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[Col. 1541]

Rabbi Gershon Zak Z”L

by Yaacov Abel

Translated by Meir Razy

 

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Gershon Zak

 

Tall and straight, his beard meticulously combed - his Hasidic long coat, flawless - his traditional Hasidic boots, always polished and shining. Rabbi Gershon Zak was a well-built, handsome man.

His noble appearance stood out everywhere: in the house, on the street, in the synagogue. I had the privilege of being a child of a relative as-well-as a neighbor, and served as his “partner” for his physical training. Whenever I entered their home, whether for an errand or on my own initiative, this serious and strict Jew took a long, thick leather strip that always lay in the wardrobe, passed it under my arms and carefully lifted me with one hand up to the ceiling and back down to the floor. He repeated this exercise 10-12 times. This was very puzzling and scary at first, but this “sport” made me very proud to have helped him.

Rabbi Gershon, like the vast majority of the Jews of Haydutsishok, was a Chabad Chassid, a Lubavitcher Chassid, a strict and fanatical, stubborn and consistent man. He brooked no compromises under any circumstances, with anyone or under any conditions. And this was so in his personal life and in public or social matters.

It is no wonder that with such extremes he was always involved in strong, fierce and bitter quarrels, and from time to time he caused bitter disagreements and in-fighting. It was said of him that there were always two sides in Haydutsishok. All the Jews of the town were on one side and on the other side was Rabbi Gershon with a number of his associates.

One of the great controversies in the history of the town which was legendary some 50 years ago, was the dispute over Rabbi Fogel. That rabbi was nominated as the Chief Rabbi of the town against the opinion of Rabbi Gershon and a number of other zealots, including my grandfather Z”l. Things deteriorated into fights, physical blows and hatred among the community members. The rabbinic court apparently ruled against his opinion, but Rabbi Gershon did not accept this ruling and the dispute continued for a long time until Rabbi Fogel left.

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The rabbi who came after him to serve in Haydutsishok, Rabbi Poppel ZT”L, was a friend of Rabbi Gershon, close to and respected by him as well as by all the Jews of the town.

Our family relocated together with the family of Rabbi Poppel and Rabbi Gershon to Mariampole, Lithuania.

Rabbi Gershon was very satisfied when Rabbi Poppel was appointed as the Chief Rabbi of Mariampole. His joy was complete and he was delighted when his friend, Rabbi Poppel, was chosen as a delegate to the first parliament of an independent Lithuania as a representative of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

While he was an extremist and fanatic, Rabbi Gershon was also involved with people -he did not limit himself to the confines of the synagogue. As a young man he roamed even farther away and sailed to the United States where he stayed for several years. It was said about him, and we do not doubt this story as the truth, that during all his years in America he did not eat meat. This was not because he was a vegetarian or that there was some shortage of kosher meat. It was only because the Kashrut was not done according to the Chabad customs.

Rabbi Gershon had several different businesses. The commerce and business brought him into close contact with people, mostly women and girls. He was a ritual slaughterer in the town but his trade did not seem to provide him with a decent living. So he set up several machines for making socks, a very essential commodity in small towns at the time. He employed many young women from the local community, usually from poor families. Just before the First World War, he also began trading with left-over textiles, and most of his clients were women too.

He did not shake hands with women and would not share a ride in a vehicle with women.

Several times, as a little boy, I eye-witnessed his bravery and his strict beliefs. Rabbi Gershon and his wife Karina Nechama had two sons and two daughters. The youngest son was Meir, who died in Israel about seven years ago. As a boy he studied and worked in the town of Dvinsk, where his sister Zvia lived after her marriage. He would visit his parents on Saturdays and holidays. One Friday, the train was late and Meir arrived at his father's house after the lighting of the candles. He came home apprehensive about the mishap and tried to justify himself to his father. However Rabbi Gershon did not extend a hand to him and did not want to hear any justification. He instructed his wife not to talk to the boy. This boycott remained until after end of the Shabbat.

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During the First World War, the Jews of the town feared the Cossacks. Rabbi Gershon was also alarmed by this risk and, gathered his strength and courage, he provided a refuge for the young daughters of Israel.

The house of David Kacerginski, who lived in the next alley, had a large storage room with a door the opened from the inside. Rabbi Gershon selected this storage room as a shelter for the women and daughters of Israel. He stood by that door with an axe in his hand and guarded them.

Rabbi Gershon died at a ripe old age in Mariampole, Lithuania.

May his memory be blessed.


R' Shimon Reikhel–the Brick Layer

Chanoch Ben–Sarah

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

One of the interesting figures in Haydutishok was Reb Shimon Reikhel, who everyone called the brick–layer. This knick–name was well known across many villages of the region.

He was born in Postov and brought up there, after his wedding he moved to Haydutishok, where he lived with his large family for more than 40 years.

He was a tall Jew, with a dark beard, a healthy face and fiery intelligent eyes. He loved to work, he was always overworked and loved to engage in conversation.

Reb Shimon Reikhel was considered in the shtetl as one of the few manufacturers. Several kilometers from Haydutishok, on an open field, he built a gigantic oven and manufactured tiles and mortar. He worked with a huge furnace and was able to produce 40,000 tiles in one shift. He didn't own the land and he purchased the lime (clay) from his Christian neighbours.

Besides being considered a rich man and a manufacturer, he still exerted himself like a dark, uneducated peasant. He alone placed the tiles in the oven and then fired them up. This was a difficult job and much strength was needed to place the tiles in the oven. This hard work didn't deter him, the other way around, he was always pleased and felt rewarded.

Even in those times, seldom was there such a hard and devoted personality.

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Very few Jews, especially the wealthy ones, didn't work at physical labour. Most of the Jewish folk were employed–as known–with shop keeping and small trade.

In the tile workshop also worked his two sons: Leibe and Israel. Besides them, he employed another 20 people, a large percentage were Jews. One of his best masters was Hershel Tzernatzki, who was from Dzhikevines.

Also Jewish girls worked transporting the tiles. Two of them were Hirshele's [Tzernatzki] sisters: Slove and Tzipe.

When a branch of “Halutz” was established in Haudutishok, many Halutzim also worked in his tile factory. He beamed with pride. He couldn't stop wondering how children from wealthy Jewish families did such menial and physical labour.

For the town Halutz, the tile factory served as a Hackshara (preparation) training. The youth of the shtetl therefore were able to prepare themselves for a future, more physical way of life in Eretz Israel. Many Halutzim thought that in the land of Eretz Israel hard work would be a necessity and in this way it was practise, to fire and produce tiles.

Reb Shimon never argued with his workers. He was loved by all, Jews and Christians, and they had great respect for him.

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He set an example, he didn't work less than his workers. They didn't see him as the rich man, the boss, or the manufacturer. Just a regular worker like the rest of them.

He sold the tiles throughout the entire region and had many close relationships with all the merchant clubs(associations) of the Haydutishok county. Known for his honesty and good character throughout the towns, he was often requested to serve as a representative in various societies.

He was quiet and very respected, shy. All knew that one could come for a loan at his home, or charity. He had an open hand and an open home. There was seldom a Shabbos, when there wasn't a guest, a Magid, a scholar or just someone passing through, they all knew they could have a meal and a bed.

From his own tiles he built a 2 storey house beneath the hill which and was considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Haydutishok.

The years passed by and in this way Reb Shimon established himself and made a good living.

In 1915, the front closed in on Haydutishok and the Jewish folk of Haydutishok had to evacuate. Reb Shimon and his large family resettled in Dzhikevines, a small village where Jewish peasants lived.

There were many Jewish beggars and he took care of them in the same manner as for his own family.

A year later they were thrown out to Lita (Lithuania). Reb Shimon went to live in Pren, as told by his daughter Sara (now Shuster from Ramat Chaim)and in his home he developed a true social help–society, whoever needed help knew his address. In his name the money arrived from the Joint and only he was entrusted to divide the proceeds amongst the refugees.

His daughter recounts his trustworthy character trait:

In a cold, winter day he left with his sons to bring wood from the nearby forest. He forgot, that in his bosom–pocket

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he hid some bank–notes, which he had to divide among the workers.

At night, when he returned home, he noticed he lost the important package in the forest.

The event bothered him like thunder on a bright day. In several minutes the first white hairs appeared on his head. He raised his hand and couldn't stop brewing:

“This money does not belong to me, what should I do?” Not long after pondering, he dressed and returned to the forest to look for the lost package.

His good fortune ensued, a Christian saw him and asked, are you looking for a package containing some bank–notes? It showed immediately that this was an honest Christian, and she returned all the money. Not one bank note was missing.

Shimon then told everyone, this woman was his saviour angel. He would never recover from such a loss!

During these additional years in Pren, his daughter told a second important tale. There was a woman with 5 small children among the workers? Her husband was in America and she was alone to raise them.

Suddenly the woman got sick and died several days later. Shimon immediately took the 5 orphans into his home and looked after them like a true father.

A second daughter from America writes another interesting episode:

Smerl, Raske's Zalman, a terrible epidemic broke out in the house. Three children died within a week. The doctor immediately demanded the home be painted and sterilized. There was no painter in the shtetl that wanted to enter the house. They were all frightened and did want to whitewash the house.

Reb Shimon spent his entire life as shingle maker, he never painted, nor did he know how to whitewash, but when he heard the story, he didn't think too long and took a pail of slaked lime and a brush, left and whitewashed the infected house.

Everyone saw him as a hero

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And they were impressed by his devoted and courageous character.

He became famous in the region because of his good deeds, his virtues became legends.

Besides all these deeds he was also an ardent Zionist and dreamt his whole life to make Aliyah to Eretz Israel.

He was also a conscientious person with broad vision and outreach, a true man who looked after the needs of the community. His entire life he served as the Gabbai of the old Synagogue, he held the position of leader of the shtetl and was the overseer and head–boss of the cemetery.

As Haydutishok didn't have the means for a bath, he built one with his own funds, a very beautiful bathhouse.

Every night he sat in the Synagogue and prayed Tehillim with his own, sad nigun (melody).

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His singing was followed by large crowds.

His sad fate was a gruesome and terrible one. Also a Holy one! When all the Jews of Haydutishok were led to Poligon, he wrapped himself in his broad silk Tallit and led a prayer. A Lithuanian hooligan approached him, made fun of him, and wanted to steal his Tallit. Reb Shimon resisted and the hooligan shot and wounded him. Several days later the Christians found his body laying near the rail way tracks.

This is the way Reb Shimon the brick maker lived and died. Holy and devoted!

May his memory be blessed!


[Col. 1547]

Rabbis, Slaughterers, Teachers and Scholars

Rafael Yaffee

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

At the end of the nineteenth century, a quarrel broke out between the slaughterers and the Rabbi. Understandably, each side had its followers, and eventually a bitter struggle unravelled.

The dispute flared up before the reading of the Shabbat Torah. It went as far as reaching the court of Jewish law (Beit Din), where the greatest Rabbis of the region presided.

In the end one Shochet was reprimanded: one had to leave the shtetl together with the Rabbi and a new Rabbi came to replace him, Rabbi Fafel, z”l.

Rabbi Fafel remained in Haydutishok until 1916, until the known expulsion of the Haudutishoker Jews and Rabbi Fafel became the Rabbi in Mariampole.

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Later he became so famous and was appointed as a deputy to the Lithuanian Sejm, in Kovno.

Rabbi Fafel was a Jew of great wisdom, with a pure heart. He also knew Russian and German and was popular among his Lithuanian deputies.

After the First World War the Jews started to return to Haydutishok and started to look for a new Rabbi. The task wasn't an easy one, after a Rabbi such as Rabbi Fafel, it was a difficult to find a suitable candidate to represent the Rabbinate of Haydutishok.

Many Rabbis came to our shtetl to fill the position, they held talks and interviews.

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At that time two groups fought bitterly.

On one side were the very religious, mostly the Elders. On the other side were young elements, who only wanted a progressive Rabbi, with worldly views and a knowledge of languages.

Finally, the young won and in 1925 Rabbi Elhanan Moshitz arrived in Haydutishok, the son– in– law of the Rabbi of Vileyka.

He was a young man of twenty something years, sharp and intelligent, well versed and was immediately loved by the townsfolk. Even the Elders gave their blessing and made peace with him.

Rabbi Moshitz was especially known for his Saturday sermons, which drew large crowds. He solved Jewish problems with worldly and political solutions and the young people of the shtetl hurried for his Saturday services in the synagogue, especially to hear his sermons.

Rabbi Elhanan Moshitz remained the Rabbi of Haydutishok until the destruction arrived. In 1941 he went to his father–in–law in Vileyka and was murdered there by the German beasts.

May the memory of the righteous be a blessing!

After the First World War, a new Shochet also arrived in Haydutishok. He was Rabbi Moishe Leib, the son– in– law of Tabariski from Svir. He was a pleasant young man, with a warm Jewish heart, a great philanthropist and a lover of books. There was never a day, when a poor person didn't sit at his table.

The Shochet's house was open for every unfortunate soul. Whoever was in a difficult situation, went to the Shochet and explained his troubles. Rabbi Moishe Leib set out immediately to everyone in the shtetl to collect some zlotes (money).

The Shochet was involved in all the affairs of the townsfolk, with young and old, poor and rich, everyone respected him and loved him.

In 1941, when the Germans entered Haydutishok, his father–in–law Tabarishki from Svir sent a special carriage to bring him back to Svir,

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which was in White Russia; we thought that it would be quieter there than in our Lithuanian shtetls.

But Rabbi Moishe refused to go. He answered his father– in– law: “What will be will the Jews of Israel, will be will the Rabbi of Israel”. He was murdered with all the Jews of Haydutishok In Poligon. May his memory be blessed!

 

Teachers (melamedim)

In 1909 I began my Cheder studies. We had several Cheders in Haydutishok with well–known teachers.

  1. Moishe Hirsh Ferman. The Shamash of the old synagogue, was then an elderly Jew, with a white beard and taught about 12 boys in his Cheder. We learned our Aleph– Beth here, Chumash and the Prophets.
    His Cheder was in a small house, next to a pit, on a narrow street where Henoch Kuritzki lived. We studied from eight in the morning until late at night.
    At mid–day the Rabbi went to the synagogue to take a break and catch a nap. For us children this was an opportunity, we went outside to the pit and played and played.
  2. The second well known teacher was the Shamash from the new synagogue, Elihum Zalman, a middle– aged Jew with a black beard. His Cheder was in a small street where Rubin Kuritzki lived, which also was next to a pit. There was not much difference between these two Cheders.
    Both Shamashim had similar methods of teaching.
  3. The third teacher was Rabbi Mendel, the Shamash from the Hasidic Shtibel (house of prayer); his Cheder was in a rather large room, in Asne Kuritzki's house.
    I studied here for about 2 semesters, that is about a year.
    The house was on Vidzer Street near the stream, and often in the summertime we went into the water to bathe.
    The Rabbi had a cane which was braided from leather. When one was late he received several whacks from the cane.
    Rabbi Mendel had his cane wrapped around his left hand, in the right hand he
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    held a paddle made of wood, about 25 centimeters long.
  1. After ending 2 semesters at Rabbi Mendel's, I was sent to another teacher, a young man, who knew the whole Tenach from memory. They called him by his family name, Berl Matzkin.
    I studied Chumash, the Prophets, grammar, arithmetic and other subjects from modern books. He told us current events and was considered a very progressive teacher.
    His Cheder was on the street of Abraham Kuritzki. There were about 15 young boys studying with me, some were Abel, Patasnik, Katz and Perlis.
    Every Thursday we had to recite everything we learned that week, this was a good method and we received a lot of praise. He was considered a good pedagogue among all the teachers. I studied 3 semesters with him and was very pleased.
  2. My third Rebi was Meir Leib, an older Jew with a long white beard. He was a scholar and only took students versed in Gemara.
    He didn't have a cane or a paddle. Instead he used his hand or fist and give us a whack in the face. This left a trace, a warning for the entire week.
    Besides his teaching, his wife went to the market on Thursdays to barter. She bought eggs, and this day was like a holiday for us children. We could breathe easier or play in the garden and even run home to eat a warm meal.
  3. We also have to remember the teacher Rabbi Shmuel Yitzhak Alsfein, he was considered a scholar and a genius. He taught Tenach and grammar to the older children. Besides being a teacher, he was also the Torah Reader in the New Synagogue.
    When the Yiddish Folk Shul was founded he taught Hebrew to the students.
    He was also murdered with the Jews of Haydutishok in Poligon.
  4. Until the first world war,
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    the former Shochet, Gershon Zak had a Talmud Torah in his house, where poor children studied, for the most part, orphans.
    Every Friday a collection was made for the Talmud Torah.
    At Israel Abramovitch's house there was a Cheder for Gemara students. He was very well–versed and only accepted the brightest students. He was very strict and conducted his students with a severe discipline.
  1. There were another 2 Cheders in Vidzer Street, at the Shochets, Gedalia and Meir, where the students had many breaks. The slaughterers had to go often to the slaughter–house and this gave the students a lot of free time to play or bath in the nearby stream.
  2. In Haydutishok we also had a special teacher for girls, called Shneur, he taught arithmetic and Yiddish writing. He even went to the children's' homes and gave private lessons. He didn't make much a living from this.
  3. A year before the first world war in Haydutishok, the teacher Israel Abramson founded a different sort of Cheder, a reform–cheder. He was well educated and owned a business of shoes and boots. All of a sudden he decided to become a teacher. He rented a large and airy room, bought special tables and benches for children; hired teachers specializing in Russian, mathematics and geography and always dreamed of turning this Cheder into a modern Folk–Shul.
    He considered himself a modern pedagogue and didn't allow the punishment of children by beating them. He either put the student in a corner or expelled them from the class.
    The outbreak of World War One ended his dreams.
  4. Besides the Melamdim we also had female teachers, I for example, studied Russian with Fania, who later married Yudel Fisher from Svir. She lives in Israel now.
    A second teacher was Chaia–Sora, Soieyvitch, also the monopoltchik's (some business owner who had a monopoly, perhaps referring to Chaia–Sora) daughter.
    The amount of Melamdim, teachers, male and female, shows us that Haydutishok had very high standards of education.
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There were rarely any illiterates in the shtetl. Everyone knew how to read and write.

Many of the Jews of Haydutishok considered themselves great scholars. In the Beit Midrashim, Torah and Gemara was studied day and day. Amongst these scholars we should mention the children of Mendel Gordon, now in Brazil. Leib Solomyak

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was also a scholar. No one remained from his family. His nephews live in Israel and in South Africa.

We also have to mention Chaim Zerach Zar, Chloine Yosel's, Chloine Gurwich, Shloime Dovid, Yosef Chaim, Meir Kuritzki and Israel Abramovitch.

Before the First World War many young people left to study in the yeshivas, others went to study in Russian gymnasiums.


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Our drama club

Rafael Yaffe

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

After the revolution of 1905, Haydutishok produced a progressive generation of young people. They founded a library which was a great source for Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian books. Lectures were held but their main energy was devoted to the drama club.

The first play, which was performed in 1910, was Mekhiras Yosef, “The Selling of Joseph”. For months everyone practiced their roles. Then we were busy acquiring special clothing for the costumes, in Ruven Kuritzki's shed we prepared a special stage. Then we went to Sventian to get special permission from the authorities.

When all was ready, the Christian folk came to us with a warning and forbade us to proceed with the performance as the Jews wanted to desecrate the name of Jesus.

Nothing helped, even with our assurances, this was nothing more than a play!

Then we called the priest to help out. He was an intelligent Christian and understood modern ways, it would be ridiculous not to allow the play to go on. He called some from his parish and they deleted several lines and took care of the police officer as well.

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The police watched over the play and the first performance was welcomed with great enthusiasm.

The drama club in Haydutishok, from that time forward, became famous throughout the region. Later we put on these plays: The Lottery (Sholem Aleichem), The Slaughter (Di Shkhita), The Trial Wedding, the Family, and others.

After the war, the drama club was founded by the Folk Shul. These plays were important sources of income for the school, otherwise the deficit of the 2 schools would never be never ending.

 

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A group of young people from the Folk–Shul

Zalman Abel, Michal Patasnik, Slava Tzernatzki, teacher Rozenfeld, Chaim Swirski, Mashe Fisher, Chana Feigelson, Sara Lunofski, teacher Filovski, Yosef Abramavitch, Rochel Tzernatzki, Liba Hochman, Etel Perevoznik, Gershon Sheitel

 

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The Jewish Folk Shul

Gershon Yaffe and Shneur Zalman Abel

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

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A Jewish Folk Shul was founded in Hauditishok in 1921, without the help of the central Yiddish school organization (T.I.S.H.O).

It was an exemplary school with high pedagogical standards and a good reputation in the region. Her first teachers were: Rozenfeld, Filofski, Aronovitch, Tzintzinatus, and a few locals, Yacov and Michla Kaplan.

The first administrator was the teacher Rozenfeld and later in 1931, the school administration was taken over by Yacov Kaplan.

The founder of the school in 1921 was the pharmacist Rubin, Pesach Volatzki, Peretz Yaffe, Shevakh Solomyak, Yeruchmiel Lubatzki, and Yitzhak Rudnitzki.

The directors of the school–committee in the last years were: Shevakh Solomyak, Gershon Yaffe, Abraham Yaffe and Ben–Zion Perevoznik.

This school had 6 classes(grades)–and boasted, a wonderful children's library with over 600 books. The first graduation was in 1926. Her graduates left for Vilna to further their studies in the real– gymnasia (University) and Teachers' Seminary.

When the school was founded in 1921 it stood on Vidzer Street, in the house of Shmuel Kuritzki. Later it relocated to Gurwich, then to Yitzhak Rudnitzki, and then to a Christian house on Sventzianer Street.

In 1936 the school received a warning, that if a suitable building is not found for the coming year, its status would be revoked.

This came from the Polish Ministry of Education. Everyone understood,

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the warning was serious, and the friends of the school decided to build a new building.

They started to ask for donations.

A few thousand zlotes were donated by the T.I.S.H.O. The building cost was more than 30,000 zlotes, a sum to be paid by the shtetl's inhabitants.

The administration organized several fundraisers: recitals, plays, etc. and eventually raised enough money to erect a magnificent building on Tatarska Street.

In 1937, when they laid the first stone, a lively ceremony was organized, where all the important guests from surrounding shtetls came. Also the central school organization from

 

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Graduates, 1931

1st row: Abraham Yafe, Gitel Fisher, Ben–Zion Perevoznik, Teacher Ida Fisher, Zalman Abel, Sara Abramovitch, Gershon Yaffe, Chana Perevoznik, Sheina Abel
2nd row: Gitel Patashnik, Chana Patashnik, Ester Perevoznik, teacher Feiga Shapira
3rd row: Slova Tzernatzki, Miriam Patashnik

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The building of the Jewish Folk–Shul

 

Vilna sent two important delegates, school officials and speakers, our friends, Attorney Sternikov and Barontshuk. Also in attendance for this festive evening was the secretary of TISHO in Vilna, Fine.

All the participants greeted and addressed the school–committee of Haydutishok

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to thank them for their help to build the Jewish school.

In 1938, a year later, the Jewish folk of Haydutishok had the fortunate opportunity to prepare the dedication of the building.

In those days everyone was proud of this achievement and conducted themselves in the same manner as preparing for a holiday, they walked around with their heads held high, full of pride for their shtetl.

Later it was not easy to maintain––it had one year of glory in its own building. After so many problems, tireless work and devoted efforts, the Jewish children studied here only one year.

In 1939 with the outbreak of World War Two, the entire cultural life of the shtetl was ruined, and in the front line, of course, was the school.

Who could have imagined in 1938 that our lives would be destroyed, everything will be lost in flames and in blood!

 

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Yiddish Folk–Shul

1st row: Steinhard Abraham, Marmur Fruma, Patashnik Israel, Marmur Hirsh, Matzkin Chana, Katz Shietke, Abramovitch Sheina, Yocelman Pesach, Matzkin Liba,––,Faives, Rudnitzki Yona, Groman Itze
2nd row: Chaikin Shifra, Rudnitzki Miriam, Charmatz Gershon, Feigelson Fraida, techer Berensteyn, teacher Soleiveitchik, Yocelman Abraham, Oistreich Matla, Perevoznik Yudel, Gordon Abraham Bina, Strikovski Mendel
3rd row: Pomerantz Heikel, Abramovitch Shapiro Sholem, Marmur Merel, Barensteyn Moishe, Feigelson Lipa, Polikanski Rochel, Amdurski Elka, Feigelson Masha, Yocelman Leizer, Matzkin Reizel

 

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The Big Fire

Nachum Kuritzki

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

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I was born in Haydutishok in 1875.

Until today I remember the big fire in our shtetl in 1880, when I was 5 years old.

The blaze was so strong that I will never forget it.

It was a Saturday evening, somewhere a wedding was taking place, I was asleep when I heard the commotion and screaming: Alert! Alert! Fire!

My mother quickly ran in and dressed me and took me out into the street.

The picture, that was in front of me, as I said, I cannot forget until today.

Our neighbour's house was on fire, Zalman Raske's (or Roskes). My mother brought me to my grandfather, who lived in a far– away street.

In that fire almost the entire Vidzer street burned, as far as the bridge.

I remember more details from the second fire.

I was 11 years old, as it was in 1886.

At the time in Haydutishok, there was a Jew who we called Chloine, the kvetcher (complainer). The origin of this name I don't know.

It was a hot Shabbos afternoon, his son went into the attic, like the custom, to catch a Shabbos dream (nap).

At the same time, at the neighbours house, in the attic, there were 2 young girls napping, which had a small window facing the street. When they got up from their nap, they saw through the window Chloine's house in flames.

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The flames were spreading to their roof and everyone was yelling to them to jump out of the window. One of the girls jumped down and injured herself. The second was burnt alive.

That Saturday afternoon, more than half the shtetl burned down. The flames in several hours engulfed over 300 houses, most of them, Jewish homes.

It was fortunate, that there was a brick building that belonged to Yosel Leibl's (could be mistaken for Lavin), they managed to extinguish the fire here and only a small part of the building was gone.

From that fire I can remember an interesting episode: A Jewish tavern owner lived in Gaydishok. When he saw from a distance that a fire broke out in Haydutishok, he came running to rescue. His wife and children saw and also came running. They knew many of the townsfolk and also gave help to the affected townsfolk. They were carrying furniture from the homes, then they were carrying water.

No one from the tavern owner's family noticed the flames were reaching Gaydishok, and there houses were also burning like in the center of our shtetl.

When the fire was completely out, and night time arrived, they left for their home and realized their home disappeared. Not one item of theirs was saved. The main tragedy was, the tavern owner had invited some of the homeless to stay with him,

[Col. 1561]

until God will provide and they can rebuild. It is difficult to understand, how the homeless felt when they arrived to Gaydishok, seeing that the tavern owner's fate is worse than theirs. The family stood on the spot and the homeless had to help them.

[Col. 1562]

I remember my mother giving me two cushions to bring to the tavern owner.

After that fire, a fire–brigade was founded in Haydutishok. Straw roofs were no longer allowed. All the people rebuilt. Such large fires no longer occurred.


[Col. 1561]

Simple, Good–Hearted
and Unforgettable Jews From Haydutciski

A page of memories of Jewish Haydutishok

Israel Witzentovski, Australia

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

I wandered through many shtetls and shtetelechs during the panic and confusion created, at the end of 1939, when masses of refugees from occupied Poland ran across borders in search of a home, feeling the thunder under their feet. All the roads were flooded with refugees, full of fear in their eyes. One another asked themselves: “where? And who will welcome us and put a roof over our heads? And what about work?”

The storm took me through unfamiliar towns and roads further and further away. Winter arrived, harsh, with bitter frosts and snow storms. I barely made it to Lintup, where I arrived one evening. An angry February wind blew through the streets, unfamiliar surroundings greeted me and I didn't know where to go. Together with another Jew, Ben–Zion Apter, a Braslav Chasid and also a refugee, we entered the Beit Hamidrash.

It was after Maariv and the assembled were in deep conversation. They received us in a friendly manner and asked where we came from. Ben–Zion's hands were swollen from cold and hunger, someone brought food and hot coffee. But to invite us home to sleep, no one spoke! They were all afraid of the news brought by the unwelcome guests.

The entire night we slept on the bench in the Beit Hamidrash. In the morning Jewish gendarmes arrived and with anger they sent us to the train transport, which was arranged to take us in an unknown direction.

[Col. 1562]

Someone said we were going to Donbas, in the coal mines. Others said to Siberia. I didn't have the desire to go to any of these place so I got off at the next station. This was Haydutishok.

In the evening, an unknown, cold world! The frost was eating through my bones and my stomach was growling from hunger. I looked at the houses, standing low and covered in fresh snow, appearing worn out from generations of use. “Which door should I knock on? Will I receive the same welcome as in Lintup? and from the other towns? will my fear deter me because of my earlier unpleasant welcome, will they close their doors on me again?”

It seemed to me that I heard an old nigun floating over the roof–tops in that frosty and lonely evening, it reminded me of praying so I went to the Beit Hamidrash.

The warm and wonderful eyes looked at me, they made a circle around me, questioning me with warmth and trust.

Soon a Jew approached me and told me he was the representative of the shtetl. The eyes underneath his brows looked over my clothing and quietly said:

[Col. 1563]

“You are in torn clothing and surely you must be exhausted. My idea, is that you rest now. We will provide you with a job, a house and you will return to your former self. Later you will decide what you will do.”

“Yes, but in the meantime, what do I do?”

“We will soon see.”

He brought me to a Jew called Kuritzki, and they sat me at a table and fed me a warm meal.

After I ate I took my coat and wanted to return to the Beit Mamidrash, where I imagined I would spend the night. The wife of Kuritzki said in bewilderment: “why are you leaving? and where to?”

“I don't want to disrespect you, but I am a stranger!”

“Why are you speaking like this? You are amongst your own kind, among Jews! You will not go out into this cold!”

She prepared warm water and the first time in months I washed and slept in a clean bed.

The next morning I left for the Beit Mamidrash with Kuritzki and after davening he invited me back to his home for breakfast. A neighbour came in and asked “from where I came?” When he heard I was from Warsaw, he told me he had a son in Warsaw, Henoch Todres, who worked in the scientific institute. We soon discovered that Henoch was a good friend of mine, and this Jew was so pleased to receive this firsthand news about his son.

The Jew didn't leave my side, he went with me like a long lost relative, took me to Josef Gordon, an 80 year old butcher, with a long beard, who lived with his wife in a welcoming home. There were no children and they gave me my own house (could be room), and welcomed me as their own child.

I remained in Haydutishok for a few years, worked and bartered, and earned enough for food. But Shabbos I was required to eat at the same table as the old married couple. The warmth and welcome radiated from them.

I told them over and over again the same stories

[Col. 1564]

Sve1564.jpg
A meeting in 1938 of the Yiddish Folk–Shul

Right to left: Israel Katzenellenbogen, Yitzhak Rudnitzki, Yudel Volotzki, Ben–Zion Perevoznik, Yitzhak Yofe, Berl Smidt, Gershon Yofe, Abraham Yofe, Michal Patasnik, Berta the teacher, Bialer the teacher

 

about Jews all over the world and felt their great love they carried deep in their hearts for all their fellow Jews. I had met them by some miracle in the course of that week. When I spoke he was so enthralled, he felt he was living each of my stories.

I closely observed the way the Jews of Haydutishok lived. They welcomed many refugees, worn out, broken and in rags, but they received them with open arms in a true spirit of friendship and brotherhood. Like their own relatives!

They refugees were homeless and lost, and could not believe the kindness and warmth of the Jews of Haydutishok. They felt so at ease they didn't want to continue further.

Even the young people, the Kommosol– affiliated, closed their eyes to the severe communist rules and helped them receive a document, a paper, that permits the refugee to work like a free person in order to earn a living.

I remember one late winter night, when the shutters of the homes were locked,

[Col. 1565]

through a crack in the shutter and only a speck of a red light shone through, Katzkel Becker was rushing through the quiet streets. Quietly he knocked on the shutters, he was collecting money for a refugee who was arrested. He was engaged in an illegal trade, so he, Katzkel Becker, put up most of the money and when he was released he brought him to his home, fed him, boarded him until he got back on his feet.

“Where are you, my dear brothers from Haydutishok? I see you constantly before my eyes, I hear your voices and feel the pride of your Jewish words!”

I see myself at your Shabbat table that glowed with so many Jewish candles,

[Col. 1566]

its glow was so holy and pure, those times were bitter– sweet, “more sweet”, if I dare say so! My blood is boiling with your memories!

During all my wanderings, through all the hardships of seeing the destroyed shtetls, in times of fear and pain, the echo of your words greeted and calmed me. I will never forget your deeds of brotherly love and all that you did for me.

I know, I will no longer see you, you were tortured and murdered and thrown into the mass graves of Ponar and Poligon, but forever, until the end of my days I will carry your spirit inside my heart as my memorial for your welcoming Jews which I encountered during my difficult wander–years.

 

Sve1566.jpg
Students of the Tarbut School, 1931

Shloime Yochelman, ––Yehudit Yocelman, Rishke Abel, Batia Abel, Yehudit Zeiger, Avraham Bina Gordon,––,Shloime Lifshitz, ––,Taibe Katz,Ruben Ginzberg, Chaim Disner, ––, teacher,––,Itzhak Perlis, Chaim Leib Hochman, Israel Patasnik, Avraham Lipa Shapira, Shmuel Yitzhak Alfsfein, Leib Lapida, Sholem Shapira, Israel Lubotzki, Chaim Yocelman, Beila Abel, ––,––,––,––,Shalom Yofe, Nechama Zeiger, ––,––,––,Litl Lapida, ––,––,Avraham Patasnik, Pesia Gerstein, Ahron Mashitz, Meir Konfar, Shapira, Gitl Yofe, Chana Mashitz, Henia Yocelman

 

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