Yurburg, or Yurbrik, as its Jewish inhabitants called it, was a beautiful town, not large, but compared to the other little towns in Lithuania, Yurburg was a town, a real metropolis
Yurburg was close to the German border, about ten kilometers from the little town of Samalnikan, in the Memel district. The Jews of Yurburg had close business ties with Germany and they were suspected of being "smugglers" -"Kontrabandisten" in Yiddish. The Yurburg residents would cross the border and arrive in Samalnikan in torn and faded clothes, and return dressed in new festive attire
Yurburg was located on the banks of the Neiman river, which originated in the Pinsk swamps. From here the water of the Neiman flowed slowly to a two hundred to three hundred meters wide river bed, until it flowed into the Korishi bay, near Memel, near the Baltic sea.
Yurburg was divided into two parts by the rivers which flowed into the Neiman. One of them was the Imstra which divided the town into two parts - west and east. The western part was called Uziaimstra, i.e. "beyond the Imstra." A wooden bridge was erected over the Imstra for the crossing of vehicles, at the end of Kovna street. A few small bridges (Klatkes) were used by pedestrians. In summer the inhabitants would stroll along the dusky paths, covered by tree branches and green bushes growing on both sides of the Imstra. In this shallow area water flowers and beautiful weeds grew. Ducks and geese frolicked in the waters of the Imstra to the joy of the little children, who chased them, their laughter rising up everywhere.
The Mitova was a real river, separating the town from the beautiful Kaliani woods to the west. The Mitova river flowed into the Neiman, and thereby formed a broad water harbor where the steamships would anchor during the freezing winter days. In summer it was very nice to bathe in the Mitova and sail on it in boats.
The youngsters would rent boats from the farmers and would go on excursions on its clear water in which the high tree branches were reflected, creating a mysterious atmosphere. We would sing romantic songs and accompany our singing with the mandolin. Till today my ears resound with the sentimental melodies we sang in those days.
Yurburg's pride was its main street, Kovna street (Kauno Gatve), built along the right side of the Neiman. A street full of traffic. Parallel to Kovna street are the Rasainou Gatve and the German street. A few other narrower streets crossed these streets vertically, to the north and south. The southern area, such as Yatkauwer Gass, Bad Gass and others were densely populated.
Kovna street had a beautiful urban look. Its two- storey buildings were made of brick, built in the Gothic style. All the town's streets were paved in stone. On Kovna street there were pavements made of wooden boards or tiny mosaics. Flower gardens graced the front of the buildings on Rasainu street and German street.
The shop windows displayed all kinds of industrial products such as clothing, shoes, household utensils and foodstuffs. In the center of town there were banks, pharmacies, hotels, an electrical power plant and flour mills. There were workshops in town as well, bakeries, a candy factory etc. The economy was mainly based on the businesses connected with the steamships which transported passengers and goods to Kovna and back to Yurburg. The Jews also exported farm produce, mainly to nearby Germany.
Yurburg's business center focused on the market square. The old synagogue - a wooden building constructed in 1790 - stood out here in its special form and style. Inside the synagogue was the striking Holy Ark, the pulpit and Elyahu's chair with their artistic ornaments carved in wood by unknown artists. The synagogue drew Jewish and non-Jewish tourists to Yurburg, from all over Lithuania and from abroad, who came to see the beautiful building and its artistic treasures. Not far from the synagogue stood the prayer house, a brick building used by worshippers and Torah scholars. For many years there was a "yeshiva" here and in the last years only a small yeshiva, in addition to the general studies.
The Jews of Yurburg took care to observe their forefathers' tradition. At the end of the town's streets they set up "eruvs" to carry their belongings on Sabbath.On Shabbat they observed the Shabbat rest, but some of them went for a stroll in the streets and parks. The youngsters played soccer.
Yurburg was a clean and quiet town. The Police insisted cleanliness be observed in the streets. Those who did not observe police instructions received a steep fine.
It was nice to live in Yurburg. The inhabitants loved their town and were proud of it.
On the other side of the Neiman river, opposite Yurburg, was a small town called Shaodina (Sudina), where only a few Jews lived. Some of them dealt in trade and were shop owners and others worked the land and grew poultry, sheep and cattle. There was no school at Shaodina, therefore the parents had to send their children to the schools in Yurburg. Each day the parents would transport the children on a boat or ferry to Yurburg. On the ferries horses too were transported tied to a carriage, and goods and animals. Only in winter when the Neiman was covered by a thick layer of ice was it easy for the town's inhabitants to cross the river. They lived in symbiosis with Yurburg and depended on it for their daily life, making daily use of its economic and cultural institutions. In winter Shaodina became an inseparable part of Yurburg, which in a way was its parent town.
The summer of 1914.
Immediately after the Shavuot (Pentecost) holiday many Jews in Yurburg used to go to summer resorts (Datshas in Russian), mainly to Kaliani, a Lithuanian village in a pine forest. At these resorts the Jews would rest from work, relax and forget their daily worries. They would rent an apartment or room at the farmers' homes and spend the warm summer months here. They would bring along very few belongings (Baviches in Yiddish), only the strictly necessary, such as bed linen, cooking utensils, clothes - that was all.
Two carriage owners (Balagules in Yiddish ) were available to those going on summer holidays - the first was "Boreh Kliatscha" (the horse creator in Yiddish), and the other Yasha Noch. Each of them had a large carriage with thin horses.
The wealthy vacationers would rent a carriage from Shlomke Hadas or Bezalel the coachman (Zalel dar Vorman in Yiddish) in order to reach the Kaliani village in comfort. Most vacationers were women and children. The men would join their families only on the weekend, and they would spend two to three days together in the forest.
The vacationers hoped to strengthen their lungs in the pine forests with the fresh and pure air. Many people in Lithuania, particularly in Yurburg, suffered from lung diseases, apparently caused by the cold and wet climate. Indeed, a government sanitarium was set up in Yurburg for lung patients.
The food at the summer resorts mainly consisted of dairy products - fresh milk, straight from the cow's udders, white cheese and cream. Tova, who sold beigels (Toive die Beiglantzia, in Yiddish) would breathe deeply and bear the heavy burden of bringing fresh beigels to the vacationers.
-"What can I do, Kinderlech, what can I do?" - Toive would say. I need the income, I have to make a living . . . and indeed there was work - for "man was born to toil". . . And Toive would sigh deeply and continue to bring beigels and rolls each morning, to the delight of the vacationers.
- How would we spend the time at the summer resort?
- Very simple.
In the Big Park, 1917
Standing from the right: Yehuda Gratner, (Vistor),
Michael Tarshesh, Avraham Altman.
Sitting from the right: Yehoshua Glazar, Yeshiahu Segal, Zevulan Paron.
At the departure point on the Neiman River
Flood in Spring in Yurburg
We would string a hammock between two pine trees, lie in it, swing along and inhale the fresh air. From time to time we would get off the hammock and take a look at the samovar, whether we had to add a few acorns (Shiskes in Yiddish) to warm the tea. Tea was the most important item on the summer resort's menu. All day long we drank tea, with or without biscuits and jam. That is how the Jewish women would spend their summer holidays - without a care in the world.
The older children and youth would stroll happily in the woods, gather mushrooms and black berries (Schwartze Yagdes in Yiddish). Each day the vacationers would go down to the Neiman, swim and sunbathe. After the swim they would rest and rest again - and that is how the day passed. In the evening they would listen to the sound of birds and drift off in dreams. Some vacationers brought along a record-player to the woods and the sound of music would go up into the air of the forest and the echo would be heard all over.
The children would play games, dance and have fun till late in the evening.
Each year a woman from Yurburg would come to the Kaliani resort to spend the holiday there. This woman was "aguna" (deserted). Her husband had deserted her and she did not have any children. The woman would bring along a bag full of "tales" to the resort . . . arduous love letters from the days of her youth. The woman would read these letters to herself in a loud voice and recite them, so that the vacationers would come close and listen to her excited reading. Sometimes the reading of the letter would turn into a pathetic recital or dramatic game. The vacationers stood around her and listened attentively to the reading of the arduous love letters, unfulfilled love, love full of disappointment. And some of the women who listened to her reading would shed a tear "how sad", how sad" they would say.
However, in general, the vacationers would enjoy themselves . . . for this was a free performance
In mid-summer the corn in the fields would grow ripe, and the farmers would start the harvest. The farmers would leave in groups to harvest the crop - the wheat and rye. The village women would follow them, make bundles and gather them to the barn. The farmers would help each other. This joint effort would be called "Talke" by the Lithuanians.
In the evening, after the hours of hard work, the farmers would meet, eat and drink vodka . . . and when the intoxicating liquor would go to their head there would be fun . . . men and women would start to sing and dance to the sounds of the mouth organ (harmonicas). Thus they would no longer be tired and would frolic and dance till the wee hours of the morning .
The Jewish vacationers would join in the farmers' fun, join the circle and sing and dance till late at night
Tu- o- lah-tu-tu-to
Tu- o- lah-tu-tu to
The vacationers also used their stay at the farmers villages for a "real purpose". . .
They would buy cherries from the farmers, berries and fruit in season, such as apples, pears, plums etc. They would cook the fruit on a primus stove, to prepare jams and all sorts of desserts (eingemachtes, in Yiddish).
Thus the vacationers would prepare the jams which they would use all year round, as a supplement to tea or to offer to guests and also to spread on bread. When the vacationers returned home they took along tins of jams and other delicacies. This was an excellent way to spend the time . . .
But, as we all know, all good things come to an end. And so did the summer holidays. The vacationers spent two months in the woods, relaxed and had a good time. Now they had to go home, full of pleasant memories.
On Tisha beAv (Ninth of Ab) all the vacationers were back home and observed the fast. The atmosphere of Tisha b' Av - the day of the destruction of the Temple - was felt in every corner of the home and the Jewish street. On this sad day the Jews would go to the cemetery, recite "Yizkor" and remember their dear ones, parents and relatives.
And I remember that after the beautiful summer of 1914, suddenly days of concern and sorrow came.
There were rumors in town that war was about to break out. - "War?" - "Yes, war". No one in town knew what the reason was for the war. Had it already broken out? Who would fire the first bullet and why? Everyone talked and guessed, but they did not really know what was going on. The rumors were baffling and the people were terrified. And there was a jester, the town's "politician" who explained the reasons for the war to the Jews, as follows: "A German soldier shot a dog of the Russian Czarina and killed it . . . "So, what do you think - is that not enough reason for war?" . . .. and then there was another Jew, also a "clever man", who said with certainty - "The war will be short because the "Ponke-ganev" (a word of abuse for the Russian soldier) will not fight for a long time for Nicolai (the Russian Czar) . . . why should he? Therefore the war will end soon . . .. "
Jokes apart and reality apart. And indeed the reality was bitter. The Jews got more terrified by the minute. They are already recruiting to the army and what does one do at such a time? .. .. The Jews, as is well-known- are always between the devil and the deep blue sea. . .
A day passed, two days, and people started to flee, to get away from the German border and also a forced "escape" . . . to send the Jews away from the German border deep inside Russia.
Thus a new chapter started for the Jews of Yurburg. A long time passed before my dear Jewish neighbors returned and gathered to rebuild their town together and form a Jewish community, which became an example between the two World Wars. This went on till World War II broke out, when, as is known, the Jewish community of Yurburg was wiped out (1941) and no longer exists
I shall never forget my dear Yurburg, as long as I live.
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