By R.H. Berchowitz-Peisachovitz, T. Katz, Jokl Evans
Donated by Lois Feldman Clausen
Translated from the Yiddish by Paul Silbert Ponedel lies on the road from Rakishok to Birz. Before the First World War it was a muddy and neglected little town.
Ponedel is surrounded by the little towns of Suavenshki, Anushishok, Ponimunok, Skupishok and Papel. It is 28 kilometres from Rakishok.
Around Ponedel there is a chain of villages.
The centre was the market square. From Rakishok you used to come in through Main Street, which stretched as far as the market. A large and beautiful House of Prayer stood on the market square, as well as the shops and the shopkeepers' residences.
To the right from the market square stretched Railway Street. Ponedel had only a narrow-gauge railway which the Germans constructed at the time of the First World War. The narrow-gauge railway linked Ponedel with Skopishok and Suavenishok.
To the left from the market square--the vital nerve-centre of the little town--was Pazelayker Street, which led to Suavenishok. From there stretched the Birz road, which led to Kvetki and Papel [and] as far as Birz.
On Synagogue Street was found the synagogue courtyard, where were located the house of study, the synagogue, the prayer room and the deacons' synagogue, and the poorhouse, into which poor people used to be admitted. On Bath Street there was the ritual bath.
Ponedel had no river [it was located on a hill overlooking the river Oposhta] or lake: there was only a muddy tank for rainwater in the market square.
The landscape around Ponedel was very beautiful in appearance. It had many orchards and gardens and the houses stood in the midst of greenery.
Before the First World War Ponedel belonged to the Novo-Alexandrovsk District. After the war Ponedel was attached to the Rakishok District.
The population numbered approximately 150 Jewish families and 50-60 Christian families. The total number was estimated at approximately 2500 souls. The Christians of the little town were all Lithuanian peasants who supported themselves by agricultural labour, having their own fields and pastures.
The Jews gained their livelihood from the market. There used to be two annual fairs. Jews were shopkeepers, traders and artisans, the latter following such trades as cobbler, tailor, shinglemaker, tinsmith, hatmaker, butcher and wigmaker. There was also a pair of Jewish herdsmen. One of the herdsmen was called Leybke Yudels.
The largest businesses were: the draper's shop of Shimon Zuse, who had three educated daughters; Itzik Pinkushevitz's draper's shop; Khaim Flax's drapery business; Khaim-Leyb's drapery shop; Yisrael Zalevetzki's shoe store and Zalman Pinkushevitz's hardware store.
The following had food or grocery stores: Mendel Zak; Bebe Yoses; Rokhl-Leya, Khaim-Ber's daughter; [and] Getzl Mizrach. Fayve-Yose-Itze Ekdes had a restaurant. Shneur Flax was a flax dealer. Sara-Breyne was a baker. There were peddlers and several teamsters.
Ponedel Jews were all Chassidim. The rabbi, before the First World War, was Rabbi Moyshe Ogins, a very learned man and a fine human being, who was greatly beloved in the little town and the surrounding area. Two of his daughters are now in Israel and one in Johannesburg. His son, at the time when the Germans entered the town, hid at the [parish] priest's. The priest turned to the Christian Dr. Straus to assist him in saving the rabbi's son, but Dr. Straus betrayed the rabbi's son to the Germans, who killed him and the priest.
After Rabbi Moyshe Ogins died, the rabbinical chair was taken by Rabbi Itzik Dubov, who is now in America. Afterwards the rabbi was Rabbi Yitzhak of Riga.
A very fine personality was the ritual slaughterer Zalman Rabinovitz. He was a good Jew and a very learned man. The entire town respected him. After his death he was succeeded by his son, Artshik Rabinovitz, who was a modern Jew and for that reason had many opponents. The son was rescued [presumably by friendly Lithuanians] and is now living in Vilna.
Ponedel had many teachers. The best-known were: Zalman Skeyster--a teacher of Gemara; Avraham-Leyb; Yishaya-Bere; Yisroel; Mayer-Tuvya; Moyshele and Khaim Tepper, now in Cape Town.
The prayer leaders were: Leybe-Bere the Bookseller, Moyshe Gershons, and Shmuel-Rafoel.
Among the important householders in Ponedel were reckoned: Moyshe Yisroels; Hirshe-Mote; Yose-Itze Ekdes; Shimon Grimbla; Yitkhak Pinkushevitz.
In 1915, when the Russian Army retreated, Cossacks rode into Ponedel. They called on the old rabbi and gave him the order that the town [ie. the Jewish population] had to be evacuated within 24 hours. Seized by a great panic, everyone fled from Ponedel, but the Germans captured Ponedel and the immediate area so quickly that many returned. A great number of Ponedel Jews were evacuated deep into Russia and came back in 1920-1922.
The town, during the course of the war, was reduced to ruins. The returning Jews lay about in the synagogue and poorhouse and wherever they were able to find shelter.
Thanks to assistance from the Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] and from relatives overseas, Ponedel quickly rebuilt itself and acquired a modern appearance. The Lithuanian authorities had the streets paved. Trade ties were revived, mainly with Rakishok. The tax on artisans was increased [by the Lithuanian government]. This was a high tax for the little tailors, who now had to face competition from their Christian colleagues.
A People's Bank [cooperative bank] was founded. The president was Shmuel Pinkushevitz; Henekh Kark was secretary.
The economic life of Ponedel greatly improved with more secure times, but the heavy tax burden on the Jewish population impoverished the Jewish shopkeepers and artisans.
The town received a final blow with the removal of the shops from the market square--the most important source of livelihood for many Jews. The order to clear the market square of shops was supposedly for purely aesthetic reasons--to beautify the town--but it was in harmony with the "patriotic" struggle of the Lithuanian cooperatives to drive Jewish shopkeepers out of their positions.
Regardless of the various political-economic phases in Jewish Lithuania, Jewish organisations revived in our home town. Various factions of the Zionist Movement distinguished themselves as did the "Aguda" [ancestor of the ultra-Orthodox Israeli religious party of that name], the "Tiferet Bachurim" [evidently an Orthodox youth movement], and there was also a left-wing movement.
Branches of "Maccabi" [the Jewish sports association] and "HaShomer HaTzair" [a left-wing Zionist youth movement] and a "Khalutz" [Pioneer] group were created.
The Ponedel "Maccabi" numbered over 100 members, and had a soccer section [the Yiddish text includes a team photo], a dramatic circle, and a library. There were shows, lectures and other cultural activities. The leaders of Maccabi were Velve Herring and Henekh Kark.
The "HaShomer HaTzair" was a good scouting organization which occupied itself in preparing pioneers for emigration to the Land of Israel.
The left-wing movement was very active. The "Culture League" was founded in 1922. The founders and leaders of the "Culture League" were Yose Hak, Ratner the teacher, the teacher Libe Yikir, and Yankl Fabrikovitz. The "Culture League" in Ponedel set up a Jewish People's School where the language of instruction was Yiddish. The school was recognized by the government, which used to pay the teachers and also provided a Lithuanian [language] teacher. The Jewish People's School was on a very high [academic] level, and even when the "Culture League" was closed down, the Jewish People's School continued to exist.
In the "Culture League" there was an active dramatic section. The actors were Itzke Katz, Yose Hak, Khilke Hak, Sarke Hak, Khaim Hak and the teacher Ratner. The dramatic section used to bring in outside acting troupes. The income went for the library, which numbered 1000 books.
At the time that Smetona became president [after the right-wing military coup of December 1926] and the Reaction grew strong, the "Culture League" was closed. The members, out of fear of the authorities, burned the library.
But this did not halt the political activity of the "Culture League". After the closing of the "Culture League" an association was created called "Sport" under which [political] work was resumed although it met with persecution on the part of the authorities. Once Khanke and Yokhanon were arrested--a brother and sister. They were taken away to Ponemune [Ponemunilis] and the members of Ponedel "Sport", with Toybe Evens at their head, maintained contact with the arrested comrades and sent them parcels with food and necessary items.
Due to the fanaticism of the Aguda people [ultra-Orthodox], Ponedel did not have a Hebrew People's School. The parents who wanted to give their children a [secular] Hebrew education, sent their children to Rakishok, where there was a large Hebrew school. Ponedel did not even have a "Yavneh" [Religious Zionist] School.
In general, Ponedel had a fine and active youth. Many young people from Ponedel are today found in Africa, Argentina, Brazil and in Israel. They emigrated because their own little town had become narrow for them and hard to survive in both economically and spiritually.
There are no details [known] about the death of Ponedel at the hands of the German terrorists [on August 25, 1941]. But it is said that the Germans, together with the Lithuanian peasants, drove all the Jews together into the market square and BURNED THEM ALIVE to the musical accompaniment of a German [military] band.
From Our Shtetl Dusiat
By Chaya Malka Kruss-Glussak and Nachum Blacher
Translated by Hedva Scop, Henia Sneh and Haim Katz
Edited by Sara Weiss-Slep The shtetl goes by various names: Dusiat - in Russian, Dusetos in Lithuanian, and the Jews called the shtetl Dusat-Dushat. The shtetl itself is situated between Rokiskis (Rokishok), Utena (Utian) and Novo-Alexandrovsk (Ezerenai/Zarasai). The natural surroundings were quite beautiful. Pine forests, a lake and a river surrounded the village. Green fields and gardens bloomed extensively during the spring and summer. The suburb Padustelis (Podusiat) served as a summer holiday resort ("dacha") for the people from the neighboring townlets.
A lake separated Dusetos from a courtyard ("heyf") belonging to a Polish landowner ("poritz"). The lake was called the "Courtyard Lake," and could be crossed by means of a wooden boat, run by Yosse Gafanovitch.
In the winter, the lake would freeze over totally, and one could travel across the ice. There was a local saying that the lake had to claim a victim each year. In the early spring and in the autumn everything was covered in thick black mud. Anyone walking in galoshes or travelling by wagon would sink deeply into it.
The three main streets converged on the market place. There were only a few houses between the square and the lake, as well as the Chassidic synagogue. The market place spanned an area of four acres and there were a few shops on all sides of the square. Almost all the shops had dwelling places above, accessed by an outside staircase.
The street facing the lake was called Maskevitcher-Gasse and ran in the direction of the Christian townlet Padustelis. Off to the right was the Skinaiker forest. Past the forest was a road that led to Antaliepte (Antalept) and Utena. On the left via Deguciai one could access the road running to Novo-Alexandrovsk.
From the market place, on the left side of the lake was "Unter-Brik-Gasse" (Under-the-Bridge Road) leading to Uzpaliai (Ushpol) and Rokiskis. The road followed the course of the Perkailus river, and hence the name, "Unter-Brik-Gasse." The church and residence of the local priest were situated at the end of this road.
To the left of the square was Milner-Gasse, and at the end on a hillock was a windmill. The sails of the mill were visible from our window. From the direction in which the sails rotated, we could tell which way the wind was blowing. The miller was Elya Yoffe, a tall, handsome and scholarly Jew. Everyone in the shtetl was very fond of him.
The public bathhouse was at the end of Milner-Gasse. For many years Leib-Itze Scop maintained it. In his later years he immigrated to South Africa where he lived out the rest of his life in a quieter fashion.
Between Milner-Gasse and Maskevitcher-Gasse stood both the large synagogue (Beth Hamidrash - shul) and the smaller prayer house. Behind the large synagogue was the well where all the inhabitants would draw their water. Over and above the well, Dusetos had two springs, which served to quench one's thirst during the hot summer days. On Shabbos eves, the Jews would draw water to prepare tea for the Shabbos. The "Shabbos goy" Mazeleniche would take the clay vessels from those waiting on line and fill them up with the sparkling water.
The only streets in the shtetl were those mentioned above. Between the wooden houses, one could see a couple of red brick houses owned by the Jews who were more comfortably off. There was no electricity, but because of the straw roofs of the Christian houses, Dusetos was "illuminated" more than once.
A large fire broke out in 1905. A couple of horse thieves set alight a building in the vicinity of the bath-house, and the fire spread to Milner-Gasse. Many of the homes of the non-Jews were burnt and the "poyerim" (peasants) waited for an opportunity to settle the score with the Jews. An air of unrest filled the shtetl and the Jews feared that this would lead to a pogrom. The youth formed themselves into self-defense league, and were joined by those from Salakas (Salok) and Novo-Alexandrovsk.
The danger of the outbreak of a pogrom was greatest on Sundays and Wednesdays, the latter being market day. Many peasants would come to the market from the surrounding area.
One Sunday, a pogrom did indeed erupt. The Christians, on their way out of church, started attacking the Jews. Members of the self-defense league held out bravely against the rioting, but the counter-attack was tough. The pogromists broke into Jewish houses and stores, smashed the windowpanes and stole what they could. The Jews barricaded themselves in the cellars and in the women's section of the synagogue. The league managed to fire a few shots before retreating. Itze Barron, who had a shop in the market place, crouched on the stairs with a handgun and fired at the angry "poyerim". After he ran out of bullets, the rioters pulled him down the stairs and beat him over the head.
Rochel-Leah Poritz lived nearby Itze Barron. Rochel-Leah was blonde and looked like a Christian. She donned the local apparel and ran over to the priest's house. She found him inside the church and cried out to him: "Just know that you are responsible for today's events in the shtetl, whether it be in the name of G-d or in the name of the authorities. One man has already died, and who knows how many more will fall!" The priest heeded her words and ordered the bell-ringer to sound the bells. When the rioters heard the ringing, they took it as a call to come to church. The priest implored them to stop the pogrom.
The authorities in Novo-Alexandrovsk were informed, and they sent a Cossack company who managed to drive the rioters away and restrained the leaders in chains.
Among the peasant leaders were: Venezindes, Barzdes, Kaitkes, Pakalnes and others. They were indicted, convicted and sent to prison. The Cossacks remained in Dusetos for an extended duration. They set up quarters at Maishe-Leib's house. When things calmed down, they were called up, and off they went. Thanks to the very brave Jewish woman, Rochel-Leah, the shtetl and its inhabitants were saved.
In 1908, a further pogrom almost erupted. The Dusetos resident Yoel, bought a cow in Kriaunos, about 6 miles from Dusetos. Apparently he managed to convince the owner that the cow was barren. But the owner soon found out that the cow was with calf. He sought Yoel out at home and threatened to kill him. The news of the incident spread like wildfire. The self-defense league intervened and persuaded Yoel to back down from his previous claim. For a long time people in the shtetl continued to live in fear of the outbreak of a pogrom.
In 1910 another large fire raged. Almost all of Dusetos was burnt down. Of the few surviving buildings were the Hassidic synagogue, and the homes of Itze Mashiah and Henech Kahath. It is hard to describe the tragedy. Men, women and children, including the elderly, were gathered on the muddy banks of the river. Everyone had lost their homes and all their possessions. Children wept heart-breaking tears, but no one paid any attention to them. Everyone's spirit was broken. News reached the surroundings towns and villages and soon people started arriving, bringing with them food and clothing. They also managed to gather a large sum of money in donations. With aid coming in from America and Africa, work on rebuilding the shtetl commenced. The large synagogue was reconstructed. By 1912, the building was completed.
There were some 200 Jewish families in Dusetos. According to the supervisor book ("Ispektzia Buch") of the Folks Bank of January 16th, 1927, 704 souls were accounted for. Side by side the Jews lived about 100 Gentiles, who were Christians and of Lithuanian origin. Many Jews became retailers and artisans. Some earned their living by working the land on plots they leased. There were thirty Jewish-owned stores, the largest being that of Rochel-Leah Poritz, Bertchik Levit and Chaim-Leib Adelman, Henech Kahath and the wife of Eber. Eber was an advocate, a wise man who was also well versed in the Torah and an exemplary scholar.
The longest row of stores was opposite the lake and belonged to the Levit clan who were known as the "Yuzinter" (those who hailed from Yuzint - Juzintai). They were very learned and somewhat proud folk.
Wednesdays were market days. This was the only day of the week that the Jews could make a living. Fairs were held twice a year and they were quite a spectacle.
During the WWI, Dusetos traded with Daugavpils (Dvinsk) by means of oxcart. There was no railway station in Dusetos. The closest railway station was Obeliai (Abel). During the war, a few traveled by rail, but most people traveled by horse.
In Dusetos, like in the other prevalently Jewish townlets, there were peddlers, shoemakers, tailors, smiths and other tradesmen, and also butchers. There was only one furrier and one wood joiner (carpenter). Abba "Der Ilgishiler" was the only carpenter in the shtetl. In later years he went blind, however he continued to work at his trade. Lozer was the local potter. His wares were sold both at the local market and at those of towns and shtetlach in the area. Another admirable person was Dr. Druyan who went to Israel. Meir Tzirlin was a learned man who traded in tailoring cloth, and then parted for America. Abba Shlomovitz, the son of the late Reverend Shlomovitz, went off to Johannesburg where he wrote several books.
The richest and most well to do families other than the Levits, were Moshe-Leib Ziev who ran a tavern where both guests and government officials would stay, Chaim-Leib Adelman and Emmanuel Slep.
The shtetl was proud to have Torah scholars who would serve as readers in the synagogue services. Rabbi Noteleh Zilber officiated until his passing before WWI. His son (Rabbi Eliezer Silver) is a well-known rabbi in the States. Dusetos had 5-6 "cheders," one at a high level. The teachers were learned men: Alter Shein; Moshe Paseler who was also a writer; Moshe Karpelas; Moshe-Elya; Leib-Itze; the Gemora teacher Avram-Moshe; another Gemora teacher Shaul; and Chaim-Leib. The rebbe of the higher "cheder" was Yechiel Garber and was renowned for his Hebrew teachings.
Before WWI, besides studying in "cheder," Jewish children attended the Russian folkschool. From Dusetos, emerged honorable Jews and outstanding personalities. Among them was Soreh-Leah Shein who lived to the ripe old age of 99. She made a living by practicing cupping and leeching. She served both as nurse and midwife. She had a cure for every illness. Other interesting personalities were: Chaim-Aharon Shein the pharmacist and son-in-law to the rabbi; Zovl was the male nurse. A fine human being was Shaul-Dovid Shubb, the slaughterer. He was a serious scholar.
Mordechai Yoffe in the book "Lithuania," edited by Dr. Mendel Sudarsky, Oriah Katzenellenbogen and Y. Kissin, wrote in length about Reb. Shaul-Dovid:
"He was handsome, erudite and bright, and modern. One does not have enough fingers on one's hand to count all his good qualities. People could trust him and had respect for him. If asked a question, he would give an answer; if asked for advice he would give it. He was always willing to add a few good words. If there was a dispute, he would mediate. If there was a "simcha," he would participate. If someone was in trouble, he would help. How could it be otherwise?
While mediating, he would lean back in his armchair as if at the Pesach Seder, listening calmly to each of the sides, and looking for the best way of reaching an agreement."
Characters worth mentioning are: Reb Eliyahu Aharon the Torah reader on Shabbos; Henech Kahath and the rebel Hirsche Rubin's. He was always in dire straits, living in poverty and hunger. He always had a grudge against everybody.
Others deserving of mention are: Elya, the son of Soreh-Mira, with his kindness and compassion for others; Pinyah the painter with his respect for learning, even though he himself could not read enough to daven; Itzikel Esak, otherwise known as "Itzikel the Bricklayer," who was a pauper; Leibele "Nye Rosh" ("Hands Off" in Russian) whose nickname was inspired by an incident where he had tried to take a pumpkin from a peasant's wagon, and the peasant had warned him fiercely not to touch the wares.
WWI changed Dusetos. There was not one military force that did not pass through. From the cannon fire in the distance, they thought the Russians were preparing to march on the town. Just as they started packing their belongings, the Germans arrived and all the inhabitants remained at home. Even before the appearance of the Germans, a group of refugees had come from Vilnius (Vilna). The Dusetos Jews received the Vilnius Jews warmly and openly.
In the period after the war, the Jews of Dusetos had managed to make ends meet. The stores were open and the merchants would travel to Panavezys (Ponevez) to order to purchase merchandise. Most of the trade took place amongst the closest villages, both in buying and selling.
The economic situation in Dusetos had not changed much since the war.
After Daugavpils was incorporated into Latvia and trade increased with Rokiskis (since Panevezys was too far away), the shtetl became unrecognizable both culturally and spiritually.
The Balfour Declaration brought with it a new national spirit. The old "cheder" went out of fashion. Instead it became a culture school. The headmaster was Hillel Schwartz, and the teachers were Yudel Slep and Leibtzik Gordon. Berl Levit taught night classes for the adults and was in charge of the teaching staff. He went to Johannesburg afterwards. A Maccabi organization was established numbering 50 members. A library was opened and the newly–formed dramatic circle put on some shows. There was also an active Zionist group.
In 1924, a Jewish national bank was opened. The managers were David Schwartz and Yossel Poritz. There were 152 clients, drawing from various skills and professions: 53 tradesmen; 78 storekeepers and merchants; 4 gardeners; 8 builders and foremen; 2 clerks; 7 free and other professions. The bank also included the neighboring Antaliepte in its activities.
Dusetos followed the "Mitnaggedim" stream.
During this period, there was a minister who was responsible for Jewish affairs in Lithuania, and an elected committee ran the affairs in the shtetl.
There was also a left-wing movement in Dusetos. Amidst the shtetl-dwellers were some prominent figures. One of the Levit family (Dr. Yeshayahu Levit) went to study in Germany, where he read for a doctorate in Philosophy, and when he came for a visit, a banquet was given in his honor.(He died suddenly in Vilnius 1940).
Yisrael Joffer (Yoffe) who wrote for the Kaunas (Kovno) publication "De Yiddishe Shtieme" (The Yiddish Voice) and Mordechai Yoffe the poet and writer who went on to Canada, both hailed from Dusetos.
The inhabitants of Dusetos were in touch with the Jews of Salakas and Antaliepte, as well as Deguciai some 17 miles away.
May their memory be blessed!
1 According to my research, before the town was named after Alexander III, it was known by several names, "Oziera", "Ozera", "Ezherena" and even in plain Yiddish "Ozeres." This new name of Novoalexandrovsk was proposed to Alexander III to honour his visit on his way to Kovna, because various kings had given similar names to various towns. "Novoalexandrovsk" was a somewhat pretentious name for a very little town with no railway to the outside world, because the Slav ending "-ovsk" usually signified a town of some importance, either as a communication center or because of its large population or industry. None of these could be attributed to Novoalexandrovsk
Ponidel in the Holocaust
The book, In Sacred Memory: Recollections of the Holocaust by Survivors Living in Cape Town, edited by Gwynne Schrire, was published by the Cape Town Holocaust Memorial Council in 1995.
Gwynne has graciously given us permission to reprint one of the stories from her book. Both this story and Gwynne's work were brought to our attention by Saul Issroff and we thank both of them for sharing with us.
In Gwynne's own words, "Ten years ago when I was asked by our She'erith Hapletah to edit a book on the stories of the Cape Town Holocaust survivors I was shown a cherished letter in Yiddish, with many tear stains on it. There was no date on the letter. The letter was subsequently donated to the Jewish Museum. I had it translated into English and we inserted it into the book, which was called In Sacred Memory."
Although this letter and story is about events and people in Ponidel (Pandelys), I have included it because it is so relevant to the stories of our own families and there are so many ties and connections between Ponidel and Rokiskis.
Letter to Ruth Green, Cape Town
My dearly loved Cousins ,
I kiss you and hold you.I feel as though I can see you. I cry. I cry for our suffering and joy. Believe me, until I came to Italy I did not cry, not even when I was in Lithuania four months ago. I went all over and I did not cry and now I can't hold back my tears. They are pouring from my eyes. Don't be cross with me at what I am going to write to you, crying as you can see. They are tears of joy - soft tears.
My dears, I lived in order to get that first letter from you telling me that my dears are well. I have read your letter hundreds of times. I cried, suffered and suffered and re-suffered my dear ones. So much suffering that it is no wonder that I became ill. It is a wonder, a miracle that I managed to arrive in May in Ponedel [Pandelys], my birth town.
I came to your house. The house still stands just the same as it was before - the little yatka, the butchery, is there, the stable is there, the garden is there, the brunem well where you got the water from is there. But my dearly beloved father Joseph, my mother Freda, Chaya and Rachmiel, my sister and brother-in-law and their small children - all, all are gone! It is a miracle that my heart did not collapse. Then I felt happy to think that my dear ones were safe in South Africa. Ruth, even the colour you and I painted on the floor before you left for South Africa is still there. Then I got hardened and started to investigate the facts about the Lithuanian bandits, about everything and everybody and I am going to write briefly about what happened.
When the War started nobody realized that Germany would soon overrun the country of Lithuania. They thought that they had time to get out - first the children, young women and old parents. But it was not to be that way. The Red Army was good for nothing - they too ran like the devil himself. The Lithuanian Catholic Christians started against the Russian "Savetsky Vlest" but they could not fight the Russians, so they started instead with the Jews.
All roads were blocked and only a few Jews managed to escape. My father, and Rachmiel with his two horses and the family and all the Jews from Ponedel drove to the border of Sevenishick [Suvainiskis] but the Lithuanian Roman Catholics had closed the road. They robbed and beat the Jews so they had to go back to their houses in Ponedel.
After a few weeks in their homes instructions were issued that all Jews were to gather at the big market place. The Lithuanian Bandits shot the Rabbi, Berka, the son of Moses, and Rufka, the son of Ichick. Once all the Jews were together they were pushed into a big stone house belonging to Simcha Shmuel Shies. They were locked in for days. After this they were driven on foot to Rakeshik [Rokiskis] 28 kilometres from Ponedel. About 13 000 Jews were driven from Rakeshik to Melumel, 3 Km from Rakeshik, to the big forest there. There the young Jewish men had to dig a big hole. They dug not knowing why. Then the Lithuanian Bandits started shooting. They shouted "Kind und Kerk ."
The last to be shot was Jankel Shreiberg. The bullet hit him on the shoulder. He fell on top of them. He was not dead. The Lithuanians covered them with just four inches of soil. The cries from the grave were enough to kill. Jankel soon pushed away some soil so that he could breathe and waited until dark set in. Then he pushed away enough soil so that he could get out. He knew Rakeshik and had a friend who had a bicycle. He went to the house where the bicycle stood at the back of the house and off he went riding to the border at Dvinsk. The Russians still held the town. He rode at night, ate grass,and hid in the forest during the day time. It happened about the 13th October. He escaped deep into Russia.
Our house is still there but almost the whole town has been burned down, from Mr Meliz up to our house has been burned down. From our house to the end of Birz street remaims. The other side of the street from the Shammas's house down to the end of Simcha Shmuel Shies's house is also still there.
Now I will write about whom from my family remained alive. My brother Iserke is alive and well and has a wife and child. He was a great general in the Russian army and lives in Klapeda near Memel. He is a Director, but would love to get out - it is difficult with a small baby. His sister Chaya was a good child and ran away with him to Russia at the beginning of the war. After the war they came to Lodz in Poland where she met a young man, Meyer Shumaker, and got married. Eliyahu walked to Czechoslovakia and Austria, and over the mountains of Austria to Italy until he came to Milan where he was so ill that the authorities sent him to a good place to get well, a sanatorium run by the organization, the Joint.
I am sick with lung trouble. I am honestly sick. All the tragedies I went through, and the sufferings in the Russian Army broke my health completely. I have been here for two months - who knows how much longer I will have to be here. The doctors and the sisters are very nice to me. They want me to get fatter. I must eat more but I have no appetite and the food does not always taste nice.
I thank you Ruth for the two pounds you sent me. I bought something that I like. I cannot always manage to eat. Don't get cross with me. The doctors and sisters beg me to eat. I promised I will eat. Oh! I want to get well, I so want to see you all. My dear ones, this letter is the first one to you all. Please you must all write to me. My dear, I cannot write any longer although I have a lot to tell. I will write again later. Regards to all those who are from Ponedel. The Sister will not allow me to write any more as I am bleeding and I must lie flat.
Your cousin,Abras Smidt,
Merano Sanatorium ATDC, Italy.
From Gwynne: "Here are a few details about the woman who received the letter, as I interviewed her to get details about her childhood in Ponidel."
Interview with Ruth Green
19 March 1992
I, Ruth Green, was born in a small town in Lithuania known as Ponedel. My late father was known as Josef (in Hebrew) or Jossel (in Yiddish) My son carries his name-but in English it is Joey. My father came from Rakeshik-a big town which had a doctor on the spot, a dentist to pull out teeth, a register for people doing crimes and two policemen as well. These did not have guns- they had sugar sticks in their mouths- because nobody in Rakeshik committed crimes.
Twenty eight miles away was a smaller town called Ponedel. There we just had a Rov who married you, made the brisses, got a sandak if the child was a boy and also buried you. Divorce was unknown. Everyone there was happy until G-d finally separated them.
My father was the fourth child of his parents. My grandfather was Joshua Oblowitz, my grandmother was Rosie (Raisel) She got married when she was 17. She had her first child. The second was Itzchak Oblowitz who later had the dress shop in Salt River where every smart women bought her dresses. Then came a daughter Leah and then Joseph, my father was born. When he was born, his older brother was already married with a son, Sydney. So my father was 8 months younger than his nephew.
The law in Russia was that if there was more than one son in the family you had to serve in the Army when you were 21. As my father was the younger of two brother, he had to go into the army. You had to be 21 because then you were mature. When he had finished his army service he came back to the little town of Rakeshik. He had been in the army for 5 years and he had also spent 18 months in America - he did not like America because he had to work on Saturday, so he had come back.
The town remained calm-there were no Christians, just Jews. Nobody went to jail, there was no jail, there was no crime, nothing. The Jews lived like one community. G-d forbid someone died -every one cried. When there was a simchah, every one rejoiced. When there was a wedding, there were no invitations - forget about it - everyone came. The weddings took place in summer because the winter snow would drive the priests away. The wedding would take place next to the synagogue. The women would make a cholent - do you know what a cholent is? You would heat up the oven with coal or wood, then you would put into a big pot made of crockery, not of stainless steel, meat, not chicken, with beans, barley and carrots and would place this in the oven. You would also put in another narrow pot of chickory - not coffee, we had no coffee and cover it up. The oven would be closed with wood and a long long piece of material and the cholent would cook or simmer from Friday 4 p.m. until 12 or 1 on Saturday and it was the best food ever eaten. And the wedding went on. When the women were finished with the chores they would put on their dresses and everybody would go to the wedding. When the bride was led to the bridegroom, the bridegroom with his father and the father on the other side would go to pray. If the son was the only son and he was staying with his parents, the bride who had just been married to the parents's son would know when she took her first foot step, at 5 o clock or whatever time the wedding was, that now she had a shviger- a mother-in-law. She learns that two fingers come together - the shviger/mother-in-law and the shmuel(?) daughter-in law- and those two fingers come together to make 'v' for victory. It is one root(?) But the respect that the daughter-in-law would give to her mother- in-law is dead today, it no longer exists - even in America where there are many Jewish people, this respect no longer exists and the daughter- in- law never likes the mother-in- law.
The life in the little town was very hard. Nobody had money- a few were better off. We had a house, we had a stable. My father built on a little yardka - a small place for groceries and meat - we killed cattle. We had our own well with a bucket to draw up water. We had no lights, no lavatory inside- no such thing. Our cloakroom [outhouse] was built of wood and underground there was a special deep hole made of cement and every two days men would come and clean it away-so life was primitive. One thing, no matter how rotten the Roman Catholics in Lithuania were, I never ever heard of a young girl walking home from school, or walking even as late as 11 or 12 p.m. at night being raped or touched or robbed of their money. But one thing they did do - they had German hunter dogs - G-d forbid if its owner was not around and they went for your ankle, you had no ankle left!