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Avraham Karpinovich

Updated: Apr 30, 2022

(1913, Vilna / Vilnius - 2004, Tel Aviv)

Avraham Karpinovich was born into the family of Moishe Karpinovich (1892-1941), a prominent figure in the Jewish culture, founder and director of the Yiddish “Folks-teater”; thus his fate was predetermined. From an early age Avrom was "blinded" by the bright lights of the theatrical stage and carried out all kinds of errands for his father's business.

As he would later recall, standing behind the scenes he watched motley Jewish audience through the crack of the curtain. Many of those people, who came to the theater to relax from the difficult daily routine for a few hours, later became the heroes of the writer's Vilna stories.

Karpinovich studied at a real (technically oriented) school, where Yiddish was the language of instruction. The writer Moishe Kulback and the literary critic Max Erik were among his teachers. He was a member of the pro-Bund youth organization “Tsukunft” (Future).

Avrom dreamed of running away to the Soviet Union and building new Jewish life in Birobidzhan; to some extent he would succeed, but for a different reason and in quite different circumstances.

At the start of World War II, Avrom Karpinovich fled eastward from the advancing Nazis; all his loved ones died. In 1944, he briefly returned to the liberated Vilnius, from there he went to Belgium, and in 1946 he became one of the organizers of illegal immigration to Eretz Israel.

The ship "Theodor Herzl", on which Karpinovich was sailing, was detained by the British near Haifa; the passengers were interned in a filtration camp in Cyprus. Karpinovich actively participated in the social and literary activities of the camp. He escaped, but was caught and sentenced to 5 years in prison. In June 1948, the Warsaw newspaper “Dos naye lebn” (“New Life”) published an article illegally sent by Karpinovich from prison; it was dedicated to the proclamation of the State of Israel.

In early 1949 Karpinovich was released from the camp and came to Israel. For 30 years he was acting as an administrator of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. At the same time he published articles in Israeli newspapers and in numerous foreign periodicals in Yiddish. A constant topic of his articles, along with political issues, was the fate of Yiddish and the culture associated with it.

In 1951, Karpinovich joined the group of Yiddish writers “Yung Isroel” (“Young Israel”), which was formed under the roof of the magazine “Di goldene keyt” (“The golden chain”), edited by Avraham Sutzkever. In 1959, the first collection of Karpinovich's stories was published: the Zionist saga “Der veg keyn Sdom” (“The Road to Sdom”). The second collection "Eyn tog fun milkhome" ("One day of the war") appeared in 1973. In 1985, the third one: “Tsufus keyn Eretz-Isroel” (“On foot to the Land of Israel”), dedicated to the connection of the Diaspora Jews with their historical homeland.

Yet the main theme of Karpinovich's prose was his memories of Vilna. Three of his novels are devoted to this topic: “Oyf Vilner vegn” (“On the Vilna roads”, 1987), “Vilne, mayn Vilne” (“Vilna, my Vilna”, 1993) and “Geven amol Vilna (“ There was once Vilna ", 1997). Karpinovich does not idealize the Jewish characters, but their tragic fate leaves an imprint on the author's perception: "... and there was a drop of holiness on the Vilna day."

The paradox of A. Karpinovich's literary talent is that he received his literary development "after everything", when the Jewish voices of Vilna were cut off in the pits of Ponar; and he flourished in

Israel, in a country where Yiddish and Yiddish literature were far from in favor.

Karpinovich devoted a lot of time and energy to the promotion of his language and literature, being an active figure in the "World Council for the Development of Yiddish Language and Culture". He won several prestigious literary awards.

Etka’s ring with sapphire

from Avraham Karpinovich’s book "Vilno, my Vilna"

Recently, walking along Arlozorov Street in Tel Aviv, I heard someone shouting to me:

- Hey, Leizer! Toddler!

The nickname Toddler was used only in my platoon. They stuck it to me for my small stature. The last time I heard it was in 1948, when our fighting detachment was disbanded. I left the kibbutz and went to work as a driver for a company that supplied the entire country with dairy products.

It turned out that my nickname has not been forgotten, although about forty years have passed since then.

I turned around and - whom do I see! My platoon commander Heini Rosen. We hugged each other, patting each other on the shoulders. Happy Heini smiled:

- I immediately recognized you by your gait: head first, as if going to ram the wall.

I recognized my commander immediately, too. Only Heini Rosen could be walking like this in his sixty years, like a young officer.

He was the only one among us who did not respect massive boots and woolen socks in summer and winter. Heini always sported chrome boots and cavalry trousers. He could afford it. His father owned a pharmacy in Tel Aviv, whereas we, the kibbutzniks, barely supported ourselves. We only wondered how Heini was protecting his clothes from dirt in the trenches, holes, and crevices that we crossed in skirmishes and battles with Arab gangs, especially on the roads to besieged Jerusalem.

He was now wearing a three-piece with a neat tie under his double chin.

In those war years, his dandy appearance did not disturb me. But now Heini's outfit distanced him a little from me, as if I did not have common, shared memories of the path traveled with a weapon in my hands with him.

This contented man with a well-groomed mustache was once my commander, gave orders and ran along with everyone else to the bullets.

Heini latched on: "Let's go somewhere to eat, have a glass of brandy, talk, and remember the past." No excuses helped - that my wife was sick, that I needed to go home... In the end, we sat down at a restaurant on the corner of the street, where you can order a cholent with kishke (gut) on a normal weekday. This place is familiar to me; I sometimes go there to talk with the owner, a former partisan from our part of the world.

We were sitting in front of two bowls of toasted potatoes with chunks of glistening kishke, and Heini groaned with pleasure:

- Oh, that’s good!..

We drank a couple of glasses of brandy. Heini turned to me:

- Leizer, you see, we remember the past years.

- You mean the young years ...

- After those years ... Well, how can I tell you ...

“As you can see, you're okay… so why miss them?

- I miss the dream ...

- The dream was about the country. The country of our own. Here we have it.

- No, not that I mean ... For example, we have not seen each other for decades, and here we are sitting, eating cholent, as if we parted a week ago. I think about the years when we were united, when we gave everything, wanting nothing in return ...

Heini was busy with the baked potatoes and said, looking at his plate:

- I think about the first years when we came here.

- I remember them ... Heini, those years will never return. Life has changed.

Who would now consider coming to Israel by bike? I bought an old bicycle, said goodbye to my parents and left my hometown Vilna heading Israel. That was in 1938. I arrived in Danzig, which was a free city. I was sure that I would go on from there. But it turned out to be far from the case. You had to have a foreign passport. I went to the Polish consul. The short 18-year-old Jewish boy did not impress him. The employees looked at the "tourist" out of curiosity and laughed. The consul asked me: “Do you have money for the trip? And I answered: "I ride a bike, why do I need money?" He also laughed and asked where I want to arrive. I replied: in Eretz Yisrael.

He tried to joke:

- Such a small boy, how can you lift your leg to get on the bike?

I replied that I ride a ladies' bike with an open frame and I don't need to raise my leg ...

Probably, the consul liked my answer, because he told me to leave my documents and some photographs and come the day after tomorrow. When I arrived at the appointed time, a foreign passport and an application were already prepared for me - the legitimation of the Polish Tourist Club, which helped me a lot in getting accommodation and food on other people's roads. So I pedaled from Danzig to the Romanian port of Constanta. From there, through Bulgaria and Turkey, I made my way to a Lebanese town of Bikfaya.

On the way it was hard, often starving. In Bikfaya I came across Israeli “smugglers”. They helped me cross the border on a dark night with a bicycle on my shoulders. A foreign passport could not help here: The British demanded a certificate.

In this way I arrived in Eretz Yisrael.

Several years ago I read in a newspaper that the USA President Carter had an advisor Brzezinski. This adviser’ father was the Polish consul in Danzig. I wrote a letter to my son in Polish and received a reply that his father had helped other Jews as well, and if I happen to visit America, I should call him. He really wants to see me. So that I could tell him everything again. But where am I, and where is America? ..

Why did I remember all that while sitting with Heini at a restaurant with weekday cholent?

Perhaps because times are different. My eldest son wanted to become a tanker, and he was drafted into the border guards. I wrote a letter to my colleague, who is now a big man in the army. There were times when we were very close friends. In my letter I asked if he could help. But, perhaps, because I began the letter with the words “Abrasha, dear,” I did not receive an answer. This Brzezinski also received a salary for a reason, he was also very busy, but he answered me very friendly ...

“If my wife knew I was eating cholent…” Heini said. - Okay, a glass of cognac is good for the heart ... But cholent ...

I reassured him:

- Not scary. Once…

- But we must beware. I have already dealt with the heart.

Heini sighed:

- Leizer, we are already old men. Nothing will help.

- Don't think about it.

- But I can’t help thinking. How good it is to be young. Look at these soldiers at the nearby table, how they eat and laugh with appetite and enjoy every bite.

Heini strung a few beans on a fork and suddenly asked:

- Leizer, do you sometimes recall our platoon?

- I do recall ... So what?

Heini shook his head.

- Exactly ... So what? After all, almost everyone died ... Do you remember the tall Leon? A gray-haired man with a sparse beard, Volodka? ..

- I do remember them very well ...

Heini looked at me carefully and asked, as if by accident:

- And Etka, do you remember Etka?

It was he who brought her to me. He, Heini, stood beside me when she was dying on the road to besieged Jerusalem, near Castel. He was there when she gave me her sapphire ring ...

... In January 1948, seven Jews, assistants to the police, left in an open jeep on the road to the village of Yazur near Tel Aviv to guard the transports that were carrying food to the surrounded Jerusalem. An Arab gang attacked the jeep and killed everyone. We began to think about how to deliver the goods to Jerusalem. The British were still in charge of the country. They checked the Jewish drivers to see if they had weapons with them. Then we assigned a girl to each driver, as if a nurse, so that she would hide a Browning or a Parabellum on her body. English soldiers only looked for weapons from men.

This is how Etka was brought to me as an escort. She has been in the country since 1947, a former partisan. Immediately after her release, she became friends with a group of Yugoslav prisoners of war who were going to return home. They worked in Vilna for the Germans on the airfield. The guys took her with them, and with

and without documents they took her to Zagreb. From there she made her way to Trieste. There she met a soldier from the Jewish Brigade, and they sent her to Eretz Yisrael.

Etka told me all that later, on our fifth or sixth ride to Jerusalem.

She lived in a house on King George Street in Tel Aviv. A roommate took Etka to the cafeteria on Herzl Street, where our commanders dropped in for tea. Yigal Alon himself came there, so did Yitzhak Tabenkin. Upon learning that she was a partisan, Etka was asked whom she knew. She answered - Aba Kovner, also a former fighter from the Vilno ghetto. Aba was in the brigade and edited a battle newspaper which was read in all platoons. His articles were even compared with Ilya Ehrenburg’s ones. The commanders immediately contacted Kovner. He asked if she was wearing a blue sapphire ring on her right hand. With this ring, she went through all the battles and raids in the forests, and she will not part with it, even if you cut it into pieces. The ring was her mother’s. That was confirmed: "Yes, she does." “But,” said Aba, “don't rush to enroll her in the platoon. I have to see her myself. If she is a real Etka, there is nothing to hesitate, she is a born fighter. "

Kovner saw her, and Etka came to me.

The goods were loaded for transportation near the Tel Aviv central bus station.

I was standing near the cab of my car, Heini came up to me with an overripe girl, not a great beauty, with thick lips and a slight hump on her nose. Only her brown eyes made her look pretty.

Heini muttered:

- She will accompany you. Give her your weapon. Hide it. - And he went about his business.

We were left alone. The girl introduced herself:

- I am Etka Grilikhes. I was told that you are from Vilno. I am the daughter of the cabby Shimen. My father used to stand with his horse opposite the wood market on Zavalnaya Street. Maybe you remember?

She said this with such dignity as if she were the daughter of the Vilna banker Bunimovich.

Memories of our hometown brought us close to each other. And her dialect, her language ... Etka was far more intelligent than other girls, but she had difficulties with Hebrew.

The way she spoke Yiddish, was only spoken in Vilna. Etka's words immediately brought me back to my native doorstep, to my youthful dreams.

For example, we were both standing near a loaded car, waiting for the order to hit the road. Heini walked by with a serious look, not even smiling at us.

Etka flung after him a remark:

- Potsky Nikolay is fancying himself ...

I have never been popular with girls. My small stature depressed me. I did not run with everyone to the sea to dance Hora or sing songs by the fire. And in the detachment, the girls looked at me like a fly. I did what I was ordered to do.

Etka became my only friend. I took her home and stood with her in the doorway for a quarter of an hour. I wanted to tell her special words. Not about love, but just to warm our loneliness. After all, we were children of ruined houses, orphaned, deprived of everything.

I did not find any special words. It is not so easy.

Once I dared ask:

- Etka, why aren't you looking for ... Well, I ... I mean ... a boyfriend ... a groom?

We were then with the car in Bab el-Wad, on the way to Jerusalem. We were ordered to wait. We have been advised that Arab gangs from nearby villages were hunting Jewish trucks.

Etka listened to my question and did not answer. Then she stepped off the highway into a field and brought a poppy flower, bright red, opening to meet Eretz Israel's sunny April day. For a moment the Arab attacks were forgotten, it was forgotten that Etka was carrying a heavy parabellum strapped to her left thigh.

She took this flower and pressed her thick lips to the steel side of the truck, as if kissing him, then turned to me:

- This car is now my fiance. So what next?..

Her brown eyes were smiling childishly.

The day after the ride to Jerusalem, I brought Etka my bike on which I had riden to Eretz Yisrael. Etka looked at me as I was standing at the door of her house, leaning with both hands on the steering wheel, and in vain looking for words to say ...

Then I cleared my throat and said:

- Here, take it. Ride it ...

And I left.

It was on April 2, 1948. The day before we took possession of Castel. I remember this in every detail. In the morning we left Tel Aviv. Heini and a dozen other soldiers accompanied us. All of them were housed in a semi-open wedge heel with a light machine gun. They were followed by two more trucks with cargo. The silence on the highway was suspicious. Usually Arabs just shot at the sky to show that they were fighters. And here we were driving as if there is no war, as if the Arabs have resigned themselves to the fact that the Jews need to have their own country.

This is how the road stretched from Abu Gosh to Castel. The car was heavily overloaded, as if all the flour from Tel Aviv was on it, and peas, and cans of milk powder, and dozens of boxes of light ammunition. The machine growled and pulled the entire mass with an asinine stubbornness. Near Castel I had to stop and let the motor cool down. Etka gave me the parabellum and left the cockpit to warm up. At the same time, she carefully examined the oilseed plantations, the pine trees on the slopes on both sides of the highway, the scattered rocks, half drowned in moss, and returned to the cabin satisfied:

- Pines ... Just like on Naroch ...

We set off again, went down from Castel towards Motsa. And here the silence exploded with gunfire. Wild shooting from both sides of the highway. My truck was the first victim of the shelling. The shrapnel hit the load. The truck was immediately engulfed in flames. Etka and I jumped out of the truck and rushed to Heini's wedge. The Arabs rained a hail of bullets on them. Miraculously, the soldiers managed to pull out a light machine gun and secure it on a tripod in the middle of the highway.

The Arabs had superiority over us. They sat on the hills on both sides of the highway and saw our every move. Moreover, there were hundreds of them. Fellahs from all over the area came to rob transport.

A soldier with a light machine gun was killed immediately. The rest, led by Heini, scattered along the edge of the highway, looking for a place from where they could shoot back from the attackers. In a hurry, I left my

Parabellum in the cockpit and grabbed a "Schmeiser" - a captured German machine gun that had fallen from the hands of a wounded soldier, and crawled after Heini.

I completely forgot about Etka. I was sure that she had found a crack between the rocks along the highway and would be protected from bullets. I turned my head and saw a soldier running towards the silenced light machine gun and suddenly breaking in half. He had not yet had time to sink to the asphalt when Etka rushed rapidly these several meters and fell to the light machine gun. Line after line she directed at the attackers, who with angry desperate cries, leaving their positions, rushed towards us. A machine gun was firing among the trees, higher up the highway. Its bullets pecked at the asphalt around Etka, leaving her no hope. She had no cover, except for a clear sky and a light cloud on it - a witness to this bloody duel. As several units of fighters from the nearby kibbutz Kiryat Anavim arrived to help us and drove the attackers away, Etka lay near the light machine gun.

We carried her on a stretcher to the rest of the wounded, whom we gathered in a clearing near the road. A medical orderly from Kiryat Anavim was surprised that she was still breathing. Bullets tore through her insides. He even allowed to give her a sip of water. Because it was already all the same ...

Etka knew that she was dying, it was evident from her tired look. Death settled in heavy shadows under her brown eyes and waited for the moment when her heart is tired of fighting it.

We silently stood around Etka: Heini, I, and a few other soldiers of our unit.

Suddenly, like a fabulous bird, a thin smile flashed on Etka's thick lips. She motioned for me to lean over to her and whispered:

- Leizer, take the ring off ... from my finger ... it's yours ... for the bike ...

- Heini, so you know: she saved us all then!

- Okay, if not for that pair of units ...

His answer outraged me. I shouted:

- The commander from Kiryat Anavim himself said: if Etka had not detained the attackers, help would have come too late. Understand? Too late!!! And you…

- What I?

- You didn't let me run to her! Maybe I would have saved her!

Heini dropped the fork. His mustache shook, as he clenched his teeth so hard. Again I saw a stubborn "German", the commander, who takes all decisions himself.

- You would end up like Leon. I could not afford to lose soldiers in vain! ..

- Etka did not die in vain ...

Heini got up from the table, walked over to me and hugged my shoulders with his palms. The soldiers at the tables turned their serious faces towards us, but they did not want to interfere with the slightest grin of the two old Jews, especially the one who was sitting at the table with his head bowed and quietly shedding tears.

- Enough, Leizer ... Enough. There was no need to remember.

- Not true, Heini. We must remember, we must not forget ...

We both felt that the meeting was over. Heini asked:

- Leizer, what did you do with the ring? Gave it to your wife?

- No.

- But you have it?

- Yes…

Heini spoke as if to himself:

- What do we remember? About the ring ... The boys died, one to one. Who remembers them? Who?

Here I, which is not typical for me, jumped out with a worn-out phrase, perhaps taken from Aba Kovner’s battle newspaper:

- It does not matter! Etka's ring will not be forgotten! From her ring you can forge a large chain, a golden chain, which will stretch from the Naroch forests to Castel!

Then I regretted my trick with these words, which sounded at the wrong time and out of place.

So we parted with Heini, and he never found out what happened to Etka's ring. How could I tell him that as soon as the riots ended and the country began to live a peaceful life, I hid Etkin's ring in the skeleton of a burnt-out truck? ..

He would think I was crazy. After all, we pushed the steel frame of the burnt-out truck into a roadside ditch after a skirmish with the Arabs. It lies there with other debris, as a memory of those battles, fighting days. Whoever goes to Jerusalem sees them on both sides of the highway.

Over time, everything around was overgrown with grass. I tucked the ring into the gap between two sheets of armor. This is the remainder of our truck, which Etka kissed and called her fiance. This is the most suitable jewelry box for her sapphire stone ring ...

Sometimes I come there. I look to see if anyone has touched Etka's ring. But who will seek treasures in a pile of burnt-out rusty iron?

Etka's ring with a sapphire stone lies there to this day.

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