[Pages 5-6] [also pages 515-520]
The book of Remembrance for the Jewish Community of Yurburg is presented with great respect for the survivors of the community and for their children and grandchildren to the last generation.
The Book of Remembrance is not a historical documentary of the Jewish people in Yurburg, but a collection of authentic testimonies of the survivors of this special community, which arose from the smoke of the Holocaust. The experiences and impressions of the life of the community have been kept alive in the memory of the writers since their youth, and constitute the nucleus of the book.
None of the authors, once residents of Yurburg, are professional writers, yet in their own styles and best individual efforts they have presented personal impressions of the modest lives of their fathers in the community's time of prosperity. Only very few managed to escape from the snare of the Nazis, and from these survivors we learned of the desperate position, and the despair brought on by the hopelessness of their situation, as hell's torment opened before their eyes.
The story of Yurburg is striking, yet very sad. For more than three months of cold- blooded murder, the sadistic beasts annihilated the community, cutting it back to the very roots. These visual memories are horrifying. This Jewish community, hundreds of years old, was blotted out by demonic cruelty under the skies of Lithuania. The "civilized" world calmly watched and condoned this horrible persecution, not only by not rising against, not crying out against and not protesting against it, but added to the crime, pouring salt on the wound by actually giving assistance to the murderers. The burden of shame on the whole world and on the neighbouring Christian-Lithuanians will last forever because of their hypocrisy and lack of conscience.
The frightening horror of Holocaust shakes every cord of heart and soul. As long as the earth stands it will not cease telling the story of these terrible deeds. How women and children were taken to death chambers ... how numerous groups of men died in mass graves in the old Jewish cemetery . . . how aged, weak and infirm people were buried anonymously somewhere between Yurburg and Rassen. Why ? Why ? Why ? Women were beaten, mothers humiliated, they and their innocent children on their last journey to the Schwentshani forest, were shot to death while their babies wept in their arms, and then were dumped into their last resting places ... These terrible Holocaust stories bring hatred to the eyes of the survivors of the community and do not give peace to their souls.
In the Book of Remembrance the only personal testimony of the days of the Holocaust is that of a young woman and a man, who escaped from the grip of these human scum, and they tell us their awful story. A story of hell, is written in the book. >From the history of these two survivors we learn of the people of the community, who were cruelly persecuted by these savage people.
We will remember the terrible stories of our beloved ones forever and revere the memory of these unfortunates as long as their descendants live. How desperately the unfortunate mother of the escaped girl cried out in the last moments of her life: "Revenge, mein Tochter, revenge! But is revenge possible?" Our poet Haim Nachman Bialik said:
We will not forget, will remember the victims of the Nazi German murderers and their Lithuanian helpers. The blood of our beloved ones cries out from the earth and demands remembrance forever.
With thanks and appreciation we thus acknowledge the help of our dear friends who kindly made possible the publishing of the Book of Remembrance - and most of all that of our brother and beloved friend Shlomo (Sol) Goldstein, resident of Yurburg, a survivor of the Holocaust and only survivor of his family, who lives in the U. S. A., but whose heart and soul are in Zion. His great contribution made this publication possible.
It is our pleasure to express our thanks to Dr Alexander Ullman, a true Zionist and friend of Israel, the director of the Rochester Hospital, the husband of Feia (Feigele) - Faye Schrage Ullman, the daughter of Hannah Feinberg-Shraga (Helen Schrage) from Yurburg, who contributed handsomely toward the publication of the Book of Remembrance.
Also we want to thank former residents of Yurburg in the U. S. A., especially Diana (Daniella) from the Berezanar family, and her husband Morton Tobin for their contribution toward the publication of the book.
And finally our dear friends of The Society of Yurburg in Israel especially our friend Shoshanah Pullerewich - who together helped with the material of the Book of Remembrance, thus enabling it to be published for our community - the community of Yurburg, not forgotten.
Shimon Schimonov (Schim'onov)
Chairman of the Society of Yurburg
Editor of the book
The Book of Remembrance, is presented to its readers, by the community of Yurburg, in Israel and abroad, and contains a wide range of testimonies describing the city and its surroundings, its family homes, its Jewish citizens, its important people and images, their material and spiritual culture, their way of life and their everyday experiences.
Therefore, in order to help the reader get a clear picture of the book, and a better understanding of the main events in it, we thought it right to divide the book into seven chapters or subjects ; each chapter emphasizes part of the image and life of the community. All the chapters together compliment one another and give a complete picture of the city and its Jewish community.
THE FIRST CHAPTER - the city and its environment on the shores of the Neiman river - is made up of articles and written records of the city of Yurburg, its history, its pastoral view and the life of its Jewish residents there. Within the text, the reader feels the great love of those who were raised in the city, for the countryside, for the exceptionally beautiful views - the forests, the rivers, the parks, the bridges and particularly the great river Neiman, which was the source of life and the channel which linked the residents of the city with the rest of Lithuania. Also the city itself - Kovna Street, and the busy trade centre.
THE SECOND CHAPTER - families in Yurburg - contains exciting small articles of the authors' families. We look into the intimacy of family life, and sense the security and happiness of the individual. From this we learn of the family, of their relationship toward one another, of their ordinary lives during weekdays, and particularly of the Sabbath and holidays. Within the frame of the family, destinies were sometimes decided - days of happiness and joy of life merge with the days of suffering and mourning. All within the family ...
THE THIRD CHAPTER - dignitaries and personalities - offers some interesting descriptions of important people, residents of Yurburg, whose work was influential in the community. A great number of them established the community, everyone according to his ability working for its good. Included were rabbis, writers, doctors, philanthropists, teachers, artists and others. They deserve that we remember their work. We are very sorry that this list is not complete. The one presented in the book was only found with great difficulty. All those others who would have been able to tell about the work of the notable people and the visionaries of the community, have passed away.
THE FOURTH CHAPTER - culture and the formation of the community - expresses the spiritual life of the Jews, "for man does not live by bread alone . . . " The struggle of the physical existence does not preclude the concern for the spiritual life. Education and the passing on of experience was a prime concern of the community. Synagogues were open for prayer and for learning the Torah. Public life was active and colourful, and many were accomplished in the cultural arts.
IN THE FIFTH CHAPTER - the youth and their activity in Yurburg pride in the youth of the community is expressed. Sports and scouting played an important role in the young people's lives. The Zionist atmosphere had a great influence in establishing the image of the young generation, so much so that the majority of them joined the Pioneer Youth movements. The aspiration of going on to the pioneer training programme in order to receive the Certificate of Aliyah to Israel was the driving force of the young generation. Love for Eretz Israel was great and the Zionist ideal occupied the mind of almost every member of the community.
THE SIXTH CHAPTER - destruction of the Jewish Yurburg - is an hair raising chapter of the great tragedy which took place in the last days of the Jewish Yurburg. As the Nazi commandos broke through to Yurburg, the sun went down on the community. During three months of great horror all Jews of Yurburg were viciously persecuted and most of them killed. Out of the whole wonderful community, only one or two managed to survive. The Jews of Yurburg were the first to be annihilated because they lived near the German border. The glory of men's lives were trodden into the dust under the boots of the murderous Nazi barbarians and their Lithuanian helpers, who lacked human decency and conscience. The blood which was spilled in the streets of the city and in the surrounding forests, the blood of these tortured and violated people, cries out to us -
THE SEVENTH AND LAST CHAPTER of the book - survivors of Yurburg perpetuate their community - tells of all that was left of the people, those who survived this bell, of the escape to Israel and abroad, and of those who are now fulfilling the will of those holy souls, through the documentation of their heritage and the story of their disaster told to future generations. The survivors of Yurburg, who found deliverance in our country, remember also that their fathers prayed and awaited redemption, full of faith and hope, but did not see it. Therefore, in order to perpetuate their memory, the Yurburg survivors established memorials in the land of their dreams, and they are :
In the holocaust Museum which is on Mount Zion in Jerusalem we printed on the memory board the atrocities which the Nazi attackers did to our community. We also planted a memorial forest for the members of our community in the area of Modi'in, a forest which is a living monument forever ; and there in the shade of the trees fathers will tell their sons the story of calamity, of torture, of the days of slaughter and the destruction of the community of Yurburg.
At the conclusion of this book, it is my pleasure to thank Professor Dov Levin, who contributed from his expert knowledge of the Holocaust and provided me with important archival material.
My appreciation goes to my dear wife Zipporah who has faithfully assisted me during all the drafts and revisions of this book.
Translated by Surko
When Lithuania became independent, at the end of World War I, there were about 160,000 Jews in "Kovnian Lithuania" without the Vilna region which was conquered by the Poles, in over 200 settlements, including the town of Yurburg, to which this book is dedicated. When we compare the facts in this book with those of the other communities of Lithuania, particularly about ten of them which were of similar size (about 2000 people), Yurburg stands out mainly in the economic, cultural and moral sphere. This town was an important commercial and communications center between East (Russia and Lithuania) and West (Germany and England) due to the ethnic variety of its inhabitants and mainly due to its location on the banks of the Neiman River and its proximity to East Prussia. Moreover, German culture and universal, secular values increasingly left their mark on the town. All these had a strong influence on the local Jews and on their quality of life; many of them made a living in transport, wholesale trade, export, customs clearance etc.
Although the Yurburg community was one of the earliest communities in Lithuania (it already belonged to "The Lithuanian State Committee" via the Kedainai region) and its old synagogue was world- famous, its glory was not in the orthodox-religious realm. Till this very day those who come from Yurburg are proud of the fact that Avraham Mapu made this his home and the source of his literary inspirations. In any case, the secular movement (Tnu'at Hahaskalah) was stronger here than in most other communities nearby. Although many people behaved in the traditional manner, at least outwardly, secularization was apparently much stronger here than in the neighboring towns of the Zamot (Zamaite) region.
This trend flourished inter alia in the field of education: from setting up study classes for the children of Israel on behalf of the Czarist Russian Government to the existence of a Hebrew Gymnasium in the name of Herzl - such as were to be found only in about a dozen places in all of Lithuania!
Eventually Yurburg also became famous for the scope and impact of its Zionist activity. An impressive example of the national-Hebrew local color may be found in the name of one of the two parks in town commonly called "Tel Aviv". Nevertheless, the Yurburg community formed an integral part of the Jewish community of Lithuania and a number of phenomena and characteristics of the other communities were to be found here too. This refers inter alia to the ongoing trend in recent generations of a quantitative reduction of the Jewish population due to emigration to overseas countries, the effects of World War I and the move to large cities, as well as emigration to Israel, and other reasons. As in other parts of Lithuania, in the Jewish "Golden Age" a modern Jewish community was set up in Yurburg in the early twenties, backed by the Government via the "Ministry of Jewish Affairs" at Kovna. A few years later, when the fascist regime came to power in Lithuania in 1926, there was a strong regression in the autonomic status of the Jewish minority and a substantial number of the national institutions -including the communities - were dismantled. At the same time restrictions against Jews were increased all over Lithuania, including Yurburg, from suppression of Jewish trade (the reason for the liquidation of the Jewish trade company "Export Handel") to bloody outbursts and burning of Jewish property (Feinberg station in 1940).
During the Nazi occupation the German Police were responsible for the Jews of Yurburg, yet for several weeks the local Lithuanian tormented their Jewish neighbors like beasts, and some of them even took part in murdering them. Except for a few exceptional cases, the Lithuanian farmers in the area handed over the Jews who hid with them for money or the likes.
This is the reason why the few survivors from this town consist mainly of a few Jews who managed to flee to Russia or other places from where they joined the Lithuanian division of the Red Army or the Partisans.
Till today there are many Lithuanian families who live in the homes of their Jewish neighbors and hold their properties under the motto " have you killed and also taken possession?" Furthermore, to the extent that descendants of the victims are still to be found, they too have to support the newly independent Lithuania, but evidently do not admit the part the Lithuanian played in the murder and robbery of their Jewish neighbors.
The bitter destiny of all the Jews of Lithuania was shared by the community of Yurburg surveyed in this Book of Remembrance - one of many such books published in Israel about the Lithuanian communities - which were destroyed and are no longer. This book is important not only as documentation, remembrance and perpetuation, but also for the history of the Jews of Lithuania. We are grateful for this and express our thanks to the experienced editor, who used his professional knowledge together with his warm feelings for his town. We also wish to thank the devoted friends of the Society of Emigrants from Yurburg and its Chairman, who worked hard to publish this book, contributing in mind and matter.
Professor Dov Levin
Head of the Oral History Department, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Jerusalem, First Night of the Year 5751 (1991)
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