Nathan's Story

This is information which Nathan Shapiro gave to Robert Craig in conversation at Petah Tikvah on 27th March and 3rd April 1989.

My father's parents were Avraham and Ita Shapiro. They came from Lukd, a small  town near Vilna. My father was Yisroel Shapiro. He died in 1924, aged 40, so he must have been born 1884. My mother was Shane Tsyril. She was a year older than my father so she was born in 1883. She died in the Holocaust in 1941. They lived in Ignalina in Russia, now the place where the Russians have a big atom plant. That was where I was born in 1914.

It was a small town, the centre of a community. There was a railway station, a market. It was a place where tourists came from as far away as Leningrad. They came there because it was a place with woods and forests and lakes all around. The main business of the Jews was fisheries and forestry. It was a little town surrounded by lakes. You could not leave it in any direction without crossing a bridge. The town used to send fish to Warsaw also fruit. I remember we sent apples to Germany.

I was born in Ignalina. I had three brothers. Eliezer was the oldest. He had a daughter, Israella, who is now a grandmother herself, Israella Feldman. She lives at Neszion. Her brother is Yaacov who lives at Rehovot, Ganai Nadar, a suburb of Rehovot. I was the second brother. The third brother, Ziska Shapiro lives in Paparadia in Lithuania, near Vilna. He had a son, Isaac Shapiro, who died last year in Israel. He married shortly before he died. Ziska recently visited us from Lithuania. The fourth brother Shmuel died in the war.

In the 1820s the Russian Tsar wanted to settle Jews among the Christians, in order to set them a good example and to improve their manners! So he gave plots of land to those Jews who wanted to settle in the west, nearer the borders with Germany. The Hibbat Zion movement came just after the Jews settled like that. They did set a good example because they did not drink. Even three generations later the villagers used to say  "Look at the Jews they don't drink."

My great grandfather Nathan Gilinsky was granted our family's land in about 1834-5 i). He had four verlocks, equal to 80 hectares, say 320 acres. It was at Garbun, and the family were the only Jews there. So they used to go to the village of Paluszj for holidays, to stay there for hagim. That became more difficult later, as the children grew bigger. They could not find a Hebrew teacher to teach their children in Garbun, so the family moved to Paluszj, which was more of a Jewish centre. Nathan had four sons and he divided the land between them. One of them was my grandfather Shlomo. In the beginning they farmed themselves at Garbun, but later when they moved to Paluszj they let the land.

A few years before I was born the family moved again, from Paluszj to the small town of Ignalina, which was 2 1/2 miles from Paluszj. What happened was that the house in Paluszj was burned in a fire. The rule was that if there were a fire the government gave you a plot of forest with some timber on it, which you could use for rebuilding the house. The plot of forest was to pay all the expenses of' rebuilding. You even made money from the fire because you had that plot . That's how they got enough to buy a plot in Ignalina , 200 yards from the railway station, and build a house on it. Paluszj had a shul but Ignalina had three shuls and a rabbi and a cheder.

In my time we walked on Shabbat from Ignalina to Paluszj to make up a minyan. The Jewish population of Paluszj was getting smaller and smaller and we got Shabbat meals and hospitality for making up the minyan.

I remember going to Garbun with my grandfather Shlomo when he was an old man, to collect the payments which the tenants made in the winter after the harvest was over. We got on well with the tenants. They paid in produce - barley, peas and beans - not in money. Beans were very popular with people, especially when the beans were cooked. Children particularly liked them. I was nine or ten years old and we went with a horse drawn sledge. Going to Garbun village we met one of the new owners, a man of 105 who was still working, taking the horses from the fields. Shlomo had all his own teeth though he was over 80 years old. This old man had no teeth at all and Grandfather joked with him, saying "You toothless old man. . . ."

One of' Shlomo’s brothers was Aron. His grandsons are here in Israel . Another brother, I don't remember his name, had a son Wolfie, and he was the one who sold our land to the gentiles. The land was already let to Lithuanians by the time Louis Gilinsky left for England.

In the beginning at Garbun the family were farmers themselves. My mother's parents were Shlomo Gilinsky and Sarah Gittel. Shlomo’s father, my great grandfather, was Nathan Gilinsky, after whom I was named. Sarah Gittel’s father, my other great grandfather on my mother's side was Wolf or Wolfie, and my uncle Louis named his first child after that Wolf.

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