Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 3]

Preface

by Yitzhak Alperowitz

The erection of a monument to dear ones is an ancient custom maintained already in antiquity. These memorials for the departed took the form of stone monuments and commemorative volumes. These monuments and volumes are the repositories of valuable historical material. The publication of remembrance books pertaining to the annihilated communities should be regarded as a natural expression and as an elementary, positive and justified phenomenon.

The survivors of the Holocaust are duty–bound to give testimony, to relate and describe the communities in their days of splendour as well as of destruction, to eternalize the martyrs and remember them out of our consciousness of our national duty, in this generation, to erect memorials for the Jewish communities in the European diaspora, annihilated by the Nazi and their collaborators in World War II.

Gorzd has been blessed with comparatively more sources than other towns in Lithuania. Gorzd has been and still remains the pride of its surviving townspeople. The folksiness of its residents, its unique character and socio–spiritual values during its existence and to the moment of its destruction – all these have abided in the memory of its townspeople and they have tried to depict its story of life and death, its warmth and serenity – a small community no longer among the living.

The recollections of the survivors often refer to the same events, as may be expected, but each description has something of the personal which adds an individual facet to a broad under–

[Page 4]

standing of the events, experiences and sentiments. These accounts were written in the spirit of genuine love and affection for the little town. The writings of its Jews clearly indicate the childhood memories they have been preserving and their pride in the town, in its honour and splendour.

These recollections bring to life the long–gone images, the chapters of the letter and spirit of their existence, the values with which they were imbued and the inspiration which they infused for a useful and creative life. The accounts provide a rounded depiction of the town; its synagogues, educational institutions, youth movements, public agencies, political parties and rare characters. The Gorzd Book of Remembrance tells the story of the life of a small Jewish community in Lithuania and its creative life during the generations until the end.

In the photographs we see the glowing countenances of parents and their children.

The contributors to this book have tried to mirror Gorzd Jewry on all its levels, movements and currents, from its very beginnings and they are respectfully and sincerely presenting it to the surviving townspeople and to the generations after them.


[Page 5]

From the Gorzd Townspeople Association

by the Committee of the Gorzd Townspeople in Israel

It was with deep reverence and emotion, countries and boundaries away from the common graves of the martyr's among our townspeople that we, former residents of Gorzd now living in Israel, approached the publication of a Memorial Volume about our community which fell victim to the German Nazi and their helpers.

Many years have gone by but the blood of our brethren still calls to us from the earth and demands that we provide proper commemoration of the pure souls which perished while sanctifying the Holy Name. For many years we yearned for this book which we intended to reflect the bustling life in our town and, in a series of articles, encompass the rich life of our community. We wanted to dwell on its historical past, the development of its economy, religious life, public affairs and national activity.

The volume now before us is dedicated to our town. It contains recollections of personalities beloved by Gorzd's townspeople wherever they may be. It recalls Gorzd's distant and recent past as well as the disastrous days of the Holocaust when all but a handful of its people saved by a variety of miracles were put to death. The survivors are today dispersed all over the world; most of them are in Israel.

In the beginning, only a few townspeople dared dream of this book with little hope of achieving its publication. We set about this project without any documentary material available to us and without any means but the fervent desire to commemorate the Gorzd community by establishing a collective memorial in the form of a Yizkor volume overcame all obstacles. After much effort, we still succeeded in gathering scraps of documentary evidence and in persuading Gorzd survivors who were active in its community life to set their memoirs down on paper.

[Page 6]

The book is, therefore, a collective creation by many participants. Its chapters go down to the roots of folk Judaism which drew on the resources of Lithuanian Judaism. The numerous photographs we have been able to collect reflect the countenances of fathers and sons, of generations gone by and never to return.

The book is mostly in Hebrew with some Yiddish and English. We decided that each article would appear in the tongue in which it was written. The book is, therefore, not divided linguistically but rather practically.

We wish to mention, with gratitude, all the members of our Association in Israel and abroad who helped us implement our purpose. We are deeply grateful to the principal assistants to the members of the Editorial Board and the Publication Committee for having been with the project from beginning to end, and foremost:

Yehudit Leshem, “mother of the Gorzdians” whose enterprising spirit was behind the idea which she generated, of publishing a Gorzd memorial volume. In addition, Yehudit Leshem is blessed with a phenomenal memory which has retained every detail of Jewish life in the town. She was among the first to initiate and establish the Association in Israel and she has been active in it ever since. She did a tremendous amount of work, devoting much time to meetings and consultations. Her toil, all of these years, was the decisive contribution to the publication of the volume. Without her participation, the book would never have happened.

We wish to note the important contribution of Avraham Arenstein, chairman of the Association. Enthused by the idea of publishing the book, he undertook to bear its heaviest burdens and worked valiantly to bring it to the printing stage. He kept after the writers and he attended every meeting of the Publication

[Page 7]

Committee. His energy and labour are two of the pillars on which this book rests.

Special credit is due to Rivka Naveh, a member of the Editorial Board and the Publication Committee. She collected most of the material in the book and contributed her own literary talent as well. She classified the material and the photographs adding her comments and corrections and in general, readying the manuscript for the printer, rapidly and efficiently. Her impact is to be found on every page of the volume.

An exemplary job worth all the plaudits was done by Dr. Ben–Zion Zeev Anbary–Burstein, member of the Board and the Committee. He gathered material, translated documents and articles and prepared them for the press. He contributed his own writings and assiduously attended meetings. Much of the literary quality of the book stems from his devoted work.

We also wish to thank Moshe Katz of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, for his devoted work as a member of the Board and the Committee where he was of great help in various aspects of the publication as well as in the writing of the material. Committee member, Moshe Hershkowitz was another member of the Publication Committee who spared no effort to bring the project to fruition.

Our final words of thanks go to Yitzhak Alperowitz, editor of the volume who consummate professional skill produced the book in its attractive content and form.

Again, our thanks to everyone who lent a hand to produce this Memorial Book. May it be an everlasting monument to our dear ones.


[Page 9]

Some Reminiscences

by Dr. Hershel Meyer

It is already over a half a century since I left Gorzd, the shtetl of my childhood and early adolescent years. I departed from my home on a frosty December morning, carrying a big straw basked full of books plus a parcel of dried bread and prunes which mother insisted I take along for the more than fourteen days of sea voyage to America.

Since then, there was much that I saw and learnt about and still more that I forgot – but, not what our sages named the “Girsa Deyankuta” (the knowledge acquired during childhood). Imprints on our fresh sense organs and still malleable brain cells remain indelible. As we advance into our so–called third age, we thus retain more vividly events of long ago than those of yesterday. It is enough to be wafted, eyes half–closed, to a lane of the old shtetl, to recall someone who once caressed us – for scenes to begin emerging as if from a fog: hosts of faces, voices, sounds and melodies of a vanished past: pulling, gnawing at us with an infinite longing, not simply for bygone days but to those wondrous, spiritually inexhaustible East European Jewish communities – forever wiped out by the German fascist monster.

Gorzd consisted of a market place, a few side–streets and a long main street (Tamozhne Street) running clear to the barracks at the border with Germany. On this street lived the wealthy Yavshitz lumber contractors who supplied enormous quantities of lumber to German cellulose factories, plus a few medium traders and merchants. The street dipped down to the so–called gessl (or “alley”) neighbourhood with its rickety homes of artisans, dairymen, peddlers, shoemakers, tailors, bakers, etc. it also boasted of a leather tannery and a smithy with anvils and bellows.

[Page 10]

The spacious market place was ringed with food, textile, hardware stores as well as a pharmacy and a tavern. Thursday was market day with peasants from neighbouring villages coming to sell their farm products and for purchasing needed supplies. From the church at the edge of the market place, one trailed already out of town.

A shtetl over which time, it seemed, held no sway or influence – and in which life–cycles moved as serenely as the rhythm of the seasons on the quiet, contemplative Lithuanian landscape – with its shimmering lakes, pine trees, birches, rakes and iron ploughs around its thatched peasant huts.

Looking at their facades, the rows of dwellings gave Gorzd the appearance of a town. From behind the houses, with their garden patches, barns, goats and chickens, it looked more like a farming village. However, in late and silent moonlit nights, its rows of hovels became transformed into mysterious figures, huddling to one another as though in fear of the cold, open spaces, surrounding them.

It was a small town of toiling fathers and mothers, devoted to the upbringing of their children; later to bid them a tearful farewell on their departures overseas, and then in the daily run to the post office for the long–awaited letter from America. The weather–beaten faces and calloused hands and the rich folk humour of its working people as well as the benign faces and the pudgy white hands of the scholar with a disputed Talmudic passage still hovering on his forehead. A shtetl with most of its families in a constant struggle for their subsistence. But, instead of humility or a sense of inferiority, the poverty was carried with a certain dignity and even pride; as though the woes and sorrows they endured marked them as chosen for future compensations. Whenever adversities be–clouded the faces of my parents, they

[Page 11]

would brush them aside with a comforting word or a quotation from the Bible or the Midrash.

Gorzd boasted of two kinds of poor – those who owned a milking goat and those who did not. Those who like us already had a cow and a vegetable patch was regarded as “affluent”. Mother would thus often carry pitchers of milk to homes of the indigent or to a family with many children but without a goat. The contented voices of my parents when they assured one another in late autumn that their worries were over as far as flour, potatoes and firewood were concerned. “We won't go hungry” mother would add, but one must still resolve the problem of clothing for a family of seven and tuition fees for the children. (Osher the oldest one, was already in America working there (since 1910) for a five dollar weekly salary in a furniture factory.

 

The road from the town to the Minya River

 

[Page 12]

I am still proud of the many chores and duties my parents assigned to me during my early childhood and heder years. The running to the barn several times a day during the winter to feed the cow; escorting her in the early summer mornings to the pasture where Yonas the shepherd would already be waiting; ploughing up in the spring the big vegetable patch, at times solely with a spade, collecting and spreading cow dung over the clumps of earth; the sowing, the fragrance of the black earth, the marvel of sprouting stalks and the many pails of water one had to carry from some wells to irrigate the garden in times of drought. Mother humming Eliyokum Tsunzers “in der soche ligt di Mazel broche” (In the plough–share lies the blessing of abundance) was we harvested the beets, carrots, pumpkins, onions, cabbages and salted away the cucumbers in casks for the winter. At the age of six, brother Folle gathered up heaps of stones to pave the passage from the house to the barn – which, in the rainy autumn, became almost impassable. These experiences rooted in me a conviction on the cardinal importance of productive labour in a child's development.

The material circumstances in which we lived as children certainly had an effect on the formation of our character. But more so, the overall behaviour of the adults around us which generally was one of heartiness and devotion to those around them. A whisper from my mother, a mere look or gesture from my father often indicated to us the difference between the true and the false, the good and the evil. The common tradition of the shtetl created among its people a community of sentiments and values. The “I” often reflected itself in the “Thou”. This emotional mutuality expressed themselves later in the nostalgias and attachments of the Jewish emigrants, in America and elsewhere, for their shtetl.

* * *

The gloomy, overcast and lachrymose Lithuanian autumn days: the

[Page 13]

young legs hopping boldly over the muddy water puddles, from one stone to another then suddenly flopping into the biggest of them. Coming home besmudged and sopping wet to be greeted with Mother's gentle plaint, while addressing herself to Eidel, her eldest: “He did it again! Just look at the pants we bought for this character only last Passover; and his shoes, just soled and riddled with holes again – Rothshild's treasures won't be enough to take care of him”. Then, in the same breath, she would strip me, stand me up on a chair next to the oven to dry me out and make me a drink of tea with jam lest, God forbid, I catch a cold….

The young fellows with the long poles steering the lumber barges on the Minya to keep them moving; the long locomotive whistle from the Laugallen railway station – like a message across frontiers from distant worlds. The Friday “tock–tock” of the choppers on the fish–boards; the creaking of the carts heavily loaded with grain on their way to Memel; the hoarse “viya” of the wagoners, the snap of their whips, the sparks on the cobblestones with the thump of horse–shoes.

Those long and interminable winter evenings. The shimmer of the kerosene lamp on the frosted window panes; outside footsteps squeaking in the snow; inside – the routine chirp of the cricket (we were never able to find its hiding place around the hearth). The roof of the house groaning from time–to–time as if shivering from the cold. “At 30 below it is hard to warm up the house a bit further than the oven”, mother would say. Before going to sleep she would give me a pail of warm brew for the cow. “Don't forget to cover her with the rags hanging in the barn”, father would add, “and bring back a few logs for heating up the stove in the morning”.

On such evenings, father would tell us some tales from the Midrash or about his exciting adventures in the 1890's in the wilds of the South African Transvaal, or about the Gaon of Vilna,

[Page 14]

whom he pictured as being also a student of astronomy thereby intimating that one may study science and Torah simultaneously. He also told us about Reb Yisroel Salanter, founder of the movement which sought attainment of higher levels of morality through penance and asceticism and yet, father used to observe Reb Yisroel sit shiva after his own son, Yomtov Lipman, who turned his back on piety, left the Yeshiva and became a professor of mathematics in a German university. Father used to speak with admiration of Yehuda Leib Gordon, the great Hebrew poet and Abraham Mapu's novel, Love of Zion.

The tales our grandfathers used to spin in the long winter evenings clustered around the big Bet Hamidrash oven – about real events such as about the evil deeds of the “snatchers” who abducted Jewish children of poor families to far away regions of the Czarist Empire to be trained for subsequent army service. But they wove also many imaginative and fantastic stories. About the devils and the Ashmedai Demon, on the transmigrations of the souls of the wicked and the righteous. Some people we knew had been visited by ghosts and devils, they affirmed. Though scared, we pined to hear ever more of these stories.

The main synagogue remained closed during the fall and winter. In the moonlight its many window panes glistened and glittered creating reflections of movements inside, so it was said that the spirits of the dead gathered there to recite midnight prayers. Passer–byes summoned by them for a Torah reading had to enter. This is what happened to Gershon Feive, they said. He struggled but was finally compelled to do their bidding. Ever since, he became taciturn. After this, none of us children dared pass the synagogue alone in the dark.

I learned the alphabet and got all the way through the first part of the Pentateuch under the tutelage of “Yankele the barber”, a man of slight build with a pointed nose, sparse beard,

[Page 15]

fallen yellowish cheeks and a voice like the cooing of a dove. He was a barber before midday and a tutor in the afternoon, preparing a few boys for the heder. During the first lessons, a few coins dropped on my book. “This is the gift of an angel”, explained Yankele, “a reward for good learning”. He used to barge into our home in a great hurry and take me to task without wasting any time. I had hardly translated one verse into Yiddish and his prodding finger would already be pointing to the next one. I happened to overhear my parents saying that it would be impossible for me to attend Gershon–Feive's heder: firstly because he wouldn't accept such a mischief maker (I was an unruly one, always fighting with the Heling boys of the tavern keeper across the street) and secondly because his tuition fees were too high.

Gershon–Feive was a Jew of august appearance – straight as a lance with a square white beard and the gait and bearing of a consummate aristocrat. Only a few boys “made it” to be accepted into his heder (a small room in a corner of which stood three chairs upholstered in purple velvet on which no one ever sat down). He took on just a few boys after a thorough examination at that. He was also known for not ever having raised a hand on his charges. Well, one day I went to him on my own and asked him to take me into his heder. He bent down to me, wordlessly studied my face, asked me what I had learnt, examined my knowledge a bit, then sent me away saying: “I shall talk with your father”. Later, whenever Mom wanted to quiet “the menace”, she would say (not without a note of pride): “Some nerve! To go to see Gershon–Feive alone without our knowing it!”

The preaching's of the “maggidim” between minha and ma'ariv in the already semi–dark Bet–Hamidrash. Their warnings against sinning or non–observance of the Tora, their portrayal of the fearful punishments inflicted upon the transgressors, the picturesque scenes, stories, allegories with which they embroidered their message were

[Page 16]

often overwhelming. Frightened, I always resolved to follow their call for repentance. They usually wound up, however, on a happy note with some parables from the midrash climaxed by the optimistic “and the redeemer shall come to Zion” – after which everyone felt as though acquitted from some criminal charges.

The Sabbath twilight hours: as dusk began to descend, father would close the Gemara or the Mishnayot while humming some sad tune. After reading her Tz'enna Ur'ena (translation of the Bible in Yiddish), mother would remain seated at the window as though in a trance. Everything seemed to be in a state of suspended animation, as if in compassion for the Sabbath that is departing and in anxiety for the week that is arriving. As darkness set in, mother would rise with a sigh and begin to murmur the prayer: “Got fun Avrom, fun Yitshok un fun Yankev bahit dain Folk Yisroel”. After the benediction over the lighted Havdalah candles, everyone greeted everyone else with a buoyant and vociferous “Gut Woch!” (A good week to you).

There were two long tables at the entrance of the Bet–Hamidrash; one along the south wall for the Talmudic scholars and the other along the far northern wall for the workers, artisans and other plain folk. On the Sabbath before ma'ariv, they assembled for a “Tilim” or a Psalms recital. However, it sounded more like an outpouring of the soul than a mere recital. Neither did their melodies and tonalities bear the character of a prayer, – but rather of a dialogue or a contention with human destiny; also an attempt to rid oneself in a confluence of voices, of thoughts and things pressing on one's heart. Certain passages were recited with greater fervour – such as “Man, his days are as of a blade of grass” – in a kind of mournful acceptance of fate. The session over, they rose looking strengthened for the trials and tribulations of the week ahead.

The flickering Hanukkah candles fastened by their melted wax

[Page 17]

to a brick on the window sill. Our pride with the exploits of the Hasmonaim, father's cheerful “Maoz Tzur” and “in those days”, the “dreidel”, the potato latkes, our waiting for the “Hanukkah gelt” and the tremor of old grandpa's hand when he counted out to us the few kopeks.

The heder too was an arena where stories of great days and events kindled our imagination. The thunder and lightning atop Mount Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments; the rabbi's sing–song of “Give ear, ye heavens”, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of the generations”. The shofar's blasting the walls of Jericho; rejoicing with Samson's vengeance on the Philistines; mourning Saul and Jonathan slain on the heights of the Gilboa. Riding aloft in Elija's blazing carriage drawn by fiery horses into the eye of the storm; decoding with Daniel the handwriting on the wall of Belshazar's palace. All this and more seemed to us more real and more natural than the daily occurrence around us.

Later the evening sing–song over the heavy Talmud tomes of the Yeshivah. The headmaster walking back and forth deep in thought between the shadows of the Beth Midrash walls yet noting those students who appeared to have run into a pilpulistic snag…

The arrival of spring is usually around Purim. The breakup of the hard–frozen Minya and the crunching sound of the colliding blocks of ice on the already streaming river. Will the wooden bridge over the Minya withstand the assault – the wagoners used to ask each other? The first dispatch of Purim “Shalach Mones” went to the Rabbi. A napkin–covered plate usually heaped with some cake and cookies plus a chocolate bar and an orange brought from Memel. “But don't you dare be a nasher” Mother usually admonished the one of us assigned as the dispatcher, knowing full well that we youngster had the knack of pilfering an item or two and then rearranging the plate to make it look like a horn of plenty.

[Page 18]

Passover was the revolutionary season. A rush and turmoil which threw the shtetl into a frenzy of koshering the dishes, scrubbing and washing every nook and corner, even where by no stretch of imagination “hametz” could have penetrated. We took crumbs wrapped in a spoon to Reb Feitel the shames who, ‘sold’ the town's entire ‘hametz’ to a goy. At the Seder, we earnestly intoned the Four Questions, enumerated the Ten Plagues, opened the door for Elijah and, of course, triumphantly exhibited the ‘afikomen’ we had ‘stolen’. Every passage of the Haggada text had its special melody. Father reached the crest of exaltation in the chant of ‘Echod mi yode'a’. Voices blended with the melodies that came from other homes.

The cool days of Elul, with their scent of tree ripened apples and pears, when not only pious Jews but also ‘fish in the water’ trembled with awe of the coming judgment days. I recall how father used to take me by the hand in the cold, still dark, pre–dawn Elul mornings to the synagogue for ‘selihot’. Inside, in a flood of candle light, throngs of worshippers, prayer books in hand like soldiers in a kind of rehearsal for the bout with God during the High Holidays.

The tensioned, Yom Kippur night, Kol Nidrei prelude: the slow procession and the incisive laments strains of the first Kol Nidrei sentences: like an attestation of an entire people to its unending tragic destiny. Listening to it, it seemed were the walls and beyond them the heavens and all the preceding generations of martyrized Jews. Then, the sudden transition of the recitative from the tragic minor to the burgeoning major, ascending with the determined modality: “it must not and will not be thus”. On Yom Kippur day, the theme of who shall live and who shall die reached its climactic resolution in the moving adagio cantabile of the ‘Ne'ila’ prayer. A fasting, pallid–face congregation, wrapped in ‘taleissim’ with chests

[Page 19]

from which all sin has already been pounded out – in their final desperate plea for a year of life, health and livelihood. Why doesn't there come an answer from behind the drapes on the Holy Ark, I used to ask?

The melodies of the High Holidays followed me all my life. Among others, they symbolized to me the universal human combat against the anti–human, heralding the ultimate victory of the human.

Our annual carnival – the Simhas Torah procession. We children agape to see our serious, sober elders of all year–round singing and dancing while circling the ‘bimah’ with the Torah scrolls in their gold–embroidered coverlets: white–bearded elders stomping with the heavy scrolls in their embrace: often responding with tears in their eyes to the good wishes of the throng to be among the living come next year. We had to push our way past the adults to get close enough to the parading scrolls to kiss them, though we could reach them only with our fingertips. When the chant: “Glory to God” was heard, we responded as one in our piping soprano voices: ‘Tmima, tmima, tmima!’ (The ‘Perfect’).

The shtetl's first theatre performance by its amateur actors of Goldfaden's Shulamith. The entire town was captivated by the hearty folk songs and tunes of the operetta: They were sung by young and old for years thereafter.

The town's first library. We held counsel with Hurwitz the Hebrew school teacher, then convened a few boys and girls who collected some money to order books from Kovno. How we caressed these to us, still unknown works of Mendele Mocher S'forim, Peretz and Sholem Aleichem! As those of Nomberg, Frug, Frishman, Dubnov, Anski, Bialik and Berdichevsky, while eagerly devouring their content.

The first electric light–bulk in the house created in me a guilt feeling toward the warm, old kerosene lamp which was discarded

[Page 20]

as useless after so many years of faithful service. I was always happy to light it again when the electric powder, drawn from an antiquated generator on the river, failed and which was often!

The tumultuous breakaway of us kids from the ‘heder’ on our race to see the first horseless carriage that came into town. A stiff, torpid German chauffeur in a sparkling gold–buttoned uniform was sitting behind the wheel waiting for the return of the doctor that had been summoned from Memel to the bedside of a critically ill patient. The chauffeur didn't blink once as we circled the vehicle pawing and patting its parts. He became very active when the doctor returned, bowing to him obsequiously and then rushing to turn the car with a crank. The vehicle began thumping and shaking most violently with a black smoke pouring from all its sides. Fearing the contraption might explode, we began

 

The father G. Meierovitz
The mother R. Meierovitz

 

running. We stood there staring in amazement as it smoothly and unobtrusively pulled away.

The outbreak of World War I cut us off from father who was then in a Koenigsberg hospital. The surgeons, he informed us

[Page 21]

In his last letter, were as yet undecided as to whether to amputate his second limb as well, all the way up or not. In the meantime as border shootings began to hit Gorzd (our house was later damaged by a bomb), we fled to Plungian, a town 30km away. We lived there in cramped cellar–like quarters and in great privation. Mother and sister Eidel baked for sale both bread and bagel. In the morning, they often gave me some of these in a basket for delivery to a few well–to–do households. This done, I would run to the Talmud Tora.

On one occasion I had some bagels left over. I headed for the highway where German infantry troops were moving towards Telshe. Within a few minutes the basket was empty and the coins they threw into it in payment for the bagel amounted to twice their price. Elated with fortune, I burst into the house with the tiding that abundance is now beckoning at the doorstep of our cellar – if only I could take some more bagel on the road to Telshe. But mother and Eidel frowned at me as though I had committed some heinous crimes: they castigated me for being truant from school and wanting to become a ‘shacker macher’ (money maker). And this was the last time they gave me a basket with bagels.

Every now and then our Bible and Midrash teacher in the Talmud Torah, Reb Yeruhom, would vanish. The older boys said that he was ‘observing solitude’; others claimed he was one of the 36 righteous men on whom the world rested. He was a pious man to be sure, wore a ‘talis kotn’ but he didn't look as though he fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. He was a young man, solidly built with a chestnut–brown beard, high forehead and dreamy eyes. I never tired hearing him read passages from Isaiah, Jermiah, Hosea, Amos, Habakuk, Nahum and the other prophets.

The tonality and timber of his voice would change in conformity with the imagery and message of the given prophet; here descriptive, there lyrical, expressing tender love for the people, at others, a burning wrath against its seducers and deceivers; but

[Page 22]

always heralding the ‘end of days’ when all people and nations would finally become fully cognizant of the necessity to work in unison for their common welfare. Symbolizing for me the prophetic pathos and vision, Yeruhom left on me an indelible impression. The Plungian Talmud Tora teachers inspired one to study. But after a sixteen month stay in Plungian, we happily returned to our home in Gorzd.

On my father's return from Koenigsberg, I was sent back to Plungian, this time to its Yeshiva. Its schoolmaster, Rabbi Yehuda–Leib Ziev was a disciple of the revered Reb Itzele Ponivezsher. We studied the tractate ‘Gittin’ (Divorce), a subject I found both boring and dizzying. The headmaster's scholastic expositions of the already highly involved Talmudic treatment of divorce proceedings made my head swim – though it could have been due to the meagre meals in some of the houses where I was assigned to eat by the Yeshiva.

In the meantime, father notified me that I would soon be 13 and to prepare myself with a ‘Bar Mitzva droshe’ (speech). I replied somewhat ironically, whether it should deal with the subject I was studying in the Yeshiva. He answered with a story about Rabbi Johanan Ben–Zakkai who once asked his disciples to name the highest virtue. Out of the various definitions, he chose as most adequate the one by Rabbi Eliezer, namely: ‘Goodness of heart’. I thus compiled a host of material about it from the Midrash, the ‘Hovas Halavoves’ and other sources exalting this trait as decisive to the formation of the human essence. Though the speech was somewhat bombastic and long winded, father was pleased no end. Even some of the town's dour talmudists headed by the impassive Gershon Feive termed it as impressive. My reward was a pair of suspenders.

Noting my zealous efforts to gain scientific knowledge as well as the one of the foreign languages, father agreed not to have me

[Page 23]

go back to Plungian on condition that I continue Talmudic studies under the tutelage of Reb Leipzig, an outstanding scholar from Kelm who was spending some time in Gorzd. It was arranged that I study together with Itzke Melamed (now Rabbi Irving Melamed of Chicago), the son of the respected town scholar, Reb Feivel Melamed. The subject we were to master was nothing less than the ‘Sanctification of Matrimony’ as presented in the Talmudic tractate of Kidushin. Itzke Melamed had an extraordinary flair for the absurd and the comic. The content of the lessons along with some of Reb Leipzig's gestures and facial expressions drove him into a giggling which he tried to suppress. When our eyes met at such moments, both of us would burst into an incontrollable and convulsive laughter. Neither one of us then understood the reason for these recurring spasms of laughter. However, on one bright morning, Reb Leipzig briskly dismissed both of us.

* * *

Hundreds of thousands of poor and oppressed East European Jews immigrated during the latter part of the 19th century to the United States. Some tens of thousands, mostly Lithuanian Jews left for South Africa, then under British rule – among them, in 1893, my father and his brother Raphael. However, after ten years of toiling in the then primitive Transvaal, they returned to Gorzd as penniless as when they had left. Father had to accept a job with the Yavshitz lumber dealers, to keep track and account for the volume of lumber the peasants were logging in the far–away forests. With six children and a monthly salary of only a few rubbles, mother had to ‘pitch in’, baking bagels and selling a few grocery items. These were kept in the ante–room of the small house near the market place where we lived until 1910. I still remember that when father came home for the Sabbath, he and mother would talk gloomily about debts. Consuming more

[Page 24]

groceries than was earned by her meagre sales, mother's ‘business’ gradually became ever more indebted to the produce dealers for their deliveries. One time father chided her for borrowing money on interest to pay off some of the debts. ‘This’, he said, ‘was like taking a pane out of one window to close up another’. Debts still give me the jitters.

Working in the forests in the very cold winter months worsened the condition of my father's feet, of which he began suffering when he was still in South Africa. He was afflicted with what is known as ‘Berger's disease’, described in medical texts as an illness with a predilection for Jews but occurring also among non–Jewish tobacco smokers. It begins with muscular cramps in the legs when walking, caused by spasms of the local arteries. Later, a gradual blocking of the blood vessels causes the limbs to become gangrenous. At that time, nothing existed to ease the pain (described as unbearable) except morphine, and no other treatment except amputation. Lacking too were the means for ascertaining how far up the vascular circulation was already affected. Amputation of the limbs often proceeded in several stages, beginning with the feet to finally end at the very upper part of the thighs.

Such was father's ten–year heroic combat with excruciating pains and the subsequent section after section of amputations of his limbs in a Koenigsberg hospital. His spiritual fortitude amazed everyone including his doctors. Despair, melancholy, self–pity apparently never eclipsed his courage and optimism. His attention was always directed to the needs or sufferings of others. “Gershon, you think only of others, never of yourself” mother used to remark. When he was carried into the house following the last amputation, a crowd of compassionate people was waiting for him – nothing that some were tearful, he immediately launched into light–hearted talk offering them a humorous anecdote which ended: “As long as there's a head on the shoulders, life is worth living”.

[Page 25]

the neighbourhood streets and lanes were uneven and sloping so that father could use his wheel–chair only indoors. On the holidays and at times on the Sabbath, I and our neighbour Mordechai–Yoke would carry him on a chair to the synagogue. After prayers, Rabbi Shabsai Shapiro would chat with him about community matters. No longer subject to his sufferings, he sought to alleviate those of others – a mother without means of buying medicine for her sick child; a family without firewood for the winter; a drayman whose horse had gone the way of all flesh – almost everyone with a problem came to Gershon. Seated at the open window, he would invite the more affluent passers–by to contribute for the needy. Those who tried to evade him by claiming they were collecting funds for repairing the Mikve or for binding Mishnayot tomes, he would rebuke as violators of the basic principles of Judaism, the first one being to help the cause of the poor.

He had a wealth of aphorisms like: “The rich swell with pride and the poor well up from hunger”; “Gifts are bestowed to those one wishes to befriend, donations to those one wants to get rid of”. “No gate remains shut to a jackass with money”. “A human being is either a divine creature or a ‘neveile’ (a mere carcass)”. “Not everyone who is scratching his head is thinking”. “Not always is the beautiful good but the good is always beautiful”. “How many wrong paths does one follow before finding the correct one?” “World history is so far the story of Cain and Abel”.

On Saturday evening, some working people would gather at our home to study with father the Mishnayot after which they would recite the Maariv prayers. At times, they engaged in political discussions. Already then, the clashes most frequently were between left and right positions. Father's attempts to settle differences in the spirit of Judaic ethics usually ended in failure.

* * *

[Page 26]

Father's tribulations aroused in me questions premature for my age and for which I vainly sought the answer: Why the wicked enjoyed the pleasures of life while the righteous were stricken with misfortunes, troubled me deeply. So was the one about God's omniscience, his full knowledge of all future events and his meting out hellish punishments to sinners whose behaviour was already determined beforehand. For a time, I took up these vexing problems with Yankel Gamzu, a bespectacled young man in his thirties with reddish hair, a mild countenance and the reputation of having been a genius in the Slobodke Yeshiva. He was always perusing books. His place of prayer was near our pew and he used to pray without perceptibly moving his lips. Yankel was very patient with me and tried to disperse my annoyances with assurances that many great theologians had no answer to these questions. In the very end, he introduced me to the Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides. Failing to grasp the Rambam's concepts on the subject of “choice and knowledge”, Yankel spent much time in explaining them to me.

Elie, the shoemaker and his family, lived on a side street in a couple of small rooms. There he worked seated on a rickety chair at a well–worn table with strips of leather, a worn buffer, a small hammer, a pair of pliers, several small knives, nails and other tools. His gentle young face and wise dark eyes glowed with an inner light. As he looked at someone with his weary and faint smile, it seemed as though he knew of things he could not yet reveal.

Every now and then, I would drop in on him with a pair of shoes for repair. One day, noticing a book–case in the side–room, I asked him what he was reading. “I don't have much time for that”, he replied pointing to a heap of shoes. “What about you?” he went on, “Are you reading books already?” “I am”, I proudly said. “A work by Maimonides” and I plunged into a presentation of the

[Page 27]

problem of freedom of choice and knowledge. Elie put aside the boot he was toiling, scratched his head thoughtfully and said: “You are burdening your little head with vain enquiries. Whether God does or doesn't know that my house will burn down, I know that you, Gershon–Yanke's boy, will not be the arsonist. Whatever we do depends on our upbringing, our conscience and our understanding”. By lending me a book on the life of Spinoza, Elie introduced me to the works of this towering Jewish and world philosopher.

Bere Velve the baker was endowed with a phenomenal memory. No one ever saw him note down anything, but he knew that birthdays, wedding anniversaries and general life history of most everyone in town back to his great grandparents. He could also narrate events that happened in Gorzd and its vicinity generations ago. Anyone in need of local or personal historical information looked for Bere Velve. He baked bread as well as “halles” for the Sabbath in a tiny room in his thatched–roof hovel from which a steamy air always seemed to exude. He walked slightly stooped as though lost in thought while curling his grey–streaked black beard with two fingers. If he met someone he knew, his eyes would brighten, his face would like up with a smile as if saying: “Do ask me something, there's so much I could tell you”.

Every town, Lithuanian Jews affirmed, had its “town crack–pot”. However, this was a “luxury” which a small shtetl like Gorzd couldn't afford. So it had to “content” itself with a “screwball”, someone with something “loose in his head” or perhaps just a bit “queer”. So regarded in Gorzd was the chronic alcoholic Shmuel Hirshke. Whenever the wits of the town got hold of him while he was slightly inebriated, they would good–naturedly prod him to tell some of his piquant stories. “Why certainly, certainly” he would retort in his deeply hoarse voice. “I'll tell you things you never heard of, but first, let me turn away so that I won't have to see you are collecting a few coins for me for an extra bottle of vodka”.

[Page 28]

The other was Mendl–David, a tall, thin, middle–aged man who was employed by a merchant, used to make trips to Memel. He was perfectly normal and coherent except when someone mentioned to him the word “stones”. He would then get into some sort of a trance. A strange glimmer would light up in his eyes as he would start talking about his collection of stones: “And what stones: sapphires, emeralds – a fortune. I can buy up with one the whole town”. His listeners would always give him the same friendly advice: “So, Reb Mendl–David, why don't you sell a few to the wealthy Memel merchants and you'll be in clover!” And Mendl–David, somewhat sullenly, would always reply: “Who says I don't want to sell? It's they who don't want to buy!”

* * *

One day, a well– groomed middle–aged woman came to our house and asked, in German, for my father. He was in the bedroom and sister Eidel went to bring him out on his wheelchair. She stopped her saying: “it won't be necessary because I must speak to him alone”. When the conversation ended, she left at once and we never saw her again. “A Jewish woman from Koenigsberg who came to ask for some advice”, father said without revealing the nature of her problem. We suspected that she had brought him “something” for all at once, the number of the needy who came to him grew quite perceptibly.

Eleven year later, after father passed away, we examined the notebook he always kept with him. It listed the names of scores of families of the shtetl along with the sums of the interest–free loans which he had handed out to them, mostly in amounts of between 200–400 Lit. Many of the recipients paid off the loans and borrowed again. Heading the list was an annotation saying that the ten thousand Lit was donated by a Jewish woman from Koenigsberg with the request that her name as well as those would be assisted by her gift remain unknown.

[Page 29]

The social, cultural and political movements and the struggles which went on in the major Jewish population centres of Lithuanian between the champions of enlightenment and the rabbis, later between the Zionists, Socialists, and Bundist or between employers and workers, hardly reached the small town. In Gorzd, only its few intellectuals received newspapers. The small town class struggle erupting from time to time often came to a head in the Beth HaMidrash during the Sabbath reading of the Torah. The plain folk halted the reading and levelled loud protests and accusations against the town leaders.

The conflict often revolved around the taxes imposed on meat which the poor had to pay in equal measure to the rich. In the end, however, it was the impact of that which the winds of time brought from without, which determined the fate of the shtetl.

I dimly recall the period (around 1909) when the town was hit by a smallpox epidemic. Many were stricken, among them my sister Eidel. What I do recall is the small of carbolic acid in the house, the atmosphere of fear and the lamentations after the dead.

That Saturday morning, August 1914, following the outbreak of World War I, the heart–rending farewells between the families and their mobilized men–folk who were ordered to leave on that day for the front and were being escorted in a solemn procession by almost the entire shtetl, all the way up to the bridge spanning the Minya.

Like Jews in other countries, but more so because directly affected, those of Gorzd were deeply agitated by the vile and villainous Beilis blood libel trial: It had been staged by the already tottering Russian Czarist regime to vilify the Jews as killers of Christian children for the ritual use of their blood on the Pessach holiday On the Sabbath, during the reading of the Torah, I would run home for a quick look at the newspaper delivered that morning. On returning to the synagogue, I was immediately surrounded by a

[Page 30]

by a throng of people in ‘taleisim’, eager to know about the on–goings of the trial in Kiev. They were particularly interested in the way Beilis' Jewish attorney, Oscar Gruzenberg, refuted the devious charges of the Jew–hating prosecutor Pranaits.

Great joy and excitement seized the shtetl on the announcement of the Balfour Declaration. Immediately, a committee was formed, headed by the dynamic Hurwitz, to collect money for the Jewish National Fund. Women and girls, faces aglow, contributed their golden rings, earrings or bracelets; a mass–meeting took place in the courtyard of Ackerman's house on Tamozhne Street. Fiery speeches were held by Hurwitz, myself and others, declaring the event as a crucial turning point in the history of the Jewish people and urging everyone to join the progressive Poale Zion movement.

* * *

Towards the end of December 1929, and while terminating my medical internship at the Chicago Cook County Hospital, my sister Henny and her husband Shmuel Osherowitz notified me that father's days appeared numbered. I left at once but the journey still took about a fortnight. When I arrived, it seemed as though the entire town awaited my coming. Some for tidings from relatives, other to size up the kind of metamorphosis I underwent during the eight years in the U.S.A., but all with a hearty and warm welcome.

Entering the house, I found father sitting on a chair, propped up with pillows and dressed in his holiday best. He looked at me for a long moment with eyes, it seemed, full of joy, hope and resignation, as though seeking to recapture former years and the boy who had left. “Good that you came” he murmured while embracing me. Seeking to stem his tears in the presence of many people around him, he turned cheerfully to mother: “Well, what do you say now about your mischief maker? He left home in patched

[Page 31]

Pants and a fiver in his pocket and returned all dressed up and a doctor”. His pulse and heartbeat were already very weak, but his intelligence and his interests were as alive and luminous as before.

to steer away our talk of his failing heart condition, he began to refer to some of the social and philosophic questions we had discussed for years in our profuse and lively correspondence with one another. How to imagine Einstein's space and time unity? Do I still maintain that Spinoza was superior to the Rambam? On the strange attitude of the British toward the Jewish–Arab conflict; on the anti–Jewish economic measures of the new Lithuanian government; on whether it will be possible for Jews in America to retain their identity? And then: “so many more in the town are in dire need. My funds have almost run out. When you return to America, get Osher and Folle, Irving Melamed and the others to call on all the Landslait to help us”. He finally asked me to examine the state of health of the town rabbi, Shabsai Shapiro and that of a few other people.

In the evening, he talked about “the end of time for everyone of flesh and blood…of the foolhardiness not to be prepared…” He spoke in words of a last will and with the wish that “all my children cultivate Yiddishkait, pursue mentshlichkait and Jewish moral ethical values”. A few days later, he fell asleep and came to his eternal rest.

Mother and sister Rivka moved from Gorzd to stay with Henny and Shmuel in Memel. A short time thereafter, they immigrated to Tel–Aviv where sister Eidel and her husband Elchanan Furman had already been living since 1925. (Both are deceased but their son, Dr. Gershon Furman is now living).

Between 1922 and 1930, the poor in the shtetl became poorer and those of the middle–class found themselves in ever tighter straits. In Kovno, previously a rather prosperous Lithuanian city,

[Page 32]

one–third of its Jewish community, it was reported, were on charity rolls. Jewish professions and occupations were gradually taken over by Lithuanians. At the same time in Gorzd as in other small towns, people appeared to have become more secular and sophisticated than before and with a greater awareness of what was going on in the world at large. Youth joined the Hashomer Hatzair, the Habonim or the Maccabi sports organizations; all of them were eagerly waiting for the certificates that would permit them entry into Palestine. Some of them were undergoing training as Halutzim on farms of big landowners near Memel. But the perfidious game played by the cunning men of Downing Street called for barring the immigration of East European Jews into Palestine.

In the decade between 1930 and 1940, only 14 Gorzder received these certificates. Among these and after an arduous struggle on the very eve of the Nazi invasion were Yehudit Lessem and her family. In large measure, it is because of Yehudi's conscience and her loyalty to those who perished and to those who survived that this memorial volume has come into being.


[Page 33]

Lithuanian Jewry and its Extermination

by Dr. Hershel Meyer

Lithuania was renowned for several centuries as the most erudite Tora centre. Students from all over Europe flocked to its eminent Talmudic scholars at the Vozhin, Slabotke and other Yeshivas. The Gaon of Wilna, Reb Eliyahu bred Shlomo Zalmen, became the symbol of Lithuanian Jewish learning, studiousness and rationalism. While probing the Talmudic writings for their logical relevance, he also carried on some mathematical studies and urged the translation of Euclid's “Elements”. However, already in the 18 th century, young Lithuanian Jews left the yeshivah for Italian and German universities. Some of them became renowned in medicine, philosophy and mathematics.

From the end of the 18 th century onward, Lithuanian Jewry generated great writers, poets and novelists both in Yiddish and in Hebrew as well as many eminent scientists, artists and national leaders.

Humanism, glorification of learning, moral soundness and sober mindedness were some of the focal characteristics of Lithuanian Jewry. The ties of its intellectuals with the masses were strong and intimate, cherishing and treasuring the culture created in Yiddish as in Hebrew. Linguistic or cultural assimilation on the part of Lithuanian Jews was a rare phenomenon.

Yet, and despite the wealth and many–sidedness of their creativity, Lithuanian Jews were depicted as a kind of extraneous or dissident Jewish tribe; usually as a dry cerebral people or as incapable of emotional exaltation. Writing about the essayist Baal Mahshoves, the well–known literary critic, S. Niger state: “He inherited from his father, as he himself admits, the lucid Lithuanian head. It was the Litvak in him which propelled him to be a

[Page 34]

a thinker, a logician and a critic. From his Polish born mother, he inherited a rich imagination and a penchant for belles lettres”. Thus, implying that in comparison with Jews of Poland or elsewhere, we Litvaks lacked sensitivity. In time there arose such sly aphorisms as: “a Litvak has a big brain and a shrunken belly”. Being analytical, he was suspected of religious scepticism and even of heresy. Hence such saying as: “I saw walking two Jews and a Litvak”, or: “What does a Litvak believe in? In that which he can continually verify”, or: “a Litvak does penance before he starts sinning”.

Many such maxims arose out of the long and bitter conflict between the Lithuanian Misnagedim and the Polish–Galician Hassidic movement, with the former branding the mysticism and faith of the latter in wonder working rabbis as a falsification of the Tora and even as idolatry. Yet, though conceived in anger, some of the many anti–Litvak witticisms reveal a secret admiration for some of their traits.

Generalizations about the nature or essence of peoples are frequently deceptive, because in such instances, our criteria are not based on reason but on emotions or implanted prejudices. Actually, the same people can be another people under different circumstances. Even under the same circumstances, the differences between one segment of a people and another are frequently colossal. It is true that Lithuanian Jews have always held scholars in greet esteem. Most Litvak parents dreamt of having a scholar for a son–in–law. Supporting such a son–in–law was considered as a kind of an investment in the hereafter. But only the more affluent could afford it. Youngsters of poor families had to start working soon after the first heder years. The cultural baggage of working people was usually limited to some biblical tales or a few passages from the “Haye Odom”.

The attitude of the broad masses to Talmudists was a dual one: on the one hand they regarded them as elite and on the

[Page 35]

Other, they labelled them as “bench squeezers” seeking soft cushioned existences in the homes of rich father–in–laws. Expressions like: “Try to feed the children with Rashi's Bible commentaries”, or: “God loves the poor but helps the rich” and other folk sayings, were tainted with more than impiety.

Most Lithuanian Jews lived in small Gorzd–like communities. Though located a few tens of kilometres from one another, they rarely communicated: at times via an itinerant “maggid” (preacher) or an emissary who came to get help for a burnt down town. Other visitors were designated as “a gast in shtetl”. The small dwellings teeming with children could not accommodate guests. Economically, each shtetl was tied to its neighbouring peasant villages. As a result, most Gorzder spoke of towns close by like: Ritteve, Loikeve, Shkud, Salant or Plungian as of very distant places: of the somewhat more distant Shavel or Ponievezh, one spoke of foreign countries.

Thus, each shtetl, despite its common traditions and way of life with the neighbouring one, claimed some mark of superiority and dubbed the other wish such sarcastic epithets or appellations as: “In Pompian pigs crow”; “From a Shkuder farfel you cannot make a tsimes”; “In Gorzd even horse thieves are God–fearing”; “In Kelm, even the goats read the Talmud”; “The richest Jew in Vaigeve hasn't got the wherewithal to make the Sabbath”.

The Jewish population of Greater Lithuania (i.e. the historical Lithuania encompassing the provinces of Wilno, Vitebsk, Grodno and Minsk) numbered in 1918 some 1.4 million souls, comprising at the time about 1/10th of world Jewry. However, its contribution to Judaic and general culture was proportionately much higher.

Jews settled among the still primitive Lithuanian tribes back in the 12th century. In 1495, they were expelled only to be allowed re–entry eight years later. The second expulsion occurred in World

[Page 36]

War I when the Czarist regime, suspecting that the Jews might sympathize or cooperate with the German foe, expelled tens of thousands of Jews from Lithuania to some Eastern provinces inside Russia; some of them struck root there. Excepting these two instances, Lithuanian Jewry was practically free from persecutions.

Dr. Mendl Sudarsky, one of the chief editors of the “Book on Lithuania” (New York, 1950) wrote: “Relations between the Jewish and non–Jewish populations were cordial and very friendly”. The historian N. Kissin noted in the same volume: “Lithuania was an island of security in the surrounding sea of virulent anti–Semitism. Jews and Lithuanians lived for centuries as peaceful and friendly neighbours”. Lithuanian Jewry was not affected by the 1648 massacres, during the Chmielnicki–led Ukrainian rebellion against the Polish nobility, nor appreciably by the wave of pogroms in 1882 and 1905 which engulfed the other Jewish settlement areas of Czarist Russia.

The relation between the Jewish and the non–Jewish Lithuanian population can perhaps best be illustrated by an event father related to us on several occasions. In 1901, we lived for a while in Vizaitz, a small village not far from Gorzd. In 1905 when the local administration ordered the peasants to pogromize the Jews, they came to my father for counsel on how they might evade the order with impunity. Some of them suggested that the Jews bandage their faces, as if they had been assaulted. Finally, it was decided that the Jews break some panes in their windows and stuff the holes with pillows. No one at that time could have imagined that a few decades later, Lithuanians would take part in massacring the Jewish population.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Max Nordau was about

[Page 37]

the only one to foresee the dangers threatening the existence of European Jewry. In his ‘The Conventional Lies of the 20th century’, as in a two–volume work: “Degeneration”, he pointed to the symptoms of crises and decay which European culture and civilization were beginning to manifest at that time. At the first Zionist Congresses, he warned, with a prophetic pathos against oncoming catastrophes and pointed to the imperative need for a Jewish Homeland. The stage was already set by the Czarist pogroms, the Dreyfus trial, the upsurge of anti–Semitism in France following its defeat in the 1870 Franco–Prussian War, and the extreme racist: “Hep, hep” movement in Germany (later adopted by the Nazi). Nordau was not exaggerating as some then argued. The recurring social, economic crises and wars turned the 20th century into the bloodiest of all epochs. To this day, the strategy of unstable, insecure regimes or social systems is to divert the ire and discontent of the masses towards the Jews, most always a convenient scapegoat.

According to the statistical figures of Yaacov Leshchinsky, the Jewish population of the smaller or subsequently independent Lithuania, numbered in 1918, 160,000 or about 7% of the total non–Jewish population of 2.3million. Their representation in the economic branches was as follows:

30% of the Jews and only 0.05% of the Lithuanians engaged in commerce and credit. In industry and crafts, Jews accounted for 21.6% and Lithuanians 4.8%. In transport and artisan professions, Jews constituted 42.4%, Lithuanians 10.4%. In agriculture, Jews 6%, Lithuanians 84.5%. In the cultural field, Jews had 36 times as many effectives as did the Lithuanians.

The task the Lithuanian government set itself, after the country gained its independence in 1918, was to abolish the 98% illiteracy rate among the peasantry and to further economic development. It also extended government aid to promote the Lithuanization of the economy which restrained as well as eliminated

[Page 38]

the economic position of Jews in various professions. This process was accompanied with waves of nationalist fervour but was not attended by specifically anti–Jewish measures. Matters changed in 1926 when the Lithuanian rightists, defeated in the elections of that year by democratic and socialist voters, carried out a military putsch which soon crystallized into the formation of a fascist regime. It openly sponsored the elimination of Jews from all economic and political positions, supported Nazi slogan–shouting gangs that roamed the streets attacking Jews. Such was the social political training ground that turned a sector of Lithuanians to collaborate with the hitlerites in exterminating a people with whom they had lived for over 800 years in peaceful coexistence.

The Nazi broke into Gorzd on the night of June 22, 1941. According to a report by Leibke Shauss (then working in Moscow) to his uncle, the historian Haim Shauss in America (both Gorzders), the Nazi first set fire to the town. They then rounded up all the Jews at the market place. From there, they herded them into a wood where they were kept for several days without food or water. On June 24th, all the Jewish adult males were taken to a field near the old trenches at the end of Tamozhne Street. After being forced to undress and dig their own graves, the Nazi executed them by gun fire. The women and children were taken to the village of Anelishke where they were subjected for several months to hard labour. On a late summer day in September, 1941, they were all driven to the Ashmanien woods near the road leading from Gorzd to Kul. Here the Germans seized the children from their mothers and killed them on the spot. The mothers and grandmothers were massacred two days later.

Leibke Shauss also met Rachel Yami of Gorzd, now living in Kovno. She was with the women in Anelishke and the only one who succeeded to escape. “The women”, she told him, “wouldn't believe that their menfolk had been killed even after they were

[Page 39]

forced by the Germans to dance on their graves”. Such disbelief occurred in other localities; among some Jews in Vilna, for example even after 30,000 of their folk had already been slaughtered by the Nazi at the nearby site of Ponar; they could not imagine how anyone could order the execution of innocent men, women and children and for the sole reason that they were Jews– and no wonder – for the deeds of the totally anti–human are for the human neither imaginable nor comprehensible.

A few hundred Jews were saved by Lithuanian anti–fascists, underground communists and by some humane priests who hid them at the risk of their own lives. Some more survived by escaping to the forests to form or join fighting partisan groups. The heroic partisan units, among others those led by Dr. Atlas and Tuvia Bielsky, kept alive hundreds of women, children and elderly people until their liberation by the Red Army.

Many Lithuanian Jews fought the Nazi beast on the many fronts as soldiers of the Red Army. Among them were several young women from Gorzd: Shoshana (Rashel) Asher (now in Israel), S. Ruppell, Yaha and Rosa Shlomowitz. Lithuanian Jews formed the greater part of the Lithuanian Division. Set up in the Soviet Union, it fought most courageously in decisive battles. Several Gorzder fell on the Kursk and Oriol fronts: Gutte Zucker, Boris Peisachowitz, Yohanan Zilberg, Yossel Zuckerman, Leizer Itzik Korbman and Leiser Zucker.

Thirty–five years later have passed since the German fascist monster tortured to death, shot, gassed, and cremated four million adult Jewish men and women and two million Jewish children. Yet, Nazi organizations are still allowed to function in many Western countries: Millions still deny or minimize the scope of the Hitlerite crimes or exhibit to these a schizophrenic indifference.

It is related that the last words of the Yanushker tsaddik, Reb Nahum, to his disciples after the Nazi horde had already surrounded

[Page 40]

them were as follows: “Your greatest vengeance against these killers, should some of you remain alive, will be your turning of our spoken words into printed letters, for these will live on forever”.

May this memorial volume commemorating our undying love to our martyred kith and kin, unite us all in the struggle against war and fascism, to assure the peace and continuity of our people and the universal ethical values of its culture.

 

Table of Contents Next Page »



This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Gargzdai, Lithuania     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2018 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 22 Nov 2015 by JH