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[Page 62 - Yiddish]

The Svir Gymnastics and Sports Club

by Berl Alperovitz

Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross

Edited by Toby Bird

…A Gymnastics Club in Svir? What kind of nonsense is this? Something like this had never been heard of before! This is some kind of punishment from heaven… Strong young men who should already be thinking about their future, about marriage, about a store come and allow themselves to be led by a young know-it-all from Germany. He teaches them how to march, about face, tumble and various other tricks – exactly like crazy people. And this – beneath the free sky, in the middle of the day, at the horse-market, and they aren't even embarrassed…

Such were the atmosphere, the impressions and opinions about the new institution for physical education of the Jewish youth in Svir. The Gymnastics Club was then the sensation of the day. It was discussed in every home, and about which the “polite” people spoke in disparaging terms.

A gathering and a discussion.

I called for an organizing gathering at which I spoke about the goal and importance of physical education for the Jewish youth. Almost all of those present – about 30 – signed up as members. A committee was chosen, comprised of: Shloyme Hirsh Ayzikovitch, Paule Svirsky, Eli Rabinovitch, and others. They became the founders and activists of the Club. Later, there also was founded a girls' group. The most active participants in the girls' group were Khane Kissin and Yokhe Fisher.

Svir football players of Maccabee in 1923


Not yet having any permission from the authorities, the first couple of classes were conducted under the aegis of the fire-fighters at their locale. This brought out the anger of the homeowners to such a degree, that they called a gathering, maintaining thatI was leading the youth of Svir away from the right path. One fine day, I was approached by the shames who, trembling from fear, tells me: “I have come to report you in the name of the homeowners, that you should cease your tricks. If you do not, they have decided at a gathering to turn to the authorities with a petition that you be sent out of Svir”. With these final words, the old shames began to tremble even more.

The football players of Svir – 1931


Seeing that things were progressing well, and the members came regularly for their lessons, we decided to get in contact with the Maccabee in Vilna and requested their help with instruction material and so forth. To this purpose, the directors delegated Eli Rabinovitch to go to Vilna. Upon his return, he enthusiastically reported to the administration about the reception they had given him at the Vilna Macabee, how amazed the local instructors were when they heard about a Gymnastics Club in Svir at a time when the Vilna Maccabee was itself still young.

First of all, the Vilna Maccabee gave him gymnastic lesson-books and promised to send any necessary gymnastic equipment, which actually did arrive quite quickly – a bench and a ladder.

On February 21st , 1922, they gave us formal permission from the authorities and sent it along with a statute and other papers. That is how the Svir Gymnastics Club became a legal institution as part of the Vilna Maccabee.

The Svir bicycle group of Ha'Poel - 1937


With the onset of autumn, the question of a Gymnastics-hall arose. At first, we rented a room from Lord Bakavitch on Dubelyaner Street. However, we could not use the equipment there. Later on, we moved to a larger room at Chaim Rabinovitch's where we installed the walls and used the bench. Finally, after my going to Vilna for the instruction course, the equipment was transferred to the Tarbut school.

Because of technical difficulties in conducting the Gymnastics work systematically, the Gymnastics club morphed into a football group.

The Mikhalishak youth was envious of the Svir sportsters and also founded a football group. After a period of training, they invited the Svir football players to come to them for a match.

Early one Saturday the Svir football players gathered at a certain point, and marched out of town in tight rows. They were brave, energetic and jolly.

The family of Berl Alperovitz


They did not even notice the more than 20 km they had traversed. Arriving at the bridge across the Vile near Mikhalishak, the bridge watchman came to us, and a little frightened, asked what was the meaning of the arrival of so many young men? After identifying ourselves, the watchman politely allowed us to cross the bridge. I then lined them up once more and the lusty youth marched into Mikhalishak

Despite the tiredness from so much walking, the Svir players, in front of many onlookers, smashed the Mikhalishak players.

After a gathering at which I stressed the meaning of physical education, they all returned to Svir.

Chaim, of blessed memory – Berl Alperovitz's father


The fame of the Svir football players spread far beyond the borders of our own town. After appropriate negotiations, the Sventsyon football players, under the leadership of the gymnastics teacher, Katcherginski, came to Svir. The news about this spread quickly throughout town, causing the youth to celebrate and eliciting astonishment from the older generation.

The eagerness surpassed all else. There were even those who showed complete understanding towards our youth and their games and the younger men and women even went to watch the battle between Svir and Sventsyon. Those who felt it was not proper to go, however did show some eagerness and inquired about what the news was from the “front”. When the opposition returned from the Svir “war”, the Svir people had the pleasure of knowing that Svir and Sventsyon had tied.

On May 25, 1924, a conference took place in Vilna for the purpose of spreading the idea of physical education in the province. At this conference, among other items, it was authorized that the first Jewish Gymnastics and Sport Club in the province of the Vilna area had been founded in Svir.

[Page 68]

The Svir Jewish Defense

by Dr. Ch. Swironi

Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross

Edited by Toby Bird

In general, the Jews of Svir made an effort to live in friendly circumstances with their Christian neighbors, and this is the reason that many Svir residents had a place to hide during the time of the Nazis.

However, there were also many rabid anti-Semites, bandits and hooligans who were hired to create trouble for the Jews. The Jews were not afraid to stand up with strength to those Christians and to show them that a Jew also knows how to defend his honor.

The Christians in the entire area slowly recognized that it was not worthwhile to start up with Svir Jews.

One time, Christian boys from the Weistimer area came to Svir to report for induction. They brought a harmonica and got together in a chain formation and went around town, playing loudly, shouting and screaming that Jews must be beaten up.

They threw stones at windows, bothered passers-by, but they were unable to get as far as Pesakh Gabay's The Svir Jews organized and stood against them. Chaim Yisroel Kaganovitz, the tinsmith, came out with his son, Meyer. Yerakhmiyl Solamyak and his workers, Binyomin Kamin, Khanan Gendl and others brought clubs and taught the Christian boys a good lesson.

They quickly left town.

Another time, the youth demonstrated that it would not permit pogroms in Svir.

This happened when the Christian workers who repaired the bridge came every Sunday and Thursday. They carried on so that the Jews were actually afraid to venture out of their homes on these two days.

The youth organized, prepared iron and rubber clubs, and divided into groups: At the head of each group was a commander. They decided to defend themselves with all their strength.

One group was led by Yudl Gershovitz. His area was from Gitlin to Chaim Yisroel the tinsmith.

Shloyme Khadesh led a second group which was responsible for defending the houses from Chaim Yisroel to Eliyohu Moshe.

Shloyme Katz led a third group whose area was from Eliyohu Moshe to Ruven Chaim.

Yosef Khayt's group was to defend the market and Dubelyoner Street.

The bridge-workers left Meltsarek's restaurant which was then opposite Zalman the barber-surgeon's drugstore. A couple of boys were ordered to run away in order to draw the bridge-workers deep into the Jewish street.

And so it was – they pretended to run away and the bridge-workers chased after them. They drew them in almost to the market and there began the organized defense. Yosef Chaim immediately demonstrated that he was an outstanding tactician. The hooligans suddenly realized that they were surrounded on all sides. They called for help, but it was too late. Some Christians tried to help them, but they were not successful.

It was interesting that all the Christians from the so-called “Sloboda”, or from Rumisher Street were on the side of the Jews.

The bridge-workers left town in shame and did not bother anyone again.

On Sundays and Thursdays, the Jews could once again walk in the street, free, and not be afraid of being stoned by a hooligan.

Slowly, the anti-Semites in the whole area recognized that Svir Jews could defend themselves, and that a group was organized here which can and wants to defend them, and it became peaceful in town, and up until the arrival of the Nazis, not one of them dared to attack us.

The Christians looked upon us Svir Jews with respect and honor and behaved honorably and friendly towards us.


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