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Kurenets/Kurenitz Baruch Zukerman, 1955
Baruch ZUCKERMAN (1887 - 1970)
We couldn't collect a thousand years of our shtetl's history in these pages. We don't know the days of her life, and what was her origin. When did they lay her foundation? And who put in her doors? By contrast, we know the continuance and it's clear to a tear her terrible eradication. So we did the best that we could to make a megillah-like book of everything that we could collect and gather. We were helped mainly by the memories of living natives, but we also melded chapters from writings about her from former generations. So we believe that we were able to embroider on her life-quilt the way she was in her last hundred years.
Her financial picture was not complicated. The shopkeeper and tradesmen comprised a majority. Some shopkeepers had large shops, and some had miniscule shops. Some tradesmen had one or two workers, and some did all the work themselves. The city had tailors, shoemakers, hatters, woodworkers, butchers, and metalworkers. There was a large number of very poor peddlers that went from village to village trying to sell housewares and tools and for that they would either get money or food from the farmers, and that they would sell to the storekeepers, and they would sell it to the bigger towns. Most of the exchange of merchandise was with the city of Smorgone that had real industry in those days. But this financial basis was falling apart, and the natives of the town, especially the young ones, didn't stay and started going into the outside world, first to Smorgone and then farther, to Vilnus and Minsk. Some of them found their way to Dvinsk, and in their travels they arrived to cities outside of the Pale of Settlement, like Riga and Libo. Later on, when poverty spread, the wandering spring found a new path: immigration to America.
Towards the end of the 19th century, many families in Kurenitz prevailed because of the infusion of American dollars. The dollar became a very important element in the economy of the town and America became the land of opportunity for hundreds of families. In the final 20 years of the town, Eretz Yisrael became the harbor and the haven.
The general picture of the shtetl was similar to other shtetls in Eastern Europe and in the Pale of Settlement. Her spiritual life was very special and original. And I hope that the collections here will show us the uniqueness of her profile.
Unlike most shtetls in Lithuania and Belarus, Kurenitz was mainly Hassidic. It had three synagogues and two minyans. And from these, only one synagogue belonged to the "mitnagdim". Spiritually, the town was very blessed. The leaders were noble of spirit and spread their noble spirit on her image. Rabbi Yaakov Landau gives true image to the influence of this unique people. He tells us about the deep effect that the beloved renowned famed genius Rabbi Zishka, and the influence of the articulate and intuitive Rabbi Moshe Leib Landau. From his childhood memoirs of his home, we picture the essence of modesty, excitement of Torah studies and love of humanity.
The town was blessed with a large number of unique teachers. They were not credentialed, (except for the beloved and respected Moreh, Ben-Zion Meirovitz). What they lacked in pedagological methods, they compensated for with their deep desire to awaken their pupils' spirits with love for God, Jews, Zion, and the high ideals of our prophets. The teachers and rabbis spread their deeply spiritual essence on their flock and opened their hearts to experience a spiritual treasure that enabled them to withstand the extreme poverty and the severity of life in the Diaspora and to continue to live as complete Jews. It will be witnessed that despite the enormous new influences of a new country, the ones that left for American could not erase the strong childhood impressions and values that they brought from their homeland. We see this in their stories, especially in the spiritual journey of Rabbi Moshe Laser Kramer.
Came the days that the flame of enlightenment spread around the town. Stronger yet were the effects of the unstoppable radical socialist movement. The firebrands that tried to evoke hate of the tsarist regime did not need to use much persuasion. Their job was done by the evil deeply anti-Semitic authority. But neither the spirit of enlightenment nor the revolution would affect the town's spirit. Externally, things changed, but the deeper essence stayed the same till the arrival of Zionism that let unique new expression and longing surface. New tunes and ideals were heard in the hills and the valleys- Hebrew schools, beloved teachers that only spoke Hebrew, Zionist organizations, like hisdatroot, youth movements, like hachaloot, and hashomer hatzaier. But in some ways it was a new tune for an old song. Old wine in a new bottle...
The size of the population hardly changed. Many immigrated, but new births replenished the departures. Hundreds of families were left prey to the Nazi murderers. Our town collapsed in the bloody battle where the terrorists annihilated millions left and right. Millions of morally and spiritually committed, religiously obedient Jews.
The Jews of Kurenitz were also among the contributors and heroes of the resistance during the dark days of the Holocaust. Their sacrifices and bravery had many faces. Can we forget the teenage girl, Chayalaiy Sesonsky, who while taken to be murdered on the day of the slaughter 9/9/42 scratched the faces of her killers with her tender fingers, and on her grave she cursed them, prophesizing that the sounds of bleeding souls would scream from the earth and the day of revenge would come... Can we forget the courageous actions of the teenage sons of Kurenitz, organizing underground fighting, and connecting with the Russian army? Motik and Ellik Alperovich, Yunkle Alperovich, Yitzhak Einbeinder, Nachoom Alperovich, Zalman Uri Gurevich, Benjamin Shulman, and Zalman Alperovich, amongst others... Will we forget old Leib Motisov, passionately calling Jews to action, warning and prophesizing the bitter end, and on the day of slaughter, jumping into the fire, wearing his talleet, before the killer's bullet would get him? Is it possible to forget the series of tortures of Yisrael Alperovich, the meat vendor that escaped the slaughter to the woods with a few hundred other Kournitzers? Yisrael, a god fearing Jew, ate only potatoes, refusing to compromise the kosher rules, to starvation and death. And what about the torture and killing of Sarl's Faiga Leah? It reminds us of the torture of Hannah. She was caught alive by the enemy while hiding in the woods. She suffered every physical torture but would not give the names of the gentiles that fed them, even denying the words of ones that had already confessed.
All these testaments that tell about the life and the death of the Jews of our town will be printed in this memorial for eternity. But the most shaking testament is the list of the holy martyrs, man and woman, old and babies, slaughtered in the hands of the evil. The voice of their blood rises from the book. Their shouts combine with the shouts of the millions that perished that demand from us: remember what the pharaohs from Ashkenaz did to us.
Books of testament and memoirs are the answer to all those that want to deny our enormous destruction, the mark of shame on the forehead of humanity. By denying it they want to erase the enormous crime, as if the numbers of our slaughtered is only 2 million and not 6, it makes less the crime of humanity that stood there and didn't intervene to save or help. As if the weight of the blood and the number of the victims are the only measures of the collective human order, "do not stand on the blood of your friend."
It's our duty and holy mission to register in all books like this the vastness of our destruction and the huge measure of our slaughtered. It's our responsibility for each victim that didn't get to be brought to Jewish burial and for the whole Jewish nation.
For eternity our nation remembered our martyrs and this helped to us to endure. The memory of this mother of all annihilations that has no brother in our recorded history should be the weapon in our war for the future survival of the nation. And this will support us in the future as it supported us in the past: that our biggest enemy that wanted to annihilate us all did not succeed. The nation of Israel lives and will continue to live. And the high ideals of Isaiah and Micha will endure and their prophecies will come on the judgement day. The enemy wanted to kill our spirit, but they failed and will always fail.
Our little shtetl was killed only physically - she was erased from the maps of the Diaspora but her spiritual contribution will float to the horizon to mix with the rest of Judaism. These pages will bear witness that the spirit of our town did not die, and from her ashes will come life and faith.
From the book Megilat Kurnit. Translated by the Levitan-Gordin family. 6/16/00
(IN JEWISH SOURCES KURENITS, KUZNITSE)
A SMALL TOWN IN THE DISTRICT OF MINSK, BELORUSSIA.
UNTIL THE SECOND WORLD WAR THE TOWN WAS IN THE DISTRICT OF VILNA, POLAND.
KURZENIEC IS SITUATED AT A ROAD JUNCTION AND ON THE RAILWAY AND IS
SURROUNDED BY FORESTS. BECAUSE OF ITS SITUATION THE TOWN SUFFERED FROM
INVASIONS OF FOREIGN ARMIES.
TOMBSTONES IN THE OLD CEMETERY TESTIFY TO THE EXISTENCE OF A JEWISH COMMUNITY
FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE 18TH CENTURY. IN THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES
KURZENIEC WAS SURROUNDED BY SMALL TOWNS HAVING JEWISH COMMUNITIES.
IN A CENSUS TAKEN IN 1867 THERE WERE 1325 JEWS AMONG A POPULATION OF
1955 INHABITANTS OF KURZENIEC.
IN THE SIXTIES OF THE 19TH CENTURY KURZENIEC BECAME THE SPIRITUAL CENTER
FOR THE SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES, FAMOUS FOR ITS SCHOLARS AND A FOCUS FOR THE
JEWS OF LUBAVITZ IN THE DISTRICT. MOST OF THE JEWS OF KURZENIEC WERE
HABAD HASSIDIM AND ON GOOD TERMS WITH THE MITNAGDIM MINORITY IN THE TOWN.
RABBI ZALMAN KORNITZER WAS CONSIDERED THE LEADING HASSID IN TOWN AND JEHUDA
LEIB EPHRON, RABBI YEHUDA SUSSMANN, RABBI YOSEF HALEVI AND THE GAON RABBI
ZISCHKE BELONGED TO HIS CIRCLE.
THERE WERE FOUR SYNAGOGUES IN THE TOWN WHICH WERE FILLED TO CAPACITY ON
SHABBATH AND HOLYDAYS.
AMONG THE RABBIS OFFICIATING IN THE COMMUNITY WERE THE ILLUSTRIOUS
RABBI YAAKOV LANDA, THE RABBI AND GA'ON ZISCHKE AND RABBI AHARON FELDMANN,
THE LAST RABBI OF THE COMMUNITY; HE PERISHED IN THE HOLOCAUST.
AMONG THE CHARITABLE INSTITUTIONS WERE GMILUTH HASSADIM, HACHNASSATH
KALAH, MEOTH HITTIM AND MATAN BASETER.
MOST OF THE KURZENIEC JEWS EARNED THEIR LIVING IN THE CENTRAL MARKET
OF THE TOWN, WHERE THERE WERE JEWISH WORKSHOPS AND SMALL SHOPS. THE
CLIENTS WERE MAINLY PEASANTS FROM THE SURROUNDING VILLAGES. JEWISH PEDDLARS
ALSO MADE A MEAGER LIVING FROM SELLING THEIR WARES AMONG THEM.
THERE WERE ONLY A FEW WELL-TO-DO JEWS IN THE TOWN. MOST OF THE JEWS LIVED
IN STRAIGHTENED CIRCUMSTANCES AND THEREFORE MANY OF THE YOUNG PEOPLE LEFT
KURZENIEC FOR THE BIG TOWNS OR EVEN FOR THE U.S.A.
AFTER WORLD WAR I, IN 1918-1919 ZIONIST ACTIVITIES STARTED IN KURZENIEC.
THE HEBREW SCHOOL "TARBUTH" WAS FOUNDED AND FUNCTIONED TILL THE OUTBREAK
OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR (1939). THE EDUCATIONAL LEVEL OF THE SCHOOL WAS OF
THE HIGHEST ORDER AND ITS LITERARY DISPUTATIONS WERE FAMOUS IN THE VICINITY.
ZION, AND HERUT AND TECHIYA. A BRANCH OF HEHALUTZ WAS OPENED IN 1922, AT THE
TIME WHEN SUCH BRANCHES WERE OPENED ALL OVER THE DISTRICT. THE YOUTH OF
HEHALUTZ WENT TO AN AGRICULTURAL TRAINING CAMP (HACHSHARA) IN PREPARATION
FOR ALIYAH TO ERETZ ISRAEL AT A FARM CALLED "TRUMPELDORIA" NEAR VILNA. THERE
WAS ALSO A BRANCH OF HASHOMER HATZAIR IN KURZENIEC.
IN 1939 THERE WERE 1,500 JEWS IN KURZENIEC.
THE HOLOCAUST PERIOD
FOLLOWING THE RIBBENTROP-MOLOTOV ACCORD, SIGNED BY GERMANY AND THE U.S.S.R
IN AUGUST 1939, THE RED ARMY ENTERED THE DISTRICT IN SEPTEMBER OF THAT
YEAR AND INSTALLED A SOVIET GOVERNMENT THERE.
AFTER THE GERMAN ATTACK ON RUSSIA ON THE 22ND OF JUNE 1941 AND THE RETREAT
OF THE RED ARMY, PANIC SPREAD AMONG THE JEWS OF KURZENIEC AND THEY TRIED TO
ESCAPE INTO RUSSIA. A FEW OF THEM SUCCEEDED.
WHEN THE GERMANS ENTERED THE TOWN, SEVERE LIMITATIONS WERE IMPOSED UPON THE
JEWS AND THEIR CONDITIONS WORSENED FROM DAY TO DAY. RUMOURS ABOUT KILLINGS IN
THE VILLAGES REACHED THEM AND THEY FLED INTO THE FORESTS NEARBY AND THERE
CONSTRUCTED HIDING PLACES.
DURING THE FIRST DAYS OF THE NAZI OCCUPATION AN UNDERGROUND CELL WAS FORMED
IN KURZENIEC; ITS PURPOSE WAS TO SABOTAGE THE GERMAN ARMY IN ANY POSSIBLE
WAY. MANY OF THE YOUTH FLED INTO THE FORESTS AND FORMED FIGHTING PARTISAN
GROUPS THERE. AFTER THE WAR THEY GAINED PUBLIC RECONGNITION, WERE
MENTIONED HONORABLY AND EVEN DECORATED.
THE JEWISH POPULATION OF KURZENIEC WAS GRADUALLY LIQUIDATED. FROM TIME TO
TIME THE GERMANS EXECUTED SINGLE JEWS IN THE TOWN, BUT ON SIMHAT TORAH
(AUTUMN 1941) THEY KILLED 54 JEWS AND AFTER A SHORT TIME 33 PERSONS AND
LATER STILL 13 - ALL OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY.
ON THE 9TH OF SEPTEMBER 1942, THREE DAYS BEORE ROSH HASHANA, THE LOCAL GERMAN
GARRISON CARRIED OUT AN "AKTION" (ACT OF LIQUIDATION); ALL THE REMAINING
JEWS, OLD AND YOUNG, WOMEN AND CHILDREN, 1040 IN NUMBER, WERE KILLED
INDISCRIMINATELY ON THIS DAY.
BETH HATEFUTSOTH - FAMILY NAMES AND COMMUNITIES DATABASE
The story of Kurenets during the
war as told by some locals (non Jews)
I recently discovered the Kurenets website and am attaching some pictures you might want to upload. The website is incredible and I have been sharing it on Facebook with all my Alperovich cousins!
1. Huda and Eliyahu Alperovich, my great grandparents. (I am named after Eliyahu.)
2.. The other picture is of their 4 oldest children: the tallest girl is Bunya, my grandmother. The next tallest girl on the left is Shifra, and the smallest girl is Rochel. The boy seated is Yaakov ( Alpert) who wrote the story "Old Images" on your website.
Thank you so much for documenting these beautiful stories and helping to recreate the vibrant community of Kurenets. The website is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Eileen Flicker <eileenflicker@yahoo...>