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YANISHKEL, MY BIRTHPLACE

By Chaim (Herman) Joselson October, 1995

Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Zilberstein-Karn and edited by Ann Rabinowitz Miami Beach, Florida.
My aim is to write a short story about my birthplace, Yanishkel (Joniskelis). Yanishkel (Joniskelis) was located near the Latvian border and a small railway connected her with the cities of Birzh (Birzai), Siauliai, and later also to Ponevezh (Panevezys).

About seventy Jewish families lived in Yanishkel (Joniskelis), most of them merchants, or small storekeepers. They were also craftsmen like tailors or shoemakers.

Before the WWI, the Jewish population was much larger, but most of them immigrated to the United States and South Africa.

In 1915, the local Jews were deported deep into Russia. 

In 1918, when Lithuania became an independent state, most of the Jews returned to Yanishkel (Joniskelis), but not all of them until 1920-22.

Most of the Jews were more or less educated. The girls went to the Lithuanian public and high schools and the boys to the cheder. From the cheder, they went to the yeshivot in Ponevezh (Panevezys), Telz (Telsiai), and Slabodka (Vilijampole).

Only two boys, Moshe Brauz and myself (Chaim Joselson) went to the Hebrew high school in Ponevezh (Panevezys). After finishing high school, the two of us continued our education at the University of Kovno (Kaunas). Moshe Brauz went to the faculty of law in Economics and I myself became a construction engineer until I left for Israel to go to the Technion of Haifa in 1935.

Moshe Brauz finished his studies at the University of Kovno (Kaunas) with a Ph.D. in Economics and then went to the Military Academy in about 1938 and became a Captain in the Lithuanian Army. He was one of three Jews to attend the Academy, Chaim Tabakin (died 1995 in Delray Beach, FL) and Dr. Eli Levin (died in the War), both from Birzh (Birzai), being the other two.

Moshe Brauz was one of the heroes of the Vilna (Vilnius) Ghetto and was in the underground and with the partisans in the forest. He was a follower of Jabotinsky from the time he was a child and was a member of Betar. He was killed on Yom Kippur, 1943, together with a group of thirty-six boys and girls who were surrounded by a German unit of hundreds of Lithuanians. They put up a big fight. The last three among them was Moshe Brauz and he killed himself with the last bullet they had left. Only one girl escaped, Yulka Goldberg who was with Betar, and she told this story. (See further story attached)

From the prominent families in Yanishkel (Joniskelis) were the old Rabbi Turetz and his son-in-law the last Rabbi of Yanishkel (Joniskelis), Rabbi Jehuda Zvi Siderer, the family Zlot, three of their daughters, one was Chuja, a doctor in the little town of Rozalia (Rozalinas). She married the pharmacist, S. Bar. The other, Batia, a dentist in Kovno (Kaunas), and the third, Neche-Menuche, was a lawyer. Also, the families of Bin, Furman, Todes, Kremer and more.

Two of the Todes girls, Cipa and Feiga, by miracle escaped at the last moment from the pit of slaughter together with another girl, Michle Goldberg, and found shelter at the farm of a Lithuanian until they were liberated in 1944. They came to the U.S. The third Todes sister, Leah, was taken to Stutthof Concentration Camp where she died of typhus after being liberated on March 10, 1945 (according to Sara Karn who was with her there).

The rest of the Jews of Yanishkel (Joniskelis), together with the Jews of Vabolnik (Vabalninkas), Vashki (Vaskai), and Posvol (Pasvalys), were killed on August 26, 1944, in the forest of Zadeik near Posvol (Pasvalys).

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, there were a number of people from Yanishkel (Joniskelis) who went to Israel. As far as I remember, the first one was my mother's grandfather, Joel Zlot, who came directly from Russia. Also, the family Segal. One of their sons, Ben-Zion Segal, was the academic secretary at the Hebrew University and is still living in the old city of Jerusalem.

After Israel became a state, the following families settled there from South Africa: Wolkov (setted in Tel Aviv), Dr. A. Been (settled in Herzelia Pitach), Dr. A. Brr (settled in Herzelia), Rivka Dol Lurie (settled in Ra'anana), as well as Richard Berlin who was from the U.S. (settled in Jerusalem), and Rivka Jechelis Kaskantowski who came in the 1980's and settled in Tel Aviv.

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