Sara Katsizne (Renna)
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
Sventzian was not a big city and according to the nationality classification of the population and according to its economy; it was barely equal to the other neighboring cities.
Sventzian was noted only for one [sic] thing throughout the whole area: its excellent, branched-out, social institutions and the pulsating cultural life of its Jewish population.
It had two Jewish elementary schoolsin Yiddish and Hebrew, a Jewish gymnasium, a branch of the Culture League, which later became a genuine Sventzian institution named The Sventzian Jewish Education Society and a dramatic circle among others.
All of these institutions and societies were able to exist only thanks to the devotion and selfless work of the teachers, school activists, students and just friends of Jewish culture and honest Jewish life.
It is difficult in the space of just one article to show adequately appreciation to all those who were active in its social and cultural life. We will, therefore, only mention some of themthose who shouldered the difficulties of building and supporting all these institutions.
Dr. Kavarski was a real folk-intellectual and a true example of his folk. He was connected to all the Jewish institutions with all of his heart and soul but especially with those that were progressive in character.
He was one of the founders and builders of the Jewish school, the Principal of and a teacher in the Jewish Gymnazium, a board member of the Educational Society, and, in general, an active member of many other boardsan activist of a wide range [of institutions].
Dr. Kavarski was not a party member, but when the Red Army captured Sventzian, he spoke out at a large meeting on May 1st and welcomed the soldiers of Sventzian on behalf of the Jewish population
Because of that sin, the Germans later took their savage revenge. They beat him
Dr. Kavasrsky and his son, Loveh
Drama Division of the Culture League, Sventzian
Kneeling: Moyshe Shutan, Moyshe Beygl, Motl Murmes, Yisroel Moyshe Rudnitski, Shmuel Vidutsinski.
Sitting: Hirsh Gilinski, Miron Taraseyski, Yoysef Brumberg, Tserne Beygl, Hirsh Fridman, _______Kohn, Leah Grinfeld, Katsherginski.
Standing: Ruven Fliner, Khaye Beygl, Shmuel Murashkin, Moshe Rayn, Bentse Lishanski, Nemzer, Sora Levin, Shaye Liberman, Meyer Grin.
and tortured him barbarically. They led him through the streets barefoot, and when he tried to commit suicide, they saved him in order to continue to sadistically persecute him until he died.
Motl Ginzburg was a very quiet and reticent person. He was, in addition, physically frail and used to put his life in jeopardy doing his community work.
Although Motl was an ardent, official Bundist, the police actually considered him a Communist, and for that they exiled him to Kartuz-Bereze. After many interventions, his father succeeded in getting him out of there barely alive.
He later married Matle Murmis and lived in Sventzian until the liquidation.
Motl died together with his wife and all the Jews of Sventzian in the Poligon Camp.
Betsalel (Tsalel) Tsinman
Tsalel Tsinman studied medicine in France and received his MD from there. When he returned to Sventzian, however, he was not given an opportunity to utilize his diploma, and he could not practice medicine.
R[eb] Ahron Tsinman
Tsalel came from an affluent family. His father was R' Ahron Tsinman, a good, prosperous member of the Jewish community. Nevertheless, Tsalel was always drawn to working for his people, especially the poor.
He was active in all the social institutions and dedicated more time to them than to his private interests.
When the Soviets took Sventzian, Tsalel finally got the opportunity to practice as a doctor. Before the German occupation, he managed to escape to Russia, where he died.
Michal Natish (Shutan)
He was a graduate of the Sventzian Jewish Gymnazium. Since he himself was the son of a Jewish laborer (his father was a bricklayer), he devoted his whole life to the Jewish poor, to the Jewish working person.
After graduating the Sventzian Gymnazium, he went to Vilna, where he studied at the Vilna Teacher's Seminar. It was there that he became involved in the progressive, young writers' group, Young Vilna. He quickly acquired a reputation as a talented poet. He became especially well known for his long poem, Hirsh the Mason, which was dedicated to his father, Lipeh, the mason.
For a while he worked as a teacher in the Svanstyan Jewish Elementary School. He was, of course, active in all the Jewish cultural institutions. He devoted particular attention to the Jewish Folk Library.
Mikhal Shutan (his literary pseudonym was M. Natish) died young after a difficult operation.
His death caused all of his acquaintances and friends great sorrow and pain. In the literary circles of Poland, their great loss was marked with weeping.
The Jewish population in Sventzian, however, was particularly heart broken.
Leyb Germanski finished the Sventzian Jewish School and later studied at the University of Vilna from which he graduated with a law degree.
As a student, he became close to the progressive student's circle and became active in the academic field.
After graduating university, he could not find his place in Vilna and returned to Sventzian, where he lived with his mother and stepfather.
Germanski was a wonderful, intelligent speaker. His profound, serious readings at the Education Society always drew a large audience.
Especially popular were his readings on literary and socio-political themes.
The Polish Administrative Authority took a dislike to him and sent him, as they did many political activists, to the Kartuz-Bereze Concentration Camp.
He had a strong character and was not flexible. It was, therefore, difficult for him to follow the stern discipline of the camp.
The Polish sadist noticed this and purposely asked him to do inhumanly difficult work. Once they had him pull a plow in the place of a horse.
He could not withstand such chicanery. The camp bandits did not, however, ease up and persecuted him until he died.
A short time later, they sent his mother his laundry and the clothes he left behind.
His death was a shameful blot on the Sanacja Polish administration. The progressive Jewish Society never forgave them for it.
Motl Gilinsky (Batko)
Motl Gilinski was born in Sventzian and graduated from the Vilna Yiddish Teachers' Seminar. He was a teacher in a Ts. Y. Sh. A. in the provinces for a short time. Later he moved to Warsaw, where he first worked in a school and then in the Medem Sanatorium.
While still at the Vilna Teachers' Seminar he exhibited organizational abilities and was, therefore, crowned by the seminarists Batko (father).
Batko was loved by everyone and distinguished himself as a brilliant teacher and as a devoted comrade, friend and person [in general].
When Hitler attacked Poland, Botko and his wife escaped from Warsaw to Sventzian. There, under the Soviet regime, he worked as a teacher, and when the Germans occupied the area, he became a house painter and was also elected to the Jewish Council.
After the liquidation of the Sventzian Ghetto, he was sent, along with some other Jews, to the Vilna Ghetto. There too he was active and for a time led a children's club.
When the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated, he was sent to Austria, where he died.
Marile (Miriam) Brumberg-Gavendo
She was born in Lodzh, but in 1914 the whole family moved to Sventzian, the home town of her father, Avram Zev Brumberg. On the 2nd of May 1919, Brumberg, his two sons and several other Sventzian Jews were killed by the Bolsheviks.
Marile's first school was the Sventzian Yiddish Elementary School. Afterwards she went to the Yiddish Gymnazium in Vilna, and she graduated from the University of Vilna with a degree in Humanities.
Her teaching career began in Sventzian. She later taught in the Sofia Gurevitsh Yiddish Gymnazium in Vilna and also for a short time in the Mede Sanatorium near Warsaw. When the Germans entered Warsaw, she and her husband escaped to Sventzian. From there they went deep into Russia, where they died in one of the state collective farms in Tashkent.
The Teacher, Musin
The teacher, Musin, came from Postav. All her life she taught in the Yiddish School in Sventzian and was active in all organizations that were in any way involved with culture and education.
She lived alone and led a lonely life. Her one consolation was the Yiddish School, which was her true home. Her best friends were the Jewish children with whom she liked to spend time both at the school and in the evenings either discussing various topics with them or preparing them for the children's performances.
She devoted a lot of time to the Jewish Library, especially the children's division.
The teacher, Musin, died with all the Jews of Sventzian in Poligan.
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
Arkadi's father, R' Yoysef was an adherent of the Jewish Enlightenment Movement, a religious person with a profound belief [in G-d], but he never publicized his belief, never spoke about it and never preached to strangers and not even to his children. He felt that religious belief, like every belief, was a matter of feeling and speaking about one's feelings meant carrying the holiest things out into the street, and this he found repugnant.
From his considering and understanding of the most important questions of spiritual life he extrapolated his original relationship to both strangers and to his own children, and he used these ideas in raising them [his children].
But it wasn't only his spiritual life that was interesting; his outward appearance was also interesting. He was short of stature, thin and had a very nice head of blond hair. [He had] a bright face, a nice mouth with a childlike smile that warmed one's soul.
He was a great idealist and was friendly
with those less fortunate and less privileged than himself. He would always bring home a poor unfortunate soul and [spend time] talking with him, teaching, explaining encouraging him and sharing with him whatever food he had.
He was never idle. He was a teacher in the local Sventzian two-year college, and taught little children at home. After his lessons, he began to repair things. He had a weakness for all kinds of old tools, broken machines, pieces of iron, nails. By tinkering, he invented a machine
to thread a needle, a machine to sharpen pencils and other such things. He himself used to invent educational toys for his children so that in the process of playing they would learn to read and count.
Arcady's father liked nature very much, so he used to walk for many kilometers in the woods and in fields with his children and discuss the grasses, trees and animals with them.
He kept his material needs to a minimum. It was enough for him to have bread and a decent borscht, because [he felt that there] were millions who did not even have that.
He died in Vilna in 1902 surrounded by his loving children.
His mother, Sheyna, came from a very prestigious family, a branch connected to the Vilna Gaon. She was raised in a prosperous home and could never make her peace with poverty and was often embittered, but she was endowed with a strong character and good common sense. She was sharp tongued, ironic and spirited and her words could burn or cut like a knife. When they came to arrest her son, Arkady, she became paralyzed. She was paralyzed for six years and died in 1898.
([excerpt] from the book: Jews of Petersburg)
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita) Turtletaub
Julian Bak was born in the village of Sventzian, in the County of Vilna, in the year 1860. His father's name was Bere Itse Bak.
There are several cities that attained a special reputation in times gone by; for example, people spoke of the fools of Chelm, the reckoning of Shklavers, the haughtiness of Slutzkers, the nibblers of Vilna, the bear herders of Smargon and so on. Sventzian had the honor of being on this list because of its honored characteristic: The refined people of Sventzian.
I have had the opportunity in my life to meet many people born in Sventzian and for the most part, they really did possess a special kind of refinement, a sort of spiritual gentility.
Julian Bak did not let his town's reputation down; quite the contrary, his activities and character added to it and elevated the reputation of the town where he was born.
He came from a reputable and intelligent family. After finishing the college preparatory school, he studied in Peterburg in the Institute for Railroad Engineers.
While still a student, Julian Bak exhibited an
interest in social matters. For example, he was one of the founders of the Lithuanian-Jewish Landsman Society that existed in Peterburg at that time. He was an excellent speaker and was very popular and respected among students.
After graduating from the Institute, Julian Bak began to work as an engineer on the railroad. Since as a Jew he did not have any prospects of getting a job in government, he was forced to turn to private business, and he began to work as a contractor building railroads. In a short time, he attained the reputation as being one of the best contractors in this field, and he became very wealthy.
Julain Bak, however, was not caught up in the passion for money and riches. It appeared, that being prosperous did not satisfy him morally. From childhood on he was drawn to community work. There was not one Jewish institution in Peterburg that Julian Bak did not support very generously. But he did not stop with merely giving money, he also devoted much time and effort to his community work. Julian Bak was especially active in the Petersburg [sic] Committee of JCS (Jewish
Colonization Society). When the idea was raised that in Petersburg there should be founded The Society for Jewish Scientific Research [?], Bak was the first to support the plan.
Julian Bak did a lot for his hometown of Sventzian. There he created many charitable institutions and generously supported them.
When the newspaper Novosti, which took a liberal stance and defended Jews, was about to go under, Bak did a lot to keep it alive. He was raised on liberal Russian literature with its ideas of freedom and equality. According to his political ideas, he was a radical Republican and an adherent of the Kadetn Party (Constitutional Democrats).
Bak, however, never forgot about Jewish problems and Jewish matters. Right after the failure of the Russian Revolution in 1905, when the Czarist government wanted to drown in Jewish blood the constitution that was forced on it, pogroms broke out and
persecution [of Jews]. Wailing and screaming was heard coming from all cities. Material help was needed. Baron Ginzberg, Shlyosberg and Julian Bak placed themselves at the head of this relief effort.
In the year 1905 a great Russian opposition newspaper was founded: Retsh. This was the organ of the Cadet Party. The editor was Pavel Nikolaievitsh Milyukov and the publisher was Julian Bak and it cost him over 30,000 rubles.
This wonderful person and social activist had a very tragic demise.
The economic situation in Russia changed suddenly. Bak experienced great financial reversals and could not get out of [financial difficulty]. He was also affected by the general depression in the country.
Not seeing any prospects, he fell into a deep depression and decided to commit suicide.
He was not even 48 years old at the time.
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
Aba Garsheyn was born in Kaltinyan, circa 1863 or 1864. As a child he learned in a kheyder and later in a yeshiva. After he got married, he settled in Sventyan and soon became one of the most respected members of the Jewish community in town.
From birth, he was blessed with extraordinary artistic and technical abilities. But he, unfortunately, lived in a community that at that time did not recognize any kind of artistic work as a fitting Jewish trade. Because of this, he did not have the slightest possibility to use his abilities and to develop his talents.
Aba Garsheyn also lacked the necessary education but nevertheless managed quite successfully to produce various artistic and technical works in cut stone,
carved wood, sign painting and, in addition, he was able to repair quite complicated machines.
He could not, however, support his family with his artistic endeavors and that is why he took a job in a bank, in the well-known firm of Asher Kavarski.
After the liquidation of the bank, he got involved in mediation and became a kind of liaison between small shopkeepers of Sventzian and the large merchants of Vilna. He would take orders from Sventzian shopkeepers and buy various merchandise in Vilna. This is the reason that he soon acquired the nickname 'the transporter,' by which he was lately called.
In his new profession, he distinguished himself both in his honesty and his accuracy.
All the merchants depended on him, because they knew that his word was sacred and his integrity was dearer to him than his life.
From being an intermediary, he could make a good living, but the work did not satisfy him and he had no real inclination to business. Aba Garsheyn was drawn to the world of creativity and building. He was, therefore, delighted when during some free time he had the opportunity to work on some creative project.
With great joy and dedication he would, with his little hammer, carve a stone for a memorial monument. With a chisel he would carve out the letters for Taraseyski's Publishing House. He had a wonderful handwriting, attractive and clear, and he would always be asked to write marriage contracts or other important documents.
Aba Garsheyn was always happy when he had the chance to repair a machine that a trained mechanic was unable to fix.
In addition to his artistic work, he had various, wonderful ideas and according to his talents, he would have been able to become a great inventor and scientist.
In truth, he should not have been called Aba the Transporter but Aba theArtist. In those times, however, this was not understood.
In our generation Aba Garsheyn with his talent and abilities could have a great career and his name would surely be known far and wide throughout greater Sventzian. It is even possible that he could have been a world renowned inventor and artist.
Unfortunately, life in a small town made it impossible for him to fully utilize his innate talent and his artistic abilities were wasted.
The biography of his daughter, Sara, will show that his artistic spirit was wonderfully realized in her as a famous sculptress and fulfilled the promise of his talented soul.
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
Sara Nekhe Garshteyn was born in Sventzian and graduated from the pre-gymnazium. As an unmarried girl she went to Ponyevezh and worked there as a nurse in the Jewish hospital.
As she was caring for her patients, she dreamed about a more creative life, a life dedicated to higher ideals. From her father, Aba, she inherited a great, creative soul, and while still quite young she took up sculpting. In clay, she used to form and copy various
figures. It did not take a long time for the Jewish world to notice that a Jewish girl was exhibiting extraordinary talent as a sculptress.
A Lithuanian sculptor learned of this and came to look at her work. Right from the very first moment, he was surprised by her talent, and thanks to his assistance she was able to organize a special exhibit in Kovno of all her works.
She immediately became famous in the Jewish and
Lithuanian public. All the critics were amazed at her talent and predicted that a great future awaited her as a sculptress.
At that time, the art critic, Yankev Plafon [sp?] wrote: The sculptress, Sara Garshteyn was born in the small town of Sventzian near Vilna. Her father was an observant Jew, who possessed a pleasant, artistic soul. When he carved a headstone, the modest forehead of his wife hovered before him. That is why he carved little deer with foreheads of devoted, religious, Jewish women. His lions jumped in religious fervor toward G-d. His little daughter, Sara, certainly stood behind her father's back and absorbed into her blood the rhythmic tapping of his little hammer and the pleasant scratching of his chisel.
Perhaps it sounds paradoxical that a girl who studied nursing should throw away her profession and take up sculpting.
The blood of Aba, the tombstone etcher, burst into song in her soul. In the hospital she saw a sculpture of Mephistopheles and her father's blood boiled in her and her hands began to knead and form [the clay] and she soon produced marvelous figures.
Jewish society took an interest in her talent and decided to send her to Berlin to study in an art high school.
There, however, she suffered difficult living conditions due to her meager economic circumstances. She could not tolerate this and returned to Lithuania where she once again became a nurse.
In her free hours, she never forgot her artistic future. After work, she molded, with her G-dly blessed hands, the head of a child, an important figure, a form that meant a lot. Her father's blood did not let her rest. She once again left the hospital and [this time] went to Paris in order to devote herself to the artistic world.
The young sculptress rapidly achieved fame in France's capitol city. Sara Gorshteyn lived to fulfill her dream and she wa s accepted into the artistic family of cultural Europe.
However it was not destined for her to work quietly on her sculpted figures. The Second World War breaks out. The famous, Jewish sculptress is driven from camp to camp, from country to country. Sara must experience the whole, gruesome Hitler nightmare.
After the war, she is liberated on Polish soil and settles in Lodzh. She once again takes up her artistic life. Her sculpting work elicits great interest in all circles of society. Many [artistic] critics write important articles about her work.
Her religious father could not permit himself to make a sculpture, because before his eyes there always stood this scriptural passage: Do not make for yourself an idol.
Sara Nekha did permit herself to do this.
In the year 1957, this famous sculptress left Poland and emigrated to the land of Israel. She lives in Tel-Aviv and there continues her [to form] her pleasant, artistic creations. More power to her!
about her? Someone told me that she was in Sventzian. My sister, Rokhl, is even more unfortunate than I am, [because] in such terrible circumstances, she has a child. How much I would like to help her! Once I had more energy and was more agile than she. But today, I cannot even be compared to a [living] person. Whenever there is a commotion, I become very weak and my feet do not workexactly like in a dream: I want to run but am not able. . . . And I am always thinking about death, which will certainly come very soon to the last hundred [people] in Braslav.
Sheyna, Sheyna, Itke and Khonkeall were young [and strong] as trees. How bad I feel for you! You sat until the last minute and waited for death.
In March of 1943, the woods were already full of partisans. And the woods were so close to Breslov [sic]: so dense and dark.
It was your fate to die with the last 100 men of Braslav, [on] the Fast of Esther. The anniversary of your death falls when everyone is rejoicing. Then I am sad and I miss you.
I will never forget you.
Rachel GanTovVoliak (Gantovnick)
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Edited by Jerrold Landau
|My parents: Pesach Voliak Hanah Voliak
My Brothers: Leib and Abraham
My sister: Sheina
It is not true that you live no longer, it is not true that you are no longer alive. It seems to me that we never said goodbye! Forever, until the end of my days, you will always remain within me! In spring, in the heat of the summer days, in the winter when it rains and it is stormy, always and everywhere, you will remain within me!
In moments of despair, I long for you. When it is joyous, bright and sunny, when the orchestras are playing, my tears are forever flowing. On the day of our birth (State of Israel), when everyone is dancing in the streets, when our Jewish soldiers are marching, when Jewish flags are flying over our Jewish heads, the airplanes are flying and the tanks are passing by, then, at that moment, I am overcome with loneliness. Then I see you as in a fantasyeach one of you in his own place, each one in his daily routine.
Sventzian suddenly becomes bright and beautiful again, my wonderful home. But now, only destruction and fire!
My father! I see you in all your glory! You are standing next to me. I see your despair. Your large and creased brow, your deep grey eyes, your mild squint and your gentle smile. From you I inherited so many of these qualities.
Since my early childhood you instilled in me the love of Zion. Because of you, until today, I love this country, exactly the way it is, with all its problems and with all its blessings.
Since my early childhood you planted the seeds: the love for the Tanach which you taught me so well, and how to understand it! In those long winter evenings, we sat around the table and you told us children stories about Chanukah. Until today I still remember the miracle: you understand, dear children, that Jews
were not always spread over the world. Once Jews were a people equal to all other people. There were also many rich Jews, as were others. Matisyahu and Yehuda H'Maccabi beat the Greeks in battle, hundreds against thousands. Each one of us can also be a hero, just like Yehuda H'Maccabi, if only one has the desire. Not far away, a time will come, when the scattered Jews will return to Zion and become a nation again like all other nations. Every Halutz who is now building our land and is using his knowledge to be productive can be compared to Yehuda H'Maccabi.
Our small eyes sparkled and our small cheeks became red, the story(fantasy) played before our eyes.
When I went to sleep, and was about to start dreaming, Eretz Israel appeared in my mind: the Eretz Israel from the Tanach, the Hermon, The Land of Milk and Honey.
All the time I knew in my heart that I will be going to Eretz Israel when I got older. I will be going to build the land of our ancestors.
I didn't forget how you taught me Hebrew and writing. You told me then, that Yiddish is the language of exile(diaspora). You taught me that we will live to see the birth of our nation, and the birth of a new language, which will unite Jews all over the world, even though they speak many other languages.
I remember your words, when we were separated in the Postov Ghetto: I strongly hope, my child, that we shall see each other again, but, if not, (Halila)*that he who is fortunate to survive, by any means possible, must reach the Holy Land.
I felt your advice, through all my difficulties, through fire and water, I finally arrived here in Eretz Israel.
You taught me to excel, to study hard and to read a lot, to love books until the very end! You told me: you must always keep studying! Always search for new ideas! And remember, never forget what you were taught beforehand.
You instilled in me the love for hard work! You were the first to tell me not to be ashamed of hard work! Work does not define the man. The man defines his work! Our people were once tailors and shoemakers. From you, my dear father, we children, inherited from you the inspiration to write poetry and to build sentences(construct), no one in our gymnasia(school) was even close to competing with us. From you, dear father, I inherited your drive, your ambition. You were heaven and earth to me. Your name amongst your students, who are now scattered throughout the world, remains Holy.
You raised your students with enthusiasm for work and Halutz(to make Aliyah to Israel). You were the first to show them the road to our land (Eretz Israel). Therefore, until today, they remember you raising funds in Sventzian for the founding of our future state.
Several years before the first World War you founded a club for Workers, you taught them Tenach.(bible) Even your hours of rest were devoted to this cause. A few years later you established the school Metukan in Sventzian. You invited a teacher from Russia to Sventzian, and every hour was devoted to learning. You fought hard with the others, before they accepted this new idea. After the first World War you were a teacher and one of the founders of the Tarbut School in Sventzian. It became a difficult struggle with the Yiddishists, but you stood your ground.
Education was your entire life, until the very end! Even in the worst of times, you always had a book in your hand. On our journey to the Postov Ghetto, you gathered the children around you and taught them, saying, you may forget everything after the war is over and you will have a proper education.
We didn't forget your teachings, Dear Father, like other children. We ran together with you in rain, in frost, in wind and in storms. Death was running after us!
In 1942, 11 Kislev, you were prepared to escape to the forests to fight those murders, saying, we are lost children, only one option remains for us now: Go to the forests, take Revenge for all the spilled blood!
12, Kislev, you were murdered in the Daugulishker Ghetto, together with our mother and Abraham.
How deep is my longing for you, Mother! You were the very symbol of goodness for us children and for everyone. When I ask myself a question now, what is the meaning of being good?, I say, That is my mother! My mother would not only share her daily bread, she was ready to give her last pair of shoes and her last shirt to the needy. When the Germans came to us(probably WW1) she gave up her bed and slept on the duvet, saying, I am in my own home, let them feel that they are home(welcome).
Melech and Boruch, the 2 boarders that lived with us, said: your mother is a kind and noble soul, such a woman is hard to find. Mother, you never believed that robbers were in our midst, so you always kept your door open.
You didn't believe in falsehoods that were spoken by people, because you were so honest. You never told a lie in your life, you never believed that man could be so evil, one against the other.
That is why you always forgave everyone and you only had pity for them and their ways. You saw the good in everyone, never the bad, because you were the good one. That is why, until your very last moment, you did not believe the Evilness of Hilter's Killing Machine! You thought, until the very last minute, this could never happen! That good and kind people will not be put to Death! You were the Light in our darkest hour!
You were religious and we loved your piety. You honored all the commandments of the Torah. We loved to listen to your wise and kind advise, illuminated through your every word!
We loved our home and each and every day. You welcomed the holiday each week. You never hit us children. You never got angry at us and we always listened to you and adored you, not out of fear, but out of love.
You were selfless, you were raised by righteous Rabbis and Tzedakim, but you never bragged about this. You only spoke to us about this, and we loved to listen to these stories.
You instilled the love for Eretz Israel in our hearts! And of the Halutzim. You never questioned their religiousness. Your words were: They are performing a great Mitzvah that they are rebuilding our homeland!
From you, Dear Mother, we inherited your generosity towards others and for this we thank you!
My Brothers: Leib and Abraham
First, you inherited all the goodness from our mother. You were the symbol of goodness, kind and righteous. Our mother said: it suits you to be Tzedakim, like herself, you looked for only the goodness in people. You supported everyone and never wanted to hear bad words (disrespect) against another. You never looked down any anyone with your knowledge and education. You were always ready to share your knowledge. You not only loved school, but you also loved nature no wonder you became teachers of nature (biology) and geography. You were exactly like our Father, you studied and read
and broadened your knowledge(horizons). This is why you were known as one of the best teachers in Poland, your shelves were full of books. Many of these were full of flowers and insects and various collections of summer birds.
I often see you before me, in the Springtime, when the orange blossoms are budding, and in the wintertime, when the first cold wind blows in. I also see you when the sun rises and the sun sets. In the springtime, when the birds fly to us (Israel) from Poland, they remind me of our hometown. You are a ray of sunshine for me, but suddenly, the evenings are bare and empty and once again I remember those winter nights in our shtetl.
I remember, my dear brother Leib, when you first told me that a tree lives just like a person. How one must love and spare it and not cut it down.
The Deeds of My Brother Abraham
Years and years have gone by and I can still remember your catchy tunes! You were still a child when you first composed most of your songs in the Sventzian Jewish Gymnasia (school).
They were always printed in the journal, Our World. (Sventzian)
In the 4th grade you wrote:
It is woven from sun and lit up by rays
Until today, I have not forgotten My Fantasy which you wrote when you were only 12 years old.
Sunset colors, evening sun
To drown in a sea
I want to count the stars
|During a calm dusk
In a time of beauty, thoughts
When the day ends and dies
And the dark night arrives.
Then I want to go outside quietly
Your translations from Yiddish to Hebrew, your plays and improvisations, everything is dear to me. At every holiday, at every celebration, I sing your songs with all my heart.(my might). I sing them, my heart cries silently, always remembering you!
Your students, who are scattered throughout the world, our small group here in Eretz Israel, remember you with great fondness and miss you as I do. These are the same people with whom you studied in the Seminar.
I want to remind us now about your diary that you kept in the Postov Ghetto, March 25, 1942: spring and springlike sounds, new hopes awake in our hearts! The snow is melting. We are yearning for our freedom, for nature, for the fields and the forests, for green meadows and beautiful and fragrant flowers. All is lost, we have to make peace with the Devil and get accustomed with the Angel of Death.
I see before me with my very own eyes, the birth of a Jewish Nation . Upon the destruction of the German nation, after hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of murdered and destroyed souls, there shall arise an Eretz Israel for those Jews, but will we live to see it? It will be the master of good over evil in this world. There we will be able to return to Zion and Remember, Jerusalem.
How, my dear Abraham, when you were faced with such darkness and despair, were you able to see the sunshine that will arise?
Together with our father, mother, and Leibl, 11 Kislev, 1942, you were ready to go to the forests, but it was not Bashert(God's will). 12 Kislev, you and our parents perished in the Daugelishker Ghetto. Leib, miraculously fled into the forests, and fought against the Germans in the Vorisolov Brigade. All the partisans, and you my brother, fulfilled a great Mitzvah. You took revenge for your murdered wife and child, for your mother and father and sister! But in the end, you also died!
You fought for 2 years as a partisan, only to die a few days before Liberation, July 1944.
My Sister Sheina
I am writing about you at the end, because it takes away all my strength to write about you! I had 1 sister in Poland, the others were all in Eretz Israel. I always leaned on you, and you on me. You never hid anything from me, but there is only 1 thing, in those bitter days, that I hid from you. I always told you that I was not afraid to die, I didn't want to be murdered by the Germans, so when they would bring me to my grave, I would, at that last moment try to escape. I would rather be hit by bullets from behind, instead of facing those murderers. Bravery was not my motive. You had such fear, you spoke endlessly about this! Oy! I was also afraid. You would tell me how lucky I was not to be afraid.
I was afraid, my dear, even more than you. I still had a small child and because of her I wanted to live. This was my secret that I carried in my heart! I didn't want to share this with you, at the same time I wanted to raise your spirits, just like our mother would do!
I see you with that black dress with the white collar in the 5th grade of the Gymnasia. Until today I have your voice, when you sang solo, Quiet, quiet….…
The 2nd time when we were in the Teacher's Seminary in Vilna, in the 5th course, ….
You were chosen to learn Yoskovitch's songs.
In the summer, when we returned home, you taught me those songs and told me stories about school and I shared mine with you.
I received your piece of paper from the Braslav Ghetto. You wrote it in haste, but I read it. I didn't have any means with which to answer you.
Excerpt from the letter: My dear, Perel, according to me, I lost my entire family, my 2 brothers, my father, my mother. The only one remaining is my sister Ruchel, maybe, you have some news about her…
Someone old me she is in Sventzian. My sister Ruchel is worse off than me, in these terrible times, with her small child. How badly I want to help her! Once I had more energy than her, but today, I don't believe I am still human. With every panic I become weaker and weaker, my feet can no longer carry me!
Just like in a dream: I want to run but I can't. I am always thinking about death, which will surely come quickly to the last remaining Jews in Braslav.
Sheina, Sheina, Itzka and Chanka all the young ones, like trees, how sorry I feel for you! You remained in the ghetto until the last minute and waited for your death.
March 1943, the forests were full of partisans. And they were so close to Braslav, such thick and dark forests!
Your fate was to perish along with the remaining 100 Jews of Braslav, the day before Purim.
Your Yarzheit falls on the day when everyone is rejoicing! I am saddened and miss you on this day! I will never forget you!
Yosef Bromberg (Chicago)
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
Tuesday night, the 9th of September 1952, Kopl Sirotka died in New York of a heart attack. He was born in Sventzian in 1906. He attended kheyder during his early childhood years and later went to the Yiddish Elementary School and in 1926 he ended the Yiddish gymnasium of Sventzian.
The small city of Sventzian was one of the most important centers of the Yiddish Culture Renaissance that took place then. At that time, it had a large Yiddish Elementary School, a gymnazium of eight years, an evening school, a division of the Culture League, A large Jewish library, a Drama Club etc.
Kopl Sirotka was one of the most active, most devoted and loyal workers in all of the abovementioned institutions. When a group of social activists in Sventzian decided to erect a building of its own, that
would match the elementary school, Kopl Sirotka was the soul of the building committee. This did not please the Polish authorities, and in 1939 he was sent to the infamous concentration camp, Kartuz-Bereze.
He returned from there sick and maimed. He, nevertheless, went right back to work. He became a teacher in the Jewish school, and several years before the Second World War he traveled to France, where he studied history.
It was his fate to return to Sventzian before the war. Along with the Soviets, he went deep into Russia and there worked for the return of Polish citizens to Poland. From there he went to Germany. He arrived in New York in 1949 and there became involved with the Workmen's Circle. His dream was to become a teacher in a Jewish school. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. He only lived in New York for 3 years. He suffered two heart attacks one right after the other, and he expired during the night between the 9th and the 10th of September.
Rabbi Dr. Yankev Shmuel son of Leyb Minkin, of Blessed Memory
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
Rabbi Dr. Yankev Shmuel was born to his parents, R[abbi] Leyb and Rokhl-Leye, in Sventzian in the year 1882. After leaving his home, he continued his studies in the yeshiva of his Uncel Borukh-Velvl, the Rabbi of Griveh [sic] and Dvinsk. Among those studying Torah in his uncle's yeshiva, he meets and becomes good friends with the person who would later become known as the great Torah scholar, R[abbi] Yitskhok Kook of Jerusalem.
In those times, Germany was the center of the searching and striving Jewish youth of Russia, Poland and Lithuania. Yankev-Shmuel also left Russian and began studying in Berlin and Prague at institutions of higher learning as well as in Hildesheymer Rabbinical Seminary. He later immigrated to America, where he continued his studies in Columbia University and at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1911, after completing his studies in the institutes of higher learning and receiving the necessary titles, he married Miss Penny, the daughter of Rabbi Moyshe Khaim Rabinovitsh (the Lubtsher Rav).
Rabbi Dr. Yankev Shmuel got is first rabbinical position in Canada. He later traveled to New York and worked as a rabbi in a local hospital. Thanks to his devotion to the patients, offering them the necessary words of comfort at the right time, he was much loved not only by the patients but also by the staff.
In addition to his daily work as a rabbi, he was also drawn to writing. While he still lived with his parents in Sventzian, he wrote letters to the then daily Hebrew newspaper HaMelits (in 1895). In America, he wrote prose, poetry and articles about Jewish life for various newspapers. He wrote a monograph about Benjamin Disreali, wrote weekly articles about Jewish life in the world, which were published in all the large daily
newspapers. In 1935, he received the title Doctor of Correspondence. [sic]
After he left his job as rabbi, he devoted himself completely to literary activities. His first book was a novel written in English about Khassidism, which was and important work for English speakers. After that he wrote a large historical book, also in English, about Herod. This book was translated into French, Swedish and Spanish. His book, Abarbanel and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, makes him very popular throughout the world. His last work, which he yet merited to see was, The World of Rambam.
Before he traveled to Israel, he wrote a book entitled, Jewish Heroes Who Made History.
Rabbi Dr. Yankev Shmuel Minkin was not satisfied with [all] of his achievements. His rebellious nature did not quiet down until he was quite elderly. With his works and subjects [sic], he enriched Jewish culture for the American Jewish generation that spoke and lived in English. Even though he lived in America, far from Sventzian, he did not forget Sventzian and together with that devoted man, Betsalel Levinson, of blessed memory, he was one of the first founders of the Sventzian Society in New York. In 1962, he and his devoted wife, Penny, arrived in the land [Israel] where he is amazed at all the Jews have accomplished.
The cruel fate of [his] people does not let him have pleasure for long. In Tel-Aviv on March 13th 1962, he strove
Rafoyl Los (Paris)
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
My town Sventzian. . . Where are you Sventzian, the city [sic] where I first saw the light of day 80 years ago?
How beautiful my town was! How much I love it to this day!
And I wasn't the only one. Everyone who, along with me, lived in its serenity, simplicity and honestyeveryone, who breathed the fresh air of its surrounding woods, its broad fields and meadows, loved it and was proud of the town.
The town took care of everyone like a mother takes care of her children. There was a Visiting the Sick Society, a guesthouse, a tuition-free Hebrew School, an Interest-Free Loan Society, a society to make weddings for indigent brides and so on.
No one had any difficulty recognizing the town's Jews. When, for example, a fire broke out and a family was left without a roof over its head, there immediately appeared in the marketplace a table laden with the best of everything: bread, triangles of fresh or dried white cheese, herring, pickles, cheese, butter and eggs. More than one person would go over to the family whose house had burned and encourage the children to eat: Take something children. Eat in good health. Don't be embarrassed. Among Jews you will have everything you need. Don't worry, soon you will re-build [your house].
Overnight, wooden barracks appeared, and in the morning, this family already had a roof over its head.
Business went on as usual in the marketplace on Wednesday, and in a few days quite a nice sum was collected and the unfortunate family was able to begin rebuilding.
That's what kind of town Sventzian was!
It was also just like that when someone's horse fell or when someone became ill or when some other misfortune occurred.
Jews always helped one another.
I was very young, practically still a child, when I left the town in which I was born. From that day on, for the rest of my life, I carried inside myself an unforgettable [sic] love and strong longing for Sventzian. Everything that I experienced during my childhood years, every event, every episode, every type [of person], every friend everything remained etched in my memory and rooted in my heart.
Until this day I remember clearly and exactly everything that happened then and I see everything before my eyes as if it had just happened yesterday.
If you want to take out of my large pack of memories only one type [of person] and paint him for future generations
it would have to be the simple Jew who was in town called Fayvl the Lettercarrier.
He was a man of very short stature. He was not even one meter fifty [centimeters] tall and he was very lean.
When I got to know him, he was 45 years old. He had a narrow face, a small nose, a sparse little beard and he was, by all opinions, not attractive.
To compensate for that, however, he had other good qualities; his hair was always combed, his clothesclean, his shoespolished. In short, Fayvl's cleanliness shone.
Fayvl was a good person, the kind of person to whom the sayingfor G-d and for peopleapplies.
He was also a sincerely religious Jew. He went to synagogue three times a day to pray and knew how to learn Torah as well. He was considered to be a great Torah scholar.
He would always appear in public with a neat, short beard, his hair nicely combed and his earlocks out of sight: his frockcoatclean and pressed; the front of his shirtclean and white; his tieelegant; his shoesalways polished to a high shine. He was a nobleman in the fullest sense of the word. Everyone respected him. He was not an ordinary mailman who distributes letters.
First of all, he was a kind of civil servant like many other minor officials. In the post office he would stand behind the counter like the other employees. He would answer various questions for those who came in and sort letters and packages: those for gentiles on one side and those for Jews on the other.
Everyone knew that he was to be obeyed. If he told you to go home and not wait, one should leave without any complaints; if he gave advice, he was heeded and the advice followed exactly as he had advised.
Everyone did precisely as Fayvl said. It was known that he was honest to a fault. Fayvl simply did not understand falsity. He was honest to the point of being naïve and believed that it was the only way to behave.
The great immigration at the end of the nineteenth century scattered thousands of Jewish children across the wide
world. In America and in Canada, in Africa and in France, Jewish immigrants were to be found everywhere, but they never forgot where they came from and whom they had left behind in Europe. They sent money home for their parents and for their brothers and sisters, but collecting the money from the post office was very complicated.
When one received the notice from the post office, one had to go to the notary to have one's signature confirmed. Since not everyone could write Russian, they had to go to a writer, and that could cost money. It was a difficult and lengthy process.
Jews looked for ways around such problems, and it was decided that it would be best if relatives sent the money directly to Reb Fayvl's address. As a civil servant working in the post office, he was indeed given the money with no problem.
The people from Sventzian all across the world slowly learned that they should send money only to Fayvl Shapiro.
Fayvl soon became the town's banker. Every evening one could see mothers and fathers, young wives, grown children going to Fayvl to collect their money.
One would get 5 dollars, another10, 15 or sometimes even 25. Everyone would thank Fayvl and leave him a gift for his efforts.
Everyone also knew that Fayvl had an extra ruble lying in his drawer. Merchants took advantage of this and would come to him for an interest-free loan.
I remember, for example, when Henye Folkes, a shopkeeper of a hardware store, came to him for an interest-free loan.
R' Fayvl listened to what she had to say and told her that he did have 10 rubles, but that it was Yeshayahu the paver's money. He had left town and would come for it the day after tomorrow, so he could lend the money only for two days.
Henye responded to this by saying, Day after tomorrow? You'll have the money back by tomorrow evening after the market closes.
And that is exactly how it was. The next day after the market closed, Henye returned the 10 rubles to him. Fayvl was happy,
that he was able to do her a favor and the paver did not suffer any loss.
In this way he was able to do favors every week for the market.
Not always, did doing such a good deed, work out for the best. It often happened that the money was not returned to Fayvl at the right time. Then he, unfortunately, suffered great heartache, and he himself had to run to take out an interest-free loan in order to be able to return the money that had been left with him.
Fayvl's children saw that this would bring
their father great misfortune, so they put an end to it. Fayvele [sic] stopped making interest-free loans with money that wasn't his.
In the meantime, the First World War started. People stopped sending money and Fayvele was not longer a banker. At that time, I too left Sventzian and never saw Fayvl again. Whenever I think of him, it is always with affection and respect.
Translated by Meir Razy
Rabbi David Kuritzki decided to leave Sventzian and move to central Russia after the beginning of the First World War. He made arrangements for rescuing his family, but he did not forget the needs of the public and the community.
Among other things, Rabbi David undertook it upon himself to ensure the safety of all the Torah scrolls and the holy articles of the Great Synagogue. He hired a large carriage for the journey and hid the great property of the synagogue that the community had put in his hands.
The passengers stopped several times along the way and prayed in public. They carefully removed the holy articles from their hiding place for a short while for that purpose. After a long and unsettling journey they finally reached their destination, the city of Homel, where he decided to settle with his family until quieter times.
In Homel, too, his home was always open to all and his vigilance and public activity did not stop. A group of Chovevei Zion and Hebrew language lovers was organized thanks to his initiative. He founded a Hebrew kindergarten and a special school for refugee children with Hebrew as the sole language of instruction.
His house served as a gathering place of the Youth of Zion since his older daughters belonged to the group. One of the rooms was used a few evenings a week for Hebrew classes.
His Zionist activity did not cease even after the Bolshevik Revolution when the entire movement had to go underground. Despite the danger, he agreed that all the meetings would be held in his home, and all the Jews in the city knew that the Zionist life of the entire community was concentrated there.
From an economic point of view, Rabbi David managed to establish himself very well. He was involved in wholesale. In the first years of the war he made a very nice living and earned enough for all his needs.
The wheel of fortune turned against him with the eruption of the revolution! His name was put on a blacklist that was posted in all the government offices. If caught he would certainly be put to death as a bourgeoisie. His eldest daughter, Shifra, had saved his life at the very last minute. She took him in the darkness of the night and moved him safely across the RussianPolish border.
He arrived at Sventzian penniless after many troubles. He did not despair, and as he always did, and began to look for sources of income again. His financial situation soon improved and he decided to bring his family back from Russia.
His wife Genendel and his five younger children arrived a year later. The adult children had to stay in the Soviet Union. The son Yosef was an electrical engineer there, and the two daughters, Zippora and Shifra, were pharmacists.
The public life of Sventzian after the war was active and bustling. Rabbi David Kuritzki was once again in the center of action in the city. Everyone praised his courage in saving the Torah scrolls and holy articles. They commended his wife, Genendel, who managed to smuggle this important public property into Polish territory in particular. She used to tell, even years later, how customs officers inspected all her possessions and scattered everything over the snow, but she managed to bring all the precious cargo with her.
Her son Hanoch was a little boy then and he helped. His fingers froze, got stuck to articles and bled in the cold, open field. But he did not flinch or cry and helped his mother to save the articles.
The entire Jewish population suffered from great economic difficulties after the war. Most of the families had to recover economically. Rabbi David Kuritzki jumped into this vortex with all his soul. He established charitable institutions; he founded various funds and companies to assist the needy.
The Benevolence Fund that would give unsecured loans played the most important role among all these institutions. In addition, life in the Jewish community could not be described without the Guarding of the Sick. Rabbi David devoted days and nights to these two institutions. Every Sunday of the week he was busy from morning to evening in charity work. When he was busy in his business, even on market days, he would make time to reply to anyone. At times he left his business to answer an urgent call to help a sick person and lost some business as a result. He often sat next to a seriously ill patient until midnight, supporting and encouraging him. Patients felt relieved when Rabbi David was with them.
Rabbi David Kuritzki was known as a dedicated Zionist activist, devoted and committed. He was the driving force in all the Zionist enterprises in the city. For decades, he was at the helm of the Zionist movement in Sventzian and the surrounding area. He was one of the founders of the kindergarten and the Tarbut school. He was most active in all the rallies for Keren Kayemet (the Jewish National Fund) and Keren Hayesod (the United Jewish Appeal). He welcomed every Zionist speaker and emissary from the Land of Israel.
He was accompanied to these numerous and blessed, Zionist public activities by his wife Genendel, the daughter of Rabbi Chanoch Ginzburg. She should be praised for the help she gave every pioneer in times of trouble. There were days when she cooked for sick pioneers and often brought them warm clothes, milk and a little fruit confection. His wife Genendel also found great satisfaction in arranging all sorts of banquets and raffles for the city's Zionist and public institutions.
The David Kuritzki House quickly became famous throughout the region and became the single address for any needy person. All those who lost their property flocked there and always received generous support and encouragement from Rabbi David.
David and Genendel's great dream was to immigrate to Israel. In old age they decided to sell the house and to immigrate as Capitalists. It soon became clear to them that the sum they would get was not enough to receive a certificate as Capitalists. They then put their trust in their daughters to request certificates for family reunification.
Fortunately, their daughter Shifra had succeeded in immigrating to Israel and then daughter Chaya immigrated too. Their vision was finally realized in 1935 and they immigrated to Israel and settled in Petah Tikva. Their son, Moshe, arrived four years later, and their daughter Yehudit with her children arrived after World War II. This time their joy was bittersweet since Yehudit came as a widow. The Germans murdered her husband Eliyahu Margalit when they invaded France.
After the War of Independence, Rabbi David and Genendel moved to Kibbutz Gvat, where Chaya and Yehudit had built their homes. There, too, Rabbi David worked diligently in bookkeeping and was involved in economic and social life.
Rabbi David passed away in the ripe age of eighty on the 24th day of Elul 5711 (1951). His wife moved with her daughters to Kibbutz Yifat.
Finally, it is worth noting that the eldest son Yosef, the engineer, was exiled to Siberia as a punishment for his Zionist activity. Daughters Shulamit and Tzipora are residing in Russia and yearn for Aliyah. Hanoch was murdered by the Nazis in the Bialystok ghetto.
This is the story of the family of Rabbi David Kuritzki zl.
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