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I Dreamt of Being a Farmer in Eretz Yisrael (cont.)

Jewish Vocational School in Dvinsk

Dvinsk Yevreyeskoya Remeslenavo Utchilishtcha

In this school, the Jewish Vocational School in Dvinsk, the teachers were Jewish, and the language we were taught in was Russian. I started taking locksmith classes, but following my father's recommendation, I changed to carpentry. We were also taught other subjects, such as physics and technology.

By then, I mastered the Hebrew language, compared to my classmates who spoke only Russian, submitting to the Russian culture. I remember copying the portrait of the author David Frishman out of a postcard, and showing it to the teacher. One of the students asked who it was, and I said: “Frishman.” He didn't even know who that was. The teacher, who must have been a Zionist, told him: “You probably do know who Pushkin is…”

During a visit to the home of one of my classmates, Lotkin, I spoke Yiddish to him, since I didn't like speaking Russian. His father walked into the room, slapped his son and grunted: “Who speaks Yiddish nowadays?” Much like many parents, he made sure his son mastered the Russian language. But I remember one student telling us his father had promised to take him on a trip to Eretz Yisrael.

The official gatherings in the school were held in Russian. Even the Rabbi in the Great Synagogue of Dvinsk would speak to the congregation in Russian. Sometimes I would go to the theatre with my friends, but I don't recall there being a Jewish theatre.

During that time, I wrote an essay called “Dream”, with my friend. It was a story about our going to Eretz Yisrael, working the land and enjoying country life. But when I went home for a holiday, I was too ashamed to show the essay to my parents, and buried it in the boydem (attic), and it's probably still buried there…


The Jewish Vocational School in Dvinsk

On the back of the picture in Hebrew:
“As a memento to my dear friend Y. Slep from the Third Form of The Jewish Vocational School – Dvinsk”
Signed: Deutsch

Up until today I remember the names of the students in the way they were written in the diary of the class, in Hebrew, as follows:

Abugov, Amdur, Bravornik, Wolf, Gilinsky, Ginsburg, Deutsch, Ziv, Zahar, Zissman, Ziskowitz, Zilber, Kagan, Katz-Kagan, Klienstein, Levinson, Lotkin, Mesnik, Mersov, Rattman, Ribak, Slosberg, Slep, Tiferet, Hoyazin, Shapira, Safra, the brothers Edut – Gerson and Sheftl.

Of all of them I can identify only Zissman (top, extreme right), and myself (third row, second from the left). My mother used to say that I was the most beautiful.

The teacher Yosef Moiseyewitz Genkin is seated in the middle. In the same row (extreme right) is the art teacher whose name I've forgotten…

Poet Yitzchak Katznelson
While a good moment may be
granted to you don't miss it…”
“As a memento to my dear friend Yosef Slep, Dvinsk, May 25, 1915. At the end of studies in the Jewish Vocational School in Dvinsk”
(On the back of the card in Russian)

Self Defense

My hobby in Dvinsk was acquiring self-defense skills: hit back, push to the ground, and so on. I wouldn't miss a chance to prove my skills, especially during the soccer games on the hill. I used to enjoy going there with my friends and watching the game… One day, some reservists were training there, and while we were watching them, their officer released them, and said: “Now go at it with them,” pointing at us… Suddenly, I found myself separated from my friends, with a grown soldier grabbing me. I immediately started using tricks that Mersov my friend had taught me, and I grabbed him back, and we started rolling from the top of the hill, down to the railroad, with people watching us…

A year later, when I was working for the Germans in forced labor, I dared ask one of the German officers to let us wrestle. He pointed at one of the goyim who teased: “With you? Be my guest…” He actually managed to pin me to the ground, but I used my old tactics and grabbed his neck so hard, he couldn't move…

To this day I have high esteem for ring wrestlers…

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