Memories of Gordz
by Yehudis Lashem
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
This happened probably in the year 1908 or 1909.
At that time Russia was engulfed in a wave of pogroms. Wild hooligans, organized in bands, attacked Jewish houses, businesses, murdered and beat. There were many victims and wounded among the unprotected Jewish population, particularly in the small shtetlekh [towns] of the Jewish Pale of Settlement. Fear enveloped the Jews and this also had the effect that many Jews emigrated from Russia to distant nations and, particularly, to America.
This wave of pogroms also encouraged Gentiles in Gordz and the surrounding area. Thursday was a market day and Gentiles came from the surrounding villages and broke the windowpanes in the Jewish houses, robbed Jewish businesses and beat Jews. Fear reigned over the Jews in Gordz.
We then lived over the customhouse and, according to the idea of Gordz distances, this was far from the marketplace. I remember that many children were brought to our house to protect them from the pogromszczikes [those carrying out the pogroms].
A year or two later, after the event, this was on a Friday night when the Shabbos [Sabbath] candles were burning, we suddenly heard a strong knock on the door. We were very frightened. My father immediately took to his weapon, which consisted of a stick and prepared to open the door and go out against the thief or robber and serve him with the stick over
his head, but how astonished my father was when approaching the door, he heard a Jew calling: Save me! This was a Jew from Petersburg, a revolutionary, who had escaped from the Tsarist police. He wanted to smuggle himself across the border to Memel, but he got lost and went in the opposite direction, not in the direction he needed to go; instead of going to the German border, by mistake he went back and seeing the candles burning in a Jewish house, he knocked on our door.
Understand, we let him come in; he spent the night with us, remained for Shabbos. Then my father went to the Jew who would go across the border and reached an agreement with him
that he would immediately after havdalah [concluding Shabbos prayer] take the Jew across the border.
At the close of Shabbos, immediately after havdalah, the ferryman along with a Christian arrived and the Jew was taken back to the border of Gordz to Laugallen [Laugaliai] and arrived there in peace.
Sunday, my father went away to Laugallen and met with the Jew. Then the Jew left Memel on a ship to America and when he arrived in America he sent us a thank you letter for the mercy that my father had done in helping him in a time of trouble
During the time of the First World War and in the years 1916-1917, the Germans brought young Jewish men from Poland as forced
laborers to build the railroad line from Lithuania to Germany. The young men suffered greatly from hunger and cold during their forced labor; their clothes were torn and they were barefoot and they were wretched.
Two of them came to Gordz on a Shabbos morning and hid in the attic of the beis-hamedrash [synagogue]. My father brought the news from the synagogue and the shtetl stirred and as it happens, Shabbos afternoon my father went to sleep; I took a few pieces of fish and potatoes from my mother and sent them to the two Jewish forced laborers in the beis-hamedrash with my brother, Beni, so that they could eat and quiet their hunger. I also asked my brother to tell them that they should come between the two gardens of Zusa-Menda Uriasz at 4 o'clock.
At 4 o'clock I went to them and promised them that tomorrow they would have a room also teg tsu esn[1*] and they would be provided with clothing because they were naked and barefoot.
More forced laborers in addition to the two arrived and when the number was already 8 to 12, I did my best to give advice, but later when dozens arrived and the number reached 82, I took Mikha Melamer and Kalman Platus as helpers. We made a special book and everyone in the shtetl made a monthly payment to help the suffering forced laborers. I personally dedicated great efforts and energy in order to help the suffering forced laborers who were in need of our help and even more a warm, human and hearty connection. At that time I went through a great deal, but I had the greatest satisfaction in helping unfortunate men at their time of difficulty and helped them to stand on their feet.
Several of these former forced laborers were very intelligent and educated men. Three of them later
were married in Gordz, settled down and were incorporated into communal life in the shtetl. They were active in several communal institutions in Gordz.
They were freed in 1919. This was one of my happiest days.
The spring was a part of our sthtel's extraordinarily beautiful landscape. Behind the church, which stood at the very edge of the marketplace, began the road, overgrown with tall grass and trees, to the Minya [River], to the bridge that ran downhill on both sides. A small path turned on the mountain to the well. Young Gordzer would gather at the well in the summer, early Shabbos and at night, and drink the crystal-clear water that flowed without stop day and night and formed a sort of silver stream downhill and rinsed the shining stones that looked out from the entire road up to the Minya.
Not far from there, a large wooden wheel at the watermill turned without stop. The watermill belonged to a German who was named Freikop and he could always be seen with a long pipe in his mouth that he smoked without end.
Opposite the well stood the count's palace. The count was a chamberlain of Tsar Nicholas and from time to time he would come home to Gordz to see his wife, who was paralyzed and sat on a small wagon. The count would light a carbide lamp [gas lamp] (there was no electricity then in Gordz) and this illuminated the shtetl for a great distance.
Early Shabbos the count's garden was opened and, as children, we would be very curious to see the count's garden and mainly the baroness. The park was revealed to us as an enchanted corner, full of secrets and I remember that once the count's son, who was a child of our age, set a large dog on us. We then ran off in great fear to where the pepper grows [2*]
During the later years, the count's garden was open for
everyone and entry was free. We, the young Gordz Jews, used the place very well to spend our free time.
The forest began on the other side of the bridge. It stretched for great distances. The forest was thick, always dark and no road was seen there. When we went deeper into the woods we always had a strange feeling. Everyone felt a mystery and an anxiety. Stories and events were told about the forest, frightening stories about thieves and robbers in the forest and this made the forest more mysterious and full of secrets for us Crossing the bridge and entering the forest was considered an heroic act and there were not many who were able to enter the forest fearlessly
On photo: Gordz park
|1*.||teg tsu esn days for eating. It was a custom for families in a city or town to provide meals for students in yeshivas. They would provide the meals for a day or a few days. Return|
|2*.||Where the pepper grows is an idiom denoting a great distance, the end of the world. Return|
This is how I parted from my home
by Rivka Naveh (Katz)
Translated by Sara Mages
Today is Tisha B'Av. On this day the Temple was destroyed. My home was also destroyed on Tisha B'Av because, on that day, in 5696, I left home to immigrate to EretzYisrael. I didn't know then, that five years after I left a brutal end would come to my home and all my loved ones in it.
The parting was very hard on me, but a hidden hope that I'll return in a few years for a visit, a visitor from to EretzYisrael surrounded by admiration, reduced some of the pain.
It was a hot day. Windows and doors were opened and neighbors and friends came and left. A book of memories, that someone brought me as a parting gift, lay open on the table. Beloved pages that were written by my sisters, Chava, Fruma and Esterel, and my brother, Yakov Benzion Yankale, may God avenge their blood, are kept with me to this day. The handwriting of my childhood friend, Leah Jawschitz, talks to me from the yellowing book of memories, and also the handwriting of Dvora and Betty Wolfowitz in German. The proximity to Memel brought the German language to Gordz.
It was sad at home. I cried all that day. Mother cried. Maybe, in a hidden feeling, we felt that we would never meet again, that a Satan, in the form of a bloodthirsty ruler across the border, is mocking and harassing the beautiful dream about a future visit to my home.
We packed my belongings while crying and mother was fighting with me about adding another sheet, another towel and another silver spoon. Beloved mother! Who will remove the crematorium ashes from your eyes so you can see that I was granted a country and my home is full with all the best and only you, and the children, have become a burning pain in my heart and the wound of your memory wouldn't heal to the end of my days cursed is the hand that hurt you, you and all the peaceful and innocent Jews of Gordz.
Soon it will be four o'clock. Berele the carter, a small Jew, plump and smiling, will come to take us to Laugallai, to the small train that leaves for Memel. From that moment the great journey to the country that I've longed for will start. Grief and happiness blend together like a vicegrip around the heart. I know well that the entire family is jealous at me for the happiness that I've won immigration to EretzYisrael. EretzYisrael! Longing and mystery
fill our best dreams and the magic word, certificate, is an entry permit to a country that is closed and blocked by the bolts of the British Mandate. The year is 1935. In neighboring Germany the Nazi beast has already risen from its hole and hurt the Jews there, and Jews of Gordz hear the shout from across the border.
Mother is crying because I leave for faroff and I try to calm her in the words of Yosef in Egypt: For God sent me before you to preserve life. I'll pave a road for you and I'll bring you to EretzYisrael. Fragments of hope, of two thousand years, have magical power, and when the engine whistled on that day of Tisha B'Av, I imagined hearing in its whistle the sound of the Messiah's Shofar. My beloved mother! Have you ever forgiven me that I added to the cup of troubles of your gloomy widowhood and left you crying and alone on the train platform in Kovna?
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