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[Page 85]

Chapter Three

Terrible Events


[Page 87]

Avremele Yoel

by Chanoch Drutz

Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross

Edited by Toby Bird

Svir Jews lived through many tragedies during the period between the two wars, but not one of them was as traumatic as Avremele's death.

A handsome, young, energetic and serious youth appears before everyone's eyes up to this very day, and when the rabbi, in his funeral oration compared him to a young, strong and rooted tree which was cut down in the middle of blooming, he described precisely what everyone was thinking.

Already as a small boy, Avremele had the reputation of a clever child, quick-witted and talented,. He was one of the top students in school and as a child, was known to be a true and devoted friend. He was friendly to everyone, and most importantly, he liked to do favors.

Townspeople would speak with great enthusiasm about his good character. He dedicated his entire youthful energy to organizing the youth of Svir. He was the important soul of the khalutz and frayhayt (Freedom) movements, so it was really no wonder that his tragic death affected the residents of Svir in every aspect of their world like a thunder-clap and nobody could find relief from his sorrow and pain.

In addition, this tragedy struck exactly two weeks after his eldest brother, Berl, left for Eretz Yisroel. Avremele, too, dreamt about Eretz Yisroel, and through Berl he even sent his belongings there because in case he would have to make aliya illegally, he thought it would be better for him to travel with less baggage.

[Page 88]

On Wednesday, November 21st , 1934, around five p.m., Avremele and Zalman Borukh were preparing, as always, for the Thursday market. On that day, Avremele was in a hurry because that evening he was to go to a meeting of the He'khalutz Ha-tsair.

Since it was already quite dark, they lit a lantern and set out with a pail to the storehouse to fill it with benzene. This was their usual method of preparation for market-day.

However, it was already very dark in the storehouse. The lantern was on the side with neither of them noticing that the pail was already full. Avremele picked up the lantern and walked over close to the pail in order to check if it was full. A spray of benzene hit him. The pail caught fire and the flame found Avremele.

On fire, he ran into the street in the direction of the market, across the street from the doctor. He managed to run as far as the pharmacy of Israel Gordon, which was, at that time, in the house of Pesye Svirski.

This entire time, people saw that a fireball was running, but they did not realize what this meant. Finally, when he reached the pharmacy, they threw him to the ground, covered him with clothing, and after putting the fire out, they carried him into the pharmacy where he lay for five hours.

Meanwhile, it became evident that also Zalman Borukh had been burned, but not as badly – only his face and hands. But he also had terrible pains, screamed, gnashed his teeth and pulled out his hair.

Those who were helping the wounded, sent for a taxi from Sventsyon, which did not arrive until 12 midnight. They then took the two wounded to the Guardian of the Sick Hospital in Vilna.

[Page 89]


Avremele Yoel, of blessed memory


Dr. Salkindson, who took charge of them, immediately confirmed that Avremele's condition was very grave, because three-quarters of his body had been burned. And yet, he was totally conscious the entire time. He answered all questions with precision, but did not realize how grim his condition was.

Since a number of Svir khalutzim were at that time in Vilna for training, they were reached by telephone and quickly the cousins Nosn and Yosef Chaim came to the bedsides of both Avremele and Zalman Borukh.

It became evident that Avremele's condition was hopeless. Zalman Borukh was moved from the room he shared with Avremele so he would not witness the passing of his beloved younger brother.

[Page 90]

On Thursday, the 22nd of November, around 1 p.m., Avremele Yoel, the heroic, handsome youth, the pride of Svir, passed away in the hospital in Vilna.

A short while after, Nosn telephoned his brothers in Svir, informing them that Avremele was no longer with them, and that Gitl must be prepared to learn this.

Her sorrow and pain were difficult to witness, but she gave no thought to death. She still believed that he would be saved and she decided that evening to travel to Vilna early Friday morning.

Nothing her sisters said could persuade her to wait. She remained stubborn, that she must see the children. Meanwhile, Yosef telephoned that they would bring him, Avremele, around 10 p.m. Everyone became confused. They did not know what to do with Gitl. They quickly held a consultation and they decided to escort her to Tsirl's and the deceased would be taken there as well.

Nine o'clock in the evening, when once again, she began to say that she wanted to go to Vilna, Tsirl tearfully told her that there was no reason for her to go to Vilna, that they were bringing him here. She now realized how huge this tragedy was.

The wailing and crying in the entire town cast a pall of unequaled sorrow.

When at 10 p.m. the taxi carrying the deceased arrived at Tsirl's doorstep, hundreds of people broke into mournful cries.


The funeral

The active members of He'khalutz consulted the entire night about how to handle the funeral. All the details were worked out, and at 9 a.m., the funeral procession began from Tsirl's house.

[Page 91]


At the fresh grave of Avremele Yoel,
of blessed memory. November 1934


They came by the hundreds to pay their last respects to their tragically deceased friend and to accompany him on his final way.

When the khalutzim began to move with the casket, all imagined that even the stones of the bridge also wept.

All the various organizations were represented.

The huge line of mourners stretched to Zelig Svirski's house, and continued in the direction of the synagogue. There it halted, and Rabbi Berkman gave the funeral oration.

They continued on to the premises of the Hehalutz where Chanoch Miller spoke about him. Slowly, the long mournful line continued on to the cemetery, and although it was a cold November day, no one left.

[Page 92]

Hertzl Weiner, Dovid Chaim and cousin Berl all spoke at the open grave. Everyone expressed his sorrow at the great loss to the youth of Svir, when in a horrible and tragic manner, one of their own was torn away, one of the best and most devoted friends. He was a friend who strived his entire life to make aliya to
Eretz Yisroel and suddenly, he passed away before his wish could be realized.

The crowd dispersed about 2 p.m.

There was sorrow in town Friday evening. We heard no conversation, all gatherings and meetings were cancelled.


The sorrow after the funeral

After shiva, a week later, Saturday evening, at the premises of the He'khalutz there took place a sorrow counseling session. They had enlarged Avremele's photo and placed it near the table where sat the speakers. All of the youth of Svir participated, regardless of their party differences and affiliations because Avremele was beloved and dear to everyone. Gitl and Tsirl were also present.

The session opened with a march of sorrow. Hertzl Weiner opened the proceedings. Chanoch Miller spoke in the name of Hehalutz, Shmuel
Reznik in the name of the gmilas khesed (The Benevolent Loan Society), Abba Weiner in the name of Ha'oved (youth organization). Everyone described the terrible loss that their little Jewish town had sustained.

After the shloshim (30 days of mourning), the Hehalutz published a brochure about his life and his accomplishments. It was put together by Chanoch Miller and Hertzl Weiner.

On Saturday, December 15th , there was a general gathering where it was decided to build a community center in his name. A committee was elected: Yisroel Gordon, Moyshe Drevyatski, Shmuel Svirski, Yosef Zlatayavke, Moyshe Miller and Berl Reznik. The concern regarding a second world war, however, did not permit the realization of this plan.

[Page 93]

And yet, they printed the publication which the committee put together and mailed it to the residents of Svir living in Eretz Israel


The appeal

On Monday, November 21st , 1934, at 5 p.m., a fire broke out in Svir which took the life of one of our best, Friend Avrom Yoel, who died tragically in flames.

The town was shattered by this tragedy. Death took away from us forever one of our best friends, one of the first initiators in the organizing of the youth in the preparation of the building of Eretz Israel.

Our tragically deceased friend strived to witness the realization of this ideal, to be one link in the entire chain of building a viable Eretz Israel.

We find it necessary, thanks to his fund-raising in the name of the building-up of Eretz Yisroel, to build a community center in the Diaspora, but the community center will be the place where we will be able to spin the thread of many long generations with you, our friends, in Eretz Israel. To make this plan an actuality is, however, associated with material difficulties. Therefore, we appeal to you, friends, to help us realize our plan. We turn to you, our friends, because you are the only ones who will understand the necessity for such a center, which will provide the possibility of educating our youth in the spirit of a functioning Eretz Israel.

This action has already begun. We have already received contributions through arranged evening events, etc.

[Page 94]

Velvl (Zev) Yoel, of blessed memory

We distributed this announcement and everything is being carried out with the greatest expenditure of energy and money.

Friends, respect the value of our work and help by placing a brick in the building in the name of the tragically deceased Avremel Yoel, of blessed memory.


Histadrut Hehalutz in Poland
Svir Branch

It was in this way that Svir mourned one of its best and dearest children.

Up to this very day, Avremele Yoel, of blessed memory, still appears alive before everyone's eyes, and no one, no one has forgotten him nor will forget him.
May his memory be forever blessed!

[Page 95]

Misfortune in the Hachshara
[training for pioneers to Eretz-Yisroel].

Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross

Edited by Toby Bird

As everywhere else, the Svir halutzim took upon themselves various work responsibilities in order to prepare for their aliya. Sometimes this work was in town and other times, in an out-of-town kibbutz..

Once, the Svir Hehalutz accepted work in a farm, where a machine was cutting straw. Working there among others was Eliyahu Kamin. He did not notice that his sleeve had gotten caught in the machine. In the blink of an eye, four fingers of the left hand were cut off. The other halutzim brought him home and the surgeon-barber, Margevitz, bandaged his hand. In the morning, they took him to Vilna.

For the first few weeks, Eliyahu Kamin was very frightened, but later on, was able to think more rationally and began to think of his future. After his wounds healed, he took a course in bookkeeping, and got work in an iron business in Vilna at the corner of Zavalne and Troker Streets.

Even more terrible and more frightening was a second incident with the Svir khalutzim who were in a Vilna kibbutz in Subatch.

This happened in 1936 . Khalutzim were working in a clay factory. The work consisted of grinding the bones of cows which would then be made into clay.

[Page 96]

Berl Dimentshteyn was standing near the machine and noticed that a bone was stuck, halting the machine. Instead of turning the machine off, and removing the bone, he inserted his hand, trying to pull the bone out. However, the machine began to work and pulled him in.


Berl Dimentshteyn,
of blessed memory


It chopped his head off right to his shoulders, Yitskhok Mikhnavitch immediately fainted when he witnessed the cut-up body.

This tragedy occurred December 12th , and made a terrible impression on the entire population of Vilna. For an entire night the casket remained and thousands of people walked around it. An honor guard stood in attendance until the funeral.

The funeral took place the following day around 12 noon, with almost the entire youth population of Vilna participating since it was a weekday. They used sleds to get to the cemetery.

[Page 97]

Special representatives from He'khalutz in Warsaw attended. All the newspapers in Vilna printed notices about this incident. Workers left their jobs, merchants closed their businesses. The entire town was engulfed in sorrow. In all the kibbutzim in Poland, there took place grief counseling.

At the end of the 30 day mourning period, a huge gathering was held. When Berl's mother came and saw the large photo, she fell into a faint.


Khalutzim honor guard at the
casket of Berele Dimentshteyn, of blessed memory


On December 12th , 1937 the first anniversary of his death, the Hehalutz of Vilna erected a headstone at the grave of the unfortunate Dimentshteyn in the form of a truncated birch tree.

The Vilna khalutzim issued a special brochure dedicated to his memory in which Hertzl Weiner wrote about him.

In his poem, Hertzl related how the young Dimentshteyn dreamt about making aliya to Eretz Yisroel and to become part of the thousands of builders. He compared him to a young twig which quickly died.

[Page 98]

And so our blossoming life vanished, and to the list of the youth of Svir martyrs were added more victims.

Honor the khalutz who fell before his dream was realized.


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