Keidan Jews #Keidan #Lithuania Polish vs Lithuanian #lithuania

A.Cassel <acassel@...>

Ben-Tsion Klibansky asks about the relative use of Polish vs Lithuanian
among our Keidaner ancestors. I don't have a definitive answer, but there
are a couple of documents in our collection that somewhat enlightening.

One is the memoir by Bernard Gershon Richards, which is on the Keidan
website, but which I'll excerpt here. Richards describes his grandfather's
livelihood this way:

"It was the practice of the small traders and brokers, the hendlers and
meklers of Keidan to converge on this street and walk down the road as far
as the bridge in the early morning of the market. Accosting the incoming
farmers, they would start negotiations with them while in transit. "What
have you to sell?" was the usual question: "Zo mas pseditz?" in Polish,"Ko
turo pardot?" in the more difficult Lithuanian.
If the two parties hit it off, or if they knew each other >from previous
dealings, the peasant would invite the prospective purchaser or agent to
jump on the wagon and take a seat beside him. They would continue their
discussion as they rode on together toward the center of the town. The
subject of their bargaining might be several bushels of wheat or corn, or a
few bags of potatoes, or some pairs of ducks or chickens contained in a
covered basket in the back of the wagon. If a price was agreed upon, the
trader would ride with his host into the town, looking proud of his capture
of business. In less favorable circumstances the trader would walk along
beside the farmer's wagon until his final offer was either accepted or
rejected. "

Of course the dominant local language changed with time. Polish would have
been in use until the 1790s, when Keidan fell under the Russian empire.
Gradually Russian took over, but Polish likely remained in some use as well.
After 1920, Russian was out and Lithuanian was in; Jewish children of that
period had to study Lithuanian along with Yiddish or Hebrew.

But for people like my grandfather, who was born in 1877, Lithuanian was
pretty exotic. Here's how he remembered it in an essay he wrote for the
Keidaner bulletin in 1938:

"Radio Memories"

"At home alone one rainy Sunday, I found myself idle, having had more than
my fill of the Sunday newspapers, and satiated with good radio concerts.
After resting awhile >from the reading and listening, I began to wander
around the radio dial, turning >from one station to another.
It was twilight; a rainbow of programs, in languages >from all over the
world, were offered by New York's many different national groups. But their
poor musical or dramatic productions did not much interest me, and I
continued wandering >from one station to another.
Suddenly the sound of a language caught my attention, and I stopped at the
station. The speech of the radio-announcer was unfamiliar, but it attracted
me. At first I couldn't make out what language it was, but then as I
listened attentively to the words, they called forth memories of my
childhood years and I realized that this was Lithuanian.
I never was able to speak or understand Lithuanian, except for a few words
and a little counting. But, now, by listening closely to the speaker, I was
able to make out what he was saying: it was nothing profound, only the
addresses of places to buy various goods, mostly stores in New Jersey. Then
he announced that the Lithuanian orchestra would play a Lithuanian polka.
The polka was followed by a men's choir, and after some new announcements
the orchestra played another polka, with the men's chorus jumping in in the
middle. Then a mazurka, then the chorus again, accompanying a refrain sung
by a soloist, and with a bit of a march, the Lithuanian program ended.
The rustic peasant music, >from an orchestra made up of fiddle,
hammered-dulcimer and concertina, the singing of the chorus and the two
voices -- singing in thirds -- was so naturally, utterly Lithuanian,
untouched by the civilized surroundings of modern America, that it
transported me, like a magic spell, back fifty years to Keidan.
Old images of my childhood floated up before me: Almost every Thursday and
Sunday Rive-Golde, Krupnik's wife, whose house was next door to ours, would
invite her townsfolk -- Lithuanian peasants >from Survilishik -- to come
visit on their way >from market or church. She would entertain them with
liquor, beer and snacks consisting of salted herring or sausage and ham with
black bread.
Rive-Golde spoke Lithuanian just as well as the peasants and was their
adviser; they would feel quite at home in her house, with its almost black
walls and frames.
They would sing -- we children used to call it "babbling" -- sometimes
playing on a concertina, and everyone almost in one voice, so monotonously
that it would "put a corpse to sleep", without any of the rousing melodies
or tunes of the Russians or Jews. The dances were always a polka, and a
polka and again a polka. At a peasant wedding they could keep dancing the
whole night to the same polka, played on a fiddle and hammered-dulcimer or
concertina. The tune was a hundred years old, and as plain and colorless as
the old, dark, Lithuanian woods.
And just as crude as the Lithuanian music in Keidan a half-century ago, so
was the Lithuanian radio program here in modern, developed America. No
wonder, then, that it took me back exactly to my childhood years in Keidan.
Simple, primitive times, but sweet childhood years. When there was not a
trace of malice in relations between the Lithuanian peasants and the Jews."

Hope that helps. Best to all,

Andrew Cassel

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