[Pages 117 - 122]
by Aliza Leipziger-Porat
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
I loved Yurburg. I always pronounced the name of our town with great reverence and pride. I loved everything about it - the rivers, the lush greenery, the parks and fields, the pine forests with their flora and fauna. I even loved the reptiles and insects, and all the different kinds and colors of mushrooms. I was always enchanted by the view. There is no sight more beautiful than the river Neiman, flowing slowly along the rows of trees and shrubs on both sides. I remember that as children we used to sail the river on boats, a sort of green crown above our heads, sunrays peeping though the clouds and caressing our cheeks The song of birds also warmed our hearts. A sweet smell of flowers growing in the fields filled the air. Oh, how lovely!
In winter the rivers froze and were covered by a thick layer of ice. We would skate on the ice and slide down the snow-covered hills in small snow sleds, our cheeks stinging from the cold. The air was cold and fresh and our hearts filled with a beautiful feeling. We had four seasons in Lithuania, our home country, and each season had its own charm. I remember that as a pupil at the Hebrew Gymnasium, I would always look at the beautiful landscape of Yurburg. After some time, when I had already left Yurburg and gone to stay at the 'Tarbut" Teachers College in Kovna, and also when I was a teacher in little Lithuanian towns, I would long for my town and be happy to return to it, spend my holidays there and enjoy the beautiful view, which I remembered so well from my childhood. True, when I taught at a certain town I saw beautiful views and enchanting greenery all around, but they did not capture my heart.
I was attracted to "my own landscape," felt particularly close to it, a certain intimacy that was different from the feelings I had in other places.
When I had a day off from my studies, I would get up early in order to stroll all by myself along the fields and forests that were damp from the night's dew, till I would arrive at the giant "mushroom tree" that would cast its shadow on a hot day over the tired pedestrians who had come a long way. In that early morning hour I could feel the world awakening and I was overcome by emotions
I loved to gather mushrooms. I was an expert at distinguishing between the different kinds of mushrooms and called them by name. I was not in the habit of picking flowers, for it was a pity to see them wilt instead of enhancing the beauty of the landscape. When I returned home, after a tiring but pleasant walk, I would share my feelings with my friends. I remember their reaction - "you are a poet, or you will be a poet" I regret to say that their prophecy and that of my literature teachers did not come true. I continued to love nature and be enchanted by its beauty, but I kept my feelings to myself and did not put them on paper.
At the end of town there was a beautiful and well-cared for park, crossed by the Mitova river. Next to this river stood a glorious palace built by the Russian Kaniaz (prince) Vasilshikov, where he and his family spent the summer months. In the other seasons of the year he lived in Peterburg. The prince and princess would organize splendid parties when they stayed at the palace to which many guests were invited, but no Jews
One day a luxurious carriage drawn by two big horses stopped next to our home, the home of my parents. In the carriage sat the prince's messengers, who had come to invite my mother, Deborah-Lea Leipziger, to the palace. My mother, who was a very gifted seamstress, was asked to sew dresses for the princess and her daughters.
One day my father, Yitzhak Leipziger, was also invited to come and paint all sorts of decorative paintings at the palace. My father had the soul of an artist. He knew how to paint ceiling and floor paintings in beautiful colors, true craftsmanship. He was quite famous. He was often invited to Germany to paint the walls of public buildings and the homes of the rich. He would work from morning till night, together with his assistants. We, my sisters and brother saw very little of him at home, especially in the peak years of his work, when he was still in good health. After a while, he contracted cancer and his health deteriorated by the day. In spite of this, he continued to work, when he could no longer leave his studio at home and would paint billboards, panels, walls and ceiling decorations with truly mathematical accuracy.
He developed a special technique with his intuition. The walls of our home were also covered in paintings he had created. He was a very gifted artist.
I remember a small violin hanging on the wall of my parents' bedroom. I had forgotten this for many years. Once, on one of those evenings when former residents of Yurburg gathered together, one of them came up to me and said - "do you know that your father made a violin and played it very well?" I did not know what to reply. I was astonished at myself for forgetting such an important detail - testimony to my father's musical talent. And my friend from Yurburg went on to praise my parents, brother and sisters.
I have never seen my parents sit still. My mother would sew till all hours of the night,
for she had a lot of work. There was a very long queue waiting to be accepted by her. The "customers" would sometimes wait for months, although she had a number of assistants and apprentices who learned to sew with her. My oldest sister, Rachel, worked together with my mother, and after my sister Hannah completed cutting and sewing courses in Kovna, she also joined my mother's sewing workshop and took a successful part in the work. It was the dream of every girl that when she would grow up my mother would sew her wedding dress. Indeed my mother, kind soul that she was, would try to accommodate all those who approached her. My mother invested exquisite taste in every task she had to carry out and did so with all her heart. Her customers were very fond of her; they would talk to her and cling to every word she said, for my mother was a clever woman with a wonderful sense of humor. Gentiles
too were among her customers and she received them very graciously.
The more I think about my mother, the more I admire her. One of the most sacred missions in my mother's life was to give a good education to her children; I studied at the "heder" and afterwards at the Russian school. At that time Lithuania was of course under Russian rule. The first letter I wrote in my life was in the Russian language. My mother also saw to it that I studied music, and sent me to study the piano. For a couple of years I studied with a piano teacher, although I was not particularly talented in music.
In August 1914 World War I broke out. The Germans invaded Yurburg and conquered it. My parents were somehow convinced that bad things would happen to us under German rule and decided to escape. "Where to?" - this they did not know. My grandfather - my mother's father Dov Berlowitz- came in a carriage drawn by one horse and all of us sat down in it, with all our belongings, and left for Arzovilki, not far from Yurburg. We traveled by night and when dawn broke we arrived at the little town which was buried in mud. We were told that Zvi-Herman Shapira, founder of the Keren Hakayemet, was born here, and the townspeople were very proud of this fact. The late Shapira was a well-known scientist in the line of mathematics, and was a professor at Heidelberg Uiversity in Germany. A building was put at our disposal in this little town, it was actually the frame of an unfinished building. However, even before we managed to remove our belongings and take a rest we already heard the approach of horses. These were horsemen of the German army and in the meantime, in the uproar, my mother had disappeared - "where is mother?" - we asked, but she was gone. After two hours she returned with good news - she had found a Rabbi who agreed to teach my brother Eliezer who was two years older than I, Jewish studies - I, said my mother, would be taught by my sisters. My sister Rachel would teach me Russian and my sister Hannah would teach me mathematics. That is how my mother temporarily solved the problem that worried her most, namely our studies. As far as I remember we remained "stuck" in Arzovilki, the little town with its two dozen families, for a whole year. From Arzovilki we went to Raseiniai, which was a real town compared to Arzovilki. In Raseiniai we had a relative, a woman who was a teacher by profession. As the schools were closed in those days, the teacher agreed to teach my brother Eliezer and myself all the study material, until better days would come my mother sewed and took care of the household.
After a while we went back to our home in Yurburg and everything returned to normal. Once again we had an orderly home. We were a happy family, but my mother always thought of others, the poor and needy. As I was the youngest of the family, my mother would send me every Friday on missions of "matan beseter" (anonymous donations) to the needy - challot (Sabbath bread) for the Sabbath for some, fish for others etc. - always with a warm heart and very generously. We had all we needed at home. In summer my mother would already prepare food for winter and in winter food for summer. The house was clean and well cared for, everything was in its place and in good taste.
Family of Aliza Leipziger-Porat
Members of my family, Father, Mother, my sister Chana, next to my
father is my brother Eliezer, and my suster Rachel and me.
My mother was a clever woman, always looking for more knowledge. She loved to read, read the daily paper in Yiddish in order to be up to date on what went on in the world, but did no forget to read the "romantic serial" in the paper my mother was an ardent reader. She read all kinds of books and novels, but also read "Tzena u/re'ena" (special book for Jewish women) on the Sabbath. My mother was observant. She observed the Sabbath and kashrut rules. My father was even more observant in carrying out religious duties. In spite of the observant atmosphere at home, our home was open to the spirit of the time. How happy she was, my mother, when she heard that her son Eliezer, the lawyer, had been appointed Principal of the Hebrew Gymnasium in Yurburg there was no end to her excitement . . . she always strove to enable her children to acquire an education and now her efforts had borne fruit
On the Sabbath and religious holidays we would go for a walk in the large park, to enjoy a restful Sabbath and holiday in nature. On religious holidays we would receive
guests at home and have a good time together. We always lived with others and among others, and never remained aloof.
One morning, very suddenly, the Nazi hooligans took over Yurburg, and the people of our town and the members of our family were doomed to die in all sorts of strange ways - as is well known. The Jews of Yurburg were murdered they were led to the forests near Samalnikan, and to the cemetery and other places where they died a cruel death
In the first days of the Nazi invasion they left my mother and sister Hanna alive and ordered them to sew uniforms for the Germans; day and night they would sew, day and night, terrified. They sewed and sewed until the bitter end . . .
I heard this terrible story after a while from my cousin Shlomo Goldstein, the only survivor in my family . . .
There are not enough words to speak about my home in Yurburg, the town where I was born.
My family home is like a fairy tale in my mind, that was destroyed and is no more.
Now everything has been wiped out, my whole family and the entire town which I loved so much and I, the only one to remain, I am still alive.
I was fortunate enough to go to Israel. I built a home at kibbutz "Afikim" together with my beloved Yizhak.
For many years I was a teacher in Israel to a generation that continues and lives on forever
[Pages 123 - 128]
By Bluma Hislovitz-Feldman
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
A long time ago we had a garden in Yurburg, the town where I was born, a large garden with many fruit trees. On the other side of the garden there were parcels of land where vegetables were grown. From the early days of childhood I remember the garden; I can see the large trees, blooming in many colors in spring, full of fruit in summer, bare in fall and crowned with snow in winter. I was deeply conscious of the silence of the garden in summer, the whistling of the leaves in fall, the secret whispering sounds - all the occurrences of nature when the seasons changed- all this is deeply engraved on the memories of my early years.
I loved our home and garden. I knew all its paths and the hidden corners where I sometimes found refuge.
A large gate opens onto Kovna street, the main street of our town, and leads to a dirt road which led to our house at the end of the garden. It was a handsome country home, original in style. We did not inherit the house and garden around it from our ancestors.
I learned from what my parents told me that a German nobleman, called Rauwald, built it for himself and invested a fortune in it, to improve it inside and outside. However, somehow, things took their course, the house was up for sale, and my father - the late Shahna - bought the house and everything around it.
I felt extremely fortunate to live in this house, and especially to spend time in the lovely garden. My friends often paid us a visit, we used to stroll in the garden and had a good time in the corners of our estate. I almost forgot to mention our dog Sarik, who was tied to a rope and guarded our property. Thus we lived a country life inside a Jewish town.
My late mother, Zelda, worked in the corners of the garden, where we set aside parts of land for a vegetable garden, she bent over the flower beds, together with her maid, a foreign woman. My mother loved to work in the garden and spent many days and evenings in it, hot summer days and rainy and cold winter days. My mother came from the country and she found it difficult to get used to city life. As all Jewish women in those days, she was diligent and devoted to her family and household. However, above all, she loved to work in the vegetable garden which was at the center of her life and also constituted a source of living. To us, children, she would repeatedly say: " in our time there were no schools and gymnasia, and we could not acquire an education and fill our heads with knowledge, but you can do so. Learn - "Lernt, Kinderlech"!" (i.e. you must study, girls). And indeed we studied, thanks to our mother, for we knew that she worked hard for our benefit and looked after us with devotion. Our father was occupied with his business affairs, and most days of the week he did not take part in the daily family life.
Thanks to mother, who took care of all our needs, we were able to make progress in our studies, even when an economic crisis befell the Jews of Lithuania in general and our family in particular. These were difficult days, days of need and distress for many people in Yurburg. The Lithuanian government started to impose trade restrictions on the Jews, so that many of them were left destitute.
In those days we were forced to rent a wing of our house to the principal of the Hebrew Gymnasium, Mr. Mordehai Teichman, and his family. My mother regretted this, for she was used to space and privacy, but we, children, considered it a great honor to live close to such an important person as the principal of the Gymnasium.. . .
On the other hand, my mother was very happy that the rent paid for our studies at the Gymnasium. My sister, Jaffa, "Sheine" in Yiddish, who was a year older than I, and I studied together at the primary school and gymnasium. We loved each other very much and were very close. My mother was pleased to see her daughters make
good progress in their studies.
Every achievement in our studies and every time we went up to a higher grade, i.e. made progress in our education, my mother was very happy and glad.
When the economic situation in Lithuania grew worse and the situation became desperate, the sources for covering the expenses involved in our studies at the gymnasium, which were very expensive, dried up and then my father decided to sell the house and garden, and move to a smaller and more modest home. My mother, who was extremely preoccupied with the continuation of our studies at the gymnasium, had no choice but to agree to sell the house. "Studies are more important," she said. My mother was deeply sorry to leave her home and garden, for which she had cared so diligently, and her sole consolation was that her daughters would study at the gymnasium and acquire a broad education, as was necessary at the time.
The days at the gymnasium were the most happy period of my life. I also took an interest in the social life at the gymnasium and liked it very much: lectures and parties, study circles and above all- reading books. Apparently my soul longed for solitude. The house, the garden, the abundant nature around us contributed to this.
In the framework of this story, I should also mention the activity of the "Hebrew Scouts" youth movement, as it was called at first, and later on "Hebrew Scouts Hashomer Hatzair." My sister Jaffa and I belonged to the movement almost from its beginning . The movement brought us together. We were groups of youngsters who were linked by bonds of friendship. The movement educated us to do good, and here we acquired nationalistic and humanistic values. For a while I was a madricha (youth leader) of a group of "haverim" (friends) some of whom went on aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, to live there and take part in its building. There have always been ups and downs in life, happy occasions and sad ones. And one day, all of a sudden, a terrible tragedy happened to us. It was a tragic event which I shall never forget.
We had five children in our family - the oldest sister, Chaya, two sons, and again two daughters - Jaffa and I, the youngest. My oldest brother was called Menahem (Mendel in Yiddish) and the other was called Moshe. They were both healthy, strong young men, members of the "Maccabi" sports club in Yurburg. They were both successfully active in various branches of sports. Moshe was an excellent soccer player. He was a member of team A and was the best player in it, he was much admired on the soccer field. He was extraordinarily fast, flexible and knew how to outwit the opponent, an admired sportsman.
Maccabi was proud of him. He was the outstanding player on the team. One day a match took place between "Maccabi" and a Lithuanian soccer team. The game was full of tension and very fierce, as it was decisive as to who would be the champion team in town. Moshe remained cool; he was full of self-confidence and courage, as usual; he protected his goal and warded off the ball of the competing Lithuanian team; the goal of this team was in steady danger in the game. The players of the Lithuanian team knew Moshe and were aware of his power and ability, therefore they were on the look-out for him all the time and bothered him. When Moshe burst through the opponent's goal - the Lithuanian players jumped on him, and one of them, a cruel young man, threw him to the floor and strangled him - - -
It was a terrible tragedy to our family. His friends at "Maccabi" were deeply shocked and all the Jews in Yurburg and Lithuania were very sad. The Jewish press in Lithuania gave extensive coverage to the obnoxious and unforgettable murder. This added a black page to the relations between the Jews of Yurburg and their Lithuanian neighbors. My mother was shattered by this terrible tragedy. She could hardly overcome the disaster. Her hair grew white and she was depressed. Although she continued to work in the vegetable garden, it was not the same as before. The "Maccabi" federation in Lithuania set up a tombstone on Moshe's grave, and many attended the unveiling ceremony. This is what was written on the tombstone:
Our heroic and modest friend
Who was slain
By a cruel hand
For "Maccabi" and its honor
And the splendor of his youth
Was darkened forever
On 20 Sivan 5686
May his blood that was spilt
Be the seal of "Maccabi" for faith and innocence
For people and country
May God protect his soul
With the souls of our brothers
Who die for you
Since always and ever
When my sister Jaffa and I finished our studies at the Hebrew Gymnasium in Yurburg, at the end of the twenties, we left our home and place of birth, carrying with us memories of joy mixed with sorrow.
I studied at the Lithuanian university in Kovna, and my sister Jaffa - at the "Red Cross" medical institute, where she trained to be a nurse. We both strove to realize our dream to go to Eretz Yisrael. When we got married, we decided to go on aliyah. I was the first to go, and a year later (1935) my sister too emigrated, after finishing her training in the "Hehalutz" movement.
My sister Jaffa built her home in Pardes-Hanna and she is a nurse at the "Kupat Holim" (General Health Fund) of the Histadrut (Workers Union); she brought up her children to be respectable persons in the midst of a happy family.
I built my home in Tel Aviv, the large Hebrew city - the commercial and cultural center of the entire country. When my only daughter was three years old, I went to visit my family in Lithuania; I enjoyed the beautiful green landscape of summer, the fresh forests and rivers full of water.
However, I walked among the people as a stranger in the country where I had been born and raised. I asked myself: "what am I doing here?" And I quickly returned to my own home and country. My daughter presently has a son and daughter and we- two grandchildren, one of them is an aspiring pilot in the IDF Airforce while I am writing these lines (1976).
The moment we left Lithuania we cut off the physical ties, but the family tie always linked us to it; we left parents behind, a married sister, a brother and quite a few relatives. When World War II broke out and Hitler's army invaded Lithuania, their destiny was as bitter as that of the other Jews in town; they were all murdered by the beasts, and their place of burial is unknown. My oldest sister had four daughters, all of them perished in the terrible Holocaust. The only one to be saved was my brother Mendel, who was an officer in the Soviet army when the Germans invaded Yurburg. He went to Russia with his unit and remained there till the end of the war. After many hardships he found his wife and only son in Tiflis in Grusia (Russian Georgia), a war invalid. After the war my brother Mendel returned to Lithuania and lived there. He did not have the good fortune to come to Israel, as he had hoped and planned. He died and was buried in Vilna.
The dim sounds and views of Yurburg, which was a world full of experiences to us, are slowly vanishing, and here today we live our lives which are entwined with the life of our country. To us the development and achievements of our country are the revenge on the gentiles who inflicted the Holocaust on our town and all the Jews of Lithuania.
As long as we live on this earth we shall never forget the cruelty and degradation of the Nazis and their Lithuanian helpers who destroyed our beloved community.
[Pages 129 - 141]
By Shoshana Petrikansky-Kanishinsky
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
I have a bad conscience - and I feel guilty - for not having written many years ago
about my life in Yurburg, where I was raised and grew up. Time takes its course. The personal and family events, the landscape and surroundings get blurred with the years that pass, and even the most striking personal happenings disappear as if they had never taken place. I have to make an effort, therefore, to try to bring back the memory of some of the impressions that are still engraved on my brain and conscience.
It was therefore a very good idea on the part of the "Association of Former Residents of Yurburg" to decide to publish a memorial book about wonderful Yurburg in order to remember and record our memories the town, its residents and life, the Jewish town that was and is no more.
My family - the Petrakanski family - was a large and well-known family in Yurburg, consisting of nine people - parents and seven children, four sons and three daughters.
My mother's name was Malka and my father's name was Yehuda, but everyone called him Alter.
My sisters - Clara and the late Rachel. My name is Rosa or Roska, as my friends and acquaintances used to call me. In Israel I converted my name to the Hebrew name Shoshana. The names of my brothers - Zevulun, may he have a long life, and Yacov, Moshe and Yitzhak, blessed be their memory. My mother, Malka, was a woman of average height, with pale and fine features, soft-spoken and with a perpetuous smile on her lips. I have never heard her raise her voice at her children. My father, on the other hand, was a strong man, dark-skinned, broad-shouldered, good-natured. His prime concern was to look after his family. He always wanted the best for us. My parents were a truly ideal couple. We were a close-knit and happy family. Everyone took care not only of himself but also of the others. We grew up in a warm atmosphere, pleasant and calm. We absorbed important and useful values from our parents, which molded our personality and served as a guiding light throughout our life. My parents were virtuous people, hospitable and gracious, and therefore our home was always full of guests and friends, who would come to ask for advise and assistance or merely for a friendly chat; usually boys and girls would come.
We lived in the center - on Kovna street, the town's main street - named after the capital of Lithuania in those days. Our house stood opposite the main square near the great synagogue, which was famous all over Lithuania, and the prayer house. Many Jews from Lithuania and other countries would come to see the synagogue with its beautiful architecture, built in 1790, a wooden building which looked like an Indian pagoda. The special features of the building were the pulprit, holy ark, and Elyahu's chair - made of wood carvings of animals, flowers, birds etc.
The surroundings of our home were not always quiet. Once or twice a week farmers from the area would come to the square on the other side of the street to sell their wares to the town's Jews. In those days the square was full of people and when the farmers would get drunk on alcohol the "goyim" (gentiles) would be merry and the Jews had nothing to lose from the noise and uproar.. . .
Let's speak about our home again - a striking building rising slightly above the area around it. A number of stairs led to the main entrance at the front of the house; there was another entrance as well, which led to the house through a moderately-sized yard, with a stone floor and with a fence around it. We always had various kinds of flower beds in the yard, which had a wonderful smell in spring and summer. My mother took good care of these flower beds. The house was not particularly large and when guests would come to visit it was rather crowded.
The house included four living-rooms and a large kitchen. One of the rooms was particularly large and it served as a reception room. In the corridor on the side of the yard stairs led to the second floor. There was a corridor there with cupboards. An average-size room too, which was furnished and here the girls stayed. From the window of the room the square could be seen with its buildings and also-further away- the Neiman river and the area beyond it. I loved my room, where I would host my girlfriends, and where we would do our homework - and where we would, of course, talk, laugh and spend many wonderful hours together, the beautiful years of our youth.. . .
Yurburg was known as a town of trade and crafts. As it was situated on the banks of the Neiman river, most of its merchandise was connected with business that had to do with the large river. Many tradesmen had steamships, called "Dampfer" in Yiddish.
Instead of a railway-track the Yurburg traders had a "Neiman track." The steamships would transport passengers and goods, mainly from Kovna, along the river, up to Yurburg and from Yurburg to Memel (Klaipeda) on the shores of the Baltic sea, to the west of Lithuania. The Yurburg traders exported farming produce and imported industrial goods from Germany. The trip from Yurburg to Memel was very interesting. On one side of the Neiman there was a Lithuanian area and on the other side a German area with the large city of Tilzit and not far from there Koenigsberg, previously the capital of Prussia.
The parents of my friends Judith and Sheinke Levinberg owned steamships, so did other Jews in Yurburg, as well as Christians who were partners in the ownership of the steamships. All the business activity on the steamships and around them was the economic basis of the Jews in Yurburg. As it was said: "the Jews of Yurburg live on the Neiman and make a living from the Neiman.." . .
We, children, loved the Neiman and mainly loved to sail on the steamships. I remember the first day I sailed together with my parents to relatives in Kovna. It was wonderful. A lovely experience. The Jews from Kovna also liked to visit Yurburg on festive occasions and just for a rest.
My father was a businessman, but he was not directly connected with the steamship business. As my father dealt in linen and linen seeds (Zamen in Yiddish) destined for export, he too used the steamships for transporting the merchandise abroad. The linen and linen seeds business was a very important branch of export. Behind our house there was a large, long yard where my father had a plant for processing the linen. Yacov-Shlomo Weinberg was his partner. Many Lithuanian men and women worked at the lab.
In the same yard, at a certain distance from our home, Leib (Leon) Bernstein, my mother's brother, lived with his wife, Wittel, and three daughters, Clara, Michalina and Dora. Uncle Bernstein was a large-scale linen trader. He exported linen to various countries in western Europe; a famous businessman in Lithuanian economic circles. He was a member of the "Handels-Kammer" - the national trade council. He went on many trips abroad on business matters, made friends and was trusted by the businessmen there. He was very wealthy and expanded his business from time to time. When my uncle left Yurburg, together with his family, they went to live in Kovna. At that time an "economic revolution" took place in Lithuania.
The government, in accordance with the new policy, transferred all business to the Lithuanians. This was a severe blow to the Jews. Their source of living was destroyed. However, Leon Bernstein was rather fortunate. All the linen business in the northern district of Lithuania was given to him. He therefore moved to Shavli, where he built a luxurious home and set up a plant for linen processing called "Semlinas." When business was restricted, my uncle transferred some of his business abroad. The government policy seriously affected the Jewish businessmen in Lithuania and in Yurburg. The life of the Jews in Yurburg became very hard. Entire families fell into poverty. My father too was seriously affected. For lack of choice my father left Yurburg and tried his luck in Poland, where the government policy did not affect the linen business of the Jews and they could export linen abroad. However, my father did not succeed in his business there, and he returned to Lithuania. Uncle Leon Bernstein
was happy to let my father work at his "Semlinas" plant in Shavli and gave him an important managerial position. We then moved from Yurburg to Kovna. We were very sad to leave Yurburg, even though the last years of our stay in Yurburg were difficult from the economic point of view as we were a large family. In spite of all the problems it was nice to live in Yurburg, absorb the atmosphere of its refreshing surroundings and its cultural and social experience. Were it not for the economic crisis that befell all of us, it would never have occurred to us to leave Yurburg.
To this very day I remember every corner at home. The work days and the holidays. My parents were not orthodox, but I would say they were observant, like most Jews in Yurburg. My mother conducted a traditional household and observed the rules of kashrut. On Sabbath there was a very nice atmosphere at home. On Friday my father would come home early from work in order to put on festive clothes and go to the synagogue, my younger brothers would usually join him. When my father returned from the synagogue he would say "A gut-Shabbes, A gut Shabbes" i.e. "have a good Sabbath." Then we would get ready for our meal. Everyone sat in his fixed place. The candles were burning on the table, the challot (Sabbath bread) were covered by an embroidered cloth and my father would bless the halot in the traditional melody.Then my mother would serve the "lokshen" soup and then the meat with dressings and finally the stewed fruit dessert.
The next day we would go through the same ritual of the meal again, but the menu was more opulent. First of all wine and "kichleh" (cookies) would be served, and then fish or liver, then soup and meat with "tzimmes" and also "cholent," and dessert. By the end of the meal we would all be drowsy and quiet. And then father would say - "it is a pleasure to sleep on the Sabbath." The youngsters would not give in to the"minister of sleep" and slip out for an excursion or activities at the youth movement.
When I try to remember those days, I feel that all the family occasions of my youth were so beautiful and fascinating, and they left such a strong impression, that they are impossible to wipe from memory. Many things were forgotten, but the impression made by the holidays and Sabbath accompany me all my life.
The Hebrew Gymnasium called Herzl where I, my brothers and sisters, studied,
was situated in the park called "Tel Aviv Park" by the Jews of Yurburg. The park was not particularly large. There were splendid old trees in it, bushes and flowers. There were paths all along the park. There were charming romantic corners with benches where people could rest. The inhabitants of Yurburg loved to stroll in this park, for it was close to the center of town, where the Jews lived. Nevertheless, they did not forego the large park of the "goyim" (gentiles) either, which for a time they had scorned when a sign had been put up at the entrance to the park on which was written in bold letters: "Jews and dogs not allowed to enter."
All the Jews of Lithuania protested strongly against this outrage and the decree was canceled. That is why the Jews of Yurburg were more attracted to their own park, especially because here was the building of the gymnasium which was a cultural center for the Jews. The students would also find various sports installations in the yard of the gymnasium which caught their interest.
Mordehai Teichman was the principal of the gymnasium in my time. He came from Vienna, and had west European manners. He was a nice man with a good sense of humor. On the other hand, he was very strict. He demanded much of himself and naturally also of his students. When he started to manage the gymnasium he imposed down rules of discipline and behavior that restricted the pupils. We had to wear school uniform; and woe the student who violated a rule. It was strictly forbidden to go to the movies before one of the teachers had seen the film and expressed his positive or negative opinion. As is well-known, students are even more attracted to things that are forbidden.
My friends and I often dressed up and secretly slipped into the movies, when lights had gone out. We were terrified that our "crime" would be discovered.We sat bent over at the rear of the hall, shivering of fear . . .I remember the film "Michael Strogof" was once shown, of which it was said in town that it was a good film, a thriller. The management of the gymnasium forbade us to see it. However, in a daring undercover act we did manage to see it. It was an excellent film, with a fascinating plot which deeply affected us. We were moved to tears about the bitter end of Michael Strogof who became blind.
The team of teachers at the gymnasium was quite large, however, unfortunately, I have forgotten the names of most of my teachers. I only remember the names of two teachers - one was called Kosotzky, an excellent teacher who taught literature in my class, and the other Eliezer Leipziger, born in Yurburg, who taught history. Eliezer Leipziger later on became the deputy-principal of the gymnasium, and in the last years its principal. He was a nice man and very popular with the students.
It was the custom at the gymnasium to hold a festive party for the students before the start of the holidays, and at the end of the school year the eighth and last grade would have to put on a performance for the parents and students. The teachers council usually chose a play with a nationalistic and educational theme. Students from other classes would also take part in recitals, song and dance.
Often I was also invited to take part in the recitals at the party. I remember that I once recited a poem by H.N. Bialik.
One of the beautiful plays performed by the last grade at the gymnasium was "Captain Dreyfuss." My sister Clara took part in this play, she had the role of Lucia, Dreyfuss' wife. The performance was impressive. The students' parents were full of admiration for the educational contents and the beautiful Hebrew spoken by the students, as if it was their natural tongue. My sister Clara gave an outstanding performance, and her gift for playing drama was already apparent then. Indeed, after a while Clara took drama courses at the "Habimah" studio in Kovna, and was an excellent actress, who was supposed to join "Habimah" in Tel Aviv, but she did not have the good fortune to do so.
From time to time cultural, social and sports events were organized at the gymnasium. There was a relatively large Hebrew library there as well. Management tried to buy almost every new book that appeared in Eretz Yisrael. Our choir sang all the new songs sung in Israel. All these activities strengthened our ties with Israel and everything going on there. Indeed, the atmosphere at the gymnasium was Zionist-pioneer and Eretz Yisraeli.
We loved the gymnasium and we loved to have a good time there in all the seasons of the year. In the long winter months the land of Lithuania was covered by snow and ice. The management of the gymnasium therefore took care to prepare an ice rink in the yard. After classes we would come, in spite of the fierce cold, to skate on the ice. I remember that my brother Yacov taught me how to skate on ice. I often fell and hurt myself, but I did not give up until I learned to skate. We were full of joy then. Sometimes we would also build a snow-man, roll snow-balls and "fight" each other.
From time to time there were snow-storms and school would be closed down for a day or two. Then we would sit at home and look outside through a small peephole which we had scraped in the glass of the window which was covered by a thick layer of ice, looking like flowers. It was beautiful to see the snow-covered trees and the roofs covered in a white blanket, as if a white tablecloth had been spread over them. Only when spring arrived did everything come alive again. The trees bloomed in a host of colors, the birds sang merrily, and the insects appeared from their places of hiding to warm themselves in the brightly shining sun. The whole universe burst to life with all its fauna and flora, inspiring joy in the human heart.
In spring tension was in the air at school. The teachers increased their demands - they demanded repetitions, tests- till the end of the school year. Only then were we free of the burden placed on us during the year and particularly in the last few months.
There were difficult tests too in the Lithuanian language, literature and history. These tests were government-controlled, by the Ministry of Education. The holidays, therefore, were days free of the pressures of the past year. We were able to engage in any activity we chose.
In addition to trips in the parks and nearby forest, we would enjoy sailing in boats on the Mitova river and bathing in the Neiman. I, however, was particularly fond of reading. I loved to read, and exchanged books at the gymnasium library and the Hebrew library named after Brenner. I used to read anything I could put my hands on - adventure books, novels and historical novels, such as Mapu's Love of Zion and Samaria's Guilt, Friedberg and others.
I must mention hat there was a very lively public life in Yurburg. In addition to cultural activities there were sports activities as well. There were two sport organizations - "Maccabi" - a nationalist-Zionist organization and Y.A.K. - Yiddisher Athletik Klub, i.e. national-Jewish athletics organization, an anti-Zionist organization opposed to Hebrew studies. In addition, there were movements such as the "Hebrew Scouts" - Hashomer Hatzair -to which my brothers belonged and in which they were active. This movement was very active on behalf of Keren Kayemet. The other movement was the Beitar youth movement which belonged to the Zionist-Revisionist stream.
It should also be mentioned that volunteer organizations were also active in Yurburg. They engaged in mutual assistance and various charities.
Yurburg was all and everything to us, a world full of social activity, where the Jews created a beautiful daily life together for their own generation and for those to follow, but all of a sudden the dream was destroyed
During my studies at the gymnasium I had many friends. Together we passed the long period of eight study years. It was a long period in the life of each of us. We were a close-knit class with very good relations.
I was fond of most of my classmates, and I think they liked me too. I was always surrounded by a happy group of friends. However, at the gymnasium itself our life was not easy. There were subjects we did not like, such as chemistry and physics. Studies were mainly theoretical, for we did not have the tools to give substance to the study material. In other fields of study we also had to make great efforts. The teachers would give us a lot of homework; they surely had good intentions, but they had no mercy; they tried to raise the standard and give the gymnasium a good reputation. We did all we could to improve ourselves, knowing it was for our own benefit. In spite of all the tensions at school we found time to enjoy ourselves too. We went on many trips to the parks and forests near town. We talked about many different subjects. We dreamt about trips in the wide world, to get to know new countries and interesting people. We also gossiped endlessly and laughed and talked about the teachers, friends and acquaintances. Those were the best years of our life. We were open-hearted, talked and dreamt about a bright future, like all teen-age girls are wont to do
I used to do my homework with a couple of friends I had chosen. They were all nice, honest girls, but the one I admired most was Sonia Kretchmer. She did not look very impressive; was small and not very beautiful. Nevertheless, she had a lot of good sense and charm, clever eyes and a deep understanding of life. I also loved her modesty and goodheartedness. She always volunteered to help her friends when they needed encouragement or assistance.
In those days we were preoccupied by the question of what profession to chose. It was a hard question to answer. I was the only one who did not have any hesitations. I was convinced that I wanted to be a teacher, for I had always loved children.
Luckily I was able to implement my dream. I went on aliyah to Eretz Yisrael as a pioneer, at first I worked in the citrus groves, and after a number of years I became a teacher in Israel, after I had graduated from courses in education and teaching. I was a teacher and educator for twenty-eight years. Unfortunately, my dear friends did not realize the dreams of their youth; the murderous Nazi hooligans destroyed the light of their young lives. It is oh so hard for me to forget them all -and my heart bleeds for them.
After the holidays, after we had done everything possible to enjoy our freedom, we returned to school, as usual. However, before we even managed to get used to the customary round of studies, the Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Atonement Day) holidays arrived, which made me sad. We started to feel the holiday atmosphere when the "Shana Tova" (Happy New Year) greeting cards were printed, and we started to receive blessings from friends. My father would take care to have the cards already printed at the beginning of the month of Elul and we would draw up a list and write the addresses on the envelopes. I felt sorry for the gentile mailman who carried heavy parcels of mail and was very tired and exhausted. However, he was rewarded for his ordeal. Every family gave him a small gift.
On Rosh Hashanah (New Year) eve, as on Pessach (Passover) eve, we would put on new clothes, to be able to say the blessing "Blessed be the new." From the early morning hours, on holiday eve, the holiday was in the air. Everything was clean and shining. The holiday meal was ready on the stove in the kitchen. The table was covered by a tablecloth, with candles on it, sweet wine and fruit so that the new year would be " happy and sweet." My parents would pray at the Beth Hamidrash (prayer-house). They had permanent, good and respectable seats at the "Mizrah" (eastern side).
On the two days of Rosh Hashanah we enjoyed good food - fish, soups, meat and additions. The "Tzimmes" - a potato, prunes and raisins dish - constituted an important part of the menu. The meal was closed by dessert of stewed fruit, etc. Before Yom Kippur we would observe the "kappures" (expiatory sacrifice), called "Shlogen Kappures." Mother bought a white cock for father for the kappures and for herself a white hen. The children would observe kappures with money donated to the poor. On Yom Kippur the parents and older children fasted. I started to fast from age twelve and to this very day I fast on Yom Kippur.
Towards evening, immediately after the "Neila" (closing) prayer, the girls would lay the table and welcome those coming from the Beth Hamidrash (prayer house). At first one would drink and eat fruit of the season. After a short rest the meal would be served.
One religious holiday followed in the footsteps of the other.
The high holidays were immediately followed by Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles), of which the children were particularly fond. My father built a sukkah and the boys would help him, while the girls would decorate it.
We would hang colorful paper chains and small lanterns and pictures. Then we would cover the sukkah with thatch bought from the farmers. A time for joy. Father would come, bless the wine and all of us with the "Moadim leSimhah" blessing. How nice it was to sit in the sukkah. The next day we would go to the Beth Hamidrash (prayer house), hold the "lulav" (palm-branch) and smell the "ethrog" (citron), all the things that bring back memories from the past. Father would express the wish that we would have the good fortune to taste the fruit of Eretz Yisrael and see its orchards. . .
Often the weather would not be on our side; the autumn rain would come early, and then we were forced to eat the holiday meal inside. However, on days when the weather was good, it was nice to sit in the sukkah, sing and have a good time. That is how the days of the holiday passed. However, as a rule, we depended on the whims of the weather.
Once the Sukkot holiday passed, the days of gray weather came. Fall, rain and storm. School resumed and once again we marched to the gymnasium each day, our schoolbags on our back. The teachers tried to instill as much knowledge as possible in us. Thus we studied until the end of term at Hanukkah (Feast of Lights). Pressure was heavy, as usual. To obtain a good mark we had to work very hard. However, the days passed quickly and the Hanukkah holiday arrived. We were quite tired and longed for a rest. We prepared for the Hanukkah festivities in class, performances, recitals, songs - as if we lived at the time of the Maccabeans, took part in their heroism and victory.
At home preparations were under way to celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah. The Hanukkah menorah appeared, the symbol of the holiday, which mother polished beautifully. The orthodox lighted an oil menorah, but usually candles were lit. There was not a home without a Hanukkah menorah. Passing through the streets of Yurburg in the early evening hours, one would see the candles shine through the windows. A host of little lights. Entering one of the homes, ours amongst them, one would find the children playing with the spinning- top, made of wood marked with the letters (in Hebrew for ) A.M.H.T. (A Miracle Happened There)
Mother would prepare tasty potato pancakes, which we devoured. Our home was full of warmth and happiness. The Hanukkah money we received from our parents and friends added to our joy.
Yes, Hanukkah was celebrated at home and in the entire town. The public festivities and parties in town were numerous. There was always an occasion to celebrate - and why not? The Jews celebrated in order to forget their daily worries, and after all, why not?!
The holiday and celebrations passed. The weather changed from day to day. Rain and storm, snow storms and freezing cold. A new way of life. We put on a coat and went to the gymnasium. Life, however, goes on as usual. Only when the Neiman Riverfreezes, a change occurs. Yurburg is cut off from the outside world. To reach Kovna one has to travel in a winter carriage, a two-day trip. There is no train and no road. Sometimes it is as if everything has been frozen. Not only the Neiman, but the world around us. However, the same routine recurs every year. One gets used to the idea that that is how it is. Winter passes and life returns to normal, and only when the ice melts and the river flows over, new problems arise - the floods that recur each year. We, children, love winter, we like to frolic in the snow, skate on the ice, and walk through the enchanting landscape created by the snow. However, even the long winter comes to an end - as a matter of fact, it ends with a festivity - Purim. After the cold days and tiring studies, spring comes and brings along the Purim holiday, which is so attractive and colorful to us children.
On holiday eve we go to the Beth Midrash (Prayer House). We read the "Megilat Esther" (Scroll of Esther), the adults clap their hands and the children swing their rattlers around . All those who come to the Beth Hamidrash rejoice in the fall of Haman a merry go-round. From the Beth Midrash we return home and enjoy the holiday meal, mainly composed of "Haman ears," stuffed with poppy-seed, baked by my mother. At Purim we are allowed to sip a drink and it is even considered a duty to do so, therefore Purim is merry, we sing and make a lot of noise .
The days after the Purim holiday pass quickly. The weather improves from day to day. Nature puts on festive clothes. The white world turns green. However, there is no time for outings. Studies continue in full. The students anxiously await the Passover holidays, to take a break from their studies. However, until the holiday they have to prove themselves.
Time is short and there is much to be done. Both at the gymnasium and at home. Our home is turned upside down. It is being painted, scraped, cleaned and cleaned all over again. The Passover dishes are taken down from the attic and my mother works hard to clean them. The "shikse" (gentile maid) assists her. There is a lot to do and mother says "A Klainikeit," as if it is easy to prepare for the coming holiday. Pessach is almost there, and we, children, are not allowed to bring "hametz" (leaven bread) into the house. "Has vehalilah" ("woe and behold") says mother, "has vehalilah that "hametz" should be found at home. Finally the preparations are over and the holiday culminates in the "Seder," i.e. "Seder Pessach." We put on festive new clothes. The girls help mother to lay the table. First of all the table is covered in a white tablecloth, after that bottles of wine are put on the table and a special beverage prepared by my mother which tastes of paradise . . . and thus the table is covered by plates and matzot (unleavened bread) and all sorts of other items, such as maror (bitter herbs), horse -radish, etc., etc.
Family of Shoshana Petrakanski (Poran)-Knishinski
Yehuda-Leib (Alter) and Malka Petrakanski, Parents of Zvulon (Poran) and Shoshana Petrakanski
When father and the children arrive from the Beth Hamidrash the festivity really starts, the "Pessach seder." Everyone has a "Hagaddah." The youngest of the family - Yitzhak - asks the four queries in the traditional melody - and he is answered by all. Reading is done aloud, father is the conductor of the choir and the singing is heard outside the house, in our home and in the homes of others, the singing pierces the evening silence and merges into a giant choir. Thus the Jews celebrate the feast of freedom in the distant Diaspora, hoping and waiting for the good days to come, for true liberation - "Next year in Jerusalem.". . .
Summer arrives, we are about to end the school year, immediately after the Shevuot (Pentecost) holiday. And on Shevuot - the feast of the gift of the Torah - we eat dairy products, according to tradition. My mother always takes care to observe the traditional customs.
It is hard to believe, but studies have come to an end. We go on a long leave of two months. Some are happy, others less so. Everyone is rewarded. The reward is in accordance with the efforts the students invested. One thing is certain, every student has acquired knowledge and education in the course of the year.
As a matter of fact, we are all grateful to the gymnasium and proud of it. Not every town has a gymnasium. It is thanks to a group of enthusiastic parents that the
gymnasium was established in Yurburg.
The initiators, many parents, made tremendous efforts to send their children to study at the gymnasium. The Jews of Yurburg deserve to be praised for this. Actually, Yurburg was not a densely populated Jewish town, merely 2000 people lived there, but the majority of the population in Yurburg had a high cultural level. Perhaps this was due to the influence of western culture which the Jews of Yurburg absorbed as they were close to the German border. Anyhow, there were quite a few Jews in Yurburg with a secular or religious education. Many of them studied abroad and acquired an education, and many others were autodidact.
It was nice to live in the cultural atmosphere of Yurburg, there was incentive to make progress in learning and acquire an education and knowledge. Many graduates of the gymnasium went on to study at the University of Kovna, among them my brother and sister who studied there. Some managed to complete their academic studies, others didn't, due to the terrible tragedy that befell the Jews of Lithuania, among them the Jews of Yurburg. Alas, our beautiful Yurburg ceased to exist.
I loved Yurburg, its streets and alleyways. I shall always remember it and its good people. I shall remember my friends whose candle was extinguished when they were merely youngsters. They were and are no longer. All the Jews of the town, men, women, the elderly and children were murdered. They died an anonymous death and the whereabouts of their graves are not known.. . .
My dear family also perished. The loved ones did not separate in life or death. They all went together. Only me and my brother Zevulun (Poran) survived. Perhaps destiny had ordained us to go to Israel, and we find solace in the fact that we were able to contribute a little of our ability and power to build a national home for the Jews, a home that is a state for the remnants of the people who return to their homeland to live there in safety.
As long as I live I shall always cherish the memory of my relatives, and all the Jews of Yurburg. Blessed be their memory.
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