By Dovid Katz and Yerakhmial Shon
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Sevenishok or Suaveniski is a small shtetl that lies very close to the Lithuanian- Latvian border. A small river, Naret, which divides Lithuania from Latland, flows between the Nareter Court and Sevenishok. Sevenishok is found on the Lithuanian side and on the Latvian side lies the Nareter Court, which belonged to Count Shivalov, one of the richest landowners in Latland-Kurland.
The Nareter Court took up a vast area. The Nareter Market, which was six versts [Translator's note: two-thirds of a mile an old Russian measurement] from Sevenishok, was very well known. The Nareter market was the largest in Kurland. Tens of thousands of peasant wagons would come riding together. Although there were only three houses, the largest merchants in Lithuania and Kurland would arrive there on market day every Wednesday. After the First World War a small shtetl was built around the Nareter market.
There was also a court on the Lithuanian side, which belonged to Count Kamarawski. The soil of Sevenishok was his property, too.
A large village with 90 Christian families was a neighbor of Sevenishok. A long street, the Radunker Street, went up to the marketplace. The market was quadrangular, and a large church stood there.
The market was inhabited by Jews who had their shops and apartments there. There was only one brick house in Sevenishok. Elya Prazer was the proprietor of the brick building with an inn and shop in it. Around the marketplace were the shops of Lotzef's dried produce and manufacturing business, Zisl Shon's dried goods; Gershon Bedek's food shop, Elya Bedek's inn, Ben-Zion Gershuni's inn and grocery-haberdashery business. Gerhsuni was the gabai (synagogue warden and assistant to the rabbi) of the shtetl. He was a great scholar. An important merchant was Nusen Halshtein, who had eight employees working for him.
The border street led from the right of the marketplace, which led up to the bridge the border point between Lithuania and Latland. Another small street meandered near Gershon Bedek's shop.
The shtetl numbered 60 Jewish families. There were merchants who traded in furs, grains, forests, cattle and so on. The mill in the shtetl belonged to the Zif brothers. Haim Leib Shon was one of the richest merchants. There were several craftsmen. The men's tailor, Mikhal Gafanowitz, was well-known, as was Mrs. Ruchel Lewin, who sewed men's clothing.
Before the First World War, when no border existed between Lithuania and Latvia, the Jews of the shtetl drew most of their income from the Nareter permanent market day. Although Sevenishok also had a market on Thursdays, it did not have any great significance. The larger Nareter market prevented the Sevenishok market from developing.
There was no train traffic from Sevenishok to Nareter. The Germans built a railway spur during the First World War, which joined Ponedel with Sevenishok. Naret, however, had a railway line that led to Kreizberg and Riga. A large highway ran through Sevenishok and Naret to Riga. Before the First World War, thousands of wagons traveled through Sevenishok and Naret, laden with fruit, grains and furs. Horses, cattle and oxen would be driven by way of the highway.
When an order was issued that the Jews could not live in Kurland, the Jews would live in Sevenishok and trade in Kurland. There were several settlers, such as Moishe Shon and Haim Yankel the Settler, who lived legally on the Kurland side; however, they were considered Sevenishok Jews.
It was a quiet and peaceful life before the First World War.
During the First World War, the Jews of Sevenishok were driven out. Only two families took a risk and remained living on the spot: the families of Yankel-Matathias Shon and of Itze-Moten. When the evacuees returned during the 1920's, everything was broken. The properties were plundered and the houses abandoned.
The shtetl was divided in two parts, and on crossing the bridge to Latvia, it was necessary to have a pass. Then Sevenishok again began to be built up with the help of the Joint (the Joint Distribution Committee) and relatives across the sea. Craftsmen began to establish workshops, and shopkeepers opened their businesses. Sevenishoker Jews were members of the Rakishok People's Bank, which gave them short-term and long-term loans.
There was smuggling across the border, and many Jews from Sevenishok were engaged in smuggling. The county seat of Sevenishok was Rakishok.
Culturally and socially, Sevenishok before the First World War was poor; she did not even have a rabbi. Nusen Khalshtein brought a rabbi on the eve of the First World War. However, during the war, when the expulsion of the Sevenishok Jews took place, he was also driven out and he did not return to Sevenishok. After the war, the Rakishok rosh-yeshiva (head of the religious school) Reb Abraham-Mikhal, who was a talented person and a preacher, was the rabbi in Sevenishok.
There were several khederim (religious schools) in Sevenishok. The better teachers were: Haim-Itze, Haim-Henekh, and Moishe-Hirshe. The shochet (ritual slaughterer) Reb Mendl was very esteemed in the shtetl. After the war, Reb Moishe was the shochet. The shammus (synagogue caretaker), Reb Shlomoh, was a fine Jew. He davened (prayed) in front of the pulpit and was versed in books.
After the war, a Tarbus school opened. [Translator's note: a type of Hebrew school that existed between the two world wars.] The first teacher was Dovid Sudavski who after this was a teacher in Rakishok. A second teacher was Gafanowitz, who came from Ponevezh. The school in Sevenishok numbered 40 students. It was the great aspiration of the parents to give their children an education. Parents sent their children to study in the yeshiva in Rakishok and to the Lithuanian gimnazie there. Haim-Motke Gafanowitz ended up as a barrister.
Di Yidische Shtime (The Jewish Voice) and the Folksblat would come to the shtetl from Kovno. A sports organization was created.
Because of the hopelessness of a better future in Lithuania, the young began to emigrate. Here, in South Africa are found the following Sevenishoker Jews: Sheike and Yerakhmial Gurman née Kutzgal; Shlomoh Kres; Mikhal Gershuni; Yerakhmial Shon; Henek Gafanowitz; Leibe-Leizer Gafanowitz; Dovid Katz and Mrs. Nowitz, and also others.
The great annihilation killed all the Jews of Sevenishok. Not one soul remained of them. We did not know of any refugees from the Holocaust. We learned, however, that all of the Sevenishoker Jews were taken together to Tarutzer Forest and forced to dig out large pits into which they were hurled and shot. Many were buried alive.
No one remained in Sevenishok, but there lives in each of us a longing for our old home, and an eternal sorrow and pain haunts us.
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