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[Col. 501]

The Teacher, Dvoyre Fisher

M. Shutan

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

Dvoyre Fisher was born in Grodne in the year 1869. There she graduated the gymnasium and took pedagogic course.

When she was young she was active in the Bund organization. At that time she thought she would make her living as a simple worker and toward that end she learned to sew and became a seamstress.

This work, however, did not satisfy her dynamic nature and she traveled to Petersburg, where she attended the local university.

Right before the First World War started, she arrived in Sventzian and became a teacher. She was a teacher, a director and a cultural activist for close to 30 years. She devoted all of her creative energy and experience to her work. She was never satisfied with the study plan. Just the opposite, she would very often push it aside and bring a book or a newspaper and read an article or a story from there and lead a discussion with her students. By doing this, she wanted to develop in them a sense of responsibility and spirit [sic] for the time.

Whoever found himself close to her, especially during a [school] play, felt that she was actually performing along with the child, that she wanted to make the role easier for him. And more than once her smile during the scene encouraged the small actor and helped him from being a failure.

As much as the children's parents, she would share in the joy of their children. She would understand their happiness as well as their pain.

Her approach to the students of the older classes was different. “Children, soon you will have to say farewell to this school. You should know that the difference between a child and an adult is that memory works better in a child and understanding in an adult.

I know that most of you to not have

[Col. 502]

the wherewithal to continue your studies You will certainly have to work. That is why, we, your teachers, want you to leave school as independent and self-aware people.”

At the end of the school year, the school would arrange a special leaving party. The teacher, [Ms.] Fisher, would be sincerely sorry to see the children leave and would say to them as she pressed everyone's hand in a friendly manner:

 

Unforgettable Weeping

“Do not forget your school.”

Her pupils will never forget that spring morning in 1937. Teacher Fisher entered the classroom, as usual, with her friendly “Good morning.” All the students spontaneously stood up and responded to their teacher's greeting. Their teacher put down her grade book, took the chair and sat sadly down.

The pupils at first waited patiently for her to begin the lesson. Their teacher, however, remained sitting silently. With a doleful glance she looked at the walls of the classroom, the closet with its glass doors. She peered through the open window that looked out over the courtyard, where the old chestnut tree stood, [and recalled] the many happy hours she had spent in its shade with her dear pupils. There she saw her Moysheles, Shloymeles, Feygles and Soreles as they used to hold hands and sing and dance around in a circle with her. Suddenly, she wrung her hands, dropped her head and broke out into loud weeping.

All of us, the students in her class, stood as if we were made of stone. No one dared to ask, no one understood what had happened to her.

After several minutes, she drew a handkerchief out of her cuff and wiped the tears away from her face, then said to us; “Children, the Magistrate of Sventzian has decided

[Col. 503]

to throw us out of this building and turn it into a Polish elementary school.”

“Why don't they build their own building?” one student asked.

“Because it is much easier for them to throw us out,” she answered. “We will have to vacate this building by the end of the school year.”

Of course, we did not learn anything in that class, and a heated discussion took place around this problem.

 

The Great Miracle

Several days later there was a meeting of all the teachers and the members of the parents' committee, in which were: Valodye Taraseyski, Dr. Binyomin Kavarski, Leyser Kavarski, Sora Katsizne and others. It was decided to call a meeting of the parents at the community center.

There were many speakers at that meeting, but all agreed that a new building should be built and a nicer one.

One person on the committee expressed the following opinion, as did others:

“Comrades and friends, what does a pauper do, when he has no bread? He eats khale[1] and butter. This is what we must do. Just to spite our enemies, we will now build a new school of our own, a nicer one and a better one than the one we had up to now.”

His words caused all to give him a rousing ovation.

Everyone immediately got down to work.

Ts. Y. Sh. A.[2] created a special fund. All members contributed. They received help from various sources. A short time later a suitable place was found. Nakhum Gordon, the engineer, presented a plan and the building was finally begun.

At a joyous ceremony, Lippe Shutan (the father of M. Natish, the poet who died young) placed the first foundation stone.

All the Jews had a hand in this work: wagon drivers, masons, carpenters, tinsmiths and artists. Everyone worked: old and young, students and teachers…and the great miracle happened.

Right at the beginning of the new school year, the building stood in all its beauty.

[Col. 504]

True, around it there was still sand, lime, stones and boards.

At the dedication ceremony there were delegates from all the surrounding towns as well as from Vilne and Warsaw.

The mood was festive, happy. The delegates greeted the builders and creators of the new school. Everyone wished the teachers success and joy in their path of raising children and prayed that they merit health, happiness and an aware Jewish generation.

 

In the New Building

During the whole ceremony, the teacher, Ms. Fishman, stood with the children and tears of happiness and joy ran down her aged, wrinkled face.

Delighted, she looked at the new building with its bright windows and truly beamed with happiness.

All of a sudden the heard the singing of the Yiddish school hymn. The teacher, Ms. Fishman, caught herself and said to us: “Come, children, we are going to learn in our own building.”

With bright faces we ran to the new building. Behind us our elderly teacher walked quite briskly. Proudly and energetically, she entered the new building.

In wide, nicely decorated corridor we joined the other people and all together we sang the hymn of the Jewish schools.

In Sventzian, a new era started for the Yiddish school system. Unfortunately, it did not last long, because the Second World War was standing on the threshold.

 

“I will share the fate of all Jews.”

The tragic fall of 1941 came. The murderous Germans raged and shook the deepest foundations of our deeply-rooted Jewish lives.

In those days one could see, a shadow slithering over the streets of Sventzian. This was a shadow of a small, old woman, in tattered clothes with a hoary hear of gray hair and a deeply lined face.

This was our dear, teacher, Ms. Fisher, who was paying a call to comfort a mourner, to ease

[Col. 505]

someone's sadness, to help someone with a warm word, with a happy glance.

“It is impossible. This will not last long. The Red Army will come and soundly defeat them.” This is how she would talk to the despairing people.

And days passed, weeks until…until they too were taken away, along with the other Jews of Sventzian, to Poligon.

Right from the very first days, people there sensed that they were dealing with wild sadists, with barbarians.

People went out of their minds. In the confined quarters, hands and feet twisted together.

And suddenly, one heard a human voice in hell, “Oh, Esterl, you are also here?”

[Col. 506]

“Oh, good morning teacher,” a young girl responded.

People wanted to take the teacher, Ms. Fisher, out of the camp.

“Let them take out those who are younger than I am,” she insistently and determinedly answered. “I will share the fate of all Jews.”

*

Now in Poligon there is a large hill overgrown with grass and surrounded by sparse pine trees. That is the mass grave of the martyrs of Sventzian.

There too lie the bones of our devoted teacher, Devoyre Fisher.

Footnotes:

  1. Sabbath bread. [Trans.] Return
  2. I am not sure what this abbreviation stands for. [Trans.] Return

Rabbi Moshe Svirski

by H. Gurevitz

Translated by Meir Razy

Rabbi Moshe Svirski was born in the town of Svir near Vilna (today in Belarus), to his parents Meir-Eliyahu and Sarah-Rivka on July 27, 1882. The family moved to Sventzian. Meir-Eliyahu bought flour from the well-known mills in Poland and sold it to bakeries and stores. He was also buying flax seed and flax for oil pressing shops and spinning mills.

Moshe Svirski studied in Sventzian with the well-known Jewish teachers of the time. In 1897 he moved to Vilna to add general education and more Torah studies. As a young man he was one of the founders of the “The Revival”, the first Zionist association in Vilna. In 1905 he was one of the leaders of the S.R. party – the Revolutionary Socialists. He started his long and dedicated public service activities in August 1915, before the Russians left Vilna.

When the Russians left Vilna, many residents and public figures left too. Among the people who stepped in to replace the local leadership was Moshe Svirski, who began his activity in the food distribution Bureau. His thoroughness in the distribution of food satisfied the new German rulers, and they even extended the authority of the food distribution Bureau. The authorities exempted people who could not pay taxes on the basis of letters of recommendation letters by the Director of the Bureau.

[Col. 506]

After the war ended in 1918 Vilna changed hands and the newly independent Poland occupied Vilna and the surrounding area in 1919. They arrested many Jews as “dangerous” elements and sent them to military concentration camps in Poland. Many Jews were imprisoned for no real reason and the Vilna community asked Moshe Svirski to take upon himself the great Mitzvah of liberating the Jewish prisoners. He was chosen together with Rabbi Zalman Kleinstein for this mission despite his reluctance.

The delegation travelled to the camps in Volkobysk and Bialystok, witnessed the attitude of the jailers, and decided to go to Warsaw to see the Chief of State Marshal Pilsudski and ask him to intervene in favor of the prisoners.

In Warsaw they met with the well-known lawyer Demidovitz-Demidetsky, a good friend of Pilsudski. With his help, they received a permit to visit all the camps and to provide assistance to the prisoners.

After their return to Vilna they called a special meeting in which they described their journey. It was decided not to settle for what had been achieved and to continue to work for the release of the prisoners. A legal committee of attorney Smileg and Moshe Svirski was chosen.

The authorities of the concentration camps did not recognize the committee's powers and delayed its work. The members of the committee appealed to the late Rabbi Rubinstein and to the local Governor Osmolowski, who served in Vilna on behalf of the Polish government, to ask Warsaw to give more authority to the committee. They decided to turn again to lawyer Demidovitz-Demidetsky to arrange a meeting with Marshal Pilsudski for this purpose.

[Col. 507]

The Marshal received Moshe Svirski with great friendship and assured him that everything would end peacefully.

Rabbi Moshe Svirski returned to Vilna and Governor Osmolowski set up a competent committee for the legal investigation of all prisoners, both Jews and other ethnicities. Moshe Svirski was nominated to this committee too. The committee examined a total of 5,667 indictments and released about 82% of the prisoners. In February 1924, Moshe Svirski was elected as a member of the Board of the Keren Hayesod (the Jewish National Fund) of the Lithuanian Zionist Center in Vilna, and was appointed chief executive. He was not paid for his work.

The two younger brothers of Rabbi Moshe, Yoseph and Aryeh, should be remembered for their generosity. They enabled him to devote himself to public work while keeping him an equal partner in their joint business.

Moshe Svirski immigrated with his family to Eretz Israel in October 1924. He began his public career in Eretz Israel when he was elected to the board of the Kupat Am Bank in Tel Aviv and after a short time he was elected chairman. A few years later he became vice president of the bank.

In the early 1930s he was elected to the Chamber of Commerce and was sent by the Chamber of Commerce to the “Kofer Ha-Yishuv” (=Ransom for Building Settlements) donation initiative. In his capacity he organized the general import tax in support of the Haganah (=the National Guard of the Jewish communities). “Kofer Ha-Yishuv” defense fund was headed by Pinchas Rutenberg who built the hydro-electric power station near Lake Kineret and Moshe Svirski was most active in raising the funds. After they faced some resistance from local businesses, a court was established to enforce payments. The head judge was Dr. Bart z”l and Moshe Svirski was one of the judges.

The British Mandate government appointed Moshe Svirski as a mediator on labor relations. The Jewish National Committee appointed him as a judge on the Supreme Court and he served in this role until the State of Israel regulated its courts after 1948. The National Committee established a Security Committee, which was known as the “Committee H” and Moshe Svirski was appointed as a representative on behalf of the Jewish Agency, the National Committee, the Civil Society and the Chamber of Commerce. “Committee H” was headed by Moshe Shertok, later Sharett, the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister of Israel.

Arab terrorism between 1936 and 1939 and the call to enlist in the British Army during the Second World War emphasized the need of strengthening the Haganah's defense capabilities. The National leadership set up a committee to organize a fundraising campaign called the “Fund for Mobilization” and when news of the events in the Europe (the Holocaust) arrived they also added “Rescue” to the name. The management of the fundraising campaign was run by five members. Moshe Svirski was one of them.

During the crisis of the “black Sabbath”[1] in the summer of 1946 some of the leaders of the Jewish population were arrested and incarcerated in the Latrun Jail and some fled abroad. Subsequently, a committee called “Committee X” was established.

[Col. 508]

The Committee consisted of seven members representing all the factions of the population. Moshe Svirski was one of the members of “Committee X” from the day it was founded until the day the Government of Israel established public committees.

It should be noted that Moshe Svirski was engaged in his work voluntarily, both in Israel and abroad. In Israel, Mr. Svirski was always engaged in commerce, orchards and industry.

We are proud that Moshe Svirski developed his integrity and dedication to public service in our city of Sventzian.

 

Yoseph and Batya Svirski?

Yoseph ben Moshe Dov Svirski was born in 1877 in Sventzian. From his youth he excelled in his commitment to public service and devotion to helping others. Yoseph married Batya, the daughter of Meir-Eliyahu and Sarah-Rivka (the sister of Moshe), in 1902. His work for the public found its greatest support in his wife, Batya, who helped in all his efforts. She used to say: “If we have no children we will help others in what we can, in order to alleviate their distress.” She would always welcome his co-workers and took an active part in their discussions. They listened to her words, which were spoken with reason and knowledge.

When the First World War broke out and the economic situation was very poor in Sventzian, they both set out to help people. Their house was open to every passer-by. When the Germans expelled the local citizens, including the Jews, from their homes near the front, the Svirskis brought the homeless into their home and extended their hand to people in need. After the war was over, Yoseph was sent as Sventzian's elected representative to all the YEKAPA (“The Jewish Support Organization”) conferences. He was chosen as the emissary of the Jews to the city's municipal council. He headed the institutions: “Guarding the Sick”, the municipal “Charity Association”, the People's Bank, the Tarbut School, etc. There was no public institution in the city where he did not take part as one of the most active delegates. His devotion to the common need knew no bounds. He was energetic, honest, and pleasant.

He had never despaired in difficult situations. On the contrary, he always found a way out of the problem. His spirit was always good. We can say about the couple, as was said of Saul and Jonathan: “the lovely and the pleasant in their lives”[2]. They were happy in their public work in which they found great satisfaction.

They were forced to leave their beloved Sventzian in the 1930s and they moved to Vilna. Batya, blessed with many good deeds, passed away in 1932, and Yoseph, an exceptional and active person for the community, perished in the Holocaust in the Vilna Ghetto.

May their souls be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.


Translator's footnotes

  1. The writer erred and wrote 1947. The actual date was June 29, 1946. For more information see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Agatha Return
  2. Second Samuel Chapter 1, 23 Return


[Col. 509]

Yitche Ber the Beadle
and the ‘Pritze’ Woman Landowner

Ben Ir

Translated by Meir Razy

When Yitche was young he used to be a Torah Teacher (Melamed) but as he got old he abandoned teaching and became a beadle in the new synagogue. He was naturally lazy and a joker. People forgave the neglect in the synagogue as they enjoyed his jokes. He was the senior beadle and there was a junior assistant–beadle. Yitche used to wander among the rows of seats in the synagogue for hours, pushing tobacco into his nose while calculating numerology and abbreviations. His face would light up when he stumbled upon something he considered meaningful and he rushed to tell and explain his new discovery to whoever was ready to listen to him.

Once Rabbi Pinchas Rozovski invited him and Israel, the beadle of the Old Synagogue, to sign as witnesses on a “Get” (=divorce papers). Yitche Ber asked to be first to sign, explaining that it is written in the Bible (Deuteronomy 17) “The hand of the witnesses shall be the first against him” and since the word “hand” in Hebrew “Yad” matches his initials Yitzhak Dov (=bear in Hebrew) – he should be the first to sign. The Rabbi accepted his request.

Mordechai Getze was a rich man. He liked to control everything but refused to become the treasurer of the synagogue. This, he considered, was below his dignity. He used to command the treasurers and control them. On the Shabbat of my Bar–Mitzvah he demanded to be called for the reading of the Torah because of a memorial service he had had. He insisted on reading the part of “Haftara” (=it is customary that the Bar–Mitzvah boy reads this last portion of the weekly Torah portion) so my Bar Mitzvah was delayed to the following week. The poor beadles could not stand in his way.

One Saturday morning Mordechai Getze came to pray at the synagogue. His reserved place was, of course, near the arc. He took off his fur and wanted to put it on the counter next to him when he noticed that the counter was very dusty. He shouted “Yitche Ber!” Yitche approached him and Mordechai Getze pointed at the dust, saying “Two beadles and no one cleans”. Yitche hurried to the sink and brought a towel and while walking back he came up with a joke. He told the rich man: “If you can tell me why the Siddur contains the prayer YEKUM PURKAN twice I will tell you why there are two beadles in the synagogue”.

[Col. 510]

The rich man thought for a second and replied “OK, tell me” and Yitche answered “There are two so if one of them got lost – there is still one for the job”. The rich man smiled and reconciled.

In addition to being a beadle he had another source of income. He could expel bad spirits and nullify the evil eye and heal some diseases by whispering special magic words. I once asked him if believed that his whispers were effective and he replied “I will tell a story and you can judge for yourself”.

One day I was sitting at home and my wife complained bitterly that we owed the baker money and she cannot beg again to delay the payment, but there is no bread for supper at home. I said that a memorial service was planned for the following day and another memorial service was planned for the day after and people give me money at the end of memorial services, so please ask for another delay. I also felt bad. A two–horse carriage stopped in front of my house at that moment – I was called to the estate of a rich woman to heal her from Erysipelas (=a skin disease, normally on the leg, a “Rose”). The peasant horseman brought in a sack of potatoes as an advance payment and asked me to hurry because the woman is suffering. I ran to the synagogue for my Tallit and off we went. I checked the woman and saw that her leg was very red and very hot. I asked for rye flour, water and a thick sheet of paper. I prepared dough from the flour and water, spread it on the paper, turned to the wall and whispered my special words and placed the concoction on her leg. I added that I will have to whisper again later in the evening. The woman ordered her staff to take me to the local inn and instructed the innkeeper to host me and to feed me. The innkeeper's wife served a nice supper with cheese, butter, eggs and cream – a kings' supper! I returned to the estate before night, replaced the dressing and whispered again and returned to the inn. I got up with all the peasants early in the morning, prayed and returned to the rich woman, who cheerfully welcomed me, saying she feels much better.

[Col. 511]

I checked her leg which was less red and the temperature was down as well. I prepared another dressing, whispered again and completed the healing.

The woman gave me a whole Ruble and ordered the horseman to take me home and instructed the Farm Manager to send my family a present. I thanked her and left for home. In the carriage I found a basket with a package of tea, sugar and eggs, a sack of potatoes and another sack full of vegetable, and she ordered the innkeeper to give me a large ball of cheese and two pounds of butter. The innkeeper invited me for breakfast but I wanted to hurry home. We arrived home by noon, asked my wife to set the samovar and prepare a nice meal for us and our daughters.

So now you tell me if my whispers are useful.

 

A Memorial for the Holly Souls from the First World War and the October Revolution in Russia

A military punishing unit arrived at Sventzian from Lithuania on a bright day in 1919. Without saying a word and for no reason they had captured six Jews: Zeev Bromberg and his two sons, Eliyahu Shpiz, Menachem Titeleboim and Hannan Vilkomirsky and also two Polish men from the village of Margomashuek, and murdered them very cruelly. Later on it we found out that this was done simply to terrify the local population.

Eliyahu Shpiz was a very imaginative man. He was called “Eltchik the shingle maker”. As a young man he worked as a wood cutter making wooden tiles in the forest. He learned the wood business and became a wood merchant. He built a leather processing factory in Sventzian and later relocated it to Bromberg. He also built a steam–powered flour–mill on Stronoyzer Street.

His daughter–in–law, Chayka, was a wonderful woman, loved by everyone. Her brother was a Physician. We can learn about the attitude of the Czar's government towards the Jews from his fate. He married the daughter of the lawyer Gavanda and was drafted by the army when the war with Japan (1903–1904) broke out. He was sent to the battlefields of Manchuria.

The Russian military camps suffered from Typhoid and the doctor worked tirelessly to heal the sick but eventually got sick and died. The widow applied for pension for herself and her little son but the authorities refused. Her appeal had reached a High Court that declined her request because Doctor Berman did not die fighting but from a disease. This was the attitude for the Russian Government towards the Jews who died for it.

[Col. 512]

Rabbi Shalom Matzkin, His Way and His Yearnings

I can see him standing in front of me as if he is alive with his dignity, with a long beard that shows a few white wisps, arriving at the synagogue for morning prayers, leaving with the last of the two praying quorums. A great deal of work is still ahead of him: Birkat Hashachar (=The Sunrise Blessing), public prayers, reading the Psalm chapters for that day and more. Towards the evening he is again among the first to arrive for Mincha (=the afternoon prayer). Between Mincha and Maariv (=the evening prayer) he sits listening to the lesson in Mishnayot that the Rabbi gives to his audience, and after Maariv he returns home and does his work until late at night.

On Shabbat he was busy at the synagogue for most of the day. He would appear at the synagogue, washed and combed, dressed in Shabbat clothes at sunset on Friday, sit at his place in the south side, not far from the brother Shimon, and read the Song of Songs in a tune. He had arrived even before the last of the merchants closed their shops.

After receiving the Sabbath, he returns home with the blessing of Shabbat for his family, singing “Shalom Aleichem” and “A Woman of Valor Who Will Find”[1] and the sanctity of the Sabbath fills the home. He participates in all classes after the Shabbat meal in the winter evenings, on Shabbat mornings, noon and in the afternoon before the Mincha Prayer, classes that dealt with the weekly Torah portion, Midrash Rabbah and in Study of Mishnaiot. He returns to the synagogue again after the Third Meal and takes part in reciting Psalm chapters in public and departs from “Sabbath the Queen” with longing and yearnings of his heart.

[Col. 512]

Survivors and Repentants from the Time of the Czar and Their Earlier Conducts

Our parents used to tell about soldiers in the army of the Czar Nikolay the First who were kidnapped at the age of eight or ten and served in the army for twenty five years. They were sent to peasants' farms as workers, learning how to work and accept discipline during the time between the kidnapping and the age of conscription. Our parents also told us about maims that mothers inflicted on their sons to make them unsuitable for military service. I met the three types of men: the soldiers, the kidnapers and the cripples.

I saw the three old men who were released from army of the Czar Nikolay the First. They were taken while still going to the Cheder and spent thirty five years away. When they returned they could not find their parents, only their graves. One of them fought in the Crimean War in 1859 and received two medals that he used to put on during holidays or when he was going to receive his pension of three Rubles and sixty Kopeks.

[Col. 513]

On the other hand there was Yassa the Kidnapper who, as a young man, kidnapped the boys that the leaders of the community selected for the army. At old age he became blind and was sitting near the stove in the synagogue, reciting Psalm chapters by heart. Sometimes he forgot the words and asked us, the children, to read to him from the Book of Psalms he was holding. It happened that we were kidding, asking him “Rabbi Yassa, is it true that you kidnaped children?” He got very angry and chased us with his cane, swearing at us. Rabbi Bentzy–Chaya–Rives saw this and once told us: “You should not remind someone who repented of his sins.”

Rabbi Isaac was the Jew who was maimed by his mother in order to save him from the army. She chopped his toes with an axe, saying it was better to have a crippled son than to lose him forever. He grew up to be a prominent Torah scholar. After the death of his wife he moved to and lived in the Old Synagogue where he studied Torah around the clock.

He kept a little pillow on one of the benches in the back of the synagogue; his coat served him as a blanket. He kept his Shabbat garments, Tallit and Tefillin in a wooden box. He ate at Zalman Rashke's, his in–law, who was proud to have such a Torah scholar as his in–law. Zalman live on Vilner Street in the home of Kepale the Medic and was in charge of the Charity Box of the synagogue.

[Col. 514]

The Doctor Orlov Chops Wood on Shabbat and Rabbi Rozovsky's Grief

I was eleven years old towards the end of the nineteenth century. One Shabbat afternoon my parents were asleep and I played outside with my friends. One of Chaim Matzkin's sons came running and told me that his mother is very sick and his father asked to summon my mother to help her. We went inside to call my mother who hurried to the sick woman's home but sent us to call on Doctor Orlov. The Doctor checked the sick woman and said she needed hot compresses urgently.

My mother knew that is was allowed to desecrate the Shabbat when life is at stake and went outside looking for wood to light a fire. When she could not find small pieces she asked the men to chop the bigger pieces but they refused to desecrate the Shabbat, so she sent me to the synagogue to ask Rabbi Pinchas Rozovsky if it was allowed. He replied “Of course. If they will not agree to chop the wood – come back here and I will go to chop wood myself and light the fire.” When I came back to the house I saw Doctor Orlov chopping the wood and my mother tending to the fire. When the doctor heard the Rabbi's verdict he was very satisfied and said “You have an illustrios Rabbi. I heard about him from our Priest.” Mother asked me to go back to the synagogue and to tell the Rabbi that he does not have to come after Doctor Orlov and she started the fire.

Rabbi Pinchas Rozovsky said: “What a pity! God offered a great Mitzva (=meritorious deed) to the Jews but they handed it to a non–Jew. Our Laws of Religion say that in a life–threatening situations if it is required to desecrate the Shabbat. You do not ask the foreigners to do it, you do not ask the simple people to do it. It should be done by the leaders and the scholars of Israel.”

 

Sve0514.jpg

 


Translator's footnote

  1. Proverbs, 31, 10 Return


[Col. 515]

R'Asher son of Akiva Kavarski

Dov son of Shloyme (Brooklyn)

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

R' Asher Kavarski was in his time the wealthiest man in Sventzian. He was devoted to all the institutions and societies in the city and very generously supported everyone. That is why he was much honored and very popular both with the Jewish and non-Jewish population.

There was a favored saying in Sventzian that Asher Kavarski's word was law to everyone.

An incident that occurred in Sventzian's large synagogue caused his untimely death.

This was in the year 1905, when the Russian Revolution broke out. The youth of Sventzian also took part in the revolutionary activities, and they thought that the synagogue was the right place to incite the Jewish population.

One Sabbath, these young people entered the synagogue, interrupted the service and one of them stood on the stage to make a speech.

R' Asher Kavarski got very upset and

[Col. 516]

told the congregants to pound on their prayer stands and not permit this desecration of G-d's name.

A great commotion ensued; no one could hear anyone else talking. Asher Kavarski took this very much to heart and became quite ill.

He traveled to other countries and visited the greatest doctors, but no one was able to save him.

At this time, it is an obligation also to mention his father R' Akiva Kavarski, who was a scholar. When he was young, Akiva studied in the Volozhin Yeshiva, and the Netsiv[1] himself was one of his teachers and his spiritual guide.

R' Asher inherited his love of Torah and wisdom from his father. He helped many yeshivas and the yeshiva boys a lot.

R' Akiva Kavarski, however, merited a long life living to be over 100 year old. He died in Sventzian.


[Col. 515]

Dr. Herts Kavarski – Doctor and Social Activist

Sh. Bushkanyets

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita) Turtletaub

Dr. Herts Kavarksi was born in Sventzian in the year 1869. His father, Asher, and his mother, Basye, gave their children both a Jewish and a secular education. At the age of five, Herts went away to kheyder, and at the age of ten he traveled to Riga to attend gymnasium. Upon graduating he received a gold medal along with some of his city friends: Y. Bitsunski and Yoysef Kavarski.

He continued his studies in Dorpat and received his

[Col. 516]

doctorate in 1894. He practiced as a pediatrician in Petersburg and Vilna (in Yakub Hospital).

Until 1905, Herts was an ardent proponent of Zionism. He was one of the most active cultural leaders, giving speeches on nationalist and socialist themes.

Herts served in the army during the Russo-Japanese War working in the military hospitals

[Col. 517]

of Kharbin and Tshita. In Tshita he helped to organize a rebellion among the ranks of the soldiers serving at the front in agreement [with the principles] of the revolution of the time. He was exiled to Irkutsk, Siberia.

He was released a year later and returned home. In 1907, Dr. Herts traveled abroad to gain more practical experience. When he returned he moved to Vilna and became one of the most involved social activists, especially in the field of child care; he started the first children's library, creating places for children to be physically raised [sic]. He created clubs for studying and reading aloud of psychological and pedagogic material concerning children and their on-going development.

He himself made public important work concerning children's diseases and other matters, in popular medical journals in Petersburg, Russia.

His wife, Helena, of the Contsel-Mohilyav family taught piano in the Vilna Conservatory.

During the First World War, Horatsi Osipovitsh, as he was then called, was once again mobilized and worked in the hospitals of Vilna, Kharkov and Moscow. He was presented with many military awards and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

After the October Revolution he returned to

 

Sve0517.jpg
Both brothers: Nosn and Hersh

 

Vilna and was appointed by the government as the head of the Red Cross.

[Col. 518]

Vilna and was appointed by the government as the head of the Red Cross. Then he founded the Children's Hospital in the Jewish community, where he worked until the last day of his life.

In the year 1919, after Sh. Niger (the literary critic) left for America, his place as the Chairman of the Ts. B. K.[2] –the Central Education Committee—was taken by Dr. Kovarski. There he worked together with Dr. Shabad. He put his heart and soul into the building of the Jewish School. He devoted a lot of time, energy, money and health to this project.

 

Sve0518.jpg
Hersh Kavarski in the Russian Army

 

In 1935, Dr. Kavarski visited the land of Israel as the guest of his children and people from his hometown. He was very enthusiastic about his visit. As his daughter, Kavarsky-Berenshteyn [sic], says, when her father visited, he brought with him as gifts stocks in the Jewish Colonial Bank that he had inherited from his father, R' Asher and his grandfather, R' Akiva, who were among the first to answer the call to found the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael.[3] They received those stock in 1901.

(His daughter, Bertha, lives in Tel-Aviv, where she is a teacher of sports and gymnastics. Her husband, Shloyme Berenshteyn, an architect is the grandson of Yoysef Gilinski, a Sventzian attorney).

Dr. Kavarski died in June, 1941 just as the Nazi's were occupying the city of Vilne.

Although abnormal conditions existed in the Vilna Ghetto, the anniversary of Hersh Kavaski's death was memorialized annually. He was an unforgettable person as well as a beloved doctor and social activist.

Footnotes:

  1. The Netziv was Rosh Yeshiva of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva for almost 40 Years until it was closed by the Russian government in 1892. [Trans.] Return
  2. Tsentraler Bildungs Komitet. [Trans.] Return
  3. The Jewish National Fund. It was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine (later Israel) for Jewish settlement. [Trans.] Return


[Col. 519]

Mendl Treger's Fight
with the Soviet Authorities for Judaism

Dr. Moyshe Koritski

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

After the Soviet Army marched into [Sventzian] in September 1939, a large portion of the Jewish youth felt as if they had been released from a great diaspora and given the same rights as the neighboring population, the Poles and the Lithuanians. There were also those who remained levelheaded and looked with suspicion on the whole tumult and sensed the new dangers that awaited the Jews.

Life changed. Millshteyn, the tailor of Lintuper St., all of a sudden came into his own. Impoverished Millshteyn, who seldom worked, now received orders without limit. Everyone wanted a garment made from the remnants that remained in the fabric stores of Sventzian. Peysakh Gldberg and Khesya Shapiro sold everything they still had, even things that were very badly made. Millshteyn even put his assistant, Aba Leyzer, the teacher's son, to work.

In the morning a soldier in the Red Army came in, a young man of about 25, who haled from a White Russian town. Out of curiosity they asked him how Jews lived under the Soviets. It turned out that this young man was a religious [Jew], prayed three times a day and did not eat the trafe[1] food produced by the military mess. The Sventzian Jews there were astonished: How was this possible? How could it be? A Soviet young man could be religious? Where did the party come in? Where was Stalin? The Jewish young man described years of hunger, rabbis who were exiled and anti-Semitism. The Sventzian Jews listened with their heads bowed. I myself was present during this conversation and was also upset at this Jewish soldier who was so openly telling. . . the truth.

The Sventzian Jews looked soberly at the “liberaters”, listened to their words, caught their gestures, saw drunk Red Army soldiers who spoke about zhides[2] and Jewish young people smiled, chagrinned, as they spoke about closing the synagogues big and small and turning them into military warehouses without having touched the Polish [Catholic] church

[Col. 520]

or, G-d forbid, the Greek Orthodox church. Nevertheless, the majority of Jewish youth actively worked along with the Soviet authorities.

All Sventsyaners remember the Lurye brothers, Mendl and Shimon, of Lintuper St. They were hard working porters but still very poor. Mendl's solace in life was his family: an overworked wife and thin Jewish children. His brother, the broad-shouldered Shimon didn't even have that. When the Soviets occupied Sventzian, people remembered that from time to time Mendl delivered the mail to the Jews. Later this was taken away from him, because the Polish letter carrier became envious of his earning the few cents that every Jew gave Mendl when he received a letter from America. The Soviets considered this a favor and Mendl became an official letter carrier like many other Polish officials.

One worked for the Soviet authorities only five days a week and rested on the sixth. These days off fell on various days: Sunday, Tuesday and also Saturday. Mendl, a pious Jew, would not work on Saturday even if his life depended on it. The Polish, despite the fact that they were anti-Semitic, knew that Mendl was a religious person and his religion was very dear to him, quietly made it possible for him not to work on his Sabbath by exchanging days with a Polish letter carrier. If this had reached the Soviet authorities, Mendl would have lost his job. Hard-working Mendl was an example of how to remain a pious Jew in the new diaspora.

 

Mashe Berl's and Her Daughter, the Teacher in the Culture School


Motl Kil was a fine Jew. [He was] tall and was always stroking his long, yellow beard. He had an impoverished sister, a widow, Mashe Berl's. Her daughter was

[Col. 521]

a teacher, who had graduated from the Hebrew Teachers' Culture Seminary. As soon as the Soviets arrived, her mother immediately began worrying about how to extricate her daughter from this new Soviet “Paradise.” She did not rest but worked on her daughter to sneak across the border to Lithuania with the hope that from there she could travel to Israel.

I do not know what happened to her daughter—whether or not she succeeded in getting past the heavily armed guard on those very cold days. Even if she did make it, she did not achieve her goal. Instead of getting to Israel, she died along with all the other Lithuanian Jews. I am basically interested in mentioning her mother, who in those days of excitement over the Soviet “Paradise” foresaw that it would not be a home for a teacher, who wanted to raise her children in the spirit of connection with and love for the Jewish people.

 

The Old Teacher, Ms. Fisher

The devoted Socialist, who used to live with her memories of 1905 and her hope for world freedom, was very passive in the face of the great tumult that surrounded the new Soviet authorities. To her former students in the Jewish school, who spoke to her, she said: “Do not believe that the Soviet authorities lead to Social Justice.”

She pointed out to her students the great difference between the low life style of the

[Col. 522]

workers and the luxury of the Party functionaries. She asked, “Where are the Jewish elementary schools in Russia, White Russia and the Ukraine? The Soviet government closed them a long time ago. If we still have Jewish schools her, one must ask for how long?”

 

Moyshe-Binyomin Ester

When Sventzian was separated from Lithuania, Jewish young people from Vilna came to Sventzian with high aspirations of living and working under the Sventzian regime. The N. K. V. D., the security authorities, looked upon them differently. They had no confidence in them and sent them deep into Russia. One such girl, who did not want to be exiled to a distant Russian area, of which only bad reports were heard, married a young man from Sventzian. The wedding had to be dated before the Soviet invasion. The sexton of the synagogue, Moyshe-Binyomin Ester, wanting to save a Jewish girl from being exiled to Siberia, back dated the wedding on the certificate putting himself in great danger.

At that time, Sventzian was full of Jewish refugees including yeshiva boys and pioneers, who were looking for a way to get into Lithuania. The Jews of Sventzian were self-sacrificing and went out of their way as much as possible to send them to Vilna, even using gentiles of their acquaintance as intermediaries—anything to keep them from being exiled to Siberia by the N. K. V. D.

Footnotes:

  1. Non-kosher. [Trans.] Return
  2. A perjorative word for Jew. [Trans.] Return


[Col. 521]

Jews of the Synagogue Courtyard

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

The synagogue courtyard of Svantsyan was a town unto itself with its own streets and lanes. The Kuna River flowed near the courtyard. In the spring the river sometimes overflowed its banks, until a fence of interlaced [?] twigs was erected that prevented the flooding. It was a bit cleaner in the synagogue courtyard; there was less mud.

In the 30s, they began to pave

[Col. 522]

the streets of the synagogue courtyard. First the central street was paved.

The lanes of the synagogue courtyard crossed the main street and led from the marketplace to the river. The area between the river and Pashmener St. was a separate entity. That is where the wagon drivers lived and it was always crowded with horses, wagons, straw and. . . dung.

[Col. 523]

On the narrow street near the church stood two small houses in which one Jewish and one Christian family lived. The Jewish family was the Yankls and they dealt in horse, calves and chickens. On Wednesdays, the peasants he knew drove their horses and wagons into his yard in order to participate in the market that day.

In the first house on the corner of the synagogue courtyard lived a teacher, who came from a small town in central Poland. On the same street, closer to the river, lived Freydl, the widow, with her two daughters. A Jew rag man also lived close to the river.

The next street over was inhabited by all kinds of plain, ordinary Jews. Close to the marketplace was Biksan's large apartment. He was the road-paving contractor and was always active in the fire brigade. Across the street from him lived a Jew, who had worked in the mill his whole life. Right next door to him lived the elderly Kovner, who had a factory on Yatkover St. in which seltzer was produced. He was also the gabay of the Tailor's Synagogue.

There were two wells in the synagogue courtyard. The water from these wells was used only to do laundry. For drinking water or water for cooking, people used to go to Church St. Right near this well lived the Bilkovitsh brothers. One was a harness maker and the other a quilter. Opposite them lived Perets, the furrier. Peasants were mostly the ones who bought his hats. For the most part, fedoras were bought from Reuven Shnayderovitsh. Yankl, the dyer, and his mother, Reyne, also lived in Freyde's apartment. At the end of the summer, peasants came to dye their woven linen and wool various colors in Yankl's boiling vats: black, brown and navy blue.

Fayve Yose, the mason, lived nearby. He

[Col. 524]

made ovens[1] that had a good reputation. There was always a large mound of clay near his house. In winter when the mound disappeared, we used to go sledding there. It was enough for us that our sleds would slide down to Peysakh, the shoemaker's house. If one got a good push, the little sled bumped right into Peysakh's house, and his wife Beyla would yell at us. Further down the street lived Shaya, the porter, a very strong Jew with a nice beard. A bit further on lived Motl Zar. He had a factory in which wool bootliners were made.

The street dead-ended at the Kune, the Sventzian river. We boys did not have to run far in order to jump across the river. There were flat stones in the river, on which the laundry was beaten with a wooden paddle. The same paddle was used to make the mognes for the Sabbath tsholent.[2] It was a tasty dish: flour mixed with raw, peppered fat that was fried in the oven for twenty-four hours, from the middle of the day on Friday until midday on Saturday.[3]

In this small area that was known as the Synagogue Courtyard, Jews toiled bitterly in order to be able to welcome the holy Sabbath into their homes. It was not sufficient just to satisfy the body with gefilte fish, chicken soup, kreplekh,[4] tsimes[5] tsholent and kugl.[6]

The Jews in the synagogue courtyard, were, each in his own way, concerned about their souls. They strictly observed the laws of Judaism and attended synagogue. In the synagogue courtyard of Sventzian the eternal flame was never extinguished. It warmed the souls of the Jewish folk.

This is what it looked like both during peaceful days and those difficult times, when the sky over Jewish Sventysan became cloudy and frightening, leading up to the horrible holocaust.

Footnotes:

  1. These ovens were like large pizza ovens today made of brick. [Trans.] Return
  2. The traditional Sabbath stew that cooked for 24 hours and was eaten as part of the second Sabbath meal on Saturday afternoon Return
  3. It sounds like a kind of kishke. [Trans.] Return
  4. Triangular pieces of dough usually stuffed with meat and put into the soup. [Trans.] Return
  5. Vegetable stew consisting predominantly of carrots, sweet potatoes and prunes. The ingedients of tsimes, like those of tsholent, vary with geography. [Trans.] Return
  6. A casserole, usually made of a mixture of ground potatoes and onions, in the U.S. called potato pudding. [Trans.] Return

 

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