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[Pages 108-109]

I Won't Be a Shopkeeper in the Diaspora!

By Batya Aviel (Levitt)

Translated by Judy Grossman

Market Day took place once a week. The Gentiles from the area would come with their wagons piled high with produce. Then they would buy goods in the Jewish shops. On Market Day, my mother didn't let me go to school. I would stand in our shop to keep an eye on the people. My mother used to say to me: “Batinka, keep an eye on the Gentile.”

One day I saw a Christian woman slipping a silk handkerchief under her dress, and I took fright. I only told my mother about it after she had left the shop.

Another time a rich landowner came to the shop, wanting to buy material for a suit. My mother spread one weave on the table, and another one, and so on. The man kept deliberating and had a hard time deciding. You need to know that cloth for a suit could produce a large profit, much more than the cost of a silk handkerchief. Suddenly I heard my mother say to this rich man that she had already sold cloth for three suits that day, "And it is worth your while to take it, sir!" I knew that there had not been any customers before him, and was astonished by my mother's words. When he left the shop I asked her why she had lied to him. She answered: "That's the shopkeeper's psychology; if I tell him that I have already sold three suits, it will tempt him. I wanted to sell to him." My response was decisive: "I won't be a shopkeeper in the Diaspora! I will go to Eretz Yisrael and work the soil." I was barely ten years old at the time.

[Pages 109-110]

Ziv's Inn

Translated by Judy Grossman

Yosef Yavnai: Moshe-Leib Ziv's inn had an important place in the life of the shtetl, and I remember his daughters Batya and Mina well. In my time, the jail was located beside the inn, and the fact that Batya was a neighbor of the police was once helpful to me. This is what happened: times were hard, and we didn't have food at home. I went to Dvinsk (Daugavpils) with two friends and we bought half a sack of seeds. I remember being impressed by the wonders of the city, and especially by the weighing with scales, because in the shtetl they still gauged weight like the farmers, “approximately"… On our way back to the shtetl, carrying half a sack of seeds, we were stopped by Lithuanian guards. They falsely accused us of being speculators and put us in jail, and our contentions that the seeds were for our large family were of no use. Batya Ziv saw it and calmed our fears: "Yossele, don't be afraid." And in truth, a short while later policemen came and freed us. Batya apparently had something to do with it.

Micha Baron: The police and the Gentiles in general used to eat their fill in the inn, drink tea, and lots of vodka! They would drink until they were inebriated. You could only see an intoxicated Jew in the shtetl on Simchat Torah. In general, it was forbidden to be outdoors while under the influence, but on Simchat Torah the policemen turned a blind eye.

Rivka Shteinman: Many Gentiles came to the market on Market Day, and the rich men would come to Ziv's inn to drink alcohol. Alcohol was under government supervision, and could only be bought in licensed shops, and even there, in limited amounts.

We lived near the inn, and Batya Ziv used to store bottles of alcohol in our house, and would come and take them when they were needed. When it was rumored that the police were going to carry out a search, we would rush to transfer the "merchandise" to another house.

I remember an incident with a drunken Gentile: the inn's privy stood at the edge of our yard, and more than once a tipsy Gentile would lose his way and instead of returning to the inn would enter our house. One day, to my surprise, I heard a loud snore coming from the room of my aunt Freidl, who had long since departed this world… I went into the room and was terrified to find a drunken Gentile lying in the bed there. I ran out in fright and shouted for my father.

Rachel Rabinowitz: The floors of the rooms in Ziv's inn were covered with Persian rugs – property left by the Germans from WWI.

Tzila Gudelsky: Once Batya invited me to come and see them, and I was so impressed by their beauty!

Rachel Rabinowitz: The two sisters, Mina and Batya, were unmarried in my time. Mina was conservative, and Batya was modern and pretty, feminine and romantic. She loved life and had many admirers. Mina was the older one, and excelled in cleaning. She decided to go to Kovno (Kaunas) to see "the big city". Batya had already been there, and Mina said that she would go there too. This was at the beginning of the 1930s. Today I know that Kovno at that time was still provincial. The streetcar was still drawn by horses, but for us, the people of the shtetl, the city was wondrous!

Mina went there, and when she came back we were curious to hear her impressions. We gathered together, sat down on the stoop, and I remember her enthusiastic description: "The way they dress! The way they walk! The way they eat!" This sentence has become part of our folklore.

Yosef Yavnai: When we got older, we would go into the inn and play "flirt" – a game of amusing combinations of phrases in Hebrew. You would be asked a question, and if you didn't know the answer, you had to pay a forfeit. I remember once when Meir Levitt, Dov Levitt, Aharon Poritz and others were with me, suddenly Chanche Levitt, who was unmarried, appeared from out of the blue and asked me: "What is love?" I stammered, and probably blushed too. Go and explain to her what love is! And I had to pay a forfeit.

Rachel Rabinowitz: I liked the teacher Yudel Slep. Who among us didn't like and respect him? Once, when I was walking in the street he accompanied me. We discussed literature, and Yudel explained to the meaning of reading comprehension to me, how to analyze a story, and I was filled with pride and happiness. What an honor! The teacher Yudel is walking beside me…, and when we passed the inn, I noticed Yudel casting a glance through the window at which Batya Ziv was standing. I was filled with jealousy. I was about twelve years old at the time! I fled from there, and ran home as fast as I could.

Festivities at Ziv's Inn

Taking leave of the teacher Yudel Slep before joining the Lithuanian Army
(and the following day, enlistment was postponed…)

R. to L.
Standing: Shmuel Yosel Feldman (ran stationery store), Gershon Slovo (miller's son-in-law), Barolski (ran hardware store), Chanche Levitt (store-owner), Mina Ziv, Naftali Shub (ran leathergoods store). Sitting: Hershel Yoffe (blacksmith), David Schwartz (bank manager), Yehuda Slep (teacher), Batya Ziv, Gershuni (teacher from Antaliept), Hillel Schwartz (headmaster), Moshe Melerowitz (ran woven goods store).
Moshe-Leib Ziv's Inn – two storey building facing “Unter Dem Brik”.

Avraham-Isaac Yoffe's house is adjacent (in forefront).

[Pages 110-112]

Cupping Glasses for Healing …

Translated by Judy Grossman

Zelig Yoffe: There were well-to-do Jews in the shtetl, as well as middle class Jews, and also no shortage of beggars and poor people. There were teachers and melamdim (teachers of young boys in traditional religious schools), bankers and accountants, grain and linen merchants and lessees of orchards, grocers and merchants, tailors and cobblers, bakers and butchers, blacksmiths and metalworkers and tinsmiths, carpenters, builders and painters, fishermen and coachmen. There were inns and two flourmills. There was a lawyer, a doctor and a pharmacist, a shohet (ritual slaughterer) and a mohel (man who circumcises new-born boys), and there was the attendant of the public bathhouse, which had a mikve (ritual bath) for purification attached to it.

Rivka Levitt: The women were active in the shop and in charity projects. They concerned themselves with matchmaking and betrothal festivities. There were women in the shtetl who were knitters, weavers and seamstresses, and there were expert cooks and bakers.

Rasya Tal: There was also a midwife.

One of the special personalities was Sore-Leah Shein (mother of Chava Esther Pores), who lived to the ripe old age of ninety-nine. She made a living from the practise of cupping and leeching, was a nurse and “akusherke”, and had a remedy for every ailment[1].

Shayke Glick: My mother, Rochel-Leah, who was an expert cook, also kept herself busy with women who had given birth. After giving birth, the woman would remain in bed for at least a week, and they would cook special dishes for her - "teplech" (pots) - and I remember my mother doing that.

Rasya Tal: I remember Rachel Shub coming out of their house and calling to me with joy: "My mother gave birth in bed… I have another sister!" That was when Tzilka was born.

Beile Klem: Beile, the daughter of Moshe-Leib Berman, who had studied and qualified in midwifery, was also an "akusherke" [the Yiddish distortion of the French "accoucheur" – obstetrician].

Tzila Gudelsky: Their house had no floor. It was so poor. They baked pretzels there to sell.

Rachel Rabinowitz: Although she was without means, Beile began her higher education in Vilna, and in order to save paying rent, she would sleep on the staircase. She taught a priest Hebrew, and used this money to help pay for her studies. She completed her medical studies in France and Italy, and married an Italian professor.

Itale Charit also qualified as a midwife and worked in the University Hospital in Kovno (Kaunas). She married a man from our shtetl, Yitzchak Steinman, who was a lecturer at the university, and they lived in Kovno. The day after the war broke out, I encountered Itale who was pregnant at the time, carrying a package. "Where to?" I asked her. "I don't know. We'll follow the wind," she answered. They were last seen in Vilkomir (Ukmerge).

Zelig Yoffe's birth certificate
The Republic of Lithuania

Ministry of Education

Birth Certification Bureau


Medical Doctors

Baruch Krut: The doctors in Dusiat were Dr. Sobol, and after him – Dr. Druyan. The last one was Dr. David Epstein. His wife, Sonya, was a dentist.

When I came back to Dusiat after the war, I found a photo of Dr. Sonya Epstein.

There was a friendship between the Epsteins and the Lithuanian intelligentsia in the shtetl. I was told that in order to save their little girl, the Epsteins gave her to the wife of Kuzmickas to hide her there; but the murderer Pupeikes, may his name be wiped out, forced the child out and then killed her, in spite of her repeated imploring: “I am a Christian! I am a Christian!”

The gentiles also told me that Dr. Sonya Epstein was the only one whom they allowed to go to her death fully clad…

Local Lithuanians talking about their “brothers” who were the killers,
among them, the murderer Pupeikes.
[Courtesy of Sara Weiss-Slep, Dusiat, June 1991]

Rachel Rabinowitz: Dr. Druyan came to Dusiat from another town, with his beautiful wife from Riga. She dressed fashionably, elegantly, and wore a large hat. She died in childbirth, and I remember Dr. Druyan's loneliness after her death, and how the families in the shtetl tried to ease his burden. Later on he married a woman from Ponevezh (Panevezys) and moved to Shavli (Siauliai). Dr. Druyan was a dedicated doctor, loved by all. After the war I ran into him in Israel, and he told me how he had made the effort to obtain rare medication for my sister Itale who was gravely ill. If not for his care, she would probably not have survived.

Henia Sneh: Once when I was at Ha'Emek Hospital in Afula, I heard them call Dr. Druyan's name. I was surprised to see him, because I didn't know that he had come to Israel, and our encounter was very emotional.

Masha Gershuni: He and his family live in Herzliya, and we have remained good friends.

Slovka Sarver: There was a Lithuanian pharmacist in the shtetl who had two anti-Semitic daughters. When walking in the street they would turn their heads so as not to look at the Jews. There were two shy Jewish sisters in the shtetl who would also look aside when talking to someone, and so they were jokingly called "Dem Apoteiker's Techter" (the pharmacist's daughters).

Rasya Tal: Sonya Garber, who was an elegant woman, worked for the Lithuanian pharmacist, a very large and serious man. When we needed medicine, she was the one we always approached.

The Jewish pharmacist, Chaim-Aharon Shein, was intelligent, a special type. His wife Sore-Nehama, the daughter of Rabbi Bunim-Tzemach Zilber, had the concession for the sale of yeast.

Shmuel Levitt: The pharmacist Chaim-Aharon and his wife were our guests for the Pesach seder. When the time came to open the door for the prophet Elijah, Chaim-Aharon went and opened the door, … and found a goat standing there! Chaim-Aharon fainted, since he was a weak and extremely delicate man. He weighed less than forty kilos. And who had brought the goat there? Elke Baron…


  1. [36] Chaya Malka Kruss-Glussak and Nachum Blacher. From Our Shtetl Dusiat, p. 342, in Yizkor Book of Rakishok and Environs, Johannesburg, 1952. Return

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