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[Page 101]

Father and mother's home that once was

by Avraham Orenshteyn

Translated by Sara Mages

I would never forget my beloved and pleasant home. How wonderful it was to return home for the Sabbath after being away for the whole week. My beloved and devoted family welcomed me with open arms and warmth.

How pleasant was Friday eve when all of us sat together at the table and enjoyed the Sabbath meal that our beloved mother prepared. We were hungry to hear from each other about everything that happened during the days of the week when I wasn't at home. After the meal we left for the town's streets and met our friends. During the days of the week we looked forward to these pleasant hours on Friday evening when we walked in cheerful groups and talked about everything that happened in a town where all the residents were like one family. We walked in the town's alleyways until sunrise and separated until the next day when met again after the Sabbath meal.

Father was known by the name, Yose Are–Herzes. He was a diligent merchant, talented and successful. He was a loving father, dedicated to his children and a good husband to his wife. He aspired to provide a good education to his sons and his only daughter and provided them a firm stand in life, each according to his own choice. To his sorrow, and our sorrow, his desire wasn't completely realized because of a disaster that fell on him and changed all his plans.

This is how it happened: at the end of the First World War, when the German army still camped in Gordz, the Lithuanians began plans for the establishment of an independent state. The atmosphere was tens and one evening a serious fight began between the two camps. At the same evening father came from a visit with his brother, Hirshe, who lived nearby. The German soldiers saw a person walking during the night, and without knowing who was approaching, they shot my father and badly damaged his legs. With their great cruelty they didn't rush to help him but left him on the ground writhing in pain and losing a lot of blood. Many hours have passed until a passerby noticed my wounded father and immediately summoned us. The next day, when it became known to the Germans that they hit an innocent man, they tried to correct their crime. They brought father to the hospital in Königsberg [Kaliningrad] and mother accompanied him on his way there.

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I was a small boy when this tragedy happened to my father, I didn't understand the meaning of this, I didn't understand his and our family's predicament. I've been told that father slipped on the ice as he walked down the street.

From Königsberg father was transferred for treatment in a hospital in Berlin, he stayed there for six months until they brought him back home. When he returned, his leg was bandaged in cast and he hobbled on crutches. His bad appearance frightened me and


Alter Orenshteyn and his wife Sara from the Heling family


I escaped from him and hid in another room. Over time, I accepted father's appearance and the click of his crutches. I felt sorry for father, for his great suffering and the disability that limited his movements.

However, father didn't cut off his social activity. He renewed his active participation in the town's social institutions such as: Kupat Gemilut Hasadim, Linat Tzedek etc. father was also a committee member of the Jewish National Bank in

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Mother was known in Gordz by the name Michale Froymes. Mother was a typical Jewish mother with a warm heart and was devoted to her children and to others. Mother was quiet and affable and always knew how to encourage people with good words and a smile. After the tragedy that befell on father, mother took the role of educating us and as father has done at the past, she has done everything to educate us towards independence in our way. One of her attributes: she tried to provide help to any person and always recited this mitzvah to us: “Receive the poor graciously and never send him empty–handed.” Her pleasant voice is echoing in my ears to this day. A malignant disease plucked her from us at the best years of her life. Only after her passing we learned how many townspeople she helped in secret, she was sort of “Sarah Bas Tovim” to us and to others.

There were three brothers and one sister in our family. My eldest brother, Shmuel, was called Alter. He married Sara Heling and had two cute daughters: Sheinale and Michale. I loved them with all my heart. My only sister, Bat–Sheva, married Dr. Kalman Sekolsky from the city of Kibert and lived in Kovna. My second brother, Yehudah, lived with father in Gordz.

Our family life was very harmonious, there was a lot of mutual concern and devotion and we were tied to each other by bonds of love.

Our house was always full of people. Needy guests, that father brought from the synagogue, always sat at our table on the Sabbath.

This glorious life was cut down by the German murderers and their Lithuanian collaborators.

My beloved! I would never forget you! You are deeply engraved in my heart and your images stand before my eyes wherever I turn! I'll remember you all the days of my life! May my words be a memorial for your life, which was cut before time, and a bouquet of flowers on your graves. Cursed be the Nazi murderers who spilled your blood and the blood of the Jews who died for the sanctification of God's name! Cursed be the murderers who wiped out the homes of our beloved ancestors and our beloved town – Gordz.

[Page 104]

Gorzd Cultural Institutions

by Rashel Oysher

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Our folks-shul [public school] was the only educational institution in Gorzd, but the school did not give us much knowledge. I remember that in later years when we, the former students of the school, would meet for a friendly conversation, we would laugh heartily remembering that even many years after the First World War they would still teach us geography about the “United Austria-Hungary” and various other curiosities. But the school and, especially the coming of the teacher, Chana Grynberg, laid the basis for our development.


gar104.jpg Council of the Hebrew Library [18 KB]
Council of the Hebrew Library
From right to left: Ben-Tzion Duks, Malka Ornshtein,
Yitzhak Gutman, Shoshana Usher, Ester Puret


[Page 105]

Our teacher, Chana Grynberg, was a talented pedagogue. She would transform each lesson in Talmud into a substantial conversation. We learned Hebrew not just in books, but also through various games, songs and performances.

After graduating from the school, we freely spoke Hebrew; much time was dedicated to the subject of Jewish history, Hebrew literature, Jewish holidays and Jewish traditions. An appropriate performance was prepared for each holiday and important date in history. Chana Grynberg, the teacher, planted a love of Zion in us. She was the founder of Hashomer haTzair [Zionist socialist youth movement] in Gorzd. This enabled many young people to go to hakhshore [preparatory training for prospective agricultural emigrants to Israel] and, later, to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel.

Chana Grynberg was one of the innocent victims among the Gorzd Jews. Her bright memory lives in the remembrance of many of the young from our shtetl.


Our Library

Our library, which consisted of Yiddish and Hebrew books, was founded and supported by our landsman [man from the same city], Shmuel Zaks, who emigrated to America and from there he would send books as well as material help for the library.

There were two divisions in the library: books for adults and books for children. We arranged a joyous evening for the 10th anniversary of the library. Yitzhak Gutman, Ester Puret, Malka Ornshtein, Ben-Tzion Duks and I belonged to the committee that managed the library.

The library committee was involved not only with the book fund and giving out books to read; the library was a cultural institution that engaged in cultural activities. We would organize theater performances

[Page 106]

and the income from them would be dedicated to the library in order to supplement the library fund.

The library also organized cultural activities that included various cultural performances, such as literary trials, literary evenings, speeches, evening courses and others.

An Esperanto course was organized at the library with the help of Leibl Shoys. Many young people learned Esperanto and later carried on a wide correspondence with young people from various lands. This permitted us to enrich and broaden our thought process. Thanks to this we learned about various countries and people and became acquainted with their cultures.


Gorzder Lovers of Theater

There was no established theater in Gorzd; for many years only dramatic circles of lovers of the stage existed in the shtetl. The dramatic circles organized presentations almost systematically. The income would go to various charitable institutions, such as the Bikur-Kholem [society to visit the sick], Lines-haTzedek [poor house], for the volunteer firefighter team and also for the library.

The performances would be presented in Yiddish and Hebrew. How greatly I remember the active organizer of such performances, as well as the director, Zalman-Leib Rubinshtein. And, after his emigration to America, his place was taken by Ziwik (I do not remember his surname). Josef Blekh was always responsible for make-up.

The performances would take place in the so-called “folks-hoys” [people's house]. This was a very primitive wooden building that we would rent for a performance from the Lithuanian gemeinde [community]. In order to increase the income we would organize a donated buffet at the same time. Posters about the performance that would take place in Gorzd would also be hung

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in Meml and very often full buses with guests from Meml would come and this created excitement in the shtetl and a great interest in the performances.

The first performance that I was successful in seeing in the general rehearsal was Mirele Efros [play by Jacob Gordon, often referred to as the “Jewish King Lear”] and this made such an impression on me that I myself began to dream of being an actor, an actress. But understand, this remained only a dream, but without doubt this influenced me to later take part in performances.

The repertory of the performances often consisted of portraits of Jewish exile life and of emigrant life in America, of their American good fortune and troubles.

An important place in the selection of the repertory was taken by serious performances from the Jewish and Hebrew dramaturgy, as well as pictures from Jewish history – in the Tanakh [Bible], for example:


gar107.jpg The Purim theater presentation [17 KB]
The Purim theater presentation – the early years of the 1930s.


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Mekhires Yosef [The Selling of Joseph], Akedas Yitzhak [The Binding of Isaac], HaHashmonaim [The Hashmonaim - Maccabees], Megilus Ester [The Scroll of Esther], A Din-Torah mitn Wind [A Torah Judgment with the Wind], Shulamit [by Abraham Goldfaden] and others.

I do not remember the older generation of artist enthusiasts. I will recall as active participants: Ziwik; Mendl and his sister, Toyve Haz, Avraham Ornshtein, Ruchl Lan, Malka Ornshtein, Leibl Shoys, Yitzhak Goytman[1*], Ester Puret and many others.

I, myself, also took part in many performances, playing various roles. The very successful performance, Bas Yephthah [Jephthah's Daughter] performed by our school under the direction of Chana Grynberg, remains in my memory. I performed the role of Jephthah the Gileadite. In the main role, Ruchl Frydhajm took the part of Jephthah's daughter. Jephthah's five step-brothers were played by Ruchl Erman-Fyurski, Etl-Fig Baranow, Etel-Bine Frak, Sheyndele Joselowitz-Ornshtein and Dina Troyb.

The well prepared decorations, clothing, songs and dances created an impressive picture of Jephthah's tragedy.

In addition to the performances of plays that we presented, there was a wide program of sports, dance, a chorus and recitations. The performances were highly appreciated by the Jewish as well as the Lithuanian population.

No doubt our theater lovers had a great effect on the development of the population of the shtetl, which had perceptive young people with an understanding of art. Our performances brought much vitality to the Jews in Gorzd and also gave them much pleasure.


Our Tea Shop

That is what we would call Josef Shlumowitz's bakery cellar. It is very possible that not many in Gorzd even knew that active and highly interesting cultural work was being carried out here.

[Page 109]

Along with the three sisters, Sora, Yochl and Rayzl Shlumowitz, almost all of the young would meet there, Leibl Shoys, Yitzhak Gutman, Ester Puret, Malka Ornshtein, Mordekhai-Leib Ornshtein, Sheykele Gorn and also, me. We would jointly read various writers' works, deal with and discuss various literary works, organize collective walks. We would jointly go to Meml and attend the movies and theater performances there and work out plans about how to expand our activities among the Gorzd youth.

Until late in the night, often after the electric lights were turned off, we would sit in front of the fire of the heating oven during the long winter nights deep in reading and in animated discussions.

The tea shop was a good school of intellectual development for us.


Organizations and Communal Institutions in Gorzd

Various Zionist organizations, such as Hashomer Hatzair [Socialist-Zionist youth movement], Zionist Socialists, Tzeri Zion [young Zionists] and Mizrakhi [religious Zionists], carried on animated activity in Gorzd. There were also charitable, philanthropic institutions such as Bikur Kholem, Moes-Khitim [assistance for the poor for Passover] and Lines haTzedek and sports organizations such Makabi and HaPoel.

Hashomer Hatzair planted a love and deep longing for Zion in us and our wish and ideal was to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel and take an active part in the building up of the country, of a Jewish land.

Mostly the children and young people of the working class belonged to Hashomer Hatzair. At our meetings we would discuss various Zionist problems, about the road that Hashomer Hatzair was taking to its goal. At the meetings we would read

[Page 110]


gar110.jpg A group of Hebrew scouts [22 KB]
A group of Hebrew scouts


various articles about the work that was being done in Palestine and the struggle for a Jewish land.

Hashomer Hatzair developed various moral characteristics in us: to be honest and modest, to help comrades and those weaker, to throw off all petit-bourgeois traditions, to love nature and to prepare ourselves for active physical work.

Every gathering would begin with the singing of Hebrew songs and end with a spirited hora [circle dance]. We would wear our uniforms with pride and we would wait impatiently for the summer colony when we would leave our homes for several days and find ourselves in the bosom of nature, live in tents with great multitudes of scouts who would come together from various cities and shtetlekh in Lithuania.

[Page 111]

There was a very beautiful landscape around Gorzd. Various hakhsore [training sites to prepare emigrants for life in Eretz-Yisroel] points were found in the villages and in the agricultural households. There were collectives and halutzim [pioneers] there who went through their preparatory training before their emigration to Eretz-Yisroel.

We would often visit them, looked with interest at their place of residence and animated conversations would develop with the halutzim. They would tell us about Eretz-Yisroel and about life and the building up of the country. Our group would also visit comrades from the primary leadership of Hashomer Hatzair and representatives from Eretz-Yisroel.

Our group existed officially, legally and we did not have any difficulties with or disturbances on the part of the local regime. But then in 1934 we were forced to switch to illegal work and it happened like this:

In that year, we moved our meeting hall (residence) not far from the Gorzd police. Our meeting on the 3rd of May [celebration of the Constitution of 1791] was dedicated to the international worker's holiday, the 1st of May.

While we sat engrossed in listening to the lecture by Yitzhak Gutman, the door suddenly opened and in fear we saw the chief of the police accompanied by two policemen and civilian witnesses. Whoever was able to orient themselves had time to escape through an open window. But a guard was immediately placed near the doors and windows and an investigation was started which lasted until late in the night.

We spoke among ourselves in Evrit [modern Hebrew] that we should tell the police that the meeting was dedicated to the Histadrut HaOvdim [Federation of Workers] in Eretz-Yizroel. We were allowed to go free after the investigation.

At that time I was the leader of our group. In addition to me, members of the council were Ben-Tzion Duks and Avraham Joselowitch. A week later after the above-mentioned meeting, all three of us

[Page 112]

were invited by the police chief and he officially gave us notice that for organizing a meeting without permission from the regime we were being penalized with a week in jail and that our further activities could only be carried out under the supervision of the police. That is, we had to give three days notice about every meeting that would take place and the police would send its representative to the meeting.

We, three, suffered the punishment in the Gorzd prison. At first we followed the regulations of the police, but later we were disillusioned with the undesirable guest and began to meet in secret in various places and avoided the supervision of the police.

We were invited to the police a second time and they gave us notice that the police knew that we had organized secret meetings and they warned us that if we continued our illegal work, our organization would be closed and the leaders would be severely penalized. However despite these threats we still continued our work until the police chief was changed. Then we again renewed our activities freely, without disturbance and supervision from the police and many of the young filled our meeting hall and we continued our cultural-educational work. Many of the young from our group went to the hakshore locations. But it was not possible for everyone to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel.


Our Philanthropic Institutions

The Bikur-Khoylem [organization to aid the sick] had an important place in Gorzd. As in every shtetl, there were old and lonely people who were in need of help. These lonely people did not have any friends, any

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family and when they became ill there was no one to bring them help.

The Bikur-Khoylem assured that these lonely and sick people would not remain without supervision and provided for their medical help and material support. For this purpose


gar113.jpg 'Makabi' Gorzd [26 KB]
Makabi Gorzd


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the Bikur-Khoylem made sure that each family would pay a certain fee each month for Bikur-Khoylem according to, it should be understood, the ability of each family.

Flower days and performances would be organized and the income would go to the fund. The needy would get medical help – free remedies and better food. Volunteers would all go to the sick to spend the night and to serve them.

Moes Khitim was a fund created with the aid of those who would help poor people with food and, mainly, with matzoh for Passover.

The voluntary firefighter team, at the head of which stood the untiring leader, Shepsl Bis, was very popular in Gorzd. Gorzd, which was built up with wooden houses, often suffered from fires and there was no lack of work for the firefighters.

The Makabi football team and, later, also Hapoel was well known by all of our Gorzders. The song with which the football players would march in the streets to the football contest still rings in the ears until today:

“We are the football team,
We are always ready for the match
We carry the flag of Makabi
We carry it with pride and with joy.”
Makabi and Hapoel had various sections for gymnastics.

Thus lived our shtetl, Gorzd, until the great calamity, when Jewish Gorzd was destroyed in the time of the Shoah.

Translator's Footnote

1*. Yitzhak Goytman is most likely the Yitzhak Gutman mentioned throughout the article. Return


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