Every youngster with a quest for knowledge had an opportunity to study and acquire an education. And indeed, there were educated young people in Yurburg, wonderful youngsters, with a Zionist and pioneer outlook. And there were teachers at the gymnasium - not all of them born in Yurburg, with a higher education. They deserve to be remembered - people such as Eliezer Leipziger, the principal Zvi Altman, the physician Dr. L. Gerstein, the engineer Dov Chen, Alexandrowitz and others. My Yurburg was a liberal town. "Live and let live." In Yurburg there was room for all the different directions of Judaism - orthodox, nationalist-zionist, volkists-autonomists and communists. Everyone had freedom of action and freedom of speech. There was a Hebrew school and a Yiddish school; there was a Hebrew library and a Yiddish library; and there was luxurious synagogue and other synagogues, all well-cared for. And the Jews prayed "Our eyes shall soon behold the return to Zion". This is the Yurburg I knew as a child. The Yurburg that flows in my blood. I love it with all my heart and soul. I long to see my Yurburg again - wander through its streets, its market, the yard of the gymnasium (high school) called "Herzl" and the "Tel Aviv Park"; to breathe fresh air, the air of my Yurburg. Twice I applied for an entry permit to Lithuania, and was refused both times. Now that the regime has changed, I shall probably be able to obtain it. And when I arrive at my Yurburg I shall look for the dear members of the community and if I fail to find them - for they are no longer - I shall lie down on their graves and cry for them. My Yurburg, my dear dear Yurburg - woe is me . . . !
Yurburg lies on the banks of the Neiman river and is surrounded by forests. Yurburg is near the settlements of Shaudina, (4 kilometers, 2 miles), Sudarg (8 kilometers, 5 miles), Skirstman (10 kilometers, 6 miles), Arzvilky (21 kilometers, 13 miles), Vilon (30 kilometers, 18 miles), Smiliniko (9 kilometers, 5 miles).
The towns of Pakalinishky (13 kilometers, 10 miles) and Gvavary (28 kilometers, 16 miles), were Jewish settlements before World War I, but they were destroyed during the period of independent Lithuania after World War I.
In the town there were wide streets with sidewalks and two public gardens (one by the name of "Tel Aviv"). Yurburg is located on the banks of the Neiman River; the streams of the Mitova and the Imstra also flow past the town. The Neiman River was heavily traveled between Kovno and Germany, it provided trade connections with East Prussia. Most of the cargo boats and ships on the Memel-Kovno line were owned by Jews. The brisk trade activity provided a source of income to the people of Yurburg.
The Jewish community dates from the fourteenth century, but actual data exist only from the year 1776. In that year 2833 Jews lived in Yurburg, out of a total population of 7391 people. The town is mentioned in the rabbinical responsa "Mehoram M'Lublin by the name of "Yurbrig." In 1831 when Yurburg became part of Lithuania with the third partition of Poland by the Russians, Ruben Rozenfeld, a resident of Yurburg, was charged of helping the enemy and hung.
In 1906, a fire broke out and 120 homes were destroyed.
Most Jews had to leave during World War I. In 1923 the Jewish community numbered 1887, out of a total population of 4409. The number rose in 1930 to 3000, about 700 families, but before the Holocaust, it had declined to 2000, about 600 families. The Jews traded in lumbers, chickens, fish, fruit and eggs, which were exported to Germany. Market days were Mondays and Thursdays. There were 24 fairs held during the year. In the center of the economy life was the Peoples Bank, which had 360 members in 1929. There was a mutual bank for loans and credit, the Komertz Bank, the private bank of the Shmaryahu Bernstein Family.
Jews emigrated to South Africa, Australia and America and some of them to Israel.
The Jews of Yurburg were proud of their very famous wooden synagogue (see above), which had a lovely Holy Ark, Bimah (platform for the prayer leader) and beautifully wood carved Elijah's chair. There also was a beit midrash There also were Jews in the towns close to Yurburg, who would come to Yurburg. Before the Holocaust, a total of 2000 Jews lived there. There were two public gardens, one named of "Tel Aviv," and a Hebrew gymnasium, named "Herzl."
On September 1941, all of the Jews of Yurburg were murdered and the synagogue was set on fire and destroyed.
The Neiman which started somewhere near the swamps of Pinsk, curved until it reached Lithuania, its waters lowering in accordance with regional conditions - high near Vilki and low near Yurburg. Near Sakirstamon the Neiman widens and reaches its peak in the northern part of Yurburg, while in the middle of the river there is a small island full of bushes and weeds and next to it a strip of soft sand which served as the town's "beach". This island served as a playing ground and we hid behind the bushes. We used to reach the island by swimming or by boat. We used to spend most of our summer holidays on the beach, and I remember that I also prepared for my high school graduation on the beach, combining memorizing the study material and resting.
The Neiman beach was called "Die Zarde", a name and term connected with the town's daily life, both in a positive and negative way. The curse "Arop de Zarde" was very popular among the "common people."
The Neiman was the main transport route from and to Yurburg. Twice a day the steamships would arrive or leave from Kovna and back. The trip took between 6 to 8 hours (up stream) and less down stream. These boats served for the transportation of merchandise and people, while the merchandise had storerooms and a deck area, the people merely had cabins. At night the cabins were used for sleeping as well.
I remember the rush for the carriages, close to the time of departure or arrival, when the children ran behind them shouting at the top of their voices. The whole family would dress up in order to greet the guests and they would walk together to the pier which served as a home port for the steamships.
These vessels - the steamships - were usually owned by Jews, the Levinberg, Feinberg, Karabelnik families and others.
In addition, transport ships would often pass through the Neiman, they were called "Boidkes" by the people and they transported merchandise to Memel while the main part of the ship was deep into the water, and when they returned, empty, the main part floated on the water while the steamship towed along the "boidke" up stream.
Another means of transport were the rafts - made of tree trunks, chopped down in the forests along the Neiman, tied together and sailing down the river as one unit up to Memel, as export merchandise. As children, we used to swim in the river, and hold on to these rafts for a number of kilometers.
In spring, when the ice melted, we would go to the banks of the Neiman and enjoy watching the blocks of ice floating on it. Often large ice blocks would slide on to each other - especially after the Mitova bend - and cause a huge blockage which would result in floods. Often these floods would inundate entire streets up to the town center. We often sailed in a boat up to the "Deitsche Gass", the German street, in order to buy bread at Sara's bakery shop called "Die Roreh" which was not flooded.
To the children the floods were a source of "entertainment", enabling them to play around in the water and sail on a boat or boards.
The inhabitants of the inundated streets suffered immensely. The water would flood the storerooms and cause serious damage. The government would allocate sums of money to compensate for the damage. I remember that my late father was always appointed by the authorities to head the committee for assessing the damage for payment of compensation.
When winter came, the Neiman would serve both as a skating area and as a path for public transport, when the buses, wheels covered in iron chains, would move on the frozen Neiman, which served as a replacement for the road.
In spite of all the joy and pleasure this route of transportion also claimed victims, and we distinctly remember the drowning of the three townspeople, prominent citizens.
The Mitova, the second largest river, was in fact the Neiman's stream flowing from the north and passing through the Lithuanian park until it flowed into the Neiman.
In the Holocaust the Germans "used" the Neiman's shore as a place for torturing the Jews, and we will speak about this later on.
In summer we sailed on the Mitova in boats with bars and we also bathed in the river. The third "river" - the Imstra - smaller than the previous one, blithely flowed along the Jewish park "Tel Aviv" and joined the Mitova. In the summer months its shallow waters were the place where the small children played, while in winter it became a place for ice-skating for the boys.
That is how the residents of Yurburg lived, they and their children, on rivers that became a source of living and of entertainment ... until the bitter end arrived for the town's Jews.
The town's name in Lithuanian was Jurbarkas. The Jews called it Yurburg or Yurbrik, a small town on the bank of the Neiman river, with a population of 6000, 2000 of them Jews.
The town was built along the right side of the Neiman river which flows into the Baltic sea. Like all the other little towns - Vilan, Sardnik, Vilki and others along the banks of the Neiman, Yurburg too made its living mainly from the river. However, Yurburg was the largest town in the area between Kovna and Yurburg, the most beautiful and the richest. Some of the owners of the steamships that sailed along the river were residents of Yurburg. There were passenger compartments on these ships, and cargo compartments for transports from Kovna, with the downward stream, up to Memel (Kalapeda, in Lithuanian), in the Korishi bay. Along the way the steamships would stop at towns and villages along the Neiman, take on and drop off passengers, and unload and load merchandise. The Yurburg shore served as a home port for all the ships. The mouth of the Mitova river was a natural port for the ships.
At all these towns Jews were employed as porters, workmen, coachmen or in any other service. The transport of course contributed to the development of wholesale and retail trade in which many Jews were active and on which they made a living.
It is impossible to think of Yurburg without thinking of the Neiman. The river was the thread connecting Yurburg with the world. The German border was close by, 9-10 kilometers (6 miles) and here was the little German town of Samalnikan (currently in the Memel district of Lithuania), which was the source of living of many Jews who lived in Yurburg. It is well-known that under such geographic conditions smuggling thrives, and the inhabitants on both sides of the border made a profit in this way. As the famous saying goes: "Yurburg you visited and from smuggling you profited. . .?"
The proximity to the German border not only gave the Jews of Yurburg the advantage of good-quality woven fabrics, excellent leather products and all sorts of haberdashery - but also lent the town a western European flavor of continuous renovation. Thus, Yurburg was more influenced by a higher standard of culture than the other towns in Lithuania, by technological achievements and by influx of radical ideas. Many Yurburg residents would visit Germany. The town's youngsters would go to study in western countries and return with a broad education and reactionary social ideas which were strictly forbidden in Lithuania under the totalitarian Russian monarchic regime.
In the period of 1905-6, when Russia was in an upheaval and in the throngs of the socialist revolution, the Yurburg youth took part in the revolutionary actions and raised its flag. Masses of Jewish youngsters took part in the demonstrations on the outskirts of Yurburg, carrying a red flag and singing revolutionary songs. The older generation - the generation of the fathers - was embarrassed by the outbursts of its rebellious sons, looking for freedom, and feared for their fate and the future status of the Jews. As in other parts of Russia, in Lithuania too the land was owned by nobles.
(Paritzes) and wealthy landowners. Most farmers were poor, without land and in fact they were serfs, who tilled the land of the nobles, in return for a small living for their kin.
The little town of Yurburg and its surroundings belonged to an area ruled by the Russian prince (Kaniaz) Vasilchakov, a member of the Romanov family which reigned over Russia for 300 years. Prince Vasilchakov used to come to Yurburg and spend the summer months there; he used to live in his beautiful summer palace, surrounded by a well-cared for park. In those months the Jews were of course not allowed to enter this park. However, during most of the months of the year the Jews too were allowed to enjoy the fresh air and beauty of the park. However, the Jews of Yurburg did not need the prince's park, for there was a beautiful landscape all around the town, plenty of water, trees, sun and fresh air. Moreover, when Lithuania eventually became independent (1918) and was liberated from the Russians, the Jews of Yurburg bought a spacious house surrounded by trees, a luscious green garden and they had their own park, which they called . . . . "Tel Aviv." The beautiful house was used for the Hebrew gymnasium (high school) which became the cultural center of the Jews of Yurburg, of which they were very proud.
In addition to the Hebrew gymnasium there were two elementary schools in town - in Hebrew and in Yiddish; "Talmud Torah", modern, in the framework of "Tarbut", two libraries - one called "Mendele" in Yiddish and the other - called "Brenner" which contained Hebrew books. There were religious and secular institutions in the town too.
The Jews of Yurburg were proud of the old synagogue, which many thought was built in 1790; the building and the Holy Ark were designed by Jewish artists, and they were much admired by those who saw them. Many people would come to Yurburg to see this original building and its expensive artifacts.
Jews lived in Yurburg for hundreds of years, they established good relations with the Lithuanians who lived there, and got along with them. The Jews of Yurburg were proud of their closeness to their German neighbors to the west and considered them cultural and enlightened, but they would soon be disappointed. When the so-called cultured German invader entered Yurburg in World War II - Jewish Yurburg was wiped out within months and turned into ruins.
Yurburg was one of the beautiful little towns along the bank of the largest river in Lithuania, the Neiman. The town was a haven of green, surrounded by orchards, fields, parks and pine tree forests. However, Yurburg's main attraction was the beauty of its rivers: the Neiman on one side, the Mitova on the other side and in the middle the Imstra river, flowing in a narrow stream, hidden at the foot of the mountain.
The rivers flowed peacefully during all the months of the year. However, in April when the ice melted, there was an outburst of strong currents of water which flowed over the bank and flooded broad areas. The water of the Neiman sometimes reached the streets of the town and caused heavy damage. Nevertheless, these floods had their blessing too. The turrets of water would bring along fresh soil that benefited the town's gardens.
There was a large park on a vast area of 200 dunam which was divided into two - one side was open to the public and the other side was declared a closed area, for this is where the palace of Prince Vasilchakov of the Romanov family, the Russian monarchy, was located.
At the end of the park stood the Russian-Pravoslavic church, owned by the Prince. Gold jewels, diamonds, precious objects and works of art were stored there.
Every Saturday evening prayers were held at the church. A wonderful chorus sang beautiful religious songs here, heard by visitors to the park who enjoyed the lovely melodies. Not far from the Prince's palace were the horses' stables as well as a small zoological garden with various wild animals.
Yurburg's Jewish population was composed of businessmen, shop owners, craftsmen, coachmen, porters, peddlers, workers etc. Some of the Jews were orthodox - "Mitnagdim" - and some of them were orthodox in the modern way. Yurburg's proximity to the German border - 9 kilometers (6 miles)from the little German town of Samalnikan was a window to the European life style.
Slowly the western European lifestyle was adopted by the town's Jews. They learned the German language and culture, wore clothes imported from Germany and bought German tools and products.
Most of the town's youth were intelligent and wanted to acquire knowledge and education. Up to World War I there was a Russian-Jewish school in town, Talmud Torah and a modern-style school. There was a library in the town too with a reading room for those who spoke Russian. In 1918, when Lithuania became independent, matters changed. A Jewish gymnasium (high school) was founded in which the study language in the first year was Yiddish, and afterwards a Hebrew - science gymnasium, founded by the "Tarbut" chain of schools. There were two libraries in town - "Mendele" with Yiddish books and "Brenner" with Hebrew books.
The town did not stand still. The youth was organized in associations and various circles, such as "Maccabi", the Scouts (Hashomer Hatzair), the Jewish Sports Club J.A.K. (Jewish Athletics Club), Hovevey Zion (Lovers of Zion), Tzeireh Zion, Poaleh Zion (Zionist Workers), circles of General Zionists, Revisionists etc. There were also cultural circles and a drama circle for theater lovers.
The average Jew was a Zionist and assisted in raising funds for Eretz Jisrael, such as Keren Hakayemet, Keren Hayesod and Kapai. There were righteous and philanthropic Jews, as witnessed by the various public institutions which were usually called "companies" such as Bikur Holim, Gmilot Hesed, Hahnasat Orhim, Tzedaka Gedolah, Maot Hitim, Hevra Kadisha etc.
The Popular Bank (Volksbank) was very important - it was the branch of the Central Bank (Zentralbank) in Kovna and its task was to assist in the Jewish cooperation. The bank assisted by extending loans for small-scale trade, to businessmen and other Jews who required a loan in times of need.
It is noteworthy that there were home-owners who fulfilled the obligation of "giving anonymously" ("Matan Beseter") and helped those who had become poor and required assistance. The needy asked for and received help, while one had to look for the poor.
The theater group arranged parties and performances a few times a year for the benefit of the needy, such as buying clothes for poor children, and supplying matzot and wine for Passover.
The obligation of Passover alms for the poor, for example, was faithfully observed.
One of the town's wealthy men, the lateYehuda Rabinowitz, founded the "Talmud Torah" for the poor children who received an orthodox and general education there, and were given a school uniform once a year.
I would like to mention my late father, Israel Levinberg, who was a well-known philanthropist and helped the needy and poor. In addition to being a "ba'al tzedaka" he also loved the people of Israel. He took an interest in people and inquired who had or had not and how it was possible to help the latter. All those who needed help, a loan or donation, would be given to him. He was a wealthy businessman, a steamship owner in Yurburg. Our home had a traditional-nationalist atmosphere and my father was known to support the Zionist cause, and therefore he was much respected in town.
The synagogues in town were as follows: a prayer house, a synagogue and small houses of prayer. The great synagogue was built in 1790 in the architectural style of the Middle Ages. The Holy Ark was made of wood and covered with carvings of various wild animals, birds and plants. The synagogue was famous in the Jewish world. Guests and tourists came to see the beautiful synagogue and its pictures were distributed all over the world.
There was no industry in Yurburg. On the other hand, Yurburg was an important center through which export goods passed from Lithuania to western Europe, mainly to Germany and Great Britain. The export products were: wood, linen, seeds, fodder, eggs, fruit, hides etc.
Import was also important: sugar, herring, salt, dried fruit, textiles, oil, plaster and chemical fertilizers.
The Neiman was an important factor in the development of the import/export business. Steamships and cargo ships sailed the river. Some of them carried passengers and others carried cargo from Yurburg to Kovna and back. Wooden barges sailed the river from Grodna through the Vilia and other rivers. Transport on the Neiman constituted an important source of employment for the people of the town - both Jews and Gentiles.
Some of the inhabitants owned steamships, which formed the basis for the town's economy.
Yurburg's tale is long, a town and a mother in Israel, a home for the hundred-year old Jewish community - a lively community looking towards the future. But all of a sudden it came to an end. Destruction came to Yurburg and the people of Israel.
The Jewish Yurburg was no more;
Till today it has its glory
But its Jews
Alas, they are no longer - they were destroyed and are no more
Dov (Berl) Levinberg, Montreal, Canada
Translated to Hebrew from Yiddish by E. Koplov
I had a dream. I return to the town of my childhood. Everyone there is still alive! It was not yet destroyed! The houses are standing and the Jewish inhabitants were not annhilated . . .
When did it happen? When?
My thoughts return to 1922. In that year my family and I returned to Yurburg from far-away Russia, from Panze, where we stayed as did most of the refugees of World War I.
Avraham-Yitzhak and Miriam Koplov
Shortly after I was born in Yurburg, World War I broke out. My late mother was afraid to remain in town and insisted we leave until matters calm down. Thus we abandoned the apartment where we lived. My parents fled to Russia, as far away as Kaluga and on to Panze. All the furniture and equipment remained behind in our apartment in Yurburg, many Hebrew and Russian books, a piano etc. My parents took us and fled, leaving our belongings behind in the apartment, hoping they would find everything back upon their return.
The stay in Russia was extended, just like the war, and it was almost natural that the apartment could not wait for us. The belongings in the apartment also slowly started "to move" to other apartments in town.
When we returned, many good people had a pang of conscience, and somehow some of the belongings were returned, the piano among them. We also found a good part of the precious books that belonged to my late father, and they are still in my possession.
Yurburg was already a town and mother in Israel in independent Lithuania. It was located on the bank of the Neiman, surrounded by forests and parks, covered in green and divided by two rivers - the Imstra and the Mitova. The Imstra - at the end of the Kovnar-Gass (Kovno Street) flowed into the Mitova which bordered on the area beyond the town. There on the other side was the Kaliani forest and further on to Samalnikan the Prussian border. The town's center was mainly populated by Jews: businessmen, teachers, builders, craftsmen and others.
The Lithuanians lived all around. In the 1930s the Lithuanians became nationalistic. The "Shaulists" organizations started to expand - in the early days it claimed to be a sports club and afterwards it turned into a club waging a nationalistic war against the Jews. In our time the Lithuanians were careful not to hurt the Jews, for they would be hit twice as hard in return. However, after a while the situation changed, as is well known.
As I said, the town was located on the bank of the Neiman, and this formed its character and its economy. Yurburg was a town through which the steamships passed which sailed on the Neiman from Lemel to Kovna and from Yurburg to Kovna and back. A large part of the various goods imported from Germany passed through the town, as well as the export of wood to Memel and Tilzit. Many people in town were employed in the activity on the bank of the Neiman. We recall the steamship owners and the Jews who made a good living from them. The steamships would also bring many tourists from Kovna and its surroundings in spring and summer. They came to attend the sports festivities which were held in Yurburg's parks. Even today one may meet Jews from Lithuania and find out they visited Yurburg on one of the trips to the festivities, and were enchanted by the lovely scenery and the beautiful girls of the town. . . .
There were two parks in town, one of the Hebrew gymnasium and the other in memory of the days of Prince (Kaniaz) Vasilchakov - a large park with remnants of the Prince's palace and many different buildings used by the Lithuanian gymnasium in our days. Various festivities would be held in this large park, evenings of dance, conventions etc.
The activity of the "Hahalutz" youth movement also took place in the parks, the games, meetings etc.
On the other side of the park there was a forest leading to Samalnikan, and the famous "Mushroom" forest, "Der Schwamel". The articles about the "Mushroom" told of many visitors, each of them carving their name on the "Mushroom" tree.
Life passed along slowly in town, only on market days did things become more lively. Then the town thronged with people; many farmers from the surrounding areas came to sell their wares, and also Jewish farmers from little towns in the area, who would bring along carts of apples and pears.
Everyone would gather in the area between the synagogues on Kovner Gass (Kovno Street). Everything was done directly, until some of the farmers would get drunk and start to become rowdy because they had drunk too much wine. This was the hour of triumph of Berle Malchik. The moment matters got out of hand, one did not call the Police. Berle was called to the street and he would catch two farmers by their neck and take them to the Police, return and catch the other hooligans. Berle was one of the town's porters - a group working mainly on the bank of the Neiman.
In the 1930s a new road was paved and a bridge was built over the Mitova, along the Raisner gass (Raisein Street), and this facilitated traffic from the town in the direction of Samalnikan, along the Prussian border. The road cut through the Kaliani forest.
It is along this road that the Germans arrived at the start of World war II. The road that in the good days was used by the inhabitants of Yurburg to go on outings and trips in the Kaliani forest, now became the Via Dolorosa - the path of suffering. In the war the Jews were chased into the Kaliani forest via this road and there many good people of the town were murdered and thrown into the pits they had to dig -men, women and children.
We shall remember them forever.
When I think of my town, which I left in 1935, on my way to Israel, a host of pictures come to mind which are connected to its general and its human landscape.
As I mentioned before, Yurburg was a town surrounded by greenery. It was graced by two parks. Three rivers - the Neiman, Mitova and the little Imstra added to its beauty. The Neiman also defined its shores as it served as a line of transport between Kovna, the capital of Lithuania and its center of trade, and Memel (Kalapeda) on the shore of the bay called "Kurischer Haf". Lithuanian import and export were conducted along the shores of the Neiman and formed the basis of the inhabitants' economy.
However, the Neiman was not merely a water line for trade - not merely so prosaic.
We remember its shores not merely as a station of embarkation. We spent our summer holidays on its shores. We sailed on boats. We swam in its water on the other side and we dreamt our dreams, some of them came true and others were shelved.
Some of our best friends met their death in the shadows of the Neiman when they sailed to meetings of an underground communist cell existing in our town.One of them, Shmuel Abrahamson, was a gifted young man and a brilliant student. He was my best friend, in spite of the differences in our views.
We always had a very good time when the ice and snow melted and the Neiman overflowed and came close to the town's houses, although they were two kilometers away from the bank. In this period the steamships would sail to Kovna not from the distant shore, but from another side of Kovna street, from the Mitova, which also flooded and served as a small port, or from the other side near the bath-house near the great synagogue.
We would go for a walk on the banks of the Neiman to see who had come and who was leaving. There were occasions when a steamship would sail in the dark of the evening to Kovna and the "captain" would become confused and sail the whole night without leaving Yurburg's "territorial waters"; and only when dawn broke would the "captain" find that his steamship was still in the vicinity of Yurburg although it had sailed all night long.
Ah - the steamships - how nice it was to sail on them. And how many unforgettable moments are connected with these sailings - school outings and ordinary trips to Kovna. I sailed many times in all the directions of the Neiman on missions on behalf of my late father. I was well acquainted with the shores of the Neiman and the little town along its borders. I loved the special atmosphere of sailing back and forth to Kovna. I saw many things on these sailings and now that I am writing these pages they come back to mind.
The activity on the banks of the Neiman occupied many of Yurburg's residents. Most steamship owners were Yurburg residents. Some families made a good living by transporting passengers on the Yurburg - Kovna line and towing barges from Samalnikan to Kovna and back.
In addition to the steamship owners, who were Jewish, many clerks worked as treasurers on the steamships. Among the steamship owners I also remember a respectable Christian, called Afsanov, who was always seen in Yurburg, but he had a large estate with a dairy in Raudondavaris, not far from Yurburg. This man was fluent in Yiddish and used to speak in this language to his customers.
Among the wealthy steamship owners were Israel Levinberg and the late Karabelnik. Their steamships "Liatova" and "Palanta" were beautiful and comfortable, and they would transport passengers on the Yurburg - Kovna line. We would joke among ourselves that one day the prow of the "Palanta" would be given to one of the daughters of the Karabelnik family as a dowry. We had no idea then of what would happen to the town and its Jews within a few years.
In addition to the steamship owners and their clerks, who were but few, Jewish porters worked on the shore. This was a group of people, strong young men, who loaded many tons of merchandise arriving at the town on their shoulders.
The town's daily life was connected with the three rivers close to and within Yurburg. In fact, only two of them could be called rivers: the Neiman, of course, and the Mitova, the third - the smallest - like those we have here in Israel in the valleys, was almost dry during most days of the year, but its river bed was deep and two bridges were built in order to cross over it. This was the Imstra, which in a way divided Yurburg into two and by chance, or perhaps not by chance, there was a certain demographic division on the two sides of this river; on one side the predominantly Jewish part, and on the other side - the Christian part with its Jewish minority. By the way, some of the town's poor people lived on the other side of the Imstra, at the end of Kovna street.
We used the Mitova for excursions and rowing. We had good times on its two banks and the thick forest. On one side the park with its broad lawns and visible and invisible paths, the ruins of the castle of Prince Vasilchakov, which lent the place majestic splendor, and the woods on the other side, which went on to the village of Kaliani on one side and almost up to Samalnikan on the other side. The youngsters were attracted to the park, and they held outings and performances there.
This place brings to mind two characters, an artist and a craftsman, who worked here. A sophisticated workshop for frames was left here from the time of the Prince, with excellent machines (very advanced for those days) where an old locksmith worked
He got it into his head to solve the problem of Perpetuum Mobile - The "Perpetual Motion Machine." We, children, would often visit his workshop and inquire about his progress. I remember a sort of machine he built with which he hoped to reach "Perpetual Motion". Had the Nazis not killed him, and not confiscated his tools and machines, he may still be standing there, trying to reach eternity! This, of course, is just a manner of speaking. The man was very old and he has certainly been buried deep under the earth for a long time.
The second one, an artist, was a sculptor. I forgot his surname. A Lithuanian. He lived in one of the beautiful houses at the end of the park. This house was also used for the offices of the Prince's family in the days of glory. I would go to this house from time to time and see small and large sculptures, very interesting.
Once he worked on a large sculpture, investing a lot of work in it. He finished it and when he was about to transfer it to have it cast in bronze, the sculpture collapsed and broke into pieces.
The two people I mentioned resembled each other in a way - the artist and the craftsman. Their ambition and their fate!
I have strayed to the town's periphery. Let us return to the park of our gymnasium. The "Tel Aviv" park. We were proud of the gymnasium. Here we were educated and absorbed the love for Eretz Yisrael, and here we were inspired to realize this love. At the gymnasium we became friends with all the good and precious sons of Yurburg who are with us here in Israel, and those who did not have the good fortune to come to Israel and who live abroad and are still thinking about aliyah.
Yurburg was a typical small Lithuanian town. It was remarkable for its lively, active, cultural Hebrew youth. They were happy young people. The "Tarbut" elementary school and the gymnasium, also founded by "Tarbut", were instrumental in forming the nature of the town's youth. The Zionist youth movements had many members in town: "Hashomer Hatzair", "Maccabi", "Hehalutz", "Beitar" and others.
Yurburg was famous for its old synagogue, built in the previous century. A wooden building, gloriously rising up at the end of the market square, next to the large prayer house, the new one. Here too was the small synagogue, set up by the Feinberg family and called "Feinberger's Kloiz". All the synagogues were full of worshippers on the Sabbath and holidays. The main street looked beautiful on the Sabbath and holidays when it was almost entirely inhabited by Jews - the town's Jews would walk along, surrounded by their children, to and from the synagogue to their homes. That was the time when the Jews would leave behind all their worries, about making a living and about bringing up their children, and would turn to the synagogue to celebrate the Sabbath or a holiday.
There was a Rabbi in town, Rabbi Avraham Diamant, a learned Torah scholar, but unlucky, he was blessed with two daughters who were grown-up, yet no husband was found for them. One sat at home and took care of her father and mother. She was hardly seen in town. The other fell in love with the town's physician - however, her love went unanswered, and he was unaware of it. From time to time she would walk up and down the sidewalk in front of the doctor's home, hoping she would at least see his face. In the end, she lost her mind . . . .
There was a Dayan (religious judge) in the town too, Rabbi Haim-Reuven Rubinstein.
He may not have excelled in the Torah, but he had splendor. He assisted many of us in going on aliyah. All those who were supposed to go to Israel in fictitious marriages received the required documents from him.
There were many good people in town, and many stories may be told about them that have not be forgotten.Yes indeed, it was a beautiful town and we were fortunate to have been able to absorb the good things it had to offer.
We remember Yurburg as Zionist in nature. However, on the Jewish street of Yurburg there was also a group of Yiddishists, the main nucleus of which was composed of the porters on the banks of the Neiman. They had social awareness and were deeply Jewish and stood out in public. In addition, there were a number of businessmen and clerks who also had "Volksist" inclinations and they formed the nucleus of the Yiddishist group, striving for "Daikait".
They set up the library called "Mendele" in Yurburg at the Rabinowitz home. This was a large library comprising the best of Yiddish literature. Many readers would come here and they would always find nearly every new book that was published.
The gymnasium, set up in Yurburg in 1921, started its activity by teaching in Yiddish. Its first principal, Mr. Efrat, was the son-in-law of the Zionist leader and the first Minister of Jewish affairs in the Lithuanian government - Dr. Shimshon Rosenbaum. Mr. Efrat was a staunch Yiddishist and together with the teacher, Mr. Lifshitz, who also was a Yiddishist, and joined the group of teachers at the gymnasium, they tried to preach Yiddishim, however to no avail. In the second year of the gymnasium's existence the public committee and the parents demanded that Hebrew be the language of teaching. And, with the assistance of the "Tarbut" center in Kovna, the Hebrew Gymnasium was founded and existed. The teacher Lifshitz left Yurburg.
Mr. Efrat too left Yurburg and started to teach at Vilkomir. The group of students who had to pass on to the eighth grade moved away with him. This did not exist in Yurburg yet. They finished their studies at Vilkomir. Mr. Efrat ended his Yiddishist career. He went to Israel and taught at the "Tichon Hadash" school in Tel Aviv. He was very popular with his students and admired by his colleagues. He passed away in ripe old age in Tel Aviv.
Indeed, Yurburg was known for its Zionist nature. The gymnasium and the school, with their teachers, placed their mark on the people and they were assisted by pioneer youth movements, and later on by an excellent training kibbutz. Hebrew was heard on the street. At that time Lithuanian was only spoken with the Lithuanians. The older people spoke Yiddish among themselves and the young people conversed in Hebrew.
We should also mention the Volks Bank, which was the only Jewish banking institution in town. Its management would be replaced each year in elections which took place at the general meeting. The discussions towards the general meeting would start a short while before it took place and would reach their peak during the meeting. Two parties contended - the Zionists and the Yiddishists. The discussions would usually end when the two groups would reach a compromise and conduct matters quietly and with mutual understanding.
In addition to the Yiddish library, "Mendele", the "Brenner" library was founded, a library which had mainly Hebrew books. A lot of energy went into the establishment of this library, and the main initiators were the late Eliezer Leipziger and my late mother Miriam Koplov. A large lottery was held in order to raise the money required for buying the books. Many people helped to distribute the cards and buy items for the lottery.
One of the many items in the lottery was a large painting by the former principal of the gymnasium, engineer Chen. This painting was connected to his affair with the daughter of the gymnasium's janitor, a beautiful red-head, who was his beloved, and who served as a model for the beautiful painting.
Significant sums were raised in the lottery, which served for setting up the library for those interested in Hebrew and Hebrew books; the library was the center of Zionist activity.
The "Hehalutz" training kibbutz was another beautiful corner in Yurburg. A large number of the members of this kibbutz at the time managed to come to Israel. One may meet them in Kfar Massaryk, Beth Zera, Kineret and other places.
Festive meetings would be held in Yurburg's parks, the park near the gymnasium, there was dancing and athletics, together with the sports organizations. Many people would come to Yurburg from Kovna. These tourists would arrive at the Neiman shore, would form into rows and march towards the town, accompanied by an orchestra led by conductor Mirsky, who issued his orders in a clear voice, keeping pace. As a matter of fact, he was in Israel and lived in Rehovot.
Such was beautiful Yurburg which we shall always remember!
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