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[Col. 323]

The Part of the Sventzian Jews
in the Communist Movement

Eliezer (Leizer) Levine

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Edited by Rhoda Miller

 

Sve0323.jpg

 

The “Zionists” and the “Yiddishists”, created much of the social–political fabric of the shtetl, and their activities were core to the political and social life in Sventzian. The Yiddish center was–at first, the “culture–league, and later, the bild–gez, with its offshoots: the Yiddish Gymnasia and the Jewish Folk Shul.

Around the Bild–Gez centered many people with different political affiliations: non–political, (socialists with no attachments to any particular party), Bundists, Leftist Po'elei Zionists and Communists. The most influential were the non–affiliated and the Communists. The non–political focus centered around the cultural activities and day to day way of life. The Communists were active on all fronts, both cultural and political.

Amongst the founders of the communist movement in Sventzian were: Yechiel Gurwitz, Katzkel Kameraz, and Liza Gordon. Yechiel Gurwitz, who was sick, was the soul of the party. He died suddenly on the way to a meeting for committee members. On his grave, as was the Communist tradition, a wreath of flowers was placed together with a red banner, on which was written: in memory of our dear and devoted comrade and party member (the police removed this when they found out). First, in Sventzian, they had their own headquarters, to which all members of the nearby towns reported, whether they were Jews, Lithuanians or Russians. Later Sventzian also had a seat on the committee which reported to the central party. There was always a representative in the smaller towns.

[Col. 324]

The Sventzian districts which reported to them included: Sventzian, New– Sventzian, Haydutishok, Ignalina, Paliush, Svir, Lyntup, Podbrodrz–– I only mentioned several of the places where the Communist membership involved the Jews. Whether legal or semi, the illegal activities were carried out mostly for ideological beliefs or for the economic struggle; this is how they managed to use their influence to form two separate Jewish affiliates in the Sventzian Gymnasia. They became “legal” by the school board administration and its director, Fisher– (Devora Aizikovitch, who eventually got killed during the Nazi occupation), came to their meetings, not–knowing, that these were Communist clubs. In these clubs we “officially” studied “Engel”s” (Frederich) the Principles of Communism which is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat (working class) distribution of private wealth, and other “historical material.” But we also attended to the immediate political needs and problems. One of the leaders was Leib (Lovke) Teitz, who met his untimely death while serving with the “Lithuanian Division”. (fighting the Germans)

A semi–legal club was made up of the “needle–trade,” where they had to solve both political and economic problems. One of those active in this club was Surke Movshovitch. Other illegal clubs also learned the Communist doctrine, as well as strategies and tactics to fight the Fascist Polish regime. In one group, which took place at Bentze Solomyak's (from Svir) who lived at Stashik the Yellow One's house, the participants were: Baske Kovarski, Liovke Pashumenski, Kreine Kuritzki and others. Such parties were active in the Sventzian region,

[Col. 325]

Sve0325.jpg
Kneeling: Temke Michelman, Esther Feigel, Chaia Kuritzki,
Sitting: Sheina–Leia Schulheifer, ––, Esther Kurlandchik, Tzevia Drutz
Standing: Mordechai (Batke) Gilinski, Pesia Kurlandchik, Simke Milsteyn, Henoch Kuritzki

 

produced many loyal and involved communist members.

All of them were active communists, who carried out both legal and illegal activities.

Another part of the Communist party loyal to their cause were those who belonged to other organizations, but were also involved in legal aspects of the party. Like in 1928, when we founded the, Bin, the younger men and women were allowed to join in the Zionist activities of the party, or in activities of the Revisionist party. The Sventzian communists became involved in the Bin, as well. The first Keiter (that is, the leader of the Sventianer Bin), was first Hanoch Kuritzki, and later, when he left Sventzian, Meir Grin, who replaced him. But the “ringers” (that is, leaders of groups), were in contact with all the Bin groups, organizing rallies, and other things,

[Col. 326]

They were all pure–bred communists, like Sureleh Tzepelovitch, Laia Katz, and others who used the youth of the “Bin” as a trampoline for future Communist advancement.

The illegal activities were carried out effectively: brochures, newspapers, and leaflets (that were sent by the central office) were made and distributed, like leaflets for Red parades and other various holidays, organizing worker–strikes, masouvkes and other things.

The members were not worried, those that belonged or even helped the communist party had to endure many long years of hard labour: those who were sent to the concentration work– camp of Kartuz Beretze, came from different groups, as: Hershel Friedman, Berta (his wife–Leizer, the Shochet's daughter). Many meetings took place in their home, they painted red banners and print leaflets, Kutiel (Kushel) Rein, and teacher of the Yiddish Folk Shul. And others, Raizel Lerman, was active in 1930 during the Sejm, Shmuel Baran, his room was the “center”, where we started the strike of the transport–workers, in the time of the Sejm (Polish parliament) arrests, Shmuel Lulinski (Leibe Henoch's son) was the leader of the Communist party, many were involved with collecting funds for those arrested for political activities.

The “defense” of the Communist weighed heavily on the daily lives of the Communists of the Sventzian poviat, its leader Komorovski, the chief; they were always looking for ways to disappear. They had one way out: to be arrested. They arrested Katzkel Kamraz and then Meir Katzkelevitch (both stationed in Vilna where they worked and contacted their comrades in Sventzian). Afterwards they helped the activists in Gupa, also in the Poviat of Sventzian.

Like all the parties, the one of Sventzian also suffered.

The first mass–arrests took place in 1929. Amongst others, Leib Teitz was arrested, who was sent for hard labour for six years. From this time onwards, many arrests were carried out throughout the Sventzian region.

[Col. 327]

the Communist activity did not cease, and in 1931 there was another mass arrest. At that time the following were, among others, arrested: Liza Gordon, Sorke Movshovitsh, Shmuel Baran-the teacher, Boske Kovarsky, Liovke Poshumensky, Shloyme Abramson. All of them, except Baran and Abramson, were sentenced to many years in prison. The informant, who turned over the activists, “the defense,” [sic] was revealed. In the year 1939, when our area was taken over by the Soviet Union, he was arrested. For his informing activities, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He defended his 'selling out' the activists [by saying that it] was motivated by his difficult financial situation and his fear that his arrest would leave his large family without any food.

Many were arrested—others left the movement out of fear of being arrested, but others came, took their places and promulgated Communist activities.

In 1936, there were once again mass arrests. Those who were sent to [the concentration camp] Kartuz Bereze without a trial for an undetermined time [were]: Avram-Leyb Germanisky, Eliahu (Luske) Taraseysky (both had just received their law degrees not long before being arrested). In Vilna: leyb Kovner, Keyb Disyatnik, Kopl Sirotka and Motl Ginzburg. The regime in Kartuz Bereze was

Sve0327.jpg
The Bee at Bild-Gez under the name of Yehoash Link at an excursion accompanied by the Bild-Gez Orchestra

[Col. 328]

Sve0328.jpg
An excursion of young people at the Jewish cemetery

was an exact copy of Hitler's concentration camp, Dachau, in which the inspector of Kartuz Bereze, Gepnes, had honed his specialized talents for this purpose.

In Kartuz Bereze terror reigned; physical punishment was carried out according to camp regulations. In this bestial way Avram-Leyb Germanisky was persecuted and murdered in the camp (May 6, 1936). The hangmen refused to release his body to his family, so that the Fascist cruelty of these murderers should not be known outside [the camp].


[Col. 329]

The Professional Needle [Trades] Union

Tsodok Khamats

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

It was very difficult to found a Needle [Trades] Union in Sventzian. After great effort, and thanks to the initiative and courage of many devoted activists, it was possible to organize a Needle [Trades] Union in our city.

It is worthwhile to note, that except for Sventzian, there was not one other town in the whole province that had a Needle [Trades] Union. It was not easy to get the necessary permits from the governor of the province.

Another difficulty was to find a suitable location and the requisite rent money.

Therefore it was a joyous occasion for the needle workers of Sventzian when the union was finally opened in its own location in the synagogue courtyard, not far from the market square.

Right at the very first meeting of the founders

[Col. 330]

the topic of which trades should be included in the union was discussed. After a lengthy debate, it was decided that 4 important divisions of the needle trade should be included:

1) Custom-made [clothes] 2) Second-hand [clothes] 3) Underwear makers and 4) Hat makers.

The following workers immediately joined the union: Libe Fermant, Hirsh Sharski, Yisroel Levin, Moyshe Levin, Khaye Salamyak, Sore Movshovits, Ahron Rutshteyn, Yoysef Smargansky, Avram Smargansky, Yankev Beygl, Khatskl Kaltun, Sheyne Kharmats, Gershon Hokhman, Perets Abramson, Ruven Shnayderovitsh, Kats and the writer of these lines.
The Needle [Trades] Union was active in many areas and gave its members financial assistance. It also did everything [it could] to raise itself to a higher social and cultural level.


The Artisans' Association

Ber Kharmats

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

In order to fight the deceptions and the decrees of the anti-Semitic government of Poland, an artisan association was founded. Its representatives defended the artisans regarding all the government problems and also regarding the Jewish community. After the war, the artisans suffered greatly from fines imposed by the government, from various laws pertaining to examinations, diplomas, apprentices and so on. The management of this association gave them very valuable help in these matters. Every artisan paid membership dues and was, therefore, entitled to assistance in all of these matters. In order to make his financial situation a bit easier, a interest-free loan fund was established and the Folk Bank, which gave loans at very low interest rates.

Borukh Rozental, the well known Sventsyaner businessman, was for many years the President of the Artisans' Association. He represented the artisans as councilman in the City Council and was also on the board of the Folk Bank.

[Col. 330]

Other board members were: Ben Tsion Lishanski, Eliahu Frish, Khaim Ber Feygel, Zalman Eydelman, Efraim Tseykinsky, Avram Gertman, Shimen Rudnitsky, Zaydman, Yankev Dov Kharmats, Maks Tseykinsky and Perets Kahn.

[Photo]

[Caption under photo]

Sitting: Mendl Tseykinsky, Zalman Eydelman, Borukh Rozental, Ben-Tsion Lishansky, Elye-leyb Paruss, Khaim-Ber Feygel[1].
Standing: Ber Kharmats, Avram Gertman, Shimen Rudnitsky, Perets Kahn, Efraim Tseykinski, Leyb Zaydman.


[Col. 331]

Elections for the Sejm and City Council

Leyb Margel

Translated by Janie Respitz

 

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Sventzian was the seat of the voting commission of the entire area which included the Poviat of Postov, Braslav, Dunilovich and Gluboke. The area was inhabited by minority groups: Jews, Lithuanians, White Russians and Russians which had an impact on the results of the elections. After the Pilsudski Coup D'etat in 1926 the government changed the voting geography, resulting in the minority groups having no representation in the Sejm(parliament). This resulted in the unification of the minorities who put forth unified lists. The delegate from the Sventzian branch was Leyb Margel.

The first Sejm elections after Pilsudski's coup took place in 1928. The authorities tried through various means to have the minorities withdraw their lists. The delegate from Sventzian who had a request department, was also asked by the administration to liquidate his list. We were not afraid and thanks to our voices, Yitzkhak Greenboym was elected as a deputy to the Sejm from Warsaw.

The same thing happened again during the next elections. The authorities tried to cancel our lists. However, we did not stop our work, and did everything possible for our lists to remain valid. Thanks to our efforts there were always Jewish Sejm deputies, Yitzkhak Greenboym or Dr. Yakov Vigodsky from Vilna and a Christian from the minorities.

[Col. 332]

Our struggle with the election committee was not easy. The chairman was always trying to cancel votes from our lists.

The same politics existed during elections for city council in Sventzian where the Jewish community comprised approximately 35% of the general population. At the beginning there were 7 Jews on the council of 12 councilmen. The mayor was a Christian. His deputy was the Jewish councilman Borukh Brumberg. There were other Jewish officials. The head bookkeeper on city council was Mr. Viner.

The administrative authority could not tolerate the fact that Jews made up the majority of council members. They attached to Sventzian a nearby Christian village with a large population. Jewish representatives now fell to 6. This number also seemed too big for the authorities so they continued to change the election geography. (Electoral map). This resulted in never having more than 5 Jewish councilmen. The only ones that remained were the vice Mayor Mr. Brumberg and the alderman engineer Nokhem Gordon.

The active Jewish councilmen were: Yosroel Levin, Borukh Rosental, Dr. Kovarsky and others.


[Col. 333]

Institutions and Businesses

Leyb Margel

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

During the German occupation an elementary school was opened in Sventzian, and the language of instruction was Yiddish.

This school competed with the existing Talmud toyre.

In the year 1921, the Yiddish school had over 200 children, and in the Talmud toyre there remained only a few dozen children.

Later on a Jewish gymnasium was also founded in Sventzian. Both the elementary school and the gymnasium

[Photo]

Sitting, from the right: Genendl Kuritski, Khaye Shpiz, Basye and Yoysef Svirski, Nakhum Taraseyski, Rifka and Yisroel Levin, Lipeh Rozenshteyn.
Standing: Malke Vaynshteyn, Shloyme Ash, Reyzl Azinski, Dovid Ginzburg, Reyzl Solomyak, Yisroel Abramson, Lina Yavitsh-Kats, Ruven Abramovitsh, Ida Agulnik, Mordkhe Lyekhovitski, Yoysef Lulinski, a teacher, Medl Shpiz, Leyb Margel, Yehoshua Shayevitsh, Mordkhe Naviser and Dovid Kuritski.

[Col. 334]

were connected with the C. Y. S. O. (the Central Yiddish School organization), which was decidedly anti-Zionist.

This influenced the Zionists to do everything in their power to found a “Culture School.”

The greatest and most outspoken opponents of establishing a “Culture” school was the group that most ardently supported the Yiddish school. They understood that the pupils who would go to the “Culture” school would reduce the number of students of the Yiddish school. They

[Col. 335]

[Photo]

Sitting, from the right: Avram Gertman, Borukh Rozental, Dovid Kuritski, Yoysef Svirski, Nakhum Taraseyski, ____ [sic] Koyfman, Yehoshua Solomyak.
Standing: Zekharye Nyomkin, Akiva Goron, Yisroel Abramson, Shaul Vilkomirski, Boris Brumberg, Ben-Tsion Lishanski, Efraim Tseykinski, Perets Kohn and Leyb Porus.

began a big struggle and with all the means [at their disposal] began to disrupt the building of the “Culture” school. The struggle went on from 1925 to 1928. Thanks to the great efforts and mighty exertion of Leyb Margel and Mordkhe Gaviser the school opened for the 1928/9 school year.

At the same time there was founded in Sventzian a branch of the “Culture Society,” which took the lead in order to make sure that the newly established school had whatever it needed. In addition to the two people mentioned above, the following people also distinguished themselves in this effort: Yisroel Levin, Yoysef Lulinski, Ruben Abramovitsh, Nakhum Taraseyski, Berl Kharmats, Yisroel Abramson, Dovid Kuritski and others. The school was successful until the outbreak of the Second World War. When Sventzian was occupied by the Soviets, the school was closed.

When the after-school Hebrew school was closed, the Hebrew Folk School was opened in its place and that became the center for the Zionist activities in the city.

There were two active libraries in Sventzian. One was a Yiddishist [library] which was supported by

[Col. 336]

the Sventzian “Culture League” and the second one—a municipal [library], which was run by Borukh Rozental.

Rozental was also the founder and the director of the drama club, which was called: the Art Society.

In Sventzian there was also a Committee for Working in the Land of Israel, a branch of the League for Working in Israel, which was run by the lawyer, Leyb Gurvitsh; a K. K. L.-Commission run by Leyb Margel and Shimon Bushkanyets; a Committee to raise money to buy land in Israel, in which Yoysef Svirski and Yisroel Levin were quite active.

The “Culture League” occupied a very special place among the institutions in town; it was also called Bildgez. It was a kind of branch of the Education Society of Vilna, Vilbilg and held cultural and social events in town.

The main activists of Bildgez were the teachers of t he Jewish gymnasium: Yoysef Brumberg, Manye and Avram Reynharts, the teacher [Ms.] Fisher, Kopl Sirotkin, Dr. Karvarski among others.

[Col. 337]

In Sventzian, there were two interest-free loan societies; one was a general [fund] run by Dovid Kuritskiu, Avram Gertman and Akiva Gordin, the second was khasidish, run by Aron Tsinman and Shloyme Kurlandtshik.

There was also a branch of the Central Cooperative Folk's Bank run by Dr. Binyomin Kavarski and Borukh Brumberg. The directors were: Miron Taraseyski and Mendl Kuritski.

The founding of the “Pioneers” organization brought the city a lot of spirit. This organization prepared the young people to immigrate to Israel.

The Guardians of the Sick was a philanthropic institution, which helped the poor with medicines. The ill would be visited by doctors, receive medication and [help with] hospital stays—all paid for by the Guardians of the Sick.

Volunteers were also sent for round-the-clock care of the sick, who needed a nurse. There was also an ice cellar, which had ice available all summer long for those who needed it.

The Guardians of the Sick was supported by: (1) membership fees, (2) a traditional Purim Ball, (3) Greetings on the occasion of the New Year (shana-toyves), (4) subsidies from the magistrate, (5) subsidies from the Jewish community, (6) rent for a private house, (7) charitable donations from various sources.

Among the Jewish institutions in Sventzian, the Jewish community itself should be mentioned; it included also the towns of Lintup and New Sventzian.

[Col. 337]

The first elections for the board of the Jewish community [organization] took place in the year 1928.

The first Secretary of the Jewish community [organization] was Arye Margel. The Treasurer was Mordkhe Gaviser.

It is worthwhile also to mention the service of the Jewish councilmen on the City Council of Sventzian. Of the 13 councilmen, 5 were Jewish.

Borkh (Boris) Brumberg was elected Assistant Mayor. He devoted a lot of time and energy to the development of Sventzian in general and for the improvement of conditions for the Jews in particular.

Among the Most Devoted

  1. [. . .] members of the Jewish community were: Aron Tsinman, Perets Feygl, Yisroel Levin, Aron Sragovitsh, Dr. Binyomin Kavarski and two people from New Sventzian.

[Col. 338]

  1. Yiddish members of the City Council were: Yoysef Svirski, Yisroel Levin, Borukh Brumberg, Borukh Rozebtal, Nakhum Gordon and Dr. Binyomin Kavarski.
  2. Members of the K. K. L. Commission were: Mordkhe Gaviser, Arye Margel, Yoysef Lulinski, Yitskhok Spekto, Shimon Bushkanyets.
  3. Members of the Land in Israel Purchase Fund were: Yoysef Svirski, Yisroel Levin, the attorney Leyb Gurvitsh, Arye Margel, Ruben Abramovitsh, Yoysef Lulinski and Dovid Kuritski.
  4. The board of the Jewish School was comprised of the following members: Kopl Sirotkin, Valodye Taraseyski, Leyzer Kavarski, Sore Katsizne, Dr. Kavarski, Leyb Leyb Lubotski and Khaim Svirski.
  5. The board of the Culture School consisted of: Yisroel Levin, Avram Nakhum Taraseyski, Ruben Abramovitsh, Eliahu Frush, Arye Margel, Mordkhe Gaviser [sic], Yoysef Lulinski and Ber Kharmats.
  6. Members of the Pioneer [organization] were: Mordkhe Gaviser, Arye Margel, Leyb Desyatnik, Ruben Levin, Yitskhok Feygelman and Beynish Markilevitsh.

[Photo]

Bere Moyshe Azinski

  1. The board of the Guardians of the Sick [Organization] was comprised of: Nakhum Taraseyski [sic], Yisroel Levin, Yoysef Lulinski, Arye margel, Hirsh Gilinski, Yitskhok Kovner, Ber Azinski, Eliahu Frush, Borukh Rozental and Dovid Kuritski.
  2. On the board of the municipal committee for the Interest Free Loan Society were: Dovid Kuritski, Avram Gertman, Akiva Gordon and B. Rozental.
  3. Managing the khasidish Interest Free Loan Society were: Aron Tsinman, Shloyme Kurlyantshik, A. Margel, Shneyur Rabinovitsh and Ben Tsion Tsyashnik.
  4. In the municipal library: Rozental, Kovner and Margel.
  5. On the board of the Bildgez: Shloyme Lifshits, Zalmen Gilinski, Taybe Kuritski, Khaim Svirski, Ber Feyglman and Avram Moyshe Lifshits.


[Col. 339]

Vaytsman's Historic Kiss to Rabbi Y. Y. Reynes

Yitskhok Grinboym

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

[Photo]

This happened at the Zionist Conference in Minsk – this historic kissing. I saw it with my own eyes and was, of course, astonished to see it but happy and had no complaints against Vaytsman. The Mizrakhi faction was also delighted about Vaytsman's historic kiss to Rabbi Reynes.

But let me describe the Conference in Minsk, which took place in August 1902, openly and legally, although no official permission was made public, something the newpapers of the world, not only in Russia, would certainly have written about. The Yiddish papers printed telegrams and detailed correspondence about the conference and the censor was quite liberal in permitting it.

The weak point of the conference lay in the question of cultural work. The Orthodox, who believed in Hertsl, in his political and organizational work, feared the cultural work, which was promoted by the non-religious portion of the Zionist Movement, especially the Hebrew intellectuals by their writers and teachers, who were preaching a national revival, creating a secular Hebrew literature and placing the education of the new generation on a completely different foundation than it had been for many, many past generations. In Hertsl they [felt they] had found a supporter of their demands, because he believed that everyone's energies should be concentrated on politics, propaganda, organization and creating the necessary financial institutions. No powerful [contingent] was to be pushed away if it were ready to work toward the stated goals. Hertsl did not see that the awakening of a national consciousness, the


1. The names that are hyphenated in the caption under the photo are not hyphenated in the text above the photo. [Sic] Return


[Col. 341]

Caring for the Poor and the Sick

Dov Ber Shloyme (Brooklyn)

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

Organization for Hospitality

The organization that took care of inviting guests[1] was founded circa 1901. Before that the indigent used to have to spend the night in the poorhouse (an old broken down house in the Synagogue courtyard). They would also have to stand by the synagogue door and wait for someone to invite them for a meal.

It is worthwhile to mention Rabbi Leybe Eli the butcher, who would wait every Friday evening and Sabbath day to take all those who needed a place to eat to his own home. He would also supply kosher food for all the Jewish prisoners in jail.

In 1901, ten important Jewish men [of the town] organized an official group to fulfill this need. They were called 'The First Ten,' and they created the hakhnoses orkhim[2] organization. Their goal was to collect enough money and food for poor travelers passing through. From this organization every poor Jew would get a note with an address on it indicating the place where he was to eat. They also rented Itse Ber the bookbinder's garret as a place for them to sleep.

The first beadle of the hakhnoses orkhim organization was Itse Vidutsinski the teacher.

The founders of the hakhnoses orkhim organization, the so-called “First Ten” were: 1) Reb Hillel Brumberg the ritual slaughter, 2) Avraham Funt, 3) Yitskhak Vidutsinski, the teacher, 4) Borukh Saroko, 5) Yitskhak Parus, the bookbinder, 6) Leyb Minkin, 7) Yisroel Eli, the sexton, 8) Yudl Vilkomirski, the baker, 9) Leyb Elkis, 10) Yitskhak Brumberg.

 

Visiting the Sick

The first beadle of the Visiting the Sick organization was Reb Shevakh Kavarski. Moyshe Levinson was the first secretary. He was Meytsik's son. Bere Moyshe Azinski also devoted a lot of time and money to this organization. Pinkhus Zelig Demba used to devote a lot of time to the very indigent who were ill and helped them greatly.

The mission of the Visiting the Sick organization was: first to

[Col. 342]

provide the ill with doctors and with medicine from the pharmacy. Then, they would see to it that someone would sit by the bedside of the sick person, especially at night. For those who were alone, this was a very great help.

Often this assistance saved the family, which had used its last ounce of energy in caring for the patient.

Interest-Free Loan Fund

The head of the Interest-Free Loan Fund was Reb Ben-Tsion Kats, of blessed memory. He had a metal trunk in his house. That is where he kept the promissory notes that were brought as security. When he would leave the house, he told the children to guard the trunk. At that time the whole city of Svenstyan used the Interest-Free Loan Fund. On Monday after the market [was closed] each person would ask the other: Do you perhaps need an interest-free loan? No one had to beg. On the contrary, whoever could offered help to those in need.

 

“Food for the Poor”[3]

(Told by Yisroel Saroko)

“Food for the Poor was founded 60 years ago. The first founder was Isaac “Blue Lips.” He was called “Blue Lips,” because his lips were blue from fasting so much. His task was to collect money and give it anonymously to the needy.

Reb Isaac was a Torah scholar. Although he had children and they wanted him to live with them, he felt more comfortable in the synagogue and did not stay with his children. He would eat only once a day and would visit Soreh-Mikhla Saroko, who used to bake bread to sell, weigh a few dried crusts himself and call out: “Soreh-Mikhla, Borukh, Yisroel, look at the scale.” Soreh-Mikhla Saroko used to offer to make him a barley soup, but he would reply: “You will make me a glutton and a drunkard.” On the Sabbath, he used to eat at the house of Reb Sender Libman, of blessed memory, or

[Col. 343]

as the family was called “Khayke Elke's.”[4] The Libman family accorded Reb Isaac great honor. In his old age, Reb Isaac complained to those close to him: “What can be done? There is no place to die.”

An interesting type of person in the Food for the Poor organization was Kuneh Treyne the beadle's wife. She and Reb Isaac would always carry out their charitable deeds quietly and modestly.

This is how our friends of long ago lived. They were devoted to their work and gave much of themselves, quietly, modestly for the sake of the community with no thought of receiving anything in return.

 

Burial Society

The chronicles of the Burial Society made every effort to record all the important events of the town. There one could find all the important statutes of the town in general and of the Burial Society in particular.

[Photo]

Top of photo: A funeral in town
Bottom of photo: (The funeral of the lawyer Hirsh Levin; corner of Pilsudski and May Third Sts.)

[Col. 344]

One of the most important regulations was that before one could become a member one had to be a beadle for three years, to be at all 'purifications,'[5] in town, as well as getting all the members together, when it was necessary.

It was, therefore, difficult to attain the honor of being a member of the Burial Society.

Every year on the 15th of Kislev, a celebratory banquet was held for the Burial Society. The banquet was held at Shneur Robinovitsh's house.

It was the custom that the first thing in the morning of the 15th of Kislev the [public] baths were heated and the mikva,[6] in which all the members of the Society had to immerse themselves, was warmed. In addition, they fasted all day and recited penitential prayers together.

The head of the Burial Society in our time was Reb Shneur Robinovitsh. One of his assistants was Tuvya, the gardener.


1. Or seeing that guests in town were taken care of. [Trans.] Return
2. Hospitality. Named after the commandment to be hospitable to strangers and wayfarers. [Trans.] Return
3. Literally ‘Bread for the Poor.’ [Trans.] Return
4. This was probably Reb Sender's wife's name. Often a husband or son was identified as belonging to the wife or mother. [Trans.] Return
5. Washing the body of the deceased and preparing it for burial according to Jewish law. [Trans.] Return
6. Ritual immersion pool. [Trans.] Return


[Col. 345]

Economic Life

Reuben Abramovitsh

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

[Photo]

Business

According to the Lithuanian [journal?] Yekopa, in the years 1928/29, the population of Sventzian was close to 6000 souls, among them were 2,900 Jews.

The main occupation of the Jewish population was business; they were mostly shopkeepers but were also involved in other small businesses.

Before the First World War, Sventzian considered itself to be a center of the flax trade. The biggest companies in this field were Asher Kavarski and Ahron Tsinman. They had their agents and buyers in practically all the towns of the whole region. After the war, the flax business was transferred to [the town of] Heydutsishok.

This business was concentrated, for the most part, around the market that took place every Wednesday.

On that day peasants from the whole area would gather in order to sell their products. Various merchants would come in from all the [surrounding] cities and villages in order to buy the agricultural products and also to sell their dry goods, notions and textiles.

Dealing in boar bristles, wool, and small pelts occupied an important place in the economic life of the town. The following merchants were involved in that: Shmuel Shutan, Yankev Kromnik, Henekh Sorski, Khone Salavski, among others.

Dozens of Jewish families drew their livelihood from dealing in grain. The meat business, which was concentrated in the hands of the butchers, gave them quite a good income. They would provide meat for the army, send it to Vilna, and sell a large part of it at the local market.

The biggest meat merchants were the butchers: Gershon

[Col. 346]

and Dovid Gurvitsh, Heshl Gurvitsh and his son, Khaykl Gordon among others.

A very important branch of business in Sventzian was [the keeping of] orchards and gardening. Among the most successful orchard keepers were: Yoysef Kharmats, Yosl and Heshl Kavarski and his son, and others.

They would rent the orchards from the [Christian][1] landowners, and they would sell the fruits all over Poland and also abroad.

There were some very large manufacturing plants in Sventzian. Their owners were: Motl Kagan, Ben Tsion Tsosnik, Shmolgovski, Kapelovitsh, and others.

The biggest leather businesses belonged to: Khaim Yavitsh, Lulinski, Eydelman and Shneur Kavarski.

After the war, the condition of Jewish business changed for the worse.

 

Trade

The second source of livelihood was handwork.

All the specifically Jewish trades were represented in town: tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, glaziers, furriers, bakers, blacksmiths, locksmiths, wig makers, and so on.

What happened to the businessmen also happened with the tradesmen. Before the First World War, they made a very nice living. After the war, however, they suffered a great economic crisis, which was mostly due to political reasons.

The Jewish tradesmen in Sventzian tried to help themselves by founding an organization of their own and through reciprocal assistance.

[Col 347]

For that purpose, they founded the Tradesmen's Union, which included all branches of Jewish trade.

This Union had a special examination board for all apprentices and oversaw the handing out of tradesmen's diplomas.

It would also make loans a low percentages and advised the tradesmen on all of their financial matters.

All of these efforts, however, made little difference. The conditions for Jewish tradesmen became worse from day to day.

Their only option was to emigrate across the ocean or to settle in Israel.

 

Industry

Before the First World War, Sventzian had two tobacco factories, which were jointly owned by Shneur Rabinovitsh, Hersh-Leyb Teyts and Kopelovitsh.

[There were also] a soap factory, a cigarette factory owned by Ushpal, a leather factory owned by Brumberg and a whisky brewery [owned by?] Rambam.

The felt boots and felt shoes (volikes) industry occupied a very special place in Svantsyan, and it was considered to be the biggest in its field in all of Poland.

The pioneers of the manufacturing of felt boots and felt shoes were Tuvya Shapiro and his son, Binyomin.

This factory continued to be inherited and continued to grow quite a bit, so that [eventually] Binyomin's son, Berl, was the owner of a very large volikes factory in which close to 50 workers, mostly Russians, were employed.

Other larger volikes factories belonged to Leyzer Zeydel (the manager of the factory was his wife, Kune Feyge) and to Mordkhe Kil.

In addition to these, the volikes factories of Alter Teyts must be mentioned, as well as those of Khone Vilkomirski and his two sons, Shaul and Khaim; the brothers Yoysef and Yankev Svirski among others.

The production of volikes employed several hundred workers, the majority of them Russians but also dozens of Jews.

The felt shoes and boots of Sventzian were sold all over Poland and reached the most remote corners of the country.

The manufacturing of volikes was one of the main sources of income for the Jews of Sventzian.

[Col. 348]

After the First World War, Sventzian became famous throughout all of Poland for a peculiarly individual item: medicinal herbs.

The pioneer of this field was Taraseyski. In imitation of him, the Abramovitsh- Gramov Company later also began to work in this industry.

The two companies would buy the medicinal herbs of the whole region, sort them, dry them, cut them and according to trade recipes mix up various compounds and then sell them to various companies or directly to pharmacies throughout Poland.

These companies also owned their own plantations, which grew various kinds of these herbs.

Both companies had contracts with all applicable departments in Polish universities, where research was being done on the efficacy of all kinds of herbs.

These medicinal herbs were later exported outside the country, and they were sold in America, Japan, France and England.


1. This was at a time when Jews could not own land. [Trans.] Return

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