Kupiskis in the 1930s

The following article was published in the Kovno (Kaunas) Yiddish newspaper "Funken" ("Ziezirbos" in Lithuanian, "Sparks" in English), No. 34, 1931

By Funken's Special Correspondent, Ben-Deborah, Shtetl Kupishok:

Despite its beautiful-sounding name, which comes from the little Kupa River flowing nearby, it's almost unbelievable to find in Lithuania such a neglected assortment of deteriorated buildings as is found in that little shtetl. Even backward little country crossroads look better.

The owners should only forgive me but, when you look at the homes on the streets of Kupishok, the name "Kapcansk", would be more appropriate. In spite of the above, the surrounding scenery is not bad. There are little forests, mountains and hills. But you can't overlook how poor and needy are the inhabitants. As the saying goes, not everything that shines is gold.

Kupishok was and still is a Jewish place. Before the War, 75 percent of over 3,000 residents were Jewish. Now, more than 50 percent are Jews. They have a town center which can't be dismissed out of hand, but they are not an independent shtetl. They belong to the county management.

There was a time when Kupishok was self-governed. The majority were Jewish members, but the city management didn't support or help them at all. Before the War, the shtetl was famous for its big open bazaars. After the War, it became an important center for raw materials and various factories. Many Jewish families made a living from that. Now, the trains, wagons, and ships are loaded and there are no customers.

Thirty percent of the Jewish handicraft workers are suffering because of the Jewish Peoples Bank (Zydu liaudies bankas). The famous bad director, Furmanowsky, disappeared with big sums of money that Kupishok Jews had invested. At first, the Peoples Bank didn't press the members or investors and prolonged the payments. Now, the bank has taken action, and all the Jews have to replace the loss. A Jewish handicraft worker came to my room, crying bitter tears, and telling me "Mr. Correspondant, you understand what's going on? We have to pay every groshen (penny) to the Peoples Bank to cover for the sins of Furmanowsky, and my wife and children will suffer hunger and starve." There aren't any social organizations who could help.

There are two public schools. One is a Jewish school. According to witnesses, the Ponevezher Circle School Inspector cites this Jewish School as the best example of its type. In spite of the fact that they don't get any government support, Kupishok is still very proud of its achievements.

Many years ago, the little town played an important role, about which there are many legends. Two of them I would like to mention:

The Jewish beis hamidrosh (study house) or like we call it, the shul, is built of the strongest materials. The building has the best foundation. The church was just the opposite -- it was built of wood. Why this was so was told to me by a very respectable old man, a "zaken". Hundreds of years ago, when Kupishok belonged to Harabies Getwertinsky, an Arabian princess came to bless the grounds before building a Catholic church. The materials were ready for construction to begin. Then, Jewish delegations from all parts of the shtetl came to her and explained the importance of the Jewish blessings. The princess found special beauty in their lives. She changed her mind and all the strong materials went to build the synagogue, and the church was built from wood.

The second legend, about a horrible, bloody, criminal injustice, is recounted today by the Jews of Kupishok who say only their own great, great, great grandparents survived those times. A poor tailor and his four sons were the innocent victims. The Polish court found them guilty and they suffered a painful death.

There isn't any political or social life to speak of. They have only two Jewish daily papers, "The Voice" and the "People's Paper" ("Folksblat"), in Kupishok. The agents from both papers compete with each other, but they are partly comrades. They don't make any money from their work. The main purpose is to convince people that theirs is the best solution to the issues at hand.

Kupishok is also rich with different types of characters such as the 108-year-old shammes (synagogue caretaker). He is an old man, a "zaken", who goes up on the bemah each Shabbos and bangs his fist on the table or yells "Sha!", causing the windows and walls to shake.

The residents of the shtetl don't like outsiders to work in their post office. Even the Christian people agreed with that. They also took care to have what was known in Russian as the "Jewish" yelling-type of mailman. Now, the Jewish mailman is supported by the city.

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Copyright Kupiskis SIG, 2018



Copyright Kupiskis SIG, 2018