This week's Yizkor book excerpt on the JewishGen Facebook page #yizkorbooks

Bruce Drake

There are two threads that run through “My Home Town, Kalvarija” from the Yizkor book of that town in Lithuania: an account of the reasons that so many people started to emigrate elsewhere and how memories of the shtetl led to so much longing for what had been and was no more.

Israel Matz was born in Kalvaria in 1869. After emigrating to America in 1890, by which time many Kalvarier Jews already had deep roots in New York and elsewhere in America. He became an accountant, then entered the pharmaceutical business and founded the Ex-Lax Company in 1906. He was a dedicated Zionist throughout his years and worked to keep Hebrew as a living language, and just a language devoted to rituals and prayers.

Unlike others who disembarked upon the day of his arrival, there were no family or friends there to meet him, but others “began to console, encourage and express sympathy for me. After all, Jews are merciful and sons of the merciful!” As a prelude to recounting his memories of his home town, he recalls: “When they asked me, “Where are you from?” and I answered, ‘From Kalvarija,’ the sympathy changed into a sort of expression of envy. If this was so, they said, you are already taken care of—Kalvarier Jews here are all well off.
I think you will enjoy reading his descriptions of life in Kalvaria — both the joys and the hardships.


Bruce Drake

Silver Spring, MD


Towns: Wojnilow, Kovel

Jill Whitehead

Up until 1919 and the WW1 Peace Settlement, and for most of the 19th century, Kalvaria was part of the Suwalki Lomza gubernias in NE Poland. Many people from Kalvaria and the other main towns in Suwalki Lomza emigrated to the UK, Sweden and France between about 1860 and 1880, as they lived close to the Baltic (on the borders with Konigsberg in East Prussia), which made it easier.

All my 8 great grandparents and one great great great grandparent came from the Suwalki Lomza gubernias to Northern England or Scotland, between 1865 and 1875. They also came to escape the outcomes of the Polish uprising against the Tsar in 1863 and the subsequent enforced enlistment of Jewish boys into the Tsar's army for 25 years - two of my great grandfathers came to escape these two factors respectively.

Many of my family members in the first generation married into other Suwalki Lomzers,  and my own family and other branches by marrage had relations in other countries such as the USA, Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Sweden. 

I visited Kalvaria and other Suwalki Lomza towns when I went to the ancestral area in 2000, on both sides of the current Polish/Lithuanian border. Before 1919, Suwalki Lomza also included some towns now in the Grodno area of Belarus, and some that went into East Prussia between the wars, and are now in Kaliningrad.

Jill Whitehead nee Servian, Surrey, England
Formerly on the Editorial Board of the Suwalki Lomza SIG journal Landsmen (now defunct)


Serwianski from Sejny and Lake Serwy, Servian from Liverpool
Karpowitz from Krasnopol, near Sejny and Liverpool
Ceglarski later Abrahams/Abrams from Suwalki and Manchester
Grymblat later Lewis from Suwalki and Manchester
Brin later Brown from Vishtinetz (Yiddish)/Wiestieniec (Polish)/Vistytis (Lith)/Wistitten (Ger) now in Lithuania, and Edinburgh
Rubenstein or Berenstein  from Vishtinetz (Yiddish)/Wiestieniec (Polish)/Vistytis (Lith)/Wistitten (Ger) now in Lithuania, and Edinburgh
Guttenberg now Graham from Rajgrod in Lomza gubernia and Hull/Grimsby/Sheffield
Plotnowski/Plottnovsky later Jacobs from Raczki in Suwalki gubernia and Hull