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Memories of Gorzd

by Yehudit Leshem

This happened in the year 1908–0909. The Czarist pogroms of those years encouraged the gentiles of Gorzd and its environs to do likewise. Every Thursday on market day, many peasants from the surrounding countryside flocked to Gorzd, smashed windows of Jewish homes, robbed Jewish shops and attacked the Jewish population. We lived on the Tomazh which, according to distances of those days, was far away from the market place. I clearly remember children being brought to our home to protect them from these peasants.

On a certain Friday, a year or two later when the Sabbath candles had already been kindled, there was a sudden knock on the door. With great fear, my father ran for his weapon “ammunition”, his walking stick and prepared himself to face the thief or murderer, but suddenly, he heard a Jew crying “save me”. It turned out that the man, a revolutionary, had escaped from St. Petersburg and was trying to cross the border to Memel. In the meantime, he spent a warm Shabbath with us, enjoying our hospitality. We assured him that somehow or other we would help him cross the border.

During World War I, 1916–1917, the Germans conscripted Jewish youth for forced labour on building a railway line from Lithuania to Germany. The young people suffered hunger and privation and it was no wonder that many sought ways of escape. One Saturday morning, two of them arrived in Gorzd and hid in the attic of the synagogue. My father spotted them and the whole of Gorzd was agog with the news. Towards nightfall, my younger brother Bennie and I were given fish and chala and told to take it to the youths in the synagogue. We also showed

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The Kutishker home – “kapes gas”

 

them where to hide at the home of Feige Yossi–Elyes, a bereaved mother who had just lost her only son. The Jews of Gorzd care for these youths and from time to time, others also escaped from the camp. In the end, there were about 84 of these escapees, all well–cared for and integrated into the local Jewish community. Some of them later became sons–in–law of well–known local belebatim and even became prominent citizens, taking an active part in the social life of the shtetl.

The spring was part of the beautiful scenery. Behind the church, which stood at the very end of the market place, was the road to the bridge which was flanked on both sides with bushes and tall grass, descending to the bottom of the mountain to the spring. On Saturday mornings and afternoons, the young people of Gorzd used

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Shaus family: Samuel, Benny, Wolf, Dina, Jehudith

 

to meet at the spring, drink its crystal–clear water which flowed day and night down the mountain side, creating a silver stream and shiny stones that glistened all the way to the Minyes. Nearby the wooden wheel of the water mill ceaselessly churned. This mill belonged to a German by name of Freikopft who could constantly be seen smoking his long pipe. Opposite the spring stood the palace owned by the Graff. The Graff, who was the Czar Nikolai's Kemerherr, came from time to time to Gorzd to visit his wife (she was confined to a wheelchair). The Graff used to light a carbide lamp in his palace since at that time there was no electricity. This lamp shed its light far into the village. On Saturday mornings the gardens were open to the public. We children were there, very curious to see the flowers and especially the Graff's wife. Those Saturday morning were, for us children, full of secret magic. Amongst my memories is the time when the Graff's son, the same age as

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David Ber Shaus

 

we, let loose his dog on us. In later years, these gardens were open to the public at all times and the youth of Gorzd used them for sports.

On the other side of the bridge stretched the forest for many miles. The forest was always dark, densely wooded with no roads. We children used to love to hear the stories about robbers and the secrets of the woods. To cross the bridge and enter the forest was considered an act of heroism.

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Mirian Shaus

 

I well remember Gorzd with its unpaved roads and streets. Summer with its rains meant knee–deep in mud. Winter with its mountains of snow, frozen windows and “candles” of ice suspended from the roofs appeared to smile in the few hours of sunshine. Jews wrapped in their sheep–skin coats drove in their horse–sleighs over the mountain towards Memel to try and eke out a living.


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Dr. George (Hirsh) Oxman

by Yehudit Leshem

He was one of the most outstanding figures in the cultural life of Gorzd. He was the town physician, known and respected by all. He was among the ardent Zionist workers and chairman of the Jewish National Fund Council.

Dr. Oxman was born in Beri, a town in the Ukraine, and studied medicine in Leipzig. In Gorzd he married Tzila Scheuss. Two of their children came to Israel after the Holocaust. Miriam is married to Advocate Mombes and lives in the United States. David, the son, is the son–in–law of David Ben–Gurion, being the husband of Prof. Ranana Ben–Gurion. A graduate of the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, he is senior engineer in a major industrial enterprise.

 

Jehudit Leshem with Miriam and David at their parent's tomb

 


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Gorzd

by Rivka Naveh

Today is the happiest day of our lives for on this day, the Yiskor Book in memory of the martyrs of Gorzd is going into print. It is indeed a paradox: for how can the dedication of this tombstone to our dearest and nearest, who were part and parcel of our lives, be called a “happy” day? Only because this book is the monument for all those beloved ones who perished at the hands of our brutal enemies.

People may regard this as ‘just one of the hundreds of Yizkor books’, but for the Gorzders, it is much more than just a book because if fate decreed that our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers– young and old – should be inscribed in blood in the sad history of our martyrdom, at least the future generations should also know about them. And there is no better way to immortalize their sacred memory than by the publication of this Book.

This assignment became the holy task of the few townspeople of Gorzd who escaped from the shtetl before the Holocaust. Gorzd was our home. We had no other and this book embodies all those deep emotions that ‘my home’ means. This can be seen from the warm response of the people who hardly know Gorzd, other than that their parents or grandparents lived there.

The idea of publishing a Yizkor book was mulled over for some time by a few Gorzders in Israel but the idea took form with the arrival of the survivors of the Holocaust themselves. At this stage, Mr. Abraham Arenstein was one of the first to bring the idea of this book to realization. And Gorzders in Israel have a mother – Yehudit Leshem. Yehudit does not feel insulted at being called “the mother of the Gorzders”. Actually, Yehudit is the mother not only of the Gorzders, as she was also

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connected during World War II with the aid for other Lithuanian Jews in exile. Today, Yehudit Leshem is our adviser, our stronghold of energy and encouragement for the effort of this Yiskor book. Sick, frail, not ambulatory but undaunted, Yehudit is still the “nerve centre” for all those connected with this book. Endowed with the memory of a computer, Yehudit can recall every Gorzder with the minutest detail and has the history of the shtetl at her fingertips. Yehudit admits: “Children, I am 300 years old! ¬ęThe warmth and the hospitality of Yehudit Leshem has turned her home into a meeting point for all the memories of our home. The publication of this book is thus a source of satisfaction for her many years of devoted activity.

We wish to place on record our appreciation and thanks to our townswoman, Mrs. Celia (Pil) Hirsh of Johannesburg. It was through her contact with Mrs. Sara (Frak) Rubel of Israel that we were able to approach several Gorzders in South Africa and who warmly responded to our appeal.

 

Market Street

 


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Personalities

by Rivka Naveh

Itze the chimney sweep. Who does not remember him? A little Jew of slight built. He used to walk about the village and knew exactly where his services were needed. A thick rope was always slung on his shoulder from which a little ladder was suspended (we children never learnt its purpose). In his right boot an old soup ladle was stuck with which he used to scoop the soot out from the chimney with an experienced hand. We children often followed him about and envied his ability to climb on every roof with the agility of a cat. On the roof, his ladder reached right up to the red brick chimney. His blackened trousers were pushed down into his boots together with the soup ladle. He always wore a hat whose original colour no one could guess. We used to try and guess if the hat had once been brown or grey as by now, it was as black as his whole body, even his beard. The biggest wonder to us was that on Shabbat his beard was grey! We never knew his real name for it never entered our minds to call him anything else but “Itze the chimney sweep”.

Itze Hogemires, or as he was called, Itzele. He did have a surname; Galis – not just Galis but Professor Galis. Why? Because in the whole of Gorzd, there was no greater expert for setting broken arms and legs. He was slightly built and half–blind. With one eye closed, he used to feel his way around, aware of his own importance. Earning a living was not his worry; that he left to his wife – Hage Mire, a very capable woman. Every housewife in Gorzd felt it her duty to help Hage Mire for Shabbat and very often also on week–days. G–d forbid, suffered a broken arm or leg, Itzele was at once at the scene and, in a doctoral manner, set about helping the suffering patient until the

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limb was back in its place. He then announced with pride: “Did you hear that crack? It fits…” He gave advice and prescribed remedies for every ailment. His best business was in winter when the muddy roads in Gorzd froze or the snow melted by the sun which turned the roads overnight into a “skating rink”. People tried not to slip but were not always successful. Many a broken leg was mended through Itzele's able hands.

 

The Jaffe Family

This attempt to write an account of the Jaffe family in Gorzd is being undertaken under great difficulties. Most of the possible sources of information are now dried up and I have no training in the techniques of historical research. I am compelled to rely on several very fragmentary documentary sources and on memories of odd items of information heard in family conversations. I must, however, express my deep gratitude to Mrs. Judith Leshem of Tel–Aviv, for the considerable help she has given me. Her detailed knowledge and clear recollection of background material have been an invaluable source of information.

I write this account, however incomplete, for two reasons: The first is the feeling that the story ought to be put on record before it is too late. The Jewish community of Gorzd, which now exists only as fragments scattered in many parts of the world, has a history which should not be allowed to disappear into oblivion. My second reason is the hope that among the readers of this very sketchy note, there will be some who might be able to fill gaps and correct some of the errors with which it certainly abounds.

The Jaffe family's connection with Gorzd dates way back to 1840 when Rabbi Moses Jaffe, my great–grandfather, then a very young man, was appointed rabbi of the community. He was the

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son of Rabbi Velvel Jaffe of Schweksne and grandson of Rabbi Joseph Jaffe (also of Schweksne). One of his brothers, Meir Jaffe, lived in Salant and I have heard that still another brother, whose name I have not been able to find, immigrated to the U.S.A. and subsequently lost contact with the family in Gorzd.

Rabbi Moses Jaffe had five children. The oldest was Rabbi Joseph Jaffe, my grandfather, born in 1845 who subsequently succeeded his father as Rabbi of Gorzd. Next came his sister, Lieve, who married Züsse Sussmanovitch of Gorzd. They appear to have enjoyed a high level of prosperity up to World War I, but the upheavals of that period brought their business to ruin. She died in 1933. None of her children survived but many of her descendants, including great–great–grandchildren, are now living in Israel.

The third child and second son, Velve, had two sons and six daughters. One son, Gershon, immigrated to England and later to the United States while Baruch, Velve's second son, lived in Telz. The fourth member of the family, Hirsch, lived in Plungyan and had no children. The youngest, Leib, married Sheine Sussmanovitch (Züsse's sister). His eldest son, Velve, immigrated to the U.S. before World War I and lived in Ohio until his death in the early 1960's. Several of his brothers and sisters followed him to the U.S.

Of Rabbi Joseph Jaffe, it is known that he was born in Vilkomir in 1945 and married in 1865. His wife, Batiah, was the daughter of Rev Todros Perlin of Salant (original family name was Lipschitz). Batiah's maternal grandfather was Rabbi Jacob of Kroz, born about 1800 who, in his later years, settled in Palestine. His grave on Mount of Olives is still there. Following his marriage, Rabbi Josef Jaffe went to study at the Kolel in Eischeshok, leaving his wife with her parents in Salant. The first three children of Rabbi Joseph, all daughters, were

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born in Salant. After leaving the Kolel in about the year 1870, he took a position as Rabbi of Pokroy. Here, two more daughters and a son were born. Around 1880, he left Pokroy to become Rabbi of Salant where his second son was born. In 1885, on the death of his father, he was invited to come to Gorzd to replace him. I understand that he was very reluctant to make this move since Salant was regarded as an extremely prestigious rabbinical position. That he finally accepted the call was due to pressure of family sentiment, especially from his sister Liebe. Another son and daughter were born in Gorzd. In 1893, he left Lithuania to become Rabbi of the Central Synagogue in Manchester, England which he served until his death. He took with him to England all of his family except his eldest daughter Hinde who was married to Yaakov Glick and remained in Gorzd. Hi stay in Manchester was brief. He died there at an early age in 1897.

He was distinguished both as a scholar and preacher. His published works include “Yossef Beur”, a commentary on the Song of Songs which was published in Lithuania, an allegorical poem written as a Bar–mitzvah present for a favoured pupil and published in Manchester, and a collection of essays and sermons which had remained in manuscript and were later published in Manchester some 60 years after his death.

He was very active in the Chovevei Zion movement and when death came in 1897, he was actually preparing to attend the first Zionist Congress in Basel.

He was succeeded in Manchester by his son–in–law, Rabbi Israel Yoffey who remained Rabbi of the Central Synagogue until his death in 1934. This recalls a curious sort of parallel: on leaving Gorzd, he is said to have been succeeded by his father–in–law. The story, which I have not been able to verify, is that between his leaving Gorzd and the appointment of a new Rabbi

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(R. Yitzhak of Ponevesh), his father–in–law, Reb Todros Perlin of Salant acted as a temporary occupant of that post. This, if true, is interesting and says a great deal about Reb Todros who was, in modern conception, a layman.

I have tried to give some account of the Jaffe family in Gorzd following its arrival there in 1840. It would be impossible in the available space to elaborate the subsequent history of the family. The descendants of Rabbi Moses Jaffe, in Israel alone, must be counted in the hundreds and they are to be found in universities, liberal professions, business, kibbutzim, etc. Many of his descendants are also to be found in the U.S., South Africa, England and Australia. Those known to me are too numerous to list by name and there must be at least as many again of whom I am unaware. I shall mention only the three grandchildren of Rabbi Moses, still alive: Meir Jaffe, second son of Rabbi Joseph Jaffe now in Australia; Mrs. Martha (Michal) Fishman, youngest daughter of Leib Jaffe, now in Brockton, Mass. U.S.A. and Mrs. Ida Frankenheim, daughter of Velve Jaffe in Tel–Aviv.


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Once I Had a Home…

by Avraham Arenstein

Once I had a home – warm and precious, which I shall never forget. How wonderful it was after a week's toil and absence from home to get back to my near and dear ones and to find them waiting for me and surrounding me with love and affection.

How pleasant it was on Friday night, with everyone seated about the Sabbath table, exchanging reports of the week's doings. And after the meal, friends would already be waiting with news of happenings in town during the week. Who and what? Imagine! The entire town lived as one happy family.

And those unforgettable Friday evenings! All the young people would be out in the streets, bubbling with pure joy of life until the early hours, before going home, until after the midday Sabbath meal.

My father was called Yashe–Arre Hertz's. He was a diligent and astute businessman, devoted to his wife and children. His one great wish was to give his children a good upbringing and help them reach proper maturity and self–dependence.

Regrettably, this wish could not come true. Disaster overtook all his plans. This is what happened:

After World War I, when the Germans were still in Gorzd and the Lithuanian state began to emerge, a major quarrel broke out between the Germans and the Lithuanians. Just then, my father was on his way back from visiting his brother Hirsh who lived not far away from our home. The Germans, sadists by nature, didn't ask: “who goes there?” they fired at him without reason and hit him in the leg. He fell to the ground and remained there in great pain, and no one came to his aid. He remained there on the ground until someone came to us with the news.

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The Germans realized their error and tried to rectify it by sending him to a hospital in Koenigsberg. My mother went with him. I was a young boy at the time and could not grasp the misfortune which had descended upon us nor the difficult circumstances which it created. All I was told was that my father had slipped and hurt his leg. I still recall cursing the mishap…

My father was transferred from Koenigsberg to a hospital in Berlin where he was confined to his bed for six months. I remember him coming home with his leg in a cast, barely able to handle the crutches. His appearance made a terrible impression on me. I was frightened of him and I ran to the next room to hide. It took some time for me to get over it and to get used to the crutches. Every step my father took pained me.

Although my father never regained the use of his leg, he nevertheless maintained his activity in public affairs and in Gorzd's social welfare agencies: The Free Loan Society Board, the Wayfarers' Lodge and the directorate of the Jewish Bank in the town.

My mother was called Michle Fraim's. She was the type of ideal Jewish motherhood, blessed with a warm heart and love for her family and people. She was quiet, amiable, with a good word and a smile for everyone. After the injury to my father, she undertook the upbringing of the children, to see them through their formative years and to prepare them for the future. “If anyone comes and asks for alms”, she told us repeatedly: “he is not to leave the house empty–handed”. She sang these words and her voice still sounds in my ears. But a malignant disease took her away from us in her prime. It was only after her death that we learnt about the many good deeds she had done for people, without telling us. People now came to repay loans she had given them. She was indeed a woman of virtue and compassion.

We were three brothers and one sister. My older brother,

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Shmuel, was called “Alter”. He married Sarah Helling and had two lovely daughters, Sheinele and Mirele. I loved the girls with all my heart. My sister Batsheva married Dr. Kalman Sokolski of Kubart and later lived in Kovno. My other brother, Yehuda, remained in Gorzd with the family.

We were a closely–knit family, very devoted to each other. The house was always full of people. We always had at least one guest at the Sabbath table that my father would bring back with him from the synagogue.

All this was destroyed by the murderous hands of the Germans and their Lithuanians collaborators. They put an end to this beautiful life but could not destroy the memories it left in our hearts and which we shall retain until our own last breath.

May this tribute be a memorial wreath on your graves, my dear ones and testimony to your shortened lives. Cursed be the murderous hands which spilt your innocent blood in your death for Kiddush haShem. Cursed be they who razed our homes to the ground and wiped out the community of Gorzd's Jews.


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Gorzd

by Ruth Kaplan Smith
Daughter of Sarah & Jacob Kaplan
(Sara Reva Meyer & Feiva Yaekel Kaplan)

I was eight years old when I left Gorzd, but in spite of the many intervening years, some memories still linger. I recall my tall, handsome, white–bearded grandfather and my little sweet–faced grandmother. I remember my grandfather sitting on a long black sofa. I would run along the back of the sofa behind him in my bare feet and long nightgown. He teasingly tried to catch me as my grandmother looked on with great love in her eyes.

We were living with my grandparents (I was the youngest of five children; four girls and one boy). My father had gone to South Africa before I was born to seek his fortune after having failed in the lumber business. He was a rabbi, a scholar and should not have gone into business in the first place. He had taught at the Telzer Yeshivah but refused to minister to a congregation for he did not want to cater to ‘money bags’ that controlled the synagogues.

On the negative side, I had heard of the pogroms; the word ‘Cossack’ was enough to fill me with terror. The houses on the street where we lived were located in a sort of valley with the street up above. One day as I was playing outside, I saw uniformed Cossacks on horseback coming toward me. I ran home as fast as my feet could carry me. All doors and windows were immediately locked. Luckily, no pogrom was staged that day. The Cossacks had come to billet some of

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their numbers without asking permission. But the terror of that incident has never left me.

Also, I still remember the grief I felt as my grandmother, with her apron still covering her skirt, trudged behind the wagon that was taking my mother, my brother, my sister and me across the border to Memel, Germany (Gorzd was adjacent to Memel). We were making our way to America to meet our father. My two older sisters had already preceded us, having met our father in London and then on to America where he had an uncle.

Mother was born in Gorzd; father was born in Luknik and came to Gorzd after they married. In America, after trying business, my father still refused to take a post as a Rabbi of a congregation; instead, he elected to teach privately. As a matter of fact, he was Rabbi Harold Smith's teacher long before I met and married Rabbi Smith's uncle. Rabbi Smith speaks glowingly of my father to this day.

Mother was an uncomplaining, strong woman with a beautiful face and rotund body. She had given birth to seven children – five of whom survived and had accepted with good grace the trying years when her husband was away from the family, seeking his fortune in Africa. Luckily, she and the children lived in the home of her parents who gave her great moral support.

Mother had the kind of faith that heals. When she fell on the way home from the little synagogue, where she was a reader for the illiterate women, she said: “I suppose I had it coming. I must have sinned”. When, in her later years she had a stroke, she said: “I suppose I had it coming. I must have sinned”. She never blamed God for the ills that befell her. She blamed herself, saying she must have sinned and was being

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punished. Her religion, like that of the women she mingled with in the synagogue, amounted almost to fanaticism.

Mother was very charitable. When she was stronger, she would make a daily pilgrimage to the bakery where she was given a dozen biscuits and a loaf of bread which she took to one of the many poor families she befriended. She was always tolerant of another's feelings. “We have so many sins of our own, why should we talk about others?” she would say. When she was asked questions regarding religion, she would say: “This is the way I found the world, this is the way my parents believed and this is the way I accept it”.

But she also had some good homespun philosophy. When someone was particularly rude or angry without provocation, she would say: “I suppose she is feeling ill and is venting her

 

The Market Square

 

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anger on the nearest person available”. “Transference”, psychologists call it.

She had been left with varicose veins on her legs due to childbearing but again, she took it in her stride, uncomplaining. In her later years, she would sit in her favourite chair near the window and read the Bible. She would hold court; her synagogue friends would come as would the “shamos” of the shul whom she would instruct when to say “Kaddish” for her dear departed ones; of course, she paid him generously for it.

Mother was kind and soft–spoken to us children. But her one complaint was that we did not follow in her religious footsteps. She also blamed our father for not being stricter with us regarding religion. Mother loved America especially when she remembered the pogroms. She would say, however: “America would truly be a land of gold if there was a little Yiddishkeit”.

As already mentioned, father was born in Luknik and come to Gorzd after marrying mother. He had been a Yeshivah student. He came from a scholarly family, seven generations of rabbis. As a Yesivah student, he ate a day here and a day there. Often, there was no place to eat so he bought some herring and bread. When he had no herring and bread, he went hungry. His stomach was permanently ruined. He slept on a bench in the synagogue and his health was permanently impaired. He doctored himself with baking soda and Epsom salt forever after.

Father often humorously told us, in referring to this period of his life, how, after eating in a certain place whose food he particularly disliked, the head of the house took a liking to him and offered to finance his way to becoming a rabbi if he would become his son–in–law. The girl was very young and charming. The offer was quite alluring but the idea of always having to eat such distasteful food had not a little to do with him refusing the offer.

Father had a charming smile and a way of talking that

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endeared him to his listeners. He had a keen sense of humour. He didn't have mother's deep religious conviction or her blind faith. Occasionally he would become reminiscent. He would tell of how heartbroken he felt on leaving his wife and children and going to Africa to seek his fortune and spoke of the loneliness and the hardships he endured in the nine long years of his self–imposed exile.

Sometimes, father would talk about the tactics resorted to by merchants to counteract the undue restrictions placed upon them by the Russian regime. “At one time, I lived in a town located near the border. A shoe merchant who wanted to get his wares across without paying excessive duty tried to smuggle in all shoes for the right foot at one time and all shoes for the left foot at another time. If caught, he usually had someone buy them back for him for a song, as a shoe for one foot was not worth much to anybody not having the mate”.

There is much talk about roots nowadays. That my parents brought to America the roots grown in Gorzd in the ‘shtetl’ and in our Jewish heritage, is something for which I am most thankful. Although there were financial hardships, our home was full of love and beautiful traditions with great emphasis on education, books, music (my sister and I were given a surprise: a piano bought on instalment payments) and cultural and spiritual aspects of life. I remember warming myself in front of a pot–bellied coal stove and father coming up and kissing me on the forehead and the love in mother's eyes even when scolding us.

The friends of my older sisters who came courting would exclaim how delightfully brilliant and modern father was to talk to. With this, of course, I agree wholeheartedly.

No doubt every life has its ups and downs, some more and some less but I can truthfully say that my parents gave me a beautiful childhood to which much was contributed by my parents' roots in Gorzd, and for this I want to say:

GORZD, I THANK YOU.


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My Shtetl Gorzd

by Haim Mann (Florida)

Gorzd, beautiful and beloved! Who can ever forget the lanes and by–ways and the people of my beloved and beautiful home? The unity between Jewish neighbours over and above all party differences.

The centre and meeting place of the Gorzder Jews was the community building, the synagogue. After the shul service, the congregants used to see each other off to their homes, walking slowly and discussing all the problems of the shtetl, the country and the whole world. Discussion at times grew heated and attracted more and more participants and listeners. There were plenty of newspapers in Gorzd, published by every party with readers in abundance, as many of the residents shared the paper with their neighbours. First, there was an exchange of papers and then an exchange of opinions. I do not remember anyone having a radio, but Gorzder Jews nevertheless knew what was going on in the world.

Our doors were always open to welcome poor and rich alike with warmth and open arms. The poor were received hospitably on week days and Yomtovim alike. Charity was disbursed regardless of cause. Everyone was happy with his neighbour's good luck and participated in his joyous occasions, just as he was with him in his hour of sorrow. Gorzd was not a rich community; each one tried to earn an honest living. Jews of Gorzd were “Jacks of all trades”. Even the young people worked and were happy and content. There was unity, respect and honour for the parents – an important precept in the Jewish heritage.

This was the picture of the Jews of Gorzd. All this went up in flames. Our neighbours, the Lithuanians, snared us like fish

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in a net. Suddenly, unexpectedly, like a storm on a sunny day, they attacked us and with furious and wild joy, like blood–thirsty beasts. Those Jews who had the courage to resist were shot on the spot by the murderers. It only took a couple of days and our beloved home was annihilated. We were the only survivors.

We will forever cherish the memory of our beloved parents, brothers and sisters who so tragically perished for “Kiddush HaShem”.

 

The Jewish library leaders:

Seated: Shlomo Frak; Sarah Falk; David Kotlovsky; Michael Melamed; Berl Wolfovitz
Standing: Henny Mann; M. Leibovitz and Miriam Uriash

 


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Shloshim for Max Sussman

by G.M. Cohen

We've often felt that the Jewish tradition of Shloshim, a practice of marking 30 days after the death with a testimonial, should in some way be incorporated into American Jewish life, especially when the deceased is someone above the ordinary cut of us mortals. We've just received such a hesped from Ray Sussman in memory of his father, Max Sussman whose death was reported here recently.

The Sussmans were a substantial Zionist family both here and in Terre Haute. Once in Israel, Max became involved in a free loan society, aiding the poor and the destitute and personally supervising an agency whose sole purpose was tzedakah. For years, he would write to his old buddies in the city asking for small contributions which went straight into the hands of those who needed aid. We often saw him and Rose in Israel on our frequent trips and as age crept up on him, he was more and more house–bound but his determination carried him through to the end.

Here is part of Ray's hesped:

Over the years, he personally solicited tens of thousands of dollars from many friends in the United States to supplement his own funds in distributing food for the needy, matzah and wine at Pesach time to nearly two thousand families, paying for medicine and medical treatments and aids and helping with doctor bills and hospitalization, providing clothes and, for large families, helping to obtain better, less crowded living conditions in addition to outright cash grants and thousands of small interest–free loans. When he had to give up driving, following eye operations, he continued his efforts by bus and on foot, becoming a familiar figure in Jerusalem's Meah Shearim, Batei Ungarin and Geula quarters

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which he tirelessly criss–crossed seeking out “customers” for his helping hand and a few encouraging words.

Walking became increasingly difficult following a nasty fall in 1976 that, at first, left him nearly paralyzed; he began to use a cane and, for the first time in his life, he, unhappily, found himself often dependent on others to cross the streets but this did not deter him from his lifetime habits of going to the synagogue at dawn and again at dusk, every day of the year whatever the weather.

Unable to carry on his active charity efforts, he prevailed on others to follow in his footsteps, worrying until the very last that the funds available were insufficient; that there were needy going without because he was no longer able to solicit his many friends.

His final illness came suddenly and within a few short weeks, never complaining – as he had never done his whole life – it overcame him. As mourned in the obituary of the Israel daily Hatzofe, gone from Jerusalem scene was Reb Mordechai Max Sussman, a dear Jewish gentleman of stature, loftiest of principles and superior attributes.

From the Jewish Post, Indianapolis, Indiana

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Memorial Ceremony for Max Sussman, Philanthropist, today
From the Jerusalem Post

Max Sussman, a veteran of the American community in Jerusalem and a well–known philanthropist, died a month ago at the age of 89. A tombstone over his grave in the Sanhedria Cemetery will be unveiled today.

A retired textile industrialist, Sussman dedicated himself to charity work in the 1960's after he recovered from an operation he had not been expected to survive. A devout Jew, he devoted his last years to helping the needy as well as to study and prayer in the synagogue.

He was a familiar figure in the Mea Shearim, Batei Ungarin and Geula quarters which he tirelessly criss–crossed seeking out those needing a helping hand. He distributed food and clothing, paid for medicines and doctors' bills and extended thousands of interest–free loans. He supplemented his own funds with donations solicited from his many friends in Israel and abroad.

Born in Lithuania, Sussman moved to England and in 1903 to the U.S. He took his family to Tel–Aviv in 1935 but went back to the U.S. at the outbreak of World War II, returning to Israel shortly after independence in 1948.

He is survived by his widow, Rose, a son, a daughter, five grandchildren and one great–grandchild.

[Page 67]

Hanna Assif–Mendelson     Bathia Matalon–Mendelson

In Memoriam

Wolf Shimon Stoch
Liebe Stoch
Their daughters:
Rebecca Stoch
Royska Stoch
Leah Sussmanovitch–Stoch
Her two children:
Esekiel and Rahel

They met their end at the hands of the Nazi murderers in a German death camp in Lithuania. May the perpetrators suffer dine judgment.

Wolf and Liebe Stoch of Gorzd were our maternal grandparents. Our mother was Pessiah Mendelson. We, her two daughters, Hanna and Bathia, were born in Kovno. We loved the small town of Gorzd where our parents later lived and where we spent our summer holidays.

The houses and streets of Gorzd are still very much alive in our minds: the main street of the town which, on Thursdays, was converted into a market place; the small wood on the outskirts of the town which people called ‘the park’; the River Minija, meandering through the town and in whose waters we delighted to dip in summer; the main street which led to the old German border and its antiquated customs–house. Over and above, we distinctly remember the house where grandpa and grandma lived.

Their house was built on a hillock from which one could survey the surrounding countryside, houses and streets. There was a cowshed in the backyard and at times there were two cows. As children, we liked watching the cow being milked. This always brought in its

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wake, a cup of warm and fresh milk for each of us. The vegetable patch and chicken coop were nearby.

Wash day was a memorable event for the Stochs in Gorzd. Everything was hustle and bustle. All the womenfolk took a hand in the matter – Grandma, the aunts and the maid. They all helped collect the wash, soap, boilers and tubs which were then carted to the river where a fire was built under the boilers with the laundry. Everybody was kept busy – soaping, rubbing and scrubbing. The final phase was to give the laundry a last rinsing in the flowing waters of the river before hanging it on the line to dry.

Wolf Shimon was born in Borbian, a small township near Gorzd to his father, Jacob Zwi, a qualified Rabbi who made a living in textiles. Wolf Shimon also studied at the Yeshivah and

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attained eminence in his studies. Being single and handsome, he was much sought after. He finally married Liebe Hellig of Gorzd and settled with her in her home town. There they continued to live until the end overtook them at the hands of the Nazi hordes.

The following lovely incident took place in their early married life:

…and he highly praised the hallah which his mother sent them with a carter from Dorbian on Friday. Much piqued by this arrangement, Liebe decided to remedy it. She secretly mastered the art of making the Sabbath bread by herself and conspired with the carter to have it delivered to them on Friday, as usual. At the Sabbath table, Wolf Shimon again sang his mother's praises for her handiwork. Liebe lovingly proceeded to tell him that she had made the hallah herself and she thanked him for the compliment. That was the end of the hallot from Borbian.

In the course of time, Wolf Shimon and Liebe became the happy parents of eight children: four sons and four daughters. The boys eventually all left for South Africa. Avigdor (Victor) the eldest, left at the age of 15 in 1909 followed by Shmuel (Sam), Meir (Max) and Hirsch (Harry). The girls remained at home with their parents. Pessiah, the eldest, was married off to Shimshon Kalman Mendelson of Kovno and went there to live with him. Leah, the pretty one, finished the German high school at Memel and married Raphael Sussmanovitch in 1930. She was given a grand wedding in Memel at the ‘Viktoria Hotel’. The couple settled in Gorzd and eventually had two children: Ezekiel and Rahel. Rebecca and Royska did not marry.

Shortly after its completion, the large house of the Stoch family was burnt down during World War I. It was later rebuilt in more modest dimensions. Wolf Shimon made a living in kitchenware, glassware and pottery. He was also the honorary

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director of the Jewish “Volkesbank” in Gorzd which enabled him to attend the bank board meetings in Kovno and stay with us. He was much admired by friends and relatives for his handsome and impressive appearance. Is teeth were perfect – without blemish. He was faultlessly dressed in the latest fashion. It was said that the post office of Gorzd was under his supervision but the position was honorary and without pay.

He had a very beautiful voice and on Yom Kippur, led the service at the main synagogue. He also would delight the congregation with his voice on the Sabbath prior to his father's “Yahrzeit”.

Retiring from business at the end of the 1930's, he and grandma

 

The “Folks–bank”

Seated: P. Fisher. F. Noik. D. Wolfovitz. W. Stoch and Sh. Zusmanovitz
Standing: Z. Hilkovitz. D. Kotlovsky and L. Ackerman

 

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lived on what their boys sent them from South Africa. They could have gone to join them but they hesitated. Liebe could not tear herself away from her daughters whom she dearly loved. So they stated in Gorzd to the bitter end.

Pessiah Mendelson, our mother, heard from her parents in Gorzd for the last time in July 1941, a few weeks after the German occupation. A note was delivered by a Lithuanian messenger from her sister Rebecca, telling her that her father, Wolf Shimon and his grandson, Ezekiel (10) had been deported with all the Jewish males in town to Germany; that her mother together with Rebecca, Royska and Leah (including Leah's daughter Rahel (5), had been banished to a neighbouring village and lodged in a large barn. At the end of the message, Pessiah was beseeched to do something to save them! Nothing more was heard from them after that. From Kovno, Mother could not help them. There too, the Nazi monster had taken over, spreading havoc and hell in the Jewish ghettos and concentration camps which few survived. Our mother and we, her two daughters, were among the few. Our late father, Shimshon Kalman Mendelson was among those doomed to perish at Auschwitz. Mother passed away in Israel in 1969.


[Page 72]

The Impact of Gorzd

by Carmela (Furman) Katz

There was a meeting of the Gorzder Association on an evening during my visit to Israel in October, 1978. My aunt Chaya was preparing to go. I asked her if she would mind taking me along. She looked surprised and said: “Of course. I had no idea that you were interested!”

During the course of the evening, Avraham suggested that I contribute something to this book. I was quite taken aback. “What can I write?” I asked. “I have never even been to Gorzd”. He suggested that I write about my emotions.

In these last weeks, after my return to Washington, I have been searching for a way to express my feelings about Gorzd, to put into words the impact which my parents' stories of Gorzd had on me.

While I have always loved Yiddish folk songs, in these last few weeks I found myself listening to them on records (and singing them myself) with great emotion. I have also noticed that I am listening in a different way and sensing in them a deeper meaning that before.

The following are some of the things which I love about Gorzd, its people and their way of life:

  1. Of all the languages with which I am familiar, Yiddish, to me, is just about the most beautiful. I love the diminutives because they show gentleness;
  2. A steady belief in God – in times of joy and sorrow. Also the comradeship and personal identification in dealing with God.
  3. Understanding children (and childhood years), loving them
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    with respect and protectiveness and teaching them our values and morals with gentleness and by example.
  1. Loyalty and fidelity between husband and wife.
  2. Compassion and often pity (at times even more than hate) for the adversary, the ‘goy’ who, when drunk, loses his clarity of mind and who, even when sober, is often out to destroy us. This causes us to react with a fierce tenacity which makes us fight, in any way we can, for our lives, our uniqueness and our tradition.
  3. Thinking about the Jewish community which once existed in Gorzd, I feel a sense of inner peace, a love of dancing and singing not only to forget the pain, but also for pure enjoyment.
  4. A deep sense of community commitment. People share each other's simchas and tzores alike. Yehudit Leshem told me that the young people of the shtetl (my father too) used to take turns spending the night at the homes of sick people who had no one to care for them. She described how it felt to grope her way home in the icy darkness of a winter morning after having been up all night with an elderly ailing woman.
  5. I like the feeling people had about the Rabbi and other wise and learned people (like my grandfather Gershon), who helped set the standards for proper behaviour in the community, and who were the arbitrators and mediators when people were at an impasse in a situation which called for objectivity and good judgement.
  6. Poverty, though a constant threat to many of the townspeople, was often treated with humour. (I wonder how much the seasoning of humour made it more palatable?) Poverty is an important subject for our songs and in Yiddish literature but the word itself is seldom used.
  7. Love of nature, compassion for animals unfortunate enough to be born animals (the calf on the way to be slaughtered), and
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    a tolerance and understanding of people's mental aberrations (meshugassen).
  1. The constant longing for freedom and a better life with the hope that the future will be less harsh (all the time knowing that this is a fantasy which may never become reality).
  2. Respect and obedience to parents. I have heard many examples of situations where young people changed the course of their lives by acquiescing to their parents' opinions even when they conflicted with their own.
  3. Nostalgia.
  4. I notice that in almost all of the songs, there is a slide into the minor keys from the major key and back again to major representing sadness and joy, almost at the same time, hand–in–hand.
  5. Love of fun: mischievous pranks, usually benign and without malice.
  6. Acceptance of old age with graceful resignation.
  7. Awareness not only of grief for the dead but also of continuity for the living.
  8. Understanding that death is part of life and departing from life with grace and dignity. Anyone who knew my mother and shared her two–year process of dying will know what I mean.
Yes, I have never been to Gorzd but it my search for a way to express my feelings, I have found the way to own identity. Gorzd is me – I am Gorzd. I am truly privileged to be part of its heritage.


[Page 75]

On the Invasion of Gorzd
and the Massacre of its Jews

From a report submitted to the German Court in the city of Ulm during the Nazi Criminal Trials. Volume 2, pages 90–105. Aus. K.Z. Verbrechen vor Deutschen Gerichten Band 11. Einsatzkommando Tilsit – Der Prozess zu Ulm Herausgegeben von Dr. H.G. Van Dam und Ralph Glordano, Europäische Verlagsanstalk 1966, Frankfurt–am–Main.

On June 22nd, 1941, the German offensive against the Russians commenced with aerial bombing of the city of Tilsit.

 

1. The Battle for Gorzd (page 90)

The German army opened its offensive against the Russians. One of the first places attacked was Gorzd, situated on the border. At that time, the population of Gorzd numbered 3000 residents of whom 600–700 Jews (page 91). Among them were Jews who had moved to Gorzd from the city of Memel in March, 1939, when the whole of the Memel District was annexed by Germany. In Gorzd these Jews built themselves houses on the corner of Kalifdah Street. The distance from Gorzd to Memel is 17 kilometres and the road leads from Memel to Leviglan via Gorzd in the direction of Telz.

The German attack of Gorzd was fixed for Sunday, June 22, 1941 at 04h10. The Germans encountered strong resistance from the Russians and suffered heavy losses in dead and injured, amongst them two officers. The Russian soldiers in Gorzd fortified themselves within the houses and fought courageously. The Germans were compelled to capture each house separately.

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Between the hours of 10 and 11 in the fore–noon, fire broke out and many houses were razed to the ground. By 14hrs the resistance of the defenders was broken and by 15hr, Gorzd was in German hands. The Russians continued to shoot from within the buildings and there was some hand–to–hand combat. The Germans suffered 100 dead, including 7 officers and many injured. (pages 92–93).

 

2. Roundup of Gorzd Jews, as well as non–Jews suspected of communist activities. (pages 94)

On 23rd June, 1941, an order was received by the German Command to round up all the Jewish families as well as a few non–Jews known to be communists and transport them to a field in the proximity of Leviglan, organize them into a belt 25 metres in width and execute them all. The execution plan was kept secret and was delivered only to the Nazi commanders in Memel and Tilsit. They spread rumours that the Jews and communists had instigated the resistance to the German army and had, therefore, been arrested. Actually, on the day of the invasion of Gorzd by the German army, June 22nd,, 1941, most of the Jews as well as the Lithuanians found refuge in the cellar of the beer factory. When the Germans came to the cellar, they forced everyone out and assembled them in the market square. All the other Jews still in their houses were also taken there. Due to the fire which had broken out in the Jewish homes between 10h and 12hr in the fore–noon, all the Jews were taken from the market square to the city park. There they remained for the night. On the following morning, June 22nd,, 1941, they were all transported to the area between Gorzd and Leviglan. During the course of the afternoon, their numbers swelled to approximately 200 (page 95). The customs official at Leviglan brought food to the Jews from the stocks left behind by the Russians in the customs house on the border. After

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the men had been transferred from the city park to the vicinity of Leviglan, the women and children were taken to an area approximately 300 metres pas the Minyah River bridge.

 

3. The Nazi prepare the implementation of the execution. (page 96)

Pursuant to an order given by the German command, policemen were brought from the cities of Memel and Tilsit and they urgently prepared to carry out the execution. They were told that the Jews had attacked the German army which had come in order to expel the Russians and thus, all the Jews had been sentenced to death by firing squad. The brutal execution was fixed for June 24th,, 1941 (page 98). The Germans forced the Jews to give up money and valuables that they had in their possession. Thereafter, all the Jews were ordered to remove their coats and to place them in a pile behind the Russian customs house. The Nazi forced a few of the Jews to collect the corpses of Russian soldiers which were strewn in the fields. Others were ordered to dig trenches, or to widen and deepen the defence trenches dug by the Russians. The Nazi kept after the Jews with screams and assaulted them with sticks. In particular, they manhandled an old Rabbi who was conspicuous in his long coat. They also caught hold of a Jewish boy and accused him of failing to do the work with the required speed. He was taken to one of the trenches and shot dead in the back. (page 101).

 

4. The implementation of the executions. (page 102)

The Nazi prepared the execution down to the last detail. Those Jews gathered in the field were assembled behind the customs house under heavy guard by the Nazi police. Amongst those led to their deaths were a number of Lithuanian communists but the majority were Gorzd Jews of all ages. Most accepted their fate with tranquillity – a few wept silently. Their dignified

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behaviour aroused admiration in some of the German murderers. Only a handful of Jews – amongst them a youth of 12 – pleaded innocence and begged the murderers to spare their lives. When it became apparent to them that they would not succeed in their pleas, they all accepted their bitter fate. They commenced to pray, holding themselves in each other's arms and prepared themselves for their final ordeal (page 103). The Nazi took their victims in groups of 10; lined them up in front of a long ditch and turned them to face the firing squad, which numbered some 20 Germans – 2 for each victim. Each time the Nazi commander checked if all the victims were dead. The German policemen brutally prodded each group closer to the ditch of death and forced them to roll the corpses of those already murdered into the ditch. Some of the murderers were unable to bear the horror of the blood massacre but the German commander compelled others to take their place, amongst them city policemen from Memel. These policemen were recognized by the Gorzd Jews who had previously been residents

 

The town Cemetery

 

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of Memel, amongst them: the three Korfman brothers; the businessmen Porak and Sher; the merchants Bernstein and Teuier; a soap merchant named Feinstein as well as the residents Zondal, Pelek (it appears the reference is to Zonda Polack –translator); Zilber, Kalman and Fristov. A. Feinstein recognized amongst the murderers the policeman Knofes from Memel who, many years before, had been his friend and neighbour and who now stood opposite him with his rifle pointed towards him. Feinstein said to him: “It is fitting that you should shoot me”. A young man who was not killed by the first shot, begged the murderers: “shoot me again”. This dreadful operation cost 201 lives. The murderers filled the graves of the victims with sand and then celebrated their exploit with wine (page 104).

On this bitter and tragic day of June 24th, 1941, one–third of the Jews of Gorzd were slain. May God avenge their souls.

 

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