Hanna Feinberg-Shraga (Shrage)
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
Our bodies still feel the pain and our heart finds no rest. The wound does not heal and the anguished soul finds no peace. It is hard to imagine how an entire town full of people, an active Jewish community, suddenly fell silent. Grumbling voices, children's shouts and the sounds of mothers and fathers are no longer heard - it is as if they never existed. This Jewish town of Yurburg, our home for centuries, has turned into a heap of ruins. However, happy childhood memories, the dreams and hopes of youth, cannot be erased from the heart and mind. We will remember Yurburg and the people from Yurburg as long as we live and exist on this earth.
Today I am far, very far from Yurburg, but I still see it both in my dreams and when I am wide awake. I see its beautiful streets, clean and calm, and its flowing rivers - the great Neiman River, the pastoral Mitova, the bending Imstra.
I imagine myself wandering around the town, passing the elementary school where I was a pupil, remembering it used to be called "Talmud Torah". Now it is a modern school. Here was the young principal, Mr. Israel Bakin, a scholarly and friendly man. He taught us Hebrew, installing in us the love of our national tongue and Eretz Israel, our age-old fatherland. And I was also fond of Hebrew grammar and bible studies. At "Talmud Torah" there were no gymnastics or singing classes - but today there are.
And on I go, walking slowly along the quiet street, and in front of me I see the building of the Hebrew Gymnasium in the name of Herzl. A tall building, standing alone, different from its surroundings.
On one side the view is open, on the other side the building borders on a beautiful large park with many old trees, shady boulevards, rest corners and benches, romantic corners . . . this park was called "Tel Aviv" after Tel Aviv in Eretz Israel. Here is the area for assemblies, sports and gymnastics, which used to be called Gymnastica. I can still hear the deep Russian voice of teacher Kaplan who taught gymnastics according to the Swedish method. I remember the teachers, Dr. Efrat, the principal and mathematics teacher and Avraham Kosotzky who taught us Hebrew literature and history and Zentkowsky with whom we had bible studies. I preferred the humanities to exact sciences, and I loved the dancing class at the Gymnasium, and so did my friends. I remember my classmates, the Perlman sisters, Dartwin, Clara Patrinsky, Miriam Shlomovitz - who were sitting next to me.
The Gymnasium left its national-Hebrew mark on us and gave us a Zionist outlook, taught us to love our country and the Hebrew language. This national-Zionist education is still the essence of my life abroad, after two generations.
When we were young, we made many excursions. Yurburg's enchanting surroundings enticed us to go outside. The large park, rowing on the Mitova, sailing on the steamships to Kovna and a host of interesting places.
Here, at a certain distance from the Gymnasium, was the clubhouse of the Hebrew Scouts. Today the clubhouse is deadly silent, but I remember it as a busy "ants' nest" full of the charm of youth, joy and happiness. Yes, our nest! Here we organized our dreams and created a corner of Eretz Israel, a charming corner, a little noisy sometimes, but usually calm and serious. At the "kibbutzim" - group activities - we really learned not only to be scouts, but also general studies in accordance with the "steps plan". I remember the scouts camps in the forest where we sometimes spent one or even three days.
We enjoyed life at the camp, we were really happy and did not want to return home. I was a member of the movement for four years and for two years I was a "kibbutzait", i.e. head of a group of girls younger than myself. I loved my girls and remember them - Lea Stock, Frieda Perlman, Rivka Karabelnik, Hannah Braun and others. I liked the educational work and I was very busy preparing the subjects for discussion at the group.
When the scouts movement adopted the "Shomer Hatzair" ideology, we had to educate the youngsters towards active Zionism, i.e. being pioneers, aliyah and kibbutz life in Israel. I had to prepare myself thoroughly for the lectures at the group. I remember I once lectured to the girls in my group about Hillel Zeitlin's doctrine. The head of the scouts unit, Haim Sieger, a teacher at the school, listened to my lecture. He praised me, and in general was very nice to me. He appreciated me and maybe even loved me . . . he was a teacher and educator at the scouts unit, a very special person. He taught us religion but also enriched our experiences. He used to sing to us and play the mandolin. He was a very virtuous man, close to the "Mosarnikim" of Rabbi Israel Slanter's college.
There was a group of older youngsters at the scouts unit to which I too belonged and among them I remember Zebulun Poran, Dov Mintzer, Hannah Smolnik, Eliezer Shapira, Menahem Pochert, Rachel Karabelnik, Moshe Raisman, Frieda Shachnovitz and Batsheva Stock (Ayalon) who was very close to me and who I admired very much. At present Batsheva is a member of kibbutz Givat Brenner. She visited me in the United States and I love to visit her when I am in Israel.
The scouts unit with its intensive activity in a way tore us away us from our parents' home, but this feeling is true only for when we were teenagers.
When we were young we loved our home and everything connected with it. We loved our parents and all the members of our family. I remember that our family was very close and there was a nice atmosphere at home, thanks to our parents who were devoted to us. We were a relatively large family. When we sat around our large dining table it was a pleasure to watch - father at the head of the table, mother next to him and the brothers and sisters - Yitzhak, Rafael, Zvi, Pessia and Gedaliahu (Gedalia). We enjoyed mother's wonderful food and loved to listen to father's "zmirot" (songs). We were a good family, all of us loved our home.
I remember our home which was quite large. We lived in a corner house on Kovna street, next to the well-known well of the town. On the other side the house faced the Liatkower Gass, there were sheds in the yard. Up front we had a store for leather goods where mainly my mother, Sarah, worked while the children sometimes helped her. We loved our mother. She worked hard and never complained. Mother was a beautiful woman, not bent on pleasure. We always saw her busy and occupied. Nevertheless, she found time to help the needy, those who had no food or clothes. Mother paid attention to them and helped them as much as she could, to some she gave food, to others clothing. These good deeds gave mother much satisfaction. The needy appreciated mother's efforts and her kindness.
My father, Haim-Meir, was a merchant. As most merchants in Yurburg he dealt in export to Germany. The shed at our home was for the sale of building materials and in particular, as far as I remember, wood boards for carpentry and construction.
Although father was a very busy man, he always found time for the needs of the home and for the children. He was a good man, and always thought of others. He helped the needy whenever he could.
As far as I remember the life of my family, it appears nice and beautiful to me in an ideal atmosphere. We felt especially good on the religious holidays. On these days we would forget the everyday problems, take off our daily clothes and put on holiday gear. The house also appeared to change. We felt the holiday atmosphere in every corner. I can't forget the holidays at our home and the deep impression they left on me. I remember that when the "High Holidays" approached, a hidden fear would rise up in me. Maybe this fear was the result of the atmosphere at home and around us. There was much activity towards the "High Holidays". I saw the Jews walk around sad and full of concern. Do you think it is easy, said the Jews, "a Kleinlichkeit" .. after all, the day of atonement is approaching ... in our home too there was a special atmosphere on the "High Holidays", the days of reckoning. The same was true for the homes of our neighbors. The Jews felt a certain mutual forgiveness on these days and as if there were no rich and no poor - all were equal in the eyes of God. They went to the synagogue, prayed and were strengthened by their faith. That is how they behaved around us, and that is also how my father behaved. He took care to go to the synagogue and pray near the prayer desk where his name was engraved. My brothers stood next to him and prayed too.
Berzaner Family (page 146)
I also have memories of Purim. A short holiday, but full of joy and derision. "Hamantaschen" were prepared and "Slachmanes" sent. The Scroll of Esther was read at the synagogue and the children made a lot of noise with their rattles. And at home- what joy!- there were Hamantaschen and plenty of glasses of wine. . .
I also remember Pessach at our home. Mother was busy cleaning the house on holiday eve, seeing to it that -God forbid ! -not a grain of "hametz" was left, buying new clothes for the children and preparing the holiday meal, kasher lemehadrin. And here comes holiday eve, the "Pessach Seder". Father is sitting at the head of the table on white cushions. He looks like a king and mother like a queen in her elegant clothes. The table is laid according to the rules. Father starts to read the Hagaddah and everyone joins him. We drink four glasses of wine and eat "kneidlech" ... after all, as the joke goes, that's what it is all about.. .. That is how we celebrated the holidays at home, just like the other Jews in our town of Yurburg.
One day bad things happened at our home. The world, as we had known it, suddenly turned dark. This is what happened. My dear father fell fatally ill and passed away. Without father the home changed. The pillar of support was missing. In addition to the pain and sorrow the main provider was gone. Mother had to take care of us. She broke down under the pressure of the pain and the concern for the family. I was forced to give "private lessons" to children who had problems in their studies. Tuition fees at the Gymnasium were high and I had to help mother carry the heavy burden. It was not easy for me to study at the upper grades of the Gymnasium and at the same time teach in order to pay for tuition.
After a short while my two brothers emigrated to the United States. The family separated. My mother followed my brothers to America and so did I. The dream to go to Eretz Israel was set aside. I had to abandon it although I remained faithful to the Zionist ideals, till today
The other members of my family remained in Yurburg. They stuck to their roots in the town of their birth. And then the cruel war broke out which destroyed and brought disaster on the Jewish homes. The Jews of Yurburg were put to death without mercy by the Nazis and their collaborators. My family suffered the same fate as the rest of the community. They all died as martyrs and left nothing but their memories behind. And I truly remember them, they are with me at all times. Countless years abroad, far from the place of terror, have not blurred the pain and sorrow I feel. I remember them and will do so forever.
When I arrived in the United States, I did not forget my origins. I arrived here with the spiritual values I acquired at my beloved parents' home in Yurburg, at the Hebrew Gymnasium and the youth movement. These values helped me build a Jewish home abroad. I studied at the Teachers College and taught Hebrew to adults and youngsters. I learned the art of drawing which I found very interesting and useful.
I married David Shraga who comes from Tavrig, Lithuania. He is no longer alive today. We had two sons, Reuven-Jonah and Haim-Yehuda and a daughter, Zipora (Feigele). The daughter married Alexander Ullman, a well-known physician and hospital director. A nice man, who loves Israel and Eretz Israel. The sons are active in management and business, and the daughter is a teacher of Hebrew and Jewish subjects at the school belonging to the synagogue. I brought up my children in the best Jewish tradition, and taught them to love the Jewish people and Eretz Israel.
My family and I love Israel, support it through the national funds and visit from time to time. We rejoice in its achievements.
I myself am most interested in the kibbutz, visit Givat Brenner and enjoy the meetings with my old friend -Batsheva Stock (Ayalon). When Batsheva visited the United States, as the delegate of the Workers Union, I was very proud of her, and was happy to receive her in my home and help her as much as I could. I have also been involved for many years in the women's movement "Pioneer Women" on behalf of the Workers Union - Na'amat in Israel. Eretz Israel is in my blood and I am always excited when I visit Israel and tour its cities and villages. Finally we have realized the Zionist dream and established a Jewish state, after thousands of years in exile, and I regret I was unable to come and live in it.
Time is passing. Together with my contemporaries we are marching towards the unknown, carrying on our shoulders the burden of the sweet and bitter memories. We will never forget the terrible events of the Holocaust - the destruction of our homes and the murder of our dear ones. Yurburg, the cradle of our youth, will remain engraved on our hearts forever. The destruction of Jewish Yurburg will continue to haunt us for as long as we are on this earth. We will remember the beautiful town of Yurburg and its Jewish community - and we will never forget our loved ones, who were murdered in cold blood and not laid to rest in Jewish graves. God bless their memory.
[Pages 149 - 159]
The Story of the Smolnik Family
By Zevulun Poran
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
On an ordinary summer day I happened to arrive, after many years of separation from this area, at the main street of Kiryat-Motzkin. In the afternoon hours there was very little traffic on this road. Children rode their bikes, shouting at the top of their young voices, and the noise of the bells pierced the silence. Summer weariness. The trees bordering the houses cast their shadow over the sidewalks - and the main boulevard, rather shaded, was almost empty of people. Only here and there an old man sat half asleep on the bench, close to merry fountains. A girl purused a book while walking along, before returning it to the library. A quiet, pastoral street of a town that was not really a town, growing modestly among the sands. The fountain incessantly sprayed water on its surroundings and the blue water was crowned by foam. A western wind brought along cool, humid air from the nearby sea, blowing life into people.
I remembered that nearby, but a few footsteps away, there was a parallel road, Barak Street. In the past it was a small street with small houses in the sand, square, looking like chocolate boxes. I passed a narrow passageway, almost like a street or a garden, to Barak Street. I looked at the sign on one of the houses to ascertain the name of the street. I was right, it was indeed Barak street . . . Barak, and Deborah's song immediately came to mind. "Get up, Barak, and take Ben-Avinoam prisoner . . .. "
Perhaps, in those days, not far from here, Barak's chariots hurried along, looking for Sisera's hooligans - it might just be true - and therefore we renew signs and names and places . . .
We are on Barak Street, a narrow, long road. Gardens and thick trees line the street and the houses behind them. And see here: the little houses of the past have grown in size - two-stories and some of them even have three and four stories.
The small houses stand in awe of the huge homes and are afraid that the saying "Remove the old and bring out the new" will come true. I approach house number 52, which is my target. A two-story house, covered in green; the building has changed since I knew it as a small, modest house, cast in concrete, with a flat roof, like all the homes of the workers and new immigrants in the small neighborhood. Everything here has changed and is unrecognizable.
I walk along the pavement that leads to the courtyard. In the yard there is a small garden, flower beds and greenery. And see here - even a dove-cot, looking like a poultry-pen with doves fluttering around in it, afraid of the guest, and creating a stir, their voices heard all over the courtyard. And there is a small poultry-pen as well, a sort of small cage, with two little ducks in it, still covered in a yellow down. Seeing all this, one feels that those who live in the house have always had a deep love for flora and fauna. The large house is quiet, as if it and all those in it have fallen asleep at twilight time.
- " Shall we knock on the door?"
- "No, no, let's wait a while- we have plenty of time!"
There are chairs and a table on the balcony, you sit down, look around you and see a yard which has everything, nothing is missing - no, no - however, when you think of the yard there, in the old house, which belonged to the people who lived there a long time ago in their little town of Yurburg in Lithuania, "all this" is but a sad memory of what they had there. There is an open area, a large plot, a well-kept vegetable garden, mountain slopes planted with fruit trees, leading to the Imstra river which flows along peacefully - - clear, cold water, and calm and quiet, but then, after a moment of dwelling on the past and dreams that were shelved, you come back to the present, take up courage and turn to the entrance door, glance first at the small sign and realize you were right. In clear letters it says: Smolnik family. Right, that's it, you have arrived at the address written in the book and with your right sense of direction. However, everything has changed here. How much time has passed since then? How the years pass. I remember that in the past, when I came on aliyah to Israel and joined the kibbutz group of former Lithuanians, I would often visit this charming little house, where Aharon Smolnik and his wife Deborah would warmly welcome me, pleased to open their doors to the next visitor, an old friend from Yurburg, who set up his tent (in the true sense of the word!) nearby, together with his friends on the yellow sand of the beach. As a kibbutznik, worker or porter in the Haifa port, he dried the swamps of Nahal Na'aman, flowing over its borders and spreading malaria flies - worked with the members of his group during the week, but remembered his old friends, the Smolnik family, every Sabbath.
He would come to chat over a cup of tea and take a bite of the fresh cake, "with the old taste of Yurburg," which Deborah would prepare for the Sabbath. Sometimes we would taste the left-overs of the "hamin" - the Lithuanian "cholent," a memory of days gone by.
Thus we used to talk for hours at the family party, in which the two sons, Nathan and Gershon, also took part. Nathan, still a young man, already supported the family while Gershon was still a young boy. The youngsters, as always, left their place in the Diaspora without any qualms and found friends in their new surroundings. They quickly turned the pages of the past, but for the adults matters were different, they found it harder to get used to their new place of living. The daughter, Hannah, who built her home at kibbutz Mishmar Ha'Emek, also found her place among friends. In those days Hannah would visit her parents from time to time, and help them wherever she could. Only those close to Hannah, know how she helped her parents and how much love and warmth she bestowed on them, to help them get used to their new surroundings, where the difficulties of language and way of life in the neighborhood divided even those living next to each other. It was a mixed neighborhood, immigrants from different countries, speaking in many different tongues, who had brought different customs from their former homes. Father Smolnik had no problem finding work at the "Ata" factory, and though in Yurburg he had never set foot in a textile factory, he quickly got used to the work, and even excelled at it. He liked his job and was popular with his fellow-workers and the owners of this large industrial plant. Matters were different where Deborah was concerned, she sat at home and felt lonely. The sandy garden did not satisfy her love of land and vast spaces. She particularly missed her oldest daughter, Esther. Since Esther had emigrated voluntarily to distant Siberia, near the Chinese border, relations with her had almost been cut off.
However, Aharon Smolnik, once he found the work he liked, put his family into a good mood; he would enthusiastically speak about his work, although he was no longer young when he came to Israel, yet he was still strong. He was broad-shouldered, had a strong body and hands that were good at every job. And above all - he was a resourceful man. He built his modest home almost by himself, and Deborah decorated her new home with flowers - beautiful shrubs and trees, some of them fruit trees, others not bearing fruit. Deborah also cultivated a vegetable garden next to her home, in the small plot available. When Deborah would show me the garden, and we would pass from one flower-bed to another, her face glowed, but then she would heave a deep sigh - "yes, of course, this is not the garden . . " she meant the large garden the Smolnik family had in Yurburg.
Deborah would take care of the garden in Yurburg all by herself. She never asked for help. However, if the family members "volunteered" to work in the garden it would make her very happy.
Needless to say that that was the greatest joy of her life. And what was not in that garden?- we shall refrain from mentioning all the different kinds of fruit trees and the different kinds of vegetables . . . there was plenty of everything!
Aharon, her husband, was usually absent. He was busy working as an agent supplying alcoholic beverages of the government factory in Kovna. This factory was well-known and famous all over Lithuania. In Yurburg too, of course, these beverages were drunk, the Lithuanians loved to sip them until they got drunk. The Jews also put alcohol on the table, on religious holidays, and particularly at family celebrations. As Yurburg was far away from Kovna, the beverages were transported on steamships, and when the Neiman was frozen, in winter, horse-drawn carriages were used, which transported the beverages over a dirt road, for there was no train to Yurburg. Neither was there a decent road in those days.
The "gentiles" in Yurburg envied the "little Jew" Smolnik, who had received the franchise to supply alcoholic beverages in Yurburg and its surroundings. They complained to the authorities in Kovna, but to no avail. Then they decided to take revenge on Smolnik. What did they do? One night, when Smolnik joined his "gentile" assistant, and they transported a large shipment of alcoholic beverages in the winter carriage - three young gentiles jumped on him and started to attack him and his gentile assistant with sticks. The fight went on for a long time and although he took a severe beating, Smolnik, bleeding and hurt, managed to ward off his assailants,
and inflict a deathly blow on them. The assailants fled. Smolnik returned home and required medical assistance. The attack became known all over town and everyone referred to Aharon Smolnik as a hero. Finally, the matter was brought to Court. Smolnik won the case and the assailants received a long prison sentence.
The Smolnik family was well -off. Like his wife Deborah, Aharon was also diligent
and energetic. The Smolnik family was a happy family, they were hospitable and gracious; their home was always open and it was never boring.
Smolnik's country home in Yurburg was situated in a quiet neighborhood, close to the Jewish park "Tel Aviv" and its Hebrew Gymnasium. It was a wonderful area for outings. The Smolnik vegetable garden bordered the small Imstra river, which flowed almost all year round, except for the winter days, when it froze and was used for ice-skating.
As the Smolnik home stood in the middle of the road taken by all, everyone, young and old, knew Aharon and Deborah, who would welcome those passing by in their carriages and offer flowers or fruit from the garden to their friends. The young really became "attached" to the Smolnik home and everybody was friendly with them.The students at the gymnasium were particularly fond of the Smolnik home and garden, they would go there from time to time and hide there, and find little corners for a quiet talk. Sometimes students would skip classes, or be expelled from class (yes, that too happened. . . ) and where would they then find a "hiding place" if not with the Smolnik family?. . . There, at the Smolnik home, the students found understanding and forgivingness for their "sins" and here too they would receive a "reward" - a light refreshment offered by Deborah, who welcomed guests.
In due time the house became a youth movement center. The "Scouts Troop" was formed in town, and Hannah Smolnik was among the first to join. Hannah was an enthusiastic scout. She faithfully observed Baden-Powel'ls scouting rules; wore the uniform, put on the tie and badges, as required, and observed the "Ten Scout Laws" imposed on the individual regarding moral behavior.
Hannah was deeply attracted to the scouts movement and had a wonderful time there. Excursions, camps in the forest, song and dance, all this was the focus of the charming, slender young girl.
After a while talk started at the movement about the future of the members who were growing up. New ideas were launched . . . new concepts . . . "Zionism,"
" pioneering," etc. The movement' envoys who came to visit the Yurburg group, started to speak in a new style. Being a scout was no longer the movement's ideal, but rather a means to form and educate the personality . . . new words, ideas that caught on.
Haim Seiger, a teacher at the town's elementary school, also joined the movement. As a teacher, he was older, and more educated than the youngsters who were members of the movement. His joining gave a strong impetus to the movement. Its name took on new meaning; from now on it was called the "Hebrew Scouts - Hashomer Hatzair."
Haim Seiger was attracted to these new, modern ideas and promoted them among his followers in the movement.
One day Haim Seiger lectured to Hannah's group of teen-age scouts at the Smolnik home about the movement's path, and afterwards, as he always did, he burst into song - popular, Zionist and romantic songs. Haim liked to sing solo as well, Bialik's "Put me under your wing" or Shneor's "Delightful hand." These songs were an emotional highlight, the sound of his voice merged with the sound of Hannah's mandolin in wonderful harmony, and the youngsters were enchanted. Hannah received the mandolin as a reward for her outstanding scholastic achievements, when she completed elementary school. The members of the Smolnik family witnessed this vision of the youth movement and they too absorbed its inspiring atmosphere. At the end of the "kibbutz" (as the group's meeting was called) the parents suggested Haim Seiger stay with them in one of the rooms in their home. Since then, the Smolnik home became the second club house of the movement in Yurburg.
Chana came the 1930s to visit her parents in Yurburg
to convince them to make alyiah to Israel (Page 157)
Hannah Smolnik was attracted to the new ideas raised at the discussions, such as being pioneers, training, aliyah, kibbutz etc. - concepts that were gradually capturing the minds of the youngsters in the "nest." However, it would not be correct to say that all the youngsters were attracted to the Zionist ideas. There were other opinions too that were accepted at the Smolnik home.
Esther, Hannah's older sister, moved in a circle of youngsters who were attracted to revolutionary ideas rampant among the masses. Palestina, they said, is not a solution for all the Jewish people. It is a deserted land settled by Arabs. The British incite the Jews against the Arabs and blood is spilt there needlessly. . . and what is the solution? Emigration. Indeed, many youngsters from Lithuania emigrated to the U.S.A., the land of gold, or to South Africa. In those days there was a rumor that the Soviet Union was ready to allocate an area of fruitful, unpopulated land and put it at the disposal of the Jews in distant Siberia, on the Chinese border. There, i.e. at Birobijan, as the proposed area was called, an autonomic area would at first be set up and later on a Jewish state would perhaps be established there.
The leaders of the Soviet Union headed by Kalinin encouraged the Jews at the time to settle the area. Although the idea of settling in distant Birobijan did not seem very attractive to many, there were a number of people, perhaps only very few, who liked the idea and implemented it. Esther and her friend Haim Frank, her future husband, decided to spend their life in Birobijan . . . .
From now on the peaceful and calm home of the Smolniks became the center of discussion about the path of Jewish youth. The discussions were fierce, accompanied by mutual accusations. The discussion, therefore, went beyond the Smolnik home. The two girls - the oldest and the youngest - were about to realize their dream. Esther left for a distant place, to realize her dream of building a new homeland for herself and the people of Israel in Birobijan. And young Hannah, faithful to her beliefs and ideals, started preparations for realizing her dream in Eretz-Yisrael.
Esther left - and immediately disappeared. Letters did not arrive, and rumors that fell from heaven were not encouraging at all . . . the new settlers in Birobijan were deeply disappointed and even desperate. . .
Hannah started to make plans to go on training together with a group of friends from "Hashomer Hatzair." The parents, although they approved of the Zionist idea and its implementation, wanted to postpone Hannah's departure. They were very proud of her, and wanted her to continue her studies and acquire a profession. The movement inspired her and installed ideas of a new life in her. Hannah's decision to go on training turned her into an example at the "nest" (as the local branch of the movement was called), for she was the first of Hashomer to go on training. Her girlfriends loved and admired her, and even more so. . . the boys. At the last Pessach, prior to her departure for training, a merry Seder was held at the "nest" and Hanna was elected "Queen of the Seder."
Hannah was convinced that her departure for training should not be postponed, although she knew this would sadden her parents. One night, in the third night watch, Hannah "disappeared" from home and joined the activist Hashomer group. Although the parents were saddened by what their daughter had done, they finally resigned themselves to the idea, after they received an enthusiastic letter from the training group in the Memel area. There, at the estate of a German landowner in Dompen, Hannah took the first real step towards the realization of her dream.
There were only two girls in this Dompen group which consisted of 12 people, one of them worked in the kitchen and the other - alternating with her friend- in the field.
Hannah liked the work in the field, especially in the garden, which reminded her of her parents' garden. She quickly adapted to her new surroundings. Although the group was far away from Jewish settlement, without a broader group of youngsters, it took the experience in its stride, as a corridor to future life. Work in the field was hard.
The members got up at sunrise and worked almost until sunset, with an hour's break at mid-day. They were not rewarded for their work, except for food. The work with the "gentiles," who were used to hard work from birth, demanded a great effort on the part of the pioneers, and they tried to comply, to prove that a Jew too knows how to work. . . There were Germans too among the workers, who were influenced by Hitler's propaganda.
When Hannah completed her training, the gates of Eretz Yisrael were closed, and certificates of aliyah were handed out sparsely. Hanna's family in Yurburg was pleased that her aliyah was postponed for a while. Since she left home, their small world had become empty, and only worries had been added.
Esther, who had gone to Birobijan, did not find happiness there. All the dreams about a "Jewish area" disappeared the moment they were faced with reality. Enthusiasm disappeared and deep disappointment filled every corner of the heart. But how does one go back? - And how could the parents help their daughter in her troubles?
The movement's "nest" was full of joy. Other girls started to follow in Hannah Smolnik's footsteps and prepare for training. Hannah always served as an example to them. She returned from training, more experienced in life and more of an adult. "The daughter's revolt" had succeeded.
Soon the first group of "Hashomer" from Lithuania started the fifth aliyah. It was in January 1929. There were six people in the group: Reuven Blomzon (Shemi) and Batya Shuk (Shemi) at kibbutz Beth Zera; Arie Halavin at kibbutz Sarid; Sara Weiner, Hannah Kovasky and Hannah Smolnik. This group laid the foundation of the first Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz in Lithuania. it was the social nucleus that would welcome those coming after them, but this took a while. The gates of Eretz Yisrael were not open, and therefore it took years before the Hashomer members from Lithuania formed a true settlement nucleus.
After a number of events in Israel the nucleus obtained its goal, when it joined "Beth Zera" in the Jordan valley. Here, on the shore of the Jordan, they set up an exemplary kibbutz village, together with pioneers of German origin.
Hannah, who was together with her friends at the Shomer nucleus, did not go with them to kibbutz Beth Zera, but to Mishmar Ha'Emek, one of the oldest kibbutzim in the country. Here Hannah found a warm home. She was marked by the Hashomer movement atmosphere. The first educational institution for Hashomer kibbutz children was opened at Mishmar Ha'emek and here the "Hashomer Hatzair" forest was planted, with donations by the movements' members.
However, Hannah was not very lucky in this nice place, and in due course she had to leave Mishmar Ha'emek, for family reasons, and move to Tel Aviv, the large, noisy city which she, the country girl, did not like.
When she was at Mishmar Ha'emek, Hannah's parents moved to Eretz Yisrael. Hannah was very happy to have her parents close to her. When her parents set up their home at Kiryat Motzkin, to a large extent with her help, Hannah would often visit them and help them get used to their new surroundings.
A lot of water flowed through the Jordan. Hannah lived in Tel Aviv, her home was always open to her friends (and who was not a friend of hers?), and she and her husband, engineer Yosef Polan, would warmly welcome everybody. Many artists of the theater would come to Yosef, and many kibbutznikim would visit Hannah, who had shared their life for many years. The children grew up in this home - the son Gideon and the daughters - Ruthi and Amira. The Polan home extended education and learning to its children. Indeed, the children learned a lot from their parents. They are married now and active in culture and art.
Hannah has strong ties with her parents' home in Kiryat Motzkin. She is the link between all of them. Nathan set up his home in Kiryat Bialik close to Kiryat Motzkin. Gershon and his family settled in the Smolnik family home and their old father, Aharon Smolnik, lives with them.
Deborah, Aharon Smolnik's wife, died a long time ago. Since she passed away the home got empty. The modest, diligent woman died young and did not have the opportunity to enjoy the success of her children.
Esther lived on the second floor of the home. Yes, the same Esther, from Birobijan, who at long last, after endless efforts, managed to leave the place, after her husband died. She left for the free world with her two sons.
She spent three years with her sons in the U.S.A.. Worked and made a good living, but was not happy there. Thus, she arrived at Kiryat Motzkin, at her parents' home and she lives close to her family. Her son, Haim, also set up his home nearby and he also has a family and sons, and Esther has grandchildren. Her second son, David, lives in the U.S.A. Only her son Yosef did not have the good fortune to come to Israel. When he studied in Kovna, war broke out and he perished in the terrible Holocaust, together with his family.
The Aharon Smolnik family expanded in Eretz Yisrael. His sons and daughters are here. Their sons and grandsons will live here. The Smolnik family was fortunate enough to witness the establishment of the State and live a free life in its fatherland. Quite an achievement for a Jewish family from Yurburg!
While the memories of days gone by pass though our head - the door of Aharon Smolnik's home opens, he lives in the apartment of his son Gershon and his family. A clean and well-cared for home, with a special room for the old father. Aharon Smolnik lies in his bed, half-asleep, a very old man, 98 years of age, at the end of the long road from the little town of Sardanik, via Yurburg, to Eretz Yisrael. A path strewn with hard work, joy and sorrow. Bringing up the children, small daily chores and large events, wars and blood- spilling. He was a king in his home and an ordinary man among his neighbors.
Aharon Smolnik, no longer healthy, cannot see the end of his life, but he can feel it coming in all of his aching body; furthermore - he longs for rest, and the peaceful end that lies in store for every human being.
In a sudden awakening, Aharon Smolnik tells his visitor who has come from distant Jerusalem - "all is well, my children look after me, I have no complaints . . . , really, no complaints at all. What else can a man of my age ask for. Only Hannah is far away from me and I am waiting for her. She must come . . . , yes, she will come, will come . . . "
Smolnik pauses- it is hard for him to speak- and then goes on: "I am so happy today that a friend from "there," from our Yurburg has come to visit me; it is priceless,. . . such a visit is worth millions, millions . . . ."
Old Aharon Smolnik gathers his strength, gropes, finds his stick, and starts to take a few steps. He touches the objects around him, as if he once more, one more time wants to feel the world, as if he no longer belongs to it, the old Aharon Smolnik already belongs to another world, a world of truth and eternity, as he says "die ewige Welt, die ewige Welt . . . ."
He is happy to accept his friend's kiss and shakes his hand as if he wants to express that it is farewell forever.
Aharon Smolnik is still alive and breathing, but his days are like the page torn each day from the calendar of the year that comes to an end. . . .
[Pages 160 - 162]
A Sad Event in the Family
By Yonina Most-Afrimi
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
The event about which I want to speak here is the most striking event among my childhood memories, and I cannot forget it. It was one of the most shocking family tragedies that happened to us when I was a little girl.
We lived in Yurburg. I remember my father and my parents' home very well. My father was a learned man and a scholar. He used to get up early in the morning, to study a Gemara page and pray before he went on his way. My father would hitch the horses up to the wagon and in winter to the sledge, travel to villages and buy grain from the farmers, mainly corn, for export to Germany. It was tiring work; he would leave early in the morning and return home two days later. Father loved his home and paid a lot of attention to the children. In spite of his weariness he would play with them as if he was a child like us. Mother, Chaya-Rivka, took care of our education.
My father was always traveling, and hardly ever at home, until that bitter and sudden day (3 Shvat - 1917) which is deeply engraved on my memory to this very day.
I remember it was a cold day, it had snowed during the night, and the ground was covered in snow. When I got up that morning, my father had already left. He left in the morning vigil, as always after he had said his prayers and studied a Gemara page; he bade good-by to mother and the sleeping children, kissing them on the forehead, sat down in his sledge, covered in fur, and went about his business. That day he was supposed to meet a farmer at his estate. The farmer invited father to conduct business regarding the purchase of a grain wagon. Midway, at Shomkaitz, there was a Jewish inn where the Feinstein family lived. Here one would rest, feed the horses, drink a glass of tea and warm oneself.
The farmer was already waiting for my father at the inn, and the deal was concluded there.
It was the custom to change wet clothes at the inn. The farmer followed my father's movements. Once father had taken off his boots in order to change his wet socks, the farmer noticed that father had put the money in the stocking, and apparently at that moment the gentile got it into his head to commit murder and steal the money.
After a short rest, my father left the inn with the gentile and went to the estate owner's store-rooms to receive the grain. They had barely left the inn and gone into the forest, where on both sides of the road there were thick trees, when in the middle of a dust road murderers attacked my father, led by the farmer who held a sharp wood-cutters ax in his hand, and scattered his skull. They threw my father's body into the woods, after they had taken off his clothes and galoshes and removed his boots and taken the money out of his stocking. The murderers fled into the woods with the money and left my father bare-foot and bleeding from his head in a pool on the white snow. . .
A few hours later the horses returned with the sledge to the inn's yard. The inn-keeper knew immediately that the horses belonged to Rabbi Israel-Itzhak Most . . . but their owner was gone.
Feinstein understood immediately that a tragedy had occurred, as there were signs of blood in the sledge. The inn-keeper and his assistants immediately went to look for my father with the horses. They followed the sledge until they reached the forest, when they saw a terrible sight: my father was lying on the white snow in a pool of blood. They immediately understood that a brutal murder had taken place here.
The inn-keeper lifted my father's body onto the sledge and took it to my grandfather, who lived on an estate not far from Yurburg, called Skriblina. A heartbroken scene
took place there all night long, crying and fainting . . . .
The next morning my father's body was taken to the synagogue in Yurburg. The Jews there were deeply shocked by this tragedy and relatives cried and mourned my father's death. This was the first time that I heard "Kadish" (prayer for the dead) at the synagogue, recited by my brother who was in tears.
The terrible event deeply hurt my mother, she was obsessed and murmured all over again "my children are orphans, my children are orphans. . . "
The police interrogated the farmers, but did not find the murderers. On the third day after his death my father was buried. All the shops closed, and a deep mourning enveloped Yurburg. All the residents of the town accompanied my father to the cemetery. Raseiniai street was full of people. My mother fainted all the time and the doctor stood next to her and injected tranquilizers. My father was eulogized by the Rabbi and a Jew from the group with whom my father studied Gemara at the synagogue.
All year long a minyan was held at our home that was in deep mourning. My mother remained a young, 32-year old widow with 8 little children, the oldest of them being 14 years old, and the youngest, a daughter, a year and a half. After the year of mourning my mother, Chaya-Rivka, brought us up with her small means and taught us Jewish and cultural values. She sent us to study at the Hebrew Gymnasium and took good care of her family.
I remember the first year after my father's death because of an event that is deeply engraved on my memory. When I was five years old, we heard an orchestra far away. Youngsters from all the Jewish schools marched along with blue-white flags, singing Hebrew songs. We, children, wanted to join the merry parade, but my mother said: "although this is an important day for the people of Israel, the day of the Balfour Declaration, and we will have a Jewish national home in Eretz-Yisrael, we are still in mourning for the murder of the head of our family and therefore we must not take part in this event."
We stood next to the house, waved our hands and cried for joy. We read in Hebrew "Am Yisrael Hai" (Long live the people of Israel) Even then I understood the meaning of those words.
My mother was a Zionist all those years; she knew the Bible almost by heart; it was her dream to go to Israel. We spoke Hebrew at home, we read a Hebrew newspaper and Hebrew books. We studied at the Hebrew Gymnasium. Until I emigrated to Israel I was a teacher at a little town near Raseiniai; after that I went to Kovna, studied book-keeping there with teacher Tovin.
In Kovna I joined the "Hapoel Hamizrahi" pioneer movement. I went on training to Gorzad near Memel, and in the beginning I worked in farming and later on as a teacher. I taught the children of Gorzad Hebrew and Zionist history.
In 1934 I received a pioneer certificate and went on aliyah to Israel. I said good-by to the members of my family, hoping that the day would come when they would all join me in Israel, but that hope did not come true.
War broke out in Europe and Hitler destroyed our towns and villages. My entire family was wiped out in the terrible Holocaust.
Only my sister Lea was saved and the daughter of my brother Mordehai Most, from Yurburg. They went through the terrible hell, the concentration camps and atrocities, but they survived.
My relatives established wonderful families, and they are involved in the life of our land and love it.
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