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[Pages 350 - 353]

Yuzint; Natzunishok

(Jūžintai, Lithuania)

55047' 25041'

By Natan Brinkman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund


Jews In the Villages

A. Yuzint

Yuzint was actually more a village than a town that numbered approximately 60-70 families and, all told, there were 12-13 Jewish households. The Jews were occupied as shopkeepers and craftsmen. The Lithuanian population was exclusively engaged in agriculture.

This large village had a church that drew neighboring peasants, who would come to offer their prayers and at the same time to buy all the needed articles from the Jewish shops. In as much as Yuzint did not have a weekly market, Sunday was the biggest sales day, both for the shopkeepers and the craftsmen. Yearly markets would take place, for which the Jews and the Christians waited impatiently. The yearly market was the biggest event in Yuzint.

Life was easy and quiet. Yuzint stood on the banks of a large lake, surrounded by fields and meadows. Relations with the Lithuanian population were very satisfactory. Yuzint did not have a school or Beis-Midrash (synagogue), no shochet (ritual slaughterer) and no rabbi, either. Therefore, Yuzint had a respectable Jew, a great scholar, Reb Abraham-Hirshe Levit. As a young man, he studied in yeshivus (religious schools) and had rabbinical certification. He passed judgment occasionally on religious questions when the opportunity arose. He did not want to be an official rabbi. He ran large businesses and owned several houses. He was esteemed throughout the area and was also known as a good chess player.

A regular minyon (ten men necessary for prayer) was organized in one of Reb Abraham-Hirshe's houses. The men prayed in one half of a room and in the second half – the women.

Naftali Saposznik, the shoemaker, prayed in front of the lectern during the week, but on Shabbosim (Sabbaths) and yom-tovim (holidays) Abraham-Hirshe Levit prayed at the lectern.

Although it was said that Reb Abraham-Hirshe had experience with shita (ritual slaughter of animals), he did not engage in this. Almost all of the Jews in the town were butchers; a shoykhet from Kamay was brought for both poultry and sheep and cattle or they were brought for slaughter to Kamay, which was 12 kilometers from Yuzint.

There was a respected businessman in the town, Haim-Yudl Brikman, who had seven sons and three daughters. He had a shop and was a butcher. Mainly, he leased fields from the surrounding peasants and he, together with his family, worked the land.

Haim-Yudl, would bring a malamed (religious teacher) for his children. The remaining children from Yuzint would study with him, too. In the 30's, Yakov Blakher, the brother of Nukhem Blakher, who is in Johannesburg, was the shoykhet and malamed in Yuzint.

In the 1920's, a modern teacher was brought to Yuzint who would teach the children Hebrew and other worldly subjects. Several children would travel to Rokishak to study, which was 27 kilometers from us.

Rokishak was the center, the county seat, and the train station, too, We would often travel to Rokishak on various occasions to take care of certain formalities at the government offices, to doctors and to buy goods. Rokishak was a metropolis for Yuzint and Kamay – a city.

After the First World War things changed and Jewish life was partly modernized, principally because the parents made efforts to give more education to their children, who would study in Rokishak and other places. The children would come to Yuzint for yom-tov and for vacations, bringing with them new thoughts, aspirations and new ideas.

Di Yidishe Shtime” (“The Jewish Voice”) would be received from Kovno and there were subscriptions to books in the libraries of neighboring towns. Meetings would take place at which various problems were discussed.

Yuzint was principally disposed to Zionism and young people went to hakshara (agricultural training) and then emigrated to Eretz-Yisroel; first people traveled to America and then to South Africa and later, they primarily emigrated to Eretz-Yisroel.

It is not precisely known where the Jews of Yuzint perished. It is told that many years ago, the gentiles became drunk and began to break Jewish windows until they reached the house of Haim-Yudl Brikman. My grandfather, Yitzhak Brikman was still alive then and he went outside with a piece of iron and so battered several peasants that they remained angry. One of the peasants who was left crippled swore that if not him, his children or his grandchildren would take vengeance on the Jews.

In the course of the last fifty years, the family would remember that talk and it is a guess that the family did actually kill all of the Yuzint Jews.

The following Jews lived in Yuzint.

Three Saposznik brothers and their families, who were shoemakers. One Saposznik son is in Africa. Here he calls himself Levy. The same family had a son Yehosha-Yehuda, who studied in the Telcer Yeshiva and received rabbinical ordination and was known as a great Talmudic student; the family of Itze Khatz, he was a tailor and a butcher; the family of Nisen Marglis – a tailor and a farmer; the family of Alter Rabi – a shopkeeper; the family of Meir Yafa – a shopkeeper; the family of Ruven Bedek, who had a tractor; the family of Mendel Visakaiski, who received support from his children in his old age and would sit in the shul reciting Psalms day and night; the family of Shlomoh Meller, whose daughters Kajla and Grunya are now in Israel.

The above-mentioned Abraham-Hirshe Levit and his wife lived in Yuzint until the Second World War.

Everyone was killed by the bloody assassins and the small Jewish settlement in Yuzint was torn out by its roots, as if it had never existed.


B. Natzunishok

Between Yuzint, Kamay and Sviadoshz was the Jewish village, Natzunishok. It was a typical Jewish village of Jewish agricultural workers.

Fifteen families lived in this village. They had their own Beis-Midrash (synagogue), a cheder(religious primary school) for teaching the children. Reb Leib was the rabbi, shochet (ritual slaughterer) and melamed (religious teacher) in the town. He was already in his sixties and still had to serve Yuzint, too, which was six kilometers from Natzunishok. The Jews of Natzunishok lived a frumen (pious) way of life, and during the Shabbosim (Sabbaths) and yom-tov (holiday) days the small settlement lived with a typical Jewish Sabbath festiveness.

The life of the Jews in the village of Natzunishok was poor. They farmed the land in a primitive way, with skinny horses and wretched equipment. In addition, they thought about business. They bought a calf and pig hair and sold it at the market in the neighboring towns. Because of this, they neglected the economy of their fields, although the earth was the best in the area and each family had about 10-15 hectares of land.

In the course of time the Jews began to sell their land because of the poor livelihood and because their children began to befriend the Lithuanians in the neighboring villages, leading to the problem of protecting them from intermarriage. Also, the parceling out of the land in Lithuania had begun and there was pressure from the peasants to settle on the farms. The Jews did not want to agree to this kind of life, because they would not be able to live their lives as Jews.

The first to sell his land was Abraham the Natzunishoker, although he, as an exception, had maintained the economy of his farm and had lived abundantly from it. He was the gabai (trustee) in the shul and the peace-maker in the town. He and his family emigrated to America.

Later, the remaining Jews began to sell their land and thus the Jewish village of Natzunishok was liquidated. It could be that this was the hand of Supreme Providence, because the majority of Natzunishokers survived the great catastrophe of the Jewish people.

[Pages 354 - 355]

My Father Michoel Welve the Farmer

By Israel Michalewitz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

My father, Michoel-Welve, lived on the land that belonged to the “Stirnishok” Court for many years – the estate of a count. He and his family lived in a brick house that stood on the shore of Lake Dusiat. Spring and summer, this house was submerged in greenery and blossoms. In the winter, the building stood as if orphaned and was exposed to winds, blizzards and snow.

Michoel-Welve was valued by the Count and in the neighboring villages. He owned cows and cattle, leased fields and would buy flax, seeds and grains from the peasants.

Income was abundant and my father and my mother Nehamah had great confidence in the Creator of the world.

During the winter evenings and in the early hours, my father sat and studied a page of Gemera. For his children he brought a melamed (religious teacher) named Mudrus who also knew the tradition of shkhite (kosher slaughtering of animals). This teacher was one of the household, like a member of the family.

The mitzvah of hospitality to strangers on Shabbos was maintained both by my father and by my mother. The house was open for all those passing through, for peddlers, village Jews, for fishermen who spread nets in the lake, waiting to catch fish. All were treated with great friendship and hospitality.

However these quiet, idyllic years were interrupted by the despotic Czarist regime, which published a decree that Jews must not live on the land. This hurt my father's endeavors and the Count interceded so that an exception was made in the case of the honest Jew, Michoel-Welve Michalewitz.

My father's passive rebellion did not help either; he would rarely be at home, thinking that the police could not throw out his wife and children if he were not there.

My mother and the children would remain alone in the house. Her sleep was disturbed by every rustle and even the tick-tock of the clock would make her afraid that the Czarist police were coming.

Her fear was justified. One night the commissar of police came with guards, who violently hurled out everything from the house, all the chattel, and drove my mother and children outside.

My mother tried to protest against this calumny. However, the commissar and the guards did not let her speak, screaming at her: “proklyataya zhidovka (damn Jew).”

My father came in the morning and found his wife and children, sitting on the grass by the lake.

After, my father and his family were sent out of Stirnishok and he was ruined economically. For a time, we wandered in various villages, until my father and the family settled in the village of Barshen. There, my father again began to trade in flax and seeds, but in the end, the business was not successful and he was an impoverished man, a great pauper. My father began seeking a new home and he and his household settled in Abel. In addition, my parents had great heartache and sorrow over the death of their only daughter, Rivele.

My father spent bitter and difficult years of poverty in Abel. Our apartment was under the same roof as the bathhouse. This house was a ruin and the walls were damp.

Then on Friday night the table was covered and Shabbosdike (Sabbath) repose sparkled from every corner. The two brass candlesticks gleamed and the flames brought cheer to carry us through the week of cares.

Many Shabbosim (Sabbaths), as Kh. N. Bialik says in his song, “We had no meat, no challah, no fish for Shabbos” – however, Shabbos was Shabbos. My father made kiddish with a dull knife over coarse black bark bread, and sang the Shabbos songs so sweetly, that hope for a better time radiated on my mother's careworn face.

The better time did not come. My mother became ill and breathed out her soul in the hospital in Panevesz. My father awaited the savage Hitlerist assault hat killed him and the family with the entire Abeler Jewish community.


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