A Memoir - Part 1 An Aniksht Jewish market stall in Baranausko Square.  (Source of photo: Nenusigręžk nuo savęs - Gyvieji tiltai  [Don't Turn Away From Yourself - Living Bridges], by Rimantas Vanagas, Vyturys [Lark], Vilnius, 1995, 141 pp. [in Lithuanian], photos and photo reproductions of Jono Junevičiaus.) In 1997, Dr. Saul Issroff sent me a copy of a typed manuscript he had received from his friend of many years, Dr. R.B. Skudowitz of Johannesburg, South Africa. Titled, "The Days of My Years - A Gift to My Children and Theirs," this memoir was written by Dr. Skudowitz' father, the late Aron Leibe Skudowitz, who died in 1994. Begun in 1969, it wasn't completely finished at the time of his death. As a tribute to his father, Dr. Skudowitz had it translated from his father's mamaloshen (mother tongue),Yiddish, into English in 1996. It came into my hands a year later.  Leibe Skudowitz' memories of Aniksht (and nearby Skimian) were vivid and strong. They give us a rare peek into shtetl life through the eyes of a young boy whose feet splashed in its seasonally  muddy, icy or dusty streets, played in nearby fields and forests, attended cheder and the Russian school, observed its Jewish inhabitants and institutions, and witnessed daily life and  the Jewish condition in the years leading up to World War One. To the best of my knowledge, there exists no other first-hand account of Aniksht shtetl life from this time period. Students of Aniksht should count themselves lucky to have access to such a resource. But using Leibe Skudowitz' memoir in its entirety proved problematic.  Much of it was written in "stream of consciousness."  Many of the events described are not in chronological order. Dates and places are more often omitted than not. Other locales and topics, character studies and political commentary, though interesting reading and insightful, are not germane to our subject and were reluctantly omitted. Nevertheless, I did allow some narratives to slip in that are not exactly on topic, but are compelling enough that I could not muster the willpower to omit them.   It goes without saying that I am very grateful to Dr. Issroff for bringing this wonderful resource to my attention and to Dr. Skudowitz for granting me permission to use it. I owe them both a great debt of gratitude, as should every reader.  - L. Chilton, editor   Introduction According to Dr. R.B. Skudowitz, his father, Leibe Skudowitz, was born in the tiny shtetl Skimian (Skiemonys) in 1902. Skimian was just 10 miles (16 km) southeast of Aniksht as the crow flies. Leibe was the youngest of four children born to Dovid Ber Skudowitz and Sora-Riva Shewach. Leibe's father was a 3rd generation Skimianer, his mother an Anikshter. They, like their parents before them, were honest, pious and poor. Leibe's birth year is uncertain because his memoir alludes to differing years spanning the period 1900 to 1904.  Although Leibe and his family made frequent trips to Aniksht to visit his mother's family and to conduct business there, it wasn't until 1908, when his father left for America, that he was sent to Aniksht to live with his maternal grandparents. Most of his memories before 1908 were of Skimian and those after 1908 of Aniksht. I am humbled by the thought that Leibe Skudowitz and his family may have known and interacted with my grandparents in Aniksht, and it is even quite possible that he played with my late aunts, Gita Elka and Sheina Plotnik, who were just about his age, born circa 1901 and 1903, respectively. - L. Chilton, editor Earliest Childhood Memories The Skudowitz household In Skimian stood on a sandy hill facing the only beth midrash (house of prayer). Leibe was the 4th generation Skudowitz to live in that squalid house, which was modest even by Skimian standards.  Made of wood and straw and without a floor, its walls were black with four small windows. At night it was lit by a dim lamp. On one wall hung a picture from a newspaper that showed a Cossack holding his horse upright. On the opposite wall hung another newspaper clipping that showed men and women dancing a quadrille. Furniture was a chest of drawers, a large black wardrobe, a rickety table, a few chairs and some stools. A wooden sofa opened into a bed for Leibe and his older brother. During cold nights, their mother covered them with whatever she could find: a coat, a jacket or anything that would keep her children warm. There were some copper utensils and a samovar, some pots, mostly clay, a few of porcelain, and a few silver spoons and knives, but mostly wooden ones. The house was no palace. Past the beth midrash, on one side of the street, many sandy roads led off to where most of the Jews of Skimian lived, including the shochet and the rebbe of the cheder. On the other side was another road on which some Jews lived. This road led through the shtetlach Avanti and Malat on the way to Vilna. Another road, where the marketplace and shops were located, led to the highway, some two viorst from Skimian. Westward, the highway led to Vilkomir and Kovno, and then eastward to Utyan and Dvinsk, then on to St. Petersburg. On the north side, when you crossed the highway, the road led to Aniksht. To the residents of Skimian, Aniksht was "town" and was referred to as such. Leibe's father, Dovid Ber, met his future wife in Aniksht. Recently discharged from the tsar's army, Dovid Ber was on a business trip to Aniksht to buy clay vessels and other merchandise at a wholesaler's shop when in walked a girl of average height and build, with beautiful black eyes and thick, black hair. She was delivering a basket of freshly baked bulkes (rolls) to the proprietor. As soon as she left, Dovid Ber inquired about this attractive bulke seller and was told she was Sora-Riva Shewach, Channah the baker and Reb Israel the cobbler's daughter. After their eventual marriage, the young couple lodged in Aniksht with the bride's parents, as was the custom in those days. After returning to Skimian, four children followed in quick succession, Leibe being the youngest. 1908 - My Father Goes to America - Preparations The conversations between my mother and father were nothing new. They had apparently long since discussed the matter and decided that my father should go to America. Soon the "secret" was on everyone's tongue. Although my mother tried to keep it private, it became common knowledge. After all, there was nothing to hide; it was no crime going to America. It wasn't due to theft, especially for a man like my father, who owed no one money, nor was he trying to evade army service, the "prisiv," like so many others used to do. There were those who borrowed money, declared themselves bankrupt and fled quietly in the night. It was common knowledge that the people who fled to America were the real scum - thieves, bankrupts, crooks and would-be military conscripts who did not want to serve the "foinke ganef" (thief), the derogatory name for the Russians.  There were also those who ran away from their wives and those young scoundrels who would make a girl pregnant and disappear. Some of them were allegedly solid citizens and respectable men, even gabboim or heads of the synagogue. Of course, there were those who went to America to better their lives. People would exclaim, "Wow, America! American ganef," jokingly of course and mainly through envy. Father truly went with the intention of exchanging his hard life for a good one, to keep his family and educate his children. He intended to go to my mother's brother, Rachmiel, who had long implored him to get out of the boiling pot, that benighted Russia, and come to America for a good living. And so Father prepared to go. He bought himself a suit and material for shirts, which Mother sewed up, and Zaide sent a pair of gaiters, all of which amounted to a fair bit of luggage. Father sold the horse and cart. Everything was arranged with the ship's agent as to when and on which ship he would sail. The consul had to see to it that everything was in order because Father did not want to sneak across the border, and although he was uneasy, he showed much patience, especially to me. He made me a small wagon with which I loved to play. Mother baked him rusks for the trip, bread soaked in beer and well dried. A letter arrived informing Father that he had to leave in eight days. He would be traveling on the "Lifei." At once he set about making provision for the family. He went to see Moneh the shochet, whose wife Tseme Leah owned a bakery, and asked him to give Mother credit to buy bread and challah for the Sabbath; he would send the money to pay him. Moneh agreed at once but his wife pulled a face and Father, noticing it, shook hands with Moneh and repeated his request. Both of them wished him a good journey and Tseme Leah added that he should not forget to send the money on time. He took leave of all his friends in Skimian and went to see Hirsh the melamed who taught us kids. Father asked him to continue teaching his children and that he would pay him to the last kopek. Hirsh gave him a solid promise and told him not to worry; he would continue to teach the children as always.  When father parted with Velvel the butcher, he did not have to entreat him to supply Mother with meat; he knew that Velvel would certainly do so. The last man he parted with was his best friend, Yoshe Yankels. They had grown up together, went to the cheder together and were the closest of neighbors as indeed their forbears had always been. He told Yoshe, "I won't speak much to you. The only thing I have to ask you is to keep an eye on my family and be a father to my children." There were tears in both their eyes when Yoshe promised he would do his best for our family. "Rest assured brother," he said, "I will never let you down." His wife Hannah made tea with cherries, then Father took his leave. Father came home where his wife and four children awaited him. The squalid house was lit by a dim lamp. We could see the emotion in Mother's face, yet she did not want to upset the general mood. She asked everyone to sit down and eat. I sat next to Father. We ate what there was, then went to sleep, our hearts filled with trepidation. Father rose very early the next morning and slipped out of the house. Could it be, I thought, that he was already leaving? Surely Mother would have woken also. More thoughts flashed through my mind and with everyone else still asleep, I got up quietly and peeped through the window. There was such a silence outside that I held my breath. What I could see was what had always been familiar to me [in Skimian]: the Beth Hamedresh, the church, the priest's meadow and the storks. I think of that sight even today, although they are mere pictures in the mind, dead photographs, with no one left there…our people all killed, all prematurely dead. All that is left are the memories. Suddenly I saw my father. He was walking backwards pulling a white goat by a rope fastened to its horns. It obviously didn't want to go and dug her front feet into the ground. No wonder there is a saying that a goat can be as stubborn as a man - though it is forbidden to make such a comparison. But this goat, I could see, was an exceptional one: white as snow, horns not too large, a long beard and small teeth. When Father finally dragged her into the house, we were all joyful that we now had a goat of our own. Few children like goat's milk but I was the exception. I drank it whenever Mother gave it to me and perhaps that is why I still have my own teeth. This was Father's surprise for Mother - buying her a goat before leaving for America. It was his last gesture to provide something for the family, a touching gesture one might say. Mother tied her up and milked her and brought me a glass of it. It was sweetish and took some getting used to, but hunger they say is stronger than iron. So now we were rich with a goat of our own. The time arrived when Father had to leave for Aniksht and from there take a train to where the ship was. Although it was the crack of dawn, a number of his friends came to wish him bon voyage. They stood around, talking to him and to each other. One of the Lithuanian villagers, Yurgas Elegutas, volunteered to take Father to Aniksht free of charge. He was the man from whom Mother leased the garden each summer, a kindhearted, amicable man. He had fine well-groomed horses, and for him the trip was no hardship. 1908 - My Father Goes to America - the Departure Mother took me along to see father off. After all, at five years of age and the youngest child, it was important that I should remember him. I was going to be sent to Aniksht to stay with my [maternal] grandparents. Suddenly there was a buzz. The horse and wagon arrived. Everyone said goodbye, then mother and I climbed into the wagon. Father's friends walked with him for some distance, then he jumped into the wagon and we were off.  Mother wept silently, tears running down her cheeks. At the sight of her crying, Father too burst into tears. I was bewildered. I knew he was going to America, so why all this weeping? As for me, I was happy to be going to Aniksht where I would live with my grandparents and be able to play with new friends. Or so I imagined. Yurgas flicked his whip and the horse broke into a trot. Traveling at such speed, the journey [to Aniksht] did not take long. I fell asleep on my mother's lap and when I awoke the sun was high in the sky. We reached my grandfather's house where we were expected. Zeide lifted me off the wagon and kissed me, then handed me to my granny who also kissed and hugged me. The wagon was unloaded and we all went into the house. Father still had another three days to wait and some formalities to complete with the agent. There were more discussions and plans concerning Mother and the children, but all I understood was that I, in the meantime, would live with my grandparents. Inquisitively I walk from room to room examining my new home. There is the dining room with the large table and chairs. Opposite is the dresser with four drawers and on the dresser are four candlesticks, and in the middle a large, white polished samovar.  I enter the cobbler's workshop. There is his old bench and next to it the three-legged stool on which Zadye sits and works, despite his old age and failing eyesight. Here are all the types of shoes he repairs, the leather and the wood and iron molds. I walk into the bedroom and see a wardrobe, not a big one, which also holds the best clothes which are worn on the Sabbath and on holy days. I also see two old beds. On each lies a heavy cushion and a duvet. What especially catches my fancy is a huge grandfather clock with two brass weights that hang from thin brass chains. A brass pendulum swings to and fro, tik tak, tik tak, without a stop. I see the two hands of the clock but I do not yet know what they mean. I know nothing of time. Today I find myself wondering how many tak taks there have been during my life, how many years have tik takked away. Who cares anyway, as long as the knocking of the pendulum keeps pace with my heart. I go into the kitchen where I see a big oven in which Bobbe bakes her wonderful bulkes and cakes. And indeed, the fresh, fragrant bulkes are already on the table. Bobbe, all hot and bothered, is standing next to the oven, waiting to take out the last of the baking so that she can join the others in conversation. This is how they worked together, he with his cobbling and she with her baking. Though not rich, they still managed to save money, he with a few hundred roubles in the post office and she with a little nest egg tucked away somewhere, something Zeide knew nothing about. Bobbe used to lend money to her so-called friends, not one of whom ever repaid her. From time to time she used to help my mother out when she was in need. Finally, Father completed all he had to do and was ready to go. He put his better possessions into a suitcase, the others in a wicker basket and the rusks in a clean white pillowcase. They all stayed up late that evening, joined by some friends and relatives. They were in a good mood and finished a bottle of brandy between them. I simply could not sleep, so my parents allowed me to stay up that last evening together. I walked around and when I reached my father, I put my hand in his jacket pocket. He turned to me and asked, "Yes, what do you want, my child? A kopek?" I said no, but he took out ten kopeks and gave them to me. "This is for you to buy sweets with," he said. I held the money tightly and when I went to bed I put it under my pillow. Later, my father came to me, sat down on the bed and kissed me a few times and said, "Good night my little boy, sleep well, be a good boy and listen to your mother." When I woke the next morning, Mother and Bobbe were standing next to me. Bobbe held a delicious mon cake in her hand and Mother was crying. I asked why she was crying and Bobbye answered that earlier that morning Father had left for America. My heart ached and I too burst into tears, whereupon Bobbe began to cry, and like a chorus, the three of us wept. Mother remained desolate, afraid of the prospect of being left alone with four children and no means of earning a living except for the money Father would send from America. He not only would have to send her money but additional funds as well to repay the debts. She hastened to return home to the other children. I remained in Aniksht with Bobbe and Zeide. I was young but remember being concerned about how Mother would make out. What was going to happen? Would she be able to control them?  My brothers and sister were growing up, physically and mentally, and that is when children need a father. Here in my grandparents' home, I lived in better conditions than in Skimian. Here they looked after me and there was no shortage of food. I used to get a large piece of cake or a bulke every morning and at midday some meat with a delicious plate of soup. I must confess that I became spoilt and naughty, seeing how Bobbe indulged me. But thanks to Zeide, I was corrected and became a mensch. He taught me the alphabet and fed me his stories and fables. I quickly grasped the work and in no time I knew not only the alphabet but could read from the suddur. Thus Zeide gave me a good grounding which stood me in good stead when I began to attend cheder. During the day, when Zeide worked, I used to run out in the street and play with my friends. I stayed with my grandparents for some months. I grew taller and stronger and Bobbye was delighted with me.  Zeide would take me to shul where I would sit next to him and all he asked of me was that I sit still. The shul was known as the Cobblers Kloyz, because all its congregants were mostly shoemakers, tailors and the like. There was a saying among Jews that a cobbler or tailor was not a mensch, that is, not a responsible, mature person. This is blatantly not true. Quite a few of them were great scholars. My Zeide in particular had a great influence on my life. [CONTINUED - “A Memoir - Part 2” ]   Jewish Life