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Memories of Jews from Troškūnai (Trashkun)
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Tales from Trashkun

A Collage of Stories and Memories
recorded by descendants of the Itzikovich Family, collected by Sonia Kovitz

"Kasrilevke" fabric collage

“Kasrilevke,” fabric collage by Sonia Kovitz  (click to enlarge)

Three Itzikovich brothers—Fayvl, Binyomin, Zussman—had 19 children among them. Of these, 16 emigrated either before World War I or between the two wars. Although they couldn't have known it at the time, in leaving Europe they were ensuring the survival of their descendants. The following stories and memories have been passed down through succeeding generations of the family.

Fayvl Itzikovich (1856-1922)
the first of three sons of Orel (Aharon) Itzikovich

Fayvl Itzikovich

Grandfather was a shoemaker and served also as the town's unofficial doctor (feldsher). He was a strict man with a temper, but devoted to his family. He saved every kopek to help his sons escape Russian military service and emigrate to this country. Grandfather Fayvl died in 1922 at age 66, after scouring the countryside a whole day in pursuit of the family's runaway cow.

— Benjamin Kovitz, grandson of Fayvl, son of Louis (Leybe) Kovitz

My father told me that when the family cow ran away, his father [Fayvl] chased her through the fields and finally caught her. When Fayvl returned home, he lay down and said, “I'm going to die.” He died that night.

— Frank Kovitz, son of Bentzl Kovitz

My grandfather Roy told us that his father [Fayvl] took medication when he was a young man to damage his heart so that he wouldn't be drafted into the Russian army and have to eat non-Kosher food. All of Fayvl's children, especially Sarah, who lived to 103, lived to a ripe old age. My father used to say that they all lived so long in the merit of their father having shortened his own life.

— Isaac Kovitz, grandson of Roy Kovitz

Yochved Itzikovich (1859-1938)
Fayvl's wife (née Shevtsovich)

Yochved

My grandmother was Yochved (Yocheved in Hebrew), daughter of Gershon. I remember her as a short sturdy woman with a composed manner. Although she had been red-haired, when she came to America in 1927 her hair was snow-white. The whiteness took me by surprise when she removed the dark shaytl (wig) she ordinarily wore according to the traditional custom of Orthodox Jewish women after marriage.

— Benjamin Kovitz, son of Louis Kovitz

Yochved

I have a little snapshot of Bubba Yochved taken when she stayed at our house in Superior. By then, she was a tiny lady with a cute little nose in a sweet little wrinkled face, wearing a dust cap.

— Miriam Kovitz Cohn, daughter of Louis Kovitz

The financial hardships in Trashkun left their mark on the family, both for those who left and those who stayed behind. Fayvl arranged for his sons travel to America on the same passport. After each one arrived, he sent it back for the next brother to use.

Whenever my father [Roy] received letters from the family in Lithuania, he would spend a couple of hours trying to erase the postmarks on the stamps so he could mail them back with his reply letter, to be reused.

— Philip Kovitz, son of Roy Kovitz

[Grandmother] didn't trust her money to any bank and preferred to sleep with her little money bag under her pillow.

— Benjamin Kovitz, son of Louis Kovitz

Leybe (later Louis) Itzikovich (1890-1970)
The sixth of Fayvl's and Yochved's ten children

Papa told me he remembered the first time he saw the sun. He was a baby and finally big enough to walk to the door by himself. He remembered that it was dazzling. When Papa was older, his father rented an orchard and the boys had to guard it at night. Papa told about the dogs they had to pass in order to get there. If the dogs came at him, he would jam a stick in their mouth.

— Frances Kovitz Bubley, daughter of Louis Kovitz

Pa didn't want to be a shoemaker like his father Fayvl, and was apprenticed to a tailor. He used to tell me what a hard time he had learning to use a thimble. Pa told me he remembers his grandfather telling him about the time when Napoleon was in Russia! [NOTE]Napoleon's army passed not far from Trashkun as they advanced into Russia in 1812. It would have been Leybe's great-grandfather who had a direct memory of that time.

— Ruth Kovitz Ellin, daughter of Louis Kovitz

Papa told me how he used to sit on the table to sew in Russia. One day he heard the police at the door of the shop where he was working; they were looking for him for the army service. Papa ran out the back door and got away.

— Frances Kovitz Bubley, daughter of Louis Kovitz

He early showed a talent for drawing. When a troop of traveling artists passed through town, they saw some of his work and wanted to take him along as an apprentice, but Grandfather Fayvl wouldn't hear of it.

— Benjamin Kovitz, son of Louis Kovitz

Papa's father didn't appreciate Papa's artistic talents and tore up some of his drawings when he was little.

— Frances Kovitz Bubley,
daughter of Louis Kovitz

Leybe and his younger brother Hilke traveled on the Mauretania, arriving in New York on June 17, 1910.

Papa told me that on the way to America his ship docked in Liverpool. The passengers were supposed to stay on board, but Papa and Hilke sneaked off to visit the Liverpool Museum, and then got back on.

— Frances Kovitz Bubley, daughter of Louis Kovitz

Throughout all his years in the United States, Leyb never lost a special fondness for his birthplace.

Pa always used to tell me how wonderful the air smelled in Trashkun. — Ruth Kovitz Ellin, daughter of Louis Kovitz

The Courtship of Leybe Itzikovich and Leah Zetcher

Like many young Jewish men and women of that time, Leybe and Leah moved from the shtetls where they grew up to a larger town to find work. After learning to use a knitting machine, Leah moved to Ponevezh (Panevėžys) when she was 15. She became financially independent selling the gloves, scarves and sweaters she made. Before Leah met Leybe, she received a marriage proposal from a non-Jewish soldier who owned a fine horse and carriage, but she refused him.

Leybe lived in Ponevezh (Panevėžys) during 1909-1910, working as a tailor and living at the home of his cousin, Dov Ber Itzikovich.[NOTE]Dov Ber was the son of Fayvl's younger brother Binyomin. One evening Leah Zetcher was invited to a party at Dov Ber's home. Ordinarily Leybe didn't attend parties, but this time as he walked through the room to leave, he noticed Leah, whom he had never seen before. He left the house, walked a short distance, stood still a moment, then turned around and came back to the party to meet her.

Lena Zetcher

Leah Zetcher

Lena Zetcher

Leybe Itzikovich

At the party Leybe and Leah played a game where you toss a hanky back and forth. Telling this story many years later, each claimed that the other threw it to him or her first. When the party was over, lots of young men offered to walk Leah home but she turned them all down. Meanwhile Leybe stood there, a quiet and good-looking young man who hadn't spoken to her all evening, although the two had kept looking at each other. She accepted his offer to walk her home, and that was the beginning of their lifelong love. Leybe once made a gift to Leah of an orange, an unusual luxury.

They hadn't known each other long when Leybe left for America. As yet there was no engagement, and for more than a year, Leah heard nothing from Leybe. Everyone told her she was foolish to wait, but Leah never lost confidence in him. Finally one day there arrived in Pushelat a formal letter from Leybe, written in beautifully hand-lettered Yiddish, asking Leah's parents for her hand. Leah traveled to Trashkun to meet Leybe's parents. Fayvl, who warmly approved of her, bought her a gold ring for the wedding. Leybe's cousin Dov Ber, a dealer in silver, gave her two silver spoons made in Vilna.

Leah planned to wait until her 20th birthday before traveling to America. But Leybe had a dream warning him that she should come at once, so he sent the money for her trip and she sailed from Hamburg on the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria. They were married on March 13, 1913 in Superior, Wisconsin, when Leah was not quite 19. A year later the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in June, and in August 1914, the same month Leah turned 20, Germany declared war on Russia. If she had waited until her 20th birthday, it would have been too late to leave Lithuania.

Louis & Leah Kovitz in the U.S.

World War I forced my mother's aged parents to wander hundreds of miles from home,[NOTE]In 1915, tens of thousands of Lithuanian Jews were forcibly expelled to the east by the Russian authorities. and they died in exile. I can still see my mother sitting in our kitchen weeping—it was 1919—with the letter in her hand telling of their death.

— Benjamin Kovitz, son of Louis and Leah Kovitz

While still in Europe my father learned to make shoes, but after coming to the United States he changed to tailoring. He came to Superior where his brothers Joe Echikovitz and Harry Barr (who took his wife's surname) were already settled. Most of the immigrants on both sides of the family went into some type of business, as he also did when he bought Joe's store about 1923, but his true talent was in his hands. He was not only a skilled and ingenious tailor but had a natural talent for drawing. He instinctively mastered anything manual or mechanical that the situation required. He was an indefatigable worker but was not cut out for a business career, although with my mother's help he kept the grocery store going into the 1960s.

— Benjamin Kovitz, son of Louis Kovitz

Kovitz Grocery

Kovitz Grocery at 513 Tower Ave., Superior, Wisconsin (click for full view)

A family who lived in Superior during the Prohibition era depended on Kovitz Grocery to sell them large amounts of sugar for making moonshine. They later wrote about Louis and Leah Kovitz, “Basically they saved our lives.”

The enforcement agents for Prohibition would come around looking for things like moonshine supplies, but Pa kept the extra sugar hidden behind the store counter. If you pulled the drawers out all the way, there was space behind where he would put the sugar. The agents looked around and opened the drawers, but didn't look behind them.

— Ruth Kovitz Ellin, daughter of Louis Kovitz

I was pretty young, maybe 10 or 11, and I knew about the hiding places but really didn't know what was going on. The hiding place was under the candy counter. However I knew it was a secret and was not to be talked about.

— Frances Kovitz Bubley, daughter of Louis Kovitz

Louis' writing

(click for full view)

He could do very fine and exact work, and his letters to his mother, when she was still in Europe, were done in neat Hebrew block characters rather than script, so that they would be easy for her to read.

— Benjamin Kovitz, son of Louis Kovitz

Mama always talked about Papa's “golden hands” and we all have the favorite things he made for us.

— Miriam Kovitz Cohn, daughter of Louis Kovitz

When I saw Papa's large hands I used to marvel at the intricate work and sewing he did. He learned quickly and became a master at fixing mistakes other tailors had made. Papa would stroll through Roth Brothers Department Store and buy a remnant off the table for 50 cents. Then he would sit up all night making me a gorgeous new skirt for school the next day. He and Mama would go to the movies, he would see Joan Crawford or some other star in a pretty suit or dress, and then he'd come home and reproduce it for us.

— Frances Kovitz Bubley, daughter of Louis Kovitz

Bentzl (Bentzion/Ben) Kovitz (1897-1985)
The youngest of Fayvl's and Yochved's ten children

Bentzl

My father [Bentzl] was drafted when he was young, so he went to hide in the woods. The government threatened his mother [Yochved] that they would put her husband [Fayvl] in jail if their son didn't report to the draft, so my father came out of hiding and had to enter the army. When Joe, Louis, Hilke and Roy heard about this in America, they put together $500, a huge sum then, and sent it to their brother Velve to get my father out of the service. My father poured water into his ears, then went outside so the water would freeze. This landed him in the hospital. While he was there, Velve traveled to the hospital and waited outside until he saw the doctor leave the building. Velve followed the doctor in the street and offered the $500 as a bribe to get my father out of the army, and it worked.

— Frank Kovitz, son of Ben/Bentzl Kovitz

Ma once told me that before Pa [Leybe/Louis] left for America, he was sent on a secret and very dangerous errand to bring back a younger brother who had run away to a part of Russia where Jews were not allowed.[NOTE]Jews were restricted to the Pale of Settlement in the days of the Russian empire. Ma gave no more details and said this was not to be talked about. Now, reading Frank's story about Bentzl hiding from the draft, I think that Pa may have been sent to bring his youngest brother back from Russia to Trashkun, to report for the draft so that Fayvl wouldn't be arrested.

— Ruth Kovitz Ellin, daughter of Louis Kovitz

wedding invitation

Bentzl's fine lettering can be seen in this wedding invitation for his marriage to Libka Berk.

Bentzl's departure in 1926

Bentzl with his mother, wife and son at the Trashkun railroad station in 1926, as he departs for Canada.

A few years later, after he was married, my father [Bentzl] was ready to emigrate but couldn't get into the U.S. or Canada so he got a visa for Cuba. He caught a train to the seaport where he had booked passage on a ship, but he had a bad feeling about the trip and went back home the next day. Again his brothers helped him. Joe sent money to some landsleit in Canada, who paid a farmer to write a letter promising to hire my father to work on his farm. This allowed my father to emigrate to Toronto.

When he arrived in Canada, he didn't work for the farmer. Instead, he went to Winnipeg where he worked as a tailor and saved money to send for the rest of the family [Libka, Dovid Mendel and Yochved]. In order for Yochved to enter Canada, his brother Joe had to write a financial statement to prove he could support her. Lillian [Joe's daughter] still has this statement, which shows that Joe was a millionaire at the time. He made a lot of money in real estate but lost it all in the Depression.

— Frank Kovitz, son of Ben/Bentzl Kovitz

gold coin

My father [Bentzl] told me that my grandfather [Fayvl] once found a small bag of about a dozen gold rubles that had been left on the high window sill of a public bathhouse. Fayvl gave them to my father, who in turn gave them to my mother [Libka] to keep and to bring to Canada when she came with Yochved and Dovid Mendel. My mother arrived in Canada with the coins in the insoles of her shoes. The coins still survive. Each of the grandchildren received one. The amazing thing is that my parents never spent the coins, even though I am sure they could have used the money.

— Frank Kovitz, son of Ben/Bentzl Kovitz

In 1927, a year after Bentzl had emigrated to Canada, his wife Libka, his son Dovid Mendel, and his mother Yochved (now a widow) set off from Trashkun to join him. A photograph shows the three travelers surrounded by members of the Itzikovich, Berk and Glezer families, as well as other townspeople who gathered at the Trashkun railroad station to see them off. Not seen in the photograph are Bentzl's father Fayvl, who had died five years earlier; his uncle Zussman, who had emigrated 16 years earlier; or Bentzl's siblings who had already emigrated. Velve and Pesl were the only children of Fayvl and Yochved who remained in Lithuania.

Departure in 1927

Family and friends gather at the Trashkun railroad station in 1927 for the departure of Yochved, Libka and Dovid Mendel. (click for key)

Binyomin Yosef Itzikovich (b. ~1864)
the second of three sons of Orel (Aharon) Itzikovich

Binyomin Josef Itzikovich and his wife Sheyne Rivke (née Skudovich) had two children: a son named Dov Ber and a daughter named Vichna. Dov Ber emigrated to South Africa in 1925. Vichna remained in Europe. She married and had two children, but the family perished in the Holocaust, as did Binyomin and Sheyne.

The story is told that Vichna's birth was very difficult. [Binyomin's wife Sheyne] was so ill after the birth, she was unable to eat or drink. In those days they had no doctor so they called the feldsher, who couldn’t do anything for her. So Binyomin decided to go and receive a bracha from a rov to help remedy the situation. It was mid-winter, snowing. He engaged a driver to take him through the snow, through the night, on a sledge, and he made his way to another town called Vilkomir, to go to the Vilkomirer Rov. Binyomin entered the house. The Vilkomirer Rov was sitting at a table which was bare, and in the room there was nothing other than a table and a chair. Binyomin said to him, “I’ve come to ask you for a bracha for my wife. She’s very ill. She won’t eat and she won’t drink. She’s just had a baby. Please help.” The Vilkomirer Rov said, “Kenst geyn aheym. Zi iz shoyn gevorn beser.” (“You can go home. She’s already better.”) That was the end of the conversation. Well, he turned around and went back for six or seven hours through the snow, and when he came to his house, he found his wife sitting up in bed and eating a bulke. That was the story my zeyde told me.

— Selwyn (Zusa Binyomin) Bolel, great-grandson of Binyomin Itzikovich, grandson of Dov Ber Ichikovich

Binyomin and Zussman lived side by side in adjoining houses, and a rivalry developed between the two brothers' wives. Zussman's wife Brynna (Bessie) had seven children, while Binyomin's wife Sheyne had only two.

— Ina Kornetsky-Langerman, granddaughter of Zussman Covitz

Dov Ber Ichikovich (1889-1980)
son of Binyomin Yosef Itzikovich

 See also: Memories of Dov Ber Ichikovich & Family VIDEOS by Selwyn Bolel

Dov Ber with Selwyn

My zeyde [Dov Ber] was so warm. Anyone who tells you that there’s no such thing as a varmer Litvak is wrong. My zeyde was a varmer Litvak. I used to hold his hand. He had very long hands. He could reach below his knees. And I was very short, so it was easy for him to hold my hand. Walking with him was, for me, total bliss. And as a little boy, I used to expropriate a pipe from his shop and go and sit on his lap, and that was one of my moments of great enjoyment.

— Selwyn (Zusa Binyomin) Bolel, grandson of Dov Ber

In 1914, the First World War broke out, and Jewish boys were conscripted to the army. My zeyde [Dov Ber] tried to dodge the army but he was eventually caught. And because he was so strong, he was appointed to work in the stores rather than go to the front. Anybody who went to the front virtually never came back. My zeyde used to lift up 200-pound bags of wheat on his own. And in all the years he was in the army, he never ate treyf. He only ate bread and vegetables. In the middle of the war, he contracted typhus fever. He was critically ill. He nearly died. He lost all his hair. But (Boruch HaShem) he was strong, and he made a recovery.

— Selwyn (Zusa Binyomin) Bolel, grandson of Dov Ber

Once there was a big soldier who used to bully a little yidishe soldier. My zeyde was slow to anger, but this time he really got angry and he said to the goy, “If you do that again, I’m going to have to do something to you.” Well, the soldier didn’t listen. So my zeyde picked him up by the waist, twirled him around, and threw him against the wall. And that was the end of the tsores from this gentleman.

— Selwyn (Zusa Binyomin) Bolel, grandson of Dov Ber

After the war, my zeyde married my bobe, Chane-Golda, who used to live in Ponevezh. Her maiden name was Yuzent. Shortly after they got married, my bobe developed TB of the leg, the knee. So for the rest of her life, she walked with a limp. And the doctors said to her, “You ought to go and live in a warm country.” They had relatives in America and South Africa. They spun a coin, and they decided to go to South Africa. But being very poor, my zeyde had to go alone. And so he left in 1925. For two years he worked and saved up sufficient money to bring out my bobe and my mother.

— Selwyn (Zusa Binyomin) Bolel, grandson of Dov Ber

My zeyde always davened three times a day with kavone, with concentration. He loved his davening. He used to say Tehillim the whole week and finish it all. On Shabbos he used to sit down and he used to learn his Chumash with a joy. And that was his enjoyment. His other main mitzvah was tsdoke. He always gave tsdoke handsomely. And my zeyde told me that every year he gave more tsdoke and his income used to go up automatically. He was never a wealthy man, but he was never short.

— Selwyn (Zusa Binyomin) Bolel, grandson of Dov Ber

Chane Golda

My late bobe, Chane-Golda, was an amazing cook. She used to make teyglakh of all kinds of descriptions, bulkelekh, all kinds of descriptions, the likes of which we have never seen since.

— Selwyn (Zusa Binyomin) Bolel, grandson of Dov Ber

Zussman Itzikovich (1868-1958)
the third of three sons of Orel (Aharon) Itzikovich

Zussman was the only one of the three Itzikovich brothers to leave Trashkun. He was 43 years old when he sailed for the US in 1911. He and his family settled in Chelsea, Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

My mother Feygie [daughter of Zussman] often talked about the cow that with great regret the family had to leave behind when they emigrated from Lithiania to Boston. The cow's name was Magdele.

— Ina Kornetsky-Langerman, granddaughter of Zussman Covitz

Zussman was a bootmaker and made a meager living as a cobbler in Chelsea. He was fortunate to have two successful sons, Arthur and Joseph, who essentially supported him and his wife and the unmarried children. Zussman had a shoe repair shop on the back porch of his house. He and the family davened at Congregation Anshei Lubavitch, that lasted until 1972 or so. Joseph Covitz was its president in later years. Zussman was always learning or saying Tehillim [Psalms]. Every time we visited, he put down the Tehillim book and conversed in Yiddish. He had a full beard and a tall yarmulke. He smoked cigarettes that he rolled himself. Sometimes he smoked Camels that had been cut in half. If only he hadn't smoked he might have lived longer. He didn't laugh a lot but he was funny.

— Sheldon Kovitz, grandson of Zussman Covitz

Zeyde was a very religious man. He was also a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. He always shtooped us with Chanukah gelt and Purim goodies. His children were extremely solicitous of him. He was clearly the head of the family. Zeyde had a little shoe repair shop in the back of his house on Bloomingdale Avenue in Chelsea. I remember him working on our shoes and showing me how it was done. I do not believe he made a living at this, but that was all right with his children, who always worked hard and helped their parents. They took extraordinarily good care of him in his declining years.

— Morton Covitz, grandson of Zussman Covitz

I was born in my grandparents' house in Chelsea and lived there with my parents until I was six or seven. Zeyde Zussie would sit on the back porch making leather repairs by hand. When we moved to our own place, it was just two blocks away and we would visit every Sunday morning. I remember helping Zeyde Zussie learn the Pledge of Allegiance when he was preparing for citizenship. He used to teach me a little Yiddish. I recall that there were photographs of the family in the buffet drawer in the house in Chelsea. In 1941 the letters stopped coming.

— Ina Kornetsky-Langerman, granddaughter of Zussman Covitz

Zussman Covitz

Zeyde was a man with a sense of humor and a taste for the schnapps. My father [Joseph] was his supplier. I will never forget when my father was visiting him and Zeyde (Tateh to my father) told him that he was out of branfen (liquor or spirits). My father was getting weary of being the “mark” and replied in Yiddish: Ich hob nikht keyn branfen (I don't have any liquor), whereupon Zeyde countered, Fur gelt du kenst koyfen (For money you can buy some). We laughed at that exchange for years.

— Morton Covitz, grandson of Zussman Covitz

Itzikovich descendants are invited to contribute memories and photos to be included in the Tales of Trashkun.

 Memories of Trashkun

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