigs Street” (Svinaga-Ulitsa), which surrounded the Jewish Streets on the west and north, was created.

The townspeople were related mainly to a few prominent families (Hashrovitzim, Shimshelevitz, Kabachnik and others) who owned most of the houses, fields and gardens on the west and south sides. The vegetable gardens were planted with potatoes, cucumbers, beets, carrots and more, the produce of which not only answered to all the Jews' needs all year round but also left a considerable surplus to be sold on market days. Most homeowners also owned cows and goats which grazed in the public pasture near the village, “ Dumbliya”. Attempts were constantly made by the village Goys to rob the Jews of this pasture and thus began a large series of trials which lasted dozens years and which were alternately settled in favor of the Jews and the Goys. These trials drained the public treasury but the Jews were unwilling to surrender the Jewish remnants of the many lands once belonging to them.

Only when the Polish rule began, did the Polish townsmen get a settlement in their favor and all this land was transferred to their ownership. The Jewish community then leased another pasture-land on the community's name, by the water mill on Mill's Road, and there the Jewish cows grazed without disturbance.

The Jews were also occupied with shopkeeping, peddling and horse and hide dealing. At the center of the town, a row of fancy goods and fabric shops was located. (Ryad-Kraman) . These shops turned into the general market on their eastern side and faced the horse-market on the west where iron and paint shops were located. At the northern and southern sides, shops were located.

Market day was on Thursday which was also the redemption day. All the shopkeepers and artisans, such as hat-makers, blacksmiths, bakers, greengrocers, fabric dealers whose livelihood depended on the Goyim, looked forward to this day. Hundreds of peasant carts came from all over the vicinity and filled the market square and adjacent alleys. All week long the town lived off the redemptions of this day. On Friday, the shopkeepers and artisans collected their debts and settled their accounts.

On other workdays, except for Sunday, one rarely saw a Goy in the market and if by chance one appeared, all the shopkeepers pounced on him and attempted to persuade him to enter their respective shops by spinning stories of unmatchable bargains or even by actually pulling him by the hand or button hole. Four times a year a fair was held which attracted merchants also from other districts, especially horse and pig merchants as well as several horse-thieves.

The town also had big tanneries most of which belonged to the “ Kabachnikim” where cheap and plain leather was tanned for the peasants and softer leather for the Jews. The tanneries also sent leather to the city. Merchandise needed by the shopkeepers and artisans was brought by coachmen from the city. Sunday morning, 12-15 coaches would leave for the district city of Vilna, filled with sacks and merchants sitting on them containing the produce of Eishishok: leathers, geese, chicken, flax, pigs-bristles, etc.

Wednesday afternoon the coaches returned stacked with city good for market day. Wednesday evening was a sleepless night of hard work organizing the merchandise on shelves, preparing boxes etc.

At the end of the 19th century an actual factory existed in Eishishok, This was the match factory of Joseph Stelevitz which worked for several decades; it employed 100 workers, mainly women and thus supported many families and provided dowries for the girls.

Initially, the matches were lighted by striking a wall or shoe-sole. Later the modern matches, lighted by striking the coating of their box, were produced.

When the Russian government imposed a tax on matches, so high that it comprised 50% of the income, the factory could no longer support itself and was closed.

An “ alms box” was founded to assist the poor shopkeepers and artisans. They could borrow a few rubles without interest by pawning goods. A public sick fund was also founded.

The “ alms box” was handled by Reb Eliyahu Dumblyanski, It was a private box yet he did not profit from it. He lent everyone small sums and received a pawn on the loan. He would wait several years for repayment and only after giving numerous notices, would he sell the pawned objects at a public auction.

When he died, at 105 years of age it is said, his alms box stopped operating.

This was not the case with the sick fund which supported the sickly poor of the town. Also this fund was founded on the initiative of one person, Reb Benjamin of the Kaganovitz family, called “ Benjamin Der Kapalyushik” by the townspeople. He carried the treasury box in a little bag round his neck. The money was put in special boxes by Jewish women before candle lighting on Shabbath and holidays.

Twice a year Reb Benjamin would come round to empty the contents and thus the funds increased. The trustees of the treasury were Reb Moshe Streletzky who was succeeded by Reb Meir Shalom Dubitzky and others.

In 1909 a bank was founded on the initiative of Reb Meir Kyuchevsky and Hershel Remz and also, may they live long, Reb Zeer Shneider and Zvi Levzovsky. Each member deposited a certain sum which formed the capital of the bank, New members joined and the capital increased. and later the bank received 2,000 rubles from J.C.A. (Jewish Colonization Association) and in 1914, its credit amounted to 15,000 rubles. Meir Seiritzky served as first secretary of the bank, followed by Michael Vilensky, may he rest in peace, whose successor for many years was Haim Mordechai Pacianko..

During the final ten years before Eishishok's destruction, several big economic enterprises were erected such as the flour mill and power station of the brothers Kyuchevsky, the latter of which provided the town with benefits of electric lighting. Economic organizations were also formed and these provided their members with financial and organizational aid and also promoted the development of the town.

First and foremost of the economic organizations was the merchants' union. This union was created in 1919 when the Polish government took over and most of the shopkeepers and merchants were members. The main cause for its formation was the hostile attitude of the Polish authorities to Jewish commerce and their desire to drive the Jews out of the business. To this end, they used taxes which were increased yearly and regulations of all sorts and kinds as to make life for the Jewish merchant and shopkeeper as difficult as possible. The Jews were forced to unionize to overcome, by joint efforts, the difficulties created by the government. The union's duties included providing credit to needy shopkeepers, explaining the endless new rules and regulations and affording legal support against all the controllers and inspectors who seized the opportunities to impose heavy monetary fines for 'breaches' of laws of commerce.

The union was formed by a few shopkeepers headed by Mr. Zeev Schneider who also served as its first chairman until his immigration to Israel in 1924 (He now lives in Rishon Le-Zion). He was succeeded by Dov Kyuchevsky, Yosef Vydenberg and others. The union's secretary and its “ life and soul,” till its last day was Binyamin Chorny.

The merchants thus set an example of a unified effort to overcome mutual difficulties. They were followed by artisans who finally attempted to create an organization too.


[Page 41]

The Artisans Union (Craftsmen's Association)

In contrast to other small towns, A was also a town of Jewish craft and industry. Jewish artisans were inhabitants of the town from its earliest times. We can find an indication of the large artisan population in the many minyan's of observant craftsmen: the tailors' minyan, the shoemakers' minyan, and the mixed minyan where members were chiefly artisans: carpenters, blacksmiths, potters and others.

In these minyans, the members of worshippers reached the hundreds. We have no exact numbers of previous eras, but we do know that at the beginning of the century, the artisans (laborers formed about a third of the total Jewish population in A. and they constantly increased. It was due to this that also the Jewish Socialist Movement, the Bund, had a very strong hold in A. In 1905, the Bund had over 100 members in A. These were mainly young people, since the older people were usually employers and as such not acceptable by the Bund, even if they wanted to be. Artisans (such as tailors, watchmakers, and other “ clean” craftsmen) were members also in other Socialist movements, such as Poalei Zion and later the S.S.

After several abortive attempts, craftsmen with a heightened sense of awareness and social consciousness, did succeed in 1924 to form an “ Artisans Union.” This organization embraced most of the town's artisans and assisted them considerably.

The heavy hand of the government was the main factor also in the formation of this union. The Anti-semitic Polish government attempted to pressure Jewish artisans out of business by burdening their lives. When the government realized that heavy taxes and arbitrary regulations would not scare the Jewish artisans, it invented a law requiring artisans to have a license.

Under the disguise of “ concern for artisans' expertise,” the government decided to force each artisan to undergo examinations testing his technical ability and knowledge of his trade and additionally, his knowledge of Polish.

Jewish artisans who were “ old-hands” at their trades, were forced to prove to anti-Semitic officials that they indeed had mastered their craft. This created a wide opening to bribery, blackmail and persecution of the artisans by their examiners. The greatest torment was to prove knowledge, in reading and writing, of Polish, the language of the state, which most of the elderly artisans could not do. The artisans' union intervened on behalf of its members to ease the harsh decree enforced by the evil and ignorant examiner, and in many cases saved the livelihood of members who had failed the examination by proving that indeed they were experts and well deserved the license.

The union embraced approximately 180 families and its organizers were; Yehuda Leib Solomyanski, the watchmaker; Eltzik the barber; Koremin the tailor and others. The fact that they succeeded in organizing and preparing for public life a collection of people who were difficult to organize, helped promote the public image of the artisan and proved to be a great blessing.


[Page 42]

Some Figures Concerning Trade
and Commerce in Eishishok

In the last years before World War II, the economic crisis began to have its effect and the shopkeepers and artisans were its victims.

Commerce depended on the farmers of the vicinity who sold their produce and purchased their needs on Thursday the market day or during the four yearly fairs.

During the thirties however, the number of Christian shops increased and these competed very successfully with the Jewish shops, since the former paid much lower taxes. Additionally, the chain of co-operative agricultural shops supported by the government widened, and the widened, and the farmer no longer depended on the Jewish shopkeepers. Thus many Jewish families lost their livelihood.

According to the statistics of 1936, 792 people in Eishishok made their living from commerce and shop keeping. This includes some shops whose capital did not exceed a few dozen golden coins.

Jewish and Christian Shops

 
1925
1935
Type Jews Christians Jews Christians
Grocery 51 1 31 4
Fabric 22 - 11 -
Shoes and Fancy Goods 11 - 16 -
Restaurants & Pubs 13 - 15 5
Ready Made Clothes 4 - 7 -
Pharmacies 4 1 3 1
Leather 5 - 6 1
Iron 8 - 6 -
Miscellaneous 12 - 11 -
Total 130 2 106 11

 

These numbers show how the Christians slowly entered the market of Jewish livelihood and the number of their shops increased from 2 in 1925 to 11 in 1935 while the number of Jewish shops decreased in those 10 years. The competition was fierce and profits meagerly.

[Page 43]

Artisans
(23 Different Crafts)

332 families dealt in crafts. Of these there were 139 Jewish artisans and 55 apprentices; a total of 194. Of the Christians, there were 88 artisans and 50 apprentices;: a total of 138. Of these there were 51 Jewish shoemakers and 57 Christians; 63 Jewish tailors and 19 Christian; 22 Jewish wheel-makers, cabinet–makers and carpenters and 8 Christians.


[Page 44]

The Professional Union of Workers

The number of laborers in Eishishok was relatively small. Most were members of the “ Hachalutz-Haklali” and “ Hamizpachi” organizations in the town. The minority whose beliefs resembled the Bund and Communists, organized themselves in a professional union of laborers with no division into the various professions. They were organized by Zeev Katz, an unbalanced individual who oscillated from one party to another with no compunction. Originally, he was an enthusiastic Zionist who actually immigrated to Israel but he quickly returned and became a Communist. He worked for the Polish secret police, was an enthusiastic Yiddishist and also knew Hebrew. With the force of rhetoric and energy, he succeeded to organize the handful of laborers in a “ professional union” to fight the “ battle of the classes” against the “ bourgeoisie employers” i.e.; the tailors and the shoemakers, representatives of “ private property” in the town, who in fact struggled to make ends meet and employed one or two laborers in their workshops.

This union provided a facade for the Communist Yiddishists who were an insignificant minority in the town. Their fight against Zionism was expressed in their resistance to the Zionist management of the general library. This library was the “ bone of contention” and constant battle ground of the two camps: the Hebrews and the Yiddishists, Meetings for the election of the library management often ended in blows. Torn shirts and bloody noses were a frequent result of this language battle. The question of the amount of money to be assigned for the purchase of Hebrew books was a hard and painful problem, inciting “ battles” which lasted for years. The weighty question of whether a Zionist or Yiddishist would be elected as chairman entailed a heavy war of schemes and strategies. And although the results were known from the outset, since most of the readers were members of the various Zionist organizations, this didn't decrease the fervor of the war. This was a war of beliefs, and in Eishishok, before its terrible destruction, the Jewish youths, so naive and enthusiastic, felt it was a matter of life and death!

 

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