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[Cols. 283-284]

Political-Social Life

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

-- -- This is a rich panorama of ideas and directions, viewed as if in a dream, as if seen reflected in a thickly-fogged mirror of our nurturing, which has been gone for years, cut down by the cruel Holocaust. How rich, strong and meaningful was the political-social life in the Lithuanian towns. During the worst times of harsh decrees, loneliness and subjugation, the Jews of Sventsyen found and exhibited their pride and astonishing courage, and their minds encompassed the broadest world horizons. They may not have had a foundation under their feet, but they always had their ideals. Both those who felt connected to the rise of the Zionist Movement and saw their own restoration in the national salvation of the Jewish people, and those who struggled for Yiddish, Yiddish schools and Jewish culture… all of these who tried to forge a Jewish life, awoke, broke and built, disturbed and created—all of them in their unceasing struggles with these great problems inherent in social life, solidified their belief in man, his striving for great truths, and [exhibited] the desire to solve the Jewish problem according to their own temperament, according to their own view of the world and life. All of them distinguished themselves with that vital power that Jews have exhibited during the course of millennia both as individuals and as a nation throughout their various diasporas.

Shimon Kants

[Col. 295]

Photo: Dr. Avigdor (Vigdor) Levin
        (Providence, R. I.)

The Zionist Movement in Our Town

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

Today, it is very difficult to say when the Zionist Movement started in Sventsyan. No archives have remained, no written records, no exact dates that can be relied on. Nor are there enough survivors, “old” Sventsyan residents, activists, Zionists,
who could have given us historical facts, testimonies, stories, anecdotes, details and so on. These are all absolutely necessary elements without which a historical account cannot be written. Therefore, I will only relate a few reminiscences and recollections, which have etched themselves in my memory—without being chronologically accurate and without the one-hundred percent “confidence” of a historian. If I am mistaken in a fact, a name, a date – please forgive me, Sventsyaners. Let us resurrect and relive those practically forgotten details of a life, that was so tragically cut down. As much as our memories will permit, let us transport ourselves to the Sventsyan of 45-50 years ago.
        Place the square marketplace in the center, and in the middle of the market square place the pump and dig out the deep gutter in which the dirty water ran through the synagogue courtyard in the Kuna River. First face the old synagogue and then the synagogue courtyard, the Tailor's Synagogue, the poorhouse, the bathhouse and the town's poverty. To the right—the long Vidzer Street [which stretches] to the “idol.” To the left—Vilner Street, which led to Yuretski's Woods, to the small Christian shrine and to Khaletski's “palace.” On the other side was Pashminer Street, which led to the prison and to the famous Sablinski Meadow, a street—the central location of the teachers in Sventsyan (Reb Moyshe Binyomin, Yankl Dovid, Aba Leyzer). Behind you stretches Yatkover[1] Street on which the butcher shops are located as well as the religious school and the cemetery. Parallel [to that street is] Lintuper Street on which [another] cemetery and the slaughterhouse are located.

Songs of Zion

        On Simkhas Toyre, Jews are inebriated in honor of the holiday, some more some less. Leybitshke, the skinner, has just finished horsing around with the Sventsyaner young boys, playing “the martyred sheep” with a resounding “baa,” as they marched around with the Torah, arguing about the circuits, laughing and guffawing. Children standing on the benches have just finished singing the Zionist songs HaTikva[2] and Siu Tsiona[3] under the direction of Leyzer, the lame cantor, or Cantor Khorlaf. Yisroel Moyshe, the lefty (Tana the wagon driver's son) just finished a wonderful rendition of part of kedushe[4] in his golden alto voice…
        On the corner of Vilner and Yatkover Streets, Hirshele Moyshe Antses is 'arguing' with a bunch of Jews wearing prayer shawls, who are half-drunk just like he is. “Take me wherever you want, but don't take me home!” he pleads with them, and the boys shout 'Hurray.” He stands near the tea shop and begins

[Col. 297]

to sing one of his new “compositions” on the [passage] “May our eyes behold your return to Zion.”[5] Yurshun the policeman, also drunk, starts to whistle and with his sword drives away those gathered, and Hirshele Moyshe-Antses [sic] shouts: “Oh, to Zion, to Zion, to Zion… “
        This is how, it seems, he started the Zionist propaganda.
        When Khatskl, the beadle, used to cock his head to one side like Sirote[6], roll the white cataract of his eye upwards and, standing in front of the congregation, trill “And our eyes will see your kingdom”[7] ; that was the very beginning of Zionism in Sventsyan.
        I remember a Zionist evening with a choir under the direction of Leyzer the cantor, with the “wind instrument” orchestra of the fire-brigade (all Jews!). Volinski, the pharmacist, with the flat nose and the brass helmet on his head. [It was] a fiery, Zionist evening with Zionist potato pancakes.
        Or around Purim time, when Templeman, the seltzer man, would stand on Yatkover Street near the religious school, dressed up in a summery white camlet[8] jacket and tell boys about the land of Israel[9] , about its oranges, and how warm it was there, and as proof, you see that he was already wearing a summer jacket. He was certainly celebrating Zionism! He did not just speak about it, he did something as well; he later immigrated to Israel.
        Or when Motl Kharmots, “the African” as we used to call him, used to sell us wormy St. John's bread on the 18th[10], he was actually reminding us of Israel. It was no small matter—he had, after all, been to Israel!
        We also had another Motl: Motele Kharmots, the watchmaker. A small, lively Jew, a true copy of Sholem Aleykhem's Menakhem-Mendl! This Motele was an ardent Zionist. He used to sell 'shekels,' stamps for keren-kayemet[11] , or distribute charity boxes which were labeled “Zion shall be redeemed through justice.”[12] He would do this with so much faith, just as if he were selling a customer a golden wristwatch!

The First Immigration

        It doesn't really matter when the first event occurred, that is when a Jewish artisan became the first immigrant to Israel. I don't know from when I remember that sallow, pale shoemaker.

[Col. 298]

Perhaps from the synagogue courtyard, or from before his departure to the holy land “to live or to die there,” or even as a yored,[13] when he returned immediately after the first Germans came to Sventsyan. In any case, this childless shoemaker, who was dirt poor, picked himself up along with his wife and his bedding and left for the land of Israel. During the First World War, the Turks arrested him as one of the enemy (a subject of Nikolai!), and deported him to Egypt. From there he returned to us. This was, after all, one of the earliest Zionist “manifestations” in Sventsyan.
        When Dovid Kuritski, Avram Kahan, Yisroel Levin, my father, or Dovid Gaviser used to canvass [the town] selling stocks for the Colonial Bank—this was definitely Zionist work par excellence.
        I remember the three Mulyes: Mulye Margolis, Mulye Khesl Gurvitshe's, and Mulye Kupelovitsh (the soap maker's son)—this “cavalry” used to go around and sell kheyder boys the Zionist stamps for keren kayemet in Israel and portraits of Herzl in Basil, [pictures of] Rachel's tomb, the Cave of Makhpele[14]--so this could be called Zionist activities among the youth.

Zionist Events

        All of this took place before the First World War, under the Czarist government, when Zionist activities were strictly forbidden. One, therefore, had to be clever and have Zionist meetings in synagogues; that is, secretly have Khanuka parties during the evening services, or a Purim party with cantorial music—but always with Zionist songs, with HaTikva and “There Where the Cedars [Grow]” and “The Hook Plow.” Those were, without a doubt, genuine Zionist events.
        I am reminded of one such evening in the former Hebrew school on Yatkever Street. It was some time ago—several years before the First World War. I no longer recall if it was on the third or fourth night of Khanuka. All of the friends of the Zionist cause had gathered in the religious school. I remember how busy everyone was: Pintsov, the dear, small teacher, the principal of the religious school, the teacher Abramovitsh, a perfect person--he played the concertina masterfully, Kasar the teacher of Russian, Kadzhin another teacher and community members in general: Asher Kovarski; the lawyers, Tavroginski, Hirshe Levin, Yisroel Svirski, Nakhum Taraseyski, Dovid

[Col. 299]

Gaviser, Hirshe-Itse Feygl, Avram Kahan, Khaim Yavitsh and others. The golden youths: the Mulyes, Khane Kohen, Liza Margolis, Itse Ogulnik, Mulye Vidutsinski and others. Small boys were also to be found wandering around and I was also among them. Behind the wooden partition with the square windows, in the women's section, the Zionist women were working grating the potatoes and baking [sic][15] the pancakes.
        In the meantime, things were really jumping on the men's side. [There were] sermons, bravos, hurrahs, good words, greetings in Yiddish and, of course, in Russian, “next year [in Jerusalem]s” and l'khaims. There were Zionistic songs and a concertina concert by Abramovitsh the teacher. The children were arrayed in rows and sang Hatikva under the leadership of “the group.”
        This was how Zionism was celebrated.
        The rabbis in Sventsyan were, before the First World War, very much pro Zionism. They were: Rabbi Yitskhak Reynes, the co-founder and principal of the Mizrakhi [School] and later the Rabbi of Lideh: Rabbi Rozofski, the brilliant writer and preacher: the great teacher and Torah scholar, Rabbi Avigdor Amiel, who was also the fine orator and author of the “Sermons About My People,” and

[Col. 300]

the director of the Mizrakhi [School] and later the Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv. There is no doubt at all that they greatly influenced the people in Sventsyan to be Zionistic and to work [to support] the land of Israel.
        The First World War for a few years (1915-1916) brutally interrupted all Zionist activities.
        The great wave of “refugees” from Kovno, Vidz, Heydutsiskok and other towns forced the community activists of Sventsyan to organize a relief committee, a soup kitchen, an emergency food fund, and other charitable organization. The “first” Germans arrived. [They were] no less brutal and murderous than the “second.” May their names be erased!
        Who had Zionism on his mind then? Many of the Zionists escaped into Russia, and those who remained had to fight for a piece of bread.
        The era of starvation began: bread cards, bread made with chaff, with straw. People walked around in tatters, swollen from hunger, typhus, mumps, influenza, dysentery and other ailments. [In addition, there were] delousings in the bathhouse, women having their heads shaved, forced labor to build roads, confiscations, [forced] contributions.

[Photo at the bottom of cols. 299-300]

[Caption under photo]

Kneeling: Broyman, Eliahu Margolis.
Sitting: Yudl Rutshteyn, Zenye Dembo, Leybov, Fride Gurvitsh, Dovid Yavitsh, Leah Shutan.
Standing: Yitskhak Shibavski, Moyshe Dembo, the teacher Shapiro, Leah Gurvitsh, Zundl Levin, Lulinski, Yankev Abramovitsh.

[Cols. 301 & 302]

[Photo that spans both columns: the sign being held reads-The Pioneers 1924]
[Caption under photo]

Sitting, from right to left, row 1: Rivka Volfson, Lande, Levin, Grinfeld, Reyzl Azinski, Tsile Feyglman, Lina Yavitsh, Leya Gorsheyn, Grunya Matskin, _____ [sic] Matskin, Yankev Levin.
Row 2: Tsipe Kruk, Rokhl Kovner, Beyla Mikhelson, Yekhezkl Kizlandtsik, a culture teacher, Teacher Shapiro, Sholem Bushkanyets, Yisroel Sheynyuk, Khane Garber, Rokhl Garviser.
Standing: Khaye Shpiz, Leya Klavir, Leya Gurvitsh, Rivka Kruk, Slaveh Bushkanyets, Sheyn Sragovitsh, Slaveh Zorokhovitsh, Sima Kil, Khaya Levin, Sonye Kharmats, Sheyne Volyak.
Standing near wall: Zev Shapiro, Dvoyre Feygl, Rokhl Kurlandtsik, Dovid Soroke, Sholem Shapiro, Zev Garber, Aron Rutshteyn, Yoykhanan Sheynyuk, Feyge Stolper, Lande, Kats.

Jews smuggled, putting their lives in danger. They set up stills, worked skins, made soap, stuffed sausages made out of intestines, and sold meatballs in the booths in the marketplace.
        Children were forced to go to the German school in the Rambam Houses on Vidzer Street. Some had to tear out nettles and watch the straight thorny sticks. They picked white berele flowers by the kilo to make pillows for the soldiers in the clinics. Because they were hungry children used to steal the yellow sugar together with the straw right out from under the maws of horses. A square “find”—German brick-bread with marmalade was a marvelous thing. A pair of pants used to be sewn from hard, creaking tarpaulin, and a coat from a German blanket.
        But when the first difficult times passed, the Jews of Sventsyan slowly recovered. [Every once in a while] the young people managed to get a permission certificate, from the crazy mayor who wore a monocle in one eye, to hold a party for charitable cause—food for the poor, an indigent widow and so on. Or they used to send a female intermediary to [intercede with] the red-haired policeman, the murderous quarter-master, Matyelat, and wangle permission to hold a concert in the tea shop or “upstairs at the priest's.” [sic][16] In praise of the people of Sventsyan (who always kept Sventsyan's customs), one must say that our evenings were always on a high level. We performed (if one can call it that): Sholem Aleykhem, Sholem Ash, Kobrin and everyone else. The talented and tireless Rosenthal moved heaven and earth. Klara (the German woman who came later), Muleh Vidutsinsky, Itske Agulnik, Mereh Kovner and, most importantly, Freydele Gurvitsh-Kopl, the seamstress's [daughter]—were the main participants in these evenings. Such “evenings” used to close with dancing and selling food at a buffet, playing “Air Mail”, having an “American auction,” a lottery—and a good time [was had by all].
        Very often at these events, there would also be a “dessert” of a few recitations in Yiddish or Hebrew and some solo singing. The writer of these lines, a small boy, more than once recited the whole “Diligent Student” by Bialik or “ “ by Y. L. G.

[Cols. 303-304]

[Photo spanning both columns]
[Caption under photo]

The “Hill 18” group of the Young Pioneers

Kneeling: Zalman Kuritski, Feyge Lulinski, Mordekhai Ginzburg, menashe and Devoyre Gaviser, Yitskhak Gilinski.
Sitting: Heshl Kantorovitsh, Yekhiel Okun, Khanokh Ginzburg, Zev Zeydl, Menakhem Kotler, Moyshe Kuritski, Leyb Gurvitsh, Aba Ginsburg.
Standing: Sholem Kuritski, Feye Kizberg, Binyumin Zeydl, Yoykhenan Mikhelson, Libe Katz, Perets Grazul, Shakhne Levin, Dovid Katz, Zalmen Shayevitsh.

Miriam Volyak used to sing “My G-d, My G-d,” and the Germans used to be delighted, applaud [and shout] “Bravo.” At the end Hatikava was sung.

“Bney Tsion,” “Pirkhey Tsion,” and “Kheyrut V'tikhye[17] .

        The government tolerated these Zionist events. This was at the time that the German general staff wanted to cultivate the Jewish population and get them on their side against the British. They promised the Jews all of Palestine, if only they would help them conquer England and choke the “damned Russians.”
        As I have already mentioned—many Zionists had gone to Russia at the beginning of the war. Their place, however, was taken by Zionist intelligentsia from among the “immigrants:” the Dembo family from Ponyevezh, Yisroel Abramson, Ruben Abramovitsh, Solomyak from Heydutsishok, Shayevitsh from Vidz, the teacher Goldshteyn and Khane Musin from Postov, Tsefelevitsh and many others.
        Those who knew Hebrew began to give Hebrew lessons, because the institution of the kheyder and its teachers had begun to fall apart. Moyshe-Binyumin and Aba-Leyzer were left without teaching positions. The Hebrew teachers taught a section of the TaNaKh[18] and a song by Y. L. G. There began to be a Zionist atmosphere among the growing youth. Young people used to gather in Abramson's house on Yatkever St. to sing Zionist songs, to study the geography of Palestine and to make Zionist flags for Bney Tsion and Pirkhey Tsion [groups]. They had Zionist outings in Yuritski's Woods and sometimes even as far as Berezovke.
        The young people were not content to celebrate Zionism only in the area of Sventsyan. They also got involved in “exported” Zionism.
        I remember that two boys—Khaim Vigder Kutler and the writer of these lines—went by foot, of course, to found [a branch of] The Fruits of Zion in Sventsyanke [New Sventsyan]. We arrived exhausted, with swollen feet, at the Yiddish school lead by teacher Helershteyn. We got there after the lessons were over and met a bunch of boys

[Col. 305]

and girls, who had been waiting for us: among them were Milner the teacher, who came later, Avrom Katz, Levenshteyn, Katz, a teacher who came later [sic]. We were greeted with excitement by the teacher, Hellershteyn, and I think, Gurdus also. We got into a heated debate. The Zionist “agents,” however, were not frightened away and, therefore, won. From that time on, there was a Zionist movement in New Sventsyan—Pirkhey Tsion.
        Boys and girls used to gather on Vilner Street at the house of the Kazianer Rabbi of that time. There, in dire condition, the Jewish library was to be found. The Russian books were packed up in crates and the Jewish ones, which were on the shelves, were torn and tattered, with no one to care for them.
        If I am not mistaken, that was the first, official Zionist center. That was where the Kheyrut L'tikhya was founded: Fayvl Taytlboym, Dovid Vilkomirski's children, Khaya-Gitl Matskin's daughters, Lipe the mason's daughters, the Teytslers, Sholem Bushanyets, Shimen and Rokhl Flekser, Dvoyreke Meyerovitsh, Yankl Abramovitsh, Khane and Shmerke Zaydl's, Mordkhe and Rokhl Gaviser,

[Col. 306]

Khaye Volyak, Hindele Leyfer, Yoske Libman, Pesl Landes' daughter, the writer of these lines and one “Tsipke Fire” from Lintuper Street.
In this place, Rosenthal founded the Worker's for Zion and Young Zion, which the older Zionist intelligentsia joined. Until…
This happened one winter night in the teashop, when Sholem Ashe's “With the Stream” was being performed. It was after the “spectacle” of “Air Mail,” and people were cooling off in the cloakroom. All of a sudden, two regular German soldiers, without the “doodads” on their helmets, go over to an officer and tear off his epaulets and give him two burning smacks. One of the Germans, who was half drunk, climbed up on a chair and turned to the frightened audience using these very words:
“You should know that there is a revolution going on in Germany. The German Kaiser is finished. The war is over, and we are going home.”
        It ended with insults toward Sventsyan and its reputation.”

[Cols. 305 & 306]

[Caption under photo]

From the right, kneeling: Leya Kovarski, Tsipe Leyfer, Basha Luria, Elke Gurvitsh, Soreh Kats.
Sitting: Khane Gordon, Ester Gurvitsh, Soreh Gurvitsh, Tsivye Svintelski, Peshe Tayts, Sore-Mere Gilinski, Soreh Broydo.
Standing: Sheyne Lipkhin, Ester Shapiro, Rokhl Gilinskim Golde Feygl, Gershon Kuritski, Zev Zeydl, Khane Broyman, Reykhl Kats, Libe Zar

[Col. 307]

        No small matter! Such a reversal! Tumult, panic [ensued]. Jews began to run to the cloakroom to get their coats and run home. It is appropriate to say: World history was being made right before our eyes!
        We heard “rumors” of a big overthrow [of government] in Russia, about Bolsheviks and so forth, but we had no idea how this had come about.
        The Germans left – the “first” Poles arrived.
        The whole of the occupied area was out of political isolation. The western world opened freely for Polish-Lithuanian Jewry. We found out about the end of the war, about the peace, about Trotsky in Japan. Jews boasted about their Jewish diplomats and activists. We learned about how the end of the war affected Israel, about the Balfpur Declaration and later about the British Mandate over Israel, about Herbert Samuel, about [the founding of] The Zionist Committee, and about the new prospects for the Jewish people, about the increased popularity of Zionism.
        In Sventsyan: Polish anti-Semitism, border police, marauding gangs, cutting off of beards, beating of Jews, terror—Polish terror, arrests, informers…
        The scene quickly changed: the “first” Bolsheviks arrived, Christian Lithuanians, Mitskevitsh-Kapsukas[19], and once again Bolsheviks, with all the paraphernalia of meetings, demonstrations, slogans; clubs at Shrayber, the pharmacist, and at Khaya-Etl Levinson's on the second floor. Reznikov ruled in Dovid Kuritski's house. The revolutionary tribunal took over the treasury. Arrests, prison, confiscation, bribes and so on.
        The Brumbergs—Semyon, Yozef and Dora—arrive from Russia. Dr. Kovarski, Osip Kovarski, the Taraseyskis and others. The Folkists are organized, the “Bund,” Jewish youths are drawn into the Komsomol[20]. Zionism lost all of its appeal; it got shoved into back rooms.
        Once again the whole landscape changed. The Bolsheviks left; the “second” Poles arrived. First—Zheligavski's “Lithuania Gang [?]” and later the regular Poles, who kept at it until the terrible Second World War in September 1939.
        The younger ones used to gather at Svintelske the mason's on Poshmerna Street.

[Col. 308]

[Caption under photo]

The Drama Club of the Art Society
Kneeling: Lina Yavitsh, Shimon Flekser, Khaye Volyak.
Sitting: Teacher Shapiro, Avigdor Levin, Shibavski-Stalper, Yitskhak-Leyb Shibavski
Standing: Tsile Feyglman, Shaul Vilkomirski, Rokhl Gorshayn

        The Trumpledor[21] Organization was established. It did not have anything to do with the “Covenant of Trumpledor” Movement that was organized much later. We were the very first to immortalize his name. Boys and girls studied Hebrew, sang Hebrew and Yiddish Zionist songs, read the latest newspapers from Israel, collected money for the National Fund of Israel and other causes.
        The older, well-behaved Zionist adherents met in the front part of the building that housed the religious school. These “generalists”[22] attracted a very active young man, Leyb Margel, who got “stuck” in Sventsyan after his demobilization from the Polish Army.
        The Pioneers[23], ruled the courtyard of the religious school building, and they were later joined by the Young Pioneers.[24]
        May events took place at the Rosenthal location: lectures, pot-luck dinners, concerts and so on. The first string orchestra was founded there under the direction of the teacher, Shapiro, from Podbradz. The auditions used to take place in the religious school building. It appeared that there was quite a lot of talent around: mandolinists, guitarist.
        The orchestra rehearsed and planned evening concerts. People would stay and enjoy themselves half the night and when they got hungry would stop into “the cellar” on Vilner Street to grab a bagel or a string of sushkes, dried bagels for when one was really hungry.
        The Hebrew teachers of the religious school (which was later transformed into a cultural school): Shifman, Shapiro (a very talented violinist!), and I as a young boy—used to

[Cols. 309-310]

[Caption under photo]

Sitting: Milkha Vayshteyn, Rivka Volfson, Bashe Vayskunski, a female teacher, Felye Tayts, Tsipore Leyfer, Khaye Feygel.
First row, standing: Sheyne Lipkhin, Khane Broyman, Gitl Feygel, Leye Kovarski, Khave Ulman, Soreh Rozovski, Rokhl Volyak, Miriam Smorgonski.
Second row, standing: Elke Gurvitsh, Golde Feygel, Leye Vayskunski, Mordkhe Lekhovitski, Soreh Katselnik, Shifra Leyfer, Bashe Lurye, Mie Bushknayets, Mordkhe Garviser, Ester Shapiro.

often organize literary trials, with prosecutors, lawyers, and folk judges. I remember the trials of Peretz's “The Rejected,” “Bontshe the Silent” and others. The teacher, Shapiro, often used to play the violin. Murmis's son-in-law [played] the cello, and Miriam Volyak sang songs.
        Those involved in The Pioneers were: Motl Gaviser, Itse-Leyb Shibovski, Leybke Kovner, Leybke Desatnik (before the last two went to another camp). Later came: Milkhe Vaynshteyn, Pinye Shulheyfer, Mendl Kutler (Menakhem HaLevi), Gershon Kuritski, Zev Zeydl and others.
        The active [members were]: Lipe the mason's daughter, Rutshteyn, Pesele, who was Urtsik the tailor's daughter, Sheynuk, Shimon Bushkanyets, Dovid Vilkomirski's children and others.
        A young generation of pioneers was growing up in [the organization] The Young Pioneers, many of whom immigrated to Israel before the war. They live and work in Israel. Menashe Gavisher, Khayke Kutler, and dozens upon dozens of other pioneers grew up there. Their leaders were Mordkhe Gaviser and the Hebrew teacher, Yitskhok Perlis.

[Col. 310]

        The Pioneers and The Young Pioneers used to organize day trips to travel to see other towns and organize groups for the Training Kibbutz.
        They studied intensively: Hebrew, pioneering, the history of Zionism, the geography of Israel and so on. They also organized sports competitions in soccer [and held] bicycle races. They took an active part in the Culture School.
        The “crown” of the pioneering experience was the Training Kibbutz. In the old prison building (at the end of Vidzer Street. [It] belonged to the health clinic) there boys and girls gathered, pioneers from various cities in Poland, and they organized themselves into work groups in order to pass the training [exam] so that they could obtain a certificate entitling them to immigrate to Israel. They did all kinds of physical labor: chopping wood, carrying water, makings felt boots and the most important thing—they learned how to be self-sufficient. The exams were held there [at the Training Kibbutz] given by a proctor from the center. Mock weddings were held there and fictional trips to Israel were played out. Sometimes a young man had to play the part of a tourist, to wear a leather jacket and

[Col. 311]

a camera slung over his back in order to fool the man from England…
        In the Labor-Zionists, the tireless Rosenthal was active the whole time. Later it was the young lawyer, Leyb Gutvitsh (Reuben Abramovitsh's son-in-law).
        The Labor-Zionists together with The Pioneer organized Zionist artisans in [the guild] “The Worker.”
        Members of the middle-class: shopkeepers, merchants, artisans—those ruined by “Grobski's Wagon,” by high taxes or some business crisis, made an effort to get together the 1,000 pounds required, to become “ capitalist” immigrants and travel to Israel. Others made an effort to get “relative certificates.” In this way, [the following] traveled to Israel: Dembo, Dovid Kuritski, Yoysef Lulinski and others who left with their whole families.
        The “general Zionists' were, for the most part, active on the local scene. Of course, they also took part in such Zionist activities as: shkolim, congresses, raising money to buy land in Israel and so on. The main thing they did, however, was to hold positions of leadership in the social and cultural life of Sventsyan.

[Photo at bottom of page spanning cols. 311& 312]
[Caption under photo]

Pioneers in Sventyan tie up saplings for the orchards in Israel.
Standing: Gershon Kuritski, Shifra Leyfer, Khaye Yokh, Moyshe Kuritski, Sholem Kuritski, Paye Feykovski, Aba Ginsburg, Yehuda Khomont, Yafa Gershonovitsh, Yankev Epl.

[Col. 312]

[Caption under photo]

From right [to left]: Moyshe Beygel, Hirsh Fridman, Yisroel Tsinman, Tsherne Beygel, Katsherginski, Shmuel Vidutshinski, Khaye Beygel, Ben-Tsion Lishanski. The “general [Zionist]” took and controlled such positions as Manager of the Jewish Community (Yoysef Svirski and Yisroel Levin—who held the positions of Community Leaders for many years), magistrate (Boris Brumberg – assistant Mayor and Yisroel Levin, the “eternal” councilman); in the Culture School ( first Dovid Gaviser and later Dovid Kuritski); in the health clinic (first Yoysef Svirski and later Yisroel Levin); in the Folks Bank (Boris Brumberg and Yisroel Levin); in the Fund

[Col. 313]

for Purchasing Land in Israel ( Leyb Margel the deputy), and so on.
        Besides those [already] mentioned, there were others who were active in various municipal institutions: Yisroel Abramson, Kraytser the bookkeeper, Dovid Ginzberg, Ruven, Abramovitsh, Solomyak, Shayevitsh, Refoyl Kutler, Perets Feygl, etc.
        The Zionists from everywhere used to distribute their periodicals (in Yiddish and in Hebrew), as well as the Zionist Daily “Today,” “Moment,” the Vilna [paper] “Time” and the Hebrew “HaYom [Today].”
        In Sventsyan there was an on-going battle between the Zionist and their opponents. They fought by using “cartoons,” in the Jewish elementary school, and by spiting one another. [For example] If one were to hold a [cultural] evening, the other would, for spite, hold one the same evening at the same time. They competed

[Col. 314]

with parades[25], and plays, making [every] effort to out do one another in their school systems, children's programming, education and attract the “intellectuals.”. Sventsyan created its own signature; its own characteristic way of doing things.
        Where are you Sventsyan? Where are you, the martyrs of Sventsyan? You made peace among yourselves in the next world!
        The graves of Ponar, the ovens of Shtuthof, the ditches of Poligon, the auto-de-fe in Klagen in Estonia have united you all!
        The “Zionist” Yatkever Street became combined with the “Yiddishist” Pilsudski Street. The _______ and “Zionist Labor” and “The Pioneer” have all made peace.
        The memory of your names, the holy and pure martyrs of Sventsyan , will stay in our hearts forever.

[Cols. 313-314 bottom]

The Leftist “Worker-Zionists”: Its Founders and Its Leaders


Tsadok Kharmats

[Col. 313 bottom]

        It was a great, unforgettable, historical day in Sventsyan, when we celebrated [the signing of] the Balfour Declaration. In the old synagogue at that time there was held an impressive Zionist gathering. The synagogue was decorated with dozens of white and blue flags and was full of people. “There was not one child left in its cradle.” Old and young came, women and children. The whole Jewish population took part in the great national holiday.
        At that gathering, well-known folk-orators spoke. They explained to the people the great historical import of the Balfour Declaration. Now we will have the opportunity to found a Jewish national homeland in the land of Israel, and the dream of Dr. Theodore

[Col. 314 bottom]

Hertzl concerning a Jewish state will become a reality.
        It was interesting to watch how Rabbi Meyerovitsh stood by the eastern [wall?] and listened in amazement and joy to the Zionist talks.
        The old synagogue sexton, Reb Yisroel-Eli, stood on the stage and saw to it that it was quiet and that the children did not disturb [the activities]. Khatskl, the sexton's son, ran around quieting the children. The festivities of the great day were felt in every corner.
        When the speakers finished talking, the thousand people in the audience began to sing Zionist songs.
        No one will ever forget that gathering. Everyone felt that it heralded a new era in Jewish life.

[Col. 315 top]

The Founders and the First Leaders of the Leftist “Zionist Workers”

        The war was over. England had received the mandate over the land of Israel. The pioneers began to emigrate to Israel. Various Zionist organizations were being founded all over Poland. Sventsyan was no different. In our city, there were many proletarian elements, workers and folks people. It was therefore decided to found a branch of the leftist “Zionist Workers” and “Youth” in Sventsyin.
        The founder and the first leader was Yitskhok Leyb Kharmats.

[Col. 316 top]

        One September evening in 1927, in Rutshteyn's house on Gleyzer Street, there was a founders' meeting. As founding members of the new party, the following signed up: Gershon Hokhman, Nakhman Rutshteyn, Moyshe Feygl, Noyekh Kotler, Avraham Germanski, Noyekh Shaladukhe and the writer of these lines.

The First Step in Organizing the Cultural Activities

[Col. 315 middle]

        The first important task of the leftist “Zionist Workers” was to found a Needle Party in Sventsyan. This had a great effect on all the professional circles, and the “Zionist Workers” party became a force to be reckoned with in Jewish society.
        The party was quite active in the area of culture and used to bring the best speakers to Sventsyan.
        To this day, for example, I remember the speech given by Yankev Zruvl, which took place in the great hall

[Col. 316 middle]

of the community center. The hall was so packed that many, who could not get in, stood on the courtyard and listened to his talk.
        Of the later speakers, I remember Yankev Feterzayl and Yoysef Rozen.
        Everyone in town already knew that if the “Zionist Workers” were having a lecture, it was worthwhile to attend.
        In summer, most of the work was done in the Berezover Woods and in winter in Nakhum Rotshteyn's house or in the Needle Union's Hall.

The Figure of the Organizer and Leader Yitskhok-Leyb Kharmats

[Col. 315 bottom]

        As already mentioned, the organizer and leader of the leftist “Zionist Workers” was Yitskhok-Leyb Kharmats. He was born in Sventsyan in 1904. His father, Reb Mordkhe Meyer Kharmats, was a religious Jew and a true folk person. His mother, Sorl, was known in town as a woman with a “good heart.” Everyone could tell a story about her kindness and her desire to help someone else.
        At first Yitskhok-Leyb studied in kheyder with Reb Khaim Itsin and later with the teacher, Yankev-Dovid. While still a child, he distinguished himself by his devotion to learning and his understanding [of what he had learned]. At the age of 15, he joined the “Zionist Youth” and became active there. His main task was, at that time, to spread the word of the central publication of the “Zionist Youth: “Freedom.”
        As soon as the “Pioneer” was founded in town, he joined a kibbutz in Shidlovits in the county of Lublin and went for agricultural training preparatory to immigrating to Israel.

[Col. 316 bottom]

[Caption under photo]
Yitskhok-Leyb Kharmats

Upon returning from the kibbutz, he changed his political allegiance and became an ardent leftist

[Col. 317]

in the “Zionist Workers.” He began to give speeches and lead discussion and to stir up the workers, urging them to join the leftist “Zionist Workers.”
        His campaigning was effective, and the new party was quickly established.
        From then on he began to write frequent articles for the “Workers' Newspaper,” articles which showed great sensitivity and social consciousness.
        At the end of the 20's he was sent as a delegate to the Pro-Palestine Workers' Congress, which was held in Warsaw.
        Upon returning from the Congress, he presented his interesting talks on Socialist themes. Under his influence, many workers accepted the theory of Borokhovism and became Zionist Workers.
        He got married in 1931 and settled in Vilna, where he worked and earned his living as a dental technician. He also became known in all the workers' groups in Vilna and became active in the

[Col. 318]

local parties there. He fought for a Zionist-Socialist Israel.
        The Second World War found him in Vilna. He did not manage to escape and had to suffer, like all the Jews, the horrible torments of the Vilna Ghetto under the cruel Nazis.
        As his friends tell it, even in the Vilna Ghetto he did not cease to fight for his ideals. He did much to save Jews from the bestial Nazis. His main endeavor was finding places, where Jews could hide.
        When the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated, he was sent to work [as slave labor] in Panyevezh, in Lithuania. After being in a work camp for a short time, he escaped to the woods and hid there, until the Lithuanians and Hitler's bandits caught him.
        He died in the woods in November 1943, not far from Panyevezh.

        Honor to his memory!


1. Yatke in Yiddish means a butcher shop, so Yatkover Street means street of the butcher shops. Trans. Back
2. Literally “The Hope”, now the national anthem of Israel. Trans. Back
3. “Go to Zion.” Trans. Back
4. Part of the repetition of the Eighteen Benedictions. Trans. Back
5. This is from the shmone esra prayer, the “Eighteen Benedictions” that are the heart of the three daily services. Trans. Back
6. Probably an allusion to the well-known Cantor Gershon Sirote, who is believed to have died in the Warsaw Ghetto. Trans. Back
7. From the cantor's repetition of the shmone esra prayer on Shabbos Trans. Back
8. A rich fabric made of camel's hair or angora. Trans. Back
9. In Yiddish, it is Erets Yisroel, which translates as “the land of Israel,” but in English it was called Palestine until 1948. Trans. Back
10. The 18th of the month of Shvat, also known as Tu B'shvat and the birthday of the trees, on which day it is customary to eat the fruit of Israel. St. John's bread, also known as carob, is one of them. Trans. Back
11. Keren-kayemet was a fund to raise money to buy land in Israel. Stamps were given to those who contributed. Trans. Back
12. Isaiah: 127 Trans. Back
13. Someone who has left the land of Israel, a pejorative term. Trans. Back
14. Where Abraham and Sarah are buried. Trans. Back
15. Potato pancakes for Khanuka are usually fried. Trans. Back
16. This is obviously local parlance for some generally known meeting place. Trans. Back
17. Literally “Children of Zion” “Flowers of Zion” and “Freedom and Rebirth.” Trans. Back
18. Torah writings, being an acronym for Toyre, Niviim and Ksuvim (Torah, Prophets and other Writings). Trans. Back
19. Names of particularly evil people [?] Trans. Back
20. A Communist organization in the Soviet Union for youths 16 years of age and older. Trans. Back
21. Joseph Trumpeldor (b. 1880 d. 3.1.1920) was an early Zionist activist, notable for helping to organize the Zion Mule Corps, the first regular Jewish fighting force (1915) and bringing Jewish immigrants to Palestine. Trans. Back
22. Perhaps this means that they did not belong to any specific Zionist organization. Trans. Back
23. HeKhaluts. Trans. Back
24. HeKhaluts HaTsayir. Trans. Back
25. The Yiddish word revye could also mean “(theatrical) revue.” Trans. Back

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