Between the Wars, 1924-1938
Jacob: In shtetl Pumpyan-I repeat already; the second time, probably-the main problem and a tragic problem was with the youths. The elderly people lived somehow; they made a living, but the youths were lost. They had nothing to do with shtetl-no trade, no profession, no business. Some, they were just idle people, doing nothing. Or emigrating to Israel or to South Africa, mostly. To go to Israel, you have to belong first to Hechalutz group. Hechalutz means the pioneer, and they were organized and sent somewhere in cities, urban groups, or in farming groups, to some estates in Lithuania or to the so-called Memel region to learn farming.
Memel region was a part of Lithuania that was occupied by Germany. Historically, it was Lithuania, but it was under German occupation for a couple of hundred years. The rural population were still Lithuanians. Some of them spoke Lithuanian, but the urban population and the estate owners were Germans, or Lithuanians turned into Germans. So that was the best region for the chalutzim groups to get into farming, into agriculture.
For a certain time, I was there, too-after my medical study, for one year only; I didn't stay longer than one year. Probably I didn't like medicine, and my thoughts were turned to becoming a chalutz and going to Palestine. So before that, I joined the chalutz group and was placed into an estate, a big farm, in Memel area. It was called Grauman. I spent there not too long, about half a year. And my way of thinking started, little by little, switching and turning to another point.
I started getting letters from my mother every day, every other day. Look, my son, you didn't become a rabbi; you did not like medicine. You didn't start pharmacy to be an apteyker. And now what are you studying? To be a poyer? A poyer means a peasant. Do you have to study to be a poyer, a peasant? Here, take around Pumpyan in the neighborhood. All of them are poyerim, peasants. So do you have to study, to give up all your education what you had?
Day after day, I was thinking to myself, Look, Jacob, you don't like medicine; you like farming. Why shouldn't you switch to study agriculture, higher agriculture? And that brought me to switch from the medical faculty to the biological agricultural faculty, and so I did. After a year studying medicine, and after being a summer in a chalutz group, I applied to be accepted at the biological agricultural department of the university.
In the beginning, this department was in Kovno as part of the university. But next year, it was placed in a big and well-established estate in a place which was called Dotnuva, near the city of Keidan [Kedainiai]. It's about fifty kilometers from Kovno. That was a huge building, with a lot of adjoining buildings which was the most suitable for the agricultural department. I was one of the first students there. I was the only Jewish boy in this agriculture department. In the beginning, there were about two hundred students, and I was one of them.
I would say I spent in this school, in the so-called Agricultural Academy in Dotnuva, I spent there five happy years. It lasted five years. I was well accepted. I didn't feel or I didn't see any anti-Semitism against me-the opposite. Because I was the first year or the first two years only the one student, the Lithuanian colleagues showed me the best attitude they could.
Josh: What years were you there?
Jacob: That was in the years, let's see, 1925 up to 1930. We lived in the schools in dormitories. The first year, we lived about ten students in a big dormitory, and later on, starting the second year, we got private rooms, two in a room.
It was the best way to study and to look around, but I always looked for some side work. I don't know why, I could never be satisfied just to be doing the official study work. So what did I do? There was a Jewish family at the railroad station, about a kilometer from the school. So I was a tutor. I became a tutor of the whole family, starting with the mother and then three daughters and a son. I taught all of them to read Hebrew and to understand prayers. This family, by name Goldberg, they were, as we call it, yeshuvniks. Yeshuvniks means people who live in the village and who have little contact with other Jewish families. So I became the spiritual guide of this family. It paid well, accordingly, and I
could maintain myself in the school. I was proud of it, that parents don't have to support me.
Later on, I became a teacher in Dotnuva shtetl. The shtetl was two kilometers from the school. Why did I become a teacher? I never wanted to do it. The teacher who was there became sick, and the children couldn't finish the school year. They couldn't get as easily as they wanted another teacher, so they begged me. Come, we heard you know Hebrew. You can teach.
So they persuaded me, and I was a teacher for a few months in that school, helping the children graduate. But later on, I understood that's not the right thing. I missed a lot of study at the Agricultural Academy. Teaching Goldbergs in the evening was one thing, but not daytime. So I gave up by the end of the year, and I certainly didn't accept to be a teacher there for next year, although they wanted me to very much.
Your mother, Goldie, later on attended this academy. I took her to there to show her. It was a great school, by the way. I took her together with a group of other pupils who were my pupils in that time already, but that was many years later.
Well, after graduating from the Agricultural Academy in Dotnuva, I had to practice one year as an observer and laborer in an estate, like a doctor has to be one year-what you call it, a resident? So I had to be one year in an estate. I chose an estate somewhere far away, the estate of a Baron Kropps. I was not happy there. After a week or two weeks, I abandoned; I left. I went back to the school, where they had a big estate of five hundred hectares. A hectare is two and a half acres, so over a thousand acres. So I spent there a year working together with the laborers, working on all kind of machines, observing what others are doing, and every evening giving a report to the manager: It was done this and this, so and so. It means it gave me experience.
In school, in the agricultural school, you could choose a few things.
One branch was forestry. That was a different branch. That was not mine. Other branches were administration, domestic-cattle specialist, grain specialist, field specialist, and gardening-four or five departments. My specialty was administration.
After graduating the school and I completed a year as-how you call it, a practicum, worker, observer?-!had to present a paper to become
an agronomist, with a diploma that is equal to a master's degree. I had to present a paper to them to show my ability and understanding. My topic was agriculture in Israel. I presented, it was well accepted with an A, and I became an agronomist-diploma agronomist with master's degree. That opens the doors in Lithuania, to be accepted in the agriculture department for any job. Those who were lucky got higher jobs.
I have to add that later on, a year or two years later, I was sent for half a year to Denmark, because I knew the German language, and Danish is maybe close to German. I was to practice in a new agriculture branch what it was really new in Lithuania. It was sugar beets, special beets to produce sugar. Here they use sugar canes a lot. In Lithuania, they didn't have this kind of cane, so sugar was produced from special variety of beets. Up to that time, Lithuania didn't have any sugar manufacturing. So three students, the best students, were sent to Denmark, although I was a Jew, and we didn't expect that they would send a Jewish young man, a Jewish student, to Denmark. They would prefer to send a Lithuanian.
I was sent, and I spent there half a year, learning practically in the field, and I came back home. I was an expert in sugar beets culture, and we started to develop in Lithuania more and more. Finally, Lithuania opened one sugar factory, then one more, and then there were three sugar factories. You have to train the farmers, to teach them how to grow these sugar beets-new for them, new for everyone. So little by little, they learned. They delivered the crop of sugar beets to the factory, and they were paid a certain price, so it was beneficial for the land and for the farmers who participated.
After graduating, I worked in Lithuania for the agricultural department, or they call this branch the Agricultural Commerce Department. Commerce means industry. Well, I was happy that I switched from medicine to farming, because that was in my blood to be an outdoor man, not to be working in a room but working outside, outdoors, in the fields, and that was in me since I was a kid. And it's stayed with me up to date, maybe because we had lands, farmland. Maybe we worked farmlands. But that was with me, and I was happy. My mother, my parents but especially my mother, was not too happy. When I start making a living and earning money, and I had enough and giving presents at
home, bringing presents, she was seeing the fruit of my labor, but she never admitted that she was happy. Still, you should have learned to be a doctor or to be an apteyker.
As you see, I lived separately from my family already. In Pumpyan, my brother Abel was the main person in the family. He took over the business. We were in good relationship, seeing each other. He was busy in his cheese factory, in the hardware store, occasionally buying and delivering grain.
I was living in Kovno and around Kovno. Kovno was at that time the capital of Lithuania, the temporary capital. The historical capital of Lithuania was Vilna, or, in Lithuanian, Vilnius. But what happened to Vilna? Do you know what happened to Vilna? Certainly, Goldie knows it, but you don't. After the independence of Lithuania was establishedexactly, I would say, in 1920 or 1921, when Lithuania was establishedVilna became the capital, the historical and actual capital of Lithuania. But pretty soon, in a couple of months, a few weeks, a group of local so-called patriots-Polish patriots headed by a general by name Zeligowski-captured Vilna and the area around Vilna. They called it the Vilna area.
So it was captured by the Polish government-the head of them was the General Zeligowski-and it was kept by Poland up to the Second World War. Certainly, the relationship between the Lithuania and Poland was disrupted. Lithuania never recognized the capture of this part of the city. They complained to the United Nations-no, it was not the United Nations at this time; it was the League of Nations, in Switzerland. But it didn't help, and they were in war-like relationship from that year on up to the Second World War, when Stalin together with Hitler agreed to return Vilna back to Lithuania. So temporarily, Kovno was the capital of Lithuania.
Now, what happened to me later on? I was married. I married a girl by the name Chava Zacks.
Josh: How old were you?
Jacob: Well, I was an alte bocher. You know what an alte bocher is? An old bachelor. Probably I was twenty-six, twenty-seven. Chava Zacks
was my schoolmate from Ponevezh in gymnasia. She studied pharmacy. She worked in this line in Kovno in a well-known pharmacy, Matulitis, on President Street. We had two children. We lived happily until the Second World War. That is already a new area, the Second World War.
The problem was we couldn't find a job for me and for my wife in the city. Either way: We could live in the city and the other one live somewhere in the rural area, because work was outside the city. To settle here, one would be employed, or to settle there, one would be employed.
That was not, I would say, a problem, but it was some kind of a question where to settle. Finally, after working a few years-!don't remember exactly how many years-for the agricultural department, I was invited by the organization ORT [from the Russian for Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor] to take over and to help them organize an agricultural school for Jewish children.
You know the ORT organization? You heard in America ORT, collecting money to support? In Europe, we were spending the moneyopening schools and training young people, boys and girls. So ORT schools are spread and known all the world over, and Lithuania was a famous one, one of the best organization ORT schools. In city of Kovno, they built a new building for the ORT schools, a three-, fourstory building with classes for mechanics, autos, electronics, electric. What else? For women, clothing, beauty salons, beauticians-whatever you want. Schools and courses. Certainly, it has to be built an agricultural school. Not in the city; you don't learn agriculture in the city. First of all, we did it. We had courses where I taught and trained some future gardeners, garden lovers, but that was not the purpose. The purpose was to organize and to establish an agricultural school, and that is what we did.
The first two years, the place for agriculture school under the guidance of ORT was in an estate. I don't know exactly the right word for estate-estate, I understand, a big farm. A big farm in Lithuania was considered eighty to a hundred hectares; one hundred hectares would be two hundred and fifty acres. I forgot to tell you, Lithuania went through an agricultural reform, and the very big estates-they had a thousand
acres, or a couple of thousand-were divided among the workers and the surrounding peasants, and the smaller estates were left, up to eighty hectares. So the first year, the school was placed in an estate of a Jewish family near the town of Mariampol [Marijampole], and it was too far from Kovno. The second year, the school was placed in a Jewish estate what was named Kalinova, not far from Kovno, about twelve kilometers from Kovno, with intention for ORT to buy this estate.
The owner of this estate, Lichtenstein, lived in Palestine at that time; he left Lithuania. In Lithuania, he was a big businessman, dealing with forests, with grains, with other things-a rich man. So he left the estate under supervision of a family, a man and wife, and Lichtenstein left for Palestine. And it happened that the husband died, so the woman, his wife, was left as the supervisor of the estate. It was sixty-hectare size, sixty hectares; that's a hundred and fifty acres. The school was there under the name of ORT, but the land and the houses belonged to the owner. So ORT was under negotiations with Lichtenstein, and Lichtenstein came especially from Israel to Kovno to negotiate with ORT. He was on the way to sell it to ORT under easy conditions. Certainly, it has to be built more houses, more place, but I am sure in a year or two years, it would have been established a normal school. It was under the name ordrowgeas. [Turning to Goldie] How do you say drowgea?
Jacob: Organization ORT Agricultural Work School. The word workto learn agriculture not by books, not by discussion, but working with fingers. And that gave the students the opportunity to go to Israel after a year and a half. Chalutzim came-pioneers came-to this school, who wanted to learn and to go to Israel, local people. But unfortunate in that time, in Germany started persecution of the Jews under the Nazi regime. And many young people were pushed out of their old jobs, and they had to go somewhere, to another land. Many of them switched to learn trades. So ORT in Lithuania became the center for many hundreds of Jewish young men, young women, who came to Lithuania to learn trades.
Goldie: From Germany.
Jacob: They came to Lithuania from Germany. There were a few hundred of them. They learned mechanics, auto mechanics, and architecture and carpentry. Oh, yes, electronics, many things, and women learned according to their ability. About thirty students the first year came to the agricultural school. And I was the director of the agricultural school. I helped to organize from the very beginning, and I was quite successful. It was quite a responsibility to do it.
But again, the problem was my family lived in Kovno-because, I told you, my wife, Chava, was a pharmacist, working in a pharmacy. And I lived in Kalinova, in the agricultural school, so we were like divided. The family and the children were with mother, certainly.
Later on, a lot of things changed. To go ahead: I survived the Second World War. I skipped over a lot of things. My family perished in the war, the first wife and two children. I talk to you, Josh, or to you, Rachel. I would call the two children, two boys, your half brothers. Am I right? The name of one was Gideon, the older one. I don't know if we'll have a chance to talk or not. That is quite a painful question, problem, to talk about. He was probably around nine years old, and the younger one, Avremele, he was seven years old. And my first wife, too, Chava. They perished in a Nazi camp. That's all I can say for time being. During the Second World War, I escaped somehow, and I came back home. Home means in Kovno. I met your mother, Goldie. Here she is sitting near me. [Gestures to her and holds her handJ And I knew her well from before the war. Now ask me a question. I suggest, ask me how did I know her?
Josh: How did you know her?
Jacob: It's no secret! But do you know or not?
Josh: I know.
Jacob: You know? So why are you asking? She was my pupil at the agricultural school in Kalinova. She was my pupil. She studied agriculture. She had in mind to go to Israel and to be prepared, to be prepared in this way, in farming, in agriculture. I tried to teach her. I tried my best, but I don't know how much I succeeded in teaching her. [Laughs]
Goldie: You were the best teacher!
Jacob: When we discuss sometime with your mother, I blame her. I am teaching you part of my life, teaching and teaching, and still you didn't learn the right things to do. Jokingly. Well, she wants to protest, probably. Well, anyway, she was my pupil in that school. In the time that she was there, there were about thirty pupils, I would say, over thirty. The majority were German youth who came for rehabilitation. I don't know if that's the right word; is it? And about ten, twelve local Lithuanians. So your mother, Goldie, was among them. If we'll have a chance to talk, we'll talk a little more about this. So when I came back home after the Second World War and surviving the Second World War, I met her, I would say, on the streets ofKovno. Am I right? On the streets of Kovno? And we recognized each other. I recognized her as my former student, and she recognized me as her teacher, and I knew she was from a good family. Occasionally, I met her father before and....
Goldie: No, Uncle Jack [Goldie's brother jacob Hiatt], you know. Uncle Jack, didn't he bring me to the school?
Jacob: Yes, can be. I knew him. I knew your brother Jack but not from the school. And we decided to get married. Now, you want me to interrupt now? Maybe it is too much? We can stop for a while, or you want me to continue?
Then to continue, life was great. So we married in Kovno after the Second World War. We married probably in August. I came back home as a Russian soldier in reserve. I ended my career in the Second World War as a Russian soldier. And we didn't stay in Lithuania. We escaped from Lithuania. We escaped. We fled. That was in 1945. Am I right?
Josh: Is there anything else you want to say before the beginning of the Second World War?
Jacob: This was, so to say, ahead of the event. I wanted to say because I don't know if we'll continue about the unhappy events of the Second World War, concentration camps, and survived. But to finish-to give you an idea what connection I have with your mother, Goldie, and what connection you have with us and your sister, Rachel, so I told you this end.
But going back to Lithuania, to the independent Lithuania between the two wars, for me and for my family were happy days. We experienced a lot of anti-Semitism during this period-!talk about the period of life, Jewish life, in independent Lithuania-the anti-Semitism was natural. Lithuanians are a Catholic Christian population, and the Catholics, they are not too tolerant to other religions, although the relationship between Lithuanians and Jews were good always. After the First World War, in Lithuania start coming many people; a group of Lithuanians came from America. They came back home to Lithuania, and they came with money and with business experience. You understand what I mean by this?
Business experience they acquired in America, and money. They came back home to invest the money and their knowledge in Lithuania. Lithuania was a small country, about three million population, among them a hundred and fifty thousand Jewish population. Now, for them to become businessmen in Lithuania, was the best and easiest way to push out-whom?-the established businessmen. Who were the established men? The Jews. To push out the businessmen, the storekeepers and the small storekeepers. And, little by little, they started taking over a lot of Jewish business by pushing out the Jews. In America, here we would say, That's not fair. It was a cry-out, a public cry-out. It would be the question what to do with the people who were pushed out of the business. But in Lithuania, it became everyday experience.
For example, they took over the whole meat business, and they established a great meat-processing center by name Meistas. Meistas in
translation means food. And all Lithuanians; no Jews participated. It was not formally forbidden, but many Jewish butchers and meat processors were pushed out and left just in the air. They took over dairy business, milk-processing business; all the Jewish people got pushed out of the business. They took over communication business, auto communication between towns, transportation; and almost all the Jews and the former owners of the autobuses were pushed out. And now, they started lately to push out the storekeepers. In a shtetllike Pumpyan, where all the stores were owned by Jewish people, and the relationship with the Lithuanian population was good, they opened two cooperative businesses only Lithuanians. They started persuading the Lithuanian people, Buy from us. We are Lithuanians. Why should you buy from the Jewish people?
The same was in the bigger cities. I told you before, the tragedy was mostly for the young people. They didn't know what to do with themselves. So I say, although it was anti-Semitic moment, the Jewish people blamed them; the Jewish leaders blamed them quite often. Look, when Lithuania was established in the 1920s, who were who gave money? Our brothers sent money from America, millions of dollars. Who were who opened the first factories, the first manufacturing establishments? We Jews did it. And now we are pushed out of all this business.
Nothing helped. The anti-Semitic moment was like in Poland. You are more acquainted; you heard the history of this. Maybe in a milder way was in Lithuania, but the trend was the same, pushing out the Jews of trade, of business, of whatever you want, of professional occupations, and being taken over by the Lithuanians.
In my case, I was all right because, first of all, I would say, I was the
first and the only Jewish agronomist in Lithuania. Can you imagine? I was in many ways the first. I was well treated in the school years, in the academy, because I was for two years the first; I was the only one, and I had a job after graduating in the agricultural department. I was sent to Denmark despite I was a Jew to become an expert in the sugar beets production. In many ways, I did not suffer, I would say. I switched over to ORT because I want to be with Jewish people and to work for Jewish people. That was the reason I switched over to ORT and became the expert for ORT in agriculture, and, finally, I became the director of the
agricultural school for ORT. Well, what else can I say? We negotiated with Lichtenstein, and we have come to a point to buy. Again, the Second World War came.
Josh: When did you go to Israel?
Jacob: Oh, that's a good question. I forgot. It slipped my mind. So of the first group of students who graduated from the ORT agricultural school, roughly about fifteen or eighteen went to Israel, to Palestine. (The other part went to South America to be established in agriculture. I didn't know too much about the group in South America.) But ORT wanted to know, ORT and the Jewish community around, what happened to the group? So in 1936 they sent me to Israel. They paid most of the travel expenses. Not all; ORT was not a rich organization. I went to Israel to find out what happened to the former students of the ORT agricultural school and to bring a report.
Josh: How did you travel there?
Jacob: How? It was already Nazi Germany that time. Do you have an idea? It was Nazi Germany. You were not born yet; you are young. You don't know about this. Lithuania borders Germany. By train from Lithuania through Germany to Italy. And from Italy by boat, by ship, I think from the port called Bari. Is there name like this? Bari? Over the Mediterranean to Haifa, to Jaffa-was it Haifa or Jaffa we came? That was the way, the route. I went with a group of teachers. It was an excursion, a tour of teachers, a group of twenty-five or maybe thirty people. I joined the group; it was cheaper. And I traveled to Palestine.
There I met most of the students. Some of them were happy; some of them were not too happy. Most of them were happy. Some of them lived in kibbutzim, and they became members already, or they were still candidates to become members. Some lived on their own, workers. Some of them went to Palestine married, taking with them Lithuanian wives. Some of them lived peacefully with their wives, and some of them were divorced already. Well, it was two worlds, the Lithuanian
Jew and the German Jew. As a matter of fact, a sister of my wife Chava married one of the pupils in the school. I recommended to her the best pupil. I remember his last name was Levanow. And it gave her a chance to go to Israel, because everyone could take his wife with him. So she married him, although she was not a chalutz, not a pioneer; she didn't work on the farm, but he could take her. I came there-it was already a year, or a year and a half, after they were there-and they were, sorry to say, ready to divorce each other. It didn't work out. They divorced later on.
So I tried to find out every student, and they were glad, I cannot describe to you how happy and glad they were, to meet their teacher. They called me all their life our agricultural teacher, even in Israel. And I would say I met everyone. The last few days they made for me a meeting-how would you say? farewell, come together-and I knew to report everyone what happened to them. Who was interested? The Jewish ORT community and the surrounding organizations; and in Germany, there was an organization of the parents of students sent to Lithuania, the agricultural students together with others who studied in technical ORT schools.
I spent in Israel more than the teachers spent. The teachers spent one month, and I happened to stay in Israel-you'll be surprised-a whole school year, ten months. Why? It's a question. When I came to Israel, I met many friends; among them, I met a friend by name Chanoch Paz. In Lithuania, name was Patz. In Israel, he changed to-not Israel, Palestine-he changed his name to Paz. He was a teacher in Pumpyan, in the Hebrew school. So we were great friends with him-very capable young man, and he was an actor and a writer and a poet and everything. And he said, Look, Jacob. Stay it in Israel. Stay here.
I said, What are you talking? At home, I have a family, a wife and two children-the two half brothers of yours.
Anyway, he introduced me to the head of a school in Dagania. Certainly, you heard the name of Dagania. Dagania is the most honorable kibbutz, the mother of kibbutzim, Dagania aleph. There is Dagania aleph and Dagania bet and even Dagania gimmel, they say. He introduced me, and he succeeded to persuade me to stay for a school year in Palestine.
Certainly, I was in touch. I contacted my family, and my wife
agreed, and our thoughts switched to Why not? Let's get acquainted with Israel, and we will switch to Israel. In Lithuania, you see no tachlis. You know what tach/is means?
Jacob: Not purpose. Okay, future results-no future, no results; no practical results for the future, it means. On one hand is Poland, enemy of Lithuania. On the other side is Germany, Nazi Germany, and the third side is Communist Russia. Lithuania is a small country among these giants. So the future will be some of these countries will swallow Lithuania. That's what we always felt. So whatever you do in Lithuania, whatever you build, you build just on loose sand. So what tach/is, what purpose, is to stay in Lithuania? Maybe we should switch, and we'll go over to Israel. We had some money saved. We'll buy a farm.
So I stayed another year, a year altogether in Israel, working in Dagania as a madreech. You know what is a madreech? Madreech means instructor. What instructor? Dagania had a regional school for seven or eight kibbutzim around: Dagania aleph, Dagania bet, Bet Zerah, Afikim, Kineret Moshav, Kineret Kevutzah, and another two or three.
So they used to bring the children in the morning in big buses to the school, to the regional school in Dagania, and the children stayed there almost the whole day, having rest and having lunch at school. So up to one o'dock, they were learning all Hebrew subjects and whatever a school gives them, in Hebrew. From one to three was rest time; they had lunch and resting. It was like some kind of beds, a few hundred, and after that, the children worked in their own farm. They had a farm. I don't know how many hectares or how many dunams-they measure in dunams; a dunam is one-tenth of a hectare. And I was the instructor for the farm school.
In the beginning, it was hard for me. I didn't know Hebrew fluently. I knew basically; I learned, but not fluently. But it didn't take long. In a month, I spoke Hebrew like an Israeli. And I played the part I don't know anything; the children should teach me. So the children taught me Hebrew. They taught me how to use this tool and that tool. I learned
fast. And after a month or six weeks or something, I was the full boss of the agricultural farm of the children in Dagania.
I was respected tremendously by the school, by the children, and by the director. And nearby was the kibbutz Dagania. Dagania was called that time a kvutzah. Kvutzah means a smaller-scale kibbutz. Now, I think, it's called kibbutz. It grew big. I didn't become member of Dagania. I couldn't, certainly, and I didn't want it. But I ate together with the kibbutzniks, and I paid for my board to the kibbutz, and I got a fair salary. I could even send home a part of my salary. But I was longing for home; I was longing very much.
So I counted the days already to go back and to decide one way or another way: We are staying in Lithuania, or we are starting to arrange the way to move to Israel? I was figuring it's not an easy task. We have property in Pumpyan and in Kovno, and houses. My wife had a good job. To break up, you have to be meshuganah to do it. Anyway, when I came back home, in 1937, I would say yes, we are starting to prepare for Israel. We were not in a hurry, and I still continued my work with the ORT organization. ORT negotiated that time with Lichtenstein to buy the estate. I'm telling you, I went through that time a very hard period of hesitation. I was balancing. Do this? Do that? What is better? What is not so good? To stay? Not to stay? Here would be for me the best future, to stay with ORT. But the situation in Lithuania is between the three giants, and every day can happen something, from one side or another side. Slowly, we prepared, until the Second World War broke out, and we were still in process of hesitating.
If you want a few details, I will add a couple of details. We'll finish by this; after the breakout of the Second World War, I won't go further. After I graduated from the agricultural academy, I had to go to military service. Military service, if I remember correctly, was two years; but as an intelligent student, intelligent man, I could go to the military school. It was only one year-intensive, hard training. You have to be prepared, and you have to take very, very hard training, physically, all military, and then study books to know this and to know that. And when you are finished and you graduated, you became a reserve lieutenant. So I chose this way for a year, to go the hard way, to the military school. It was a wonder that they accepted me, as a Jewish man. As I told you before, I
met more or less open doors in Lithuania, although it was anti-Semitic trend, among the intelligent people or the rural people.
After studying a year, it was a certain strict rules and certain ethics you have to live by. You couldn't go into the street as a regular soldier. You have to be dressed properly. For some reason, you couldn't ride the bicycle; it wasn't allowed. We had a certain uniform in white. And really, it was a hard year, and I finished as a reserve lieutenant in the army, in the Lithuanian army. That was one detail. With me together were only two or three other Jewish military men. We were called aspirants [pronounced as-pi'-rants]. Aspirant means a man who is striving to reach something. So we were striving to reach to be military men-in reserve, though.
Well, I suppose I talked a long time, and I told a lot of things. Certainly, I want to embrace all this period of my life. I wanted to embrace this period in my life, not only my personal life but historically-how the land and the people around lived, developed, and I, the little me, among them. I don't know how much I succeeded or not, but it takes a long time to tell all these details. If you want to ask me some special questions, please, do it before we finish.
There are some details. I used to come home-I'll add one thingto my parents, later on to my mother, twice a year. That was like a holy pilgrimage, for Pesach and for Rosh Hashana. One time, I remember, I couldn't come for Rosh Hashana; I came for Succoth. And later on, I came only summertime, with the children for a few days, a week, spending with Mother.
I came, Mother always said, Look, mein kind, you are lean. Look how lean you are, only bones and skin on you. You don't eat? They don't feed you properly?
Well, I said, I ate. And my mother used to, is trying to, how you say, to feed me better-all kinds of food and fat food what here you wouldn't think about. That was enjoyment.
Being in Pumpyan, I gave the initiative, and I did it. We had a lot of land. The Bobbe Tsipe's land was left over-a big, a hectare-size garden-and we planted an orchard. [To Goldie] I think you saw this orchard. A big orchard, a hectare, two and a half acres, and I left it for my brother. During the year, he took care. It was nothing to take care
the first years, but it was my initiative. We established, I told you, the cheese factory. And my brother was the partner. I was the silent partner. So we were happy with this one. There was another thing-I'll finish with this-in 1939, I suppose, the Russians occupied Lithuania, peacefully. You know about this? You don't?
Jacob: The Russians occupied. They started to expand their influence, their territory. So that was beginning of the end of independence of Lithuania, I say-the beginning of the end.They came in into Lithuania, into Latvia, and probably, yes, into Estonia, keeping troops there, garrisons. In the beginning, they brought in a small group of soldiers, and they placed them in three locations. We didn't see the soldiers, but later on, they started to appear somewhere in the towns, in the cities, and then they increased the number. And Lithuania was already-not militarily but politically-under the hand, the heavy hand, of the Russians. They were afraid that the Germans will send in, so the Russians did it before. We were unhappy with this one, but we had to take it. So that way continues until the Second World War broke. If you like me to continue, I will do it. If not, we will finish with this.
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