A New Life In The Independent Lithuania, 1920-1923
Jacob: We put in the title A New Life in the Independent Lithuania. That is true. A new life. A completely new life for thousands and thousands of Jewish families in Lithuania and, certainly, for our small family of four people: my parents, my younger brother Abel, or Abba, as some call him and myself. So we came to Ponevezh, the big city, after spending four and a half years in Russia, in Pochep, in northern Ukraine. Lithuania was still under German occupation; it was not yet an independent Lithuania. It was in formation.
Our main worry was I'm laughing, because now it is such a small thing how to make twenty-five kilometers from Ponevezh to Pumpyan. By bus or car, it takes you less than an hour; takes you half an hour, maybe takes you forty minutes. By plane, you just jump over from place to place. But even in normal time, to travel from Ponevezh to Pumpyan, or Pumpyan to Ponevezh, was a day or two-day trip, especially in the rainy season, fall or spring. But now there was no communication. No moving at all. The population was afraid; seldom did someone travel from Pumpyan to Ponevezh or other distances.
So we came together with my Uncle Schindler, and we stuck together all the time. Schindler had three children, three boys. They emigrated later on, to America, and I think you knew all of them, or some of them. The oldest one was Aaron, the middle one was Zalman, and the younger one was Abe. Now Zalman and Aaron have died. Abe is alive. He is in Brookline, near Boston.
So after thinking it over and discussing, we decided that one representative of each of the two families will go, will walk, march, to Pumpyan and spy out to see what happened, what is there. Who were the two persons? My Uncle Schindler his name was Shia, or Ofsey in Russian pronunciation and myself should walk.
As you know, I am a walker and marcher, Goldie and myself, even
now. And my first experience as a walker started by this tour from Ponevezh to Pumpyan. Okay, we equipped ourselves with sticks, some food what we could have, and in the morning it was a bright, beautiful morning; I would say it was the beginning of August, an especially beautiful day we started out of Ponevezh, walking.
We were in good mood, my uncle and myself, and we compared ourselves: We are like the biblical spies who Moshe rabbenu, our leader Moshe, sent to spy out the land of Canaan to see what is going on there, how it looks, what the people are like. So we were walking and joking and talking all the time, and we didn't notice how fast the time passed. It took us probably five, six hours, seven, maybe. We stopped a couple of times, drinking water, having our food, and we were started approaching Pumpyan, about two to three miles. You could see already the steeple of the church. The church was standing on the hill, so the steeple was seen from far away.
We could see, and we were glad here is Pumpyan! Certainly, with nervousness and with our heart beating, we were approaching the first houses of Pumpyan. Through the Ponevezher Street, from beginning of the street for about a mile long, was a Christian Lithuanian population. Closer to the center, in the center itself, and farther on, Posteler Street was occupied by the Jewish population !would say one hundred percent Jewish population.
And here came the first surprise. Suddenly, as we came to a certain place near the center on Ponevezher Street, we saw that some houses are missing! One house is missing. We continued to another house, and pretty soon we realized that the whole center is burnt down. It was burnt down. Starting from Ponevezher Street, the market center, and continuing to Posteler Street, all the Jewish center was burnt out. It was a surprise, because we had no communication with Lithuania during the time we lived in Russia. We had no idea what happened, what was going on, and now, suddenly, we saw empty places.
First of all, we noticed here is the place where my Bobbe Golda's house was. No, Bobbe Hirshovitz, Bobbe Tsipa it was the big house, a really big house. Now it was an empty place. We went on farther. Where was our big house? It didn't take long; we realized it was burnt down. That was our house. We went farther, to many other Jewish houses, up
to the Christian houses. Amazingly, later on, we realized the fire was set. The fire was set, and the Christian Lithuanian population plundered. What they could they took it away.
We were thinking suddenly, came an idea. Okay, we came home; we came to Pumpyan. Where would we live? What was left of the Jewish property was the two rows of stores on the marketplace. Two rows of stores, mostly stores with a few dwelling places on the second Boor. We had two adjoining stores. One was ours and one was of the Bobbe Golda. As I told you before, she wants to be independent. She also had her own little store and a place. A little store, but the place was big. So this row of buildings was left over. It was not touched by fire. So we spent a few days.
Before us, one family came. We were of the first newcomers, settlers. But one family came before us, by the name Zack. Maybe I mentioned before, one of the sons of Zack was left over behind. He was under the German occupation. His parents probably, when they were driven out, settled as dose as possible to the border of Lithuania. So as soon as they heard there is the way to come back, they came the first. And now we, our family and Uncle Schindler's family, we were the next to them. Where will we stay? We approached the Zacks somehow. The joy was great to see again each other, and he said, Don't worry, there are still some Jewish houses not occupied. You can live there.
There was a street; we called it the Church Street. There was some Jewish house untouched. There was a street we call it I don't remember how they call it some kind of slums, more or less. And the oldest street, we call it Babolnik Street. There were some houses left, so they told us, the Zacks told us, You can occupy any house you want.
So after spending couple of days, our hearts were broken, you know. We had a beautiful house, an old house but a beautiful house. We started back to Ponevezh. We were not in the best mood anymore, and now came the moment that we came back, we had to tell my parents, and Uncle Schindler had to tell his family, that the town, the Jewish center, was burnt down, and then to start planning what to do. Anyway, not to go into details, after discussions and then hesitating, we decided to go to Pumpyan. Meantime, we hired a wagon for big money, and we
packed all the belongings what we had, and we came back to Pumpyan with the whole family.
Pumpyan looked in my eyes different than it was before. I was imagining it was a town with sidewalks before. Now almost all the town was covered with grass and with weeds, because the moving was almost zero. Nobody walks, nobody travels, and the weeds took place. Everywhere was in weeds up to the knees.
After coming to Pumpyan and discussing again, we settled temporarily in the house of Avraham the shoichet.You know what a shoichet is. And meantime, another family came, Levinson. They settled there, so we shared the house a couple of rooms for us and a couple of rooms for the Levinsons. So we lived in Avraham the shoichet's house on Church Street. What did we do there the first days, or first week? I don't remember exactly. Probably we were planning.
Meantime, we saw the first German, who was a police master, head of the police. He lived somewhere in an estate near Pumpyan, not in the shtetl. So he came more or less to welcome us. I remember a tall German with a tall military hat, with a big dog on a leash, and with two other ones, servants. They came riding horses, and we saw them, and they were friendly, very friendly. What are we going to do? What are our plans? We don't know yet. And the main thing what he wanted is if we want to make some business open a store or something we have to bribe him.
To bribe him with what money? Paper money had no value; no Russian money, no German money. People had money. Bags, sacks, full of this kind of money Kerensky money, the Tsar's money, the Bolshevik money; later on, each group printed money. In Russia, there was plenty. In Germany was the same. German money you could pay. People said if you want to paper the walls, you could paper with all kinds of money. He wanted gold, Russian gold sticks ten-ruble gold sticks or five-ruble gold sticks. He was not bashful and was not ashamed to say, If you want to open a store, you can do it. We will help you, but you have to pay. Certainly, we planned to open our store, and we planned how to get a couple of Russian ten-ruble gold sticks to give to the police master.
Now we met in Lithuania, in Pumpyan, our old friend as I mentioned
before, Nikolas Dominus, with whom we left our belongings, part of our belongings. He was really a good friend, a true friend. A simple peasant, probably was in the sixties, not much educated, but a good
heart and honest. He embraced us and kissed us, and he said my father's
name, Getzel; Getzelis in Lithuanian. He said, I kept most of things you left with me. The fur coat I mentioned
before and my brother's violin and other things. Some merchandise was missing. He explained the Germans stayed, and they found
some things they wanted, so they took it away from him. But most
of the merchandise was still with him. He brought it to Pumpyan, and we started to fix up our old store and to open a store. What else can a Jewish family do?
Where to live? We still lived in Avraham the shoichet's house. But suddenly, one day we heard Avraham the shoichet and the family came. They are in Ponevezh, so we have to go out. I don't remember exactly if they were settled in another place. In the meantime, we were looking for a carpenter to fix up the store a little bit, and especially to change the Bobbe Golda's store into a dwelling place. It was not very big, but it was enough to have two rooms and a kitchen.
Where to get a carpenter? It was hard to get a carpenter, till finally, we found somebody. Ochen vey, what kind of a carpenter! He was not good at all but better than nothing, and we started getting material. My father was quite active at the time. He was still young. He was probably in the fifties, and my mother certainly gave him moral support and other kind of support, and we started fixing up the Bobbe Golda's store into a dwelling place.
It took a long time. I was happy again, helping him with some carpentry. There was no school for me. I was forgotten, and the same with my brother Abel. Who could think about us? It took a few months already I remember it was already way far into the winter when the store was converted into a dwelling place, and we moved into our own place.
Mommy cried, certainly, and said, That's the place where we should live? Remember, I told you before, we had a big house, with six or seven or eight rooms and with a lot of space a big yard, a big garden, an orchard, and whatever you want. Here the whole family was crumpled into this little space, and we lived there.
Well, you can survive these things. In the meantime, the police master came, and my father managed somehow to help for two ten-ruble sticks, two ten-ruble coins, and he took it friendly, and he give us the permission license. I remember the permission in German language to open a store and to continue our business.
What upset me one day the second or the third time he came, he came with his dog. I always like dogs, and I saw this dog, a beautiful dog on tall legs. I forgot how you call this breed. Oh, you know this breed: tall dogs, dark brown or light color.
Josh: Great Danes?
Jacob: No, no.
Josh: German shepherd?
Jacob: So I start petting the dog, and he released him in the house. So the dog is a dog; he grabbed something from the table. He was tall as the table. So the police master got so angry, he started beating him and kicking him. I couldn't stand it. I jumped between them to protect the dog, so he pushed me, and my mother got upset. And that was the incident what happened in our house and upset me.
So the peasants from the surrounding towns started to come, little by little, to the shtetl. My father met some acquaintances among them. Their life changed, too. Each one had to have on his wagon the name of himself, the address of his village, all in details, so the Germans should know where to find him in case something happens or they need him.
It did not take long, we heard that the Germans were packing already. The last days, and they were leaving. And probably they left, and there was no regime at all. No government at all. Meantime, in the woods, organized little by little bands of prisoners, of Russian prisoners, German prisoners, mixed, and what did they do? Gangs like this started to attack the shtetl. One night, our house was attacked. We cried, all of us, Mother and Father and myself and my brother. Who could help? Nobody could help. But luckily, they couldn't open the doors so easily.
The doors were heavy doors, and the windows had how do you call it to cover the windows?
Jacob: Window shutters, not inside but outside, outside with a block coming in inside, and it was heavy. They could not break the windows so fast, and probably they left us untouched. It could be the end of the whole family. Twice or three times, some band came from the woods, and they came into the store, and they took all what they wanted. You couldn't resist. I was standing, and I wanted to jump and to fight, but my mother kept me tight not to let me. They took cigarettes, they took food, they took some merchandise what they needed, and some money what it was, and we had to be silent. So it was no rule and no regime at all, no government at all.
But little by little, the Lithuanian government started to form. They should have formally to take over the role from the leaving Germans, from the Germans who are going out. One day, we saw on the street of Pumpyan a militia man, a Lithuanian militia man militia was called temporary police, who acts temporarily with a band on his hand, a green or yellow band on his hand. We came out to see as a wonder, and we recognized him! He's a local man of Pumpyan who was a carpenter or something like this, a handyman. Now he is a militia man, and the next day came another one. So there are two militia men who ruled Pumpyan in that time in our shtetl.
Pretty soon it took a few weeks we heard already that a Lithuanian government organized, and the first president of independent Lithuania was Antanas Smetona. He became the first president and the prime minister, everything. But in Pumpyan, in the shtetl, we didn't see any change, any hands of the government. The main persons were the two militia men. In the woods, there are still gangs of people, and if we complained to the militia men, they said, What can we do? We are only two, and there are hundreds of them. There were remnants from some Russian army, and they were joined by remnants from some German army. So they made together bands; then later on, they disappeared. Later on means many months later on; but for the first, I would
say, half a year or seven, eight months, we lived in fear of these gangs who lived in the woods somewhere, and the Lithuanian government couldn't do anything.
Well, little by little, the Lithuanian government became stronger, started to form. It became instead of militia men, there were already policemen, and life started to normalize, more or less. My parents did business with the farmers and with the peasants around, like in the old times. They were planning to build a new house, a big house, on the place where the burnt-out house was.
Meantime, more and more Jews started to come to Pumpyan; here one family, here another family. There were some newcomers. Some of the people married in Russia; some men brought new wives new people, new faces. Some were nice ones, some not so nice ones; some were I don't say ugly or not, but in character. There were a few who came from Russia with their own way of acting, their own way of pronunciation, and we did not like them. They were not nice people at all. There were few wives married to Pumpyaner young men who were very nice.
Now time came for my parents to think about what to do with us, with me and my younger brother. My mother always wanted me to be, in the first place, to be a doctor, a physician. That is very honorable. Second no, I am sorry, first place to be a rabbi, a rov. Now she was convinced I won't be a rov. I am far away from that, so a doctor. And the third place, if not a doctor, at least to be a pharmacist, an apteyker. A pharmacist, in a way, is even better than a doctor. A pharmacist is a businessman, a tradesman, and at the same time, he is an intelligent man. He has a store, and he is the only one. No competition. So to be a doctor or pharmacist, I need education. So every time going to Ponevezh, my mother contacted some people, knowledgeable people, about schools, what to do with children, and every time, she came with new ideas, some good ideas. And they were planning to send me to Ponevezh to learn, into a school in Ponevezh.
Going back to Pumpyan as I told you before, before the First World War, Pumpyan had about a hundred and twenty families. Now, after all these years, there remained about fifty or sixty families. Some died; some did not come back willingly; some split the family. In
Pumpyan itself, some people started building houses. As I mentioned before, the family Zack now were the richest family in Pumpyan. They started building a big house with a hotel, a so-called hotel. So part of the house had rooms for guests, maybe ten rooms, eight or ten rooms. Another Zack a brother of Azrael Zack, Yankl Zack started building a house. A third family, a fourth family I would say about eight or ten families started building houses. We were still planning to build a house, but we didn't, because we had a temporary place to live. As I told you, we converted the Bobbe Golda's store into a dwelling place.
So what did people do in Pumpyan? It was a bad situation, as in every shtetl. The youth had nothing to do that one with the tragedy with the youth. The elderly people got involved in one kind of business, another kind, but the youth had nothing to do. The only way for youth could think about was the chalutz way. You know what means chalutz? Chalutz means pioneers preparing Jewish youth, Jewish pioneers, for Palestine, now Israel. The Zionist movement was always strong in Lithuania, and it was in this time. So we have the shalichim, representatives from Kovno, from the center, coming to the shtetl and organizing pioneer groups, preparing them for Israel.
Concerning schooling for the children in Pumpyan, as the Lithuanian government became stronger and stronger, they established schools, and each minority when a minority had a set amount of people could open its own school in its own language. Lithuania was influenced in that time by the American way of life, and we imitated America. Some Lithuanian Americans came back to Lithuania after the war, and they brought in a spirit of America. Maybe we'll have a chance, I will tell you later on, my younger brother, Abel, become a partner of one of them. And yes, a great help to the Lithuanian government came from America. Each shtetl had relatives in America, and you know the Jewish people always are helping; always their hearts and their hands are open to help, to start sending money privately to families and to Jewish institutions.
The Jewish synagogue, or the shul, burnt down. There was another shul on the yard that was burnt down. What was left was a small Chasidic shul. It was a little further away, and this shul remained somehow. The Jewish shul was I don't know how many years, probably seventy
or eighty years old or more. The walls were thick; I would say threefoot-thick walls, stone and brick It was a two-story building. The upper part was for the women, separate, and for some other purpose. So the wooden part burnt out, the windows, the doors, the seating places.
So first thing the Jewish population started thinking was how to rebuild the shul. And how can you rebuild it? Not with their own money. The shtetl was very, very poor. So from the relatives, there started to come back, to come home, money to repair the shul. And the gabbi became Azrael Zack. I mentioned this. He was a young man, not too much educated, but he was devoted, and he was a good administrator, so all the money went to his hands. He was honest. So they started rebuilding the shul with money sent from America.
The second worry was to restore the cemetery, the bet olam. There was a fence around, a brick fence; so the fence was just broken and taken away by the Lithuanians during the war, and they used the bricks for material, as material for their purpose. Not only this, but they used also the monuments. So to restore the fence, I remember, was rebuilt.
And the third worry was to restore the public bath, the bathhouse. Jewish people need it. And they started building but not in the old place, on the shore of a little brook there was, but somewhere else a smaller one, a wooden one. The old bathhouse was stones and brick on the shore of the brook, so water was plenty. To have it here, they built it near the shut, so water had to be brought somehow. It was not convenient, but it was not costly to build a building like this anyway, temporary. And in the same time, a Hebrew school was opened, the Hebrew school. A Jewish Hebrew school was in Hebrew language and also in Jewish, and they were teaching Lithuanian language. But the school had freedom to teach, according to the program and schedule, all subjects in Hebrew.
My parents decided to send me to Ponevezh to continue my education in gymnasia. It is easy to say, but how to do it? It is costly to live in Ponevezh. I am almost a year behind. In Pochep, in Russia, I was in the fourth grade. I didn't make the fifth grade, but Mother went with me to Ponevezh. We spent there two, three days, and, according to recommendation and to advice of friends, we found a teacher, a tutor, to prepare me for the sixth grade. That means to skip the fifth grade and
to prepare me for the sixth grade. It was a hard task for me and for the teacher, because I was about a year or more out of school, and how to start again from the beginning? But nothing could stop Mother from trying to make me a doctor or apteyker. I was, so to say, neutral. Okay, parents wanted, I'll go. But if you'll give me a choice to continue school or not, I will say, I will survive without school, as most of children would do, probably.
Finally, in Ponevezh, they found a place for me where to live. There was a family by name Band, and we knew them somehow; my father knew them. He was in business relations. So Mr. Band and Mrs. Band were already people in their upper sixties, very orthodox, froom, and I was placed in their house, with a place to sleep in the living room and food. It was on the way from Pumpyan to Ponevezh, like a suburb coming into the city. It was convenient. So Mother used to send parcels for me twice a week or three times a week chickens already broiled and challah and all the good things, and I lived in their house. I lived there about two years. Later on we'll come to this I met their grandson in Boston, Harold Band. And occasionally when we talked with Harold Band, I told him I lived in Ponevezh in the house of Fishel Band. Was he related? So Harold Band jumped up to the ceiling. Fishel Band was my grandfather! Okay, we'll come to this.
So I lived in their house, and we got a tutor for me. He was good and intensively started preparing me. I had to come to him three or four times a week. We went through the whole course of mathematics, of literature, of science whatever we needed for the sixth grade. So as a matter of fact, we made the fifth grade in two, three months. When he felt I am prepared already, I went to be examined at the local gymnasia, and I passed through the examination with excellence, and they accepted me into the sixth grade of the gymnasia.
What kind of gymnasia was it? It was the best in Ponevezh. Ponevezh has a government gymnasia; all schools were under government supervision. This one was, too, but this one was in the Russian language. The same Lithuanian gymnasia had parallel classes, starting from the fifth grade, to give a chance to pupils who came back from Russia, and who didn't manage yet the Lithuanian language, to finish up in the Russian language. And gradually, class by class, year by year, these classes
switched over to Lithuanian. So when I was accepted in sixth grade, it was in the Russian language, and that I know already at this time perfectly, and I became a pupil of this gymnasia. I spent there three years: the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, which I accomplished and graduated from. For me, these were happy days. I had the best memories of Lithuania. I went to gymnasia; I was socially accepted by friends, by teachers. A gymnasia was shared by boys and girls. What do you call the school for boys and girls together?
Jacob: Yes, coed. So I was, luckily, one of the best pupils, especially in writing compositions. That was my specialty. We wrote a composition every month, at home or in the classroom. The teacher a Russian, Sokolov used to take the compositions home, check it, make thorough remarks, and when it came back, he used to read two or three of the best compositions for the whole class. The class was about thirty pupils, and the class became accustomed to expect Jacob Rassen's composition would be read the first or the second. And mostly, it was this way. He opened, and he started reading, not saying the name, and people recognized my style at once. And I recognized it was my composition. I was the best in this. There was another one who wrote good compositions, a girl the name Zacks. She was the second one. I was the best in this in the sixth and seventh grade. In the eighth grade, I was not the best already in this, because I don't know how to say my mind was occupied with something else, some other ideas, some other thoughts, and I could not concentrate as I used to be in the sixth and seventh grade. But that is not important for the time being.
I had good friends in Ponevezh. Some of them I met here. For example, I met here in America an old friend of mine we were sitting on the same bench Nahum Gershwin. In Ponevezh, his name was Gershovitz. We were learning together. He was a lawyer. He is a lawyer here, too. I met a friend Lipshikas; Lipschitz, they call him here. He was one of my good friends. He died already. And a few others.
The school years in Ponevezh gave me a lot; it gave me a lift to want to learn, to study. Lithuanian language was taught especially, to
get acquainted, to manage the Lithuanian language, to prepare us for the university. When I graduated from the gymnasia in the Russian language, I knew already the Lithuanian language pretty well, because pupils who graduate the school in the Russian language had to pass a special examination in the Lithuanian language and literature. I was prepared. So my choice was medicine. I applied for the medicine faculty in the Lithuanian university in Kovno. I passed the exam. I was accepted, and people wondered. Look how easy Jacob Rassen made it. Some had to come twice and three times or four times. I made it at once, and I started to study medicine.
I'll stop on this, because here started already my life in Kovno, out of Pumpyan and out of Ponevezh. I will go back to the family in Pumpyan, and I will tell you what they did there, what they accomplished.
Well, to go back to my family in Pumpyan, my parents and my younger brother, Abel. As I told you before, my older brother, Yossel, remained in Russia. He moved from Ufa to Moscow. He studied, and he became an electrical engineer. He had a family with two children. One of them, the younger boy, graduated from military school; voyena eshkola, we call in Russia. Well, you wanted to ask me some questions about my older brother's family. You wanted to know their destiny.
Josh: You were telling about the children of your older brother.
Jacob: So the son, as I mentioned, was a military man. He went to military school. He graduated. He became a I don't know how they call there a younger lieutenant. He took part in the Second World War against the Nazis, and he retired. His specialty was electronics, electronic equipment. He became a colonel, and he retired and lives now in a formerly German city; before, it was called Koenigsberg. Now it is called Kaliningrad. I have no communications with him. He is afraid to write and to say something.
His older daughter is the opposite. She lives in Moscow. She was married. She has two children, two daughters her husband died and she was a teacher. I saw my older brother and some of his family twiceone time in 1941, when Lithuania was occupied by the Russians, and I was in my job as an agronomist. I was a good worker, and as a reward,
they sent me to the All-Russian Agricultural Exhibition in Moscow. So I used this opportunity to meet my brother and his family in Moscowmy brother, his wife, and his daughter, but not his son. I saw them just a few days before the Second World War broke out, when I was in Moscow visiting him. I met all three of them except the son. He was afraid even to come and even to call us, even to talk, because he is a retired colonel, and in Russia is different than it is in the United States.
I was in Russia in 1970, as I told you. In 197...let's see, 1974 or 1975, my brother died in Moscow. He was eighty-five years old. When I saw him the last time, he was still strong, his muscles strong, a little bit overweight, and retired. He told me about his life. We used to sit late evenings in his one-room apartment. He had an apartment, the room in the house where three or more families live so four families. They shared a kitchen, they shared a bathroom, and that's what he had in his old age. When I told him and his daughter that I have an apartment, a house, my own house in Boston, and we have seven rooms, his daughter took a pencil. She figured and figured the size of the rooms, the size of the area, and she said to me l remember her expression Uncle Jack, Uncle Jacob, eto nepu zakonu. You live not according to the law. Why? Because you occupy so much space. In a space like this, four or five families can live.
Well, I think with this, I finished. Yes, and my mother wanted to send to my older brother the fur coat left over from my father, and my brother's violin. It never came to this point, because when I came back from Russia after visiting my brother, in two or three days the war broke out, the Second World War, and everything was already cut off, all communications, and that was the end of hearing from them.
Now, if you are interested, let's go back to my family in Pumpyan. What happened to them after the First World War, the First World War, in independent Lithuania? As I told you already, I was the scholar of the family. I went to Ponevezh to study. I graduated from the gymnasia, and I was accepted in the medical faculty in Lithuanian university in Kovno. My younger brother, in Pumpyan, got involved in the family business. He took over the hardware store what we had, enlarged the store, greatly enlarged. He had a good group of people supporting him I mean cus
tomers. He had a good name. My father was getting increasingly older and older and weaker. He couldn't do too much in the business.
My father died in 1924 when I was in Kovno studying medicine.
I was told the bad news. I came home, and he was dead already. The funeral was in Pumpyan arranged. It was occasionally the day before Rosh Hashana. The people said when a Jew dies before Rosh Hashana, it is a good sign. He was a good man, and he had a good life, but he was dead already.
Josh: What was the cause of death?
Jacob: You never know in the shtetl what the cause was. There was no doctor, no examination, and no history of illness. There was in Pumpyan the same old felsher that we had before the war. The felsher himself was already old, in the upper seventies. The felsher, his last name was Vedois. When I came and after the funeral, I asked him what was the cause, and the answer was that it was a heart attack. A heart attack, in Yiddish, it is called apoplexia. Are you familiar with this word? It was apoplexia, a heart attack.
Josh: How old was he?
Jacob: He was seventy-one when he died. So my mother and Abel, the younger brother, who took over the business, and the family did well in Pumpyan. And my brother wanted to expand the business, do something more. As I told you, my mother was innovating the store, bringing more and more kinds of merchandise, opening more and more branches, but the store was not big enough. So under my advice, later on, my brother opened a cheese factory, in partnership with a Lithuanian who came from America. If we'll have a chance, I will tell you more details about this.
Meantime, my brother got married in Pumpyan to a local girl. Her name was Vita Siegel. As I mentioned before, the Siegels were one of the yichashdik families in Pumpyan, one of the richest families in Pumpyan, and he was in love with her for a certain time certainly, in a shtetl,
knowing each other and finally, it came to marriage. She was not a business lady. She was just a good baleboste. They had two children, and they bought a house in Pumpyan. We were planning to build, but we gave up the idea, because my brother, after he got married, bought a house a newly built house, what they built already after the First World War. The house was not as big, as good, as well established as our old house was. It was small, certainly.
There was a problem with my mother. After my father died, my mother was left alone in the dwelling, in the house, that was adjoining our store. As I told you before, it was converted from Bobbe Golda's store. Now, when she was left alone after the shiva, after a few additional weeks, we advised Mother by all means to move out. What would she do alone there? Long nights all alone, adjoining the store. She should move out to my brother Abel's house. There was additional room, a small room, a bedroom, for her. She did not want it, by no means. She refused. What will I do there? With children? I will be in their way; they will be in my way. Let me live the way it is.
But wise people and ourselves, we understood it is not good for her to stay alone. She was crying and crying and mourning, days and days and weeks and weeks. So I don't know if we did the right thing or the wrong thing. We moved her furniture, the bed, the furniture, to that room in my brother's house; and finally, she got accustomed, and she stayed in my brother's house. She lived there. And we closed up her apartment. She couldn't forgive us, my brother and me, for a long time. But finally, she got accustomed to this living, and she liked it better.
Well, so my brother in Pumpyan was a merchant. He became a good, well-established merchant, keeping the hardware store. Mostly, Mother was managing the store. He was busy with his new-organized, new-established cheese manufacturing, together with his partner, a Lithuanian. His name was Jankevicus. He came from America; he lived in Chicago about twenty or twenty-five years, and he came back home. He knew more or less American ways of doing business. He was very liberal and broad minded, more than a local farmer. So the partnership was in the village near Pumpyan, two kilometers from Pumpyan, where the partner lived. He built a factory, and they bought the milk from the surrounding farmers from around five, six kilometers around, producing
cheese and butter, mostly cheese. I was a silent partner in this business. It was my advice, it was my guidance, in the beginning, and it went very well. The cheese was sold in Ponevezh and in Kovno. They delivered every two weeks a load of cheese in these two cities, and they were on the way to be the biggest cheese manufacturers in Lithuania. There were another two factories besides his until the Second World War.
Now, what else can I say about the family? My brother had two children. They went to a local school, getting education. I would say it was a happy family, and my mother finally enjoyed staying with them, staying with the grandchildren, in the same house. Everything what I am telling you was until the Second World War, and things changed completely. If you can see on the tape, I can show you some pictures of the family, of my brother, mother, and myself, maybe in Pumpyan and around. Now I keep all these pictures concentrated in this album. It is called Family Roots. Can you see it?
Goldie: Hold it with the other hand.
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