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[Col. 117]

Political Zionism

Rabbi Rozovsky is the founder of “Mizrakhi”-- Documents about the Zionistic activities in the city-- Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel at Zionist Congresses-- From Sventzian to Rabbi Harashi in Tel Aviv.

Rabbi Pinkhas Rozovsky, the head of the Jewish Judicial Tribunal in Sventzian from 1886 to 1905, did not depart from the usual, well-trodden path of love of Zion in the city.

Rabbi Rozovsky took part in the first Zionist Congresses and was elected to the Culture and Education Committees of the Congress.

Together with Rabbi Reines of Lida and Reb Leybele of Vilna, Rabbi Rozovsky of Sventzian led the struggle against the fanatical rabbis of Khaim Oyzer Grodzensky's group, which branded political Zionism as being of the Shabbetai Tzvi sect. The latter led an anti-Zionistic near riot in the name of religion.

Rabbi Rozovsky was among the first to be involved in the founding of the religious Zionist party “Mizrakhi.” At the fourth Zionist Congress, he and Rabbi Reines and Rabbi Nisenboym establish the fund “Exiled from the Holy Land of Israel,” and were very active in the area of Zionistic activities.

The organizations: “Zionist for Zion,” “Youth for Zion,” and “The Resurrection” were active in the city among the young people. There were many educational and enlightening activities, courses in Hebrew, cultural events, collection of money for the fund to buy land in Israel.

The following are some confirmed documents and letters from Sventzian, which can be found in the archives of the National Committee:

Thursday, the 7th of Teves 1911-- Sventzian, a suburb of Vilna

To the Central Committee of the Zionist Organization

Dear Sir:

In answer to your letter of the 15th of Kislev, we are able to answer the question that you put before us. The answers are as follows:

  1. There were 40 bonds in our city in the 13 years after the Congress and 40 in the 14th year.
  2. In the 15th year after the Congress, we received 5 booklets of bonds.
  3. In the year 1908, after the Congress, we received 5 booklets of bonds. In our city, in 1908, collected for the Jewish United Fund the sum of 24 rubles and 57 kopecks (9 rubles, 57 kopecks from charity boxes; 15 rubles from [selling] marmalade) and in the year 1908, we raised the sum of 58 rubles (38 rubles from charity boxes and 20 rubles from sales). In addition to this, we sent the sum of 106 rubles, 50 kopecks for the benefit of the JUF to be included in a “golden book” memorial list of deceased.
  4. We sent money to benefit newspapers in Kushta.[16]
  5. There are approximately 8 active Zionists in our city.
  6. There is Zionist publicity in our city. In the course of the last 2 years, there were general meetings. We met in a private synagogue.
  7. In general, there was no extreme opposition to the Zionism in our city (except for a small group of fanatics, whom we don't count). It was possible to make our city a completely Zionist city. If an orator or a good organizer were to visit our city, he would be able to influence the citizens of our city (and also the young people) with the force of his personality. Our people respond with love to the work being done in the Land of Israel. Our people participated in the buying of land in Israel. Cultural work will continue to be done among the youth, including the teaching of Jewish history twice a week to groups of young boys and girls. The Zionists took an active part in Talmud Torah Institutes. We circulated Kadima, the publication of our organization. We are trying to gain subscribers for our daily Hebrew newspaper. In our city, we receive these newspapers: HaZman , HaMelits, HaTzefirah, HaOlam, Razsvet, Moledet V'khinukh.

    The 10th Zionist Congress, made a big impression, especially because of the environment of peace that was created during it. According to our opinion, it was necessary to pay special attention to elevating the Zionist ideas among the general population.

    Concerning the money that our organization was supposed to bring in, we are requesting that the Central Committee reduce the amount.

    Indeed, we give the work of the Central Committee much respect, but the income of our organization is small. Most of the Zionists in our city are people from whom it is impossible to get a large amount of money. We will send 5 rubles in the near future.

    In conclusion, we send blessings to the new Central Committee and wish them success in their work for the redemption of our people and our own land.

  8. [Written] with the blessing of the local committee in Sventzian

In addition to this detailed letter about the state of Zionism in the city, we find a variety of letters from [the Zionist youth groups] Zionistic Zion and The Resurrection concerning financial problems and reports from the youth of the city to the central office of their area in Grodno--under the guidance of the well-known Leyb Yafo.

The original letters were written by Zalman Svirsky, the youngest of the Svirsky brothers, and: Moyshe, Yosef, and Leyb (Tel Aviv).

The following letters in the form of postcards can be found in the archive in Jerusalem:

Postcard 1: Dear Sir: I simply ask you to send us, at the address below, clear addresses to which we can send money and letters. We will shortly send you 15 rubles and 15 kopecks collected by 31 members.

With Blessings, Zalman Svirsky - Sventzian in the Province of Vilna

 

Postcard 2: Dear Sir: In addition to the sum of 15 rubles and 50 kopecks, I ask that you acknowledge receipt of the money.
With Blessings, Zalman Svirsky - July 2, 1913

 

Postcard 3: Sventzian the 24th of Tammuz

We are very curious about the fact that you did not receive the 50 rubles and 50 kopecks, money for the benefit of the organization that was sent to Lifa in Grodno. It's been 2 weeks since we sent the money and you repeatedly write that you haven't received anything from us.
We request that you check into this matter and let us know when you receive the money.

With Blessings, Zalman Svirsky

he previous 3 postcards were mailed to this address: Grodno, Mr. Jack--stationery store.

 

Postcard 4: The money was received, but we didn't know its purpose. July 13, 1913

This answer was received from Grodno at this address: Zalman Svirsky--Sventzian

During the period from 1905 - 1913, the head of the Jewish Judicial tribunal in Sventzian was Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel. Since he was in the city, he was very active on behalf of the Zionist cause. From Sventzian, he was sent as a delegate to the Zionist Congresses. He also took part in the Mizrakhi convention in Amsterdam. He became more aware of his abilities, the ones which enabled him to become the Rabbi of Antwerp in 1913.

Shortly thereafter, he visited the land of Israel and settled in Tel Aviv. There he held the position of Chief Rabbi of the city until his death in Tel Aviv in 1945.

 

The Jewish Socialist Workers' Party, “the Bund”

The workers' parties in the city--The revolution of 1905 and the reaction in the city-- Arkady Kramer, the “Bund” founder and theorist.

By a short overview of all of the original institutions of the Enlightenment in Sventzian, from the “Lovers of Zion” Zionism to the time of the First World War, we have given the more civil side of the story. The workers' and proletariat's side of Sventzian deserves its own chapter:

The social unrest and workers' problems, which surfaced in Tsarist Russia after the assassination of the Tsar, did not bypass our city. The various new [political] movements and parties that arose among Jews in that period also reached us.

[For example] S. R., S. D., Anarchists, Folkists, just plain Socialists, and especially the “Bund,” whose theorist and one of its founders was Arkady Kramer, born in Sventzian in 1865.

The strikes, demonstrations, and revolutionary struggles in the year 1905 also encompassed the workers in the workshops and factories of Sventzian.

The Jewish workers along with Gentile workers took part in illegal community gatherings which took place outside of the city and in the woods.

Sashke, the Russian Pope's son, led one of these communal demonstrations in 1905. The bailiff's daughter, a teacher in the municipal school, led the school children in the demonstration in which Jewish workers also participated.

Illegal Jewish workers' gatherings took place in the synagogues. In the years 1904 and 1905, there was organized in the city a Jewish Defense organization. It was led by the student Julian Brumberg, the son of the leather factory owner. Shmuel Sarsky led the tobacco workers. Fayvke and Avraham Gertman led the shoemakers. Ritsman and the “yameld” led the tailors.

The intellectual circles led the work of the Enlightenment. Miran Taraseysky, Sonya Epstein, the daughter of Tavroginsky, and others were active organizers. They were always in contact with the center of the Movement in the city, with the Russian progressive circles.

Inspections, searches for illegal literature and weapons were the results of both the open [legal] and the illegal activities in the city.

The response to all of this was a strengthening of the underground activities of the unfortunate and exploited classes and also an increase of emigration to Western Europe and across the ocean.

This situation lasted until the First World War.

Sve0121.jpg
Arkady Kramer, Founder and Theorist

 

Arkady Kramer was born in Sventzian in the year 1865.

His father, Yoysef Kramer, was a teacher in the Circle School (a district school) in Sventzian.[17] He was both a member of the Enlightenment Movement and a religious Jew as well. He also taught children in his home.

After teaching, Reb Yoysef used to study a page of Gemara for his own edification. He also studied physics and geometry. In addition, he also very much enjoyed reading a book of secular literature.

Reb Yoysef gave the same education to his children, with whom he enjoyed taking trips outside the city in his free time. During these outings he would talk to them of everything and got them interested in the plants and flowers of the fields and woods around Sventzian.

Pati, Arkady's wife, mentioned these things in her memoirs when she wrote of her husband and his family.

Arkady was the youngest of six children in the family. While he was still a child, two of his sisters were studying in Petersburg and a brother was a student in the Teachers' Institute in Vilna. And little Arele[18] grew up in poverty and privation, because his father's salary as a teacher [in the Circle School] (23 rubles) and his earnings as a teacher of little children [in his home] barely covered the necessities of life and the tuition for the children. The family lived in poverty.

Until he was 12 years old Aron (Arkady) lived with his parents in Sventzian. He attended the Circle School and graduated.

Arkady used to say what a milestone it was in his life when he graduated the school in Sventzian and began to prepare himself to go to Vilna to take the entrance exams for the gymnasium. That's when his first pair of new shoes were made for him. They were made big so that he could grow into them. He also got a new hat, so big that his head got lost in it. He was not very happy with these items, because everyone in the school in Sventzian made fun of the way he dressed since he never had a pair of shoes that were whole or a presentable garment.

In his impoverished condition, Arkady concentrated on his studies. He lived in a corner of the hovel of one of his poor uncles and subsisted on packages that his mother, Sheyndl, used to send him from Sventzian. Some time later, he also earned a bit of spending money by giving private lessons.

Arkady got his political training in Petersburg as a student in the Technological Institute attaching himself to the Polish S.R.F. “Proletariat,” which was a sister party to the Russian party called “The People's Will.”
In the year 1889, he was arrested for his activities in this illegal party and was sentenced to 6 months in jail and 2 years [parole] under police supervision. His family had recently moved to Vilna, and Arkady joined them there.

In spite of police supervision, Arkady did not cease his political activities. [In fact] he soon became the leader of the “Group of Jewish Socialist Democrats in Russia.” This group theoretically and practically created the political framework and impetus that led to the founding of the “Bund” under the name: “General Jewish Workers' Bund”[19] (1897).

Arkady Kramer was the central figure of the financially successful pioneer group which gave the first Jewish Socialist workers' movement, the Bund, its soul.

We know that in the 70's and 80's of the 19th century, there already existed small Socialist circles of Jewish workers, but it was necessary to form the authoritative framework which would encapsulate their ideals and create the Jewish Socialist Mass Movement.

When Arkady began working among the Jewish masses, he never imagined that he was doing not only important Socialist work but also important Jewish nationalistic work which Zionism had awakened among Jews and which was also appreciated in Bundist circles.

The Bund adopted a nationalistic Jewish program which expressed itself in the “Bundist Organizations form.” Certain important issues presented themselves to this group of Jewish Socialists, for example: 1) the question of language, 2) Jewish disenfranchisement, 3) the individuality of the Jewish workers who labored in small workshops.

At that time, the general Russian Socialist-Democratic Workers Movement strongly protested against complicating the workers' question among Jews and also against the special Jewish content.

In spite of the fact that Arkady worked with the general Movement--”The Russian S. D. Party”--he also showed himself to be an accomplished Jewish theorist. He was a man of the people with an acute sense of reality, so he dealt with the demands of the time and made the Bund an important organization for Jewish intellectuals as well as the tailors and shoemakers and other Jewish artisans.

In the Jewish artisans, the Jewish intelligentsia saw folk masses of whom it hadn't known before, and they placed themselves at the head of this class in order to defend their Socialist and nationalistic interests.

Aron Kramer, “Arkady,” the Russified son of the Sventzian proponent of the Enlightenment, Yoysef Kramer, was one of those who recognized the Jewish masses and placed himself at their service in their daily struggle.

Arkady developed rich political activities for the Party and became the backbone of the Bund. In addition, Arkady was considered one of the most prominent figures of the Socialist Movement at that time in Russia, Poland, and Lithuania.

Arkady took part in International Socialist Congresses (Amsterdam, Bern, London and so on).

The founder of the Bund was always the honored chairman of the presidium at all the Greater Polish conferences of the Party.

During the First World War, he stayed in France, where he worked as an engineer (on the French subway system).

In the year 1921, he returned to the cradle of the Party--to Vilna. He once again became active and was the Party's elected representative of the masses in the Jewish community of the city.

He worked as a teacher of mathematics in the Jewish Technological School and in the Vilna Jewish Teachers' Seminary. (He died on Sept. 20th, 1935 in Vilna.)

 

The Economic Structure

General economic conditions--trade—shop-keeping--industry--agriculture-artisans--free professions

The great fires in the city, which we have already mentioned above, were the main impetus for the city to rebuild itself in a beautiful and modern fashion.

Broad paved streets leading to the center [of town]--the marketplace, which occupied a large square area in the middle of the city, were now built up with two-story brick buildings replacing the previous wooden ones. The biggest businesses in the city were located here. The buildings housing social organizations were also to be found on the broadest streets. These buildings were not to be equaled in their size in the whole area.

Each of the government buildings of Svinstyan, the schools and the hospitals, the Christian church, the Greek Orthodox church, and the two Jewish study houses, the tailor's synagogue, the Khassidic prayer groups, and all the other Jewish institutions made its own special impression on whoever came to town.

The external appearance was well suited to the inner nature of the whole population.

The city was well known far and wide as a model, both for its external appearance and for its rich cultural and social life, and was considered a well-organized Jewish community.

For decades, Sventzian saw the flowering of important economic branches of the country. Business, industry, handicrafts, and agriculture developed on a large scale in the city.

Several large companies in the surrounding area established important branches of their business [in Sventzian]. The Asher Kovarsky Company controlled the whole flax and seed business. (His father, Reb Akiva, took care of the seeds.) Their buyers and agents were spread out over all the surrounding towns. They would send the merchandise that they bought to Sventzian, and special warehouses were built for this purpose.

Asher Kovarsky went far in this business. He succeeded to the extent that he had to open a bank to take care of all of his financial transactions and operations. This bank also served all the other merchants in the city.

Two other companies also developed a good reputation in the field of flax and seeds: Aaron Tsinman and Moyshe-Ber Svirsky.

The Moshe Bushkanyetz Company cornered the market in raw hides, small skins, sheep wool, and boar bristles. It had a large brick store. Many smaller merchants in the city and in the surrounding areas worked for this company. (In the city, the Tayts brothers--Shmuel, Ben-Tsion, and Alter-- worked for this company.)

The grain business occupied an important place in the Sventzian economy. The largest companies in this field were: The Brumberg Brothers, Sender Libman, Meyer-Eliahu Svirsky, Ben-Tsion Margalit, and Zalman Kovarsky. The wholesale flour business was also in the hands of the companies owned by these people.

All the meat provisions contracts for the military and the City were taken over by the butchers: Leyb-Eliahu and his sons Khanon and Heshl; Yerakhmiel and his sons, Gershon and Dovid; Khaykl Gordon and his sons.

The fruit dealers (orchard growers) who were well known were: Khaim-Yosl Kharmats, and Heshl and Yosl Kovarsky. They used to rent their orchards from the local noblemen and others. They used to sell their fruit in the markets of the surrounding cities. They also had customers in all the important centers of the country.

 

Shopkeeping

This particular branch [of the economy] occupied an important place in the economy of the city.

The manufacturing businesses were owned by: Mordkhe and Abraham Kohen, Shneur Kovarsky, David Kuritsky, Reuben Garber, Mendl Veksler, and Khyese Gurvitz-Shapiro.

The leather businesses were owned by: Yankev Garber, Shimon-Yankev Bushkanyetz and sons – Khaim, Kalman, Mendel, and Shimon, Zerakh Gurvitz, and Fayve Tayts.

Wholesale groceries: Asher Kovarsky, Tatelboym, the Brumberg brothers, Libman, Liza Levin, Henekh Ginzburg (Mashe Genendl's).

In addition to these, there were in the city many other smaller groceries and food stores, which were spread out all over the city on all the streets.

Hardware stores were owned by: Shmuel Lulinsky and sons, Hirsh-Itse Yavitch and his sons, Eliahu and Khaim.

A large wine business was run by Meyer Levinsky.

Clothes stores and shoe stores were owned by: Etl Pinkhas-Zeligs (Goldberg). Shmerl Becker, Bene Gurvitz, Mordkhe Vilkomirsky, Luba Gurvitz.

Paper and writing materials: Toyba-Reyza Viduchinsky, Mordechai Dembo, and Koyfman.

Glass, dishes, and earthenware: Zalman Edelman, Hirsh-Itse Feygl and son, Peretz.

Pharmacy: Nakhum Taraseysky, Yisrael Levin, and Eliahu Ginzburg.

For the most part, most of the business in town was conducted around the marketplace. Every Wednesday peasants from all of the surrounding villages would gather.

Four times a year there were annual fairs, which lasted a whole week. Every Tuesday and Friday, there were separate wood markets. Hay and straw were also sold for the city's sub-economy.

Already on Tuesday, merchants, agents, and brokers who lived far away began to arrive for the Wednesday markets. They would spend the night in the various inns, hotels, and taverns.

Whoever came by carriage would take their horses into the stables that had been specially built by: Sholom-Leyb Gilinsky, Shevakh Kovarsky, Mikhal Luria, Desyatnik, and Drutz.

The noblemen of the area who came to the market used to stay at the best hotels: Eliahu Kovarsky, Hotel “Italye,” Tsernabradky, Khane and Shevakh Kovarsky.

The owners of the hotels catered to the noblemen's every need. They also used to be the middlemen in their business transactions with various merchants. They were well paid for their efforts or their recommendations by both the noblemen and the merchants. This was the norm at the sale of grain, cattle, and wood. The money involved in the sale of lumber provided for a hefty “tip.”

In Sventzian, the following were considered big lumber merchants: Davidzon, Bak, Eliahu Kovarsky, Eliahu Shpiz and his brother Mikhel, and Leybl Gordon.

The Gordon brothers also had the mail concession from the government. For this reason they always had several horses hitched to wagons and carriages. At that time, this was the only connection to the large surrounding area. Their mail concession very often gave them the ability to know about lumber for sale in a far-off area or some other sweet business deal. Later, Leybl's son--the engineer Nakhum Gordon--became a well-known lumber merchant.

In addition to his lumber business, Eliahu Shpiz also built a large and modern mill with a sawmill for working wood, boards, and shingles.

 

Industry

There were three fine print ships in Sventzian. They belonged to Magat, Taraseysky, and Yisrael Levin.

Magat's print shop had new and modern printing machines and it was in his shop that the Sventzian Russian newspaper, Sventzian News, was printed. He also served several publishing houses.

The print shops served the whole area. Orders would come in from all of the surrounding villages and towns.

 

Sve0127.jpg
Front Page of the Sventzian Russian Newspaper, June 2, 1910

 

Svinstyan also had several very large factories.

It had a leather factory which belonged to Brumberg. It had 2 tobacco factories--one belonged to two partners: Shneyur Rabinovitch and Hirsh-Leyb Tayts; the other to Kapelyovitch.

Tuvia the felt shoe[20] maker ran the felt shoe factory. Later it was run by his son Binyumen Shapiro. The cigarette-paper factory belonged to Rabbi Ushpol.

A brandy brewery and beer mill belonged to the Rambam family. Moyshe Rabinovitch and Yerakhum Sirotkin owned a beer brewery and bottling plant.

There were also two soap makers and candle makers.

 

Agriculture

It is especially worthwhile to mention the industries surrounding agriculture and gardening in the city. This was a source of livelihood for many Jews. Among them were the following families: Flekser, Markelevitch, Shibovsky, Kalman and Khaya Matzkin, Zalman Ligumsky, Peysekh Volyak, Khatskl the Sexton, and Shloyme-Yankl the pottery glazier.

For the most part, gardening and agriculture were secondary sources of income. The main vocations were: shopkeeper, baker, tailor, ritual slaughterer, synagogue sexton, and teacher of children. The sideline of farming served to balance the weak incomes [people] received from their main employments and satisfy their need to be productive.

 

Artisans

A very important source of income was handiwork and handicrafts. In Sventzian there were specialists in all the trades: shoemaker, tailor, ironsmith, locksmith, tinsmith, glazier, painter, bricklayer, carpenter, watchmaker, hat maker, and photographer.

The hand craftsman composed the so-called workers' class of the city. They were separate not only economically, but also religiously and socially. They even had their own synagogue, which was called The Tailors' Synagogue. In truth it should have been called the Craftsman's Study House or the Synagogue of Artisans.

The reason that they founded their own synagogue is simple. The artisans didn't want to be dependent on the sexton of the wealthy men in town and their bosses. The latter would take all of the high honors in the synagogue for themselves and leave, for the common folk, the hand-craftsmen, the lesser honors. The craftsmen soon saw that they would never get “shlishi,”[21] never mind even talking about a “maftir.”[22]

The arguments that ensued over these matters led to the artisans' organizing and building a beautiful synagogue of their own in which the seats along the whole eastern wall[23]were filled with craftsmen and plain, simple Jews.

It is understandable that they were able to achieve this thanks to their favorable economic situation.

The higher professions, those freely chosen, were all dominated by Jews: Doctors: Kheyfets, Kovarsky; dentists: Yulyan Shpiz, Berta Taraseysky; folk doctors: Bilovitch, Alperovitch.

Lawyers: Tavroginsky, Hirsh and Yeshayahu Levin, Gavende; land surveyor: Epstein.

Magistrate officials: Mendel Ginzburg.

All of the above also served the Christian population. They were well liked in the whole area, and many Christians were their steady clients and patients.

All of those mentioned changed after the First World War. For the most part, this category [of professionals] was increased by the addition of new young blood, trained professionals who immediately earned themselves good reputations:

Doctors: Binyomin Kovarsky, Kopelyovitch, Betsalel Tsinman. Dentists: Rokhl Cohen (Svirsky). Lawyers: Shalts, Gavende, Kesl and Leyb Gurvitz. Folk doctors and nurses: Mineh and Soreh Rutshteyn, Fride Gurvitz. Engineer: Nakhum Gordon.

 

Regimes and Boundaries

The change of government after the First World War--the changes in all economic fields--the government's political position regarding Jews--the assistance organizations in the city.

The period of time between the two World Wars is a separate chapter in the history of the Svinstyan Jewish population.

The special geographical situation of the post-war border partitions influenced the renewed life and outlook of Sventzian in the economic, social, and cultural areas.

Everything that happened in our neighborhood in the years between the two world wars was a result of the constant conflict between Poland, Lithuania, and Soviet Russia.

In the year 1918 the Germans left all the fronts, and in the course of a short time Sventzian had several governments.

First came the Bolsheviks, then the Lithuanians, later the Poles, then the Bolsheviks again. The Poles pushed them away after “the miracle on the Vistula” and occupied the area of Vilna using the name “Middle Lithuania.” This area was then unified with Poland.

The Jewish population suffered greatly from all this. Each new regime held, as is universal and constant, that the Jews sympathized with the previous government and were spying for it. With every change from one army to the next, many Jews paid with their lives. In those times, the following were killed for one reason or another: Zev Brumberg and his two sons, Mordkhe Vilkomirsky, Eliahu Shpiz. Mendl Taytelboym, Dov Avtsinsky, Shmuel Sragovitch, Mordkhe Gordon, and Lipe the chauffeur.

Sventzian was transferred to Poland and became a part of its territory to the north, surrounded practically on all sides by boundaries and because of this bestowed with the name “The Northern Crescent.”

Historically and ethnographically the region always belonged to Lithuania. The peasant population was, for the most part, Lithuanian. The Province of Vilna and also Svinstyan and surrounding areas had been assigned to Lithuania even by the Versailles Peace Accord. But Poland commandeered all this by force although Lithuania never [officially] gave it up. This was an open wound. For this reason relations between the Poles and the Lithuanians were hateful and angry.

The enmity between the population in Sventzian and that of the surrounding area was actually good for the Jews. The Jews in the corner of Sventzian suffered practically no hooligan attacks at all unlike other areas of Poland. Sventzian did not suffer from exhibitions of public anti-Semitism. The Lithuanian population as well as the Russian and White Russian were not influenced by the Polish agitators of that time.

The Lithuanians and the Poles were Catholics and shared a church, but because of their antagonism to one another, they appointed separate priests and preachers who spoke their language. The two different nationalities didn't even want to run into one another and had different hours for their services.

The boycott against Jewish businessmen and artisans was also not felt as greatly in Sventzian. The Polish Cooperative Movement progressed more slowly in Sventzian than in other places in the Polish Republic, especially in the matter of rivalry with Jewish businesses.

The Jewish population changed completely after the First World War. Many Jews who had left during the war years never returned. Their places were taken by evacuated Jews from: Postov, Danilovitch, Dalhinov, Koblinik, Haydutsishok, Vidz, and Smargon. The front line remained near the above- mentioned towns, and the Jews moved further inland. A large number of these newly arrived Jews remained in Sventzian because they didn't want to return to their demolished homes, which had been burned and destroyed by the armies.

The structure of the Jewish population never changed. The main sources of income remained: business, shopkeeping, manufacturing, gardening, and handiwork. Also the professions. The people in one branch or the other, however, changed. The economic situation did get worse--a result of the post-war change in country boundaries, which often intersected the Sventzian area. This area became much smaller as a result of these boundary changes. Certain economic branches were torn from their previous markets, and the local industry and businesses suffered greatly as a result.

The production of liquor, tobacco, soap, cigarette papers, and beer were stopped. The leather factory was taken over by the Gerbers[24]: Perets and Khaim, survivors from Smargon. They worked with very little.

In just the opposite fashion, the production of felt boots really developed. Sventzian became practically the only supplier of this commodity to the Polish market. Felt boot factories were owned by: Binyumin Shapiro, Berel Shapiro, Khaim and Shaul Vilkomirsky, Yosef and Yankev Svirsky, Zaydel, Zar. Mordkhe Kil, the Tayts brothers, Mordkhe Kurlantsik, and the Volotsky brothers. These manufacturers hired Jewish employees and perhaps a hundred Christian workers.

The production of felt boots became characteristic of our area, because the Sventzian circle was considered the Polish Siberia, lying as it did at the highest point north-east of Poland. Our winters were always worse than anywhere else. Ice and frost lasted a lot longer there than in other parts of the country.

That is why, in winter, wood chopping and handling were very developed trades. It was much easier and much cheaper to get the wood to the train stations in sleds across flat snow and the frozen waters of the rivers and lakes than in the summer. In addition, in the winter the village population had more time to devote to this.

The wood from this area was transported to the factories and sawmills of Central Poland, and a large part of it was exported outside the country.

Wood was one of the main items to be exported by the country, and our people had a large part to do with this.

The Jewish merchants in this line did not earn badly. During this time, new wood merchants had taken the place of the old ones. They were: Brudny, Yavitch, Gordon, Shmuel and Mendl Shpiz, Yehoshua Matzkin, Eliahu Klavir, and Meyer Shukhman, who also built a large saw mill for wood handling.

After the First World War, Sventzian became known for a completely different and important item--”curative vegetation.”

Every day in the morning there stretched whole caravans of male and female peasants in wagons and on foot, all of them carrying various grasses, flowers, buds, berries, roots, barks of trees and various other plants. The buyers of these curative flora and byproducts were the following companies: Nakhum Taraseysky and Abramovitch-Gromov.

All of these cultivated and wild growing plants, plants which grew in the woods and fields were then processed: dried, ground, mixed, sorted, and finally sent to the biggest pharmaceutical companies and factories in the country and outside the country.

The two Sventzian companies had buyers in America, England, France, Germany, and Japan. The National Health Service of Israel was also one of their customers. They were considered the largest companies of their kind in Poland.

Yankev Mikhlson, Yitzhak Agulnik, and David Ginzburg produced artificial honey. They also developed the manufacturing of rope as well as producing paper bags for the entire region.

All of the big companies earned good money and made progress. The smaller ones, however, all went bankrupt, because of the political environment which, as I mentioned previously, cut up the region and sundered the suppliers from their customers. Later other reasons also contributed, among them the desire of the government to destroy Jewish business. Towards this end various laws were passed: no business on Sunday, authorizations and business patents, income and profit taxes as well as various other inconveniences. The Christians also had a motto: A Christian should buy from a Christian.

The tradesmen were subject to all kinds of decrees and ordinances, examinations for professionals, assistants, apprentices, and taxations and fines--in order to cause their economic destruction.

The Jewish tradesmen organized themselves in a union for all the trades. This union's purpose was to help to make things a bit easier. Its goal was to form the laws, give advice concerning the taxes, examinations, diplomas, and to make loans, in order to avoid the ruination of smaller business concerns and workshops.

Since all of the Jewish circles suffered from the economic crisis, the merchants, the wholesalers, as well as the manufacturers, all of them contributed to the founding of a people's bank. A lot of help was given this endeavor by “Yekapo”[25] and “The Central Jewish People's Bank,” whose goal it was to give credit and financial assistance to those in need.

The first director of the bank was Meyer Taraseyski. After his sudden death, Mendl Kuritsky became the director. Meyer Grin and Mordechai Ginzburg worked in the bookkeeping department.

Smaller interest-free loans were also given by two interest-free loan societies. The larger of the two was supported by both synagogues and administered by: David Kuritsky, Avraham Tsepelovitch, Koyfman Gordon, and Avraham Gertman. The Khassidic Interest-Free Loan Society was administered by: Aharon Tsinman, Shlomo Kurlandtchik, and Leyb Margyel.

Those who had lost their property used to receive assistance from the following organizations: “Support the Fallen,” “Bread for the Poor,” and “Food for Passover.” Medical help came through “Guardians of the Sick.”

The leaders of these organizations were: Bere-Moyshe Azinski, Avraham Tsepelovich*, and other elected or volunteer community leaders.

 

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Interest-Free Loan Society in 1935
Seated: Yisroel Abramson, Avraham Gertman, Avraham Tsepelovich, David Kuritsky, Baruch Rozental, Motl Kahan, David Ginzburg. Standing: Leyb Porus, Koyfman Gordon, Khatskl Shnayderovitch, Idl Shakhor, Shimon Rudnitsky, Yeshayke Gertman

 

All of these charitable organizations were supported by the generosity of philanthropic donations and monthly payments by the Jews of the city. The Svintsyaner Relief Organization in New York, the “Joint,”[26] and “Yekapo” were also a big help.

Thanks to “Toz-Oze,” there was a free outpatient infirmary in which the following doctors worked: Kovarsky, Kopelovitch, and Tsinman.

There was also an active committee for the protection of children. This committee was led by: Leyb Gurvitz, Esq., Dr. Kovarsky, Khaim Svirsky, Yisrael Levin, Yisroel Abramson, Idl Sakhar, and Lipe Rozenshteyn.

A large part of the Jewish population was able to manage thanks to the assistance of close relatives across the sea, especially in America, South Africa, and Israel.

 

Social Life After the First World War

Introduction: Yiddish and Hebrew--Jewish Elementary School and Cultural School-- Jewish Gymnasia--Culture League and Educational Society--The Zionist Camp--Zionist Rules--”Workers for Zion”--(Socialist Zionists)--“The Pioneer”-- Young Pioneers--The Work--League for a Working Israel--Sports and Physical Development--City Council.

1918. The October Revolution, the civil war in Russia, the uprising for an independent Poland, in which Sventzian and surrounding areas become involved. These were the causes for the return of many Jews to the city of their birth. These were Jews who had been persecuted by the Soviet regime for being Zionists, Bundists, Folkists, etc.

The gymnasium had its second graduation; but in 1928, the Polish Education Ministry closed the school.

The official reasons were: questions relating to the building, budget difficulties and--the unofficial but real reason--the suspicion of lack of loyalty, even antagonism, to the reigning regime.

The elementary school, which was located in the same building as the gymnasium and was under the same management, was run in the same spirit and also found itself under suspicion by the government.

The building problem was solved by the energetic organization of a special effort to erect a new building very quickly, a building which would have all the facilities necessary in a modern school.

The transferring of the elementary school to the new building was accompanied by a building-dedication ceremony at which the fundraisers for the school were thanked for their devoted efforts at such a crucial time.

Not only were the teachers and students grateful, but a majority of the city was too.

During this time some of the school activists as well as some of the school graduates were arrested and sent to the “Kartuz-Bereza” concentration camp. These are the ones we know of: Eliahu Taraseysky, Kopl Sirotkin, Motl Ginzburg, Leyb Kovner. There were more later. Avraham-Leyb Germaniski died there. The others returned sick and broken in spirit, not understanding what they had done to deserve such punishment.

The arrests of the school activists, graduates, and students were considered part of the struggle against the illegal and radical parties which were thought to be hiding behind the cloak of education and culture.

 

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A Group of Friends in the Culture League (1925)
First row: Shabtay Abramson, Sara Feygl, Pesye Tayts, Sara Movshovich, Alte Shutan, Sheyne Svintelski, Shlomo Abramson.
Second row, sitting: Shlomo Lifshits, Mendl Luninski, Beyla Matzkin, Shaye Gilinskyi, Dr. Betsalel Tsinman, Kopl Sirotkin, Leya Ritsman, Fruma Feygl.
Standing: Nekhama Gordon, Zalman Gilinsky, Yehudit Ginzburg, Yisrael Levin, Mikhle Postavsky, Yakhe Bushkanyetz, Yisroel Moyshe Kharmats, Yisroel Sorsky, Fruma Okun, Alte Gurvitz, Rokhl Zaydel, Matle Murmis, Shlomo Liberman, Mendl Broyman

 

Culture League and Education – Society

Legal and illegal parties gathered under these rubrics. The general platform which bound them was: Yiddish, the language of the masses; autonomy for Jews where they live; the right to work; social rights; cultural freedom, and finally--the struggle between Zionism and the Soviet Union.

After the security forces had closed down the “League,” the newly formed “Education-Society,” which took its place, did bifurcated culture work with the same radical goals and underground efforts as the previous parties.

These two social organizations were the officer staff and the army, which stood behind the Yiddish schools in the city (the Yiddish elementary school and the Yiddish gymnasium).

These organizations also organized within their framework: evening courses for adults, sports involving all of their branches. These sports were taught and coached by the sports teachers of the schools (Katcherginski). In addition, there were dramatic groups with talented amateur actors led by Fridman, who guided and directed them. Their repertoire was at a suitable level consisting, for the most part, of Yiddish classics.

[Sventzian also had] a large library of Yiddish books and secular literature in Yiddish, a large reading room, an orchestra of wind instruments and another of string instruments lead by Shlomo Lifshits. Concerts and plays were performed in Sventzian and its outlying provinces.

[There was] a youth division under the name of “Bin.” [There was] a group of graduates for cultural work and scientific achievement. There were many sporting events in which the city-wide sports club, Macabbee, participated--that is, in football, handball, and basketball. The population was very active in the political and social institutions in the city: the city council, the Jewish community administration, the People's Bank, the Interest-Free Loan Society, as well as other philanthropic institutions.

For the parties that were covered by the mantle of the cultural and educational institutions, this place was the meeting point for their illegal activities. It gave them the opportunity to have a political presence in municipal social life. The parties were: “The Bund,” “The Reds (Communists),” The People's Party or just simply “The Yiddishists.” Included in the latter was also the “Leftist Zionist Workers.”

In the 30's, a large number of the Communists went to the Soviet Union, either legally or illegally. There they were not able to avoid a fate of suspicion and terror, and the majority of them were immediately included in the familiar purges and exiled to Siberia for being spies, traitors, or Trotskyites to wander in the black hills of the land that they chose. And to this day, it is not known where their bones are buried.

A small number of those Sventzian Communists managed to survive the labor camps, where they worked in gold mines or coal mines. They left their paradise at the first opportunity that presented itself. Some of them made their way to Israel along with a large number of the activists who had been members of the erstwhile Culture League or the Educational Society.

 

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At a Cultural Conference of the Teachers of Culture and School Activists

 

The Zionist Camp

The Zionist pioneer youth, all of the Zionist parties, as well as the citizens and the community leaders of the city, had previously rallied around the Hebrew school of the city named “Talmud Torah [the study of Torah],” which had either been founded or revived after the First World War. Later the “Talmud Torah” was reorganized and encompassed in the net of the “culture” schools.

The “Talmud Torah” was immediately ensconced in the appropriate pedagogic level according to the customary program for a beginner's school as set by the Ministry of Education.

Except for the [study of the] native language, Polish, all the subjects were taught in Hebrew, [using the method] “Hebrew in Hebrew.”[27] The school was taught by qualified teachers: Borokhovich, Basin, Shifman, Tretski, Shapiro. All of them from outside the city. Some of Sventzian's cultural figures also took a hand in teaching: Khane and Reyzl Cohn, Moyshe Dembo, Avigdor Levin, and Aba-Leyzer Abramson.

The students in the religious school were only boys, due to the past tradition concerning the learning of Torah. All the girls, without exception, were sent to the secular elementary school.

In 1927, the religious school was remodeled and made suitable to the program of study that the Culture School required. It also affiliated itself with the central “Cultural” school in Warsaw. A lot of new teachers were hired, recent graduates of the Vilna Teachers' Seminary: Lekhavitski, Senznik, Fridshteyn, Perlis, Kravyets, Liberman, Malak Weinstein, Fruma Zilber, Etele. These teachers dedicated their knowledge and spirit to the school.

The newly renovated school with its modern, progressive syllabus made it possible for those parents who were nationalist and Zionist inclined to send their daughters to this school. And then it was possible to continue on to the gymnasium, or the teachers' seminaries for culture, or the vocational schools, or the “ORT” workshops in Vilna.

The school raised its students to appreciate productive work. The garden near the school provided opportunities for agricultural education and a ready-made workshop for the many “Young Pioneers,” and members of “The Pioneer,” who were preparing themselves for emigrating to Israel. Today, most of them are in Israel on the agricultural kibbutzim and collective farms or in other parts of the country.

The school also had a kindergarten, run according to age, by: Khaya-Dvoyra Levin, Sara Rozovsky, Khaya Kuritski, and Haya Bushkanyetz.

 

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The Kindergarten of the Tarbut School

 

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Kindergarten by the “Tarbut” [Culture] School

 

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David Gaviser

 

The following were involved in administration: Yosef Svirsky, David Gaviser, David Kuritsky, Yisroel Abramson, Nakhum Taraseysky, Yisrael Levin, Leyb Margyel, Yosef Lulinsky, Mordechai Gaviser, Lipe Rozenshteyn.

The school committee followed the instructions of the organizations and parties which were represented in [the school]: “General Zionists,” “Workers for Zion (Socialist Zionists), “The Pioneer,” “The Young Pioneers,” and “The Worker.”

 

General Zionism

This party represented the respectable citizenry of the city. Those who were active in this party are the same people who were active in the Culture school. The party leader from 1922 to 1933 was the head of the religious tribunal in Sventzian, Rabbi Manis-Isur Polonski. He was one of the very few rabbis in Poland who belonged to the party. David Gaviser was also very active. His productive work was cut short by his untimely death in 1926. He had also taken part in a Zionist Congress as a delegate from his previous city of residence--Mikhalishok, near Vilna. The following were also active: Svirsky, Kuritsky, Abramson, Taraseysky, Levin, Lulinsky, and Margyel.

The above-mentioned also took part in: The Jewish National Fund, Funds for Settlements, The Golden Fund, which was especially established in 1922, not only in the city but also throughout the country, by Dr. Regensburg--Vilna.

They also were involved in the municipal and philanthropic organizations.

The members of the party were recruited for the most part from the middle classes. Of them, the following families emigrated to Israel: Mordechai Dembo, Yitzhak Katz, David Kuritsky, Yosef Lulinsky, Leyb Lulinsky, Sora Sragovitch, Riva Zeydel, Tsivye Gilinsky, Tayts, Libkhin, Avraham-Yerukhem Kharmats.

Most of the families emigrated with their children, who were in the pioneer preparation youth groups and moved to Israel after their training. They paved the way for their parents and other member of their families.

 

Workers for Zion (Socialist Zionist)

“Workers for Zion” (Socialist Zionists) in Sventzian--the outgrowth of the younger organization “Youth for Zion”-- was strongly connected with the Pioneer Movement and drew its members from just about the same sources. The study of Hebrew in preparation for going to Israel was more important for the goals of the party than Yiddish was for those outside of Israel. And Hebrew resounded in the building of the Culture School, a place that was shared by the “Workers for Zion,” “The Pioneer Organization,” “Young Pioneers,” and “Workers.” The school was located at 11 Yatkever Street.

 

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Before the Departure of Friend Zev Garber

 

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The Pioneer Organization and Youth for Zion in 1924
First row, from left, lying down: Miriam Smorgonski, Leyb Kovner, Hanokh Kuritsky, Malka Gurvitz
Kneeling: Khane Garber, Mina Luninsky, Batsheva Volyak, Leah Gorsheyn, Khane Zeydel, Tsila Feyglman, Lene Yavitch, Leah Shutan, Dvora Feygl, Grunye Matzkin
Sitting: Slove Zorukhovitch, Rivka Krook, Feyge Stalfer (Shibovski), Beynish Markelevitch, Miriam Volyak, Khaya Volyak, Shmaryahu Zeydel, Avraham Ovtsinski, Tsvi Polonski, Moshe Matzkin, Zelda Rutshteyn, Khane Leah Matzkin
Standing: Slova Bushkanyetz, Sheyne Sragovitch, Basye Levin, Sore Rifke Bushkaniez, Zhenye Dembo, Reyzl Kohn, Yeheskel Kurlandtchik, Lena Dembo, Rachel Gorsheyn, Shmuel Volotsky, Avraham Levin, Yisroel Volotsky, Yoysef Shneyderovitch, Betsalel Tayts
Last row: Mikhal Katz, Leyb Tayts, Leah Vayskunsky, Batya Vayskunsky, Yisrael Moshe Sheynyuk, Shalom Bushkanyetz, Shimon Levin, Velvl Shapiro, Yitzhak Feyglman, Shlomo Matzkin, Yitskhok Zaydel, Moyshe Zaydel, Eliahu-Mendl Matzkin

 

Party work: events at which the party's goals were explained, cultural events (evening courses, political lectures, speeches, discussions), funds, pioneer preparation, immigration, school, organizations, social and political actions were communal through the branch of the Zionist camp called “The League for a Working Israel” (Socialist Zionists “The Pioneers,” “The Young Pioneers,” “The Worker,” “The Laborer”). This League was run according to the tenets of proletarian workers' Zionism. All problems were handled according to this philosophy.

The leadership of “Youth for Zion” was: Shmuel Margalit, Sasha Lulinsky, Chana Cohen, Shmuel Gurvitz (Ben-Zerakh), Libman, Avigdor Kotler, and Avigdor Levin. (These last few were also involved in the “Freedom and Resurrection Party.”)

The leadership of “Workers for Zion (Socialist Zionists)” were: Beynish Markelevitch, Shmuel Volotsky, Leyb Kovner, Mordechai Gaviser, Shimon Bushkanyetz.

 

The Pioneer

The Pioneer Organization began to be active at the time of the third wave of immigration to Israel. Its members were recruited from the following organizations: “Freedom and Resurrection,” “Youth for Zion,” “Workers for Zion (Socialist Zionists),” and unaffiliated nationalistic young people, who were drawn to the idea of Zionism.
The members of “The Pioneer” worked very hard to inure themselves to a life of hard work. They received pioneer preparation training by doing various difficult physical jobs in the city and in the provinces.

The Svintsyaner pioneers received their agricultural education on the following estates: Tserklishok, Stanislavov, Rimki, and others.

The first pioneers from the city emigrated, after their pioneer preparation, with the 3rd and 4th wave of immigrants and they became some of the founders of Ein Harod, Yagur, Ramat Hakovesh, Sde Nakhum, Kfar Giladi, Ramat Rachel, and other agricultural places (kibbutzim, kvutzot,[28] moshavim, moshavot[29].

Svintsyaners could also be found building roads, planting orchards, and doing other obviously pioneering jobs in the country, whatever was needed by the settlement at that time (“Conquering Work”).[30] The pioneers were: Sh. Ben-Zerakh (Mulye Gurvitz), Yitzhak Shibovsky, Rifka Katcherginski, the Dembo brothers, Khane-Garber, Tsile and Yitzhak Feyglman, Mina Luninsky, Dvora Feygl, Miriam Smorganski, Beyla Matzkin, the Matzkin sisters, Slova Bushkanyetz, Sheyne Sragovitch, Libkhin, Avtsinski, Avraham Levin.

 

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The Preparation Kibbutz “Dawn,” with Yosef Lulinsky and family in the middle

 

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Agricultural Preparation Kibbutz, under the Name of Yitzhak Leybush Perets in Tserklishki, 1923

 

The list of pioneers from later preparation groups in other parts of Poland and from the Yeshiva “Dawn” in Vilna was, in relation to our city, quite long.

The preparation kibbutz “Dawn,” in Vilna, also had a branch in Sventzian. Dozens of male and female pioneers from the province of Vilna and all of Poland did their preparatory training at various jobs here in Sventzian: in the factories which made felt shoes, on the plantations owned by the companies which produced medicinal herbs, in the gardens of the Jewish landowners, and whatever other jobs presented themselves in the town.

With the help of the Svintsyaner culture benefactors in the Zionist organizations and teachers in the Culture School, the preparatory pioneers achieved social and political ripeness. In evening courses, they learned the Hebrew language and attained the necessary skills to achieve their life's dream of emigrating to Israel.

The hundreds of young people who ended the course of study at “Dawn” received a certificate instead of a diploma.

New life was given to the Zionist Movement with the founding of the youth organization “Young Pioneer.” This organization produced the actual pioneers of the future, candidates for immigration.

Mordechai Gaviser, Ze'ev Zeydel, Zev Garber, Avraham-Leyb Germaniski, and Pinkhas Shulgeyfer were the young men who devoted themselves heart and soul to the work of this branch.

The work was divided as follows: 1) cultural activities (social and political education, courses in Hebrew taught in Hebrew; 2) sports (gymnastics, football, handball and basketball, walks, excursions, contests).

“A healthy spirit in a healthy body,” was the motto behind the creation of a sports club, “The Worker,” whose members were also the older members of “The Pioneer,” the Workers for Zion (Socialist Zionists), and sports enthusiasts who were sympathetic to this cause.

In order for all of these sports events and organized enterprises to encompass a greater number of young people, the “Young Pioneer” group organized a string and wind-instrument orchestra, which used to play for the young people at their sports events, for visitors, and at other special celebrations.

 

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A Group of “The Young Pioneer,” called after Y. H. Brenner (1929)
Kneeling from right to left: Mordekhai Bak, Khaim-Hirsh Levin, Sholom Kuritsky, Yoysef Smargonsky
Sitting: Yoysef Sardur, Mikhl Ligumsky, Eliahu Bikson, Leyb Desyatnik, Betsalel Tayts, Mikhal Gurvitz, Berel Sragovitch
Standing: Pinkhas Shulgeyfer, Yisroel Bikovitch, Dovid Shapiro, Yoysef Polonski, Gershon Kuritski, Moyshe Gurvitz, Zev Fermont

 

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Group Picture of the Members of “The Pioneer” and “The Young Pioneer”

 

The orchestras also performed public concerts. They always used to take part in the ceremonies accompanying the openings of academies, at celebratory evenings and plays arranged by the organization, as well as on trains and at demonstrations for young people and students of the Culture School.

The Sventzian orchestra used to also march every year at the head of the May First Demonstration in Vilna organized by the League for the Working Man in Israel. (The “League” in Vilna, [even] with all of its parties and its attendant organizations, did not at that time have an orchestra and Sventzian used to help them out.)

The orchestra also took part in the celebrations of the surrounding towns in our province. It was ready to help whenever they called.

Pinkhas Rashish (today the mayor of Petakh-Tikva), while visiting the city on behalf of The Pioneer Center, suggested to our branch that we send our instruments to Israel and form an orchestra in the settlements in conjunction with our friends who had already graduated and moved to Israel as well as with those who were getting ready to emigrate. In those days, the settlements did not yet have an orchestra of this scope. Unfortunately, this didn't happen, because the orchestra was the soul of our young people. It accompanied them during good times and bad during all of the usual events of the branch: the Lag b'Omer celebrations, Chanukah, Purim, rallies, public meetings with other branches, trips into the woods and to the surrounding lakes and Lake – this in addition to the above-mentioned academies, concerts and festive evenings.

The instruments of the orchestra as well as the instruments of the educational committee in the city were, in 1939, confiscated by the komsomol (Communist Youth Organization – Soviet Union).

 

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The Orchestra of “The Pioneers” in Sventzian
Bottom: Laleh Yavitch, Ruven Levin. Seated: Yekhiel Okun, Mikhal Gurvitz, Gershon Kuritski, Velvl Zaydel, Pinkhas Shulgeyfer, Berel Sragovitch, Yoykhanan Mikhlson. Standing: Leyb Gurvitz, Yitzhak Gilinski, Sholom Kuritski, Leyb Desyatnik, Moshe Shayevitch, Khanokh Ginzburg

 

The Worker

With the onset of the economic crisis among the artisans, people approached the idea of opening a branch of “The Worker” organization, whose goal it was to prepare tradesman up to the ages of 35-40 for the move to Israel, according to the same principles of “The Pioneer” and “The Young Pioneers”: spiritual education, political preparedness, evening Hebrew course, news of Israel, physical education in case of changing one's trade – fitting oneself to the difficult conditions and dirty work which awaited the new immigrant upon arrival in the country.

Activities to [raise] funds and other Zionist events took place. These were the qualifying conditions in order to be approved to receive a certificate and to immigrate to Israel.

The rush to immigrate was great. The branch grew; the list of candidates to immigrate was full, but the small quota of certificates delivered by the mandate government did not permit all of those remaining to achieve their goal.

 

Worker's League in Israel

All of the above-mentioned organizations (other than general Zionists) created the “League,” which stood at their head and coordinated their working together, leading all of the activities of the Zionist-Socialist work in the city, staying in constant touch with the standard of the central office in the country. During the last era, the “Worker's League in Israel” was under the leadership of a presidium: chairman, Leyb Gurvitz, esq., Mordechai Gaviser and the writer of these lines–Shimon Bushkanyetz.

These were also the heads of the funds, foundations, and party work.

 

Art Society

A non-political organization–its founder and continuous leader was Baruch Rozental, who was also the director of these various theater productions: “Shulamit,” “The Lottery,” “Motke Thief,” “Tevye the Dairyman,” “The Bloody Joke,” “Two Kuni-Lemls,” and others.

Goldfaden[31] and all of the other classic authors, in Yiddish and of world literature, comprised the repertoire of the amateur actors of the “Art Society.”

Fathers and children performed their capers on the Sventzian stage. After them came the grandchildren. Rozental was the “grandfather” of the beautiful Art Society and its events. He was crowned with this name (died 1940).

Whatever they earned served as a foundation for the Jewish library for the Society, which carried the name “Jewish Municipal Library.” The library had 5,000 books in Yiddish on Jewish and world literature: 1,500 Hebrew and 1,200 Russian books.

From its profits, the Art Society, together with the Education Society and all the other organizations of the town, built a huge theater hall for the events that they had organized. This also served the interests of the whole Jewish community in town for conferences, academic [gatherings], etc.

The “House of the People” was built for the sake of culture (it had been an afternoon school). The state library was also located in the “cultural” buildings.

 

Sports and Physical Development

It isn't any wonder that, hand in hand with the cultural and spiritual condition of the Jewish population, Jewish youth also put physical culture on a high rung and that this was expressed in all of its forms.

At the founding of the “Yeshiva with modern tendencies,” the first conditions of this Svintsyaner school for the Jewish world and for its invited students” (HaMelits, HaTsifira–1882) were: “Watching one's health and taking physical exercise [as] the main things in the running of the Yeshiva.” Sports and gymnastics–the basic fundamentals for the Yeshiva students – were according to the following conditions: “The Yeshiva is in a modern, spacious building. [It has] large, light, and clean rooms, a special courtyard with good, clean air, hygiene, and diet.”

In fact, the youth of Sventzian, both male and female students of the normal schools, as well as the young men of the Yeshiva, who were learning “both Torah and a trade” grew up straight, strong, and well-developed physically thanks to the conditions which made this possible. Their maxim was: “A healthy mind in a healthy body.”

 

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Members of Both Sports Organizations during the Soccer Match between the Maccabees and “HaPoel” in Sventzian

 

In the period between the two World Wars (1918-1939), sports, as played by Jewish youth, achieved a high level and encompassed all fields.

The Jewish schools, according to the school schedules, employed special teachers, who were adept at gymnastics and sports.

The sports clubs “Maccabee” and “HaPoel” included the majority of those in the town who were interested, members of general and partisan organizations who were active in the field. The sports clubs developed the following branches:

 

Gymnastics

The members practiced practically every day in the free fields near Beys Am and the sports areas both in the town and outside it.

In the wide social hall of Beys Am, exercises were performed with the help of sports equipment, Swedish ladders, trampolines, etc.

 

Soccer

On the Shablinsky Field and in the new sports area near the Farmer's Synagogue on Vilna Street, the Maccabee and HaPoel soccer teams practiced and achieved first class results.

Maccabee I, Maccabee II, HaPoel I, HaPoel II competed against the local Polish teams and others from the Sventzian area. Everyone loved these matches, and they always had a large audience. They were always held to the accompaniment of the Jewish Wind Orchestras and the Polish Military and School Orchestras.

I think that Svintsyaners will remember the musicians of the S. K. S. (Svintsyaner Sports Club), the tall and agile teacher Dudek, the Shalovsky brothers, “The Little Hands,” Shubert, Kondratovitch, and others. Sergeant Skavranek of the Third Division team, [was] a soccer artist of the highest rank, against whom the young men of Sventzian didn't do badly either emotionally or physically and evened the score in the matches. Often, they scored higher, and this actually used to lead to conflicts, which were joined by sports fans, sometimes leading to physical assaults which were amicably resolved on the spot.

Often matches took place against Jewish teams from the provinces and also against the acclaimed “Maccabees” of Vilna (II).

Players in the Sventzian Maccabees were: goalie–Meyke Shapiro, Berke Taytelboym, Zaske Ginzburg, Zelik and Meyer Kuritski, the Poshumensky brothers, Kivke Luninski, the Broyman brothers, Sholom Shapiro, Lifshits, Shibovsky, Yakov Grinfeld, and others.

The HaPoel team was made up by: goalie–Kuritski, Gershon and Moshe, Leyb Desyatnik, Pinkhas Shulgeyfer, Lulinski.

 

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The Bicycle Club of “HaPoel
Henekh, Yukhke Mikhlson, Leybke, Mikhke and Alke Gurvitz, Kantorovitch and others

 

All of these soccer players were afterwards replaced by others, depending on their abilities and for other reasons which occurred in the course of time.

 

Basketball and Handball

Based on the same principles as soccer, Maccabee and HaPoel also formed basketball and handball teams. The regular playing fields were: the yard of the folk school and the yard of the cultural buildings, where, in their free time, the students of neighboring schools also exercised. In the afternoon, sports fans [also played]. Women's teams were also formed.

 

Outings

The schools, youth organizations, and sports groups had their meetings and friendly chats by the lakes, in the shadow of the rich, surrounding pine woods, where they went on their free days, Sabbaths, and holidays.

Berezovke, Kokhanovka, Madzun, Farshukst, Rashkutan, etc. were the lakes on which the Svinstyan youth played their water sports.

In winter, when all the lakes were frozen, they skated. The small pond on the priest's lawn was full of young people playing winter sports on skates. They sledded down the surrounding hills.

Selected sportsmen from the Jewish clubs always took part in the regional matches in all areas of sports, including foot races and bicycle races around the hills and outside of Sventzian and New-Svinstyan. Their good scores earned them respectable rankings.

 

The Jewish Community Management Committee

The main authority over the social, philanthropic, economic, and cultural organizations in the Jewish life of Svinstyan was the democratically elected Community Management Committee. Its revenue came from a special community tax, a kosher meat tax, fees for wedding and birth certificates, income from the Jewish community estates and enterprises: the municipal baths, the Khassidic baths (which also served the general public).

In addition, money also came in from YEKAPO (American Philanthropic Aid), Sventzian Relief in New York and various [other] contributions for Sventzian Jews in the country and abroad.

All of these funds went to support religious personnel, such as: the rabbi, the religious slaughterers, the cantor, and staff of the Jewish community and its events. They were also used to pay off deficits incurred by institutions and schools. [32]

The Jewish community in Sventzian, by law, also included New-Sventzian and Lintup, and together with their locally elected representatives, helped to organize Jewish community life in both of these nearby towns.

The leaders of the Jewish community were: Aron Tsinman, Perets, Feygl, and during the last years, Hirsh Gilinski. Secretary– Mordechai Gaviser.

 

Sve0161.jpg
Members of the City Council
Henekh, Yukhke Mikhlson, Leybke, Mikhke and Alke Gurvitz, Kantorovitch and others
Seated: Kurilo, David Kuritski, Romaslavski, Gulevitch, Boris Brumberg, Yisroel Levin, ?
Standing: Yan Drozd, Engineer Nakhum Gordon, Boruch Rozental, Dr. Binyomin Kovarsky, ?

 

City Council

The Jews of Sventzian made up 50% of the population. They were represented in the same proportions in the town's economic leadership– the “magistracy” or city council.

The representative of the Polish mayor was the Jew, Boris Brumberg, the 2nd secretary: Eliahu Goldshteyn, a Jewish alderman and [public] officer.

In order to reduce the effectiveness of the Jews in the town, the government and the self-governing body creatively enlarged the town boundary to include the nearby villages and their villages' Christian population (Zadvanik, Ligumi, Margumishek, Minelishek and others).

The proportion and effectiveness of the Jews was already at that time smaller but, nevertheless, significant.

 

Sventzian During the Time of the Soviets (1939-1941)

General introduction – Vilna and surrounding area is given to Lithuania – Sventzian belongs to the Soviet Union – the acclimatization – the Jewish exiles of the city – the new economic structure.

Great changes, decisions for our area and especially for the Jews, occurred in this era, which started with the outbreak of the war at the beginning of September 1939.

In a very quick battle, Germany takes the greater part of Poland. Soviet Russia also, at this time, oversteps its boundaries; and on the 17th of September 1939, the Soviet Army crosses the Polish border and occupies the eastern territory of the country in which the area of Vilna is also included. The slogan for this conquest was: The Soviet Army will free the workers of White Russia and the Ukraine in the western portion and unite them with their fraternal peoples of the east, who are free republicans under the Soviets.

In this way, Poland was divided and disappeared from the map as an independent country.

Lemberg and surrounding areas, as well as Polesye, were considered part of the Ukraine. Volin, and Bialystok and the surrounding area was subsumed into White-Russia. Rumors abounded concerning the neighborhood of Vilna, one of them being that the Soviets intended to return it to Lithuania.

These rumors started refugees wandering, especially those who were in the occupied territories and had been gathered together from all of Poland in Vilna and the surrounding area. They wanted to remain in free Lithuania and retain the ability to emigrate from there to various directions across the sea and especially to the land of Israel.

The stream [of refugees] was great. To Vilna came the majority of the Zionistic Central Committees: Mizrakhi, Tsionim-Klalim, Poaley-Tzion, Ts. S., Revisionists, Leftist Poaley-Tzion, also the main proponents of the Bund, the Folk Party, all of the preparatory kibbutzim, yeshivas, and literati – all of these constituents, which stood at the head of the movements and social life in Poland, had overnight become illegal under the new Soviet regime.

All of [the people from these organizations] came and settled temporarily in the towns and villages which belonged to greater Vilna. This included Sventzian, which became full of refugees.

The “Joint” developed a great relief program for the refugees in the form of dormitories, kitchens, clothing outlets, and monetary funds: the yeshivas and kibbutzim were supported by the “Joint.”

 

Vilna and Surrounding Areas are Annexed to Lithuania

Our city, Sventzian, was divided for strategic reasons and became a part of White Russia, a part of the border administrative territory of Old Vileyke, whose capital was Minsk.

The refugees in the city moved to the Lithuanian part of the area, whose dividing border was set at 3 kilometers west of the city bisecting the road on the way to New- Svinstyan and cutting through the fields of Margumishek and Ragovshtsizna. The village of Daikshi was in White Russia; Shimini, in Lithuania. (The population on both sides of the border was Lithuanian.)

In the last moment before closing the border to normal traffic, the Soviet rabbi, Rabbi Moyshe Leyb Luski and his family, just managed to get to Lithuania, and from there they traveled to New York.

At the same time other wanderers came to Sventzian from Lithuania, Vilna, and other nearby territories. These were Jews who had figured just the opposite--that under Sventzian rule, better and greater possibilities existed for them to settle and also to live freely.

The nearby artificial border on which the fields of local peasants lay provided great opportunities for all of the refugees who had not managed to move to Lithuania at the right time. It also provided them with an opportunity to try their luck at crossing the border.

At that time, there still came, through Sventzian, pioneers from preparatory points, who were sent to the conspiratorial group in the city by the Pioneer Center, which was still operating illegally in Lemberg. [The group in Sventzian] made it possible for them to steal across the border. This group was led by: Yokhanan Mikhlson and Yehuda Shapiro, who later died. A part of this group is now in Israel.

Sventzian was at that time full of refugees of the following sort– Jews from the German territories who had surreptitiously stolen across the border into Russia and, via Sventzian, into Lithuania.

Lithuania's independence didn't last long. In departing Vilna earlier, the Soviets had left a permanently based military garrison in order to protect the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, from a possible invasion by Hitler's Germany.

The Soviets sought and found excuses to annex not only Vilna and the surrounding areas but all of Lithuania–at first as an “independent” state, but it was annexed very quickly and became the 14th Soviet Republic.

After it came Latvia and Estonia. This occurred with the assistance of the army, which had occupied the Baltic states in order to protect the Soviet bases in those areas.

The Soviet Republic of White Russia immediately returned the city of Sventzian, generously and with great pomp, to their fraternal Republic of Lithuania. The previous border was abolished. [The new border] was set on the other side of the city and cut through the road from Sventzian to Lintup at the 6 kilometer point near Vigodke. The villages of Kaptorun and Rinkyan belonged to Lithuania.

The new border was no longer guarded, but one nevertheless needed special permission to travel to the other republics of Soviet Russia,

This border didn't change under the German occupation and played a large role in September, 1941, when the Jews of Sventzian and surrounding areas were killed in a bloody slaughter in Poligon. The Jews who escaped this blood bath by crossing the border found themselves outside the [town] limits – that is, outside the “abyss of annihilation” – and were temporarily saved. They settled in the nearby towns of White Russia: Lintup, Svir, Mikhalishok, Postav, and so on, where the killing was not yet the reality it was by the Lithuanians.

There were no special changes instituted by the administrative or political organs in the crossing from Sventzian of White Russia into the Lithuanian and Vilna territories. The look of the city stayed the same [as it was at this time]. The previous normal appearance of the city, as it had been before the war, had disappeared never to return. The Soviet system of doing things was already in place and affected daily life.

Jews–all of the businessmen and merchants – became personae non gratae . They liquidated their merchandise, selling to the surrounding populace and to the newly arrived Soviet citizens, military personnel who were just passing through, and Soviet officials, who were great consumers of these goods. [These customers] bought everything, even though they had no idea what some of the things they bought were used for. Once the stores were emptied, since no new stock was coming in the stores closed. In their places, there opened up municipal warehouses with many acronyms: “Rey-Mag,” “Univer-Mag,” “Sel-Po,” “Rey-Po,” with numbered divisions but all of them with very few products. In order to get something to buy, one had to stand in endless lines, [but even then] prospects were few.

The regular marketplace had disappeared. The peasants no longer sold anything for cash. They were more interested in barter, goods exchanged for other goods, and they demanded the most expensive goods for their products. The huge marketplace, no longer being used, was turned into a park.

Jewish social life disappeared. All of the community leaders of the right or the left vacated their positions. The previous societies – Zionist, Socialist, and cultural organizations, institutions, reciprocal assistance organizations – were automatically dissolved.

There was a great decline in the realm of religion. The new study house and the tailor's synagogue were requisitioned and made into a warehouse for wheat, which the villagers had to deliver to the state (“local suppliers”). The rest of the study houses and congregations were also rarely visited, because religion was forbidden as being counter-revolutionary. Only the aged visited the synagogues to pray. They couldn't do any harm, because they didn't work in any case due to the Sabbath.

The stern Soviet regime was instituted with the assistance of new local cadres, party members, activists, whose baggage was their political past.

With the help of these local activists, the city took on its appropriate appearance. The businesses and the estates of a great number of Jews were nationalized, and these people immediately had to leave the city and look for new places for themselves and their families to live.

On the basis of this, the following left the city: Levin, Yisrael – Ashmene; Tschashnik, Ben-Tsion – Vileyke; Kohn-Potashnik – Olshan; Kovarsky, Leyb – Meligan; Matzkin, Zalman – Meglian; Kovarsky, Ahron – Meglian; Zar, Mordkhe – Strunoyitz; Shukhman, Meyer – Strunoyitz; Lulinski, Efraim – Lintup; Margolis, Shmuel – Lintup; Levin-Shtein, Lize – Lintup; Matzkin, Etl and Gordon-Levinski, Etl – Konstantinove.

There were special deportations to Siberia for uncertain elements: Polish military men, forest guards, noblemen, estate owners and simply those who lived on estates [were] also uncertain elements.

Among those deported were: Abramovitch and wife, Valodye Taraseyski and family, Hirsh Kovarsky, Rozenes and family, Pres and family.

For supposed speculation, the following were sentenced to several years in jail and deported: Yitzhak Kovner and Bak Zusman. Yakov Mikhelson was freed for health reasons after serving several months in jail.

In general there was a custom throughout the country – that it was healthier for one not to remain in the same place for too long. One should change one's place of residence and live in a place where you were less known. For this reason certain Svintsyaners left, namely Mordechai Gaviser and his wife Malka (Weinstein), [specifically] because of their Zionistic past and their active work for the Culture School. The school was, of course, closed and all the teachers scattered. The kindergarten teacher, Haya Bushkanyetz, was let go from her job and was not permitted to hold another.

The Jewish school continued under municipal auspices with great changes in the teaching staff and pedagogic techniques. The teaching materials were also very different.

The Education Department of the region combined the libraries of the Art Society and of the Educational Society into a general municipal library for all languages.

The money and the property of the Folks Bank and the Interest Free Loan Society were transferred to the state bank (“Gas Bank”).

Everything belonging to the Jewish institutions such as the Jewish Community and the Fund for the Sick and so on, the events of the city and the Khassidic baths and all of the buildings that the community owned were taken over by the communal administration (“ Kom-Khoz ”).

The craftsmen and the tradesmen, who lost their private clients due to a dearth of manufactured [goods] and restrictions on free enterprise, were organized into general worker's workshops in which they filled requests for larger orders for the municipal business trusts and also for local use: “Rey-Po” and “Sel-Po.”

In the city there were organized: a tailor's guild, a shoemaker's guild, one for wig makers, tanners, felt-boot makers, soda water producers, etc. All of these workers' organizations operated according to the same rigid system.

The general summation: Sventzian became a town like all others in the Soviet Union. The Jews slowly got used to the [newly] created conditions, the erstwhile small businessmen and merchants gradually entered the Soviet work force system, which was organized according to city and region. Some went to new places and tried their luck there. Some were successful.

This situation continued until June, 1941. On the 22nd of June, Germany attacked the Soviet Union; and after a few days we were occupied by Hitler's Army.

 

This is How the Jews in Sventzian Died

The first 100 men – the “action” in Poligon – the Svintsyaner Ghetto – the liquidation of the Svinstyaner Ghetto – the cruel slaughter.

With the departure of the Soviet Army and even before the regular Nazi soldiers appeared on the horizon, the Jewish population was already being threatened by the local Lithuanians.

Provocations, sadistic anti-Semitic actions, robbery, murder [33]were only the beginning of the unforeseen end – complete annihilation.

The total action of destroying the Jews didn't dally and came directly to our region.

The following is how this tragic chapter started in Sventzian and how it fits into the greater chronology:

A) On July 15, 1941, according to a list and also randomly, 100 men were gathered. They are transported in heavily guarded trucks to the Baranover Woods near New-Sventzian and shot.

This action was directed against the youth groups in the city and those who were Soviet activists.

B) On September 27, 1941 (Shabbos Tshuva[34] 5702) – the whole Jewish population of the greater Sventzian area was taken away from these points: Sventzian, New-Sventzian, Ignaline, Podbrodz, Haydutsishok, Dugelishok, Tseykin and everyone was kept for 10 days in the barracks of the military camp Poligon near New-Sventzian.

During this time, the Jews were tormented in inhuman ways, and on the intermediate days of Sukkoth, the 7th and the 8th of October, the whole group was shot and thrown into a previously prepared pit.

This communal grave held 8,000 Jews from the Sventzian area.

 

The Sventzian Ghetto

A group of craftsmen from the city of Sventzian were able to comprise a list of artisans: tailors, shoemakers, painters, tinsmiths, glazers, quilters, etc. – trades that were missing among the Christian population of the city. The list was titled “Necessary Jews,” and they were permitted to remain in the city to serve the everyday needs of the occupying government and the local Lithuanian administration.

The list of necessary Jews was made at the last moment before all the Jews were taken to Poligon.

In the course of the ten days before the mass murder in Poligon, the artisans of the city were successful in getting out more necessary tradesmen and at the same time they were also able to get out other families – for gifts, money, and [on the basis of] acquaintance. All of these created the Sventzian Ghetto.

The ghetto was a locked one, surrounded by barbed wire and a checkpoint gate. Inside, the ghetto was controlled by the ghetto police. Outside, constant Lithuanian guards.

In addition to doing their jobs, the Jews also had to provide workers for municipal jobs of the German government:[35] at the sawmill, at the Tserklishki Estate, digging peat, at fur and wool production for the front. Thanks to the dearth of workers, those city Jews who had previously been successful in escaping the Poligon roundup were now also declared legal workers. They had been wandering around in the towns of White Russia: Svir, Michalishok, Kimelishok, Gluboke, Postav; but given the opportunity to settle back in their own town, they returned to Sventzian.

There were still Jews in practically every town and village in White Russia, since the White Russian population did not take as great a part in destroying and killing the neighboring Jews as did Lithuania. The gathering together and shipping [of Jews] to their deaths became more of a reality with the appearance of partisans in the forests around the towns, something which it was thought the Jews took part in and supported.

In the year 1942, the German Economic Commander Beck was assassinated near Lintup. This was the work of the partisans headed by the former Sventzian teacher, Markov.
This situation was used as an excuse to kill 50 Sventzian Polacks and three Jews who worked with the Commander. They were all suspected of having a connection with the group of partisans.

Also due to this situation, the Jews of Lintup were led into the Sventzian Ghetto. Under the pretext that partisans had been seen in the woods around Vidz, the Jews of Vidz were also led into the Sventzian Ghetto and placed in the same confined space.[36]

The Ghetto grew in number [of inhabitants] and at the beginning of 1943 contained 2,000 Jews. Poverty became widespread; the living conditions, deplorable.

The Ghetto was governed by the Jewish Council controlled by these Svintsyaners: M. Gordon, N. Taraseyski. A. Katsenboygn, Kh. H. Levin and A. Gilinski.

At their disposal they had 8-10 policemen. All together they comprised the administration of the Ghetto.

A typical letter about the activities of the administration can be found in the daily newspaper of the refugees, Our Way, published in Munich, Germany (January 1946). The genuine text follows:

 

The Liquidation of the Sventzian Ghetto -- 4.4.1943

In the summer of 1942, about 2,500 Jews from all the villages were herded into the city of Sventzian; and the Jews of Sventzian were 500, making a total of 3,000. A large Ghetto was made, having police and a Jewish Council. The Jewish elder was Moshe Gordon. He took four other men to help him: a doctor, Taraseyski, second--Berl Kapelushnik, Police Chief Khaim Levin and the children's teacher from the Medem Sanatorium, Motl Gilinski. They controlled all the work in our Ghetto. The poor were sent to the camps, and the rich who paid were left in their homes.

I received permission from the Jewish Council to bake in the Ghetto bakery. My wife and I worked hard together under terrible conditions. We had two small children, and my heart hurt having to see the pain and suffering of these innocent little souls, who had already started to feel the effects of the dark cloud over our heads.

The winter was very severe; and the hunger in the Ghetto, even more so. Jews weren't allowed to leave the Ghetto to sell anything. The police and Gordon Brosh saw to that. Conditions worsened in the Ghetto, and it was decided that only 200 grams of bread would be meted out daily.

The living conditions in the Ghetto were fatal – 10 people in a room, and others lay in the study house. A typhus epidemic broke out, and people were dying like flies.

Suddenly an order came from Vilna that by Sunday, April 4, 1943, Sventzian had to be free of Jews. Doctor Taraseyski was sent to Vilna to have the decree rescinded. He returned with the police of the Vilna Ghetto.

The Chief of the Vilna Ghetto, Herr Gens[37] spoke to the Sventzian Jews at the study house and said: “Everyone must go to the Kovno Ghetto and they can take everything with them.”

Those with a specialty – tailors, shoemakers, bakers, tinsmiths – he [said he] is taking back to the Vilna Ghetto.

He left his representative, Frid, and six Vilna policemen, to carry out the evacuation.

The first decree of the Police Commissioner was that the members of the Jewish Council and their families, the police and their families, and those with a profession should prepare themselves for the trip to Vilna and the rest must all go to Kovno.

The truth was that instead of those with a profession, those with money went. They each paid 50 golden rubles.

The second decree of Police Chief Frid was that everyone must be all packed and ready to travel at 12 o'clock on Sunday, the 4th of April, 1943.

The leaders came to the Ghetto. The Jewish policemen urged everyone to load the wagons as quickly as possible. At the train station there were closed train cars, their windows wired shut. Fifty people were packed into each car.

At the time of departure it appeared that 50 young people with weapons in their hands had gone to join the partisans in the forest.

We went to the Vilna train station and had to wait. The representative of the Head of the Vilna Ghetto, Desler, already had the decree to take us to the right place. Five hundred fortunate Jews were separated from us; and under the guard of Jewish policemen, they were sent to the Vilna Ghetto. On Monday, the fifth of April 1943 at 10:30, we were on the road to Kovno. When we were 8 kilometers from Vilna, we stopped and we saw the awful truth. Instead of Kovno, we had been taken on the road to death – Ponar.

There we found the clothes of the corpses from the towns of:
Oshmene, Michalishok, Sol, and Smargon. Kovno was to have the same fate. Now it was our turn – Sventzian.

Fifty men were led to the ditch. The German police with machine guns were shooting. Small children were thrown into the pit while still alive.

Twenty-eight managed to save themselves from this slaughter under the women and children. When I arrived at the Vilna Ghetto, the Jewish police immediately led me to the Lukisker Jail. There I met other fortunate ones who had escaped the slaughter. In the morning it was heard on the street that all of those who had remained alive after the slaughter must report to the Gestapo.

The Chief of the Criminal Police, Zageyski, came to us and told us to get ready. I pleaded with him on behalf of us all: “Let us live! Only 28 of us managed to save ourselves out of 4,500 Jews, and you want to deliver us into the hands of the Gestapo!”

It seemed that he had a human heart [after all], and he told us that he would take care of the matter. Instead of us, 28 sick and old people from the Vilna Ghetto were sent to the S.S. We received their passports. Instead of Yisroel Kokhalski, I was now Avrom Rosenberg, 42 years old. With this, the affair called Kovno ended.

The cruel Holocaust, however, had not yet ended. It continued. Of the murdered thousands who found their communal graves at Ponar there remained only bloody memories, a deep wound which never heals.

Yisroel Kokhalski

The original copy of this letter was at that time [January 1946] given over to the Historical Commission of Munich, which was researching the history of the Jews in the ghettos, the situations and conditions under which they died.

This letter among others was taken to Jerusalem and is now in the archives of Yad Vashem[38]in a special file, “The Ghetto in Sventzian.”

The writer of this letter, Yisroel Kokhalski, lives in Israel.

In the same file at Yad Vashem, there are also other letters by surviving Svintsyaners which have not yet been made public. Those letters do not say anything new. They just confirm with other details the established contents of Yisroel Kokhalski's letter.

 

Partisans

Svintsyaners in the woods and Partisaner camps--Svintsyaner partisans try to save the Jews of the Vilna Ghetto--The negative position of the Vilna F.P.O [United Partisans Organization] to this action-- the “Svintsyaners” lead the “Vilners” in the woods--F.P.O. joins in and saves the situation--the military action of the Svintsyaners--the monument.

In spite of their assurances to the delegated representatives from Vilna, the members of the Jewish Council and the representatives of their police – Gens, Desler, Dreyzin, Frid and others who had come to Sventzian to see to the final liquidation of the Ghetto – that no harm would be done to anyone, neither to those who go to Vilna nor to those who go to Kovno, those listed below did not go along with everyone else – to where they were sent. Instead they left the Ghetto along with the last transports (4/4/1943) and headed for the woods and the villages in the area. (In alphabetical order):[39]

1. Bushkanyetz, Shimon 27. Las, Munye
2. Bushkanyetz, Mordechai 28. Michelson, Yankev
3. Bushkanyetz, Shmuel 29. Michelson, Yehudis
4. Bushkanyetz, Leah-Sara 30. Michelson, Moshe
5. Bushkanyetz, Haya 31. Michelson, Shaul
6. Bushkanyetz, Golda 32. Michelson, Yoynasn
7. Gertman, Yehoshua 33. Matzkin, Zalman
8. Grazul, Perets 34. Markus, Yitzhak
9. Gilinski, Moshe 35. Markus, Zelde
10. Gordon, Khaim-Leyb 36. Markus, Leyb
11. Volfson, Yisroel 37. Markus, Shmuel
12. Volfson, Dovid 38. Markus, Mereh
13. Tayts, Yitzhak 39. Svirsky, Ber
14. Jochai, Berl 40. Solomyak, Sholom
15. Jochai, Leyb 41. Flekser, Yoysef
16. Jochai, Khaim 42. Kramnik, Sara-Feyge
17. Chayet, Fayvish 43. Rudnitsky, Yitzhak
18. Chayet, Rashke 44. Rudnitsky, Moshe
19. Chencinski, Maks 45. Rudnitsky, Yoysef
20. Charmatz, Hirsh 46. Reyz, Avrom
21. Lurie, Taybe 47. Shutan, Moshe
22. Levin, Shimon 48. Shutan, Ester
23. Levin, Rubin 49. Shuchman, Meyer
24. Levin, Rukhl 50. Miadziolski, Efraim
25. Las, Nisn 51. Porus, Yitzhak
26. Las, Haya 52. Opeskin, Khanon

 

The liquidation of the Sventzian Ghetto was done carefully and in a very “liberal” manner because, instead of Germans and Lithuanians doing it, it was done by the Jewish police of Vilna. This, nevertheless, did not reduce the basic distrust toward the executioners and their henchmen, even if the latter were Jews. This did not yet result in an uprising, bad blood, or armed clashes with the leaders of the Ghetto, who were prepared for an eventual assault by the armed liquidation troops, the S.S., the S. D., the Lithuanians, or other Germans.

The armed group which had left for the woods had left the city 10 days before. They, along with later arrivals, for the most part (some sooner, some later) joined the army of Soviet partisans, whose base was very near our area, in the woods around Lake Narocz and in the woods near Kazian and Miadzol.

Once the Sventzian group had settled into the forest near Tserklishok (12 kilometers from the city), they immediately made contact with Markov's detachment. Since Markov was himself from Sventzian, he warmly welcomed the Jews from his hometown and immediately organized a group of them for a mission in the Vilna Ghetto, in order to organize a mass exodus of the ghetto Jews into the forests.

The following partisans participated in this mission: Gertman, Shutan, Volfson, Rudnitsky, Feygl and others.

Unfortunately, they were prevented by the Jewish Council and the police, who felt secure in their positions and carried out the orders of Hitler's henchmen most brutally, often descending to those depths in the belief that they would be around at the end of the bloodbath and perhaps even remain alive.

In the end, none of [the Council members and police] was able to avoid the bitter fate of the Jews; and they were sent down the same road to the work camps and then to the death camps like all the others.

The first encounters of our Sventzian partisans with the underground organization F. P. O., which had already been organized at that time, were unsuccessful. The position of the F. P. O., like all the other underground guerrilla organizations of the most populated ghettos, was open escape during the expected final liquidation of the Ghetto. This was their status, theoretical argument, and ultimate goal.

The meeting with the representatives of the F. P. O. took place after the liquidation of the Bialystok Ghetto, in which armed Jews put up worthy and heroic resistance to German tanks and other armed forces. The Warsaw Ghetto was already burning at that time and [the Jews were] fighting, and it was difficult to convince [people] that the open struggle in the guarded ghetto in the center of the city was like martyring oneself for God's Name, something that would endow prestige but not life – this was a show of strength without the least chance of conquering. Therefore, this point also detracts from the status of the F. P. O. Going into the forest was only an individual means of saving oneself, [and it meant] leaving the Jewish masses in the Ghetto without necessary protection or hope of revenge.

The argument of the young male partisans, dictated and founded on the bitter fate of the whole Jewish environment which no longer exists, was that the forest and its organized partisan-military strength held greater possibilities for revenge, while at the same time helping to destroy the Nazi Army and helping the front in its certain victory. It also offered greater possibilities for surviving the war than did the fenced-in ghetto in Vilna, whose fate could not be any different from that of others.

With these arguments, the young heroic partisans succeeded in winning over most of the underground organizations and thereby splitting the F. P. O. Under the leadership of the Sventzian partisans, certain groups of the F. P. O. and Svintsyaners in the Vilna Ghetto headed for the woods and there joined the Army of the Forest.

The Jewish Council feared the boldness of the Sventzian partisans. In the Ghetto they were spoken of with respect, and the possibility of joining them was considered a privilege.

According to the Book of Jewish Partisans, Volume 1, page 39, the first group which left Vilna consisted of 28 men. This was Glazman's group--the first veterans to enter the aforementioned woods via Svintsyaners. Yeshike Gertman accompanied them.

The following groups left after a dramatic struggle with the Vilna Ghetto leader, Gens, and his ghetto police, which arrested certain partisans. They were freed after confidential deliberations with the F.P.O. In those days, heated discussions were raging about the idea of going into the woods. These opinions, both pro and con, were offered at secret gatherings of those with arms in the Vilna Ghetto.

According to the exact information in The Book of Jewish Partisans,[40]the second group from the Vilna Ghetto left the city on the 24th of July 1943, and after that a chain [of helpers] was organized by these same people and accompanied [those who left] on their way to the forests of Narocz and Kazyan. The following are known to us: Shutan, Rudnitsky, Volfson, Bushkanyetz, and Feygel.

The writer, Shmerke Katcherginski, was also a partisan. He devotes the greater part of his book Partisans March to the Sventzian group, who along with others from Vilna, also led him out in that special group--writers and journalists, physicians and others who succeeded in escaping. In addition to military duties, they also had to take care of the necessary basic needs of the homeless and forgotten people [who found themselves in] the forest to the best of their professional abilities under the prevailing conditions.

This group of journalists and writers were active on the staff: They manned the radio-telegraph connection from the forest to the main headquarters in Moscow. They gathered the necessary information from the front and the hinterlands and published it and disseminated it among the army of partisans so they would not feel isolated from what was happening at the front, because every day there was good news and this was able to keep up the morale of those who remained alive and were fighting in Nazi territory.

 

Sve0176.jpg
A medal and a certificate awarded to Shimon Bushkanyetz by the Soviet government to commemorate his participation in the war as a partisan

 

Sve0177.jpg
A certificate issued by the Belorussian Partisans Organization, confirming that Shimon Bushkanyetz had fought as a partisan during World War II

 

One of the group, the poet, Avrom Sutzkever of Vilna, flew by plane to Moscow from the forest near Narocz. The Russian airplanes would often land, bringing arms and ammunition to our organized partisan army.

The doctors worked in the forest hospital which had been set up in forest trenches and man-made underground caves. The critically wounded were taken by plane to Russian territory.

A large production detachment was active on the staff in the woods and served all of the thousands of partisans' needs for clothing, shoes, and food. For the most part, these were Jews who had escaped from the local towns after extensive slaughters and Vilna Jews with suitable trades, whom the Sventzian Jews had brought from the Ghetto and in doing so saved them from certain death.

All of these partisans, Jews from the Vilna Ghetto, paved the way for the heroes and heroic struggles of the Vilna partisans against the enemy in the local Rudnitsker Forest, where those from Vilna were later taken for the Lithuanian Brigade in accordance with instructions from Moscow.

The partisans saw their dreams [come true] in their sacred daily work – in the woods and in the fields, in the city and in the village – in every way that they hindered the German Army in any of its doings in order to speed up its collapse and, in so doing, help the Red Army along the whole length of the front.

Revenge and death to the enemy – that was the continual satisfaction that the partisan [sought and] which accompanied him day and night in his partisan and military actions and for which he sacrificed his life.

The Jewish Sventzian partisans were especially active in their own region. All of the provision points which had been prepared for the military and front were systematically disturbed and destroyed. All telephone communications were severed and further communication made impossible. The electric plant in Sventzian was blown up with dynamite, police points liquidated. The train lines between Vilna and Dvinsk and between Vilna and Polotsk, which were practically the only connections to the front north of Russia and which were under continual German guard, were severed.

The train lines were guarded every step of the way, but this did not deter the Svintsyaners in the diversionary groups from demolishing the transports on their way to the front and back.

The number of derailed and destroyed transports were often checked and immortalized in the partisan staff archives, and those who took part in these activities were duly recognized.

Berl Jochai records 17 transports; Yitzhak Rudnitsky records 12 transports; Mordechai Bushkanyet – 10 transports; Shimon Bushkanyetz – 10 transports. We also have the records of: Flekser, Feygel, Moshe Rudnitsky, Svirsky and others.

* * *

I want to end the epic of Sventzian – its origin, its famous, historic development, the heroic and symbolic epilogue of its beautiful settlements and their “last Mohicans”--with Y. Sh.'s [an acronym] opening to Shmerke Katcherginski's book Partisans March:[41]

 

Partizaner Geyen (Partisans March)

I myself witnessed and experienced the great epic of the Jewish
People in the horrific years of death and destruction;
I myself felt the joy of Jewish revenge, which those who had escaped to The forests felt
Jewish partisans--and I wrote it exactly!
Written--under the first direct impression of
A war task accomplished,
[After] the tragic death of a friend,
Of an act of revenge on murderers and tormentors.
Written--having been inferred from a deep feeling of responsibility
Of unrest and feeling of fear--this wonderful discovery
Of a desperate Jewish resistance
May it not be forgotten, may it not remain unknown
How
Forgotten and unknown were the heroic outbreaks
Jewish resistance in various ghettos,
Because no one remained,
Because no one wrote,
For history,
For us --
To comfort and encourage,
A book about Jewish strength, about sacred Jewish weapons and about
Readiness to sacrifice one's life in the struggle for life . . .

Footnotes:

  1. This used to be the capitol of the Ottoman Empire. Trans. Back
  2. This was an elementary school. Trans. Back
  3. Aron was Arkady's Yiddish name. Trans. Back
  4. “Bund” is translated as “organization” but is generally known as the “Bund.” Trans. Back
  5. 20. The Yiddish word for “felt shoe” also means “felt boot.” This factory may have made both. Trans. Back
  6. The 3rd person to be called up to the Torah after Cohanim and Levi. Trans. Back
  7. Additional readings from scriptural sources other than the five books of Moses. Trans. Back
  8. The most prestigious seats in any synagogue are those along the eastern wall. Trans. Back
  9. This word means “tanner,” which would also make sense; but because two first names follow, it seems to be a family name here. Trans. Back
  10. This was the old Israeli bank which raised money to buy land in Israel. Trans. Back
  11. Probably the Joint Distribution Committee. Ed. Back
  12. This means that no other language was used even in the teaching of Hebrew itself. Trans. Back
  13. These are really the same thing but established by different organizations. The kibbutzim were established by Shomer HaTsayir (Guardian of Youth) and the kvutzot were established by the Poeley Erets Yisroel (Workers of the Land of Israel). Trans. Back
  14. Again, these are pretty much the same thing, being cooperative settlements where the members can own private property. The only difference is that the moshavim are agricultural settlements and the moshavot can be both agricultural and non-agricultural. Trans. Back
  15. The physical laborers at that time were mostly Arabs, and the new immigrants demanded to have the right to do physical labor. Trans. Back
  16. Abraham Goldfaden (1840-1908), Hebrew and Yiddish playwright generally considered the father of Yiddish Theater. Ed. Back
  17. The word used, shuln, could also mean synagogues. Trans.Back
  18. This word can also be translated as “cruelty.” Trans.Back
  19. This means “the Sabbath of Return.” It is the Sabbath right before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement Trans.Back
  20. In Yiddish, this is gut tserklishki, which could mean the Tserklishki Estate. Trans Back
  21. The Hebrew term “ Tkhum hamoshav ” is used to describe the Pale of Settlement in Czarist Russia or to mean a “reservation” like an Indian reservation, a confined place of residence. Trans.Back
  22. Jacob Gens, formerly Chief of the Jewish Police in the Vilna Ghetto. When the Germans dissolved the Judenrat in July of 1942, they appointed Gens the Head of the Ghetto. Gens employed many ruses to try to save Jewish lives, though ultimately this was a doomed effort. In September, 1943, he was shot by the Gestapo. Ed.Back
  23. The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Trans.Back
  24. Number 50, 51, and 52 are not in the original Yiddish alphabetical order. Trans.Back
  25. The title is in Hebrew: Sefer HaPartizanim HaYihudim Trans.Back
  26. In Yiddish: Partizaner Geyen Trans.Back

 

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