The Kobylnik-Myadel Society of Israel
A letter written to Chaya Lupinsky by Meyer Svirsky
24 November 2001
I will try and give you a brief summary concerning the "history" of our association of survivors of our shtetls Kobylnik and Myadel in Israel.
When I came on Aliya to Israel in 1948, I found 16 survivors from my shtetl Kobylnik, most of them "chalutzim" who had come on Aliya before the Holocaust. At that time, more survivors from Kobylnik and from Myadel (including your grandmother Henya and her children) started coming to Israel. Warm familial ties grew between the "old timers" and the newcomers which greatly contributed to our absorption.
Yitzchak Gordon was the initiator and force behind the establishment of the association for Kobylnik survivors in Israel. He was the living power who established the yearly meetings that were held in Haifa on Chol Hamoed Sukkot, commemorating that date in 1942 when the remaining 120 Jews in Kobylnik were murdered.
In my opinion, the idea to establish the association stemmed mostly in order to remember those who perished and also for everyone to meet once a year. In addition, we also saw that a similar association had already existed in the States until the end of the second World War headed by Harry (Aharon) Narotzky. Members of this association in the US helped their relatives who lived in the shtetl at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as the needy of the shtetl in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Approximately 375 Jews lived in Kobylnik before the Holocaust, in addition to a number of refugees who arrived in 1940-1941. Of these, 320 Jews perished in the Holocaust. Forty-seven (47) Jews were saved and another 6 remained in the USSR during the Holocaust. Thirty-two (32) of these Jews immigrated to Israel between 1948-1960; the remainder immigrated to the United States and to Sweden and six remained in the USSR.
Together with the "old timers", we were 48 from Kobylnik in Israel. The majority attended our yearly meetings. Even in the first years of our gatherings, we would push the idea of the publication of a remembrance book of Kobylnik, of the Jewish community that had been destroyed during the Shoah. For several years, we were busy collecting material and its preparing it for publication. Finally, the book was completed and published in 1967. Part of the book is in Yiddish and I hope that we will be able to reprint the book in an entirely Hebrew format (and perhaps also English and Russian) and add another chapter entitled "The Return to Kobylnik"…
In 1990, shortly after the gates to the USSR were opened, I went to visit Kobylnik, fulfilling my long-term desire to do so. It was not easy or simple to walk again through the streets of my childhood in the shtetl that had physically changed and which was empty of Jews…Only the Jewish cemetery was left orphaned and abandoned with thick vegetation covering it for almost 50 years.
Even the mass graves, one in the Jewish cemetery and one at the edge of the forest on the Western side of the shtetl facing Vilna (near the Catholic cemetery)- the last witness to the Jews in the shtetl, were left abandoned and were unmarked…At the mass grave at the outskirts of the shtetl, we identified human bones. I saw arms stretched out for help, redemption…I met past acquaintances from nursery and grade school and even Christians who had saved Jews…We established ties that have lasted to this day.
Upon my return, we decided to restore the Jewish sites in the shtetl as soon as possible. Our association saw this as its most important mission. In the course of the following two years (1991-1992), I visited the shtetl several times, got the appropriate approvals, and signed agreements to carry out the work. Within this framework, the cemetery was cleaned up, headstones that had fallen were fixed and the graves were restored and a stone wall surrounding the cemetery with a steel gate at the entrance was put up. Headstones with the names of the murdered Jews in the mass graves were put up. A headstone was also placed on the mass grave at the outskirts of the city.
On 17 September 1992, a memorial service was held at the restored mass grave in the presence of representatives of survivors from Kobylnik and Myadel from the United States and Israel and hundreds of the shtetl residents, led by representatives of the government and churches. We also held another service at the restored Jewish cemetery and the mass grave there. Myadel was the first of other shtetls in the area which followed our example. The survivors from Myadel joined our association in 1988 and for the past 13 years has participated together in our yearly meetings.
The number of survivors of the two shtetls is slowly diminishing. Those who attend expend much effort and the last of their strength. Together, we are joined by the second and third generations. It is reasonable to expect that we will continue to keep meeting in the future.
Today, as well as in the past, we are concerned with caring for the Jewish sites in Kobylnik and in Myadel through local parties with whom we have contact in these areas.
In the meantime, we have also made contact with regional offices of the Department of Education and Culture in Myadel and they are supposed to be responsible for the maintenance of the Jewish sites and their restoration as historical sites under the local establishment. We will have to establish a fund in Israel that will financially support these activities.