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[Col. 348]

The shtetl of Punsk

(Puńsk, Poland)

54°15' 23°11'

by Leib Sperling, Albert Kirsch

Translated by Ite T. Doktorski

There was once a small shtetl named Punsk, beautiful with its mud and rich with its poverty. In this shtetl lived about 70 Jewish families who over the generations got accustomed to the poor yield of the land and the quiet and warm way of life. They owned nothing out of the ordinary and the ordinary things they did own were near and dear to their hearts.

Only the shames (beadle) was famous outside the boundaries of Punsk. His name was Moshe Filipowski but everybody called him Moshe Katz. We don't know why our shames deserved to be famous outside Punsk, but in the smaller shtetls around Punsk when Jews had heated discussions they used to say: “I will send de shames of Punsk to you”. Maybe they weren't referring to his function as beadle of the synagogue but to his function as beadle of the burial society…

There was also a feltcher (Russian nursing title) in Punsk who knew everything about medicine. For long years he had been a jester in Mariampole and how he suddenly became a feltcher no-one in the shtetl did know…

The small income the Jews of Punsk earned originated mainly in the four annual fairs. Some additional income was earned from the Lithuanians living around the shtetl and from the Poles living in the shtetl.

The spiritual life of Punsk followed in the steps of earlier generations: grandfathers to fathers and fathers to children passed on the same long-standing and deeply rooted way of life.

The haskala (Jewish enlightenment) brought from time to time echoes of another world, but these didn't take root in Punsk. However, the young teacher Moshe Sinenski from Suvalk brought some life into the shtetl: the youngsters started learning Hebrew and reading Bialik, and they started to dream about a better life in a new and unknown world.

The Holocaust came and young ones and old ones perished alike, the dreamers of a new world together with the ones who were satisfied with the old one.

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