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[Page 267]


by Zalman Uri Gurevitz

Translated by seventeen year old Ron Levitan

“In honor of Benjamin Nyomka Shulman, my great-grand-uncle
who believed that a young boy from Kurenitz could fight the Nazis and was able to accomplish
that mission, but died fighting for Russia”

kur267.jpg [23 KB]
The Gurevitz family near their Kurenitz home were the Jewish
members of the underground hid their printing press and weapons

Left to right: Luba née Gurevitz Bardan, Zalman Uri Gurevitz, Batia née Eishiski Gurevitz,
Gershon Gurevitz Gorev, Natan Gurevitz, Lea nee Gurevitz Shogol

I was born on 8/10/1924 in the little shtetl Kurenets, Vileyka Uzed, Vilna Gubernia, west Belarus. In 1920, the area passed to Polish hands, after more than hundred years of Russian control. Most of the district population was Belarusian, but there were many Poles, Jews, Russians, and even two German families. Kurenets itself was predominantly Jewish, and its population numbered about 1800. Most Jews spoke Yiddish amongst themselves, while the higher class spoke Russian. The majority were poor merchants and tradesmen; few were well off, and none were rich.

During the era between the major wars, there was a strong Jewish Zionist sentiment around town. Many subscribed to Yiddish newspapers like “Mament” and “Haynt”. We had a library with some of the best books that Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and Polish literature had to offer. All the Zionist parties and youth movements were very active and some people were bondist or communist. Townspeople with different ideologies fought daily wars.

My father was a political activist, belonging to “Zionim Claliym Alef.” He would make speeches during elections to the Zionist congress in all of the synagogues in the area. He was doing the same prior to local elections and elections to the Polish parliament. The town's commitment to education, culture, youth movements, and politics was typical of the area and was strongly influenced by Vilna. But there was something unique about the shtetl. In the dark days, there was a group of young people that demanded action and revenge. They wouldn't be discouraged or apologetic and tirelessly worked for rebellion.

kur268.jpg [18 KB]
The Gurevitz Family
Standing Sima née Gurevitz Herbert, her youngest sister,
Luba née Gurevitz Bardan is sitting in the middle, on her left is her niece,
Lea née Gurevitz Shogol, on the right: the author, Zalman Uri Gurevitz

We were students of the daily Hebrew school, Tarbut and members of the socialist Zionist youth movement, HaShomer Hatzair. We spoke Yiddish and Hebrew fluently and dreamed of Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. We were affected by Hitler's rise to power and information about the sad situation of the Jews. Poland also saw a rise in anti-Semitism in the thirties and we were closely watching the Spanish Revolution. All of these factors affected us. We believed in the justice of socialism and desired to accomplish it by living in an Israeli kibbutz. But we were young boys, still a long way from being able to make this a reality. Most of us were born between 1922 and 1924 and our troop leader, Kopel Spektor, was our strongest influence.

That was the state of affairs at the dawn of World War II. Immediately as the war started, in September of 1939, the Soviets invaded our areas and we became part of the USSR. To our disappointment, they closed our Hebrew school, and made it a Yiddish school. They announced that all the Zionist movements were imperialist and they canceled our youth movement. We wanted to be active but didn't know how since our troop leaders weren't around anymore. So we agreed to continue our activities in secret. We were a determined group of people. Amongst us were Benjamin (Nyomka) Shulman, Shimon Zirolnik, Yitzhak Einbinder, Mordechai (Motik) Alperovitz, Nachoom Alperovitz, and I. Our original troop leader was Kopel Spektor, a man of all seasons- an athlete, a bookworm, a mathematician, and a generous and dedicated person. He was like a father to us. During the days of the Soviets, he was a technician and a cartographer in the central train station in Molodechno, 30 kilometers from Kurenets. He was graduate of a technical institution in Vilna and an extremely capable man.

His job compelled him to travel throughout the USSR. When he came back from his trips he was very disappointed. He asked Benjamin Shulman to congregate in his house. It was the winter of 1940. We sat in the dark and listened to his sad statements. He told us about Minsk, the capital of Belarus, that had a large Jewish population. He only found one Jewish school there, and when he went to the one Jewish Theater to see “Fiddler on the Roof”, they had changed the essence of Tuvia and made him a fighter against Czarism. He found a lot of mixed marriages there and people pulling away from Judaism. Our dream that the Jewish problem would be somehow resolved in the Soviet Union and that the Jewish entity will be recognized as a separate minority was abolished. In conclusion Kopel said, “The Jewish population in the Soviet Union will mix with the general population and in no time there will be no independent Jewish entities”.

Nyomka Shulman and Shimon Zirolnik were devout Marxists and hoped that the Soviets would comprehend the nationalist desires of our youth movement. Since both ideologies were so similar, both based on Marxism and with an emphasis on the betterment of society as their first priority, they could not accept the Soviets' rejection.

At the end of the evening Kopel passed the flag to Nyomka Shulman and suggested that we should find a way to get in touch with the movement headquarters in Vilna. Nyomka was an excellent theoretician, a leader type full of energy and zest for life; a short, intelligent guy who was always ready for action. He approached Chaim Yitzhak Zimmerman, an adult that used to be very involved with the youth movement, and asked him to go to Vilna.

Chaim happily agreed. This was not a simple trip. Vilna passed hands from Polish to Lithuanian hands in 1939 and Chaim had to pay large sums of money to border smugglers for an opportunity to travel. In exchange they let him crawl on his hands and knees across the border. He came back five days later and what he told us was very encouraging. The Aliyah to Eretz Israel was continuing. However, the pace was slow and the route was strange (through the USSR and the Far East). But to us teenagers, it sounded very romantic, with a hint of danger, and it filled our hearts with hope, and renewed our sense of commitment.

We had two meeting places. One was the dark room of Nyomka's blind grandmother. The other was the town hall that the Soviets built on Dolhinov Street. There we would meet at the library reading room. First we would collect the daily newspapers like Pravda and Esbastia (you could only get them at the library and you had to read them right there). We then pretended that we were young comsomols (communists). We would crowd the room so there would be no sitting space for anyone else and argue very loudly. Once we established that no one was listening we would talk Zionism. Ironically, this part of the room where we were usually seated was called “The Red Corner”. The daily planner in our group was Shimon Zirolnik. He was the oldest and already had a job in the train station. Everyone in town saw him as a strong follower of the Communist Party. He had only finished elementary school, yet managed to educate himself and was very well read, sophisticated, and open minded.

In February of 1940 we had a contact with HaShomer Hatzair from Warsaw. Yosef Kaplan came from Vilna as an ambassador to encourage the Jewish youth in the area. He visited many other shtetls (Globoki, Dunilovitz, Dockshitzi). When he got to Kurenets, he went to Kopel Spektor's house. Since Kopel left town, his family sent Yosef to Nyomka Schulman. Nyomka called us all to gather at his house. The people that came were Chaim Yitshak Zimmerman, Shimon Zirolnik, Motik Alperovitz, Yitzhak Einbender, Nachoom Alperovitz, Ilia Spektor, Ishayau Kramer and I. Yosef told us that there was still some communication with Eretz Israel. We also learnt that the training camps to become Chalutzim moved to Vilna, and that there was some immigration to Israel. He reminded us to retain our commitment to Zionism and most importantly, to maintain the bond we had with the other members. Finally, he ordered us to destroy all of the paraphernalia of Zionism, except for the flag. This was the last communication we had with the Youth Movement abroad. Yosef slept over at Nyomka's house, and the next day walked over to Vileyka- a town 7 kilometers from Kurenets. I never saw him again.

Soon after, Lithuania became a republic of the Soviets. And for now, our hope for Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael was lost. We continued our studies and our close friendship. In 1941, for Laag Baomer, we convened as a group by the boulder in a field outside of town. It was a quiet, beautiful night. We sat in silence and despair. Spring was all around, but our hearts were lonely. Nyomka took out our special flag and spread it over the boulder. He spoke about the symbolism of the flag and the connection that we all must have. He read from a book of the Youth Movement, and then we sang songs. One of the songs was “Anu Olim V'Sharim”. Tears filled our eyes. We were young, sentimental, and melancholy, we lost all hope for Aliya to Eretz Israel . We spontaneously started hugging. We felt as if we were friends for life and death. And that's the way it was.

kur269.jpg [30 KB]
Motik Alperovitz, his brother Elik,
Shimon Zimerman and Avraham Alperovitz

Motik and Elik were partisans they were killed while fighting the Germans.
Their parents, Reuven Zishka Alperovitz and Marka and youngest brother
were also killed during a German blockade.

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