Translated by Janie Respitz
Father removed his Tefilin today and let out a big sigh,
It rocked the stillness in the house like a heavy bell.
Like a black bird, his hand trembled the half wrapped head piece.
An asthmatic answered from the rain outside.
Your sighs, father, are like thin swords, that sharply cut your limbs.
Oh, cry out, the storm of your painful years,
Silence is calling from years of talk, voice the walls are dark, more screaming
Leaking from all corners in the silent frost.
Oh, tear out the storm from your heart, so a stone can also hear
A wild tempest from your blood should blow the world apart.
These are everyone in the town's troubles
How to save people from a sinking ship.
But quietly, father won't shout today, he won't even speak.
The screams are stuck like a fire in his limbs.
Autumn winds are blowing in the streets, the last prayer in town
And chestnut trees in the yard are confessing their sins.
Translated by Janie Respitz
Today I make a blessing, the grandchild of Guli Sefarad, in all the markets and streets I whisper the blessing,
Thank you, lord: they take me again to all places to burn,
A sign: after hundreds of years of slaughter they have not broken me yet,
A sign, I am alive and my life is a light that not all can carry
And at the pyres I warm my hands and sing from The Song of Songs,
About eternal blossoming, eternal growing, eternal youth, full of strength,
He who throws me in the fire, will burn his own brains.
And I, purified, open all paths to capture people's brains.
I am no longer writing the Book of Lamentations rather I am giving offering teachings, new prophecies,
(Because even the seeker from Trevir Karl Marx, is, like Jesus of Nazareth, one of my brothers)
Hey! Throw me into the flames the grandchild of Guli Sfarad laughs at fire.
Flames alone, and his steps are pyres for all the thorns.
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Podbrodz was one of the small shtetls in the Vilna province. Since the great catastrophe [Holocaust] that descended upon the Jewish people from all these towns, it is now our Holy duty to shine a light from whatever source and from whomever remains to tell their story, about those inhumane events that led to its demise. Writing about how we survived will serve as a memorial to all the Jewish communities that existed there for generations but ended in genocide and destruction.
On a large piece of land that stretched from Vilna to the former Russian border, at the train station that tied Warsaw and Petersburg, the shtetl of Podbrodz was founded in 18631865. The rivers Zemiane and Duvinke cut through the shtetl in one direction, and the train line cut through in a second direction. The Sosnove forest surrounded the shtetl on all sides and it became a suitable place for dachas and pensiones. Through the entire length of the shtetl a highway passed that tied Vilna to Sventzian.
Because of the short distance, 50 kilometers, Podbrodz was called the father's bedroom of Vilna. It was actually true, as the summer homes were occupied by Jews from Vilna and the dachas in Podbrodz were famous throughout the entire Vilna township.
The population was comprised of Jews, Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, one Karaite and one Tatar.
There was no need for a special count of the population, as we are told. One could sit down with a glass of tea, take a stroll through the shtetl and count the Jews. We went from street to street, alley to alley and could point out each one by his name,
take a count and total the amount of Jews in the shtetl.
Understandably, we could do it this way, as we knew each young and old person.
This count started at Tzufrinker on Vilner Street, as we arrived in the shtetl from the Vilna side, until Shmuel Chaim Mirski; on the way we didn't have to include Odeskin, the goyish convert. He even spoke Yiddish and called Jews for a minyan, especially to say Kaddish when his father died. He even knew how to say a blessing: Baruch ata… king of the universe shine a lightfundamentally he was a non Jew and we didn't have to include him in our count.
From Mirski we had to walk for some time until we arrived at the brasgunes (this could be a family name=Brashgun)a family that spoke with a weird clinging sound, like the clanging of bells that hung around the horses' necks in the wintertime.
From there we went to Arianer Street until Shloime the volik (type of boot) maker and then back to Berl Fine.
At Berl's we had to be vigilant and remain very still, because he was a Jew who took great care of his health. We couldn't make a wind passing his house. God forbid he caught a cold in the winter.
He used to take sand from his pockets and throw it in front of him in order not to fall. He was a very cautious Jew!
From there we continued along Vilner Street, passing the Inn, until we came to the boss of the shtetl, Reb Israel Bratanishki. Here, next to his house, we purposely rested in order to hear his Torah reading. He was a Torah great scholar, an authority in Shas and Paksim. He was always busy during the holidays, sitting and teaching a page of Gemara with great enthusiasm.
Rabbi Israel Bratanishki always found a way to help a fellow Jew in a difficult situation, whether with charity or with friendly advice.
On the way we also have to mention another boss, who we called Abramke Feigel, at Simchat Torah he got so drunk he barely managed to make his way home.
From there we had to cross the small bridge, also to Boyarel (could be the name of another small village). There we found Rabbi Leibe Lapp, sitting on the porch of his house. It gave him great pleasure to sit for hours staring at the Zemiane river.
Not far from Rabbi Leibe Lapp lived Fishel the tailor. He was a Jew with a majestic beard and a constant smile on his face. He would stand, with his small Tallit humming a beautiful nigun (melody) while cutting his fabric.
It shows a picture of a typical tailor in a Lithuanian shtetl, working and studying in his leisure time, doing both with great enthusiasm.
What brought out these fine Jewish melodies that surrounded him as he was working, these melodies filled with of longing and sadness?
A Polish officer photographed him and the picture was printed in the New Year in the The Forward.
From Fishel we had to take a left turn and go in the direction of the mill.
Not far from the water mill, at the edge of the town, under a small hill, was a small house where Shloime the gribener (one who likes to ruminate) lived.
Going back we had to pass the same small streets because there was no other way to reach the large bridge. On this route we could encounter Rabbi Sheftlin sitting and reading a book. In my days, he was already in his eighties. He was still lucid and lively. He played chess and checkers, studied a page of Gemara and even read a modern book or novel. He was well versed in Russian and loved to listen to a concert. It was a pleasure to have a conversation with him. He always had a joke or a witticism, a Jew of great aspirations, he was a combination of the old and the new generation.
From him we arrived at Kaisener (King) Street, until Doctor Raizshefski, and then we arrived at Pilsudski Street, which was considered our main street (boulevard) of the shtetl.
There was TaibeGolde's hotel, if only I could stop by. From here we passed Sender Kagan (an), the pharmacist Kavkin, and the watchmaker Luvatzki.
Before we crossed the railroad I could remember that Leizer the Melamed[teacher] also lived there, an interesting personality.
After the railroad tracks, we
had to continue on the left side. On the right of the station only the Gentiles lived.
On this left side lived Meike Krol, a tall, broad and heavyset young man who was known in the region as a man of great strength. The Jews of the shtetl were very proud of him and his presence made us feel more secure. Even the Gentiles feared him and didn't want to antagonize him.
From Meike Krol we continued further to Sventzianer Street and finally at the end we reached the cemetery. This was a good sign, we finally ended our count. In the final total of old young, men and woman, the total number was about 960 Jewish souls.
The Religious Life
There were 2 Beit Midrashim and several small minyanim, where all the Jews assembled for Saturdays and holidays. In the Beit Midrash we got to meet our friends and receive the latest news (gossip) of the shtetl and from the outside world.
Quite often we heard a sermon by Rabbi Perski or from a teacher who arrived as a guest in the shtetl. Rabbi Perski was a Jew, a Talmud scholar, very talented with a sharp wit.
From the religious community we also must mention the Chazzan and the 3 Shochets.
The life of the Beit Midrash revolved around learning or to hand out a fat[large] Aliyah. (Aliyah=honor bestowed when a sum of money was pledged).
The honor at the Niehlah prayer, at Yom Kippur, [the Aliyah] was reserved for the Shklaravitch family. Iser the butcher always bought the portion you showed him shine a light.
The Beit Mamidrash played an important role in the lives of the children. They studied with Rabbi ZimelItzik. They reserved their pranks for Purim when they shot and murdered Haman.
Way before the holiday of Purim, the youth started preparing locks, picked mushrooms, fixed nails and prepared for the great battle against the Jewish enemy of Persia.
When we started to read the Magillah Esther, we all waited impatiently, until they read the portion reminding us of about the terrible times for Israel.
As loud as the Torah reader screamed the name Haman, the entire Beit Mamidrash fell into a disorder (a thunder), the walls seemed to shake! Now the children took the opportunity to fight and denigrate the terrible enemy Haman.
Another holiday that included the youth was Simchas Torah. We sang and danced, drank and ate, but we also had to rally for an Aliyah, which made us feel worthy and somewhat older.
Yom Kippur provided the shtetl with a different atmosphere. Even the Gentiles feared the night of Yom Kippur which they called, strachna natz, the scary night.
Tisha B'av, the Beit Mamidrash became a meeting place where the young people threw nuts and passed this sad day playing.
On the day of the holiday Beit Hashoeva [the water drawing festival] the orchestra of the firefighters, comprised only of Jews, played.
Even Zionist activities were conducted in the Beit Midrash. All the Zionist speakers and activities took place here. The Aliyah was often given as a donation to the Keren Kayemet or the Keren Hayesod.
When the Jewish world celebrated an important national holiday, such as, the Balfour Declaration or the opening of the University in Jerusalem, a celebration took place in the Beit Midrash. Opposite, when the state regime issued a warning or the Arabs attacked or carried out a massacre, the synagogue became a place of mourning or protest.
In the large synagogue there was a recluse [who devoted his time to sacred study], the children looked at this weird person and ridiculed him. As he didn't seem to know his real name, they called him, porush [recluse]. This created a form of entertainment for the children.
The second Beit Midrash was only a
Gemillut Hesed, which shared the synagogue space and the handouts took place here. No memories or special remarks can be remembered from this one.
The Folk Shuls
Of all the Jewish institutions of the shtetl, the FolkShul played the most important role. During the First World War, during the German occupation, the Jewish children studied in the state school. After the war, when the Poles occupied our region, Podbrodz founded a Jewish school. It was in a dacha of a rich Jew from Vilna, by the name Kamin. It was a summer house and didn't have ovens in all the rooms. The children and the teachers suffered from the cold during the winter. During a frost, it was difficult to study.
Summer and spring were very suitable for learning, but at that time the house needed to be vacated, so the vacationers from Vilna could use it.
The school suffered many hardships. The teachers were paid only for 10 months, 2 months they went without pay.
In the second year, another building was found. They rented Yudel Epstein's second floor and it was easier to study in the wintertime.
In my memory remains engraved the teachers Dobke and Vilentchik whose devotion and love I will never forget.
The Yiddish school didn't last long. The difficult economic situation, in the beginning of the 1920s, the lack of books, supplies and teachers, led
Yiddish FolkShul 1928
Below: Ring, Loibe Krol, Guta Mirski, Yehudit Feler, Chaia Shapira, Moishe Mirski, teacher, Chana Blitz, Rochel Patashnik, Tzila Lubotski, Leib Orman
Above: Leia Mirski, Aske Gordon, Aharon Bavarski, Abraham Charmatz, Yitzhak Vilian, Shabtai Mirski, BenZion Eingelzin
to the liquidation of the Jewish school.
I actually remember, when the help committee handed out tablets and pencils, while notebooks and pens were not available. Every 2 students received 1 tablet. I had to share with Toine Epstein. She didn't want to share and this is the situation I had to deal with.
After the school closed the students took private lessons from Beker, in Shilnochike's that later became a hotel. Only rich and select children left for Vilna and studied in the RealGymnasia and the middle school of Sophia Markovna Gurewitz.
The situation lasted several years, in 1924
Below; Sara Kovarski,, Mirski, Danishevski, Motel Shmidt, Elka Cheifetz, Chana Blitz,
Sitting: BenZion Aronovitch, Ezriel Patasnik, Bankover, Nachman Bavarski, Ruven Bavarski, Michal Bavarski, Nate Mirski
Standing: Yitzhak Blitz, Avraham Abramovitch, Meir Blitz, up above: Rivkind, Schmidt, Dovid Lapp, , Patasnik
Motel Schmidt, Shapira, Abraham Abramovitch, Nachman Bavarski, Israel Epstein
finally the Tarbut School was founded in Abrashe Krol's house, on the second floor.
the first teachers were: Kopelovitch, Danishevski, Blitz and the female teacher was Helena.
Many children also studied in the Polish school, in Boyerel, which was on a high educational level. These were the children whose parents didn't raise them with a Zionist passion.
The Tarbut school had a colossal influence on the development of all the Zionist organizations like Ha' Shomer Ha'Zair, He'Halutz, Tzeiri Zion, He'Halutz Ha'zair and others.
Thanks to the Tarbut Shul, the Jewish people
Right to left: sitting: Sonia Charmatz, Esther Rifkind, teacher, , , , , Keila Ring, Ita Kalanski, Cana Charmatz, Charmatz, Fraida Brataniski, Asher Leizerovitch, Leizer Mirski, Yekutiel Eingelzin, Elihu Shilan, , Shaoul Lapp, Leizer Trachtenberg, Elihu Krol, Tuvia Lubitch, Abraham Mirski,
renewed their interest in Zionism and the Hebrew language.
Tanach and Hebrew were taught by Kopelovitch and Polia Danishevski, who was a graduate of a Hebrew gymnasium and spoke a fluent Hebrew. He uncovered the beauty of the Hebrew language for his students, which was unknown on a daily basis at that time.
Hanan Blitz, the first graduate from Podbrodz at that time, gave the Jewish children a good foundation for mathematics, geography and biology.
The teacher Helena, a Jewish maiden, taught Polish and excelled in the Polish language and literature.
All these abovementioned teachers laid a foundation for worldly schools in the Hebrew language and everyone in the region knew that Podbrodz had an excellent Tarbut school.
The school instilled in each one of us the Zionist spirit. The teachers taught us the love for Eretz Israel. I will never forget when the University in Jerusalem was opened, we celebrated in our shtetl this wonderful holiday! The children arranged the special day in the forest on a hill.
The first Tarbut school existed only 2 years, and closed due to its large deficit. A few years later it was reopened, thanks to the help from the culture center of Tarbut.
Below: Slove Lapp, Chaia Naradski, Noite Epstein, Mirele Kopelovitch, Feige Skurkovitch, Feige Mirski, Glas, Sara Reitenberg, Shabtai Mirski, Abraham Charmatz, Moishe Mirski, Zav Bratanishki, Moishe Lapp, Fani Rabinovitch, Devoirah Feler, Chaia Vilian, Chana Charmatz
Sitting: Israel Gordon, Lapp, Leizer Trachtenberg, Shaoul Lapp, Leizer Mirski, Yechutiel Eingelzin, Yose Schklaravitch,
2nd row: Abraham Gordon, , Leizervitch, Abraham Charmatz, , Fenke Socnovitch, Ahron Bavarski, Monia Charmatz, , Shaike Charmatz
3rd row: Sholem Schklaravitch, Berl Eingelzin, , Ester Trakinski, Chana Charmatz, Leia Charmatz, Zev Bratanishki, Sura Reitenberg, Yehudit Zak, Ester Rifkind, Leifer, Sura Vilian, Chaia Narotzki, Mina Leizerovitch
On top: Teiba Charmatz, BenZion Ain Ziporah Orman, Ruven Patasnik, Chana Baltvinik, Ziporah Malaravitch, Devorah Feler, Feiga Skurkovitch, Elisva Skurkovitch, Rochel Patasnik, Feiga Mirski, Tzilah Sparber, Chaia Mirski, Hene Lapp, Nite Epstein, Itzhak Vilian, Leib Blitz, Chaia Blitz, Moishe Lapp, Israel Feler, Shabtai Mirski, , Glaz, , Linde
The new school was in a better building, next to the FolkBank.
The first Aliyah to Eretz Israel from our shtetl started. The first were: Natke Mirski,
NachmanLew Bavarski, and Yerachmiel Patasnik. The leadership of the Zionist clubs were taken over by the Bar Mitzvah youth.
The school's existence became easier. The never ending question of teachers and books was addressed. The youth groups helped to maintain the school financially. The parents paid according to their means. Funds were raided through gatherings, lectures, a flowerday, and others, the most important: the plays by the drama club.
Several committees were comprised of 16 and 17 year old boys and girls, friends of Shomer Hatzair. At first it seemed strange that the elders didn't form a committee, but we got used to it and this created a new experience for us.
The Public Library [folklibrary]
The public library was the institution in Podbrodz which they were the proudest, it possessed over 4000 books and benefitted not only the children but also the adults.
The books were in Yiddish, Polish, Russian, Hebrew and German. Surrounding its foundation many discussions and struggles were fought. Each side wanted to have a greater influence over the library. Again the Yiddishists versus the Hebraists, each group trying to influence the management with their representation in the membership.
The management of the library was involved with cultural undertakings, for example, literary evenings and discussions. Thanks to its existence, many of the young people had the opportunity to distance themselves from the atmosphere of the older generation.
The library provided usefulness to the thousands of vacationers each summer. For 3 months every year there was constant activity. The guests, who were from the larger cities, expressed their gratitude for such an important library and made it famous in the region.
First the library was in a rented building. Later, bricks were collected and thanks to the financial assistance of friends, a new building was built. At that time this was an unknown thing in the whole province. First, we never dreamed of possessing our own library building!
The hall also served as a theatre. From then on we didn't have to move the benches from the fire station and then return them. Even though we made do with the other locale, it was not an ideal situation.
The building was a rarity in those times and Podbrodz was unique in this way, this building and theatre became well known in the entire region.
The Drama Club
Like in all the other towns, the youth of Podbrodz needed a cultural outlet and the drama club provided such an atmosphere. Each performance infused new life and enthusiasm in this forgotten shtetl. Most of the plays were in Yiddish, several later on in Hebrew.
The most popular plays were from Sholem Aleichem and Gordin.
The youth devoted themselves to this amateur theatre, they found either interest in performing or simply used it as a meeting place; this was a fundamental inheritance for the Jewish people, to see theatre.
Also from an artistic point of view, it didn't fall short. Podbrodz was proud to possess several talented people, who had the talent to perform in larger city theatres.
Many of the summer vacationers came to these performances which they were accustomed to as they lived in larger cities. They were full of praise and the reviews were very positive.
Alihu Licht was the director for many years. Everyone remembers until today, Kuni Lemel, The Lottery, Tuvia the Milkman, Seven Hanged, and others.
Two students participated with enthusiasm: Hoita Epstein and Ben Zion Eingelzin who played in Osip Dimov's The singer of sadness.
Often people arrived and the tickets were sold out. The hall was always filled, head to head. Sometimes the performance played twice, and from time to time we displayed our talents in other shtetls. The drama club was an important work of art in the region and our amateurartists were praised wherever they went.
Right after the First World war the youth of Podbrodz organized a string orchestra. Slowly we accumulated the necessary instruments, especially, mandolins and guitars and then we began to play. The musical talents were: Chaim Lunefski, Abrasha Skrolovitch, Chaim Fine and the 3 Bavarski brothers. Abrashka played the klavir [piano], the others the mandolin, guitar and balalaika. The ensemble played for 5 straight weeks, even with the Ukrainian Theatre of Rudenka when they visited Podbrodz.
Often concerts with rich classical music took place, they even played folk music (popular Yiddish songs). It is incredible to imagine that these musical and talented young people never saw a note.
At that time no one owned a radio in our shtetl, in select homes we could find a gramophone.
Below: , Ischayu Rudamin, Chaim Fine, Abraham Gordon, Faiva Lubitch, Aske Gordon, Shapiro, Ischayhu Lapp,, Abrasha Shklaravitch, Leib Zilber, Burmitch, , Peretz Lapp, Israel Epstein
Standing: Ben Zion Abramovitch, Kovarski, Chana Yavitch, Yerachmiel Trackinski, ,,Ezriel Potashnik, Michal Bavarski, ,, Abraham Abramovitch, Dovid Lapp, , Abraham Gordon, Chaim Lunefski, ,,,,Yitzhak Zilber, Shmuel Krol, Yitzhak Blitz, Idel Kulback, Mule Narodzki
Sitting below: Tzvi Aronavitch, Suzan, Yosef Bavarski, Yulke Rifkind,, Oske Gordon
Middle: Shmuel Krol, Dovid Lapp, Esterel Lapp, Gita Vilian, Rivka Shapiro, Feiga Katz,, Yehudit Kravtchinski, Ida Shapiro, Roze Shapiro
On top: Alter Epstein, Meir Gordon, Yuntche Luefski, Shulamit Lunefski, Yosef Shapiro, Chaim Lunefski, Idel Kulback
We were afforded the opportunity to listen to music on account of this ensemble, we also had a military orchestra which played the entire summer in the forest. Thanks to this military orchestra, our own firefighters orchestra was founded. All the participants were Jews, they were: Shmuel Gavenda, who played the bass, Yosef Mirski, the clarinet, Arke Gordon was the tenor, Pinka Shapiro was the baritone and 2 barmitzvah boys played on a small and old baraban (military drum).
The fire fighters orchestra played during all the parades in the shtetl and for all the simchas (celebrations, Jewish and nonJewish).
The 2 teachers, the sisters Ida and Roza Shapiro, made it possible for a conservatory of music to be founded in Podbrodz, where they taught klavir (german= piano).
This shows the artistic heights the youth in the shtetl achieved.
This is how we lived and the developed the shtetl Podbrodz in the Vilna province. We built important cultural institutions with our own efforts and determination, a small ring in a larger chain of Jewish life in all of Poland.
by Ben-Zion Lapp
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
On a hill, near the ., stood the old and large synagogue. In the summer you could see through the open windows of the synagogue, Fishl the tailor, standing and holding a Gemara in his hand and singing such beautiful and melodious tunes. You could also see Moishe the Blacksmith asking a question to the Rabbi Israel Bratanitski and he shows him with his finger in the Gemara, while deep in thought, looking at the stars and stroking his beard.
Because of Podbrodz's beautiful and rich nature, it became a very well known summer vacation spot in Poland. In the summertime (before the first World War), thousands of summer residents arrived here, even from St. Petersburg and Riga. In and around the nearby woods, beautiful and modern pensions were built. Amongst those of the providers were the blacksmiths, the bakers, the fishermen, the haberdasheries, and others.
Besides this, there were other summer homes built in the woods, which were rented out either for a month or a week. The revenue alone from these summer homes(Dachas) would provide income in addition to all products which had to be provided. These summer rentals would provide a very good income for the shtetl folk. Butchers would deliver meat to these summer homes, Bakers-breads and other baked goods, storekeepers-others necessary articles, peasants-fruit and vegetables, handworkers would come to repair clothes, shoes and other things. Shopkeepers would bring eggs and poultry, butter and cheese, .Many families earned a living from this.
In the summer evenings you could hear music, singing and other sounds coming from these summer homes.
Most important, the coffee-house of Shapira was packed, where you would eat Marozhina (ice cream).
The summer residents would often make outings to the green and yellow lake, which was located several kilometers from the shtetl. There they would spend their leisure time fishing. Even from these excursions, many Jews earned a living.
A second and noteworthy way of earning a living, came from the Military Barracks that encircled the shtetl. About 8 kilometers from the shtetl was a large Military fortification, which until 1914 was named: Alexanderovitch fortification. Everyone came from near and far, as this was the largest Military fortification in Russia.
A lot of Jews did business there, stalls made from wooden boards, food stores, restaurants and other things. Also, the handworkers from the shtetl came to the fortification: like watchmakers, shoemakers, barbers, and others.
This produced great envy amongst the non- Jewish population and an order was given forbidding the Jews to provide any kind of service to the Military. The shtetl Jews immediately found an answer to this disaster. They sought out friendly Christians and immediately resumed their business using their names.
After the first World War a military base still remained there and the Jews were still the main suppliers of meat and bread.
Before the first World War The Bund in our town played an important role about the political and way of life.
Quite often speakers would come to meet in our shtetl in someone's home, in the summertime they would conduct these meeting in the nearby woods.
In those days there was also a Jewish library in our shtetl, many books were scattered throughout the homes of our shtetl.
When pogroms against the Jews broke out in Russia, this also had an impact on the Gentile population of our shtetl and in Podbrodz the atmosphere was also hostile. The Jewish youth found out about this and organized a counter attack. They immediately raised money and bought revolvers, iron capsules with explosives, and placed them all around the Jewish streets of the shtetl. The entire Jewish youth banded together and waited for a signal, in order to prevent an attack on the Jewish folk.
At that time I was still a very young boy, but I remember to this day how Mendke Katz, fired a shot in the air, as a warning to those who were preparing to attack us, that Jews were prepared to arm themselves and this would be a warning not to bother with us.
This had a great impact on the Christian population and as a result the program in Podbrodz did not take place.
This was the effect The Bund had after the first World War and was organized in our shtetl. Later many left for the larger towns, others immigrated to America
Congress-volunteers in July 23, 1933
Ben-Zion Sklarovitch, ___, Shalom Sklarovitch,______, Aharon Bavarski, Aharon Trachtenberg
and the numbers of the Bund were depleted.
The Zionist calling beckoned the Jewish youth and most of them dreamed that they would meet in Eretz Yisroel and end their days there. Only Aharon Engelson and his wife Chaia Surel, until the very last hour of their lives, were Bundists, and met their end by the Lithuanian and German bandits.
After the first world war, a large Halutz movement took place: we went to Hakhshara (pioneer training camps), raised funds for Keren Kayemet, and helped found the Tarbut-Schul and other things. The most important Jewish institution in the shtetl was the public library with its own building, its guiding light was Rabbi Chaim Lonefski, the director, who was devoted to this institution.
He made a living from watchmaking and photography, but he often left his work because of his love for the library. Entire nights he would spend there, in order to organize these books, to number them and to catalogue them, post events, go to Vilna to buy books, to bring lecturers and other things.
During the Nazi occupation, Chaim Lonefski, was one of the first to fall into those murderous hands.
Below sitting: Krol, Golda Kraftshinski, Rebecca Shapira, Ben-Zion Lapp, a teacher, Krol
Standing: Neme Mirski, Rebecca Blazman, Raya Silber, Meir Eingelson, Pina Krol
On top: Mina Mirski, Zvi Aronovitch, Narodski, Sura Ring
by Nathan Perski
Translated by Meir Razy
Rabbi Moshe Perski
Rabbi Moshe Perski was the Rabbi of the Jewish community of Podbrodz (Pabrade, Lithuania) in the district of Sventzian between the two World Wars. He was known as God-fearing, a bright scholar and excellent preacher who possessed many other good qualities. He did not limit himself to the world of Halacha but also dealt with public affairs and led his community honestly and with a firm hand.
He was born in the city of Minsk. His father, Rabbi Benjamin, was a Jewish scholar, a Mishnah scholar and a strict follower of the Jewish traditions. Rabbi Moshe was educated in a Cheder and was one among the many Yeshiva students in that great city. Later he studied for many years at the famous Yeshiva of Volozhin and was considered one of the most prominent students by this great Yeshiva's leaders. He continued studying there for several years even after he was ordained as a Rabbi and after starting a family in the town of Karelichy, near Novogrudok, supported by his father-in-law.
His life was not easy. When the First World War broke out, as the town of Karelichy was on the front line, his family was displaced along with all the other Jews. As a student of the Yeshiva he was unable to find a paying job to support his family. His merchandise was his knowledge of the Torah, which was not a desirable commodity during the hard times of the war.
Many Jewish refugees gathered in the city of Novogrudok. The grocers and merchants who brought a little money with them started small businesses while the young scholar and his family were destitute and hungry. Indeed, those early years of the First World War were years of hardship and suffering, hunger, deprivation, despair and depression. The bitterness that accumulated in the heart of the young Rabbi nibbled at his psyche and stirred his spirit.
In 1916, Rabbi Moshe Perski was appointed as a Dayan (=Judge) and the head of the Yeshiva of Rabbi Reines in the city of Lida. His students and associates at the Yeshiva grew fond of him but his financial situation was quite strained. The well-known Reines Yeshiva was destroyed during the war and had to be rebuilt but, who was interested or had the financial means to study during the war years? The town was captured by the Russians, then the Germans and then given to the Poles while pogroms were always close-by. Who was available to study Torah in such terrible years?
At the end of the First World War Rabbi Moshe Perski was appointed Rabbi in the town of Podbrodz, near Vilna (Vilnius). The town was beginning to recover from the war. While its Jewish residents were not property-rich, most of them were engaged in small trading and crafts and many of them started to flourish. It was a progressive, cheerful and full-of-life town; full of warmth and vigor, blessed with an educated and largely Zionist-oriented youth. The town was close to Vilna and the spirit of openness that came out of Vilna encouraged parents to give their children a proper general education. There was no demand for traditional Cheders in the town. One by one the Cheders were closed down and were replaced by modern secular schools: the older one was the Yiddish School and the newer one was the Hebrew TARBUT School. The majority of the graduates of the elementary school system turned to high schools In Vilna while others joined various Yeshivas.
Concerned about the education of the younger generation, Rabbi Moshe Perski worked hard to establish a religious school in the town. He fought vigorously against the Yiddish School until it was closed and he even established a national religious school next to the Hebrew TARBUT School. The religious school's approach was nationalistic too. It taught using the Hebrew language and provided a general education, albeit traditional. The teachers were devout Jews who had received a good secular education in addition to their Jewish education. Over the years, that religious school was also closed and the Rabbi's efforts turned towards maintaining the traditional character of the TARBUT School. He made sure that the school's Judaism studies were kept to a high standard and that its Judaism teachers were Torah scholars and observant Jews. And indeed, the townspeople were educated in the spirit of tradition and nationalism. Most of them were enthusiastic Zionists and many of them immigrated to Ertez Israel as Pioneers many years before the Holocaust that hit our people in Poland and other countries. A number of these townspeople, many of who live in Israel today, occupy important positions in various fields.
Rabbi Moshe Perski was admired by all the members of his congregation. They respected him for his wisdom and deep knowledge of Judaism, for his acumen, his honesty, his courage and his dedication to the needs of the community.
Jews would attend his lessons every evening in the synagogue. They were the SHAS Company who studied Talmud with the Rabbi. Others took classes in Ein Yaakov (an interpretation of the TALMUD, published in 1516) and others listened to the Legends of the Sages on Saturday nights in the Beit Midrash. His clear explanations attracted many listeners. His excellent sermons attracted large crowds who enjoyed his combination of Halacha, Midrashim and Legends.
The quotes that he inserted in the sermons and his melodic delivery captivated the audience. Not only orthodox Jews gathered to hear his sermons, but also secular Jews and the young people who usually would only come to the synagogue on High Holidays. People who heard the Rabbi's sermons felt a profound and memorable experience. Even if they did not agree with the ideas he was preaching, his words fascinated and penetrated deep into their souls. Rabbi Moshe Perski's sermons were great cultural events in town and the synagogue was packed. Old and young, men, women and teenagers flocked to hear to him.
While adhering to the Torah and Jewish tradition, Rabbi Moshe Perski pursued general education and culture as-well. He wanted the younger generation to adhere to the values of Jewish culture and tradition but also felt they should be exposed to the world's general knowledge and culture at the same time. Torah and general education, in his opinion, should be tightly bound together. He dedicated his entire life to educating the younger generation.
Rabbi Moshe did not limit himself to religious studies and was very active in the public life of the town.
He was a tough adversary to his opponents, mostly various public figures. He relentlessly fought for his views and often angered many officials in his town. This did not deter him, sometimes alone, from insisting on his principles. He fought with the upmost zeal to remove any non-Zionist influence from the affairs of the community and, using his rhetorical skills, he successfully pushed his political opponents out of any important public positions. Who else was able to convince the public that his views were the correct ones? He maintained the national and traditional character of the town and defended its institutions regardless of the interests of the rich and powerful. Even his opponents respected his dedication to the Jewish religion and his commitment to national ideas.
Rabbi Moshe Perski served as the Rabbi in Podbrodz for almost twenty five years during the interwar period. He was full of energy, passion and belief in his endeavors. He studied the Talmud and the other Holy books day and night. He cared for the public more than he cared for himself and his family. He lived a humble life and was always sensitive to the wants of others and assisted those in need.
His powers left him during the terrible years of World War II and he died at the young age of 58. The memory of this righteous man will be forever blessed.
by Mordechai Bartana
Translated by Meir Razy
My father, my father, Israel!
Which of your many eminent qualities shall I choose in order to describe you? You were honest in your way of thinking and in your actions, you kept away from intrigues and distanced yourself from any quarrels or arguments. You were a man of truth, careful not to say any falsehood and you taught us, your sons, to always stick to the truth, even if it would hurt us. You were humble despite your vast knowledge of the Talmud, GEMARA and the other holy books. You were open to modern literature and to world events. You refrained from seeking honor, although honor pursued you and the whole community chose you as its leader and spokesman. You were a source of advice and resourcefulness to the townspeople. Many shared their personal secrets with you and trusted you to be their arbitrator and judge.
But above all I see your kindness, which had no limit, towards every person and every being. While you were the head of the entire community, the poor and oppressed considered you as their father or brother. You did not have to open your hand to them because your hand was always open to every person in need. You shared all your possessions with those in need. You gave dowries to poor brides, you sent poor, sick people to hospitals at your expense. You created stores and workshops for those on the brink of failure. You were the leader of all public affairs in town and every matter, major or minor, was settled through your guidance.
The elementary school, 1922
You paid a large part of the Tarbut School teachers' salaries, the school that you helped set up in town. You helped build the new synagogue it is difficult to list all of your many, many good initiatives and deeds. Your numerous businesses (distribution centers for flour, tobacco, oil, petrol, groceries, shoes. leather, etc.) employed many of the town's people, and this fact made you stay even though you were planning to immigrate to Eretz Israel in the early 1930s. Your employees knew that they would lose their jobs and the cornerstone of the strength of the community if you left their town.
Rabbi Israel Bertinski
You were rich but you did not exploit your success for your own benefit. You always dressed modestly and treated each person like a brother.
You were distinct in town, different from everyone else in your nature, your temperament and your behavior. You were like a fortress, supporting every person who approached you. You were quiet and temperate. I have never heard you get upset or angry with anyone. If you were ever hurt by someone you always got past it, and the only response was: He doesn't understand and you moved on. You educated us in the same spirit and never hit us or punished us for our actions. This is why we took all your observations and opinions very seriously and were very careful how we behaved.
You taught us, your children, from our earliest years of life to speak the truth and only the truth. You were a great educator. You never demanded of us things we could not do. You tried to fulfill your children's requests and I do not remember a single instance that you replied to our wishes negatively. When you did not like something, you tried to explain its negative side to us and then you would summarize: I don't think so, but you yourself can decide whether or not to accept my opinion.
You were wise. You encouraged your children to emulate your actions, your dress and your behavior. When relatives commented that they were surprised that you had not prevented your sons from doing something, you would normally reply: If my children are similar to me in their nature, then when they grow up they will try to avoid doing anything wrong and be honest people. And if, Gd forbid, they are not like me in their nature, then my bans will not help and when they grow up they will only resent me.
Your work day always started with a wakeup call early in the morning. You prayed in the first Minyan and then you taught the attendants the daily page of the Talmud. Then you worked at your many businesses until noon. You were in contact with the largest flour mills in Poland, with food factories, with oil and tobacco suppliers both in Poland and abroad. You usually devoted the afternoon to the needs of the public. This you did through your memberships in public institutions such as the community leadership, the beadles of the synagogue, the management of the bank, the School Board Parents Association and so on. It was only after the night prayers that you found time for yourself and your family.
Your home was always open to all, and poor travelers dined at your table almost every day. Various people visited our home in the evening for their private affairs. They sat around the table with you and in the center of it stood a large samovar. Everyone drank tea, tasted the pastries and explained their claims to you. Occasionally you would meet with one of the visitors in private. Every person came out of your home satisfied, whether they came for advice or for help.
A special virtue was your secret almsgiving (Matan baSeter). You searched for people in distress and secretly helped them.
The Christians too respected and loved you. When the Russians conquered the town at the outbreak of World War II, the workers, both Jews and nonJews alike, recommended your appointment as secretary of the Labor Association to the Communist authorities. This, even though you were the richest man in town! You held this position until the German destroyers, may their name be blotted out, entered the town and you died along with all the townspeople of Pabradė and the surrounding area. This came to pass in the Ghetto of Kamelishki on the Sabbath, the 12th day of Cheshvan 5703 (October 24, 1942). You were only 58 years of age. Along with you died your son, my brother Jacob, a pure, humble, knowledgeable Torah scholar; a wise man who had a compassionate heart for every creature. He was only 28 years old.
The Bertinski Family: Frieda, Marisha, ShlomoZvi, Mordechai (in the back)
And your son Shlomo Zvi, my 17yearold brother, innocent, goodnatured and pure. And my good sister Frieda, humble and devoted to any needy person as well as to her husband, Moshe Tanchum, my cousin. Gd will avenge them.
My father, Rabbi Israel, son of Rabbi Shlomo Zvi Bertinski and Golda of the Kemach family, was born in Nemenčinė. My grandfather was famous as a scholar and his name was well known all around the region. He had ten sons and one daughter, all of whom produced large families in Poland, Lithuania and Russia.
Except for my three uncles who immigrated to the United States before World War I, and me, (I immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1935), the only survivors of my grandfather's family were my brother Ze'ev and my sister Miriam. Both survived the Holocaust in ghettos, camps and forests. Everyone else uncles, aunts, dozens of cousins were all lost along with six million of our people.
May Gd avenge their blood.
From the Pinchas of Lita Yekapo, 1931
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
In the 1930's the folk of the Podbrodz region was comprised of 30,000 souls, of which there were no more than 900 Jewish souls.
Over forty percent of the Jewish population was involved in shop keeping and small trade. Thirty percent were artisans, and the remaining thirty percent didn't earn a living.
The economic situation worsened in the last few years. The important market day, which took place every Monday, grew smaller than in former years. As in all the other shtetls, markets were opened all over. Only the peasants of the neighbouring hamlets came to Podbrodz.
Strangers also frequented the market, set up their stalls and undercut prices. They brought cheaper merchandise of inferior quality and our economic livelihood grew smaller. The Jewish merchants couldn't compete.
The main crisis for the Jewish shopkeepers was when the large Christian cooperative was opened, the Rolnik, rich in merchandise, attracted the entire peasant population.
The cooperative was well connected to the Christian FolkBank (People's Bank), which was rich in capital and gave credit at low prices.
The bank had over 1000 members. Each person had to have credit of 50 zlotes in the bank and also buy for the same amount in the cooperative. This way he was obliged to buy everything he needed in the cooperative.
This cooperative Rolnik, added another crisis to our situation. Speakers came and started agitations amongst the Christian folk, to buy only from Christian shops.
The cooperative also gave them merchandise on a credit at very preferential rates. All transactions were settled through the bank. The cooperative therefore never lost money, as the Christian FolkBank always rescued the cooperative if the need arose.
It is no wonder the Jewish shopkeepers were helpless in such circumstances.
To add to their economic problem, many cooperatives as well as Christian shops opened in the larger towns. It resulted in a loss of trade for the Jewish shops and Innkeepers.
In addition, the surrounding area was sandy and not prone to cultivating fruit. The peasants ability to buy anything was limited, therefore not having means to purchase goods. They spread false rumors that the Jews are sucking the economy with antiSemitic slurs, Svai do svego. The peasants soon believed this and stopped frequenting the Jewish shops.
The result is clear, eighty percent of the Jewish shopkeepers have a very small income. We can say if the loss in earnings of a shopkeeper is 2530 zlotes a week and his wage is 300 zlotes a week, it is hard to live on this. Added to this are the taxes which are very high and definitely affects the bottom line.
After the taxes and other deductions, the shopkeeper is left with 15 zlotes a week. It is a pittance and result in a catastrophe for the Jewish shopkeeper.
One can imagine if the situation is so diminished for the shopkeeper, how the smaller tradesmen and artisans are faring. In the last years before the War, many Christian blacksmiths, shoemakers and tailors arrived in our small villages. Everyone's earning suffered and there was not enough money to buy a piece of bread. All lived in poverty and need.
Most of the Jewish folk took to gardening and working from their homes. Each one grew potatoes and vegetables which saved them from starvation. Very few Jews had money to buy a cow or chickens, so milk and meat were scarce.
Podbrodz was known for its beautiful scenery, for its summerhomes and beautiful forests. In dachaseason the economic situation improved. About 300 vacationers arrive in the area, and all the residents prepare to sell their various products. The income increased from prior days.
The dachaseason also brought a joyful atmosphere to the region. Our hearts were happier and more joyful. The big heartache is the dachaseason doesn't last more than 3 months, and when the students begin their studies, the shtetl become quiet and sad again.
The Polish military added to the economy in Podbrodz, stationed not far from town. We made a living from these soldiers even though they had their own military shops.
The bakeries also pay heavy taxes and we cannot envy them.
How can we survive in such a manner? The answer is quite simple. Most of the help comes from America.
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