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[Col. 713]

Schools, Teachers, and Students

 

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[Col. 717]

How We Built the Jewish School

Zisle Tabachowitz–Popiski (South Africa)

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

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I am remembering my schooldays.

My first day of school. This was not a Jewish school, but a Russian one. Many Jewish students studied here. The first day I arrived at the school I will never forget. I made it through heavy snow, I was late and I didn't understand Russian very well, thus I was unable to clarify my arriving late.

She didn't understand me as well and put me in the corner. In that moment I felt uncomfortable with the teacher, the language and the school.

In the end, a “miracle” happened, we had to evacuate the shtetl. For everyone this was unfortunate, but me this was freedom!

When the Germans arrived, we returned. So, a child has to go to school and a second stroke of bad luck occurred, a Jewish child in a German school. I was in one class with the other Jewish boys and girls. Our teacher wore glasses and he was very strict. He spoke only Germans. Our days seemed an eternity

[Col. 718]

With pain and worries.

And suddenly the sun appeared!

This school was closing and will be replaced by a Jewish one!

You can imagine our joy! We were going to study in our “mama–loscn” (our own language).

The first teacher was Hellerstein.

What love and devotion emanated from his face! He was not only our teacher, but our friend! One can say, our father, patient and soothing!

I remember an interesting episode: we were outside playing hide and seek one hot summer day. We became thirsty and ran to the lake, filled a pail with cold water, and we drank the water. I paid dearly for this. I wasn't allowed to go to school.

What did Hellerstein do?

He organized classes after hours for the students who excelled and at no additional cost.

One day, he brought us to the nearby forest, to learn in the fresh air and benefit from the nature.

[Col. 719]

This is how we were raised, in such a friendly atmosphere, in our Jewish school. This would have been impossible in the others. No wonder this became our second home, and we spent more time here than at home.

We had a children's club and in the evening we went for our drama practise. There were other clubs of study or literary activities. Etched in my memory to this day was the sadness that permeated in our school when the “grandfather of Jewish literature”, Mendele Mocher Szforim died.

This struck us like someone in our own family died!

 

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June 26, 1924
New–Sventzian, 2nd meeting of the school

Sitting: Teiba Cohen, Rivka Popitski, Yenta Kovarski, Sheine Katz, Yose Kovarski, Yetta Tabacavitch, Sheina Rudnitski
Standing from the right: Chaia Aranovitch, Feiga Shutan, Left: Henia Aranavitch, Ester Kovarski
Sitting: Abraham Kovarski, Uri Klionski, Abraham Vinik, Genia Vinik, Chaim Motel Steingold, Heshel Gurwitch, Yacov Svarz
Standing: Motel Bak, Aharon Tzinzinatus, Barach Turgel, Yitzhak Gurdos, Kaplan–Kaplanski, Leizer Hellerstein
Standing: Sara Rivka Katz, Shalom Katz, Yosef Zak, Yeruchmiel Katz, Leib Popiski, Lifman Katz, Moshe Zak

[Col. 720]

We all felt a great need to read books. We wanted to learn about other countries and read books in other languages. We wanted to establish a Children's Library, so we organized a children's play to raise money. We got ready for this evening. Our director was Feiga Berenstein. We children, were not only the actors, but the ticket sellers, the greeters, etc.

It is hard to image what excitement this evening was for us children!

[Col. 721]

We were sold out, one would call–a full house!

The next morning we sent some delegates to Vilna to buy the first books for the Children's Library.

On another note, a new teacher arrived in New Sventzian. I remember the moment, when he arrived in our class: a tall, handsome and well–dressed man, called Gordos.

We immediately felt eagerness in our eyes, I remember him as enthusiastic, welcoming and friendly man. We felt like he was an older brother, raised with us!

We enjoyed listening to his lectures. He taught us mathematics, geography and biology. He taught with clarity and enthusiasm. We were under a spell!

But the main thing: he was a musician and he played in the concertina. He even stated a choir and taught us to sing.

This is how our school developed and became known throughout the region. Slowly new students arrived and then more teachers.

When the Polish school system was instituted, a new teacher from the Vilna University came to us, Aharon Tzintzinatus. He was an excellent teacher of Polish and opened new windows for us on the larger world. He introduced us to Polish history and literature and broadened our horizons. Our eyes opened up, our Yiddish environment was now not enough.

Later another teacher arrived, Vinik. He was entrenched in our everyday well– being. He demanded a lot, and did not accept laziness.

[Col. 722]

We resigned ourselves to obey, as it was for our own good.

I was very to graduate, it was a special day in our shtetl, New Sventzian. The entire shtetl took part in this Simcha, young and old. Can you imagine, even the nature of the surrounding shtetl seemed to participate in this special event!

It was a beautiful holiday: the sun was shining, the trees were budding, the birds were singing!

Only a small thing! A graduation of the school!

Years after the tradition of the cheder! Years after religious–only upbringing! After years in unfamiliar schools! A Jew in a Jewish school! Such a wonderful way to graduate and enter the world!

It seems, as if it was yesterday, these small seeds were planted! And we are now enjoying the fruits of our labour! It is a wonder that we are alive to see these blessings!

The entire shtetl was in holiday–mode, like guests going to a wedding! Representatives came from Vilna: Dr. Tzemach Shabad, A. Galomb, A. Klianski and others. Guests from the surrounding shtetls come! The evening if full of vigour, dancing and singing!

We felt like it was our Bar Mitzvah! A new burden was upon us–we have to open the eyes of our Jewish brothers and sisters.

In the end many left the shtetl to open new doors in other countries and start building a new future.

Our road was not an easy one! We encountered many difficulties, but we hoped for a better future!

[Col. 723]

I entered the Real–Gymnasia of Vilna, and I encountered obstacles in Jewish life unlike in New–Sventzian. The years flew by. When I went home for the holidays, the 10th Anniversary of the school was celebrated. I was the representative of the 1st graduating class and I greeted all the current students. I was nervous when I gave the opening speech, which was short and to the point, 10 years of this school.

[Col. 724]

And wished the students success and hoped that they would further their Jewish culture and heritage.

I decided to establish a learning center near the school.

At first the group was interested in our way of life, then it became obvious we had to help the Yiddish Folk School financially.

Nothing was too difficult, or demeaning, we had to maintain the school!

 

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Jewish School Organization in Vilna
6th class Folk–Schul in New–Sventzian–Certificate (L. Popiski)

[Col. 725]

We washed floors, we cleaned classrooms, carried stools, we dragged our bodies on cold winter nights to listen to recitals, we sold tickets, asked for donations and for the lottery, all this for the Holy calling to build a Jewish school– to provide a center for Jewish youth.

More years past. Wherever the students went, near or far, they took with them this Jewish education.

With the building of Eretz Israel and its new community, the building in America, Argentina, South Africa and other lands, many new Jewish communities were founded. These were initiated by the first group of graduates who became the first pioneers in these new lands.

Our teachers would be proud of us! Later they all perished together with the school, which took dozens of years to reach such an important position in the region.

Many sorrows are before my eyes, like a film, repeating and repeating itself.

[Col. 726]

We can only remember how beautiful our little shtetel was, full of fields and meadows, hills and streams!

Now they are all planted with mass graves!

There are no words in the dictionary to describe this bitter pain of those tragic events that took place. For those who survived such pain and suffering, such barbarism and sadistic cruelty, there is no healing of such wounds!

 

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[Col. 727]

Our Two Schools

Hanah Portnoy–Katz

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

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On a beautiful summer day in 1916, my father took me to New–Sventzian, to my uncle Israel Portnoy. First I came as a guest, then I remained with him forever. As he didn't have any children, I looked around to make friends to play with. On the right of his house lived the Elperins, on the left, the Popiskis. Both families did not lack children, therefore I had many friends.

In the summer we went to the little lake and in the wintertime, we slid down the small hill to the fence.

“The Seven Good years” ended! My uncle enrolled me in school. So I packed my notebooks and off I went with Zisel Popiski.

The school was in a two room house, in 1 room was the lower level. Our teacher was Shapiro from Postov.

They put me in the higher level, not according to age or knowledge, and to this day, I don't know why they put me there.

A few days later, our school hired a German military man. Coming into the classroom, he took off his belt, and started talking to us in German. We didn't understand very well, but we were scared to death of him.

[Col. 728]

He was the inspector of the school.

A second stroke of bad luck, when our school moved to a Christian street, no Jews lived here. The street was full of dogs and “shkotzim” (gentile lads), who attacked us and reminded us that we were Jews.

We preferred the small school, where we learned Yiddish, even Hebrew, Tenach and Yiddish literature. Our last teacher was Hellerstein, a wonderful former Yeshiva” bocher” (lad), who studied at the Telz Yeshiva. He bestowed on us a deep understanding for the Tenach and Jewish history.

Shortly after, our school found a new locale, the house of Shultz, on Vilner Street.

A new teacher arrived here, Yitzhak Gordos, who hypnotized the class with his dark and wise eyes. He was a very good pedagogue and he was loved by all the children. His main interest was singing and playing in the concertina. Thanks to him lectures about song took place. He also organized a Children's–choir. The school became alive. For the holidays we had a children's evening event. Even plays (drama club) were performed and a special journal, called “The Children's Voice” was printed.

The shtetl, with the help of “Joint”, bought the house from Tzipkin.

[Col. 729]

This was a two storey house, a large garden full of fruit trees. Our school was now in this new location. Times were difficult, new regimes would replace the old. Poles, Bolsheviks, and Lithuanians, which interfered with the economic situation of our people. Then the Joint came and opened a soup kitchen at Boyerstein's home to feed the children.

Ita, the cook, in her fancy white apron and white hat, brought each child a bowl of peas and rice, and some fried onions. For the Sabbath, every Friday the children received a “bulkah” (a sweat roll) and a glass of cocoa.

Oy! This was such a treat!

Wintertime, it is very cold! The children run into the kitchen to get their bowl of soup with the onions! The smell is so appetizing! Every child receives his portion, eats with appetite in order to maintain his strength for another day of learning.

Meanwhile 2 new teachers arrived at the school. Tzintzinatus and Vinik. Vinik was a well– bred Yiddishist and did everything to spread the Yiddish language and culture in our shtetl. Tzintzinatus, on the other hand, was a young, good looking lad, a studious type, wearing a white 4 pointed hat, with a Polish accent who was more like the assimilated folk. When he asked us if we knew the song ” Carry the Flag to Zion”, we knew right away he was a Zionist. Actually, later on, he was known in Vilna as one of the Zionist leaders.

We, children, didn't know much about the language question or the language struggle.

When we completed this school, we joined the Ha'Halutz and later immigrated to Eretz Israel. Some of us left to continue our studies. A special permit was needed, called Z.A.K. “self development circle” but it quickly fell apart. Each student went their own way.

[Col. 730]

I couldn't afford to continue my education, so I remained in the shtetl. I worked in the Folks–Bank, the bookkeeper was Yacov Shvartz, a tall lad, with large glasses and black frames, with a cold and bleak face. The cashier was Motel Bak, thin and medium height, with a nervous face but with a very kind heart.

They always fought. Nothing personal, only about politics. Shvartz was a Poali–Zionist and Bak was a Algemeiner Zionist. In the same building as the bank, there was the Gemillut Hesud and the merchant's union. The table and chairs were shared by all the institutions.

Shlomo Maimon worked as the cashier in the Gemillut Hesed. He was always in a good mood and loved to tell stories about days gone by, about the times of Nicholai.

The bookkeeper of the Gemillut Hesed was Chaia Gordon, who was either worried or sad. The merchant's union was open only on Sundays, when the stores were closed and the shop owners could provide their services. Eltshik was the secretary of the merchant's union, always in a good mood and very smart. When he left the shtetl, Hirshel Levinstein replaced him.

We also had a library, where I worked together with the teacher Vinik. This was special for our shtetl, where you can find many known Yiddish books. The treat was these special books in Yiddish that were translated.

It was very difficult to collect money to buy these books. The drama club helped a lot, which put on plays and collected money which they gave to the library.

This quiet and ideal existence for the shtetl did not last long. I was invited to the house of Kramer and there I learned about the “Tarbut” school that was soon to be built! Soon the fight between the Yiddishists and Hebraists began.

[Col. 731]

The Hebraists wanted part of the community building funds and the Yiddishists wouldn't budge. A scandal broke out, even the police had to intervene. In the end it was decided to open the school in the synagogue. The opening ceremony took place in the Polish train workers assembly hall, called “Ognisko”. Later Mrs. Shapiro's house was rented for the Tarbut School, on Vilner Street, on the hill. At this time the Zionist–youth organizations were established as well.

[Col. 732]

Day and night we heard Hebrew and the appeals for Eretz Israel and a Zionist atmosphere was created. The shtetl had difficulty supporting 2 schools. The rivalry was not making things easier.

These schools are no longer. The people of these schools were caught in Hitler's killing spree.


[Col. 731]

Our Schools, Drama Club and Library

Israel Gurewitz

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

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The Jewish School

The Jewish school in New Sventzian was founded during the time of the German School for Jewish children, during the German occupation during WW1.

Thanks to the intervention of Heshel Gurewitz and with help from the Jewish community, the young children now had a school in their own language.

Yiddish as well as Hebrew was taught. The teachers not only taught Jewish, Hebrew, Tenach and history, they were the bearers of Jewish culture for the entire shtetl. Such a teacher was Eliahu Hellerstein.

[Col. 732]

A Brisker (Chasidic branch), he was brought up in the Yeshivas of Lithuania and Poland. In that time he organized a Jewish school, and taught teachers in Vilna, later in New Sventzian. It didn't bother him that he was a Zionist and the schools were taught in Yiddish. He found harmony in both–his focus was on Yiddish culture! He marries a young girl, Liza Maimon, and thanks to her he remains in the shtetl for many years as our teacher.

[Col. 733]

Because of his brazen temperament, he can't retain one position for very long. His ideals and fanaticism play an important role: from communist orthodoxy to Zionist extremism! From T.P.A. to school–cult, to Tarbut. Whatever he preaches, it's with conviction. He is always an upstanding citizen and despite this, he is devoted to whichever cause he is involved in at that particular time!

The opposite of him is the teacher Yitzhak Gordos. Hellerstein was brought to the school by the religious Balabatim of the shtetl, and Gordos, from the secular folk. Hellerstein was an authority on Jewish matters, Gordos, was a free proletariat. Gordos graduated from the Vilna University and taught Yiddish in the Russian schools. (under the umbrella of Hebrew National Organization of Schools).

Gordos was a handsome young man, well mannered and well liked. It didn't take long, as the girls swarmed around him, he married Mirel Shneur. (the daughter of Motel the Postover) and therefore became a new resident for our shtetl. He didn't remain a teacher for long, he takes over his in–laws business. But teaching is still in his soul. He maintains the Jewish culture in the shtetl. Be becomes the representative of the Jewish community, the director of the bank, and our representative for the administration of the Jews in the city–council and as well as a jurist in the magistrate).

Avrom Vinik, the third teacher, was altogether a different type. With his cut blond beard, pale, child–like eyes, he makes his mark as a Russian Populist, a” student forever”.

It is unusual to find such a crystal clear and honest man! In his work, he held the Jewish language and the importance of the books in such high esteem. In the center, the most important was the Jewish child. In everything he did

[Col. 734]

He was just and devoted, he directed the library, and also in the political organizations that pulled him in.

He also married a girl from our shtetl, Genia Yavitch, who was also a teacher in the school.

This was the good fortune of the shtetl, rightfully to say, the girls of the shtetl. A 4th teacher, Aharon Tzintzinatus, who came here as a young student from the Vilna University, remained here and married Rosa Berman, from New Sventzian, and as he was from Vilna remained in contact with this larger city.

These teachers laid the foundation for the Jewish New Sventzian Folk Shul, which was shaped on the model as being the best in the Vilna province. It existed many years and many students graduated, like: Yitzhak Milner, Zesle Popiski, Lifman Katz, Sheina Rutnikski, Mina Kulback, Shlomo Elperin, Sara Rivka Katz and others.

The school produced a list of graduates. who were friends of the Jewish school and Jewish culture. Those who should be mentioned are: Heshel Gurewitz, Abraham Yitzhak Rabinovitch, Baruch Turgel, Motel Bak (in the early years). Nechama Gurewitz–Kovarski and in later years, Baruch and Chaim Slapak, Rosa Epstein, Tania and Mashe Shapiro, Ester and Sheina Kovarski, Chaim Guterman, Leizer Gordon, Lifman Zak, Natan Shutan, Aron–Yitzhak Maliacavitch, Freidel, Kulback, the Boyarstein family and the family Fingerhoyt, and others.

 

The Tarbut School

The Tarbut School was founded in the last years. This New Sventzian school was mainly comprised of those with Zionist ideals, such as Poalei Zion, and such. It was considered unaffiliated, which didn't sit well with the Zionists until they founded this school with its instruction in Hebrew. The founders were: Velvel Popiski, Abraham and Shifra Kovarski, Yeruches Stolov, Shalom Berman, Gershon Gurwitz, Motel Bak, Eliahu Feigel, Yakov Schwarz, Israel Portnoy and others.

[Col. 735]

In the founding–ceremony, these special delegates from the Tarbut School were present: Zemel and Tzintzinatus from Vilna. They also helped to make sure the level of study was of pedagogical importance. Eventually, the atmosphere between the 2 schools improved and they interacted. Hellerstein and Rufeitz worked together, for the improvement of relations of the 2 Jewish schools.

 

The Drama Club

It can be said, that the drama club and the Jewish school were founded around the same time, like in all the other shtetlach of the province.

[Col. 736]

Not only did they put on plays, but they raised money for the Jewish school.

It was up to the parents of the student to provide for the school, so funds were not easy to come by to maintain the teachers' salaries, therefore other means of raising funds was necessary. Outside help was needed–help from “friends of the school”. The best way was to organize an “evening” at the school for the whole did=strict in order to raise funds. The whole shtetl got involved. The stools and banquets were brought to the school, Tickets for this theatre evening were sold in advance. A buffet was set up and products were brought for this event, in order to raise as much money as possible.

 

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Drama Club in New Sventzian in the Jewish school, 1936, 20th year anniversary

1–Lying down: Dovid Fingerhoyt, Yudel Feldman, Abraham Katz
2– Sitting: Rivka Levenstein, Masha Shapiro, Dr. Shlomo Kapelovitch, Freida Boyarstein, Leizer Gordon, Feige Levenstein, Devore Rutshtein
3– Standing: Chaia Zak, Isher Katcherginski, Tania Elperin–Shapiro, Henech Gurewitz, Fraida Kulback, Yehoushe Rabinovitch, Motel Gurewitz, Z. Kisof, (Kosov), Lanever, Zam Dzikelcaczeter (?)
4–Standing: Lifman Katz, M.B. Beler, Chana Rutstein, Aron Boyarstein, Hirsh Levenstein, Chaim Rabinovitch, Lifman Zak

[Col. 737]

Dances were also organized and lasted till the early morning. We hired an orchestra (usually a military one), the string orchestra was from our shtetl, organized by Dovid Fingerhoyt. Even the Christians bought ticket to our dances and saw the Jewish way of life based in the school.

The drama club of New Sventzian opened with Gordin's play ”God, man and devil”, under the direction of Boruch Turgel. The parts were held by: Yosef Gildin, Rosa Berman, Leib Gorfein, and others. When Turgel left the shtetl, the position was taken over by Yosef Gildin.

The main actors were Ahron and Fraidel Boyarstein, Freidel and Mina Kulback, Feige and Hirshel Levenstein, Motel and Henech Gurewitz, Teibe and Chana Rutstein, and others. Thanks to Fraidel Boyarstein with her beautiful voice and ability to act, took part in many roles in larger cities. The beautiful decor were made by Motel Bak.

The drama club performed many well known plays, written by the most famous Jewish playwrights :

Motke, The Thief, from Sholem Asch, Tevye the Milkman (Dairyman), The Lottery, by Shalom Aleichem, The Duke by Katzine, the Family by Pinski, and others.

The drama club earned a lot of money by performing these plays of famous Jewish playwrights. And through this the Jewish culture thrived.

 

The Library

The Jewish library also played an important role in Jewish culture of the shtetl.

[Col. 738]

Thanks to the help of Heshel Gurewitz and Sholom Berman, Motel Bak, Eliahu Kulback, Matla Kulback, Nachama Kavarski, Dina Tzepelevitch, Mania Tzikinski and others. It was still in the time of the German occupation (of WW1) that these books were brought here, and this laid the foundation of the Jewish Library. Books were brought from Vilna. First, it was at Yosef the Posmener, on Kaltinianer Street, and later to Motle Kulback's house. When Zsipkin's large house was bought, the library, as well as other societies, were now relocated here.

The library becomes a home to young and old. Famous writings and translations of famous works are now bought. It is no longer a small entity! The library of New Sventzian becomes one of the most important in the region.

The teacher Vinik did great work for the improvement of the library. When he left the shtetl he was replaced by Chana Portnoy.

It grew and grew. But in the end it met its fate with the rest of the Jewish folk: s soon as the Germans dogs arrived in the shtetl. Immediately they took the books and burned them in a huge bonfire! In a matter of minutes, these barbarians annihilated an entire culture, which was built with love and devotion over many years!

 

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[Col. 739]

The Tarbut School

Avraham Kovarski

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

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In New Sventzian there was a Yiddish school which belonged to TsiSho (Central Yiddish School Organization). In those days, the Zionist streams worked together with the Jewish school. Amongst them were the deep rooted Zioinst Avraham Yitzhak Rabinovitch, Zev Popiski, Israel Portnoy, Motel Bak and I (Abraham Kovarski). With the new clubs, like Shomer Hatzair, Halutz and Halutz Hatzair, the need to open a Hebrew school became evident.

Amongst these known Zionists were: Shalom Berman, Yerukham Sroelov, Motel Bak, Yitzhak Shwartz, Eliahu Feigel, Zev Popiski, Israel Portnoy, the brothers Hirsh and Zvi Berman Moshe Gurwitz and Mrs. Kremer, myself and my wife Shifra (Kovarski) as well as the young people from the “workers Zionist movement”, Gershon Gurwitz, Avraham and Dovid Katz, the Popiski brothers and others. Our first order of business was to win over the community to allow us to open the school. This was not an easy task. By a stroke of good luck, a new dentist arrived in the shtetl, Dr. B. Tenenwurtzel, from Kielce, who knew the Polish language and had connections to the community leader. (mayor). Thanks to him we received our mandate to open a second Jewish school with Hebrew being the language of instruction.

Immediately we set out to find a suitable place, which was not an easy task, as the other Jewish school would not share the space with us.

[Col. 740]

We had no choice than choose the women's' section of the new synagogue.

In 1923, with good fortune, the Tarbut –Schul opened. To this important opening the Vilna representatives arrived: Dr. Regenburg, Zemel and Ahron Tzintzinatus. For the second year we needed to relocate, the community didn't allow us to continue in the” women's' shul” (probably upstairs in the women's' section of the synagogue). More pupils arrived, and the school became too small.

In the end, we had to rent a broken–down house by the Christian, Siroka, which was on Vilner Street on the hill. We had to renovate and make this our new school, despite the opposition.

The second year of the opening of the school brought the representatives from Vilna, and we celebrated with all the Zionist groups this wonderful opening! The comings and goings of these various organizations, and the grounds of the school were busy like a beanstalk!

A more important question was how to finance this new school. The fees paid by the students were not enough. Our deficit grew from year to year. We decide to organize a show.

[Col. 741]

Devorah Elperin, Freidel Shapiro, Miriam Shutan and Chana Portnoy helped a lot with the organizing of the event.

In the 3rd year, the teacher Hellerstein, started here as a teacher, who was one of the pillars of the Yiddish school. He threw himself into his work with great enthusiasm, and drew many from the old fashioned Yiddish stream.

In 1935, the Tarbut shul celebrated its first graduating class. It was a great celebration for the Hebrew language and the Zionist cause, which brought forth new ideas!

[Col. 742]

A year later, in 1936, I made Aliyah to Eretz Israel with my family. I went to say goodbye to our school and teachers. Now existed a full functioning school with over 100 students, with excellent and devoted students.

This warmed my heart when I heard our Hebrew language spoken amongst the children and I was so pleased, I said to myself: this was worth the struggle!

When I remind myself, my heart is torn apart and my blood is boiling, that these children, teachers and directors, were brutally murdered by these inhumane beasts!


[Col. 741]

The Victory of Our School

Ester Chait

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

As written in the monthly journal “The Friend”, Vilna, 1936 on the 20th anniversary of the school

The Jewish schools that were created in a time of need, during WW1, is now celebrating its 20th year anniversary. When the Germans occupied the region, many fled. Men were taken into the army. Children were wandering the streets naked and hungry.

The community came together, found the children homes, fed them, clothed them and decide to found a school in order to give them an education. This was the beginning of the Jewish school, loved first by the working class, and later, by the general population. Everyone saw the need and usefulness of a Jewish school and their own language,

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where the child spoke with their parents, grandparents and families and community (Yiddish was the official language). It was a home for the Jewish child and much beloved!

Like the other schools, in wartime in 1916, The school in New Sventzian was founded.

In the beginning it was a German school. German was the language of instruction, the teachers were sent by the German regime–Poles, Germans, Lithuanians. Our youth disappeared! Those good years vanished! Today the fate is the same for all the Jewish schools.

In 1928 the Tarbut Shul was founded. Children floundered, the will was no longer.

[Col. 743]

The students became fewer and we were told not to continue with our school. But the school returned to its former glory and with its energetic teachers, the school soon resumed its importance. 23 new students arrived in the last 2 years. The school continued making the parents proud. Its importance was again known.


[Col. 744]

The Peddlar
School work, as written in the Children's Journal in New Sventzian

Yetta Kovarski

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

In our shtetl there lived a Jew, called Zelman the Kaltinianer. He was a poor pedlar and spent every week going through the shtetls and buying small articles from the Christian peasants, like: soap, combs, thread, and other things.

His purchase he would either sell or trade for necessities, like butter, eggs, potatoes, poultry, flour and other things.

He went from house to house, village to village, tired and hungry.

He lived for the Sabbath. Every Friday he arrived home, with a basket on his back, barely alive!

Re ran to the bathhouse to wash and then got dressed in his Shabbos finery and went to the synagogue. Here he felt fortunate.

He love to listen to the Chazan's beautiful voice, he sat by the oven in a corner, catching a little shut eye!

After the prayer the Shamash would awaken him

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and he left for home. Rabbi Zelman left alone and there in his home he truly felt like a “king”. His wife was dressed in all her finery, the children were seated around a table, covered in a beautiful white table cloth, the candles brightly flickering. Two challahs were under the napkin, the house smelled of fish and other wonderful food.

Rabbi Zelman entered, with “Gut Shabbos”, and the wife and children answered the same, Good Shabbos, Good year!

He made Kiddush and ate. This was his first warm meal of the week. He was always in a hurry and deep in thought. He spent the entire week in unknown homes, amongst unknown people. Friday night, the first time in the week, he felt amongst his own kind.

Saturday after lunch, he went to sleep. This Saturday nap was the greatest pleasure.

Sunday morning, with a growl, and with great effort, he began his week again!


Episodes from Our Days at School

Printed in the monthly journal, “The Friend”, Vilna, 1936, number 5, relayed by S. Bastamski

Itzik Milner

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve0745.jpg

 

We are breaking the walls

During the German occupation, our school was in the German language and our teachers were German. We had to sing in German. One day, a young Jewish boy started singing a Yiddish song, “we are burning the walls”, this was symbolic for us, the German didn't quite understand the song. Actually, ‘we burned the walls”, soon after the German school became a Jewish school.

 

Our Children's' Club

One year later, we were the only Jewish school in the area. Little news arrived from Vilna, but we heard that a Children's Club, named ”Young Buds”, was formed there. We already had a children's organization, but the name ”Buds”, which we adopted now gave us the opportunity to open a newspaper. In the same year, we submitted 2 chapters in the journal reproduced hectography (printing process).

 

We are producing a Play

The student council decided to present an evening event. Times are of unrest: it is a year it when our shtetl changed regimes: Germans, Bolsheviks, Lithuanians, and Poles. But this doesn't scare us.

The work was more important. We were more interested in raising money to buy books for a children's library.

It is Chanuka time–the play takes place in the largest room of the school, we made a stage, collected benches from the homes which we arranged in rows, from sheets we made curtains, and in a room next door we arranged a buffet with wonderful things.

[Col. 747]

We made an improvisation of Shalom Aleichem's play, “Chanuka Gelt”, …

The entire shtetl showed up, just to see how children can organize such an evening! The theatre–evening was a great success and we made a large amount of money, 2,000 mark.

We didn't trust anyone with this money, so we went to a friend's house, and spent the night watching our money and thinking about which books to buy.

 

We are building a Library

We had some books. These were collected all over the shtetel, many of them gifts. Our teacher took me to Vilna, to “YEKAPO” to buy the books, there were so many rows of books, but very little history books for children. This was not only for the children but for the young people of the shtetl. They came to us begging that we loan them a “new” book. The school council said the books were only for the pupils of the school, and others could not take them home.

[Col. 748]

So we gave these young folk the means in which to come to the reading hall in the evenings and read the new books onsite. This was the seed that later took root to become the larger library.

When I returned–and I stood in the 4 walls of the school–––no more teachers–and looked around–I remembered my days in those years in the school with pain and very precious memories; now as an adult looking back.

 

Sve0748.jpg
20th reunion Jewish Folk Shul, 1936, New Sventzian

Sitting: 1– Baler Yochber, Dr. S. Kopelovitch, Rosa Epstein, Yitzhak Gordos, Chaia Guterman, Chaim Epstein, Levenstein, Feige Berenstein
Standing:2– Lifman Katz, Lifman Zak, Moshe Elperin, Tania Elperin–Shapiro, Leizer Gordon, Ester Kovarski, Boruch Abelavitch, Isher Katcherginski
3–Standing: M.M.Baler, Chana Rutstein, Ahron Boyarstein, Hirsh Levenstein

 

[Col. 749]

How We Studied “Miracles of the Sea?”

Mera Milner, student of the Folk shul in New Sventzian

Printed in the journal, “The Friend”, Vilna 1936

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve0749.jpg

 

We loved this story, therefore we studied for a longer time. We wrote many articles on the same theme. We wrote about it when it was still, when a storm broke out, how it looks at night. We wrote about characters in these made up plays:
  1. Lovers at the sea
  2. Lost at sea
  3. Satia's Strength
We also made a plan for a book review.

Several friends, made up another ending to our story.

I alone made up, that when the small boat turned around, he was hit. And thanks to Satia, he was able to swim to shore.

Another one wrote about Satia was Jonah the Prophet. A fish swallowed him and later spit him out on the bank. And actually, next to his house.

We enjoyed the works by I.L. Peretz, that our teacher read to us, and asked the meaning of his work. He said, that when one goes to perform a good deed, he should not stop for any one in his way (obstacle).

One should perform a good deed out of good character, willingly.

One does not need to be educated to do a good deed, good deeds can be done by a simple man. He has to have a will and a good heart!

[Col. 750]

Good deeds must be performed quietly (unknown), without demands, without talk, without underlying reasons, it should be anonymous and unspoken.

Otherwise, it is for personal gain!

The teacher reminded us, that in another work of Peretz, he wrote of the same motive (theme).

This was “If not only Higher”, the Tzadik leaves his home quietly one morning, dressed like a peasant, so that no one should recognize him. He goes to the woods to cut wood, which carries on his back to bring to the house of a sick old woman who doesn't have money to buy wood to heat her home. He is thanked and he doesn't tell her who he is. She wants to pay but says she doesn't have any money. He assures her that he will give her as a loan, and the second time, and when he will pass by again, she can pay him.

This is how the teacher ended his story, and from then on we loved Peretz' folk stories.

We drew pictures of Satia on the Sea. Not everyone drew nicely.

So that our parents should reap the rewards of our learning,

[Col. 751]

We included them in a wall hanging (paper journal) and inscribed their names to be presented for the 20th anniversary of the school.

This was a special event in our shtetl. In the end, Tzira Guterman wrote in the journal a 60 word rhyme in which she describes the word “head”, as in, don't make me crazy, you have a head of iron, and others.

[Col. 752]

Later we even printed it in a Vilna newspaper. This brought great accolades to our Folk Shul in New Sventzian.


[Col. 751]

From the Language Newspaper
–Sayings with the Word ”Kop” (Head)

Tzira Guterman

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

  1. Don't turn my head around
  2. A head; I almost forgot
  3. Don't make me crazy
  4. The head turned itself around
  5. Don't take off my head
  6. Health on your head!
  7. A head with a mare
  8. My head is splitv
  9. Mix in (your head)
  10. You are in the dark (your head is in the dark)
  11. He actually does not have a head (mind)
  12. Learn without your head
  13. From your head to your feet
  14. Head–face–stomach
  15. Look and stand on your head
  16. Rest with your head
  17. The head from home
  18. The head of a train
  19. Where in your head (what are you thinking)?
  20. Your head is in the skies (clouds)
  21. Your head is outside!
  22. My head is full!
  23. A head like yours never was seen!
  24. To walk around without a head
  25. To lose your head (scatterbrained)
  26. Blessed be your head!
  27. I insult your head!
  28. It will leave my head
  29. My head is not for this (not bothering with this!)
  30. I shall sit my head on him! (not give in)
  31. Watch yourself, that your head doesn't fly away
  32. To tear my head (bother)
  33. Break your head (continue your worries)
  34. Bang your head against the wall
  35. Your head lies in the ground (bad–luck)
  36. Head–twisting! (bugging me)
  37. Head worker
  38. Head of an eagle
  39. An iron head (willpower)
  40. Heavy head
  41. Fat head
  42. Sharp head
  43. An open head (open mind) ( open to new ideas)
  44. Blocked head (not open to new ideas)
  45. A thief's head (underhanded)
  46. A crazy head (crazy ideas)
  47. A remarkable head
  48. A seldom seen head
  49. According to one's head
  50. Hard head
  51. Stupid head
  52. Smart head
  53. Pointed (sharp or witty) head
  54. Empty head
  55. Good head (smart)
  56. Superficial head
  57. sick head
  58. a pin needle (head)
  59. a head of cabbage


[Col. 753]

Leizer Hellerstein

Heshl Gurewitz

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve0753.jpg
Leizer Hellerstein

 

In 1916 when we wanted to end the German school and establish a Jewish one in New Sventzian, with Jewish teachers, directors and Jewish curriculum, in order to give our Jewish children a national and modern upbringing.

As I was often a guest in Vilna, I became acquainted with the teacher, Leizer Hellerstein. He was from Brisk de Lita and the son of an important manufacturer–tradesperson. In his younger years he studied at the Telz Yeshiva and received high esteem from the rabbis.

Young Leizer didn't want to be a Rabbi, and decided to become a teacher. He started teaching secular studies with great perseverance.

There he befriended another Zionist and they rented a house together, on Shopenovski and Sadove Streets.

In this house also lived the family of Moshe Stein, from New Sventzian. As I visited

[Col. 754]

this family often when in Vilna, I made his acquaintance. When I returned home, I proposed we hire this young man as our teacher. My request was answered and in 1917, Leizer Hellerstein arrived and became the first teacher in our newly opened school. New ideas were introduced: either it was a change in times with new Zionist clubs or through the teaching of Leizer. As he was a member of “Zionist Youth”, from the start the school had Zionist tendencies.

He was a religious man and all that he did was in a peaceful manner. He was devoted and ardent to his cause.

He married Liza Maimon and became an outstanding citizen in the shtetl. Thanks to him the curriculum was very well up to date and he organized the best teachers. He brought Yitzhak Gordos, Abraham Vinik, and Ahron Tzintzinatus.

He was our knight in shining armour! In 1941 he was murdered with our brothers and sisters by the hands of the Lithuanian–German animals and his bones are scattered in the mass grave of Poligon.


Yitzhak Gordos

Israel Gurewitz

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

He was born in Vilna in 1892. He went to cheder, a Folk–Schul, and finished the teacher's seminary in Vilna.

When WW1 broke out, he started to work in the help–organization until the evacuation in 1915. In 1918 he arrived in New Sventzian,

[Col. 754]

where he became one of the smartest teachers in the Folk Schul in New Sventzian. From the beginning, he took an interest in the cultural and daily life of the shtetl. He was one of the founder of the Folks Bank of New Sventzian, a branch of the Gemillut Hesed and others.

[Col. 755]

He was a city representative for new Sventzian in the city council, in the magistrate's office, and in the Seym (Polish Parliament).

When the first Jewish kehillah was established in New Sventzian he also took part.

He was on the committee of “YEKAPO” and other help societies. Yitzhad Gordos was always apolitical.

He worked as a teacher and was a go between the Tsisho (Central Organization of Jewish Schools).

There were times he was influenced by the “Poalei Zion”, a worker's movement. In the last years he became more Zionist. When WW11 broke out, his reversal of influence.

When the Soviets arrived in 1939, Gordos joined the communist party.

[Col. 756]

Sve0756.jpg
Yitzhak Gordos with his grandchildren

 

When the Nazis invaded, Yitzhak and his family fled to Russia with the Soviet army. After the war he returned and lived in Vilna, the place he was born. He lives and works in the ministry of building.


[Col. 755]

Aharon Tzintzinatus z”l[1]

Tamar Efron

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve0755.jpg

 

Ahron Tzintzinatus was born in Zgierz, Poland in 1895. He completed his studies in the Zgierz Gymnasia and went to Vilna to further his studies. He completes the Law Faculty, of the Vilna University. He became a teacher in the folk schul of New Sventzian. He married Rosa Berman in the shtetl. Later he returns to Vilna with his wife and 2 daughters. He continues his studies to became a lawyer. Because of the anti–semitic character of the Polish regime,

[Col. 756]

he uses his ingenuity and becomes involved in Zionist cause. For a while he is the director of the Jewish Students Farband union, he works for “Yekapo”, and works for the Jewish newspaper “The Time” in Vilna as an editor. With his mighty pen he attacks the Jewish way of life on the streets of Vilna, which he pays for dearly when the Soviet regime arrives in 1939.

During the Polish regime he is a well–known Zionist in Vilna circles and also writes for “Today” a Warsaw newspaper in Vilna, a member of the Zionist Central committee in Poland and an instructor for the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency.

In the terrible days of 1941, his wife, children, her brothers and relatives are all led to the slaughter to the mass grave of Poligon.

[Col. 757]

After the war, he returns to Poland with his second wife, Sonia. He endured many difficulties during the war. He restarted his Zionist activities “Our Word”; his new undertaking for the Zionist cause, was a delegate for the first Jewish Congress after the war in Basel.

On his way to Israel, he stops in Frankfurt where remains for a while, working for the Zionist newspaper “Our Word”. In 1950, he made Aliya to Eretz Israel with his wife Sonia. He was always a member of union for the building of Israel.

[Col. 758]

The talented and devoted Ahron Tzintzinatus, lecturer, teacher, writer that appealed to his Jewish audience, has difficulty to acclimatize himself in Eretz Israel. His survival and horrors that stayed with him from the war haunted him. He had no one to heal his wounds, his bloody heart, he dies in Tel Aviv on February 29, 1961. His students and friends from New Sventzian, Vilna and Vilna region, remember him with fondness and will never forget his contribution and devotion to the Zionist cause and to Eretz Israel.

May his memory be blessed and live forever!


Footnote:
  1. Abraham Cincinatus, as per the Zgierz Yiskor Book Return


Avraham Vinik z”l

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve0757.jpg

 

Abraham Vinik was born in Vilna in 1898. His first schooling was in Heilerin's cheder “Metukan”. Later he ended his studies in in the Jewish–Russian Gymnasia of M.A. Cohen.

In 1920–922, he continues with his pedagogical courses, supported by the Jewish community and “Yekapo”, while being a teacher in a boy's school, “Mechiti hacuchla”.

In 1922 he came to New Sventzian as a teacher in the Jewish Folk Schul. He married Genia Yavitch, also a teacher in this school. In addition to being a teacher, he soon became involved with great enthusiasm in other organization and in the life of the shtetl. His main achievement, however

[Col. 758]

Was the Folks–Library in the shtetl, in which he was both the librarian and the director.

He devoted many hours to the drama club. He sought out the plays, and made sure the language was pure and just.

His activities in New Sventzian was also to further the Zionist cause, the :Poalei Zion”, and he made the speeches and held rallies. He was involved with the new school, :school kult” and soon became a teacher there, which was first started in Vilna. He was both the secretary and the teacher until the outbreak of WWII.

In the days of the German occupation, they put Vinik, with his wife and son in the Vilna Ghetto. There he worked at odd and hard work. After the liquidation of the ghetto, he was sent to Subatch. He survived until several days before the end of the war, with his only son, the 17 year old Kalman, who was an outstanding student in the Technion before the war.


[Col. 759]

The Children's Voice

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

In 1919 and 1922, in new Sventzian, “The Children's Voice”, a journal from the Jewish Folk School: these are several excerpts

Winter

by Yetta Kovarski

How wonderful when the snowflakes fall from above,
The beloved mother–the earth–all dressed in white,
The trees and houses enveloped in a white “kitel”
The homes and roofs covered with a white hat.

The wind howled through the streets,
Tearing at the houses, the roofs blowing,
When the children left school,
The earth was covered with the snow.

Winter on the Hill
by Emanuel Bak
Here in my house,
Here in my home,
I slide down the hill
From the hill.

A few minutes pass,
And… as if my years,
My ears are red,
My nose is frozen,
A shiver goes through my body,
I am alone in this deep snow, lost,
My sled is far away, lost,
I want to cry, I refrain,
It is not suitable, it is nor right…

 

The Rose

By Chaia Sura Gordon

In a beautiful garden,
Between many flowers,
A red rose grows,
In a beautiful pose.

Daily she grows larger,
Enfolding herself much more beautiful,
From her beautiful smell,
One becomes enchanted.

A bee comes often,
And sits on this flower,
He fills himself with honey,

And becomes more power.

[Col. 760]

Winter in the Forest

By Chana Portnoy

Naked in the forest and pure,
Not a leaf, not a green,
No longer a green dress,
Growing thinner and whiter.

No more the merry singing,
From the bird in the forest,
No more friendly sounds,
Lonely and cold in the forest.

 

On the Sled

By Yosef Zak

Hey there, children, come for a sleigh ride!
Cries out Zerakh, with great emotion,
And we run as if in a storm,
With our sled to the sleigh ride.

But he falls right away,
We start laughing, a noise
He gets up in an instant,
To climb the hill again.

[Col. 761]

1919, number 1, from the journal of the Children's Club

Shecna Zsepelovitch (Ahiyosef)

 

Sve0761.jpg

 

My Second Home

I am in the street, near the synagogue,
A Jew is wandering next to my address,
How are you in such a good mood,
Tell me, my son, on your new coat?
––if you wish, dear grandfather, Please, let us both enter,
the synagogue and sit forever,
and I will also tell you, about
In America, about the Jewish children.

[Col. 762]

I wondered
What they heard about us,
That we are in a difficult situation
Immediately they asked
How to improve our lives.
Not thinking, like in American style
They raised a lot of money
In order to send us necessities from there
And to satisfy our young hears.
The products arrive to Vilna “Yekapo”,
White flour, beans and cocoa,
And now we have a modern kitchen,
That opened for all the children, no difference who came in.
Poor and clean, all were young!
Everything is well when we live to see another day,
My mother does not have to worry for me any longer,
I leave for my second home,
It is joyful, warm and friendly,
I meet up with all of my friends,
We sit and eat all the same,
Everyone receives their own portion,
That is watched over–honest and holy,
A glass of cocoa and a roll, fresh and white,
A bowl of soup, with peas and rice.

Now, grandfather dear, winter is no longer,
To find something for the small children,
Grandfather stood up with a cry:
Life to America, the envy of the world!”

 

The setting of the Sun

By Zalman Berenstein

Autumn

Summer left, autumn is arriving,
The birds are flying away from the forest until spring,
The trees are undressing their green robes,
Even the last leaf is leaving.

Yellow leaves from the trees,
Are blowing around in the forest,
The wind, angry,
Arrives and blows them around.

 

The Sunset

The sun after Maariv (evening prayers) moves quickly,
The streams of light are still shining brightly,
They throw a red shine on the world
The night is approaching with its cold.

The air is cool, a wind is crying,
The trees are trembling and shaking,
And speaking between themselves
Telling no one–the secret between them alone.

The sun sets, the red,
The nature is dark and dead,
Everyone feel– the day is gone
We all receive– a sudden fright.


[Col. 767]

A Theatre Performance in our Town

Chaia Las

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve0767.jpg

 

It is Saturday evening. The whole shtetl is preparing for this evening. This evening the Yiddishists are playing: Hirshel Levenstein, his wife Feiga, Motel Gurewitz, Lifman Zak, Yosef Gildin, Freidel Boyarstein and others.

The actors are running all over town to borrow dresses (costumes) for their roles, if they don't find these amongst their own group, they go to the people of the Tarbut school,

[Col. 768]

sometimes getting a good advice, sometimes not.

We are performing “Tevye the Milkman” (Dairyman), by Sholem Aleichem, where my brother Hirshel will be performing and he needs a pair of tall boots, we run all over town but are not able to find any.

 

Sve0768.jpg
Performance by the drama club of New Sventzian

1–Kneeling: Rupke Gordos, Rivka Boyarstein, Hirsh Gildin, Ahron Boyarstein with her daughter
2–Sitting: Lifman Zak, Devorah Rutstein,––––, Misha Shapiro, Masha Kovalski
3–Standing: Rivka Levenstein, Abraham Katz, Chana Rutstein, Hrsh Levenstein, Yosef Zak, Motel Kovalski, Dovid Fingerhoyt, Feige Levenstein, Dobe Zak–Boyarstein

[Col. 769]

Suddenly, Mrs. Hellerstein appears, the extremist Hebrewist. She is the wife of the Hebrew Teacher, and she remembers hearing that we need a pair of high boots. She has a pair that will fit Hershel. She runs home and returns with the boots in half an hour. It was exactly as if made to order. We thanked her for her help and kind wishes (this was a time when Yiddish versus Hebrew folk were against each other).

We are worried, we repeat our roles. The evening is very important. The whole shtetl is coming, all the tickets are sold: we have to make this a successful evening as the school is at a deficit and we need to raise funds.

We are nervous, the halls fill up. But something is wrong. Motel Bak provided the décor, free of charge.

[Col. 770]

Leizer Godon, the prompter, arrives, goes to his seat and this is a sign that the play is about to begin. Everyone is ready. The actors are unrecognizable. The actors are ready to begin the first scene. Hands are clapping, and the first scene opens.

The curtain opens and suddenly, it begins…trach, trach, what happened?

The room is dark! We are running around to find out what happened, the electricity was cut! A few candles are brought to lighten the room and the stage. The performance starts. Everyone is pleased. The applause was enthusiastic. Everyone leaves for home.

At a later date the Hebraists also put on a performance and the money went to the Tarbut school. This is how a small shtetl like New Sventzian can afford to maintain 2 schools: one Yiddish and 1 Hebrew, so that the children can have a place to study.

In the end, all were happy and pleased: the artists–from the plays, the young folk–from the plays and the parents–and all the folk of the community.

 

Sve0770.jpg

 

[Col. 771]

The Economic Situation of New–Sventzian

Yekapo, Vilna 1831 (could be 1931), Pinchas of Lita, page 484

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

The community consisted of 5,000 people, almost 1,000 of them Jews. The livelihood is mainly from shop–keeping and small trade. Also from the customers of the Jewish shopkeepers. The Christians worked mainly in the train station.

They had their own cooperative, but they still shopped in Jewish stores. This meant that credit at the Jewish stores was available and you could pay whenever!

The debts grew larger every month, and when the Christians celebrated rater, New Year and other holidays, the amounts grew larger.

The market took place every Tuesday and Thursday, and were very small. The peasants who came were now cut off by the new Lithuanian border.

After the war the region became very impoverished. The peasant doesn't have many products to bring to market: a small wagon of wood, some eggs, a piece of butter, a calf. In the summertime, berries and mushrooms. You can imagine that this is not even worthwhile and the profits are minimal.

 

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