By R.H. Berchowitz-Peisachovitz, T. Katz, Jokl Evans
Donated by Lois Feldman Clausen
Translated from the Yiddish by Paul Silbert
Ponedel lies on the road from Rakishok to Birz. Before the First World War it was a muddy and neglected little town.
Ponedel is surrounded by the little towns of Suavenshki, Anushishok, Ponimunok, Skupishok and Papel. It is 28 kilometres from Rakishok.
Around Ponedel there is a chain of villages.
The centre was the market square. From Rakishok you used to come in through Main Street, which stretched as far as the market. A large and beautiful House of Prayer stood on the market square, as well as the shops and the shopkeepers' residences.
To the right from the market square stretched Railway Street. Ponedel had only a narrow-gauge railway which the Germans constructed at the time of the First World War. The narrow-gauge railway linked Ponedel with Skopishok and Suavenishok.
To the left from the market square--the vital nerve-centre of the little town--was Pazelayker Street, which led to Suavenishok. From there stretched the Birz road, which led to Kvetki and Papel [and] as far as Birz.
On Synagogue Street was found the synagogue courtyard, where were located the house of study, the synagogue, the prayer room and the deacons' synagogue, and the poorhouse, into which poor people used to be admitted. On Bath Street there was the ritual bath.
Ponedel had no river [it was located on a hill overlooking the river Oposhta] or lake: there was only a muddy tank for rainwater in the market square.
The landscape around Ponedel was very beautiful in appearance. It had many orchards and gardens and the houses stood in the midst of greenery.
Before the First World War Ponedel belonged to the Novo-Alexandrovsk District. After the war Ponedel was attached to the Rakishok District.
The population numbered approximately 150 Jewish families and 50-60 Christian families. The total number was estimated at approximately 2500 souls. The Christians of the little town were all Lithuanian peasants who supported themselves by agricultural labour, having their own fields and pastures.
The Jews gained their livelihood from the market. There used to be two annual fairs. Jews were shopkeepers, traders and artisans, the latter following such trades as cobbler, tailor, shinglemaker, tinsmith, hatmaker, butcher and wigmaker. There was also a pair of Jewish herdsmen. One of the herdsmen was called Leybke Yudels.
The largest businesses were: the draper's shop of Shimon Zuse, who had three educated daughters; Itzik Pinkushevitz's draper's shop; Khaim Flax's drapery business; Khaim-Leyb's drapery shop; Yisrael Zalevetzki's shoe store and Zalman Pinkushevitz's hardware store.
The following had food or grocery stores: Mendel Zak; Bebe Yoses; Rokhl-Leya, Khaim-Ber's daughter; [and] Getzl Mizrach. Fayve-Yose-Itze Ekdes had a restaurant. Shneur Flax was a flax dealer. Sara-Breyne was a baker. There were peddlers and several teamsters.
Ponedel Jews were all Chassidim. The rabbi, before the First World War, was Rabbi Moyshe Ogins, a very learned man and a fine human being, who was greatly beloved in the little town and the surrounding area. Two of his daughters are now in Israel and one in Johannesburg. His son, at the time when the Germans entered the town, hid at the [parish] priest's. The priest turned to the Christian Dr. Straus to assist him in saving the rabbi's son, but Dr. Straus betrayed the rabbi's son to the Germans, who killed him and the priest.
After Rabbi Moyshe Ogins died, the rabbinical chair was taken by Rabbi Itzik Dubov, who is now in America. Afterwards the rabbi was Rabbi Yitzhak of Riga.
A very fine personality was the ritual slaughterer Zalman Rabinovitz. He was a good Jew and a very learned man. The entire town respected him. After his death he was succeeded by his son, Artshik Rabinovitz, who was a modern Jew and for that reason had many opponents. The son was rescued [presumably by friendly Lithuanians] and is now living in Vilna.
Ponedel had many teachers. The best-known were: Zalman Skeyster--a teacher of Gemara; Avraham-Leyb; Yishaya-Bere; Yisroel; Mayer-Tuvya; Moyshele and Khaim Tepper, now in Cape Town.
The prayer leaders were: Leybe-Bere the Bookseller, Moyshe Gershons, and Shmuel-Rafoel.
Among the important householders in Ponedel were reckoned: Moyshe Yisroels; Hirshe-Mote; Yose-Itze Ekdes; Shimon Grimbla; Yitkhak Pinkushevitz.
In 1915, when the Russian Army retreated, Cossacks rode into Ponedel. They called on the old rabbi and gave him the order that the town [ie. the Jewish population] had to be evacuated within 24 hours. Seized by a great panic, everyone fled from Ponedel, but the Germans captured Ponedel and the immediate area so quickly that many returned. A great number of Ponedel Jews were evacuated deep into Russia and came back in 1920-1922.
The town, during the course of the war, was reduced to ruins. The returning Jews lay about in the synagogue and poorhouse and wherever they were able to find shelter.
Thanks to assistance from the Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] and from relatives overseas, Ponedel quickly rebuilt itself and acquired a modern appearance. The Lithuanian authorities had the streets paved. Trade ties were revived, mainly with Rakishok. The tax on artisans was increased [by the Lithuanian government]. This was a high tax for the little tailors, who now had to face competition from their Christian colleagues.
A People's Bank [cooperative bank] was founded. The president was Shmuel Pinkushevitz; Henekh Kark was secretary.
The economic life of Ponedel greatly improved with more secure times, but the heavy tax burden on the Jewish population impoverished the Jewish shopkeepers and artisans.
The town received a final blow with the removal of the shops from the market square--the most important source of livelihood for many Jews. The order to clear the market square of shops was supposedly for purely aesthetic reasons--to beautify the town--but it was in harmony with the "patriotic" struggle of the Lithuanian cooperatives to drive Jewish shopkeepers out of their positions.
Regardless of the various political-economic phases in Jewish Lithuania, Jewish organisations revived in our home town. Various factions of the Zionist Movement distinguished themselves as did the "Aguda" [ancestor of the ultra-Orthodox Israeli religious party of that name], the "Tiferet Bachurim" [evidently an Orthodox youth movement], and there was also a left-wing movement.
Branches of "Maccabi" [the Jewish sports association] and "HaShomer HaTzair" [a left-wing Zionist youth movement] and a "Khalutz" [Pioneer] group were created.
The Ponedel "Maccabi" numbered over 100 members, and had a soccer section [the Yiddish text includes a team photo], a dramatic circle, and a library. There were shows, lectures and other cultural activities. The leaders of Maccabi were Velve Herring and Henekh Kark.
The "HaShomer HaTzair" was a good scouting organization which occupied itself in preparing pioneers for emigration to the Land of Israel.
The left-wing movement was very active. The "Culture League" was founded in 1922. The founders and leaders of the "Culture League" were Yose Hak, Ratner the teacher, the teacher Libe Yikir, and Yankl Fabrikovitz. The "Culture League" in Ponedel set up a Jewish People's School where the language of instruction was Yiddish. The school was recognized by the government, which used to pay the teachers and also provided a Lithuanian [language] teacher. The Jewish People's School was on a very high [academic] level, and even when the "Culture League" was closed down, the Jewish People's School continued to exist.
In the "Culture League" there was an active dramatic section. The actors were Itzke Katz, Yose Hak, Khilke Hak, Sarke Hak, Khaim Hak and the teacher Ratner. The dramatic section used to bring in outside acting troupes. The income went for the library, which numbered 1000 books.
At the time that Smetona became president [after the right-wing military coup of December 1926] and the Reaction grew strong, the "Culture League" was closed. The members, out of fear of the authorities, burned the library.
But this did not halt the political activity of the "Culture League". After the closing of the "Culture League" an association was created called "Sport" under which [political] work was resumed although it met with persecution on the part of the authorities. Once Khanke and Yokhanon were arrested--a brother and sister. They were taken away to Ponemune [Ponemunilis] and the members of Ponedel "Sport", with Toybe Evens at their head, maintained contact with the arrested comrades and sent them parcels with food and necessary items.
Due to the fanaticism of the Aguda people [ultra-Orthodox], Ponedel did not have a Hebrew People's School. The parents who wanted to give their children a [secular] Hebrew education, sent their children to Rakishok, where there was a large Hebrew school. Ponedel did not even have a "Yavneh" [Religious Zionist] School.
In general, Ponedel had a fine and active youth. Many young people from Ponedel are today found in Africa, Argentina, Brazil and in Israel. They emigrated because their own little town had become narrow for them and hard to survive in both economically and spiritually.
There are no details [known] about the death of Ponedel at the hands of the German terrorists [on August 25, 1941]. But it is said that the Germans, together with the Lithuanian peasants, drove all the Jews together into the market square and BURNED THEM ALIVE to the musical accompaniment of a German [military] band.
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