by Zlateh Katcherginsky
Translated by Janie Respitz
As soon as I graduated from the Vilna Teacher's Seminary, they sent me to work at the Dukstas Yiddish School (Tsisho). It was late summer when I arrived at the Dukstas train station where a few dirty barefoot children greeted me. When I asked the children why no members of the parent's committee came they explained they were waiting for me in town because coming to the platform cost 20 groshn, and this was a lot of money…
A few minutes later I had the honour to meet Dovid Beer, the chairman of the parent's committee and with a few other miserable Jews – fathers of the children from the Tsisho School.
Walking to town they told me there were 90 children in the Yiddish school, recruited from the poorest families. The Hebrew school had the children from the wealthiest families.
There was a life and death battle between the two schools. The fight between Hebrew and Yiddish was no laughing matter. The sent me to my room. To my surprise, it was a corner of a kitchen, closed off with a brown curtain. When I protested, they insisted this is where I had to live, because the homeowners sent their child to our school, they don't pay tuition. Instead, they house the teacher…If I refuse to live there, they may, God forbid, send their child to the Hebrew school…With such an argument, I had to agree.
The school year began. I taught 8 classes a day, organized a drama club, read their papers and lost my temper at meetings. After a while, the town deeply entered my heart.
This was a town of hungry, unemployed Jews. They only ate meat on the Sabbath (the ritual slaughterer cam every Thursday to slaughter a sheep). The few who were better off had stores. The rest lived off miracles. Some would deal in flax, dragging sacks to the train, travel to a marketplace. But more often than not, they walked around empty hands in their pockets. The most interesting was, each person from Dukstas had strong feelings about his preference toward Hebrew or Yiddish.
In the Hebrew school and Yiddish school, parents had to pay tuition. Both schools were private, without government subsidies. The third school in town was a Polish public school that did not charge money. In spite of this, everyone sent their children to the Hebrew or Yiddish schools. All the Jewish holidays were celebrated with great fanfare. This was looked after by the leaders of the schools Shloimeh Katcherginsky (Hebrew) and Dovid Beer (Yiddish). The children of Dukstas performed the finest plays, sang beautiful songs and sewed the finest costumes for Purim.
Seated: Bluma Hamburg, Esther Levin, ___, female teacher, male teacher
Standing: Ushpal, Shapiro, Bluma Hamburg, Boruch Noyman, Konyavsky, ___.
by Shloimeh Katcherginsky
(Dedicated to the memory of my mother Rokhl Feygeh, may she rest in peace)
Translated by Janie Respitz
My beloved, dearest mother, my best and dearest friend,
Who knows if the sun shines on you face? (Folksong)
Let these lines also serve as a dedication to my mother, Rokhl Feygeh, who simply saved me, and later, in an horrific manner was killed in the hills of Ponar near Vilna, around the 7th 9th of September 1941.
You mother, may your memory be a blessing, are the one I have to thank for my salvation, as well as my sister Miriam and her son Aharon, who live today in Israel.
On a summery May day in 1924, I arrived with my parents, sister and brother, at the small town of Dukstas, in the northern province, often called Polish Siberia. Not looking at my young age, the local organizers quickly involved me in the bubbly communal life. Most of all I owe thanks to Bezalel Levin, of blessed memory, the leader of the Zionist movement in town.
Right from the start I became involved in the town, up until the destruction, which brought about the downfall of the town at the beginning of World War II.
Fate decided that I, a newcomer, would be one of the only survivors of the Jews of Dukstas. It has fallen upon me to eternalize the memory of this lovely town and describe it in this memorial book the life and death of its Jewish population.
It is difficult to write a memorial about a life which was so cruelly annihilated, a community of our nearest and dearest friends so deeply etched in my memory. I know this is my obligation. I will therefore make the greatest effort to erect this historic tombstone in memory of the Jews of Dukstas who were murdered.
The Town of Dukstas was founded in 1863 when the railway was built between Warsaw and St. Petersburg (Leningrad). The town was built on rented land that belonged to the farmers of the surrounding villages: Kanyuk, Gerutsishky, and Drishkun. The houses were built by Jewish settlers that previously lived in the surrounding villages and courts. The first Jewish settlers in Dukstas were: Ruven Adelman, Ziskind Shapiro, Mordekhai Karb, Shneur Levin,
Elkhanan Segal, Rafalov, Luria, Rivas, Davidovitch, Hamburg, Aran, Podviz, Daytch, Tzinman, Mordekhai Gurvitch and others. The town stood on hilly, clay soil, surrounded by swamp that would overflow in the spring and fall, making communicating with the town very difficult. After many years, wooden sidewalks were built and partly paved roads which helped improve the situation.
The town was situated between 2 borders: 34 kilometres from the Lithuanian border and 2022 kilometres
from the Latvian border, surrounded by kilometres of forests, lakes and orchards. Thanks to the newly built train station, Dukstas became an important central point for the surrounding towns and villages. Everyone had to come to bring or receive their merchandise.
The first Jews to settle brought their previous village businesses. They would travel around to the villages and sell their goods. Business slowly developed. The train station and the geographic situation provided great opportunity for the development of the town.
It was no surprise that by the 1880s a large trade began in wheat, flax and lumber. The entire region was populated by many rich farmers and noblemen who brought their goods to Dukstas. Due to the large amount of dealings, two market days were established: Wednesday and Friday. After selling their products at the market, the farmers would purchase the following items in town: salt, kerosene, leather, haberdashery and textiles.
This helped local business and strengthened the economic situation.
The most important wheat, flour and flax merchants in the early years were the following families: Holland, Rafalov, Chazan, Rivash, Tarnas and others. The leather and iron businesses were run by: Padvidz, Eidelman and Hamburg. Lumber merchants: Levin, Feytl Kapelovsky, Luria, Davidovitch and Hamburg.
The above mentioned merchants would buy large plots forest directly from the noblemen and provide the following: timber, paper …This work required many for manual labour therefore providing income for man Jews and around the town. In connection to this, new professions emerged such as woodsmen, records keepers of the lumbering operations, shipping clerks …One could often see piles of chopped wood waiting for transport near the railway between Dukstas Ignalina and Dukstas Turmont, as well as at the train station. During the day the railways were busy with passenger and freight trains.
Often, late at night you could see hundreds of Jewish farmers loading raw materials on to freight cars. Sometimes 3040 cars were added to freight trains. This trade continued to develop and helped improve the economic situation of the local population.
A second very important business was geese. The families involved were: Motl Gurvitch, Bloshtyen and Tarnes. The geese would be purchased in remote areas and brought by the flock, day and night, many kilometres. Special ponds were prepared for them in Dukstas. They would later be exported in special train cars, mainly to Germany.
By the beginning of the 20th century a fruit business developed, at first only strawberries, then apples and pears. The fruit merchants would rent orchards in the surrounding area from farmers and noblemen. They would hire pickers and export the fruit.
The fruit business grew after the First World War when there were many more orchards in the area. The produce was sent first to St. Petersburg, then to Katovitz, Warsaw and other cities in Poland. The biggest fruit dealers in town were the Segal brothers, Motl Gurvitch, Aran and Hamburg. Besides them there were other smaller dealers.
In connection with this business merchants and middlemen would come to Dukstas from far away cities, and would often linger the entire season. Therefore, over the next few years a few modern hotels and restaurants were opened: Rappaport, Shvil and Gurvitch.
Even the situation of the artisans improved. Instead of wandering from village to village looking for work, they settled in one spot and eventually opened workshops.
Among the first artisans in town were: Yehuda Levi Bercovitch the tailor, Pinkhas Daytch and Nakhman, both shoemakers.
The meat business was also developing, previously in the hands of the Aran and Telent families. Soon the Eynhorns joined. This business gave work to many Jewish wagon drivers, like Ziskind, Shapiro, DovidShloymeh Ginzburg, Kraytzer, Blond Yudl and Moshe Yosl Furman.
After The First World War
The First World War suddenly ruined the economic development of the town. The battles took place not far from Dukstas and almost the entire Jewish population ran away to Russia. A large part of the town was destroyed. All the financial success from hard work was lost. After the war, people began slowly to return, but many did not and remained in foreign places where they found new opportunities to earn a living.
Dukstas began to rebuild anew. The wheat and lumber business began again. The firm Kovarsky Himelfarb concentrated on doing business in wheat, flour and flax. They opened branches in surrounding town such as Braslav, Druye, Gluboke ,Disna and others. In later years, they were based in Vilna and Warsaw.
This firm hired many Jews as employees, middlemen, agents, foremen and simple workers. After the war, old friends joined them including the brothers Yisroel and Noteh Luria, Aharon Katcherginsky, Tuvyeh Karlin, Abba Yosef Bloshteyn, Tzinman, Karasin and others. The Levin firm dealt in lumber.
One of the biggest lumber merchants in those years was Aharon Katcherginsky, a new resident who quickly familiarized himself with the town and soon became an active member of the community. He also became the owner of the mill and in 1929 built a power plant which brought electricity to our town for the first time. Understandably, this was important for all the residents of Dukstas, Jews and Christians alike. The electric lights
in town stimulated future development, in the social activity as well as physical appearance.
Nature also made the town pretty as it was surrounded by green fields, thick forests and large lakes that encompassed many kilometres. The waters sparkled and provided a harmony of colours depending on the changes in weather. It is no wonder, groups of kids, in their free time in the afternoon, would go out into nature and enjoy the beauty. Some would sail, others would walk in the forests, and others would enjoy a relaxing walk through the fields. They widened the boundaries of the town and dreamt and hoped for their future.
Practically speaking, some of the residents understood how to take advantage of the beautiful nature surrounding the town and took to fishing. These fishermen would go out in the summer late at night and in the winter very early in the morning do carry out their hard work. It was particularly hard in the winter when the lakes were frozen and covered with thick layers of ice and snow. They would make cracks in the ice and using special nets and other tools the fish would be caught, gathered in ice cellars, packed in baskets with ice and transported to the central cities of Poland. The people doing this work were the brothers: Gdud, Arans from Rimshan, Gavenda from Ignalina and others. There were also crayfish in the surrounding lakes which were packed in specially prepared baskets and transported to the biggest cities in the land. The Bloshteyn family took part in this.
The iron business lay in the hands of Yosef Rives, Reuven Feyglson and Moishe Luria. The leather business was run by: Yisroel Feldman, Eliezer Hamburg, Drisviyatsky, and Kurland. The textile industry was run by: the Luria family, Gurvitch, Feldman, Levin, Rosenberg and others. The owners of the larger food businesses were: Notl Luria,
Motl Gurvitch, Zundl Tzinman, Tzipe Rosenberg, Frayda Hamburg.
Dukstas was quickly rebuilt. Even though the town was only 3 kilomtres from the Lithuanian border, it still was able to become a leading centre in the region, with tight business connections with merchants in Vidz, Apse, Braslav, Druye and other towns.
After the war, another railway was built, connecting Dukstas with Druye. It was a small train which daily bring many cars of wheat, flax and lumber that provided a livelihood for many Jewish families. This expedition was run by the firm Zalman Leyb Segal.
A significant amount of Jews worked in the mill and sawmill that belonged to Katcherginsky. In season, many worked in the fruit business packing crates of apples. This way, many peddlers and wagon drivers earned extra income.
The coachmen earned a livelihood from transporting cargo, as well as passengers, especially on market days in the surrounding towns.
It is worthwhile to tell about on episode concerning one such coachman, the Blond Yudl. Yudl was a middle aged man with a pointy small yellow beard, thin face, resembling a teacher more than a wagon driver. Even his horse was thin and could barely stand on his legs, reminding us of Sholem Aleichem's story The Mare. But the horse brought Yudll a livelihood. Yudl mainly transported passengers from the Dukstas station to Vidz, a distance of approximately 28 kilometres. This trip would often take place at night, the roads were not paved, and in the fall he would ride through thick mud. Such a trip would take 78 hours.
Midway, they would come across the Volhynia Lake where all the coachmen would drive down the hill to allow their horses to drink from the lake.
One day, Yudl was taking new passengers who were unfamiliar with the area. When he went down the hill, as usual to bring his horse to drink, the passengers became frightened and asked why he was taking them to a lake. Yudl
responded , telling them he was taking a shortcut. It is true they will get soaked, but it's not worth for him, at such a fare, to travel on dry land. If they pay the difference, he would be happy to take the longer, dryer route.
This was, of course , an episode. In reality, Yudl was an honest Jew, with a sense of humour, always in a good mood. A true people's person.
From an economic stand point, Dukstas had nothing to complain about. Nobody suffered from hunger, and everyone earned a living.
Culture and Education
Until the First World War all the Jewish children in Dukstas received the same education as everywhere else. Only in Cheder. (Religious school). The well known teachers were: Zilig Shloymeh, Shmuel Feyvish, Itche Yosl, and the ritual slaughterer Shmuel Hirsh. The older boys, the one's after Bar Mitzvah were taught by Reb Dov Ber Avigail.
At the beginning, Itche Yosl did not live in town. He would come to Dukstas to teach temporarily. Later, he moved with his family to town.
By the end of the 19th century, Abba Eidelman, the son from a wellknown family began to revolt against the Cheder and its teachers. His father beat him and he had to run away. His ideas quickly spread and he found many supporters.
Abba Eidelman pursued his worldly education abroad and became a famous artist.
An important personality, particularly among the workers was Shaul Rappaport. I will provide a short biography in later writings.
These two individuals mad a large impression of the youth of Dukstas. Many strove to escape the Cheder and study in the outside world. In the end, some of the distinguished families decided in good faith to send their children to study in Dvinsk or Vilna.
The first families to send their children
to study away from home were: Sinovitch, Podvidz and Holland.
These high school students would return home for vacation and Jewish holidays, bringing with them winds of change.
In 1902, the first speech on Zionism was delivered. Thanks to him, a Zionist organization was founded in town. The first members were: Eidelman, Podvidz, Hollender and Abba Shimon Davidovitch. The branch in Dukstas only had a few members and belonged to the Vilna Zionist division.
In those days, the Levin family brought in a teacher from Dvinsk to teach their children. He organized a branch of the Bund, which attracted some of the Zionist youth.
Under his influence, the Bund became quite strong in town. After the revolution of 1905, he worked illegally. His activity became even stronger.
In 1905 the first Jewish library was founded. Its leaders were: Binyomin Kopolovitch, Shimon Davidovitch, and Efraim Eidelman.
Thanks to these books, many of the youth began to read about secular subjects. There were many progressive clubs, where Hebrew newspapers were read: HaTzfirah and HaMelitz.
The news and sensationalized stories spread with lightning speed throughout the town.
An important communal worker in these years was Shneur Zalman Levin. He served as a middleman between the Jewish community and the local authorities.
After the First World War, with the emergence of the Polish Republic, one of the leaders from the Bund, Feyvish Gilinsky became well known. He was from Dukstas. In the 1930s he sat as a councilman on the Warsaw city council, and was one of the founders of the Medem Sanitorium.
After the war, an intensive communal and cultural life began to flourish.
One of the first secular Jewish schools in the province was founded, setting an example for other towns.
The initiative of starting a secular Jewish school was taken on by: Lipman Levin, Bezalae Levin, Asher Segal and Zalman Feyglson.
The first teacher in the Yiddish school was Motl Gilinsky from Sventzian, who while in the seminary, received the all telling name Batko.
At the same time, once again Zionist thought began to spread in town. In 1924 the Hechalutz (the Pioneer) was founded and a half year later, HaChalutz Hatzair (the Young Pioneer).
The pioneers would take part in difficult physical work and were admired by Christians and Jews. No one could comprehend how such children from wealthy families would chop wood and work in the fields with the workers.
Eventually, like everywhere else, two fronts were established: the Zionist and antiZionist. Among those who opposed Zionism were: Bundists, Communists, and Yiddishists. At first, those opposing were much stronger, but with time, Zionist ideas developed deep roots among the Jewish population and the majority of the youth were taken by these ideas.
In 1926 a Hebrew school was founded in town. At first it was affiliated with Mizrachi (religious Zionists) and then to Tarbut.
The founders of the Hebrew school were: Bezalel Levi, Aharon Katcherginsky, Moishe Luria, Yisroel Feldman, Eliezer Hamburg, Yosef Shvil and others.
One of the first teachers in the Hebrew school was Shmuel Dobkin from Svir.
The budget of the school was subsidized mainly from tuition, paid by the parents. This did not cover the expenses, forcing them to look for additional income. To achieve this, the Zionist youth helped out: collections, performances, lotteries and tag days.
Here we can see great devotion from the members: Yisroel and Hirsh Gurvitch, Mordekhai Karlin, Musia Kamraz, Shloymeh and Nokhem Bloshteyn, the Gurvitch brothers, Binyomin and Soreh Davidovitch, Rokhl Katcherginsky, Rodeh Luria, Basia Gurvitch, Bluma Hamburg, Khaya Karasin, Nekheh Luria, Shayneh Davidovitch, and the author of these lines.
Every Zionist sympathizer took upon himself a moral obligation to support the newly founded school, in different ways depending on possibilities and talents.
The top organizer and founder was Bezalel Levin, one of the founders of Zionist ideology in our town. I will dedicate a few lines to him later on in my memoir.
First row bottom from right to left: Hirsh Gurvitch, Shloimeh Katcherginsky, Zelig Feyglman, Tzadok Feldman, Khone Aron
Second row: A. Opeskin, Bezalel Levin, Shmuel Dobkin,____, Milyeh Segal, Aharon Kagan, Yisroel Gurvitch
Third row: Mikhaek Feldman, Shayneh Davidovitch,
Fourth row: Hinda Hamburg, Bayleh Aron, Esther Feldman, Esther Tabakhovitch
Soon all the Zionist organizations and parties concentrated around the Hebrew school. A cultural club was founded called Ben Yehuda's Corner, which attracted a lot of young people. Every member of the club accepted the obligation to speak Hebrew to each other. This club founded a brass orchestra. It was led by Hirshl Gurvitch, who had been a member of Hechalutz, and later a founder of Betar. His assistant in the orchestra was Mordekhai Karlin, known to all for his artistic talents, especially as a comic.
The above mentioned gave all their energy and free time to communal work. A handful of people, without money, without an appropriate building, without textbooks, without an association with a central organization, but with stubbornness and enthusiasm, founded the Hebrew school.
Besides the mentioned difficulties, it was also difficult to gain permission from the authorities. They had to intervene with the curator and school inspector. Only with the intervention of Senator Rabbi Rubinshteyn did they succeed in obtaining a temporary permit to open the school for the academic year 1926/27. As they did not have a building, they took over the women's shul. In order to gain support from the religious community, they called the Hebrew school Mizrachi School.
The first year they begin with very few students. With time enrollment grew, and the school continued to develop. Within a year, they left the women's shul and rented a room in the home of Dovid Sloimeh Ginsburg. They did not remain there long. By 1929 they built their own building.
The opening of the school was celebrated with great fanfare. Senator Rabbi Rubinshteyn and the leader of Mizrachi, Rabbi Kleynshteyn came from Vilna.
The guests were led from the train station, accompanied by the Tarbut Orchestra, to the home of Aharon Katcherginsky. With the help of Rokhl Katcherginsky, known for her great hospitality, the important guests were well received. Also present were our local rabbi, Rabbi Avigail, Bezalel Levin and others.
There was a celebratory mood in town. Young and old came out to share in the joy. Many guests arrived from the surrounding towns, including the Zionist leader from Ignalina, Yerakhmiel Karb(Korb) and others. The celebration took place in the new building at beautifully set tables.
In honour of this event, the children, for the first time, performed in Hebrew. The local teachers, with patience and perseverance, never abandoned their work
First row bottom, right to left: Esther Tabakhovitch, Mikhael Feldman, Nekhe Luria, Beyleh Aron
Second row: Khone Aron, Leyb Gravitch, Moishe Daytch, Nokhem Bloshteyn
Third row: Shneur Davidovitch, Shloimeh Bloshteyn, Segal, Aharon Beker, Soreh Hamburg, Mordekhai Levin, Shmuel Dobkin, Shloimeh Katcherginsky, Peretz Kagan, Avrom Segal
even under the hardest conditions, and sometimes waiting months for minimal pay. Among them were: Shmuel Dobkin, Aharon Beker, Fliskin,Mina Minkovitch and others.
Until 1931 the school was officially associated with Mizrachi, in connection to the department in Vilna. Later they belonged to Tarbut which was based in Warsaw.
The Hebrew school had a drama club that performed on Purim, Pesach and other Jewish holidays. It was always difficult to find an appropriated hall. There were none in the Jewish community. They had to approach the Polish community. There were two: Ludov and Agnisko. There was always a competition between the Hebrew and Yiddish school (of which I will discuss later) to get the better hall.
The children's performances in Hebrew were particularly successful, prepared with great effort by the teachers and parents. The administrative tasks and decorations were enthusiastically done by all involved with the school. The income and donations were key. Such events always gave the feeling that something important was accomplished among the people and strengthened the belief and continuity of the old Hebrew language.
The Hebrew school existed in Dukstas for 14 years, from 1926 1940, when the Red Army arrived.
During that time, the grown up graduates carried the Zionist ideal and spread the pioneering spirit.
With the outbreak of the World War and the entry of the Red Army, we saw the demise of one of the most beautiful cultural achievement the Hebrew school.
The Yiddish School
The Yiddish school was founded right after the First World War, representing the basis of cultural life in town, for the entire Jewish community, no matter which party affiliation. Its existence is thanks to a group called crazy about it. Members of this group included: Bezalel Levin, Feyglson, Leybe Kushlin, Lipman Levin, Eliyusha Himlfarb, and the Segal family. In two small crowded rooms at Frayda Hamburg's, Jewish children got their first taste of the Yiddish classics, history and other subjects within the framework of a 6 class Folk Shul. Teachers were found, who with great effort, under difficult circumstances, instilled the Yiddish word into the souls of the young Jewish children in town.
The school was associated with the centre in Vilna, but supported itself through various efforts: tuition, events and private donations. Thanks to the devotion of its supporters, they managed in 1930 to build a nice building, which resulted in improved local relations and led to further growth and development. The school had a rich library, which provided the opportunity to learn about Jewish and secular culture. The drama club also displayed great talent with the help of: Abba Levin, Dovid Beer, Mendl and Mordkhai Hamburg, Yosef Shapiro, Yudl Gefen, Leyb Bloshteyn, Malka Bloshteyn, the female teacher LevGefen, Yisroel Levin and others.
The school remained active until the outbreak of the war between Russia and Germany, and together with the Jewish population of the town, ended its 22 year existence.
One of the most constructive economic initiatives in town was the People's Bank, which was founded right after the First World War by the businessmen: Zalman Fyglson, Abba and Lipman Levin, Bezalel Levin, Yoel Luria, AbbaYosef Bloshteyn, Pinkhas Daytch, Yosef Rivesh and others.
The People's Bank in Dukstas joined the central committee of Jewish People's Banks in Warsaw. Its fundamental capital was based on the income of the local Jewish residents and long term loans they received from Vilna and Warsaw.
The bank made loans available to everyone in town. The conditions were comfortable: a low percent at small monthly rates. In such conditions small business and artisans got the help they needed to exist.
This was a clean economic institution but often political party antagonism would sneak in causing bitter fights between two camps: the Zionists and Yiddishists. Above all, in the elections for council and the People's Bank. Each side wanted to ensure a majority. The general meeting would take place in the synagogue and always drew a large crowd.
A member of the central committee would come: Kliansky or Mekhanik. Neither one was a Zionist. This played well for the antiZionist camp in town. Many unaffiliated would vote for them.
After the elections, everyone would forget their differences and bickering and return to sitting together at one table working for the benefit of this important institution.
Over the years the People's Bank in Dukstas underwent various periods. There were times of prosperity and crisis. The leadership did everything to encourage development in order to help the Jewish community. They sacrificed their days and nights and very often their health and money.
In order to increase credit, they would
make an appeal to the people. These appeals always had positive results.
In 1939, with the outbreak of the Second World War, and the region was now part of Lithuania, the People's Bank did not stop its activity. It now joined with the central bank in Kovno. This was a prosperous time for the bank because they received a lot of support from the central institution in Kovno.
This honeymoon did not last long. By July 1940 Lithuania was occupied by the Soviets and became part of the Soviet Union. The People's Bank in Dukstas was closed. The entire
archive and inventory was sent to Kovno.
This was the demise of tone of the most positive, worthwhile institutions in town.
To conclude I would like to provide a list of those who played an active role in the bank from its founding until its downfall: Zalman Feyglson, Bezalel Levin, Abba Levin, Lipman Levi, Leybe Levin, Soreh Levin Davidovitch, Leybe Hamburg, Binyomin Davidovitch, Soreh Hamburg, Abba Yosef Bloshteyn, Asher Segal, Aharon Katcherginsky, Yoel Luria, Moishe Luria, Mordekhai Gurvitch, Yisroel Gurvitch, Mordekhai Hamburg, Pinkhas Daytch, Yosef Rivesh, Yoel Feldman, and the author of these lines.
by Shloimeh Katcherginsky
Translated by Janie Respitz
Rabbi Dov Ber Avigail
Rabbi Dov Ber Avigail was the Rabbi of Dukstas for many years. He was physically weak, small in stature with a straggly beard, yet he possessed a large soul. He was a kind, learned, God fearing Jew.
He was satisfied with basic material needs. He did not worry about this world; he strove for a better afterlife.
When passing legal judgement he displayed an enormous amount of patience, always finding a way for both sides to compromise. This is why so many came from all over for his advice, even other Rabbis.
He passed away in 1940, having had the honour to be buried in the Jewish cemetery.
Dov Ber Avigail was considered was one of the most popular Rabbis in the entire Vilna province, during the period between the two World Wars.
Before his death he passed on the position of chief rabbi to his soninlaw Rabbi Borukh Spivak. He did not foresee his community living out its last years, and the horrific destruction that stood at the threshold.
Rabbi Elkhanan Segal
Khone, as he was called, was one of the first Jewish residents of Dukstas. He had two sons: Reuven, who died in the First World War, and Zalman Leyb, killed by Hitler's murderers.
Rabbi Elkhanan had branches of his family in Poland and Lithuania. His proudest moments were when all his grandchildren and greatgrandchildren gathered and he could recount episodes of his life. Having lived 108 years, he had lots of stories to tell. He had a special style of storytelling keeping the attention of his listeners. He was and honest, passionate Jew. Until his last days, he never missed going to synagogue to pray. He would walk there three times a day. The people of our town called him not long ago, because that is how he began all his stories.
Not long ago, when I began to go to Cheder…. Everyone knew chapters of his biography.
Until his last day he was fresh, happy, energetic and fully aware. He was never sick and had trouble understanding physical pain of others.
When one of his grandchildren complained of a toothache, Khone, who was over 100 angrily said how can bones hurt?
No wonder he was considered an interesting type, not only in Dukstas, but in the surrounding area. Everyone marveled about this healthy old man.
Jews and gentiles respected him, and showed him a special love. He died a natural death and was buried in the Jewish cemetery before the arrival of Hitler's murderers.
A son of a Rabbi, he studied and was raised in religious schools, later on his own, obtained a secular education.
Arriving in Dukstas after the First World War he devoted himself entirely to communal work, often neglecting his own interests.
First of all, he was one of the founders of the Yiddish school. A few years later he became one of the most important Zionist leaders in town. Thanks to him, HeChalutz was founded in Dukstas in 1924, followed by The Jewish National Fund and The Jewish Agency. The crown of his activity was the founding of the Hebrew school. He devoted days and nights for its development, attracting new workers and sympathizers. In connection with the Vilna division, without fear he opposed all disturbances and with pride achieved his idealistic goals.
A man of rare energy, full of courage and stubbornness, he devoted his best years to furthering Zionist thought and always dreamed how to make it a reality.
In 1935, he managed, with great effort to emigrate to Israel, illegally as a tourist, with the plan to eventually bring his wife Bayleh and their son Hillel. His plan was never realized. Being very lonely, he got sick and died three months later.
The news of his death impacted Dukstas greatly. Not just his family, but the entire Zionist movement. For many years his memory encouraged and energized his followers to continue the Zionist work he began.
His grave is in the Nachalat Yitzchak cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Born in Rimshan, a small town near Dukstas. Before the First World War he went to Russia and lived in Snavsk, in the Chernigov region. Already in those years, he became involved in Zionist activity and other philanthropic institutions. Especially close to his heart was the Radom Yeshiva of Chefetz Chaim, of blessed memory, who he befriended during the years 1919/21, when he was one of the lumber merchants in the city and a partner in the power station, and found time to help support the Yeshiva.
In 1921, Aharon and his family left Russia, and as a Polish citizen, returned to Poland. Travelling with him on the same train were some students from the Yeshiva. The Chafetz Chaim, of blessed memory came to the train and made a special blessing. In 1924, together with his wife and three children, he settled in Dukstas and quickly became involved in Jewish communal affairs, administration of the People's Bank, representing the Zionist camp and always showing interest in the workers. He helped organize all Zionist activities and all communal philanthropic events.
In 1926, together with Bezalael Levin, he was the first builder of the Hebrew school. He dedicated a lot of energy to the project as well as time and money. He was particularly involved in build a new building for the school. He served as an example to other residents of the town, donating large sums of money.
Thanks to his business connections, he was able to get donations from some Christians, receiving lumber and other building materials for the Hebrew school.
For 13 years of his life in Dukstas, 19241937, he was one of the most prominent community
personalities. After a brief illness he passed away in May, 1937
His death did not only orphan the Katcherginsky family, but also the Zionist movement in town, and above all else the Tarbut school, which he loved dearly and was connected to with heart and soul.
The entire Jewish community came to his funeral, where they laid him to his eternal rest in the Dustas cemetery.
At first Moishe Luria was a wheat and flax merchant. Later he owned an iron company. He gave a lot of his time, energy and money to raise the cultural level in town.
His beloved institution was the Hebrew school. He gave his soul to the school. From the first day he was one of the most active volunteers and builders. In his Zionist work he knew of no compromise in the battle with those who opposed Zionism. In the fall of 1941 he was murdered by Hitlers' beasts together with his wife Rodeh and son Khone.
The son of Mordkhai Gurvitch. A well know merchant in town from before the First World War, and a hotel owner after the war. Yisroel was one of the first members of HeChalutz in Dukstas and participated in all Zionist activities. He was very helpful in the founding of the Hebrew school. He was always ready
Moishe Daytch, Bluma Hamburg, Shloimeh Katcherginsky, the male teacher, the female teacher, Yisroel Gurvitch
when called upon by the Zionist movement to develop its ideals. He worked for the meeting of The Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency. His entire life he dreamed about Eretz Yisrael and waited for an immigration certificate to realize his dream. Hitler's bandits and the Lithuanian hooligans ruined his dreams. The murderers killed him together with his wife Basia, their son and the entire Jewish community.
Bottom: Hirsh Gurvitch
Standing first row: Yakov Feldman, Lipke Rosenberg, Bluma Hamburg, Rokhl Shur, Dovid Gravitch
2nd row: Yakov Hamburg, Bluma Hamburg, Shneur Karb, Khaya Kurland, Sholem Tabakhovitch
The second son of Mordkhai Gurvitch. He was the founder of the Tarbut Orchestra and its conductor, with special musical talents. Founded Betar in town to which he devoted much time and energy. One of the talented artists who participated in the theatre performances dedicated to the Hebrew School. He married just before the war in Marchinkantze, Vilna province and was killed by Hitler's murderers.
Meir Katcherginsky was one of the first graduates of the Hebrew school. Later went to Vilna to study at the Tarbut High School, and was one of the founders of Ha'Shomer HaTzair in town. He also worked hard to establish Ha'Shomer in other towns. His youthful enthusiasm and devotion toward his ideals helped him leave home and join a Zionist training camp first in Myadel and then in Grokhov, near Warsaw.
During the war he was in Gluboke with his wife. Like everywhere else, there too he displayed great enthusiasm and tried to help friends by preparing false passes to cross over to the Aryan side. Helping him with this work was the Yiddish poet Shmerl Katcherginsky. (Killed in a plane crash in 1954).
From Gluboke, together with his wife and a friend, disguised themselves as White Russian police, and on bicycles arrived in Vilna, where he worked as a blacksmith in a smithy. A Lithuanian bandit from Dukstas recognized him and turned him in to the Gestapo.
He was horribly tortured in Lukshik jail, in an attempt to make him turn in his wife and friends. He held firm and stubborn and did not say a word. The wild animals poked out his eyes, and with great cruelty, tortured him to death. He was 26 years old.
Let his name always be remembered together with all the other martyrs and heroes who were killed by Hitler's beasts during the Second World War.
The Feldman Family
Yisroel Feldman and his five sons: Yoel, Mikhael, Tzadok, Moishe and Yankl and his daughter Esther were active in the Zionist communal life in our town. They supported the Hebrew school and donated money to all Zionist activities. The youngest brother Yakov died tragically before the war. He was a graduate of the Hebrew school and was to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael just before the outbreak of the war. A month before his departure he went to Vidz to say goodbye to family. There he was attacked by young Polish antiSemites who killed him. The rest of the family was eventually killed in Dukstas, Vilna and Braslav.
One of the first to switch his children from the Yiddish school to the Hebrew school. His daughter Bluma had great artistic talents, belonged to the drama club and took part in all the Zionist performances.
Eliezer (Lozer) was one of the most devoted volunteers for the Hebrew school. His daughters Bluma and Soreh were in the Vilna Ghetto. Together with a group of 17 people, they escaped to the forest planning to join the partisans. On their way, near Svir forest, they were killed.
A son from an established Jewish family in town. His father Asher was a devoted Zionist volunteer and the first teacher of Jewish Studies in the Hebrew language. Yisroel was one of the first pioneers to emigrate
to Eretz Israel right after the First World War. Slowly he brought the rest of the members of his family. He was one of the founding members of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem. The first to arrive were his sisters: Bayleh, Yaffa and Miriam. Later, his brother Binyomin with his whole family, followed by his sister KhavaRokhl and son and daughter.
Their parents emigrated in 1935. Some of the family settled in Nes Tziona, and others in Netanya. The old man Aher and his wife died in Nes Tziona and are buried there.
Yisroel, of blessed memory, died in 1962. Not long before he died he was helpful with his knowledge of the history of Dukstas.
A wellknown socialist leader .He was born in Dukstas in 1865 and died in France in 1942. Right after Cheder, he went to study in Vilna, leaving behind his brother KhayimMoishe to study with local religious teachers.
Already in his youth he stood out as an activist. In 1883 he joined the Revolutionary Socialist Party. In 1887, together with Lenin's brother participated in a conspiracy to attack Czar Alexander III. Lenin's brother was sentenced to death and Rappaport escaped to France where he later became a citizen. He joined the French Socialist Party, aligning himself with the extreme far left wing. He was a relentless proponent of Marxist theory. He wrote for the French Socialist press.
During the First World War in 1917/18 he was sentenced by a military court to three months of arrest for his speaking out against the government of Clemenceau. He wrote a pamphlet in self defence which caused a big sensation.
He joined the French Communist Party in 1921. The party had to be thankful to him for their victory at the party congress.
From 19221924 he published the newspaper
Revi Communist. In 1926 he was invited to Russia and received with great fanfare. He also worked as an editor of the Marxist column for the newspaper Humanity. The Moscow Trials in 1929 in Russia led to his departure from the Communist Party. In 1930 he wrote and open explanation.
In 1922 a Russian White Guard tried to assassinate him. This resulted in his daughter being wounded.
The Paris Yiddish newspaper Arbeter Tzeitung published his autobiography in 193033. His last two works were dedicated to the Jewish question, under the title of At the Crossroads and Historical Writings.
Among his many published works are: The Social Qustion of Ethics (1895)
La Revolution Mondiale (The World Revoultion) 1923
La Philosophie sociale de Pierre Lavroff (The Social Philosophy of Pierre Lavroff) 1901
La Philosophie de l'histoire de Prouthon (The Philosophy of History of Prouthon) 1904
Socialisme gouvernmental et socialism revolutionnaire (Governmental Socialism and Revolutionary Socialism) 1910.
Jean Jaures 1910 with an introduction by Anatol Franz
Marx and the Dictator of the Proletariat 1920, in Yiddish.
Torture, Murder and Destruction
The large brothers grave of Jewish martyrs lays spread over a field between the roads from Dukstas to Zarasai in the socalled Dukstas forest. There were no survivors from the Umshlag Platz except a few that were saved from the grave by hiding in the forest: Bluma HamburgZilbershteyn, Khaya Kushlin and Reuven Hamburg (Saved himself in Russia). They collected limited material. They received the news of what happened from the Dukstas Christians who witnessed the deaths of the Jews.
Sixteen days after the war began the Red Army arrived in Dukstas. A short time later, power was handed over to the Lithuanians, who remained under Russian supervision until the outbreak of the RussianGerman was of June 22, 1941.
Two days later, the Lithuanian bandits began to rob Jewish businesses, divided the Jewish goods and possessions among themselves and began their sadistic cruelty and murder. One of the local Lithuanian bandits, a former owner of a bakery and restaurant, Antony Umbraz, was nominated as one of the leaders of the town. The first murders of Jewish youth were carried out by him. He also began the business of taxation. Officially the commander of the town was a German, but in practice the leaders were Lithuanian collaborators. Besides this bandit others who excelled with cruelty were the Sharke brothers, Abelevitch, Mikulen and others.
A few days later these sadistic murderers showed their true colours and began their horrific work. Jewish children of various ages, together with Moishe Daytch, of blessed memory, one of the Zionist activists in town, were pitilessly killed.
The following were killed in this first operation: Sonia, Hirshl and Avrom Segal; Nokhem and Mikhael (Mikhkeh) Teller; Moishe Levin (son of Abba Levin); Bebik Hamburg (son of Eliezer Hamburg);Avremke Levin (son of Dovid Levin);Yishayahu Telent; Yisrolke Shapiro (son of Hirshl Shapiro); Shneur Tbabkhovitch; Yakov Hamburg; Shmuel (Mulke) Rosenberg, (son of Tzipe Rosenberg) and Moishe Daytch.
The names of the others killed in this operation are unknown.
The murders were done in the open. Each one was tortured in a different way, on the streets, in the market place, or the roads to surrounding villages.
Avrom (Avremke) Segal was tied to the back of a wagon and dragged with his head on the ground by galloping horses over the paved streets. Arriving close to the Jewish cemetery, the Lithuanian bandits shot the bloodied, tortured martyr and left him in the open field.
His sister Sonia was tortured publicly near the police station. Mikhke Teller was cut up alive in front of his father, the local
Medic, Shloimeh (Solomon) Teller, the father who was forced to be present, attacked one of the murderers, and began to choke him. A second bandit shot the medic together with his other son Nokhem, who came to help. This is a short description of the methods of murder carried out in those times. The Jews of our town were still living in their own homes and had to witness these terrible tragedies.
A few days later he increased tax collection. All methods were Kosher.
A Jew from the town of Rimshan (about 8 km. from Dukstas), Solitan, hid at the leader of the bandits, Antony Umbroz, at the cost of 200 gold ruble ( a large sum in those days, especially for a Jew from a small town). The moment the money ran out, he was shot.
By August 1941 the Jews were taken from their homes, permitted only to take the minimum amount of possessions. One group apparently the wealthier were brought to a halfisland on Lake Disner called Ostrov, and the second group to the Jewish bathhouse and the surrounding homes called Azhutovineh. The Jews were isolated and any contact with Christians was punishable by death.
money or possessions, the majority of the Jewish population lived off the mercy of a few Russians who in different ways managed to bring food into the socalled Ghetto.
The Jews from both places Ostrov and Azhutovine, women and men, worked on the railroad line between Ignalina and Turmont, forced to walk many kilometres a day.
The beginning of September that same year, the Jews were brought to Antonova, a good estate, which was owned by the noblewoman Navahanska, 3 kilometres from town.
In cold rain, with minimal humane conditions, in an open field, men and women were locked up for three weeks. They continued to be taken to the same work. Despite the difficulty of the work and the far walk, the majority of the Jews were interested. True, the guarding by the Lithuanians was very strict, but from time to time they managed to make contact with the Christian population, and through various means, receive food, most important, bread for one's family. They paid for the produce with clothing and valuable objects that had not been stolen. The Lithuanian officers would receive their part for these transactions.
A few tradesmen from among the Jewish population were useful in town as shoemakers, tailors, and stitchers. They were happy as their material situation was better. Even their normal life ended on September 21st, 1941.1941 16 Lithuanians arrived in Antanova. Promising better conditions, they took everyone to a field. Under stronger supervision, in the dark of night, they took women, children and men without telling them
where they were heading. Small children and the sick were taken by wagon. On the way the drivers were in a good mood. Late at night they stopped in a potato field. Not only did they allow everyone to cook and eat the potatoes, the allowed them to take a supply. Early in the morning, Lipke Gdud's wife, Bezalel's daughter gave birth in the wagon. One of the guards, out of pity killed the baby. Having witnessed this murderous act, Shimon Tabakhovitch began to strangle the bandit. Three other bandits jumped on him and shot him.
The last road travelled by the Jews of Dukstas led to Zarasai, a town in Lithuania about 25 kilometres away. Midway, in the Degutch forest, they stopped. This was the meeting place of all the Jews from the surrounding towns. The cruelty soon began. By the afternoon of September 22nd, they began to separate children from their parents. Machine guns stood in all corners of the field.
The Lithuanian barbarians together with their German partners, in broad daylight, murdered thousands of children, women and men. The Christian forest guard witnessed this horrific tragedy. He was not in a position to recount all he saw, but he did tell this short version:
That day, when a stream of men, women and children arrived from all around to the big field which was surrounded by a dense forest, they locked me, the forest guard in a room, and threatened to kill me if I came out during the day. Through a crack in the wood, I climbed into the attic and saw a black crowd of people. At every corner of the field were machine guns. They divided men, women and children into rows, and shot them as they walked. Mothers who refused to give up their children were shot with their children in their arms. Suddenly, people began to run around naked, not knowing where. They ran and fell. Not one man was saved from this fire.
The town of Dukstas remained standing in its old place. The houses were not destroyed in the war. A few houses were burned accidentally when the Russians entered in 1944.
During my 4 hour visit in town in the fall of 1944, I met the same nonJewish faces
with their fake smiles and false compassion. Each one with his newly acquired wealth from stolen Jewish possessions and revolting bragging about how many Jews they managed to save.
I sought out the direct Lithuanian murderers, but to no avail. The bandits escaped to surrounding areas and continued to rob, but not the Jews. There were none left. I found only one Jewish family in town, HamburgZilberman.
Broken and without hope I walked through the former Dukstas Jewish streets, visiting the old Jewish corners, I found no trace of the past.
An autumn wind blew from the surrounding fields and chased me with cold and terror. Depressed, I left Dukstas on the next freight train leaving behind the judgement of history.
To close the historical overview, a period of only 78 years, I had to write rise and fall of the Jews of Dukstas. I am sure I did not write about everyone and everything. More would have been written if there had been more witnesses.
My deepest gratitude goes to my friends who helped gather some of the information, especially Reuven Hamburg, Bluma HamburgZilberman, Nekhe Luria, Leyb Bloshteyn, Yisroel Dvidovitch of blessed memory, and my sister Miriam Wasserman.
by Miriam Katcherginsky Wasserman
Translated by Janie Respitz
Tragic and horrific were our experiences which we will never tire of recounting and we will not stop remembering the loss of our mothers, sisters and brothers.
As long as we are alive on this earth, as long as we are still breathing, we will continue to see, in every drop of dew the tears of our mothers, and in every whisper of wind we will hear the prayers of our fathers and the reading of Psalms by all the simple Jews on their way to their death in the Dugutch forest.
We will forever be the children of the Holocaust who walk barefoot on the ashes and search for the flame of all those simple, yet devoted Jews from our town of Dukstas. Their song will ring in our ears for eternity, from the burnt out small synagogues, clubs and houses of prayer and study, the echo from the Psalms sung out by our fathers and great grandfathers.
Wherever we may find ourselves, we will hear the voice of all the bones of Dukstas and we will remember the holy words they said to us on usual and dreadful days.
The ruins of our town have cooled and are extinguished, but wherever we go we will forever carry the hellish flame from our destroyed and washed out town.
Those hellish fires will never be still or extinguished. They tug and twist in the quiet words that we bring like prayers, a contribution to the memorial book for the murdered Jews of the Sventzian region.
There are no towns, entire worlds destroyed and no words for the tragedy and nor words for the deep pain. Entire generations lost their lineage in the blood soaked earth. The silent skies reflect their glances, the winds carry their ashes and their souls fly in all spaces like the wings of white doves.
All the forests rustle in a lamenting cry for the thousands of martyrs. All the hilltops remind us of the heaps of children's shoes, all the caves in the gloomy ghettos.
We will never forget, never, we will never forget you, fathers and grandfathers, mothers and sisters from our dead home, Dukstas, our dear town. The cry of blood will never be silenced, which was absorbed in the ground of the forest Degutch.
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