Friday 16 October 2015


GERSHON GERSHUNI (June 8, 1860-1941)
            He was born in Grodno, a descendant of the same family as Tsvi Gershuni, the Deneburg (Daugavpils) rabbi and Hebrew writer, and the revolutionary Grigori Gershuni.  He received a traditional Jewish education.  He graduated from high school in 1879, and in 1885 from the medical faculty of Moscow University.  At first he practiced for a short time in a small town in the Bialystok region, and he later worked as the factory doctor for the industrialist Shershevski in Grodno.  In 1892 he left home to study abroad.  He specialized in skin and sexual diseases at the university clinic in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris.  In 1894 he settled in Vilna.  He became the chief of staff at St. Jacob’s Hospital.  Over the years 1897-1920, he served as chief of staff at the Vilna Jewish Hospital.  In the 1920s, due to the predominance of anti-Semitism in the Vilna Polish Hospital “Sawicz,” he refused conditions that the Polish authorities handed to him, and from that point forward he engaged solely in private practice.  He was an honorary member of the medical association.  As a consequence of anti-Semitism in the general medical community, he was one of the initiators in the founding of a special Jewish Medical Society.  According to the plan it worked out, in 1920 this latter society was transformed into a medical research circle and a Jewish doctors’ association, of which he was the first honorary chairman—and until his tragic end of his life, its chair.  During WWI, he played a huge role in “Children’s Welfare” association.  It cured hundreds of Jewish children suffering from Favus.  Dr. Gershuni was an active member of TOZ (Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia [Society for the protection of health]), one of the founders of the society “Help through Work,” and chair of the Vilna Old Age Home.  From the first Zionist Congress, he was an active member of the Zionist Organization, chairman of the Vilna municipal Jewish council, and later belonged to the group “Et livnot” (A time to build).  He was a member of the editorial committee and a contributor to the biweekly Vilna newspaper for medicine and hygiene, Folks-gezunt (Popular health), and he published medical articles in the Yiddish press.  He remained in the Vilna ghetto during WWII.  At the founding session of the Jewish Council, he argued that such a council should be able to help Jews.  Because of his old age, although no longer able to contribute to its activities, he spoke out assertively.  He was arrested in September 1941.  When he was later freed from prison, he returned to the hospital harshly beaten.  Dr. Dvorzhetski asked him: “How are you taking your sufferings?”  He answered: “I’m bearing up under my pains.”  He could not, however, endure the humiliations in the ghetto, and in the hospital committed suicide.  His funeral turned into a protest against the atrocities of Nazi rule.  His coffin was hand-carried by Vilna Jews to the ghetto gate.

Sources: E. Y. Goldshmidt, “Idishe doktoyrim velkhe praktitsirn itst in vilne” (Jewish doctors who are now practicing in Vilna), in Vilne (Vilna), anthology (New York, 1935); Dr. M. Dvorzhetski (Mark Dvorzetsky), in his book Yerusholayim delite in kamf un umkum (The Jerusalem of Lithuania in struggle and death) (Paris, 1948); Sh. Katsherginski, Khurbn-vilne (The Holocaust in Vilna) (New York, 1947), p. 258.

Zaynvl Diamant

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